Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Tale of Two Worlds

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz and hey wait this guy can talk! Then zzzzzzzzz again. Part of it is just that Obama lacks much intellect compared to Sarkozy and basically lacks much policy.

Can the Internet Get Better Than This?

Perhaps this is only for utter geeks but I spent a good part of my education as an utter geek.

UPDATE: The whole damnably wonderful computer industry is built on this. It's a tragedy that the originator killed himself because of the British state's idiotic laws against homosexual behavior.

Mike Munger can be SO Funny

Go over there and look.


The West had a 3-400 year flirtation with this but it is easy to forget the rest of the world that still loves the institution, especially if you are a standard leftist.  Terry Glavin tries to help you.  Let him.
Hmm it ain't hose awful imperialists.  Nor is it their effects.

Nobody? Apologies to Juliana Richer

Isn't YouTube great!
The 'nobody' I cited and posted doing a nice cover of 'Bad Romance' has an excellent YouTube channel and I am thoroughly enjoying exporing it.  I especially liked her original song, though stop when she starts talking.  This does make the Internet an interesting model for aspiring performers like her.  I wish her really well!

Dancing With the Stars - First Elimination

Shannen Doherty?? People must not like her; I cast a few votes FOR her, and it clearly did not help. Oh well. Buzz gets to dance another week! And likely more than that, as it seems the fans don't much like Pamela Anderson or Kate Gosselin either. (I cast no votes for either of them.)
I note also that DWTS is keeping the Melisssa Rycroft brand going. Well, the viewers are.

Apologies to the Song

A little more YouTubing and I discovered that one CAN cover 'Bad Romance'.  So I guess the right conclusion is that Jared Leto cannot.  This nobody does a fine job, in my opinion, of taking it acoustic, with no histrionics:

A Point-Missing Cover

This is truly awful.  "Bad Romance" has great virtue, but this cover strips it of all of them and leaves only what is rather humdrum if not bad about the song - the lyrics are BAD without the insane exuberance and total craziness of the perfomance.  She is decidedly a performance artist in her current incarnation and no a singer.  So I will embed the bad version and suggests you give up after 30 seconds and switch to the right embed.

Covers can be interesting but the world is better if a lot of performers simply did not bother.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Good News

... is that Ophelia Benson's hard work is getting wider notice, as more and more people discover Melanie Butler's moronic take on things!
Here she is on a disgraceful effort by the Cambridge Review of International Affairs to turn a defence of the men who abuse women into a left-wing cause, by denigrating the efforts of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, a feminist group which tries to give Afghan girls education, healthcare and the right not to be forced into “marriage” before they are 16 (as half Afghan girls are).
I feel a bit sorry for Melanie but she really ought to have applied the mildest critical brain element to what her supervisors were feeding her.

NASCAR With Bulls! The Amazing Race Episode 7

Why cannot these people read instructions carefully and double-check their work before blundering on? They are surely aware of how simple omissions have been so costly in the past.
Of course it seemed obvious to me from the start, when the advantage of having an early start was completely destroyed by putting everyone initially on the same flight, that this would be a non-elimination round. As it was.
So the stakes were low,at least as I saw it ab initio. I guess there are stakes if departure times in the next round are determined by the arrival times in this.
I continue to enjoy how resourceful Steve and Allie are; Allie is clearly the tortoise-whisperer; I hope their leaving their backpacks behind does not damage their prospects but if there is a cold leg ahead that could be pretty dicey.
The cowboys I have enjoyed, but what sloppiness in this round! Not double-checking the coconuts and carelessly reading the last instructions put them in last.
There was a section of pure hilarity when a tortoise recognized the lesbians for what they are (unpleasant people) and refused to play their game. And then they failed to check their cocnuts! And they still managed to finish ahead of the cowboys. I suspect most of the other teams were very hopeful when close to the end of this leg they appeared sure to finish last; only the carelessness of the cowboys saved their butts, so to speak.
Brent and Caite remain an odd mix of resourceful and silly; they can be both ignorant and stupid at times, but so far they continue to manage to get re-engaged and not come last. Congratulations to them both.
I really find the brothers Dan and Jordan unpleasant, but they were careful if not spectacular and wound up not having to repeat work the way most teams had to.
Why do I love this show?
First, it is a great travelogue.
And then it is also a fascinating look at how pairs interact to solve often very tricky problems way out of their normal domains. And it offers us so many interesting styles to watch. I love the cowboys - they just get along, as do Allie and her dad. The detectives are solid in how they work together too. Almost all the others have fractures that clearly hurt them - somehow they don't know how to decide on something and then proceed without a lot of caviling.
And in past years it has been fun to watch teams improve - I recall the two Asian-American lawyers who almost had a total breakdown when a sister could not get her brother to listen to her, at almost fatal (for the contest) cost in past years. They were very different by the end!
I so look forward to next week's episode.

Ophelia, Terry, and Alaina and the sorry Melanie

This was lovely.
UBC granted a MA for a thesis that proviked these responses from Ophlia Benson.
Some small citations (for context the original MA thesis is the ususal PoMo bullshit):
She wants to get her Master's degree, so she proceeds with her project of saying invidious things about an NGO working for Afghan women's rights, for another forty pages. She leans heavily on Foucault and Said, she talks much of knowledge-power and Orientalism, and she ploughs her academic furrow. Meanwhile the women who work for CW4WAfghan do that. I know which I admire.
I know which I do too and it ain't the thesis writer or her godforsaken supervisors. Canadian universities are cesspolls.
Later (earlier, actually in my link structure above):
So. Since a flood of people, which is to say, two people, have requested more extracts, I shall oblige.
At the heart of the relationship between feminism and imperialism is an Orientalist logic that posits Western women as exemplary and emancipated in relation to “Other” (Afro-Asian/colonized) women, thereby charging the former with the responsibility of saving the latter from their backwards (i.e. Muslim), uncivilized cultures.
Right. Tell that to the little girls in Ethiopia who don't want to be raped into marriage at age eight. Tell them it's an Orientalist logic that thinks they should have something better.
I wonder if Melanie Butler (author of this profoundly silly thesis) would really like to head into the maws of the world she so defends - actually, maybe does not quite so defend - instead she takes the easier path of slagging those who try to fight it. Gutlessness, I call that.
Now I would never have posted on this except for the wonderful post Terry Glavin put up, where a 13-year-old punctures this total piece of crap emanating as a master's thesis.
Alaina Podmorova speaks:
No one will ever tell me that Muslim or any women think it’s ok to not be allowed to get educated or to have their daughters sold off at 8 years old or traded off at 4 years old because of cultural beliefs. No one will tell me that women in Afghanistan think it is ok for their daughters to have acid thrown in their faces. It makes me ill to think a 4 year old girl must sleep in a barn and get raped daily by old men. It’s sick and wrong and I don’t care who calls me an Orientalist or whatever I will keep raising money to educate girls and women in Afghanistan and I will keep writing letters and sending them in the back pack of my friend Lauryn Oates as she works so bravely on the ground helping women and girls learn what it is to exercise their rights. I believe in human rights so I believe everyone has the right their own opinion, I just wish that the energy that was used to write that story, that is just not true, could have been used to educate a girl in Afghanistan. That’s what the girls truly want. That’s what the Women in Afghanistan truly want. I have a drawer full of letters from them that says just that.
Our universities have so much to answer for.
Alaina, when you get to university of your choice, please be one of the people to fix these godforsaken places. (I am an atheist so take that meatphorically.) They ASK Melanie Butler to waste a year ot two wading through such obvious bullshit that only her supervisors could recognize that it makes any sense at all.
Wonder what kind of job Ms. Butler will have got. Not one that I would have given her when I was a recruiter.

UPDATE: Ophelia has found Alaina's just retort.
I feel a bit soryy for Melanie, but she chose her academic supervisors, and they are clearly one sorry bunch.

What's With the Candles, Kitty?

I keep hearing smug reports from people of how they lit up candles like mad during Earth Hour, and I am baffled at the implicit self-regard, as this surely raises carbon emissions enormously, at the expense of electrical load, which in many jurisdictions (like Ontario) is largely generated by nuclear and hydro plants, meaning this ritual makes for a net increase in carbon emission.
Perhaps we should have carbon emission charts priinted the next morning along with the electrical usage charts. On top of it, candles are bloody dangerous!
My favorite story so far is this one.
We actually enjoyed a very romantic candlelit dinner that was only interrupted when our cat set himself on fire by brushing up against the flame, which caused some excitement," Penner deadpanned to reporters Monday.
But we quickly got our cat, whose name is Ranger, under control. His hair is a little bit singed and his pride is somewhat affected. It will be a night that we'll remember for a long time.
That this is the BC Environment Minister reporting speaks loads.
It seems PETA should be lobbying against this shambolic Earth Hour exercise.
By the way, how'd it go in B.C.?
The province's electricity load dropped only 1.04 per cent, the smallest decrease in the three years since B.C. has participated in the global event.
That sounds to me like just noise; it seems people (well, some of them), are cottoning on to something.
h/t Jay Currie whose blog post titles are braver and funnier than mine

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Earth Hour

EclectEcon asks the question that always strikes me - how many of the media promoting this silliness will actually shut down during that hour - like him I hope not TSN!
Some sites are apparently darkening their backgrounds during the hour - with the real result that monitors will burn MORE power during the hour. As they point out, this is like protesting the clubbing of baby seals by clubbing one.
As usual, I plan to have more lights on during the hour, at least as consistent a behavior. And I like the idea of designating this as a way to mark Human Achievement Hour, with the defeat of darkness being a nice symbol of the defeat of all the other major forms of poverty.

Earth Hour

Anthony Watts articulates exactly what I think of this shambolic exercise.

Fort Apache in Color

IMDB seems to tell me it is not in color, though TCM is playing a color (colorized?) version.
I am sure I recall watching it in B&W, and on a color TV.
But what I almost hate to admit is that if Turner had this colorized the people who did it did a GREAT job and I feel I am watching real John Ford.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Quebec and the Niqab

A cultural fissure between the French- and English-Canadian elites has been opened up very recently as Quebec has decided to intorduce a bill that seems to say that women who will not doff their face- or head-coverings will be denied government services. Even our opposition federal leader seems to support this!
Now viscerally I love this but holy cow I am really a classical liberal at heart and cannot find any justification for this choice, no matter how little I like them and people who will be lobbying against it.
The last thing I want in the world is my provincial government telling me how to dress. I rather like my infantile choice to try to continue to look like the me of 40 years ago, though I am sure the effort is failing.
I also grant, as one who lives in a neighborhood with much Somali immigration, that there are many people who look totally ridiculous to me walking around in fabric garbage bags, but that is their choice. About the only reason I can see to ask them NOT to get out of the bags is when they walk into a bank or maybe a store, but the Quebec law is not about that.
So I am baffled to a degree.
My personal preference - run the risk in the banks and stores, and let the garbage-bag ladies keep wandering until they become bored with their rather silly and utterly pointless difference. I suspect the community impressed by their chosen ugliness is small enough they'll give up.
The Quebecers have their point but how precisely and where can they draw a line?

Education is an Ecosystem

More from the Liberal Canada at 150 "intellectual" review.
"Ecosystem" is as much a code word to suggest a lack of content as "holistic".
And this is no surprise.
Now there is in interview with an Axworthy (will they ever die out?) focusing on Aboriginal education, and slagging residential schools, which were exactly about aboriginal education. Hmmm. Maybe this is a better kind of Liberal aboriginal education, though maybe the Liberals ran the last system too.

Poor Ignatieff

He is a smart guy, seems to me.
But wow, as Stephen Harper, another smart guy, realizes, you need a constituency. And so the Liberal Party has set up a conference, Canada at 150, to review his party's goals.
Early presentations suggested we desperately need a workforce with skills. But what I am watching now suggests to me we won't have one of those soon; the presenters are using the word "holistic" (you know then that you are in deep water, retreating fast from any useful skills). And then hellishly I hear an Axworthy - that is truly scary.
The moderator says at the end, "What an extraordinary panel". I think I agree utterly with what she said, not what she means.
I fear for my Canada Pension Plan pension.


h/t voluntaryXchange

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Can Unionistas Make Sense?

Crazily, I think this is officials of sillywife's union!
I am utterly astonished. So now I will go looking for the condemnation of the fascistic shouting-down behavior in Ottawa yesterday from the same people.
But tell me clearly you do not like thuggery.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sad, not Just Silly

If there is any person I would accept judgments from on how it was decided Ann Coulter, a fine stand-up comedian, did not get to do her shtick in Ottawa last night, it's Dan Gardner, a very sensible guy. So I take somewhat seriously his speculation, despite the fact that many reports claim the Ottawa police punted.
But what does this say about this silly litle country?
So who made the final decision to pull the plug? I don't know. But my best guess is it was the bodyguard, and he didn't do it because he wants to sell books. He did it because there was reason to believe he couldn't have ensured Coulter's safety if she had been brought into that bedlam. And if he had asked my opinion at the time, I would have agreed. Others were concerned, too, it seems: When I left, I counted half a dozen cop cars.
Well we know who the brownjackets are now!
His conclusion is disappointingly feeble, not like the Dan I normally like to read:
Of course what people really want to talk about is who's to blame? Is it the lefty protesters who stomped all over free speech with their hobnail boots? Or have Coulter and Ezra Levant pulled off a devilishly clever PR stunt?
I stand to be corrected -- there's lots that's unclear -- but based on the facts as I know them now I find both these answers unsatisfactory. I think there was an enormous amount of disorganization and confusion. And there was real uncertainty about the intentions of the protesters or how they would react if, for example, they spotted Coulter. All these things weighed upon the final decision and responsibility must be apportioned accordingly. I realize that doesn't make for a satisfyingly clear and concise story but it not only accords with the evidence it is in line with how things typically unfold in situations like these.
Of course, it's also typical that people create narratives that explain what happened in a way that bolsters their ideological or partisan interests. That's already happening in this case. All I can say is that, having been in the thick of it all, I find those stories utterly unconvincing.
He leaves out, sadly, provocation from the University administration itself, and a general lack of commitment in the whole country to free speech.

Sillier and siller

Canada embarrasses itself. What a farce. Mind you, I doubt the University of Ottawa has embarrassed itself, as its reputation is likely not much damaged by this joke.

I Cannot Believe They Have Thought All of This Through

The NFL changes overtime rules radically!
I am looking forward to the entertaining edge cases that will surely show up. I cannot predict them, that's why they will be unintended consequences. They had a simple rule, slightly unfair, and now have a complicated rule, and will likely have to make it more and more complicated, and burden the poor on-field officials with inventing solutions to problems nobody has anticipated. I wonder how much effort went into thinking about this?
It is perfectly analogous to government regulation.
h/t HotAir

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reasons to Read Economics Textbooks

What the heck is marginal utility anyway?

The Amazing Race

Rondi beat me to it so I will let her do the hard work here.
I cannot stand the cavilling effeminate brothers - this week they topped themselves with the observation that people in Belgium might not speak great English! How is their French?
Unlike Rondi I rather like the dumb models; it's clear Caite has figured out that she is not all that bright and I respect that. I really like almost everybody else left, except the lesbians (exactly for Rondi's reasons - the various lesbians I know will not for a moment think it is because these women are lesbians).
Steve and Allie charm me, as do the detectives. But right now I, Like Rondi, am cheering for the detectives and the cowboys. They are so aware of themselves. And all these three teams have shown some interesting resourcefulness (especially in this episode as some of them were sent to utterly wrong places by local tourism offices - yes I know the cowboys got on the wrong track on their own, but they would not have done a lot better by going to the tourism office).

The Swedish Economy

EclectEcon posts a nice little video about the Swedish economy (I could embed but I want you to see it over there).
One interesting lesson - if the policy direction you take turns out to be a bad idea, you can change your mind and fix things, at least if you are Scandinavian, and therefore really smart.

I Named this Blog for a Good Reason

Though after I named it Harper became the PM and the number of incidents dropped significantly. Still, we have our idiocies and they do pop up. And we're in the middle of another appearance of silliness. Kathy Shaidle describes it nicely.
Ann Coulter is visiting Canada and the lefties are freaking!
Yes, you read that correctly: a man whose salary I’m obliged to pay via my extorted tax dollars just hinted, in the nicest possible way of course, that he’d try to have Coulter arrested if she said something he didn’t like.
As my husband quipped: “Maybe it sounded better in the original German…”
It is rather amazing; George Galloway came and the leader of one of our national parties attended, and nobody blinked.
Now I view Ann Coulter as a very good stand-up comedian, and my guess is Mr. Houle (the 'man' Kathy Shaidle refers to) has increased her value here. I doubt that was his goal, and I do worry that such people have significant roles in the administration of our universities, but on the other hand, that is what helps make us so hopelessly silly!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Who Said Procedure Could be Boring?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday cat blog - swimming cat

VIDEO: The soggy moggy that loves to swim

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Monarchs are on Their Way

Reports are that they are leaving the Mexican overwintering grounds! Their great great great grandparentschildren should become part of my life in July or August, I hope!


It has been a long day (well, in some ways I wish they were longer).
But Norm gave me great grounds for philosophical rumination.
And then, watching a movie, I was reminded of a truly great minor poem. Not so minor that I do not love it.
Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in:
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad.
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I'm growing old, but add
Jenny kissed me.

Morse Code is For Smart People

We're now five episodes into this year's The Amazing Race and that is about where I start to get a feel for the twosomes.
I continue to believe that this is the reality show that most rewards competence, and competence is tricky to measure. Who are my favorites this year?
I really like the cowboys; they did so well in early rounds. I love Steve and Allie (dad and daughter), who are just so positive all the time; as a basketball coach and a marketer one can see the personality fit.
I can barely stand brothers Dan and Jordan, or the other Jordan and Jeff, who seem to spend all their time complaining. As do the lesbians - dammit, they are giving lesbians a bad name, I suspect undeserved.
It utterly fascinated me that none of the eight teams willingly tried the, to me apparently simpler, test of translating some Morse code, with the damned code in your hand, compared to fighting one's way through barbed wire in a simulated WW1 battlefield. And it was fun to watch the different responses to that effort - Steve and Allie finding it cool!
As for the Morse code, the Wangs had to try to get it and were an utter disaster. Can it be that hard? I do not believe I could have failed as monumentally as they did, given the incredible amount of time they had. They never even came close to the message!
My favorite moment in a way was when the detectives decided to condemn Joe and Heidi to their fate - it was so arbitrary, turning on some simple small arrogant statements overheard on a bus. And with what consequences!
Some other things struck me. One surely knows coming in to it that there will be major tests of fitness, and yet the detectives seemed to have done NO preparation. Well, lots of other preapration has not been done.
This is about my favorite time of year for reality shows - we have The Amazing Race and very soon Dancing with the Has-Beens.

I Might not Make this Announcement

Though it sure sounds compelling.
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, will release a report on breastfeeding at a news conference tomorrow. Dr. McKeown will be joined by Linda Young, Director of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health at Toronto East General Hospital. The report is based on the breastfeeding policies and practices of 10 Toronto hospitals, and a survey of 1,500 new mothers.
What a city!

Kathryn Bigelow is 58?!

WTF? She looks way better than I did then and apparently she is older than James Cameron!
It seems MacLean's and IMDB agree on this.
I find it funny what MacLean's says:
And there’s no small irony in the fact that the first woman to crack Oscar’s glass ceiling prefers not to brand herself a feminist filmmaker, even if she is one. Unlike the only other women ever nominated for Best Director—Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola—Bigelow makes movies that don’t promote a feminist, or even a feminine, sensibility.
She might disagree with this characterization. She is cited on imdb as saying:
If there's specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can't change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It's irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don't. There should be more women directing; I think there's just not the awareness that it's really possible. It is.
Now that is what a real feminist, not one of the grievance-mongerer, would say. What the hell is a feminine sensibility!?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Martin Amis among the Children

I just put my hold in at the Toronto Public Library for Solar. I imagine it will be fun, and somewhat thought-provoking.
Judging from Nick Cohen's Guardian Review, McEwan riffs on an evening Martin Amis suffered, described in more detail in a further Cohen post.
The story would be funny if this were funny. But it reaches its first deeply revealing moment here:
The meeting grew angrier as he explained the obvious. So in a conciliatory spirit, Amis attempted to find common ground. ‘Would all those in the hall who think they are morally superior to the Taliban please raise your hands,’ he asked.
Only a third did.
The audience, the genteel and well-educated of London, I would have voted as being morally superior to the Taliban. Apparently, Amis even tried to convince them.
Shaken, but undeterred, he sought to win the rest round. It’s not only that the Taliban throw acid in the faces of women who don’t wear the veil, he said. It is not merely that they execute teachers for the crime of teaching girls to read and write. On top of all of that they ‘black out the windows of houses where women work so that they have to live without sunlight’. Surely you fine anti-sexists, anti-racists can put aside your post-modern relativism for a moment and accept that you are a little better than that?
In the end Amis understood what he was up against:
‘The only people you are allowed to feel morally superior to are the Americans and the Israelis.
And such reflexes contributed to another moment that evening:
This was the signal for everyone else to bail in, raining shibboleths down with great fury: Israel, they cried. What about Israel? Won’t somebody think of the Palestinians! This, of course, despite the fact that I don’t ever remember Amis or Anthony saying anything anti-Palestinian. Remember – this is the liberal world, where disagreeing with Islamism is the same as hating Palestinians. Because, in this world, Palestinians aren’t people – they’re a rhetorical device. You’ll score points in every argument as soon as you mention them.

Amis attempted to rally with a quick point about Israel being surrounded by hostile countries, but Morris slapped him down with the unanswerable “Oh my God, he’s defending Israel now”. Alas, in defending Israel, the once mighty pocket dynamo Amis had forgotten to defend himself. He reeled against the ropes, exposed. Badly exposed.
Then, the final hammer blow. A grizzled old heavyweight rose, extended an arm in Amis’s direction, and proclaimed to the audience “You could read views like this man’s in the Daily Telegraph!” With this, the fight was over. For if there is one thing worse than killing Palestinians, which Amis obviously does on a daily basis, it is having a view that might, possibly, be agreed with by someone who writes for the Telegraph.
I'd like to think that in years to come stories like this will be unbelievable. Maybe as unbelievable as Western left support for the Communists.
But it really is like this, and there are the small number of those who likely all felt somewhat the same way in their twenties, who, like McEwan and Amis, grew up, leaving the rest in their infantile reflexive postures (though the bogeymen have changed to new reflexive ones).

I'm Not Complaining

Warmest winter ever in Canada. Yeah!! Hooray! High time!
From the balmy Arctic, to the open water of the St. Lawrence and snowless western fields, this winter has been the warmest and driest in Canadian record books.
I had to shovel my sidewalk twice! Definitely a new record. Only a couple of years ago I was frequently spending several hours on a morning digging my car free and making walking along the sidewalk in front of my house possible.
The combination of El Nino and the negative Arctic Oscillation sent the jetstream south, allowing cold northern air to load up with Gulf moisture and dump it all over the US mid-Atlantic, bypassing Toronto almost completely. I could not have been happier than waking up in snowless Toronto to CNN reports of whole cities shutting down in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York.
The warm, dry winter could spell big trouble this summer. "One of the greatest things about our winter is it kills bugs and diseases and resets the clock for us," says Phillips. Or, it used to. He says many pests are sure to be thriving after this year's warm winter.
We've had two crap summers in a row now, so this is a risk I am game to have run. My main concern is the coyotes that the city won't have shot.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Communities

Ophelia Benson has been doing yeoman service lately over at her blog trying to defend true liberalism against communitarian claims (my link is to one of a long series of posts, all worth reading in my view, since I find it very difficult to disagree with her). She argues against the notion of mediating individual rights though the concerns of the 'communities' they belong to, and I am pleased to see she hits on exactly the key question - who decides who gets to leave a community?
This is crucial. Any state that allows the 'community' to define its membership against a claim from a putative member who prefers not to be deemed a member is deeply illiberal and not a state I want ruling my life.
Go read Ophelia's posts. I have a small fear that we in Canada are slipping in the direction of her opponents in the discussion but I hope it is too early for panic.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Count on Steve Paikin

For an intelligent discussion of climate change:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Utterly Astonishing

This is all CGI. Scary - who needs reality!?

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Yes We Are That Sad

I can barely watch hockey, except in its highest forms (decidedly not NHL).
And yet.
I am glad I was not on that flight.

Hugo Chavez Sponsors Sarah Palin


Monday, March 08, 2010

Mom, Stop It!

h/t The Internet Center for Animal Cuteness

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Rewarding Failure

That's Canada all right.
The stated goal of the program was to win the overall medal count at the Vancouver Olympics, and for Canada to finish with over 30 medals total.
Neither goal was met even remotely. Hence:
Federal funding for Canada's Own the Podium program looks like it's getting a boost.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

When Did I Last Know the Lyrics of 'O Canada'

My rough guess is 1970, when I left the country effectively for a decade abroad. And the lyrics I knew were the 1970 ones.
Since then, someone keeps changing them. It seems to me that if your national anthem can change at this rate, there is something confused about one's country.
Of course it is such an UTTERLY AWFUL anthem that just singing humm-humm through the whole thing could not be worse.
Who really cares? I never sing it anyway.

Emanuel Derman's "My Life as a Quant"

I got this book from the library recently because I was interested in the finiancial modeling activities that are so much on display lately and assumed I would learn a lot about that.
Now that I have started reading it, I am finding it wonderful in multiple other ways; Derman is a great writer, and his sentences balance humor and great judgment, and his story intersects early in fascinating ways with mine, common experiences in graduate school in the sciences at major US universities.
I love this early, somewhat elided, selection:
I dreamed of being another Einstein. I wanted to spend my life focusing on the discovery of truths that would live forever. Sometimes, I felt arrogantly superior to people who were headed for more mundane professions.
... I myself wuold have laughed quite disbelievingly, at age 16, 21, or 34, if someone had told me that I would be working at an investment bank at age 40.
But even by page 52 of roughly 300 there is so much wisdom and humor about his life up to getting his PhD that I am eager to get back to the remaining 250.

The Treadmill Guys Go Rube Goldberg

Ingenious and entertaining, as expected.

For all the intricacy of this, it is the energy and simplicity of their first effort I cannot foget.

Thanks, Brian

For all the grumpiness I display, I really like this farewell note from the real Brian Williams.
I especially liked:
For always saying nice things about the United States...when you know we're listening. For sharing Joannie Rochette with us.
Class act, indeed. I rather wish our media made such a public display.

The Goal Heard 'round the Block

Some CBCer this morning asked whether Sidney Crosby's goal that won Canada a hockey gold medal last Sunday at the Olympics was the most important goal ever scored. My first reaction was that even if it were, it was still pretty unimportant. Let's face it, in overtime in a game like that it is essentially all fluke at the end and the fluke fell Crosby's way. Even he points out he was not sharpshooting which is even more obvious from replays.
Screaming Canada fans started shouting the likes of "It's our game", and this is so wonderfully stupid a claim that it is embarrassing that the media let it pass. Except that the job of the media is to let it pass.
This is the second gold Canada has barely won in the last 8 years in a final with the US, and barely in both cases. In the course of the games this year, Canada barely beat Switzerland (!) and Slovakia (!) - might I point out the population differences? In Turin Switzerland, with no major population changes, beat Canada.
There was a long period of time when hockey was Canada's game. And then other countries started playing the game. And then Canada stopped winning Olympic gold medals with the amateur teams we sent to them, but for many years we kept saying, and by 'we' I mean our sports media, and the people who cared (I hate hockey - I never cared), "Well we don't get gold because we cannot send out best players".
And so we go to 1972 and, at least in Canada, another candidate for the goal heard around the world, the Henderson goal that allowed the best players in Canada to squeak a series win out over the USSR.
But what a pathetic accomplishment, as that series established that, no, even if you assembled the best Canadian players, and all the Canadian press said they would win 8-0, and by a million goals, they were at best essentially even with the best Soviet players - in fact the first two games of that series were an utter embarrassment. Worse, it took demonstrably dirty and unattractive play by the Canadians to win. And over following years, world chanpionships and tournaments featuring the best players from each country have allowed many to win the tournament. Even as countries shrink down to Slovakia.
Canada does not dominate, and Sidney Crosby's goal does nothing to suggest such a thing. Sports reporters who allow this notion to persist are sports reporters, not reporters.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

My Experience of the Olympic Closing Ceremonies

Even before they started, I had decided to watch A&E running old syndicated episodes of 'Criminal Minds', checking in on the closing ceremonies in the ads. This strategy produced a somewhat surreal effect, though maybe no more surreal than watching the whole thing.
So I wound up seeing a somewhat superannuated Neil Young singing, though at least the song about running for a long time made some sense. Next ad there seemed to be Avril Lavigne, and I could not tell what she was singing.
During one ad there was William Shatner and I thought WTF!? Andrew Koenig (the son of the actor who played Chekhov and bizarrely switched V's and W's from how they would do it in Russian) just committed suicide in Vancouver.
And then I stumbled upon Catherine O'Hara doing a PowerPoint presentation, with what was a sequence of pathetic lame jokes. When she made a joke about peeing in the snow, I willingly fled to Vince slap-chopping on A&E. Who wrote that material?
Next ad another derivative rock band (are they all the same?) called Nickelback, so back to Vince. And next ad some attractivish young (I am 61 - I know many consider her to be roughly Neil Young's age) Alanis Morrisette singing to bore me. Back to Vince.
Oh and then the truly poor man's Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble (though I give him credit for trying to preserve that true musical heritage). And the bits I saw of Ben Heppner impressed me - he did what he could with 'O Canada'.
Then the ads took on a totally weird flavor. After a couple of breaks I recognized that we were playing to what we consider all the stereotypes we think other countries have about us and I had two questions. First was, no sorry, it is not a question, it is a reflection I often have, "We really are that self-absorbed and so caught up in what others think of us." Second was, is the message here not, "Here, you dumb foreigners, this is what we think you think of us, so we are tossing it back in your face?" To use a word I kept finding pop up during the Olympics, it was unseemly.
There was something even funnier in the pathetic programming - what were all those people doing up there on stage saying how great Canada was when they do not even live here anymore?
Since then I have heard that "La Bottine Souriante" got some time. Hooray!
And I saw the bit about the flame-lighting ceremony mishap being satirized - liked that.
But really - it was not a pleasant experience checking in.
Well, until the Russians came in. I saw bits of their utterly wacky mix of everything.
I regret I misssed their national anthem - truly one of the greatest in the world.
OK that is roughly my stream of consciousness from Sunday evening.

Would I Even be Proud Then?

Earlier I conceded that there might be some circumstances in which one might be proud because some athlete from Canada won an Olympic medal or did something great.
But that was a bit reluctantly, and it's Dan Gardner I will again recruit, as I outsource much of the rest of my work.
He asks in effect whether Lindsey Vonn's parents should feel proud.
Her father, a former junior ski champion, first put Lindsey on skis at three. Living in Minnesota, he would drive 16 hours so his daughter could ski in Colorado. By the age of seven, Lindsey was spending her summers skiing on an Oregon glacier. She was nine when she took her first trip to a competition in Europe without her parents.
Her parents decided the family was holding Lindsey back so they sold their home in Minnesota, pulled her four siblings out of school, and moved to Colorado. Vonn was 11. "Vail was wonderful to me," Vonn recalled in the Times, "but I missed all the traditional things of childhood -- sleepovers, school dances, making friends in a conventional way."

Vonn was soon skiing and travelling all year, including summers spent training in the southern hemisphere. "She was 15, and it just kills you, because she had left home already," her mother said. "People say to me, 'How did you give up your child like that?' Lindsey wanted to be an Olympian. I gave her to the country. I saw it as a noble thing."
Those who follow this know it did not go well.
Her father got in a conflict with Vonn's coaches. Vonn sided with the coaches. She hasn't spoken to him in years.
And she is not unique.
The elite tier of major sports is filled with athletes just like Lindsey Vonn, people whose adult life has been consumed by training and competing, as their teenage years were, and their childhood. Anything less than an absolute willingness to do whatever it takes to win isn't good enough.
The tragedy is that this is all somewhat new.
Olympians were amateurs once. They were sons and daughters, husbands and wives, even fathers and mothers. They had jobs. They had ordinary lives. They trained to the extent that the demands of those lives permitted. They went off to the Games, did their best, and shook hands when it was over. They said things like "it's not whether you win or lose" without embarrassment. They didn't hawk Big Macs, they didn't get rich, they didn't let sports consume their families and themselves.
They were athletes who deserved respect and made the Olympics the institution we continue, quite wrongly, to honour.
I thought one of the most disgusting sights during the Olympics was Melissa Hollingsworth in tears. She effectively apologized to the country, so to me! I had never heard of her before I saw her crying - what did I care? Nor had I heard of the man who got a gold, Jon Montgomery, who then swaggered before cameras for hours. Did that make me feel good? No, it was unseemly.
One thing I did not like in this year's Olympics was the automatic apparent allegiance of all the individual athletes to Canada, and the sense they had a responsibility to me, as a Canadian. They had none.
Where oh where today are the Myriam Bedards?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Medals per Million

I was planning to analyze this but King Banaian beat me to it. As I expected, the two countries whose athletes I probably cheered for most (I suspect there were many Canadians cheering for athletes from other countries to which they have ties), led this category, and they are Norway (mother immigrated from there) and Austria (wife was born there).
It's not clear this is really a great measure - for example large parts of the US have no real winter to speak of so winter sports are more of a challenge to the population there. But it is an important point against the current Canadian triumphalism.

What's to be Proud Of?

What a relief! The Vancouver Olympics are over, and sure they were fun, once the sunk cost was accepted. And with their end, I can hope the barrage of assertions that my pride in my country has increased because of our medal performance will subside, and I will be left alone by our national media (yes, I know, I can simply turn it off, but the benefits still outweigh this significant cost at the margin each time I decide).
Why should I be proud of Canada winning a lot of medals? I'd perhaps be proud of myself if I'd won one, or proud of someone I coached, or perhaps proud of a family member who won one if I felt I had contributed (though more on that in a later post), or I if were a willing sponsor of a medalist's activities.
But what contributes to our national medal performance, which is what I am told should make my heart swell? This is rather well understood, as Dan Gardner points out in a recent column.
A legion of analysts has crunched the numbers to figure out what factors determine a country's medal haul at the Olympics. The evidence suggests four factors matter most.
Not surprisingly, the size of the country's population makes a big difference. So does the country's gross domestic product. There's also a small bump from hosting the Games. And lastly, "the best predictor of success in winning medals is the absolute amount of funding allocated to higher performance sports," writes Peter Donnelly, director of the Centre for Sport Policy Studies at the University of Toronto.
Spend more money and, other things being equal, you will get more medals. It's that simple. Analysts and officials know this. They even make dollars-per-medal calculations.
Increasing our population arises from activities that would hardly fill me with pride, or by importing people, though those who are imported seem not to feature much at the Winter Olympics. I'll confess to some pride in our GDP, as I have certainly contributed, and very willingly, to its growth. I am hardly proud we hosted the Games; I have always opposed that.
So what of the increase in government funding (the primary source of our athletic funding)?
On this I am with Dan again:
Stand back and look at Olympic funding around the world and it's obvious that nations are locked in an arms race. Each seeks to beat the other by boosting funding but they find it is harder and harder to pull ahead by spending more. Worse, "it costs more and more money even to stay in the same place in the medal tables," notes Peter Donnelly.
Now, does any of this sound like a fair athletic contest? Not really. It's a funding competition. The "winners" are those countries most willing to take money from health care and jobs and other national priorities and spend it on the Olympics.
Canada could win this competition, if that's what Canadians want. We're a rich country. We could outspend the Chinese. For a while.
But would that be something to be proud of? No. It would be foolish. And shameful.
And yes on that point, I am ashamed of my forced investment in this wasteful and useless effort.
Again Dan:
What would make us deservedly proud would be a Canadian government that said the Olympics are out of control and demanded drastic reform. But that, I'm afraid, is considerably less likely than a gold medal for China's curlers.
Of course this Olympic drug for our media and the apparent majority of Canadians who love this event is now deeply in their systems and no doubt we will hype up funding even more; where will the money come from?
I have a modest suggestion. Why not include on our tax forms a new check box, like the one that currently exists for political contribution, this one dedicated to contribution to 'Own the Podium' (retch) funding? I would be happy if such funding were then limited to money raised by such check box contributions. I'm delighted to a degree if you want to contribute.
Of course this won't work; in the next Olympics we would drop in the medal table, and the clamor would start from those who checked yes to get me to pay as well.
Now even if we went to fully voluntary contribution, I would still experience some negative externalities. Every couple of years I would have to be exposed over two weeks to the world's most insipid national anthem, sung at top voice by a band of people chosen for lack of singing ability, smiling into cameras like beaming Moonies.
Pride indeed.