Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Thomas Sowell on Prices and Politics

The other Craig Newmark points to an excellent series of short essays by Thomas Sowell on how to ration. As he points out, most complex political programs will wind up favouring those who are NOT poor, and cost more than simply giving money to the poor, and that they are far less sensible than simply pricing resources according to a relatively natural demand (yeah, yeah, nothing is 'natural', but those San Francisco golf courses are utterly typical of government programs to support the privileged (like low university tuition, etc.)).
Money quote from Sowell, and it should be the basis of all policy:
But the amount of money required to bring every poor person in the country above the official poverty line is a fraction of what is spent by government on the welfare state.

Maenwhile I watch my local mayor trying to dodge responsibility for his unwillingness to buy votes in a way I can see, by passing costs to other levels of government, and, worse, run a major advertising campaign to justify his behaviour! To think I once voted for this jerk.

Carbon Credits/Offsets

One of the shows last week on CBC's 'Overnight' (a collage of half-hour news shows from other countries' public radio networks) featured a tedious discussion of Carbon Offsets and Credits. The idea is that if you engage in activities that cause carbon to be released, you pay some organization some money to go plant trees, or install solar panels somewhere, or the like, to offset your behaviour and recapture the same amount of carbon.
I utterly LOVE Ed Morrissey's analogy of this guilt-reduction effort:
a modern form of indulgences in order to avoid doing the penance that global-warming activism demands of others.

And read his original post to note the context in which this arises. It is the Goracle at issue.
Even worse, as Instapundit points out, is this, which suggests there may be a politician with better personal environmental credentials.
In any case, the science behind these carbon offsets seems unlikely to me to get the numbers right. Though, as a member of Greg Mankiw's Pigou Club, I don't think getting it perfectly right is the key.
In the end, will these indulgences find their Luther?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Threepenny Opera from Soulpepper

My regular readers know I am a helpless captive of the Soulpepper schedule, only able to escape their productions under extreme duress. And I am SO delighted now they are doing a full year season.
So my sister and I and two friends saw their production of The Threepenny Opera last weekend.
What a joy (if one can say that about Brecht)!
It opened mischievously with an ostensibly male figure descending a staircase at the back of the stage; at some point off comes the outer layer of clothing and one realizes that those are breasts under the next layer! d’bi.young.anitafrika did just a GREAT job as the sort-of-narrator, and she kicked off the opening 'Mack the Knife' brilliantly with a throaty and nasty first verse about Macheath's dubious behaviours. She continued to play a wonderfully transgressive role through the whole play, serving as half narrator and half observer as events unrolled. Very nice direction, I thought.
And when Mack appeared, I had to stifle a laugh, as Albert Schultz in the role, as already pointed out by my sister (see link above) was still playing Conrad Black and using his voice from the mini-series (follow the links from my sister's post). My own guess is he got the idea to do this show while doing the Black mini-series, thinking it would transfer well. And it is not so bad. Though my own view is that Black has Macheath's entrepreneurial drives and articulateness, but I doubt he has a willingness to engage all Macheath's methods.
Some more on the production. This one used many of the young players being developed by the Soulpepper Academy; they acquitted themselves REALLY well. Sarah Wilson was wonderful performing as Jenny, and Jennifer Villaverde as Lucy. I hope they both remain major Soulpepper fixtures.
Patricia O'Callaghan's singing was wonderful as Polly, and to be fair to Soulpepper versus Toronto Operetta Theatre, let me say that her decolletage was too (as were, as she insisted on emphasizing during the show, her legs).
There is REAL problem with this 'opera'. The music is too wonderful. So listening to all the extremely negative lyrics with Weill's music in the background is a bit tricky - nowadays I find it hard to take the lyrics seriously, because the music is so pretty, but maybe in 1928 the music grated more.
Still, another part of it is wondering - how much of this is the original John Gay and how much Brecht/Hauptmann? Did the latter add anything?
My read - no. There was lot of puerile communism in the lyrics, which it seemed easy to attribute a 1920's communist. The one witty point was that I wondered whether the deus ex machina that saves Macheath at the end came from Brecht or from John Gay's sense of irony. Follow the link above and you will learn that Gay had it all over Brecht (ultimately an apologist for East Germany). This did not surprise me.

I Think I Saw the Whole Thing!

For the first time in many years, I managed to stay awake through the whole Oscar show! It started off slowly, and DeGeneres' fanhood started to wear a bit thin, but then it got a new rhythm, and I must say I enjoyed it.
DeGeneres was wonderful as she poked around in the audience; for me the high moment was making Spielberg frame his digital photograph of her and Eastwood better with a second shot. Inspired. The later vacuuming in front of the rather long dresses was cute as well.
Now I had seen only two of the movies, but that really does not matter; the outcomes have little to do with this year's films.
So from my point of view it was nice to see Forest Whitaker get the Oscar he deserved for 'The Crying Game', Scorsese his for 'Goodfellas', movies I have seen.
The whole shtick around the Scorsese award was lovely, and it was nice to be drawn back through the careers of Coppola, Spielberg, and Lucas (I never cared much for any Star Wars film, but 'American Graffiti' was wonderful), and particularly of Scorsese. Scorsese's emotional reaction to the Oscar for his editor was simply sweet.
At my ever more advanced age, I truly appreciate the section honouring those who died during the year; I have nice memories of what they gave me as I have grown up (still working on it).
I also liked the presence and success of so many international forces. This was trumpeted as something new, but this seemed simply silly to me. Maybe there have not recently been so many Mexicans and Spaniards, but where do they think Luise Rainer, Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings, Josef von Sternberg, and so many others came from at the very beginnings of this enterprise? The forgetfulness and arrogance of youth at any stage in life remains stunning to me. Or maybe it is just laziness, not bothering even to remember where your craft came from.
And someone had the good sense to observe something I partly agree with, "Without blacks, Jews, and gays, we would not have the Oscars today."
Al Gore showed some minor acting skills. My guess is his movie is a pretty good movie if lousy science and lousy public policy. But one day I may well watch it and be surprised; or perhaps Lake Ontario will rise 100 metres and I will be flooded away (but wait - the models say Lake Ontario will drop).
The Oscars are a great show of groupthink and a sort of nepotism of the unrelated. But the principals are so talented and provide me so much pleasure, for which I have willingly paid over the years, that I find it hard to be very peevish.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Letting it all Hang Out

This morning's Toronto Sun has a pretty aggressive column about Ernst Zundel's being jailed in Germany for Holocaust denial.

I, as one clearly very disturbed by anti-Semitism, which all too readily pops up in all sorts of places, and one who does believe the Holocaust took place, find this outcome totally ridiculous. The court in which Zundel should be tried is the court of the analysis of history. Ditto for David Irving, who sat in an Austrian jail for years. What they really deserve is mockery, refutation, and being ignored. The court system is no place for this.

These guys are both very distasteful but what crime do we want to make of people saying things we do not like? It starts us on a very slippery slope, where we cannot even publish cartoons mocking religious leaders. This is NOT a good outcome

Virginia Postrel has a fascinating link to a couple of articles on changing attitudes towards privacy among youth. I deeply hope that she is on to something; like her, I am a fogey (though I spell it differently), and on this blog avoid topics that relate to areas where my employer may have claims on me.

Of course my employer could decide at any moment that anything is fair game and I should be fired for something here. Has yet to happen. I do not think it will. But it is almost exactly this issue that Postrel is pointing to. Of course my employer is not a University.

And that seems the environment in which, oddly, repression of free speech is currently strongest. How did we get here?

I have been involved in a small degree at the side as the Internet has evolved, and started out with NO wish to share anything identifiable, for fear of it s exploitation by others. I find fascinating and delightful the freedom of today's young people from these concerns.

The New Puritanism

I have been replacing incandescent bulbs in my house with these new curly flourescent things. I have done it because I do in fact believe it is good to reduce my carbon emission footprint.

I do believe it is very likely that humans are affecting the climate. On the general assumption that change is at least disruptive, I can see a case for trying to control that impact. So the bulbs seem a decent idea.

Except that they are utterly awful - they are sold with a claim of equivalence to a certain wattage of incandescent bulb and it is totally off. I am not sure why they have it so wrong. So I am still trying to find the right bulb balance. It totally pisses me off.

But I am at the same time amazed there are jurisdictions in which it will become impossible to get light bulbs that actually work! Or so I understand. I have heard that California and Australia will BAN incandescent bulbs.

This bothers me greatly. Surely the thing to do is allow all technologies to compete and punish the ones that cost a lot in terms of energy through making people pay for that energy use. BANNING incandescent bulbs has the result of shutting down research that might one day produce such bulbs FAR more efficient that the totally user-unfriendly pieces of crap that we call environmentally friendly flourescent bulbs.

This is in the end the problem with regulation. It entrenches today's inadequate problem solutions. The only way for people to get back to the right solutions will be black market incandescent trading ("Hey buddy, you got a light I can read to?"), and smuggling, and the like. One would have thought that at least decades of experience in these areas would spare us these totally stupid proposals, but it is clear our foolishness, at least as applied to public policy, just cannot give up.

In the end the regulators are driven less by logic than by their puritanism, and the sad fact it gives them pleasure to deny us decent light!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

And another important sentence

Also from Oliver Kamm:
The pitiful, racist remarks he made to a small group of MPs in a fringe parliamentary organisation in 1989 are now common, even dominant, assumptions in large parts of the Left. How we got there, and what we do about it, are some of the most intractable issues in politics.

My Favourite Sentence of the Week

From Oliver Kamm:
There is, I fear, a great deal in the evaluation of history that will not occur to you if your source is Noam Chomsky.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Oh No!

caught, originally uploaded by hedwig_the_owl.

Grrlscientist points to this. I sure feel for that fish

Mr Counterintuition (I like the moniker)

Again via Tyler Cowen, a nice piece by Mike Spence on Thomas Schelling. Most disturbing is what is revealed at the end of the article.

Recently China conducted a test and shot down a satellite, and was criticized for contributing to the militarization of space. What appears not well known in the U.S. is that China has been trying to negotiate treaties on outer space, antisatellite weapons, and limiting the production of fissile material for a number of years, and has not been able to get the U.S. to participate. Since we are clearly developing antisatellite capabilities, accusations against China for escalation are viewed by them and others as hypocritical.

(Reflected glory moment: Mike Spence watched the first manned moon landing with my family!)

Life among the Econ

Tyler Cowen points to a wonderful anthropological study of the Econ.

My favourite line is:
The Math-Econ make exquisite modls finely carved from the bones of walras.

A truly lovely pun.

This exercise could of course be carried out for pretty much any academic field. I wonder how many other such exercises there are.

Friday, February 16, 2007

How Sorry Should I Feel for this Guy?

I can say I flatly do not feel very sorry, and even find the hot water delivery reasonable. People are, after all, defending their lives. And not knowing French is pretty silly, especially hijacking a flight with such French content.

A Standing Ovation that did not Embarrass Me

I have sat through numerous standing ovations that shocked me, but the partial one I witnessed tonight was just fine, for the Toronto Operetta Theatre's production of Imre Kalman's 'Der Zigeunerprimas'. Was there a weak point in the whole show? - none that I could point to. Diction fanatic that I am, I was delighted to find James McLennan in the cast again, this time as the son. Beside him Elizabeth DeGrazia had wonderful hair (hairpiece?), great decolletage, and a lovely voice. Katerina Tchoubar was utterly wonderful in her role as well. Which should not be taken to slight anyone else, as the whole cast and orchestra seemed just great.
I had the privilege of sitting beside the parents of one of the child 'extras' in the cast, who performed wonderfully, and that certainly made the whole experience better. I would add that I was also seated between two women with wonderful choices of perfume so the whole sensual experience was superb.
The operetta itself is very enjoyable. The romantic notion of Gypsies is played to the hilt and we get some great violin work, as well as some cute play with notions of royalty and peasantry (I quite liked the 'Suzuki school' violin training going on early in the story.). Musically, we get the wonderful riff that later opens 'Just the way you look tonight', though Kalman takes it somewhere different from where Kern takes it (also enjoyable).
My review is basically, "Go see it", but I wager you might not be able to get a seat. Try anyway!

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Grant McCracken has a great post today on pets.

Meanwhile, my cat, almost euthanized a week or so ago, behaves like a cat!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What will be left after YouTube?

Norm alerts me to yet another item available on YouTube (which led to me finding other highlights).

Normally pretty crusty throughout life (like the guy who posted another excerpt under the title 'French old movie with Catherine Deneuve singing'), I am disarmed by 'Les Parapluies de Cherbourg'. And certainly the scenes Norm points to are crushers. Especially when you know where the story heads.

But - a question? Does anyone know what became of the actress playing Madeleine (Ellen Farmer)? I found her more fetching than Genevieve.

Canadian Institution caught out by North Carolina 8-Year Old!

Worse, he appears to be attending a Christian school and still can get the math right!

This is truly sad.

Hat tip to the other Craig Newmark.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Compulsory Superbowl Post

Sloppy entertaining matchup! Justice was done.
So pleased that Manning deservedly has his ring.

The Virtue of 88-cent Panties

Via Marginal Revolution, I found this wonderful post about a travel disaster, which is altogether sensible.

The key point is here, and apparently unfortunately difficult for people to appreciate:
Folks, I can buy a pair of panties at Wal-Mart for 88 cents. Please stop and reflect on how much of a miracle that is. I stood there under all those fluorescent lights having an “I, Pencil” moment and I almost wept when i saw that. Not because I can’t afford $5 for panties, but because I could get everything I needed for a stranded night for about $20. A little more and I could get a fresh outfit for the next day.

Beyond my own personal gain, the miracle is that those pale green panties with a little lace trim started out as a twinkle in some Cambodian manufacturer’s eye, and dozens of people were involved in getting them from there to my possession, the last person being the checkout saleswoman at Wal-Mart.

All those people took part in making sure that what I needed was there right when I needed it and for an unbelievable price. And everyone’s lives are better because they get to be a part of that process. A more humane system could never be invented, let alone implemented, by one person, or a committee, and by god, not by a government.

Pieter Dorsman on 'The Queen'

A nice read. Go see the movie.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A New Stoppard

Now I am excited!!
Norm even went down to London to see it. I hope it runs long enough for me to get to it. And it sounds wonderful from the reviews Norm links to.

Alfalfa Sprouts and a Plate of Mashed Yeast

This is what Alvy Singer orders when he visits Los Angeles in the hope of getting Annie Hall back. The local cable movie channel offered me the film 'Annie Hall' this morning, and I accepted, not having seen it in 20 years. I had forgotten the inventiveness of much of it, and its lovely bittersweet nature.
The alfalfa sprouts joke is perfect (it is repeated in a different way, with coffee at the issue, by Michael Moore early in 'Roger and Me'). The thought balloons in the 'intellectual' discussion of acting are stolen later as a technique by at least Mike Myers. It is a great tribute to Woody Allen that others later found a way to use these tricks. What was most wonderful, that I had forgotten, is that in watching the film, one had no idea what might come next.
But at the centre of it is a sweet story of a relationship. (The non-responsiveness of one of his dates over his problem with lobsters is sheer genius.) Diane Keaton is utterly radiant. The Brooklyn Bridge performs well, of course, as well. I do not think I will let another twenty years pass before seeing it once more.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Looking Forward

We are booked for the February 24th showing but wow, what a great review from the Post.
It could be that as old as I am I will see the best productions of two of the operas I try to see when they come on!

Groundhog Day

Abiola Lapite destroyed my ego with this link to the wonderful work of a photographer posting on Flickr. The Heron and Goose shots are pictures I would love to get.
But this groundhog shot is almost unbelievable.

Denied but Delighted

With no curling on TV this evening I assumed there would be no problem going to attend this show, but they were sold out!
Of course this was a disappointment but also a delight, to think that 100 years later Wilde can still draw sell-out crowds. While waiting I chatted with a couple higher up the list who did get in and who had never seen one of his plays. I envy their joy at the moment (they may both be looking at the stars) but I know too that I can just go rent a DVD if needed. Hey I have the old Edith Evans Earnest on VHS!! Maybe that's what I will do.
Except for being 6 hours into the second season of '24', thanks to a mischievous friend.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Well, that was fun!

I went to see a preview of Stephan Cloutier's "Apocalypse a Kamloops" this evening and must say it was a very enjoyable experience. The play was full of surprises, and had some great moments; I think my favourite has a father explaining to his son that he had hoped for six children, with the hope of having one of them at least to be proud of in the end, but that he had had only two and while he loved them, he was not really proud of them. The whole scene was a delight.
As always, Guy Mignault played a key role in the evening, from greeting the audience at the door, and reciting the list of sponsors as ever, to playing the father with great humour and affection. Pierre Simpson stood out as the prodigal son being dragged home to make up with his father and sister.
Go see it! Don't worry if your French is no good - they have English surtitles for several of the shows to come!

Farewell, Molly Ivins

One of the joys of joining the company I work in has been the ability to spend a lot of time in Texas, particularly in Austin. And one side benefit of that was being exposed to Molly Ivins.
I didn't agree with Molly very much about very much, but I feel good about a world that had Molly Ivins in it. It is smaller without her.

More on Mighton

I enjoyed his play enormously last Saturday and Sunday morning the CBC did me the kindness of broadcasting an interview Michael Enright did with him, which went a long way to explaining so much that was wonderful in the play. The CBC has done all of you in the world the kindness of making that interview available.
Go listen. Go get a local theatre company to put the play on!