Actually I am not, I hate snow. I experienced the snowstorm in London that Doc managed to largely miss. When I arrived at my London destination, I found this sort of thing in the parking lot. That was enough snow for me for the year.
Yesterday morning, and today, my back deck looked like this. The snow is trying. But the outlook suggests this will all vanish in the next day or so. Note the squirrel tracks (click to enlarge); at least it is cold enough that the windows stay closed so the screens are safe.
Unusually, I did not read Andrew Coyne's column in last weekend's National Post. Had I done so, I wonder at what moment the bullshit detector would have been triggered. He does a nice job of lulling one into acceptance in the first couple of paragraphs but I know that this quote
more than annual sales of tobacco, alcohol, and lottery tickets, combined.
would have stood out, cued me in, and had me giggling thereafter. Bravo.
Give CBS the credit - as Ahmadiniejad runs his silly show in Iran, CBS reviews new files, utterly heartbreaking in their details. The thoroughness and bureaucratic nuttiness of the Nazis is well exposed in this episode. I hope it goes up publicly somewhere for people to watch later. Thanks, Doc, for the pointer. And despite what some comments on my blog suggest, never forget that today's anti-Semitism is strongly linked to the efforts of these monsters.
TV Ontario was kind enough to be running 'Body Heat' in the middle of the night. It's a film that features a unique chemistry between its leads, and a good deal of delightful mischief. Is there a dumber character in all filmdom than Ned Racine? Mickey Rourke steals scenes completely - in one, as he is offering his lawyer a device for setting off a fire, he warns the lawyer not to commit the crime. The film cuts next to a slow pan over the back side of the naked Kathleen Turner character, and there is no more eloquent way of showing that the crime will be committed. William Hurt is perfect as the loser of a lawyer who falls for Matty Taylor. The combination of his jogging and smoking habits says so much about him. Ted Danson is surprisingly effective. Thanks again to the taxpayers of Ontario. (Actually - they supplied a great evening and night - "The Big Clock" and then its sort of remake, "No Way Out", followed in the end by "Body Heat".)
Is there a dumber character in all filmdom than Ned Racine?
Grew up in the Ottawa Valley, lived many years in California, and a year in England. Talk about averaging!
What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland
"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.
I have long held somewhat mixed feelings (unlike at least one of my commenters) about large international pharmaceutical companies. I very much enjoy reading Derek Lowe's weblog, which shows me that working in pharmaceuticals is not unlike working in software, with all the risks and uncertainties, and the great problem that manufacturing costs pale beside development costs (a point critics usually simply do not get, as they present fatuous arguments about pricing). Another common point is the notion that it is the 'research' guys who do all the heavy lifting, and the companies get a free ride - in both cases the difference between a well-done research prototype and a real product can be quite great. Glenn Reynolds paid a small but correct tribute recently to Pfizer (whose problems I have described in a previous post), and TigerHawk follows up. At the moment the only drug I subscribe to is Aspirin, but that is of course Big Pharma of its 19th-century time.
In an earlier post I expressed some pride at how far Canada had come in the years of my life (years during which Alan Turing (a hero for me in all my careers) killed himself, and other things closer to home gave us no paticular credit). What I forgot to include in that post was a lovely link from the ever brilliant Virginia Postrel, to a wonderful article by Janathan Rauch, about the person probably more individually responsible than anyone for this great change in Canadian society. (And as usual, he is from the land of the Great Satan.) What are the best bits? Well, all of them, but for me:
The bestower of these documents and mementos is alive and well at 81 and, naturally, pleasantly surprised. "We would never have imagined," he said in a recent interview. "If anyone had told us, when we were scrambling around on our hands and knees on somebody's living room floor with poster board making signs, that those very signs would end up in the Smithsonian with Thomas Jefferson's desk and Abraham Lincoln's inkwell, we would have thought they were nuts."
You must read the article to know how delicious this is! And it is!
A delectable, if backhanded, tribute to Kameny's accomplishments comes from Peter LaBarbera, an anti-gay activist. Protesting the Library of Congress's acquisition of Kameny's papers, LaBarbera wrote of Kameny, "He is brilliant but wasted his considerable intellect and talents on homosexual activism, which is a shame." Well, yes. Kameny might have had a brilliant scientific career -- if the government hadn't fired him for being homosexual. That was a shame.
I recall exposure in my childhood to the idea that homosexuals might get fired from government positions. To my credit this puzzled me. To my shame it did not outrage me.
Rauch puts it best in his last paragraph, which I will simply quote, but the general notion is that we are now obviating so much artificial misery. Let us hope we can maintain the values behind this, as there are "progressive" forces aligned today with those who would casually and merrily exterminate homosexuals. Here is Rauch's delightful last summary - and let me say, hail Kameny!
My partner, Michael, and I are among the millions who owe some large measure of our happiness to Kameny's pursuits. This Thanksgiving found me grateful that one pariah fought back, never imagining he could fail; even more grateful to live in a country with a conscience; most grateful of all to know that there are generations of Franklin Kamenys yet to be born.
Turns out that I, like GrrlScientist, am a Pure Nerd. Go check her site out to find a link to the test. It also explains the differences, which I never knew before. They make sense, and the answer in my case makes sense. And it surely makes sense in hers!
Augusto Pinochet has died, and I can only say that it is good he was largely irrelevant to the world at this point, though a symbol of the inability of the international community to deliver justice; he certainly committed crimes against his own population, and hence humanity. The best discussion I have seen of his passing and the world reaction so far has unsurprisingly come from Oliver Kamm. Another argument I have seen, that he did far less long-run damage to his country than the other Latin American dictator who might leave us this year, is a small consolation. "My anti-democratic self-aggrandizing thug who rules by personally-directed murder and threats is better than yours." Piffle. Also, David Adesnik wades in.
I got this in my e-mail recently. I got it because I have spent much of the last few years in England, a moderate amount in London, and an inordinate amount of that at theatre performances, and this how is now on stage there. Also, I spent the academic year 1977-1978 in England, and found that the most enjoyable television that year was 'The Good Life', with Felicity Kendal. Felicity Kendal has remained one of my terrible (in all the senses) enthusiasms of the years since. I fear I will have to miss this - no excuse to be in London in the near future. By the way, the best show on British TV, which we never missed, was an early reality show, "A Man and his Dog". It stuns me there is no such show here in Canada today. A measure perhaps of a lack of the curiosity I ought to have had is that I learned only 20 years later that the film "Shakespeare Wallah" roughly documented Kendal's family's life. I would so love to see this play, even though it is a David Hare play. And you now know why.
In the comments to an entertaining Mr Eclectic post, I have raised some likely intially weak analogies to some comments related to this post from Greg Mankiw about his Pigou Club. I am hoping we can find a test case that can be used in eceonomics classes (it may need some small extensions). Any further attempts to make this work over there. Attempts to make fun of my idea and show me a fool - put them here.
EclectEcon points at this and I agree with his assessment. I especially like the description of the teaching style:
Peltzman describes his experience, "He came in on the first day and said "I read this in the newspaper" and would ask the class, "What do you think about it?" I'm thinking, when are we going to get to the economics? This goes on for two whole quarters, and once it's over I still wonder what is going on. Then, one day I got up at 2 in the afternoon (let's just say there was a night wasted.) Groggily I turned on the radio, to hear some guy talking about something. I asked myself what is the model that leads from the premise to the conclusion, and what is the evidence that I would need to validate what this guy is saying. And all of a sudden it hit me! Here I was, groggy after a late night out, reacting to the world the way an economist reacts. That's what he taught you."
As someone who finds John Stuart Mill a towering hero, I find the name of one of Canada's parties, and the current use of the term 'liberal' in US politics, unhelpful. This is nicely reflected in this passage:
He said in a television interview "I call myself a liberal, in the true sense of liberal, in the sense in which it means of and pertaining to freedom." Individual freedom was always of central concern to Friedman, it motivated much of his work in economics and most if not all of his work in public policy. Indeed he concisely summed up his political philosophy, "Freedom is the ultimate goal, and the individual is the ultimate entity in the society." This philosophy translates into the simple proposition that in general people are able make better decisions concerning their own welfare than the state is able to make.
Imagine you worked for a company so great that on the second Friday in December each year it required its employees to watch a blockbuster movie, well some movie. It has become a lovely tradition to spend that morning, after some speech-making from management, to enjoy geek movies. For years the geek movies were easily identifiable. Each year for a long time there has been a James Bond or Star Trek or, even worse, Lord of the Rings film (I have suffered through three years, and I just utterly loved the Bag End first hour of the first movie, and spent most of the rest of it asking myself "When will this end?"). This year was tricky - the James Bond came out too early, and wow I would have liked to see that - I love Daniel Craig, even if I think he should be Clive Owen. So we have decided to allow a choice for tomorrow - a blow-em-up flick (the trailer includes several explosions and one chiseled Leonardo de Caprio - I laugh as I recall his youthful genius in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape") - and what looks like a chick flick - I will go see "The Holiday". So for me it is between bathing in images of Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz vs Jennifer Connelly. Just having Winslet in the list made my decision. How would you pick?
UPDATE: I corrected the title of the movie and now owe readers the review. It was pretty much what I expected, though there were unexpected elements in the plot - the lead male characters were a little too sensitive for my taste (or credulity). The performances were uniformly excellent, though it took me a while to warm to Cameron Diaz' neurotic character - somehow once Jude Law appeared on screen she was fine. The love stories are ok if barely credible (but this the hallmark of a romantic comedy); there is a separate vanity section for the screenwriter, as she has Eli Wallach play a retired screenwriter who educates the Winslet character about what are in fact truly great films (we see 'His Girl Friday', and at least 'The Lady Eve', and Irene Dunne are mentioned (and I am not sure of the Dunne film context, though I would hope 'The Awful Truth' or 'My Favorite Wife'). I don't see movies often in theatres, and it really is nice to have larger-than-life images of such attractive humans as Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet displayed for a couple of hours. The other enjoyable aspect of the day was the stream of sounds emanating from the person seated at my left as Jude Law flashed his smiles and batted his eyelashes. He clearly has some committed fans.
We have a brilliant and decent Prime Minister. However our next election comes out, I think I will be able to say the same (and I assume that neither the NDP nor the Bloc can win - I do not think I would use either adjective for their leaders). He had a terrible problem to deal with inside his party, a mix of different positions, but a social conservative one that needed to express itself. And get one issue resolved. I watched last night's debate on re-opening our gay marriage law. Let me say a couple of things. I do not 'get' the issue between a civil union or pact and actual simple marriage - there is NO operational difference. I am even more delighted, though, to observe that this is where the argument is; even those struggling to reverse our current laws now can only offer civil union as an alternative to the current law. And as I said, as this is operationally identical to the current state of things, what is the point? And I know what the point is - and this is hard, as I can imagine the pain of those who remain invested with the revulsion for homosexuality. I do not respect it but I can imagine it. As I can recall a revulsion in many for blacks, or a distaste for French-Canadians. But our Parliamentary debate was such an eloquent rejection of those feelings that I think the overall debate was an honour to our country.
Are they even well-intentioned? They are at best ill-informed
I was watching our Parliamentarians today again, in the misinformed belief that the latest gay marriage vote had not happened; it had, and more on that in a later post. What I did get was an extraordinary ill-informed performance from Olivia Chow, which was also revealing of how knee-jerk NDP policy formulations are frequently an enormous disservice to those they claim to be trying to help. Her concern was what seemed to be a Conservative proposal to ALLOW private competition in mortgage insurance. I do recall that when I bought my first home and was not really very rich, part of the deal was paying some extra percentage on the mortgage to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) - it was likely a quarter percent or so, and it had to do with covering risk that I might default. I had no idea whether this was reasonable - only one vendor was suggested. Interestingly, the insurance vendor was a government Crown Corpotation. For reasons to become clearer below, I will admit to embarrasssment that I know rather little about this program, and know only that the mortgage vendor made me do it. Well, fine, it did not seem like much. Stage one in Olivia Chow's outrage was that CMHC had built an enormous surplus on this mortgage insurance program. So I thought to myself, "How can this be?" And the answer was clear, as she reported her concern that the current government was thinking of opening up the market, and not allowing CMHC its current monopoly in this business. Did I hear it right? But the legislated monopoly explained the ridiculous surplus. (Not that Chow got that.) So Chow sort of seemed to be objecting to this great surplus. Well, and good for her! After all, this surplus was being accumulated on the backs of those whose financial institutions were forcing them, with the connivance of Canadian law, to pay whatever the monopoly provider of this service felt like charging. And who are those people? - the dodgiest borrowers, that is, the poorest. Compared with what they would all have payed in a competitive market, it was the poorest of borrowers carrying significant extra charges. The simplest solution to this problem would be to drop the state monopoly on this insurance - this would quickly drive the insurance costs down to what the real costs are. Let me ask you all to go read Tim Harford again on the subject of the honesty that pricing can deliver. But is that what Chow wanted? My question is rhetorical of course; the woman has not a whit of public policy intelligence, any more than her husband who drove Paul Summerfield to Bob Rae. No, what she wants is to use the surplus to support, among other things, co-operative housing. Now this is fascinating. The Jack Layton Wikipedia entry describes nicely why this is so deliciously funny - and it is quite likely they did no wrong - but, as someone who was very dear to me and knew an awful LOT about CMHC policy once said. "Co-operative housing is one of the great programmes siphoning funds from the poor to the middle class." And it is one of MANY. Another dandy is subsidized University education. It is amazing how none of the people I know, friends, have not managed to avail themselves of this state subsidy. Another one is Andy Barrie. I know lots of people who listen to CBC Radio. Amazingly we are all pretty wealthy; we don't have to suffer ads much (we do suffer Andy Barrie, as good as he is at times), because we are making the rest of the country, through our laws, subsidize our tastes (I particularly love the funding of CBC Radio Two, which I love - does it hit even 2% of the population?). My poorer friends listen to private radio. Our government not simply fails to fund them, but funds a competitor to make them even more vulnerable to external control. So I thank them for saving me from paying to keep the CBC going, but despair on the public policy front. And I despair even more as I watch our supposed defenders of the poor continue to entrench privilege. And of course, they who are doing it are not poor, but, like me, privileged.
I hate to admit I must thank Andy Barrie for this reference but it is cute. We have never resorted to physical violence, but normally I get something like a blender or place mats. And of course these are great gifts.
Some of my commentors have a clearer view than mine of the difficulties facing drug companies (I leave to you the research - my view is that the anti-drug-company views are venomous). This news yesterday is devastating in many ways. It is not good for people my age at all, and certainly not good for anyone hoping for future drug innovations.
Economics has some key valuable insights, often too subtle for those outside the discipline. The focus on 'the margin' is one key element of this. Here is a very nice analysis of the notion in an area I care about. I am utterly inframarginal here. It goes farther - the same problem recurs across numerous sports, and has become appalling in US Olympics coverage, as well as tennis coverage.
I think it was in the very bad TV movie about Conrad Black last night, and I would bet 100% it is one of those mistakes he would NEVER make. But the pipsqueak screenwriters judging him would. It comes from just too much learning and not enough understanding. It was not the first time I have heard the howlingly funny nonsensical phrase "Coo de grah", a sort of rendition of "Coup de grâce". What creates the silliness is the following. The half-educated writer knows that French terminal consonants are not sounded. And hence the above phrase becomes "Coup de gras" (a whack with some fat). I will never believe Conrad Black would make that mistake. It is akin to another silliness that seems to have taken over my generation. When I was a child some children would say "Johnny and me are going to the movies" and their mothers would correct them, pointing out that it should be "Johnny and I." Now I hear "Don't say that to Johnny and I", and I realize the lesson stuck too well, as someone forgot to mention the nominative and objective cases. But make no mistake - I am no prescriptivist. I am not sure that ambiguities arise this way in any matter that matters. We shall see. But I do know how this came to be and was not through people understanding what they were doing as they changed from "me" to "I". And when I hear "Coo de grah" I know I am hearing an incomplete education (and worse, pretension). Did I really hear it? Could Albert Schultz have agreed to utter it. I simply do not believe Conrad would make that mistake.
Paula Todd!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I had not listened in a few weeks and she showed up in charge today, in Michael Enright's absence in Montreal. I had seen predictions she would end up big time on the CBC (despite the enormous over-supply there of very good women reporters of a certain age). But I am happy to have Paula join them. Meanwhile, even more shocking to me, the show featured an interview with Stephane Dion that was really quite excellent. I especially liked the discussion of the dog, named Kyoto, obtained as a gift for a family that had sacrificed a lot to his career, after election destruction of the Martin Liberals last January. His comment in the end that, though his decision to run for the Liberal leadership, and his victory, had both undermined his original plan to take care of a needful husky dog, and moved the responsibility for those efforts onto wife and daughter, they could not abandon the dog, as he was now theirs for good, were touching and dead right. Lyndon Johnson had dogs in the White House, Clinton had a cat and a dog, in fact a dog that was his only friend at some point, so maybe I don't fully get the problem. Does he not get a nice house in Ottawa? But he indicated no plan to sell or give away the dog, however sadly named.
I will have nicer things to say about CBC's "Sunday Edition" again but Oliver Kamm has made a post that lets me simply say what a shabby piece of argument that occasionally excellent radio show produced in an essentially fawning interview with Mark Kurlansky on his new book on nonviolence. It seems obvious to me we have ample evidence that for nonviolent opposition to have an impact, there need to be special conditions. When those conditions do not obtain, it is an utter mess (an invitation to a quiet slaughter of the opposition). Kurlansky's historical and mental gyrations to pretend the opposite are what fouled the CBC discussion I heard. Kamm describes them very well here.
I don't like reflexively pointing to Victor Davis Hanson's observations, but I wish more classicists, and even medieval historians, tried more honestly to give us some perspective on today. What he says here resonates horridly to my mind:
And when you compare the relentless smirking and snickering of a David Letterman or Bill Mahr with past variety hosts of the 1950s, or TV shows like Desperate Housewives or Sex in the City with Bonanza or Paladin, then we get a good glimpse of the rapid devolution to a postmodern society. Not that we don’t have genius and flair in our midst, but the gap reminds me a lot of the change in temperament of a Juvenal or Petronius compared to an earlier generation of Horace and Virgil. While Trimalchio and his bunch argue over stuffed song birds and dancing catamites, some legionary is on the Rhine or Danube holding back the tide. One wonders about an audience’s taste that went from Fibber McGee and Molly to Howard Stern in less than 50 years.
I found that reference to the legionary very sad and fitting. Knowing the support our soldiers struggling with a not dissimilar tide are facing, in terms of the political attitudes back here. And my heart breaks at the smugnesses of the Lettermans and the Mahrs, and the sad thought that Canada is so pathetic we don't even have their equivalents.
Maybe the biggest tragedy is that we demonstrably have MORE genius and flair in our midst, but none of it realizes the importance of that legionary, and is in fact confident of the legionary's not mere irrelevance, but dispensability. Well, I hope they are more geniuses than I, because I clearly do not agree.
Well, not by me. I suspect my views - I really considered Dion a serious likely winner - were driven partly emotionally, and partly intellectually. I found the Rae arguments about why we should forget how badly he had bungled his Ontario Premiership deeply unconvincing. OK, utterly unconvincing. When you go back and look at the numbers, yes, he was slightly the victim of a non-growing economy, but he induced essentially the whole economic problem with his first rather very NDP-ish budget. And now he wants to blame NDP fanatics, of whom he was the leader? OK so my main point there is that EVERY reasonable Liberal delegate should not want to invite that discussion in the next election campaign. And as my sister points out, Ignatieff was just too concerned about real issues for a Liberal election presentation of self and his positions on international events, arrived at with far more difficulty than our national delight in deciding we are morally superior to everyone and should never be involved in shooting anyone. So one can see most of the party ducking those tough issues; and much as Ignatieff tried to duck those issues, they were not forgotten. So we got Dion, everyone to everyone. I did not originate the idea Dion had a good shot - Paul Wells was an early advocate - and enjoy this amusing rueful comment, and I think even Andrew Coyne made the case - close here. Many media went into the weekend thinking this could be the outcome. So why is the Canadian media just saying this was a total shock? Small guess -ratings.
I devoted pretty much the whole of yesterday and continue today to do so to the Liberal leadership convention and its outcome, and also in the background to the Alberta leadership meeting. Both saw the emergence of an underdog. Stephane Dion, who won the national Liberal leadership, was my second choice behind Michael Ignatieff. This preference over the others has little to do with his stated words and policies (he uttered much the same inane Liberal pablum as every other candidate). He is clearly a tough figure and a hard worker, and appealing individually, in many ways compared with what we saw from other candidates; Ignatieff is patrician (it is why he is running, for Pete's sake), and Rae showed he was little less patrician and far more petulant when Gerard Kennedy shot his dreams apart of running on failure to create further Rae-induced failure. I am not sure I agree with my sister that Dion is 'trivial' (though I am not sure what she means) - he is reflexively giving statements occupying every space of the Liberal political universe - he says he is right of centre on economy and all for social justice (Milton Friedman's stark, and it seems empirically correct, "The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither," should be a caution in this mix.) Ignatieff had choices and likely relied too much on his advisers suggesting he lie low and not take strong positions and not defend his difficult ones. Rae looked throughout an operator; I suspect I would like him but he really just wants to be on top and in the action (as he perceives it). I think some of Rae's claims to learning were justified, and. weirdly, I rather liked him as the Ontario Premier, but I can sure see why others would never forget his time in office and think of it quite differently. The thing that troubles me most is that I think Dion may have some principles, and that his environmental emphasis is hooked to those. He seems to think the European approach (ludicrous subsidization of technologies that MIGHT make sense, and hiding the costs of energy usage and carbon emission from the electorate as much as possible - these are policies that promote the promulgation of lies to the people, you and me, who should be making decisions about what our future is). I continue to stand on Greg Mankiw's Pigovian team, insofar as it makes any sense to do anything. My hope is that he can learn, but I am not sure I have seen a Liberal who understands much of these distinctions, so it is not clear where this economically ignorant leader will want to take us. But I believe he is no complete fool, and may find the skills to learn. And I would say, I don't see why Dion cannot learn as much about economics as Rae did, though I sure hope it takes him less than ten years of reflection!. Dion still charms, relatively speaking a day later, though let us not forget that the great Martin-Dion Liberal initiative to meet Kyoto had zero in it that actually might have led to meeting it. I am sure the Conservatives will find a way to make that point, and soon. A party that could just assume election invested almost a year in finding the right guy for the future; it all went somewhat arbitrarily and yet I do not feel bad about this. I do wonder whether Dion can gets seats in Quebec, and we shall see, and in the West. The party is still not remotely free of its infantile and reflexive anti-Americanism, and it is sad to see how childish even past leaders are on needing this sort of thing to boost their egos. The recent by-elections, with the amusing demotion of the NDP under the Greens in London, and the moderately goofy results in Quebec, suggest this whole thing is going to be really entertaining in the future. One small report I saw truly disturbed me. Pat Martin of the NDP on the CBC kept referring to this delegated convention as undemocratic. Well, for me, all I really fundamentally require of a 'democracy' is that there be a process by which one ruling group gets removed from power by something that looks like an election. A very tiny minority of countries meet this simple criterion. And we could apply that to a party! And hey wait, is that not just what happened?