Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Recent Search that led to this Blog

OK I understand it getting here but how would anyone think of it?

dr. peter alan adamson toronto plastic surgeon

Mel Gibson sadly reveals himself

Many wondered about whether 'The Passion' contained the germination of antiSemitic seeds.
Heck - I loved 'The Lethal Weapon' series, and even the rather idiotic 'Road Warior' and 'Braveheart' (OK maybe I did not love Braveheart).
Somehow, and sadly, this news is no surprise.
I wondered if he might go into deny mode.
Seems instead he went into "I was helpless" mode.
I do not buy it. But at least he appears to recant.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

More Demographic Shifts

CBC's 'Overnight' devotes a half-hour to Radio Prague, and last night they had an interesting news item, that resonated with an earlier post about our observations about procreation in Oslo and in some cities in Germany. The good news is that this radio report is reproduced at Free Republic here.

Key points:
The number of babies born in the first six months of 2005 has increased by roughly ten percent compared to the same period last year. Staff at maternity hospitals say they are exhausted and are running short of necessary supplies. Professor Zdenek Hajek from Prague's maternity hospital U Apolinare says they are almost at full capacity.
"It is a repercussion of the baby-boom in the 1970s. Czech women no longer have their first child at 20 but much later, in line with the trends in the developed countries of Western Europe. So many of the baby-boomers who were born in 1974 and 1975 are just now having their first babies."

This analysis does not seem quite complete to me.

Friday, July 28, 2006

News about Landis

I keep hearing confident reports on the question of Floyd Landis' 'non-negative' test, which showed anomalous testosterone to epitetosterone ratios. This is what I think I know about the situation.
This is decidedly not what most of the news reports I hear say.
I was confident when this news item first broke that my regular blog sources would be able to give me some useful perspective, and The Amateur has come through. He apologizes for long-windedness, but that very long-windedness allows him to be accurate. Follow his link (or mine) as well to The Boulder Report.
It will be curious to see how this comes out.
And it turns out to be yet another sporting story where, in my opinion, like The Amateur's, Dick Pound appears to want to get press time by leaping prematurely into a story. He certainly does nothing to increase my pride in being a Canadian.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Superficial Impressions of Oslo, part 2

How could I have forgotten this?!

Blondes, blondes everywhere.

I am in favour of this - though maybe I must admit it is silver or a sort of grey, and no longer blond.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More Interesting Consequences of the Concert

I think everyone should look at this site.

An Undercover Economist acting with zero Marginal Cost

One of the better sections of Tim Harford's "The Undercover Economist" concerns the behaviour of people confronting zero marginal cost.
I put my wife and me into that situation somewhat deliberately on our recent trip by buying an Oslo Pass. I did not do this because I thought it was necessarily a good deal - I did it to force us into behaving in a way to make it a good deal.
It essentially made travel to and from, and admission to, museums and the like, free to us. And guess what we did? We ran ourselves ragged visiting sites included in the package. We even wound up in places we hated (the Munch Museum was particularly revolting). Harford's discussion features students drinking, but our comitment to museums was not dissimilar.
But we also did more intensive tourism that I have ever done anywhere. I think this is my new strategy for visiting new cities.

A Little Fresh Air

Somewhere recently in the various arguments about the sad and sorry state of Lebanon tonight, I saw a casual reference to Israel as 'intransigent'(casual in that it was just tossed off with no backing information). I found this somewhat comical, in view of Israel's perpetual negotiations of the last several years, and their departures in recent time from South Lebanon (with the promise from the UN that Hezbollah would be disarmed), and Gaza. Moreover, it was clear the new government planned to back out of West Bank settlements. Meanwhile Hamas and Hezbollah continue to have as documented goals the eradication of Israel as a state. Maybe I do not understand what intrasigence is.
I woke up this morning to Kofi Annan upset, rightly, about the loss of UN observers in Lebanon, and seemingly ready to assign some blame (none of which did anything for his already deeply compromised credibility). Imagine my amazement to find that the CBC was conducting this interview (link coming) in the morning! Lewis McKenzie is a veteran of Canadian peacekeeping operations, and is certainly not afraid to speak his mind. It is entertaining to hear the CBC's Karen Horsman try to drag him back into the positions she wants to hear, but he is 'intransigent' (sticks with what he knows).
You can listen to it here.

The Maytag Repairman

In my youth, I recall Jesse White as the lonely Maytag repairman, with no work to do because their appliances have no faults.
I sure wish he had the same time on his hands now!
He has been outsourced. I now think perhaps regrettably, I bought a Maytag washer last fall. In any case when I called Maytag for service on the busted machine, they referred me to some local appliance repair shops. These guys somewhat reluctantly sent a service rep out, who determined last weekend that I needed a new drain pump. That would come "in a couple of days". That was five days ago.
My view right now is that Maytag repairmen should become extinct, but right now I believe it is because Maytag appliances should become extinct. Perhaps my mood will change soon, but not being able to do a laundry in my home in this mini-heat-wave is not fun.

Superficial Impressions of Oslo

We spent a little over two days in Oslo as part of our recent trips. Some quick impressions.

1) The scale of the city is perfect for tourists; one can almost walk everywhere, but the transit system is efficient and pleasant to use.

2) Capri pants have won the battle there; I am not sure whether this means it is a coming trend elsewhere or Oslo is just an odd place - many women in Vienna were also wearing Capri pants. As late as early June they had made very minimal inroads in Paris.

3) The Munch museum is a depressing place, combining neurotic security (given some of the losses they suffered one can see some security, but what they have is nutty and does not address the problem), and paintings by someone who never got over his teenage angst.

4) The Ibsen museum is a delight, if a bit light on content - Ibsen did get over his teenage attitudes. Part of what makes it special is this summer's emphasis on Ibsen, on the centenary of his death.

5) Holmenkollen. Take the T-Bahn to the station and then take it back down again and skip the ski jump. The view from the train down to the city and fjord is wonderful, and the marginal improvement from the top of the ski tower is not worth the additional effort (and anxiety, for some).

6) It's expensive. But not so much as I recalled from my previous visit.

7) People seem so happy. Of course it was mid-July with sunny warm weather, so I imagine that brightens spirits enormously.

8) It is unsettling having the sun set around 11pm. And equally unsettling to find it up again at 4am.

9) The Vigeland Park. Ahhhh. Worth a separate post. Along with the museum.

10) Akker Brygge - just a great place to walk around, and, if you don't care about prices, eat.

11) Karl Johann's Gate. A great place to walk around, and, if you don't care about prices, eat. Actually, this proved to be a bit of a Rodeo Drive the evening we dined there on a patio - motorcyclists flaunting their wares (male and female) up and down the road.

12) A Fjord cruise. On the day well worth it - it spared us walking (we were tired from long walks the day before), and it exposed us to the riotously sensual elements of Oslo life in the summer - the 'beaches' (rocky shorelines), the summer homes out in the fjord, and the like. Generally, it is just plain fun taking boats.

13) Viking ships museum - well worth it, straightforward and informative.

14) Kon-Tiki museum. Here we encountered one of the most interesting aspects of Norwegian culture. In most artistic areas, there is one giant in Norwegian history, and all pretty much from the late 19th and early 20th century - Grieg, Vigeland, Munch, Ibsen. However, in exploration, there is a real battle - Amundsen, Nansen, and more. Somehow Heyerdahl got his own museum, and it looks as if it is devoted mostly to the cause of showing that he is at least as good as Nansen, who got the Nobel Peace Prize (it is clear in the museum that Heyerdahl wanted it and tried). But this museum is overkill. Moreover, there is a curious undocumented transition between the idyllic early life in the South Seas with wife X, and the later documentation of his widow, clearly wife Y.

More on Monday's Concert

My sister has beaten me to it with this post and some subsequent ones. I think all involved had quite a good time.

Let me add some shots of our cousin on stage in action:

I got to know David very well when I was a grad student at Berkeley and spent a lot of time at his home, as he wasted his teenage years downstairs practicing guitar playing when he could have been studying. Curiously, this t-shirt showed up in the audience in front of me (open in a separate window to read it). Go Bears!

Rondi mentions the decorative stone. This shot, while underexposed, displays it fairly dramatically (open in a separate window!).

Just to be fair to the other bands, The Working Title are in action here:

And the Goo-Goo Dolls are letting the love in here:

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Counting Crows are coming to town

The group in question, Counting Crows, is not a group that plays my sort of music (Pandora and I continue to negotiate what exactly that is). But I have a cousin (even more on him here) in the band, and so I have to go see them!

Even at my age, I think there is little cooler than being a rock guitarist. On the other hand, he does not quite live up to the image; when I called his hotel room today, there was no answer, and I pictured him recovering from the night before and unable to even hear the phone. It turned out he was in the fitness room in the hotel working out.

So much for cool.

Shameless Family Promotion

The first CBC Newscast I watched on my return from Europe this week was the usual, The National on Thursday night - it seemed almost half the hour-long show was devoted to Lebanese war evacuees bitching that they had not been on a cruise provided at the expense of Canadian taxpayers, and that there were no stewardesses! I am exaggerating a bit, but a lot of time was given to complaints that seemed to me, in the circumstances, to be silly - the trip was uncomfortable, and it reflected the fact that it had been hastily put together by what was surely an Embassy staff that had not been designed to handle anything of the magnitude involved (nor should it have been designed for this). It was clear why the reporters involved took the idiotic stance they took, and it was painful. It would be nice if some of them could take some time to do other than just emote in the moment, but it seems that is the current definition of journalism at the CBC.

I had spent previous days watching Austrian news, and Austrians were being evacuated as well. This went bumpily as well, but the news shows spent maybe a minute or two on the subject. Austrians remember wars still. Getting home at all is a triumph.

Another issue of course is that there are pretty few Austrians in Lebanon, but enough that on the day of my flight home, there were still Austrian flights trying to leave, one of which, to the delight of the most populist newspaper in the country, had been denied by Turkey the right to use their air space to bring evacuees home.

The largest issue is that it seems Canada has more 'visitors' to Lebanon who need evacuation than any other country in the world! I have seen estimates as high as 50,000 - the Toronto Sun this morning said under 10,000 of them need to leave. It would be insanity to staff an embassy to service these numbers. And I continue to wonder what they mean. My guess is - 48,000 Lebanese permanent residents with Canadian passports, and 2,000 others. There is a lot of welcome discussion going on in Canada about what this means.

In any case, to get to the subject - my sister has a column in the Star today and I agree with most of what she has to say.

Body Language

Oliver (famous cat model) gets daily saline solutions from a veterinary assistant who visits him in the afternoon. She turned up this morning, unexpectedly (by him), and he adopted a posture which said an awful lot about how he has balanced the unpleasant aspects of having a needle stuck in him and being held immobile against the benefits that ensue from the process.

This Couch Potato's Summer Ends

My summers have several parts; there is just the general enjoyment of NOT being in winter, there is usually interesting travel, and there is always the highest and most enjoyable density, from late May to late July, of the sporting events I most enjoy watching. During this period we had the following events this year, in order of starting dates:
  • The French Open (Tennis)
  • The World Cup (Football)
  • The US Open (Golf)
  • Wimbledon (need I say?)
  • The Tour de France
  • The British Open (Golf)
Of course. most years there is no World Cup, but there are sometimes substitutes (the European Championships, etc.).

For this couch potato, it has been quite a summer.

Mr Capri pants unfortunately made the French Open final a bit of a farce, but it is clear now that at least for a short while, Federer-Nadal matches will be classic. Now the problem here is that their matches on clay are somewhat tedious so there was some merit in not having that final go to five sets.

I have commented on the World Cup; I did see two or three matches I found quite exciting and entertaining, which, from my point of view, is not bad. Fortunately, I was watching the event in Toronto, perhaps one of the most entertaining places in the world to be for this event, as almost every team has a large partisan following in the city (who would have thought I would see French flags all over the place, albeit wildly outnumbered by Italian flags in my neighbourhood)? Also perhaps a bit counterintuitive, we have a very energetic Korean community, geographically not far from one of the larger Italian concentrations in the city - while this had no major impact this year, it has led to some taunting and childish behaviour in past World Cups.

We got to see Mickelson throw away another major at the US Open. More delightfully, we got to see Colin Montgomerie throw away an excellent shot at his first major.

The Wimbledon final looked for a while as if it might have some life before Federer managed to shut it down. Again I was relieved to see it NOT go to five sets. They are playing on grass and hardly go to the net? On the other hand, it was amazing to watch Nadal learn to play on grass. He could become unstoppable.

And now today it all comes to an end.

The Tour de France finishes in Paris today, though, barring some major disaster, it finished yesterday. A three-week event has great moments, and this one featured two amazing days, both this week. In Wednesday's stage, Floyd Landis, leading the overall race at the time, collapsed on the last climb and lost about ten minutes to the other contenders. I boarded my flights home from Europe the next day having written him off completely, only to arrive home and find that he had not given up, that he had determined that a risky attack was his only means of getting back into the race, and that he had taken the risk and attacked early in the next stage. The reward was to gain back much of what he had lost, enough to put him close enough to strike as he did in yesterday's time trial to regain the lead. This was character (from a sporting point of view) and the rewards to his risk-taking seemed very appropriate.

And who could have asked for a better prospect for the final round of the British Open than to have Woods and Garcia in the final pairing, and Els and DiMarco before them, all within a stroke at the start, not to mention a few other remote contenders? It could be a very enjoyable roller-coaster ride.

Sadly, this too has had to end, but it all comes back next year!

UPDATE: Landis did in fact win as expected. I have rarely seen such a comeback from someone that everyone wrote off. And Woods' opponents all crumbled while he held on handily to win his event as well.

This is Wacky and Joyful

There is more information here, including the comment:

Matt dances very badly, but most people don't seem to mind.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

We Were Havin' a Heat Wave

And it wasn't tropical! My last vacation trip took place in Austria and Norway(!), and my packing error of forgetting a sweater had no consequences.

On my last day, in Vienna, I noticed some office workers (faces obscured) who found some lunch hour sunning space in perhaps not the most comfortable of spots.

Now they clearly enjoyed this weather, but it has affected the Tour de France in ways consistent with one report from the EclectEcon, and seems to be creating another round of challenges to the French health system, thankfully not comparable to the effects of the last "canicule".

An Undercover Economist on a Cruise

On the last day of my most recent vacation trip, I took a cruise along a short stretch of the Danube and the channel that runs into Vienna. I had read Tim Harford's wonderful 'The Undercover Economist' on the flight over a couple of weeks before, and the discussion of price discrimination was fresh in my mind.
I casually looked at the refreshments menu, and missed a key point, but finally noticed a fascinating instance of what he talked about.
Here is the wine menu:

If you click on it to enlarge it you can try to find what struck me.
Here is a section of the menu for wine by the glass:

By the glass, I can get Gruener Veltliner (likely my favourite white, a dry Austrian variety) for 2.80 Euros - each glass is a Viertel - a quarter of a liter.

Here is a section of the menu for wine by the bottle.

What does a 750ml bottle of Gruener Veltliner cost? 22.00 Euros. So you can get the equivalent of three glasses for 8 times what you would pay for the same variety of wine by the glass!

Now of course the wines come from different wineries - otherwise there is no way the cruise company could expect anyone to order the wine by the bottle. (OK so there may be some people who cannot figure out that a quarter of a liter is 250 ml and that 750 ml is three times that, but you don't want to build a business on that.) This distinction is not too terribly different, I think, from Harford's example of Fair Trade coffee - no, I won't explain, because I think you should buy and read his superb book.

What I do know is that the wine by the glass tasted just fine.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Eyeball Demography

There has been much wringing of hands in the blogosphere about European demographics, and the concern that immigrant populations will outbreed the non-immigrant populations.

I spent a couple of days in Oslo recently and it certainly seemed to me there was some pretty active regeneration of the non-immigrant population going on. I wonder if this is reflected in any oficial demographic statistics yet; perhaps it is an optical illusion of sorts.

My wife said she noticed the same thing in Germany in the course of several weeks there.

Over the last couple of months I also spent some time in Paris and Vienna, and did NOT notice this effect.

Of course our sampling methods were not designed to provide the most accurate results in this area.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Can the French Coaching be so Bad?

An unconfirmed report tells me here in Toronto that the French coach says he 'understands' Zizou's idiotic head-butt.
Huh? Is his job not trying to get his team to win?
So surely the first thing you do is train your key penalty-guy not to get himself removed from the field for some dumb thing. And he does, and YOU agree with his totally idiotic behaviour.
The one clear lesson of this championship is that the French coach needs to be replaced. And only for Zizou's moronic head-butt. That is enough, even without his approving it.
(Another coach that needs to be replaced, although this is already ongoing, is England's Eriksson - like how can you not have spent a LOT of time explaining to Rooney not to behave like a 12-year-old??)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

French Engineering

Some curious things struck me at the French Open that made me wonder about the process of design review in France. Talking to friends about how things work in France had caused me to wonder whether some junior employee could raise his hand at some point and say, "But what about this?". I got the feeling this just would not normally happen, and might have bad consequences for the hand-raiser if it did.
And I saw evidence that this was the case. Many simple things get missed.
Philippe Chatrier Stadium is one of the key Roland Garros venues during the French Open and I enjoyed most of a day there. Except for a couple of small points.
For those of us with lower level seats there was one set of washrooms. Imagine my surprise to find that the track from the major collection of seats into the men's washroom had to cross the track assigned in and out of the players' special area.
This does not on the face of it sound too bad. After all there are not many players.
Unfortunately there are hundreds of young kids who want autographs from players and they have only this place to try to get them after they have failed to get them on court.
Suffice it to say that if you are male and need to get to the men's room in Philippe Chatrier Stadium, do not have any silly notion that you can reach your goals in any reasonable time, or even at all without knocking a child over.
Clearly nobody held his hand up in that meeting and said. "errr...", or maybe he/she did and just got rejected as uncertified.

Another amusing point. Aftr an hour in my seat I shifted a bit and noticed some resistance, so I looked and noted that the curved plastic seat I was in had a break in it. As I was there early, I was able to determine that ALL of the seats anywhere near mine were also broken. And the reason was clear - the curved plastic seats sit on very straight metal braces, that clearly force them to break should any weight get into the seats (which surely is why they are there).

More perhaps in some later post about the design of Metro cars, which also seems theoretical and somewhat unpractical. Do all our cultures fit the stereotypes?

This is how to use Cognitive Dissonance!

Waldorf, of the German blog Statler and Waldorf, announces that the World Cup Final will be occurring on Saturday!

Sonntag ist der Tag der Ruhe. An einem Sonntag sollte man nicht fernsehen, sondern ein gutes Buch lesen oder sich mit Freunden treffen. Auch eine Fußball WM sollte man deshalb nicht an einem Sonntag entscheiden.

Sunday is the day of rest. On Sundays we should not watch television. but rather read a good book or meet with friends. Nor should one settle a World Cup victory on a Sunday.

And a little more mischief.

Zum Glück hat das auch die Fifa bedacht und spielt den WELTMEISTER 2006 am Samstag Abend um 21 Uhr in Stuttgart aus. Was da am Sonntag in Berlin passiert, keine Ahnung. Ist auch egal. Denn wir freuen uns auf Samstag, auf das WM Finale:


Fortunately FIFA has considered this and will play out the championship Saturday evening at 9pm in Stuttgart. Whatever happens on Sunday in Berlin, we have no idea about that, it makes no diference. For we are looking forward to the World Cup final Saturday between Germany and Portugal!


I think justice was done, though it took a bad mistake on the Portuguese side to make it so easy.

This was no match for yesterday's match, but it was well worth watching. I am totally impressed with Christiano Ronaldo.

And I have no words for Zidane in this year's World Cup. When we were in Paris there was a movie in all the cinemas on the subject of Zidane, and I kick myself slightly for not having seen it. No doubt it will show up soon enough on TV here, but it would have been a nice thing to take way from our Paris visit.

I am conflicted about the final, as I will bet my sister is. Both teams have played very entertaining football in the elimination rounds. Italy is not the tedious Italy of the past! What I most hope for is a good match not determined by some silly arbitrary call.

Gambling - Mankiw, via Cowen

Like Tyler Cowen, and despite my own addicitive personality, I have never found gambling of any interest at all. I am perplexed at those who even buy lottery tickets, though I vaguely understand the attraction.

Cowen's list is almost exactly mine.

I would disapprove of people who are usually late, people who smoke cigars in restaurants, people who play loud music late at night, and people who are not curious. Call me a prude if you want

Well I have always known I am a prude, and proud of it, sort of.

But in the end the point of this post is to suggest you read Greg Mankiw's original post. I think my percentages may be slightly different, but the same forces battle within me.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Do You Know this Scam?

We are walking along the left bank of the Seine (heading for the Tour Eiffel), west of the Pont des Invalides, and a young girl wanders up to us with a ring in her hand. She has supposedly just found it on the ground in front of us. We are heading for the Pont d'Alma (read - dead Diana).
She says she found it on the ground, and it turns out it might fit me. We chatter away a bit. We decide to keep walking away. But we wonder, what were the next steps had we stopped and listened? Has anyone been through this? The ring story could have become a Princess Di one, or just a goofy one. Does anyone know?

The Beautiful Game

I have been skeptical. The diving, the performances, the tedious passing back to the keepers.
This Germany-Italy match was a great antidote. No tedium.
And heaven knows whether the outcome was just (I would not know) but it sure looked like it - and it was not the tedious painful Italy of past years. Nor the tedious Germany.
Let us hope we get this quality for the final.
What I do know is that the streets around my house will now explode with irrational exuberance. (Just where I live in Toronto.)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

More Honoured in the Breach

I have always liked Hamlet's phrase.

In any case it leapt to my mind in Paris, when after a few days of walking the streets, I encountered this sign!

Saturday, July 01, 2006


I decided to enjoy a leisurely morning today, reading newspapers on the back deck and drinking coffee, and tossing peanuts from a bag beside my chair to four visiting squirrels and one blue jay (in the past there have been two - I wonder if they are nesting nearby).

I went inside to watch some television, and forgot the bag of peanuts.

It turns out one of the squirrels has some initiative, and is not frightened of me pointing a camera at him/her.

Happy Birthday, Silly Little Country

No, not the blog using that phrase in its name, but the actual Silly Little Country itself.
One silly aspect is the number of holidays that really relate to British stuff rather than anything we achieved or did.
We continue to celebrate Victoria Day (though we rumble occasionally about renaming it - in fact, maybe we have - we keep changing the lyrics to our national anthem). And Canada Day is fundamentally the celebration of the coming into effect of a British Act of Parliament.
Still we get to shoot off fireworks and not go to work for a day (well, depends on your job). So maybe it's silly but it's all right by me!