June 30, 2008

Feminist dilemma

Megan McArdle supports some of the aims of feminists, despite being labelled as an enemy of the movement:

For all that Feministe, in particular, is fond of labelling me "anti-feminist", I think the feminist movement is doing something important. Society treats men and women differently in ways that it shouldn't. I'm glad that there are people who focus their lives on changing that — even when I disagree with them; even when I think many of the battles they have chosen can't be won.

There are three things I really dislike about the feminist movement, all of them sadly reinforcing stereotypes about women.

1) The way that thinking women should be equal is assumed to be necessarily equated with a left economic agenda, and disagreement is treated as a betrayal.

2) The practice of labelling anyone who doesn't share their agenda as an "anti-feminist". [. . .]

3) The practice of handing around bad statistics like Grade Z Oaxaca Ditch Weed on the last night of Senior Week. It's bad enough in itself, but it also hideously supports stereotypes that women can't cope with real math. This is certainly not a practice limited to feminism — any political movement does a lot of it. But many of the worst statistics come out of women's study and feminist advocacy.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Freedom to criticize religions

Personally, I think all religious beliefs — Christian, Muslim or otherwise — should be fair game for criticism and satire. Kari Simpson should have the right to speak out against homosexuality, and Rafe Mair should have the right to condemn her for it.

Many people are indeed more sensitive about possibly offending Muslims than offending Christians, either because of Western guilt or simply, old-fashioned fear. I have a real problem with that — but I certainly wouldn't want a situation where Islam can be criticized but Christianity is sacrosanct, either.

Damian Penny, "Speech Notes", Daimnation, 2008-06-29

Posted by Nicholas at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

June 29, 2008

A pro-free-speech decision by the Supreme Court of Canada

Ezra Levant has the details:

Today's decision by the Supreme Court of Canada about defamation law has shifted the balance from plaintiffs to defendants — in other words, towards greater free speech. The court calls it a modernization, which it is — phenomena like talk radio shows, partisan TV panels and the Internet were not around when defamation law was developing (it actually goes back 400 years). It also brings us more in synch with the U.S. approach to free speech, and breaks away from the European model of soft censorship.

In other words, it should terrify Canada's human rights commissions. I had no doubt before this decision that Canada's HRCs were conducting themselves in an unconstitutional manner — exceeding the narrow censorship powers granted to them in the 1990 Taylor decision. Now it's a certainty that section 13 would be batted down by this free speech-loving court.

[. . .]

The decision doesn't end defamation suits, of course. It merely moves the fulcrum a bit, by widening the scope of what constitutes "fair comment". Fair comment must still be rooted in true facts; but if those facts are clear, and the defamer's comments are clearly his own views, the court will give latitude to even "outrageous" and "ridiculous" opinions.

The rule of thumb for writers — and bloggers — remains: get your facts straight. But the good news for free speechniks is that, if your facts are accurate, you can be dramatic, critical and even wrong in your opinions. It's good news for bloggers — and bad news for censors everywhere.

This is excellent news. Free speech in Canada has been under threat for quite some time and it's wonderful to see the SCC stepping up to help protect it.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

iPhone rates won't be cheap for Canadians

I mentioned a little while back that I'm considering buying an iPhone 3G when they become available in Canada next month. My current cell phone provider is no longer bringing in Treo PDA/phones using the Palm OS, so I'm not tied to that operating system for my next phone (as I'll have to purchase new software anyway). The iPhone 3G sounds like an excellent alternative, based on the initial announcement and the fact that it'll finally be made available in Canada in July.

This, however, will act as a partial deterrent:

Rogers Communications Inc. yesterday unveiled the monthly plans that will accompany Apple Inc.'s second-generation iPhone when it goes on sale July 11 for $199 or $299 with a three-year contract.

The cheapest monthly plan from Rogers is $60 for 400 megabytes of data, 150 weekday minutes and unlimited evenings and weekends. There are also $75, $100 and $115 monthly plans that offer more talk time and 750 megabytes, 1 gigabyte and 2 gigabytes of data respectively. All include unlimited access to Rogers and Fido Wi-Fi hot spots.

Users who are about to exceed their plans' caps will be sent messages to alert them of pending overage charges for voice and data, a Rogers spokesperson said.

The data rates are better than what Bell Mobility currently charges (the Bell rates are so high that I've used the web-browsing capabilities of my Treo exactly once in the more than three years I've had the phone). That being said, they're vastly more expensive than American iPhone users face:

In the United States, consumers can buy the second-generation iPhone from AT&T Inc. with a $30 (U.S.) unlimited data plan with any voice package, the cheapest being a $39.99 option that offers 450 minutes of talk time and free U.S. long distance. There is a $36 activation fee.

I'd pay $60 for an unlimited data plan with maybe 100 minutes of talk time . . . I don't use the phone that much, but I spend a lot of time on the web.

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

June 28, 2008

QotD: The value of religion

I was brought up traditionally Church of England, which is to say that while churchgoing did not figure in my family's plans for the Sabbath, practically all the Ten Commandments were obeyed by instinct and a general air of reason, and kindness and decency prevailed.

Belief was never mentioned at home, but right actions were taught by daily example.

Possibly because of this, I have never disliked religion. I think it has some purpose in our evolution.

I don't have much truck with the ' religion is the cause of most of our wars' school of thought because that is manifestly done by mad, manipulative and power-hungry men who cloak their ambition in God.

I number believers of all sorts among my friends. Some of them are praying for me. I'm happy they wish to do this, I really am, but I think science may be a better bet.

Terry Pratchett, "I create gods all the time - now I think one might exist, says fantasy author Terry Pratchett", Mail Online, 2008-06-21

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

June 27, 2008

Federal "Human Rights" Inquisitors buy a clue

Ezra Levant gets to say "I told you so" as the CHRC backs away from a prosecution of Maclean's:

The Canadian Human Rights Commission, like any petty tyranny, has a strong instinct for survival. As I predicted last week on the Michael Coren Show, that instinct would cause them to drop the complaint against Mark Steyn and Maclean's. And so they did.

With an RCMP investigation, a Privacy Commission investigation and a pending Parliamentary investigation, they're already fighting a multi-front P.R. war, and losing badly. Not a day goes by when the CHRC isn't pummelled in the media. Holding a show trial of Maclean's and Steyn, like the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal did earlier this month, would be writing their own political death sentence.

So they blinked. Against everything in their DNA, they let Maclean's go. That's the first smart thing they've done; because the sooner they can get the public scrutiny to go away, the sooner they can go about prosecuting their less well-heeled targets, people who can't afford Canada's best lawyers and command the attention and affection of the country's literati.

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

The need to separate politics and state

The idea of the separation of church and state is relatively well understood (if not universally accepted) in North America. The next thing we need to get general agreement on is the separation of politics and state:

In his zest to purge enemies in the government, Richard Nixon was so thorough that he set out to remove a "Jewish cabal" at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. President Bush and his subordinates may match Nixon for paranoia. Some of them lay awake nights wondering how to keep ideologically questionable applicants from infiltrating the Justice Department's summer internship program.

According to the department's inspector general in a report issued this week, they had some success in heading off this potential catastrophe — eliminating many candidates with subversive affiliations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. But the report condemned the effort, finding that it involved official misconduct and broke the law.

The Canadian federal government is a good example of how a bureaucracy can be captured by a political party — especially when that party stays in power for a significant length of time — and how the goals of the bureaucracy become ever more tightly aligned with the goals of the political party currently in power. This is a very good reason for a healthy alternation of parties in government: it counter-acts the natural tendency of the bureaucrats to align themselves with the politicians.

Steve Chapman again:

If you want to know the source of Barack Obama's success, look no further. Republicans think they will win once Americans figure out he's more liberal than he sounds. But Obama's appeal lies less in any supposedly moderate ideology than in his rejection of a corrosive but prevalent view: Government is nothing more than partisan warfare, and may the stronger side win.

The Bush administration thinks every aspect of governance should serve the ends of the Republican Party. Obama says — and may even believe — that some matters should be above politics.

In the case of federal prosecutors, that is not a new view but an old one. U.S. attorneys are political appointees but not, traditionally, political agents. They are supposed to advance justice without fear or favor. To turn them into partisan attack dogs is to make the law merely a weapon of those in power.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:46 AM | Comments (0)

Opinions on D.C. v. Heller

Reason magazine has a round-table of informed civil libertarians to discuss the decision and possible ramifications:

For the past three decades, Washington, D.C. has enforced one of America's most draconian gun control laws — a total ban on the possession of handguns, not to mention strict gun lock provisions for rifles and shotguns, that has left law-abiding citizens unable to legally defend themselves and their homes. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, in which seven D.C. residents challenged the constitutionality of the ban. At the center of the case is the question of whether the Second Amendment protects an individual or collective right to keep and bear arms.

Yesterday, the Court issued its long-awaited opinion, ruling 5-4 in favor of an individual right to own guns. reason assembled a panel of 7 leading civil libertarians to help make sense of what the Court said, what it means, and what's likely to come next.

If you guessed that they're happy with the decision, award yourself five points. Of course, nothing pleases everyone . . . Radley Balko has some reservations:

I hate to pee in the pool, here, but I'm having a hard time getting too excited about today’s decision.

Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion avoids any decision on incorporating the Second Amendment to the states, and his history suggests a strong reluctance to incorporate individual rights. Scalia's opinion does interpret the Second Amendment as an individual right, but only for self-protection, and only in the home. The concept of the Second Amendment as a bulwark against an overly oppressive government seems dead.

In the past, when Scalia's limited government principles have conflicted with his law-and-order instincts, law and order has won handily. He's been a happy federalist when it comes to allowing states to infringe on individual rights, but will bring down the hammer of the federal government on states that defy the feds by giving their citizens a bit more freedom.

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

June 26, 2008

Linux loves Microsoft, film at 11

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols pens a thank-you note to Microsoft on behalf of Linux and Mac communities:

You gotta love it. Microsoft has decided that it will go ahead and kill off easy access to XP on June 30th. On behalf of desktop Linux users everywhere, and our first cousins, the Mac fans, thanks. You've given us the best shot we'll ever have of taking the desktop.

But it gets even better! Microsoft has also announced that it will be releasing Windows 7 on January 2010. They'll blow that ship date. Microsoft has never set a shipping date it could meet. But, who in their right mind would now buy Vista?

I mean, come on, I don't think anyone with their wits about them would buy Vista anyway. Vista is to operating systems what the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are to the National Football League, the worse of all time. Vista was trash; Vista is trash; and now Microsoft, as expected, is throwing Vista on the trash dump.

It also helps that Microsoft has decided to go ahead and dump XP, the operating system its customers want, no matter how loudly they say they want to keep buying XP. Now that's showing your customers how much you really care about what they want.

It's a perfect example of disrespecting your customer base: literally millions of people have been avoiding switching to Vista from XP, and Microsoft's deliberate attempt to force them to switch will rebound back on them. People will remember for a very long time that they're being harassed and bullied for no good reason at all, and once they feel it's gone too far, the game is over.

I'm not even in the market for a new computer at the moment, but I'm already considering whether to switch to a Mac or go to one of the Linux distributions. I have exactly two applications that I still need Windows to run. If I can get Mac or Linux versions of them, there'll be little chance that my next machine will have a Microsoft operating system.

Update: Make that just one application that needs Windows, after all:

Applications? You can't live without your favorite Windows application and the mere thought of virtualization to get them gives you hives or switching to OpenOffice from Microsoft Office makes you sick to the tummy? The 15-years in the making WINE 1.0 project just came out, and with it you can run Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Quicken, and many other program like, ahem, Guild Wars my Windows-based online game of choice, on Linux. WINE, and its commercial big-brother, CodeWeavers' Crossover Linux, lets me run pretty much any Windows application I want on Linux without any hassles.

If I can run Guild Wars on Linux now, there's only Adobe FrameMaker left standing as an essential Windows application . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 06:03 PM | Comments (0)

Coming soon . . .


Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

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

DMP is really Selective Device Jamming

Bruce Schneier looks at the innocuous-sounding "Digital Manners Policy" that Microsoft is attempting to patent:

According to its patent application, DMP-enabled devices would accept broadcast "orders" limiting capabilities. Cellphones could be remotely set to vibrate mode in restaurants and concert halls, and be turned off on airplanes and in hospitals. Cameras could be prohibited from taking pictures in locker rooms and museums, and recording equipment could be disabled in theaters. Professors finally could prevent students from texting one another during class.

The possibilities are endless, and very dangerous. Making this work involves building a nearly flawless hierarchical system of authority. That's a difficult security problem even in its simplest form. Distributing that system among a variety of different devices — computers, phones, PDAs, cameras, recorders — with different firmware and manufacturers, is even more difficult. Not to mention delegating different levels of authority to various agencies, enterprises, industries and individuals, and then enforcing the necessary safeguards.

Once we go down this path — giving one device authority over other devices — the security problems start piling up. Who has the authority to limit functionality of my devices, and how do they get that authority? What prevents them from abusing that power? Do I get the ability to override their limitations? In what circumstances, and how? Can they override my override?

It can be remarkably irritating to have some idiot's high-decibel custom ring go off at the theatre, or to be constantly interrupted by ignorami who can't turn off their Blackberries for half an hour during a meeting, but this proposed policy is overkill. Giving anyone the power to disable your cell phone would be troubling enough, and as Schneier points out in this article, the opportunities for abuse would be very tempting.

This, like over-enthusiastic copy protection schemes, should be fought as hard as possible.

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

Whitby Purple beats 10-man Royal Canadian Legion

It turned out to be an uneven competition, as Whitby Purple dressed 16 players, while Royal Canadian Legion (aka Whitby Red) could only muster 10. The outcome wasn't really in doubt, although Purple again started slowly, giving Legion too much space and too much time on the ball through much of the first half.

Marco M. opened the scoring for Purple at the 25th minute, with Nick M. following up a few minutes later to make the score 2-0 at the half. Pat C., playing keeper for the first time this season, barely broke a sweat, as Purple's defenders kept Legion from getting in too close, and Pat calmly took down every long ball that came his way.

Legion came out refreshed after the break, and took advantage of a brief opportunity, chipping the ball just out of reach of Purple keeper Chris A.

Purple stayed true to form after that, charging downfield repeatedly and registering goals from Andrew S., Pat C. (his first of the season), Corey M., and another from Andrew. Legion stayed on their feet, trying desperately to get back into the game, and were finally rewarded with a consolation goal in the final eight minutes of the game.

Despite all the scoring, the real stars of the game for Purple were the defensive line (Victor R., Jordan C., Dylan M., and Cody M., with assistance from Randall S. and Daniel V. on substitution). They did yeoman work breaking up the few chances that Legion got, pushing the ball away from the danger area and clearing quickly up to the midfielders.

Purple's next game will be on Monday — a rematch with Legion. Both coaches are concerned that they may not have their full strength available for this game, as it falls between the weekend and the Canada Day holiday on Tuesday (many players will be off at the cottage for the extra-long weekend).

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

QotD: Basic economics

It's easy to shrug this kind of stuff off, especially with a (newly veto-tastic) former oilman in the White House, but all that will change six months from now, and the Democrats are rubbing their hands at the prospect of unified government. In the meantime, the air is only getting thicker — on both sides of the aisle — with Mahatir/Larouche levels of hostility toward those shadowy bankster types who make money without even manufacturing widgets or tilling the land.

Seriously, did we kick communism to the curb only to suddenly discover, centuries after the French, that a free market will attract (and benefit from!) suspiciously smart people in pinstriped suits who are using their money to — wait for it — make more money? "Speculators" provide crucial liquidity (which is marketese for "money with which to buy the stuff you want to sell"), and perform a valuable function in helping locate assets that are under- or over-valued. Even those nassty speculatorsses at the end of the real estate boom (the evil "flippers" mom told you about) did some good stuff: They allowed people to sell their houses at a tidy profit, and fixed up old properties in preparation for resales that maybe never came. Many gambled and won (as did the people who sold to them), many others gambled and lost (freeing up "winners" who will buy those properties at firesale prices). That's all kind of the point.

Matt Welch, "There Was Music in the Cafes at Night and Re-Regulation in the Air", Hit and Run, 2008-06-24

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

June 25, 2008

Establishing what "community standards" really means

Katherine Mangu-Ward reports on a cool way of discovering what a given "community" might really be willing to allow, instead of what they say they believe . . . technology to the rescue:

A lawyer in a current obscenity case in Florida has adopted an unusual approach to finding out what the community is really up to — checking out what they're googling. The findings:

Except for brief periods near Thanksgiving, searches for "orgy" consistently outrank attempts to find information about "apple pie" in Florida . The rest of the year, orgy searches are closer in frequency to what might be expected to be a common activity in Florida, "surfing."

We always suspected the much-ballyhooed "community" wasn't quite as wholesome as its reputation suggests. Looks like we were right — our neighbors have been googling orgies all along.

As H.L. Mencken once wrote, "Evil is that which one believes of others. It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake."

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

Burning times over in Ohio school

The bonehead Ohio teacher mentioned in the QotD on Monday has been fired from his job in Mount Vernon:

The Mount Vernon school board in central Ohio voted 5-0 late Friday to move ahead on firing a science teacher after an investigation showed he preached his Christian beliefs in class and used a device to burn the image of a cross on students' arms.

The board's attorney, David Millstone, said John Freshwater would be entitled to a hearing to challenge the dismissal.

Kelly Hamilton, who represents Freshwater, told the Mount Vernon News he would request such a hearing and that Freshwater denied any wrongdoing.

But Freshwater still has defenders: "With the exception of the cross-burning episode. . . . I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district" said Dave Daubenmire.

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

"Don't Ask" policy in US military

According to this article, women are discharged from the military at a disproportionally high rate:

Lesbians could very well outnumber gay men in the military, according to Gary Gates, a senior research fellow at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

"The percentage of lesbians that serve in the military is really quite high," Gates said. "It's possible that there are more lesbians than gay men serving in the military."

Gates' interpretation could explain why such a disproportionate percentage of servicewomen relative to men are discharged under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

It's truly mind-boggling that the US military can still justify this stupid policy: being gay isn't a crime, and is becoming "normal" across the country, yet it still counts as a reason to drum someone out of the military. This, at a time when the armed forces are finding their demands for personnel outstripping the supply.

A gay man or a lesbian woman is no more a threat to the efficient functioning of a military unit than anyone else — all things being equal — and may well be more motivated to succeed because they've volunteered to serve in spite of the idiotic "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

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

Messages to the stars

Lore Sjöberg takes it upon himself to grade the various attempts to communicate with extra-terrestrial intelligences:

The Pioneer Plaques

These are identical, gold-plated plaques attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft. They feature a picture of the solar system, a picture of the probes and a pictorial representation of the hyperfine transition of neutral hydrogen. Ring any bells? No? Well, it also has a picture of a naked man and woman on it. Ah, yes. Now you remember.

Many people considered this nothing more than interstellar porn. Others objected to the fact that the man is the one waving his hand, presumably to give the woman time to bake the aliens a nice batch of muffins. My objection is that the people depicted have no body hair at all. Aliens are gonna come down and think we're living in symbiosis with our pubes.
Grade: C

The Voyager Record

I love that we sent an LP. It's so delightfully retro! I expect alien life forms to discover it and say, "Clearly, this is the work of a truly groovy civilization. We do not know what to expect when we visit their planet, but we should prepare ourselves for an extremely mellow experience." In actuality, the funkiest track on the album is "Johnny B. Goode," which I think is a poor choice. I mean, I'm not sure how one carries a guitar in a gunnysack, and I was born on this planet.
Grade: B

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

Network follies

Victor was having some connectivity issues between his computer and our wireless router the other night. He looked up the Linksys tech support website and it said that the fix to his particular problem was to update the firmware on the router. He downloaded the file from the support website and followed the instructions to perform the update.

Near the end of the process, the router stopped responding. It's now caught in a half-way state between being a wireless router and being a brick, with its preference given to being a brick. Of course, because the router isn't working, we can't get out to the internet . . . which is a mild inconvenience at first, proceeding quickly to becoming the same level of irritation experienced by heroin addicts deprived of a fix.

Externally, from the status lights on the box, the router is pretending to work, but it's not providing connectivity to the two computers linked using ethernet cables, nor is it allowing access to the administration panel when we try to access it using the default address. It might actually be working, as there's a new unsecured wireless router showing up in our area, but we can't be sure whether that's ours or someone else's.

Talking to the folks at Linksys technical support hasn't been fruitful between the accents of the tech support folks and the attempts to pass off the problem as being our internet connection rather than the wireless router. No matter how many times we say that the cable modem is still working fine and that the problem occurred when we were updating the firmware on the router, it's still clearly assumed that our problem is of the "is your router plugged in?" category. Frustrating.

We still have our old router, but if we re-install that, Victor will be out of luck for wireless connectivity. This is one of those times when technology seems to be more in the theory than in the practice.

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

June 24, 2008

QotD: Former Yugoslavia

The man smiled. He didn't speak English, but he understood when I told him we were driving to Tuzla and he verified that the road we had just turned off was the right one.

So we continued driving toward Tuzla, in Bosnia proper outside the Republica Srpska, and wherever we saw mosques we also saw blown up houses.

There was pain and suffering on all sides during the war. No faction was entirely innocent. I take seriously the following observation written by Rebecca West in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon shortly before the outbreak of World War II: "English persons . . . of humanitarian and reformist disposition constantly went out to the Balkan Peninsula to see who was in fact ill-treating whom, and, being by the very nature of their perfectionist faith unable to accept the horrid hypothesis that everybody was ill-treating everybody else, all came back with a pet Balkan people established in their hearts as suffering and innocent, eternally the massacree and never the massacrer."

Nevertheless, it's obvious just from driving around that the Muslims of Bosnia really got hammered the hardest in the last war. I don't mean to pick on the Serbs, but the visual evidence, as well as the documented evidence, is just overwhelming.

Michael Totten, "The Road to Kosovo, Part I", Michael J. Totten, 2008-06-23

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

Doubling the navy: nice idea, never happen

J. L. Granatstein outlines the challenges facing the Canadian Forces at sea, and calls for a significant increase in navy shipping:

To get it right this time, the government needs to consider the future strategic environment. Trade has shifted massively from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans; already the volume in the Pacific is 3.5 times that of the Atlantic. There are rising naval powers on the Pacific — Russia, China, India, Japan — and there are rapidly growing numbers of submarines operated there by a number of nations, not all friendly.

To protect our national interests, Canada needs a bigger navy than its present 30-ship fleet and 8,000 sailors. Senators Hugh Segel and Colin Kenny, one a Conservative, the other a Liberal, have recently called for Canada to have a 60-ship navy. They are surely correct. The nation must have a strong presence in the Pacific (and an expanded base at Esquimalt, B. C.) and the Atlantic. Twelve to 15 of the planned Surface Combatant Ships on each coast would meet the need for 2025 and beyond. Then Canada needs a credible naval and Coast Guard presence in the melting Arctic where the international scramble for resources is likely to be fierce and where the Northwest Passage has the potential to alter traditional trade routes and pose huge environmental and security challenges. The Conservative government's Canada First policy is the right one, but it needs more ships and more sailors to adequately protect the homeland.

But Canada First also means protecting national interests abroad. Our sailors must be able to transport and support Canadian troops operating overseas, sometimes perhaps on a hostile shore. The presently planned three Joint Support Ships can't do this; four might be able to manage, but six would be better, along with what General Rick Hillier called "a big honking ship" that could transport four to six helicopters and a battalion-sized expeditionary force. Such ships can also do humanitarian work — in tsunami-hit Indonesia, for example — that we can scarcely tackle today.

While a strong case can be made (and, above, has), the government won't go there. Even if the current government was enjoying a majority in the house, they wouldn't spend their political capital on military equipment. For all that the Canadian Forces have much higher visibility and consequently much higher public respect, they're still considered a luxury, not a necessity. Canadians may talk about rebuilding the CF's equipment inventory, but they're not willing to forego social spending or bear higher taxes in order to do so. Nobody will cast their vote because they favour adding ships to the navy, but many might withhold their votes on the same issue.

Canadians still fondly imagine that they inhabit a world where "soft power" is capable of doing things without the implicit backing of "hard power". Where UN resolutions matter, and the bad guys back down before the concentrated glower of the UN General Assembly. It's not likely they'll willingly leave that pleasant dream world and come back to planet Earth.

Canadian military penury is exactly like the weather . . . people can talk about it all day, but nobody will (or can) do anything about it.

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

Churchill's guilt, according to Pat Buchanan

Michael Moynihan attacks Pat Buchanan's ludicrous assertion that British prime minister Winston Churchill was to blame for the holocaust:

So for Buchanan, because the Nazi regime commenced with the meticulous and industrialized killing of Jews after America entered the war and because there had been no genocide during the prewar years, it correlates that without a war, there would have been no Holocaust. And because England, in Buchanan’s view, provoked the war, then he presumably holds Churchill responsible, to some unknown degree, for the fate of European Jewry. [. . .]

Here is Buchanan, writing in his latest syndicated column, on the Holocaust: "[F]or two years after the war began, there was no Holocaust. Not until midwinter 1942 was the Wannsee Conference held, where the Final Solution was on the table. That conference was not convened until Hitler had been halted in Russia, was at war with America and sensed doom was inevitable. Then the trains began to roll."

Beyond the absurdity of implicitly blaming Churchill for the Holocaust — because that is what he is really saying when he writes "no war, no Holocaust" — Buchanan ignores an enormous amount of evidence that contradicts his position. What he is really arguing is an issue of scale, for the attempted destruction of European and Soviet Jewry via the concentration camp system began in 1942. But none of this was surprising; none of it a simple reaction to America's entry into the European war in December 1941 (recall too that it was Germany that declared war on America).

Immediately after invading Poland in September 1939, the invading Germans commenced with the elimination of racial enemies. The murderous Einsatzgruppen, Wehrmacht General Walther von Brauchitsch informed his fellow commanders two weeks after the invasion, were to engage in "certain ethnic tasks" that were not under the purview of the army. According to German historian Wolfram Wette, "It was in Poland that the Germans initiated their policy of enslavement and extermination . . . and not in the Soviet Union as is often assumed." Wette is correct that the murderous groundwork was laid in 1939 and 1940. Under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich, the SS began “testing three different gassing technologies" during the months of September and October 1941, according to historian Christopher Browning. At Babi Yar, outside of Kiev, on September 29 and 30, 1941, Einsatzgruppe C shot, according to their own figures, 33,771 Jews. All of this was before Wannsee and before America entered the war.

Churchill's reputation in the United States is somewhat overblown: he didn't walk on water, and his influence waned rapidly after America entered the war. That being said, there was little that he could have done differently, as he wasn't prime minister when Britain and Germany went to war. Attempting to shift the blame for the actual implementation of Hitler's long-standing intent on to Churchill's shoulders is a trick usually performed by neo-Nazi apologists, not serious historians. It's becoming clear to which category Pat Buchanan belongs.

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

An excellent example of Republican thought

I've often said that I couldn't be a Republican (assuming that I lived in the United States, of course). Senator Kit Bond (R-Missouri) explains exactly why:

I'm not here to say that the government is always right, but when the government tells you to do something, I'm sure you would all agree that I think you all recognize that is something you need to do.

From a brief squib by David Weigel.

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

June 23, 2008

QotD: This is not what we mean when we talk about an "educational brand"

What stands in my mind, however, is this bit from the article, in which the teacher explained "he simply was trying to demonstrate the device on several students and described the images as an 'X,' not a cross." Because, you see, zapping an "X" into the flesh of your pubescent students with a tool that outputs 50,000 volts a pop is not a problem.

The particular tool comes with the following warning: "Never touch or come in contact with the high voltage output of this device." Any teacher willfully ignoring the safety instructions on high voltage equipment to use it to intentionally inflict pain and injury on his students, and to brand a large, recognizable pattern on their skin, is one that's going to land on my "fire this idiot" list. You don't even have to get into the religious angle, as far as I'm concerned. That's just the bonus round, as far as the firing goes.

Another choice quote from the article, from a friend of the teacher: "With the exception of the cross-burning episode. . . . I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district," said the friend. Yes, well. That's a heck of an exception, now, isn't it.

John Scalzi, "From the 'That Doesn’t Actually Make it Any Better' Department", Whatever, 2008-06-21

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

Photographers: generic terror suspects

What do you know? Another topic I've posted about in the last few months.

John Ozimek looks at the ongoing plight of casual photographers in Britain:

When you hear the phrase "helping police with their inquiries", does an image of dedicated selfless citizenry instantly spring to mind? Or do you wonder whether the reality is not slightly more sinister?

How about "voluntarily handing over film to the police"?

[. . .]

According to Mr Carroll, the police subsequently amended their story to say they had stopped him because of concerns that he was photographing young people. They did not mention this at the time because they were worried he might be embarrassed.

They also told him that, contrary to what was said at the time, they had received no complaint from any member of the public. Nor had he been subject to a "stop and search" — merely a "stop and talk".

This is seriously alarming stuff. It is bad enough on its own — but coupled with a long catalogue of other incidents that have been reported recently, it begins to look like a pattern.

The various police departments involved all seem to be operating on the basis that the law is what they say it is, when they say it, and that John & Jane Public had better just obey without question. They're introducing their new policy directly to "middle England", rather than just oppressing the anonymous, the poor, and the downtrodden. Now the middle classes are getting a taste of what the "dregs of society" have always experienced.

Update: More from The Economist:

[. . .] civil liberties are much in the news these days. Mr Brown's speech came in the wake of the surprise resignation on June 12th of David Davis, the Conservative shadow home secretary. Mr Davis quit the House of Commons after it voted to allow terrorist suspects to be detained without charge for up to 42 days (the bill now looks set for a rocky ride in the House of Lords). From the steps of the Palace of Westminster, Mr Davis accused the government of presiding over the "slow strangulation" of freedoms and the "ceaseless encroachment of the state" into daily life. He hopes to use the resulting by-election in his Yorkshire constituency as a referendum on Labour's liberal credentials, and on the growth of the nanny state in general.

The charge sheet against the government is long and damning. Besides its 42-day detention proposals (and earlier, failed plans to imprison suspects for 90 days), it is accused of colluding with America to transport terrorist suspects to secret prisons abroad. It has created new crimes, such as glorifying terrorism or inciting religious hatred, that, say critics, dampen freedom of speech. Those who breach one of its Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, introduced in 1998, can be jailed for things that are not illegal in themselves (such as visiting a forbidden part of town or talking to certain people). In 2005 the prohibition on double jeopardy — trying a person twice for the same offence — was removed for serious offences. The government has tried to cut back the scope of trial by jury.

Along with the new crimes have come new ways of detecting them. Millions of publicly and privately owned closed-circuit television cameras (no one is sure precisely how many) monitor town centres. The latest innovation is unmanned, miniature aircraft (adapted from army models) that can loiter over trouble spots, feeding images to police on the ground.

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

Doom, gloom, misery, despair, etc., etc.

I've linked to excellent counter-examples, but it's a constant in the media world: bad news sells. James Lileks reacts to a particularly irritating example of the-sky-is-falling journalism:

It is amusing, really — after sticking people's heads in the muck every day for years, promoting every faddish scare, fluffing the pillow beneath every yuppie worry, swapping the straight-forward adult approach to news with presenters who emote the copy with the sad face of a day-care worker telling the children that Barney is dead — in short, after decades of presenting the world through the peculiar prism that finds in every day more evidence of our rot and our failures, they wonder why people are depressed. Hang the banner, guys: Mission Accomplished.

Of course, not everyone feels this way; I'd guess that people who watch television news are more inclined to pessimism. But there's another side to this: the pessimism among some may not stem from some impotent feeling that one is a cork toss'd in a sea of cruel destiny, that you can't do anything, that nothing will get better — no, the pessimism may arise from the suspicion that there's something abroad in the land that's had a good hardy larf about "Horatio Alger" and all the other manifestations of individual initiative for 30 years. The cool kids and the clever set have always smirked at that sort of stuff. You can get them going if you make a speech about our ability to solve things, but you'd better phrase it in the form of a government initiative, or brows furrow: well, then, how do you propose to do it?

The bottom of the page says "Average rating: two out of five stars." Our confidence in the media to undermine our happiness is being chipped away, too. We're in worse shape than we thought.

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

Britain surrenders to . . . L. Ron Hubbard?

There have been lots of pre-emptive eulogies for the British lately, between the European Union's galloping bureausclerocis and the Archbishop of Canterbury's burning desire to have Sharia law introduced in the country, but perhaps we're all looking at the wrong suspect:

Police have been accused of "trampling on basic rights" after ordering protesters to take down banners accusing Scientology of being a cult.

Officers banned the placards during a demonstration against the self-styled church in Glasgow city centre last weekend. Civil liberties campaigners have warned a dangerous precedent is being set for the suppression of free speech.

Strathclyde Police's intervention follows a similar incident in London last month when a youth was left facing prosecution. The 15-year-old had refused to remove a sign stating "Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult".

Human rights lawyer John Scott claimed the episodes suggested the church was receiving preferential treatment.

He said: "Scientology is a wealthy organisation with pretty influential people involved. But that doesn't mean it's entitled to any more protection from the police - though it does appear that is the reality of the situation.

So, based on recent evidence, it's perfectly okay to murder your daughter — so long as "honour" is involved — but you can't call Scientology a cult. Fascinating.

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

June 22, 2008

QotD: EUrocrash imminent?

Is the European Union heading for a Yugoslavian-style denouement? It sometimes looks as if its political class, oblivious to the wishes or concerns of the EU’s various populations, is determined to bring one about. The French and the Dutch voted against the proposed European Constitution, but that did not deter the intrepid political class from pressing ahead with its plans for a superstate that no one else wants. To bypass the wishes of the people, the politicos reintroduced the constitution as a treaty, to be ratified by parliaments alone. Only the Irish had the guts — or was it the foolhardiness? — to hold a referendum on the issue. Unfortunately, the Irish people got the answer wrong. They voted no, despite their political leaders’ urging that they vote yes. No doubt the people will be given an opportunity in the future — or several opportunities, if necessary — to correct their mistake and get the answer right, after which there will be no more referenda.

The European political class was briefly taken aback. What could explain the Irish obduracy? Several explanations came forth, among them Irish xenophobia and intellectual backwardness and the malign influence of the Murdoch-owned press. The narrowest economic self-interest was also said to have played a part. Having been huge beneficiaries of European largesse over the last 30 years, the Irish — who have the second-highest per capita GDP in Europe after Luxembourg — are now being asked to pay some of it back in the form of subsidies to the new union members from Eastern Europe. Ingrates that they are, they don’t want to pay up, especially now that their own economic growth rate has slowed dramatically in the wake of the financial crisis and the economic future looks uncertain.

Another explanation for the Irish “no” vote was that Irish citizens had been frightened by the proposal of the French finance minister to equalize tax rates throughout Europe, thus destroying unfair competition (all competition is unfair, unless the French win). No prizes for guessing whether the high tax rates of France or the low rates of Ireland would become the new standard. Ireland’s golden goose would find itself well and truly slaughtered in the process.

Theodore Dalrymple, "Europe's Unhappy Union", City Journal, 2008-06-18

Posted by Nicholas at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2008

"It's revolting!" Jeremy Clarkson reviews the H1 and H2

Posted by Nicholas at 01:26 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2008

Extremely encouraging news for cancer patients

Although the researchers are very careful to avoid drawing any larger claim to a breakthrough, it's still very hopeful:

A cancer patient has made a full recovery after being injected with billions of his own immune cells in the first case of its kind, doctors have disclosed.

The 52-year-old, who was suffering from advanced skin cancer, was free from tumours within eight weeks of undergoing the procedure.

After two years he is still free from the disease which had spread to his lymph nodes and one of his lungs.

Doctors took cells from the man's own defence system that were found to attack the cancer cells best, cloned them and injected back into his body, in a process known as "immunotherapy".

Experts said that the case could mark a landmark in the treatment of cancer.

It's unlikely, even if this therapy proves to be as effective in wider trials as it was in this particular case, that this is the end of cancer as a major health threat. It does, however, encourage hope that cancer will eventually be easily treatable (and, even more beneficially, with relatively minimal intervention in the body).

Posted by Nicholas at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Richard Nixon

Nixon had no friends except George Will and J. Edgar Hoover (and they both deserted him.) It was Hoover's shameless death in 1972 that led directly to Nixon's downfall. He felt helpless and alone with Hoover gone. He no longer had access to either the Director or the Director's ghastly bank of Personal Files on almost everybody in Washington.

Hoover was Nixon's right flank, and when he croaked, Nixon knew how Lee felt when Stonewall Jackson got killed at Chancellorsville. It permanently exposed Lee's flank and led to the disaster at Gettysburg.

For Nixon, the loss of Hoover led inevitably to the disaster of Watergate. It meant hiring a New Director — who turned out to be an unfortunate toady named L. Patrick Gray, who squealed like a pig in hot oil the first time Nixon leaned on him. Gray panicked and fingered White House Counsel John Dean, who refused to take the rap and rolled over, instead, on Nixon, who was trapped like a rat by Dean's relentless, vengeful testimony and went all to pieces right in front of our eyes on TV.

That is Watergate, in a nut, for people with seriously diminished attention spans. The real story is a lot longer and reads like a textbook on human treachery. They were all scum, but only Nixon walked free and lived to clear his name. Or at least that's what Bill Clinton says — and he is, after all, the President of the United States.

Hunter S. Thompson, "He Was a Crook", Counterpunch, 1994-05-01

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

Just too appropriate for words

So many blogs . . . so little mindspace:

demotivators_2005_1197932.jpg

Despairwear

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

June 19, 2008

No, this is the least surprising study finding ever

The Journal of Consumer Research goes out of their way to find out if it really is true that men suffer from short-term poor judgement when looking at pretty girls:

Science proves that bikinis turn men into boobs: Sexy images rob male brain of ability to make wise decisions

You may have known this all along, but now it has been demonstrated scientifically: bikinis make men stupid.

This month’s issue of the Journal of Consumer Research features a paper titled “Bikinis Instigate Generalized Impatience in Intertemporal Choice,” which is a neuroeconomist’s (definition in a moment) way of saying that men don’t make good decisions while checking out pretty girls in bikinis.

It would have been much more surprising if they'd found that men's judgement was not impaired under those circumstances!

Posted by Nicholas at 07:06 PM | Comments (0)

The backlash to Boumediene

Steve Chapman looks at the rhetorical pants-wetting by various pro-war commentators after the recent Supreme Court decision that Guantanamo detainees have habeus corpus rights:

A lot of people who strongly believe in the war on terror are not above sowing a little terror of their own. From the reaction to last week's Supreme Court decision on Guantanamo, you would think the detainees were all going to be trained, armed and set free at Ground Zero, with free shuttle service to the nearest airport.

John McCain denounced the ruling, which said inmates may ask for federal court review under a procedure known as habeas corpus, as "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country." Former Bush Justice Department official John Yoo warned that henceforth, captured enemy fighters will be read their Miranda rights. The irrepressible Wall Street Journal had a cartoon with a judge atop a cage labeled "Gitmo" watching masked inmates stream out wearing suicide vests and lugging AK-47s.

All this outrage builds on the dissent registered by Justice Antonin Scalia. The court's decision "will make the war harder on us," he thundered. "It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."

Well, it won't have that effect unless it leads to inmates being released—which it has not, will not anytime soon, and may not ever. If and when it does, he may have a point, though not necessarily a powerful one.

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

This week's contender for "most inane court ruling"

I can't imagine how peaceful it must be in Quebec's court system . . . they've taken care of all the real issues, so they're down to making rulings about whether a father can ground his daughter:

If you deny your children access to TV or withhold their allowance, can they take you to court? And win?

That implausible scenario emerged after a judge in Gatineau, Que., sided with a 12-year-old girl who challenged her father after he refused to let her go on a school trip for disobeying his orders to stay off the Internet.

Experts in family law and child welfare say they were dumbfounded by last Friday’s ruling by Superior Court Justice Suzanne Tessier.

So, at least in Quebec, it's now perfectly acceptable for the courts to review any parental decision regarding that parent's children. As they say on Fark.com, "this should end well".

Can of worms? Check. Opener? Check. Loony tunes judicial precedent set? Check. The Crazy Years have officially begun.

Update: The Volokh Conspiracy treats the news with exactly the right kind of seriousness:

Another Great Satire from The Onion: Court Reverses Father's Decision to Ground Daughter by Keeping Her from a School Overnight Trip. I just love it how the Onion can take real practices and extrapolate them three steps forward to the utterly absurd.

The article is on what must be some mirror site for The Onion — something in Canada called TheGlobeAndMail.com. And it's odd, but the other stories on the site don't seem that funny.

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

Whitby Purple drops a game

The winning streak came to an end last night, as Whitby Purple turned in a weak effort to end up on the wrong side of a 3-2 result against Whitby Teal. Both teams were missing key players, as exam week got into high gear.

As has been the case all season, Purple was slow to get started, going down 2 goals after 20 minutes. Corey M. scored his first goal of the season against the run of play, as Teal dominated time of possession and kept most of the action deep in Purple territory.

The second half started with Teal scoring another goal, this time on a penalty against Dylan M., for tackling-from-behind inside the 18-yard box. Keeper Chris A. guessed wrong on the kick, and couldn't recover in time to save the shot.

As the half went on, the momentum shifted strongly in favour of Purple, with Teal defending desperately . . . but Purple's shooting was woeful. I actually lost track of the number of corner kicks awarded to Purple, but there was a lack of accuracy (and luck), so that shots went wide, bounced off the post or the crossbar or were deflected wide by defenders. The final corner kick was handled (deliberately) by a Teal defender, which resulted in a penalty goal scored by Mark M.

The final whistle blew with Purple again deep in Teal territory, but unable to beat Teal's keeper — clearly the player of the game.

The league standings remain almost unchanged, as Whitby Red went down to defeat on the adjacent field. The meeting between the two top teams (Purple and Red) next week is still likely to be tense.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:05 AM | Comments (0)

June 18, 2008

"One of the worst decisions in the history of this country"

Damon Root points out that John McCain's over-the-top expostulation (quoted in the title of this post) doesn't even come close to being accurate:

Could that possibly be true? As a measuring stick, I'd suggest using The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom, a new book by the Cato Institute's Robert Levy and the Institute for Justice's Chip Mellor.

On issues ranging from eminent domain abuse to the restriction of civil liberties during wartime, Levy and Mellor paint a consistent — and consistently depressing — picture of the Court upholding and enhancing government actions at the expense of individual rights. That's as good a definition of a "worst decision" as you'll ever get: state power trumping individual liberty.

Where does Boumediene fall on that scale? Even if you accept Chief Justice John Roberts' dissent, which argues that the Court permanently weakened the separation of powers by substituting its judgment for that of "the people's representatives," the decision hardly sinks to the depths of, say, Korematsu v. United States, where the majority upheld Franklin Roosevelt's internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

It's exactly the same as the need to defend unpopular speech to protect freedom of speech for all . . . you need to defend the right of habeus corpus even for people you deeply suspect of being terrorists or supporters of terrorism. Giving wide-ranging powers to suspend civil liberties for certain individuals or groups inevitably means weaker protections of civil liberties for everyone else, too.

Regardless of the party affiliation of the current president, any powers granted in this administration will almost certainly be accepted, used, and expanded by the following administration. If you think George Bush can't be trusted with that kind of power (and I'd strongly agree with you if you do think that), why do you think Barack Obama or John McCain would be any more trustworthy?

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

Buzzword Bingo

Jon sent me a link to this BBC News article on the most-hated management buzzwords:

Management speak - don't you just hate it? Emphatically yes, judging by readers' responses to writer Lucy Kellaway's campaign against office jargon. Here, we list 50 of the best worst examples.

1. "When I worked for Verizon, I found the phrase going forward to be more sinister than annoying. When used by my boss — sorry, "team leader" — it was understood to mean that the topic of conversation was at an end and not be discussed again."
Nima Nassefat, Vancouver, Canada

2. "My employers (top half of FTSE 100) recently informed staff that we are no longer allowed to use the phrase brain storm because it might have negative connotations associated with fits. We must now take idea showers. I think that says it all really."
Anonymous, England

For those of you daring enough to try playing Buzzword Bingo during meetings, there's a downloadable bingo card linked from the article.

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

June 17, 2008

In this corner, the Associated Press. In this corner, the entire blogosphere

The Register reports on AP's heavy-handed rebuke to The Drudge Report:

A major news agency has claimed that a blog's quotation of its stories is copyright infringement and has demanded they be taken down in a case which could redraw the lines of acceptable blog behaviour.

The writer behind the blog has told OUT-LAW.COM that if AP continues its case it will be taking on the entire blogosphere. "Linking to news articles with short excerpts is common practice throughout the web, both on individual blogs and on social news sites," said Rogers Cadenhead, who is behind blog Drudge Retort. "If AP intends to fight this one out, it'll be the case of AP v. Everybody."

Though a spokesman for AP has told The New York Times that the news wire is rethinking its position Cadenhead said that the notices have not actually been retracted yet.

There is a line between quoting an article and violating the copyright of the originator. If you quote several hundred words of an article, it's pretty clear that you're over that line. But in this instance, AP is objecting to the use of text as short as 33 to 79 words.

Clearly, this issue will be of great interest to anyone who's ever quoted an article from a major news outlet . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 04:32 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Forbidden fruit's allure

I wonder if these students appreciate the great irony that always occurs when censorship is involved: As a result of their case, undoubtedly more people have sought out and read the supposedly denigrating articles than would have ever done so in the normal course of events. There is perhaps no surer way to get people to read something than to tell them that they should not be allowed to read it.

Edward Greenspan, "Civil Liberties Alert: CIC's human rights complaints are an administrative fatwa", Edmonton Sun, 2008-06-16

Posted by Nicholas at 02:36 PM | Comments (0)

Eugene Debs: poster child for the right to dissent

Damon Root posted this yesterday at Hit and Run:

On this day in 1918, Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs gave a speech in Canton, Ohio denouncing America's participation in what we now call World War I. For this "crime," Debs would spend nearly three years rotting in prison, convicted of violating Woodrow Wilson's vile Espionage Act, which essentially made it illegal to criticize the government during wartime (Wilson later refused to pardon Debs, leaving that act of basic human decency to the criminally underrated Warren G. Harding). That's the story told in Ernest Freeberg's new Democracy's Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent, which received a big thumb's up from Peter Richardson in yesterday's Los Angeles Times.

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

Acquittal in Quebec raid trial

Amazingly, the court has come down on the side of the defendant:

Laval police chief Jean-Pierre Gariépy seems to be taking the right attitude to the acquittal of Basil Parasiris, saying that he would ask the Quebec minister of public security for far-reaching changes in the drafting of search warrants, and in the training given to police officers about how to undertake surprise raids.

Laval police conducted the raid in the belief that Parasiris was involved in a local drug ring. Unfortunately, as Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer ruled, there was little proof to back this belief, certainly not enough for a search warrant to be executed in a surprise, pre-dawn raid. Such a raid should be carried out only in an emergency.

The inevitable result of the creeping militarization of police work is that casualties will increase, both among the officers conducting military style raids, and among the victims of the raids. It's heartening that the Quebec Superior Court recognizes the risks these raids incur, and are willing to exonerate those caught up in the real-life terror of being targetted by this kind of attack.

A search warrant for "dynamic entry" should not, on the evidence, have been issued in this case. Police could have arrested Parasiris under calmer circumstances.

A man is dead as a result of an apparently ill-planned raid. Only vigorous corrective action by the authorities can add anything positive to this tragic series of mistakes.

H/T to Radley Balko.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:25 AM | Comments (0)

Victor reviews Manufacturing Consent

Victor posted his review of Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent on his new blog:

[. . .] what Chomsky's theory seems to need, what it has to include to function, is that the world is full of people who cannot think for themselves. He even outlines this theory with the "Political class" and what would seem to be the Proles from 1984. That is where his theory is flawed, in my opinion. He states that their role is to "Follow orders and not to think", and I must admit, there are people who do that. The problem arises with the fact that there aren't as many as all that, as Humanity is a curious creature, that asks why.

What I learned from this documentary is that there are certain techniques the media uses to influence how they appear to the public. I learned that the media itself selects topics, emphasizes certain points more than others, I learned that they filter information out of given materials.

Essentially, the media is given full control of what they produce, however that isn't actually the thing I feel I learned the most. I feel that the movie presented a very poor image of humanity, based on the fact that he's essentially segregating people into Stupid and Not Stupid. Of course, that's a rather weak claim in today's society, however I feel it's true regarding this subject, and the views of Noam Chomsky.

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

What's in a name?

There's another Nicholas Russon out there in the wide world, who was, last I checked, a student at UNB. I sometimes wonder if my online doings sometimes cause people to think that they're things that he's done. I hope that hasn't caused him problems. Still, having a namesake who is a libertarian moonbat isn't too bad, compared to what poor Lauren Bernat is experiencing:

The video, now a legitimate Internet phenomenon, features one Lauren Bernat, an advertising executive in Florida, exercising — or gyrating rather suggestively is more like it — while using Nintendo's Wii Fit.

Another Lauren Bernat, a master's degree candidate for library science at St. John's University, is not amused. Actually, "utterly freaked out" is probably the most accurate way to describe it.

Bernat, 22, works as a librarian at a library for teenagers in New York, and said she first became aware of the Wii Fit girl video on YouTube (real title: "Why every guy should buy his girlfriend a Wii Fit"), when several "random guys" began sending her Facebook friend requests Thursday. Bernat, who has the strictest privacy setting on her Facebook profile, says she responded to several and asked who they were and why they were adding her.

"One of them told me, 'Google yourself, you obviously haven't seen the video,'" Bernat said in an interview Thursday.

My name is rather unusual . . . so it was a surprise when I found there was another "me" out there. Some names are much more common . . . David D. Friedman, for example:

This is the home page of David Friedman. Not the Hawaiian artist David Friedman, or the composer David Friedman, or the fix-what's-wrong-with- government David Friedman (050) or the fifteen year old David Friedman or the eighteen year old David Friedman or even the economic journalist David Friedman but the anarchist-anachronist-economist David Friedman.

Now you know why I included my middle initial.

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

June 16, 2008

Brilliant summation of philosophy

John Scalzi does a great job of summing up his political philosophy here:

I don't want my political proclivities to be in doubt, so let me be absolutely crystal clear where I stand:

I support the right of same-sex married couples to carry concealed weapons.

I hope this explains everything.

I could sign on to that.

It's a nicely judged example of what Michael Emerling used to call "Political Cross-dressing": presenting right-wing ideas in left-wing rhetoric or vice-versa. Confuses the heck out of the knee-jerk dogmatists and ignorant slogan-repeaters.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:15 PM | Comments (0)

Failure of design

The folks who come up with new designs for things bear a great responsibility. Sometimes, that responsibility is misplaced.

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

QotD: Democratic nomination race

But none of this "sexism" could be counteracted by organized, activist feminist groups, says writer Linda Hirshman. In Sunday's Washington Post, Hirshman mapped the fractious women's movement that failed to coalesce around Clinton's campaign. The absurdities and esoterica of the "millennial feminists" produced internecine warfare and factional fighting not seen since the Spanish Civil War. In the trenches of the gender war, the slights cited by Penn are deemed inconsequential, as is the candidate on the receiving end of them. Hirshman quotes one activist: "I . . . don't believe that simply putting a womyn's face where a man's face once was is going to solve our problems...by Real Womyn I am talking about womyn of color, incarcerated womyn, migrant womyn, womyn at the border, womyn gripped in violence, rape, and war.'" (For those whose university experience predated the ubiquity of Woman's Studies departments, the misspelling of 'women' is deliberate, a semantic kick in the patriarchy's groin.)

The Democratic primary was a lose-lose proposition for the image of American tolerance: If Senator Obama lost, ours was an irredeemably racist country. Senator Clinton lost, and we are infected by sexism. But whether viewed through the prism of radical gender feminism or a boy's club media conspiracy, the truth is considerably less complicated. The vaunted Clinton machine — devoid of fresh ideas and facing a dynamic, inspirational opponent — simply couldn't compete. Blame the media, blame the patriarchy if you so desire, but the truth is that Americans wouldn't mind a woman as president. Just not that woman.

Michael C. Moynihan, "The Feminist Mistake", Reason Online, 2008-06-13

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

Habeus too important to be set aside

Steve Chapman provides more information on the recent US Supreme Court decision on the habeus corpus rights of Guantanamo detainees:

From the beginning of the war on terror, the Bush administration has had two central objectives. The first is protecting the nation against its enemies. The second is asserting the president's near-absolute authority to wage this war. That approach involved a crucial error: It couldn't advance the second goal without undermining the first.

That's because ours is not a system designed to unleash the power of the government. It's a system designed to control it. By conceiving the president as a virtual monarch in national security matters, George W. Bush and his subordinates have provoked active resistance from both Congress and the courts — which might have been avoided with a more cooperative and pragmatic approach.

The latest illustration came Thursday, when the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 vote that the administration overstepped lawful bounds in its treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo. For the first time, the justices said foreign enemy combatants held outside our borders may appeal to the federal courts.

This is a welcome development because it upholds certain basic rights and safeguards that are due even to suspected terrorists. It's a worrisome development, on the other hand, because it requires the judiciary to assume grave responsibilities in a realm where it has no special competence.

The ideal is not for the courts to step into these matters. The ideal is for the elected branches to act with enough respect for constitutional values that the courts would see no need to step in.

Update: Radley Balko has an eye-opener:

So the really alarming thing about this is not that John McCain objects to the Supreme Court's decision in Boumediene. It’s not even that he breathlessly (and rather shamefully) lumps the decision in with cases like Dred Scott or Plessy v. Ferguson.

No, the truly frightening thing about McCain's response to Boumediene is that the Republican nominee for president doesn’t know what "habeas corpus" means.

Good God, man.

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

June 15, 2008

Magic iPhone 8-Ball

I'm toying with the notion of getting an iPhone 3G when they become available next month to replace my Treo 600. That'll mean some disruption, as I'm used to having a lot of my data available on the handheld, so I'm looking to see what is already available for the iPhone to replace equivalent applications on the Treo.

It's not a particularly intensive search . . . every now and again, I run a Google search or look at recent columns on various technology sites. This article, for example, had me laughing out loud:

Urbanspoon is a Web site that features restaurant reviews from critics, food bloggers and the general public. They'll be releasing an iPhone application on the App Store in July for free that will tie in to the Web site.

"We wanted to take advantage of the physicality of the iPhone, so we're using the accelerometer," said Urbanspoon co-founder Ethan Lowry. "So we've developed an application for the iPhone that's part slot machine, part Magic 8-Ball."

Urbanspoon lets you get a random restaurant listing by shaking your iPhone like a Magic 8-Ball.The Magic 8-Ball is a fortune-telling toy manufactured by Mattel that looks like a giant black and white 8-Ball. The underside of the device contains a window; floating in dark blue liquid is an 20-sided die that has one of several yes, no or maybe statements. Urbanspoon's iPhone implementation lets users shake the iPhone for a random restaurant pick. The software relies on the iPhone's location finding — including GPS on Apple's newly introduced iPhone model — to find a restaurant in your area.

I somehow never imagined that the advance of technology would take us all the way back to consulting the Magic 8-Ball for answers to perplexing questions . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 11:16 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: God games

It's an idea that many people seem to latch on to that if we were created by some kind of God, obviously he did it because he loves us so huggy-muggy much. Never are the holes in this theory more obvious than while playing god games, because it seems that when you place most people in the position of a god and give them responsibility over many tiny lesser beings then their attitude towards them may be less about beloved children and more about target practice.

Sim City Societies may, on the other hand, support the believability of your argument because if being God is this boring then unconditional love is the only reason I can think of for not having slaughtered the whole unstimulating lot of us around the time we were still squeezing our own smallpox boils for nourishment.

Ben "Yahtzee" Crowshaw, "Zero Punctuation: Sim City Societies", The Escapist, 2008-02-13

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

June 14, 2008

Happy Tax Freedom Day, Canada

It's four days earlier this year:

Effectively, "every dollar they earn before June 14 would be required to pay the taxes owing to all levels of government."

The computation of tax freedom day includes income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, profit taxes, health, social security and employment taxes, import duties, licence fees, taxes on alcohol and tobacco, natural resource fees, fuel taxes, hospital taxes and an array of other levies.

Thanks to the reduction of the goods and services tax and trimming of various provincial taxes, this year's tax freedom day falls four days earlier than in 2007.

That in turn was five days sooner than in 2006, which followed a two-day gain from the latest-ever tax freedom day - June 25 in 2005.

"Even with the recent improvements, tax freedom day still falls 40 days later than in 1961, the earliest year for which we have calculations," Veldhuis said.

"Given the number of different taxes imposed on Canadians, it is virtually impossible to know exactly how much tax we pay," he added.

"The point of tax freedom day is to give people a comprehensive and easy-to-understand indicator of the total amount of taxes paid to all three levels of government."

Posted by Nicholas at 02:31 PM | Comments (0)

228-year-old warship discovered at the bottom of Lake Ontario

An amazing underwater discovery has been announced: HMS Ontario:

A British warship that sank in Lake Ontario 228 years ago during the War of Independence has been found almost intact by two shipwreck hunters.

"This is the Holy Grail of Great Lakes wrecks," says Jim Kennard who, with his partner Dan Scoville, discovered the 22-gun brig-sloop HMS Ontario in deep water "somewhere" between Niagara and Rochester. "There's nothing more significant than this one."

"It's the oldest confirmed shipwreck in the lakes," Scoville adds. "And very few warships went down. The Ontario is so complete, the two masts are in place and there's still glass in some of its windows."

The ship was a few hours into a voyage from Fort Niagara on Oct. 31, 1780, when it foundered in a sudden, violent storm. There were no survivors. Built at Carleton Island, where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence, it was launched the previous May and may never have fired its guns in anger. It spent the summer ferrying troops and supplies around the lake. Its captain, James Andrews, was also commodore of the lake squadron of ships.

The ship appears to be in amazingly good shape, but will probably be designated as a war grave site, as up to 120 people died when the ship went down (88 including the crew and known passengers, but there are letters from Fort Niagara indicating that there were 30 or more American prisoners on board as well). This would mean it is unlikely that the ship would ever be raised, regardless of the amazingly good condition of the hull.

Update: More historical details and a selection of photos are online at Shipwreck World.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2008

Why so gloomy, America? Because of the media

Gregg Easterbrook points out that while Americans think that the country as a whole is doing badly, they as individuals are doing well. The media's "if it bleeds, it leads" emphasis on doom and gloom has much to do with this:

The Democratic National Committee recently ran an ad blasting John McCain for saying the country is "better off" than in 2000. Yet, arguably, except as regards the Iraq war, Mr. McCain's statement is true. In turn, Mr. McCain is blasting Barack Obama for suggesting that international tensions are not as bad as they've been made to seem. Yet, arguably, Mr. Obama is right.

Democratic attacks on Mr. McCain and Republican attacks on Mr. Obama both seek to punish impermissibly positive thoughts. At a time when there exists a sense of crisis over the economy, fuel prices and many other issues, this reinforces the odd, two realities of life in the United States today: The way we are, and the way we think we are. The way we are could use some work, but overall, is pretty good. The way we think we are is terrible, horrible, awful. Possibly worse.

The case that things are basically pretty good? Unemployment is 5.5%, low by historical standards; income is rising slightly ahead of inflation; housing prices are down, but the typical house is still worth a third more than in 2000; 94% of Americans do not have threatened mortgages, and of those who do, most will keep their homes.

Inflation was up in 2007, but this stands out because the 16 previous years were close to inflation-free; living standards are the highest they have ever been, including living standards for the middle class and for the poor.

All forms of pollution other than greenhouse gases are in decline; cancer, heart disease and stroke incidence are declining; crime is in a long-term cycle of significant decline; education levels are at all-time highs.

People are subject to so many negative images from TV coverage, and so many hard-luck stories in newspaper reports, that it's no wonder that they believe that the rest of the country — the rest of the world, actually — is spiralling down the toilet.

It's a truism that bad news sells, and that good news isn't as popular. The individual media outlets probably have less overall influence than they did 20 or 30 years ago, but the overall tone still emphasizes bad news . . . and we're all much more likely to pay attention to doom and disaster than to positive or neutral reports. It even makes sense: good news won't generally make much immediate difference in our day-to-day lives, but the local car plant shutting down or a major bridge collapsing in the city will loom large in our short-term view. We're attuned to bad news, and the media serve up to us what we pay the most attention to . . . it's a vicious circle.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

More on the "Canadian DMCA"

Bob Kopman sent me another link decrying the recently proposed bill C-61:

Canada, one of the shining lights in the copyright and intellectual property world, has a shadow approaching that may dim that for all. The name of that shadow? Bill c-61, which was formally introduced by Industry minister Jim Prentice an hour or two ago. One of the 'highlights' is the abolition of court's flexibility in statutory damages, fixing it at $500 (CAD)

The bill, dubbed the 'Canadian DMCA' has not been popular with many of those it will effect. Over 40,000 have joined a facebook group, run by Michael Geist opposing it. Geist, a law professor at University of Ottawa, has been fighting to oppose these laws for some time now. On the tabling of the bill, he writes "The government plans for second reading at the next sitting of the house, effectively removing the ability to send it to committee after first reading (and therefore be more open to change)"

The bill is controversial in many ways. Whilst supporters of the bill will point to the allowances for time shifting, format shifting, and the ability to 'private copy' (moving a song from CD to an mp3 player for instance). It will, however, prevent that activity, though criminalization, if there is any sort of technological restriction on it. Anti-copy flags on TV shows, DRM on music, or rootkits on CDs would mean that any attempt to make a fair use, would be subject to prosecution and heavy fines.

I guess it's time to lobby the MP . . . before we get to third reading.

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

Trademark hijinks now

Ezra Levant reports on the latest attempt to shut down freedom of speech and freedom of expression:

I think another lawsuit is coming my way.

Today, my lawyer received this letter from a radical Muslim activist in Toronto. It's a Certificate of Registration of Copyright. He claims to have copyrighted the image of Mohammed, PBUH (which stands for "peace be upon him"). In other words, it's now Mohammed, PBUH TM.

I checked it out on Industry Canada's copyright database and, sure enough, there it is: two weeks ago, Akhtar "Hector" Agha has indeed registered a "Restriction on Depiction of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)". It's right there on the government website.

I'm not sure, but I think "Hector" might be looking for a royalties payment for whenever I do something like post this picture.

H/T to Jon for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:11 AM | Comments (0)

How bad is the FCC?

Jesse Walker illustrates some of the worst problems with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) :

The commission is corrupt. I don't just mean the sort of corruption where the chairman loosens his tie, puts his feet up on his desk, and doles out favors to the companies that scratched the right backs —p though you'll find plenty of that in the commission's history. Even when the body is being relatively transparent and above-board, it is beholden to politically connected lobbies. The FCC controls an important economic resource. Naturally, important economic interests try their best to influence its decisions.

The most flagrant example of this might be the welcome the commission gave to FM radio. The technology was an enormous leap forward: It allowed stations to broadcast without static, and it allowed more signals to coexist on the spectrum. It also worried RCA, which was investing heavily in the development of television; the company fretted that consumers might not pay for both a new FM radio and a new TV set. RCA didn't control the patent on FM, so it pressured the FCC to favor the other technology. The regulators obliged, and a series of roadblocks appeared in FM's path. The most destructive decision came in 1944, when the commissioners suddenly reassigned the FM broadcasters' portion of the ether to television, instantly rendering every FM receiver obsolete.

[. . .]

The commission is sanctimonious. For seven decades, the nation's scolds and censors have used the FCC as a tool to shape the sounds and images allowed on the airwaves. In 1952, for example, then-commissioner Paul Walker announced with satisfaction that his agency had "surveyed the programming of some of the television stations in operation, and found that some of them had reported no time devoted to broadcasts of a religious nature. We felt in view of this fact that regular renewal of their licenses would not be in the public interest." The stations quickly revised their schedules, and the commission agreed to renew their licenses after all.

[. . .]

The commission is technocratic. The next time someone tells you central planning is dead, remind him that there is an arm of the federal government that decides in advance how different chunks of the electromagnetic spectrum will be used, and that it also reserves the right to determine which entities will be allowed to use it. It's true the commission has adopted several market "mechanisms" in the last few decades: FCC-approved broadcasters now have the right to sell their licenses to other FCC-approved broadcasters, and spectrum is usually distributed by auction rather than pure fiat. But even an auction can be bent to the planners' will.

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

Modern economic frenzies in a nutshell

James Lileks gets all screedy about the oil situation:

I've heard some people yearn for a windfall profits tax that would reinvest the money in alternative energy, or rebate it back to the consumer. Fine. Apply that to your business. Here's the acceptable profit level. You don't get to make any more than that. If you do, the state will confiscate the property and divide it among your competitors, or give it back to your customers. Have a nice day. But oil is different. It's necessary! So is food. Farmers are doing well. Let us therefore set the acceptable level for corn farmers, take away the excess profits, invest it new forms of sweeteners or biofuels farmers cannot yet produce, and give people rebates for Splenda to compensate for the price of high fructose corn syrup.

It's not that we cannot produce any more oil; you suspect that some are motivated by the belief, perverse as it sounds, that we should not. We should not drill 50 miles off shore on the chance someone in Malibu takes a hot-air balloon up 1000 feet and uses a telephoto lens to scan the horizon for oil platforms. Also, there are ecological concerns. (The ocean is a wee place, easily disturbed.) There's something else that may well be my imagination, but I can't quite shake the feeling: high gas prices and shortages of oil make some people feel good. This is the way it has to be. Oil is bad. Cars are bad. Cars make suburbs possible. Suburbs are the antithesis of the way we should live, which is stacked upon one another in dense blocks tied together by happy whirring trains. So some guy who drives to work alone has to spend more money for the privilege of being alone in his car listening to hate radio?

Good.

Yes, I know, projection and demonizaton and oversimplification. But this is true: there's a side of the domestic political structure that opposes expansion of domestic energy production, be it drilling or nukes or more refineries.

But remember, just like George Bush, James Lileks has family ties to the [dum, dum, duuuuuum!] oil industry.

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

Republican senator wants to scrap outdated concepts like habeus corpus

I usually discount this sort of thing, but according to this article, Senator Lindsey Graham is clearly unstable and probably unfit for office:

In response to today's landmark Supreme Court decision granting habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees, Lindsey Graham has decided he wants to amend the United State Constitution to strip it of any pesky kinds of civil rights protections that have existed since the Magna Carta.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vowed Thursday to do everything in his power to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision on Guantanamo Bay detainees, saying that "if necessary," he would push for a constitutional amendment to modify the decision.

Graham blasted the decision as "irresponsible and outrageous," echoing the sentiments of many congressional Republicans and President Bush.

There's being wrong, and then there's being so determined to be wrong that you enter a parallel universe. Senator Graham appears to have been inhabiting that other universe for quite some time.

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

June 12, 2008

Proposed changes to Canada's copyright law

In a display of serendipidity, Jon sent along a link to this Toronto Star article on proposed revisions to the Copyright Act:

Canadian consumers could face damages of $500 and upwards for owning bootleg copies of music, books and other copyright material, under legislative reforms introduced today.

There would be fines of up to $20,000 for public infringements of copyright law, such as posting music to the Internet or even giving a iPod loaded with your music.

The Conservative today unveiled long-awaited changes to the Copyright Act, a bid to bring the law into the digital age.

And if you're confused about the changes, the government has some advice — go see a lawyer.

"If you need to know how the law applies to a particular situation, please seek advice from a lawyer," read the warning printed on the information sheets distributed to reporters this morning.

"Intellectual property is complicated," a government official told a briefing this morning.

This does seem to support some of the things reported in the article I linked to earlier today.

Update: According to Cory Doctorow, this is just like the American DMCA, except worse:

Canadian Industry Minister Jim Prentice introduced his answer to the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act today as planned, and it's even worse than the US DMCA. The Canadian DMCA allows every single exception to copyright to be eliminated by adding DRM: whatever the law allows you to do, a corporation can take away, just by using DRM to prevent you from doing it. Breaking DRM is illegal, unless you fit into a tiny, narrow, useless exception for security research.

It used to be that Parliament got to write copyright law. Now, it's Hollywood companies, who get to overrule Parliamentary law with whatever "business rules" they put in their DRM.

Michael Geist has the depressing analysis. Makes me want to cry. Watch this space for tips on getting in touch with your MP to make sure that this farce dies in Parliament.

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

Scalzi calls Fox News on their (not-so) hidden racism

John Scalzi works up a head of steam at Fox News over a particularly slimy trick:

Fox News Would Like To Take a Moment To Remind You That the Obamas Are As Black As Satan's Festering, Baby-Eating Soul

Back in the day — you know, when presidential candidates were respectably white — news organizations called potential First Ladies "wives." But now that black folks are running, we can get all funky fresh with the lingo, yo. So it's basically fine for Fox News to use "Baby Mama" for Michelle Obama, slang that implies a married 44-year-old Princeton-educated lawyer is, to use an Urban Dictionary definition of the term, "some chick you knocked up on accident during a fling who you can't stand but you have to tolerate cuz she got your baby now." Because the Obamas are black! And the blacks, they're all relaxed about that shit, yo. Word up. And anyway, as the caption clearly indicates, it's not Fox News that's calling Michelle Obama "Baby Mama," it's outraged liberals. Fox News is just telling you what those outraged liberals are saying. They didn't want to use the term "Baby Mama." But clearly they had no choice.

Meanwhile, over at her personal site, Michelle "Fox News' Ethnic Shield" Malkin defends Fox News' use of the "Baby Mama" phrase by essentially making two arguments. First, Michelle Obama once called Barack Obama her "baby's daddy," and as we all know, a married woman factually and correctly calling her husband her child's father is exactly the same as a major news organization calling a potential First Lady some chick what got knocked up on a fling. Second, the term "baby-daddy" has gone out into the common culture; heck, even Tom Cruise was called Katie Holmes' baby-daddy, you know, when he impregnated her and she subsequently gave birth while the two were not married, which is exactly like what happened between Michelle and Barack Obama, who were married in 1992 and whose first child was born six years later.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:45 PM | Comments (0)

Guantanamo inmates do have rights, says SCOTUS

Good news for fans of the rule of law: the detainees at Guantanamo do have habeus corpus rights, according to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision today:

In a stunning blow to the Bush Administration in its war-on-terrorism policies, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay have a right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention. The Court, dividing 5-4, ruled that Congress had not validly taken away habeas rights. If Congress wishes to suspend habeas, it must do so only as the Constitution allows — when the country faces rebellion or invasion.

The Court stressed that it was not ruling that the detainees are entitled to be released — that is, entitled to have writs issued to end their confinement. That issue, it said, is left to the District Court judges who will be hearing the challenges. The Court also said that "we do not address whether the President has authority to detain" individuals during the war on terrorism, and hold them at the U.S. Naval base in Cuba; that, too, it said, is to be considered first by the District judges.

This is an important — and long overdue — slap in the face to the US government in regard to their cavalier disregard of one of the fundamentals of common law. The detainees (I think they should have been categorized as prisoners of war, right from the start, and treated as such) have the right to be informed of the charges under which they're being held, and to challenge those charges in court.

The only remaining question is whether the Bush White House still feels any need to pay attention to those bothersome gadflies on the Supreme Court . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 01:37 PM | Comments (0)

Give me a break . . .

By way of Radley Balko's site comes this link to a month-old story about a distressing development:

The federal government is secretly negotiating an agreement to revamp international copyright laws which could make the information on Canadian iPods, laptop computers or other personal electronic devices illegal and greatly increase the difficulty of travelling with such devices.

The deal could also impose strict regulations on Internet service providers, forcing those companies to hand over customer information without a court order.

Called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the new plan would see Canada join other countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, to form an international coalition against copyright infringement. [. . .]

The deal would create a international regulator that could turn border guards and other public security personnel into copyright police. The security officials would be charged with checking laptops, iPods and even cellular phones for content that "infringes" on copyright laws, such as ripped CDs and movies.

The guards would also be responsible for determining what is infringing content and what is not.

The agreement proposes any content that may have been copied from a DVD or digital video recorder would be open for scrutiny by officials - even if the content was copied legally.

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

QotD: "The chains of history always rust away"

For all the paper thin guarantees of the Charter, Canadians have no more rights before the law than Czech dissidents did forty years ago. This is not only the province of those few singled out for the extremity of their views or, increasingly, those singled out for their audacity to mock the Canadian Establishment. This is also about the systematic silencing of what used to be Canada across entire professions, academic disciplines, the federal and provincial civil service, the arts and the media. To merely hold as private opinion what was until recently the law of the land can now produce fines, imprisonment and — worst of all to my mind — public recantations.

There was a lot I did not like in what used to be Canada: A priggish, self-satisfied narrow-mindedness, the public imposition of private morality and a nose in every window. Much of which, I suspect, would not have bothered David Warren in the least, transparent as the imposition of his religious views on the rest of us might have been to him at the time. But it dawns on me now not a thing has changed; Canada's clothes are new but the sour expression remains.

Yet we must not despair. I share a conviction with David Warren if not the particulars of his faith. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierces me that in the end the Shadow is only a small and passing thing: there is light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

Nick Packwood, "The chains of history always rust away", Ghost of a Flea, 2008-06-12

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

Headline of the day

Radley Balko pens the headline of the day:

First, They Came for Michael Medved. And I Didn't Speak Up, Because Michael Medved Is an Enormous Douche

Across the street from its massive Holocaust memorial, Berlin recently opened up a modest memorial to the approximately 10,000 homosexuals killed by Hitler. Such "moral equivalence" has Michael Medved all hot and bothered [. . .]

The infamous Paragraph 175 of the Reichstag Code also allowed for the castration of thousands more homosexuals. But let's have a look at this memorial that Medved says is indicative of efforts to "depict homosexuals as prime targets of Hitler," over Jews. Here's an aerial shot of the main Holocaust memorial in Berlin. It consists of 2,711 stone slabs. [. . .] the new homosexual memorial, which consists of a single concrete slab located across the street

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

Whitby Purple wins a squeaker

The winning streak is still alive . . . but just barely.

Whitby Purple did just enough to keep the winning streak going against basement-dwelling Whitby Royal Blue last night at Carnwith West field. As has been the case in every game so far this season, Purple did everything but lay a red carpet in front of their own goal and were punished early as Royal Blue went ahead on about the 15th minute of play.

As has also been a habit, most of the offensive action was by Royal Blue deep in Purple's end of the field. Purple was very lucky to get the equalizing goal just before the referee blew the whistle for half-time. James S. managed to get a glancing shot just inside the post at about the 44th minute in a confusing scrum in the Royal Blue 6-yard box.

The second half started off well for Purple, with Adriano C. getting his first goal of the season as Purple turned the tables and spent much of the second half constantly attacking Royal Blue's goal area. Accuracy, both in passing and in finishing, were sadly lacking or Purple would have converted many more opportunities during the second half.

Goalkeeping was an issue for Purple, as Chris A. had injured his hand and Nick M. was late getting to the field, just barely getting his equipment on before the whistle to start the first half. Emergency keeper Jordan C. was only challenged a few times and kept a clean sheet for the second half.

With a 4-0 record, Purple is now in undisputed possession of first place in the Under-18 Boys division. But they were so lucky to come away with a win in this game.

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

June 11, 2008

Fewer road signs = safer roads?

John Staddon examines the contrast between American and British road sign policies:

Economists and ecologists sometimes speak of the "tragedy of the commons" — the way rational individual actions can collectively reduce the common good when resources are limited. How this applies to traffic safety may not be obvious. It's easy to understand that although it pays the selfish herdsman to add one more sheep to common grazing land, the result may be overgrazing, and less for everyone. But what is the limited resource, the commons, in the case of driving? It's attention. Attending to a sign competes with attending to the road. The more you look for signs, for police, and at your speedometer, the less attentive you will be to traffic conditions. The limits on attention are much more severe than most people imagine. And it takes only a momentary lapse, at the wrong time, to cause a serious accident.

The reductio, of course, is to eliminate road signs altogether . . . except it does not end ad absurdio:

So what am I suggesting — abolishing signs and rules? A traffic free-for-all? Actually, I wouldn't be the first to suggest that. A few European towns and neighborhoods — Drachten in Holland, fashionable Kensington High Street in London, Prince Charles's village of Poundbury, and a few others — have even gone ahead and tried it. They've taken the apparently drastic step of eliminating traffic control more or less completely in a few high-traffic and pedestrian-dense areas. The intention is to create environments in which everyone is more focused, more cautious, and more considerate. Stop signs, stoplights, even sidewalks are mostly gone. The results, by all accounts, have been excellent: pedestrian accidents have been reduced by 40 percent or more in some places, and traffic flows no more slowly than before.

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

QotD: The press secretary

The release of former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan's tell-all memoir has Washington buzzing, though there's a certain Capt. Renault-like phoniness to all the indignation: Are we really all that surprised that this administration — or for that matter, any administration — would ask its press secretary to lie, mislead, or dissemble in front of the media?

Should we really be shocked-shocked! that the White House might also keep its press secretary out of the loop when it comes to brewing political scandals, so he can convincingly feign ignorance when the press queries him about them?

While ostensibly serving as a liaison between the press and the president, White House press secretaries serve really only one function: to boost the president's image. White House press offices are little more than public relations machines for the administration they're serving.

Radley Balko, "The Public Spinmeisters: Why do politicians get a well-oiled PR machine at taxpayer expense?", Reason Online, 2008-06-10

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

The end of American Identity politics?

Terry Michael is looking forward to a major change in American political dialogue:

We are nearing the end of American identity politics as we know it. Bearing that gift to those who prize the individual over the tribal is a messenger who shared a Hyde Park neighborhood with Milton Friedman, though with a public record that suggests he is more statist than classical liberal.

But Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), can't be categorized that simply. He is, rather, an intellectual and ideological work in progress. Not stuck in cable-babble caricatured time, he may be traveling the circuitous path many "liberal-tarians" — or libertarian Democrats like me — treaded as we grew and found our way back to the self-reliant values that informed our pluralistic democracy. We lost those values in the Industrial and Progressive eras, when advocates of centralized planning prized society's perfection over individual liberty. While Obama's positions don't exactly channel the Cato Institute, his departure from usual Democratic Party left-liberalism is reflected in the left's suspicion of him for not having all the 162-point plans of Sen. Hillary Clinton, or spewing the syrupy populism of trial lawyer to the underclass, Sen. John Edwards.

To me, this suggests the beginnings of a journey away from the Great Society mind-set of the Democratic Party. I was a 1960s teenage political junkie who wanted to complete the New Deal, with wealth redistribution and "social justice" managed from Washington. I morphed into a 1980s DLC centrist, embracing mushy "progressive" politics as a halfway house from statist liberalism. Now in my own sixties, I have rediscovered the founder of my party, Thomas Jefferson, in an information era in which we are desktop-empowered to seek our own way and make our own choices, much like the agrarian age inventors of our political system.

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

June 10, 2008

QotD: North and South

There exists in England a curious cult of Northernness, sort of Northern snobbishness. A Yorkshireman in the South will always take care to let you know that he regards you as an inferior. If you ask him why, he will explain that it is only in the North that life is 'real' life, that the industrial work done in the North is the only 'real' work, that the North is inhabited by 'real' people, the South merely by rentiers and their parasites. The Northerner has 'grit', he is grim, 'dour', plucky, warm-hearted, and democratic; the Southerner is snobbish, effeminate, and lazy — that at any rate is the theory. Hence the Southerner goes north, at any rate for the first time, with the vague inferiority-complex of a civilized man venturing among savages, while the Yorkshireman, like the Scotchman, comes to London in the spirit of a barbarian out for loot. And feelings of this kind, which are the result of tradition, are not affected by visible facts. Just as an Englishman five feet four inches high and twenty-nine inches round the chest feels that as an Englishman he is the physical superior of Camera (Camera being a Dago), so also with the Northerner and the Southerner. I remember a weedy little Yorkshireman, who would almost certainly have run away if a fox-terrier had snapped at him, telling me that in the South of England he felt 'like a wild invader'. But the cult is often adopted by people who are not by birth Northerners themselves. A year or two ago a friend of mine, brought up in the South but now living in the North, was driving me through Suffolk in a car. We passed through a rather beautiful village. He glanced disapprovingly at the cottages and said:

'Of course most of the villages in Yorkshire are hideous; but the Yorkshiremen are splendid chaps. Down here it's just the other way about — beautiful villages and rotten people. All the people in those cottages there are worthless, absolutely worthless.'

I could not help inquiring whether he happened to know anybody in that village. No, he did not know them; but because this was East Anglia they were obviously worthless. Another friend of mine, again a Southerner by birth, loses no opportunity of praising the North to the detriment of the South. Here is an extract from one of his letters to me:

I am in Clitheroe, Lancs. . . . I think running water is much more attractive in moor and mountain country than in the fat and sluggish South. 'The smug and silver Trent,' Shakespeare says; and the South-er the smugger, I say.

Here you have an interesting example of the Northern cult. Not only are you and I and everyone else in the South of England written off as 'fat and sluggish', but even water when it gets north of a certain latitude, ceases to be H2O and becomes something mystically superior. But the interest of this passage is that its writer is an extremely intelligent man of 'advanced' opinions who would have nothing but contempt for nationalism in its ordinary form. Put to him some such proposition as 'One Britisher is worth three foreigners', and he would repudiate it with horror. But when it is a question of North versus South, he is quite ready to generalize. All nationalistic distinctions — all claims to be better than somebody else because you have a different-shaped skull or speak a different dialect — are entirely spurious, but they are important so long as people believe in them. There is no doubt about the Englishman's inbred conviction that those who live to the south of him are his inferiors; even our foreign policy is governed by it to some extent.

George Orwell, "North and South", The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937

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

25 Snow Whites?

Helicopter parents? You've got a new standard of overprotectiveness to measure yourselves against: did you make sure your daughter got to star as Snow White?

The stage was set, the lights went down and in a suburban Japanese primary school everyone prepared to enjoy a performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The only snag was that the entire cast was playing the part of Snow White.

For the audience of menacing mothers and feisty fathers, though, the sight of 25 Snow Whites, no dwarfs and no wicked witch was a triumph: a clear victory for Japan's emerging new class of "Monster Parents".

For they had taken on the system and won. After a relentless campaign of bullying, hectoring and nuisance phone calls, the monster parents had cowed the teachers into submission, forcing the school to admit to the injustice of selecting just one girl to play the title role.

Across Japan teachers are reporting an astonishing change in the character of parents, who, after decades of respectful silence, have become a super-aggressive army of complainers. The problem is that nobody can decide whether this is a good thing or not. Japan's mass media has opted to demonise them: a lavish television drama starting next month will present the monster parents as a vile symptom of a society that has lost all respect for its traditions and decorum.

So, if your precious little snowflake didn't star in the school play? You're a failure as a parent.

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

No bad press, revisited

I posted a short piece last week about the owner of Nathaniel's Restaurant in Owen Sound, who probably didn't agree with the old saying about there being no such thing as bad press, after his business came to the notice of the media for firing laying off a waitress who'd shaved her head for a cancer charity fund-raiser. Yesterday, he apologized:

Dan Hilliard is offering his apology to Stacey Fearnall, a waitress who no longer works at the downtown eatery after shaving her head for Cops for Cancer.

Hilliard is also apologizing to the Canadian Cancer Society, Cops for Cancer and the public "for failing to resolve the issue."

Hilliard says the public outcry after the story broke has been devastating for all involved and has upset the staff, who he describes in a news release as family.

Hilliard says Fearnall was not fired — but was offered to take the summer off to spend with her children and husband.

He says he has not received a response from her yet on the offer.

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

June 09, 2008

QotD: A reason to regret Hillary's departure

I personally leaned toward Obama in this contest fairly early on (I think Edwards was marginally closer to my own most perfect candidate this time around, but that was pretty much a non-starter), but as I also mentioned, as far as these leading candidates went on the Democratic side, there was no real downside for me. I would have quite happily voted for Clinton if it had gone her way, not only for her own policies and qualities, but also simply to watch conservative heads explode at the idea of the Clintons setting up shop at 1600 Pennsylvania again. There's not enough Schadenfreude Pie in the world for that sort of event.

John Scalzi, "Off Into the Sunset", Whatever, 2008-06-07

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

Megan McArdle on Sweden

Megan responds to a particularly uninspired criticism:

So sorry that I didn't provide links on my Sweden post about disability, unemployment, and so forth. I just sort of assumed that Sweden's amazing rates of disability, "true" unemployment rate that may top 20%, and so forth were common knowledge. They certainly aren't particularly controversial. But if there is anything less common than common sense, it's probably "common knowledge".

That, presumably, is how this got written. It's a compendium of extremely weak Google-fu that betrays a pretty fundamental lack of knowledge about Sweden's economic problems.

Let me be clear: Sweden is not by any means a dystopian hell on earth full of morose workers standing in endless queues for Yugoslavian shoes. It's a lovely place to live, full of people who are about as happy as genetics and the weather permit them to be. However, Sweden is wrestling with a lot of big issues. I was going to write a post about them to correct some of Ms. G's more bizarre misperceptions, but I was beaten to the punch by the inimitable Michael Moynihan, who has lived in Sweden, is married to a (lovely) Swede, and has spent far more time on the subject than I have, explain. Luckily for you, he's done a far better job than I would have. I won't excerpt, because it should be read in its entirety.

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

The Obama phenomenon

Steve Chapman examines the enigma wrapped in a Rorschach Test that is Barack Obama:

I was just getting used to the idea that Barack Obama is an America-hating left-winger bent on socialism and surrender. Then along comes Ralph Nader, who says the problem with Obama is that he's an obedient steward of the status quo, doing the bidding of greedy corporations. Naderites, conservatives, and many others agree he's a menace. They just can't agree on why.

Obama has said, in reference to his broad appeal, "I am like a Rorschach test"—meaning that his admirers have a knack for seeing in him exactly what they want to find. But the inkblots work the other way, too: People who dislike him have detected a multitude of reasons to justify their animus.

To Hillary Clinton's supporters, he was always a dreamy innocent who would be ground up by the Republican attack machine. To some critics, he's a sleazy Chicago pol. When he ran for Congress against a black incumbent, he lost because some voters thought he was too white. In some primary states this year, some voters thought he was, well, not too white.

The secret appears to be "don't define yourself — let others project their definitions onto you". Historically, that's been a losing pattern, but this year it seems to be working for Obama.

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

June 06, 2008

QotD: Womens' rights in France

[C]ritics of the ruling, including the justice minister and the prime minister, insist it must be challenged because it represents a defeat for feminism and secularism. Evidently women's freedom must be restricted to protect their freedom: they cannot be allowed to enter into whatever contracts they choose or make their own legal decisions because they might misuse those rights. Just to be clear, that is the feminist position. As for the secularist imperative, which in France is strong enough to override the free exercise of religion, I do not understand how it can co-exist with legal principles that empower aggrieved religious groups to punish people for speech that offends them. How can the same country that fears Muslims are taking over when they insist on wearing headscarves or marrying virgins prosecute a novelist for contempt of Islam?

Jacob Sullum, "What's the matter With France?", Hit and Run, 2008-06-05

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

First Goldwater, then Paul?

David Weigel looks at the ongoing ripples in the Republican party from Ron Paul's candidacy race:

"We've seen how the politics of fear chip away at freedom at home," he declares, sounding suddenly sure of himself. "Where are the defenders of freedom today? Where are our Thomas Jeffersons? Where are our Barry Goldwaters? There are a few defenders of freedom, but they are outnumbered, and they need our help."

Singh has one particular defender of freedom in mind: Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). It was Paul's libertarian-minded presidential campaign that got Singh into politics, first as a donor, then as a Virginia volunteer, and now as a candidate for Congress. A month after watching Paul score 4.5 percent of the vote in the Virginia primary, Singh threw his hat into the ring for the 8th District congressional seat.

By the end of the 2008 elections, as many as 40 self-proclaimed Ron Paul Republicans will have run for national office. The reception they are getting from their state parties ranges from warm embraces to Terminator-like efforts to destroy them. After a year of supporting a presidential candidate the party's gatekeepers treated like a radioactive performance artist, the Paulites are used to ridicule. They want to carve out a permanent place in Republican politics, regardless of whether the party wants them to be there.

It's difficult to predict just how much influence Ron Paul's revolutionaries can have — even if they manage to get elected — but it's a positive sign for American politics as a whole. The permanent two-party system prevents viable third parties from arising (by legal obstruction, ballot access restrictions, and just about anything else you can think of), so would-be reformers have only two choices: work within one of the existing parties or work completely outside the political sphere.

This will be a live experiment for small-L libertarians on how viable the "work within" model can be for advancing their aims.

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

Remember that old saying about there being no such thing as bad press?

The owners of Nathaniel's Restaurant in Owen Sound may beg to differ:

When she took part in a local fundraiser for cancer research, all Stacey Fearnall thought she had to lose was a full head of hair.

Instead, the 36-year-old waitress at Nathaniels restaurant in Owen Sound, who raised more than $2,700 for the charity Cops for Cancer in exchange for her locks, was laid off when she showed up for work earlier this week with a shorn head.

Okay, that's pretty bad: the restaurant sounds like a medium-bad employer from circa 1965. But it gets worse . . .

"Nobody would really look at her, make eye contact. They didn't really say anything and it made her feel kind of less than human."

It was a slow night so she came home early, but when she called to say she'd be in the next day, she was told not to bother, he added.

Nathaniels owner and chef Dan Hilliard defended his decision, saying the restaurant has certain standards. He prohibits male staff from wearing earrings and requires employees keep their hair at a reasonable length.

Yikes. I'm guessing that Mr. Hilliard will be banning customers from bringing in copies of the Toronto Star after this.

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

June 05, 2008

Headline of the day

The folks at Fark.com can be a little over-the-top . . . okay, seriously over-the-top, but some of the headlines are literal gems:

Fark_Jun05_2008.png

Newsday link here, and Fark discussion thread here.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

Testing, testing

Having some issues with posting today . . . the server wouldn't accept any new files I tried to create.

Update: Of course, the fact that this posted successfully just makes the problem harder to diagnose.

Update the second: It's nice to actually see a post arrive on the site without having multiple 500 errors show up. I didn't even need to rebuild the index files for this post (and the 1st update) to appear as expected.

I hope this means that the modifications to the cgi scripts that Jon mentioned earlier today have actually fixed the ongoing problem. (Or Jon may tell me tomorrow that he was too busy with real life to mess around on the site, and that we still don't know why the site is behaving oddly . . .)

Update the third: Lovely! Not only does the site not spit out regular 500 errors, but it actually rebuilds the index files when I save 'em. Sweet!. Thanks Jon!

Update the fourth: Of course, after I exult about the lack of 500 errors, the edit containing that exultation promptly results in a 500 errror, but it's still better than it's been for a few weeks.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:12 PM | Comments (0)

One-image psychological test

As James Lileks says "I'm not saying it's the be-all / end-all of ideological tests, but you can tell a lot about a person by their reaction to this ad.

That was then, to understate the case. Nowadays we've done away with these dangerous violent antisocial pseudo-guns, and replaced them with merry-makers like Nerf guns and Supersoakers and other items whose makers encourage you to point them at your friends.

This does not seem like an improvement, if you ask me.

Some of the ads are hilarious . . . proving that the past really is a different country. (It does have the Red Ryder BB gun, but it's not quite the way Ralphie described it.)

The Red Ryder BB gun was prominently featured in the popular 1983 film A Christmas Story, in which the main character requests one for Christmas, but is repeatedly rebuffed with the warning "You'll shoot your eye out". The movie's fictional BB gun, described as the "Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle BB gun with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time", does not correspond to any production model nor even a prototype; the Red Ryder featured in the movie was specially made to match author Jean Shepherd's story (which may be artistic license, but was the configuration Shepard claimed to remember).

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

Third game . . . exactly the same pattern

Last night's game between Whitby Purple and Whitby Maroon followed the script of previous games almost to a "T": Maroon ran rings around Purple for the first half, then was obliterated in the second half. At the end of the first 45 minutes of play, the 1-0 score flattered Purple, as Maroon should have converted at least three more attempts. Purple had managed a few shots, but had wasted all of the set-piece opportunities (five corners, only one of which threatened the Maroon keeper).

One very scary moment near the break, as Chris A. was kicked in the face and went down like he'd been poleaxed . . . I lost my cell phone as I ran out onto the field to tend to him. He thought he could continue, but I made sure he really was back to normal before I let him resume play. Fortunately, he'd only been a bit shaken up, with no serious damage done.

The second half started with Maroon still keeping up the pressure, going up 2-0 after about the 50th minute. Then the tide turned. Andrew S. broke the drought a few minutes later, followed by the first of two by Mitchell B. Anthony C. added a goal and then Mark M. got his first goal of the season, for a final score of 5-2 in Purple's favour.

After the game was over, the referee made some notations on the official game sheet, renaming the teams to "Deep Purple" and "Red Bull". I have no idea why. Oddly enough, Dylan M., Purple's small but speedy defender has been dubbed "Red Bull" by his teammates on the sidelines, and he was getting regular encouragement whenever he was on the field.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:26 AM | Comments (0)

June 04, 2008

Zero time to blog . . .

. . . late start to the day, early finish as well, followed by a soccer game. No available blocks for blogging, so I'll just leave you with the latest Zero Punctuation episode and head back to the salt mine.

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

June 03, 2008

Live-blogging, day two

Andrew Coyne is live-blogging the second day of the BC kangaroo court case:

9:53 AM I remain impressed with Steyn’s ability to influence opinion even in advance of publication. I admit this seems implausible. However, we must always remember, good people of Salem, that when when it comes to witches, all things are possible, natural and supernatural…

9:55 AM Here come da pseudo-judges. The Fisher clipping is ruled out of order…

9:57 AM Now entering three reports on racism and Islamophobia in other countries: the European Monitoring Centre, a UN commission, and a third whose provenance I didn’t catch.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:16 PM | Comments (0)

At the intersection of technology and religious literalism

Bruce Schneier links to an interesting site which promises to provide notification (and financial information) to the "unsaved" who are to be "left behind" after the "rapture":

It's easy to laugh at the You've Been Left Behind site, which purports to send automatic e-mails to your friends after the Rapture:

The unsaved will be 'left behind' on earth to go through the "tribulation period" after the "Rapture". . . We have made it possible for you to send them a letter of love and a plea to receive Christ one last time. You will also be able to give them some help in living out their remaining time. In the encrypted portion of your account you can give them access to your banking, brokerage, hidden valuables, and powers of attorneys' (you won't be needing them any more, and the gift will drive home the message of love). There won't be any bodies, so probate court will take 7 years to clear your assets to your next of Kin. 7 years of course is all the time that will be left. So, basically the Government of the AntiChrist gets your stuff, unless you make it available in another way.

But what if the creator of this site isn't as scrupulous as he implies he is? What if he uses all of that account information, passwords, safe combinations, and whatever before any rapture? And even if he is an honest true believer, this seems like a mighty juicy target for any would-be identity thief.

If you're convinced that you'll be among the "saved", then this may strike you as a good idea. If you're not the believing sort, this will probably strike you as a scam-of-scams. Even if the owners are, as Bruce writes, "honest true believers", the idea of all that potentially useful financial information being stored at one known site must be tempting to certain folks.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

What is at stake in BC's kangaroo court

Brian Hutchinson gives an overview of the ongoing quasi-legal star chamber:

None of the main players starring in this quasi-judicial drama actually live or work in B. C. Not Mr. Steyn, not the editors responsible for Maclean's, and not Mohamed Elmasry, a Muslim who launched a complaint to the B. C. Human Rights Tribunal on behalf of all Muslims in this province.

Neither Mr. Steyn, nor his editors, nor Mr. Elmasry were in sight when the tribunal panel began the week-long hearing yesterday. Mr. Steyn will not testify, say lawyers for Maclean's. Nor will Mr. Elmasry, the aggrieved. So why bring the complaint forward here? Because Mr. Elmasry can. This thanks to provincial human rights legislation of a breadth and elasticity not known in other parts of Canada.

Mr. Elmasry, the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, and a highly controversial figure himself — especially among Jewish groups — claims the Steyn excerpt denigrated and vilified Canadian Muslims and promoted hatred of an identifiable group.

He is not obliged to demonstrate what harm occurred to whom, or to what degree. Maclean's magazine and Mr. Steyn could still be found to have violated B. C.'s Human Rights Code. No proof of damage is required.

Meanwhile, if found to have violated the code, Maclean's faces sanctions, including payment to the complainant "an amount that the member or panel considers appropriate to compensate that person for injury to dignity, feelings and self respect or to any of them."

The magazine could also be ordered to stop publishing certain ideas and points of view. Lawyer Faisal Joseph, representing the complainant, asked the Tribunal yesterday to use its "discretion" and order Maclean's to publish a suitable response in its pages. That, or publish the panel's ultimate findings. Such are the frightening aspect of this case.

"Strict rules of evidence do not apply" in cases before the Tribunal, noted its chairwoman, Heather MacNaughton. A lawyer and a veteran of human rights inquiries, she made the comment yesterday afternoon, when allowing an Ontario law student — yet another non-B. C. resident — to deliver for the complainant testimony about the "Islamaphobic" Steyn excerpt.

As several writers have pointed out, it's difficult to imagine Steyn and Maclean's being found innocent: the language under which the Tribunal operates pretty much guarantees a conviction. This is, in that sense, merely the opening act of the drama . . . after they are found guilty, then the real legal case can start to unfold.

Update: Iowahawk gets to the heart of the matter:

Announcer
Thanks to stepped up enforcement and random internet checks, Canadian speech crimes have been cut nearly in half over the last three years. It's a record all Canadians can be proud of, but it's only a first step.

Man's Voice (echo-y reverb)
Stupid foreigners!

Announcer
Experts estimate that only 1/2 of 1% of all Canadian speech crimes are ever prosecuted, because most occur in the shadowy silence of private thought. It's time that all Canadians work together to recognize and report these non-verbal crimes before it's too late. If you know or suspect someone of harboring or contemplating offensive or otherwise un-Canadian ideas, please report to your Provincial Human Rights Office.

Man's Voice (echo-y reverb)
Stupid foreigners!

Sound FX:
jail door slamming shut

Announcer
This has been a public service announcement of the Royal Canadian Mounted Human Rights Police, reminding you to Think Before You Think.

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

Places where "feminism" isn't even in the dictionary

Foreign Policy lists the worst of the worst: the places in each region where women are the furthest from equality:

YEMEN
Worst in the Middle East
Share of women in Assembly of Representatives: Less than 1 percent
Female-to-male income ratio: 30:100
Female literacy rate: 35 percent

Early marriage is commonplace in Yemen, with 48 percent of girls married by the time they are 18 and some brides as young as 12. The result: poor health for mothers and babies. One in 39 women die during pregnancy or childbirth, and 1 in 10 children doesn't make it to a fifth birthday. Yemeni women live particularly restricted lives; for example, getting a passport and traveling abroad requires a husband's or father's permission.

SIERRA LEONE
Worst in Africa
Share of women in Parliament: 13 percent
Female-to-male income ratio: 45:100
Female literacy rate: 24 percent

Sierra Leone has the unfortunate distinction of having the worst gender inequality in the world, according to the U.N. Human Development Report's gender index, which scores countries on health, education, and economic indicators for women. One in 8 women dies during pregnancy or childbirth, and women have an abysmal life expectancy of just 43 years, one of the lowest in the world. Girls can expect to receive only six years of schooling. On top of it all, the horrors of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, in which perhaps a third of the country's women and girls suffered sexual violence, haunt women today. Widows struggle to get by, survivors of wartime rape face stigma and discrimination, and men continue to assault women with impunity. The country's Parliament enacted laws last June that criminalize wife-beating and allow women to inherit property, but how well those measures will be enforced remains to be seen.

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

June 02, 2008

Live-blogging the end of free speech in Canada

My old drinking buddy, Andrew Coyne*, will be live-blogging the final gasp of freedom of speech in Canada starting at 12:30 EST today. Tune in, turn off, get nauseous.

Just a head's-up: I'll be live blogging the case of Mohamed Elmasry vs. Mark Steyn/Maclean's before (sigh) the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, direct from kangaroo-courtroom 105 of the Robson Square Provincial Court building in Vancouver, starting sometime after 9:30 Pacific/12:30 Eastern Monday morning and going on for, I don't know, days. Just hit refresh.

All the dense legalese, with twice the politically correct jargon!

* Okay, we drank together once. At a blogstravaganza. I doubt he could pick me out of a police line-up.

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

Mower woes

Katharine Wroth has a common experience:

When my fella and I bought our house last year, we tried to make thoughtful decisions as we accessorized our new lives — years of editing Umbra have left me with little choice. So we bought a reel mower — completely manual, no gas, no cord, just a few blades and some sweat.

And I'm here to report: Our mower sucks. It rattles. It doesn't cut all that well. It completely misses the tall, thin weeds that have populated our lawn this spring, so that even after a fresh cut it looks like we haven't touched the thing for weeks. Honestly, I don't want to care that I have a scraggly lawn — but I've started to feel self-conscious.

I half expect a formerly-kindly neighbor to wander over at any moment and chastise us for lawn neglect. We already had one wonder if we "couldn't afford a real mower" and confess that she had considered loaning us her gas mower out of pity.

Back in the dark ages, when we bought our first house, the seller left behind a real antique . . . an American Lawnmower Co. reel mower that had probably been new in 1950. It seemed to have been carved out of a single piece of cast iron: it was heavy. After we had the blades sharpened, it was excellent — even on the uneven ground around the base of the mature maple trees, it did a heck of a job. It wasn't an easy job, but it worked well and we got some exercise into the bargain.

Every year, we'd get the blades sharpened and the mower was good to go . . . until we ran out of places to get it sharpened. The last place we tried did such a terrible job that the mower was effectively ruined.

We switched to a new reel mower. It was light, easy to handle, and comfortable to use . . . everything you'd want in a mower, except for the fact that it did a piss-poor job of cutting the damned grass. Eventually, we gave up and switched to an electric mower.

At our next house, we tried again, buying a new reel mower from Lee Valley Tools (my favourite woodworking tool store, but who also have a sideline in gardening tools). It was a bit better than the other one, but still not even close to the quality of the old mower. It lasted several years, but eventually we mucked up the sharpening and had to buy a new mower.

This is a battery-powered mower. We've only had it a few weeks, so we'll see how it works over the season. It's got one distinct similarity to the original reel mower: it's heavy and awkward to use.

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

QotD: Modern political corruption

In today's terms, you might call it the Medicare Part D problem: even when Congress starts out with a laudable policy goal, like providing prescription drugs for seniors, by the time the legislation gets through both houses it amounts to little more than a grab bag of giveaways to politically connected business interests. Case in point: the recent Senate-passed Foreclosure Prevention Act, which contains $25 billion in tax breaks for home-builders and other businesses while doing very little to justify its name. The reason for this is straightforward: the amount of money spent on lobbying in the last Congressional session was $2.8 billion, nearly two times more than was spent in 2000. Overall, industry has contributed $14 million to Congressional candidates in this session.

This money, Lessig says, insidiously distorts Congressional outcomes and priorities because Congress members don't experience it as corruption. "Let's say you go to Congress," says Lessig, "and you believe there are two problems to deal with: piracy of copyrighted materials and welfare mothers who are really getting screwed by the system. You open up shop, and a million [lobbyists] come in and say we've got a thousand things to tell you about piracy, and nobody comes into your office and says we're going to help you with the welfare moms. So you shift your focus, but you never feel it. You think: maybe I could've spent more time on welfare moms, but I'm having a real effect on stopping piracy! That's the dynamic that is so critical here."

Of course, good-government reformers have been decrying the influence of money since at least the late nineteenth century. For all of Lessig's status as a visionary (he literally wrote the book on cyberspace law), what's most striking is that, as he admits, Change Congress doesn't embody any "new ideas." He envisions it as a movement tool kit that connects citizens to the work of the reform groups that already exist, a kind of "Google Maps mashup," as he puts it.

Christopher Hayes, "Mr. Lessig Goes to Washington", The Nation, 2008-05-29

Posted by Nicholas at 08:46 AM | Comments (0)

Drug War "highlights"

Nick Gillespie gathers together some of the more memorable moments of the War on [Some] Drugs:

If the recently concluded HBO series The Wire is arguably the most aesthetically accomplished fictional indictment of the decades-long war on drugs, there is no shortage of contenders for the most absurd bit of prohibitionist agitprop, from the unintentionally hilarious 1936 movie Tell Your Children (better known as Reefer Madness) to the widely parodied 1987 public service announcement in which the role of "your brain on drugs" is played by an egg frying in a skillet to an early 1990s TV ad in which the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles counsel a grammar school kid offered a fistful of joints ("Get a teacher," advise the Turtles, "get a pizza, get real").

Then there's the latest offering sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a mockumentary called Stoners in the Mist, featuring a pith-helmet-wearing narrator explaining the strange customs of the slack-jawed, amotivational, Lava lamp-loving inhabitants of "Cannabis Isle." Online at abovetheinfluence.com and featuring squirrely navigation and a rhythmic drum track more stupefying than anything produced by Cheech & Chong, Stoners underscores what most Americans already knew: Real winners don't do anti-drug websites.

Here's a short magical mystery tour, culled from the foggy memories of reason's editors, of decades of advertising and small-screen messages that inadvertently made childhood just a little more bearable. And drugs — even NoDoz — just a little cooler.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:39 AM | Comments (0)


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