Sunday, January 30, 2005

Fortune, fame and a ruined name

Volkswagen is suing over that semi-famous VW Polo suicide bomber ad: The so-called viral ad -- unauthorized by Volkswagen or its advertising agencies -- shows a suicide bomber detonating his explosives in a Polo parked outside a busy cafe, only to have the car absorb the blast. The 20-second spot ends with the Volkswagen logo and the Polo's actual advertising motto: Small but Tough. Company spokesman Hartwig von Sass said VW lodged a criminal complaint with prosecutors in Brunswick, Germany, but did not specify a perpetrator. "This is an attack on Volkswagen's good name," he said of the ad, which he called cynical and criminal. Compare that to how the ad's creators describe it: It reflected 'what people see in the news every day. The car is the hero that protects innocent people from someone with very bad intentions. We're sorry if it has caused any offence.' An attack on Volkswagen's good name? Unless you find the concept of a successful suicide bomber appealing, how is that, exactly? Does VW really need to be angling for the market that reads the sort of headline that says "Nine dead in Gaza bombing" and thinks "Excellent; it's a good thing he didn't detonate himself prematurely?" (What am I saying? Of course they do. In Europe, anyway.) Now, of course, I'm being glib; I know they do have to protect their intellectual property by aggressively pursuing anything that could be perceived as dilution of the trademark. But if there's a way that VW's spokesman could have seemed more backhandedly apologetic towards possible offense taken by suicide bombers and their supporters (rather than, say, the victims thereof), I don't see it.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

I was there, did my share, played my part; and Russians all will be aware, I was there, from the start

Today's class of Russia In Transition was a contrast between the two wings of the Soviet intelligentsia (Slavophiles and Westernizers) during the 1970s and 80s, personified by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov. I had some problems with the professor's treatment of the Slavophiles; rather than focus on the distinguishing characteristics of the group as a whole - generally nationalist, pro-authoritarian, deeply Orthodox - he chose Solzhenitsyn's seemingly least representative (of that group) work, his 1978 Harvard address, in a roundabout way of claiming that the word "evil" didn't enter American political discourse until that speech, and therefore that Reagan's use of "evil empire" and George W. Bush's "axis of evil" are similarly representative of this inherently negative school of thought. Below are the comments I wrote to Prof. Clayton this afternoon.
I have to question your perception of a strict dichotomy between the Slavophiles and Westernizers of the intelligentsia. You imply Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov are iconic of entirely different attitudes about Soviet society, by virtue of Solzhenitsyn’s ‘messianic’ nature and conservative grounding, versus Sakharov’s non-judgmental demands of natural rights, if I’m interpreting correctly. But what I think you miss is the connection between the use of the word (and concept of) "evil," and the drive towards westernization. The two are not mutually exclusive, and can quite reasonably be causally related. One need not be religious to believe in evil, or that dictatorships which treat their subjects as property to be exploited are the very embodiment of the same, in political terms. Sakharov may have couched his complaint in the language of human rights and rationalization of bureaucratic process, but he speaks of the same self-destructive and oppressive state as Solzhenitsyn, which can quite rightly be called evil. The Soviet state was not evil because it was non-western; it was evil because it was non-democratic. That was and remains a constant today, no matter what the geographical location of the tyranny in question. To mock Solzhenitsyn (and George W. Bush) for their religious motivations is to miss the point: Democracy is where the morally good and the ethically just converge. It’s this reason that Bush speaks in the same language as Reagan when condemning totalitarian regimes in Iraq and elsewhere – they are repressive, and thus evil. Pushing for democratization is fighting evil. Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov are on a continuum of reform in this respect; in real terms, they don’t seem far apart in the problems they see in the Soviet system. You mock Bush for his ‘messianism,’ his belief that democratic and free societies are good things (again, not because such qualities are uniquely American, but because such qualities are uniquely beneficial to the citizens of those societies) and therefore that the United States must do everything in its power to encourage the spread of freedom, up to and including the forcible removal of Stalinesque thugs. How is this so different from Sakharov’s position? Yes, he casts aspersions on the notion that any society should be “deluded” into believing in “the exclusive merits of its own path,” but the free and open practices of a democratic society are in fact the least harmful means of governance. That is no delusion. If establishing a society dedicated to not abrogating the natural rights of man is ‘messianic,’ then Sakharov’s work is inherently conflicted, in failing to allow for the most achievable means of doing so in many situations. It is vital to recall that the Soviet Union was defeated without firing a shot, largely due to the combative attitude of the Reagan administration, and his willingness to acknowledge the evils of communist dictatorship. Such evil creates a moral obligation to liberate the subjects of such a monstrous regime; conversely, Détente, under Carter, proved ultimately uncaring towards the plight of oppressed Soviet subjects. Such a policy considered it better for them to suffer in their shackles, be they physical or mental, than to provoke serious disagreement. There is a direct connection between Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s use (unlike his father, a sadly pragmatic accommodationist) of the word “evil,” true: That connection is that the objects of their respective rhetoric genuinely are and were evil, so far as any state can be. It’s not for nothing that the remaining tinpot dictators of the world – Kim Jong-Il, for example – model their cults of personality, propaganda, and domestic terror techniques off those of Stalin. Bush’s transformative policy towards the Middle East is mocked just as much as "simplistic" and "dangerous" as Ronald Reagan’s words were in his time, and I believe in the future will be likewise eventually acknowledged as having been the best and most promoting of good for civilization and humanity in the long term, as Reagan’s (posthumously) largely were. Evil is evil. Religious faith should not be required to understand and admit that. Rather, to deny the inherently positive aspects of those various forms of government broadly known as democracy is to engage in dangerously amoral equivocation, to believe that Soviet communism was not the brutal regime whose many crimes against its people Sakharov enumerates, but merely a different system of government; an alternative to western-style democracy, dissimilar but equal. The inherent legitimacy and validity of a political order is intimately connected to morality. As you said yourself in today’s lecture, the Soviet Union murdered far more civilians than Nazi Germany ever did – a fact of which I was already aware, and bring up to coffee-shop communists in Ché T-shirts, who still (still!) believe that the USSR "wasn’t all bad," "in theory." If we in the west can so effortlessly acknowledge the evil Hitler and his barbaric henchmen performed upon innocents, and realize the entire political system that empowered such genocide is to blame (do anyone other than skinheads in Saxony call for a return to the German political structure of the 1930s?), why is it so difficult to believe the same of communism, and praise the moral clarity of men who make such apt judgments? Why is the exact same even more difficult to believe of even more obviously non-western nations and rulers? It’s all very well, I suppose, to pander to an easily-amused class with jibes at Bush’s support by the “Christian Right,” and to imply that his 'messianic' cause is a foolish and self-deluding one. Yet this weekend, the first free elections since 1953 (and, realistically, the first genuinely free elections ever) will take place in Iraq. Ten years from now, it might well be another Belarus, a catspaw of its neighbours and domestically authoritarian, but it might well also be another Ukraine or Poland. Most importantly, odds are good it won’t be another North Korea or Iran. This is an occasion for as much celebration as the secession and democratization of the former Soviet republics – and it would never have happened but for George W. Bush’s firm belief in those same human rights that Sakharov demanded in his samizdat memo of 1971: freedom of speech, of conscience, of assembly, and of movement. He believes that these rights are natural and inherent to every human being, without reservations. He also believes that to deny these rights can rightly be deemed "evil." I don’t see the incongruity. But maybe I’m just 'messianistic.'
UPDATE: Prof. Clayton responds by e-mail. (NB - when he says "circulate," he does mean anonymously, as has been his wont with comments on all topics in the course. He's not the publicly-vilifying type.) Thanks for your comments, for which you have no need to apologize. I respect the conviction with which they are expressed. I shall be circulating them to the class in the hopes that they will provoke further reflection. You are right in placing what happened in the Soviet Union in the larger world context. This echoes what I said in my opening lecture — namely that the process that we are examining is a continuing process that is far from finished. For the record, I am glad Reagan did what he did. Maybe I will see Bush differently ten or fifteen years from now, but I doubt it. His removal of Sadam Hussein looks like contingency disguised as principle. And the result, unlike the dismantling of the Soviet empire or the removal of Milosevic, far from bloodless. But this is not a course about Irak. I mentioned Bush to emphasize the long-lasting impact of Solzhenitsyn on American foreign policy. My contrasting of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov (rather than seeing them in a continuum) lies in Solzhenitsyn’s rejection of the western tradition of democracy, human rights, etc., of which Sakharov was such a defender in favour of some vague Russian/Slavic collectivism. In the Russian context Solzhenitsyn is a dead letter, while Sakharov is more relevant than ever. Fair enough. That's still not a theory I really buy in strict Russian Studies terms, but fleshed out beyond the reflexive and almost random Bush-bashing it appeared as during class, I can respect it.

You better shape up, you better understand; to my heart I must be true

I don't have a problem with inter-parliamentarian romance. Not in theory, anyway. It's kind of cute, is what it is. But when the inevitable breakup occurs: Please, guys, don't split the party over it, okay? If "Western alienation" is followed in the history books by "backbiting between exes" regarding the repeated self-destruction of the Conservative Party, I'll be ever-so-pissed.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Before it gets too frightening, we ought to call a vote

Speaking of Canadian media, I caught a rather informative interview on CBC Newsworld during my workout today. Not for the actual content of the answers, but the questions. The anchor, Jacquie Perrin, was speaking to an Iraqi expat registering to vote today in Toronto. He was overjoyed at the opportunity of free elections for his homeland, which seemed to leave Perrin cold. She tried again and again, giving every opening in the acceptable code words ("occupation government," "rush to war," and the like) to get him to attack American motives for the war, or to cast doubts upon the legitimacy of the vote; he wouldn't. He refused to play her game, and repeatedly brought up current UN and EU involvement - to Perrin's chagrin, I'm sure. Though I've shamefully forgotten his name, I salute that man. It's amazing where anti-American spite can take an otherwise probably-rational person. This is the first truly free election ever in Iraq, and instead of acknowledging the hopefulness and happiness this has brought to Iraqi-Canadians (to say nothing of no-hyphenation-needed Iraqis), one of the official faces of our official network tried her best to vicariously piss all over that accomplishment. It happened in the "wrong" way, you see; Canada doesn't get to take all the credit, nor our diplomats' proxies in the UN, so FUD must be invoked upon the whole process - regardless of what message that might send to a nascent democracy. We have met the enemy, and he is us.

We say this game's not of our choosing; why should we risk losing?

This is why I want a completely deregulated Canadian broadcast market: OTTAWA, ONT. - U.S. specialty channel Spike TV will remain on the air in Canada. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has ruled that an unfair competition complaint was unfounded. The complaint filed by Global Television and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters last year, argued that Spike – an American channel devoted to men's lifestyle issues – provided unfair competition to domestic channels, most notably Global's digital channel, Men TV. But the CRTC ruled Thursday that there was little evidence to show that the American channel was in direct competition with any Canadian services, and therefore it should remain available. I'm disgusted. Not surprised, obviously, but disgusted. Canadian broadcasters were just salivating at the thought of getting a chance to kneecap the competition - for no other reason than that the Cancon-subsidizing provisions of the law give them the opening to do just that. What's the difference between more or less consumer choice, really, as long as you don't have the icky option of choosing an American channel, instead of its lame Canadian quasi-similarly-themed counterpart? I don't watch SpikeTV. In fact, today, I just dropped the package from my ExpressVu service that includes it; the only thing I ever had bothered to watch it for was TNG reruns, and I really can't stand those any more. But I want the choice to be mine whether or not it can show up on my screen, not that of some cabal of cynical would-be monopolists in Toronto. Finally, the CRTC just wouldn't be a real Canadian bureaucracy without clumsy, random displays of contempt for Americans: The CRTC saw a difference between Spike, which targets middle-class American males, and Men TV which features lifestyle programming for men from an urbane, sophisticated perspective. Gah. If I lived somewhere I could feasibly install a grey-market satellite dish, I would. I'm just about reaching my limit for the shenanigans of the CRTC, and their co-conspirators in the Canadian broadcast industry.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Now cynics claim a little of the cash has gone astray

This kind of thing, beyond unhelpfulness fighting terrorism and generally pigheaded and backstabbing diplomatic behaviour on the whole, is why I can't stand the French. (I have few problems with France, per se. Lovely architecture, wonderful food, many fine works of art; it's just the people themselves I dislike.) This seems to be a spectacularly useless, peculiarly Eurocratic way of approaching a problem: DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - French President Jacques Chirac has outlined bold proposals for an international tax to help fight AIDS, saying such a measure could raise a desperately needed $10 billion (5.4 billion pounds) each year. "I propose today moving forward through the creation, in an experimental way, of a levy to finance the fight against AIDS," Chirac told the World Economic Forum in Davos in a speech delivered by video link-up on Wednesday. Chirac said the levy could be imposed on international financial transactions without hampering markets, but it could also be raised by taxing fuel for air and sea transport, or levying $1 on every airline ticket sold in the world. "It would allow us to mobilise $10 billion a year," he said. Chirac said the money raised would be used not only to make medicines available to far more AIDS sufferers but also to finance research into a vaccine and develop prevention campaigns. Magnifique! Every single penny will go directly to AIDS research and prevention programs! But of course! And, surely, it wouldn't require creating a whole new monolithic bureaucracy or thus employing a set of impossible-to-fire unionized bureaucrats, and eat up most of its budget in providing the working conditions which such Euroweenies are accustomed to, right? Not like other extortionist internationalist do-gooders, say? Surely not. And we know it wouldn't negatively affect trade, either; Jacques Chirac says so. Never mind the simple economic principle of taxation tending to depress trade in whatever good or service is being taxed; it's just free money for a good cause. And it'll be taken from those evil rich countries, too, by the kind-hearted Robin Hoods (Robins Hood?) of France, in an unsubtly-disguised transfer of wealth. What could possibly be wrong with that? I have a fairly good friend from my time as a parliamentary contract employee - my boss in that job, actually - who's French. Not Quebecois; French. I like and respect him very much, but Jeebus, if he isn't always pushing policies like this. The Tobin Tax, say. (Yes, it's a tax on currency speculation, not the mechanisms of commerce and industry themselves, but the underlying principles aren't much different.) He frequently laments that it costs me the grandiose sum of $5000 (minus $2500 in scholarship funds) every year to attend university, which seems monstrously cruel to him in comparison to the ₣350 he paid annually to attend a prestigious school in Paris, back in the early 70s. Why, I should be getting a nearly-free post-secondary education! Though a usually-practical classically-trained economist, he really has little appreciation for how normal people can resent marginal tax increases without foreseeable benefits, no matter how good the cause. On an unrelated note, it's nice to see a crack in the EU's central alliance, in making suggestions for other ways to raise R&D funding: Deputy German Finance Minister Caio Koch-Weser welcomed measures such as taxing fuel for aircraft and ships. "A tax on weapons exports is also conceivable," Koch-Weser said in an interview with the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper. France, unlike Germany, is a major arms exporter. Oh, right; that. Don't mention the war profiteers! (I mentioned them once, but I think I got away with it.) It takes a special kind of uniquely European cynicism and a power-hungry bureaucratic mindset to think that the best long-term help for AIDS sufferers is going to come from taxing worldwide trade. If and when there's a cure or vaccine, or whatever new medications may be created, they'll happen due to the same combination of public and private R&D we have today. I don't see either type of research being helped by the establishment of yet another international boondoggle of an agency, program, or tax scheme.

Chopper Down

Every casualty of war is a tragedy. But what does it say about the skill and precision of US troops in Iraq that the largest number of casualties on a single day yet is due to a freak accident caused by bad weather? Also: How long before disgusting exploitation of these deaths by anti-war protestors starts, as justification for a "We Support the Troops"-themed pullout?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Who knew success would come with messy, nasty strings

It isn't often any more that The Onion is actually funny, rather than merely a whinier print faux-journalism cousin to The Daily Show. Sometimes, though...

Friends, the idle brain is the devil's playground

Speaking of obnoxiously ignorant hyperbole: "American Idol is like the Nazis marching through Poland." It's not as if a deep understanding of history (or good taste) is really expected from the producers of Gilmore Girls, but still. (Via TV Tattle.)

They'll hurt you if they think you've lied

Hugh Hewitt challenges readers to determine what this passage, in this month's issue of The Atlantic, says about the gap in common understanding of the political spectrum: On balance it is probably healthier if religious conservatives are inside the political system than if they operate as insurgents and provocateurs on the outside. Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics. The same is true of the left. The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam turned into street warfare partly because activists were locked out of their own party establishments and had to fight, literally, to be heard. When Michael Moore receives a hero’s welcome at the Democratic National Convention, we moderates grumble; but if the parties engage fierce activists while marginalizing tame centrists, that is probably better for the social peace than the other way around. First, the author seems to think potential abortion-clinic-bombing religious conservatives number as many on the right as the rioting nihilists do on the left - something (without checking any statistics) I find improbable, if for no other reason than that they'd be the focus of a 24/7 media frenzy over "Christian terrorists" if it were true. That theme rarely exists in the MSM (to their chagrin, I'm sure), and is muted at best when it does, due to the thankful rarity of pro-lifers so obsessive as to murder. Second, moderates have been marginalized in the GOP? Really? I seem to remember some fairly well-known moderates being visibly embraced at last year's convention; the only real red-meat pandering to the base (and I loved it, thank you very much, but wouldn't have wanted the entire convention to be rhetoric that fiery) was by a Democrat, Zell Miller. Conversely, the DNC showcased largely liberals feigning moderate status, and visibly embraced the angry left in the person of Michael Moore. The Democratic Party is the only one where tame centrists are being marginalized at the moment. What ails the Democrats is terminal smugness, a disease the party in currently suffering in the final stages. They know they used to be a national majority party, and therefore expect that that's the natural order of things; policies have little if anything to do with the political calculus in this warped understanding. Support from the centre is a given - or so the national leadership thinks - so all that's left is to slurp up the fringe vote, that would either abstain or favour a third party. This disconnect, of failing to understand that the centre is aware of pandering to the fringe (and, more often than not, isn't all that comfortable with it) is the problem. Republicans suffer less from this by fighting hard for every vote, and allowing for looser demands of ideology. A big-tent party will win more frequently despite the fringe not agreeing with the centre on every issue; agreeing on the big issues is enough, and others can be matters of personal conscience rather than explicit demands of policy loyalty. The liberal fringe doesn't even agree with the Democratic (or non-aligned) centre on what America should look like, let alone what form the world at large should take. That self-proclaimed Democratic moderates or their publications don't realize what poison the angry left is for their electoral chances doesn't bode well for their continued survival.

Well secluded, I see all

Some day, Google will cross the line of 'very cool, as a practically-temporally-omniscient search engine goes' right into HAL 9000 territory. As long as the company motto is still in effect by then, I eagerly await that day, actually.

Monday, January 24, 2005

What we've just seen's a pathetic display

A warning to single-issue advocacy groups: never hyperbolize. It's amazing how petty that can make you look, in context. The leader of the group in question knows exactly which multiculti pieties tug at the heartstrings of good liberal Canadians, too: "For this type of racial profiling, it amounts to nothing more than canine ethnic cleansing," she told the committee on its first day of hearings. Ew. That's just...offensive. They're dogs. Not a minority ethnic group. Dogs. Yet I can't say I agree with the province's decision. In principle, anyway. I don't like dogs, and would be just as happy for the two or three dozen dog owners in my building to live somewhere else. (Personality may go a long way, but I think they're still dirty, dirty creatures.) However, as long as owners are responsible - in the case of aggressive breeds, taking the appropriate precaution of not letting them run free, say - I can't argue with whatever choice of pet someone chooses to keep on their private property. It's unfortunate that the safety concerns leading to this legislation punish responsible as well as irresponsible owners, but irresponsible owners of tiny, harmless breeds simply don't pose the same threat. To make a half-hearted analogy, I favour unrestricted gun ownership, but I wouldn't necessarily extend that to legalizing the private ownership of surface-to-air missiles. The relative risk of irresponsible use is too great.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Enemies and adversaries

Top Iraqi terrorist Al-Zarqawi: "We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology [...]" How much clearer does it have to be exactly who's on the right side, here? He and his followers are authentic fascists. No ifs, ands, or buts; fascists. How anyone in the West - least of all those still throwing a tantrum over imagined domestic fascism - could support the "Iraqi resistance" is beyond me.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Isn't it nice to know a lot; and a little bit not

I can't stand hockey, so I've actually been more or less ambivalent about CBC's "Movie Night in Canada" replacement programming. Less ambivalent, actually, because the movie selection has actually been rather good: recent animated features, Star Wars, the classic Toho Godzilla movies, and the like. The Star Wars trilogy has actually even been broadcast properly letterboxed, and apparently from the recently-released DVD version. That bothers me, for CBC to do such things correctly, even if only in shunning the pan-and-scan versions. It's like discovering a scale model of the Taj Mahal built by ants: it implies a level of competence and awareness that's both unexpected and frightening, given the circumstances.

Friday, January 21, 2005

In Soviet Russia, hasenpfeffer incorporates you

Today in Russia In Transition - a very soft class, as lectures go - we watched part of Moskva slezan ne verit as a means of illustrating domestic life and women's issues during the Soviet era, in preparation for comparisons to the present. In the required short assignment of commenting on the film, I noted that it seemed entirely too much like a Soviet version of Laverne & Shirley - Katya and Lyudmila (less so their friend Antonina) are screwball man-chasing roommates working blue-collar jobs, constantly getting into hare-brained schemes, to use the sitcom vernacular. The main difference is that the setting, Krushchev-era Moscow, is far more depressing than Milwaukee could ever be. (The dehumanizing scale - either monolithically huge or claustrophobically cramped - of Soviet architecture doesn't help much, to say nothing of politics.) All of this is just background, however; when I started writing up these comments, I went to check the exact production dates of L&S at the IMDB for comparison...and came upon the animated sequel series, of which I wasn't previously aware. Which is to say: now how did that ever get made? No matter how familiar I become with the banal, network television keeps finding ways to surprise me, even retroactively.

Are your nostrils aquiver, and tingling as well?

It's again colder than any sane person should tolerate outside. The combination of cold and blowing wind is causing me - as every winter - to get painfully dry, cracked skin; it's just a little earlier than usual this year. This is a problem. Not in that I care much about how my skin looks, mind you, but in that I'm more than a bit obsessive-compulsive about hand-washing, and cracked, open wounds on the hands tend to sting like a bastard under soap and water. Band-aids are useless; they only keep the area moist and unable to heal. I thus turned, for the first time in a long time, to try a liquid bandage. It works, more or less, as it's supposed to - but there's one thing about it I can't stand: the smell. According to the label, it's oil of cloves, which does nothing to mask the underlying solvent aroma. As far as I can tell, it's only there to make the whole thing seem a little more medicinal and less like paint thinner. I recall, back when I suffered from asthma, that one inhaled prescription (I'm not sure if it was Ventolin or Beclovent) was similarly camphor-scented for no apparent reason. Ditto menthol, in many topical ointments where it isn't actually an active ingredient. Do customers expect a "medicinal" smell, and feel cheated without it? Is that the only reason for unnecessary scents? I'd be a lot happier to not walk around smelling like a spice rack, just for having a two-inch-long patch of hardened plastic 'bandage' on my index finger. (I'd even be happy with menthol or camphor, for that matter. Oil of cloves is just...odd.)

A deal with the devil he cannot disclaim

One of The New Republic's staff writers forgot to get his press credentials cleared in time for Inauguration Day, and ended up having to cover - rather than a swanky ball - one of the famed "counter-inaugural" protests, and by this accident seems to have discovered something many of us on the right and centre have known for years: The angry left isn't just misguided idealists. Most of them are genuinely, repellently evil. Needless to say, this wasn't much fun. I could have thrown a stone as far as my strength allowed and still have been certain of not hitting a crab cake. On the other hand, everyone else seemed to be having a good time. The hundred or so people there frequently applauded and hollered, and, as expected, phrases like "exposing Bush for what he is--a cold-blooded killer" were particular hits. I didn't even think there was much to report on. After all, who cares what the ideological fringe of the losing side has to say? But the more I heard, the more I became convinced that I had discovered something truly threatening: This band of socialists was the most effective recruiting tool for the Republican Party I'd ever encountered. [...] These weren't harmless lefties. I didn't want Nancy Pelosi talking sense to them; I wanted John Ashcroft to come busting through the wall with a submachine gun to round everyone up for an immediate trip to Gitmo, with Charles Graner on hand for interrogation. Yow. Even facetiously, that's a telling admission. There's such a thing as being a principled and honourable opposition, and these freaks aren't interested in any such thing. How many more of these 'eureka' moments will be needed before liberals as a whole - and/or the Democratic Party - realize that such repellent behaviour will only keep losing elections? Democrats have cleansed themselves of the dangerously unstable wing of their party before, in the late 40s, with communists. I hope they can do it again, and soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

We'll begin, with a spin

Google News is a godsend. It's quite informative to see a comparative listing of the headlines for Inauguration Day, as a handy primer of variants in bias for the exact same set of facts. For fun, try to match the headlines to their sources before clicking the link. I was mildly surprised at the source of the most neutral version, actually: "A vision of liberty in an armed city" "'Freedom' is key word in Bush address" "Bush pledges fight for freedom in second term" "US prepares for Bush inauguration" "Bush, to Best of His Ability, Spends a Day in Celebration" "Bush schmoozes with donors while calling for national healing" "Bush is 4th in history to start new term amid war" (From BBC News, CBC News, CBS News, The New York Times, The Telegraph, the Toronto Star, and the Washington Times.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

For the men who've gone before, for the men who will come after; we will wage this bloody war

I have this term another class in American History, this one covering from 1865-1945. It isn't, thankfully, taught by the same smugly anti-American prof I had for the 1776-1865 course. No, I've never taken a course from this instructor, Prof. Davis, before - and I have to say, I like him. He describes himself as a "right-wing Marxist" - someone who, as a self-admitted idiotically radical socialist student in the early 70s, left Kingston for Boston, because he thought Canada was too conservative. (The corollary, of course, being that he assumed socialism would take off in the US.) I can respect that kind of utterly insane idealism in someone who realizes, in hindsight, just how wrong they were; not just in conclusions, but in arguments as well. The first few lectures have focused, as one might expect, on Reconstruction. He's made a concerted and intelligent effort to compare the Civil War itself and subsequent nation-building (well, re-building) exercises to Iraq today - yes, brutal and expensive, but on the balance necessary, right, and good. I can tell this is making a large part of the class uncomfortable. They have no problem seeing Southerners as racists and redneck hicks, part of a political system so dedicated to evil in the antebellum period that its destruction was necessary - but start implying that maybe there are some parallels between the fates of American slaves and the vast masses of Iraqis subjugated by the former regime, and there's a lot of grimacing and nervous squirming about in the lecture hall. Significant, too, is the economic colonization by the North after the war itself. Prof. Davis' best line so far, I think, was this: "Whatever you think imperialism is, it was perpetrated on the South in the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction." I don't entirely agree with that, but I love the moral quandary it had to have put much of the class in. Imperialism...good? The imperialism of unilaterally-declared war and subsequent rebuilding helped to reform the South from a racist backwater to a functioning part of national society? Does not compute! They'd never be able to bear siding with the South against the encroachment of arguably more civilized (and more recognizably modern) society, yet imperialism is bad, mmmkay...what's a good campus Molson Patriot to think?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A real man with a mission, like you see on television

"Police Say a Queens Drug Ring Watched Too Much Television." The accused leaders of the Queens gang, whose arrests were announced yesterday by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and District Attorney Richard A. Brown of Queens, mimicked the practice of characters in "The Wire," using disposable cellphones to make it more difficult for the police to eavesdrop on them. Each time the suspects switched phones, investigators and prosecutors had to go back to court and seek approval for a new wiretap from a State Supreme Court justice, a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, said Sgt. Felipe Rodriguez, a supervisor on the case. "Believe it or not, these guys copy 'The Wire,' " said the sergeant, who is assigned to the Organized Crime Investigation Division. "They were constantly dumping their phones. It made our job so much harder." The Wire? Please. Law & Order has been using the disposable-cellphone copout for years, since at least before The Wire premiered. I wouldn't swear to it, but I'm fairly sure that's been an identifiable and very annoying trope since 2000 or so. I suppose the gang members in question are just cable snobs as bad as the NYT's entertainment writers; how else to explain the lack of credit (blame?) for that hometown favourite in this piece? (Via TV Tattle.)

But the valley grew narrow and narrower still, and the evening grew darker and colder

Sweet Frozen Jesus, it's cold out. Like most Ottawans, I can take some pride in regularly withstanding winter in one of the coldest capitals in the world, but even I have some limits. I've been home for an hour, and I could swear my face is still a bit numb. (Is Al Gore in town fearmongering about global warming today, or something?)

The other show has just left town, and the one who played the clown, was a bad, bad man

As if CBS News hasn't jumped the shark half a dozen times already in the past year, each time more spectacularly awful than before, there are now possible plans afoot to make the Evening News more of a joke. Asked twice, Moonves wouldn't rule out a role on the evening news for Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, whose "The Daily Show" skewers politicians and the news media each night. Moonves is co-chief executive of Viacom, which owns both CBS and Comedy Central. At least, I suppose, his addition in a team of rotating co-anchors would be a blatant admission of both partisan bias and profound unseriousness. That'd be nice to see, given the network's general lack of contriteness for Rathergate. It still won't make me watch, except maybe once, to gawk at the horrors therein.

Look around and you will find, no one's really color-blind

Even in hypersensitive Canada, some hate crimes are still only worth a bit over three years: The 19-year-old man who sparked the fire that consumed a Jewish school library in Montreal has been sentenced to 40 months in prison for his crime. Sleiman El-Merhebi was sentenced in a Quebec courtroom Tuesday morning. With time served, that means he will spend the next two years in jail. When the United Talmud Torahs elementary school was firebombed in early April, on the heels of a rash of anti-Semitic incidents in Toronto, it drew worldwide condemnation. Last month, El-Merhebi told the court he was driven to the crime by news of Israeli attacks on Palestinians. The arson "was an emotional response," he said. "I was reacting to acts of violence in the Middle East that I saw on television." What is the message El-Merhebi and his lawyer want us to take from this half-assed defense, exactly? I hope it's not that the average Muslim is a reason-free, easily-provoked arsonist in the making, who only needs to catch a glimpse of CNN before being irrationally compelled to set fire to a building owned by Jews. I hope it's not that, if a Canadian Muslim happens to be upset, it's reasonable for his state of mind to consider Canadian Jews fair targets for attack. I hope it's not a slyly pandering attempt to excuse his actions by confirming the worst suspicions of Islam as a vicious, unprincipled political ideology, all too willing to lurk behind civilized society while continuing to plot against infidels. Any of those are the multiculti equivalent of the Twinkie defense, and I'm disappointed in his attorney. The honourable thing to do would have been to admit that, yes, he did it in an attempt to injure, intimidate and destroy the property of Jews. There's no justification possible. There's no explanation needed. If what happens half a world away is enough to drive someone in an open, permissive and generally peaceful and law-abiding society to commit such a hateful act, there can be no possible excuse.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Start the car, I know a whoopee spot, where the gin is cold but the piano's hot

The Citizen's editors come out in favour, surprisingly, of privatizing the LCBO: It makes no sense for Ontario to review how liquor, wine and beer are sold in the province but rule out any possibility of selling the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The government announced another "expert panel" to tackle another thorny issue last week: more $1,000-a-day people to do the government's work. Finance Minister Greg Sorbara went out of his way to emphasize how the LCBO, Ontario's big government alcohol monopoly, is not for sale. But those who support the status quo in the province believe the government could end up selling stores as franchises or perhaps turning the business into an income trust, essentially privatizing the liquor stores through the back door. Why not privatize it through the front door instead? Defence of the government-run booze business is based on convenience, not philosophy: the government rakes in a pile of money from the stores; the LCBO has huge buying power; and government feels that a public corporation will be better at preventing unlawful drinking. Indeed, the one thing the LCBO loves to brag about is that it's the largest volume buyer of alcoholic beverages n the world. That this is largely because direct distribution of liquor by the state is a top-heavy, patronizing, unnecessary, and anti-competitive function of government - realized by many other administrative subdivisions in the western world - seems not to have crossed the minds of Ontario bureaucrats. I blame previous Conservative governments for this lapse, too; that an industry is a profitable one is not a reason to establish a provincial monopoly over it. The sweet, sweet flow of cash proved just too tempting, however, to the point where this self-evident observation actually needs to made: The idea that only a government-owned business can do a good job selling alcohol, or recycling bottles, is especially absurd in the post-Soviet era. It was absurd in the Soviet era, too; is the editorial board admitting they might have been fooled on that count right up until 1991? I realize the libertarian ideal of totally removing provincial control from the equation is unrealistic - but refraining from, at least, the uncomfortably Big Brother-esque spectacle of provincially-owned and operated liquor stores would be a good start.

Doomed, broken souls, in a thousand asylums

Can we question their patriotism yet? "I sort of felt ashamed, and didn't really want to be associated with being an American," said Rothchild, who lives in New York City and voted for John Kerry. Her solution? Creating a business devoted to selling only self-indulgent "Please, Europeans, love me, for I'm not one of those Americans" wristbands. Here's a thought: Why not move it up to the arm, for visibility? Why not put some sort of identifiable symbol or icon on it too, just to make absolutely sure everyone knows you refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the duly elected government? How about organizing some sort of mass demonstrations with choreographed, stylized display thereof, as well? Let us know how you really feel. Rothchild, who is selling the bracelets on the Web in packages of 10 for $20, plans to give part of her profits to UNICEF [...] Funding agencies of the most hideously corrupt transnational bureaucracy on Earth with the proceeds, too? I think someone may have missed the point of the election's outcome, somehow.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

With a little bit o' luck, you can it have it all, and not get hooked

I suppose I can't complain too much about the gateway drug narrative when hysterically applied to coffee, having wholeheartedly supported its propagation in fighting the use of authentically dangerous drugs. It's an unwelcome sign of mission creep and uncomfortable nanny-statism nonetheless.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Big, tall, terrible, awesome, scary, wonderful giants in the sky

See, this is what I meant, vis à vis Apple's relationship with leaks and leakers. I like Apple's products. I honestly do. But right now - when they're attempting to re-enter the general, low-to-medium-end market - seems exactly the wrong time to act like a Microsoftesque corporate bully, legally justified or not. That they're in the right there means nothing if it sabotages the Mac mini PR.

The evil that men do lives after them

The for-your-own-good creeping authoritarianism of the official language police has no place in Quebec, let alone Ontario: Clarence-Rockland has passed a bylaw requiring new businesses to post signs that give equal prominence to French and English, likely making it the first Ontario municipality to regulate the language on signs. Just for a change, I'd like to see some Ontario municipality try to start punishing businesses for having prominent French signs. I'd like to see bylaw officers going around measuring the size of signs in every muncipality without a majority unilingual-Francophone population, handing out fines for daring to pollute such a pure language with signs in wicked, imperialistic tongue. It'd never happen, of course; Anglais, c'est la seulement langue mauvaise en ville. I resent the liberal-guilt-encouraged official encroachment of French where it's unnecessary, but here in Ottawa, it's at least understandable. Nowhere else in Ontario, however. That's where I draw the line. Haughty and arrogant actions like those of Rockland don't make me feel any more warmly towards Franco-Ontarians. Like much that is asinine about modern Canada, the impetus for such initiatives can be directly blamed on Trudeau. Thanks, again, ever-so-much for the Official Languages Act and the Charter, you tool.

A walk-on role in the script, to your long, long grift

Michael Moore is the new Ralph Nader? I'm fine with him having that level of credibility and relevance, as long as it never leads to pandering or wildly inappropriate guest-star spots. (Via Instapundit.)

Don't be stupid, be a smarty

Although it's painful to be reminded of it, the current crop of prominent European leaders such as Jacques Chirac and Gerhardt Schroeder really are the lesser of two evils. I mean, really. I realize this is a broad, hyperbolizing and utterly unhelpful question, but: Why is Europe, collectively, insane? Why does the European political dynamic support no such thing as centrism without knee-jerk anti-Americanism, conservatism without reprehensible anti-Semitism, or liberalism without obnoxious nanny-statism? Or vice versa, for the latter two? I don't understand why this seems to be utterly impossible. (And it really makes it hard to say anything but 'a pox on all their houses,' in the diplomatic sense.)

The grub at these here parties beats the pants off lunch at Sardi's

Jane Galt offers ideas on eating cheaply: I talk the talk about eating cheap, but would I really want to live that way, demand several interlocutors. My darlings, I am a journalist with MBA-sized student loans. Would I want to live that way? I do. Oh, I entertain more than someone poor could afford to, and I have several habits, such as diet ginger ale and berry-yogurt-compotes, that are not in the USDA's thrifty food plan. But I invite you to peruse today's menu: Breakfast: 1 packet instant oatmeal Banana Lunch: Microwave rice and peas* Apple Snack: Honey-nut cheerios Dinner: Not sure yet. Chicken soup, maybe, made from scratch and stuck in my freezer, or homemade chili treated the same way. I can heartily approve of her dinner menu. But frozen peas? Honey-Nut Cheerios? Instant oatmeal? Gee, Mrs. Rockefeller, thanks for the tips! All joking aside (and without any offense meant), there are better options. Take instant oatmeal. I grew up eating oatmeal porridge for breakfast every day until I was 16 or so, and finally became fed up with the healthful additions of flaxseed and soy milk with which my parents insisted on corrupting the pure, unadulterated recipe. Three-quarters of a cup of rolled or steel-cut oats, about twice as much water, brown sugar to taste, some kind of optional fruit and an optional egg for protein (and a custard-like consistency), and simmer the whole thing until thickened; that's all it takes. I like(d) raisins for preference in mine, but berries or chopped fruit also work. Make it plain out of even highly-marked-up boxed oats, and it still comes to only pennies per serving, slightly more if topping with milk. As for frozen peas, admittedly, buying fresh is a seasonal option, and not terribly cheaper. However, how elastic is the demand? I can get a 2kg bag of fresh carrots for $1.99; dice those, freeze some for later convenience if need be, and you've still got some vegetables in your mock congee/risotto, for a better price than frozen peas. (At least, compared to what the price of frozen peas tends to be around here.) Despite such miserly admonishments, that's not to say I don't occasionally splurge, albeit on a small scale. The most expensive meal I've made in the past month was sushi, and probably cost about $6 - remarkably high, for my budget; even that was largely due to $3 worth of fresh tuna, as well as the amortized cost of wasabi, nori, and pickled ginger. That's an anomaly, though; most of what I eat largely involves cheap bulk grain, whether barley in a soup or flour in homemade bread. Protein is easily found in ground beef or periodically-sale-priced cheese, which are a limited expense. (Oh, and Diet Pepsi. That's more of an expense than I'd like, but I can justify that with how awful Ottawa's municipal water supply tastes. Compared to well water out where I grew up, anyway. And as long as I'm buying something canned or bottled, why not something with flavour and caffeine?) Nitpicking aside, I'll certainly agree with Jane's basic point: It is possible to eat very frugally, on something like $40 a month for the essentials, as long as you're not obsessed with eating meat at every meal or cold cereal for breakfast. It's all about cutting down on the most processed, pre-packaged, ready-to-eat foods.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"It's like a tiny god..."

Yow. All is forgiven, Apple. Especially for only starting at $629 Canadian.

A picture out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine

The Ottawa Citizen's official blogger, Tom Spears, makes some "fairly horrifying" leaps of hyperbole: Expecting the new generation to bring new and tolerant attitudes to working mothers? Guess again. The young up-and-comers now graduating from university think Mom belongs in the nursery, or maybe barefoot and in the kitchen. Certainly not at the office. Read on, however, and it's clear this isn't the case at all: In a fairly horrifying study, the Ohio State University asked a couple of hundred college kids to interview two actors posing as job candidates. "Kenneth Anderson" and "Katherine Anderson" were pretending to apply for jobs at a law office. When Ken told people he had two young kids, the interviewers reacted more favourably toward hiring him, and felt he’d be a strong candidate to climb the career ladder. But when Katherine said she had two young children, it sent a chill through the interview. She was offered the job less often. And the interviewers felt she would be a lousy candidate for promotion even if she did get in. Don’t blame the actor who played Katherine: She did fine in job interviews when she told people she was single and childless. Look, I like to think I'm gender-blind in such respects. But the reality is that children need raising by someone. Stay-at-home dads are, unfortunately, rare. It's not unreasonable for someone making hiring decisions to assume that a mother is going to get stuck - fairly or not - with taking care of traditional mom stuff: doctor's appointments, sports practice, grocery shopping, cooking, etc. It's rather arrogant of Spears to sacrifice all that on the altar of political correctness; how dare anyone assume, he seems to be saying, that in a two-parent, two-income family, someone is going to actually have to do some parenting, and that might reduce effectiveness at a full-time, high-stress professional position. Again, fairly or not, to imagine that a mother of two (without explicit evidence to the contrary, such as, say, mention that hubby plans to stay at home raising the kids) is going to be able to entirely avoid the primary caregiver role is just ignorant. I don't see any endorsement of the hackneyed old "barefoot and pregnant" line in the results of the study, just an acknowledgment of practical realities. "Sometimes gender stereotypes are manifested in very subtle ways," said Kathleen Fuegen, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology. "Even today, mothers are still expected to be caregivers first and fathers are still seen as the main breadwinners... "People are setting higher standards for mothers than for fathers because they expect that mothers will be less committed to their jobs and will need more time off to take care of their children." Dark Matter bets that many or most of these snotty college kids have working mothers helping to pay their way through school. Or, perhaps, as a generation of latchkey kids, they resent absentee parents in the general sense, and wouldn't want to visit that angst and alienation on others. Maybe they actually place the intangible value of a full-time parent over financial gain or PC ideals. I'm just, y'know, saying.

Smoke on your pipe and put that in

Don't like taking personal responsibility for your own decisions and self-delusions? Try to offload the blame to the federal government: A group of public health advocates wants the courts to order a federal agency to decide on a course of action in the scrap over "light" and "mild" cigarettes. To that end, they filed an application with the Federal Court of Canada on Monday. We now live in the Fantastic World of Tomorrow that is the year 2005. Is there really anyone left in Canada who still doesn't understand, after years of public health campaigns, scientific research, and media frenzies - at the very least, on an abstract level - that smoking is not what could be called a healthy and life-enhancing habit? Is it really necessary to ban marketing terms like "light" and "mild?" Anyone taking up smoking here and now would have to be willfully blind to be unaware of the risks involved. Even doubters ought to be convinced by the empirical evidence that their smoker's cough doesn't go away, switching to a "light" brand. On the libertarian side of things, I resent this in that it's regulation in lieu of personal responsibility; however, given that the consequences of smoking are financially shared by the entire country via socialized medicine, I suppose it's a necessary tactic. It shouldn't be, though. That's the problem with 'free' health care; it all but formally requires a creeping nanny-statist philosophy in all domestic policy, in order to protect the public from itself.

Monday, January 10, 2005

We are a mighty throng

I would dearly love to know exactly what's on the presidential iPod. If only the resolution was a bit better... (For that matter: 20 gig or 40? Or Photo, even? How full? Any personalized playlists, or some generic stuff broadly picked out by Andy Card? The Cult of iPod wants to know.) (Via Instapundit.)

It's over now, I know inside

It's good to see that Viktor Yushchenko has finally been confirmed as the legitimate winner of the Ukrainian elections; perhaps, now, the consequences of Russian interference will finally start to be dealt with. Russia is - not that this is a unique observation or anything - not actually an ally of the west at the moment, even without the Cold War threat of incipient MAD. But has it ever been? One of the classes I'm taking this term is titled "Russia in Transition," an examination of the collapse of the USSR through to the resurgence of very traditionally Russian authoritarianism under Putin; the professor (a wild-haired Manxman, and not exactly the first person I'd think of as once and future head of the Russian Studies department) takes great delight in pointing out that he's teaching "contemporary history," that can and does change by the day. I'm going to enjoy the eventual lecture that deals with Ukraine 2004; having the benefit of years of distance from history might make for a more coherent narrative, but seeing the here and now of just weeks ago in historical context is just plain fascinating.

Strange what we recall, and odd what we forget

I could swear this is exactly how Diana Muldaur's character was written out of L.A. Law: EDMONTON (CP) - How could slim 16-year-old Kyle Young - shackled, handcuffed and in the care of two guards - accidentally fall five storeys to his death down a closed elevator shaft in Edmonton's courthouse? Freaky. Sad, but also freaky. David E. Kelley's writing has nothing on real life, nowadays.

Everybody's playing the game, but nobody's rules are the same

"Bush: I'd welcome Abbas to White House." Erg. Just how many terror bombings is he going to have to mastermind before it's generally realized he should be exactly the same persona non grata as Arafat was, by the end? Given where he's getting his support, I'm not confident anything has, in fact, changed. Until and unless he starts serious negotiations with Israel - i.e., ones that don't demand "removal of the Zionist entity" as an all-or-nothing provision of acceptance - this seems like more of the same from a profoundly disturbed culture. Moreover, as if it needs to be said, I'm a bit disappointed in Bush for acknowledging Abbas' victory with any more than a cursory non-comment. When he starts cooperating, and if he calls off or fights back against the multiple different terrorist organizations semi-officially supported or directed by the Palestinian Authority, that's the time to be warm and gracious, and no sooner.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

All those coins, that we take from the throng

Friday, January 07, 2005

Your apple pie don't taste too nice

Perhaps I should clarify my thoughts on Apple's case against Think Secret. I was actually aware, if only in passing historical memory, of the screw-ups regarding ATI and the Apple web staff. I can't argue with Apple's reactions to either. This, I can. Unless it can be proven that Nick DePlume explicitly incited those signing NDAs to break them, is shooting the messenger productive? Like any quasi-journalist dealing largely in rumour, DePlume no doubt gets anonymous tips. Does he have a solemn duty not to publicize it? If he hasn't signed an NDA, I don't see that he's ethically in the wrong. I'm also still not convinced there's a valid claim anything in this represents a trade secret. It's a compilation of previous statements, conjecture, and "expected" hardware specs, which could be extrapolated from the anticipated market sector and the needs of the target consumers. To focus on the publicizer rather than the legitimate injury done is to miss the point entirely. Apple has an airtight case against the leakers, who, having broken their side of a contract, are clearly in the wrong. Think Secret isn't, except possibly on a difficult-to-argue technicality. I'm not terribly worried about torrents of bad PR arising from this for Apple; I am aware the hammer's been dropped, and hard, before. But as a potential new customer drawn to the Mac via the iPod - theoretically one of the two new markets they're gunning for with the now all-but-certain new system - heavy-handed attitudes towards something that seems (again, to me, as a casual observer only semi-familiar with the running narrative of Apple vs. The Corporate Empire-Destroying Scourge of Rumours) not terribly harmful does tend to sap the goodwill I have for the company.

"Oh my God...the dead have risen, and they're voting Democratic!"

Hah. Take that, "Sideshow Bob Roberts." Yes, of the specific examples where the Seattle Post-Intelligencer interviewed officials or family members of the inexplicably civic-minded deceased, one is noted to have been strongly against the Democratic candidate. I find it highly informative that no affiliation nor preference is stated nor implied for the other dead voters. If (as the news business thinks) three examples make a trend, then the trend that seems to have occurred isn't really the kind of thing anyone wants to start saying directly, I'm guessing. (Via Instapundit.)

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Well, call me hick, and sue me

This seems remarkably heavy-handed on Apple's part: SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Computer has sued a popular Macintosh rumour Web site for allegedly distributing trade secrets, the latest in a string of lawsuits the company has filed to stop Internet leaks of details of upcoming products. [...] Apple claimed that the information posted on Think Secret in November and December of this year, and earlier, could only have been obtained by someone who had signed a confidentiality agreement with Apple. "Apple had maintained and protected the Future Product Information contained in these two articles as trade secrets, and the information could not have been acquired by the dePlume Defendants without a breach of an Apple confidentiality agreement," Apple said in its lawsuit. Apple is suing Nick dePlume, who owns and runs Think Secret, and 20 other unnamed individuals, some of whom Apple believes gave the unreleased product information to the Web site. The company also said that it believes dePlume is an assumed name, and that it will amend its complaint with dePlume's real name and the names of the other defendants, once they were determined. "Apple's DNA is innovation, and the protection of our trade secrets is crucial to our success," the Cupertino, California-based company said in a statement. Apple also said that its efforts to squelch the publication of as-yet-unannounced products was not an attempt to stifle free speech. "These constitutionally protected freedoms, however, do not extend to defendants' unlawful practice of misappropriating and disseminating trade secrets acquired through the deliberate violation of known duties of confidentiality," the company said in its complaint. Since about two years ago, I've decided the next new computer I buy will be a Mac. I can't afford a dual G5 with Cinema Monitor for the time being, however, so I was looking forward to the purported headless system, as a possible means of more immediately sating my interest in an ever-so-much-prettier (and greatly more functional-seeming) OS. This kind of thing won't make me boycott Apple, but it certainly does leave a bad taste in my mouth. Rumours will always circulate, and most always be wrong. It seems to me the best course of action would be to ignore them, and make the official announcements at the trade shows, as usual. What trade secrets have been divulged here? All I've seen in following the story are a vague system concept (buy the tower alone, use your existing cheap VGA monitor) and some hardware specs. Have I missed something? Have some genuinely secret manufacturing processes or physical design blueprints been leaked? Gizmodo reports today that iPod minis ordered as 4GB models have been shipped as 5GB, in an apparent stealth rollout of the soon-to-be-announced new size; is that a trade secret too? It hasn't been officially announced yet, after all. I'm sure Apple is within their rights based on the terms of their NDAs to launch this kind of suit. I can't help wondering, though, if they've really thought the consequences through. This is bound to generate some degree of backlash; who doesn't like engaging in baseless wish-fulfillment rumourmongering? Now there's a new element added to the game, however - get the details sufficiently correct, and Apple will admit as such by suing you, in a bizarre show of contempt for the most fanatical of customers. If that's sound business strategy for either the company's loyal core market, or the emerging casual users turned on to Apple by the iPod, I'm not seeing it. (Via Drudge.) UPDATE: More here.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Shing-a-ling, what a creepy thing to be happening

Since the most recent reformat-and-reinstall of my main computer, the Defiant, I decided to finally try out Google Desktop; one can only take so much of - notwithstanding any other awful sluggishness in searches - Outlook's glacially slow built-in search engine. One caveat: Sweet Zombie Jesus, it's creepy to see e-mail results pop up in Google searches seconds after they're received, and before being read.

It's not just black and white, if I may coin a phrase, as any neutral would attest

This story is fascinating. Check out the first paragraph: (Reuters) - Feisty New York lawyer Lynne Stewart is being prosecuted on hyped-up terror charges to destroy her career of defending unpopular clients including a militant Muslim cleric convicted of plotting to bomb U.S. targets, her attorney argued on Wednesday. And how the first paragraph was truncated in Google News' summary: (Reuters) - Feisty New York lawyer Lynne Stewart is being prosecuted on hyped-up terror charges to destroy her career of defending unpopular clients including a militant Muslim cleric. I suppose Reuters is probably just committed to a punchy, top-heavy sentence structure, and has no intention to imply editorial opinion to those only casually scanning the page. But it does point to at least the implication of implication. "Her attorney argued" is a qualifier that places the entire first sentence into the realm of (technically) strictly factual reporting - yet still manages to give a sympathetic tone to the defendant, in officiously hyperbolizing the charges through her defense's voice. Yes, it's reporting, but more than anything it's giving her lawyer a favourable mouthpiece - and I wouldn't have even noticed except for Google News' accidentally inappropriate abridgement. What liberal media? Oh, right.

People can do what they want to, but I've got a feeling it ain't democratic

Viktor Yanukovich - despite being at the very least somewhat overly inclined to pay heed to Russian instructions, and behaving thuggishly heavy-handed in doing so - has nonetheless learned well from the west in post-election tactics: call out the lawyers. If you won a rigged election, well, that was the true Will of the People; if you lose a fair election, there must have been massive fraud. I'm impressed; that's some chutzpah, all things considered. I'm sure his claim will be (rightly) rejected by Ukraine's Supreme Court, but that he's making it means something. I'm just not sure what.

But that's not the point, my friends

Instapundit points to a story of congressional malfeasance; Christmas turkeys donated to the needy by a Detroit food bank via Rep. John Conyers' office somehow managed to get themselves lost along the way. So lost, in fact, that some ended up in the freezers of staffers' cronies, it seems, in the best Tammany Hall tradition. Notwithstanding the likelihood of party affiliations based on the Congressman's district (part of Detroit), and having no prior familiarity with Conyers (although it appears I certainly should), I instantly knew he was a Democrat by the second paragraph of the story. Why? If he'd been Republican, it would have been in the headline. Funny how no party membership is named (or even implied) in the text itself, hmm?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

If this is flag waving (flag waving), do you know of a better flag to wave?

I keep forgetting to mention it, but the latest Red Ensign Standard has been posted.

What if the world slandered my name

Dissent over the ways and means of Canadian federalism starts turning ugly: HALIFAX -- Marie Routhier would prefer to be called Marie Johnston from now on. And to ensure it happens, she went to the Newfoundland and Labrador vital statistics office last week to officially register the change. It is one of the more extreme reactions to the federal and provincial governments' failure to reach an offshore deal in recent weeks that has seen an emotional and frustrated Premier Danny Williams order all the Canadian flags taken down from provincial buildings only to reconsider days later. Ms. Johnston, the 25-year-old chief executive officer of IQ Sportswear Inc., a Newfoundland-owned-and-operated clothing design and manufacturing company, announced on New Year's Eve that she would discontinue its popular line of patriotic Canadian flag swimwear in support of Mr. Williams. As political statements from private citizens go, this is pretty mild. Yet that doesn't stop a handful of the usual suspects from overreacting: So far, her company's politically based business decision has netted her 17 pieces of electronic "hate mail" and a lot more support, mostly from within the province and from expatriate Newfoundlanders. She has been called a Nazi and a traitor. Some suggested she move to the United States. Others said she insulted Canadians and war veterans. So far, she hasn't heard from Mr. Williams. Sometimes, I imagine a world where even one-tenth of people using the term Nazi to attack their political opponents actually understood what it meant. What a lovely place that would be.

Goodness and badness, man in his madness

One reason for the rest of Canada to be concerned about heavy storms in Winnipeg: The disturbingly sociopathic behaviour indicative of cabin fever seems to set in early and hard during Manitoban winters.

Bent and lame

Apparently during the period while I let my subscription lapse, I missed the Ottawa Citizen trumpeting the Canada.com network's latest lame addition, another pseudo-blog. Unlike the Citizen's own, Dark Matter, which at least has a semi-interesting scientific bent, this one is entirely preoccupied with brites. Let's see...clueless repurposing of otherwise-unusable material, terrible name, updated exactly once daily on weekdays only? Oh, I'll bookmark that, you betcha.

The medium is the message

In related criticism of the hour-long scripted drama genre, I caught the pilot of NBC's Medium last night. It seems promising, despite all the expected cliches; the only thing I'd change would be to actually show the ghosts the psychic of the title, Allison Dubois, talks with, on a more regular basis. Of five or six times she received information from the spirits, the actual conversation was shown only twice. Admittedly, one of the scenes without such visuals (interrogating a teenage child molester, describing the ghost of his own prior abuser and the abuser's abuser, and so on, as invisibly filling the room) was probably all the more effective for it. However, the others wouldn't have suffered for a more demonstrative means of exposition. What did strike me - as something I'd thought network TV might have learned to keep a handle on in the last few years, let alone in the two months - was just how much derision was shown for red states by the smugly superior lead, and the plot in itself. Having contacted the Texas Rangers about a vision she's had about a crime committed in Texas, Dubois is flown out from her home (California?) to help. From the moment the airplane carrying her is shown over baked-earth plains, the soundtrack starts up with twangy bluegrass, and doesn't really quit until she's back home. When she lands, the suspicious local Ranger captain outlines the crime's circumstances, before demanding to know how and why Dubois is privy to such minute details thereof; his "Are you understanding me so far?" is met with a haughty "I speak English...and you do a passable job yourself, yeah." Captain Push (Jeebus, guys; did "Captain Shrub" seem too obvious today, or something?) is portrayed as a grade-A jackass, a fumbling redneck who claims to be a "career crimininalolagist." Push quizzes Dubois on which of a number of crime scenes are real and staged to test her psychic cred, at one point taking her to a one-room shack whose sole contents are an unmade bed and a nightstand covered with condoms; her comment is "Something happened here, all right - but I don't think it was any crime. At least not where I come from." The antipathy towards Texas - quaint land of highways, dusty fields, motels, and prisons, populated only by drooling perverts and cowboy-hat-wearing hicks - is almost palpable. Sure, the pilot had to have been shot long before the election, before it was more or less realized that this kind of big-media contempt for half of America just might have been a factor in the outcome, but I'm sure some minor editing could have been done in the past two months. A disquieting thought: What if it already has been, and this is what's left?

The doctor even knows the reason why the facts are these

Don't toy with me, Fox. Don't pick up House for a full season order only to let it die over baseball season and the summer hiatus, just like every other series I've loved. Slowly strangling Futurama was nearly the end between us. Killing Firefly and Wonderfalls was adding insult to injury. But, so help me, destroy the wonder and joy of Hugh Laurie (Hugh Laurie, for the love of Britcoms) as a cranky MD with an endearingly odd American accent, and we shall have to have words. (Via TV Tattle.)

Monday, January 03, 2005

If that ain’t worth a buck, my name ain’t Phineas

Apparently, the UN's been screwing up an awful lot lately simply because they don't have competent enough propagandists on staff: If the United Nations often has difficulty articulating its goals in words that are understandable to the average citizen, it may be because it lacks individuals at the top of its bureaucratic jungle with the skill and confidence to speak clearly and convincingly when the camera lights come on. I...see. So the endemic corruption and relentless anti-American and anti-Israel agenda has nothing to do with it, then? Well, I'm glad that's been cleared up.

We'll all sing a song full of comfort and joy

Speaking of eBay, one of the things I managed to get over Christmas (not for Christmas - for Christmas, people strangely seem to keep giving me cookware) was the London Cast recording of Bat Boy. It only ended up being a few dollars cheaper than if I'd ordered straight from a UK site, but the importer was in BC, which meant relatively speedy shipping. I have to say, I'm disappointed. I've listened to the whole show a few times now, and it really isn't quite as good as the original Broadway cast recording. "Hey Freak" ("Whatcha Wanna Do," in the OBC) has been almost completely reorganized, with more genuine rhyming, but less of the syncopation that made the original sound threatening. Local teen punk jackass Rick Taylor is taunting the newly-christened Edgar (the Bat Boy of the title) with elaborate threats of violence and humiliation. In the original, the lyrics seem like half-hearted freestyling; he's just too engrossed in his revenge fantasies to rhyme more competently than "tonight" with "tonight": Come on, little coward, let's get it on I'm gonna make you wish you were never born When I'm done with you, I'll Show you how I spill your brains tonight I'll run you over like a train tonight I'll put you in a world of pain tonight So come on come on come on come on I should've brought my loaded gun tonight But stomping you will be more fun tonight You're gonna pay for what you've done tonight I'm takin' out my Bowie knife tonight I'm gonna end your worthless life tonight I'm making you my prison wife tonight [Crescendo accented on 'I' in "tonight," then fade out] Compare to the London version, where Rick seems more literate than Eminem-emulating white trash should: Come on, little coward, let's get it on I'm gonna make you wish you were never born I'm coming over there to spill your brains I'm gonna run you over like a train I'll put you in a world of pain And I'll snap your spine I should have brought my loaded gun But stomping you will be more fun You're gonna pay for what you've done Fool! You are mine! I'm takin' out my Bowie knife I'm gonna end your worthless life I'm makin' you my prison wife Freak! You are mine! [Fade out] I miss the "Come on, come on, come on," etc. And then, of course, there are changes for tactfulness, which seem mildly surprising for a musical based on the Weekly World News. One verse of "Comfort and Joy" concerns the townspeople and their hopes for the revival meeting in stopping the rash of mysterious cattle deaths: Boy, that preacher's a pro Gives a heckuva show Just like Siegfried and Roy He'll bring comfort and joy In the post-Roy-mauling reality, Bat Boy thus proves to be slightly more tasteful than Father of the Pride: Turn that frown upside down There's new hope for this town Two more dead (Shut up, Roy) We'll have comfort and joy "Comfort and Joy" also changes a metaphor I suspect might not be entirely understood in the British idiom, from: He will come out a champ It's just like summer camp They'll get used to the boy We'll have comfort and joy To: In a suit and a tie He's a regular guy They'll get used to the boy We'll have comfort and joy Those are the most substantive of changes to the existing songs. There are also two new ones, which replace "Inside Your Heart" (never one of my favourites from the original cast album) and add about a minute of expository filler. I collect multiple versions of cast recordings specifically to hear minor variations between them, and these are nothing special. What hasn't been changed somehow sounds subtly weaker. The tempo's been slowed down in nearly every piece, losing a lot of what was previously manic energy. Also, maybe it's just that I'm used to the original cast recording, which features slightly more authentic accents on the part of the West Virginian characters, but the accents in this version are terrible. Worse than Brad and Janet in the 1973 Original London Cast of The Rocky Horror Show, as bad American accents go...if by any slim chance anyone reading this, has heard that. Meh, as the saying goes; I'm still happy to have another version, just for variety.

Bond me and bail me, drug me or jail me, stamp me and mail me

I don't quite understand how Mark Steyn has failed to mention Canada in mocking extended Eurocratic Christmas holidays. Perhaps he needs to spend more time in Ottawa. (I know, I know; that's a terrible thing to wish upon anyone.) Today was yet another holiday for, it seemed, the great mass of federal employees. It was only a minor inconvenience, in that I wanted to check the clearance outlet bookstore in L'Esplanade Laurier for something (and was unable to, as the whole building was locked up tight). Still, who decided that when a holiday falls on a weekend, the next weekday is taken off, anyway? Last week, it was rather more affecting of my daily business: I had to mail a package. I'd won some rather expensive sunglasses in a contest at work, and being nearly blind without my prescription lenses, unfortunately had no use for them; I sold them on eBay for a handsome amount. The auction ended on Saturday. Come Monday, I went out to the nearest post office - and found it closed; no matter, I thought, that was to be expected. But, then, all the nearby post offices were closed Tuesday as well. I didn't check the one at Sparks and Elgin, but the one on my walk home from work was also closed Wednesday. Finally, on Thursday, I was able to mail the sunglasses out, with a note of apology to the buyer for our rabidly inefficient and lazy public service. Today, too, that post office was closed; I won't be surprised if it is tomorrow as well. What makes this most irritating is that no information on actual dates and times of opening were posted at all, only a sign noting that Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve had hours of 8-4. (It's a good thing actual business largely relies on private shipping.) If Canada Post is only going to work three-day weeks between the third week of December and the second of January, it would at least be polite to advertise that fact in writing, no?

We will stand by your side, filled with hope and filled with pride

Like a number of others, I've joined the Blogging Tories (formerly "Blogs for the CPC," in an awkward parallel to "Blogs for Bush"), mainly under the notion that it can't possibly hurt. I should note that I'm not currently a member of the Conservative Party. This isn't a blank check of support for the CPC - I have been getting somewhat fed up with their inability to capitalize better on Liberal gaffes lately, and given the small share of power that minority government has brought them, the caucus does seem to be letting their priorities slip. That said, there's such a thing as pragmatism. I don't support - and in fact find somewhat repellent - some of the most socially conservative Tory policies. But I can appreciate that there are those who feel differently, and a big-tent party requires that kind of compromise; given that this big tent is the only one with even the remotest chance of unseating the current dominant one, I can make allowances. I did last year. Likewise, the election of 2000 fell about two months short of my being old enough to vote. Unable to participate directly, I did so indirectly - donating to (and acquiring a party membership in) the Canadian Alliance. I wasn't entirely comfortable with their platform then either, but when there's (realistically) two sides, picking one is no vice. Better to compromise on the minor things than to stay neutral (or worse, support a fringe party), affecting aloof superiority by calling a pox on both houses. Pick a side, any side, at any point in electoral history; they'll both have their good and bad points, but one is always slightly less bad, be it Whig or Federalist or GOP. Whatever issues I may have with the more intrusively statist party policies or embarassing candidates (I'm looking at you, Cheryl Gallant; it's a good thing I no longer live in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, or I'd have had a tough decision last year), the party as a whole deserves support if only for being the opposition, at this point. The odds seem pretty good a federal election will be called this year. If the Blogging Tories can help to shape the campaign debate even one-tenth as much as Blogs for Bush did, I'll be feeling much more upbeat about the outcome.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

I am Cow, here I stand, far and wide across this land

I smell another glut of cheap ground beef coming very soon, regardless of what the Agriculture spokeswoman here quoted is saying.

We have gold, a market that will hold

Cheap Chinese imports? Old news. Unless they're cars. I'm probably the prime market for such a car - young, single, without too too much disposable income, and though occasionally swayed by slick marketing and design, not unwilling to drive something tiny and fuel-efficient. (Either a Hummer H2 or a subcompact, that's my motto.) I'm still not sure I'd buy one, even if the chance presented itself; I continue to be torn between avoiding funding the Chinese economy for political reasons, and encouraging their transition to (sort-of) capitalism. It's not as though I consciously boycott Chinese products, or anything like that; it'd be hard to be pragmatic about finances and keep up that kind of ethical high-mindedness for long on a daily basis, with what I live on. Still, if I was going to make a (relatively) cheap major purchase of the automobile variety, there's always South Korean oddball Daewoo. Market forces have far-reaching impact, as we sometimes need to be reminded; I'd like to think I help point the local, national and global economy - in whatever small way I have influence over - in a positive direction.

Busted

A somewhat more traditionally geekier friend linked me to this, which seems...just a bit gratuitous, even for the subject matter. (Also, am I alone in thinking the face looks slightly less Jeri Ryan than Hillary Clinton?)

So, in conclusion, it's an optical illusion

Behold the pride of Canada, flickering remnant of the smug sense of global relevance and moral superiority: a special-forces military unit that can't be dispatched for its very specific mandate - disaster relief logistics - because the affected areas are too dangerous. They might be fired upon by local guerillas, y'know. Heaven knows we don't want them to have to fire back. I mean, yes, this would seem to be precisely the mission this unit was created for, and the classic Liberal slow-as-molasses response is unsurprising in any event, but the seemingly smoke-and-mirrors aspect of the unit itself is most troublesome. Our military used to be capable and competent enough to avoid such chicanery; not any more, I suppose.

Enough of cab drivers answering back, in the language far from pure

Manhattan cabbies like a controlled cartel for their services, thankyouverymuch: At first, the giant tricycles did not seem quite so threatening. Pedicabs were more of a novelty than a legitimate mode of transport when a group of environmentalists and artists in Manhattan began pedaling them - and peddling rides on them - nine years ago. But in the past two years, according to unofficial estimates, the number of pedicabs has nearly doubled [...] Cornelius P. Byrne, who inherited his father's stable and hackney carriages in 1964, said the pedicab operators were jeopardizing his livelihood. "These guys have just gone out into the streets, and nobody's questioned them," Mr. Byrne said. "It's kind of crazy. Nobody is asking if it's right, or legal." Yes, how dare they? How dare someone offer a competitive option for transport in a free market? I'm not against regulation, to establish and enforce some sort of industry standards, but Mr. Byrne seems long lost to the big government mindset: anything not explicitly regulated must be somehow bordering on illegality. The real issue is the threat to established cab companies. I recall several years ago, when the constituent cities making up the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton began the long and agonizing process of amalgamation, a similar argument taking place. The old cities of Ottawa and Gloucester tightly controlled taxi licenses, so they were rare and overvalued; Kanata, Nepean, and Orleans were somewhat freer in their issue. Many drivers spent thousands of dollars investing in a private purchase of the license from existing owners, in order to have regular access to the lucrative airport and downtown markets. When amalgamation occurred, the licensing regulations were rationalized, and the artificial overvaluation of individual licenses crashed. Those drivers thought they'd made an investment, and would be protected from competition by the rarity of the same. They survived the sudden influx of competition. (It's still not fun getting a cab anywhere in town, however.) I'm sure New York's cabbies - the very apotheosis of the species - will, too. The market copes. It's amazing how many people don't realize that.

And if I'm flying solo, at least I'm flying free

And I'm back, after a busy month. More or less for good, at this point, without further long hiatuses (hiatii?); classes start Wednesday, and due to better-than-expected news about freelance work, I gave notice at my current job today. My, that felt invigorating. Now, hopefully the regular news cycle - or at least those parts of it not occupied with tsunami reports - will similarly get back to work...