Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I Already Have a Lawn Sign

We in Canada are now in the thick of an election campaign.

I arrived home today from my surgery to find a lawn sign on my lawn - this is a standard feature of Canadian campaigning.My lawn sign supports Marilyn Churley of the New Democratic Party (NDP). There is not the smallest chance in the universe that I will vote for her. Now I do occasionally vote for an NDP candidate - sometimes that candidate, even through running for a party espousing mostly harmful policies, is a demonstrably good person, and more worthy than his/her competitors. My experience suggests there is no danger of that outcome in this election.

How do I come to have this lawn sign? The Party phoned me a month ago or so and asked for permission to put it in place. I agreed immediately - I find lawn signs quite useful for letting me know who is running in my riding. One election, many years ago, I had three separate party lawn signs, and I thought this was excellent.

But I get the feeling the parties are not quite getting my own message. The NDP keeps asking if I want to become a member and I always laugh at that question. Oddly, I am getting the feeling the other parties are seeing the lawn sign planted on the second day of the campaign, and deciding it is not worth bothering me about lawn signs or votes. I welcome this outcome - I have no wish to be bothered by canvassers. And if they aren't agressive enough to get their own lawn signs up - more power to the NDP.

Now it turns out that the leader of another somewhat distatsteful party, Jim Harris of the Greens, has decided to run in my riding. So I at least have a tactical vote. As in the last election, when I saw no party I felt worthy of being elected, at least the Greens were worthy of reaching a vote level that got them federal funding.


Not yet the Six-Million Dollar Man - so far all I have is a plastic lens in my right eye replacing the natural protein one that had been rapidly becoming useless. Tomorrow I will know whether it works.

Cataract surgery as done where I experienced it is interesting. One passes through several stages at the hospital, undergoing various transformations and experiences. One of the risks this hospital runs is that outgoing and incoming queues cross paths. I must say this worked well for me - as I was undergoing final preparation on the way in, one of the patients who had just been operated on appeared to undergo some parallel testing on his way out. He was SO upbeat that an enormous amount of my nervousness evaporated. I am inferring that this protocol is in place for a reason and I am thankful.

The actual operation, experienced while you are conscious, with the eye to be assaulted under local anaesthetic was very odd. What I recall experiencing was an explosion of interesting colours in the eye, occasional senses of water being flushed through the eye, more colours, weird sounds, more colours, and an oddly-shaped hole through the colours. Whatever mood-altering anaesthetic was applied was quite successful (even more so on the man after me, who came out singing the Italian National Anthem).

Tomorrow morning I get to remove the patch. The bottom line is what happens then. So far no major discomfort.

I feel I was treated with ultimate professionalism and am grateful to the whole team at the hospital who contributed to the operation.

UPDATE: The eye patch is off and all seems well.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Temple Grandin's "Animals in Translation"

This is yet another book I learned about from blogs.

I don't know how much of it is dead right but she catches a lot that I believe. Here is a lovely section on what she calls the SEEKING system in creatures:
This part of the brain starts firing when the animal sees a sign that food might be nearby but stops firing when the animal sees the actual food itself. The SEEKING circuit fires during the search for food, not during the final locating or eating of the food. It's the search that feels so good.

That's not as surprising as it sounds when you think about it. At the most basic level, animals and humans are wired to enjoy hunting for food. That's why hunters like to hunt even if they're not going to eat what they kill: they like the hunting part in and of itself. Depending on their personalities and interests, humans enjoy any kind of hunt: they like hunting through fleamarkets for hidden finds; they like hunting for answers to medical problems on the Internet; they like hunting for the ultimate meaning of life in church or in a philosophy seminar. All of these activities come out of the same system in the brain.
Much later in the book, a passage that caused me to guffaw:
...anyone who's gone out and bought himself a Border collie - or who's thinking about going out and buying himself a Border collie - is missing one big item from the Border collie list, and that is a job
The rest of the book is a wonderful exercise in trying to understand us and the other creatures who surround us. I found it all wonderful, and recommend it highly.

Bare Ruined Choirs

... where late the sweet beach volleyball players played. I don't think they will be back in action for a while.

On the other hand, the swans seem pretty pleased with life and are showing no signs of going anywhere else for the winter. Today there were also many bufflehehads, but I am still waiting for the oldsquaws to show up.

I am now consistently seeing five swans, so I am guessing that this group is the family that got raised in the bay down here; one day I saw nine, which I would guess was this family swimming about sociably with some other local swan family.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Such a tough choice

I have to decide whether to watch John Ralston Saul lecturing on the collapse of globalization, or rather, watch the Skins Game. Tiger Woods vs. Annika Sorenstam! That is serious globalization, and diversity too. Who needs this clown Saul, who seems rarely to have been right about anything? Tiger and Annika know what they are doing.

UPDATE: I made the right choice. No surprise there.

National Psyche Destroyed

Once again today's Globe and Mail provides some mirthful insights into our sorry and silly national mentality, seeking slights everywhere. Apparently there is good and bad news in the opera world.
First the good news: Canadian opera singers are hot in Europe. While there's nothing new about singers from this country performing overseas -- they've been crossing the Atlantic since Emma Albani, from Chambly, Que., boarded a ship for Paris in 1868 -- this season there's a bumper crop of Canadians on European stages.
Opera is one of the truly globalized industries, and long has been. And Canadian singers do well in it. What could the bad news be?
The not-so-good news, however, is that Canada's contribution to this most European of art forms tends to go pretty much unnoticed: Like Canadian movie stars in Hollywood, our finest opera singers are often assumed to be from somewhere else. Heppner, who was born in British Columbia and lives in Toronto, is frequently taken for an American. Once, in Vienna, when someone dismissed his claim that Canadians were in any way distinct from Americans, he retorted that he had the same view of Austrians and Germans.
Heppner's point is a good one (I have family ties to Austria, and many business ties to Germany), but what is the problem here? I find myself mistaken for someone from the US all the time in Europe; this has never bothered me and has created no single difficulty in my life. I am more shocked when I am spotted as a Canadian since I studiously do not mark my baggage or self with flags or the like.

Needless to say, the reporter manages to elide some key points reporting on another slight to his imagined national identity:
Particularly confusing, it seems, is the Canadian concept of layered national identities. Isabel Bayrakdarian, who makes her debut at Covent Garden in London in February, is this year's poster girl for the Royal Opera. Currently her image can be seen plastered on Underground stations throughout London, above the words "Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian." A Canadian who was born in Lebanon and educated in Toronto, she is of Armenian descent. But apparently the marketers at Covent Garden thought that "Armenian-Lebanese-Canadian" just didn't work for them.
Let's take a quick look at the current CDs available from the (wonderful) Bayrakdarian: key among them is this, which is rather explicit about Armenian heritage; it is a collection of Armenian liturgical songs, and the conductor is even named Armenian! :-) Bayrakdarian's own web page makes clear her real roots, at least whence she gets grants.

In any case I still don't see any bad news. Why should I care what nationality gets ascribed to the (repeat, wonderful) Isabel Bayrakdarian?

There are some other observations of some note in the article:

There's also the problem of lower demand for opera singers in Canada: Most Canadian opera companies only mount a few productions per season. To fill out their schedules, Canadian singers have to look to Europe, the United States and even Asia.

"It's bloody frustrating," complained Toronto tenor Michael Schade in September, while in London to make his Covent Garden debut. "I swear that if it wasn't for the Toronto and Montreal orchestras, a couple of CBC producers and a few concert series like Toronto's Aldeburgh Connection and the Vancouver Recital Society, there'd be almost no work for me in my favourite country."

Of course even the demand that exists is inflated by government subsidies here in Canada. That particular waste of money does seem to me to be a real problem but goes unaddressed in the article.

Personally I am thrilled for all these performers that the European taxpayers are willing to support our nationals. And while I do take full advantage of the (likely smaller) subsidies our government gives to similar enterprises in Canada by attending events, I don't think it is fair that our taxpayers who have no interest in such performances are helping to buy my tickets.

Abiola Lapite addresses a similar subject in a rather handy way here.

Top 100s

The quondam Eclectic Econoclast, now reborn as the Econoclectic, observed that the NY Times has published its list of 100 Notable books of the year. The Globe and Mail has followed (as is our Canadian wont).

Remarkable fact - I have read the same number of books on both lists. In fact, the same books, Saturday, and Freakonomics.

Reading the lists, I figured that over the next few years, I might read at most a couple more books from each list.

My book-buying is somewhat patterned. I like hardcovers sold as seconds (they usually sell for less than the paperback), but this guarantees I won't read the book the year it makes the top 100 list. Books I will buy as new hardcovers are usually not the sort that would make the list - for example, it is my intention to go purchase the new Scott Turow and Minette Walters novels today; I know I will enjoy them, and likely so will my mother when I pass them on.

Why were the two books above exceptions? This post from Norm Geras sold McEwan's novel to me (and the novel had so much more in it than was hinted - in fact for me the 'grandeur in this view' theme was also key to its success). Numerous reviews of the Dubner-Levitt book in the many economics blogs I follow sold it (and my mother enjoyed it as well!). Very interesting to watch marketing take new forms.

Adamson's Monsters, III

They are pretty smart - they can find their treats under the snow (this test was easy though, as the locations were marked in the snow - we'll give them a tougher test later in the winter.) This fellow has grown a white mustache.

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative - back to silliness

From time to time I forget the title of this blog, but a story that has been growing for a while now is offering me the opportunity to stay on topic. A former cabinet minister, and a realistic Liberal leadership hope at one time, has taken it upon himself to lead the way, somewhat as Canada did back in the 1950's with UN peacekeeping.
A former Canadian Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister under Pierre Trudeau has joined forces with three Non-governmental organizations to ask the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics -- relations with “ETs.”

By “ETs,” Mr. Hellyer and these organizations mean ethical, advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that may now be visiting Earth.

On September 25, 2005, in a startling speech at the University of Toronto that caught the attention of mainstream newspapers and magazines, Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Defence Minister from 1963-67 under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prime Minister Lester Pearson, publicly stated: "UFOs, are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head."

Mr. Hellyer went on to say, "I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something."

I have seen much self-satisfaction communicated in various blogs of late about how UFOs have dropped from fashion because of the internet. This would seem to indicate the old devils still have some life yet. In fact the usual suspects show up (Roswell, ...).

There is a particularly Canadian twist to this. Hellyer is of course primarily worried about the US.

The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning.

He seems to assume the aliens would want to warn us first and Bush would be to blame for anything that transpired. And apparently the US has a military base on the moon readying for the unprovoked aggression. Instapundit even has a picture.

Hellyer’s speech ended with a standing ovation

My theatre-going experience suggests standing ovations are somewhat easy to come by, but it is even easier here with a good shot of anti-Americanism in the mix.

It goes farther - it seems we have a variety of organizations pushing the Senate to investigate (don't worry - just the Canadian Senate - who are exhausted today from passing several bills in the last few days because of our impending election).

The Non-governmental organizations seeking Parliament hearings include Canada-based Toronto Exopolitics Symposium, which organized the University of Toronto Symposium at which Mr. Hellyer spoke.

The Disclosure Project, a U.S.– based organization that has assembled high level military-intelligence witnesses of a possible ET presence, is also one of the organizations seeking Canadian Parliament hearings.

Vancouver-based Institute for Cooperation in Space (ICIS), whose International Director headed a proposed 1977 Extraterrestrial Communication Study for the White House of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who himself has publicly reported a 1969 Close Encounter of the First Kind with a UFO, filed the original request for Canadian Parliament hearings.

The Canadian Exopolitics Initiative, presented by the organizations to a Senate Committee panel hearing in Winnipeg, Canada, on March 10, 2005, proposes that the Government of Canada undertake a Decade of Contact.

The proposed Decade of Contact is “a 10-year process of formal, funded public education, scientific research, educational curricula development and implementation, strategic planning, community activity, and public outreach concerning our terrestrial society’s full cultural, political, social, legal, and governmental communication and public interest diplomacy with advanced, ethical Off-Planet cultures now visiting Earth.”

That last paragraph fits us Canadians perfectly. Lots of government money to be spent, largely devoted to educating the public of the errors of its ways. And the assumption that the other guys are ethical.

The Senate at least have some good solid sense.

In early November 2005, the Canadian Senate wrote ICIS, indicating the Senate Committee could not hold hearings on ETs in 2005, because of their already crowded schedule.

“That does not deter us,” one spokesperson for the Non-governmental organizations said, “We are going ahead with our request to Prime Minister Paul Martin and the official opposition leaders in the House of Commons now, and we will re-apply with the Senate of Canada in early 2006.

“Time is on the side of open disclosure that there are ethical Extraterrestrial civilizations visiting Earth,” The spokesperson stated. “Our Canadian government needs to openly address these important issues of the possible deployment of weapons in outer war plans against ethical ET societies.”

Now I will grant that if these guys are currently visiting us, they are possibly somewhat ethical, as my own presumption is that the capability to be here would suggest they are capable of a lot of nasty stuff too. And I see no nasty stuff being done.

Of course I also see no current evidence they are here.

I think I will go out today and rent 'Mars Attacks'.

UPDATE: The Right Coast offers a deal:

Here's a possibility. We agree to let Canada take the lead in our relations with ETs, but in return they have to shut up about Iraq.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Why Have a Single-Payer System?

Like our medicare system.

One justification I could see is that the single payer forces some rationalization of the payments and the tracking system; a minimum would seem to me that all transactions with the system are recorded through some sort of central tracking.

And yet. And yet.

Today I went to yet another hospital (where my cataract surgery will be done) and found myself answering all the same questions I have answered several times before. They had NO record of any past encounter I have had with our medical system (largely through my local family medical clinic, but even through my ophthalmologist, and, even wilder, the cataract surgeon who will be fixing my eye at this same hospital).

Incentives matter. And there are none here.

At one level this seems nuts. But then one must ask the question - why should they link these systems, and make all this information shareable? Only to increase efficiency. Well, there is NO reason at all to do that in our current system. So I don't see anything changing soon.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

... who only stand and wait

One thing about queues, sometimes people leave them. Depending on how the queue works, people behind the newly absent may get a major promotion. And in fact, my scheduled three-month wait for an operation on my cataract-afflicted right eye has now become a one-week wait!
I wonder how this will be reflected in our government's much-ballyhooed waiting-list reports.
In any case, I am jubilant and hopeful. What looked like three months of tedious degeneration of my vision is now a concentrated week of preparation and growing excitement.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Toronto Separate School Board versus The Vatican Astronomer

Bob Parks' item 4 from his Nov 18 weekly report reports the following, also confirmed here:
Earlier today, the Rev. George Coyne, the director of the Vatican Observatory said that "intelligent design" is not science and does not belong in science classrooms. This seemed to put the chief astronomer firmly on the side of Cardinal Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture and orthogonal to Austrian Cardinal Schoenborn (WN 8 Jul 05), and perhaps to Pope Benedict XVI, as we saw last week.
Now this is a little depressing to me. In an earlier post I cited this article ($$ needed - I don't recommend spending them), in which we discover that the Toronto Separate School Board (a separate state-funded school system for Roman Catholics) supports a curriculum that teaches Intelligent Design as science. Perhaps they should all be talking to one another?

It is worse; the same article profiles a teacher in the system who cites arguments so stupid that perhaps even most proponents of Intelligent Design would not dare to use them in public. The biggest laugher cited was that "three-quarters of an eyeball is no good". It seems three quarters of a brain might be enough to get some good jobs.

My right eye is pretty fractional right now, but still quite useful in lots of contexts and without it I could be walking into walls. When human science and engineering finally get their chance to work on it (i.e. when the ludicrously unnecessary queues for cataract surgery in our glorious healthcare system finally let me get to what's needed) I expect things to improve.

Found Voices

My previous post talks about a CBC show - I found listening to the full audiocast of the show I referred to was yet another experience in losing sight of the voices of the soldiers; not of the anti-war soldiers they chose to interview, who are politically engaged, and who get meaning out of their activities there. But the other reporting, referring to masses of disaffected soldiers, feels like caricature (and they play on the riff of the Vietnam Vets - hence turning to Ron Kovic, who appeared to know nothing about the current situations - in order to suggest this story). Again it is as if the voice of soldiers who do not play the game that fits the predetermined narrative is simply neglected (or even worse, twisted, as in the earlier case I posted on).

One of the delights of the world of blogs has been the opportunity for voices not fitting the few narratives the 'press' respects to be heard.

Michael Yon has been providing one form of this in his work with Deuce-Four for a long time now, and I have found his reports well-written, beautifully photographed, and extremely moving. His latest, on the ball that Deuce-Four held recently on return to the US, was a lovely culmination of his series. I suspect even someone not having followed his earlier reports, and not knowing the names and stories of so many of the participants, would find this report moving. But I recommend that before reading "The Punisher's Ball", should you choose to follow the link, that you set aside some time to read first some of the dispatches from Mosul. Of course all the found voices here are implicit. They are no less effective for that.

UPDATE: I loved 'Moonlighting' and liked all the 'Die Hard' movies. The story I link to makes that seem just fine.

Chemical-Like Weapons

My morning commute is often timed so that I hear the beginning of a CBC Radio news show called 'The Current'. (Quiz question - please explain the strange order on that web page of the five times during the week at which the show runs.)

It usually strikes me as a silly and slanted piece of work - normally it is just at the usual CBC level of badness that it is not worth mentioning. A symptom of the problem with the show is that every episode opens with a very deep-voiced man (who, I hope, also has a day job) reciting some extremely lame and silly joke supposedly relevant to issues of the day.

I NEVER feel sorry to leave my car when I reach the office parking lot.

But today's was worth mentioning just for the low quality of the script and reporting balance (I suspect reflecting lazy research, from those all too happy push the chosen narrative).

The overall story - the US is under irresistible pressure to withdraw from Iraq, and there are compelling accusations of the use of 'chemical-like' weapons in Fallujah.

Here's some of the evidence.

From the transcript of today's show:
A number of Republicans who once whole-heartedly supported the war in Iraq, are having second thoughts. Yesterday, Republican Representatives Dennis Kucinich, Walter Jones and Ron Paul joined Democrat Representative Neil Abercrombie in signing a petition calling for a timeline for withdrawal.
Holy Cow! This was shock to me - I recall a Dennis Kucinich who was a lame competitor in the last Democratic Primary (he helped make Kerry look good). So I wondered - the poor man, he must have been so disappointed he changed parties. I was surprised I had not heard of this.

Just to make sure, I went to the web page for Congress and found the web page for a Dennis Kucinich. OK, I felt a bit better - his staff did not even realize he had crossed the floor! I was impressed at the CBC research team that had discovered this fact.

The next major fact was this one:
Also yesterday Democrat Congressman and Vietnam vet, John Murtha another long time supporter, added his passionate voice to the anti-war chorus.
Well that is shocking - that 'yesterday' was a clear sign of a recent change. Well one need only read Instapundit to discover the following from Murtha back 18 months ago:
Signaling a new, more aggressive line against the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), the House Democrats’ most visible defense hawk, will join Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) today to make public his previously private statements that the conflict is “unwinnable.”
A simple Google search turns up this tidbit at about the same time:
I suppose the CBC might consider some of that sort a "long-time supporter" of the war, at least by comparison to the rest of the folk in the newsroom. The Instapundit post above provides some ideas about why this fellow is not quite steadfast in his support, and has not been for quite a while.

On to the next topic.

The transcript reads as follows:
Officials were forced to acknowledge that troops used a chemical weapon called white-phosphorous in the 2004 offensive against insurgents in the Iraqi city of Falluja. It's a chemical that, on contact, burns skin right off a person's bones.
The currency of this topic derives from its appearing in an RAI 'documentary' that ran last week and has been followed by extensive reports in the Independent and Guardian in the UK.

For a lot of background on the UK reporting on the subject, it is worth reading Scott Burgess as he takes multiple opportunities to fact-check and analyze the reports over several posts in The Daily Ablution, here, here, here (with regard to the quality of the reporter's response in this post, see also this post of my sister), here , here and here.

The "Officials were forced" above provides a lovely sense of the arrogance of some media - as Burgess documents, it has long been a matter of public record that it has been used. It is decidedly questionable it is a chemical weapon (it is a chemical, as is Vitamin C).

Now I left the car during the interview with Ron Kovic (after partial interviews with two soldiers, who are claimed to have 'seen' something in Fallujah, though I never heard either of them say he had seen much at all, though they reported they had heard chatter). And when the full CBC documentary being puffed here is broadcast, it will be interesting to see if we find the folks discussed by Burgess appearing as experts.

I was going to send you off to read the whole transcript and play the audiocast they offer, but something jumped out of the transcript at me. As I sat in the car this morning, I could have sworn that I heard Francine Pelletier say 'chemical-like weapon' where it says 'chemical weapon' above. And even stranger, the audiocast contains 'chemical weapon'. OK maybe I was not giving it my full attention, and Ms Pelletier's quite attractive accent might have misled me. And if they have edited the show to replace "chemical-like" with "chemical", I suppose I should admire the backbone, as "chemical-like" clearly has purely rhetorical effect, while the latter is a serious accusation, which even the BBC coverage (see Daily Ablution post here - scroll to the relevant section search for BBC) seems to agree is inappropriate.

This is NOT reporting as I would to have people report to me. Almost none of the stupidities above would survive minor fact-checking - simple Google searches would have hit them all. But reporters eager to slant a story their own way are unlikely to do those searches, without a professionalism that seems pretty rare in the media I am forced to subsidize.

So a question for such readers as I have - did anyone else hear this show and hear the 'chemical-like' phrase?

UPDATE: Even if the rhetorical sleaze I thought I heard was not there originally, I do note some fishiness in the "Officials were forced" sentence that had not struck me. Read the sentence closely. The transcript provides no reference to what the Pentagon admitted, but I will bet it is the long publicly known fact that white phosphorus was used, but I would be very surprised if those officials agreed that it is a checmical weapon.

In fact checking yesterday's Yahoo News, we find:
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon on Wednesday acknowledged using incendiary white-phosphorus munitions in a 2004 counterinsurgency offensive in the Iraqi city of Falluja, but defended their use as legal. Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. military had not used the highly flammable weapons against civilians, contrary to an Italian state television report this month which said the weapons were used against men, women and children in Falluja who were burned to the bone. "We categorically deny that claim," Venable said.
I am ashamed to pay for the sleazy efforts that go into the writing of these CBC reports. The only mitigation to my shame is that there is no way not to pay without going to jail.

UPDATE: There is an excellent discussion of the white phosphorus stories on A Soldier's Perspective here. The comments thread has value as well, as it does expose how sloppy wording (and thinking) can oversimplify an issue of some complexity. I am curious whether the planned CBC broadcast on this will reflect such refinement but I doubt I will ever find out.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I Confess - yet again

I watched it. I was sobbing in places (not all driven by Wendy Crewson).

The actresses who played Terry Evanshen's daughters were tremendous.

Wendy Crewson was Wendy Crewson,

I am thinking of renaming my blog The Wendy Crewson really big fan blog.

What sort of Humanist am I?

Discovered via the ever-estimable Pharyngula.

These results are more consistent with my self-conception than earlier results that have surprised me. Like me linkee above, I find the use of the term 'absolutist' a tad bizarre. But darn - I was willing to make the costume for my kid in the nativity play! (You have to take the test. (or see below) )


You are an atheist, a rationalist, a believer in the triumph of science and of reason over libido. You can’t stand mumbo jumbo, ritual, spiritual nonsense of any kind, and you refuse to allow for these longings in others.

Astrologers, Scientologists and new–age crystal ball creeps are no different in your view from priests, rabbis and imams. They’re all just weak–minded pilgrims on the road to easy answers. Nature as revealed by science is awesome enough for you, but it’s a nature that needs curbing and taming by us on our evolutionary journey to perfection.

Your heros are Einstein, Darwin, Marx and — these days — Gould, Blakemore, Watson, Crick and Rosalind Franklin. Could you be hiding a little behind those absolutist views, worried that, if you let in a few doubts and contradictory ideas, the whole edifice might crumble? Loosen up a bit and try to enjoy the amazing variety of human belief systems. Don’t worry — it’s unlikely you’ll end up chanting your days away in some distant mountain cult.

What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Totally Ludicrous Idea

TVO has been holding through the fall, led by the ever-effervescent Irshad Manji, what seemed to me a completely silly idea - a contest to name the best University lecturer in Ontario. The playoffs were good to watch - I learned a lot from several entertaining Ontario university lecturers. I doubt they were the best of the bunch but the ones I saw were all pretty good.
The overall winner was Arne Kislenko at Ryerson - an interesting guy, whose winning lecture was engaging but not amazing to me (as a lecturer - he is an OK performer).
In the end I rather liked this outcome; I had rather hoped the end of this would be the victory of something that was not just show; his lecture was not just show. At the end it is easy to understand how differently Russia saw the Second World War from how we did in North America.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

er, umm, Wendy Crewson will be on ...

OK I would NEVER normally watch a show this wholesome.

I think I might watch this one. Let me start with the less convincing explanation - I remember the magnificence of Terry Evanshen as a receiver - he did much to help my enjoyment of football over several years in Canada. Moreover, this IS a story of courage and determination.

And now the more convincing explanation - Wendy Crewson is the (a?) star.

Can anyone think of charges to file against Whit Stillman?

I am appalled at the news yesterday from my sister, documenting the collapse of her planned financial empire. But this has me thinking about my concern about the cost of DVDs of 'The Last Days of Disco'.
Surely Whit Stillman has done something bad enough for an indictment of some sort? Can't anyone out there find a motivated prosecutor?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Adamson's Monsters, part deux

The Bluejays are weakening, though still not like the squirrels, who will walk right up to me and glare insistently. I caught one of them today in flagrante.

Abiola Lapite puts his toe in the water

In this post he struggles to try to answer what seems to me a question that is very easy to answer.
what is it about ABBA that explains the breadth of their appeal and its staying power?
He gives a pretty good answer, a long and complicated form of "they were execellent at what they did", but seems to struggle with some sort of concern that what he says would be doubted by others.

He gives slightly short shrift to the lyrics. (Nobody could ever doubt that the music is exuberant and brilliant.) How did these guys, with English as a second language, write lyrics that scanned so well and fit the music better than most of the songwriters who grew up in the language? Abiola makes reference to the music in "Supertrouper", but the lyrics are amazing as well - long one of my favorite songs because I know of no other song that so perfectly captures the pain of business travel, but also what can make it worthwhile in the end. But the shape of the music and lyrics is amazing - challenging to make it all scan well and it does brilliantly.

For me it has been the lyrics that were the most amazing. "One of Us" is just devastating. In fact the breakup songs were among the best of that form I know.

I think part of what made them so superb was that all had had a singing career inside Sweden before they stunned the world in 1974. They were seasoned performers already. And Scandinavian, so automatically cute.

Are we still hung up because they won the Eurovision Song Contest? It is the case that some good performers did. Abba. Udo Juergens (who is very good and well worth a listen). And Celine Dion. (I won't defend her here, but she can sing....)

Another point: I think there is a good question posed here (about one of their worst songs, in my view).

Hank and Tennessee

Chris Dillow's normblog profile is unsurprisingly a pleasure to read - the answer to one of his questions caught my eye; asked who are his cultural heroes, he responds with a list starting "Hank Williams, Dar Williams,...". A nice rhetorical flourish and a good signal of some eclecticism.
I have been working my way through my CD collection of late, hoping to find ways to donate old CDs to local charities, and reduce the space they consume in my home. Right now I am sampling in my car a CD from yet another Williams, Don, who sings a great song on it from Bob McDill, "Good Ole Boys Like Me", which has as its chorus line the very witty:
And I still hear the soft southern wind in the live oak trees
And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me, Hank and Tennessee
It is a very interesting song, I think about "identity" - this is one of those words I have never understood and still do not, rather like "spiritual". McDill's lyrics are in the song are full of contradictions, all very believeable - one nice example of the tension he creates:
Then Daddy came in to kiss his little man
With gin on his breath and the Bible in his hand
And in the end you discover why he is a songwriter and not in jail:
I was smarter than most and I could choose
learned to talk like the man on the six o'clock news
Now in the song he never forgets the smell of live oak. Well, I lived a while in a climate with live oak and that smell still hits me. In fact my work travel schedule has me looking forward to inhaling under a live oak tree (one I know) in Austin, Texas, in January. There is no question I view that as a sensual pleasure of some significance.

McDill's point is, of course, that he is a southern boy, but that even that means a broad variety of things, both Hank and Tennessee. His "identity" is broader than any simple classification, though many of the stereotypes are correct.

So add Don Williams to the list of Williams', and expand your identity by sharing in the spiritual experience of listening to all of them performing.

Let me give the CBC some credit

For some very odd reason that I do not get, and this refutes my earlier puzzlement about some special silences, this morning's newscast on CBC Newsworld is utterly dominated by the role of our soldiers in Kandahar. And they are doing a reasonable job of giving voice to the soldiers who represent us there, helping to support the Afghani chance for a decent civil society.
It is not surprising, however, that there is a deep ambiguity about the fact that some of our soldiers are being killed (and not just by American friendly fire, which sends our press into happy gyrations) And the ambiguity is even deeper in contemplating that our soldiers might actually find themselves in a real battle. And kill someone else (one of the 'scumbags' as our Chief of Defence Staff put it.)
The man-on-the-street interviews reveal what you would naturally expect - knee-jerk views with little thought - "Canadian troops should support peace and freedom".
What is not addressed here is the key point - what if the price of freedom is the disruption of peace? This is the problematic question many of the debates of the last four years have stumbled over, and how you decide on that one question is what divides so many of us now.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Fathers and Sons

Little did I know that two of my favourite bloggers also have blogging fathers! Even stranger, they both live in Berkeley, California.
Brad deLong cites his father in this post. Owen Barder does the same here. I agree with Brian Barder on this one, by the way (those Sunday morning shows are special and much better than any of what I have seen from England, France, Germany, and Austria).
I suspect my father would have been a great blogger; he loved new technologies, was an early e-mailer, even via the pain of Compuserve dial-up. He was a fine debater, and that is the blogging world. It saddens me he never got this chance.

Clive Owen

Two women are on my CBC TV screen gushing madly about Clive Owen.
I am so pleased. I have long been a fan of the usual cheesy British TV movies, and he has been a feature in many that I have loved. But he has always struck me as a major hunk (though I am unsure of my ability to judge), and has also been in some very fine and subtle roles - one film that stood out for me was this one (which also engaged my enjoyment of Saskia Reeves, a very fine actress).
With 'King Arthur', 'Closer', and now 'Derailed' (the subject of the CBC female gushing), maybe he will get what I have long thought he should get - some major roles. Hey wait! Aren't these already major roles!?

I rescheduled a meeting

Last night I booked a meeting for 11am today. A half hour later I re-booked the meeting to start at 11:05. I would not have done this even last year.
John Palmer (I have to use his real name as his pseudonym is under threat) posted this morning on a very similar theme. His transformation mirrors mine.
And I am a little saddened watching the CBC this morning, focussing reasonably enough on our veterans of past wars, but quietly ignoring our troops currently serving, especially in Afghanistan. I fear this is symptomatic of our media's embarrassment that we are actually and usefully engaged in a worldwide war they want to pretend is not happening. Perhaps I am wrong.

Three-Quarters of an Eye and Sinking

In an earlier post I made reference to the inane suggestion that some fraction of an eye is of no use; with the rapid advances of the cataract in my right eye, I would say such a view is nonsensical, as I can still fumble through the day, though there is no question things are getting worse.
Right now I am swearing off driving at night until my operation. The single mild ghost image the clouding of the lens initially created has now become a crescent of ghost images, and this will surely grow. In daylight the ghost images are overwhelmed by reality but at night they have a greater impact and create a parallel universe that can mislead me.
I get to watch this deterioration go on for another three months, thanks to the regrettable fact that a cataract operation is regarded as a necessary medical service in Canada. Would that the government thought it was less important - then I might be able to go get faster service legally. This is one of the odd perversities of our single-payer government health-insurance system, which denies individuals any ability to signal the importance for them of particular medical interventions, as long as they are medically necessary.
Which brings me to an interesting debate - Tyler Cowen and Kevin Drum are at it over single-payer healthcare systems - check out this post. Kevin appears to me to be in over his head. I am watching with interest.

UPDATE: Looking for something else I found this from Brad deLong. It appears he does not quite understand 'single-payer' either, nor does Krugman.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Why is Studio 2 so Good?

I do not believe that the public sector is guaranteed to produce better news broadcasting or worse. I have at least the current experience of the CBC and BBC to make me feel disappointed and start out expecting rather little.

But I remain an utter fan of TV Ontario (largely funded, I assume, by the Ontario government, though I also know it gets funding from me, given voluntarily, that I consider pretty significant).

And from my point of view, the finest public affairs television we get in the province is 'Studio 2', hosted by the utterly excellent Steve Paikin and Paula Todd.

Tonight we had superb public policy discussions from ministers of several previous governments as well as the current government (and it was even more fun because the current minister is the son of a squash opponent of mine). Now why do I NEVER see anything this good from the CBC?

I'll bet the CBC has a more generous budget. What is the difference?

A Grim Milestone Indeed

It snowed this morning.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

If you do not read 'The Religious Policeman' ought to.

This post is not a bad place to start. And then just start paging through the archives.

This is Sophistication?

One meme I still do not get is the one that appears regularly after some attack like the one in Amman, Jordan, today, where a number of more or less simultaneous explosions occur, wreaking terrible damage and enormous loss of life. Usually reports on the topic are full of assertions that this had to have been the work of a sophisticated organization.
Why? What does it take to get two or three people to strap on explosive belts, load up a car with explosive material, and go to some places and set them all off around the same time? This seems to me a very simple project. There could be some complexity in keeping it all secret (no doubt how it usually fails when it fails), and getting all the pieces in place, but to call it sophisticated? It seems to me as if it is something any two of my friends or colleagues and I could do if we were such rotten people that it would cross our minds.
Building a bridge is sophisticated. Designing and building a car, or a television set, or an iPod, is sophisticated. Shipping a piece of working software is sophisticated. Becoming a top athlete, and reaching peak form on the day of the key competition, is sophisticated. Putting on a theatrical production, like any one of the ones I saw last weekend, is sophisticated. Getting bananas from where they were grown to my local grocery store, from where I can pick them up and enjoy a treat that could not grow near where I live, is sophisticated.
Pulling together a gang of thuggish misfits to destroy what true sophistication has built, is the exact opposite of sophistication.
Time to start sending crank complaining notes to news outlets that cannot shake themselves of yet one more stupid and naive notion.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The key thing to say about France

A month ago my plan was to visit Paris for a week next spring.
Today my plan is to visit Paris for a week next spring.

Petty Delights

I love etymology. I am delighted to steal from Jeff Jarvis, for the one thing I can post on what I find to be the quite confusing turn of events in France. It is typical of me that this post is about words and not deeds:

Jarvis points me to this wonderful piece from the Guardian by Sheila Pulham (yes, Grauniad to many):

Much has been made of Nicolas Sarkozy's description of the French rioters as "racaille", a derogatory term held to have fuelled the nationwide spread of the violent disturbances over the past week. The term, widely translated in the British media as "scum", actually equates more closely to "rabble". (The Guardian, which has also used "scum" on a number of occasions, will be using "rabble" from now on.)

Laurent Greilsamer in Le Monde investigates the etymology and changing meaning of the word, which has taken on a totemic significance since its utterance by Mr Sarkozy. The word came from Provençal, was introduced into French in the 15th century, and was, he says, in common parlance until 10 days ago. It had even been appropriated by disaffected young people to describe themselves, he says - a view supported by the vivelesracailles site, which starts with the line "After all, it's not a crime to live in your pyjamas".

Greilsamer consults the French dictionary Le Petit Robert, which defines racaille as "populace méprisable" - contemptible populace or rabble - and gives examples from the works of Camus and Gide. "Will the next edition cite Nicolas Sarkozy?" he asks. "It would be appropriate. The interior minister hoisted the word to the highest point of its semantic load when he assured a resident of Argenteuil, in front of a TV camera: 'We will rid you of this rabble.' At a blow the word has again become taboo and politically incorrect."

Turning to the Littré dictionary of 1873, Greilsamer finds the word defined as "even more derogatory than canaille (scoundrel)" and observes that Sarkozy has at a single blow restored the word to its original meaning "The word racaille is dangerous, explosive and literally incendiary," he concludes.

Don't call a racaille a racaille, it seems. Or perhaps a voyou a voyou.

Jane Siberry Stuns Me

For a while there was a time when it was compulsory in the Canada that Grant McCracken's starlings want to leave (though they are not sure when) to view Jane Siberry as some sort of brilliant performer. She never did much for me.

But heavens to Betsy! or to Jane! She does as an entrepreneur. Go check out this site. Try some of the price pulldowns! And you can play some of the songs as you explore (she is not cut out to do the Messiah, at least for me who recalls Kathleen Battle).

But overall I am really impressed. This is someone not afraid to try something different. I hope it works well for her.

Hat tip to Brad Hill.

Adamson's Monster

Over a year ago, construction completed on an addition at the rear of our house, and the contractor added a small but usable deck at the back of that addition.
I enjoy eating peanuts. Sometime during last summer I began putting the odd few peanuts out on the deck railings for the creatures who live in the neighborhood backyards - in particular, squirrels are quite taken by peanuts. Situations like this have a habit of escalating.
One reflection of the escalation is that I now have a 50-pound bag of peanuts in the basement (not for my consumption). The single black squirrel who used to visit to collect the odd peanut has now become at least two black squirrels and a grey squirrel.
Worse, their character and sense of entitlement has changed. Where once we would put peanuts out on our schedule, only to have them collected sometime later at some random time, I now find myself sitting over morning coffee and then suddenly seeing a squirrel staring in my window at me, glaring, clearly trying to get me to understand I have higher priorities than shaving and getting my caffeine level up.
About two weeks ago the whole situation went up another notch. Two BlueJays have discovered the plenty that suddenly appears in their landscape. The battle can be quite interesting, and noisy, as both creatures can produce some pretty raucous sounds. The BlueJays have an excellent strategy - they fly in, grab a peanut in the beak, fly off somewhere, and do something (I know not what), returning shortly thereafter to get more booty. The squirrels had much the same strategy in the past, but were rather relaxed. That relaxation is suffering under the avian pressure.
My goal is to get a picture of the BlueJays at work like that above of one of the squirrels. The birds remain much more distrustful of me for now, and are aware of my presence inside the window, waiting with my camera. They will weaken over time, I am sure, as they watch the squirrels, far less fearful of me, carting off the peanuts they know should be theirs!
I DO worry about the longer-run impact of this dependency. After all, look at France! It should be much more intense in the winter when snow covers the ground. I don't think any of these creatures hibernates. Watch for updates.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Toronto Weekend

I do find the town amusing (I live here by choice!), and it has much to divert and entertain. This weekend we got to enjoy a trilogy of delightful offerings.

1. Habeas Corpus at Canadian Stage.
It is too late for you to enjoy this, as we saw the last performance Saturday night. Alan Bennett can be quite funny, and this had its moments. I love Morris Panych stagings, and there was a lot of that here. To be honest, I think it was the first time I have seen Sheila McCarthy perform live, and it really was not much of a role, but her stage skills were stunning - symptomatic was that she had to be involved in several dance numbers where tap dancing skills were required; hers seem impressive, and among the cast unique. Fiona Reid satisfied me as she always has since King of Kensington. Joseph Ziegler was stunning as ever in a quiet way.

2. The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Canadian Stage.
Edward Albee creates one tricky balance in this play - not so unlike "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" in many ways. R. H. Thomson is particularly wonderful in convincing the audience a sophisticated and accomplished man can fall in love with a goat, and also that, while he recognizes painfully that this can create grief in his relationship with his wife, he is puzzled that others feel tormented for finding themselves in this bestial situation per se (see this post for another viewpoint on a related subject). Contrary to some reviews I have read, I think he manages the balance in this role beautifully.

3. Armide
Opera Atelier strikes again. I don't know what happened last year but the artistic director Marshall Pynkoski now seems to feel it is important to stand up on stage and pontificate (he did this last year announcing that 'Armide' would be on ths schedule this year). Yesterday he repeated last year's tedious homilies, and then told us pretty much all that would follow (somewhat inaccurately, spinning it to fit his view). This lengthened an already long schedule for the show and added zero value. I hope he can learn to shut up as he used to.
One very odd thing about his extended speech. He seemed to think that there was something surprising about this show being done at the court of Louis XIV - I suspect he did not read the script. The Muslim Armide is the ally of the devil, and this is totally clear in the text; Renaud is on the right side (Crusaders), and his only failing is his vulnerability to the charms of Armide. Renaud at the end manages to pull himself free of Armide and rejoin the Crusaders. Armide's only response is to destroy everything she can destroy. Pynkoski's pre-show speech suggested that this script somehow was reconciling the West and East of that time in some surprising way. I would suggest he did not read the libretto.
He also thought that this theme had some major resonance today it did not have five years ago when his team booked it for this season. I think this had something to do with sloppy thought about the fact that the story of Armide was set in the Crusades, and connecting this to the situation in Iraq. So let me get it right - the US is supporting an almost entirely Muslim-led Iraqi government being formed in Iraq, more Muslim than the tyranny earlier removed by the Western forces, and the enemies of that effort spend almost all their energy blowing up Muslim Iraqis. I invite him to explain the resonance.
On the other hand once the blathering stops and the show starts, his skills as a director become paramount and the show is a total delight. It will take more than 20 minutes of Pynkowski's preachy nonsense to turn me off watching the show he can create of 17th century opera.
If you can still go see it please go see it. I will keep signing up to go to his shows.
And even suffer through ill-informed chatter delaying the start of what matters - the art he can create.
I so wish such fine artists would just let me enjoy what they do well - their art - and not put so much effort into spoiling it with their ill-informed additions to their repertoire.

I think I was terribly wrong above. I believe Sheila McCarthy made an even better display of skills in a Stratford presentation I saw of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", produced almost as a rock opera a few years ago. She is excellent.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The unreasonable effectiveness of birds

It is enjoyable to see what some birds can do to Grant McCracken (maybe less enjoyable for Grant). Now, admittedly, it is starlings, and their vocal skills are stunning, and they tend to flock at this time of year (for reasons he documents well), and in many ways they provide a lovely model with their limited form of dynamism. Group decisions are almost surely a form of strangely emergent behaviour.

I especially enjoyed (as I suspect the southbound starlings might as well)
Personally, I blame the likes of Margaret Atwood. You could get everything Ms. Atwood knows about the well springs of contemporary culture into a phone booth and still have room left over for roughly a dozen college students. The lit crit crowd has an embargo on certain kinds of thinking and Toronto appears to be engaged in a building frenzy, as if a dynamic culture could be imposed in the form of daring new architecture.
Too much there for me to handle, and safer just to let him speak.

But if he is in town this weekend (as he suggests) I would ask him to go see Opera Atelier's Armide. So far as I know this opera company has no need for a new highly visible building, and while anyone will know I am no fan of their (sadly Canadian conventional) politics, I am a great fan of their (delightfully unconventional) aesthetics. Making 18th century (and worse) opera work today is a dynamist challenge and they are up to it.

Sad thing though, he is right about so much. I love this snippet:
The city that needs encouragement (or approval)
as who among us here has not had to hear the years of claims of Toronto's being "world-class".

He has a reference I do not get, to a Roy Lanham (what is that? - I already know, unfortunately, an Andy Barrie - is this a competitor?), but includes this small phrase
triumph of Canadian content
a wonderful oxymoron, as this concern is the clearest sign of static culture, and the attempts to wrap the ropes around anything not locally approved (by those who know).

I hope Grant's presentation goes well and his audience heads out to make things change. I love his final image, as I am bird enthusiast, and think the model of the emergent behaviour that comes out of their chatter and signalling is a great model - to quote Grant again:
the selves within these groups, all are fluid, multiple, changeable and a lot like those Starlings debating their departure time, in constant, noisy contact.
Excellent things to think about, and a respite from the Canadian "lit crit crowd".

What's a blog worth? - Part II

Count on Levitt to state the issues clearly.