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January 31, 2004

Outsourcing goes too far.

Outsourcing is shaping up to be a big issue. I'm generally in favour -- cheaper goods and services for consumers, growth in the economies of poorer nations. But when one of my favorite comics starts being produced in China... well, things have gone too far.

Start from here and read on.

It's getting bigger.

The Iraqi bribery scandal is starting to get some mainstream press.

Loathing Microsoft

I know libertarianish, pro-business, types such as myself are supposed to stand against the evil statists who wish to interfere in a legitimate enterprise. But instead, I've longed for governments to do the only thing that is right, and rip Microsoft to tiny little shreds. And then they should stomp on the shreds. Only this will allow a responsive, innovative, and reasonably priced computer software industry to emerge. Microsoft is bad. Evil even, if I may be so bold. You don't agree? You might be the last person on earth that feels that way. Let me try to convince you.

First, their products suck. C'mon, you know it. Windows XP sucks. Hard. During a period of deluded optimism this summer, I splashed out the cash to buy two copies of WinXp for my laptop and my desktop. I was robbed. On both computers I get the blue screen of death (BSOD) about once a week. On both computers programs crash with an alarming frequency (especially Explorer). If I had a nickel for every one of those "send a report of this failure" messages that have popped up on my computers since letting them be taken over by this hell-forged piece of software I'd be a moderately rich man. Remember, this is Windows XP we're talking about here. This is the OS that was supposed to fix everything; it was the OS that jettisoned the 'legacy' baggage from DOS that was supposedly the problem with all the other versions of Windows. The response from Microsoft? Sorry! Maybe next time!

And if their programs don't crash, they just bog everything down. I can imagine a motivational sign that probably decorates the walls of many Redmond cubicle farms: "Think Bloat! Do less with more!" It's the only way to explain the sluggishness that seems to plague Microsoft-infected computers. A few months ago I installed Microsoft Messenger because some friends were using it. I noticed a three minute increase in my boot-up time. Three minutes! What the hell is this program doing?!? It's a chat program! For that reason I rarely shut down anymore; I've had too many mornings when I found myself with my eyes popping out, shouting at the computer at it continues to grind away, seemingly doing nothing. Then, when I'm at my most furious, it would pop up a window that would give me the latest Britney or JLo news. It's as if they want me to go absolutely bonkers. Despite my decision not to log-off each night, eventually the computer does crash and I'm forced to reboot. XP's creeping memory leaks assure this

And the price of Microsoft's products is outrageous. Every few years you need to upgrade your PC and OS to do the same things you did a few years ago. (Bloat assures this.) But at least the prices for PCs have dropped dramatically. Competition! I can buy AMD or Intel! But there's no (real) competition in operating systems. Ten years ago the price of the OS was about five percent of the cost of the entire PC. Now, for the last machine I bought, it's become about twenty-five percent. If you want the software that will make your computer go (go slowly, mind you), you better cough up some serious green for the geeks in Redmond.

Of course these are not the worst of Microsoft's faults. If lousy products and expensive pricing were all we had to worry about from them, we could rest easy because the market would take care them eventually. Unfortunately, the market cannot offer us an alternative because Microsoft routinely undermines any new technology that might offer us poor schlubs a break from their tyranny. Take Java for example. Java offered a possibility that applications could be written in an open-standard programming language that could be run on any platform through a web browser. This was an idea that offered consumer choice and encouraged great innovation. But it was a threat to Microsoft, so they worked to destroy it. They agreed to use Java, but then created various 'enhancements' to it. These would work on Windows boxes but not on other platforms. This twisted potential developers and users into little knots and created enough confusion to kill Java as a mainstream tool. This is known as the 'embrace, extend and extinguish' strategy, and Microsoft has used it to throw monkey wrenches into many other technologies that threatened the Big Bill Machine.

Right now the internet -- the one open-source technology that still threatens Microsoft -- is under assault by them as well. In a few years time -- maybe three, maybe ten -- the internet is going to be the main communication and broadcast medium. You will talk (with video!) to your friends over the internet and use it to order Seinfeld episodes for pennies an episode (video on demand!). Microsoft can't own the internet but it wants a piece of that action. So it's planning to own the doors to the internet. Microsoft's .NET initiative is part of their evil scheme to be the gatekeeper for all of the common activities you will use the internet for in the future. Messenger and Media Player, which they promote relentlessly, are to be the portals through which they'll dominate you. Messenger has consistently resisted attempts by other chat client software to connect to their network. They have added video and voice functionality to it. An open source is not an option for these evil nerd demons; they want to be the one global phone company. Media player looks like a simple little program that plays music and video files. In reality it is the foot in the door that will entwine you (and the content providers) in proprietary data formats (so long mp3 and mpeg!) that Microsoft will use to get their cut of any entertainment broadcasts in the future.

Still not convinced? Well how about this: your computer is no longer yours. And I'm not just thinking of the clot of advertising that infests your machine after you first install the operating system. Think of your computer as a stereo system, which at the back has all kinds of plugs and interfaces. Similar plugs are in your operating system and are exposed to the internet. The nasty ambitious thugs who run Microsoft were busy before the release of XP thinking of all the types of services and whiz-bang gimmicky nonsense they could do with your computer once their corrupting operating system was installed in it. You didn't ask for them and aren't aware of them, but they're there. Many of them are not active, because there haven't been the opportunities yet. Some of them are probably duds and will never be used. Some are doing invasive things that Microsoft never intended. And some are being exploited by hackers just looking to create a little mayhem. But the point is: Microsoft no longer sees the operating system as a tool for their customers, they see it as a mass-marketing platform to sell you more services! And one -- I almost hate to point out -- that you pay for.

I could write on and on, but the time for words is over. Get your pitchforks and torches ready and prepare to march on Redmond! We have nothing to lose but out chains!

January 30, 2004

Once more into the breach.

Do not adjust your set. The screwed up mess you may be viewing is the result of a rank amateur trying to create a style sheet that works on more than one browser and looks halfway decent. I hope to finish this evening.

Update: What do you know? I've failed again. It seems both Netscape and IE6 have different ways of accounting for width of objects. In IE6, margin values are considered as part of the object they are attached to. So 70% for an object plus 2% margin on both sides is still 70% of the screen width. In Netscape they are separate -- 74%. Well, I think this is the way things are; who knows? I'm going a little mad.

The Dissident Frogman dropped by to give me a bit of advice. Maybe I'll try that tomorrow. Grrrr.

January 29, 2004

Beat a dead horse? Why sure!

Mark Steyn:

Howard Dean will have a job again in America. It won’t be President of the United States. But there’s no reason why he couldn’t be a spokesperson for Ben & Jerry’s premium Vermont ice cream, perhaps dressed up as a Holstein in the late stages of BSE. (‘I scream for ice cream. And you will, too.’)

A mid-day laugh.

Dave Barry hits another one out of the park.

Nice one...

Samizdata links to a great quote:

God made the 20th Century to teach us that the notion that things work better when experts plan them is a fallacy. It's a pity that a hundred-million or so had to die to illustrate the lesson. But now we got it. Right?
- John Weidner
I got it, but I'm afraid some of the class wasn't paying attention.

Max Max looks for a way out.

Talia got all the attention yesterday with a couple of solo shots. Max Max is nearly as cute as she is and so should get equal billing. Here he is as he looks in vain for a way to tumble down the stairs and crack his head open.

There's not going to be much blogging today as I try to deal with real life a little bit. It's a passing phase, I assure you.

January 28, 2004

The corruption of Saddam's allies.

Through Tim Blair, I found out about the names (names translated) of those that received bribes from Saddam's regime. These names have been released after an investigation by an Iraqi newspaper of files found in the oil ministry. There's piles of Frenchmen and Russians but only one Canadian on the list. Colby Cosh has tracked him down and has the testimony he made when lobbying parliament to end sanctions against Iraq. Now the question is, was he working alone or was he just the bagman?

Update: Chirac is being fingered (don't think about that phrase too much) -- this could be big.

Talia goes for a ride...

Oma and Opa bought a little push-bike for crazy baby number one and crazy baby number two for Christmas. Talia has really taken to it and loves to go for a ride.

As you might guess, ten seconds after the last photo was taken there was a thump followed by some prolonged crying and cuddling.

The Beeb: Guilty.

The Hutton Report on the death of David Kelly has been finally released in the UK. It completely clears the Blair government of the charges made by the BBC and blasts the BBC for making them. If you had only been listening to CBC radio during the coverage of the hearings this will be a complete surprise to you, because they have consistently exaggerated the evidence against Blair and ignored the incredible revelations about how the BBC twisted their stories.

This report should act as a wake-up call to news organizations that carefully select what they report so as to back up their institutional view of the world. It won't of course -- expect the CBC to bury the coverage of this report two thirds of the way into the World at Six and never mention it again.

Update: I managed to hear the one o'clock news and all that was mentioned was that the head of the BBC has resigned because of the inquiry report. It was about ten seconds of the whole news report, right near the end. Before that was a two minute plus piece about a amateur hockey ref getting knocked down and yelled at by a parent in Montreal. (Rink rage! Oh, no!)

Another Update: Okay, so I caught the World at Six. The CBC gave this story the amount of coverage it deserved, and it was pretty fair. Of course they had to add at the end, "but some have suggested..." coupled with a conspiracy theory, but for the CBC it was pretty good.

January 27, 2004

So who was it that lied again?

Earlier this month I mentioned how the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had blasted the US for misrepresenting the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The usual people leaped on this and made quite a loud noise about it. But now Daily Pundit has dug up a paper written before the war by the same Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that declares that there almost certainly were WMD in Iraq. Hypocrisy at an NGO? I can't believe it.

So where are the WMD then? It's very likely they're in Syria.

(from Instapundit.)

Dean's gonna win it tonight.

I'm going to go out on a limb and bet Howard Dean is going to win the New Hampshire primary tonight. It'll be a squeaker, but he'll win. Word is starting to spread that Kerry is dull and a flake, while at least Dean (appears anyway) to have some real fire. I think the universal Dean mockery of last week was overdone (it wasn't that bad of a speech) and it will earn him some sympathy votes. New Hampshire has a reputation for defying the polls and they'll do it again tonight.

Update: Mark Steyn is predicting Kerry will win, but only by one point. He's got such a great takedown of Kerry in this piece that I have to quote it here:

If you go to a Kerry rally – something of an oxymoron, but let that pass – the senator's stump speech is a karaoke tape of floppo populist boilerplate. If he'd downloaded it for free from the internet, that'd be one thing. Instead, he paid a small fortune to hotshot consultant Bob Shrum, who promptly faxed over the same old generic guff he keeps in the freezer: "I (insert name here) will never stop fighting for ordinary people against the powerful interests that stand in your way."

This shtick worked so well for Shrum's previous clients - President Dick Gephardt (1988), President Bob Kerrey (1992), President Al Gore (2000) and President Insert Namehere (2008) that he evidently sees no reason why it shouldn't elect a fifth president this time round. Throw in a few mandatory sneering references to Enron, Halliburton and Attorney-General John Ashcroft plus a handful of local hard-luck stories of doubtful general application – "47-year-old Arlene Claxton of Hooksett worked 20 years to build up her hairdressing business only to contract a rare skin disease from a conditioner manufactured overseas by corporations George W Bush has given tax breaks to in order to export American jobs abroad to jurisdictions lacking environmental safeguards thanks to a sweetheart deal negotiated by a lobbyist for Halliburton and then learnt that her health insurer wouldn't cover the cost of treatment because etc etc."

Another Update: Oh well. So much for my career as political prognosticator.

January 26, 2004

Under construction again

I'll be messing with my blog's templates again tonight. I'll try not to make any changes that will damage the fabric of the universe.

Update: Back to square one. I learned a few things but also came close to losing my sanity. I had it working and looking good in IE6, but when I tried it in Netscape -- Aargh!! But I'll be back.

Denial in Davos.

Stephen Roach is an economist for Morgan Stanley that I've been reading for a few years. He's had a very good record in the past at predicting problems in the world economy, but lately seems to have missed the boat. He sees great problems on the horizon due to trade imbalances between the US and the rest of the world (as I do), but everyone else has concluded that they don't matter. In 2003 the economy roared ahead, fearing nothing. But Roach thinks he's heard this song before:

The Davos consensus was quick to agree. With the entire world perceived to be on a de facto dollar standard, America’s rapid build-up of external dollar-denominated debt was not perceived to be a problem. After all, Asia is funding the bulk of the new increments to that debt, and most were utterly convinced that nothing could break the “daisy chain.” As long as America continued to buy Asian-made products, Asian investors would continue to buy American-made bonds — thereby avoiding the lethal back-up in real interest rates that such imbalances would normally spawn. One participant characterized this arrangement as “a massive Asian export subsidy program.” Another cited the artificially depressed US interest rates that fall out of this arrangement as a foreign subsidy to the spendthrift American consumer. Either way, no one could conceive of any circumstances that would cause Asian investors — private or official — to change their mind on the funding of America’s massive external imbalance. And so the Davos crowd believes the music will continue to play on.

Quite honestly, none of this really surprised me — these are precisely the assumptions that ever-frothy financial markets must be making in order to sustain asset values at current levels. If imbalances were perceived to be the problem I suspect they are, markets would be in a very different place. As predictable as this response was, I was totally unprepared for what hit me immediately after the conclusion of this opening session. Two of America’s leading academics rushed the stage — one a renowned economics professor and the other the president of a top university — and loudly proclaimed that the traditional macro of saving shortages and current-account deficits is a scam. America was not in any danger whatsoever, they argued vociferously. The imbalances that I worried about are simply the logical and entirely rational manifestations of a New Economy.

Seems to me I had heard that one before. But I held my tongue and pressed for more. The New Paradigm in this case is that America has now become an asset-based, wealth driven economy. As such, it need not worry about scaling its imbalances by national income — instead they need to be judged against economy-wide net worth. On that basis, debt loads — either internal or external — can hardly be characterized as worrisome when measured against the elevated wealth of the US economy. Sure, that wealth took a “bit” of a hit when the equity bubble popped in 2000. But the baton of the US wealth creation machine was quickly passed on to property markets, and the US economy never even skipped a beat.

This argument bears serious consideration, but I am convinced it is wrong. For starters, it makes the critical presumption that asset appreciation is permanent. When I pressed this point with my adversary, he bristled in response, claiming that permanently rapid rates of financial asset appreciation were entirely justified by the productivity breakthroughs of recent years. He went on to add that property cycles had all but been abolished — that the American home was a lasting store of ever-rising value. Needless to say, if that’s the case, then I’m the one who’s dead wrong. Ever-rising asset values would then qualify as permanent sources of saving — obviating the need for consumers to rely on traditional income-based saving strategies. Quite frankly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here we are, just a few years after America’s most devastating post-bubble carnage, and the apostles of the New Economy were back with a vengeance.

Here's a metaphor for how I see the world economy today. The richest guy in town is on a buying spree. Every day, he wanders through the market and chooses what he likes. The merchants want to sell to him, and are willing to accept his credit notes. After all, he's the richest guy in town! Everyone knows his credit is good. Eventually, the merchants exchange these credit notes with each other, and use them to purchase assets like real estate or shares of other businesses. This makes prices for these assets go up and makes the richest man in town (who owns many of these types of assets) even richer. He goes on a shopping spree to celebrate. Can this really go on forever?

One of the gimmicky rules at the Davos World Economic Forum this year was the banning of neckties. Roach refused and kept his on.

January 25, 2004

Caution: geek at work.

My current style sheet for this blog creates some problems when viewed on the buggy browser (also known as Internet Explorer 6). I've tried to correct them and have received some good advice (thanks King of Fools!) but it looks like it's hopeless. I've picked a new style from Movable Style and will be tinkering with it for a while until I get something I'm happy with. If things look like crap, it's because I'm still working or I have no taste.

Update: The bug that is bothering me is the inability to select text accurately via click-and-drag. I've seen this bug on a few Movable Type pages but I wanted to get rid of it on mine. It seems though that Microsoft has already thought of all the ways I tried to thwart them and was ready for me. I'm giving up for now but will try again.

We're picking a party leader in Canada too.

So why don't I care? I try to care, I really do. For example, I started reading Belinda Stronach's manifesto in the Post the other day. Unfortunately, I quickly fell asleep and wound up with a face full of oatmeal. It was the standard litany of complaints of the Canadian soft right mixed with plenty of reassurances that she wouldn't do anything drastic. Zzzzzz. Stephen Harper can't seem to excite me either. What I've read by him in the past sounds good, but he doesn't seem to be able to generate any heat. And if he keeps getting photographed wearing those golf shirts it's unlikely he ever will. There's some other guy in the running as well but I've been unable to work up the tiny bit of interest required to determine what his name is.

Jackson Murphy has a good long post on what's going on in the Conservative leadership race. He suffers through all this stuff so you don't have to.

It's okay. You can push the red button.

I've been poking around the Dissident Frogman's site for most of this morning. It's a work of art -- great design, terrific photography, and a nasty sense of humour. But the best are the flash animations activated by pushing the red buttons. Don't miss the one hidden at the top left of the page. It's too bad Saruman prefers to sulk through the whole thing.

Here's one of his works that he allows to be distributed freely. It captures my opinions on this matter perfectly:






January 24, 2004

Dave Barry in New Hampshire

Dave Barry has been covering the Democratic primaries in Iowa, and now New Hampshire. He has this valuable observation about Dean's defining moment:

But the biggest shock was the poor showing of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who did far worse than expected in Iowa, then gave his now-famous post-caucus speech, in which he sounded as though he'd been gargling with paint thinner, and then, out of nowhere, emitted a scream that was a pitch-perfect imitation of a small-hipped woman giving birth to an upright piano.
I know who I'm going to be reading in the future to get the real story of the race for the presidency.

Bureaucracy over leadership.

PM Paul made a revealing statement over in Switzerland concerning his invite to Kofi Annan:

We reject the argument that state sovereignty confers absolute immunity. But we are also sensitive to the fears of some that the concept of intervention can be misused. What is required is an open discussion.... We need clear agreement on principles to help determine when it is appropriate to use force in support of humanitarian objectives.
Let's deconstruct this. We reject the argument that state sovereignty confers absolute immunity. This is good. The standard UN response of turning a blind eye to whatever horrors go on in a country so long as they remain within its borders is monstrous. This indicates that PM Paul's foreign policy is at least partially rooted in reality. But we are also sensitive to the fears of some that the concept of intervention can be misused. Of course it can. But then anything can be misused. The "humanitarian" UN oil-for-food program in Iraq was misused to prop up a vile dictator and help him oppress his people. The UN is misused as legitimizing tool for the thug regimes that infest too much of the world. By suggesting that humanitarian intervention might be misused (whatever is he referring to?) PM Paul grandstands for the anti-American home crowd. What is required is an open discussion.... We need clear agreement on principles to help determine when it is appropriate to use force in support of humanitarian objectives. Here PM Paul reveals he is a cowardly moron and has learned nothing from his years as a captain of industry and government big shot.

I have worked in many organizations, and the very worst mistakes they make are in deciding which actions should be done with procedure and which are to be done with leadership. Procedure is important. If something is done many times by different people, it is vital that an organization do it in more-or-less the same way each time. For that to happen, the organization has to agree on what is the best way to do it, work out some of the "what if?" issues, and make sure everyone understands and agrees to follow through. But procedure has its limits. Some situations are so rare or so complex that any protocol manual or policy paper will be useless. These situations require leadership -- someone in charge that can acquire the relevant information, process it, and make the decisions necessary. This kind of leadership is not found just in the military or in a corporate office. It can be a talented concierge in a hotel helping an eccentric guest or an engineer working out a kludge to fix a system's problem that its designers had never anticipated. It requires the ability to think on the spot without a guidebook.

But leadership is rare and unpredictable and can even be faulty. The people who should be leaders sometimes don't trust themselves or each other and see more procedure as the solution. I have been in companies where the "leaders" would distance themselves from their day-to-day responsibilities and immerse themselves in policy studies, re-organizations, and flow charts. Some of this is necessary to be sure, but much of it is bureaucratic camouflage for inaction.

If there is anything in this world that requires leadership, it's international diplomacy. PM Paul's idea for a "clear agreement on principles" to determine when and where to help the suffering people of the world is a clear abdication of his responsibilities. If in twenty years there is a crisis that threatens to cause a horrific human catastrophe, I hope that the leaders of the world will behave as leaders, and not attempt to solve the problem with some dated and inadequate "principals".

January 23, 2004

Kofi's coming!

I just heard that Kofi Annan will be coming to Ottawa and will address Parliament. It's too soon to know what he'll speak about, but there's a good chance he'll be deeply concerned about something.

(Novelty search inspired by Tim Blair.)

The Michael Moore of the right.

I am mystified as to why the National Post continues to publish columns by Ann Coulter. Like Michael Moore -- whose simplistic message that Republicans are dumb, evil, greedy, and are behind everything that is bad in the world has won him such a following -- she takes the line that Democrats are dumb, treasonous, deceitful, and would destroy everything that is good in the world. Here's a snip from her latest column, titled, "All Democrats are the same":

There isn't a hair's difference between any of the Democrats on any substantive issues. All the Democrats are for higher taxes. All of them favour Hillary's socialist health care plan. All of them are for higher pay for teachers and nurses -- and no pay at all for anyone in the pharmaceutical or oil industries, especially Halliburton executives who should be sent to Guantanamo. All the Democrats believe the way to strike fear in the hearts of the terrorists is for the U.S. federal government to invest heavily in windmills.

All the Democrats oppose the war. And all the Democrats who took a position on the war before it began were for it, but now believe that everything Bush did from that moment forward has been bad! bad! bad! This is with the exception of Joe Lieberman who, as an observant Jew, is forbidden to backpedal after sundown on Fridays.

Finally, all the candidates are willing to sell out any of these other issues in service of the secret burning desire of all Democrats: abortion on demand. If they could just figure out a way to abort babies using solar power, that's all we'd ever hear about.

Ugh. You can always spot poor opinion pieces by the need to resort to the all those people argument -- especially when little evidence is made to back it up. Ann (and Mike) have made quite the careers out of this nonsense, which is sad when you consider that you could almost pick a blog at random -- from the right or the left -- and get better commentary than from these two.

January 22, 2004

Deficits -- good, bad, or who cares?

I had a run-in with a (presumed) acolyte of the man I love to hate, Paul Krugman, in the comments section to this post at Jay Currie's site. It's strange how things happen in the blogosphere.

Liberal spinmasters at work.

So the RCMP invaded the house of a reporter to get information concerning a story that suggested Canadian intellegence gave the information to the US that led to the arrest and deportation to Syria of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen. This is the same arrest and deportation was the subject of much chest-thumping from PM Paul when he met Bush last week. The most obvious explanation for the RCMP raid is to find out who leaked the info to the reporter and prevent him or her from doing it again and potentially embarrassing the government further. But here's how PM Paul's chief spokesman explained it:

A lot of people seem to think this is the beginning of something wider to intimidate journalists and all that. I can tell you that that is certainly not the intention or the desire in any way, shape or form of the prime minister.

As you know, we don't direct the RCMP in what they can or can't do. At the same time, in this case, the whole point is to make sure that these kinds of leaks that damage the reputation of individuals don't happen again.

Yes that's right, according to the PM's office, the RCMP invaded a reporter's house because she gained access to information that suggested Arar was a member of al-Qaeda, and that information made his life difficult. It had nothing to do with the limb PM Paul crawled out onto by hypocritically making such a fuss about Arar's arrest in the US. It was about the hurt feelings of a potential terrorist. Right.

Update: I just heard Anne McLellan giving the same line on CBC Radio. She says (and I paraphrase from my bad memory), "Canadians want to get to the bottom of who was behind leaking this sensitive information which caused such pain to Maher Arar and his wife and children." Just in case you can't feel sympathy for Arar -- what about the children?

Another update: What McLellan said from a CTV story:

The key thing to remember was this criminal investigation was about a leak "that has undoubtedly affected the reputation of a man, his wife and his children," she said.

The weeks of bumps and bruises.

Talia and Max have given themselves the personal goals of learning to walk by their first birthday. I assume this anyway by the reckless abandon with which they pull themselves up on anything that has a vertical dimension. Once upright they shuffle around slowly, shifting their grip on whatever is supporting them until they inevitably fall back down again. This sometimes requires a brief screeching spell, but then they're back at it again. The bruises were sometimes pretty bad at the beginning, but they're getting better at falling down now.

All the wonderful toys we have don't seem to interest them for more than a couple minutes. They just want to get up higher. Talia is a speedy stair-climber and will race halfway up the staircase in no time if I forget to put the gate up. She's just today managed to climb up onto the large plastic cooler I gave them to push around. Soon she'll be climbing onto the couches, then onto the backs of the couches, and then ... I don't want to think about it.

The markets have spoken.

Take a look at what happened to Dean futures after he let out his bizarre gargling scream (scream remix by Lileks).

Update: Dean remixes can now be heard all over the web. MTV has a good roundup. Dean's a dead man walking; it's almost enough to make you feel sorry for the guy. (But it isn't quite.)

Yet another update: The ultimate collection of Dean remixes can be found here. There's so many you'll never be able to listen to them all.

January 21, 2004

Bush gets a C

Sounds like Bush stumbled a bit with this State of the Union address. I watched the other two and was generally impressed, but since I cancelled my satellite TV service I wasn't able to catch this one. Andrew Sullivan has a good summary:

It was the worst Bush SOTU yet. Maybe the occasion wasn't up to the previous ones. But the speech lacked a real theme; it had only a few good lines (at the beginning, on the war); offered no new vision or any concrete future direction in foreign policy; and revealed complete insouciance toward the deficit and, more importantly, toward those who have not yet benefited from the economic recovery. A pretty bad political misjudgment in my view. To brag about a growing economy without some kind of passage of empathy for those still struggling reveals major political obtuseness. I was also struck by how hard right the president was on social policy. $23 million for drug-testing children in schools? A tirade against steroids? (I'm sure Tom Brady was thrilled by that camera shot.) More public money for religious groups? Abstinence only for prevention of STDs? Whatever else this president is, he is no believer in individuals' running their own lives without government regulation, control or aid. If you're a fiscal conservative or a social liberal, this was a speech that succeeded in making you take a second look at the Democrats. I sure am.
I'm from the government, I'm here to help. This is the state of the things for most of the world, where people have apparently given up on the idea that they are capable of solving their problems themselves. Now it looks like there is no one to promote the opposite notion of individual initiative, even in the United States. Sad, really.

Instapundit has a good round-up on what people are saying about the speech.

Update: Reason has a few more thoughts along these lines:

President George W. Bush blew it Tuesday night. He delivered a State of the Union address that downplayed his most promising—and potentially revolutionary—domestic-policy initiatives. Earlier drafts had reportedly contained a lengthy exposition of his vision of an "ownership society," expanded and strengthened by tax changes and Social Security reform. Unfortunately, by the time Bush gave the address, his ideas were dispersed throughout a laundry list of issues, and his Social Security proposal was granted only a brief and halting mention. He spent more time talking about new federal subsidies for community college training. From a public-policy perspective the decision was disappointing; it may also prove to be politically costly.
And:
The problem for Bush and the Republicans is that if the security issue gets muted during the 2004 campaign, a good chunk of their political base will get uncomfortable. It is difficult to overstate the extent to which the limited-government, free-market faction of their coalition—including mainstream Reagan Republicans, old-style balanced-budget moderates, and small-l libertarians—have been dismayed by Bush's dismal record on federal spending and entitlements. Non-defense discretionary spending under Bush and a Republican Congress soared by nearly 19 percent in two years, a rate not seen in decades and one making Bill Clinton look like Calvin Coolidge.
This is coming from a libertarian-ish site, so take these words with a grain of salt. But it seems Bush is starting to disappoint some of his supporters. This might just be pre-election manoeuvring to cut off the Democrats' oxygen (what can they promise now that Bush has promised everything?), but it's still too bad.

January 20, 2004

Welcome to Autonomous Source!

Welcome to my new Movable Type powered site. Moving Target may have had a tiny bit of name recognition, but I wasn't able to get the movingtarget.com domain. So I've picked what I think is a new and much cooler name for the new blog. For some time it's been in the back of my mind to get off Blogger and get a real host. Now I've finally gone and done it. Blogger is great for starting a blog and finding out if you have the dedication to keep it going, but having your own site has a lot of advantages. The most important of these is the ability to host my photos myself. I really like throwing pictures up on my blog but have felt limited by the undependable nature of my picture server. So look for more pictures at Autonomous Source.

Starting this new site is an excellent opportunity for me to examine why I'm doing this and to ask myself what I'm getting out of it. Moving Target started out when my kids were born and was a way for me to send out photos and stories about them to friends and family. But it's grown from that to be an important way for me to interact with the outside world. I'm a stay-at-home father and I certainly feel my work here is very important and satisfying. But I'm sure anyone who has spent months at home changing diapers and heating up baby food will agree that you sometimes feel isolated. I often have felt as if I'm in a basement apartment looking out one of those tiny windows at the world going on without me. My blog is a way to try to engage rather than just receive -- even if that engagement is almost infinitesimally small. I have a lot of stuff I have to get out of my system -- the blog is the conduit for that stuff.

As before, I'll be writing about whatever interests me at that moment or what I feel is not getting enough attention in the traditional media. I'm interested in economics, technology, geography, politics, culture and foreign affairs. Actually, I'm interested in pretty much everything except celebrity journalism and Baseball. Some friends try to sum up my views as "right-wing" or "libertarian", but I prefer not to be categorized. But there is one thing that runs through much of my commentary, and that is the belief that freedom is the most powerful force in human civilization. If people are free to manage their own affairs and are confident their success will not be punished, they generally find ways to make things better, both for themselves and others. The inevitable mistakes that people make become lessons learned, and help to increase the wisdom of the society. I believe in progress, and know that progress does not occur when important decisions that affect individuals' lives are made by a technocratic elite. But please don't assume from the above that this blog will just be dry political rambling about the tyranny of the political classes and the hypocrisy of the media. There will also be pictures of babies.

So take a look around and drop a comment in the comments section of this post if you like (or don't like) what you see. In the more than a year that I've been writing Moving Target, I've never received an email from anyone that I didn't already know. Please drop a note and let me know someone's out there!

January 19, 2004

Comix time!

Peter Bagge was the creator of the classic underground comic Hate which he unfortunately ended a few years ago. He's the type of guy that must go through life constantly getting whiplash from the eyes rolling back in his head so fast -- he's a nasty cynic. He sees the stupidity in people's motivations that we sometimes miss and lays it out very clearly. Reason has a whole mess of his work for their magazine online. Go on, you deserve a laugh.

The People's webcam.

So have you heard about the Tholos yet? Reason has a small piece on it but the Economist covered it better (link unavailable for non-subscribers):

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.

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.

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.

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.

January 18, 2004

Gotta look out for that Cosmic Justice...

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Cosmic Justice giving a good solid thwack to a woman in the supermarket who felt she could intervene in the correcting of my child. Well I got my own taste of it the other day when I was again at the supermarket, though this time I was at the giant Loblaws and was without babies.

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 Pianist

My wife and I watched The Pianist last night. We'd wanted to see it earlier, but when you're at the video store and trying to decide between the typical Hollywood pap and a bleak portrayal of man's capacity for cruelty, the Hollywood pap has a distinct advantage. This is not an easy movie to watch. It will make you angry and it will make you weep. And for me, it kept me up for much the night, unable to sleep and running the scenes over and over in my mind.

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.

January 17, 2004

InstaChicken.

A couple of days ago I was surfing the web when my wife mentioned that her parents were coming over for dinner Friday and wanted to know if I had any ideas on what we should make. Normally when she says something like this (and it's more frequent than you might imagine) I have absolutely no idea of what to have for dinner at some time in the distant future. That is because I am a man, and men don't think about food until they're hungry. I really have no idea why after so many years she still asks these kinds of questions.

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.

Thanks, Glenn!

Bad Babies!

It seems my children have a disrespectful attitude to one of the great statesmen of our nation. I can't imagine where they picked it up...

Envy and Pride at the root of the world's problems?

If you were to ask most of the international crew that claim to be working for the benefit of humanity what is the root cause of the cause of suffering, they would probably pick poverty or greed. Most suffering can be ameliorated by material goods, so it is clear that the lack of these goods or the hoarding of wealth by an elite will cause suffering. The rich nations must give more to the poor.

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.

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.

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.

January 15, 2004

Speaking of family values...

I just read a good article on the problems with men today. There's lots to disagree with, a bit too much assumption-taking, but lots of food for thought too. As someone who is now an important male role model, I took quite a bit away from it.

(from Instapundit)

Going a bit too far

As anyone who looks in here regularly knows, I'm a bit of a fan of George W. Bush. This is almost entirely due to his foreign affairs policies, which have broken through the ossified state things were in a few years ago and allowed some hope for the worst parts of the world.

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.

Hello, Poison Control?

I was putting the dishes away and the babies had been quieter than usual for a few minutes. This usually means trouble, so I went to see what was up. Max and Talia were happily pulling out the detritus from under the front baseboard heaters. But what's that? Max has a poinsettia leaf in his mouth!

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.

Maybe we should do it.

A friend of mine thinks the idea of landing humans on Mars is an unimaginative idea. He's got nothing against all the money that will be spent, but asks why can't it be spent on something more exciting -- like a city on the bottom of the ocean, for example? But Lileks says going back into space will be exciting:

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.

Reforming the education system in Iraq

Behind all the headline-making news in Iraq -- news that indicates the Americans are deep in a Vietnam-style quagmire -- work is going on to rebuild and create the institutions necessary for a democratic society. Opinion Journal has a good article on the rebuilding of the education system by the senior adviser on education for the Coalition Provisional Authority.

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.

January 14, 2004

Yecch

Particularly loathsome piece in The Toronto Star today which begins by denying that Bush is another Hitler, then going onto list all the (tired, made-up) similarities.

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.

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.

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.

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)

January 13, 2004

Test

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3