Monday, May 29, 2006

Things Change - and Sometimes for the Good!

I checked in a while ago for my Air Canada flight to Paris. As part of a great 'advancement' several years ago, this airport opened a new terminal, but the kicker for its first couple of years was that, if you were flying to Europe, one phase in getting to your plane was an unpleasant, almost surely standing-room, bus trip out to some remote terminal in the middle of nowhere.
We have been suffering this torment on our international flights for a couple of years now. So imagine how I looked forward to this bus ride in today's tropical Toronto, with a humidex rating of 42 degrees Centigrade.
Imagine my shock and delight to be sent to a perfectly normal gate! The Reign of Terror is over! This is such delightful news. Thank you GTAA.
Time to do a lot more overseas flights.

French Open Update

So Nadal did it today and ran his clay court victory streak past Vilas'; he is amazing. We got to watch a little of the most recent Federer match he had to win and his willingness to fight for a point is utterly amazing.
Looking at tomorrow's schedule is promising for Wednesday; Hingis leads off tomorrow (so I will miss her Wednesday, darn it, or at least I assume they usually get days off). Even more promising - I don't see Sharapova on tomorrow's schedule. Which can only mean ... Nor Mauresmo!
This is getting exciting.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


I enjoy my government-owned stations - I should - I have to pay for them!
TVO is currently running an ad (perhaps for that ridiculous 'The Corporation' 'documentary') where an attractive female voiceover at one point says something like "There are those who say that at sometime in the future everything will be owned by someone".
Oh PLEASE yes PLEASE!! What Coase pointed out is how much promise this would have for sorting out all sorts of problems. We could actually perhaps have some externalities dealt with. Right now we just yammer on about global warming. Let's have someone own the problem!
Somehow I doubt I will see a show soon on TVO explaining all this.

Mark Steyn's Glibness

Generally, I love Mark Steyn's glibness. He is witty and quick.
But he can also be ludicrously wrong.
Even worse, to my mind, his glibness can be arrived at in ways one can wonder about.
Clearly I do not know what happened here, but I am down to pretty much no reason ever to read him again. Rats - I used to think he was pretty funny.

Best Graphic I have seen in ages

via GeekPress, this video of air traffic control tracks into FedEx's Memphis hub really makes me understand the value of Air Traffic Control teams.

subjectivist liberal democrat individualist Hayekian Burkean universalist altruistic cosmopolitan

Chris Dillow is one and so am I. The underlying axes are nicely described by Richard Chappell here.

I think he is right - there at least that many independent axes.

They are particularly interesting for understanding how I have changed over years.

I was once rationaljst vs subjectivist.
I once admired radicals, though never was one; now I have no room for them.
Having been a manager, I am decidedly not a managerialist. I could once have been one.
Having lived in a community, most of whose apparent values I was determined to escape, I am decidedly not favourable to any infringement of individual rights versus the community.
I think I was once statist, and am now profoundly and irretrievably Hayekian.
The Progressive/Burkean boundary is one I am close to the edge of.
I am decidedly universalist.
I'll call myself Altruist but it is a close call.
I am decidedly cosmopolitan; when my job gets outsourced to the Congo, I will be able to rationalize it.

The Horror, the Horror

I mentioned in an earlier post my need to get some airplane reading. I have to confess. I bought a Dan Brown book to read. In my defense, I also got a John Sanford; I like stories set in Minnesota.

Rarely have I spent a Dollar better

For no obvious reason today, I spent the dollar needed to buy a Sunday Toronto Star. If today is any hint, I may have to keep doing this. To be frank, I am stunned.
So what was in it that was so worthwhile?
a) It is always fun to read the Sunday square-off between Linda McQuaig and Rondi Adamson, though this week's topic baffled me. On the other hand, I could have said exactly what she (Rondi) said in many places.
b) I have been struggling with what to read on the airplane and during my upcoming time away. I have solved the airplane (see a later post). And The Star helped me solve Paris. Two years ago, before my last trip to France, I decided to read Michael Houellebecq's Les Particules Elementaires and must say I had a wonderful mix between horror and amazed delight as he decomposed large parts of the world. I never could articulate exactly what I felt as I read this book with a rapt and grim fascination. But in today's Star, Michael Basilieres, reviewing Houellebecq's more recent The Possibility of an Island, articulates all that I recall feeling. So Day One in Paris has the project of buying this book.
c) An entertaining bit of history, and a fascinating analysis of traffic.
d) Perhaps best of all, a full-page feature on Natalie Gulbis!!


Off on a shopping mission, and as a result of being in a preparatory mode, I have had for the last several days only the French CBC radio stations on in my car. What a nice treat it offered on this trip! There is a sort of Desert Island Discs show on with Charles Aznavour as guest.
As easy at is to become exasperated with French attitudes, the assimilation process that went on between Aznavour and French culture is as close to ideal as I can imagine occurring anywhere. When we in the Anglosphere had to listen to sappy lyrics like those in 'Yesterday', and people actually thought they were good, Aznavour (and many others around him) were really writing songs.
Very interesting is that he regards 'Sa Jeunesse' as his song.
So many of his best songs are about a sort of entropy, and regret, in life, that I guess this makes a certain sense.
Moreover, it does not matter what age you are, these lines still carry their force.

Souvent en vain
On tend les mains
Et l'on regrette
Il est trop tard
Sur son chemin
Rien ne l'arrête
On ne peut garder sans cesse
Sa jeunesse...

For He Himself Has Said It

Via Norm, who should be living in the United States, I discover my natural homeland!

Which country should you REALLY be living in?

The United Kingdom

You have pride in yourself and pride in your country. You believe that history and culture is an important factor to the future of your country, and that traditions and values should be upheld. You love your scones and tea, and reading soppy romance novels. The UK is where you should be...

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

Of course, I guess does not quite make me the Englishman of our chosen blog post titles, but it's close!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Message on the Sidewalk (Pavement for you Anglos)

I was walking down my street for a haircut and encountered the above. I am not sure whether this is an astutely political child at work or whether the Mom has the advertised characteristic, but I certainly have not seen the like of this message before!

How a Real Man Maintains Perspective

P. Z. Myers is off to see the X-Men again and has a concern about the accuracy of the science. This seems a bit to me like anyone fussing about theological correctness with respect to The da Vinci Code (with the difference that Myers is worried about the science, while the da Vinci wailers are concerned that the fiction misrepresents their fabrications (at least in my view)).

Still, I loved his way of dealing with it, not unlike my way of enjoying da Vinci.

This will only work if there are sufficient explosions and laser blasts and naked Romijns to keep me distracted.

Art is wonderful.

Latest from the Waterfront

On a previous visit I did determine that we have two Black-Crowned Herons after all; it's not that common to see them side by side, but I was lucky. One the same visit, I saw only one swan paddling about on the inner bay; that could mean something tragic, or it could mean that the other swan was on the eggs, as I managed to watch for several weeks last year. If they are actively nesting now, it is not where they were last year, so I have some exploring to do.
This morning's visit featured a very quiet bay, with only a couple of cormorants, a couple of mallards, and the usual gulls visibly active. As I was on my way back to my car, a black-crowned heron broke from the bushes at my side, and then settled on one of his favourite roosts.
It was a chance to try out my new Kodak Easyshare P850 at its highest focal length of a claimed 432mm (!!) equivalent.

This shot was hand-held, with me leaning against a tree, but it certainly shows that the image stabilization works pretty well! As you can see (open the image to see it better), the bird had some doubts about me, and decided to bolt as I tried to line up another shot.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Packing for France

OK - paper is in place - passport, e-tickets (is that not brilliant!), Roland-Garros ticket, International Driving Permit (please, no!), instructions to get to the B&B, my wife's arrival time. That ought to do.

Physical packing in the next day or so. Shall try to report.

The cat smells a rat and so is being overly friendly. I wonder how he calculates what his interventions have achieved in the past.

Backyard Regime Change

For years our backyard has been dominated by a Manitoba Maple; when we did the renovations that oriented us more to the backyard we began to find many of its behaviours unpleasant. It is exceptionally sexually aggressive in the spring, and then grows like mad the rest of the growing year. It casts unwelcome shade, and had provoked our neighbours to desperate attempts to cut off the branches that hung over into their yard. This was no mean feat as the tree shoots upward at a shocking rate.
So we hired a mercenary team, euphemistically called arborists, and the dictator is gone.
In its wake the world is being taken over by almost equally sexually aggressive creatures. Our apple tree, which barely produced two or three flowers in the last years, exploded with flowers, to the delight of early season bumblebees, and is now covered with leaves, and of course growing apples.

A tiny lilac bush in the back, barely able to produce two or three heads of flowers in the past, has come to life. The detritus from their early season reproductive activities, a plethora of apple petals, and then a similar coating of lilac petals, seem to us two humans much preferable to the bizarre and grotesque droppings that came off their predecessor each spring.

There is a certain cruelty to these choices; all these trees are just doing what they know best. And not one of them could have evolved its fundamental behaviour in a world populated by those making today's life and death choices.
The result is that we now have a happy apple and a happy lilac.
And a deposed Manitoba Maple.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


From Brad DeLong again.

Brad DeLong exposes demagoguery and our sorry press

This day's morning coffee describes exactly why we should all feel embarrassed at ourselves over the current discourse on gas prices.

Tyler Cowen, also headed to France, surprises me

And his surprises are much of why I like to read him.

But what does he say?

The best-selling book in French history?

Sadly it is The da Vinci Code.
Huh.? Like why sadly?

His commentors do very well on this topic.

For all their differences, the French are just like Americans in one respect:
They enjoy badly written pseudointellectual crap just as much as we do.

Or ...
Less Proust, Derrida, Foucault...more Brown. Less pompous windbaggery, more fun.
Yes, fun! Even the comparatively tedious movie was fun. The book was a very poorly written roller-coaster ride, full of sound and fury and .... yup. But fun!

Or ...

Well, after those the topic in the comments shifts into a very interesting question I would like to see discussed more - dubbed films vs. subtitled films. I cannot watch dubbed films - it is just too weird (voices rarely match the characters and the synchronization goes all to hell),and so I have found the prevalence of that approach in Europe baffling. I assume it has to do with state subsidization of a dubbing industry. It's not clear to me which approach is cheaper - subtitling seems easier on the face of it. I do note that many Almodovar films feature dubbing of foreign films as part of the story.

Much of what we think we Know in History is Murkier

And this is a very interesting look at some terrible events.

One thing I thought I knew was that smallpox was a European virus brought over with devastating impact to the native populations not acquainted with it. But:

His studies of ancient documents revealed that the Aztecs were familiar with smallpox, perhaps even before Cortés arrived. They called it zahuatl.


After 12 years of research, Acuña-Soto has come to agree with the Aztecs: The cocolitzli plagues of the mid-16th century probably had nothing to do with smallpox. In fact, they probably had little to do with the Spanish invasion. But they probably did have an origin that is worth knowing about in 2006.

To prove anything beyond a hunch, Acuna-Soto knew he would need good forensic science. He considers himself fortunate to have found the work of Francisco Hernandez.

Hernandez, personal physician to Philip II of Spain, was named Proto-Médico de su magestad de todas las Indias in 1576. He was, in effect, the surgeon general of New Spain.

"Philip sent him to Mexico to see what he could learn of native medicines," says Acuña-Soto. "Hernandez learned five Indian languages and wrote 50 volumes based on his own observations and interviews with hundreds of Indians. He performed autopsies on many of the victims of the 1576 epidemic. But the books arrived back in Spain just after Philip II's death. Philip III considered the project too expensive to publish, and the manuscript disappeared for 400 years. Around 1950 it resurfaced in the Hacienda Library in Madrid."

Six years later, Mexican physician German Somolinos d'Ardois published an account of that manuscript. Although Hernandez's descriptions of what he saw were rendered in an unsophisticated Latin, Somolinos d'Ardois was able to conclude that Hernandez considered the 1576 epidemic different from those that had come earlier.

With the climate data in place, Acuña-Soto could piece together a convincing explanation of those epidemic years. Cocolitzli had been caused by a hemorrhagic fever virus that had lain dormant in its animal hosts, most likely rodents. Severe drought would have contained the population of rodents, forcing them to hole up wherever they could find water. Initially, only a small percentage may have been infected, but when forced into close quarters the virus was transmitted during bloody fights. Infected mother rodents then passed the virus to their young during pregnancy. When the rains returned, the rodents bred quickly and spread the virus—through their urine and feces—as they came into contact with humans in fields and homes. Once infected, humans transmitted the virus to one another through contact with blood, sweat, and saliva.

There is a lot of reading. It is a nice picture of history being done, incorporating much knowledge from separate disciplines. It is an ugly story about how nature works, as well.

None of this denies that smallpox did do bad stuff, or that Europeans did.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Please follow the links to read Virginia Postrel's kidney story

Start here.

It was an act of cowardice

John McCain on John McCain's behaviour in the 2004 primaries (the Confederate flag deal). To Chris Wallace on the FOX Sunday morning show yesterday.

To be honest I find McCain a bit of a dancer, and I never know exactly where he stands. But that was a statement, perhaps only apparent honesty, and it did hit me.

We may be caring very much about his views in a couple of years. I suspect we could do worse.

Is the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Back?

Check this out.

She's Back!!

And I am thrilled.

As Hingis says:

She returned in January after nearly three years out of the game with foot and ankle injuries.

"I lived a different life and experienced a lot of things, and that probably helps me today in those moments," Hingis said.

"If I could turn back time, of course I would have continued to play. But at that point it wasn't possible - the pain and the operations. Right now, I'm very happy that my health is as good as it is."

After winning the first set in 27 minutes and taking a 4-1 lead in the second, Hingis faced three break points that would have sent the second set to a tiebreaker. But she gathered herself and served the match out.

When Safina's backhand return sailed long, the Swiss player placed her hand on her chest and took a deep breath of relief.

"I know how life is after tennis, and that probably gives me a lot of joy at these moments. I want to save them as much as I can," Hingis said.

Yes, her opponent in the finals was no superstar but she had to get by Venus Williams in the previous round. Maybe she will play on centre court at Roland Garros on the 31st. I sure hope so!

Getting Ready for France

So I read Virginia Postrel on her recent trip and she cites James Traub (I have not got around to that article on Segolene Royal, but I will, likely today), and it has this amazing interchange:

Then the conversation took an odd turn. Royal asked me, with the air of someone pulling out a trump card, "Are you in an insecure situation?" Actually, I explained, as a contract writer for this magazine, I have little security.

Royal wasn't going to be put off the scent that easily. "Yes, but how many years does your contract last?"

"I sign a new one every year."

Now she was frankly incredulous. "You could be fired every year?" For all her own experience, Royal apparently viewed précarité as a kind of socioeconomic stigma rather than the price you might choose to pay for freedom. Or maybe you could say that for her, as for the left generally--and not only in France--market liberalism and globalization have the status merely of fact, which is categorically inferior to a right. This is no less so if the fact appears to obviate the right. "The global economy shouldn't be supported by wage earners," Royal insisted. "They have to be able to build a future, like any human being."

What is interesting is that even with this gap, our societies are much more similar in key ways than the ones I cannot imagine living in.

On our trip we are guaranteed to interact at least with a couple of actual French people (though perhaps better described as Canadian expatriates). Should be fun.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Expectations Exceeded - The da Vinci Code

What I had heard over the last few days left me expecting not a lot - though enough that I actually went to see the movie in the theatres.

What can I say? Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks, even with weird hair. I still wish Audrey Tautou had been Sophie Marceau. But maybe she would have had as little connection to Hanks, as well. Ian McKellen was great.

Nobody told me Jean Reno would be in it! I was so happy when he showed up. And then he sort of disappeared for most of the film, with occasional, and largely irrelevant, reappearances. But he was still a welcome force.

Overall, though, it seemed in ways better than the book (that says little). It had to be less complicated, which was good, and more visual, as a movie! It was not quite the travelogue I hoped for, but it did not put me to sleep. And it seemed almost as enjoyably goofy and ridiculous as the book.

I say go see it, but don't expect 'My Fair Lady'.

UPDATE: At the end, Langdon is staying at The Ritz!? How does he manage that? My wife is also a medieval scholar, and we won't be staying at The Ritz next week.

John Stuart Mill

There is something very touching in this observstion, that someone with a name not remotely English can find such inspiration in John Stuart Mill (certainly always one of my heroes).

Our common humanity can recognize such words:

Were there even a few hearts and intellects like hers, this world would already become the hoped-for heaven. She died to the irreparable loss of those who survived her, at Avignon, November 3rd, 1858

This is the great delight of globalization, this continuing discovery of commonness.

UPDATE: Count on Chris Dillow for an excellent other perspective.

Eurovision Withdrawal - Ade GermanTV

The backlog of German krimis I managed to tape during the heyday of GermanTV on Rogers cable continues to nourish us here. But the greatest experience GermanTV offered me - a full broadcast last year of the Eurovision Song Contest - was tragically not available this year (unless I missed it on some other channel).
Reports on the local news are actually mentioning it this year because the winners, the Finnish group Lordi, are SO ridiculous. And of course this is the delight of the event. Anyone who thinks 'European culture' is something especially wonderful should expose himself/herself to at least one bradcast of this event. It is 'American Idol' (which was an import from Europe too) in spades.

UPDATE: This link offered a lot of fun. No-Pasaran are spot on about the arrogance. And, I must confess, that group was pretty good.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


I am tempted to go see the movie! Such a guilty secret.
One of the most compelling, and simultaneously poorly-written (OK a tricky point - dialogue and descriptive text were clunky, but the plot did not let me give up, no matter how awful the style) books I have read. And clearly almost a screenplay as it started.
It was a fun travelogue, and as I am about to go to Paris, it makes sense to enjoy this.
And yes, it will be nice to see Audrey Tautou, though I pictured Sophie Marceau in the role. Oh well - nobody consulted me on the casting. And Tom Hanks. Err, no.
Even worse, the earnestness of Ron Howard surely cannot be right for this goofy novel. I fear I will be laughing much more in the movie than I did in the book. The whole thing was constructed with great humour by Dan Brown, and I have seen no hint Ron Howard knows what humour is.
Still, I suspect they will get my money this weekend.

Monarchs - they are here!

Well, they were.
They are also in Minnesota, and many other northern spots.
The key point is whether milkweed is up.
The first reports described mostly pretty beaten-up specimens but we should be seeing happier creatures soon.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

And This Too Shall Pass

I can hardly believe it.

For years, Cody's was the stop on the south campus walk in Berkeley. And now the store on telegraph is closing . I guess what stuns me even more is that they had a store on Fourth Street, and that is called 'trendy'. Times change!

Of course, what Cody's offered that was special is now available at a mouse-click in your home. But it WAS special. And moreso, that it could survive on Telegraph Avenue, which had nothing much to recommend it overall, and was allowed by the city of Berkeley to become quite an unpleasant environment.


The local cable system's movie channels have been inflicting 'The Interpreter' on us several times a day. It is very interesting to watch a film that is a real failure, and have it redeemed by tremendous work from Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman. Real talent is a delight and can salvage much.
Without them this film would be unforgivably awful. Come on! - suicide bombers from non-Muslim Africa. Give me a break! And utterly silly plotting.
The redemption Kidman and Penn provide is not perfect; as I watch it I wish I were watching him in 'Fast Times at Ridgement High' or her in 'Flirting'.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Michael Yon has some Canadian content

...and he raises some interesting questions.

The comments about our troops are relevant as many media here now seem focussed on poll results showing lowered commitment to the Canadian role in Afghanistan.

The Canadians are fighting more and more although few people seem to notice.

The most telling comment is this one, quoting Joe Galloway:

Gonna turn that badlands territory in the south over to NATO? What will they do when they start taking casualties out the yazoo? Cut and run? You bet. Or hunker down in their bases and pray the bad guys don’t come get ‘em. Which they will.”

Here's an opportunity to find out in more detail what our troops are doing (not to diminish some of the good work of previous Canadian mainstram media embeds).


A few months ago, a good friend recommended Pandora to me. I am now experimenting.

I have two stations going. One started with Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" and it is behaving reasonably. The other started with Dar Williams' "Iowa" and this has been a rocky ride. Many years ago, I was an enthusiastic listener to a local Universtiy of Waterloo campus station's women's music show every week. I am very curious to see whether Pandora can sort out in the end what I really like in that form, and what I do not like at all. At the moment, I am logging at least 60% rejects. The "I Fall to Pieces" station is building more systematically. I rarely reject anything.

As for "women's music" I recommend the great line from Nicole Holofcener's "Walking and Talking" - Liev Schreiber's character asks whether he has to keep listening to that 'vagina music', and is informed clearly that he must.

Now of that form I like quite a bit and really hate a lot so Pandora has a task.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Latest from the Waterfont

As of yesterday morning:

a) One Black-Crowned Night Heron is back. (We have had a pair in many of the last years - so far I have seen only one.)

b) The swans have become elusive (could be they are nesting or close to it?).

c) Of the migratory visits there remains a handful of oldsquaws and scaups.

d) No Shakespeare tent this year. (I feel a bit guilty - I never went to one of their shows.)

e) Sunrises are stunning on the shore of Lake Ontario.

Nicole Holofcener - YAY!

In a previous post I made reference to the wonderful movie 'Lovely and Amazing'. It was written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, and it is very engaging, full of great small touches and superb performances.
As a result, I have long wanted to see 'Walking and Talking'. Rogers Cable's Movie Channel is now offering this to me! I have learned that Catherine Keener is an actress! (She is not remotely like her character in 'Being John Malkovich'.) It is a delight having Liev Schreiber in any film.
But the irony is as follows. I have been seeing ads for 'Friends with Money' for weeks. I have been intrigued but told myself, "No, that is not worth my once-a-year visit to the movie theatres." But I just discovered that it is another Nicole Holofcener film!
Maybe plans have to change.