October 31, 2008

Election lists, Scalzi style

John Scalzi is busy posting election lists. Here's number 3: Things Sarah Palin Has Shot Or Would Shoot From a Helicopter:

1. Wolves
2. Coyotes
3. Arctic foxes
4. Deer
5. Giraffes
6. Tortoises
7. Dolphins
8. Salmon
9. Katie Couric
10. That son of a bitch that divorced her sister
11. Kittens
12. Whoever made that Photoshopped picture of her in a bikini, holding a rifle
. . .

And don't miss People/Things I Would Vote For President Before I Would Vote For John McCain. Bob Barr made number 2!

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

Worst economy since . . . 1991?

Matt Welch examines some of the hyperventilation over the current economic crisis:

Finally, a number that could be the worst on record since the Great Dustbowlia, though it's a number of direction, not position, and (just like GDP) when combined with the prior quarter it shows net growth.

I don't mean to minimize the pain here. But as Nick Gillespie pointed out a couple weeks back, "Any comparison with the Depression, which featured an unemployment rate of 25 percent and a contraction in GDP of over 33 percent at its worst moments, strains credulity."

Both the outgoing administration and the incoming one (whichever wins) have been using such inaccurate, scaremongering analogies to justify massive, ill-conceived federal interventions all over the private economy that will likely have profoundly negative long-term consquences in the forms of renewed inflation, managerial inefficiency from central planners, offshoring of capital markets, and what I fear will be the biggest Bubble of them all: Having the federal government guarantee damned near every large financial risk anybody takes. In a world of ever-increasing guarantees, why shouldn't every investor pour maximum money into whatever federally backstopped financial institution is offering the highest rates? And how do you suppose said institution will be able to afford paying out those high winnings? It won't be through sound investments, boyo.

As a confirmed apocalyptic, I continue to expect the sky to fall; but as a stat dweeb I'm just not seeing the elephant tracks. Right now, during our Worst Economic Crisis Since the Great Depression, unemployment is at 6.1 percent, inflation is at 4.9 percent, and GDP shrank 0.3 percent this quarter, though it's still up for the year. I don't see how that even begins to compete with the late-Carter, early-Reagan era, when GDP shrank in both 1980 and 1982, unemployment never dipped below 8 percent from November 1981 to January 1984, and inflation never dipped below 8 percent between September 1978 and January 1982.

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

Conspiracies and paranoia

James Lileks considers the world of the conspiracy theorist:

Some suggest that the great disenchantment began with the assassination of JFK, and I see the point. But it's strange that it led to a loss of faith in us, given who shot the President. (Yes, I'm one of those lone-gunman wackos. I'm a freethinker! I refuse to accept concensus!) If Oswald had been a card-carrying Kluxer or a dead-ender Bircher or some sort of far-right-wing nutcase, I wonder if we would have accepted the Warren Commission and moved along. But no, he was a Communist. Well obviously there has to be more to it, then. Same with Sirhan Sirhan: his motivation will forever be a mystery, won’t it?

Once you start to believe in the dark shadowy forces, you're done with the world. You're done engaging it, you're done enjoying it. There's no point. It's a sham, a shell, a shiny façade erected by the Jews / Bilderburgers / Trilateral Commission/ Council on Foreign Relations / Project for a New American Century / Masons / Knights Templar / Illuminati / Federal Reserve / Rockefeller-Royal Family Nexus / Bush Crime Syndicate / League of Grim Intent, and all you can do is post on the internet and call talk radio to argue with the hosts who think we're free people.

It's nice to see hope abroad in the land again, but I wonder who will be to blame when human nature asserts itself and the manna shipments fall behind. Someone has to be blamed, after all. It's not the task that's a fool's errand. It's the fools who refuse to believe in the task.

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

October 30, 2008

Libertarians (both large "L" and small) discuss Barack Obama

In a piece from the November issue of Reason magazine, several libertarians look at what an Obama administration might encounter:

[Virginia Postrel] "The president's power has a face, and Obama's most fervent supporters believe he can repair the world with his face alone. Perhaps they're right, at least for the first month or two. We can only hope that he will respect the multiplicity of American dreams and the unpredictable ways in which their pursuit provides the basis for a better future."

[. . .]

[Brink Lindsay] "Obama, to his great credit, resisted the urge to panic all along. After eight years of George W. Bush and all the damage he has done to American interests and influence in the world, it is vitally important for the next occupant of the White House to be able to face a messy and dangerous world with a clear head. Only Barack Obama is equipped to do that."

[. . .]

[Richard A. Epstein] "Unfortunately, on the full range of economic issues, both large and small, I fear that [Obama's] policies, earnestly advanced, are a throwback to the worst of the Depression-era, big-government policies. Libertarians in general favor flat and low taxes, free trade, and unregulated labor markets. Obama is on the wrong side of all these issues. He adopts a warmed-over vision of the New Deal corporatist state with high taxation, major trade barriers, and massive interference in labor markets. He is also unrepentant in his support of farm subsidies and a vast expansion of the government role in health care. Each of these reforms, taken separately, expands the power of government over our lives. Their cumulative impact could be devastating."

[. . .]

[Jonathan Rauch] "Barack Obama? Not a chance," I said last year, when he announced his candidacy. "Too inexperienced." The last time I was so wrong about a politician was in 1980, when I had the excuse of being 20 years old. "Ronald Reagan? No way. A simpleton."

What I misjudged about Reagan was that he was a deeply substantive man. His ideas were the most important aspect of him. With my record on Obama predictions, I hesitate to try again, but the editors of this fine publication have offered me the price of lunch chez Denny's, so here goes: Obama is the un-Reagan, inasmuch as his ideas are the least important aspect of him.

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

New Scientist discards notion of "data"

Tim Worstall takes New Scientist to the woodshed for their deliberate innumeracy:

If you're going to start demanding a new economics, as the New Scientist just has, then it would be useful if you understood what the old economics you're trying to replace has to say . . . as the New Scientist clearly doesn't. Take this seemingly uncontroversial statement: "We live on a planet with finite resources — that's no surprise to anyone — so why do we have an economic system in which all that matters is growth? More growth means using more resources." Umm, no, it doesn't mean that.

Certainly, growth can lead to the consumption of more resources, but it's not a necessary outcome. "This one is built on a long-standing question: how do we square Earth's finite resources with the fact that as the economy grows, the amount of natural resources needed to sustain that activity must grow too?" No, this simply isn't true. They've entirely missed how those dastardly neo-liberal economists they want to overthrow define and measure growth. Apologies to those grandmothers I'm informing about egg-sucking, but a little basic economics here.

We define economic growth as a rise in GDP (don't sweat the details here) per capita. GDP is not measuring the use or not of resources. It's measuring the value added in the economy. If I use sand to make a wine bottle I will add some small amount of GDP. If I use that same sand and make a computer chip instead I will add more value and thus more to GDP with the same use of resources. If I don't use any sand at all and start singing at a concert where people pay me (with my voice, perhaps paying me to stop) then again, I've increased GDP with no use of natural resources at all. And just to complete the logic, if I learn how to pack more transistors onto a chip I can use less sand to make one of the same performance, allowing me to create the same GDP with less use of natural resources. There is thus no requirement for economic growth to mean an increase in the use of resources, natural or otherwise.

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

October 29, 2008

Another wrong-door drug raid

Aimee Green reports on another "oops, wrong place" drug raid:

When armed intruders burst into her Southeast Portland home and ordered her husband and her roommate to the floor at gunpoint, Emily Morden knew it had to be a terrible mistake.

One of the men yelled: "Where's Tim?" and barked orders. The intruders began to bind their hands with duct tape. They accused Morden's 23-year-old roommate of being a drug dealer. The roommate, an old friend, lay on the floor in pajamas and fuzzy duck slippers.

Morden started to protest.

"Tim is not a drug dealer! He works at Fred Meyer!" she said, kneeling before the gunman but refusing to lie down out of fear of what would happen next.

"Are you sure you have the right house?"

Turns out, they didn't.

The "Tim" they were looking for was the medical marijuana grower who lived next door.

Radley Balko points out the oddest fact:

[R]eader Brian Courts, who sent me the article, had another observation I hadn't considered: The people who got raided by these criminals were actually treated better than most of the people wrongly raided by the police.

Consider:

1) No one was shot or killed. And no dead dogs.

2) The intruders actually apologized when they realized they had the wrong house.

3) Now that they’ve been caught, the intruders will actually be punished for terrorizing a home full of innocent people.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Rationalizing your vote

I'm probably going to vote for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) this year, and my reason is particularly indefensible. It's a straightforward case of reverse racism. For most of my life (beginning, I think, with a broadcast of that paean to racial harmony Brian's Song), I have figured that America should have a black president, and that if such a candidate ever came along who wasn't a complete disaster, I'd vote for him. That moment has arrived, yet it's full of irony: Usually I throw away my vote by betting on some third-party forlorn hope, but this year Obama's lock on California makes my vote especially superfluous and irrelevant.

And the candidate himself comes quite close to being a complete disaster. Obama has taken positions and even — with the slight peevishness of a man who knows he's been singled out by destiny and doesn't see much point in going through the usual channels — documented and supported them. To the extent we can piece together a portrait of the candidate, it's awful. He's a strident anti-trader and industrial-era dead-ender, persuaded that protecting decades-gone jobs in the Midwest is a national responsibility. He will try to enact some version of universal health care. On most issues where he's not worse than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — foreign policy, wiretapping, finance — he's just as bad. He may or may not be friendly with too many anti-American jackholes, but he's definitely too friendly with jackholes in general. His budget projections are fanciful. Worst of all, for at least the next two years he will almost certainly have the support of the majority party in Congress.

And yet in a dream, in a Nixon-era fog of progressive uplift, I'm ready to vote for him. And I'm pretty sure my reasons for voting for Obama are no dumber than your reasons for voting for whomever you're voting for.

Tim Cavanaugh, "Don't Vote As I Vote: Everybody's got a reason for voting, and they all stink", Reason Online, 2008-10-28

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

When the lesser of two evils is still too evil

Jacob Sullum tries to determine which of the two major party candidates qualifies as the "lesser evil":

As we saw during the first six years of the Bush administration, which featured profligate spending and unchecked executive power, the White House and Congress tend to enable each other's excesses when they are controlled by the same party. Since the Democrats are expected not only to retain but to strengthen their grip on the legislative branch, this consideration counts in favor of the Republican nominee.

Another important advantage of a McCain presidency is that he would be more likely than Barack Obama to appoint judges who see their job as interpreting and applying the Constitution, rather than rewriting it to fit their policy preferences. Since the two oldest members of the Supreme Court tend toward the latter approach, McCain could have a chance to make the Court more faithful to the original understanding of the Constitution.

While McCain would be better than Obama in this respect, it's not because he cares much about legal philosophy but because the people advising him would. Likewise on economic issues, where the people McCain consults seem less interventionist and more market-oriented than Obama's advisers. Then again, McCain has cast doubt on the superiority of his economic instincts by condemning "reckless conduct" and "unbridled greed" on Wall Street while backing taxpayer-funded bailouts of reckless and greedy lenders, investors, and borrowers.

So, hold your nose and vote Republican? Maybe not:

With the glaring exception of the Second Amendment, which Obama supports in theory but not in practice, he has a substantially stronger record on civil liberties than McCain does.

Obama is also superior on the related issue of executive power, rejecting Bush's contention that the president may do as he pleases in matters related to terrorism or national security. McCain initially sounded better than Bush on this question, agreeing that the president is obligated to obey the law and renouncing the use of signing statements to evade that obligation. More recently, however, his campaign has indicated that McCain's view of the president's authority is broad enough to permit violation of statutes governing surveillance of people in the United States.

The extent of the president's powers, although hardly mentioned during the general election campaign, is probably the most important consideration in choosing between McCain and Obama.

Either way, it's still an unpalatable choice for limited government fans.

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

October 28, 2008

John McCain . . . Karl Rove's instrument?

Ryan Sager examines the hard-to-imagine transition of John McCain from Rove victim to intellectual heir:

Back in 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush's political savior, Karl Rove, was performing nothing short of an electoral resurrection, running around South Carolina calling Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) an unpatriotic, illegitimate-black-baby-fathering Manchurian Candidate.

Who could have guessed that eight years later, the senator from Arizona would be dedicating the remainder of his political life to finishing Karl Rove's good works on Earth?

And yet, as McCain runs around the country this fall, calling Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) an unpatriotic, socialistic terrorist-paller-around-with, it seems he's taken it upon himself to complete what should be called the Rove Realignment.

No, not the once-envisioned "rolling realignment," under which the Republican Party would add to its base of white Evangelical Protestants, bringing in Hispanics, culturally conservative African Americans, and economically vulnerable whites — those who supported Medicare Part D and opposed gay marriage in equal measure — to create a "permanent" Republican majority that would last at least a generation.

McCain's working on the other realignment: The one where eight years of fiscal recklessness and cultural warfare alienates swing voters and withers the Republican Party until the very base of the conservative movement cracks in half — splitting a coalition that has endured since the Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964.

Of course, the libertarian wing of the Republican Pary has grown smaller and less influential . . . to the point that most Republicans see them as gadflies or worse. Kicking them out of the GOP must seem like a good idea to those currently running the party.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:22 PM | Comments (0)

Remembering Vimy Ridge

Tim Cook describes the preparation and the actual battle of Vimy Ridge:

Vimy is often portrayed as an artillery battle, with the guns shredding the enemy defences as the infantry simply advanced to victory. The counter-battery fire was equally devastating: Of the 89 enemy guns, only 17 remained active at the end of April 9. The artillery shellfire was, without a doubt, essential in allowing the infantry to advance. Indeed, as William Antliff of the No. 9 Canadian Field Ambulance put it, "The boys can't praise our barrage too much and every inch of the ground is chewed up." One Canadian infantry staff officer even went so far as to write in his diary, "It is no wonder the Germans couldn't hold us, for our artillery work had been terrible, everything smashed to pieces. We had broken their hearts first and there was no fight left in them."

While this was true along parts of the front, and more than 4,000 prisoners were captured, the battle the Canadians faced at the sharp end was in most sectors nothing short of brutal, and there was a lot of fight left in the defenders. Though success could not have been achieved without the guns, the firepower did not translate to victory on its own. German troops survived the barrage in every sector of the front. It fell to the Canadian infantry to pin the enemy down with machine-gun fire, snipe him with rifles, tear him apart with grenades, and spear him with bayonets.

The Canadians' intense training and pre-battle preparation had paid dividends. Driver Cyril Brown, from Port Hope, Ont., felt that the prebattle training had so well prepared him for the front that he felt he knew every trench and crater he might encounter, as well as "a lot of rats by their first names".

Co-incidentally, I just finished reading the author's At the Sharp End, the first of two volumes on the Canadian Expeditionary Force (the Canadian Corps) on the Western Front in 1914-1918. Highly recommended . . . I'm looking forward to Shock Troops, the second volume.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:28 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Political meddling

[. . .] a worrying trend about the direction America is poised to go during the coming Obamaverse. You might think that the Fannie/Freddie debacle would forever sear the eyeballs of those dreamers who aim to improve society by forcing private or semi-private companies to redirect their activities away from the bottom line and toward the desires of various interest groups, but then you'd be hopelessly naive. Mortgages and endowments ain't the half of it Everywhere you see government contracting you see a fantastical variety of social engineering projects. There are any number of colossal pension funds being tweaked as we speak to fit the political goals of people whose track record with managing money has been, shall we say, suboptimal. In the ongoing financial-market crisis, such politically correct investing may contribute to an awful lot of carnage.

Matt Welch, "You Will Be Mine You Will Be Mine, All Mine", Hit and Run, 2008-10-27

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

Alexander Cockburn on the Obama candidacy

In a recent column in The Independent, Alexander Cockburn explains his unease with the Barack Obama candidacy:

Obama invokes change. Yet never has the dead hand of the past had a "reform" candidate so firmly by the windpipe. Is it possible to confront America's problems without talking about the arms budget? The Pentagon is spending more than at any point since the end of the Second World War. In "real dollars" — an optimistic concept these days — the $635bn (£400bn) appropriated in fiscal 2007 is 5 per cent above the previous all-time high, reached in 1952. Obama wants to enlarge the armed services by 90,000. He pledges to escalate the US war in Afghanistan; to attack Pakistan's territory if it obstructs any unilateral US mission to kill Osama bin Laden; and to wage a war against terror in a hundred countries, creating a new international intelligence and law enforcement "infrastructure" to take down terrorist networks. A fresh start? Where does this differ from Bush's commitment on 20 September 2001, to an ongoing "war on terror" against "every terrorist group of global reach" and "any nation that continues to harbour or support terrorism"?

Obama's liberal defenders comfort themselves with the thought that "he had to say that to get elected". He didn't. After eight years of Bush, Americans are receptive to reassessing America's imperial role. Obama has shunned this opportunity. If elected, he will be a prisoner of his promise that on his watch Afghanistan will not be lost, nor the white man's burden shirked.

Whatever drawdown of troops in Iraq that does take place in the event of Obama's victory will be a brief hiccup amid the blare and thunder of fresh "resolve". In the event of Obama's victory, the most immediate consequence overseas will most likely be brusque imperial reassertion. Already, Joe Biden, the shopworn poster boy for Israeli intransigence and Cold War hysteria, is yelping stridently about the new administration's "mettle" being tested in the first six months by the Russians and their surrogates. Obama is far more hawkish than McCain on Iran.

After eight years of unrelenting assault on constitutional liberties by Bush and Cheney, public and judicial enthusiasm for tyranny has waned. Obama has preferred to stand with Bush and Cheney. In February, seeking a liberal profile in the primaries, Obama stood against warrantless wiretapping. His support for liberty did not survive for long. Five months later, he voted in favour and declared that "the ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States is a vital counter-terrorism tool".

As many people have noted, aside from the symbolic positives (first black presidential candidate, first female Republican VP candidate), this is not the American electoral system's finest moment. Neither major candidate brings much substantive difference from the outgoing George Bush administration's foreign policies, and there are more points of agreement between Obama and McCain's domestic policies than differences. In too many ways, votes for both Republican and Democratic tickets really do mean "more of the same, please".

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

Statistically, nature > nurture

According to a report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, we now have a definitive answer to whether nature or nurture matters more:

People wanting to shirk responsibility for their behaviour will be happy to learn they can blame their parents for almost half of it.

An Australian psychologist has aggregated the results of hundreds of studies on human behaviour and found 40 per cent can be put down to human genetics.

"While there had been many studies done on specific behaviours such as alcoholism or smoking, we were interested to see if we could put a figure on the genetic influence on behaviour in general," said Dr John Malouff, from the University of New England.

"We looked at a whole range of normal and problem behaviours, and what we found was that again and again, the genetic component of these behaviours tended to clump around the 40 per cent mark."

He said this definitively makes genetics the single most powerful influence on a person's behaviour over their lifetime.

"If you look at what we know about what causes behaviour, it's hard to find another chunk so large," Dr Malouff said.

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

October 27, 2008

QotD: Motorbikes

What I'm trying to say here is that, yes, bikes and cars are both forms of transport, but they have nothing in common. Imagining that you can ride a bike because you can drive a car is like imagining you can swallow-dive off a 90ft cliff because you can play table tennis.

However, many people are making the switch because they imagine that having a small motorcycle will be cheap. It isn't. Sure, the 125cc Vespa I tried can be bought for £3,499, but then you will need a helmet (£300), a jacket (£500), some Freddie Mercury trousers (£100), shoes (£130), a pair of Kevlar gloves (£90), a coffin (£1,000), a headstone (£750), a cremation (£380) and flowers in the church (£200).

In other words, your small 125cc motorcycle, which has no boot, no electric windows, no stereo and no bloody heater even, will end up costing more than a Volkswagen Golf. That said, a bike is much cheaper to run than a car. In fact, it takes only half a litre of fuel to get from your house to the scene of your first fatal accident. Which means that the lifetime cost of running your new bike is just 50p.

Jeremy Clarkson, "Vespa GTV Navy 125", TimesOnline, 2008-10-19

Posted by Nicholas at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)

Technical difficulties

My home computer started having minor issues a few weeks back (thinking back, it's more like a couple of months back, but I've been a bit busy). The first problem was the DVD writer, which refused to successfully write DVD or CD discs. This was a pain, as I had tried using an external USB drive for backups, but it didn't actually work as intended. That drive got RMA'd back to Seagate, but the replacement drive exhibited similar behaviour after the first few weeks, so I just gave up on USB hard drives as backup media.

With the external hard drive no longer an option, I reverted back to just doing local backups and dumping the resulting files to DVD-R discs. Which was fine, as long as the DVD writer played along. With the DVD drive not willing to play its part in the game, I had to come up with some other solution for backups. Backing up to other machines on the home network would be fine, if any of the other machines had significant amounts of unused hard drive space to spare. Scratch that notion.

So, I foolishly limped along without regular backups, until two weeks ago, when my machine started to reboot every few hours. That is never a good sign. Nothing shows up on the rudimentary tools I have for checking the state of the machine, so it'll have to go to the shop. No worries, just backup the current state of the drive and . . . oops. Can't do that.

Fall back to the final line of defence . . . copy the backup files to my work laptop (having just barely enough available space on the hard drive), and burn them onto DVD from the laptop. Except . . . the two machines won't connect on the local network. Double drat.

Final solution? Dump files to USB memory stick, insert stick in laptop, move files to hard drive, rinse and repeat.

That was when I discovered that I didn't have burning software on the laptop . . . the utility I was going to use was apparently a time-limited demo, not a freeware package. Triple drat.

Off to the dingy end of the internet to try to find a freeware burning package that doesn't come complete with hundreds of virii . . .

Well past midnight, finally finish burning the backup discs. What a pain in the ass!

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

October 24, 2008

Part four of the social security story: Broken Trust

Worried about the viability of Social Security? Unless you're already collecting it, you should be!

Follow the animated adventures of Sonny, exactly the sort of youth who is set to get screwed by a system designed during The Great Depression, when workers were plenty and retirees rare.

In Episode Four, Sonny learns the big secret of Social Security: That all payroll taxes go into the federal government's general fund and are spent on all sorts of programs and activities that have nothing to do with individuals' retirements.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

The return of Daunte Culpepper

Well, it lasted all of six weeks . . . his retirement, that is:

The former Pro Bowl quarterback, who announced plans to quit football in early September after being frustrated over not finding work in the NFL, said Thursday he's considering a comeback. But he didn't reveal which teams may be interested in his services.

"A number of teams have contacted me since my retirement announcement and have provided some important information that has caused me to reconsider returning to the league," Culpepper, who serves as his own agent, wrote in an e-mail. "As much as I have enjoyed my brief break from playing, I know that I love the game and I have some unfinished business in the NFL."

One of those teams was the Kansas City Chiefs, who contacted Culpepper but wound up signing former Jacksonville backup Quinn Gray.

Culpepper was the Minnesota Vikings’ first-round draft choice in 1999, became their full-time starter a year later, and teamed with Randy Moss to form one of the NFL's top duos. But Culpepper suffered a major injury to his right knee in October 2005, ending his time in Minnesota. He failed to regain past form during brief stints with the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders.

As I said at the time he announced his retirement:

Culpepper could have played several more years, certainly long enough to re-establish his reputation and be rewarded with a contract more to his financial taste. His negotiations on his own behalf were sometimes breathtakingly audacious, but rarely successful. There is a reason why most professional athletes use agents . . . and this is an illustration of what can happen when one choses not do do so. Specialists too often feel that their skills and abilities in their specialty also make them equally skilled in other, often unrelated areas (and the narrower the speciality, the more common this weakness appears to be). Culpepper was a top-notch NFL quarterback, but not a very good agent at all.

Sadly, he's still trying to cut out the middleman and act as his own agent. That's, to be polite, ill-advised.

I hope he does find a team in need of his services, and that he can regain his pre-injury form.

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

QotD: Bailing out the ethanol speculators

The federal government's ethanol policies have driven up the price of corn [. . .] But rather than reforming the policies that have caused a spike in corn prices, the federal government wants to bail out ethanol producers who speculated on the price of corn. Only the U.S. Department of Agriculture could dream up a policy like this. [. . .] The high price of corn has had a ripple effect over our entire economy. Instead of trying to bail out every industry hurt by it, the federal government needs to take a serious look at reforming our ethanol policies.

Rep. Jeff Flake, quoted by Mike Sunnucks, "Flake blasts proposed ethanol bailout", Phoenix Business Journal, 2008-10-22

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

Is it racist to call someone a socialist?

Michael C. Moynihan responds to an editorial in the Kansas City Star, which tried to pillory John McCain for calling Barack Obama a socialist:

Now let me, as a card-carrying member of the libertarian establishment, say from the outset that while the prospect of an Obama presidency and large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate stimulates my acid reflux, I am optimistic that our presumptive leader will govern more in the style of L.B.J. than Eugene Debs. Thank heaven for small mercies. So yes, I expect the next four years to be pretty grim, but those who foretell massive grain collectivization, the requisition of SUVs, a liquidation campaign against the kulaks, would be advised to take a deep breath.

But buried in these charges of socialism, Diuguid, the Star's in-house racial cryptographer, finds clear racist intent. He explains that "J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972, used the term liberally to describe African Americans who spent their lives fighting for equality." Indeed, "freedom fighters" like "W.E.B. Du Bois, who in 1909 helped found the NAACP which is still the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization [and] Paul Robeson, a famous singer, actor and political activist who in the 1930s became involved in national and international movements for better labor relations, peace and racial justice . . ."

This is a sort of reverse McCarthyism; the presumption that because an activist was denounced as a 'socialist' he was obviously no such thing. But here Diuguid is, whether out of luck or ignorance, partially correct. Du Bois and Robeson were most certainly not socialists — they were Stalinists.

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

October 23, 2008

QotD: The negativity race

In part, the hypocrisy stems from the sincere conviction that one's own hatred and fear are justified because the other side really is evil: Palin would usher in an American Taliban; Obama is a friend to terrorists. (By the way, it is appalling that so many mainstream liberals were willing to embrace the unrepentant Ayers — but it's hardly better for mainstream conservatives to "pal around" with Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy, who once plotted to murder his fellow Americans and more recently counseled gun owners to shoot federal agents in the head.)

Many people who are tired of the mudslinging can't wait for the election to be over. But Nov. 4 is unlikely to bring much relief. The dogs of war are loose, and they won't be easy to leash. If, as seems likely, Obama is elected, a large number of people on the right will see him as a stealth radical who won thanks to media bias and rampant voter fraud. If McCain pulls off a surprise upset, at least as many people on the left will blame racism, Republican dirty tricks or both—and some will regard the results as proof that the right-wing cabal behind Bush will never let go of power. Either way, a substantial minority of Americans will see themselves as living under an illegitimate and evil regime.

And that's more frightening than the economic crisis.

Cathy Young, "The Campaign Turns Nasty: American voters deserve better than this vicious squabble", Reason Online, 2008-10-22

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

When border security goes too far

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has posted a fact sheet on the US Constitution Free Zone, where the normal protections of the 4th Amendment don't apply:

* Normally under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the American people are not generally subject to random and arbitrary stops and searches.

* The border, however, has always been an exception. There, the longstanding view is that the normal rules do not apply. For example the authorities do not need a warrant or probable cause to conduct a "routine search."

* But what is “the border”? According to the government, it is a 100-mile wide strip that wraps around the "external boundary" of the United States.

* As a result of this claimed authority, individuals who are far away from the border, American citizens traveling from one place in America to another, are being stopped and harassed in ways that our Constitution does not permit.

* Border Patrol has been setting up checkpoints inland — on highways in states such as California, Texas and Arizona, and at ferry terminals in Washington State. Typically, the agents ask drivers and passengers about their citizenship. Unfortunately, our courts so far have permitted these kinds of checkpoints — legally speaking, they are "administrative" stops that are permitted only for the specific purpose of protecting the nation's borders. They cannot become general drug-search or other law enforcement efforts.

* However, these stops by Border Patrol agents are not remaining confined to that border security purpose. On the roads of California and elsewhere in the nation — places far removed from the actual border — agents are stopping, interrogating, and searching Americans on an everyday basis with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing.

* The bottom line is that the extraordinary authorities that the government possesses at the border are spilling into regular American streets.

As Radley Balko says, "we're not exactly to the point of 'Ihre Papiere, bitte' Berlin yet, but the ACLU does warn that the area of the country 100 miles from every border and coastline would include about 190 million people, or nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population (see map below)."

aclumap.gif

Nobody (well, damned few people) argue that the border needs to be monitored, but the over-expansion of the definition of what constitutes the border is a very bad thing. 100 miles is an arbitrary number . . . who can object if the government decides it should be 200 or 300 miles? At what point can anyone say "this far, but no further"? If you've already conceded 100 miles, there's no logical stopping point, is there?

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

October 22, 2008

The toxic endorsement game

John McCain gets the nod from those noted election fans, Al Qaida:

AQ_endorses_McCain.jpg

Al-Qaida supporters suggested in a Web site message this week they would welcome a pre-election terror attack on the U.S. as a way to usher in a McCain presidency.

The message was posted Monday on the password-protected al-Hesbah Web site. It says if al-Qaida wants to exhaust the United States militarily and economically, "impetuous" Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain is the better choice.

It says that's because he's more likely to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:39 PM | Comments (0)

"More like this, please"

Jon, my virtual landlord, sent me this link to Ghost of a Flea with the comment "More like this, please". I can only concur:

Socialists do not create wealth for themselves; they parasitize the wealth of others, primarily through confiscatory state bureaucracies. Therefore, to destroy the left, the next real conservative government has to do one thing (and one thing only): Stop paying the left to destroy civilization. Shut down the CBC's national television news, shut down funding to arts and social science departments at all publicly funded universities, shut down all fine arts funding, shut down all tax incentives to write or produce leftist propaganda in whatever medium and let all of the above fend for themselves in the marketplace.

Problem solved.

We can no more win this war so long as we continue to fund the other side through our taxes than we can expect to defeat the Islamic forever war against us even as we fund the jihadis every time we buy gasoline.

We're often told (almost always by folks directly or indirectly benefitting from government grants) that it is the government's responsibility to fund the arts, and that "we wouldn't have any culture" if the feds and the provinces turned off the taps. Even if we assume that they're right, and that nobody would ever act, paint, write, or sculpt without a stipend, can it really be proven that we'd be culturally weaker? How much subsidized art is actually aesthetically useful (even as a bad example)?

Also, Nick provides some useful post-election advice to the Tories:

Related note to Stephen Harper: Those arts grants cuts did not cost you any votes; at least not until you restored them in a bid to placate Quebec. Quebec was not — and cannot be — placated and you must know there is not a single publicly funded artist or arts functionary in the country who would vote "Conservative" under any circumstances. But you can alienate your base by kissing Quebec's ass and you can alienate your base by tacking so far to the centre we might as well vote Liberal Classic instead of your New Coke version of the same agenda. Do the right thing now, please.

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

World air traffic, graphically

Roger Henry sent a link to this visual representation of worldwide air traffic:

Air_traffic.jpg

Note the time-lapse as traffic chases the dawn and dusk lines (it's not immediately obvious on first viewing, but it helps to explain why the traffic rises and falls).

Posted by Nicholas at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)

The strange, unlamented death of libertarianism

Jacob Weisberg says the final rites over the corpse of libertarian theory, based on how badly the situation has become due to the Bush administration's total devotion to radical libertarianism:

A source of mild entertainment amid the financial carnage has been watching libertarians scurrying to explain how the global financial crisis is the result of too much government intervention rather than too little. One line of argument casts as villain the Community Reinvestment Act, which prevents banks from "redlining" minority neighborhoods as not creditworthy. Another theory blames Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for causing the trouble by subsidizing and securitizing mortgages with an implicit government guarantee. An alternative thesis is that past bailouts encouraged investors to behave recklessly in anticipation of a taxpayer rescue.

There are rebuttals to these claims and rejoinders to the rebuttals. But to summarize, the libertarian apologetics fall wildly short of providing any convincing explanation for what went wrong. The argument as a whole is reminiscent of wearying dorm-room debates that took place circa 1989 about whether the fall of the Soviet bloc demonstrated the failure of communism. Academic Marxists were never going to be convinced that anything that happened in the real world could invalidate their belief system. Utopians of the right, libertarians are just as convinced that their ideas have yet to be tried, and that they would work beautifully if we could only just have a do-over of human history. Like all true ideologues, they find a way to interpret mounting evidence of error as proof that they were right all along.

To which the rest of us can only respond, Haven't you people done enough harm already? We have narrowly avoided a global depression and are mercifully pointed toward merely the worst recession in a long while. This is thanks to a global economic meltdown made possible by libertarian ideas. I don't have much patience with the notion that trying to figure out how we got into this mess is somehow unacceptably vicious and pointless — Sarah Palin's view of global warming. As with any failure, inquest is central to improvement. And any competent forensic work has to put the libertarian theory of self-regulating financial markets at the scene of the crime.

Remember all those Bush appointees waving their copies of Murray Rothbard's For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto and Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, while abolishing vast chunks of the federal government, ordering the mass withdrawals of American troops from all foreign lands, and selling off millions and millions of federal properties? Yeah, me neither.

How did those long-standing bastions of New Deal-era socialism, Fannie and Freddie, survive the gutting of all government involvement in the economy?

The answer is, of course, that George Bush is about as far away from a libertarian true believer as you could be without requiring people to refer to you as "Der Führer" or "Dear Leader" or "Big Brother". Big government projects? Check. Massive military spending? Check. Meddling in the free markets? Check. Vast increases in all kinds of regulation? Check. Imposition of further restrictions on individual freedom? Check.

Jeffrey Miron does the heavy lifting to refute Weisberg's bizzare notion that libertarians had anything to do with the current financial mess:

Whatever one's views of libertarian policies, the incontrovertible fact is that the U.S. has not pursued such policies. Not in the past 10 years. Not in the past century. Indeed, except for a brief moment before Alexander Hamilton engineered the first U.S. bailout of financial markets, not ever. If the U.S. had truly been the "Libertarian Land" that Weisberg alleges, a huge range of policies that have helped fuel the current situation would have been radically different.

In Libertarian Land, banks would not be chartered, defined, and regulated by government, as they have been in the U.S. for over 150 years. In particular, banks would have the right to "suspend convertibility," meaning they could tell depositors, "Sorry, you can't have all your money back right now," during banks runs that threatened bank solvency. This is precisely what banks did in key financial panics during the pre-Fed period, when suspension was illegal but tolerated or encouraged by regulators. By so doing, banks reduced the spread of panics and solvent but illiquid banks did not fail in large numbers.

In Libertarian Land, the Federal Reserve would never have been created. This means the Fed could not have turned a normal recession into the Great Depression by failing to stem a huge decline in the money supply. This decline and the related bank failures occurred because the Fed's existence was taken as indication that banks could not, or should not, suspend convertibility, as they had done successfully in the past. Thus in Libertarian Land, the Great Depression would probably not have occurred.

Update: I should also have linked to Matt Welch's round-up of reactions to Weisberg's article.

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

Economic vain hopes

Jacob Sullum makes an excellent point in regard to the exaggerated hopes (at least on the part of Obama-favouring media pundits) for job creation if Barack Obama is elected:

[Many Americans] probably will be disappointed, because Obama seems to view job creation not only as something the government does with taxpayers' money but as an end in itself. That's a recipe for wasteful spending that will divert resources from more productive uses and ultimately result in lower employment than would otherwise occur.

Obama says he will "transform the challenge of global climate change into an opportunity to create 5 million new green jobs," which he likens to the economic activity triggered by the personal computer. This way of looking at climate change is a variation on the broken window fallacy, according to which the loss caused by a smashed window is offset by the employment it gives the glazier.

By the same logic, Obama should view war, crime, and hurricanes as opportunities to create jobs. All three generate economic activity, but we'd be better off if the resources spent on bombs, burglar alarms, and reconstruction were available for other purposes, instead of being used to inflict, prevent, or recover from losses.

Almost as a throw-away introduction to the article, Sullum also points out that the turmoil in the real estate and banking sectors has not directly impacted other sectors of the economy yet:

Despite all the facile comparisons between the current economic situation and the conditions that preceded the Great Depression, the most recent figures show GDP continuing to grow, with unemployment at a historically modest 6.1 percent.

It must be remembered that all economic data is collected after the fact, so that what we think of as the "current" numbers are only indicating the situation from one to three months earlier.

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

October 21, 2008

QotD: Orwelling Orwell

It is not an accident these [George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm] have disappeared down the memory hole. The Establishment has decided it is more important for you to feel empowered than for you to be empowered.

Nick Packwood, "An unbroken line", Ghost of a Flea, 2008-10-21

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

The "Tate" of the union address

An interview with meaningful impact. Brilliant delivery.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:54 AM | Comments (0)

The real environmental impact of babies' butts

Katherine Mangu-Ward looks at the messy issue of diapers and the environment:

At the tender age of 22, I was sitting at my desk, working diligently on some task for my first real job when an older colleague, who happened to be a new father, walked by. "I invented a new word this morning," he said. "Crapnel. It's a fusion of crap and shrapnel. Think hard before you have kids."

In related news, cloth diapers are bad for the environment, and the government doesn't want you to know about it. The pleasingly labor intensive and disgusting practice of using cloth diapers because they're better for the environment than those awful disposables manufactured in China by multinational corporations turns out to be a big lie. A government report showing that cloth diapers are bad for the environment was (God forgive me for this) leaked to a newspaper

New parents — especially first-timers — are the easiest target for snake oil salesmen, both commercial and political. When Victor was born, we tried using a diaper service for the first few months . . . partly for vague environmental reasons, but mostly because we were given the service as a baby shower gift by one of Elizabeth's close friends. It seemed like the "right" thing to do.

Fast forward three months, and we couldn't get out of the contract soon enough. The diapers were significantly less effective than the disposables, leading to more frequent cleaning of other clothes, they were not as comfortable for the baby, and the smell was inescapable in our small apartment. We'd been using disposables whenever we were away from home for more than a few hours (diaper bags are unwieldy luggage at the best of time, but when you're also carrying around cloth diapers, they become ticking time-bombs of odour, mess, and embarassment.

We got a lecture from several people after we switched, but there was no contest between the two from our experience. Now that the evidence shows that the claimed environmental benefit to cloth diapers is bogus, there's no reason other new parents should have to suffer the hard learning experience.

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

The deeper meaning of Palin's SNL appearance

Greg Beato looks beyond the surface of Sarah Palin's appearance on Saturday Night Live:

Like Patty Hearst brandishing a semi-automatic carbine during a SLA bank robbery, Sarah Palin didn't actually do much during her celebrated appearance on Saturday Night Live this weekend. But it was a shocking tableau nonetheless. After mocking Palin relentlessly for the last month, the liberal terrorists at SNL actually kidnapped the vice presidential candidate, brainwashed her, and made her complicit in their crimes against democracy.

Is it time, perhaps, to get serious about the War on Punchlines? Surely it must have been tough for conservatives to watch Palin's uncharacteristically docile performace; instead of Sarah Barracuda, she was Miss Congeniality, reduced to accepting smarmy compliments from Alec Baldwin. But she was there on her own accord, apparently without preconditions. And however much one might want to rail about the show's liberal bias and its double standard—would Barack Obama have been treated so dismissively?—it ultimately makes the most sense to simply treat late-night comedians like late-night comedians—and that means realizing they're exempt from journalistic notions of fairness and balance.

Update: Welcome, New York Times readers! Do feel free to look around, but you'll quickly figure out that this is just a quotation from a longer piece by Greg at Hit and Run. I recommend you go there for the rest of his post.

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

October 20, 2008

The Powell Endorsement

I'm still out on a brief wine-tasting trip (hence the lack of posts for the past couple of days), but I thought this article at Hit and Run was worth linking:

[When it comes to] Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama, sometimes I wonder if some people have any sort of memory, particularly the journalists now playing up this story as if the messiah had spoken.

That's not to say there is no story here; Powell is a stalwart of the Republican establishment and one of the few, far too few, African-Americans who until now has had a genuinely good chance of becoming president of the United States. My problem is that he is a man on whom the establishment has bestowed the title of foreign policy sage, when in fact he proved to be one of the most mediocre secretaries of state in recent memory, in a field including such nullities as Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, and the opportunistic but hollow Condoleezza Rice.

Why on earth do we listen to Colin Powell? When he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he opposed George H.W. Bush's decision to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait militarily, even though the decision was ultimately a sound one. At the end of his term as chairman he advocated a disastrous U.S. operation in Somalia, contradicting his own near unworkable conditions for overseas intervention, the so-called "Powell Doctrine." As secretary of state under George W. Bush, the first item on his agenda was a botched effort to impose "smart sanctions" on Iraq. Powell visited Damascus to persuade President Bashar Assad to end illicit cross-border trade between Iraq and Syria, which was providing vital economic oxygen to Saddam Hussein's regime. Assad promised Powell he would, then ignored that promise, embarrassing the secretary early in his stewardship.

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

October 17, 2008

Episode 3: Policy Warrior

"Worried about the viability of Social Security? Unless you're already collecting it, you should be! Follow the animated adventures of Sonny, exactly the sort of youth who is set to get screwed by a system designed during The Great Depression, when workers were plenty and retirees rare. In Epsiode 3, "Policy Warrior," Sonny, John McCain, and Barack Obama compete in various game show contest and learn that a few tweaks aren't going to save anybody's retirement account."

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

Damian Penny resigns from the right wing

No, not really. But to many rabid McCain fans among the Canadian right, it's almost the same thing:

. . . even if you agree with many of the Bush Administration's foreign policies, you can't deny that the rest of the world will be more receptive to a Democratic President than another Republican. I'm uneasy about Obama's position on Iraq, but as Mark has noted several times on this site, the Senator from Illinois appears committed to Afghanistan. And if that conflict becomes "Obama's war," I believe you'll see America's (and Canada's) allies redouble their efforts.

I still like and respect John McCain, and I even believe Sarah Palin has much to offer once she gets more years of experience under her belt. (Memo to the Trig troofers: I'm endorsing Obama despite you creeps, not because of you.) Ideally, the GOP would control the Senate and/or the House, to keep Obama in check. There's no hope for that in 2008, but the mid-term elections are only two years away. For that long, at least, I'm willing to give him a chance.

Boy, am I going to hear it for this one . . .

Not being a paid-up member of the "right" (that is, I'm not a Conservative), it'll surprise few of you that I completely understand Damian's position. While I wouldn't vote for Obama while there was still a chance to vote for Bob Barr or Ron Paul, I'd much rather see someone other than John McCain as president. President Obama might well be the second coming of Herbert Hoover or Jimmy Carter, but President McCain would be the spiritual heir of William Henry Harrison . . .

If the blog disappears later today it will be because my virtual landlord has "evicted" me . . . he's a huge Sarah Palin fan.

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

QotD: That's gonna leave a mark

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez mocked George W. Bush as a "comrade" on Wednesday, saying the U.S. president was a hard-line leftist for his government's intervention of major private banks in the U.S. financial crisis.

Chavez, who calls capitalism an evil and ex-Cuban leader Fidel Castro his mentor, ridiculed Bush for his plan for the federal government to take equity in American banks despite the U.S. right-wing's criticism of Venezuelan nationalizations.

"Bush is to the left of me now," Chavez told an audience of international intellectuals debating the benefits of socialism. "Comrade Bush announced he will buy shares in private banks."

"Reporting by Patricia Rondon; Writing by Saul Hudson; Editing by Anthony Boadle", "Chavez says 'Comrade Bush' turns left in crisis", Reuters, 2008-10-15

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

October 16, 2008

Planning an escape to Canada?

Brilliant, just brilliant.

H/T to Diogenes Borealis (by way of SDA).

Posted by Nicholas at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

The "hicks" came to town

Mark C., posting at Daimnation, points out that the common assumption about Tories being rural hicks and Liberals being urban slicks is less and less accurate:

The Conservatives won the most votes in:

Calgary
Edmonton
Hamilton
Kitchener
London
Niagara
Ottawa
Québec
Regina
Saskatoon
Vancouver (Yes, you read that correctly — 41.5% of the vote)
Victoria
Winnipeg

In those places the Conservatives also won 66 of 104 seats. Pretty decisive, what? Toronto and Montreal are the two elephantine anomalies in the urban electoral room. And even if one includes the seats in those two, truly "metro", oddities, the Conservatives still won 74 (8 in metro Toronto, 0 in Montreal) of 180.

Some knuckle-dragging, red-necked hicks, eh? But then I guess our major media, almost all in ToMo, just can be bothered to do the arithmetic, what with their certainty that only they live in the real word. The power of unexamined journalistic memes in Canada.

Canada now truly does seem to be quatres nations: The RoC, Québec, Toronto and Montreal. With this further nasty reality, that the Québécois really, really, do not think themselves Canadian in any real sense anymore.

Update: Mark was really on a roll yesterday, pointing out that the Tories actually hold a significant majority of the non-Quebec seats:

That majority is outside Quebec. In fact, a 33 seat advantage over other parties. The Conservatives won 133 out of 233 seats in the Rest of Canada, compared to 100 seats taken by others: Liberals 63, NDP 36, Independent 1 (subtract Quebec seats from national seats).

Moreover, in the RoC the Conservatives got a very respectable 44% of the vote (same process using popular vote figures).

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

Christopher Buckley, official heretic

Christopher Buckley is no longer an employee at National Review, the conservative magazine founded by his father. It's not for corruption, drunkenness, debauchery, or even badly written columns. It's because he's endorsed Obama:

I had gone out of my way in my Beast endorsement to say that I was not doing it in the pages of National Review, where I write the back-page column, because of the experience of my colleague, the lovely Kathleen Parker. Kathleen had written in NRO that she felt Sarah Palin was an embarrassment. (Hardly an alarmist view.) This brought 12,000 livid emails, among them a real charmer suggesting that Kathleen's mother ought to have aborted her and tossed the fetus into a dumpster. I didn't want to put NR in an awkward position.

Since my Obama endorsement, Kathleen and I have become BFFs and now trade incoming hate-mails. No one has yet suggested my dear old Mum should have aborted me, but it's pretty darned angry out there in Right Wing Land. One editor at National Review — a friend of 30 years — emailed me that he thought my opinions "cretinous." One thoughtful correspondent, who feels that I have "betrayed" — the b-word has been much used in all this — my father and the conservative movement generally, said he plans to devote the rest of his life to getting people to cancel their subscriptions to National Review. But there was one bright spot: To those who wrote me to demand, "Cancel my subscription," I was able to quote the title of my father's last book, a delicious compendium of his NR "Notes and Asides": Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription.

Within hours of my endorsement appearing in The Daily Beast it became clear that National Review had a serious problem on its hands. So the next morning, I thought the only decent thing to do would be to offer to resign my column there. This offer was accepted — rather briskly! — by Rich Lowry, NR's editor, and its publisher, the superb and able and fine Jack Fowler. I retain the fondest feelings for the magazine that my father founded, but I will admit to a certain sadness that an act of publishing a reasoned argument for the opposition should result in acrimony and disavowal.

Proving, if it needed further proof, that conservatives can lose their cool just as gracelessly as liberals . . . and at equal speed.

I can easily understand someone holding generally conservative views still being unable to endorse McCain: he's not conservative in the majority of his opinions, and he's dismayingly populist where he's not alarmingly authoritarian. Obama is no prize for the small government fan, but the differences between him and McCain may well lead wavering conservatives to stay away from the polls or even pull the lever for "the opposition" rather than the devil they know all too well (because nobody would want to "waste their votes" by voting for Bob Barr, right?).

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

October 15, 2008

In the cold, grey light of morning

Nick Packwood isn't over-happy with the election results:

[. . .] a Conservative minority government. Hooray! Money well spent, I say. Congratulations everyone for wasting our time yet again and especially to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Her Majesty's time waster in chief. One bit of good news: Having refused to hand the Conservatives a majority, we can look forward to another two or three years of federal government not entirely beholden to the province of Quebec.

A special shout out to Michael Ignatieff, tonight the happiest man in Canada.

I normally agree with much of what Nick writes, but I think $300 million is money well spent: it's kept the politicians out of parliament where they do a lot more fiscal damage over the average month than a piddling $300 mil! I'm also in favour of politicians getting longer vacations for the same reason.

On the subject of the Green Party's phantom breakthrough:

Evidently it will take more than two generations of lies about "the environment" to convince Canadians to entrust the Green party with a seat. Good. After this election, I consider them to be Canada's postmodern equivalent of the Nazi party; riddled with Truthers, defeatists, anti-Semites, Luddites, fantasists, health nuts, economic illiterates and people who are somehow proud to value the landscape over human life.

All that granted, I still think the Greens were held back much more by the pantomime Elizabeth May and her will we/won't we approach to so-called "strategic voting".

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

October 14, 2008

And they're off

The polls are open, with the Liberals at 17 in the Maritimes, 10 Conservatives, 4 NDP, and 1 Independent (Bill Casey).

21:40: Still Liberal strength showing (20 Liberals leading or elected against 11 Tories, the rest unchanged.

21:43: Elizabeth May is now speaking to her supporters in New Glasgow, having conceded the race to Tory Peter McKay.

21:46: CTVGlobal predicts a Conservative minority government. (Ooops. Sorry about that CTV!)

21:50: The Conservatives are starting to catch up to early Liberal gains: currently 39 Liberal, 39 Conservative, 13 NDP, 5 BQ and 1 Independent.

21:55: Now showing 82 Conservatives, 65 Liberals, 23 NDP and 18 BQ. Very early results in Central Canada.

22:00: Polls closing in the west. 103 Tory, 70 Grit, 29 BQ and 24 NDP.

22:05: 117 Tory 71 Grit, 35 BQ, 27 NDP, and 2 Independent.

22:10: Tony Clement is now speaking to his supporters after being declared elected in his riding of Muskoka-Parry Sound.

22:15: Potential Liberal leadership contender Bob Rae has been declared elected in Toronto Centre, and Stephane Dion has been declared elected in his own riding. My local MP, Jim Flaherty, has been re-elected here in Whitby-Oshawa.

22:30: Oddly, Global seems to be avoiding showing the leading and elected figures, concentrating on the the percentage of the popular vote.

22:40: Of course, no sooner do I mention it than Global switches over to seat counts: 142 Tory, 77 Grit, 47 BQ, 32 NDP and 3 Independent.

10:45: Former Tory, now Liberal Garth Turner appers to have lost his seat in Halton.

10:50: The pile-on begins . . . Kevin Newman points out that Dion is the only federal leader to have lost seats in this election. Expect much, much more if the current numbers hold up over the night.

10:55: More Ontario numbers coming in: Peter Kent and Lois Brown appear to be taking former Liberal seats in the 905 region. Michael Ignatieff retains his seat in Toronto for the Liberals. Jack Layton and Olivia Chow have retained their seats for the NDP.

11:00: The numbers of elected and leading seats seems to be stabilizing now: 145 Tory, 76 Grit, 50 BQ, 35 NDP, and 2 Independent.

11:05: Tears and anguish being reported from Garth Turner headquarters. Kevin Newman: "You can always depend on Garth Turner to tell it the way he believes it is."

11:15: Surprisingly, Colin Carrie appears to be winning for the Tories in Oshawa, despite being targeted by the CAW.

11:20: Early report from Dion headquarters is that he'll be directly addressing the question of leadership in his speech, but will not resign (at least not tonight).

11:30: Ralph Goodale somehow survives as a rare Liberal in western Canada.

11:35: Justin Trudeau is holding on to a 1,000 vote lead in the riding of Papineau over the incumbent BQ MP Vivian Barbot.

11:45: Gilles Duceppe is now speaking, thanking his party for their support and congratulating his opponents. Almost simultaneously, the cameras cut away to Justin Trudeau's headquarters, where he's just been declared the winner in Papineau.

12:00: Jack Layton speaks to his supporters from his riding in Toronto.

12:05: Waiting for Stephane Dion to address his supporters . . .

Update, 15 Oct.: Sorry about that . . . the laptop battery gave out just before Dion's speech, and I was barely able to stay awake through the end of Harper's victory speech.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:32 PM | Comments (0)

No brilliant election analysis here, I'm afraid

The numbers from the pollsters all seem to indicate another minority Tory government, with a few outliers offering up the possibility of a Grit minority. I have no special insight into the process (this time, unlike last election, I've been too busy to run my own polling spreadsheet . . . which is just as well, as it wasn't all that close to predicting the result).

In general terms, I think the Liberals are lucky to be polling as well as they are, given the awful campaign Dion has run. The Tories aren't doing as well as I'd expected them to, but the US economic picture has arrested everyone's attention for much of the campaign, and for good reason. The NDP were running well early in the campaign, but either they decided to pull back (to avoid eating away too much Liberal support) or the media decided to stop giving them the same level of coverage they got in the opening weeks. The Bloc? Not registering in the "rest of Canada" outside Duceppe's debate performance. The Greens? I think Elizabeth May has done much damage to her party's short-term future by climbing aboard the Liberal bandwagon too obviously . . . and the on-again, off-again, on-again strategic vote thing? Just reinforces the Green Party's lingering "fringe lunatic" reputation.

Actual seat prediction? I dunno . . . 146 Tory, 90 Liberal, 40 Bloc, 30 NDP, 1 Green, 1 Ind. That'll give me something to disavow sometime later this evening . . .

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

QotD: Libertarians are not Conservatives

I think libertarians must come out directly, staunchly, entirely, and frequently against racism, sexism, gay bashing, immigrant bashing, and all the other tawdry aspects of the so-called conservative movement. I think we have to stand up and say that if you are a racist, you are not a libertarian, if you are a sexist, you are not a libertarian, if you are against equal freedom for gays, the transgendered, the polyamorous, you are not a libertarian, if you discriminate against people because of their choice of religion, you are not a libertarian, if you think people from other countries should be rejected because of their choices in clothing, culture, religion, or behavior, you are not a libertarian.

I don't mind saying that I can work with conservatives on common causes. I don't mind saying that I have met, gotten to know, and worked with some racists. I am exceedingly uncomfortable with people who are racist, sexist, religious bigots, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, or homophobic. But I can work while uncomfortable, whether it is sawing a tree branch while forty feet in the air, eating goat eyeball stew because I was in Yemen and it was "what's for dinner," or finishing a writing project on time with a 54-hour "all nighter." I can be uncomfortable and get the job done. And if finding extremely bizarre people and working with them is the only way to obtain smaller government and more freedom, now, I'm willing to do it.

But I won't ever make the mistake of considering conservatives to be libertarians. They are not. They can talk a game about freedom for white people, they can make a pretense about constitutional government for the Christians, and they can mount a patrol against swarthy-complected persons coming across the border and claim it is all about property rights for ranchers along the border, but I don't have to choose to believe it.

Jim Davidson, "Why I Am Not a Conservative", Libertarian Enterprise, 2008-10-12

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

That was a lovely weekend!

Sorry for the lack of posting, but I needed some time away from the keyboard — literally. I've been suffering from a pinched nerve in my left shoulder for the past two months (I've been explaining it as a side-effect of "Extreme Pallbearing", but it was probably a TV I helped to move that did most of the damage). We've been on a big deadline at work over that time, so I've been wincing while I worked since mid-August. It's been good for my chiropractor's income, but bad for me.

A weekend spent almost completely away from the computer was just what I needed . . . still some pain in the arm, and a bit of remaining numbness in the little finger of my left hand, but otherwise I'm feeling much, much better.

The weather was wonderful, allowing us to get good use of the gazebo in the back yard for possibly the last time this year (all our neighbours have taken their sunshades & gazebo-equivalents down by now).

Victor and I spent Saturday visiting with some old friends of mine (for various values of "old"), including the discovery that one of them is now blogging as Rantibus, where he gleefully posts anti-Right Wing screeds:

Welcome to I, RANTIBUS.

It is my hope that this blog will fulfill two functions: It will provide analysis of past events that were under-reported or not reported at all, and of issues that shouldn’t be allowed to pass from public memory. It will also feature my satirical faux anthropological study complete with lexicon and taxonomy, AN OBSERVER’S GUIDE TO THE RIGHT WING - A Field Guide to the Fatuous.

Twice weekly, I shall add content in the form of an analytical article or two and an excerpt from The Guide plus two new definitions from the lexicon. (In non-alphabetical order) Plus any other outrages my fevered mind deems appropriate.

Years ago, I began writing political commentary. Eventually, I had to give it up because almost every thing I wrote about prompted me to take the next plane to Washington DC or Ottawa, stand outside the White House, houses of Congress or the Parliament Buildings and scream “F__K YOU, you ethicless, scurrilous swine,” leaping about, shaking my fist and doing a credible impersonation of John Cleese on speed. Needless to say, most of what I wrote was unprintable - not so much for the language, but that it eventually degenerated into a spit-flecked seething cauldron of invective full of sound and fury, signifiying the proverbial nothing. Very much like what Dennis Miller would read like if you stole his thesaurus. Then, I had the opportunity to work on two political campaigns and came to an interesting epiphany. Politicians have long since resigned themselves to the fact that they will be cursed in the streets and excoriated in the public fish wraps and have grown Teflon rhino-hide to insulate themselves. But there is one thing, to lapse into the vernacular, that really grinds their nuts.

They cannot stand being made fun of.

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

October 10, 2008

Boom Baby Boom!

Posted by Nicholas at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

The Afghan balance sheet

Damian "Babbling" Brooks has an excellent post up at The Torch:

Kudos to Mike Blanchfield for breaking the number down to a figure Canadian taxpayers could digest — what it means to them. I assume that since he started breaking it down, he won't mind if I take it a bit further...

$1,500 per household over a decade works out to $150 per household per year. Assuming three people per household, that's $50 per Canadian per year. That works out to about 13.7¢ per Canadian per day to run the Afghan mission.

Just to give you a bit of perspective, World Vision — certainly a noble-minded and worthwhile charity — asks for about ten times that daily amount to sponsor a single child.

Damian goes beyond the costs and tallies up some benefits:

  • more than 1,500 wells dug, 600 roadway culverts built, and more than 3,000 kms of canals rehabilitated
  • humanitarian food assistance to more than half a million Afghans in 2007 alone
  • more than 530 Community Development Councils elected in 9 districts, which facilitated more than 700 community projects completed, including improvements to transportation, water supply and sanitation, irrigation, power supply, education, health, and agriculture
  • maternal health care professionals being trained in emergency obstetric care and monitoring
  • approximately 350,000 children being vaccinated against polio
  • measles and tetanus vaccination program reached more than 76,000 children and 63,000 women
  • non-food kits (teapots, soap, gas stoves, towels, buckets, kitchen sets, blankets, floor mats, sweaters and health kits) supplied to 1,500 families
  • more than 30,000 Afghans received functional literacy training and more than 4,000 received vocational training throughthe World Food Programme in 2007 alone
  • More than 5,000 people (the majority of them women) have received literacy training through UNICEF

...and that's just in Kandahar province, folks.

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

The photographer's plight

James Lileks relates a dream:

An indication you've spent too much time on the internet: you dream you're meeting Instapundit for a beer at Drew Curtis' house. The invitation showed a can of beer the size of a grain silo. I took the bus to get there, and was surprised at how dodgy the neighborhood was, but it had great signs and movie marquees. Naturally, I took pictures of these gorgeously decayed urban remants for the website. People started looking at me in a curious, suspicious fashion. Just like real life. When you can't even take pictures in your dreams we've become too suspicious.

Given the out-and-out paranoia displayed whenever someone pulls out a camera nowadays, the dream is pretty realistic.

As a thought experiment, wouldn't it be amusing if you had a group of photographers dress in traditional arabic garb, drive around in a vehicle marked "AQ Photography", and stop to pray, as ostentatiously as possible, five times a day, all the while blatantly taking photos of urban scenery. Would the police or other anti-photography busybodies dare to treat them the same way other photographers have been treated? (Back story here and here.)

It's possible that they'd be harassed, but I think it's more likely that the authorities would be terrified they'd be accused of racial profiling.

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

October 09, 2008

Advice for photo editors

Megan McArdle links to this helpful post providing guidance to photo editors on how best to select images to accompany various levels of market droop.

stock_photos.png

Posted by Nicholas at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: The crisis, in perspective

So. We are not in a depression. We are not even, so far as anyone knows, in a recession. And while the rest of the world's financial system dissolves in panic, Canada remains a notable island of stability. We do not have an emergency on our hands. What we have is a nasty downdraft in the stock market — one that is reflective of a deeper crisis, to be sure, but a crisis not of our making.

Is a 35% drop in the stock market (from its June peak) a crisis in itself? No it is not. The stock market does not owe you a living. It's down 35% from four months ago, but it was up 50% in the three years before that (see chart). The present "crisis" has taken prices on the TSE all the way back to where they were in the dark days of 2005 — when they had just finished climbing 50% in two years. Think back to that time. You were rich! You were happy! You were counting your money!

Maybe you should have sold then. But you didn't, because you wanted more. Now you're paying the price. You've given up three years of gains. But you're still up 50% from where you were five years ago. And, if you're sensible, you'll make up for not selling then by buying now. Those who were on the buy side on October 19, 1987 made a killing in the months that followed.

Not willing to risk it? Fine. Just sit tight. Worried about your retirement? If you're anywhere under 55, you'll be fine. You don't need the money for 10 or 15 years. Stocks will have more than recouped their losses by then (at a compound annual growth rate of 5%, you double your money every 14 years). If you're over 55 — what are you doing in the stock market?

Andrew Coyne, "The only thing they have to fear", Macleans.ca/blogs, 2008-10-08

Posted by Nicholas at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

Hitchens proposes a common-sense solution to the drug problem in Afghanistan

Christopher Hitchens outlines the best possible way to both deflate the Taliban and provide Afghanistan with a legitimate market for their primary agricultural product:

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime tells us that last year Afghanistan's poppy fields, on 193,000 hectares of land, produced 93 percent of all the world's opium. The potential production could be as high as 8,200 metric tons. And, unsurprisingly, UNODC also reports that the vast bulk of the revenue from this astonishing harvest goes directly to the Taliban or to local warlords and mullahs. Meanwhile, in the guise of liberators, NATO forces appear and tell the Afghan villagers that they intend to burn their only crop. And the American embassy is only restrained by the Afghan government from pursuing a policy of actually spraying this same crop from the air! In other words, the discredited fantasy of Richard Nixon's so-called "War on Drugs" is the dogma on which we are prepared to gamble and lose the country that gave birth to the Taliban and hospitality to al-Qaida.

Surely a smarter strategy would be, in the long term, to invest a great deal in reforestation and especially in the replanting of vines. While in the short term, hard-pressed Afghan farmers should be allowed to sell their opium to the government rather than only to the many criminal elements that continue to infest it or to the Taliban. We don't have to smoke the stuff once we have purchased it: It can be burned or thrown away or perhaps more profitably used to manufacture the painkillers of which the United States currently suffers a shortage. (As it is, we allow Turkey to cultivate opium poppy fields for precisely this purpose.) Why not give Afghanistan the contract instead? At one stroke, we help fill its coffers and empty the main war chest of our foes while altering the "hearts-and-minds" balance that has been tipping away from us. I happen to know that this option has been discussed at quite high levels in Afghanistan itself, and I leave you to guess at the sort of political constraints that prevent it from being discussed intelligently in public in the United States. But if we ever have to have the melancholy inquest on how we "lost" a country we had once liberated, this will be one of the places where the conversation will have to start.

Of course, no politician in America can countenance such a change in policy: it might "send the wrong message". But it's the single best way to achieve multiple worthwhile goals, not least of which is to provide Afghan farmers with tangible reasons why they should reject the Taliban.

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

US Healthcare: the Gillespie Plan

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

October 08, 2008

Protecting children from . . . themselves

Most of us would probably have the common sense not to send nude photos to others. Especially if the receipients were teenagers. Unfortunately, an unnamed 15-year-old girl from Ohio didn't have the sense to avoid this:

A 15-year-old Ohio girl was arrested on felony child pornography charges for allegedly sending nude cell phone pictures of herself to classmates. Authorities are considering charging some of the students who received the photos as well.

The unnamed student from Licking Valley High School in Newark, Ohio was arrested Friday after school officials discovered the materials and notified police. She spent the weekend in juvenile detention and entered a plea of "deny" on Monday, according to The NewarkAdvocate.com.

Charges include illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material and possession of criminal tools. If convicted, the girl could be forced to register as a sexual offender for 20 years, but because of her age, the judge hearing the case has some flexibility in the matter, an official told the Advocate.

Well, if telling someone not to send nude photos of themselves doesn't work, 20 years in prison will sure get the message across clearly, won't it? She'd be facing less time in prison for just about any violent crime short of murder . . . and this kind of disproportional sentence makes sense?

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

Word cloud

I was curious what a word cloud for this blog might look like, so I visited Tagcrowd.com and fed in a representative sample (actually, this old post):

created at TagCrowd.com
Posted by Nicholas at 07:31 PM | Comments (0)

Usenet: still alive

I've had access to Usenet for nearly 25 years, and even now, although I don't spend a lot of time there, I'd miss it if it went away. Dave DeJean looks at the long, convoluted history of Usenet:

Usenet was once big — as big, in its day, as blogging is today. In the 1980s, before the Web made the Internet the focus of everyone's attention, Usenet tied the messaging and communications of local BBS systems into the distributed networking of the Internet. The result was a mass of user communities (called newsgroups) devoted to almost every conceivable topic, from software support to alien spacecraft.

But as Usenet nears 30, it has become, instead, the conduit for a rising tide of binary-file traffic that threatens to swamp the Internet. While it's not easy to upload and download files from via the Usenet binary groups (large media files must be transferred in chunks and then stitched together again), savvy file exchangers with little respect for copyright law have found it a relatively safe place to operate.

All this activity isn't only a copyright issue for ISPs. The resources taken up by large numbers of people uploading large numbers of files is significant — and one that many ISPs may no longer be able to ignore. In fact, in recent weeks, major ISPs have stopped providing open access to the hundreds of thousands of newsgroups distributed via Usenet. These actions have been driven by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's crusade against child pornography on the Internet. Cuomo's actions, in turn, may have given ISPs an excuse to cut back on their increasingly costly support for Usenet.

[. . .]

Usenet's technological underpinnings predate its association with the Internet, resting on dial-up-based store-and-forward e-mail BBS systems and UUCP protocols and programs. Although its name makes it sound monolithic, Usenet is perhaps best described as a huge, loose collection of informal information-exchange communities that have little in common beyond their naming convention and their reliance on the Network News Transfer Protocol used to manage Usenet messages.

The basic unit is the newsgroup, a threaded discussion devoted to a topic. Newsgroups are organized by topic into hierarchies.

[. . .]

The Big 8 (originally the Big 7; humanities.* was added later) were created in 1987, when the explosive growth of Usenet and the proliferation of newsgroups forced a reorganization that came to be called the Great Renaming. It systematized the names and structures of the newsgroups to make it easier for system administrators to manage the groups they carried.

The ninth major hierarchy, alt.*, was created as a protest to the Great Renaming, and was specifically intended to provide a less controlled alternative to the Big 8. Fittingly, Internet folklore says the first three newsgroups created in alt.* were alt.sex, alt.drugs and alt.rockandroll.

Of course, it's not all roses, even in the internet backwaters of Usenet. Several major ISPs have dropped Usenet access recently (in Canada, Rogers dropped access several years ago). It may be only a matter of time.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:30 PM | Comments (0)

Pat Condell is back on YouTube

Posted by Nicholas at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

T-shirt politics

Ronald Bailey links to Teach the Controversy, for those of you who love to get your disputes right out in front of you:

'Big Science' is always suppressing The Truth with their blatant pro-evolution anti-wacko agenda: from the fact that UFOs built the pyramids to the reality of creationism and fact the universe is "Turtles All The Way Down". It is time to fight back and urge schools to Teach The Controversy with these intelligently designed t-shirts.

teachcontroversy.jpg

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

Latest Google gimmick

Google has released a new feature to help you to avoid the dreaded "sending email while baked" problem: Mail Goggles.

Sometimes I send messages I shouldn't send. Like the time I told that girl I had a crush on her over text message. Or the time I sent that late night email to my ex-girlfriend that we should get back together. Gmail can't always prevent you from sending messages you might later regret, but today we're launching a new Labs feature I wrote called Mail Goggles which may help.

When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you're really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you're in the right state of mind?

Sounds fine, provided that you are basically math-literate. For those of us who have careers carefully structured around the need to avoid math, this may not be as helpful.

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

The keynotes of the last debate

Radley Balko watched last night's presidential debate (I had better things to do . . . like sleeping). Some of his observations:

McCain was much stronger than last time, and may well have won on points. But debates aren’t about debating skill, or even public policy. They’re about likability and not screwing up. I suspect the image most voters will take away is that of an angry, cantankerous old man with clear contempt for his opponent debating a young, articulate, good-looking guy who smiled and appeared gracious. Obama wins.

Obama’s answer on the "Obama Doctrine" sounded like it was written by Sarah Palin. He clearly didn’t have an answer about what criteria he’d use in determining which humanitarian crises are worthy of U.S. military force. He was all over the place. What we’re left is, then, is, "Iraq never posed a threat to the security of the United States. Which is why we should have sent troops to Darfur, instead."

[. . .]

The most depressing part of the night for me was watching CNN’s real-time reaction from undecided Ohio voters. When Obama promised health care for everyone, promised that you could also keep your employer-sponsored health-care, promised to do all of this and bring health care costs down (he really must be Jesus), and capped it all off with a pledge to maintain the current system of employer-sponsored health care, his ratings were off the charts. The Ohio group gave McCain his strongest marks when he promised to buy up all the troubled mortgages. Is there any way to pull off this "democracy" thing without using actual voters?

[. . .]

The choices last night on foreign policy: Four years of lots more small wars versus four years of a couple more big wars.

That last point is the nail in the coffin for any hopes of a less-interventionist US foreign policy. Not that it was a healthy, robust hope before the debate, of course.

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

October 07, 2008

QotD: Europe's under-regulated market?

As European stock markets tank, the Irish government guarantees bank deposits, the Benelux countries nationalize Fortis bank, Germany bails out Hypo Real Estate Holdings, and Denmark also guarantees bank deposits and dismally so forth, the question arises: Who knew that Europe, of all places, was so under-regulated? Or maybe de-regulation is not the chief cause for the outbreak of financial chaos? Just wondering.

Ronald Bailey, "Europe Under-Regulated Too?", Hit and Run, 2008-10-06

Posted by Nicholas at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

Forward into the (educational) past!

Nick Gillespie pours some cold water on exaggerated claims being made in favour of single-sex classes:

Some immediate reactions: 1. Intimidation and flirting in grades 4-6? Sounds more like prison than school, but that's almost always the case, isn't it, at all levels of education, whether public or private? 2. Different kids will flourish under different regimes. The same goes for teachers. I'd hazard a guess that a good goal of educational policy would be to allow as many different arrangements as possible, thus increasing the odds that everyone finds a good fit. 3. Anything that doesn't fundamentally address the top-down, monopolistic nature of educational services is doomed to failure. 4. With the possible exception of, er, the financial industry, education is filled with the most phoney-baloney godawful research, stats, etc. There is a study out there that proves anything you want proven. And a school district acting on it. 5. Pushing public money down to the level of the student and giving them more options would be the best way to spend it. 6. Education should be paid for not by public money but by the people directly benefiting from it (e.g., parents, businesses, and others), and a variety of philanthropic efforts. 7. It is not clear that single-sex education actually improves academic achievement, but that is not and should not be the only way of evaluating education, especially when it's paid for by the people using it. Other factors, including parental and student and even teacher satisfaction, should be considered. 8. I need to go to get my seven year old son ready for his multi-gendered classroom.

My favourite comment is from "Reinmoose":

I think what I've learned from my years of schooling is that:
1. Having an all girls classroom is beneficial to girls because they learn differently from boys, and the system has been set up by men (obviously)
2. There is no difference between boys and girls!!! NO! END OF DISCUSSION!

Posted by Nicholas at 09:47 AM | Comments (0)

Sometimes the best team doesn't win . . .

The Vikings somehow got lucky (several individual times) and got out of New Orleans with a thoroughly undeserved win. If Antoine Winfield hadn't played, the score would have much more accurately reflected the state of play: the Saints were moving the ball at will, and the Vikings were struggling for bare competence on both sides of the ball. Vikings special team play was distressingly bad: Reggie Bush scored on two punt returns, and would almost certainly have scored on a third if he hadn't tripped in the open field.

Adrian Peterson was a marked man for the entire game, with his longest run being for only 7 yards (a total of 32 yards on 21 carries). Bernard "Call me Troy" Berrian dropped too many passes before finally looking like the high-paid receiver he's supposed to be in the fourth quarter (for a career high 110 yards). Gus Frerotte was hit several times, having to come out of the game at one point. The pass protection was mediocre at best.

So what did keep the Vikings alive? Saints errors:

The Saints also had four turnovers — two interceptions, two fumbles — committed five fumbles and were assessed 11 penalties by referee Ed Hochuli and his crew. In addition, Gramatica's miss wide left on a 46-yard field-goal attempt with 2:04 left in the fourth quarter enabled Minnesota to begin what would become the winning drive.

If Antoine Winfield isn't the defensive player of the week, there's something wrong:

Antoine Winfield gave his team one touchdown and put it in perfect position to score another one.

That was just in the first half.

Winfield had a superb individual performance Monday, helping the Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints 30-27 at the Superdome.

Winfield's first half included a little of everything. He returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown; recorded a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery on one play; collected five tackles; made three tackles for loss, and broke up one pass.

He also had a celebration that drew a 15-yard penalty. That was about his only mistake in the first half.

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

October 06, 2008

Jon asks 680 News if they're also rooting for a depression

Jon (my virtual landlord) sent the following query to 680 News:

Just sent this to 680 News, the tossers:

Hello —

Just a quick question for you about your editorial position: your current headline notes that the TSX has seen a "slight rebound" after a 1200-point drop. That "slight rebound" is currently, as of 4:03 pm, 734 points. That's hardly slight.

Just wondering why you're being misleading on this by referring to a rebound of 700-plus points as "slight."

Certainly Rogers has to understand that once we hit recession or worse, it will be the cable and cell phone accounts that will be first against the wall in many household budgets. So why would you want to egg on economic disaster? I can see why the Toronto Star would want to cheer on a recession — more people will be sleeping on and under newspapers, so they stand to gain from increased sales. But I can't see why Rogers would be rooting for a collapse.

Just wondering.

Jonathan Piasecki

He says he'll update me if they respond.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:13 PM | Comments (0)

Weird Al: cultural pioneer

Weird Al Yankovic is far from being "thoroughly disposable":

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Yankovic's first music video, "Ricky," in which he reimagined Toni Basil's "Mickey" as an ode to I Love Lucy. The clip introduced the world to an accordion-playing spaz with a coif like Rick James and a voice like an urgent goose. Though many people at the time considered Yankovic to be thoroughly disposable — just another Reagan-era fad, like parachute pants or the Contras — he never went away. In fact, Yankovic had his biggest hit just two years ago, when he reworked Chamillionaire's rap hit "Ridin'" as the geek-pride anthem "White & Nerdy" ("X-Men comics, you know I collect 'em / The pens in my pocket, I must protect 'em"). The song was Yankovic's first track to break the Billboard Top 10.

But Yankovic isn't just popular. He is also the unlikely forefather of the infectious, hyperlinked, quasi-referential comedy that's become the lingua franca of the Web. Yankovic's influence can be seen in the slow-jam pinings of Obama Girl, the cross-cultural pairings that turn Yoda and SpongeBob SquarePants into hardcore rappers, and in the nimble hands of that couch potato who farts out "Bohemian Rhapsody" with his palms (1.8 million YouTube views and counting). You can even detect traces of his style in the perfectly metered wordplay of "Lazy Sunday," the 2005 Saturday Night Live short that earned YouTube — and viral humor — its first barrage of mainstream attention. "Ever since I was old enough to listen to music, I've been listening to Weird Al," says 30-year-old "Sunday" cocreator Andy Samberg. "For my generation, he's a huge influence."

Posted by Nicholas at 09:38 AM | Comments (0)

The Vandal Party's activities increase

It's been common in elections over the past twenty years for signs to be vandalized (usually Conservative or minor party signs in the ridings I'd passed through), but this is a new and disturbing development:

Imagine yourself behind the wheel, pulling up to a stop sign and pumping the brakes, only to find that your car isn't stopping.

That's what happened to more than a dozen Liberal supporters in Toronto, voters who had their brake lines cut in what police think may have been a targeted assault.

"I could've been killed. Lots of other people could've been killed," one of the affected residents, Andrew Laine, said. "It was lucky my two children weren't in the car at the time. This is really serious."

The attack drew a quick response from Liberal leader Stephane Dion.

"There is no place for these types of dangerous and reckless intimidation tactics in our democracy," he fumed in a press release.

The vandalism occurred in two ridings: Parkdale-High Park, where Gerard Kennedy is the Liberal candidate, and the midtown riding of St Paul's, where Carolyn Bennett is the incumbent. Cops allege only homes that had Liberal signs were attacked.

Given how anti-Tory most Toronto ridings are, it's quite surprising that it's been Liberal supporters who were targeted by the vandals.

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

Don't vote . . . it only encourages them

Remember, no matter who you vote for . . . the government always gets in.

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

October 03, 2008

Pat Condell: ". . . of course, we had the child put to death"

H/T to Adriana Lukas.

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

QotD: Bush Administration: Special Victims Unit

I guess fighting one elective war isn't enough for the Bush administration. Or the Senate. Or the media.

But it's pretty clear that the White House, helped by a codependent Congress and media, has yet again manufactured a consensus for massive intervention. The last time they managed to pull this off, of course, the United States invaded Iraq. And that has worked out so well that they've decided to start a brand extension or spin-off series: Intervening massively into the economy. The bailout package as Bush Administration: Special Victims Unit.

Think about it and the parallels are disturbing: a high-ranking, respectable, above-the-fray cabinet member working the ropes to achieve bipartisan cooperation; a pliable Congress where appeals to patriotism always trump appeals to principle (sadly, those two things are almost always construed as oppositional); and a media that is fueling the fire (the dread MSM's role in spreading the Bush admin case for war has been pretty well-documented; in terms of the bailout, the most hysterical champions for intervention have been in the print and TV press). Time magazine's next cover story, I learned watching Morning Joe this AM on MSNBC, is actually an essay on "The New Hard Times" and compares our current day to those of The Great Depression. Ominous parallel or coincidence: In the Depression, people formed lines for free soup; today, people form lines to . . . buy iPhones?

Nick Gillespie, "The Iraq War, but This Time as Economic Pearl Harbor", Hit and Run, 2008-10-02

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

The world's greatest bailout body

Michael Flynn discusses the "secret history of the bailout bill":

The Senate is overly fond of referring to itself as the "world's greatest deliberative body." Barely 48 hours after the House rejected the Treasury's bailout plan, the august body took a previously passed House bill mandating that insurance companies cover mental health benefits, added in the core $700 billion bailout, laced in money for rural school districts and disaster relief, expanded FDIC deposit insurance coverage, and topped it off with over $150 billion in old and new tax breaks for businesses, individuals in high-income states, individuals living in states without an income tax, and various interests such as wooden-arrow makers and film production crews. GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, almost choking back tears after the Chamber passed the 451-page monster, said it was the Senate "at its finest." The Age of Pericles this ain't.

I'll leave it to others to comment on this mother-of-all-Christmas tree bills. The bulk of the Senate legislation is essentially the same as that rejected by the House. It authorizes the Treasury Department to use $700 billion to buy up bad loans. Certain banks get cleaner balance sheets immediately and the feds supposedly will minimize the risk to taxpayers by selling the bad loans when the market "stabilizes" and the prices of the loans have improved.

To paraphrase Mencken, this solution is neat, plausible, and wrong. The first failing is something that is only now being openly stated: Treasury expects to pay some unknown premium above any current market price for mortgage-backed securities (MBS). We don't know what the premium will be nor how it will be determined. Well, in a sense we do. It will mostly be determined by politics, not economics. This is the foundational flaw in the Treasury plan.

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

October 02, 2008

Parachute candidate with only one issue

Don Martin wonders if the Liberals couldn't have found a local candidate for Whitby-Oshawa:

With so many in the running for the dubious distinction, it might seem impossible to crown just one as The Most Obnoxious Candidate of the campaign.

Nope. It's real easy.

In a Whitby-Oshawa riding where all the parties should have run a credible alternative to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, the Liberals have picked Brent Fullard as their candidate.

Fullard, who was forced to apologize for comparing Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Hitler on the very day he was declared the Liberal hopeful, has a single-minded fixation on attacking Flaherty's income trust taxation flip-flop.

Now I have a conflict of interest to declare here. I have tried for months to be removed from Mr. Fullard's mass e-mail list. It just got a bit much after a while and, with the party war rooms kicking out blitzkriegs of e-mail material, his repetitious Flaherty vilification project was taking up too much space on my BlackBerry.

Oddly, both the Liberals and NDP decided to run candidates who do not live in the riding.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:28 PM | Comments (0)

This could get awkward

According to this report, Apple may be considering shutting down the iTunes store:

Apple could shut down iTunes, the world's biggest online music store, if a ruling expected tomorrow forces the company to pay more to music makers for each downloaded track.

The Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) in Washington DC will decide whether to grant the request of American music publishers to increase royalty rates on songs bought from online music stores such as iTunes.

The National Music Publishers' Association, which represents the interests of music makers and songwriters in the US, want rates to be increased 9 cents to 15 cents, which represents a 66 per cent rise.

Folks on the iPhone mailing list are recommending that anyone who has bought music from the iTunes store ensure that they have the files backed up, just in case. I can't imagine any mechanism that would allow Apple to rescind previous sales, no matter what the situation may be with future sales of media through the iTunes store.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)

More on where the crisis started

Michael Flynn has more background on where the economic roots of the current crisis were planted:

Let's be clear: This is a Wall Street crisis, not a national economic crisis. The overall economy, while a bit weak, is still growing. Some politicians are comparing the current environment to the Great Depression. But in 1932, when the federal government last moved to bail out the banking sector, economic output had fallen 45 percent and unemployment was a staggering 24 percent. Today, economic output is actually up and unemployment is a historically modest 6.1 percent.

The overall economy doesn't even face a liquidity crisis in the current turmoil. Consumer, commercial/industrial, and real estate loans are all up over last year. Main Street is doing fine. The liquidity crisis is confined to Wall Street, between and among investment banks, insurance and securities firms, and hedge funds. There is the possibility that the contagion could spread, but in a global capital market, this is hardly certain.

As far as the origins are concerned, Mortgage-backed securities (MBSes) were the primary vehicle through which the damage was done, although they (like so many financial tools) are relatively neutral, but can be mis-used:

In the early years of this century, mortgage-backed securities exploded. Their growth provided unprecedented levels of capital in the mortgage market. There was a lot more money available to underwrite mortgages. At the same time, investment houses were looking to replace the healthy fees earned during the dot com bubble. MBSes had fat margins, so everyone jumped into the game.

[. . .]

Fannie and Freddie then went on a subprime bender. They made it clear that they wanted to buy all the subprime or Alt-A mortgages that they could find, eventually acquiring around $1 trillion of the paper. The market responded. In 2003 subprime mortgages made up less than 8 percent of all mortgages. By 2006, they were over 20 percent. Banks knew they could sell subprime products to Fannie and Freddie. Investments banks realized that if they laced ever increasing amounts of subprime mortgages into the MBSes, they could juice the returns and so earn bigger fees. The rating agencies, thinking they were simply dealing with traditional mortgages, didn't look under the hood.

Unfortunately, after several years of a housing boom, the available pool of households who could responsibly use the more exotic financing products had dried up. In short, there were no more people who traditionally qualified for even a subprime mortgage. However, Fannie and Freddie were still signaling that they wanted to buy these products. At the same time, activist groups were agitating for more lending to low-income families. Banks realized they could make even more exotic loan products (e.g., interest-only loans), get the activists off their backs, and immediately diffuse their risk by selling the mortgages into MBSes. After all, Fannie and Freddie would buy anything.

Everything worked as long as housing prices continued to rise. The most pessimistic scenarios on Wall Street showed a leveling off of housing prices; no one foresaw an actual decline in prices. Suddenly, though, there weren't enough buyers. In hot real estate markets, builders raced to bring inventory to market that they thought was inexhaustible. But at this point everyone (essentially) who could possibly qualify for a mortgage had received one. At the same time, the first wave of the more exotic mortgages began to falter. Interest rates on adjustable rate mortgages moved higher — the Fed was finally tightening the money flow — and mortgages that were initially interest-only were close to resetting, with monthly payments jumping to include principal. A not insignificant number of these mortgages moved into default and foreclosure.

It's a long article, but it really is worth while to read the whole thing.

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

QotD: Redefining "market failure"

In an interview with The Los Angeles Times editorial board last December, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson made clear that he defined "market failure" as any instance in which investors, including home owners, lost money. In discussing various grand plans to buoy the economy, Paulson said, "What we're doing is avoiding a market failure that would have forced housing values down in a way that was not in the investors' interest, and in a way that the market wasn't intended to work."

You can read more of that exchange here, where it's reprinted in a recent reason column by Tim Cavanaugh. It's a pretty stunning and open admission of how Paulson conceives his job. Basically, his job is to maintain or increase prices, period. He doesn't want to oversee a market that acts as a discovery process because, as Dr. Zaius, the patron saint of all great Platonic experts, could tell you, "You may not like what you find." Indeed, you might find that you misunderestimated what people think your crap is worth (has Paulson, one wonders, ever gone to a garage sale, that ultimate testing ground of the subjective theory of value?).

So Paulson wants to socialize losses by the investing class with his economic PATRIOT Act, a hasty, hurried, and not-clearly-warranted piece of legislation that will somehow manage to change everything without addressing basic incentives in the financial sector (other than underscoring the idea that the American economy is too big to fail, so the feds will oddly bail it out in the name of capitalism).

Nick Gillespie, "The Fearsome Fear of a Looming Recession", Hit and Run, 2008-10-01

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

Today's stock advice

David Weigel provides a bit of context for your investment plans:

Your chart of the day comes from Econompic Data, whose editor notices that stock in Taser and canned soup was outperforming the S&P index.

I personally can't think of any pure bomb shelter plays (although the housing index is up over the past three months), but over the past three months; Campbell Soup Co (which also happened to be the ONLY stock in the S&P 500 that was up yesterday) and Taser International are up 16% and 34% respectively. This compares very favorably to the S&P 500, which has struggled and is down 14% over that time frame.

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

October 01, 2008

IOC steals part of O Canada

Cory Doctorow reports that the IOC has trademarked a line from O Canada:

The International Olympic Committee has trademarked a line from the Canadian national anthem, "with glowing hearts," and is threatening to sue anyone who uses the line in Canada, as part of the Vancouver Games.

This is par for the course. The IOC is a corrupt, bullying, greedy, hypocritical organization that uses trademark laws to limit the free speech and commerce of people who have the misfortune to attend or live near the games — for example, in Athens, they forced people to take off or cover up t-shirts that had logos for companies that hadn't paid to sponsor the Olympics; and in Washington, they attacked decades-old businesses named after nearby Mount Olympia.

The Olympics cloak themselves in the rhetoric of international cooperation and development, but everything they touch turns to garbage: totalitarian surveillance camps where corporate greed rules all. The Canadian IOC ought to be disbanded over this — it's an affront to the entire nation.

If nothing else, it'll teach Canadians how to sing the words . . . which the CBC reports we can continue to sing without charge:

Despite the trademark placed on the lines, VANOC said it has no desire to own the phrases and VANOC's use of the mottoes in no way changes how the national anthem is used by Canadians.

VANOC would only challenge the commercial use of the mottoes if a business began using them to create a specific, unauthorized commercial association with the 2010 Winter Games, said the statement.

O Canada is over 100 years old and, according to the Department of Canadian Heritage, is in the public domain so may be used without permission from the government.

The committee is so serious about protecting the Olympic brand it managed to get a landmark piece of legislation passed in the House of Commons last year that made using certain phrases related to the Games a violation of law.

The list includes the number 2010 and the word "winter," phrases that normally couldn't be trademarked because they are so general.

So remember, fellow Canadians, we must now add trademark acknowledgements every time we use the word Winter™, the number 2010™, and the phrases With glowing hearts™ and Des plus brillants exploits™, or get our collective asses sued by VANOC.

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

Today's "blitheringly obvious" news item

Hands up anyone who didn't see this coming:

So many people were trying to sign up their phone numbers Tuesday on the first day of registration for the federal do-not-call list, the website crashed at one point and the phone lines were busy.

The popularity of the list, whose registration went live Tuesday just after midnight, was not unexpected.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has projected that of Canada's 27 million residential phone lines, which include cellphone numbers, 16 million would be on the do-not-call list within two years.

However, it's possible the CRTC didn't expect so many people to try to register in one day.

By 1:30 p.m. ET, more than 223,000 people had registered using the phone and internet, according to CRTC spokesperson Denis Carmel. Although the website went live at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, it crashed eight or nine hours later.

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


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