Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Walk in the Park

It has been a while since I have visited Ashbridge's Bay and Woodbine Beach with a camera; the day was clouded over, cool (5 degrees Centigrade) and with a pretty stiff wind. You can see the impact of the wind here, as on some days Lake Ontario is utterly still near this shoreline. (Reminder: click on the images to see them at a proper size.)

Remarkably, there was an area along the shore where there is still snow; several mild days in the not recent past eliminated most of what was left of it, but this area must avoid sunlight most of the day. Check this little survivor out.

This little fellow was affronted by my lack of food. I may try to remember to bring some next time, but hope parks officials don't see me.

I have spoken about how much I enjoy the chatter of oldsquaws on the lake; there are few left, as they really only winter here. But I saw at least one straggler, perhaps encouraged by the chilly conditions.

The last cute observation was this little overachiever.


Omar Fadhil suffers the indignity of a search by US Forces in Baghdad

And he survives it, but there is some concern they might return.

As commenter Casca says:

Don't be surprised when they come back to use your WiFi.


Curious about Baseball Skills?

This is well worth a read. "The Psychology of Baseball". (Don't worry - it is not about touchy-feely things, except for a small bit.)

Mark Thoma quotes the whole thing here, and nicely ties it to a debate in economics.

Now my view is that if I have to quote the whole thing, I might as well just link to it and let you read it there. This is a tricky question; had Mark followed this strategy, I might not have linked to it. So for the purposes of seducing you into linking to it and reading the whole thig, let me just grab a snippet.

He hypothesized that fielders kept the ball moving through their field of vision in a straight but diagonal line. So if the outfielder is looking at home plate when the ball is hit, he then keeps his eyes on the ball and runs so his head moves along a constant angle until the ball is directly above him, which is when he snags it. To test this, McBeath had fielders put video cameras on their shoulders, and the cameras moved in this manner.

Yet ask any Major Leaguers about this, and you’ll get blank stares. McBeath did talk to pro outfielders, and responses ranged from "Beats me" to "You’re full of it." That’s because there’s no conscious processing involved; it’s all taking place at the level of instinct, even though the geometry is sophisticated.

It turns out that outfielders aren’t the only ones who operate according to McBeath’s strategy. Dogs use it to catch Frisbees, bats and insects use it to catch prey, infielders use the model — only upside-down — to field ground balls, and, now, robots use it, too. Because the algorithm for catching fly balls is actually so simple, McBeath has been able to work with robotics experts to program robots to catch fly balls. (Or at least to get to the right spot; catching is a different problem for a robot with no hands.)

So follow the link and read the whole thing.


What He Said He Said



Exceptional People

One thing I enjoy about following blogs is the discovery of numerous exceptional people I would never have discovered by other means (a few simple examples would be P. Z. Myers, Norm Geras, Tyler Cowen, and Chris Dillow). Their existence, and desire to address a broad audience, enriches my life enormously.

There is a second-hand way to find such people as well, and that is at second-hand. Though this article is from a couple of years ago, it is a very entertaining combination of two stories, one a nice piece of detective work with a result that includes at least one major surprise (the China-India point near the end), and the story of how the use of what may have been a misleadingly small sample set has generated new insights. The theme is curiosity, and three family members who applied it in different ways.

(h/t Freakonomics)

The suppression of dissent

One of the most comic themes to dominate some of the discussion over the last few years in the West has been the notion that there is some widespread suppression of dissent in the US. I wager most people from countries where there is serious suppression of dissent find this laughable.

The degree of freedom that does exist is well reflected in the rant in this video, on mainstream network television, out of the mouth of an apparently popular celebrity, on what I take to be a much-watched show (I have glanced by it from time to time and cannot figure out why anyone would watch it).

The centerpiece of the rant is a wonderful combination of what I take to be wilful ignorance and also stupidity, the theory about the implosion of the World Trade towers by way of explosives. She says utterly stupid things - for example, that it is impossible to melt steel. Popular Mechanics wasted little time in correcting her stupidities; they are doing yeoman work battling so much nonsense about 9/11.

Personally, I think ABC should fire her, not because she is expressing dissent, but because she is giving ABC a very bad name among anyone halfway intelligent, especially as ABC try to give the show in question thee cachet of a news show, by including some of their news personnel. But it is their choice and if they do, she still has her podium.

The good news for me is that I never held this celebrity in any regard, so I don't have to suffer the disappointments that have come so frequently over the last few years. (Her comments on the Iranian situation are no more enlightening.)

(h/t LGF and HotAir)


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Where are the Monarchs?

While I was in Oklahoma last week, they were working their way north through that state. I did not see one, but there are now many sightings.

I am curious to see if my milkweed grows again this spring; we finally have decent weather again so there is hope.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Who, Twenty Years Ago, Could Have Imagined This

IBM Defending Linux!

A Refreshing Look at Possible Futures

There is staggering hand-wringing in the Canadian Press regarding the outcomes for the Inuit from global warming - they might have to give up their subsistence lifestyles! How awful!

Gregg Easterbrook sees it a little differently, and it is worth a read:

I would love to be the guy with the Nunavut promotion account twenty years from now because I’m going to rechristen the place “the gateway to the hemispheres” and invite celebrities, and cruise ships will be stopping by, and the sign on the dock will say, “Welcome to Nunavut, Gateway to the Hemispheres!” We’ll see all kinds of wild economic activity up there. There will be change, yes. The traditional way of life will fade and be replaced with something else, maybe something zany, but change seems an inevitability of human experience.

Along the way in the interview, there seem to me to be some basic good sense and some approaches to dealing with the issues.


P Z Myers saddens me

But he is sad too. And we share reasons - the northern Lutheran jokes resonate with me too for good reasons.

Ancient Cuts to Chomsky

Oliver Kamm points to an utterly wonderful review by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. of Chomsky's "American power and the New Mandarins". This is a very early case of his skills at selective quotation (or invention) being caught out. As Kamm points out the debate involves some unequal skills:
The participants comprise the critic Lionel Abel, the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jnr (who died three weeks ago) and the non-historian Noam Chomsky

Of course I was a fan of Chomsky in 1969, and resistant to his utter intellectual dishonesty. I am past that now and glad of it.
As Kamm says,
What an extraordinary man the world's top public intellectual is.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Some Others on Last of the Breed

From this post I learned who Freddy Powers is. The Colorado show sounds almost exactly like the one I saw. And I agree with the poster that the guitar work was very good, but it was not what they could do 30 years ago. And I found out that that worn-out looking guitar has a name, Trigger.

UPDATE: Don't just go to the post with the review - Linda has a number of other posts on the concert - she had the brains to take her camera!

Another wonderful review captures a lot of the fun, and made me jealous since Tulsa did not get "Why me, Lord".


After the Concert

Walking back to the hotel after the show, it was Tennyson's "Ulysses" on my mind, and the best I could recall of the great final lines:
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Obviously none of the main performers has the skills he had in his prime, but the use of Asleep at the Wheel , who are still in their prime, as the core of the backup band, certainly helped mitigate that, as it provided a background of sound from players who are masters at Western swing.

Ray Price opened, doing a roughly chronological set that included "Crazy Arms", "City Lights" (which reminded me what great lyrics country songwriters wrote then), and worked its way up to "For the Good Times" and "I Won't Mention it Again". His voice is still pretty sweet and he can still hold notes. He announced at one point that he is 81(!), but that he is not the father of Anna Nicole's baby. Another nice piece of banter - he left the stage at the end of his set, and of course came back for an encore, joking, "I was coming back again anyway".

After a break and stage rearrangement, Asleep at the Wheel started a set, and I was expecting a fairly conventional arrangement of four sets, one per stated performer, perhaps with minor permutation. After two numbers (including "Route 66" which got the expected reaction when the "Tulsa City" line), Merle Haggard came out completely unannounced and joined them in "Take me Back to Tulsa", which definitely perked the audience up. Haggard then did a few numbers, and then started "Okie from Muskogee". As he reached the line "We don't wear our hair all long and shaggy", he sang instead "We do wear our hair all long and shaggy", exactly as Nelson came out on stage, and joined in. They did all wear their long and shaggy, too, especially Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel. Needless to say this Oklahoma crowd was enjoying that song.

What followed was a little over an hour of mostly wonderful Western swing, a real mix of Haggard and Nelson songs, and others. This was particularly appropriate in the Tulsa that was home to KVOO's broadcasts of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys (which I learned from some of Haggard's banter). Ray Price came back out and joined in for several songs, though it seems this had not been extensively rehearsed as he was working clearly off a prompter and Haggard's direction. I particularly enjoyed the swing version of "I'm going to sit right down and write myself a letter", and a trio of "Crazy". Despite the fact that neither Haggard nor Nelson have the smoothness of old, or ability to sustain long notes, Nelson's tenor combined nicely with the baritones of both Haggard and Price.

Of course with Nelson and Haggard on stage, a couple of songs were compulsory. "Pancho and Lefty" was performed decently, but "Reasons to Quit" had a little extra meaning as we all age.

One other highlight - Haggard's "Are the good times really over for good?" The whole arena sang along with the chorus, "Are we rolling downhill...". I had not realized this would be an anthem here in Tulsa, as I expected "Okie from Muskogee" and "Take me back to Tulsa" to be.

For the encore, Nelson came out and sang more in ballad style, sandwiching two songs he wrote recently recovering from carpal tunnel surgery, both featuring a recognition of vulnerability, between "You were Always on my Mind" and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain". And so it ended, at 10:15 pm, having started almost exactly on time at 7:30. This is why I don't go to rock concerts unless under duress; the ticket says 8pm and the featured performer appears at midnight if you are lucky. Something to be said for geriatric performers!

Some reflections.

The audience demographics were surprising, or at least not what they would have been in Toronto. The place was full of young women, along with us senior citizens. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

I'd like to have heard a little more from Asleep at the Wheel.

Listening to Ray Price's set, I recalled all that feminist literature of the '60s on how men do not express their feelings; it is clear not one of those writers ever listened to country music, but this is no real surprise, simply a reflection of our class system and different preoccupations of different classes.

Listening to Haggard's songs, I recall the outrage of many on the left to songs like "Are the good times really over for Good" and "Okie from Muskogee", which reflected nicely on the tin ear for irony that the overly ardent can have. Almost nobody in this Tulsa audience missed any of the irony, I would bet.

And my last reflection, as I mentioned above, was best expressed by someone over a hundred years ago:
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--


Thursday, March 15, 2007

I feel like Gollum

"My precious, my precious, ..."

UPDATE: Thanks to Karl who has greater Lord of the Rings knowledge. It is not "My pretty" but "My precious".

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Other Sorts of Offsets

A few weeks ago I was explaining the concept of "carbon neutrality" and carbon offsets to some friends, when a couple of them, appropriately skeptical, thought the idea could be expended to other pernicious activities; their suggestion was that there should be bad-date offsets.

And now there is a web site with a somewhat similar idea. Do make sure you read their small print.

Hat tip : Allahpundit


Everybody this week has been muttering why the organizers of this meeting decided to hold it in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But my own view is that this has worked out wonderfully. This show is being held right across the street from the meeting hotel! Take a look!

Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, and Asleep at the Wheel.

So one other guy and I went over to get some tickets in our lunch break. We had checked on-line and learned the best available seats were up in a balcony and over by the side of the stage. Still, as he joked, it will still be the same songs over there.
But when we got to the box office, we were issued two seats right in front of the stage in the second row! According to the guy at the wicket, they had become available about 5 seconds before we arrived.

I am looking forward to hearing "Okie from Muskogee" sung in a monster hall on Oral Roberts University campus in the heart of Oklahoma. It might be a bit of an anthem here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Business trips with down times in hotels allow one to catch up on films one would not otherwise see and tonight I chose 'Borat'.
This is easily as curious as much of Cohen's work on 'Da Ali G Show'.
Was there a theme? The only commonality I saw through the film was the stunning accommodation, friendliness, acceptance, and struggle to tolerate 'cultural' differences that the Americans showed. This includes the featured Canadian, though I suspect all her scenes (Pamela Anderson) were staged.
Unlike the scenes with many duped people. The frat boys were not so bad as I had feared from what I read - it was a bunch of drunk dumb kids with an instigator in their midst. And actually, they were very compassionate and sweet when Borat 'discovers' that Pamela may not be a virgin. I actually found that part touching.
The dinner party - again! The hosts and guests bent over backwards to accommodate Borat's outrageousness.
The rodeo scene - what fascinated me was Cohen's test of the crowd as he escalated his calls. It was when he called for Iraq to be sent back to the stone age that the crowd turned against him. Consider that. Their moral sense is not far off at all.
So what was he up to? I am not sure. But it is clear he loves testing and pushing buttons in the hope of getting reactions, and anyone who is committed to this can always manage a reaction. He had to work very hard across the board to get the reactions he used. In general people took a lot of crap from him.
He is a sort of bizarre genius. For me, though, as somewhat of a prude, it was a constant disappointment that he had to go for cheap sexual and toilet jokes to try to produce the reactions. I think there was a much better film that could have been there without any of that nonsense.
But Cohen is Cohen and more power to him.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Has there been a better actor found ....

... for playing Hugh Grant than Hugh Grant?

I don't think so. Women's Channel here has 'Nine Months' on, where, unfortunately the character is not quite true to the actor, so the film fails a bit (Julianne Moore seems too full a human for a Hugh Grant character, especially adding in a baby). But "Two Week's Notice" is coming up - could there be a more perfect combination than Grant and Bullock?!

Canadian Stage 2007-2008

It gets leaked to Ouzounian, entirely reasonably, and I agree with his title ("Something for all tastes") - well I cannot disagree, it does have something for my tastes. But how much. To start quoting:

Dykstra will also direct the year's big musical, the popular spoof Little Shop of Horrors, based on Roger Corman's 1960 quickie horror flick.

Ted Dykstra will also be doing some musical called "Fire".

I can pass on both these shows.

The season will also include a revival of Bernard Pomerance's 1979 hit The Elephant Man, about the grotesquely deformed Victorian, John Merrick, who learned to find beauty in the world. Robin Phillips will direct.

What's the point? Can't I get the John Hurt DVD? Is someone going to do something better than that?

Fiona Reid will star in The Clean House, Sarah Ruhl's Pulitzer Prize-nominated play about the complex dynamic between a Brazilian housekeeper and her employers.

Fiona Reid - yes we will buy tickets for that.

Ending the season will be the strangest show of the lot: the stage adaptation of Stephen King's Misery.

Good heavens. I did not like the movie (nor have I liked a single Stephen King movie after "Carrie" and I worry that I liked it.)

Bragg admits the only reason the show is on his schedule is "to play the Nicola Cavendish card," since the popular Canadian actor will be playing the psychotic "No. 1 Fan" whose devotion to an author proves murderous.

Man this depresses me. My readers will know that he played the Nicola Cavendish card this year too, and, while I liked her, the show in question was the one that has triggered all my thinking about subscribing to next year's season.

Martin McDonagh's bleak story of childhood nightmares and totalitarian torture, The Pillowman, will begin the season in a co-production with BirdLand Theatre, with David Ferry directing.

We'll see. Might be good.

Then comes the Canadian premiere of Judith Thompson's three-part exploration of the war in Iraq, The Palace of the End, which has previously been seen at the Edinburgh Festival and in Florence.

Mind not closed but it sounds unlikely to be something we will have time for.

as is Colleen Murphy's The December Man, a chilling look back at the events of Dec. 6, 1989, when Marc Lepine massacred 14 female students in Montreal.

My immediate gut reaction was "No way" but having read some reviews of earlier productions I would say "Maybe".

"I've put together a season I believe in," Bragg says.

Now all he can do is wait and see if the theatregoers of Toronto agree.

I have a LOT of respect for the work Bragg has done over the past few years. By dint of subscribing, we have seen many plays we would not have seen that were utterly wonderful (Caryl Churchill's totally surprising 'A Number' stands out big time). My gut feel today is we will, for the first time in many years, be falling back onto single tickets. Sad in a way - as I commented to my wife today, we would not have gone to see 'Lucy' on a single ticket basis, and I still think it was pretty good. Still just too much bad feeling from the really bad shows in the last two years.

I Knew This Was Coming

... as was hinted at earlier and now I know, unsurprisingly, whence (but I wish I could tell whether Angry's "Bravo" was ironic). In any case I think I line up best with dougf's comment at 10:37pm March 9. The Baptists and the Bootleggers are lining up, and will combine the NDP "Baptist' role with a whole gang of rent-seekers.
Proposals like this stupid one simply shut down whole areas of research on how to make for better lighting. Moreover, I'd really like to be convinced that home lighting is a big issue. I fear we mostly have a ton of small issues, and then transportation, which I see nobody addressing. Would the NDP propose a $1 gasoline tax? (I do not think that is correct either but it is closer to what makes sense.)

UPDATE: Moreover, would not a more sensible proposal, at least in truly logical terms, be to ban all artificial lighting? We could switching our time system around - though we would have to figure out how to power our clocks.

Canadian Stage's "Lucy"

I enjoyed Damien Atkins' role in Soulpepper's "The Importance of Being Ernest" last fall, and so was intrigued to see that he was the author of one of Canadian Stage's offerings this year, "Lucy". I was invaded by a little apprehension, well documented here by Richard Ouzounian, when I became aware that the play was about an autistic child.
But for me the first act worked really well; Meg Roe and Seana McKenna were utterly wonderful in their roles, and were superbly supported by the rest of the cast. Atkins' script seemed to work very well for me. It was an excellent tutorial in life around a severe autistic child, as well as drama of reasonably credible characters.
In the second act I thought Atkins wrote himself into some strange corner, and then had to summon up an 'Intervention' to get out of the corner. It meant there was no really nice dramatic resolution, but then neither should there have been in this story, I think.
Along the way we had some touching ruminations on what bonds parents and children, what a funny species we are, academic life and the ambition to make a great discovery, and what to do about those who do not fit comfortably into the lives we get asked to live. The play seemed wise in some ways beyond what I perceive to be the author's age. I look forward to future work from him.
The cast were supported by some very nice work with stage design and its use, and the sound design as well, which helped us a lot make the imaginative leap into a brain not like ours.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Maybe I Should Watch the CBC More

Charles Johnson links to some very nice pieces of reporting. I hope this means a larger part of our polity is getting this point.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Alfred Hitchcock, Lighting, and '24'

I have a good friend who shares his season '24' DVD sets with me. I find them really frustrating to watch. Largely it is the lighting - it is a series set up to be watched in a dark room. Very frustrating. Though one aspect of such a show is that it really does not matter if you watch - obviously, if that is how they choose to light it, with everything dark, then there is not really a lot to see. And that is true.
In the midst of trying to watch this show yesterday, I stumbled into Turner Classic Movies new presence on Rogers Cablevision, showing Alfred Hitchcock's wonderful Agatha Christie story 'Witness for the Prosecution'.
Guess what! None of this stupid dark lighting. In fact wonderfully clear black and white scenes! Moreover, an actual plot! And great acting, even from Dietrich.
What idiot decided we now need to be unable to see what is happening on screen? I love '24' but I hate what is wrong with it. And the lighting is really crappy.
Mind you, Jack Bauer rocks!

Buruma disappoints - Hitchens redeems

I was profoundly disappointed to read Ian Buruma's review in this weekend's New York Times Book Review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Infidel".
Hat tip to Allahpundit for pointing me to Christopher Hitchens, with a very nice Slate essay on Buruma's review and one from Timothy Garton Ash, pointing out quite well how their once rigorous standards appear to be slipping.
For me his key passage is:

Garton Ash and Buruma would once have made short work of any apologist who accused the critics of the U.S.S.R. or the People's Republic of China of "heating up the Cold War" if they made any points about human rights. Why, then, do they grant an exception to Islam, which is simultaneously the ideology of insurgent violence and of certain inflexible dictatorships? Is it because Islam is a "faith"? Or is it because it is the faith—in Europe at least—of some ethnic minorities? In neither case would any special protection from criticism be justified. Faith makes huge claims, including huge claims to temporal authority over the citizen, which therefore cannot be exempt from scrutiny. And within these "minorities," there are other minorities who want to escape from the control of their ghetto leaders.

The last sentence is for me the issue that distinguishes a 'multiculturalism' I can respect (which I believe today we largely have in Canada) from one I cannot; and steps by the state to limit the ability of members of 'minorities' to reject and leave those 'minorities' and build new lives for themselves are illiberal and not to be defended.

Try to Remember

I have never seen 'The Fantasticks' and must find some local production some day soon.
But when I was a teenie I fell utterly in love with the song 'Try to Remember'. I must have been old before my time. It is such a much better song now.

Scott Johnson has introduced his daughter to this great song (great show!) and documented it on PowerLine. Even better, he has found on YouTube Jerry Orbach singing that lovely song. (Lennie Briscoe of "Law and Order", who left us so prematurely.)

"Deep in December it's nice to remember
Although you know the snow will follow
Deep in December it's nice to remember
Without a hurt the heart is hollow
Deep in December it's nice to remember
The fire of September that made us mellow,
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow"

OK I never figured out what that "and follow" means. But the rest is great.

Well, I hope I am not in the deep of December, and I hope Jerry Orbach did not think he was either. And if you wonder, my heart is not hollow, nor is that of many of my loved ones, and my heart remembers.

One of the utterly stunning things about the great technologies we have created is that while Jerry Orbach can no longer enjoy us enjoying him, we can continue to enjoy his performances.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

One Reason I will keep reading William Shawcross

...even though there are many I know not worth further attention (I do not need to mention names).

Powerline document exactly the sorts of things one should expect of a reporter like Shawcross, and that he delivers on, unlike so many.

I am particularly impressed by :

Shawcross's magnanimity is reflected in his inclusion of the entire Rodman/Shawcross exchange in the Appendix to the most recent edition of Sideshow.

And I will repeat the full quotation they make, that should make people not forget certain aspects of Vietnam.

Those of us who opposed the American war in Indochina should be extremely humble in the face of the appalling aftermath: a form of genocide in Cambodia and horrific tyranny in both Vietnam and Laos. Looking back on my own coverage for The Sunday Times...,I think I concentrated too easily on the corruption and incompetence of the South Vietnamese and their American allies, was too ignorant of the inhuman Hanoi regime, and far too willing to believe that a victory by the Communists would provide a better future. But after the Communist victory came the refugees to Thailand and the floods of boat people desperately seeking to escape the Cambodian killing fields and the Vietnamese gulags. Their eloquent testimony should have put paid to all illusions.

Somehow few people I know seem to recall the boat people. But what is impressive is his willingness to review his mistakes and try to adapt.

It is a skill I wish more of our pundits had.