August 31, 2008

Finger Lakes Wineries

Well, we're unpacking after our long-anticipated week of vacation time down in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The cottage was well-suited to our needs, being well off the beaten track — in fact the road that led to the cottage was steep, twisty, and (in places) dirt and dust with only a bit of gravel (the Quotemobile was very dusty after every trip in and out of the cottage). If nothing else, it made sure we were not going to be bothered by the coming-and-going of through traffic.

The dogs seemed to enjoy the change of location . . . eventually. The first couple of days were a bit tense for Xander, while Buffy had issues with stairs in unexpected locations (she's partly blind and navigates more by memory, I suspect); by the middle of the week, she'd gotten comfortable with the new configuration of furniture and rooms. Xander loved the idea of a house with so many doors; his favourite routine was to ask to go out one door into the back yard and zoom around the property at top speed and come back in through a different door. He did it so often that Victor got into the habit of opening the second door immediately after closing the first one.

Aside from the whole "get away from it all" urge (or as the SF fans used to say "to GAFIAte"), part of the idea was to do a bit of wine tasting, as the Finger Lakes region hosts dozens of wineries. Things didn't go exactly to plan, as I only managed to get in to visit a small number on this trip, but it largely confirmed the things I'd discovered on our first visit to the region last year. (Which I now notice never got blogged . . . because I started the new job immediately after getting back, and had fewer opportunities to blog for a few weeks.)

Anyway, the area is lovely, the wineries are plentiful, and it's far enough off the interstate that the traffic is rarely a huge problem. It struck me though that even though the wine business has been growing rapidly in that region, they're still several years behind the Niagara region as a whole. There are some very good individual wineries, and what appears to be an increasing determination to use vinifera grapes, but a lot of what is produced is the kind of sweet or semi-sweet wine from hybrid or native grape varieties that Niagara used to produce by the tanker-load in the 1960s and 70s.

We sampled some very good cabernet and pinot noir, some adequate reislings and chardonnays, and some sickly sweet vidal, catawba, and concord. At least one winery in the area is still selling one of their sparkling wines as "Champagne". Of course, if what sells is the sweet wine, they're well advised to produce it . . .

Last year, we'd managed to visit Glenora, Earle Estates Meadery, and Dr. Konstantin Frank (on Keuka Lake), plus a few others whose names I don't recall. This year, we tasted wines from the just-longer-than-walking-distance Silver Thread Vineyard (biodynamic, mostly vinifera), Standing Stone (mostly vinifera, including one of the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines we tasted), Poplar Ridge "Wine without bull" Vineyards (mostly hybrid and native grape varieties), Shalestone (red vinifera wines exclusively), and Penguin Bay (sparkling wines made from vinifera and non-vinifera grapes). I also visited Lamoreaux Landing, but they were dealing with a couple of large groups and it was so busy that I couldn't get served at the tasting bar, and we arrived at Hermann Wiemer just as they were closing up for the day. I was sorry to have missed getting in to Wiemer, as they specialize in Riesling . . . much of what I'd tasted on this trip was underwhelming. I have heard that the Finger Lakes can produce excellent quality Riesling, but I hadn't found much to back up that hope (but there are still dozens of wineries I've not yet visited). Most of the smaller wineries are only open on weekends, and with us arriving late on Saturday and leaving early the following Saturday, the timing was just off.

Overall, I most enjoyed the visits to Shalestone and Standing Stone, both for the quality of the wine and the conversation. Rob, the winemaker at Shalestone, was a very interesting man to meet, and we'd still have been talking an hour later if more visitors hadn't arrived to save him from being bored to death. I especially enjoyed his 2005 "Synergy", a blend of Syrah, Merlot, and Cab Sauv. At Standing Stone, I enjoyed the 2006 Pinot Noir and their 2005 "Pinnacle", a Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Cab Sauv.

Poplar Ridge was, um, unique among the wineries I've ever visited, in that it had the look and feel of a western tavern or wild-west saloon. While I was there, there was what appeared to be a wedding party — the girl wearing the tiara-and-veil was the clue — getting sozzled on sweet wines (fortunately, there was a stretch limo in the parking lot with the driver not partaking). I don't know how many wineries they'd already visited, but the noise level was rising steadily by the time I left.

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

August 26, 2008

Sunset over Seneca Lake


The view from the Callahan's cottage, looking west across Seneca Lake.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:55 PM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2008

Light posting for a bit

I'm out of town for a bit, staying at Mike & Mary Callahan's place (there's an SF connection for those who remember Spider Robinson's early work). I have internet access, although it's not super-convenient.

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

August 22, 2008

Unbelievable stat

According to this PC World article, "nearly 30 percent of Internet users confessed to purchasing something from spam e-mail."

If that is true, it's no wonder that we're being deluged with more and more spam . . . it clearly works.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:20 PM | Comments (0)

The spoiler?

David Weigel looks at the number three guy in the race for the presidency:

Never in the history of the Libertarian Party has an idea been executed so smoothly as the nomination of Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman — and former drug warrior — from Georgia. True, it took six ballots at the party’s national convention in Denver to nominate the man. True, the weekend before that vote was a marathon of rumors, threats, and twisted arms, with younger, more radical party members pitted against an old guard that included party founder David Nolan. But the ruckus culminated in the nomination of the most well-known and politically astute presidential candidate in party history. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the only other former congressman to run for president on the Libertarian ticket (in 1988), had already made 2008 a banner year for libertarian politics by launching a limited-government revolt in the Republican primaries. The question: whether Barr is poised to continue what Paul began.

Barr's campaign — and the possibility of a revitalized national Libertarian Party — will likely have more of an immediate electoral impact than Paul's did. The Republican Party, after all, is teeming with antibodies that have been able to fight off the diminishing libertarian virus within. Unless lightning struck, the heavens opened, and he stumbled upon the Ark of the Covenant, Paul was never going to win the GOP nomination. It wouldn't take much, though, for Barr's popularity to force John McCain to campaign in states he thought he had wrapped up, or even to swing one of those states into the Democratic column. The Libertarian Party has its greatest chance to affect a presidential election in 28 years.

Of course, should that happen to McCain's detriment, the few remaining libertarian-leaning Republicans should expect show trials (at the minimum) or death threats from their less principled co-religionists.

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

August 21, 2008

The media game of football

Gregg Easterbrook points out that Green Bay may have gotten the better part of the bargain by trading Brett Favre:

Me-me-me-me-me. That's what you get with Favre. As a senior star, he has earned an amount of special treatment. But not an unlimited amount — football is a team game. These days Terrell Owens is showing more team spirit than Favre; who would have believed that? You can say it's not Favre's fault that the media hyperventilate over him, but he strives to keep the spotlight on himself. Favre plays a humble, Southern boy routine. That's an act — he knows the endless retirements and unretirements are a way to hold our attention. On the very day of the trade, Jersey/B general manager Mike Tannenbaum said, "We're taking things season by season. We're really happy to have him for the season." Favre's contract runs through 2010; either Tannenbaum has already agreed to release Favre at the end of the year, or he is already assuming Favre will stage yet another hissy fit of some kind in the upcoming offseason.

Last season the Packers were 13-4, and they came within an overtime of going to the Super Bowl. How many Green Bay players from that team can you name, other than Favre? His constant media antics had the effect of denying recognition to his teammates. In June, Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported, "There is a substantial faction of younger players who are eager to play with Aaron Rodgers. Favre is at least a decade older than all but six guys on the roster. He dressed in his own locker room. He had minimal social interaction with teammates. Rodgers is one of the guys, and plenty of them are pulling for him." He dressed in his own locker room? In the past few seasons, Favre has been all about Favre, as if his teammates didn't exist. A man who wanted to maximize his own celebrity and income, at the expense of his teammates, would behave in that manner. That's what the Jets now have, and that's why his trade value was lower than Taylor's.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:27 AM | Comments (0)

Rudy's revival?

David Weigel pulls together the clues and makes a strong case for Rudy Giuliani being John McCain's choice for VP.

Ugh! So much for any hope of the VP candidate being any kind of balance for the ticket: Rudy is another instinctive authoritarian who — except for his unusual-for-a-Republican pro-choice stance — hasn't seen a civil rights restriction he couldn't support.

Rudy Can't Fail

Seriously, he can't. After his Wile E. Coyote-worthy faceplant in the primaries — $60 million in fundraising for half as many votes as Ron Paul and zero delegates — America's Mayor is giving the GOP convention keynote.

Giuliani was close to McCain before they faced off in the GOP primary and, after his disappointing third-place finish in Florida, the former New York mayor quickly threw his support to McCain.

Since then he’s been a frequent surrogate for McCain but has received no mention as a veep prospect. The keynote slot offers Giuliani, who is said to be considering a New York gubernatorial run in 2010, a high-profile opportunity to reestablish himself and tout McCain’s national security credentials.

Don't call it a comeback, he's been here for years. "Here" being "in the pro-choice ghetto of the GOP, trotted out for parties and then trundled back into his northeastern cave."

This news wouldn't be so interesting if it wasn't that the other people responsible for Giuliani's partial-birth abortion of a campaign were also falling upwards.

McCain has hired Giuliani's former campaign manager and communications director.

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

August 20, 2008

IPv6, the (distant) future of the internet

This was one of the best quotes on the topic I've found:

"At its peak, IPv6 represented less than one hundredth of 1 percent of Internet traffic" over the past year, Arbor Networks' Craig Labovitz wrote in a summary of the findings, adding wryly: "This is somewhat equivalent to the allowed parts of contaminants in drinking water."

Whole article here.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:57 PM | Comments (0)

"Unpleasant Profession" coming to the big screen?

According to a news item today, Robert Heinlein's novella "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" is to be filmed:

Phoenix Pictures principals Mike Medavoy, Arnie Messer and Brad Fischer will produce the adaptation of "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag," which they describe as a complex psychological thriller with plenty of action as well as some love interest. A title change is likely.

The deal with the "I, Robot" helmer closed several weeks ago, and the project will likely shoot after the Greek-born, Aussie-raised Proyas finishes the Nicolas Cage-starring thriller "Knowing" for Summit.

Originally published in 1942, the offbeat tale centers on a man who becomes increasingly disturbed when he realizes he cannot account for his activities during the day, or even explain what he does for a living. He divulges his problem to the husband-and-wife partners of a private detective agency, and their investigation leads to a series of revelations they could never have fathomed.

After the disaster that was the "reinterpretation" of Starship Troopers, I have to say that my expectations have been set very low for any other Heinlein work translated to other media.

H/T to Jill Tallman for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

"I'm from the government, I'm here to help you"

Nine aircraft grounded as a TSA employee finds a whole new level of "incompetent" to lodge in:

Citing sources within the aviation industry, ABC News reports an overzealous TSA employee attempted to gain access to the parked aircraft by climbing up the fuselage . . . reportedly using the Total Air Temperature (TAT) probes mounted to the planes' noses as handholds.

"The brilliant employees used an instrument located just below the cockpit window that is critical to the operation of the onboard computers," one pilot wrote on an American Eagle internet forum. "They decided this instrument, the TAT probe, would be adequate to use as a ladder."

I can't say it any better than the E-I-C in a note on the original article:

This was an extraordinarily dangerous incident, folks. The TSA has neither the mandate nor the knowledge to inspect any aircraft for any reason. The stupidity of this matter is nearly unbelievable . . . until you hear that the TSA is involved . . . then it becomes understandable, though still tragic. And I can not tell you how frustrating it is, to see them continue to hurt an industry that they were created to protect.

The TSA has NO BUSINESS putting untrained personnel in a position to damage aircraft. Their bizarre games, in the name of security, do NOTHING to enhance security and do much to inhibit safety. Aviation personnel — pilots, A&P's, ground personnel — are all either licensed or supervised by licensed personnel and this kind of tampering, had it been accomplished by anyone else, would have subjected that person to criminal charges.

H/T to Jacob Grier for the link.

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

I had wondered about that . . .

Jon (my virtual landlord) sent me a link to a visual explanation of how they came up with the Beijing Olympic logo.

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

Restricting consumer choice, judicially

In spite of the 2005 Supreme Court decision which should have opened up the wine trade, there are still lots of barriers between wineries and wine drinkers. Jacob Sullum looks at the situation in Indiana, for example:

Since then (and before then too), liquor wholesalers have sought to protect their government-granted privileges by portraying direct shipment of boutique wines as the average teenager's favorite way to catch a buzz. In Indiana, for instance, preventing underage alcohol purchases is the rationale for a requirement that any consumer seeking to have wine delivered directly to his home must first have a "face-to-face meeting" with the producer, which is not exactly convenient if you live in Indianapolis and your favorite winery is in California or Oregon. Several Indiana consumers challenged this rule, arguing that it puts out-of-state wineries at a disadvantage.

In a decision (PDF) issued a couple of weeks ago, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit disagreed. Although visiting one California winery might be more difficult for a Hoosier than visiting one Indiana winery, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote, "Many oenophiles vacation in wine country, and on a tour through Napa Valley to sample the vintners' wares a person could sign up for direct shipments from dozens of wineries." By contrast, "Wine tourism in Indiana is less common, and the state's vineyards — which altogether have fewer than 350 acres under cultivation — are scattered around the state, making it hard for anyone to sign up at more than a few of Indiana's wineries."

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

Wishful thinking in public health

Jacob Sullum looks at the growing support for mandatory calorie signage in fast food restaurants:

Since they overestimate the demand for nutritional information, advocates of menu mandates also overestimate the impact of making it more visible. "Menu board labeling has the potential to dramatically alter the trajectory of the obesity epidemic in California," the California Center for Public Health Advocacy claims, projecting a weight loss of nearly three pounds a year per fast food consumer. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which began enforcing a calorie count requirement last month, predicts it will stop 150,000 people from becoming obese and prevent 30,000 cases of diabetes during the next five years.

Both estimates are based on a study conducted by New York's health department before the city's menu rule took effect. The researchers asked about 7,300 customers at fast food restaurants in the city whether they had seen and made use of nutritional information, which is typically displayed on posters, brochures, tray liners, or counter mats (as well as on the chains' websites). They also examined the customers' receipts so they could calculate the calorie content of the food they purchased.

This hopeful attitude towards mandatory labelling is a sort of healthcare cargo cult: the practitioners passionately believe that a) people will bother to read the labels, b) that having read, they'll order "better" food, and c) that this effect — should it actually exist — will be permanent.

They'd be just as effective building airstrips.

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

August 19, 2008

No wonder teaching in Britain is a high-stress occupation

Theodore Dalrymple discusses the educational and behavioural issues when you raise generations of children with little or no parental control:

If children are not taught self-control, they do not learn it. Violence against teachers is increasing: injuries suffered by teachers at the hands of pupils rose 20 percent between 2000 and 2006, and in one survey, which may or may not be representative, 53 percent of teachers had objects thrown at them, 26 percent had been attacked with furniture or equipment, 2 percent had been threatened with a knife, and 1 percent with a gun. Nearly 40 percent of teachers have taken time off to recover from violent incidents at students’ hands. About a quarter of British teachers have been assaulted by their students over the last year.

The British, never fond of children, have lost all knowledge or intuition about how to raise them; as a consequence, they now fear them, perhaps the most terrible augury possible for a society. The signs of this fear are unmistakable on the faces of the elderly in public places. An involuntary look of distaste, even barely controlled terror, crosses their faces if a group of young teens approaches; then they try to look as if they are not really there, hoping to avoid trouble. And the children themselves are afraid. The police say that many children as young as eight are carrying knives for protection. Violent attacks by the young between ten and 17, usually on other children, have risen by 35 percent in the last four years.

The police, assuming that badly behaved children will become future criminals, have established probably the largest database of DNA profiles in the world: 1.1 million samples from children aged ten to 18, taken over the last decade, and at an accelerating rate (some law enforcement officials have advocated that every child should have a DNA profile on record). Since the criminal-justice system reacts to the commission of serious crimes hardly at all, however, British youth do not object to the gathering of the samples: they know that they largely act with impunity, profiles or no profiles.

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

Posted by Nicholas at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: "A vodka fuelled Genghis Khan't"

. . . it is absurd to contend that Russia as a long term threat in the way the Soviet Union threatened the world for more than fifty years. Hapless Russia has a near mono-culture economy (GDP the size of Italy, for gawd's sake) and catastrophic demographics that make Europe seem like a stud-farm (Germany, Poland and Austria more or less total the same population as Russia's 'hordes'). The appropriate personification for Russia circa 2008 is not an oil fuelled Genghis Khan, threatening to surge once more across Eurasia . . . no, it is more like a drunk with a knife unable to admit they have terminal liver disease . . . a vodka fuelled Genghis Khan't if you will.

Perry de Havilland, "Like a drunk with a knife", Samizdata, 2008-08-19

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

High gas prices induce lunatic "solutions"

Radley Balko observes the rancid combination of political ambition and economic ignorance in action:

Obama's opponent John McCain has smartly opposed a tax on oil company profits — and Obama has promptly attacked him for it.

But McCain isn't much better. McCain has proposed an equally ridiculous "gas tax holiday," which will also do almost nothing to provide relief at the pump. Obama has smartly opposed the idea — and McCain has promptly attacked him for it.

Economic ignorance is nothing new in politics. Neither is the idea that a candidate would perpetuate economic idiocy he knows to be false because it plays into the narrative he's pitching to the voters. But no issue seems to prompt more jaw-dropping sophistry and anti-capitalist demagoguery than gas prices.

Both candidates have promised to crack down on so-called "oil speculators," who are really only commodities traders wagering on whether the price of oil will go up or down. Speculators are an important part of the market process because they're generally knowledgeable about what they're trading, and their collective wisdom sends useful signals about supply and demand. "Cracking down" on speculators is silly. In the first place, it isn't possible. Oil futures are traded all over the world, well outside of U.S. jurisdiction. In the second place, if you own a 401(k), you're likely an indirect "speculator" yourself.

It's totally understandable why politicians are flapping their gums about high prices at the pumps: it's causing the public to feel pain, so they need to harness that for their own ends. Our best hope is that they're just tossing out the rhetorical "something must be done" notions and have no real intention of doing anything if/when elected, because almost nothing they can do will make the situation better . . . and so many of their options would make things worse.

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

Funeral tonight

Belated confirmation for Dea Heron's funeral. This is copied from the Facebook event page:

Dea Heron's funeral service has been confirmed for tomorrow (Tuesday) August 19.

Visitation: 7:00 PM
Service: 8:00 PM

Service will be held at:

Brooklin Memorial Chapel
5295 Thickson Rd, Whitby, Ont

This is north of the 401 off the Thickson Rd Exit.

If you can't get a ride and want to take transit, get off the GO Train at the Whitby station and take the 302 Brock/Brooklin bus. Get off at the corner of Winchester and Thickson; the funeral home is about 1000 m SOUTH of the intersection.

Nicholas and Elizabeth Russon will be hosting a simple gathering afterwards, from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Their home is a couple of minutes away (north) in Brooklin.

My apologies for the late notice/confirmation. External bureaucracies are running our lives.

Blessed Be,

Posted by Nicholas at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2008

QotD: What is said . . . and what is reported

Yesterday in the British Press, much was made of the Soviet, sorry, Russian threat to nuke Poland if it hosted American, sorry, NATO defensive missile systems.

THREAT TO NUKE POLAND . . . well, really? What the Ruskies are saying is not "if you allow these systems on your soil, we will nuke you", but rather "in the event of a war between NATO and Russia, we will attack military targets in Poland, which is a NATO member".

Well no shit? This is hardly a revelation. Yet to read many of the article headlines you would think it was a clear and present danger, which it clearly ain't. Move along, not much to see here.

That said, clearly what the Russian general said is a crude attempt to intimidate Poland, albeit politically and not actually by making a threat of imminent action. Also predictably it has stiffened already deep hostility to Russia across Central Europe. Good, it is probably exactly what Europe needed.

Perry de Havilland, "Threats to nuke Poland . . . and crap journalism in action", Samizdata, 2008-08-17

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

The surprising upside of no-fault divorce

Steve Chapman looks at "what everybody knows" about the deleterious effects of no-fault divorce and finds that what everybody knows just ain't so:

There's a lot of evidence that marital breakup does more social harm than good. In their 2000 book, The Case for Marriage, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher document that adults who are married do better than singles in wealth, health, and personal satisfaction. Children living with a divorced or unwed single parent are more likely to fall into poverty, sickness, and crime than other kids.

Marriage is a good thing, most people agree, while divorce is, at best, a necessary evil. So the laws that accompanied the divorce revolution have come under fire for destroying families and weakening safeguards for spouses who keep their vows.

[. . .]

The first surprise is that looser divorce laws have actually had little effect on the number of marriages that fall apart. Economist Justin Wolfers of Stanford University, in a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), found that when California passed a no-fault divorce law in 1970, the divorce rate jumped, then fell back to its old level — and then fell some more.

[. . .]

In short, nothing bad happened. But in another NBER paper, Wolfers and fellow economist Betsey Stevenson of the University of Pennsylvania report that in states that relaxed their divorce laws, some very good things happened: Fewer women committed suicide, and fewer were murdered by husbands or other "intimate" partners. In addition, both men and women suffered less domestic violence, compared to states that didn't change their laws.

We're not talking about tiny improvements here. Wolfers and Stevenson say that in no-fault states, there was a 10 percent drop in a woman's chance of being killed by her spouse or boyfriend. The rate of female suicide in new no-fault states fell by about 20 percent. The effect was more dramatic still for domestic violence — which "declined by somewhere between a quarter and a half between 1976 and 1985 in those states that reformed their divorce laws," according to Stevenson and Wolfers.

That's not at all what I'd have expected to hear . . . which may explain why research sometimes goes down a path of "that's obvious" (the recent Canadian study on teenage drivers' feelings of immortality, for example), because there are sufficient examples where the actual data is in stark contrast to "what everybody knows".

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

August 17, 2008

Funeral tentatively set for Tuesday evening

We're still waiting for confirmation, but Dianne Heron's funeral is tentatively scheduled for 7:00 Tuesday evening at Memorial Chapel Brooklin.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:42 PM | Comments (0)

Yet another inauthentic moment at the Olympics

It's becoming almost a daily news item for something else at the Beijing Olympics to be revealed as lip-synched, photoshopped, staged, or — in this case — impersonated:

KE FIREWORKS, fake singers and now fake ethnic minorities. Beijing Olympics organisers have admitted that children from China's dominant Han population were used in the opening ceremony last week, not youngsters from all 56 ethnic groups as previously claimed.

The news brings the issue of China's treatment of the minority ethnic groups within its borders back into sharp relief, following accusations that Beijing has sought to drown out dissenting voices from different ethnic groups during the Games.

The Han ethnic group accounts for more than 90 per cent of China's 1.3 billion people and is the dominant cultural group.

The 56 children who carried out the Chinese flag in a moment intended to showcase national harmony were all Han Chinese, but organisers played down the significance of using Han children to represent China's ethnic diversity.

More here.

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

August 16, 2008

Rickrolling in "Doom"

H/T to Victor for the link.

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

August 15, 2008

Timeline of internet memes

In case you've ever wondered whether "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" came before or after "I am Canadian!", you can find the answer here.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

Praiseworthy, indeed

As reported at Taylor & Company, Royal Navy Commander Jeremy Woods has finally been properly rewarded:

T&C readers will be pleased to know that on July 28th, 2008, the Royal Navy removed Commander Jeremy Woods, ex-Cornwall, from his post. Cdr. Woods previously achieved notoriety when 15 of his sailors and Royal Marines were kidnapped by Iranian gunboats while conducting MIO inspections. According to the Ministry, the commander will keep his rank but has been moved "to a post where his talents and experience can be used to best effect". Regrettably not at the end of a yardarm, though.

Commander Woods could have had a more historically appropriate reward, under only slightly different circumstances.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:57 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Futility, overlaid with hypocrisy

There is something wrong with our political system, don't you think, when policy is determined by people who know that it is wrong, and know that their colleagues also know that it is wrong, but all are compelled by personal interest to rehearse the same orthodoxies? The propaganda of received wisdom has its own momentum, and no one person changing their mind will have much effect. Critchley will be ignored. His colleagues will be silent. And next autumn we will have a new moral panic about some drug-related social phenomenon, real or imaginary, justifying some extended power.

There have of course been other systems that worked this way. But the official Marxism-Lenninism of the Soviet Communist Party or the irrelevant doctrinal minutiae of theocracies had or have at least a clear purpose in maintaining the power of institutions. In our mediated ochlocracy policy is a peacock's tail in which random illusions of public opinion power political and bureaucratic machines, that then feedback more of the same, regardless of reason or utility.

Guy Herbert, "Not about drugs", Samizdata, 2008-08-15

Posted by Nicholas at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

New toy to play with . . .

I finally broke down and bought an iPhone 3G last night. It's actually only an "i" until my cell number is transferred over from Bell to Rogers (which can take "from two hours to five days").

So far, aside from the ironic response of "Oooh! Ah!" from co-workers, it hasn't changed my life . . . aren't I supposed to be all hip and cool now that I've got a JesusPhone?

The user interface is, as so many gushing reviews indicated, very well thought-out and easy to figure out. Switching from a button keyboard (on the Treo) to an onscreen keyboard is still taking me a bit of adaptation time — I was never a fast typist on the Treo, but I'm about half as fast on the iPhone so far.

One of the big reasons for me looking at an iPhone was that some of the applications I depend on are also available for the iPhone . . . except that it's still early days, and in at least one case I'll have to wait for the next revision so that I can transfer my data cleanly without needing to mess around with not-quite-approved methods.

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

August 14, 2008

Ronald Bailey commits lesè majesté

Ronald Bailey isn't expecting royal honours after Prince Charles ascends the throne:

His Royal Highness, the Dunce of Wales, Speaks Against Biotech Crops

[. . .] There's a tremendous amount of anti-biotech misinformation packed into this interview. First and foremost, farmers in both developed and developing countries will not adopt biotech crops unless they benefit from them, either from greater productivity, fewer input costs, improved sustainability or all three.

Let's consider just a few cases: Biotech insect-resistant corn in the Philippines boosted yields by 37 percent, reduced the costs of insecticide spraying by 60 percent, maintained populations of beneficial insects in the fields, and increased farmers' profits by 88 percent. With regard to sustainability, herbicide-resistant biotech crops make soil saving no-till farming more possible and new varieties of biotech rice reduce the run-off of nitrogen fertilizer that can damage waterways. Finally, His Royal Witless ignores the fact that of the 12 million farmers who have adopted biotech crops, 11 million of them are resource-poor farmers working in developing countries.

For all that some might say that Prince Charles has his heart in the right place, he's clearly got his facts from some alternate universe . . .

Update: Commenter "ChrisH" wraps it up wonderfully well:

Who'da thunk? Diana was the sharp tool in that toolshed.

I like the "peasants — back to your farms!" tone of some of it. Uh, I think you lost that argument 200 years ago.

But then, this:
dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness

My gawd, the man is a poet. I don't even know what it means, but I want to set it to music.

There are very few people who could have played "Yo Mama so..." with Bill Buckley, but apparently Prince Chuck is one of them.

Decent watercolorist, as well, I hear...

Posted by Nicholas at 09:28 AM | Comments (0)

Putin's successful entrapment of Georgia

Cathy Young provides more background on the Russian-Georgian conflict:

. . . this is not a situation with two equally valid opposing views of reality, or with roughly balanced rights and wrongs on both sides. True, on a political level, there are no real good guys in this conflict; the only true innocents are the ordinary people caught in the crossfire. But there are bad guys — and, at least in the short term, they seem to be the likely winners.

Mikheil Saakashvili — the pro-Western, pro-U.S. president of Georgia who was swept to power in 2003 in one of the peaceful, grassroots "color revolutions" that so rattled the Kremlin — is no liberal hero. Since 2007, he has moved to squelch the opposition and shut down the independent media, depicting his critics as puppets of Moscow in much the same way Putin has depicted his opponents as hirelings of the West. Saakashvili's decision to send troops to take control of South Ossetia and shell its capital Tskhinvali, though undertaken in response to a series of Russian provocations, was not only a major strategic blunder but also an assault on an area heavily populated by civilians.

Russia's military response, which most likely inflicted further damage on the South Ossetian population while repelling Georgian troops, quickly turned into an all-out assault on Georgia itself — a clear-cut punitive strike against a recalcitrant former colony that has been a major irritant to the ruling clique in the Kremlin, and to Putin himself.

I'm still of the opinion that Georgia is less the direct target of Russia's overall policy than just being the unlucky subject of an object lesson to other former Soviet states (Ukraine, this one's for you). There's absolutely no doubt that Russia could easily crush Georgia's military forces and conquer the country. The Americans can offer nothing but token aid to Georgia and would be extremely foolhardy to go beyond the medical supplies already dispatched.

In the short term, Russia has almost certainly secured permanent eviction of the Georgians from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and demonstrated that any attempt — military or diplomatic — to reverse the process will be met with immediate escalation beyond what Georgia can sustain.

As for Georgia's request to join NATO, Russia's immediate goal of proving NATO to be too far away to help (and too timorous to try) has been achieved. Ukraine's attention is being directed to the same lesson.

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

Dea Heron, RIP

I've been careful to avoid discussing Dea's long-running problems with the health care system here in Ontario, even with anonymizing her, as the details could have been traced back to her and made an already insanely frustrating experience that much worse. I no longer need to worry about that, as Dea is no longer with us. She died in her sleep on Monday night or Tuesday morning.

She'd recently been in hospital for an operation (one of several that may have been necessary), and appeared to be recovering rapidly. Elizabeth had taken her home from the hospital on the weekend, and had talked to her on the phone on Monday. During that conversation, Dea said that she was sleeping a lot, which was understandable after several days in the hospital.

After several attempts to contact Dea on Tuesday, Elizabeth had the building manager try to knock on her door. There was no response, but the manager said that the cat was meowing quite loudly. When the manager used her key to enter the apartment, she found that Dea had passed away in bed while reading a book.

As Dea had no relatives in Canada, it is not yet clear what arrangements will be made for her funeral.

Darrell Markewitz has a brief note posted at his blog.

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

August 13, 2008

Ethanol's downside(s)

Ethanol's day should have come and gone several years back . . . it's painfully obvious that it's not the panacea it was presented as being a decade ago (and even then, it was problematical). Reason TV features a discussion of the whole sordid mess:

Ethanol advocates claim that the biofuel is a cheap, renewable energy source that reduces pollution and our dependence on foreign oil. It sounds too good to be true — and it is.

Ethanol, especially the corn-based variety, is bad for taxpayers, bad for consumers, bad for the environment, and horrible for the world's poor. In fact, even environmentalists are critical of ethanol subsidies these days. The ethanol craze has distorted markets and increased the price of food worldwide. The only people who still support ethanol subsidies are the ethanol producers — and politicians from both sides of the aisle. Together, they make sure the subsidies keep coming.

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

August 12, 2008

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Possibly the best television representation of the parliamentary form of government. On second thought, strike the "possibly" from the previous sentence.

H/T to Andrew L. at The Latecomer.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:03 PM | Comments (0)

Breaking the hockey stick?

Bishop Hill pulls together the story about the famous "hockey stick" graph for the non-mathematically inclined:

There has been the most extraordinary series of postings at Climate Audit over the last week. As is usual at CA, there is a heavy mathematics burden for the casual reader, which, with a bit of research I think I can now just about follow. The story is a remarkable indictment of the corruption and cyncism that is rife among climate scientists, and I'm going to try to tell it in layman's language so that the average blog reader can understand it. As far as I know it's the first time the whole story has been set out in a single posting. It's a long tale - and the longest posting I think I've ever written and piecing it together from the individual CA postings has been a long, hard but fascinating struggle. You may want to get a long drink before starting, and those who suffer from heart disorders may wish to take their beta blockers first.

H/T to Brian Micklethwait.

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

Georgia's mistakes

Michael Moynihan looks at how Georgia may have been trapped by their own mistakes:

The bumbling of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is a stunning sight to behold. This much seems clear: Putin and his surrogates in South Ossetia set a trap and the Georgians ambled into it, naively expecting his allies in the West to come to his rescue. And it is too early to tell just where the blame lies, though convincing arguments can be made for both camps. Georgia argues that it was responding to an attempted annexation of South Ossetia and consistent provocations from the Russian military; Russia claims it is merely defending the Russian passport holders of Ossetia from Georgia's all-out attack on Tshkhinvali, the regional capital. Both sides are engaged in heated, overblown rhetoric; both are making shocking and unverifiable claims. Georgia says that Russia is engaged in a campaign of "ethnic cleansing." Russian President Dmitri Medvedev told reporters that Georgia is engaged in "genocide." Both of these statements are to be treated with circumspection, of course, just as it is impossible to determine if the civilian casualty figures reported are accurate.

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

August 11, 2008

QotD: Worldcon

I don't know why anyone else goes to Worldcon, but I go to see many of my friends who aren't otherwise in the same place at the same time and have a big ol' ball staying up late and saying terrible, hilarious things. What sort of hilarious things? Well, let me just say this: The moment that I, Ian McDonald, Paolo Bacagalupi and Blake Charlton tried to sell an anthology to Lou Anders at Pyr Books by saying "Two words, Lou: Unicorn Bukkake" was not actually the most disturbingly, howlingly funny moment of the con.

(Also, if you don’t know what "bukkake" means, for God's sake don't look it up. Especially at work. For serious, man.)

John Scalzi, "Denvention 3: An (Oh, Probably Not) Brief Recap", Whatever, 2008-08-11

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

". . . all we asked for was six."

From today's Globe and Mail, what may be the unofficial death knell of the NATO alliance. This is sad:

So, Canada has worked out a way to provide our troops with medium-lift helicopters in southern Afghanistan: a one-year lease for six Russian-made helicopters that will cover us until we can purchase six used Chinooks from the U.S government next year. Total cost? More than $300-million.

This simple but telling example is, in my mind, the final nail in NATO's coffin.

The Atlantic Alliance was a successful bulwark against the Soviet Union from 1949 until the early 1990s and the end of the Cold War, but in today's more complex world, it's time for it to "rest in peace."

There are more than 3,000 medium-lift helicopters sitting safely on the ground far, far away from Afghanistan, at airbases located in NATO's 26 member countries. Three thousand, and Canada is stuck with providing helicopter support, not just for its own troops, but for all the other national contingents in Region South.

Lewis Mackenzie is probably right: if all of NATO's military couldn't scare up half a dozen helicopters for use in a NATO operation, the alliance is not just dead, but the corpse is starting to rot.

There is no doubt the Canadian Forces need medium-lift helicopters for any number of tasks at home and abroad. However, the responsibility to provide them in a NATO operational theatre — the alliance's first — is not Canada's. It's time to check around to see who our real friends are. Three thousand helicopters in NATO — and all we asked for was six. Go figure.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:03 PM | Comments (1)

Wallowing in conspiracies

David Weigel wanders over to conspiracy closet to discover that things are even less appealing than last time he checked:

It's been a while since I suited up and dumpster-dived in the Obama conspiracyverse. In my absence, I reckon that the average IQ there has dipped by 20-25 points. Take this latest revelation from Larry "Whitey Tape" Johnson.

Republican operatives, with help from their own island backers, have unearthed critical information on Obama and are just biding their time until after the convention to drop it on him. Such as? Having a birth certificate that lists you as Barry Soetoro.

Incredible! Ann Dunham met her second husband, Lolo Soetoro in 1966, in Hawaii. "Barry" Obama was, at this time, five years old. The only reasonable explanation is that Dunham and Soetoro built (or purchased) a Genesis Device to clone a new son, using DNA from Barack Obama Sr. that Dunham had pulled off one of his combs.

For all that Barack Obama has been involved in the — often murky — Illinois political scene, if all the conspiracy theorists have to play with is a flipping birth certificate notion, then Obama is theory-proof.

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

No Jesus-Phone for me . . . yet

I nearly got an iPhone 3G yesterday, but the local Rogers store was out of stock on the model I was interested in, so I can still mock and sneer at those poseurs who already have JesusPhones.

Of course, once I've got one of my own, my attitude will completely change, and I'll probably swing 180 degrees to jeer at those doubters and late adopters who haven't yet drunk the iPhone Kool-Aid.

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

Russia versus Georgia? That's a hockey game, right?

James Lileks wonders at the lack of attention paid to the war that has broken out between Russia and Georgia:

The Georgian situation is complicated, granted, but you'd think someone would be planning a protest. After all, it's war. War is bad. Something must be done. Well, the World Socialists have thought long and deep and hard, and concluded the enemy is the United States:

Underlying the military confrontation is US imperialism's drive to isolate Russia and establish American hegemony over the energy resources of Central Asia and their transit routes through the Caucasus, utilizing the Saakashvili regime as its cat's paw. The Russian ruling elite, for its part, is seeking to reassert its control over a region that was ruled by Moscow for two centuries before the break-up of the USSR.

No protests, no marches in the street, then; Moscow has dibs.

Exactly. From the point of view of the folks who protest against every sneeze by the various military forces of the west, this isn't an issue of concern.

Russia gets a pass. People are scared of Russia. Besides, you have to consider this in the context of history's historical context. And if Russia reabsorbs Georgia, and takes control of its energy resources, well, it has less to do with resurgent fascistic opportunism or oil, and more to do with the rich, complicated history of the region that goes back to the time of Tsars and long beards and black-and-white photos. So! Nevermind. Next item on the agenda: Israel's threats to knock out the military equipment Russia sold to Iran. Let us craft a statement that uses "Danzig" and "blitzkrieg," but not in the same sentence. Draw out the implication over several paragraphs.

So what if it's a classic confrontation between a former superpower and a country with a population about the same size as the GTA, and a military that — just based on Russian forces in the immediate area — is outnumbered by more than 3:1.

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

August 10, 2008

One fireman confirmed dead in Toronto explosion and fire

A veteran Toronto fireman has died, although it's not clear yet what caused his death. No other reported casualties, fortunately, although an employee of the propane facility is still not accounted for. More details:

Although one person believed to be an employee of the propane plant was unaccounted for and a firefighter died after he was found near the scene without vital signs, officials said the city's residents "got off very lucky."

While the blaze continued to burn into the evening officials declared it "under control." The serious threat posed by propane and the possibility of further explosions saw a voluntary evacuation order upheld for the northwest Toronto neighbourhood that's home to some 12,500 people.

Taken first to a military base and then to York University, traumatized residents - some who fled in their pyjamas - faced an uncertain night waiting for the OK to return home.

One by one, witnesses recalled the booming noise and acrid charcoal smell of the blast at Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases that shook surrounding buildings shortly before 4 a.m. and was heard seven kilometres away.

"It was just a tremendous explosion and blew all the windows out of the house, just blew the house up, and I just managed to get out of there in time," said Robert Halman, who was covered in cuts and bruises as he fled his home.

I'm not sure how "voluntary" the "voluntary evacuation order" is . . . when my family was evacuated in 1979 during the Mississauga train derailment, there was no voluntary component.

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

QotD: That peculiar Canadian moral stance

During the Beijing opening ceremonies, Peter Mansbridge farted out an opinion to the effect that Western governments considering a boycott could hardly ignore a "quarter of humanity" but managed to leave the entrance of the Iraqi delegation totally unremarked. Canada is in the peculiar position of being able to say whatever it wants about its largest trading partner, say nothing that is not muttered from kowtowing position to its second largest parter and to do so while sporting a smug grimace in place of a smile. This as we celebrate "the Olympic spirit" and recapitulate every moral and strategic failure of the 1930s.

Not to worry; I expect Canada's future Prime Ministers will have no trouble finding another meaningless apology to offer the survivors.

Nick Packwood, "One World, One Dream", Ghost of a Flea, 2008-08-09

Posted by Nicholas at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

Fire and explosions at Toronto propane facility

The major east-west highway through Toronto is closed in both directions right now due to a fire and explosion which began around 4 am this morning:

Thousands of people have been evacuated and an entire section of the city's north end has been completely shut down as emergency officials continue to fight a major fire at a propane distributor in the Wilson Ave. and Keele St. area, caused by a series of explosions just before 4 a.m. this morning.

At this point, official say the number one concern for firefighters are two large rail tankers on the property. Each tanker has the capacity to carry 220,000 litres of propane gas. Officials do not believe they are full but have caught fire throughout the morning.

"The tanks are venting and we have to cool them with water to prevent them from potentially exploding," said Bob O’Hallarn, Toronto fire division commander.

The amazing thing is that (as of 10:00 this morning) there was only one injury reported — and that was just a sprained ankle!

Much more linked from Google maps:


Posted by Nicholas at 10:22 AM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2008

No Neanderthal genes; not for you

So much for those theories that perhaps early modern man and Neanderthals interbred:

Scientists who sequenced the mitochondrial DNA of a 38,000-year-old Neanderthal returned no evidence of ancestral interbreeding with our long-lost cousins.

That mild disappointment aside, the study, published today in Cell, is an impressive technical achievement.

"For the first time, we've built a sequence from ancient DNA that is essentially without error," said study co-author Richard Green, a Max-Planck Institute anthropologist, in a press release.

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

August 08, 2008

Does the iPhone have a "kill switch"?

Much consternation in the iPhone developer community over the revelation of a "kill switch" buried in the operating system:

Issues surrounding Apple's supposed Orwellian-control over your iPhone have been popping up as iTunes applications have surfaced, disappeared, and resurfaced in recent weeks. The iPhone "Kill Switch" is a separate matter. It is theorized to be a mechanism that can be updated remotely (no syncing required) by Apple and can disable any application running on an iPhone at any time. [. . .]

But to be clear, these applications have not been murdered by a mysterious Apple "kill switch." The so-called "kill switch" remains more mystery than anything else. Zdziarski confesses on research notes posted to his site he knows little about what the code he found does: "We do not know whether this mechanism is active, or what exactly it does."

Nevertheless iPhone developers are beginning to say "hey, wait a minute" as they ponder developing software under the influence of Apple's apparent fickle whims. Many are now asking questions about this "kill switch" wondering could their hard work vanish from iPhones at the flip of a switch?

As more people become dependent upon their iPhones, it becomes a much wider concern over just how much control users have over their own equipment . . . and Apple's famous need to control the users' experience will become a potentially explosive issue. Apple has a huge store of user goodwill, which they've miraculously maintained even as other companies have been pilloried for lesser sins.

It's a huge risk that Apple seems to be blithely running here . . . if the public stopped believing the hype about Apple, they'd become a very ordinary technology firm. Apple's ability to charge a premium is directly proportional to the power of their image with the general public.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:33 PM | Comments (0)

More free advertising for Westboro Moonbat "Church"

It's a PR coup for the pathetic wankers who announced they'd be coming to Canada to protest at Tim McLean's funeral:

Canadian border guards have been told to bar a fanatic church group that was planning to protest the funeral of a man beheaded on a Greyhound bus, reports say.

NDP MP Pat Martin told the Winnipeg Free Press that Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day sent the alert to border guards Thursday.

We should have let them in, and given them no media coverage at all. Instead, we're giving them exactly what they wanted, and we're giving them plenty of air time to push their noxious views. Brilliant move.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

Speaking of family traditions . . .

Jon sent me this link with the comment "the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?". I find it amusing that Albert Speer, son of Nazi architect Albert Speer, has been deeply involved in the design of the Beijing Olympics.

I guess he was able to just dust off his dad's old designs from the 1936 Olympics, scrape off the swastikas, add a few distinctive Chinese motifs and hey, presto!

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

Cathy Young on Solzhenitsyn's paradox

Cathy Young discusses the complex of beliefs that kept Alexander Solzhenitsyn from embracing the west even as he decried the excesses of Stalinism:

. . . Solzhenitsyn pointedly refused to criticize Putin's assertion that Russia should not dwell on the horrors of the Stalinist past; instead, he complained that both the West and the former Eastern-bloc Soviet satellites were using Stalin-era atrocities as a moral bludgeon against Russia.

Putin's Russia was hardly Solzhenitsyn's ideal; its rampant consumerism and kitschy pop culture far exceeded the Western materialism that he deplored. And yet Putin's authoritarian regime, with its emphasis on national unity, its ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, and its assertiveness in foreign affairs appealed strongly to the writer.

This was the sad paradox of Solzhenitsyn's final years. The man who once wrote to Soviet leaders demanding the abolition of censorship never protested the revival of censorship. The man who used his Nobel Prize to start a fund for political prisoners kept quiet about the new political prisoners of Putin's regime. The man who coined the slogan "To live not by the lie" had a cozy relationship with a government that rigged elections and filled the media with lies big and small. The man who had once asked the West for "more interference in our internal affairs" joined the chorus of anti-Western agitprop.

It's important to keep Solzhenitsyn's worldview clear: he was never a libertarian or even really a liberal in the western sense. He chronicled the horrors of the gulag system within Stalinist Russia, but he didn't object to the idea of authoritarian government itself. His personal preference was clearly illustrated by his rejection of the west and his acceptance of Vladimir Putin's government with all its political repression and economic corruption.

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

The irony meter overloads

I don't think there's any better way to describe this story than the submitter of the Fark link: Former Luftwaffe pilot flies to British city to say sorry for bombing it during the war - then decides he's going to dive-bomb it for old times sake.

A former Luftwaffe pilot who carried out 120 bombing raids on England has escaped unharmed after a plane crash near the city he once targeted for destruction.

Willi Schludecker, 88 — a survivor of nine wartime air crashes — was a passenger in a four-man Mooney M20T when the engine failed soon after take-off at Marshfield in Wiltshire.

Experienced pilot Richard Flohr-Swann was forced to make an emergency landing.

Update: Totally unrelated, except that it was linked from the first story . . . British women who've decided to live in the past:

Joanne Massey, 35, lives in a recreation of a 1950s home in Stafford with her husband Kevin, 42, who works as a graphics application designer. Joanne is a housewife. She says:

I love nothing better than fastening my pinny round my waist and baking a cake for Kevin in my 1950s kitchen.

I put on some lovely Frank Sinatra music and am completely lost in my own little fantasy world. In our marriage, I am very much a lady and Kevin is the breadwinner and my protector.

We've been married for 13 years and we're extremely happy because we both know our roles. There is none of the battling for equality that I see in so many marriages today.

What's wrong with wanting to be adored and spoiled? If I see a hat I like, I say 'Oh, we can't afford that' and Kevin says: 'You have it, I'll treat you.'

I don't even put petrol in our Ford Anglia car, which is 43 years old, because I think that is so unladylike. I ask Kevin to do it.

Well, whatever works for them, I guess, although it must be tough to find someone who shares exactly your own flavour of anachronism (without cheating and using something that wasn't invented in the 1950's . . .).

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

August 07, 2008

The Phelps family carries on a long, long history of moronic hatred

Victor sent me this link with a comment that "Take a look. If it has you boiling with rage too, I think you'll see my point."

The daughter of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Ka., told she and several other church members will go to Winnipeg on Saturday to demonstrate against what she described as McLean's "filthy way of life." Shirley Phelps-Roper said his life was emblematic of Canada's moral decay.

"God handed us a gift," Phelps-Roper said in a phone interview on Thursday.

She said McLean deserved his death by beheading on a Greyhound Bus last week.

"(His death was) supremely unemotional. You got God shaking in rage. There is no emotional component . . . He was a rebel against God. He was taught to be a rebel by his parents. He came from a rebel country . . . They brought this wrath upon his head. And it sucks to be him and it sucks to be them," Phelps-Roper said.

She said his brutal murder was a sign from God.

Ms. Phelps-Roper is, as they say on Fark, an attention whore. The media loves having her and her ilk around, because they can always make an otherwise unexceptional event highly newsworthy. She not only knows almost nothing about the case, she's actually boasting about knowing nothing. In her view, Tim McLean's horrible death is proof that God meant him to die.

In this instance, her band of merry morons don't even need to show up: they've got media attention paid to them and their "cause". It would play right into her hands to try to block her from entering Canada, as that would allow her more opportunities for media attention.

It would be best if the media could manage to somehow ignore her and her "church". Without the TV and print coverage, she'd be just another unhappy, paranoid whackjob with obsessions. With the media as a partner, she's able to increase the world's already bountiful supply of misery and anger. Nice work, guys.

Whole thing here.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:19 PM | Comments (0)

Brett Favre, QB, New York Jets

Thank goodness the circus can wind down . . . Favre is going to be a Jet, not a Viking. Damian Penny writes:

Many assumed Favre would go to Tampa Bay, but the Bucs already have about 35 quarterbacks on their roster. Favre will be a great mentor for Kellen Clemens — though Aaron Rodgers might have something to say about that — and the perennially underappreciated Chad Pennington will go to a team that desperately needs a solid, experienced quarterback. Ahem.

I'm so glad this is over . . . it's been a distraction for the Packers and the Vikings, it's made life much tougher for two young quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Tarvaris Jackson), and it hasn't shown the league in a particularly good light. It's a shame that Pennington is reportedly being cut by the Jets, but there are indeed several teams for whom he'd be a very welcome upgrade at quarterback (Damian's choice would be the Chicago Bears, of course . . .)

The StarTribune's story here.

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

Swedish welfare state myths

Michael Moynihan sits down with author Johan Norberg to discuss the realities of the oft-praised "Scandinavian Model":

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

Galloping paternalism

Steve Chapman looks at the growing urge on the part of governments to force people to do things "for their own good":

Until he brings about complete prohibition [of tobacco products], the ban will have perverse consequences. The most obvious is to deprive one type of retail establishment of revenue and divert the dollars to other businesses. Marginal neighborhoods will become less attractive sites for pharmacies but more appealing to liquor stores, which is a novel approach to urban renewal.

In Los Angeles, driving out certain businesses is not a potential side effect—it's a conscious policy. The city council recently prohibited the opening of fast-food outlets in the poor, 32-square-mile area known as South Los Angeles. If you're a global corporation selling inexpensive meals to go, Los Angeles has a message for you: Invest anywhere but here. Apparently a vacant lot is better than a Burger King.

Councilwoman Jan Perry believes the measure will assure the locals "greater food options." The Los Angeles Times reports she "said the initiative would give the city time to craft measures to lure sit-down restaurants serving healthier food to a part of the city that desperately wants more of them."

This is one of the oddest things about the new paternalism: the proponents of nanny state measure "A" may even acknowledge that there are other ways to accomplish their stated goals, but that people can't be trusted to do the right thing, so the government must force them to do it. For example, it's not that long a step from passing measures that (in theory) will encourage people to get more exercise to mandating exercise sessions.

Who could object? It's for everyone's health, right?

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

August 06, 2008

A "Grotesque Miscarriage of Justice"

Charles Lynch, proprietor of a legal-under-California-law marijuana dispensary, has been convicted under Federal laws of distributing drugs. Nick Gillespie has more:

Lynch is one of the countless casualties of an idiotic and tragically long-running war on drugs. His shop scrupulously followed Golden State laws and when he opened his shop in Morro Bay, local officials attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. And that kid he provided medical marijuana to? A high school athlete who had lost a leg to cancer and had a prescription from a Stanford-trained doctor (and in any case, Lynch only dealt with the boy's parents). Yes, a common drug dealer.

There's only one good possibility to come out of this verdict: That its manifest injustice and stupidity and inhumanity (to Lynch and his customers) will help spark a long overdue reaction to the drug war and its punishing toll on individuals and basic Constitutional rights.

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

QotD: Guarding the border from data

If someone develops a practical mind-reading device, you can expect the Department of Homeland Security to argue that skulls are merely another "closed container" that officers guarding the border may search at will. After all, government agents have long been allowed to read documents in briefcases carried by Americans returning from abroad. Why should the medium in which information is stored make a constitutional difference?

That argument is only slightly more far-fetched than the one DHS uses to justify its policy regarding border searches of laptop computers. Given the nature and quantity of the data they contain, portable computers are in many ways extensions of our brains. Yet DHS is treating them as if they were no different from purses or fruitcake tins.

Jacob Sullum, "File Keepers: The government wants to sit on your laptop", Reason, 2008-08-06

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

August 05, 2008

The durable myth of recycling = efficiency

By way of Tim Blair, a link to the article in which John Tierney declared himself a target for hate mail from schoolchildren, environmentalists, and municipal workers by pointing out the origins and true costs of the recycling hoax:

Believing that there was no more room in landfills, Americans concluded that recycling was their only option. Their intentions were good and their conclusions seemed plausible. Recycling does sometimes makes sense — for some materials in some places at some times. But the simplest and cheapest option is usually to bury garbage in an environmentally safe landfill. And since there's no shortage of landfill space (the crisis of 1987 was a false alarm), there's no reason to make recycling a legal or moral imperative. Mandatory recycling programs aren't good for posterity. They offer mainly short-term benefits to a few groups — politicians, public relations consultants, environmental organizations, waste-handling corporations — while diverting money from genuine social and environmental problems. Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.

The obvious temptation is to blame journalists, who did a remarkable job of creating the garbage crisis, often at considerable expense to their own employers. Newspaper and magazine publishers, whose products are a major component of municipal landfills, nobly led the crusade against trash, and they're paying for it now through regulations that force them to buy recycled paper — a costly handicap in their struggle against electronic rivals. It's the first time that an industry has conducted a mass-media campaign informing customers that its own product is a menace to society.

I've always had my doubts about the modern recycling movement . . . and how it seems to have become more a replacement religion than an economic or even environmental concern. I knew the stated economics were dodgy, in that it seemed that the claimed benefits from recycling more and more "stuff" seemed ever smaller, while the actual costs clearly were growing. People now recycle as a moral imperative much more than as an economic necessity, and municipal governments everywhere are just as trapped in a no-win situation as J. Winston Porter (the former US government official who set the ball in motion back in 1988):

"People in New York and other places are tilting at recycling windmills," says Porter, who left the E.P.A. in 1989 and is now president of a consulting firm, the Waste Policy Center in Leesburg, Va. "There aren't many more materials in garbage that are worth recycling." Porter has been advising cities and states to abandon their unrealistic goals, but politicians are terrified of coming out against recycling. How could they explain it to the voters? How could they explain it to their children?

Indeed, how do you gracefully admit that you've brainwashed an entire generation with nice-sounding nonsense? The scariest thing is that this article was published in 1996! Not only has nothing changed, but things have gotten worse, as more municipalities have insisted on moving further and further in a pro-recycling direction.

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

QotD: Literary Tattoos

Inspired by the Telegraph, John Stoehr believes a trend for literary tattoos is underway.

Some of them, like this one, a long passage from Chuck Palahniuk's novel Fight Club, are very impressive — and they suggest a kind of depth of character, a kind of cultural sensibility, that one doesn't normally associate with those who want to adorn their bodies with indelible ink.

Which says more about his preconceptions than it does about ink enthusiasts. As for me, the letters "John" and "3:16" tattooed across the knuckles are sufficient literary allusion to get the point across.

Nick Packwood, "Literary Tattoos", Ghost of a Flea, 2008-08-04

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

iPhone yay, iPhone boo, and iPhone nano?

According to Geekdad’s Chris Radcliff, iPhone geeks are very enthusiastic about developing applications for the platform:

Wow. If there was any doubt that the iPhone is a hot platform, iPhoneDevCamp 2 just squashed it like a tank tread over a pile of Zunes.

Hundreds of attendees got together for a weekend of iPhone application hacking, discussion and beer. Buckets of beer and piles of pizza, all supplied by sponsors eager to find out who might have the next killer app. And apps there were aplenty; 44 teams submitted them for the hackathon, including 3 top apps from satellite camps.

I didn't mention sleep, because there was none. This was my very first time developing for the iPhone (or in Objective-C at all), so I coded into the wee hours of the morning just to get things to compile. My team got a lot of help from Objective-C gurus on site, too.

On the enterprise front, Bill Ray notes some remaining barriers to acceptance:

Analysts have decreed that the new iPhone's lack of security and poor battery life make it unsuitable for all but the lightest enterprise use.

The conclusions come in a nine-page research note from Gartner, as reported by Computerword. Entitled iPhone 2.0 Is Ready for the Enterprise, but Caveats Apply, it is based on analysis of the new iPhone version 2.0 software and 3G handset.

According to Ken Dulaney, author of the report, the lack of battery life on the 3G iPhone makes it impossible to maintain synchronisation with an Exchange server for a full day even if no calls are made. That's a serious issue, but the lack of security is the biggest impediment to enterprise adoption.

And finally, unsubstantiated rumours about an "iPhone nano" being available for Christmas this year.

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

Fighters and bombers and tanks, oh my!

Courtesy of "JtMc", a visit to the Planes of Fame Air Show in Chimo CA, including a demonstration by the California History Group. For those of you not excited by the mention of air exotica like TBm-3E, F4U, P-38, P-47, P-51, A6M, and D3A, might find the ground-pounding toys of more interest, like M4 Sherman, Pzkfw 38(t) Hetzer, Sd.Kfz.251, and Type 95 Ha-Go.

Unlike a lot of photoblog entries, this one has something for just about every WWII fan, except you naval folks who believe a gun isn't a gun until it's over 15" . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 08:03 AM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2008

"Rush" in their early Randroid phase

Original link from Wired:

Stripped of the band's usual banks of synths, amps, peripherals and extracurricular percussion, Rush simply rocked back in the 1970s. And while there is much to be said for technology, and the way it has changed the group's music, it was refreshing to watch them tear the heart out of "Anthem" without the use of anything other than bass, guitar, drums and pure energy. I haven't been able to stop watching that video, more than a week later. It's a bracing reminder of how pure riffage can get when there's little put in its way.

Which made me think: Which Rush rules the most? Is it the stripped-down outfit that avoided synths and turned out brain-teasing grinders like Fly By Night and 2112? The keyboard-laden prog-rockers that made Moving Pictures, Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows? Or the back-to-basics revisionists that turned out Counterparts and Test For Echo? Or is it a moot point, given the band's productive continuum?

Posted by Nicholas at 01:33 PM | Comments (0)

Random pictures

Elizabeth and I had to get out of the house yesterday, as Victor was hosting an anime gathering for several friends. We drove up to Huntsville, where we discovered that as long as you disguise it as "art", you can get away with selling bird-torturing equipment:


In another store, I found an item that I had to take a picture of for Jon:


Explanation here.

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

Small government as a Republican notion? Not this decade

Matt Welch clearly identifies the strawman in this argument:

In Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, the Century Foundation's Greg Anrig published a strain of curious left-of-center analysis I'm seeing more and more this election: That the Republicans are losing because limited-government ideas don't work, and are no longer popular.

This critique requires a significant leap of logic — that George W. Bush, and his would-be GOP successor John McCain, practice and/or believe in limited government principles. Anrig glides over this problem via assertion.

[Quoting Anrig] So they advocated creating health savings accounts, handing out school vouchers, privatizing Social Security, shifting government functions to private contractors, and curtailing regulations on public health, safety, the environment and more. And, of course, they pushed to cut taxes to further weaken the public sector by "starving the beast." President Bush has followed this playbook more closely than any previous president, including Reagan[.]

Italics mine, to do violence to your morning coffee.

What's especially curious is that the intellectual left has been so busy this year congratulating itself on studying — and learning from — the modern intellectual history of the right. Because the most recent manifestation of that history has not been the triumph of limited government principles, but quite the opposite: Two Republican candidates in 2000 who, in one of the candidate's own words, "challenged libertarian orthodoxy" and the "'leave us alone' libertarian philosophy that dominated Republican debates in the 1990s." A Republican president who outspent LBJ. An ascendance of conservative intellectuals actively celebrating "the death of small-government conservatism." And a candidate in 2008 whose English translation of laissez-faire is T-e-d-d-y R-o-o-s-e-v-e-l-t.

Just calling this a "strawman" is being too generous. It's an entire football stadium packed standing-room-only with strawmen.

Read the whole heavily link-laden thing.

Update: This comment by "Episiarch", rather, um, graphically captures the sentiment:

The single theme that most animated the modern conservative movement was the conviction that government was the problem and market forces the solution.

You have to understand that to these people, what the GOP proposes is the "free" market. Showing them an actually free market is like showing anal fisting videos to someone who thinks Playboy is hardcore porn.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn is dead at age 89. Here's part of the BBC account:

The author of The Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, who returned to Russia in 1994, died of either a stroke or heart failure.

The Nobel laureate had suffered from high blood pressure in recent years.

After returning to Russia, Solzhenitsyn wrote several polemics on Russian history and identity.

His son Stepan was quoted by one Russian news agency as saying his father died of heart failure, while another agency quoted literary sources as saying he had suffered a stroke.

Although he was clearly never happy in the West (where he lived in exile until 1994), his published works (especially Denisovitch and the Gulag Archipelago) opened many eyes to what the Soviet empire was like. I remember how horrified I felt when reading the books (I was about 15 when I started on the first volume of Gulag Archipelago), and some of that chill stays with me even now.

Update: James Lileks pays his respects:

I got all three volumes from the drugstore — which should have told me something about the land in which I lived, that one could buy this work from a creaky wire rack at the drugstore — and it taught me much about the Soviet Union and the era of Stalin. After that I could never quite understand the people who viewed the US and the USSR as moral equals, or regarded our history as not only indelibly stained but uniquely so. Reading Solzhenitsyn makes it difficult to take seriously the people in this culture who insist that Dissent has been squelched. Brother, you have no idea.

The great brooding man is dead — all those years of trial and disappointment done, his country no closer than before to manifesting the spirit he believed was within it. We wouldn't have liked his Russia — autocratic, mystical, cold and apart from the outside world, unwilling to grant Ukraine the national identity he cherished for his own land — but we are in his debt for decades of revelations. If the translations I read accurately rendered his style, he wrote with a bitter sarcasm that flayed nearly every commissar who blundered into the narrative. It's a difficult thing to maintain over the course of several thousand pages, but he managed. And then some.

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

August 03, 2008

J.J. Hill, Rail Robber Baron

There's a good biography of Canadian rail magnate J.J. Hill over at Gods of the Copybook Headings:

Neil Reynolds at the Globe recounts the legend of James Jerome Hill (1838-1916), the Canadian who built an American transcontinental railroad, without government subsidies.

[. . .]

Hill also played a key role, until Sir John A Macdonald and his business allies at the Bank of Montreal muscled him out, in the early history of the CPR. He pushed for the appointment of Van Horne as General Manager of the CPR and argued, correctly, that the road's route was economic nonsense. For political reasons the transcontinental route was built through northern Ontario - this long before any significant natural resources had been discovered in the region. The more commercially viable route would have taken the road through Chicago and St Paul, thereby picking up traffic for the Pacific ports of Seattle and Vancouver. Eventually the CPR was forced to purchase the SOO Line to tap into the Chicago and St Paul markets.

Of course, the route taken by the Canadian Pacific had to be within Canada . . . the political realities of the day didn't allow mere economic facts to get in the way. Mistrust of the American government was nearly as bad then as it has been for the last 20 years (I kid, I kid).

Posted by Nicholas at 11:03 PM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2008

False alarm about free speech suppression on Blogger and Blogspot

There was much consternation yesterday when several prominent blogs were all flagged as being in violation of Blogger's terms of service and locked (with a 20-day termination notice). Castle Argghhh! was monitoring the situation, and offered sanctuary to many of the bloggers who'd been suddenly deprived of their blogs.

I have a blog over there (, my emergency backup blog), but as I only post there when there are problems here on the main blog, I don't know if mine was one of the locked blogs . . . because Google (who own Blogger and Blogspot) quickly unlocked the blogs for their owners and sent a letter of apology with an explanation of the problem.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:27 PM | Comments (0)

Another argument for media bias?

Poor old John McCain is in hot water with the media again . . . this time, it's that ultra-left bastion of socialist bile, The Wall Street Journal:

Is John McCain Stupid?

Is John McCain losing it?

On Sunday, he said on national television that to solve Social Security "everything's on the table," which of course means raising payroll taxes. On July 7 in Denver he said: "Senator Obama will raise your taxes. I won't."

This isn't a flip-flop. It's a sex-change operation.

H/T to John Scalzi.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:02 AM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2008

Kerry Howley's battle with self-negation

Kerry Howley recounts a panel discussion she participated in with other women who've been paid for their ova:

Last week I participated in a panel discussion with three women who had, like me, exchanged some ova for cash. It was in a bar basement; everyone was drinking; and my co-panelists — Valerie Bronte, Diana Fleischman, and Marie Huber — happened to be insanely funny, smart people who changed my mind about a few aspects of the process.

I spent my allotted time explaining that my emotional response does not seem to conform to the acceptable cultural script. Reporters call and ask "How painful was it?" and "Do you regret it now?" It wasn't painful, I reply, I'm quite happy to have had the experience. Awkward silence. They ask whether I know someone else they can talk to. I'm never quoted. In conversation I generally feel pushed to say that I feel somehow traumatized, and I have at times felt ashamed for not feeling more seriously affected by the transaction. I've since come to recognize this as a kind of emotional bullying, a push to elicit expected emotional responses.

It's funny that some people who would be horribly offended if someone else indulged in a gender stereotype can ?thoughtlessly? do it themselves:

There is nothing I can say here that won't contribute to my life sentence of buried self-negation, but it's worth noting that [Melissa] Lafsky [of the Huffington Post] is bounding the range of acceptable emotional responses available to half the population. (Of course you were traumatized! Don't you know how emotional women are?) I've no doubt that some women, perhaps many women, are distraught after their ova retrievals. But why on earth would we all have the same reaction? Why not allow women — most human beings — to individuate emotionally? And why does Lafsky want it to have been so troubling for each and every one of us?

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

Denial of temporal reality

James Lileks forces me to confront the ugly reality . . . it actually has been a long time:

I thought the video for "Brothers in Arms" was done by the same director; it had a hand-drawn style. Turns out the director did do a Dire Straits vid — but it was the "Money for Nothing" video, the one that really made everyone who had cable feel as if they were living in the future. Computer graphics and lyrics that referenced the medium itself: Marshall McLuhan would have approved.

Wonderful things were done in the few years between the rise of videos and the rule of computers; "Money for Nothing" was the Steamboat Willie of its time, I suppose.

Wikipedia says it best:

"The song's lyrics are written from the point of view of a blue-collar worker watching music videos and commenting on what he sees. To achieve the effect of such a layman making such casual everyday commentary, Dire Straits' lead singer and songwriter Mark Knopfler used a vocal style known as Sprechstimme."

By which I mean, Wikipedia’s anal tone and self-serious community has managed to suck the juice out of that plum, too.

Has it been a while? It’s almost been a quarter century.

Just gaze upon it, O Ye Boomers, and Despair: there are 24 year-olds out there right now drinking Starbucks and texting friends and using iPhone GPS to arrange dinner plans who were zygotes when this video came out. This video was an oldie on MTV when next month’s Playboy centerfold was born. To them this looks like a 1935 movie looks to someone born in '59.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:14 AM | Comments (0)

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