Friday, March 31, 2006

Refreshing Honesty

Following the lead of our great national big-box bookstore chain, Chapters, we get this news from the US:
Borders and Waldenbooks stores will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that provoked deadly protests among Muslims in several countries.
Where Chapters somewhat pussy-footed around the reason for their decision, the spokesman for Borders is wonderfully open about the reason for their corporate decision:
"For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority," Borders Group Inc. spokeswoman Beth Bingham said Wednesday.
In other words, we are afraid of the violence that Muslims will visit upon our business and customers. I guess one could view this in some way as 'respect' for Islam, but it is certainly not the sort of respect I would personally want to get.

(h/t Robert Spencer)

'Slings and Arrows' wraps up Season 2 on US TV

And David Tufte describes nicely why it was so entertaining:

How can you not love a show in which the artistic director uses all his acting skills to sob incoherently (by thinking about his grandma) to get his way with another director, in which a soulless production of Romeo and Juliet uses the most asexual costumes imaginable, where one of Macbeth's victims pulls a "Fatal Attraction" death scene, where a dentist poses as a marketer and pitches an outrageous marketing plan that works, where the clueless partner in a May-September relationship shows his passion about the true love of his former lover, where a real ghost decides on the spur of the moment to get involved in the premiere of Macbeth as - what else - the ghost, and so on.

The series is a wonderful showcase of the enormous performing talent available here in Canada, featuring performers fairly well known internationally, like Rachel McAdams and Paul Gross ('Due South'), but also packed with superb actors less widely known, like Mark McKinney, Sean Cullen, Martha Burns, Stephen Ouimette. Though the IMDB credits show no sign of him, I could swear I recall Colm Feore playing a key role as well.

Useless Review of 'The Arab-Israeli Cookbook' in Toronto

The uselessness derives from the apparent fact that the remaining run of the play is sold out. So I cannot sell any more tickets. But that is GREAT for the people putting the show on.

In a way. It is also unfortunate that my word of mouth cannot get anyone more to attend. The premiss seemed unpromising to me - a distillation of discussions with many inhabitants of Israel and Palestine, talking about their lives, and built around food preparation. And yet it largely worked for me. You can see a quick summary here and here and here.

A small cast played several different roles, and shifted among them quite well. I found myself drawn into all their lives, occasionally irritated by a character, occasionally seduced. I think this reflects the success of the production, allowing the characters to speak for themselves. Some of the descriptions of the events of the last few years certainly did not correspond to what I had gleaned from my readings on the subject, but again, this was the characters expressing their experience, not an historian balancing different reports.

The hardest thing to achieve in this is a more or less reasonable balance. By sticking mostly to people who really just want to get on with their jobs and their daily lives, the play centred nicely on maintaining such a balance.

I do thank my alma mater's Alumni office for the idea of asking us alumni to experience this in such a pleasant way.

Interesting they aim for this audience

It's actually an amusing short video (H/T to macroblog); it seems great to me they put the effort in, though I wonder what the anticipated benefit is.

Watch it here from over on the right sidebar .

Thursday, March 30, 2006

And they have hit the next state

From a note on the dplex mailing list:

It's official. The Monarchs are now in Oklahoma! Noted my 1st worn, faded female Monarch nectaring on dandelions in my yard this morning, ahead of the thunderstorm. Temp 70 degrees, overcast, wind S. 25, gusting to 30, humidity 70%. Thunderstorm and tornado watch, which broke apart. Too bad my milkweed is just barely creeping up.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Monarchs are Working Their Way through Texas

Reports from Dallas, and other parts of the state. None yet from Oklahoma.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What is a 'Lasting Peace'?

Under (I do think in ways unfair) pressure to comment on the fact that it was a military force that freed him from several months of captivity, British 'Christian Peacemeaker' Norman Kember said,
I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my release.
So whence comes a lasting peace? Via the Christian Peacemakers? No evidence in favour of that. In fact I think the problem is the test is hopeless - surely only a peace without the presence of an enduring military presence would, in CPT eyes, be a lasting peace. By definition what Kember said is true.

Tougher. What is a lasting peace? Does the post-WWII arrangement count, wrt Germany and Japan?

Has there EVER been what CPT calls a lasting peace? Have CPT ever done anything other than add significant costs to the admittedly flawed efforts of others to create a lasting peace?

I am thrilled those boys are free, but I have no way to know that what good things they may have done in Iraq were worth the cost they have imposed on other efforts in the last several months.

BTW - I have adopted a new comment policy in the last month or so. Irrelevant comments I will just ignore.

Stephen Ames wins the TPC

... with a stunning final round so much better than anyone else in the field it made him look like Superman.
It was enjoyable to watch the styles of the brothers talking, the player and the caddy; they do not think similarly but they worked it out.
What seemed most magical to me in the post-tournament interview was his assertion that he was not sure he would play The Masters - there is a prior family vacation commitment. Utterly charming.
I am proud to think a woman from Calgary could make him a Canadian.
We will see a lot more of him now with the exemptions he has earned!
Congratulations, and I look forward to watching him!

I Love the Smell of Pig Manure in the Morning

At least a couple of days past the vernal equinox.

It is a duty of mine to drive between Toronto and London (Ontario) and back on frequent weekends, and this was one of them. What a delight - the trip goes through some of the most fertile farming country in the world, I assume, and this is the time of year to do it. Not far from Hickson, Ontario, the smell of pig manure filled the car (actually both directions), and it filled me with delight, knowing what it meant in terms of the crops to be appearing soon on these drives (largely corn in the North American sense, and soybeans, around here)

And the symptoms of renewal grow in general. Robins were visible in many places along the way. Hawks were working very hard at earning their keep (and mice no doubt just as hard at doing the same without becoming part of that keep) . Many of the plowed fields were showing signs of premature vegetative renewal, much of which I expect to see plowed under to ethnically cleanse the fields for their planned inhabitants.

The one spring symptom I have yet to see is my Nith River kingfisher. Maybe in two weeks on the next mission.

Friday, March 24, 2006

One of my favourite contrarians

And often contrary to me! No matter - still very worthwhile.

Cleaning up the Entertainment Section

Dropping off as I have finished them:

A Fool and His Money

This was a very interesting read about a 14th-century town in France split in a number of ways. It focusses on one poor soul who seemed to be the fool in the title, and the discovery of some of his money. Along the way, we learn a lot about how this town functioned in a somewhat unique way, divided along secular-church lines, as well as English-French (though the town was Occitan and those notions did not then exist really). An interesting read!

The Company of Strangers

Simultaneously hopeful and depressing, documenting the triumphs of modern liberalism (in the classic sense) and the resultant hazards.

The Closers

Can Michael Connelly get anything wrong? Yet another great Harry Bosch novel.

Now I must re-fill the section.

More from Dillow - the joys of econometrics

Citing an NBER paper:
A one percentage point reduction in unemployment is predicted to raise acute myocardial infarction (AMI) mortality by 1.3 percent, with a larger increase in relative risk for 20-44 year olds than older adults, particularly if the economic upturn is sustained.
Well, if that were are only concern we could return to prehistory and feel good about it. Or move to France.

Another Right Question from Chris Dillow

Who asks, following Will Wilkinson:
if the case for free markets is logically separable from the case against redistribution, why have the two been bundled together in practical politics?
I have never got the connection between these issues. As a simple example, much of the problem with energy consumption in my province could likely be solved, or at least ameliorated, by injecting some decent market discipline into the story. It may be that the government that tried this a few years ago could not see how to solve the problem of the impact on the poor (which MUST be addressed) by simply finding ways to move more funds to them through pretty reasonable mechanisms like negative income tax. And that government did have some basic ideological problems.

As it stands we just have totally broken incentive structures and exhortation.

Oliver Kamm and the 'Peacemakers'

I think what he says here matches my feelings about the recent Christian Peacemakers 'rescue' in Iraq.

I think it fits the word I used in an earlier post - 'churlishness'. His comments expand nicely on what I took myself to mean. Fascinating to me was his wonderful quotation from Reinhold Niebuhr (and I am no fan of theologians of any brand):
Pacifism either tempts us to make no judgements at all, or to give an undue preference to tyranny.
By the way, Hammorabi is very suspicious about this 'rescue', one might say he thinks it was a 'release', and not entirely without reason, I think.

There is no question that pacifism, and its somewhat more activist manifestations, is very attractive as a sort of philosophy. It is particularly attractive in countries like Canada that can easily be free riders from a self-defence point of view.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Demand for Democracy

Chris Dillow does a very nice variation on a theme introduced by Alex Tabarrok.

I was particularly impressed that CAMRA could make it into a discussion of who was fit for democracy. But there is one very important question:

But is demand fixed and endogenous, or is it mutable?

It is clearly mutable. Not just for material goods, but surely too for institutions, as per their posts.

Release, er Rescue, oopps and there were Soldiers

I woke up to great news this morning, that three hostages being held in Iraq had been 'released' As the morning progressed, the 'release' turned out to have been a military operation, targeted at where the hostages had been held, and clearly led by US and UK forces.

I am not sure I am quite as annoyed about some of the discourse as my sister or The Big Pharaoh, but they certainly have some good points about the rhetoric and language being used. I recommend both their comments.

The kindest description I could give is that there is major churlishness in trying to deny the rescuers the credit they so fully deserve. Especially as they rescued people whose goals were to discredit them, and whose supporters had basically been dissing the rescuers for months.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

"The Horse was a Mule"

Another great CSI line (Vegas, the original), delivered wonderfully in the usual deadpan by Gil.

It almost seemed that the plot (horse dies on flight, is found in autopsy to be carrying inside its body a bag of diamonds) was constructed simply to allow that line. The general level of dialogue remains pretty good, so, even if I am right, the sacrifice is not so bad.

I don't need the Discovery Channel grotesque trips following bullets, knives, and, say, poison, into the body of victims - that seem just puff. I do like the characters, their relationships and their banter.

Do the other CSIs have any of that?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Murder, Seduction, Deceit, the Usual

A great line from CSI, the spisode about movies (particularly, Hitchcock's great "Strangers on a Train", based on Highsmith - their generous homages to past art are quite attractive). And they do play the tone brilliantly at the end as Gil, having said he is not really a fan of 'noir', pressed by Catherine, answers that he likes 'silent movies'.
This line is clearly for the fans who have been watching the series steadily, another nice act of confidence. And Petersen delivers the line casually, which makes its real meaning for the character matter more.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Our Flag Abroad

I have made it a policy (easily for 30 years) when I travel not to emblazon my clothes and bags with Canadian flags; this choice is driven by an unwillingness to separate myself from Americans who are travelling abroad (perhaps because I lived there for many years, perhaps for other reasons) - and of course this does nothing to prevent US citizens from attaching the Canadian flag to their bits.

As for my passport, I have only one. And my sister poses an interesting question about the privileges it may afford. With her I find that nothing to be proud of.

Now I should point out that much of my clothing and baggage is marked 'MEC'. This is likely a clearer and more certain mark than a Canadian flag or perhaps even passport. And a goofier one in France.

France and Style

We are very lucky to have Andrew Potter over in France and watching the action, as privileged students protest to inhibit changes in the law which might make it easier for less privileged young people to get jobs.

He has some fascinating observations:
unlike Canadian kids at the protests, these ones weren’t wearing their best MEC gear and wrapping bandanas around their faces. Instead, they’d all got dressed up for the protest: girls in long brown skirts, boys in tweeds or tight asymmetrical jackets. And the finest collection of scarves the world has ever seen… it was like a protest organised by Jean Paul Gaulthier.He has some amusing pictures.

In another post he observes:

Dominic de Villepin is in control of the situation. He is refusing to back down from the employment reforms that have caused the crisis. Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy won’t get drawn into the debate with his political rival. His refusal to engage in any form of "lese-solidarite" with de Villepin has annoyed les journalistes, who have a clear interest in a deepening of la crise.

Alex Tabarrok is also in Paris.

As I arrived at the Bastille Metro a mass of students exited, marched across the 5 lane roundabout and sat down. Chaos ensued. Unfortunately for them the road was so wide they could manage a blockade only 2 to 3 students deep. This was not enough as angry young french men with jobs drove their mopeds through the crowd kicking the students along the way. Apparently the workers of the world are not united, at least not in France. Unable to maintain their ranks the protest fell apart.
Alex also offers an economic analysis of the issues at hand:
You cannot have it both ways; raise the cost of firing and you raise the cost of hiring. In my opinion, the Sorbonne students need a little less Foucault and a little more Bastiat.

Or perhaps the students know more economics than I credit them with. Under the current law it is costly to fire anyone but the effect on hiring is not symmetric. The workers least likely to be hired are those who are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a risk. The fear of hiring effect falls not on the privileged students at the Sorbonne (trust me today's protesters were tres chic), but on young French North Africans whose unemployment rate exceeds 30 percent.

Thus, paradoxical as it may seem, today's protests by the Sorbonne elite are a cause of the riots of late last year.

But as he makes dead clear this is no major demonstration in favour of the downtrodden. It is the usual rent-seeking exercise.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Vacation Plans

A week in London, Ontario transpired about two weeks ago without my being kidnapped.

Our next plan is Paris, Farnce (as opposed to the lovely Paris, Ontario). I am assuming there is little chance of my being kidnapped there.

After that, we'll have to think about where to go.

And of course if I am kidnapped, no doubt the blame will be on others than the kidnappers.


Brad deLong has no need to post the details - heaven knows I have headed for the wrong hotel the odd time in my travel history.

In my experience it is clear from the reaction of the hotel staff that I am not the first person to have done it. In fact, recently, they immediately handed over a prepared map guiding me to the hotel I really wanted to get to.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

'Light of Day' moving off the charts

Well, I enjoyed that novel. But it felt like a long short story with a couple of small conceits.

The idea of a broken-down detective, with a worthwhile person trying to keep him going, but throwing his life away for a criminal woman he was working for, is not quite new. (Hmmm, Maltese Falcon.)

I LOVED reading the book. But this was in a short story way, where the satisfactions were surprising connections at key moments.

In the end, I started out sympathising with the main character and then found him tiresome. 100 pages less wowld have been perfect.

But in the end I enjoyed every mischievous sentence!

More On CSI Miami vs CSI

I have been thinking a lot about why I like the original CSI, and do not feel so compelled by CSI:Miami. Originally I did not get a distinction it is clear many got.

All the CSIs are full of grotesquerie, pseudo-science, and nonsensical notions of what evidence can be gathered and how compelling it can be.

So why is the Las Vegas version so much fun?

1) A superb ensemble cast - the actors just play brilliantly with one another.

2) Office Politics. This is what the original CSI is all about, in the sense that it is what makes it interesting. Gil always takes umbrage at empowerment of his employees. His feedback to them on their performance (which is crucial when they so lack empowerment) is minimal. It is SO real! And so funny. Petersen plays his role superbly. I have not seen ofice politics portrayed so well in any other series.

(Oh and what is CSI_Miami's office politics? This is sad. The second-best investigator is the sister-in-law, and once wife candidate, of Horatio, and they moon occasionally about this in a tiresome way. The brother is dead so I don't get the problem, but maybe my brain lacks something significant. It just makes them boring to me. Seems typically CSI:Miami to me - full of supposed importance and no humour.))

3) Humour.
See above. I laugh constantly watching the first CSI series, almost never on CSI:Miami.

I have seen only one episode of CSI:NY and it was totally dominated by Penelope Ann Miller's breasts; I approve of this, but it does not lead to intelligent commentary.

Shoulder Dislocation Rehabilitation

Heavens it goes on for a long time and can be agonizing, but it gets to be a real step forward when the agony is focussed on a few small movements, and MOST of what you do suddenly (and it is NOT suddenly - you have been working on it) starts to seem to work. The examples are horridly sad - you can dry yourslef with a towel after a shower, and get into your clothes without too many complex manoevres.

I do thank my physiotherapists for goading me on.

The Amateur Naturalist at Work

As I now consider the winter at an end some observations from that season come to mind.

What is the territory of the squirrels who pick up peanuts on our back deck? As I have said there are two black ones we see, and two grey ones. Each one I can now identify. When I go out to the front yard there are often black squirrels on the trees there. Early in the winter, I wondered if these were new black squirrels. It had seemed to me on several encounters that the look in the front-yard squirrel's face was the same as the one I saw in the back (for what seemed the boss squirrel) as he/she was telling me I owed him/her peanuts out on the deck. But one day I got really good evidence - shortly after leaving backyard deck peanuts for the backyard squirrels I got to see the front-yard squirrel holding a peanut in his/her commanding tree position. I think this is decent circumstantial evidence and I know what I must do to make the evidence better. Next winter, likely.

Two black squirrels and two grey squirrels? How come one apparent couple has not grabbed exclusive ownership of our back deck? Property rights among animals are very important and this seems a bit odd. And we have seen intimidation standoffs between individuals, as one chases another who has grabbed a peanut. But they do not seem entirely in earnest. This might be that hey are overly well-fed thanks to our efforts.

And by the way all signs indicate that the two black squirrels are a couple, and the two grey another! Are these guys different species or is this just some squirrel racism? Does anyone know?

The other major strange thing this year was the unprecented presence of juncos in the backyard trees over the winter and the absence of house sparrows, who remained in abundance out front, but were notably absent in their habits of previous years of checking out the back yard. Juncos are pretty small. Can they really inhibit House Sparrows? Moreovr, do they fight over such a small range that they would not enounter my front-yard House Sparrows?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bare Ruined Choirs, where now the Sweet Birds Sing

OK maybe not so sweet. But it has been a few weeks since I have been down to Ashbridge's Bay in the morning and today marked a major transformation.

As I set out on my walk the first thing that struck me was
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
OK so it was not really the voice of the turtle (or turtledove), but rather the persistent and endless harsh trill of these guys!

Nonetheless a sign of the coming spring! And if you look closely at the tree you will see the bare ruined choirs are budding! It is always great to see the red-wings back even if they may torment on me on some of my walks.

The usual suspects were all still around. I am not sure why gulls like walking on ice, but they do.

Of course the ice is melting and it is not too soon to start thinking like Goethe:
Vom Eise befreit sind Strom und Bäche
Durch des Frühlings holden, belebenden Blick,
Im Tale grünet Hoffnungsglück;
Der alte Winter, in seiner Schwäche,
Zog sich in rauhe Berge zurück.

(From the ice they are freed, the stream and brook,
By the Spring's enlivening, lovely look;
The valley's green with joys of hope;
The Winter old and weak ascends
Back to the rugged mountain slope.)

Meanwhile these guys were imploring food (delivered later by someone else).

The oldsquaws and buffleheads are still here, though the oldsquaws this morning were gathering in large numbers preparing to leave, I suspect, and chattering that strange cawing they do when gathered together. It sounds wonderful.

And finally, even though they are not leaving, here is an exemplar of a common but neat creature paddling around among the others.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Silliness in Full Force

Our major local freeways are now adorned with electronic message boards. Useful information, like "This freeway is gummed up totally", can appear on the boards, though it is common to have homilies like "Pay attention to the road, not your cellphone".
Today the message I saw on my way home was "Right of way is meant to be given, not taken".
This is so sadly Canadian. Worse, it is often how I approach 4-way stops. It is the wrong approach. The outcome is that all the cars in the intersection sit waiting for someone else to show some initiative. This is profoundly inefficient. Far better were everyone to try to move as soon as possible.
I have driven a lot in the UK and right-of-way-driven priorities are fundamental to the driving protocols there. Where we have stop signs they have yield signs, and where we have lights or four-way-stops they have roundabouts.These are vastly more efficient than (at reasonable levels of congestion) our structures, and every driver there knows that asserting right-of-way is vital to the system, and that expecting the same of others is also vital.
Today's electronic message board was handing out lousy advice.
But it was truly Canadian advice.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Fifty Years Late

I have frequently joked that I wish the capabilities today with the Internet had been available 45 years ago when I was 12. I was a math/science nerd, so have one specific meaning when I say that.

But now there is another element. Norm Geras' blog has done me the enormous kindness of exposing me to the wonderful Sophie Hannah. He exposes these two lovely poems, both of which made me laugh with delight. In the second, I just loved the line "unfairly by the words we choose". Perfect and mordant wit.

She has a few other poems at PoemHunter and they are terrific. I know I will be going out of my way to expose myself to her work in the future. (Check out the poem about baths in Leeds, which is about hope, determination, and not quitting - it is just great!)

Thanks, Sophie. Thanks, Norm. Thanks, Internet.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The little guys are on their way!

From a note this morning to the dplex-l list:
At 11:50 a.m. the Monarchs were streaming through Angangueo in the millions.
Flying north.

By 4 p.m. they had more or less stopped the flying over. Probably many to be
seen tomorrow all around the area, moving north.
They won't be here for a while; in fact those butterflies will not get here, but their descendants should be along.

Spring is on its way!

(For more on the little devils, you can check out this site.

The Perils of Wikipedia

I was doing some Wikipedia research on Jumbo the Elephant, and was naturally led to the Wikipedia entry on the city of St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. No doubt I will have to check some other sources, as the entries on the town's mayor and demographics currently (Sunday March 5, 2006 at around12:30 PM EasternTime) read as follows (copied and pasted):



Heff Goof is the current mayor of St. Thomas. He was found in the 2003 municipal cleanings.

See also: List of sewers of St. Thomas, Ontario, St. Thomas City Sewers



* Caucasian: 95.5%
* Aboriginal: 1.2%
* Visible minorities: 3.3%
* Satanist: 101%

* Protestant: 0%
* No affiliation: 0%
* Catholic: 0%
* Other: 0%

** End **

Later there is a list of notable residents - again copied and pasted:


Notable residents


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Bird Feeders and the Free Rider Problem

I have generally been discouraged from setting up a bird feeder in my yard because of the squirrel population but this is ridiculous.

Friday, March 03, 2006

I am still alive

I have had a couple of enquiries on that subject (not that I could respond if the answer were otherwise). The other blog has been documenting somewhat my immersion in a parallel universe for the week.

Despite the immersion, I have taken note of some action outside the arena. The Religious Policemen simultaneously depresses and amuses. Wafa Sultan speaks good sense to a nutjob.