November 27, 2008

Souhan analyzes the Vikings' quarterback issues

Jim Souhan isn't over-kind in his assessment of Minnesota's quarterbacking corps:

If the Vikings had ever pursued a playoff-caliber quarterback with same zeal with which they pursued Jared Allen, Bernard Berrian and Brad Childress himself, this team would be debating whether to rest its starters for the playoffs. Instead, Childress is saddled with this choice: Faltering Frerotte and Inaction Jackson.

The New York Giants running backs have nicknamed themselves Earth, Wind and Fire. The Vikings quarterbacks are more like Pestilence & Famine. The Vikes rank 26th in passing yards per game despite the arrival of Berrian and the insistence of opposing defenses on stopping the Vikings running game.

This is not the fault of Jackson and Frerotte. Both of them give you all they've got. It's the fault of the Vikings' amorphous front office.

Jackson is a poor fit for an ambitious, veteran team, and Frerotte had to be talked out of retirement. He did the job he was expected to do -- he played well in relief for a few weeks. This team never was supposed to rely on him to start 14 games.

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

Happy (American) Thanksgiving

I suspect the web will be practically unoccupied today, as our American friends celebrate their Thanksgiving, and (retailers devoutly hope) head out to shop themselves into a frenzy on Friday.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:13 AM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2008

Sorry for the lack of postings today

It's been a real armpit of a day. First, I get laid-off from work, then I get home and discover that Revenue Canada has gotten around to reconsidering my 2007 tax return and thinks I owe them another $5,000.

Posting will probably resume later this week. Perhaps even tomorrow. No promises, though.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:53 PM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2008

Judicial miscarriage averted (mostly)

Remember the Julie Amero case? In brief, she was a victim of both her own computer illiteracy and the witch hunting mentality (see here and here for background). The good news is that common sense has, if not prevailed, at least greatly moderated the situation:

Julie Amero is free at last.

If this were the 1970s, Bob Dylan might have written a song about her. Today it's geeks who came to her rescue.

Amero's "crime": In October 2004, the substitute teacher from Norwich, Conn., was surfing the Net on a computer inside a middle school classroom when porn ads began popping up all over the screen. She didn't turn the computer off, because school officials expressly told her not to. Someone reported the incident, and Amero was charged with four counts of endangering minors. In January 2007, a jury convicted Amero of surfing XXX sites in the classroom.

Amero was looking at 40 years in the slammer when geeks around the country — most notably Sunbelt Software CEO Alex Eckelberry — read of her verdict and immediately recognized the telltale signs of a spyware infection. They went to work on Amero's behalf, urging the judge for a retrial (which was granted in June 2007).

As I predicted in the earlier posts, even though the worst hasn't happened (the prison time), Amero's life is still shattered:

Amero isn't totally exonerated. She agreed to plead guilty to "disorderly conduct" (a misdemeanor), pay US$100, and have her teaching credentials revoked. The state still refuses to acknowledge it was mistaken. Lord only knows if the school ever cleaned up its computers.

Somebody needs to revoke the credentials of Norwich school administrators and prosecutors — or at least make them stay after school and learn something about the machines they put inside their classrooms.

The larger, uglier verdict in this case is the terminal cluelessness of everyone involved — from administrators who allowed spyware-infested computers into schools, to the DA's office, to the "expert witness" who wasn't actually an expert, to the first judge who refused to let the defense present forensic evidence on Amero's behalf, to the jury, and finally to Amero herself. All of them get an F in 21st-century survival skills.

So, no jail time, but a trivial fine, a criminal record, and no possibility of her ever being allowed to teach again. But it was all for the children, so it must be okay, right?

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

Childhood memories

James Lileks casts his mind back to childhood, where mothers could cause incandescent levels of embarassment to their sons:

When I was growing up Jane Russell was the old lady in the bra ad. It lifts and separates! It's an 18-hour bra! These were mysterious concepts. What happened after 18 hours? Did it burst into flames? Did it drop and smush? Even the word PLAYTEX was strange, like some sort of moist clay-like plastic.

Bras are very unnerving to boys of a certain age. A trip to the department store often meant some red-faced time in Bra Land with Mom, looking up at acres of bras hanging like scalps from some strange war only adults knew about.

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

But why let the facts get in the way of a juicy rumour?

The Nationalbibliothek (German National Library) is collecting the entire contents of the blogosphere . . . and if you don't co-operate, you're facing a €10,000 fine!

According to the Financial Times, the shock strategy to bend the web to the national library's will at first provoked delight as bloggers sniffed the faint scent of immortality, unaware of the repercussions of non-compliance. One Robert Basic enthused: "My parents are never going to believe I'm going to be catalogued by the German national library."

It didn't take long, though, for news of the financial big stick to spread across cyberspace. One concerned citizen named "night watchman" declared that "the hassle of submitting pages and the threat of fines would kill the German-speaking internet as a forum of free speech".

Another suggested on "Every home page owner should shunt them a pdf [file] with a copy of their website in highest quality, preferably all on the same day. Then [the library's] server would burst."

Aha! So it really is Deutches Cyberlebensraum uber alles, eh? Cue the moral outrage! To the (cyber-) Barricades!

The library had indeed in 2006 been mandated by the government to "collect web publications" and fine the uncooperative.

However, this applies to "the 20,000 publishers and academic institutions registered with the library [who] are obliged to submit web material to the library's server".

Oh. Well. As you were, then.

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

November 24, 2008

QotD: The long, slow, lingering death of science fiction

Since its inception around the mid-19th century, SF had always been the literature of promise. It told stories of a universe that was knowable and lawful, in which rational human beings were capable of applying what they learned from it to make life better for everyone. For the most part, the central element was the advance of technology. But the driving ideology was almost always some form or another of socialism.

As we all know, socialism failed. At the height of its popularity it caused widespread starvation and deprivation, wrecking whole economies wherever it was applied. It inspired childish, petulant dictators — idealogues who were eager to do anything except give up an idea that didn't work — to put millions against the wall and send millions more to places like Siberia because the people couldn't (the dictators said "wouldn't") gladly transmogrify themselves into New Collectivist Mankind, or whatever the slogan was at the time. In the end, it finally destroyed the most enormous empire history had ever known.

With every failure of socialism, the promises made by socialist- inspired SF rang more hollow until, sometime in the late 1950s, the genre tried to turn itself inside-out, becoming skeptical of science and technology — instead of junking its broken ideology — becoming increasingly inner-directed and "psychological" as the real world grew more unbearable for disappointed leftists to look upon. Sliding into something resembling nihilism, SF writers lost interest in a future that — however else it might turn out — would not be socialist. And as SF writers lost interest in the future, readers lost interest in SF.

The sweeping nature of this change may have been difficult for the average consumer to notice at first. As literary SF was dying a slow, agonized death on the racks, SF in the movies and on TV appeared to flourish. But it was a narrowly-defined kind of SF, wedged between the anachronistic feudalism of Star Wars and the paramilitary fascism of Star Trek without any room remaining for individuality, let alone individualism.

Exactly like the dictators who were willing to sacrifice millions, rather than give up their precious but unworkable ideology, America's northeastern publishing establishment was willing to let SF die out, rather than give up the socialism of its youth and embrace a new philosophical and political viewpoint that offered real hope for the future.

L. Neil Smith, "New Maps of Bulgaria", Libertarian Enterprise, 2008-11-23

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

Vikings beat Jaguars

Another road game, but not the usual result:

For once, the Vikings did not insist on making things interesting to the end. After getting their first five victories by an average of 4.6 points, the Vikings put their foot on an opponent's throat and were able to keep it there. Turning five Jaguars turnovers into 17 points made sure of that.

"We came in with the mindset that it doesn't have to be close," said Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who was held short of 100 yards rushing for the second consecutive game. "We can blow these guys out. It started off sweet. We got 14 points real easy. We just kept the momentum from that point on."

The victory kept the Vikings (6-5) in a first-place tie with Chicago in the NFC North. The Bears, who routed St. Louis 27-3, will visit the Metrodome next Sunday night in a nationally televised game. Green Bay (5-5) will try to keep pace tonight when the Packers play at New Orleans.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:41 AM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2008

Bailing out Detroit

Jon sent me a link to Iowahawk's latest car ad:

All new for 2012, the Pelosi GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition is the mandatory American car so advanced it took $100 billion and an entire Congress to design it. We started with same reliable 7-way hybrid ethanol-biodeisel-electric-clean coal-wind-solar-pedal power plant behind the base model Pelosi, but packed it with extra oomph and the sassy styling pizazz that tells the world that 1974 Detroit is back again — with a vengeance.

We've subsidized the features you want and taxed away the rest. With its advanced Al Gore-designed V-3 under the hood pumping out 22.5 thumping, carbon-neutral ponies of Detroit muscle, you'll never be late for the Disco or the Day Labor Shelter. Engage the pedal drive or strap on the optional jumbo mizzenmast, and the GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition easily exceeds 2016 CAFE mileage standards. At an estimated 268 MPG, that's a savings of nearly $1800 per week in fuel cost over the 2011 Pelosi.

Even with increased performance we didn't skimp on safety. With 11-point passenger racing harnesses, 15-way airbags, and mandatory hockey helmet, you'll have the security knowing that you could survive a 45 MPH collision even if the GTxi SS/Rt were capable of that kind of illegal speed.

Which reminded me of Chip Bok's comic from last week:


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

November 20, 2008

QotD: Shooting Zombies

Seriously, man. I'm doing them a favor. They're zombies, after all. It's not like they have rich internal lives. The time for book clubs and PBS has passed for them, you know? And anyway, there's something oddly soothing about going to a high place with a scoped rifle and picking off their shambling asses. I wouldn't say it's a zen thing (it seems inadvisable to use the word "zen" with anything involving firearms), but it does get you into a contemplative frame of mind. At least until the zombies figure out where you are and swarm you. But until then: Bliss. I can't think of anything better.

Oh wait, I can: If they were Nazi zombies. Yes.

John Scalzi, "Man, If Blowing the Heads Off of Zombies With a Scoped Rifle is Wrong, I Don’t Ever Want to Be Right", Whatever, 2008-11-19

Posted by Nicholas at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)

Radley Balko's advice to Obama

Radley Balko knows there's no chance of being heard, but offers some key ideas to the new Obama administration anyway:

  • Increase government transparency.
  • Open up the White House.
  • Swear off executive privilege.
  • Revamp the Transportation Security Administration.
  • Investigate the Bush administration.
  • Make fighting public corruption a top priority of your justice department.
  • Use the pardon.

Chance of these ideas being taken up and implemented? Slim, unfortunately.

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

Opinion polling, explained

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

November 19, 2008

Newspaper readers

Posted by Nicholas at 06:33 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Of course they know what they're doing . . . we hope

Remember when Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned us that the economy was about to collapse unless Congress immediately authorized him to spend $700 billion on "troubled assets" held by banks? Remember when he said banks would never lend again as long as they remained saddled with these bad investments?

You do remember? So it's not just me. I was beginning to think I had dreamed the whole thing, because a month and a half later the Treasury Department has yet to buy any troubled assets, and last week Paulson said it had no plans to do so. Instead the department is using its $700 billion to buy the banks themselves, which I could almost swear Paulson said was a bad idea a couple of months ago. Evidently the Bush administration is still calling the effort the Troubled Asset Relief Program for the sake of the acronym, which suggests a cover for something unsightly or embarrassing.

Jacob Sullum, "Everything bad is good again", Reason Online, 2008-11-19

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

Alaska wins a squeaker

The worst part was the waiting:

It's official: Felonious Sen. Ted "Wounded Bull" Stevens [. . .] has lost his seat in the U.S. Senate, the world's greatest (and possibly fattest) deliberative body. From the AP:

Stevens' pursuit of a seventh term was damaged by his conviction in federal court — just days before the election — for lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.

He was trying to become the first convicted felon to win election to the Senate. A survey of people leaving polling places conducted for The Associated Press and television networks found that two of three voters considered Stevens' trial a factor in their decision. Begich voters cited it as an issue more often.

Stevens was certainly one of the least inspiring examples of what a US senator could be. In fact, he could be a poster boy for the political pork brigade.

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

November 18, 2008

Update from a few years back

Long-time readers (or those of you sampling the back-catalogue using Google) might remember a post from 2006 about a wrecked Halifax bomber that crashed in 1944:

"I'd love to be able to contact any surviving relatives of the remainder of the crew," said Paul Reilly (email:

"All my efforts so far have drawn a blank other than finding Lorne's brother. It would be fantastic if any of the relatives in Canada, if traced, could be there for the dedication."

The Halifax aircraft, serial number DK185, crashed on Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire, England, around 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 31, 1944.

I received an email from "Wreck Hunter" today, linking to this post at Peak Wreck Hunters:

This memorial to the Halifax crashed on Ilkley Moor was found with some assistance from Richard Allenby. We have therefore agreed to restrict the level of precision of our published coordinates.

Location:SE 092 468

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

Decoding Palin Derangement Syndrome

L. Neil Smith examines the root causes of Palin Derangement Syndrome:

Never mind all of that. If you couldn't stand Hillary Clinton, her ideas, or her socialist politics, you were merely another misogynist, a male chauvinist pig who "just can't handle the idea of a woman with power."

But that was then, and this is now. Apparently liberals can't handle the idea of a woman with power if that woman isn't another liberal.

Enter Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. When Mad Jack McCain announced the choice he'd made of Palin as a running mate late last summer, I was delighted and surprised. It wasn't simply the only smart move the Hanoi Senator had made during his campaign, it was probably the only smart move any Republican had made since Eisenhower ended the Korean War.

I have to agree with Neil: the most unexpected move of McCain's entire campaign was the selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. It caused incredible amounts of anguish to many on the left who'd clearly believed all along that they had the womens' vote locked up (John Scalzi did a good job of summarizing it all here). And in spite of the painful media stumbles and (reputed) in-fighting between McCain's staff and Palin's staff, the mere fact of her nomination exposed some ugly seams on the left:

What I saw and heard during the next three months exceeded even my wildest imaginings — and remember, I'm an imaginer by profession — a vitriolic spew of blind, visceral, dogmatic hatred that the nation's "progressives" hadn't lavished even on Randy Weaver, back when Ruby Ridge was in the headlines, nor on Timothy McVeigh after the explosion in Oklahoma City. Some feminists even claimed that, somehow, Palin wasn't a woman. Meaning, of course, that she dared to cherish values differing from those a woman, in their demented view, is supposed to cherish.

One so-called female so-called comedian referred to Palin as a ". . . little freaked out, intimidated, frightened, right-wing Republican, thin-lipped bitch", unintentionally describing herself by temperament, if not by political persuasion. She also warned the vice presidential candidate that she (Palin) would be gang-raped by her (the comedian's) "big black brothers" if she (Palin) visited Manhattan.

This to a real woman who, at least by implication, knows how to deal with a rapist the way a rapist ought to be dealt with, not with a little plastic whistle or a sisterly candlelight vigil, but with . . . well, let's just put it this way: there are places in Alaska where you're not allowed to venture unless you're carrying at least a .357 Magnum.

It was entertaining in a hide-your-eyes kind of way, observing just how unhinged some people got over Palin (in the same way it was fascinating watching the right lose their minds over Bill Clinton's doings ten years ago).

Posted by Nicholas at 08:41 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2008

Union-management relations

Andrew Sullivan links to this old article by Gregg Easterbrook from 1983:

What is at the heart of these and other conflicts is not an urge for self-destruction but rather the chronic mistrust between corporate management and American labor unions. Louis Brandeis, hardly a corporate apologist, said in 1905, "Don't assume that the interests of employer and employee are necessarily hostile — that what is good for one is necessarily bad for the other. The opposite is more apt to be the case. While they have different interests, they are likely to prosper or suffer together." One might assume that if anything could prove the reasonableness of such advice to both labor and management, it would be the pressures of the recession and the need to work together to keep companies from going out of business. Nevertheless, confrontation, however destructive, continues to be the norm in many industries. William Hobgood, a former assistant secretary of labor, who mediated the coal strike in 1978, says, "Historically, labor has made most of its gains through confrontation, not cooperation, and historically, management has been most satisfied when it has employed pressure techniques. You would think that the recession would cause some positive structural change in that relationship, but so far, if anything, it's made matters worse."

Why this should be so has to do largely with the course of labor relations through the years of prosperity that preceded the American economy's doldrums. Then, mechanisms designed in anticipation of infinite growth, and geared chiefly to provide a constant improvement of wages and benefits, were built into contracts. These mechanisms made little provision for any decline in profits or the retrenchment that would have to follow. Today, they still have a powerful momentum, even though they have become detrimental to the interests of all, ultimately threatening the shutdown of factories and stores that are the source of union jobs and corporate income.

But union intransigence doesn't arise without cause. It's often said that companies get the unions they deserve, and in some industries, this was clearly true:

The goon squads employed by coal-mine owners, the dirty, unventilated textile mills, the subsistence-level wages, and the broken backs and missing limbs suffered by laborers working, exhausted, too close to open-hearth furnaces or vicious stamping presses are not all that far in the past. What coal miner could be ignorant of the explosion of the mine in Monongah, West Virginia, in 1907, which killed 361 men and was caused by a company's indifference to escaping methane, or of the mine explosion in West Frankfort, Illinois, in 1961, which killed 119 men and was also caused by the owner's negligence?

Before workers formed unions, they were forced to accept the wages they were offered, and either to tolerate conditions on the job or quit. Substantial improvements in wages and conditions were not achieved in most industries until the 1940s and 1960s, when unions mustered enough power to bargain on an industry-wide basis — a system known as "pattern bargaining."

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

November 16, 2008

Rogers webmail users: switch to Mail Classic

I added an update to the original post, but if you're just looking at new postings, you might not see it:

You can reduce the sucktastic all-ads-in-your-face, all-the-time by switching back to what Rogers amusingly calls Mail Classic. Ads, but in a much less obtrusive, less aggravating way.

Of course, there's no guarantee that they won't pull Mail Classic without warning . . .

Instead of the obnoxious auto-opening panel on the right side of the page (which you can't turn off for more than one message at a time), the top 25% of the page now has an ad (yes, some of which are still fricking animated). I've found that much less irritating, so I've switched back to the older interface.

If that doesn't work for you, Wired's "How-To Wiki" has advice on how to Ditch Your Old E-mail Addresses.

Update: Comments are open, temporarily.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:04 PM | Comments (1)

November 15, 2008

QotD: Toxic fans

Excessive praise is even worse when it is unwanted praise, or what specialists refer to as dissonant encomium. James B. Stewart, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning articles about Mike Milken and Ivan Boesky led to his 1992 best seller "Den of Thieves," said in an e-mail message that he once upset his publisher by refusing to go on Rush Limbaugh's show after the talk-show host heaped praise on "Blood Sport," his 1996 book about Bill Clinton. This is like having Phil Gramm describe you as being even zanier than Al Gore.

The dark side of flattery, according to P. J. O'Rourke, is attracting a fan base you may not want. Once described as "the funniest writer in America" by Time and The Wall Street Journal, O'Rourke suspects that this raised his profile among libertarians, who for some reason think of themselves as a pack of wild cutups.

"There's a nutty side to libertarians, starting with the Big Girl, Ayn Rand, and going straight through Alan Greenspan," O'Rourke told me over the phone. "When I go to Cato Institute functions, there's always a group of guys who look like they cut their own hair and get their mothers to dress them, with lots of buttons about legalizing heroin and demanding a return to the gold standard. The institute has tried to weed them out over the years, but they still turn up at the bigger events. As soon as I see them coming toward me, my heart sinks."

Joe Queenan, "Enough With the Sweet Talk", New York Times, 2008-11-14

Posted by Nicholas at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2008

QotD: Bailing out the Big 3

It is all a reminder that the biggest threat to a healthy economy is not the socialists of campaign lore. It's C.E.O.'s. It's politically powerful crony capitalists who use their influence to create a stagnant corporate welfare state.

If ever the market has rendered a just verdict, it is the one rendered on G.M. and Chrysler. These companies are not innocent victims of this crisis. To read the expert literature on these companies is to read a long litany of miscalculation. Some experts mention the management blunders, some the union contracts and the legacy costs, some the years of poor car design and some the entrenched corporate cultures.

There seems to be no one who believes the companies are viable without radical change. A federal cash infusion will not infuse wisdom into management. It will not reduce labor costs. It will not attract talented new employees. As Megan McArdle of The Atlantic wittily put it, "Working for the Big Three magically combines vast corporate bureaucracy and job insecurity in one completely unattractive package."

In short, a bailout will not solve anything — just postpone things. If this goes through, Big Three executives will make decisions knowing that whatever happens, Uncle Sam will bail them out — just like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In the meantime, capital that could have gone to successful companies and programs will be directed toward companies with a history of using it badly.

David Brooks, "Bailout to Nowhere", New York Times, 2008-11-14

Posted by Nicholas at 01:03 PM | Comments (0)

Where SF and Libertarianism meet

Katherine Mangu-Ward looks at Tor Books, a publishing house known for printing science fiction books with strong libertarian themes:

Science fiction has long served as a kind of mad scientist's basement lab for testing out different political,economic, and social arrangements. Tor's success suggests that science fiction's commitment to meditations on the importance of human freedom remains strong, as mainstream writers borrow more freely from the once-ghettoized genre, indulging in science fiction–style hypotheticals that probe both the outer limits of and existential threats to liberty.

"Libertarianism is very much part of the intellectual argument of science fiction," says longtime Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden. "It's impossible to be a part of the argument of science fiction without engaging both broad libertarian ideas and also specifically the whole American free market intellectual tradition."

Science fiction novelist Cory Doctorow, a self-described civil libertarian whose Tor titles include the brilliantly paranoid young adult novel Little Brother, suggests why science fiction writers think so much about alternative worlds. "It's completely unsurprising that people who, you can imagine, aren't at the top of the pecking order in high school would turn to science fiction," says Doctorow, who is also co-author of the wildly popular geek blog Boing Boing. "The people who write it have often not been beneficiaries of the authoritarian system. They're the people who don't fit in exactly, and if you always rub up against social constraints, you're the kind of person who's willing to sit down and have a good hard think about whether this is the best way to do things."

Two decades after the death of the trailblazing author Robert Heinlein, the connection between science fiction and libertarianism remains strong, continuing to yield fascinating results. Some of the most interesting are coming out of Tor Books.

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

Rogers needs money

My personal email is with Rogers, and I've been using the web interface for quite some time. This morning, I discover that the account I'm paying for now sprouts ads like some low-rent "free" email account. It's quite irritating. When I open the page, the right 1/4 is now occupied by ads, which allows me to click on a small triangle to hide the ad . . . but the next time I change to another message, it's right back in my face.

There's a helpful link added to the page, saying "Learn more about ads", which I was hoping would include a way to shut the damned things off permanently. No such luck. It opens a "help" page which includes the oh-so-useful information:

Advertisements in Rogers Yahoo! Mail

Recently, Rogers and Yahoo! jointly introduced advertising content to the Rogers Yahoo! Mail service.

More questions? Click this link.

The link? Goes to the self-service support page. Very helpful indeed.

Update: The little "hide ad" control is just small enough that it's easy to miss the control and click in the frickin' ad. This is getting old fast.

Update, the second: I've temporarily opened the comments on this post, as I've been getting email responding to the post that I'd like to include. (I just hope I remember to turn it off before the spam-comment-bots find it open.

Update, the third (16 November): You can reduce the sucktastic all-ads-in-your-face, all-the-time by switching back to what Rogers amusingly calls Mail Classic. Ads, but in a much less obtrusive, less aggravating way.

Of course, there's no guarantee that they won't pull Mail Classic without warning . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 08:56 AM | Comments (4)

So what do we call the sodding island, anyway?

Believe it or not, I'm all in favour of not offending people (unintentionally). I try to avoid terms which I know have caused offense, wherever possible. Given that, I still don't quite know how to respond to this, however:

The word 'British' can be as offensive as 'negro' and 'half-caste', according to a race relations body.

The publicly-funded organisation's views have been adopted by Caerphilly council in South Wales for a leaflet advising staff on how to deal with the public.

In a section on what words or phrases not to use to avoid causing offence, the leaflet solemnly informs the council's 9,000 workers: 'The idea of "British" implies a false sense of unity — many Scots, Welsh and Irish resist being called British and the land denoted by the term contains a wide variety of cultures, languages and religions.'

Many Canadians object to being called "American" by ignorant Brits. Er, I mean "subjects of the United Kingdom". Er, oh, that offends people who don't recognize the crown . . . how about "inhabitants of the British Isles", oh, that won't do . . . perhaps "the north-western European island that isn't Ireland"?

So, we have a bit of a nomenclature issue:

  • They can't be called "British", because that offends the Welsh, the Scots, the Rom, the Manx, the Faroese, the Shetlanders, the Lapps, the Bangladeshis, the Jamaicans, the Nepalese, the Fijians, and the Irish.
  • Supplementarily, you can't call it "Great" Britain, because that implies that other countries are not great, and that's offensive.

  • Calling 'em "English" is right out: that's a good fight-starter in pubs across both major islands. Even the ones born in England seem to avoid the term.
  • If they're Scottish, you can call 'em "Scots", but not "Scotch" (which is a whisky . . . not a "whiskey").
  • If they're from Wales, you can call 'em "Welch" or "Welsh", unless they object (it's sometimes difficult to tell if they're objecting or if there's been a sudden shortage of vowels and they've been forced to double-up on "f" and "l" to compensate).
  • If they're Irish, you're usually safe referring to them as "Irish".
  • Nobody will put up with being called "United Kingdomers".

I ended up asking around in the office and only got two answers. Co-workers of Welsh and Polish ancestry agreed that the only way to refer to the "Island formerly known as Great Britain" was "Sharia Island".

Posted by Nicholas at 08:07 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2008

The auto industry mess

A few interesting links on the Big(?) ThreeTwo-and-a-half:

From the Wall Street Journal, some home truths about GM's forlorn hope, the Volt:

We're talking about a headache of a car that will have to be recharged for six hours to give 40 miles of gasoline-free driving. What if you park on the street or in a public garage? Tough luck. The Volt also will have a small gas engine onboard to recharge the battery for trips of more than 40 miles. Don't believe press blather that it will get 50 mpg in this mode. Submarines and locomotives have operated on the same principle for a century. If it were so efficient in cars, they'd clog the roads by now. (That GM allows the 50 mpg myth to persist in the press, and even abets it, only testifies to the company's desperation.)

Hardly mentioned is the fact that gasoline goes bad after a few months. If the Volt is used as intended, for daily trips of 40 miles or less, the car's tank will have to be drained periodically and the gas disposed of.

On the plight GM is in, and how long ago it started to drop into the abyss:

GM's operations are not otherwise sound. They have been headed for this moment since 1973. Conservatives blame legacy costs, and liberals blame management. They're both right. GM's legacy costs are crazy. So is the UAW leadership, which, goaded by the retirees, is knowingly driving the company into bankruptcy rather than negotiate clearly unsustainable deals. Those legacy costs would probably not be supportable by any company in a competitive environment; the UAW's expectations were created in an era of comfortable oligopoly, when all costs could be directly passed on to the consumer. And the poor quality control on American cars is, from all reports, the responsibility of the union, which maintains downright silly work rules that not even the most ardent liberal could defend in both the Big Three and their various parts suppliers. My favorite was the supplier plant that was forced to work in english measurement even though they had to sell parts in metric. But the examples are legion.

But too, management doesn't seem to be trying much harder to keep themselves out of bankruptcy court. The company could have limped on for longer if it had, y'know, made cars anyone wanted to buy. That's not the UAW's fault. GM's management seems to have a positive genius for making horrible cars, as if they'd deliberately sat down and asked themselves how they could best combine ugly, inconvenient, and unreliable into one expensive package.

And another post from Megan McArdle on why bankruptcy is the only sensible way to solve the problem:

The entire thing is a toxic mess, left over from the days when interlocking oligopolies contentedly conspired to suck every last dollar out of captive consumers to whom Detroit would happily have given Flintstones cars if they could have figured out how to do them in two-tone vinyl. But things that look like lunatic mistakes on the part of management were often quite rational responses to intolerable pressures. I'm still not clear on why the cars had to be ugly, and all of the indicators cunningly hidden behind the wheel where they wouldn't distract the driver, of course. Management did many stupid and inexplicable things.

Having driven the companies right up to the verge of bankruptcy, the conceded literally only when it became clear that the union members were about to get their contracts unilaterally rewritten by a judge, lose their health benefits, and possibly get their pensions crammed down by the PBGC, which maxes out somewhere slightly north of $40K per annum. Then the unions ever so generously agreed to cut health care costs by 30% in exchange for job security guarantees. And now that their game of collective bargaining chicken has resulted in the obvious disaster, they want us to pay to save their jobs, at a cost of over $300,000 per.

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

Chronic care waits in Canada

In no surprise to any Canadian who's needed to see a specialist in the last decade or so, Canadian waiting times are significantly longer than average:

Canadians with chronic illnesses wait longer to see medical specialists than counterparts in seven other developed countries, a new international survey suggests.

Only 40 per cent of Canadians with chronic illnesses who took part in the survey reported waiting less than four weeks to see a specialist. And 42 per cent said they had to wait more than two months - substantially longer than counterparts in the seven other countries.

The findings are part of the 2008 survey of the health-care experiences of the chronically ill compiled by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation focused on improving health-care delivery. The survey was published Thursday in the journal Health Affairs.

Canadians with chronic illnesses also reported higher rates of problems accessing same-day care.

Only 26 per cent said they could get a same-day appointment to see a doctor, putting Canada at the bottom of the heap with Americans when it came to same-day access to care. In contrast, 60 per cent of Dutch respondents and 54 per cent of New Zealanders said they could get same-day medical appointments.

Canadian respondents seemed to turn to hospital emergency departments to fill the care gap, with 23 per cent saying they visited an emergency room to get help for a problem that could have been treated by a family doctor if one were available. Only six per cent of German and Dutch respondents said they sought care from an emergency department that they could have received from a family doctor.

That last point is also unsurprising: new doctors in Canada disproportionally prefer to set up practice in large urban centres. Small towns (population less than 250,000) are significantly under-served. Lots of dentists, chiropractors, and other health professionals, just no MDs.

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

November 12, 2008

QotD: The Presidential power-grab

If there’s one thing defenders of civil liberties know, it's that assaults on constitutional freedoms are bipartisan. Just as constitutional darkness didn't first fall with the arrival in the Oval Office of George W. Bush, the shroud will not lift with his departure and the entry of President Barack Obama.

As atrocious as the Bush record on civil liberties has been, there's no more eager and self-righteous hand reaching out to the Bill of Rights to drop it into the shredder than that of a liberal intent on legislating freedom. Witness the great liberal drive to criminalize expressions of hate and impose fierce punitive enhancements if the criminal has been imprudent enough to perpetrate verbal breaches of sexual or ethnic etiquette while bludgeoning his victim to death.

No doubt the conservatives who cheered Bush on as he abrogated ancient rights and stretched the powers of his office to unseen limits would have shrieked if a Democrat had taken such liberties. But now Obama will be entitled to the lordly prerogatives Bush established.

Alexander Cockburn, "A Long Train of Abuses", The American Conservative, 2008-11-17

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

November 11, 2008

Poor Brad

Former Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson is getting no love in his current job as Dallas Cowboys' backup:

Thoughts after the ignominious end of the Brad Johnson era in Dallas: When you can't run, you have no arm strength and you aren't accurate, your team is better off using actors such as Keanu Reeves or James Van Der Beek over playing you as quarterback . . . the tag "Super Bowl-winning QB" can go only so far . . . you can't complain about Matt Cassel when one of the other 2008 contenders is starting Brad Johnson . . . it's probably not a good idea for a contender to skimp on the backup QB position to sign a man who has been arrested more than a dozen times as its nickel back . . . the Football Outsiders guys need to create a stat for "routes run by a receiver on which he stops in disbelief as the ball sails seven feet behind him, looks confused, gets bummed out, then takes an extra two seconds to regroup before joining the huddle" . . . somebody needs to make a YouTube clip of all of Johnson's throws from the past few weeks with someone screaming "PULL!" as he uncorks every throw . . . when your fans are openly pining for Brooks Bollinger, something has gone horribly, horribly, historically wrong.

Whole thing here.

I've always liked Brad, but I think he's gone a couple of seasons too far. His final games for Minnesota were bad, but he's really having a terrible time in Dallas. Time to hang 'em up, Mr. Johnson.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:56 PM | Comments (0)

Got a spare fanbelt?

NASA — or rather, a firm doing data recovery for NASA — needs a 1972 Toyota Corolla fan belt:

It looks as if it belongs aboard Dr Who's Tardis and needs a fan belt from a 36-year-old Toyota Corolla to get going, but experts are betting that an old refrigerator-sized tape recorder can help to analyse "fresh" data from NASA's Apollo missions to the moon.

Improbable as it sounds, the 1960s-vintage IBM729 Mark 5 and the 173 untouched magnet tapes from Apollos 11, 12 and 14 are housed at a data recovery firm in Perth.

The information contained on the tapes, which deals with lunar dust, is unique and valuable.

NASA "misplaced" the original tapes, revealing the blunder only in 2006. It would benefit from the information contained on the copies in Perth for its planned return to the moon.

Guy Holmes, chief executive of SpectrumData, found the recorder in Sydney at the Australian Computer Museum, a little-known not-for-profit endeavour run by enthusiasts.

"The machine needs to be restored," Mr Holmes said. "It uses fan belts - we're looking for a 1972 Toyota Corolla - and other parts need to be replaced. We'll probably be ready to plug it into the wall in January."

Whole thing here. H/T to Roger Henry for the original link.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Canada's largest hate-mongering group

Who is Canada's largest "hate group", as measured by the number of anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-black and pro-Nazi comments published on the Internet?

As I've pointed out before, it's none other than the taxpayers' own Canadian Human Rights Commission.

It is official CHRC policy for their employees to join neo-Nazi groups, and go online in full neo-Nazi drag, spewing filthy venom that would make Joseph Goebbels proud. You can see a few examples here.

This, of course, is being done in the name of human rights.

It's also why the CHRC is currently under investigation by the RCMP and the Privacy Commissioner — because in one case, they actually hacked into a private citizen's Internet account to cover their tracks as they went out surfing as Nazis.

Ezra Levant, "Canada's free speech enemies to lay Remembrance Day wreath", National Post: Full Comment, 2008-11-10

Posted by Nicholas at 09:22 AM | Comments (0)

Vikings tie unwelcome record

The Minnesota Vikings have a 5-4 record at this point of the season, good for a tie for first place in the division with Chicago. If the Vikings' special teams were closer to average for the league, Minnesota would be sitting a few games ahead of everyone else in the division. The Vikes' special teams are anything but special:

The Vikings' problems on special teams continued during their 28-27 victory over Green Bay on Sunday at the Metrodome.

Will Blackmon's 65-yard punt return for a touchdown was the sixth touchdown Vikings special teams have given up. That ties the NFL record for special teams touchdowns surrendered in a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The 1980 Detroit Lions are the only other team to give up that many scores on special teams since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.

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

Corporations don't love the free market

Roderick Long explains why corporations are often the most bitter enemies of true free markets:

Corporations tend to fear competition, because competition exerts downward pressure on prices and upward pressure on salaries; moreover, success on the market comes with no guarantee of permanency, depending as it does on outdoing other firms at correctly figuring out how best to satisfy forever-changing consumer preferences, and that kind of vulnerability to loss is no picnic. It is no surprise, then, that throughout U.S. history corporations have been overwhelmingly hostile to the free market. Indeed, most of the existing regulatory apparatus — including those regulations widely misperceived as restraints on corporate power — were vigorously supported, lobbied for, and in some cases even drafted by the corporate elite.

[. . .]Tax breaks to favored corporations represent yet another non-obvious form of government intervention. There is of course nothing anti-market about tax breaks per se; quite the contrary. But when a firm is exempted from taxes to which its competitors are subject, it becomes the beneficiary of state coercion directed against others, and to that extent owes its success to government intervention rather than market forces.

Intellectual property laws also function to bolster the power of big business. Even those who accept the intellectual property as a legitimate form of private property can agree that the ever-expanding temporal horizon of copyright protection, along with disproportionately steep fines for violations (measures for which publishers, recording firms, software companies, and film studios have lobbied so effectively), are excessive from an incentival point of view, stand in tension with the express intent of the Constitution's patents-and-copyrights clause, and have more to do with maximizing corporate profits than with securing a fair return to the original creators.

Government favoritism also underwrites environmental irresponsibility on the part of big business. Polluters often enjoy protection against lawsuits, for example, despite the pollution's status as a violation of private property rights. When timber companies engage in logging on public lands, the access roads are generally tax-funded, thus reducing the cost of logging below its market rate; moreover, since the loggers do not own the forests they have little incentive to log sustainably.

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

In memorium

A simple recognition of some of our family members who served in the First and Second World Wars:

The Great War

  • Private William Penman, Scots Guards, died 1915 at Le Touret, age 25
    (Elizabeth's great uncle)
  • Private David Buller, Highland Light Infantry, died 1915 at Loos, age 35
    (Elizabeth's great grandfather)
  • Private Walter Porteous, Northumberland Fusiliers, died 1917 at Passchendaele, age 18
    (my great uncle)
  • Corporal John Mulholland, Royal Tank Corps, died 1918 at Harbonnieres, age 24
    (Elizabeth's great uncle)

The Second World War

  • Flying Officer Richard Porteous, RAF, survived the defeat in Malaya and lived through the war
    (my uncle)
  • Able Seaman John Penman, RN, served in the "Destroyer Equipped Merchant" fleet on the Murmansk Run (and other convoy routes), lived through the war
    (Elizabeth's father)
  • Private Archie Black (commissioned after the war and retired as a Major), Gordon Highlanders, captured at Singapore (aged 15) and survived a Japanese POW camp
    (Elizabeth's uncle)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

Posted by Nicholas at 08:19 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2008

Who has used marijuana?

Radley Balko's original post from last week (linked from here), turned into a video.

Update, 11 November: This embedded video seems to create issues for Firefox users (it's fine in IE and Opera). I've moved it below the fold to see if this addresses the format problem.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

"Junk" DNA? Not so fast, there . . .

Ronald Bailey rounds up some new findings on what we've been dismissively calling "junk DNA":

Decoding the human genome found that only about 10 percent of the 3 billion or so base pairs of the DNA in the human genome consists of genes that code for proteins. The remaining 90 percent didn't have any obvious function, so researchers called it "junk DNA."

[. . .] In other words, these apparently long boring stretches of repeat DNA base pairs are central to determining which genes turn on when and by how much. In addition, some of these DNA repeats jump around inside genomes changing the expression of genes and the course of a species' evolution.

Interesting, but this part is definitely scary:

Even more amazingly, biologist Cedric Feschotte and his colleagues at the University of Texas in Arlington have found that some DNA repeats have actually jumped between mammalian and other tetrapod species including African clawed frogs, anole lizards, South American opposums, brown bats, mice and rats. This kind of horizontal interspecies DNA exchange happens among single-celled organisms all the time, but biologists find it very surprising that it can happen between large multicellular species. The repeat sequences have been dubbed "SPace INvaders" or SPIN transposons and may have been carried into these animal genomes by a virus 45 to 15 million years ago.

And this SPace INvasion may have been responsible for a mass mammalian extinction.

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

November 08, 2008

QotD: The wasted Conservative opportunity

Let us bend over and kiss our ass goodbye. Our 28-year conservative opportunity to fix the moral and practical boundaries of government is gone — gone with the bear market and the Bear Stearns and the bear that's headed off to do you-know-what in the woods on our philosophy.

An entire generation has been born, grown up, and had families of its own since Ronald Reagan was elected. And where is the world we promised these children of the Conservative Age? Where is this land of freedom and responsibility, knowledge, opportunity, accomplishment, honor, truth, trust, and one boring hour each week spent in itchy clothes at church, synagogue, or mosque? It lies in ruins at our feet, as well it might, since we ourselves kicked the shining city upon a hill into dust and rubble.

[. . .]

In how many ways did we fail conservatism? And who can count that high? Take just one example of our unconserved tendency to poke our noses into other people's business: abortion. Democracy — be it howsoever conservative — is a manifestation of the will of the people. We may argue with the people as a man may argue with his wife, but in the end we must submit to the fact of being married. Get a pro-life friend drunk to the truth-telling stage and ask him what happens if his 14-year-old gets knocked up. What if it's rape? Some people truly have the courage of their convictions. I don't know if I'm one of them. I might kill the baby. I will kill the boy.

[. . .]

Our impeachment of President Clinton was another example of placing the wrong political emphasis on personal matters. We impeached Clinton for lying to the government. To our surprise the electorate gave us cold comfort. Lying to the government: It's called April 15th. And we accused Clinton of lying about sex, which all men spend their lives doing, starting at 15 bragging about things we haven't done yet, then on to fibbing about things we are doing, and winding up with prevarications about things we no longer can do.

P.J. O'Rourke, "We Blew It", The Weekly Standard, 2008-11-17

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

November 07, 2008

QotD: Hyper-inflated expectations

Being a libertarian, I naturally think that people are too optimistic about the government. But there were people on CNN declaring that Obama was going to lower the price of gasoline and pay their mortgage if they couldn't afford it, lower their tax bill and raise their wages, and presumably, make them taller, smarter, and get the chickweed out of their hair. I'm not exaggerating: there were voters who seemed to think that about three weeks after Obama took office, all their budget problems would be solved. Not that Obama would eventually make things better, or help them get past the rough spots; they were expecting an immediate influx of really quite a lot of money, as well as a rapid and permanent increase in base wages and housing prices.

I don't recall Republicans engaging in this kind of magical thinking in 2000. They, too, seemed to have an unreasonable belief that George Bush was going to improve America a great deal (unreasonable even before 9/11), but as I recall, this was concentrated on intangibles like restoring honor to the white house, not putting an extra $3,000 in everyone's pockets.

I was eighteen when Clinton was elected, and I don't remember if this sort of thing is simply typical of Democratic victories. But the expectations I saw in those "man on the street interviews" were not fulfillable by any president--at least, not until Santa agrees to stand for election.

Megan McArdle, "Things can only get better . . .", Asymmetrical Information, 2008-11-07

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

Refuting the drug warriors

Radley Balko looks at the latest lame attempt to dissuade people from using drugs ("Hey, not trying to be your mom, but there aren't many jobs out there for potheads.").

In a five-minute perusal of the Google search results, he found the following individuals who could (but probably won't) argue against it:

Barack Obama, president-elect. Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the U.S. John Kerry, U.S. Senator and 2004 Democratic nominee for president. John Edwards, multi-millionaire, former U.S. Senator, and 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president. Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, 2008 Republican nominee for vice president. British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, and and Chancellor Alistair Darling. Josh Howard, NBA all-star. New York Governor David Paterson. Former Vice President, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Oscar winner Al Gore. Former Sen. Bill Bradley, who smoked while playing professional basketball. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and former New York Governor George Pataki. Billionaire and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Rather interesting, no? "The presence of so many high-ranking politicians so early in the search results puts the lie to the ONDCP’s ridiculous ad campaign, and shows that to the extent that marijuana is harmful, the harm lies mostly in what the government will do to you to you if it catches you. "

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

Gillespie's predictions

Nick Gillespie turns prognosticator for the coming Obama administration, but only after venting some spleen over the neologism "game-changer":

Arguably the most nauseating development during Election 2008 (which, thankfully and so unlike Election 2000, actually ended when it was supposed to, on Election Day) was the rise to ubiquity of the term game-changer, a phrase that, as far as I can tell (and I admittedly haven't really called my secret contacts at the Oxford English Dictionary on this one), hit the big time only when applied to the creation of even more types of toothpaste coming out of consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble.

Was Sarah Palin a game-changer (yes, definitely, maybe even a double game-changer, first by putting McCain back in the race and then by dragging him down like a sorefooted sled dog in a Jack London short story turned real-life tragedy)? Was the final presidential debate a game-changer (no, though nobody can remember a damn thing about it)? Was something CNN yapped about at some point or another a game-changer (no)? Was the economic crisis a game-changer? The bailout package? The initial failure to pass the bailout? The unanticipated but thoroughly convincing equation of John McCain with the Penquin from the old Batman TV show? Game-changer, game-changer, game-changer, not a game-changer (but should have been one). At times, it seemed as if Election 2008 was, I don't know, nothing less than a perfect storm of game-changers. Or not.

But now that's all over with and we must ask the question: Will President Obama be a, coff-coff, game-changer?

Plenty of links in the original post.

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

A tough act to follow


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

November 06, 2008

Dissing "smart" growth

Frequent commenter (from back when I could allow comments) "Da Wife" sent along an interesting link on so-called smart growth:

Simply put, smart growth means an end to sprawling, car-oriented suburbia. In its place should rise transit-friendly communities where you can live, play and work.

The province's Places to Grow legislation has made it the new normal in the GTA and communities like Markham Centre are developing in response. But Mr. O'Toole is not impressed.

Q: Has the smart growth idea been around long enough to evaluate it?

A: Yes. California has been doing various versions since the 1970s, Hawaii since the 1960s . . . Are more people riding transit, riding rail because of higher densities? The answer is, no. One per cent of travel is by transit. Maybe 98 per cent is by car.

Has it has any effect on preservation of open space? Well, their urban growth boundaries are preserving marginal pasture land, but it's forcing people to drive 100 miles to build their homes on prime farmland.

It's also making housing very expensive. In Canada, the city that has done the most planning for smart growth is Vancouver, and it has the least affordable housing.

Q: But when you talk about housing prices in a city such as Vancouver, there's also geography and the economy; how high on the list does planning rank?

A: Number one. Seventy per cent of the Vancouver metropolitan area has been ruled off-limits to developers. There's plenty of room for growth if they allowed people to live in those areas. So people are having to accept housing they don't really want.

Most Canadians and Americans agree their preferred form of housing is a single-family home on a lot, where they can have a garden or place for their kids or pets to play.

Q: Is the model we've been living with, with a downtown, suburbs and bedroom communities, outdated?

A: It's definitely outdated. The part that's outdated is the downtown part.

In many metropolitan areas, more than two-thirds of the jobs are not in any kind of centre and that's because we have such good personal transportation, namely automobiles.

We have much a better distribution of jobs and that’s a remedy for congestion.

When we draw an urban boundary, we're saying we're going to deny people access to low cost land. I don't think government knows where people ought to live. I don't think government knows where jobs ought to be.

One of the attractions of "smart growth" policies is that it puts a lot of power in the hands of appointed planners, and keeps it out of the hands of those irresponsible property owners and developers. Bureaucrats almost always believe that they know better than individuals what is best for those individuals. This is the same thing on a larger scale: the government explicitly dictates what kind of land use is going to be allowed (to a finer degree of granularity than existing zoning rules), and there's little or no recourse for the people directly affected by the rules.

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

Preconceived notions

James Lileks fails the "grumpy Republican" test:

I'm approaching the new administration with a blank slate. I have no desire to walk around frowning in perpetual grumptitude, and it would be intellectually dishonest to prejudge everything that happens before it happens, or see the smallest act in terms of some broad preconceived idea. I thought that was an impressive victory speech, and if someone offers to earn your support, well, take him up on it.

I wasn't fond of Bill Clinton personally — never quite charmed me the way he charmed others, and he seemed to a man of substantial appetites, the most obvious of one was an appetite for attention and approval. In the 80s I HATED Reagan, of course, because he was an IDIOT who wanted to KILL US in a nuclear war for JESUS or whatever we believed so deeply back then. In both cases a personal aversion shaped my reaction to the message. You can make fun of the adulation that has been showered on Obama, and most of it seems silly if you don't have the leg-tingle, but he doesn't give me the Slick Willies. So this will be interesting.

Update: Steve Chapman asks the same question I was asking myself:

The notable aspect of John McCain's concession speech Tuesday night was how different it was from everything coming from his campaign in the months before. It was temperate, generous, and noble in spirit, and it made you wonder: Where has this guy been hiding, and why?

McCain's concession speech was — by far — the best public speaking I've ever heard from him. It was, oddly enough, very reminiscent of Paul Martin's concession speech after the 2006 Canadian election . . . certainly Martin's best speech of the campaign (if he'd spoken as well during the election, he might still be prime minister today). I don't think anything McCain could have done would have seriously changed the outcome of the US elections: the millstone of the Bush administration would have sunk any Republican candidate.

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

November 05, 2008

The Brits' wrap-up of their 24 hours of election coverage

The tired, tired crew at 24 hours in America offer their final thoughts on the day:

But before we sign off there's just time for a final look at what we've learnt during this most momentous of days. Things like . . .

- If your state has a girl's name, it's going to stay red.

- Even with fewer than 0.5% of votes counted, it's never too early to tell.

- CNN doesn't have a single attractive contributor. Fox has several but they're all lunatics.

- CNN also trumps the Beeb for breathless rhetoric. 'Breaking history', anyone?

- The Black Panthers still exist.

- But above all we've learned that, given the right candidate, America is still capable of making the right decision and inspiring the world.

Now, can we all get along again?

Yes we can.

Also, if you're not one of the McCain fans sobbing quietly in the corner, check their international reactions post.

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

A 40mpg hydrogen-powered sports car

Unfortunately, it's not a production model, but the first of 200 Scorpions made an appearance at the SEMA show:

The Scorpion gets its sting from a hydrogen delivery system the company calls H2GO. While cars like the Honda FCX Clarity and Chevrolet Equinox use hydrogen fuel cells to drive electric motors, the Scorpion uses electrolysis to convert water into gaseous hydrogen. The hydrogen is mixed with 91-octane gasoline to improve the fuel economy and reduce the emissions of the car's 3.5-liter internal combustion engine.

Maxwell, a 40-year auto industry vet and lifelong gearhead who holds several patents, is using the limited production — just 200 will be built — Scorpion to prove the technology works and legitimize the H2GO system the company will begin selling for $1,000 early next year. The way he sees it, if H2GO works on the Scorpion, it'll work on your Civic.

Maxwell didn't offer much in the way of specifics, saying the publicly traded company is still dotting the i's and crossing the t's on the venture. But he says H2GO is good for a 15 percent to 33 percent improvement in mileage, a noticeable increase in power and a significant reduction in overall emissions. The company is pursuing EPA certification of the Scorpion so people can get a better idea of what the system is capable of. Maxwell insists the 40-mpg figure is the real deal.

This is a better approach to popularizing alternative fuels . . . for the non-city-core car-buying public. If their next trial model is an SUV or a pickup truck, they'll have to hire a whole bunch of order-takers for middle America.

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

November 04, 2008

Your best choice for live election coverage

Rather than watching ABCNNBCBC, you'll probably find your time better spent obsessively reloading, where a bunch of snooty Brits pass windy judgement on the whole shebang:

Americans are voting. We are ensconsed in our super-secret day base in London. The election is on.

Across the next 24 hours, we will bring you coverage from the worlds of television, newspaper journalism, twitter, blogging, exclusive Election Night parties from London to Los Angeles, and Jerry Bruckheimer.

Between now and midnight GMT (7pm EST, 4pm PST) when the first polls close, we will be looking back at the campaigns that brought us here, and forward to possible presidencies, potential careers, and trying to figure out what kind of a world Baby Trig will grow up in. From that point onwards we’ll be covering the results as they come in, not only in the Presidential race, but in close, interesting or amusing Senate and Congressional races, and state-wide ballots.

Update: Jesse Walker offers his predictions on finishing positions from third place down:

Third Place: Ralph Nader's name recognition surpasses Bob Barr's, and he's currently outpolling the LP's man by about 2 percentage points. And no one ever went broke underestimating the electoral performance of the Libertarian Party. Nonetheless, if Barr draws mostly from the right and Nader draws mostly from the left — which seems like a reasonable outcome to expect, though there are surveys showing Nader making inroads among right-wing populists — then the Libertarian could come out on top. This time around, there are simply more disaffected conservatives than disaffected liberals out there.

Fifth Place: Chuck Baldwin should top Cynthia McKinney easily. You might at least expect her to do well in Georgia, the state that used to send her to Congress, but the Greens aren't on the ballot there.

Seventh Place: A month ago this would have been an easy call for Alan Keyes. But with Ron Paul's non-campaign polling 4 percent in Montana, he has a shot at it. If McKinney flops badly, he might even make it to sixth.

Last Place: Write-ins aside, I'm expecting Gene Amondson of the Prohibition Party to bring up the rear, despite his catchy campaign slogan: "Vote tradition, vote prohibition!"

Update, the second: Should you care to see results that include Barr, McKinney, and Nader, check

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

What's in your garden? Diesel 'shrooms

As if the ethanol movement didn't have enough problems, now comes a report that diesel fuel can be produced by naturally occurring fungus:

A fungus that lives inside trees in the Patagonian rain forest naturally makes a mix of hydrocarbons that bears a striking resemblance to diesel, biologists announced today. And the fungus can grow on cellulose, a major component of tree trunks, blades of grass and stalks that is the most abundant carbon-based plant material on Earth.

"When we looked at the gas analysis, I was flabbergasted," said Gary Strobel, a plant scientist at Montana State University, and the lead author of a paper in Microbiology describing the find. "We were looking at the essence of diesel fuel."

While genetic engineers have been trying a variety of techniques and genes to get microbes to create fuel out of sugars and starches, almost all commercial biofuel production uses the century-old dry mill grain process. Ethanol plants ferment corn ears into alcohol, which is simple, but wastes the vast majority of the biomatter of the corn plant.

What's even more interesting is this thought: "because the fungus can manufacture what we would normally think of as components of crude oil, it casts some doubt on the idea that crude oil is a fossil fuel."

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

The Ron Paul write-in surge begins

As the votes are still being cast in the rest of the United States, they've already closed the poll in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.

Barack Obama came up a big winner in the presidential race in Dixville Notch and Hart's Location, N.H., where tradition of having the first Election Day ballots tallied lives on.

Democrat Obama defeated Republican John McCain by a count of 15 to 6 in Dixville Notch, where a loud whoop accompanied the announcement in Tuesday's first minutes. The town of Hart's Location reported 17 votes for Obama, 10 for McCain and two for write-in Ron Paul. Independent Ralph Nader was on both towns' ballots but got no votes.

"I'm not going to say I wasn't surprised," said Obama supporter Tanner Nelson Tillotson, whose name was drawn from a bowl to make him Dixville Notch's first voter.

With 115 residents between them, Dixville Notch and Hart's Location get every eligible voter to the polls beginning at midnight on Election Day. Between them, the towns have been enjoying their first-vote status since 1948.

I don't know if Bob Barr was on the ballot in New Hampshire, but the Ron Paul vote is encouraging.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:41 AM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2008

QotD: Voting and retribution

Listening to my complaints about Obama, a friend of mine in New York asked what alternative I had to recommend her. Since in New York the split for Obama-Biden is roughly 65-29 I told her it didn't matter. She could write in the straight Wiccan ticket if she felt so inclined. (Not a bad platform either, as she duly reminded me: "Do as you will, as long as it harms none.") It wouldn't make any difference, any more than it would in California, where you can vote for Nader or Barr or McKinney and Obama is going to win regardless. In most states in the Union you can write in the Bertie Wooster/Jeeves ticket, and even without your vote Obama-Biden will canter home. So get out there and have fun and don’t feel excessively burdened by responsibility to History — always a left-wing failing.

And wouldn't Barr be the first mustachioed occupant of the White House since Teddy Roosevelt? Even if you don’t like the man, vote the mustache! This would be change we can see. Does that phrase have a vaguely familiar ring? It was what LBJ used to advise his staff during the Great Society build-up: "You've gotta give them change they can see." Meaning bridges, roads, new parks. Apparently the Obama pre-transition team is studying the early days of the New Deal and Great Society programs as thematic precursors for their initial two years — before they lose one house of Congress, I suppose. I like freshman Montana Senator John Tester’s notion of change we’d like to see. Tester said people "want to see the executives that drove Wall Street into the ground in orange suits picking up cans along the side of the road." He's got a hugely popular reception for that thought.

If the new Obama administration has got any sense at all, it'll start planning a series of show trials of the ci-devant Masters of the Universe, now delightedly fingering the billions handed them by Hank Paulson and the US Congress. If they get a veto proof majority the ground work could start in the Senate, in a committee armed with subpoena power. If not, in some Partisan Commission, taking testimony around the country. Or both. This is the moment to fix in the popular mind for the next couple of generations exactly who are the malefactors of great wealth along with their intellectual courtiers. Stake out the battlefield, otherwise the enemy will stake it out for you. For sure, it would be divisive. Division and unity go arm in arm.

Alexander Cockburn, "Change You Can See", Counterpunch, 2008-10-31

Posted by Nicholas at 09:22 AM | Comments (0)

The good part of tomorrow's vote

Although the choices offered up by the major parties are dire, there's still one good thing about tomorrow's election: it'll be the end of George Bush's political career. Steve Chapman enumerates the reasons why it'll be good to say goodbye:

Regardless of what the polls say, it's not clear who is going to win the presidential race. But it is clear who is going to lose: George W. Bush. If this contest proves anything, it's that the electorate is sick of him and eager for someone very different.

They might even prefer the candidate they elected in 2000. The one who promised to be "a uniter, not a divider." Who said he would "call for responsibility and try to live it as well." Who said the United States should be "a humble nation." Who faulted Al Gore for plotting to enlarge the government.

That candidate soon became famous for exploiting divisions, refusing to hold himself or his subordinates accountable, letting expenditures soar, and making America synonymous with arrogance in much of the world. Whatever Americans hoped Bush would provide, it's safe to say that an open-ended war, an assault on the Constitution, and an economic panic were not among them.

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

The Screedblog debuts

James Lileks finally decides to split his blogging interests into separate channels:

Happy news for everyone who hates it when I . . . go off on things. The off-going has been segregated to its own blog. A real honest Wordpress blog. I had to customize a template, and it doesn't look like I want it to look yet, but there's time enow to tweak, as the Shakespearean meth-head said. Behold the Screedblog, home to all the future intemperate bilious remarks on annoyances great and small. In the future there will be three blogs: the Strib blog for local stuff, the Screedblog for politics, and the Bleat for personal and pop-culture stuff. Why the segregation? Frankly, I want to avoid boring and annoying the people who simply do - not - want - to - read that stuff, and find that it impinges on their pleasure of the Bleat. There are sites I visit that frequently lurch into current events, and while that's fine and well and good it's the assumption that A) I must automatically agree with the unspoken precept that All Smart People Think This Way, Don't You Know, and B) I give a tin fig. So, a blog for tin-fig givers.

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

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