May 31, 2009

It's finally here: Duke Nukem Forever

For the humour-impaired . . . Duke Nukem Forever is the Flying Dutchman of game design. It was supposedly "in development" for over a decade with absolutely nothing to show for all the time and money put into the project. You might consider it the anti-Gold Standard for software development.

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

Pat Condell on religion

Posted by Nicholas at 12:58 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2009

Ceci n'est pas une pipe step

It's not.

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

May 29, 2009

Google wipes North Korea off the map

Lester Haines notes that Google Maps has blanked out all the details of North Korea:

We're not quite sure what's going on down at Google Maps, but the search monolith's cartographical service has decided that the world would be a better place if North Korea were one big blank:


If you want to explore the great blank hermit, try North Korea Economy Watch instead.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:42 AM | Comments (0)

A glimpse of the near future

Over at Wired, they're previewing artifacts from the near future, like the "Curiously Smart" Altoids from 2017:


Posted by Nicholas at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Coyote vs Roadrunner

If I had time for retweet theater, I'd use this: "Breathes there a man who, against his better judgment and prior experience, has not attempted to adjust a lawn sprinkler while it's running?" (exactly 140 characters, too!) Yet we try, over and over again, thinking we will outrun the sprinkler, or avoid a spritz in the puss. This is why men identify with the Coyote, not the Roadrunner. And well we should; a canine's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's an ACME catalog for? The Coyote paid sales tax on those items, I'd wager; the Roadrunner paid no taxes for the highways he used.

At least the coyote tried to solve a problem with technology instead of running around all day like an idiot.

James Lileks, Bleat, 2009-05-29

Posted by Nicholas at 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2009

Another quiet day on the blog

I'm in meetings for much of the day, so I won't be doing much blogging until later on (if at all). As always, feel free to check some of the blogs over in the sidebar — there's some good stuff happening at most of them.

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

May 27, 2009

Scary, scary stuff

For all the talk about President Barack Obama's historic first 100 days in office, too little attention has been paid to what could happen next...

Now, from the horror masters behind The Auto Bailout, The Stimulus Package, and White House Poetry Night, comes a story of true terror...

128 Days Later: It Can Always Get Worse.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:53 PM | Comments (0)

Candid Royal Camera

"It's good to be the, er, Prince."

Posted by Nicholas at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

Fran Tarkenton: not a Favre fan

Former NFL great Fran Tarkenton had an interview with Atlanta's "790 The Zone", in which he laid out his lack of respect for Brett Favre:

"I think it's despicable. What he put the Packers through last year was not good. Here's an organization that was loyal to him for 17, 18 years, provided stability of organization, provided players. It just wasn't about Brett Favre. In this day and time, we have glorified the Brett Favre's of the world so much, they think it's about them. He goes to New York and bombs. He’s 39 years old. How would you like Ray Nitschke in his last year (playing for) the Vikings, or I retire, and go play for the Packers. I kind of hope it happens, so he can fail."

[. . .]

"I think he has been a great flamboyant quarterback, but he has made more stupid plays than any great quarterback that I've ever seen. Look at his final game in a Packers uniform. He blew that game [NFC championship] against the Giants. He's playing against Eli Manning. I love Eli Manning, but he's still not a great quarterback. He's not Peyton yet, or Tom Brady. He's just a guy. And they're [Packers] are playing at home, and they're in a tight situation, they went to overtime and he [Favre] throws the interception that allows them [the Giants] to come back and win the game. He has done that and driven his coaches crazy all of his career."

H/T to Kevin Seifert. More from StarTribune's Judd Zulgad here.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2009

A different kind of Governor General

She's the Queen's representative in Canada, and she also has unusual duties now and again:

On the first day of her trip to the Arctic Michaelle Jean gutted a freshly slaughtered seal, pulled out its raw heart, and ate it.

Hundreds of Inuit at a community festival gathered around as the Governor General made a gesture of solidarity with the country's beleaguered seal hunters.

Jean knelt above a pair of carcasses and used a traditional blade to slice the meat off the skin.

After repeated, vigorous cuts through the flesh the Queen's representative turned to the woman beside her and asked enthusiastically: "Could I try the heart?"

Within seconds Jean was holding a crimson chuck of seal-ticker, she tucked it into her mouth, swallowed it, and turned to her daughter to say it tasted good.

A far cry from cucumber sandwiches on the veranda, what?

Posted by Nicholas at 03:45 PM | Comments (0)

Maybe signing Favre wouldn't bring in the fans

According to a report in the StarTribune, not even 1/3 of Minnesotans think that Brett Favre should be signed by the Vikings:

If the Vikings were to put their roster decisions to a vote, Brett Favre would not be wearing purple next season.

Rasmussen Reports, a leading national polling firm, found that only 29 percent of Minnesotans want the Vikings to sign Favre. Forty-two percent questioned late last week said it's a bad idea, and 30 percent weren't sure.

The pollsters also found that 44 percent say they would be less likely to support public financing of a new Vikings stadium if the team signs the former Packers quarterback. A mere 7 percent say it would make them more likely to back tax dollars being spent on a new Vikings home, and 49 percent say Favre signing or not signing would have no impact on their decision.

I don't think the Vikes should bring Favre onboard, and I'm happy to see that most Minnesotans feel the same way. I also dislike the idea of public funding for private sports facilities on principle, so I'm somewhat heartened that the folks who'd actually have to pay the additional taxes for a new stadium aren't salivating at the chance to give the Vikings' ownership a half-a-billion dollar payday.

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

Japan considers pre-emptive strike?

According to a report by Sachiko Sakamaki and Takashi Hirokawa, Japan's government may be seriously considering dumping their post-WW2 pacifist constitution in order to attack North Korea:

"North Korea poses a serious and realistic threat to Japan," former defense chief Gen Nakatani said today in Tokyo at a meeting of Liberal Democratic Party officials. "We must look at active missile defense such as attacking an enemy's territory and bases."

One option would be to equip navy ships with cruise missiles, Nakatani said.

Japan should change its policy and permit attacks on hostile areas, an LDP panel proposed last week following North Korea's April 5 ballistic missile test. Under Japan's pacifist constitution, drafted by the U.S. after World War II, the country is forbidden to use force to settle global disputes.

North Korea said yesterday it conducted its second nuclear explosion since 2006 and fired three short-range missiles. The Stalinist country last month said it would strengthen its nuclear deterrence after the United Nations Security Council criticized North Korea’s April missile launch.

If any nation could be said to be fully aware of the dangers of nuclear weapons, it is Japan. While it is scary to other nations that a rogue state has demonstrated the ability to use atomic bombs, Japan is the only country that has been the target of nuclear warfare.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

Milk - gateway drug

H/T to Jones Report.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2009

Middlesbrough relegated

Not unexpected, given how poorly the season went after the new year, but still disappointing.

Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate admits he expects to lead the club's Championship campaign without several of his top players.

"Inevitably, there will be big changes to the playing squad," he said.

"There will be personal agendas and as a club we will have to bring some money in to go forward. There are also situations I want to change."

However, Southgate said he would continue in his own role as manager, vowing to "stand firm and fight back".

It literally came down to the last game, as a win against West Ham would have lifted Middlesbrough out of the drop zone (with help from other games), but they ended up on the wrong side of a 2-1 result.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:54 PM | Comments (0)

Baloo's "Great American Show"


Posted by Nicholas at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

P.J. O'Rourke's retrospective buzzkill

If you read P.J. O'Rourke's well known paean to the joys of teenage insanity (aka "How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink"), you probably want to stop after reading Part 1 of Sobering Up Behind the Wheel:

"Part 1" above was published in the National Lampoon in 1978 or '79 when I was half my age. To not despise yourself when you were a twerp of 31 requires a more philosophical mind than this old fart possesses. The more so when that twerp was right. And he — that is, I — was right, especially about getting married, having a family, the mortgage, the liver, and the Country Squire (or, as it turned out, the SUV). Of course I didn't marry the teenage lovely in the tube top.

(Gosh, tube tops . . . As Alzheimer's creeps upon me, please God, let that be the last memory I lose.) True love and common sense intervened to make sure that I gained a beautiful spouse who can read and write and stuff and who does not want to drive from Boston to Mexico without stopping at several Ritz-Carltons. The other reason I didn't wed the teenage lovely in the tube top was that she didn't exist. I mean, she existed. I saw her every day on the summer streets of New York. But she didn't see me. I was dweeby, Brooks Brothers-clad, and invisible to her ilk. And so I have remained these thirty years. All for the best, I suppose.

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

May 24, 2009

It's now officially summer

At risk of sounding positively Lileks-ian . . . it can't be summer until we get the gazebo set up. Today was gazebo day, so summer can start any time now . . .

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

May 22, 2009

Speaking of forgetful bloggers

I guess I could backdate this entry, post it, and just wander on whistling . . . I can't believe I forgot my own blog anniversary date! And not just by a day or so (as I've done before).

So, twelve days late, here's to five years of blogging!

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

Official Chinese statistics

If you've read the blog for a while, you'll know that I'm pretty skeptical about how believable the official statistics coming from the Chinese government may be. The Economist is somewhat undecided on the matter . . . sometimes publishing articles that treat the official numbers as legitimate and other times, showing more doubt:

Part of the recent optimism in world markets rests on the belief that China's fiscal-stimulus package is boosting its economy and that GDP growth could come close to the government's target of 8% this year. Some economists, however, suspect that the figures overstate the economy's true growth rate and that Beijing would report 8% regardless of the truth. Is China cheating?

Economists have long doubted the credibility of Chinese data and it is widely accepted that GDP growth was overstated during the previous two downturns. In 1998-99, during the Asian financial crisis, China's GDP grew by an average of 7.7%, according to official figures. However, using alternative measures of activity, such as energy production, air travel and imports, Thomas Rawski of the University of Pittsburgh calculated that the growth rate was at best 2%. Other economists reckon that Mr Rawski was too pessimistic. Arthur Kroeber of Dragonomics, a research firm in Beijing, estimates GDP growth was around 5% in 1998-99, for example. The top chart, plotting the official growth rate against estimates by Dragonomics, clearly suggests that some massaging of the government statistics may have gone on. The biggest adjustment seems to have been made in 1989, the year of political protests in Tiananmen Square. Officially, GDP grew by over 4%; Dragonomics reckons it actually declined by 1.5%.

Of course, The Economist doesn't want to lose sales in China, so the last paragraph of the article blithely re-assures readers that things are improving and that the official numbers are much harder to fudge now than they used to be. That may well be true (I rather hope it is), but in the same way that you can get much more impressive growth from a very small base, you can become much more honest with your numbers when you're starting from pure fiction.

I first posted about my skepticism back in 2004 and most recently in January. Let's just say that I'm still unconvinced.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)

US birthrate for unmarried women increased substantially

Cathy Young looks at the recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics, which shows a significant rise in the number of births to single mothers from 2002 to 2007:

Complicating the discussion, single motherhood comes in many different forms. An unwed mother is not necessarily a solo mother: about 40 percent are living with the baby's father when they give birth, and some later marry. A mother without a partner could be a teenage high school dropout trapped in poverty, or a 30-something professional who decides not to wait for "Mr. Right." While older, better-educated women are far less likely to become single mothers, one in three births to women in their late 20s and almost one in five births to women in their 30s are out of wedlock.

[. . .]

For many feminists, the ability to choose single motherhood is an essential part of female autonomy. According to American University law professor Nancy Polikoff, "It is no tragedy, either on a national scale or in an individual family, for children to be raised without fathers." Nation magazine columnist Katha Pollitt has put it more bluntly: "Children are a joy; many men are not."

But would the children agree? Of course, not every father is a joy to his child. Yet there is abundant evidence that children generally fare better with two parents—and many children without fathers keenly feel their absence.

In one positive development, unmarried fathers today are much more likely than in earlier generations to be a part of their children's lives, even if they are not living with the mother.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2009

I think it'd be safe to say Radley isn't a Michael Savage fan

I don't listen to much radio at all (unless I'm caught in traffic and need to find out how bad the situation is), so I hadn't heard of Michael Savage until quite recently when he was banned from entering Britain. I disagree with this sort of thing, as it provides the banned person or group with a free shot of publicity and a brief frisson of victimization (which is catnip to certain parts of the media).

Radley Balko has concerns that certain Libertarians are lending credibility to Savage and this this is a terrible idea.

I'm not a member of the Libertarian Party, so perhaps my advice doesn't mean much to them. But I'm going to give it, anyway:

Stop this, now. Either persuade [former LP vice-presidential candidate Wayne Allen] Root to stop going on Savage's show, or show Root the door. I'm all about building coalitions where appropriate. But there's nothing remotely appropriate about Michael Savage.

Michael Savage is a raving bigot. He regularly uses phrases like "turd-world countries" and "ghetto slime." He once wished rape on a group of high school girls who make trips into San Francisco to feed the homeless. He's a blood-thirsty warmonger, and a feverish culture warrior. He once said on the air that, "When I hear someone’s in the civil rights business, I oil up my AR-15!" On social issues, he's far to the right of just about every elected Republican official I can think of. He has wished AIDS and death on homosexuals. He regularly denigrates drug users. He is virulently anti-immigration. In short, there's nothing remotely libertarian about him.

If Root's aim is to take the LP in the direction of Michael Savage, the LP should distance themselves from Root right now.

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

Gurkhas can stay . . . officially

Bowing to the inevitable (and the fearsomely effective Joanna Lumley), the British government has now officially stated that the Gurkha veterans and their families can stay in Britain:

All Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years' service will be allowed to settle in the UK, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said.

Ms Smith told MPs she was "proud to offer this country's welcome to all who have served in the brigade of Gurkhas".

It comes after a high-profile campaign by Joanna Lumley and other supporters of Gurkha rights — and an embarrassing Commons defeat for the government.

Some 36,000 Gurkhas who left before 1997 had been denied UK residency.

Ms Lumley, the actress who has been the public face of the campaign on behalf of the Gurkhas, said: "This is the welcome we have always longed to give."

It's amazing how hard the British government was willing to fight against plain justice, decency, and common sense. But that's one of the things governments do. Ms. Lumley must be allowed her occasional flight of hyperbole:

She called Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who she had met earlier, a "brave man who has made today a brave decision on behalf of the bravest of the brave".

Brave? The man had to be winkled out of his bunker. He was fearless in pursuit of a bad policy — as long as nobody noticed. Which, of course, is what politicians also do.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:15 PM | Comments (0)

Fate of the G.O.P.

Shikha Dalmia, of Reason, is now doing a biweekly column for Forbes. In this initial entry, she outlines what is wrong with the Republican Party and what might be their best bet to re-attaining relevance:

If Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's defection to the Democratic side of the aisle affected only the fortunes of the Republican Party, it would be no cause for concern for non-Republicans like me. But America's democratic scheme depends on a robust opposition to check the government's tendency to grow — especially now that the White House is occupied by Barack Lyndon Roosevelt. Yet Republicans are as far from serving that role as the Detroit Lions are from winning the Super Bowl.

So what should the Grand Old Party do to resurrect itself enough to mount some semblance of resistance to the advancing Democratic juggernaut? The answer is that it needs intellectual coherence around a powerful idea, and that idea should be liberty. This is a principle that is both strong enough to intellectually moor the party in the way that those who want a "purer" GOP desire — and grand enough to appeal to a broad swath of the population, as those who advocate a more Big Tent approach recommend.

This would be the exact opposite of what Bush did. He, remarkably enough, managed to combine every anti-individual liberty idea from the right with every pro-big government policy from the left. From the right, Bush acquired: a super-hawkish foreign policy; contempt for civil liberties; and religiously informed positions on gay marriage, abortion and end-of-life issues. And from the left he got: high-spending ways, including the massive drug entitlement for seniors; expansive ideas about the federal government's role in education policy; and the chutzpah, just before leaving, to engineer a massive government bailout of banks and auto companies.

Update, 22 May: Tom Kelly asks if I've considered awarding a "Quote of the Year" accolade, and offers these two quotations from Shikha's article as nominees:

1 - "especially now that the White House is occupied by Barack Lyndon Roosevelt"
2 - "Yet Republicans are as far from serving that role as the Detroit Lions are from winning the Super Bowl."

I hadn't considered such a thing (and I'm perhaps not well-enough organized to do it properly), but I have to agree that these two selections are worthy contenders.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

Industrial railway, Albanian style

H/T to Roger Henry. And as Den Lippert said "I've never thought of 'trolley pole' or 'pantograph' as an Occupation!"

Posted by Nicholas at 10:29 AM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2009

Blogging will be light for a day or so

Sorry for the interruption in the normal flow of meh-worthiness. For the second time in three years, we've had a death in the family over the Victoria Day weekend, plus additional family turmoil in another area. What I laughingly call "normal blogging" will probably resume on Tuesday.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:23 PM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2009

They should call this app "The Darwinator"

Bill Boulware sent a link to this soon-to-be-notorious iPhone app:

Application Makes iPhone Disappear

Image from Wired Gadget Lab

[. . .] Fire up the app on your iPhone (this doesn’t work with the iPod Touch) and it overlays a transparent email window over a live view coming in from the camera. Effectively, this lets you look at the screen and compose your masterpiece while simultaneously watching the road ahead. Of course, it won’t work. Anyone who would write e-mail while walking is obviously too self-absorbed to pay attention the world around them. Let them walk under a bus.

If stats were being accurately compiled, Walkmen, iPods, and MP3 players in general would be contributing factors in a large percentage of pedestrian injuries and deaths over the last 10-15 years. This application, far from improving the situation, is likely to make things worse, because it will provide an illusion of making an unsafe combination of activities more safe. You can't save people from themselves, but letting them pretend that they're taking "adequate" precautions will make them more prone to doing stupid things.

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

May 15, 2009

Get your "official" photography license

After a rising tide of idiocy among police, security guards, and miscellaneous wannabe fascists (examples here, here, and here), here's a brilliant response:

All around the world, cops and rent-a-cops are vigorously enforcing nonexistent anti-terrorist bans on photography in public places. If you're worried about being busted under an imaginary law, why not download these templates and print yourself an imaginary "Photography license" from the DHS? Who knows if it's legal to carry one of these — probably about as legal as taking away your camera and erasing your memory card for snapping a pic on the subway.

H/T to Dave Owens for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:17 PM | Comments (0)

xkcd's latest Firefly riff

Click to see the whole comic

Posted by Nicholas at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)

News bulletin from a universe just next door

Damian Penny (who still seems to be managing to stay away from blogging) sent along this link from a dimension where Sarah Palin was elected President last November:

The first 100 days of the Palin presidency, according to a consensus of media commentators, have proven a near disaster. Perhaps it was Palin's scant two years' experience in a major government position that has eroded her gravitas, or maybe it was her flirty reliance on looks and informal chit-chat. In any case, the press has had a field day, and it is hard to see how President Palin can ever recover from the Quayle/potatoe syndrome. Here is a roundup of this week's pundit mockery.

"Ted Stevens may have gotten off," wrote Bob Herbert in the New York Times, "but he taught our Sarah something first — like using $100-a-pound beef for her state dinners. And what’s this $50 mil for her inauguration gala? Since when do you fly in your favorite pizza-maker from across the country on our dime? Or send the presidential 747 for a spin over the Big Apple for a third-of-a-million-dollar joyride? Does Palin think she's still in Alaska and has to have everything flown in from the South 48 by jumbo jet?"

Also in the Times, Gail Collins weighed in on the already-tired yokelism of the new commander in chief. "What we're getting is Wasilla chic. That's what we're getting. She arrives in the Oval Office, and first thing sends back Blair's gift of the Churchill bust as if it's a once-worn Penney's outfit. Then she gives the Brits some unwatchable DVDs as a booby prize — as if she idled the old Yukon and ran into Target's sale aisle. Did Sarah send Bristol into Wal-Mart back in Anchorage for that 'engraved' iPod for the queen? And what's this don't-bow-to-the-queen stuff, but curtsy for a Saudi sheik? Maybe that explains why she brags to Stephanopoulos about her 'Muslim faith.' So far, the best things going for her are Todd's biceps.”

As Damian says, "Americans sure dodged a bullet by not electing that Palin idiot, didn't they?"

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

Ah, the joys of archaeology

Archaeology is one of the branches of scientific study that occasionally comes up with unusual results:

Archaeologists unearth oldest known 3D pornography:
German cavemen carved jubtabulous mammoth-tusk lady

Topflight archaeologists have unearthed a 35,000-year-old figurine carved out of mammoth ivory by prehistoric Germans, depicting a woman with enormous breasts. The find is thought to be the oldest known example of 3D pornography in the world.

Prehistoric Hohle Fels statuette depicting a large breasted lady
Credit: Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

The find was made in the Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura area of southwest Germany last year, by Nicholas Conard of Tübingen Uni. He believes that the jubtastic relic is at least 5,000 years older than previously-discovered busty nude cavewoman themed objets d'art, and perhaps indicates that the desire to goggle at saucy imagery of ladies well-furnished in the tophamper department is a basic attribute of modern humanity.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2009

This story "Godwin's" itself from the lead photo onwards

I'm never fond of arguments which devolve down to "Hitler and the Nazi Party did this" to attempt to tar a group or activity with Nazi-like similarities. This, however, cries out for that treatment:


The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group's longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.

"This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl," said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff's deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. "It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts."

The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out "active shooters," like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

The conversion of police departments into paramilitary organizations has been bad enough (see the extensive collection of items on Police Militarization by Radley Balko for lots of examples), but now we're seeing the Boy Scouts being given the same "overhaul"? 35,000 Scouts are involved in this program, according to the article, and this is explicitly intended to "create more agents".

All they need to do now is change the name of the program to "Homeland Security Youth" and they're done.

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

The Tamil protests in Toronto

Well, having been delayed from getting out of downtown yesterday for over an hour, thanks to illegal marches by Tamil Tiger supporters, I guess I've been converted . . . to supporting the Sri Lankan government. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has moved from relative indifference to active detestation of the protesting group, but I doubt that it will manifest itself in anything other than angry letters to the editor . . . and futile blog posts like this one.

Between the protests opposite the US consulate and yesterday's march, I've been prevented from visiting my client's office downtown for several days . . . and that takes money out of my pocket, as I can't bill them for time spent trying to get to their offices.

I still don't understand the logic behind the protests. Canada is not and never has been involved in political or military action in Sri Lanka. Anything the Canadian government might say on the matter will have precisely zero weight with either side in the conflict. It's not like we have a squadron of the Navy ready to swoop into action in the Indian Ocean, or any other form of power that could be projected into that area of the world. We are, literally, powerless to intervene.

Canada's diplomatic and humanitarian "voice" in that region is also non-existent, so just what is being achieved by the protest groups? Disrupting economic activity in large parts of downtown Toronto — during a period of economic hardship — garners media attention, but it's not making the Tamil cause more attractive to ordinary Canadians.

It's also, sadly, likely to create problems for Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi immigrants, as most Canadians have no idea who is or is not a Tamil (unless they're waving the banners of terrorist groups).

Update: Ottawa's chief of police is getting "racist e-mails" about the Tamil protests that blocked Wellington St. for several days.

Update, the second: Of course, we needed no further evidence of our deep unwillingness to confront terrorists and their supporters than the final sentence of this news report, "Police will be investigating the airplane message as a possible hate crime."

The possible hate crime message reportedly read "Protect Canada, stop the Tamil Tigers". Even under Canada's various anti-hate speech laws, I cannot comprehend how that message could be construed as hate speech. The Tamil Tigers were officially added to the Canadian government's list of terrorist organizations in 2006. How can it be illegal to advocate wanting to stop them?

Update, the third: Jon, my virtual landlord, sent along this rather depressing answer to my last question:

The banner mentions a protected group by name: Tamils

The phrase "Protect Canada" implies that Tamils pose a threat. The implication may lead people to distrust and possibly hate Tamils.

The fact that the Tamil Tigers organization is recognized as a terrorist group by several governments is irrelevant. Under the HRC rules, the truth is no defense.

So there you go: according to the OHRC and CHRC, the banner is a hate crime.

And you know what I am finding just a little disturbing here? The fact that I instantly came up with those points in my head as I read your question. I totally understand the logic behind this.

I do not remember drinking the KoolAid, but I am indeed full of it.


I understand how, but I do not understand why.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:44 AM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2009

QotD: The stupidity of an Anti-Flag-Burning Amendment

As a veteran, I love my Constitution too much to cheapen it by using it as a tool to restrict people's rights. It is, and always has been, a restriction on the GOVERNMENT. It's but a step from banning flag desecration to banning alcohol (we tried that, if you recall) to regulating relationships (also proposed) to seizing people's assets for the good of society.

I refuse to cross that line.

Norm Eadie says: Patriotism gives symbols meaning. Enslaving people to symbols destroys patriotism.

The Flag is a symbol of our greatness. Do not make it a symbol of our shame.

I will not destroy the Constitution for a mere symbol. To do so over a symbol that represents it would be a sick irony.

I expect to receive a donation envelope from you today — one of your fundraisers called me late Sunday night.

You can expect to receive it back, minus a check, with a paper copy of this comment. I will not pay to support fascism, no matter how noble it pretends to be.

I am saddened that so many veterans' organizations are disgracing themselves, and willing to destroy the Constitution, over a matter of free expression, one of America's founding principles.

If this filthy travesty of a proposal gets added to the Constitution, I expect to personally desecrate a great many flags, because at that point, it will represent nothing, and be a symbol of all we have lost.

Michael Z. Williamson, "So Furious I Could Start A Revolution Single Handedly",, 2009-05-12

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

More images from the recovery of Flight 1549

Matthew Schechmeister shows more photos from the recovery of US Airways Flight 1549 from the Hudson River:


Earlier post, with links to photos of the floating plane here.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2009

Gag me with an ASBO . . . literally

Brendan O'Neill dishes the sordid details:

At the end of April, Caroline Cartwright, a 48-year-old housewife from Wearside in the north east of England, was remanded in custody for having "excessively noisy sex." The cops took her in after neighbors complained of hearing her "shouting and groaning" and her "bed banging against the wall of her home." Cartwright has, quite reasonably, defended her inalienable right to be a howler: "I can't stop making noise during sex. It's unnatural to not make any noises and I don't think that I am particularly loud."

[. . .] Cartwright had previously been served with an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) — a civil order that is used to control the minutiae of British people's behaviour — that forbade her from making "excessive noise during sex" anywhere in England.

That's right, going even further than Orwell's imagined authoritarian hellhole, where at least there was a wood or two where people could indulge their sexual impulses, the local authorities in Wearside made all of England a no-go zone for Cartwright's noisy shenanigans. If she wanted to howl with abandon, she would have to nip over the border to Scotland or maybe catch a ferry to France. It was because she breached the conditions of her Anti-Social Behaviour Order, the civil ruling about how much noise she can make while making love in England, that Cartwright was arrested.

Apparently, ASBOs can be issued without normal due process, "to stop anyone else from doing something that they find irritating, 'alarming,' or 'threatening'." The potential for abuse is glaring . . . and seems to be less potential and more actual.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

The Chrysler bankruptcy: destroying more than it saves

Richard Epstein makes some excellent points against letting the government's vastly distorting "deal" for Chrysler's bankruptcy go through:

The proposed bankruptcy reorganization of the now defunct Chrysler Corp. is the culmination of serious policy missteps by the Bush and Obama administrations. To be sure, the long overdue Chrysler bankruptcy is a welcomed turn of events. But the heavy-handed meddling of the Obama administration that forced secured creditors to the brink is not.

A sound bankruptcy proceeding should do two things: productively redeploy the assets of the bankrupt firm and correctly prioritize various claims against the bankrupt entity. The Chrysler bankruptcy fails on both counts.

As I've said in several other posts, business risks are priced into the business model. Government sticking its nose into existing contractual arrangements distorts the risks in ways that none of the contracting parties could have foreseen. Had they been able to foresee the intervention, they would almost certainly not have entered into the contract or would have negotiated radically different terms to compensate for the greater risks.

The US government, by throwing aside the normal hierarchy of creditors, has damaged all future bankruptcies, by introducing greater uncertainty into what had been (by most accounts) a very successful and risk-contained process.

On claim priority, unsecured creditors come at the bottom of the bankruptcy totem pole. The basic rule of credit transactions distributes the net assets first to secured creditors in the order of their priority. First mortgages are normally paid in full before second, and lower mortgagees receive anything, in order, on their loans. Unsecured creditors of all types have an equal claim regardless of the time they perfected their claims. But they receive their first dime only after secured creditors have been paid in full.

It is absolutely critical to follow these priority rules inside bankruptcy in order to allow creditors to price risk outside of bankruptcy. Upsetting this fixed hierarchy among creditors is just an illegal taking of property from one group of creditors for the benefit of another, which should be struck down on both statutory and constitutional grounds.

In trying to pander to a politically favoured group, the US government has made every other potential bankruptcy that much more risky . . . and containing risk is critical to a properly functioning economy. Nice work, guys. Bomb-throwing anarchists nod in respect for the damage you've inflicted.

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

Star Trek, militarily speaking

Michael Peck looks at the military side of Star Trek:

Twenty-third century warfare isn't all it's cracked up to be. You'd think that weapons and tactics would have progressed in 200 years. But the new Star Trek movie shows that the United Federation of Planets has a lot to learn about warfare.

A military analysis of young Cadet Kirk's War isn't easy. Director J.J. Abrams' frenetic rock 'em, sock 'em style can be tough to follow. But here is Star Trek's vision of future warfare. (Warning: all sorts of spoilers ahead.)

* The villainous Romulan ship pulverizes Federation vessels with volleys of torpedoes. Yet no Federation warship employs electronic jammers, decoys or point defense phasers. Very depressing. Two hundred years later, missile defense still doesn't work.

* But why does the Romulan ship need torpedoes? If its energy drill can bore holes through planets, then it can slice a starship like a phaser through butter. Future humans must still learn to master dual-use technology.

Some amusing notions, although trying to apply military principles to anything in the Star Trek universe(s) is not likely to yield useful results. Gene Roddenberry, the originator of the first series, appears to have had little or no respect for military organization — think of a non-insane Admiral being portrayed in the original series. Military solutions were the last resort of the producer/screenwriter, even when the problem was clearly military.

For example, it makes lots of sense, dramatically, for the two officers at the top of the command hierarchy and the chief medical officer to be off doing Ensign's or Lieutenant's work on boarding parties/away teams/survey teams/etc., but militarily? Please. Commanding officers don't just wander off, taking the second in command and other senior officers, putting themselves at risk of capture or death and leaving the ship and remaining crew "offstage". Courts-martial all around!

The movie didn't commit the same errors as the original series, although you have to wonder why a starship — fleet flagship, no less — doesn't appear to have anything resembling a Marine contingent aboard for close-combat and boarding exercises. And sending your acting First Officer, your (apparent) third officer, and Ensign "KillMeQuick" Redshirt to conduct a HALO assault? Um, yeah. Good luck with that.

Update: Comments are open on this post, should anyone be interested . . .

Update, the second: Inveterate Trekkie James Lileks finally weighs in with a Star Trek review:

3. I had a pot of coffee before I went, and the fluids asserted their needs to be released during the Juvie-Kirk-Steals-A-Car sequence, and I was grateful for that. Kids stealing a Mustang in the 24th century while listening to 20th century rock is like someone stealing a Prius today and CRANKIN’ UP THE SCARLATTI.

4. Nimoy needs stronger Fixadent.

5. The fine Starfleet tradition of staffing their biggest, most modern ships with people who just graduated from school yesterday — or this morning, or not at all — appears to have started early on.

6. The script writers had the phrase "Kirk is choked" on a macro key. [. . .]

And a few other points. Bottom line: Loved it. Loved it, loved it. O I loved it. Except for the moments not seen because I was out on the aforementioned errand, I loved it all. The opening was just a big shovel of chocolate for the fans — been a while since you saw something with NCC on the hull fire phasers and get hit with torpedos and generally blow the hell up, eh? Here. On the house. And it's emotional, too — thus was Odysseus born!

Posted by Nicholas at 10:27 AM | Comments (3)

May 11, 2009

New irritating telephone call

You know what really bothers me about the new style of telephone call from Sears? That they call me, using an automated dialler, then tell me to hold while they put a human on the call. Screw that, Sears! You want to call me? Pay a human being to make the call. Otherwise I'll hang up on you again.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

Richard Best's open letter to Ontario's MPPs

Richard Best is hoping that common sense will prevail as Ontario's government considers a bill that would (slightly) liberalize Ontario's fruit wineries:

Parliament is now considering a bill (C-132 2008) that would allow farm wineries to sell their fruit wines at farmers markets in Ontario. The main reason given for a "no" vote to this bill is the fear of farm markets becoming drunken orgies. OK, that's overstating the issue, but this is a recurring theme that's brought up whenever there is a suggestion to expand the retail availability of locally-made alcohol products.

Let me say, emphatically, that this seriously outdated yet pervasive attitude shows a profound lack of respect for the citizens of Ontario. When I think of when and where alcohol is a problem, invariably the LCBO is involved, not wineries. Teens get their booze from the LCBO. Bars — often with large parking lots to accommodate their drink-and-drive customers — get their product mainly from the LCBO. Special Event permits do nothing to regulate consumption; they merely glean a few more "tax" dollars from consumers and recruit more sales for the LCBO. This list could go on.

When I think of farmers markets, I think of health-conscious people who are environmentally and socially responsible. To suggest that someone who, on a sunny Saturday morning, might buy a $15 bottle of strawberry wine at a farmers market and then be overcome by the need to consume it in the parking lot or on the way home is an insult to these people, to farmers and to society. It is society who is the watchdog on alcohol consumption, not the AGCO and certainly not the LCBO. The LCBO does little to educate people on the problems associated with misuse. Instead they put "Please drink responsibly" in small print on the expensive, glossy brochures they send out en masse at least monthly, where they boast about the pleasures of this bottle or that.

Ontario's wineries and micro-breweries are also watchdogs for responsibility. Staff are restricted in how much they can pour for any one person, and they are trained to recognize when someone's had too much. Probably more significantly, most winery shops close their doors at 5:00 or 5:30, as do micro-breweries. And farmers markets typically close at 2:00. It's also been shown that, of all beverage alcohol products, wine is the least likely to be abused.

So, to our decision makers, please show some respect and enlightenment when it comes to our wine industry and its customers, and let them show you that wine sold at farmers markets will not trigger the downfall of civilization, just as it hasn't in the many provinces and states that allow it.

Richard Best

Ontario's alcohol control laws are still broadly similar to the immediate post-Prohibition era, and Ontario politicians clearly still think of Ontarians and other Canadians as being too weak to resist the call to over-indulge. This bill's tiny liberalization is a good example of how little the government trusts the common sense and responsible nature of the average citizen.

I'm afraid I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this bill defeated with little or no debate . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 10:16 AM | Comments (2)

May 10, 2009

Star Trek: excellent reboot

Just got back from seeing Star Trek. I'm vastly relieved that they didn't screw everything up . . . and on top of that, they did a far better job than I'd hoped.

To be honest, I've been less than thrilled with the idea of "rebooting" the Star Trek universe, but I must admit that they did exactly the right thing. The casting was absolutely brilliant, the characterizations were just about perfect (except, perhaps for Uhura), and the story cracks along at a great pace.

Victor spoke for all of us on the way home from the theatre . . . "I can't wait for the next one!"

Update, 11 May: Now that I've seen the movie, I can actually read some of the reviews I've been carefully ignoring for the last few weeks:

The problem they handed to director J.J. Abrams (Alias, MI3) was to reset Star Trek successfully in the manner Batman had been reworked under Christopher Nolan. Orders don't get much taller than that. The goal was to introduce a whole new generation to the physiological triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and Bones and their world aboard the majestic USS Enterprise.

I therefore came to this eleventh Star Trek movie with a degree of scepticism. Would J.J. trample on my childhood memories or respect them with the deference I so baldy wanted?

But my fear was greater than that. I didn't want my view of the original series sullied in the fashion that the Star Wars prequels did to the original trilogy in my mind.

I'm therefore completely ecstatic to report that this is not the case here. Star Trek manages the astonishingly tricky balancing act of delivering an entirely fresh, yet wholly familiar, slice of Trekdom. But more than that; it's really entertaining on so many different levels.

To achieve that there is, however, a nettle to grasp, and one we're presented early on, and even has some exposition in the middle of the movie to underline. It's this: anything that we previously knew about the fate of any character, race or consequential events is effectively erased. Therefore, from this point onwards these adventures of the USS Enterprise and her crew are not tied in any fashion to those previously presented in the five TV series and ten films (or animated series).

There was one WTF? moment where a particular concept of time travel was introduced as the reason for taking a particular course of action . . . but that was nicely explained later on as being a deliberate misdirection.

At the end of my press screening the 500 or so people attending applauded, which, given the hard-bitten nature of hacks, is the sort of emotional response I've rarely experienced.

There was an outbreak of applause at the end of our showing, as well, although it wasn't the entire audience taking part. The last time I remember that happening was at a fan screening of Serenity.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:02 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Bonus payments and bosses

[. . .] bosses will rationally search for more-informal ways of rewarding their best staff. Rather than writing down a specific, objective measure of performance, they give themselves discretion to reward "good work" without being too precise about what "good work" is. The thinking is, quite sensibly, that while they can't define good work, they can recognize it when they see it. And with this discretion over raises, promotions, and bonuses, they have plenty of flexibility to dish out rewards and punishments in line with what everybody knows but nobody could prove in court.

There the story would end, but for one important problem: Managers are lying weasels. If performance bonuses are purely discretionary, the boss can weasel out of paying them, and so the workers won't be motivated by them. Why would anybody believe a manager who promises raises and promotions, but can't be specific about what they will be and what his staff would have to do to earn them?

Tim Harford, The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World, 2008.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2009

QotD: The down side of emigration

It is always better to stay where you are and face the music. Even if the music in question is the tinkling of your broken sitting room window or the screams of other prisoners in the showers or the gristly, gooey sound of your fingernails coming out.

The fact of the matter is this: every single person who ever moves to another country — with the exception of America where you go to grow — is a failure. Seriously, no one has ever woken up and said: "I am completely happy. I have a lovely family, many friends, a great job and plenty of savings. So I shall move to Australia."

It's always the other way around. "My wife has left me. My children don't want to know. The divorce cost a bundle and I don't have any mates. So I shall move to Oz." That's why they call us whingeing poms. Because the poms they get do nothing else.

Jeremy Clarkson, "Stand still, wimp - only failures run off to be expats", The Times, 2009-03-29

Posted by Nicholas at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2009

This is cool, but what have you done for me lately?

Steven Levy muses on the process by which "Awesome!" techno-toys become "Meh":

When Arthur C. Clarke went to the great geosynchronous orbit in the sky last year, he left behind a huge legacy, not least of which was a quote oft cited by Silicon Valley visionaries and wannabes. "Any sufficiently advanced technology," the sci-fi master wrote in 1962, "is indistinguishable from magic." [. . .]

But what happens when magic is an everyday occurrence? Consider that the Flip MinoHD — a once nearly unobtainable piece of technology — is now a 3-ounce knickknack. Better yet, it's rendered so elegantly that its coolness is baked in, not slapped on. Barely a minute after opening my review unit, I had the gizmo fired up and ready. My first experiment was to grab a long tracking shot through the rows of Wired's cubicles. I downloaded the footage and was impressed that all was captured as planned. However, the handheld image was a bit shaky . . . maybe too vérité. As a result, my first thought was not so much "What hath God wrought?" as "What? No image stabilization? Where's the built-in steadicam?"

An example of when the human mind's adaptability is not totally beneficial.

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

Chapter 3 of Richard Best's The Oenophile Next Door

Richard Best, aka the Frugal Oenophile, has posted the third chapter of his novelistic version of how to impart wine knowledge.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)

Dogs and their diet

James Lileks covers some local politics in Minnesota, sliding over into the dietary interests of canines (s'okay, there is a common point):

This week in lawmaking: Our elected reps spent an hour debating a requirement to post signs warning consumers that cocoa mulch is poisonous for dogs. Like a knucklebone eaten by a Pekinese, it passed, narrowly. In case the House wraps up early and still feels frisky, here are some other things dogs eat:

The meatless skeleton of a chicken dragged from the garbage in the dead of the night.

The federal tax code, if dipped in gravy.

You, if it comes to that, and you're not in a position to argue.

And so on. Dog's mouths are nature's version of Amazon's One-Click: Me Want/Me Have. Many years ago my dog harked up a straight pin an inch and a half long. I stared at the mess in amazement — are you auditioning to be a circus sword swallower? A pin? Branching out into the metal food group now? He was saved by the wisdom of his stomach, which serves as the closest thing to a conscience a dog will ever get.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:13 PM | Comments (0)

Old car articles, revisited

P.J. O'Rourke has a new book coming out called Driving Like Crazy. Andrew Wheeler offers his initial review:

The most debilitating disease that can strike an aging writer isn't cancer or alcoholism or writer's block — no matter how many writers each of those has felled over the years — but the insatiable desire to argue with and correct his own younger self, the urge to redo and fix all of the things he now thinks he did wrong the first time through. That urge led Wordsworth around in circles, endlessly bulking up The Prelude while avoiding work on the much longer work it was supposed to be a prelude to. It led Asimov and Heinlein and many others to tie up loose ends — much better left loose — in earlier works, and countless others to clean up and rewrite and expurgate books that suddenly didn't look as exciting and vibrant as they had when they were written.

And now the same fever has struck P.J. O'Rourke; Driving Like Crazy is a collection of his writings on cars — mostly from the early 1980s — rewritten and reorganized and stuck together to resemble a book with a single narrative . . . which, of course, it can't be. He was smart enough to know that he couldn't touch his classic essay "How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink" — which leads off this book, after the new, depressive introduction, "The End of the American Car" — but he throws in a new piece on essentially the same subject immediately after it to take a few jabs at his younger self, and, more subtly, to point out to the reader that the younger O'Rourke is not to be trusted and wasn't having nearly as much fun as he said he was.

In spite of the caveats, I'll almost certainly end up buying this one . . . although I have found the earlier P.J. O'Rourke books to be more entertaining reading than the more recent ones (Holidays in Hell and Parliament of Whores are both excellent).

Posted by Nicholas at 12:25 AM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2009

British government still trying to exclude Gurkha veterans

In spite of the recent parliamentary embarrassment over their cack-handed efforts to exclude Gurkha veterans, the British government continues to show that they haven't given up:

The government's policy towards the Gurkhas descended into a potentially hugely expensive shambles yesterday after the actor Joanna Lumley extracted fresh concessions in an extraordinary live television confrontation with the home office minister Phil Woolas.

The actor, who has been a powerful champion for the Gurkhas as they have fought through the courts and parliament, exploited Home Office heavy-handedness to demand assurances from a sheepish Woolas after five former Gurkhas received letters from the home office apparently telling them they did not qualify to settle in Britain.

The letters arrived only a day after Gordon Brown at prime minister's questions and in a private meeting with Lumley had promised their cases would be reviewed, and insisted he was taking personal charge of the issue.

Hurrah for Ms. Lumley, and jeers for the Gordon Brown government. Full article here.

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

Penn and Teller explain a simple trick

From Wired, the Neuroscience of Illusion:

One of the first tricks in Penn and Teller's Las Vegas show begins when Teller — the short, quiet one — strolls onstage with a lit cigarette, inhales, drops it to the floor, and stamps it out. Then he takes another cigarette from his suit pocket and lights it.

No magic there, right? But then Teller pivots so the audience can see him from the other side. He goes through the same set of motions, except this time everything is different: Much of what just transpired, the audience now perceives, was a charade, a carefully orchestrated stack of lies. He doesn't stamp out the first cigarette — he palms it, then puts it in his ear. There is no second cigarette; it's a pencil stub. The smoke from the first butt is real, but the lighter used on the pencil is actually a flashlight. Yet the illusion is executed so perfectly that every step looks real, even when you're shown that it is not.

Penn and Teller demonstrate the seven basic principles of magic.

The trick is called Looks Simple, and the point is that even a puff on a cigarette, closely examined, can disintegrate into smoke and mirrors. "People take reality for granted," Teller says shortly before stepping onstage. "Reality seems so simple. We just open our eyes and there it is. But that doesn't mean it is simple."

Posted by Nicholas at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

Good news for Yankee fans

According to this report, the Yankees are reducing ticket prices:

Slashed Ticket Prices Allow Lesser Nobility To Attend Yankees Games
Dukes, barons, viscounts, and earls are applauding the Yankees' recent decision to cut prices on dugout and foul-line field-level seats in half, from as much as $2,500 per game down to an amount the minor houses consider far more reasonable.
"Naturally I am quite pleased to attend my very first Yankees game, a spectacle that my merely adequate standing had until now denied me," said His Lordship the Duke-Chancellor of Arkengarth-upon-Settle, who often listens to Yankees games on satellite radio while tending to his 683-square-mile estate in Wales. "Until now, I have had to satisfy my sporting curiosity in less costly arenas, often hosting three-day fox hunts or airplane races upon the grounds of our family estate. But by mortgaging only half my landholdings, I am finally able to see the Yankees play the Red Sox." [. . .]
Her Britannic Majesty the Queen of England Elizabeth II, Duchess of Lancaster and of Normandy, Lord High Commander of the United Kingdom and Defender of the Faith, has not held Yankees tickets since the spring of 1982, when they were sold to pay for the Falklands War.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:25 AM | Comments (0)

I like this "blog"

Ken Olsen sent a link to "this" blog. I'm "happy" to "share" it with "you":




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

May 06, 2009

The cost of keeping pets

Jeremy Clarkson knows something about the hidden costs of keeping pets:

As Mr Darling and Mr Brown continue to ruin the economy, people are having to ponder on what they can no longer afford. And many, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Animals, have decided the family pet must go. Apparently 30 animals a day are being abandoned at the moment. Almost 60% up on last year. [. . .]

There is no doubt that some pets are extremely expensive to run. My labradoodle requires a professional shampoo and blow-dry after every rain shower. My golden lab is kept alive with nothing but cash. And the electricity bill for the fox-zapping fence that rings my chickens’ enclosure means that every egg they produce costs roughly £1m.

And then we get to the horses. I have spoken to my wife about turning them into glue but she maintains they are not luxury items at all, and that the only reason she burns the various equine bills is because they are too trivial and small to file away and keep.

Hmmm. They have sweet itch constantly and as a result are always draped in yashmaks that must cost £800,000 each. Plus they need new shoes every two days, and a visit from the psychiatrist every time they see a paper bag in a hedge. And that’s before we get to the fact that their absolute favourite food is the wooden post-and-rail fence that keeps them in the paddock. In a single night, they can eat about 500 yards of it. And fencing is unbelievably expensive to replace.

To stop them doing this, I have painted the new sections with a virulent chilli oil, but it turns out that what they like even more than wooden fencing is wooden fencing smothered in chillies.

I would estimate that the cost of keeping the horses where they belong, preventing Brer Fox from eating the hens, running a lab to hatch the eggs, blow-drying the dogs and retrieving the sheep that ramblers like to chase into the sea at my holiday cottage is about £4 billion a year. I definitely spend more of my earnings on animals than on my cars. Far more.

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

Gordon Brown loses The Times

You'd have to think that someone would have warned British PM Gordon Brown about dangerous photo ops:



Posted by Nicholas at 02:29 PM | Comments (0)

How not to win hearts and minds

So it turns out that the overblown rhetoric of certain Imams is actually true — the "crusaders" really are trying to convert Afghan civilians to Christianity:

US Army chaplains in Afghanistan have called on American soldiers to spread the word of Jesus to Afghanistan. They're distributing Bibles printed in local languages, too — though the Army subsequently confiscated a bunch of the Bibles and reprimanded some of the soldiers involved.

If there's anything more likely to rile up the undecided and provide great recruiting material for the Taliban than this — except, of course, burning the top cash crop in the country — I can't think of it.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

First big scandal of the Obama administration: DIJONGATE!

Jon, my virtual landlord, sent a link to this Hot Air post on the distressing revelation that President Obama ordered a burger . . . with Dijon mustard:

Maybe it’s a slow news week, but it’s not that slow. After NBC broke the big news about Barack Obama’s burger run, some people apparently discovered a media conspiracy to cover up a scandal that occurs at the lunch counter. Did Obama get a freebie? No, he insists on paying for his lunch. Did he cut in line? That’s inconclusive. [. . .]

NBC’s regular news reported Obama’s order as follows: “”I’m going to have a basic cheddar cheese burger, medium well, with mustard,” Obama said. “Do you have spicy mustard? I’ll take that.”
Actually, the quote was “you got a spicy mustard or something like that, or a Dijon mustard, something like that” (at 0.55 of the unedited video below without Mitchell’s talkover).
Obama ordered his burger with DIJON MUSTARD! Bet he had to seek John Kerry’s counsel on that.

I have to agree with Obama here . . . I always prefer Dijon mustard on my hamburger. That violently yellow wallpaper paste that most Americans refer to as "mustard" is repulsive.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:17 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2009

Britain is so dangerous . . .

"How dangerous is it?" I pretend to hear you ask. Britain is so dangerous that they now have to ask for your ID when you buy teaspoons:


The lady was trying to buy some teaspoons, and was flabbergasted to find that she needed ID.

The assistant informed her that it was because someone had murdered someone with a teaspoon, and therefore ID was now required.

What complete and utter bollocks!

The story appeared in the Daily Telegraph today:

The site was subsequently bombarded with comments and suggestions for other items that could cause harm.
One posting read: "Tea towel and a couple of bottle of diet cream soda and you've got all the equipment for waterboarding an Asda manager."
Another reader remarked: "Seemingly Asda believe that nobody over 18 ever murdered anyone."
"If the Government are going to try to take away my constitutional rights this way, I'm going to carry the biggest calibre teaspoon I can find," another commentator added. "I will give up my teaspoon when they prise it from my cold, dead body."

The only sensible comment from ASDA was the local store manager: "I'm not aware of an age restriction for spoons. It's most likely a mix-up with the bar codes." But would a cashier risk being fired for not following the clear instruction on the register display? Probably not.

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

Too late to say goodbye to online privacy

Bruce Schneier explains why it's already far to late to lament your loss of online privacy:

If your data is online, it is not private. Oh, maybe it seems private. Certainly, only you have access to your e-mail. Well, you and your ISP. And the sender's ISP. And any backbone provider who happens to route that mail from the sender to you. And, if you read your personal mail from work, your company. And, if they have taps at the correct points, the NSA and any other sufficiently well-funded government intelligence organization — domestic and international.

You could encrypt your mail, of course, but few of us do that. Most of us now use webmail. The general problem is that, for the most part, your online data is not under your control. Cloud computing and software as a service exacerbate this problem even more.

Your webmail is less under your control than it would be if you downloaded your mail to your computer. If you use, you're relying on that company to keep your data private. If you use Google Docs, you're relying on Google. This is why the Electronic Privacy Information Center recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: many of us are relying on Google's security, but we don't know what it is.

This is new. Twenty years ago, if someone wanted to look through your correspondence, he had to break into your house. Now, he can just break into your ISP. Ten years ago, your voicemail was on an answering machine in your office; now it's on a computer owned by a telephone company. Your financial accounts are on remote websites protected only by passwords; your credit history is collected, stored, and sold by companies you don't even know exist.

I used to be quite freaked out by this knowledge . . . I'm still not 100% comfortable with it, but I've (mostly) come to terms with it. There's still the illusion of privacy, but you need to understand that it is just an illusion. Your data is very easy to collect, even without needing to enlist 1337 |-|4><0r3r$ to assist, people can accumulate significant profiles on you legally and openly.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Spreading fear about Global Warming

I suppose my perception of precisely who stood to benefit from the spreading fear about Global Warming comes into it. Anyone who hates technology, of course, or the present economic system. Also, hordes who will get rich from all of the asinine proposals to reduce Global Warming — anyone who makes solar panels or water heating systems or nasty little cars that go short distances very slowly, carrying almost nothing.

Most persuasive, I suppose, was an anthropological understanding I have (that being my principle field of interest and study in college) of what constitutes a religion. The planet gets transmogrified into a goddess in the minds of the faithful, and all of the entities upon it, the birds and bees and flowers and trees (to quote an old song) — all of the entities, that is, except humans — become sacred objects. Exhaling carbon dioxide becomes Original Sin. Better that a thousand human babies should die than one single snail darter or a furbish lousewort.

In fact, what the Earth needs, they often say, is a good plague.

L. Neil Smith, "This One's for Holly", Libertarian Enterprise, 2009-05-05

Posted by Nicholas at 01:30 PM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2009

Thirty years on

If the name Margaret Thatcher doesn't ring a bell for you, here's a refresher from "Publius":

A Spitting Image skit showed the PM at dinner with her cabinet. "What will you be having?" asks the waitress. "Steak," replies Thatcher. "What about the vegetables?" asks the waitress. "They'll have steak as well." Her authoritarian style, the modus of a revolutionary, won her enemies. Micheal Heseltine, a leading member of cabinet, resigned over her decision to block the purchase of a UK defense company by an Italian firm, she preferring — along with the management — sale to an American firm. The real reason was more likely personal pique.

Thatcher was never loved by her party, or the electorate. They backed her because they thought she was correct in her basic vision, and a strong enough figure to rule a nation in crisis and decline. It would be over policy that she fell. In the country at large it was the Poll Tax, a flat head tax levied on all adults, provoked a furious backlash. The Poll Tax was associated for centuries in Britain with tyrannical government. Since it was the same flat amount regardless of income, it was also seen as regressive. Thatcher liked it because it would be less distortionary than conventional taxes. In the party Europe caught her. Howe, the loyal Chancellor of the early years, resigned in the fall of 1990. Thatcher was afraid that Brussels was planning a European federation, not a free trade deal in the spirit of the Treaty of Rome. The British pound would be submerged in a new European currency. No, No, No said Thatcher. It was too late. The party and country abandoned her. A leadership contest was forced, with Thatcher failing to win on the first ballot. She resigned.

Mrs. Thatcher was not loved, nor did she want to be. She ruled in a way that few British prime ministers had ever done: her "Iron Lady" sobriquet was amazingly appropriate. She took on the powers of the unions and left them crumpled on the field of conflict. The Falklands War did much to restore the lustre of British arms (though the conflict was a far nearer-run thing than any of us realized at the time), and she intimidated the centralizing bureaucrats of Brussels. She was a far more confrontational leader than any since Churchill, yet managed to achieve much in her time in office.

I've mentioned before that my first trip back to Britain was in the depths of the "winter of discontent", and it was a dreadful experience. Nothing seemed to be going well, there were strikes and labour unrest in all sectors of the economy, and a pervading bitter sense that things would only continue to get worse. I'd been there less than a day and I was already counting down the time to when I could escape back to "the west".

My next visit was several years later and it was hard to believe that it was the same country. Mrs. Thatcher got little or no credit for the improvement, at least in the north, but to an outsider like me, the changes were very impressive indeed.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:02 PM | Comments (0)

Dump support of Pakistan?

Ralph Peters is advocating a volte face in US relations in the subcontinent:

WHAT Washington calls "strategy" is usually just inertia: We can't imagine not supporting Pakistan because we've "always" supported Pakistan.

No matter how shamelessly Pakistan's leaders looted their own country, protected the Taliban, sponsored terror attacks on India, demanded aid and told us to kiss off when we asked for help, we had to back the Paks.

Because that's just the way things are.

Well, now that Islamist marauders are sweeping the country with violence as the generals in Rawalpindi mull "To be or not to be" and President Ali Asif Zardari knocks back another scotch behind closed doors, perhaps we should consider an alternative approach to this splintering, renegade state.

A better strategy's obvious. But Washington has trouble with the obvious. At our pathetic State Department, habit trumps innovation every time. And the Pentagon can't seem to see beyond the immediate battlefield.

What should we do? Dump Pakistan. Back India.

Given the state Pakistan is in, it's hard to imagine a positive outcome to the current situation: the Taliban and their ilk are taking over larger and larger areas, the military is at odds with the government, and everything seems to be moving towards greater instability. India, for all the problems they face, is significantly more stable politically and is a much more democratic and economically free country now than Pakistan.

The big reason for not switching to supporting India is the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, and the fear that it — or the technology to replicate it — will fall into the wrong hands. Given the states that Pakistan has already aided with nuclear weapon technology, it's hard to imagine how things could get worse.

There are other geo-political issues to consider:

Of course, there's also the issue of the Pentagon's bewildering incompetence in placing 50,000 of our troops at the end of a 1,500-mile supply line through Pakistan, rendering our forces virtual hostages of Islamabad.

The answer's another dose of common sense: Instead of increasing our troop numbers in Afghanistan, cut them. Instead of embracing the hopeless task of building a modern nation where no nation of any kind has ever existed, concentrate exclusively on killing al Qaeda terrorists and the hard-line Taliban elements who help them.

If Washington pays attention to Peters' advice, this is the last call for the current Afghan mission.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:49 PM | Comments (0)

In other news, oui, c'est vrai!

A report in The National Post the other day goes directly to the point:

French immersion, touted as a way of uniting Canadians under the banner of official bilingualism, is increasingly seen as an elitist program that has instead created a de facto two-tiered public school system that caters to Canada's higher-achieving students.

Although some proponents of French immersion claim otherwise, studies show a side effect that favours students with higher learning abilities and fewer behavioural problems. Meanwhile, students with learning disabilities, those from low-income families, and newcomers to Canada are often counselled out of enrolling in French-immersion programs.

Is this actually news to anyone? Of course the French immersion program is elitist . . . it's the way the well-off have smuggled a quasi-separate school system into the public schools. Wasn't that exactly what the originators wanted?

According to a 2004 Statistics Canada report entitled French Immersion 30 Years Later, students in French-immersion programs tend to come from more affluent families than non-immersion students. They also perform significantly better on reading-assessment tests than non-immersion students, even when tested in English. The report also found that girls account for roughly 60% of students in French immersion in all provinces except Quebec.

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

Hospital parking as a profit centre

I had to visit our local hospital late last night, and parked for two hours in the almost-empty parking garage adjacent to the Emergency entrance. When I checked out, I discovered that parking at the hospital is roughly four times as expensive as parking in downtown Toronto during the week: $13.50. Unless I'm hallucinating, the last time I parked there a few years ago, the parking was more like $2 per hour. I guess the hospital has figured out that when you're bringing someone in to the Emergency entrance, you don't really have a choice about where you park your vehicle . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2009

New technology for diagnosing flu

Craig Zeni sent along these two new sites, which can help you self-diagnose if you suspect you may be coming down with some form of flu: and

Posted by Nicholas at 11:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2009

Snark of the week

By way of a link from Radley Balko, the most snarky comment thread you're likely to find this week:

[From the posting by P.Z. Myers] Words fail me. What is a doctorate in homeopathic medicine? A blank piece of paper taped to your wall?

[Anonymous]: No, a doctorate in homeopathic medicine would be a blank piece of paper soaked in a 1:10,000,000 tincture made from the ink of an actual doctor's diploma.

[CJO]: It's in a 6-foot tall stack of blank diploma-sized parchment leaves. Damned if anyone can find it, but it's in there somewhere, trust me.

[W. Kevin Vicklund]: Take a doctoral degree, copy at 1% "darkness", copy the copy at 1%, etc. for a total of 100 copies. The final one is the one taped to the wall.

[JDStackpole]: You heard about the homeopathy patient who died from an overdose?
He skipped taking his meds one day.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

An innovative approach to overseas military basing

A constant concern for the US armed forces is how to support military action in areas where you do not already have an effective base. For anything larger than a company action, success depends on ready access to food, fuel, and ammunition supplies, and this is impossible without an organized, effective support organization. A proposed solution to this problem is called "seabasing", which would use temporary lash-ups of either ships or specially designed platforms to provide ongoing support to military operations from offshore. The Economist has more:

The original approach to seabasing was extremely Legolike. Modular rafts — platforms mounted on pontoons — would be linked together by hinges to create large, flattish surfaces that could nevertheless bend with the waves. Such a system was tested in a peacetime operation off the coast of Liberia in spring 2008. Instead of armaments, hospital supplies and the materials to build a school were unloaded from a ship to the platform, and thence to landing craft which disgorged them onto a beach.

The experiment worked, but there are doubts about taking it any further. One question is how such a raft of rafts would stand up to severe weather. There is also scepticism about whether the original goal, a surface large enough to create a floating runway that could accommodate transport aircraft, is either financially or physically feasible. It would be far larger than the largest aircraft-carrier now afloat, and thus expensive to build, and it would have to be both rigid and stable enough to act as a runway and flexible enough to withstand rough seas. The difficulty of squaring these requirements has led designers to abandon the idea of strict modularity in favour of a system that uses an array of more conventional but still specially designed ships. According to Robert Button, a seabasing expert at the RAND Corporation, a think-tank, America's navy plans to build 35 ships designed for seabasing over the next decade.

The core of such a ship-based seabase would be something known, in the strangulated jargon beloved of military men, as the Maritime Pre-Positioning Force (Future). America's marines already use pre-positioning supply ships as floating warehouses. The 14 ships in the new replacement class will continue to store supplies in this way. But, in addition, they will have room to berth 2,000 servicemen, or between 20 and 30 vertical-take-off aircraft, or hundreds of ground vehicles. More impressively, each ship will carry a folding bridge, about 30 metres long, to connect it to its neighbour. These bridges — regarded as the linchpins of seabasing — will remain stable in swells of up to 2 metres. They will allow vehicles the size of lorries to drive from one ship to another.

I wonder how the Chinese PLAN design bureau is going to approach this problem . . . as they're likely watching the American efforts with some interest.

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

QotD: American Government

We live in democracies. Rule by the majority. Rule by the people. Fifty per cent of people are below average in intelligence. This explains everything about politics.

Not that we'd want to live in a country ruled only by the best and brightest. That would be too much like being married to Cherie Blair.

So we have to keep supporting democracy. Even when democracy acts up the way it's done in Russia, Pakistan and the American presidential election.

Long term there's only one thing that gives me hope as a right-winger - the left-wing.

It's going to be hard to do a worse job running America than the Republicans did, but the Democrats can do it if anyone can.

P.J. O'Rourke, "The ditch carp of democracy", The Canberra Times, 2009-04-22

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

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