Sunday, January 31, 2010

Serena Ryder at SFO

I flew back home today from San Francisco and killed a bit of time at the airport in a bar and grill; the music in the background at one point troubled me - it was familiar but what was it?  And then it hit me.  It was Serena Ryder!  It was the magnificent "Weak in the Knees".
Nice to see another Canadian woman from some obscure part of the country recognized in the airport.  And since the YouTube "Weak in the Knees" linked to in the post earlier has been removed let me post another version:

I had a few very pleasant minutes listening to her singing in the airport (well, I was in the airport, and it was just her recorded voice, but I love listening to it).

What a Difference a Year Makes

A year ago, Roger Federer collapsed against Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open, heading for the record number of Grand Slam tournament wins.  My assessment at that point, and it was that of many commentators, was that it seemed Federer might never win another Grand Slam tournament, and that Nadal was on a clear track to the record now.
Of course, Federer then went on to win the French Open (!) and Wimbledon, reaching the total of 15 Grand Slam tournament wins.  Nadal developed an injury that he has not managed to master.
And last night (my time) Federer added another Australian Open, mastering Andy Murray quite easily.  It would even be fair to say he mastered everyone he played, despite a first round hiccup and a bit of a struggle in places with Davydenko.
Murray fought bravely against his more experienced opponent, but lacked the composure that aided Federer on the crucial points to eventually succumb to the Swiss.
The victory marks the fourth time Federer has won the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup at Melbourne Park, his triumph on Sunday adding to victories in 2004, 2006 and 2007.
Federer’s win was only his fifth against Murray in 11 matches, but it did mark the second time he had beaten him in a Grand Slam final after a straight-sets win in the 2008 US Open final.
It was exactly that composure that Federer somehow lost against Nadal last year, and that he displayed solidly and consistently through this tournament.
At the awards ceremony, Murray, fighting tears, said, referring to last year's bottom-out for Federer, that while he could cry like Roger, he could not play like him.
Congratulations to both of them, and thanks for the excellent entertainment.  The third set tiebreaker was awesome.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Not Just Laughing with xkcd this time

I found this one quite touching.

A Victory for Hundertwasser

Toronto is endorsing Friedensreich Hundertwasser's green roof notion.  In fact, the eccentrically brilliant Austrian artist's idea is being to a degree mandated.
As of the end of this month, all applications for residential and commercial/institutional buildings above 2,000 square metres of gross floor area will require a green roof (the bylaw will take effect for industrial buildings a year later). The coverage of the greenery will range from 20-60 per cent depending on the size of the building.
This is likely green at least in terms of the view of the buildings rooves from above, as the article points out.
Is it green in any other sense?  I sure doubt it.  It's a nice story, but I have seen NO credible analysis that suggests this will help on the 'climate change' front (the city's pretext) any more than painting one's roof white (which seems possibly somewhat pointless too). 
To me this is typical David Miller - another shambolic gesture, driving costs of activity in the city up, making a great show of virtue, and making zero real difference, other than the harm done.  Unfortunately, I think the reason he is mayor is that people in Toronto like such shambolic gestures.  It's all at best aesthetic, and done only to cause everyone involved to view himself or herself as virtuous.
As for Hundertwasser, this is all posthumous, so he cannot care much.

Were PBS Documentaries this bad?

...when I was one and twenty and PBS documentaries seemed so sage?
It's always a disappointment to see a stupid Frontline show - the one that insomnia has me watching now originally aired last November covers credit card companies and is full of foolishness.
There is an initial focus on Providian, which was early in targeting poorer credit risks, obviously with significant penalty fees and higher interest rates on unpaid balances, to cover the obvious significant amount of defaulting they would face.  It may not be an attractive business model to you. but the show simply presents it as some sort of predation upon the poorer folk.  The discussion simply assumes that imposing enormous restrictions on such companies is 'protecting' the financially weak; right, likely protecting them from getting a credit card at all.
You know how silly the writers are when you hit this description of a 'defect' in potential legislation:
"The credit card companies are able to impose whatever interest rate ..."
They can SET whatever rate they want but nobody has to take the card at that rate, so this is hardly imposition.
Finally, there is a tone in the whole 'documentary' that there is something shocking and evil about a bank actually making money.  You know if they made money they would not be lined up so readily for bailouts from their buddies in government.
Overall the show is mostly a description of how stupid people can be - they love anecdotes about those who mismanage their money, and milk them shamelessly. 
I am all for full and clearer disclosure.  But most of what outrages the producers of this show does not bother me at all.  And OK now they are on to Payday loans and full of outrage?  It simply baffles me how the elite people who work on these documentaries cannot understand that, however punitive some of these businesses seem, they are providing poor people (by the way, I know it is not just poor people) a service.  And they are doing the usual nonsensical imputation of the transaction costs in these businesses as an interest rate.  This is just a stupid translation meant to elicit outrage.  A payday loan has relatively high transaction costs, and translating all the costs into an interest rate does not produce a number that should be compared to the interest on a treasury bond or savings account, or consumer loan, or mortgage.
Shame, shame.
Insomnia had me also watching a more recent documentary on Monarch butterflies (a crazy obsession of mine) on PBS.  It was not bad, but ended with a very unfortunate bit of wording.  At the end in a sort of romantic haze, they blathered on about the migration to Mexico being a return home.
The butterflies that get to Mexico have NEVER been there.  How is it home?  And calling it 'home' suppresses the great mystery of how the dickens they know where they are going when they have never been there!  It is reductive - removing an interesting question and replacing it with a smoky sentimentalism, unworthy in a science documentary.
Moreover, of the roughly five annual generations, only the first and last ones have ever been to Mexico, so it is not even home in any statistical measure.  It's unfortunate we get such sloppy writing and thinking.
And so to my current view - the documentaries that long ago were just as bad as these.  But I sure knew a lot less.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn Dies - Let Us Hope a Sorry Era Ends

Outsourced to the excellent Oliver Kamm.
What a sorry and intellectually bankrupt time.
I know he still has fans but let us hope their zeal does not generate the waste of time he was.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Sun Sets

Sun Microsystems vanished last night, a company that played a key role in the tech revolution we continue to live in.
The key leaders of the now sunken ship sent farewell memos out to staff yesterday .
McNealy wrote that the last four years since he resigned as CEO at Sun have "not been without serious withdrawal," and that the European Union's approval process of the acquisition was difficult.
"Sun in my mind should have been the great and surviving consolidator. But I love the market economy and capitalism more than I love my company. And I sure "hope" America regains its love affair with capitalism. And except for the auto industry, financial industry, health care, and some other places (I digress), the invisible hand is doing its thing quite efficiently. So I am more than willing to accept this outcome. And my hat is off to one of the greatest capitalists I have ever met, Larry Ellison. He will do well with the assets that Sun brings to Oracle," he wrote.
Sun made mistakes, McNealy wrote. But it innovated like crazy, cared about its customers, and "did not cheat, lie, or break the rule of law or decency."

Schwartz wrote that Sun's technology has changed the world, and called McNealy the "Henry Ford of the technology industry" because of Sun's ability to make innovation accessible to anyone. 
They are both exaggerating, but this is not time to pick at the untruths.  For much of my second career, Sun was the competitor that tormented us most.  In recent years, working in a consortium, I would go so far as to say I became a friend of many Sun employees.  And of at least one employee of the company gobbling them up.
An era ends, and a new one obviously begins.  I hope there is no collateral damage to my friends.

Doing Nothing

I'm with Arnold on this one.  I suspect we'd all be happier if the silly little self-important meddler could figure out how to do nothing.

Delicious Innumeracy

Yesterday's printed USAToday had this wonderfully fatuous sentence, about Christopher Waltz:
His "name recognition is up 99.999%", he says.
This wonderful stupidity is attributed to Waltz.  Who knows.  But I am 99.999% sure that whoeever said it thinks that adding nines after the decimal causes the factor of improvement of name recognition to increase significantly.
Er,. it doesn't.  My guess is reality requires you move the decimal.  He is likely 99,999% more recognized now.
But hey - why expect intelligence in a journalistic report?
Another possibility - Waltz WROTE it and then it would be very hard to know what he meant, if there is any sort of locale transformation going on.  He is, after all, Austrian.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another Tip of the Hat to Harper - UNWRA

He keeps making me just a little prouder to be a Canadian (despite his somewhat 'creative' approach to democracy here).  In this case he cuts off Canadian funding to a damaging organization that stands behind its affiliation to the ever more useless UN.  I'll outsource the explanation and praise (also a bit grudging, though not on this point) to Jay Currie.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

More on How to Cut Down on the Pedestrian-Killing Drivers

Amazingly, The Star has a hint.
Montreal, long considered the jaywalking capital of Canada, faced a similar year of reckoning back in 2006, when 27 pedestrians were killed in the city and 183 seriously injured.
In response, the police department introduced a safety program that helped change that dangerous reputation. Police now credit two annual safety campaigns that target pedestrians, in spring and fall, for a dramatic reduction in just a few years.
In 2008, 77 pedestrians were seriously injured, and in 2009 there were 19 pedestrian fatalities, down 30 per cent from 2006. So far in 2010, no pedestrian deaths have been reported in the city.

Pedestrians Jumping in Front of Cars all over Toronto? Or are the Cars Gunning for Them?

Our media is in a furor - it seems a pedestrian a day is getting hit by a vehicle in Toronto.  When this little interview graced my ears on Wednesday we were up to 7 or 8 but the carnage continues.
So my first question, unanswered (I might do some research at some point), is whether a pedestrian a day being hit is out of line for such a large city (and to get this number you have to add Port Credit and Mississauga to make it the Colossal Toronto Area, not just the Greater Toronto Area).  So is the media excited because this is new or an outlier of some kind, or just to get excited because the weather is nice and mild in Toronto so we need something else to report on?
But back to the interview.  A very strange notion of how to address risk is asserted.  Since a collision between a car and a pedestrian is almost sure to come out worse for the pedestrian, it is incumbent upon drivers to take a lot more care.  Well, if that is the solution we plan to rely on we're going to have a lot of damaged pedestrians.  I drive with much neurotic care trying not hit pedestrians, but I sure wish they showed the same care trying not to be hit by me.
Note in the interview above that the suggestion seems to be we should take better care of our intersections and crosswalks.  I have since been listening closely to the reports of the current incidents, hoping for details - the local media seem not to be clear about explaining what some of the pedestrians were up to, and I am sure there is a reason.
Most of them want to demonize cars and drivers, but it is perfectly clear few of those meetings occurred in an area set up for pedestrians to cross the road.  And most of the cases were in the dark, where it is exceedingly dangerous to go wandering into the roadway at other than assigned places.  But let's not mention the war.
In the days since listening to the interview above, I have found myself as a driver frequently dealing with idiots on their feet who behave confusingly at best, dangerously in many cases, and I have been using the brakes a little more than I like, NOWHERE NEAR intersections or crosswalks.  I suspect that investing in the latter will do little to reduce the rate of cars whacking pedestrians.  I suspect the pedestrians listened to the stupid interview and think that I of course now feel I must bear all the cost to reduce risk.  Sorry, I can't.
OK my take on risk, personalized.  When I am out walking, I recognize that it is exceptionally unwise for me to collide with a moving car (or a stationary one).  So I go out of my way to avoid wandering into what might be traffic (though none is visible to me at the moment), and try to be insanely cautious about where I cross a street.   Even at crosswalks and intersections, I like to see the car proving it is stopping before I put myself in its path.
And here's why.  That driver likely has far less concern about what happens if he hits me than I have.  Even if he listens to Andy Barrie and his 'expert' ( a guy who makes a living consulting on this gorp, so has an interest in weird vioews).  This seems elementary.  Why is it so hard to grasp?

(A disclosure or two.  One of these encounters resultd in a hit-and-run arrest.  However the accident happened, I certainly do not condone  leaving the scene of a crime, even though I once unwittingly did.  And the media are struggling with the facts that many of the vehicles in question are public transit vehicles, and we know they are more saintly than private vehicles.)

Class Act Conan

I never watch any of the late night talk shows, even when the insomnia hits the hardest.  There is always a CSI or L&O rerun.
So all I know is what I read in blogs.
But I liked this:

And that's how I felt leaving my job!  Great co-workers, great company.  (Though I do not recall the groundswell on the internet.)  :-)
Curious to see if Leno can deliver at this level.

The Oracle Family Man

The corporation Oracle after all, not a Delphic kind.  A corporation that in my professional life I never cared much for, though I did like several of its past and future employees (I will not name them to make sure Larry Ellison does not know who they are).
And this story had me 'busting a gut',  Now THERE is a mistress who does not simply sit back!
This billboard -- which also has gone up in Atlanta and San Francisco -- is the ultimate act of revenge -- a very public retaliation by a dumped mistress aimed at a very wealthy, and married, businessman who is an adviser to President Obama.
Another one of Obama's spectacularly brilliant hiring decisions. 
In an Oracle newsletter from 2006, Phillips was described as an ex-marine and "family man" who has a wife and 10-year-old son, Chas, the New York Times reported.
So how come John Edwards got no position in the cabinet?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thanks, Rogers Cable, for Screwing Me Again

For all the very long time I have been a customer of Rogers Cable it has had a very nice feature on the remote; a simply keypress pops up a grid of the shows currently on (and those coming soon) through which I  navigate usefully to make choices about what (other shows) might be on to watch, and what is coming up.  (The feature always makes me remember fondly, if not quite accurately, a line which I attrbute to Jerry Seinfeld - "Women want to know what's on TV, men want to know what else is on TV".)
So this morning (in the wee hours of my intermittent insomnia - and don't get me wrong, I don't really mind it), wondering what else is on, I press the usual button and some whole new unfamiliar screen is in front of me.  After a quick scan I can get to what I want with a second keypress, and, since I pressed the button on a mission, I do that and complete the mission.
So, mission completed, I used later available time to study this new screen.  The first thing I noticed was that it described itself as my new Quick Start Menu, and I was being told to enjoy it!  Hmm, I wondered, what does this let me start more quickly than before?  So I looked.  I am offered "On Demand", easily available for the last years by pressing some other button.  Fun and Games - ditto.  Self Service - I tried it out and it seems to be a black hole.  There is something called Daily Essentials, which I have explored and offers nothing I cannot get more simply some other way from the remote.
So to do what was the thing I most often did of these functions now takes two keypresses where it once took one and the things I never did anyway take the same number of keypresses as before.  I used to work in software and this would be regarded where I come from as a significant performance degradation from the point of view of the user, and that is what it seems to be.  I love the rather Orwellian 'Quick Start' to describe slowing down the things I want to do.  Do they think this fools anyone?
Of course there is a method in their madness.  Many of the features that you are forced now to consider, to get to where you actually want to go, are potentially revenue-enhancing for them; they want me to pause and say, "Hey let's check out that On-Demand thingie and buy a showing of a movie or some porn", or "Hey, maybe I want to play one of those stupid games and give them money".
At this point I would have fallen out of bed laughing at this cynicism, but for the cold of the night.
This will likely not change my behavior much in the short run.  But the incredible availability of current television programming over the internet is definitely causing me to think about the marginal benefits of various cable pricings versus the marginal costs.  Moreover, the current CRTC brouhaha over fee for carriage will likely only increase the cost side with no benefit to me, so I am starting to calculate carefully the point at which I cancel all the premium cable services .  The cable providers are just making them far too expensive compared with alternatives (in economics terms, substitutes) I can find elsewhere at the margin.
I cannot believe I am alone in this, even if others might not describe it this way.   There is a potential house of cards here.  I for one will feel a sense of satisfaction as it comes down; and likely in some predicatable way - people like me start abandoning the service (I know of several in the process), then the regulatory authority comnpensates by allowing an increase of fees, and we are into an ugly positive feedback loop.  I will enjoy it!
I like capitalism, and it would be much better if it weren't for such stupid capitalists.

A Bad Week for The One

And Mark Steyn revels in it entertainingly.    The whole thing is worth the read.
So what went wrong? According to Barack Obama, the problem is that he overestimated you dumb rubes' ability to appreciate what he's been doing for you. "That I do think is a mistake of mine," the president told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "I think the assumption was if I just focus on policy, if I just focus on this provision or that law or if we're making a good rational decision here, then people will get it."
But you schlubs aren't that smart.
I view Steyn as loose with the facts at times but here he reports and interprets Obama's comment exactly.
"The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office," said Obama. "People are angry, and they're frustrated, not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years but what's happened over the last eight years."
Got it. People are so angry and frustrated at George W. Bush that they're voting for Republicans.
This self-deception is not just sad, it is dangerous, and suggests he cannot learn much very easily.  Oh I miss Bill Clinton who got hammered politically in his first time and learned from it.
Presumably, the president isn't stupid enough actually to believe what he said. But it's dispiriting to discover he's stupid enough to think we're stupid enough to believe it.
This is very well put and something that has puzzled me; why does he want to keep insulting the intelligence of the whole country?
The defining moment of his doomed attempt to prop up Martha Coakley was his peculiar obsession with Scott Brown's five-year-old pickup:
"Forget the ads. Everybody can run slick ads," the president told an audience of out-of-state students at a private school. "Forget the truck. Everybody can buy a truck."
How they laughed! But what was striking was the thinking behind Obama's line: that anyone can buy a truck for a slick ad, that Brown's pickup was a prop – like the herd of cows Al Gore rented for a pastoral backdrop when he launched his first presidential campaign. Or the "Iron Chef" TV episode featuring delicious healthy recipes made with produce direct from Michelle Obama's "kitchen garden": The cameras filmed the various chefs meeting the first lady and then picking choice organic delicacies from the White House crop, and then, for the actual cooking, the show sent out for stunt-double vegetables from a grocery back in New York. Viewed from Obama's perspective, why wouldn't you assume the truck's just part of the set? "In his world," wrote The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, "everything is political, and everything is about appearances."
This WAS a clear mistake by his speechwriters and it was profoundly stupid.  Who on his core staff had the dumb idea to focus on the truck?  I imagine it was, though, almost a reflex for his 'green' team.  And he likely projects from the fraudulence of his own image. as Hayes/Steyn suggest.
The finish:
America is becoming a bilingual society, divided between those who think a pickup is a rugged vehicle useful for transporting heavy-duty items from A to B, and those who think a pickup is coded racism.
Unfortunately, the latter group forms most of the Democratic-media one-party state currently running the country. Can you imagine Bill Clinton being so stupid as to put down pickup trucks while standing next to John Kerry? And what's even more extraordinary is that those lines were written for Obama by paid professionals.
But fine, have it your way. Tuesday's vote was really a plea by a desperate people for even more Obama. We're going to need even more Obama teleprompters, even more Obama speeches, even more sonorous banalities unrelated to action, even more "Let me be clears..." prefacing even more tinny generalities, on even more reams of even more double-spaced paper. And we're gonna need a really heavy duty rig to carry all that verbiage.
Maybe Scott Brown can sell 'em his truck.
By the way, no, I cannot imagine Bill Clinton being that stupid.  Nor Dubya.  And the thought of even more Obama on TV causes me utter dismay.  I tried to watch his townhall in Ohio yesterday but he was so bad, so self-absorbed, so completely not what Bill Clinton (or Dubya) would have been; Clinton could have engaged the questions, and would not have made such ludicrous claims about where his administration was going.

We don't have Bill Clinton; we have this joke instead.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Boat That Rocked

When I drive around Britain on my visits these years, I enjoy hitting the seek button and finding the great variety available on the car radio.  I lived in England in the late '70s and the selection even then was pretty minimal.  I could barely imagine how awful it must have been in the more paternalistic radio broadcasting environment of the '60s.
I recently stumbled across the movie 'The Boat that Rocked', which is a cartoon (not animated, but written large) version of how pirate broadcasting (setting up ships outside of the UK's legal jurisdiction to broadcast actually popular music in to the UK's territory - the US name of the movie appears to be 'Pirate Radio').  It also cartoonishly portrays many other aspects of the '60s.  And make no mistake - I do not regard 'cartoonish' as pejorative.
It allows the movie to highlight some of the contrasts and debates in an exaggerated way that in fact makes it more realistic given how exaggerated those times were!  If anything the '60s were cartoonish. The
rebellious were that rebellious and full of contempt, and the authorities were that authoritarian and uncomprehending.  Looking back I do not always take the sides I might once have then but in the case of this film I think they pick the right side.  The UK broadcasting rules were absurd.  (Mind you, when I went to Austria in the early '90s I was even more astonished at both TV and radio there, even more paternalistic.)
The soundtrack is delightful especially for an oldie like me, and some of the performances are just great.  Bill Nighy s a ddelight as the entrepreneur who flouts the rules and finds the way to make music defying the UK restrictions.   I quite enjoyed Jack Davenport (my favorite character in 'Coupling' - well, maybe actually Susan) as the functionary devising means of foiling the pirate radio incursion.  Philip Seymour Hoffman lives in his character as he always so excellently does.
I cannot recall such exuberance in a movie in a while.   The wedding sequence in the middle had me laughing with tears, from the approach of the bride's boat, it so captured what was the creative irreverce of the time.  And it seemed clear where things were going, capturing the realities in a cartoonsh, but trrue, way of those times.  There was also a delight in seeing that January Jones need not simply be Betty Draper through her whole career.  There is mischief in the soundtrack too - the intrusion of Elgar is cute in a scene that needs that ironic intrusion to keep us from taking it too seriously - goota mintaiin the cartoon.
My major doubt as I watched was that the cartoonih nature sseemed to suggest that the cultural battle, presented in political terms (was that really Branagh?, was aactually political.  It was not - the problem was a minor one, the rificulos control over the UK's airavess.  It required this sort of rebellion to break the hold, but it also required, not shown in the film, what must have been some true political spadework.  For the distinctton I suggest The Rebel Sell.
And the ending is sad - the early exuberance turns into a trashy sentimental ending.  But it's a movie.  And especially a Richard Curtis movie.
Thanks to all of you who made my day richer with this.

Norm Asks a Good Question about Haroon Siddiqui

Haroon Siddiqui is of course a clown (and we in Toronto are privileged to have him put on his clown show in one of our local newspapers) but it is nice to see some people engage him a little. (I prefer not to waste my time but devote it instead to watching CSI reruns.)
Read the post in the link.  Norm analyzes Siddiqui's sleazily chosen words beautifully and poses the right question, exposing the sleaze:
Siddiqui couldn't mean that one must only adopt policies that don't make those angry, violent people angry and violent? Could he?
Those of us with the good fortune to live in Toronto may have an expectation of what the answer here is.

Why Would I Donate to Haiti Now and Not in the Recent Past?

I've heard a lot of tut-tutting about the inconsistency, supposed, of one's willingness to contribute to Haitian causes six months ago (in my case, minimal) and now (in my case, some).  Most recently Stephen Lewis and Jian Ghomeishi pontificated about this on CBC's Q this morning.  They missed the most obvoius answer.
Like guys!  NOW if I contribute money I have a fairly strong sense it will go to something useful and necessary - it will go to utterly essential aid.  People are in desperate need of food, medical care, shelter, all of which will be delivered in simple ways (I believe).
Six months ago I do not think money I contributed would have gone to anything so well-defined.  It would likely have trickled through NGOs, through corrupt officials, and finally probably have supported 'development' policies that were generally counterproductive.
There is a difference between contributing support to an effort to help people suddenly in desperate need (where the needs likely mostly get served) and people in more general need (where the needs get mis-identifed and funds pissed away).
OK that's my reason.
Note this is the same thinking as regards the tsunami.  I was very ready to contribute to aid right after the tsunami in Indonesia.  Now, not so much.
I think this 'inconsistency' is in fact deeply rational in terms of trying to help others.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What A Fine Species

For all our failures, and no I am not praising the people who want to blow up planes, have them flown into crowded situations, throw acid in girl's faces, or kill women for being raped. No I mean these people!

Watch that kid raise his or her arms. And watch how carefully the rescue teams have to work so as not to simply drop concrete on someone's head. I have such admiration for those dong this hard work.
h/t Jose M Guardia

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Having now posted on Kate McGarrigle once, I have to report on my drive back from the dentist. Q had avery nice recollection of Kate McGarrigle (UPDATE: right link now up) and I get reminded of it listening to Matapedia. The discussion there was to a degree about Kate's forthrightness and bloody-mindedness.
And in a way that is what song is all about - young, bloody-minded love. "I was not afraid".
It opens with such beautifully sexual images, the seventeen-year old daughter bending down, and misidentified as her mother ("Oh my God it's Kate") by what sounds an old lover. "No I'm the duaghter of Kate - my name is Martha - who are you - Ma never told me, never told me about you". "He looked her in the eyes, just like a boy of nineteen would do."
And it all draws Kate back to some crazy trip through Quebec, clearly love-soaked, and "I was not afraid ... I could not slow down".
Whenever I hear it I am so moved at the mother seeing her own life in her daughter's.

How Clueless is This Guy?

I cannot believe it. And will surely update this post if it proves to be silly.
Maybe he thinks that the fact that the people in Massachusetts have forgotten how great he is means that they have forgotten his hiring history.
It is getting beyond just embarrassing; it is becoming sordid.

And Where are the Gays in the Military?

The various riffs on the Hitler freak-out scene in "Der Untergang" are pretty entertaining, at least most of those I have seen.
This one popped up pretty quickly, and is very funny, especially if you don't have a lot of respect for the policy proposals of (Disclosure - I do not.)

Of course, while it mischievously focuses on their frets, it also raises a few other issues, and emphasizes the role of TOTUS.

Is My World Shrinking?

RIP Kate MCGarrigle. This song struck when I first heard it in the way it tied generations. Lovely, among so much else. I loved the mix of odd timbres of the voices of those two sisters, and their songs, though perhaps a bit less so than the quality of the sound.

RIP Robert B. Parker. I've read most of the books, and am sorry I won;t have mroe to read. I even like the last one my mother handed to me, which she did not like, but I did, though it was quite odd. Spenser was always too perfect, and always knew too much more than any one else, besides being able to punch you out. Jessie Stone lately has been more of a struggler. But when you write the books you get to shoose the characters.

RIP Erich Segal. I am not sure whether I read any of his books (I know I saw the movie 'Love Story'). But I actually knew him for a good part of a year when we were visiting scholars in England. He seemed to me, already then a top-selling author, quite unassuming and pleasant and had not lost his passion for the Classics, which is what had drawn him there. What we shared was some jogging running, and a small amount of socializing. We lost touch, but the picture in the obit I link to looks just like him then. I was somewhat glad to see that he is listed as survived by a wife Karen, as I still recall a pleasant afternoon in Oxford with him and a Karen, and my wife of the time.

Is my world smaller? In some ways. People I have come to admire for lots of reasons start dying at a perhaps disturbing rate as one ages. But of course at this age, you cannot tell who might replace those people, even in your possibly limited life to come. It's not as if I am net getting satisfaction out of Taylor Swift, or Stefani Germanotta. I could name many young actors who fill the voids left by John Wayne, say, though perhaps choosing Johnny Depp might seem an odd pick there; but what about Russell Crowe? Books and writers are trickier, and while I cannot easily pick a lot of novelists I am jumping over, there are many young bloggers, and maybe that is part of another way to enrich the world.

But hey! I find I have things to keep educating me!

I Agree with Mungowitz on his Economics Quiz

And it is a tad serendipitous as I had almost this chat with my dentist's secretary surrounding my appointment this morning (those teeth feel clean!). Though actually she pretty much articulated the whole argument, as someone who had taken one of those cruises, and had a beach BBQ, a couple of years ago. She also got what I think to be the right answer.
Is it a quiz on economics? I think more on overall human welfare, though much of the former is indeed about the latter.
Because the alternative is to say, "Haiti is devestated. Let's boycott Haiti, to make sure the economic damage is as great as possible. Let's deny local workers the only chance they have to make some money, so as to make our rich white American selves feel moral."
The dentist's secretary mentioned that the cruise ships also deliver aid, not just jobs.
Sometimes our aesthetic views of our own virtue (which surely many view as morality) conflict with the realities on the ground.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chomsky's Fans

Where do they come from? Do they prefer not reading arguments? I suspect that is it exactly.
Now it is Nick Cohen trying to explain. In many ways it seems pointless - facts do not matter to those folk.
But this is not a fight I want to leave. Chomsky seemed so attractive once - but in the end, his lack of concern for actual history left me behind. So if you are still attracted, how hard are you working checking him out? He is terrible.

Great News for our Future Ant Masters

Edward O Wilson is writing their first novel!
A general point - I am linking to Steve Sailer who is NEVER boring.
Most of my current readers know him. I recommend you add him to your news reader - that way I don't have to point you at him.
He is a very smart guy and happily takes positions that are not really approved in polite society, with pretty solid arguments.
One could start with his recent analysis of Haiti.

Haiti vs Afghanistan - Are These Guys Nuts?

I think I just saw, on Evan Solomon's CBC "power and Politics" show a discussion from some of our punditocracy apparently feeling proud that Canada would have a leading role helping Haiti recover in the long run?
Recover? The place has never been remotely functional! What would they recover to?
Are these the same people perpetually questioning an attempt to help Afghanistan become functional? At least Afghanistan once was! Has Haiti ever been? Why should we waste our money on this place, other than to do exactly what we are doing now? A long-run role sounds ridiculous to me. Peter MacKay says 60 days and that sounds pretty sensible.
Yes, I know our Governor-General is one of those educated and intelligent Haitians who consistently get the hell out of her blighted country for some better place. She is not offering to go back, is she?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Laughing out Loud

AMC is playing Hellfighters.
A couple of points.
The elder characters in the movie are played by John Wayne and Vera Miles. My earlier comments about evolution also stand for this film's scenes (and forget mention of Katharine Ross and Timothy Hutton!).
But the laughing out loud comes when the guy who fought oil rig fires is now working for an oil company and is being asked to rule on the color of paint in the restrooms. John Wayne is a superb actor for this sort of thing.
YouTube has a nice piece on Red Adair, the inspiration for this somewhat silly movie:

King Banaian is Exasperated and I Am Too

Regular readers (thanks, all five of you) will know that my priors include the notion that we humans are likely heating up the planet by spewing carbon dioxide (and methane, and nitrous oxide, and water vapor) into the atmosphere.
But the recent entertainment caused by the leakage of data and e-mails from the East Anglia CRU, and the completely shameless shameful behavior of the so-called scientists there, has now got me looking much more closely at what turns out to be the almost completely useless nature of any data we have about climate.
King Banaian reflects on measurements. It is a fine post.
For me, learning the details of what has gone into the various graphs meant to freak us all out has completely eroded my belief in any quality in the existing data. I do want to study the data more, and come to understand what lies behind all the strange manipulations (don't get me too wrong - changes in technology and simply moving a ssensor mean one has to recalibrate).
I think I am about to join the other silly people playing with what numbers we have. The data is clearly very low-quality, and so conclusions should hardly be taken too seriously.
To quote King, excellently:
So here's the problem in a nutshell: I have a measure that I know, think it measured temperature well, measured it directly. I understand the underlying statistical technique well, and because the data is right there, I can replicate it. My confidence is improved by this, different from PCA. But because there's a chance they might have changed the thermometer, or that you can't generalize Northern Hemispheric temperatures from a single point in central England, I could not use it definitively. It's a skepticism not unlike my skepticism of people's claims about job loss based on the household survey. It could be that PCA's issues are not as severe as these. And it may be that there are other studies that give different experiences than the PCA studies and studies that support PCA. At the end of the day your beliefs are updated by the studies; you learn. And what you think is true evolves, with questioning and kepticism all along the way.
Or at least, that's what Scholars do.

Chomsky Squeaks

Noam Chomsky could hardly remain silent in the face of Andrew Anthony's superb description of the disaster in Cambodia. Chomsky's resulting squeak is noted and shown to be fatuous by Oliver Kamm. As Kamm writes:
I don't, as it happens, regard Chomsky as an apologist for the Khmer Rouge or for other appalling regimes. I regard him as a sophist possessed of reflexive anti-Americanism. It's because his position is an article of faith that he's so unreliable when it comes to describing the actual sins of omission and commission in American foreign policy. In his position, factual accuracy is secondary (his writings on the Balkans, for example, are an intellectual disgrace).
Kamm does not of course just state this - his description of Chomsky's unwillingness to look at simple facts is compelling, and he does document the denigration of opponents, even those generally with the same political drift, who do care about facts, those annoying things.
How Noam Chomsky ever became a "public intellectual" of other than a comic form continues to baffle me. I do recall feeling convinced as I read him in my twenties; but facts pile up over life.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Evolution Can Quit Now

TCM ran "Rio Grande" today.
There are some great shots near the end of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara together.
I think evolution need go no farther.

What This Ape Does Well

h/t Don Boudreaux a great reminiscence relevant to today.
The town or community of Geyserville, with about forty homes around the small business section, in 1906 couldn’t have had a total population of more than 400 if one included all the farms within a radius of four or five miles. Yet, within a couple of hours, men, women and children began coming to that boxcar with baskets and packages and armloads of food.
They brought loaves of homemade bread, mason jars of home-canned fruits and vegetables, sacks of potatoes, bags of dry beans, rice and sugar, and jars of fresh milk and newly churned butter. As the day wore on, people from the town and nearby farms began bringing in cooked chickens and roasts of beef, veal, pork, and lamb.
This is all the more remarkable when you bear in mind that there was not only no radio or television in those days, but also the telephone and automobile had not yet arrived in our small community. There were a few—very few—bicycles around, but otherwise everyone traveled either by horse or on “shanks’ mare.” Yet the appeal kept on spreading fasts-for neighbor told neighbor.
There will be millions of such stories in support of the victims of the Haitian earthquake.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why is this place so blighted?

Tyler Cowen has long cared about Haiti and so has a pile of interesting links. Go look at them.
He links to this essay. It is sad and interesting, and leaves nobody out of the blame.
What makes the news so hard to watch right now is the terrible combination of the uselessness of Haitian society and the devastation of this purely natural disaster. I am stunned at the scale of this awfulness (1500 Canadians missing? in Haiti?) of this whole mess.

Two Positions are Left to Me

Well this pretty much shatters any naive views.
1) Stop bothering with sports.
Which I do not think I can do.
2) Embrace it all and wonder why we care about doping at all.
Nobody requires us spectators to take drugs!
I have been moving into position 2 for quite a while.

The Heidelberg Student Princes

via Newmark's Door, a wonderful exploration of strange college sports team nicknames.
I had a time as a college sports coach, at a University where the men's teams were the Warriors, and, back then, the women were the Athenas. (Surely some harmonization has set in since then.) SillyWife had the wonderful inspiration to hear "Warriors" as "Worriers", which is likely more descriptive of how players really feel. Somehow I think "Worriers" might be a tricky problem for cheerleaders.

Stunning Graphic

The NY Times has all the terrible beauty in this amazing use of satellite imagery.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tim Worstall has a Simple Answer to a Simple Question

The question is:
If you really care about the poor, why don’t you become a socialist?
The answer is perfectly obvious.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


This is truly terrible. But it causes me possibly stupidly optimistic reflections.
Of the sort - would a single polar bear give a crap about polar bears in Haiti? Would a baby seal?
And yet the world is jumping all over itself trying to get help to Haiti - the human world, that is.
Damn we are really great!
And BTW it sure helps to be rich - your buildings are better etc etc. Haiti got its big one - we wonder still when Vancouver will get its but I bet the relative wealth will mean the damage is much smaller.
Haiti is horridly poor and the costs are currently magnified. Thank heaven there are rich places that are struggling to help!
Hmmm - is anyone rich because Haiti is poor? Try to give me the smallest hint why this might be true? Haiti has done little to enrich Canada, I think, other than supplying us our GG.

So That we Don't Forget History

I am a bit astonished that this superb recollection by Andrew Anthony is printed by the Guardian. No newspaper in the world seems to me more full of the kinds of apologists, both as writers and readers, that he describes so solidly.
It remains astonishing to me that the whole Cambodia story did not make Noam Chomsky a laughing-stock, and cause many people, as it certainly caused me, to be careful of my reflex wish to blame the United States for everything bad, and hence (the true sin) to apologize for and somehow justify the very bad behavior of anyone who clad himself in anti-American attitudes.
I had never heard of Malcolm Caldwell before reading this story, but I sure have met a bunch of similar people in my life. They were lucky not to be murdered in the process of having a grand audience with the criminal slime they were praising.
"Oh you philosophize disgrace..."
Read the article - it is utterly excellent, and poses a lot of great questions. How can people be so stupid?

Monday, January 11, 2010

RIP Eric Rohmer

One of the oddest French film-makers.
I recall loving his movies but I do note that it hard to find any I can download free.
Still, a night at Maud's where nobody has sex, and a knee of Claire barely touched, and those did make movies in that time! Such longing so well portrayed!

Computer Woes

I have/had two laptops and had/have one desktop, and all of them started to get goofy inthe last month.
One laptop stopped booting. It was an old IBM Lenovo Thinkpad; a local repair company identified a bad RAMchip. It has been replaced and all is well.
The second was an HP Laptop I bought last fall. It had the genius for its hard drive to stop working barely over one month out of warranty. The problems were clearly the failure of a hard disk (but still, one year out of warranty??). So I ordered a new hard drive from and it seems to be working despite a couple of initial burps.
My last problem was a Gateway desktop also bought from that was always a bit flaky but in the end always basically worked. It was clearly time to upgrade so I responded to a ad for a new looking-prett-good HP System e9220f.
I loved it the first couple of days I had it. It was fast and the HD storage amazing.
In the last day the CD-RW drive has been behaving flakily. Tragic. I love burning DVDs.
Now TigerDirect is great as they have a review function so I figured I could record my problems. As it turns out - NO - it seems no to work.
Well, I guess I can shop elsewhere from now on, and at the moment, I suggest you do too! Guess I have to buy a new CD-RW. Crap - not too expensive but why do they not offer a simpler approach? I will certainly find somewhere else to buy the new DVD-RW and all future equipment! And suggest you do too. This is really sad from a long-time customer.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Is It Just Generational

The CBC is inflicting on us the fatuous press conferences of the US President and his minions on security today.
And WOW! I responded positively to Napolitano and decidedly not to Obama.
I think I know why. Obama was doing his usual head-pivoting, 45 degrees to the left, and 45 to the right, back and forth, sucking off his teleprompter. He looks like a total buffoon to me.
Napolitano clearly spoke from written notes. I think the fact that I am over 60 explains why I find that appealing.
Of course, none of this makes me feel good, planning to fly late this month.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Listening to Lhasa de Sela

I was shocked to hear during the night that Lhasa de Sela has died.
I saw her once in concert, many years ago, and quite liked her choice of music, her lovely voice, and her enthusiasm for songs really of another era; she was a very special and odd person.
I always assumed I would get another chance to see her again.
I was so sadly wrong.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Virtue of the Aughts

Year-end reviews on television and in the media in general have been full of hand-wringing, both about last year, and about the ten-year period from 2000 through 2009. I have found it all rather self-pitying and unseemly.
Finally, I find a voice of good sense, not surprisingly in Tyler Cowen, in the New York Times, pointing out that many parts of the world saw great improvements in that period.
Still, most economic models suggest that the fundamental source of growth is new ideas, which enable us to produce more from a given set of resources. To the extent that the rest of the world becomes wealthier, there’s more innovation, as my colleague and co-blogger Alex Tabarrok, professor of economics at George Mason University, argued recently. China, for instance, is moving toward the research frontier in areas such as solar power, scientific instruments, engineering and nanoscience, all of which can benefit the United States. Unlike the situation of just a few decades ago, a genius born in Mumbai now stands a good chance of becoming a notable scientist, whether at home or abroad.
... a wealthier China, India, Brazil and Indonesia will lead to more customers for new innovations, thereby producing greater rewards for successful entrepreneurs, no matter where they live. There are so many improvements in cellphones these days because there are so many cellphone customers in so many countries.
TO put it bluntly, if the United States takes one step back and the rest of the world takes two steps forward, even in purely selfish terms we should consider accepting the trade-off, if only for the longer run. Most of us gain from the wealth and creativity of other countries, even if we can’t always feel like the top dog.
Cowen has an "accompanying" blog post citing other pieces of evidence as well for his view.
He finishes with a comment on the hand-wringing:
Again, I'd like to stress the general point that most American-born economists are not sufficiently cosmopolitan in their thinking and writing.