Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Check out my new (and vastly improved) site:
Thanks to Blogspot for hosting my blog for more than a year, and thanks to PicServer for hosting my pictures. It's been fun, but the best is yet to come.
Monday, January 19, 2004
(from Andrew Sullivan.)
The Tholos, named after a Greek temple from the Mycenaean period, is a 3-metre high, 360-degree screen that sends and receives images between two locations, in effect providing a window between the two cities. If you're in London, you'll be able to walk up to the screen and have a chat with someone in Vienna, as though you were meeting in the town square. A panoramic view of the other city will be visible in the background, and it will always be on.None have been built yet, but the idea is to place them in the centers of the great cities of Europe to help work towards the vision of European unity. And unlike most grand schemes of this nature, they won't cost the EU any money; they'll be paid for by advertising that will interrupt the connection from time-to-time.
This elaborate project was devised by Tholos Systems, a company based in Vienna. It incorporates the latest high definition television (HDTV) technology, with rear projection, high-resolution cameras, and specially coated screens to prevent graffiti. But it's not all 21st-century technology. The Tholos also uses a projection technique borrowed from a device over a century old: the zoetrope. The mechanical shutters in front of the HDTV equipment will switch between a camera facing outwards and a projector showing an image from the distant city. As in a zoetrope, these shutters operate at a high speed that makes the switching invisible to the human eye.
From what I've been able to find out, there haven't been any firm plans made to deploy any of these things yet. Possibly there are people that feel giant TV screens blaring ads for cell-phones in front of the great cultural monuments of Europe is a little gauche. Perhaps the creators of this technology are aiming for the wrong customers.
The US, I think, would be far more accepting of this technology. Stick one in the Mall of America connecting with one in Disneyworld. Put one in New York, New York, Las Vegas linking to Times Square. Create smaller versions of the system and sell them to swanky nightclubs and restaurants. Lots and lots of possibilities.
I'm looking forward to seeing one on my next trip to Vegas. They better get cracking.
Sunday, January 18, 2004
I picked up my shopping cart, and for some reason I looked at the handle and saw these words, "This cart is different. Please leave adequate room to manoeuvre." I'd shopped here for a long time and used the same oversized carts each time. I had never noticed this warning before. And I thought -- what a stupid warning!
I went into full curmudgeon mode then. I muttered to myself about lawyers' paranoia about liability. I fumed about the contempt corporations have for people's common sense. And then I turned a corner too wide and knocked over two dozen jars of baby food.
The funny thing (well, the other funny thing) is that it wasn't until I was warned to be careful that I no longer was. This means something, but I'm not sure what.
The movie is based on the biography of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew who was Warsaw's greatest pianist and who managed to survive the Nazi obliteration of the Jewish presence in that city. We are taken through his experiences during the war years in an episodic fashion, never really getting to know him but perhaps feeling his suffering all the more because of this. In fact, you could say that the movie isn't really his story, it's the story of what happened in Warsaw -- he is the witness through who's eyes you see it. The movie is long, but it never really dwells on one period of time. You feel the pace of the crushing vise of the Nazi machine. First there are minor indignities, then economic hardship, then forced relocation, then major indignities, then random violence and forced labour, and finally full systematic genocide. Szpilman escapes this of course, and manages to survive through the intervention of the Polish underground, some lucky breaks and his own determination.
This movie demands you to ask -- Why? If the leaders of the free world during the 1930s had any backbone, the events in this movie would not have happened. Germany was weak, and was acting in an aggressive manor. Hitler had broken the treaty of Versailles, giving France and England the moral and legal right to end his regime. But instead they appeased him and tried to reason with him, and the results were too horrific to comprehend. Facing down brutal totalitarian regimes is the only sane response to them, a fact which is still poorly understood by many.
Saturday, January 17, 2004
But this time I said that I would cook a roast chicken with vegetables. I was browsing Instapundit at the time and was reading his chicken recipe. It sounded really good. Michelle was very surprised I had an answer but was willing to let me handle it.
The chicken was delicious -- really moist and tender. The vegetables were firm and not soggy. And there was just the right amount of gravy at the bottom of the pan to make the meal perfect. The four of us ate every scrap of meat on the chicken and all the vegetables. The only change to the recipe I would suggest is to cook it for less time, depending on the size of the bird.
If you were to ask the anti-globo wackos that claim to be throwing rocks and chanting insipid rhymes for the benefit of humanity, they would point the finger at corporations. Clearly, because corporations have money and power and the poor of the world don't, they are the problem. (Okay, it's not that clear, but that's what they say...)
If you were to ask the libertarians what the problem is, they would say it is bad, corrupt governments. They soak up what wealth there is in a society and use it to maintain their power. Without the freedom for people to use wealth as they see fit, it cannot grow and spread around.
All three seem to agree that money is at the heart of the problem. It's just who's at fault that's open to debate. But Victor Davis Hanson feels pride and envy are the real source of the problem.
Where Americans see skill and subtlety in taking out Saddam Hussein and a costly effort to liberate a people, many Iraqis, even as they taste freedom, drive new cars, and see things improve, talk instead of humiliation, hurt pride, or anger at their own impotence — whether whining over the morticians' make-up work on Qusay, or ashamed about Saddam's pathetic televised dental examination. Iraqis scream on camera that we should not stay another minute, but even more often whisper that we better not leave yet. Too often they seem to be mostly angry that we, not they, took out Saddam Hussein. While the tyrant's departure was a "good" thing, it would have been even better had he killed a few thousand Americans in the process — if only to restore the sort of braggadocio lost by the Baathist flight and antics of a mendacious Baghdad Bob.To all the examples he uses you could throw in the two world wars and a whole lot of smaller wars, as well the petty economic nationalism that spurs people to support policies that are to their detriment. Lots to think about in this article.
Israel suffers from the same dilemma of dealing with others' hurt pride as we do. It created a relatively humane society throughout the West Bank from 1967-1993 — and raised the standard of living, and promoted individual freedom for Palestinians in way impossible elsewhere in the Arab world. But all that won no gratitude; instead, it stoked the fury arising from Arabs' sense of weakness and self-contempt. In the world of the Palestinian lobster bucket, Israel's great sin is not bellicosity or aggression, but succeeding beyond the wildest dreams of its neighbors. How humiliating it must be to be incapable of even muttering the word "Israel" (hence the need for "Zionist entity"), but nevertheless preferring an Israeli to a Palestinian ID card.
Indeed Anwar Sadat, by his own admission, went to war in 1973 not to liberate outright the Sinai (that was militarily impossible), but to show the Arab world he could surprise — and for three to four days even stun — the Israelis, and thereby restore the wounded "pride" of the Egyptians. We think that the total encirclement of his Third Army was a terrible defeat — saved from abject annihilation by American diplomacy and Soviet threat. Egyptians saw it instead as a source of honor that it even got across the canal.
Thursday, January 15, 2004
But in domestic affairs he's been a bit more disappointing -- lots of pork, pandering to special interests and budget deficits. These things don't really worry me since I'm not American, but it would be nice if the US could lead by example and show the world that people can get by with less government.
But this is a bit much:
George W. Bush's plan to spend US$1.5-billion promoting heterosexual marriage won applause yesterday from conservative and Christian groups whose support is key to the Republicans' election hopes in 2004.I don't really understand the need of governments to get involved in people's lifestyle choices. I'm all for heterosexual marriage (and gay marriage too) but having the government promoting it is social engineering. Not good.
Everyone knows poinsettias are incredibly poisonous. Even my wife the doctor regretted that someone had got us a plant for Christmas and we had allowed the deadly thing in our home. And now the worst has happened -- Max has chewed up a leaf! It was all soggy when I pulled it out of his mouth! OMG! Where's the number for Poison Control?
But wait a second. If it was such a deadly poison, it wouldn't be sold. Max looks fine. Let's take a look on the internet. Snopes says they're not poisonous at all; it's just an urban myth. Whew!
Now we have something new for lunch today.
I wonder if we can embrace a big idea again. The moon shot was nonpartisan -- Kennedy dialed the number, Nixon talked to the astronauts. Politics stopped at the ionosphere's edge; it was an American gambit. I'd like to think we can do that again. I want to watch the Moon Channel with my daughter in 2010.
You can imagine how difficult something like this is. Saddam's regime had imposed its stamp throughout the schools in order to indoctrinate the population. Certainly you can get rid of his nonsense, but what do you replace them with? Don't you run the risk of trading one form of indoctrination with another? Education -- messing with kids' heads -- is a sensitive issue for everyone. I was relieved when I read this:
The White House had specifically told my colleagues and me to concentrate on getting the children, teachers and textbooks back in the classrooms. We were wisely admonished by White House officials to offer our best advice when asked by Iraqis, but to avoid directly imposing extensive reforms on the Iraqi schools. We followed this suggested course. Thus, we helped remove totalitarian teachings from the classrooms, helped the schools and ministry resume operations, and kept our advisory office small. Now Iraqis themselves are restructuring the ministry organization, considering decentralization plans, and holding forums on curriculum reform and the future of Iraq's school system.I'm very excited by these types of stories. The thought of a free and democratic Arab country gives me a lot of hope for the future of the Middle East.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
True, both came to power constitutionally (although under dubious circumstances and with the support of only a minority of voters). True, both masterfully used traumatic events at home (the 1933 Reichstag fire for Hitler; 9/11 for Bush) to make a frightened and resentful populace accept restrictions on civil liberties.Like I said, yecch. I'd like to go over the whole thing and list all the half-truths and omissions, but there's no way I have the time. Let me just mention the most important way that Bush is completely unlike Hitler, and America is completely unlike Nazi Germany.
True, also, that the U.S. leader shares Hitler's taste for military costumes -- although to be fair to the German dictator, he did serve on active duty in wartime.
And that's America's attitude after 9/11. On that day (I am somewhat ashamed to admit) I was not able to feel sorrow for the incredible losses or anger at the terrorists that carried them out. I felt only fear that this event would harden the generous American spirit and turn them into the "frightened and resentful populace" the Star's writer assumes them to be. But that didn't happen. Within days Bush was at a mosque declaring that Islam was a religion of Peace and Muslims were not enemies of the United States. And Americans generally believed him, knowing that it was wrong to judge a religion by the actions of a fanatical few. All over the world there have been countless frothing, angry protests against Jews in the last few years (and of course during the Nazi period in Germany). I haven't heard of one similar public demonstration of hatred directed against Muslims in the US. Nazi Germany was built on resentment, ignorance and tribalism. I see none of those things affecting the decisions the US is making today, whether you agree with them or not. My 9/11 fears were unfounded.
(from Andrew Sullivan)
Right now they're dressed in cute outfits and crawling around on the floor chasing the cats. They don't crawl like your traditional diaper commercial babies, instead they scoot about on their bellies, pulling themselves with their arms and extending and contracting their legs like swimming frogs. They learned from watching each other so they both crawl in the same way. I doubt their method will change before they start walking.
They crawl together. They do everything together. One follows the other until it's time for the other to follow the first. One will pick up a toy and the other will grab on to it as well. They don't fight over it (most of the time anyway) but they play together. Right now Talia is saying (in her high-pitched, sharp voice) "kha! khac!", which I think means "cat", and Max is repeating (in his deeper, softer voice), "cah!".
Yes they're talking -- a little anyways. Talia is the best at this, saying "mamama", and once (maybe) "papa". Max is a little quieter, but listens attentively when we talk. They're getting dangerously mobile too. Max has learned to pull himself up to a standing position using the coffee table, while Talia has mastered the art of stair-climbing.
Okay, Max has just crawled over to me and latched on. He wants up (and I let him up). Now he's on my lap and wriggling and squirming to get to the keyboard. I better post this and get their breakfast...
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
"We have come to this summit because we recognize there is a feeling in many parts of Latin America that the formulas set out by the developing countries are not working for them and we believe that they do work if they are in parallel with enlightened social policies," he told a news conference. "After all, that is what we do at home and if we do it at home, why wouldn't we do it here?""Enlightened social policies". "Social development". What are these exactly? How are they going to bring prosperity to the people of Latin America? Does Martin really think our health care system is the reason we have a high standard of living? If so, why is Cuba such an impoverished basket-case?
Although Mr. Martin's principal goal is to improve U.S. relations, he said he wasn't concerned if President Bush is at odds with Canada over his stand on social development.
Latin America tried the Bush approach but the "promised land did not open up," he said and noted: "The Canadian view is the right one and will be the one that is accepted."
Martin is acting on (and apparently believing) the now commonly accepted anti-globo view that the problems in Latin America are due to "American-style capitalism" (and doesn't that phrase give you the heebie-jeebies?), when in fact they were caused by corruption -- which Bush is pushing to do something about:
"The best way to eradicate poverty is to encourage trade between nations. Trade gives people hope, it gives them opportunity. Obviously that must be coupled with anti-corruption measures," Mr. Bush said.Capitalism does not cause poverty. Do you hear me, Paul? Capitalism does not cause poverty! If you believe it does, you will ruin what still works in this country. Examine the real causes of Latin America's decline in the last few years and you will see that too much government control combined with nationalist and protectionist policies are at the root of their problems. More of this poison is not going to help. Take Argentina for example. As I mentioned before, Argentina's currency problems were caused by excessive government debt taken on to prop up a currency that wanted to fall. Combine this with a "privatization program" that sold government assets to cronies who were then given protected markets and you have a recipe for disaster.
Could this country have traded a bad Prime Minister for an even worse one? Should we have picked Sheila to replace Jean? My head hurts, I'm going to go lie down.
Monday, January 12, 2004
The Fed, the money-management industry and the public, to some degree, are all in. Folks are either leveraged to the hilt in housing or real estate investments, and/or they are piling into stocks. In both cases, the rationalization is some variation of the greater-fool theory. It's being powered by all the liquidity spewing forth from the Fed, combined with the debt that's been created by the financial system, not least of which comes from the government-sponsored entities Freddie (Mac) and Fannie (Mae). So, we continue to build a bigger and bigger balsawood edifice, which is the current state of our financial markets. And we have this giant anvil dangling from dental floss above the balsawood structure, with the anvil being our burgeoning debt and collapsing currency.Hang on to your hats!
The outcome of this whole tragedy to me is quite clear: I believe that stocks will at some point collapse. Fixed income in all likelihood (though this is less clear to me) will get shredded, thanks to what's going on in the dollar. The dollar will be further bludgeoned, and, I think, metals will go to places we can't even conceive of. What I do not know is the timing of all that. When will stocks start going down? When will the currency decline matter to the fixed-income market? When will the metals really go crazy?
The article I referenced to note the dollar's decline is an interesting look into the attitude of the financial community towards currency fluctuations. Nothing in it discusses the reasons for the dollar's decline, it's just something that is happening. It notes that the low US interest rates have not helped, but of course forgets to mention that European rates are very low as well. But the majority of the article is about what the various governments can do to fix the situation. The idea that the currency market is a market and moves because of individuals working to maintain and increase their wealth is not touched on.
Prices are signals. Exchange rates between nations are very important signals; they speak very clearly about how money is moving between nations. Governments can build financial shunts and dams and pumps to try to alter the flow of this money, but they cannot change the financial gravity that drives the flow. And of course the biggest financial dam right now -- which for the sake of my metaphor I want you to imagine as the Hoover dam, throbbing and cracking with the weight of all the money behind it -- is the enormous reserve of US dollars held by the Asian central banks. How long can it hold?
Sunday, January 11, 2004
Edward Feser has a good piece out on TCS that shreds this myth. After the somewhat cheap "guess who?" beginning, he discusses the real philosophy and ideals of the Nazis.
The bafflement only grows when one considers that Hitler's movement was not called "National Socialism" for nothing, much as lefties like to ignore the fact. It is true that Hitler was personally far more interested in exterminating the Jews than he was in implementing any economic program; but it is also true that he and the other Nazis regarded capitalism as no less odious a manifestation of the power of "world Jewry" than, in their view, communism was. They hated capitalism for the very same reason they hated communism: its internationalism, its tendency to dilute one's allegiance to Nation and Race; Nazism was, one might say, the original anti-globalization movement. Hence the national in National Socialism: one's comradeship ought, in its conception, to be primarily with fellow members of one's Nation or Race, rather than with an international Class. But the socialism was no less important, and featured centrally in the minds of such prominent Nazis as Ernst Roehm, Gregor Strasser, and Joseph Goebbels. As Stanley G. Payne notes in his magisterial A History of Fascism 1914-1945: "Much was made by Marxist commentators, during the 1930's and for nearly half a century afterward, about the alleged capitalist domination of the German economy under National Socialism, when the truth of the matter was more nearly the opposite." The suggestion, sometimes heard from Leftists even today, that Nazism was an outgrowth of (or at least inherently sympathetic to) capitalism is thus a myth, another lie propagated from Moscow during the war years and faithfully parroted by Communists, their sympathizers, and their spiritual descendents. The truth is that Marxism on the one hand and fascism and National Socialism on the other are rival interpretations of the same basic socialist creed, their differences analogous to the differences between rival sects within the same religion. To the sectarian, such differences are all-important, and anyone who dissents from them is a heretic, worse even than a non-believer; to the outsider, they seem far less significant than what the various sects all have in common.I've touched on this subject before, but I find it so perplexing that this myth is so blindly perpetuated that I feel it's important to bring up again.
Saturday, January 10, 2004
Has any of it done any good? Any progress at all? Not a whit. Despite decades of economic aid, most recipient nations are poorer now than they were before they first received development assistance. Our money goes to tyrants who build useless grandiose projects, pay off their cronies and buy weapons to oppress their people. Together with a vast bureaucracy filled with the profoundly self-protective elites of African nations, bolstered by tens of thousands of highly educated, middle-class Western project planners and managers, they spend over 80% of our foreign aid improving their personal standard of living. Twenty per cent gets through to actual needy people, and that only encourages the shameful, groveling dependence of Oprah's starving children.I was thinking of this when I read that AIDS is probably less prevalent in Africa than previously thought. Some people are dismayed by this news. David Carr at Samizdata lays it out more eloquently than I ever could:
I know exactly who those 'dismayed' people are. They are the lobbyists, charity scammers, tranzi office-holders, preachy celebrities and other assorted NGO-fodder who have turned AIDS into an international fund-raising and foreign junkett circus. Joining them will be a host of African kleptocrats who know only too well that 'AIDS' is the magic word with which to open the purse-strings of Western treasuries.Africa is a mess, no doubt about it. I read Robert Kaplan's descriptions of his travels there a couple of years ago and was truly horrified by the scale of the problems it faces. But these problems are not going to be solved by NGOs and rock stars. They will only be solved by giving power and opportunity to the people, and only after a considerable length of time. And by "power", I don't mean the type of democracy that seems to satisfy the internationalist do-gooder crowd, ie. time to vote, pick one: Thug A, Kleptocrat B. I mean power to own things and not have them taken away, power to make choices and not have them made for you, and power to speak, worship, or assemble as you wish.
And of course the other thing necessary for Africa to crawl out of its hole is for the rest of the world to lower the trade restrictions that prevent Africa from exporting what has historically been the first product of a developing economy: food. Yes, I'm looking at you Western Europe and the United States.
For the do-gooders to preach free trade would go against everything they stand for, so it's not going to happen. I hope Dubya will initiate a movement towards this in his second term...
Friday, January 09, 2004
And here's our little girl Talia making Musette's day just that little bit more miserable. Note the very impressive fence I built to protect the woodstove from our destructive children:
Okay, I should probably go to bed now.
Sorry? No evidence?
This is how the truth is turned to lies by the media. At first the reports were that the US hadn't found large caches of weapons. (They did find samples of bio-toxins that could easily have been used to create larger supplies -- remember?). Then we hear that they hadn't found any weapons. And now the story Canada's most trusted news source is telling us is that there weren't even any weapon programs in Saddam's Iraq!
I wanted to find the story on the CBC's website, but there's nothing there. I did find the BBC's coverage of this story though (which calls the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace "left-leaning" -- funny that). But what I did find there is just as bad. Stories and background information on Iraq that goes out the way to portray the US negatively and omit any mention of the many benefits that the US is bringing to the country. The copy on their "Indepth: Iraq" sums it up:
Today the country and its people are scarred by more than two decades of war: an eight-year conflict with Iran that cost a million lives, the failed invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the crushing attack by U.S.-led forces in 2003.Huh? If there is anything Iraq is scarred by it's the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. But of course if they said that they would be acknowledging -- in a tiny, almost imperceptible way -- that the US had done something good by getting rid of him.
With its infrastructure all but destroyed and its leader deposed, Iraq is now the centre of a tug of war between the U.S. coalition and opposition forces. Only time will tell what the future holds."Infrastructure all but destroyed". Doesn't that give you the impression that the US carpet-bombed the place before moving in and have done nothing since arriving? Of course in the real world the US was exceptionally cautious about avoiding civilian destruction -- taking greater risks with its forces to do so -- and now, eight months after the war, Iraq produces more electrical power than it did before it. And this bit about the "tug of war" implies that Iraqis have no power or influence with the Americans. And "opposition forces"? You mean the guys blowing up the mosques and hospitals? What's the matter CBC? Aren't they "freedom fighters"?
Ugh. New Years resolution: avoid the CBC. It's just not worth the aggravation.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
It's well past time that people confront this issue, no matter who's offended. We are on the way to becoming a nation of imbeciles. I'm certain that a plethora of "George W. Bush" jokes is already being circulated in every capital of the world. We can stop this sapping of our national integrity but we must do it soon, lest the morons become the norm and those of us who use our brains for more than memorizing advertising jingles are ourselves ostracized from society.You must read the whole thing! This article is having such an effect on people that it's inspiring parodies.
It's well past time that people confront this issue, no matter who's offended. We are on the way to becoming a nation of imbeciles. I'm certain that a plethora of "George W. Bush" jokes is already being circulated in every capital of the world. Not only is this a national embarrassment, but it will likely prompt "George W. Bush" into an imperialist murder spree when he finds out that intellectually superior indigenous peoples are snickering behind his back. To stop this nightmare we must stop the "George W. Bush" and his zombie legion of imbecile empowerers.This could be bigger than All your base are belong to us.
Saturday, January 03, 2004
But today I decided to take Max Max to the IGA to get a couple of things. Just for the fun of it. I seated him in the shopping cart baby chair and we started loading up. He was in a quiet, reverential mood, looking in awe at all the brightly coloured stuff. I couldn't even get him to look at me or smile. If I bent down and looked him in the eye, he'd crane his neck to look beyond me. He was enjoying himself.
When we got to the checkout line, Max grabbed a roll of film from a display. Actually, he didn't really grab it, he picked it up quite slowly and carefully, turning it in his hands as if it were a religious artifact. I took it away from him gently and put it back. This didn't seem to bother him too much, but it didn't discourage him either. He picked up another one.
At this point I made a parenting decision. I don't want to be one of those parents constantly slapping things out of the hands of their kids. If I'm going to scold them, it's going to be for things they do, not what they might do. He could look at this roll of film, but I would watch him to see that he didn't damage it.
But the woman in the line behind me felt differently. Her hand reached out and grabbed it from him and put it back. She said, "Merci!". I looked back and saw one of those matronly, arrogant women -- the type that would be engaged to Groucho if she were in a Marx Brothers' movie.
Now I must stop here and explain my views on boundaries. Other people's kids are other people's kids. It's not my place to discipline them or tell them what's right and what's wrong. If I was the only adult present and my friend's kids decided to set their dog on fire, I wouldn't interfere. Maybe they're allowed to set their dog on fire! I might offer some advice -- "I wouldn't set the dog on fire; I don't think it's very nice". Or I might get them to think about what they're doing -- "Are you sure you're allowed to set the dog on fire?". If these tactics didn't work I'd probably go get their parents. But I wouldn't grab the matches away and yell at them. I'd feel I was sticking my nose where it didn't belong.
I'm not saying this is the proper way of doing things. There's probably a good case to be made for community child-rearing. In the old days, parents didn't need to watch their kids every minute because they knew if the kids tried doing something dangerous or were displaying poor manners, any nearby adult would straighten them out. But I don't feel I can do that. The only exception would be if some kids were picking on another kid or destroying someone else's property. Then I would intervene.
Anyways, since I was standing with my child and had authorized his actions, in my mind she had no right to reprimand him. It was an intrusion into my sphere and was greatly resented.
To make sure Max couldn't get into any more trouble, she decided to move the display out of his reach. She lifted it up and -- wait for it -- hung it further up on the shelf -- oh, this is so good! -- but not carefully enough to prevent it from falling and littering the floor with dozens of rolls of film.
I was too busy unloading my cart to help her pick them up.