Sunday, June 25, 2006

New York - Polite?

Well, I have not been there in years, but my experiences have also been uniformly positive.
And of all things, Tyler Cowen has a beautiful succinct explanation of the result.

There is so much human capital in the city one is always tempted to speak to strangers, given the reasonably high chance you will hear something magnificent in return. Third and fourth were Toronto and Berlin.

Let me rephrase for non-economists. The place is full of such variety of amazing people, the chances are good that anyone you run into will be interesting! Don't let me sell Toronto short. It is another magnificent city, in exactly the same ways, though we probably would not want anyone thinking we were similar to New York City!

Who is this Boy?

Four or five years ago I would have laughingly dismissed Stephen Harper as a slightly bizarre side story. Could I have been more wrong?

Sheila Copps (a former Liberal cabinet member) outlines some of his great plays of the last week.

While the PM may face stiff opposition when it comes to big-picture issues like the environment and Afghanistan, his handling of the little picture is impeccable. And in political parlance, one picture is worth a thousand votes.

And Douglas Fisher, a former NDP member of the House, characterizes nicely what makes him so refreshing as a Canadian Prime Minister in the recent past.

The tough-minded among his partisan enemies think Harper is doing well because he so quickly and directly demonstrated that he is boss. He is in charge -- of himself, his ministry, and his caucus. He openly follows a strategy of keeping the ball rolling, making progress on his undertakings without moaning about the difficulties posed by a shortage of MPs.

At the time I refer to above, my view was that we could feel good about our leadership when Paul Martin took the helm. To put it mildy, this did not work out, and it still stuns me today that this most unlikely leader, Stephen Harper as he seemed to me then, has been doing such a remarkable job.

I think in my life I have voted only once for a local Consrevative candidate - Keith Norton, when I lived in Kingston (those who know history knows this would not be a normal Conservative vote). Harper's enormous achievement right now is measured in the fact that my basic assumption is that I will waste a vote in my riding next time for his party.

Dave Tufte makes me laugh

In my former life I was a math prof so this really was good for a giggle.

I actually got the best advice I have to pass on to undergraduates from the photographer before the ceremony. Parphrasing, he said "in another lifetime I was a botany professor". Undergraduates freak because they think they are making decisions that will bind them forever (of course, they will, but not that badly). So, I make sure they leave my office knowing that what they do at 22 isn't that big of a deal.

I actually think I might want to be a photographer in my next life.

Things I would like to do in retirement

When Teddy Lucic (what a great Swedish name) was red-carded in yesterday's World Cup match, I asked myself, "What effect does this really have?" And I must say I was not really surprised to find that Chris Dillow had an answer for me this morning.

As is to be expected, he also has a wonderful question, that unsettles me a little:

If the marginal product of a footballer in the second half of a game is zero, what other workers have zero marginal product?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Home Again after Reboot

My flight yesterday evening back to Toronto from O'Hare was almost on time. When I showed up at the gate the plane was visible at the end of the gateway.
And then came the announcement. We would be delayed because it was necessary to shut the power off and then back on again on the airplane! In other words, the airplane had to be rebooted!
On the other hand, it was another thoroughly enjoyable Embraer flight.

I am in Awe

One of my siblings, an active commenter, drew my attention to this fascinating (and apparently very popular) bit of the David Attenborough repertoire.

Watch the video and be amazed. At the same time, and Attenborough points it out, in a way I feel terribly sorry for this very accomplished bird, who is desperately engaged in the sort of activities we male primates do when we engage in asinine behaviour, hoping to impress specific others, and the poor fellow probably really cares about how it all works out for him.

On a broader point, I have seen only a small number of episodes of Attenborough's 'Birds' series so I am sure there are good DVDs out there for me. I do recall his walking through some woods in one episoide simply commenting brilliantly on the bird calls hewas hearing from the trees. As someone who listens fanatically even on my simple morning jogs, I was really impressed at the depth of his awareness.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

French Design

Believe it or not this is a window display in Paris of what I finally determined was a golf putter (assemblable like the sniper rifles in all the spy movies) and apparently also a practice hole and ball. I never did check the price.

Britannica vs Wikipedia

I fully understand the vulnerability of the Wikipedia model (and know to be cautious about what I find there), but is it conceivable that the Britannica could have any entry so useful as this one?
I am still in the Chicago suburbs and the Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen apparently fired off at a local reporter an epithet, and there is argument whether he said the reporter was cowardly or gay. Guillen's defence is that the word means 'cowardly' in his native Venezuela. He does not report whether it is also a term referring generally to homosexuals.
Now nobody says what the word is (my guess is 'Maricon' but they are mumbling about it starting with 'f') and I am not sure I have got the information I wanted from Wikipedia, but at least it gives me hope.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

EU - US Summit Press Conference - Joys of Business Travel

Awaiting morning meetings in my hotel room, and I find myself watching the Vienna press conference, Bush, Schuessel, and Barroso.
Manifestly no major control of the discourse has been imposed on the reporters, as one reporter has just been able to badger Bush on a variety of issues, and has got a polite and reasonable response.
But even more impressive is Schuessel, describing the reporter's moral relativism as 'grotesque', and giving the perspective of an Austrian who has lived the post-war period. He made the amazing and interesting point, a surprise to me, that aspects of the Marshall Plan remain alive today in some programs being applied in Austria. His English is excellent.
First visit to Vienna by an American President in 30 years? Wow.
Barroso's English was also not bad.
Better head off to the first meeting....

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


So it's bedtime in my hotel on my business trip in some weird suburb of Chicago.
And I pop on the TV.
And holy cow - that's my sister!
O'Reilly was good at making sure she got the word in edgewise vs the other expert (who is very strange, but I guess Fox does not know).
I fell asleep feeling pretty proud.

The joys and perils of Business Travel

Grant McCracken has a great post full of useful advice for neophyte business travellers. While he does hit the very important point of knowing WHAT hotel you are in, he misses on also knowing WHAT room you are in. In principle the front desk can solve this, but if you are insisting that you were on the 21st floor of a six-story hotel it can get more delicate.
One thing he does not discuss is the user interface of bath/showers. This morning in my Chicago suburb I encountered a shower head that looked like the control deck of the Starship Enterprise. It turned out that I found some simple manipulations that did what I wanted (and more!) and so did not have to boldly go where no man has gone before, but I have frequently found myself mystified in the past by apparently simple plumbing.
I hope someone can extend his advice post to include this area.

Multiculturalism bad?

I have found the many recent claims against 'multiculturalism', based on terrorist attacks real and accused in several Western countries, unconvincing. Of course much of the problem is defining what one is discussing.
This excellent column appeared in my Saturday National Post and coloured some of the rest of my weekend.
Let us look at some of what Andrew Coyne says.
First, what do you mean?

It’s a slippery word, with multiple meanings. Is it, as it is sometimes used, merely a synonym for the observed fact of ethnic and cultural diversity? Is it the ideology that all cultural norms are of equal moral value, the dreaded cultural relativism? Or is it the policy of official multiculturalism, complete with grants for folk-dancing and heritage language training?

If the latter, we can stop right here: it’s a silly policy, which has had very little impact for good or ill. To be sure, it has fed the careers of a few professional ethnics and their political patrons. But for the vast majority of immigrants, it is an irrelevance. Certainly, if the charge against official multiculturalism is that it encourages immigrants to live apart from the rest of society, the facts would seem to dispute it: ethnic minorities are measurably less ghettoized in Canada than in other countries -- again, Britain is an example.

We spend part of almost every year in Leeds in Yorkshire and it is fascinating to see the concentration of Muslim populations there (and this is the population that fed the British July bombings). Many of the years we have gone up for our week there, we have just followed sone neighbourhood riots. It is different from Canada.

The more troublesome definition of multiculturalism is that suggesting a broader cultural confusion, an inability to sort out which values ought to be shared and upheld by society at large, and which left to personal or community choice. But this kind of multiculturalism I think should be seen not as a cause, but a consequence: part of a broader malaise that leaves us unable to tell right from wrong, or to defend basic precepts of civilized life against either the sophistries of tenured radicals or the cruder assaults of their revolutionary cousins.

It is not immigrants who are barricading highways and vandalizing hydro towers to press their demands. It is not immigrants who have spent the last forty years threatening to detach a part of Canada from the rest. And while the publication of the Danish cartoons caused enormous offence to many Muslims, in Canada as elsewhere, it was difficult to explain to them why their hurt feelings should defer to the higher principle of free speech when we are so busy prosecuting free speech on similar grounds in other cases.

Amen! I had *NO* sympathy for the decisions of many Canadians to avoid the Danish cartoons, and I equally have none for the suppression of the speech of Holocaust deniers (which many seem to believe in). But the sad thing is we have no fundamental commitment in Canada to free speech.

The problem is that there we have provided them with so few Canadian values to absorb. We are the country of the notwithstanding clause, the country that exalts the virtues of pragmatism and compromise before all. We do not take a stand, we split the difference. Indeed, we cannot even bring ourselves to take a stand against our own destruction: it is “for Quebecers to decide.”

Not for us the Declaration of Independence and its absolutism.

Where other nations defined themselves by what they were, we defined ourselves by what we were not, viz. Americans. Where other nations aspired to the universal, we retreated into the particular, obsessed with what made us different, unique, special. Canadian nationalism invented itself as just another species of identity politics, with no higher claim than “we are not you.” Should we have been surprised to discover other identity groups within our midst, with the same claims?

In the Liberal leadership debate last weekend a mischievous question was asked. What experience have you had abroad that marked you as Canadian? Carolyn Bennett, whom I find largely appealing (actually like most of the candidates) walked off my plank by responding that she found herself once being treated with apparent suspicion by a border guard, but when he realized where she really came from, he was delighted and welcomed her happily. What was curious is that this is almost exactly how she phrased it, never mentioning the obvious point that she was thought initially to be from the United States. This is the world of Canadians who ostentatiously stick our flags on backpacks (as of course many citizens of the US would). It is a small-minded world at best. I take no pride in that world.

And maybe we are both fools, but Coyne speaks in a way I find valuable for what I think matters.

The answer to multiculturalism is not, however, monoculturalism. It is not, as the British writer Melanie Phillips suggested in her contribution to this series, to preserve traditional Canadian values from the insidious “doctrine of universalism,” or to exalt the majority’s culture over that of minorities. Precisely the contrary. It is to uphold universal human values -- starting with the idea that there are such values. And amongst those values is pluralism, the principle that every human being is entitled to pursue his own vision of the good life -- so far as this is compatible with the vision of others, on their own such quest.

And there is a particularly complex problem for Canada in terms of individuals versus their 'identities'.

Coyne says it again very well:

Let us say no to group rights, special status, and the endless exemptions of particularism. And let us say yes to a society whose solidarity is built on the sturdy foundation of the individual -- the individual, not as the alienated atom of caricature, but as the unique point of intersection of all those multiple group identities of which each of us is composed.

I grew up with an individual hostile position against a pretty small-minded Christian world. That world has evaporated, largely to my delight (though I admit I have found it disturbing to see leaders of some of our Christian churches merrily discarding basic principles of their religion at times). Today what am I?- I am what Coyne describes - an intersection, delightfully, of multiple identities, of Norwegian and Irish heritage, having lived in the US and England and Canada, having absorbed literature, music, at from all over the world. I think this is a result of enormous privielge, that Canada has given me, and should try to assure for everyone. I have NO desire to see walls built holding children in other ethnic and religious groups that confine those children. Some of our policy seems determined to recreate those walls.

Coyne again, and spot on:

The folly of multiculturalism is not its insistence on “diversity,” but rather its peculiarly narrow definition of diversity. Identity politics is not really about differences between groups, but rather enforcing sameness within the group. That’s as true of young Muslims, under pressure from fundamentalists to conform to their definition of a “good Muslim,” as it is of Quebec nationalists -- or Canadian nationalists.

A deeper commitment to diversity would respect the uniqueness of each individual. And it is our common experience of that uniqueness, of what it means to be human, that ultimately unites us.

I want to keep walking along the Danforth, the major street near which I live, and having the option of wandering into an Ethiopian restaurant, or a Greek one, or a Hungarian one, or whatever. This is a great gift that this wonderful city offers me. What I do not want to see is government policies that make ANY kid growing up in our society limited in his/her ability to explore all possible options in life, whether those serve or not the interests of the sub-community that child is born into.

It is not clear to me whether the diverse and interesting world I live in today can survive.

You can sleep when you are dead!

I too find it incredible (via Andrew Coyne and a few other sites).

On the other hand, I really like buying Folger's because of their superb reusable 1kg containers. I just wish I could find them consistently in my grocery stores.

Not just nice, from Norm

As Norm says, this is nice, but it is also one of the lovely elements that has become so available to us now through this wonderful technology.

Ghanaian forced to backtrack

As stated before, I have been cheering for Ghana at the World Cup, and was delighted at their recent victory, and thought one player's waving an Israeli flag to be a remarkably delightful act out of the at times sickeningly nationalistic character of the event.
But the world being what is ...
Once again it is Abiola Lapite who best expresses the outrage I personally feel at what has followed.

See, this nonsense is precisely the sort of thing I find most repulsive in the sporting arena.


Now, who on Earth would be offended by such a generous gesture, chauvinistic Ghanaians looking to hog the glory to themselves? Read on and find out ...

If you thought it was the Ghanaians who were up in arms about one of their own waving another country's flag, you guessed wrong; in fact, I'd be highly surprised if anyone could have picked the wrong answer to this particular challenge:


In case you thought FIFA officials remembered that one of the supposed objectives of tournaments like this was to bring the world together, here are some words of advice to the contrary:

"Football's governing body FIFA said they had taken note of the flag-waving and that although there was nothing in the rules to prevent it, they hoped not to see a repetition."

Yeah, we wouldn't want displays of cross-national fellow-feeling to become routine or anything, or it might start interfering with international hooligan rivalries ...

One of the true howlers in the post is a quotation from a news article:

Sports analyst Hassan el-Mestekawi said in the paper that many Ghanaian players attend football training camps set up by an Israeli coach who "discovered the treasure of African talent, and abused the poverty of the continent's children" with the ultimate goal of selling them off to European clubs.

Omigod. What typical Israeli evil. Trying to help talented African footballers become stars. Even 'sports analysts' have to view the world through the conspiracy theory glasses.

Go to the linked post. Follow as well to read the post linked to there from the Egyptian Sandmonkey.

Monday, June 19, 2006


We had two rain delays during my day at The French Open so I finally entered the building that was basically a display area for a variety of companies shilling either video games or related products. But tucked away in one corner was this amazing scene - I have never seen the racket restringing area in any previous tournament I have attended, and think it is utterly brilliant of the French to have let us see it in operation (click on the picture to enlarge it). It really was a delight, and a piece of the action one usually sees at best implicitly, as someone races to deliver a player a racket.

Those Ignorant Americans

My taxi driver, in taking me from O'Hare to my suburban hotel near Chicago, offered me his daily newspaper, a tabloid, the Sun-Times, which seemed overall to me somewhat like the Toronto Sun.
Four pages were devoted totally to the last Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert led by Daniel Barenboim. I find it hard to imagine ANY of our Toronto papers offering anything like this coverage.
But of course I know we Canadians are far more cultured so I will stop speculating.

The Value of Someone's Efforts

I have many friends who like complaining about the earnings/wealth of people so trivial as entertainers and sports stars. But I really think Don Boudreaux makes a superb point here.
Here is a quick excerpt.

When I read of McCartney’s fortune, I’m struck by how puny it is compared to the amount of pleasure he’s contributed to humankind. Consider:

If each viewer of only the Beatles’ first two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show deposited $1 into an account in return for watching the Beatles on these telecasts, this account would have had in it, on February 16, 1964, $143.7 million. (The number of people who tuned in to the Beatles’ February 9, 1964, appearance was 73 million; the number who tuned in one week later for their second appearance was 70.7 million. These data are here.)

If this money were invested at the historical rate of return earned by U.S. stocks, it would have earned an annual return, on average, of eight percent. Today, this account would be worth about $3.5 billion.

I know that, as someone who was never much of a Beatles fan, this consumer surplus argument is dead right. Imagine what REAL fans would have paid. Read the rest of the original post.

Embraer - yes!!

My flight to Chicago today was my second on an Air Canada Embraer airplane. My first was on a much smaller model, but both have been very pleasant. I love the aggressive liftoff, and landing as well.
This plane featured individual TV screens even in steerage Hospitality class, and I was able to watch an episode of 'Numb3rs', which certainly was an improvement on the normal entertainment on this route.
Embraer is, of course, a key Bombardier competitor. Perhaps it is heavily subsidized by the Brazilian government, and if so, I can only thank the Brazilians for helping improve my quality of lfe.
But the experience makes me even more annoyed with the recent announcement of a single-sourcing of new cars by the Toronto Transit Commission from Bombardier, with key politicians, especially our mayor, arguing that this was to support the Bombardier unions. Utterly appalling.
I voted enthusiastically for David Miller in the last election, and I fear I did not listen to the nonsense he was spouting.
Also, it must have been tough for Air Canada management to get the Embraer purchases past whatever hurdles the government might have placed. (Of course with the other hand they try to finagle support from the same governments.) But in the end I thank them for at least getting this nifty little airplanes into the fleet.

My First Monarch of 2006

One was fluttering about at Ashbridge's Bay Sunday morning - it looked pretty faded. Of course reports of sightings have been coming in from all sorts of nearby locations.

If Only he Got a Dollar per Download

This does seem like a law professor's economics.

THE GLENN AND HELEN SHOW has been downloaded over 10 million times now. If we got just a dollar per download. . . .

If they got a dollar per download there would be significantly fewer downloads.

I paid a LOT for my ticket at the French Open

But I did not pay enough to get this level of care from attendants. This picture was taken early in the day. Later Ilie Nastase (yay!) was sitting in this area.

Our Nearest Cross Street on our Paris Trip

The shop below, while not on the cross street (Chateau d'Eau) has a name that emphasizes the theme.

The street was packed with hair styling shops.

What is really impressive is that this emphasis reaches into the world of debris on the sidewalks.

If you want hair help this is the place!

And it does seem to inspire some passions.

Men of Paree

They are a lot like the rest of us not in Paree.
This is a window in the French National Library shortly after the library closed one day, as I was looking for my wife, who had finished her workday there.
(For a suggestion on what they are looking at, check out some previous posts featuring photographs taken at the same site.)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Soulpepper 2006

Soulpepper made this year's decisions much more complicated by deciding on year-round season.
I finally assembled my skills and went with a friend to the Friday night show of 'The Real Thing'.
Stoppard's play is excellent, but as usual, the Soulpepper crew make it SO well worth seeing. Megan Follows has an effect on me (see previous posts) and it continues, but the whole cast is superb. The English accents grate at the start (is there anything specifically English, other than the locations?), but one learns. Richard Ouzunian's review was almost dead right, as he said that:

Megan Follows as Annie is a creature of marvellous angles — all flashing elbows and sensually lifted legs — holding the men in her life so tightly you know she's going to let them go before very long.

But I will be more specific. Her feet expressed most of the play. And she was great at that!
Now I am very eager to sign up for the rest of the season.

A small point - as my date and I sat working on the appetizer, Albert Schultz cruised through our restaurant. It is always great to flirt with relative stardom.

Our Street in Paris and My Street at Home

I am now normally awakened at my home by birds; I noticed that this was no problem in Paris, and I thought about it. It took little thought.

Here is my street at home. The car in the foreground, mine, is right outside my bedroom window.

Here is the street we stayed on in Paris.

Note, though, that my street at home lacks a building like this, which is only the town hall of the local arrondissement:

... and an arch ...

dedicated to 'Ludovico Magno' (Big Louis, and if that sounds Mafioso-like, it should).
The street also included an amazing density of shops like this one:

It says it is selling clothing for kids, but we could not have bought anything there had we had kids to buy stuff for; believe it or not, that is a warehouse and there had to be thirty of them along our street. We were square in the middle of the textile industry. Nearby were sections of town devoted to wedding dresses, men's suits, etc. It was unprecedented to me.

But I have my sparrows and starlings here.


After an invigorating squash match this morning I visited the water again, hoping for swans. Swans failed me. But I got some nice pictures of some other birds, reflecting the notion of reflection.
For example, a messy little mallard:

And then there were the reflected canadas:

And Gulls find a different way to do it!

Fast Women of Paris - Part 4

OK here are the other shots I got. My favourites are the red sport shoes.

Fast Women of Paris, part 3

There is a good chance everyone in these shots is heading for work in retail. It was after 9am, after my wife had settled in for her research day, and I was on my own. I had assumed retail jobs would deliver more high heels (and while our stops in 'Jennyfer' shops did nothing to confirm this idea, I think you will see I had some point). Oh - why did I suspect retail jobs? - I was mostly catching people heading up towards Les Grands Boulevards. OK saw three sets of heel there. Not bad, one more post of research work to go.

Fast Women of Paris, part 2

Continuing data in regard to my earlier post.

Fast Women of Paris - a Fashion Odyssey

One of the first things to stand out each of the last couple of times I have visited Paris is how often a Parisian women passes me on the sidewalk as if I were standing still, even though we are both walking (and I am not a complete slouch walking, though as a tourist I am likely rubber-necking and lolly-gagging somewhat). This delights me - one of the great magic movie moments is the opening of Truffaut's 'Vivement Dimanche', which features a long take of Fanny Ardant moving swiftly on foot through the streets of Paris. Sheer magic. And she was in high heels!
But, on my first day here, what leapt out at my eyes was that the standard Parisian woman's uniform today, at least in 15 degree (Celsius) weather, is not Ardant's in that take. 'Uniform' is too strong but there is an overwhelming pattern. Slacks or jeans, a blouse or turtleneck-like top, a jacket on top, with optional additional sweater, a scarf, and a handbag, preferably with the strap crossing the top diagonally, and sensible walking shoes.
So I set out to do some documentation; I found a couple of sites not likely to be populated by tourists, and chose the day when the Louvre was closed, and was careful to delete photos of anyone reading a map or accompanied by a man wearing an England t-shirt. I am pretty sure I also filtered out essentailly all tourists. I also did some paparazzi work in the neighbourhood we were in, where it is a safe bet you are not photographing a tourist.
Let's look at some of the results, in no special order. Be warned - this is a long piece of work. Moreover, the warmer day meant there were fewer scarves.
Let's start here as this is the ONE instance I found someone wearing the capri pants filling the store windows. Her shoes are not quite flat (seem to small platforms), but note that she has a baguette! By the way, my first impressions, with all the scarfs, were on a cold day; my day of research was in the mid-20s. (For the backward among you, all degrees are Celsius.)

The following shots were made on the stretch along the Chateau d'Eau to Rue Richer (as we headed from near the Gare de l'Est towards Rue Richelieu - this is not a hot tourist route, especially when the Louvre is closed).

OK now I just switched to a plaza where I could sit and look inconspicuous and set the camera on a bench and shoot people freshly off the Metro and heading for wherever they work (well, that seems likely where they are going).

Cargo Pants!!

Here is my plan. Let me post this and continue in a couple more posts. I did very extensive research, and we can spread it out.