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February 29, 2004

The NY Times opens its eyes

The corruption of the UN-run Iraqi Oil-for-food program has been heavily discussed in the blogworld for some time now, and the NY times has finally taken notice. For some reason, journalists that would be turned into a pack of wild dogs by any whiff of scandal concerning Halliburton have been completely passive about a multi-billion dollar scam carried out by a humanitarian organization. Robert L. Simon is outraged by the depth of the corruption and wants full disclosure:

The UN supervisors of this mega-crime claim not to have known what was going on. Whether they are lying or were unconscionably stupid or stupefyingly lazy (or a combination of the three) we do not know yet, but one thing is clear. For the preservation of the United Nations, the books of all transactions under all United Nations programs henceforward must be open—that is, immediately and entirely open and available to all on the Internet. That cartels of Russian Mafiosi, Syrian fascist thugs, Iraqi ruling gangsters, Swiss bankers and who knows who else were able to profiteer to the tune of billions off money that was supposedly meant for medicine for Iraqi children is beyond disgusting. Anyone who thinks that the overthrow of Saddam was not a good thing for this reason alone ought to examine his or her morals.

UPDATE: Laurent at Polyscopique notes this as well and provides a concise summary.

February 28, 2004

Ecological hope

I've had a number of discussions with friends over the last few months concerning the fate of our planet. The idea that things are progressively deteriorating is depressingly common, but I've found it difficult to adequately express my view that technology and market forces will deliver us from Greenpeace's dismal view of the future.

Samizdata has a story on a visit by Bjørn Lomborg, the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist that very elegantly sums up what I wish I had been able to say. (Not that it would have changed anyone's mind...)

High concept ads for the Tories.

This week I joined the Conservative Party. I figure if I'm going to grouse and whine about the Liberals, I should also work within the system to help get rid of them. I worked in the Alliance campaign in my riding (Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle) during the last election and we managed 14.5% of the vote. I think this was the best Alliance result in Québec. In a threeway race with the Liberals and Bloc, this time we might even have a chance to win it.

But it's going to be hard to win anything if the party leadership continues to send out the type of message they've been sending out lately. The National Post has an editorial today about the lack of professionalism in a batch of recent radio spots. I haven't heard any of them, but they sound pretty bad. During the last election I would often wince at some of the crude messages coming from the Alliance. What the party needs is a fresh theme for the upcoming election, and in the hopes of getting rid of the Liberals, I offer one here free of charge.

The central metaphor of the campaign must be Spring Cleaning. The phrase itself will never be used because it's somewhat trite, but the imagery and language of a tough and thorough renewal of a house is what will be presented to the public. TV ads will pan over grimy sinks and showers, cobwebs on the ceiling, and giant dust bunnies under the furniture as voice-overs list the various Liberal boondogles. Grimy windows in a dusty room will be opened to bright sunlight as proposed Tory parlimentary democratic reforms are explained. Photos of candidates will show them in work clothes posing with various cleaning tools, ready to clean up the mess.

There are three main benefits to this campaign as I see it. The first is that it loosens up people's attitude towards the party. One of the stigmas the Alliance (and now probably the Conservatives) has never been able to deal with is the public perception that they are a bunch of angry humourless rednecks. It's very unfair, but it's been near impossible to shake. Having the party leader on a billboard wearing overalls, rubber gloves and holding a scrub brush will help.

The second benefit is that the metaphor is perfect to depict corruption and what you have to do to get rid of it. Corruption isn't something that happens overnight. It takes time for people in power to grow complacent and cynical, just as it takes time for crusty filth to build up under the stove elements. And the solution to corruption is not to give things a quick wipe and brush the dust under the carpet (as PM Paul is attempting to do), but it's a tough job that requires elbow grease.

The third benefit is that it's difficult to argue against a metaphor. Words can be answered, images can't. The best the Liberals could do would be to try to say their house is clean already -- which most voters (even die-hard Liberals) would find laughable.

So there you go. Party bigwigs, your choice is to take my ideas and win, or take the more familiar stiff, gruff, and earnest approach and lose. I've got more ideas for this campaign that I don't want to make public, so contact me for more information.

And for filming the commercials? I've got some great location shots here at my place. I can help in so many ways.

February 27, 2004

Sign of the times.

Most people outside the National Capital Region will not have heard about it, but Ottawa is having a raucous debate on its municipal budget. There was an election last fall, where many promises were made not to raise taxes. And in their first budget, no taxes were raised -- but many very visible services were slashed, and the idea was raised that maybe taxes could be raised. Just a little bit. Many people suspect this budget was part of a cynical game of political extortion, and I'm one of them. (Not that any of this matters to me, since I live in Quebec.)

But others are a little more credulous, and have begun to do what you might think is insane -- campaign for more taxes. Here's a sign I saw as I walked around downtown today:

My Ottawa

includes

Culture

Raise my taxes/Support the Arts

A sign actually requesting more taxes. Unbelievable.

One of the budget items 'cut' was in handouts to the 'arts'. Evidently without government money to motivate them, nothing artistic would happen in this city. I associate Art and Culture with creativity and passion. I do not associate creativity and passion with government. Why then do so many people believe they must be intertwined? What would Ottawa's cultural life be like without a leaden bureaucracy to shape it? Why am I sure I'll never find out?

Ed Anger is dead.

In my hipper, younger days, I would keep a couple of copies of the Weekly World News lying around my dingy bachelor apartment. It was a cool tabloid; it avoided celebrity journalism and focused on poorly researched stories (well, not researched at all, evidently) about the bizarre and paranormal. It also had two strange columnists: Dear Dotti, an advice column that insulted its petitioners, and Ed Anger, a hyperbolicly non-PC red-blooded American. The paper was a tremendous bargain at only sixty cents an issue.

I was saddened to learn the other day that Eddie Clontz, the editor and visionary behind the paper has died at the age of 56. The obituary for him in the Economist reveals that Clontz wrote the Ed Anger columns. What will the world be like without Ed Anger? We'll just have to find a way to go on living.

February 26, 2004

Spirograph!

Most people of a certain age have had experience with Spirograph. It's largely been forgotten now, other than the occasional hip pop cultural reference. An entire generation has missed messing around with this wonderful toy.

But no longer! Thanks to the brilliant coding of Anu Garg and the sleuthing of Gnotalex at Blog Québécois, I am able to offer you this java Spirograph!










It's sad, really...

Strikers' tactics never cease to amaze me. You'd think the goal would be to win public support to put pressure on management. You know, get people to boycott a company or call their city councilor. But far more often the strategy is to cause as much disruption and chaos as possible, act like thugs, and basically bully your way to victory. Take this case for example:

Judy Anthony's aunt was the kind of woman who would go to downtown Montreal to feed the homeless. She couldn't stand to see anyone hurt or cold, Anthony says.

She was popular in her Little Italy neighbourhood for her volunteerism; more than 800 people went to pay final respects when she died last month.

So it was all the more shocking when 50 striking Urgel Bourgie workers cheered as her casket was loaded into a hearse outside a funeral home. The strikers then formed a raucous cordon around the departing cortège.

"When they brought my aunt's casket through the doors, that's when the cheering and the clapping and the yelling started," Anthony recounted.

"And as all the cars (bearing about 60 family members to the church service) went through this horrible gauntlet of strikers, they kept waving and shouting and clapping and cheering.

"It was like they were at a soccer match in Europe."

Anthony said the antics were especially hard on her 73-year-old uncle, who had just lost his wife of 50 years.

But don't think they're just a bunch of heartless goons. Here's what the vice-president of the funeral workers' local said:
"The union feels badly for the families who are victims of the conflict."
Well, that's alright then.

February 25, 2004

Zing!

George W. Bush:

The other party's nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group, with diverse opinions. For tax cuts, and against them. For NAFTA, and against NAFTA. For the Patriot Act, and against the Patriot Act. In favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it.

And that's just one senator from Massachusetts...

(from Tim Blair)

February 24, 2004

A snooty, over-privileged hack fights back!

In today's Globe, Order of Canada member John Fraser fires back at Margaret Wente's demolition of the Governor-General's Scandinavian junket that I mentioned a few days ago. It's pretty inept though; unable to adequately address the central charge that the trip was a navel-gazing ego-trip for a bunch of cultural elitists, he instead constructs a straw Margaret he can smack around.

For example, one line in Wente's column mentioned laying a wreath at a war memorial: "There were wreaths to lay at tombs of unknown soldiers and reindeer farms to inspect." Fraser's response is to accuse her of mocking the laying of wreaths and even hints she disrespects fallen soldiers:

Along with her distaste for what she sees as vice-regal hauteur and fiscal profligacy, the derisive contempt Ms. Wente summoned up for those silly little symbolic things a governor-general is expected to do -- such as laying a wreath at a war memorial -- was particularly telling. I mean soldiers who are so negligent as to die unidentified hardly deserve the inflated prose Adrienne Clarkson wrote and then spoke in Ottawa at the burial of an Unknown Soldier:
Here he cuts and pastes a speech of the GG's that displays how deep and sensitive she is -- 464 words of it! (It looks like blogging is having an effect on big media.) So what's he trying to say with this? That it's okay to blow $5 million of other people's money if along the way you lay a wreath in a foreign country? Would my wife let me off the hook if I charged a trip to France on our Visa, but solemnly visited a military gravesite while I was there?

In the small amount of space he has left Fraser rewrites the points of Wente's column in a childish tone, sprinkling the word stupid around liberally:

And why doesn't the Governor-General's husband just shut up? Who on earth wants to hear his ruminations on citizenship or Canada's ridiculous place in the world? In Ms. Wente's worldview, we are almost as stupid a little country as those other stupid little countries, with our very own stupid little vice-regal couple going on and on about our stupid vast and empty acres of northland, buzzing as it does with all those irritating and stupid little mosquitoes and stupid little writers like Jane Urquhart.
Yes, this is what the thoughtful defense of Canada's cultural elite by another member of the cultural elite looks like. And I love this line:
What on earth do we have to learn from a speck on the map like Finland, stuck by the whims of history and geography right next door to a behemoth of a country that is constantly on the verge of overwhelming its economy and culture?
Gotta weave some reflexive anti-Americanism in there, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic. Fraser concludes with the classic salve of schoolyard hurt feelings, "You're just jealous!"
It was always in the works that when their term in office was winding down, no matter what they had accomplished, no matter how hard they tried and succeeded in transcending the traditional Canadian penchant for self-loathing and nit-picking, no matter how well they had revived and strengthened the office of Governor-General, no matter how eloquently she evoked national self-esteem, Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul would have to face the wrath of those who always wanted to see them falter and fall. They both have strong personalities and strong views. They both are passionate about the country they were appointed to represent. How dare they! Who the hell do they think they are?
This is such a bad piece, it's a wonder any editor could be desperate enough for content that they would print it. It jumps randomly between the writer's voice and the supposed voice of the writer's subject (as in the above paragraph), uses a long, long quote for the flimsiest of reasons, and is, well ... childish. And it's from the Master of Massey College and a former Globe and Mail journalist. The cultural elites ain't what they used to be.

Adorable special sweeties update.

A few weeks ago it looked as if Max and Talia would be walking by their first birthday. Well, it hasn't happened. They're still topplers, not toddlers. For now, they seem happy with the amount of mischief they can get into by crawling and cruising.

Max Max in particular is very good at wreaking havoc. He has added the nickname Captain Destructo to his other names. He pulls hair, bites, pulls stuff off shelves, turns on the gas on the stove, pulls over stools and rips up any paper he lays his hands on (and quickly too). But it's all in such a pleasant, innocent manner that you can't be bothered by it. He has an intense curiosity about things. When he sees something new he doesn't forget and clambers, struggles and reaches until it's in his hands. He doesn't talk too much yet. His two words are "mama" and "ut" (hot).

Talia is not quite as destructive. Probably just because she doesn't have the reach and the strength of Max. He's seven centimeters taller and 2 kilograms heavier than her. She has a quite a few years ahead of her in which she'll be pushed around and have things grabbed from her by her beefy brother. She's a little more serious and little faster learner than Max. She's usually the first one to do anything new and has a larger vocabulary than he does. She says "mama", "papa" (with a perfect sing-song lilt, so cute!), "ka-ka" (which means dog -- their Opa's dog is named Kafka), "cah" (cat), and "ba" (which she says when I'm scolding Max -- bad?).

They really do change each day, but you can only see it if you look carefully. There are the big milestones that are remembered -- first steps, first words -- but there are hundreds of little milestones as well. Most of them we can't see because they happen internally within the child. I'm pretty happy to be able watch it all close up.

So why isn't there inflation in the US?

The US dollar has lost value dramatically in the past year compared to most non-Asian currencies. Normally this would cause inflation, since imported goods have become relatively more expensive. And you'd think the classic definition of inflation as too much money chasing too few goods would begin to have an effect. The money supply in the US has been growing rapidly for some time now due to extremely low interest rates. But despite these conditions, US inflation rates as reported by the governent have remained quite low.

Bill Fleckenstein, one of my favourite financial mavericks, looks at this question and lays the blame on shifty government statisticians. One of the ways they do it is through the black art of hedonics:

For those of you who don't know, hedonics is the way the government transforms price declines into quality improvements. To wit, you buy a PC with twice as much power, so the government concludes that you really paid only half as much money for it. Hedonics is also the government's way of taking quality improvements and converting them into price declines when calculating the CPI. Sure, that brand-new Chevy you just bought cost 40% more than it used to, but it's a 40%-better car for a variety of reasons. So, the government says, the price didn't really go up. (I have oversimplified these examples, but you get the point.)

The idea behind the first case at least makes some sense, though the government carries it too far by acting as though improvements can be precisely measured. The problem with the second case is that those quality improvements are not voluntary. Since you have to pay the new price, it's sheer silliness to say that the price really didn't go up.

Another way inflation is kept down is through what's called a chain-weighted price index. This depends on the assumption that consumers will change their buying habits when prices increase, and thus will not be greatly affected by it. Richard Benson gives an example:
If you like steak, but the cost of beef goes up so you end up buying less expensive chicken, prices for you didn’t really go up that much. However, if you really like steak, your standard of living has just gone down, because you can no longer afford it.
When an organization has a vested interest in making misleading statements they should be carefully scrutinized. It is very important for the government that inflation stays low. Most government obligations such as pensions and salaries are tied to the inflation rate. Higher inflation would increase interest rates and make it more expensive for them (and consumers) to borrow. Budget makers would have to take out the axe.

Defining away the problem doesn't really get rid of the problem, it just hides it. Commodity prices are increasing rapidly when measured in US dollars. The carpet these problems have been swept under is starting to look pretty lumpy.

February 23, 2004

Educators today.

I'm generally against criminal charges for pot possession, but I'll make an exception for this guy. He's an assistant principal at a high school who planted a stash in the locker of a kid he wanted to get rid of. He probably would have gotten away with it too if police sniffer dog hadn't kept missing it. His undoing was telling the K9 officer that he knew there were drugs in that locker because he put them there...

In a trough.

The road of life travels over rolling terrain. There are peaks from which you can see long distances, plan where you're going, and get an idea of how everything fits together. And then there are troughs where all you can see is your local surroundings and all that matters is whether your shoelaces are tied. The last few days I feel I've slid down into a trough, and as a result I've found it very difficult to write about bloggy subjects. I'd like to write about Paul or Ralph or Belinda, but they're really not in my field of view right now. I haven't been reading the paper very carefully and have been very negligent in reading some fine blogs. Things have been very locally focused.

I went to a nice wedding the other night, but everything else has centered around keeping my kids from screaming too much and trying to keep on top of things around the house. Max and Talia have colds and are teething at the same time. As you can imagine, they're not very much fun to be around right now. Max is now crying after a lengthy thirty minute nap so I'll quit whining right here and go get him. The only way out of a trough is to start climbing. Normal blogging will resume shortly.

February 22, 2004

Good news from Iraq.

Opinion Journal has a great piece today on hopes and fears in the democratization of Iraq. Compared with Naomi Klein's relentless pessimism and schadenfreude, it's a breath of fresh air. I thought it was the left was supposed to be idealistic?

February 21, 2004

We must increase our own sense of the multiplicity of our cultural imagination.

Margaret Wente is in top form today as she defends the Governor-General's $5.3 million "Polar Partners" tour:

The notion that this trip was nothing but a fun-filled junket is completely false. Anyone who knows them knows that Madame and His Excellency are nothing if not diligent. They worked like field hands. There were wreaths to lay at tombs of unknown soldiers and reindeer farms to inspect. There was a visit to the Arctic Monument at Salekhard, which had been carefully repositioned for the occasion so that it actually touched the Arctic Circle. There were state banquets to attend, and the Library of Lapland to tour. Mr. Saul kept busy hosting literary roundtables on such topics as Isolation in Canadian and Finnish Literature. There were visits to geothermal power plants, and seminars on the Importance of Citizenship.

There were also professional wine-tasting events with Finnish and Icelandic sommeliers. His Excellency is a well-known oenophile, and has made it his personal mission to spread the great news about Canadian wines in an effort to boost this promising export. Those who doubt Canadian wines' export potential to the Icelandic market are simply thinking like self-loathing colonials.

As the vice-regal couple have been at pains to point out, theirs was not just another grubby trade mission. The real purpose of this trip was far more lofty. It was, so far as I can gather from their various speeches, to explore the archetypal reality of the North, which all Northern nations share.

"It is rather frustrating that people don't understand that we are a northern country," said Her Excellency, after she first came under fire for her trip. "It's something that a lot of people who have gone to the North get."

RTWT.

February 20, 2004

Can I complain a bit?

Can I complain? Intellectually, I realize I'm a very lucky guy. I have two beautiful healthy babies, a beautiful healthy wife, and live in a beautiful all-natural-no-preservatives community. But sometimes I like to bitch and moan.

Wednesday we had Aqua-babies class, where our children get to splash in a pool. Of course it would be crazy to just let parents bring kids to a pool and have them entertain their offspring; there must be a regimented class with an intructor keeping the beat. "Okay parents, now let's everyone pretend to be lions. Ready? Rrraaarrr..." I'm not the most participatory parent, let me just say.

And to the guy driving the Cayenne -- couldn't you try to follow the car ahead of you a little closer? The roads are clear; you have plenty of braking room. It's nice if more than three cars get through the on the turning light. And what kind of vehicle is a Cayenne anyways?

We heat our house with wood and I'm sick of it. Sure the heat is very pleasant -- like a caress, one of our friends said. But they don't have to go outside in their housecoat in the cold, dark morning and lug twenty pounds of tree inside and then manage to get it to combust. They just turn a knob. Plus the house is either too cold or too hot. Grr.

Both kids are teething or sick or mad at me in some way. They've not been their usual pleasant selves for the last couple of days. Screaming at mealtimes, not wanting to go to sleep, latching on to my legs and wimpering piteously -- it's not been fun. I've been giving them liquid ibuprofin every now and then and it helps, but they've been quite the challenge.

Why is the liquid ibuprofin dyed this horrible deep blue? It's a given that a kid is going to dribble it down their shirt. I swear, it's just like ink.

I am sick to death of clasps, buckles, latches, an especially those metal buttons that baby clothes are festooned with. They all require you to apply a non-trivial amount of pressure to a small surface area to make them work. Doing this literally hundreds of times a day puts quite a bit of stress on your fingertips which, combined with winter's dry air, results in cracks in the skin on the sides of your fingers. It's painful! You have no idea...

We're getting 25cm of snow tonight. I'm sick of snow. I have nowhere left to shovel it to.

And now Max is once again grabbing my leg and screaming. I'm typing with one hand and holding Talia as she screams too. I better go.

February 18, 2004

A larval stage Castro.

The Independent has a wacky article out today about some of Hugo Chavez's paranoid fantasies. Wacky because of the incredibly anti-American spin the story takes. Apparently (as usual) the bad relations between the two countries are all the American's fault:

Relations between Venezuela, a top oil supplier, and the US have been strained over Mr Chavez's friendship with Cuba's Fidel Castro and his open criticism of Washington-backed free market policies.
Anyone with eyes can see that Chavez wants to turn Venezuela into another Cuba. But as soon as he starts blaming the Americans he becomes the little guy standing up against the evil oppressor in the eyes of the stupid part of the world's media. Take a look at the pictures on this blog and try to say this is US-led attempt to overthrow a government.

I've been pretty disgusted that the world's media has been ignoring what's happening in that country, but it seems when they pay attention it's even worse.

Me and Naomi get it on.

Canada is rightfully proud of Naomi Klein. This woman, a Canadian, has managed to joined the ranks of international, jet-set idiotarians such Noam Chomski, Tariq Ali and John Pilger. So proud we are of her that when she makes one of her pronouncements it becomes the lead Canadian internet news story. That's how I found her latest piece in todays's Globe and Mail. It's so nice and juicy and full of nonsense that I've decided to give it a good fisking. Now, I have to mention that I'm a virgin fisker -- I've never done this before. I may seem and little clumsy and hesitant but I can only improve with time if you'll give me a chance.


We find Ms Klein angry that some of the anti-war people are moving on. She evidently feels that people should still be screaming and stamping their feet.

It was Mary Vargas, a 44-year-old engineer in Renton, Wash., who carried U.S. therapy culture to its new zenith. Explaining why the war in Iraq was no longer her top election issue, she told the Internet magazine Salon that, "when they didn't find the weapons of mass destruction, I felt I could also focus on other things. I got validated."
This validation is apparently based on the quickly-forming article of faith that the opponents of the war had long argued that Saddam had no weapon of mass destruction. Tim Blair looks at an example of this rewriting of the record and corrects a few facts. Of course the real reasons the war was opposed have turned out to be either exaggerated or completely imaginary. But if Ms Hutton wants to declare victory and move on, it's probably for the best. But Ms Klein is not satisfied.
Yes, that's right: war opposition as self-help. The end goal is not to seek justice for the victims, or punishment for the aggressors, but rather "validation" for the war's critics. Once validated, it is of course time to reach for the talisman of self-help: "closure." In this mindscape, Howard Dean's wild scream was not so much a gaffe as the second of the five stages of grieving: anger. The scream was a moment of uncontrolled release, a catharsis, allowing U.S. liberals to externalize their rage and then move on, transferring their affections to more appropriate candidates.
Does she really expect them to keep yelling the same things over and over? She does want the Democrats to win, doesn't she?
All of the front-runners in the Democratic race borrow the language of pop therapy to discuss the war and the toll it has taken not on Iraq, a country so absent from their campaigns it may as well be on another planet, but on the American people themselves. To hear John Kerry, John Edwards and Howard Dean tell it, the invasion was less a war of aggression against a sovereign nation than a civil war within the United States, a traumatic event that severed Americans from their faith in politicians, from their rightful place in the world and from their tax dollars.

"The price of unilateralism is too high and Americans are paying it — in resources that could be used for health care, education and our security here at home," Mr. Kerry said on Dec. 16. "We are paying that price in respect lost around the world. And most importantly, that price is paid in the lives of young Americans forced to shoulder the burden of the mission alone."

Conspicuously absent from Mr. Kerry's tally are the lives of Iraqi civilians lost as a direct result of the invasion. Even Mr. Dean, the "anti-war candidate," regularly suffers from the same myopic math. "There are now almost 400 people dead who wouldn't be dead if we hadn't gone to war," he said in November. On Jan. 22, he put the total number of losses at "500 soldiers and 2,200 wounded."

She makes a good point here, though for the wrong reasons. When brutal regimes murder their populations and threaten their neighbors, the Democratic candidates would prefer that the US acted as the witnesses to the Kitty Geneovese murder -- "it's not our problem". The Democrats are running not as opponents to war, but as opponents to responsibilty. They would all prefer that the police -- or the UN -- handled things.
But on Feb. 8, while Mr. Kerry was in Virginia and Mr. Dean was in Maine, both of them assuring voters that they were the aggrieved and deceived victims of President George W. Bush's war, the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the invasion reached as high as 10,000. That number is the most authoritative estimate available, since the occupying authorities in Iraq refuse to keep statistics on civilian deaths. It comes from Iraq Body Count, a group of respected British and U.S. academics who base their figures on cross-referenced reports from journalists and human-rights groups in the field.
Have you ever noticed that when an organization is controversial or possibly biased, a journalist who is herself biased will preface using their propaganda by referring to it as "non-partisan" or "respected"? I have, and I think we have another sighting of that phenomena here. Iraq Body Count's figure of 10,000 sounds pretty impressive until you consider that they have included in the tally civilians killed by other civilians, by preventable diseases, and by terrorists. All the US's fault apparently.
John Sloboda, co-founder of Iraq Body Count, told me that while the passing of the grim 10,000 mark made the British papers and the BBC, it received "scandalously little attention in the United States," including from the leading Democratic candidates, even as they hammer Mr. Bush on his faulty intelligence.
It possibly didn't receive too much attention because it's not as "respected" as Ms Klein suggests. Possibly it was seen as the anti-American propaganda that it is.
"If the war was fought on false pretences," Mr. Sloboda says, "that means that every death caused by the war is a death on false pretences."
Ms Klein builds a tower of nonsense in this piece and this is the foundation. "False pretences" -- what are they? Another article of faith that has been constructed after the war is that it was only waged because the Americans and British claimed that Saddam had vast stockpiles of WMDs. As if she would be now saying what a great job the US did if the weapons had been found. Anyone who was paying attention will know there were more complicated reasons given for going to war, but I'm not going to get into it because the nonsense starts flying fast and furious now and there's just too much to fisk:
If that's the case, the most urgent question is not, "Who knew what when?" but "Who owes what to whom?" In international law, countries that wage wars of aggression must pay reparations as a penalty for their crimes.
What international law is that? The only international law is that to the victors go the spoils. The losers pay reparations to the winners. I can't imagine where she gets this stuff, but it gets worse:
Yet in Iraq, this logic has been turned on its head. Not only are there no penalties for an illegal war, there are prizes, with the United States actively and openly rewarding itself with huge reconstruction contracts. "Our people risked their lives. Coalition, friendly coalition folks risked their lives and therefore, the contracting is going to reflect that," Mr. Bush said.
Man, where to start? If the US was rewarding itself, it would just take the resources of the country, rule by martial law and let the people of the country fend for themselves. The to the victors go the spoils attitude. Instead they are investing billions of dollars to improve the infrastructure of the Iraq and create democratic institutions. How can these huge costs be considered "rewarding itself"? And if the US government doesn't want to spend its money on French and German contractors, it's acting perfectly within its rights.
When the reconstruction spending has attracted scrutiny, it has not been over what is owed to Iraqis for their tremendous losses, but over what is owed to American taxpayers. "This war profiteering is poison to America, poison to Americans' faith in government and poison to our allies' perception of our motives in Iraq," John Edwards said. True, but he somehow failed to mention that it also poisons Iraqis — not their faith, or their perceptions, but their bodies.

Every dollar wasted on an overcharging, underperforming U.S. contractor is a dinar not spent rebuilding Iraq's bombed-out water-treatment and electricity plants. It is Iraqis, not U.S. taxpayers, who are forced to drink typhoid-.and cholera- infested water, and then to seek treatment in hospitals still flooded with raw sewage, where the drug supply is even more depleted than during the sanctions era.

She paints quite a picture doesn't she? She takes one grim story from a hospital and casually uses it to condemn everything the US has done in Iraq. The previous regime was a brutal, kleptocratic nightmare that turned one of the most advanced Arab states into a backward, broken state. And now ten months after the occupation began, she complains that the US hasn't fixed everything? Ballsy.
There is currently no plan to compensate Iraqi civilians for deaths caused by the willful destruction of their basic infrastructure, or as a result of combat during the invasion. The occupying forces will only pay compensation for "instances where soldiers have acted negligently or wrongfully."

According to the latest estimates, U.S. troops have distributed roughly $2-million in compensation for deaths, injuries and property damage.That's less than the price of two of the 800 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched during the war, and a third of what Halliburton admits two of its employees accepted in bribes from a Kuwaiti contractor.

You cannot join the international, jet-set idiotarian club unless you mention Halliburton at least once in every column you write.
To talk about the price of the Iraq war strictly in terms of U.S. casualties and tax dollars is an obscenity. Yes, Americans were lied to by their politicians. Yes, they are owed answers. But the people of Iraq are owed a great deal more, and that enormous debt belongs at the very centre of any civilized debate about the war.

In the United States, a good start would be for the Democratic candidates to acknowledge some collective responsibility. Mr. Bush may have been the war's initiator, but in the language of self-help, he had plenty of enablers.

They include Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards, among the 27 other Democratic senators and 81 members of the House of Representatives who voted for the resolution authorizing Mr. Bush to go to war. They also include Howard Dean, who believed and repeated Mr. Bush's claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They include, too, a credulous and cheerleading press, which sold those false claims to an overly trusting U.S. public, 76 per cent of whom supported the war, according to a CBS poll released two days after the invasion began.

Why does this ancient history matter? Because so long as Mr. Bush's opponents continue to cast themselves as the primary victims of his war, the real victims will remain invisible, unable to make their claims for justice.

She really seems to think that she's got the high moral ground staked out in claiming to care for the losses of the Iraqis. These losses were terrible to be sure, but the US did its very best to avoid them, at great risk to its own armed forces. She hasn't mentioned -- nor ever will -- the the more than 300,000 in mass graves throughout Iraq. Maybe they deserve some justice too.
The focus will be on uncovering Mr. Bush's lies, a process geared toward absolving those who believed them, not on compensating those who died because of them.

If the war was wrong, then the United States, as the main aggressor, must devote itself to making things right. Part of grief is guilt, when the grieving party starts to wonder whether they did enough, if the loss was somehow their fault, how they can make amends. Closure is supposed to come only after that reckoning.

So, if I understand correctly, the whole premise of Ms Klein's argument seems to be that
  1. The US intervened in another country using "false pretenses", which made it wrong.
  2. Things are not now perfect in that country.
  3. Everything wrong in that country is therefore the fault of the Americans.
  4. To atone, all Americans must feel guilty, confess their error and let the anti-war protestors really have closure.
I'm not sure, but I think I can spot a few errors in her logic.

So, I hope it was good for you too. It was much more of a workout than I thought it would be. Maybe it'll be easier next time. Okay, uh, I've got to go now, my kids need their lunch. Maybe I'll call you.

February 16, 2004

Getting lost in the shuffle.

The Liberals have been getting hit from all sides in the last week, and I'm pretty happy about it. I've actually gotten interested in Canadian politics again now that my dream of getting the Liberals out of office has a slight chance of coming true. Let's see, we've had the Sponsorship money-go-round scandal, another massive jump in the cost of the gun registry, as well as the smaller boondoggles of Adrienne Clarkson and her sophisticated entourage blowing $5.3 million to clink glasses with Scandinavians and Conan O'Brian getting $1 million to insult Quebecers. But there's one more. And it's a big one. Because of the others hasn't got the attention it should.

Last Friday, a Quebec judge ruled that François Beaudoin, the former head of the Business Development Bank of Canada, was the victim of an almost unbelievable abuse of power. Margaret Wente lays out what happened:

Mr. Beaudoin, a respected banker, was once president of the Business Development Bank, a Crown corporation that lends money to small businesses. It's a huge operation that has always been something of a patronage shop, with directorships and plum jobs handed out to friends of the party in power. Mr. Beaudoin's sin was that he refused to play the game.

In 1996, Jean Chrétien began personally pressuring Mr. Beaudoin to extend a loan to a constituent, Yvon Duhaime. Mr. Duhaime wanted $1.6-million to prop up his now infamous hotel, L'Auberge Grand-Mère, which Mr. Chrétien had sold to him. Mr. Beaudoin listened politely, and ignored him. More pressure ensued. Eventually the bank approved a loan for $615,000.

When the situation began attracting unwelcome media attention, Mr. Chrétien parachuted in his most trusted enforcer — Jean Carle, the man who once lived in Mr. Chrétien's basement and who was treated like a son by the former prime minister. Despite his conspicuous lack of financial background, Mr. Carle became executive vice-president of the BDC in 1998. Patrick Lavelle, BDC's chairman at the time, told Globe columnist Lawrence Martin that the appointment was all but made over his dead body.

Mr. Carle felt that one of his roles at the bank was to look after the party's interests. He didn't get along with Mr. Beaudoin, to say the least. Mr. Chrétien added another personal friend to the bank: Michel Vennat, who became the new chairman of the board. (Mr. Vennat is now president and CEO.)

Despite the loan, plus other government largesse, the hotel was a bust. In May of 1999, Mr. Beaudoin wrote a memo to one of his vice-presidents suggesting that the loan be called. That was the end of his career at the BDC. Soon after, he was fired. It was believed he would leave quietly in exchange for a settlement. But instead, the bank launched a lawsuit against him.

The bank alleged that he had misappropriated money, and sued to get it back. The RCMP, after a direct complaint from Mr. Vennat to the commissioner of the force, raided Mr. Beaudoin's home, his cottage, his office and even his golf club. The Crown was urged (but declined) to lay criminal charges against him.

As his former employer dragged him through the muck, Mr. Beaudoin's reputation and career were ruined. He has spent the past four years trying to get them back. The personal and financial toll on him and his family has been excruciating.

Chrétien and his thugs ruined a man's life -- just because this man tried to do his job properly. He used the RCMP and the BDC as his personal enforcers. And he did it not just to get what he wanted -- he had that pretty easily -- he did it for revenge and to make an example of the man. Public servants learned quite quickly not to cross Jean Chrétien.

Does this have anything to do with PM Paul? Yes and no. He may not have had anything to do with this particular case, but he's now in charge of the corrupt apparatus that made it happen. Can he clean it up? Can he uncover the hidden tendrils of perverse client-patron relationships that are twisted all through the public service? No, not a chance. Too many people have a vested interest in keeping things the way it is. The only way to clean it up is to get rid of the Liberal party hands on the controls. I hope we get a chance to do that soon.

February 15, 2004

How falsehoods turn into common knowledge.

Tim Blair performs a thorough deconstructing of another columnist's history of the who said what concerning Iraqi WMDs. He finds numerous distortions and outright lies.

Bush: “Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He's not accounted for these materials.

“The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax -- enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn't accounted for that material.”

Bush, according to Adams: “Iraq has 500 tonnes of chemical weapons, 25,000 litres of anthrax ... ”

This is great fact-checking, but is nothing compared to his work on the plastic turkey myth.

Roger Ebert is on the take.

I rent videos at a local depanneur. The selection is better than you'd expect, but a couple of days ago all the films I wanted to see were out. So I was forced to do a nerve-wracking thing: pick a movie judging mainly by the blurbs on the box. After about ten minutes, I had narrowed my choice down to either Seabiscuit and Hollywood Homicide. I like a well-made historical movie so I started to lean towards Seabiscuit. But then I picked up a vibe of preachiness coming from the box. I hate preachiness. I could just see it: the depression, an underdog horse -- there had to be an evil Mr. Potter-type character who would use underhanded methods to try to kill or take possession of the amazing horse. But the pluck of the regular people standing together would win the day. (That's what I imagined at that moment anyway. It's probably completely different and I'll probably wind up seeing it.)

So that left Hollywood Homicide. Something light, that's the ticket. Ebert & Roeper gave it two thumbs up -- how bad could it be?

Well, pretty bad actually. The acting was awful. Harrison Ford sleepwalked through the whole thing and Josh Hartnett did a convincing Keanu Reeves impersonation. The action scenes were nothing you couldn't see in an episode of T.J. Hooker. But it was the story that took this movie to the farthest reaches of bad. It consisted entirely of a bunch of very tired cliches strung together with a couple of extremely contrived coincidences. Nothing any of the characters did made any sense except as a method to move them towards the next moronic set piece. Michelle and I watched to the end because we were fascinated at just how amazingly bad a movie could be.

So I had to check out Ebert's review to see how he could justify giving this movie a "thumbs up". He gave the movie three stars (!!!) and said while much of the movie was standard cop movie stuff, the chase scene was "well done" and "the dialogue is the reason to see the movie". I am dumbfounded.

Naturally I suspected he must be getting some cash to help promote this film. Is he doing it for other films? With my encyclopaedic mind, I thought back to a crappy movie that I'd seen to which he'd given a good review -- Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle! He only gives it two and a half stars, probably more than it's worth, but within the margin of error. (CA:FT was not very good, but it was The Big Lebowski compared to HH.) But what's this tacked to the bottom of the review?

So. I give the movie 2.5 stars, partly in expiation for the 0.5 stars I gave the first one. So if you want to see a movie where big stars trade witty one-liners with one another in the midst of high-tech chase scenes and all sorts of explosive special effects, the movie for you is "Hollywood Homicide."
The smoking gun. Have you no shame, Mr. Ebert? You've plugged a very, very bad film within the review of different movie!

Oh no!

Sponsorship scandal threatens community arts and culture festivals.

"By misusing funds intended to support events like fairs, festivals and exhibitions, the government took needed revenue from local communities and volunteers at the grassroots level," said Hannah Service, executive director of the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.
No Hannah, by misusing funds, the government took needed revenue from the backpocket of the country's taxpayers.

PM Paul still covering for Chretien.

PM Paul has said he's "mad as hell" about the money-go-round scandal, and vowed he would "get to the bottom of it". But even if he does eventually get to the bottom of it, he already seems pretty sure what he won't find:

But Martin, in an interview on CTV Question Period, absolved predecessor Jean Chretien of blame, saying he doesn't think Chretien played any personal role in the affair.
Funny that. I am even more suspicious now.

Max and Talia's Birthday.

This is going to be an exceptionally lame post. I'd like to write witty, clever things about the big get-together we had for our two dear sweeties yesterday but there's nothing clever or witty to say. I have absolutely no interesting observations to make. I'd like to put up exciting pictures that make the event look magical but all the pictures have the kids looking away from the camera as soon as the flash went off or with unflattering looks on their faces.

Michelle went a bit overboard in the preparation department, as she usually does. No Loblaws cake, taco chips, carrot sticks, dip, and a few bottles of Gato Negro for us. No, she started cooking the evening before and was still at it the morning of. We had little twisty pastries with some kind of cinnamon filling, three kinds of focaccia (one stuffed with butter and prosciutto), home-made orange-flavoured chocolate-chip cookies, tiny little black forest cupcakes, and an assortment of Italian wines.

We told people we were just going to have an open house between two and five, thinking that would be about as much as the babies could handle. Of course, no one showed up until three, and by the time three-thirty rolled around the place was packed with our friends and their squealing kids. Max and Talia were very apprehensive at first but quickly adapted. We asked for no gifts, but people love buying things for babies and many people disobeyed. Thank you all for the lovely clothes, books and toys.

So here's the pictures. This is Max, but you probably knew that.

Here's Talia as she pushes Samba around on the stool. It's very cute, but this picture doesn't quite capture it.

To make up for the lame pictures I offer an Autonomous Source first: a video (5 Mbytes +) taken this morning of the babies playing with a couple of helium balloons. I'm no James Lileks willing to edit these shots to get the best effects -- this is the raw footage. Max and Talia do not stay still or behave in an amusing way on command. But I still think this is pretty good. Note that after this video was taken, one of the balloons floated up to the cathedral ceiling (where I could not reach it), the string wound itself around the ceiling fan, and the balloon brushed off twelve years of dust from the blades to fall like black snow all over the kitchen. Though my art isn't that good, I still suffer for it.

UPDATE: For some reason I couldn't access the video through Microsoft Internet Explorer. I naturally thought this was my fault, so I struggled for twenty minutes trying to figure out what I did wrong. But in Netscape (or Mozilla) there's no problem. Grr. Did I ever mention that I have issues with Microsoft?

If you're using IE, I suggest you change browsers. That's what I'm doing.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Michelle has insisted I inform readers that she does dust the blades of the ceiling fan periodically. What I claimed was twelve years of dust was probably only three. *Ouch!* I mean three months.

February 14, 2004

Happy birthday Talia and Max!

Max and Talia turn one year old today! We have a busy day planned for them (that may or may not involve chocolate cake) so I won't be blogging. If I'm not too worn out by the end of the day I'll put up some new pictures.

But here's one to tide you over.

February 13, 2004

I know nuuutteeeng...

Andrew Coyne is all over the sponsorship money-go-round story at his new website. He has chosen the image of lovable Sgt. Schultz to represent the many excuses of the various Liberal bigwigs. I've wanted to write more on this subject but haven't had the time. But all the good dirt can be found at Andrew's almost as soon as it's unearthed.

A new logo for a refreshed party.

Spinkiller has the new Liberal logo on his page. Take a look.

Well, I thought it was funny...

Boondoggle Boomerang.

So. I'm sure we've all grown accustomed in the last twenty years or so to having the government decide through the CRTC what we can see and and what we hear. We've also accepted that the government will take money from us to give to various "artists" and well-connected "visionaries" in order to protect our fragile and important Canadian Culture. The unstated rational for both of these sad realities of life in Canada is that the rapacious Americans will conquer the weak minds of our population if we let our guards down for a second.

So. Now those same governments that have worked so hard to create this almost universally accepted vision have gone so googly-eyed over bringing a US celebrity to Canada that they have thrown a million dollars at him. Of your money. Not the same money of yours that is being used to protect you from him. This is different money.

So. This celebrity comes to Canada and pisses all over the sacred cows of Canadian Culture. Maybe I should be angry, but I'm too busy laughing.

Complete the series ...

John Turner... Kim Campbell ... _____________?

February 12, 2004

Kerry gets Drudged.

Matt Drudge claims to have some goods on John Kerry. What is it with these interns that they can't keep their hands off their bosses?

I'm a bad influence on my babies.

No, they haven't learned any naughty words. But a few months ago I started bonking my head into the babies as a sign of affection. They enjoyed it and would laugh and give me big grins. Now both Talia and Max are bumping heads with each other. Unfortunately, they are not quite as gentle as I am, and today I have had my hands full calming down injured babies. They haven't quite figured out that the way to avoid injury is to stop ramming your heads together! Just now Talia bonked Max's chin as he had his tongue stuck out, resulting in him biting himself. He's been biting everyone else lately, so it's about time he found out what it feels like...

February 11, 2004

PM Paul has his fingerprints all over it.

PM Paul is wriggling and twisting to pin the blame for this -- Really huge! -- scandal on some underlings. Apparently, it was all the work of a small "sophisticated" group of bureaucrats who acted secretly. Right. Here's what he says:

When they broke those rules, they didn't come to cabinet and say, 'Oh, can we break these rules? What they did . . . was engage in a very sophisticated way of camouflaging what they were doing. And as a result the government did not know.
He was Finance Minister at the time and he didn't know this money merry-go-round was spinning away? And if he didn't know about the -- Really incredible! -- corruption in Communication Canada, why did he kill it as one of his first acts as Prime Minister?

What is interesting is that PM Paul is not pointing the finger at his old boss. This suggests to me that Jean has kept a few nice, juicy files, and has let PM Paul know that if he goes down, he's not going alone.

The Economist reads my blog.

The Economist has a good piece on the same problems with the US current account deficit that I've been writing about. They put the problem quite succinctly:

In essence, Asian governments are buying American Treasury bonds in order to ensure that Americans can afford to keep spending money on Asian goods. This cannot go on forever. Despite their mercantilist instincts, sooner or later Asia's central banks will have to face the fact that they are holding far too many risky, low-yielding dollars. If they stop buying, it could trigger a sharp fall in the dollar and a jump in bond yields. Delaying the natural adjustment in the dollar and bond yields is likely to mean that, when the inevitable correction comes, it will be much more painful.
Asia seems to be willing to take promises for future payment in return for their goods. Remember, anything that can't go on forever, eventually ends.

Extra for conspiracy fans! Can the sudden recklessness of recent US federal spending have something to do with keeping this game going? If there was no new flood of nice, safe US treasury notes for the Asian central banks to buy, would some of them start selling, resulting in a crash in the US dollar? Is it possible that the crazed frenzy of spending in Washington is actually keeping the dollar afloat -- at least until the election?

I really don't know enough to say, but it seems like an interesting line of thought to this amateur economist.

February 10, 2004

National Treasure - Sheila Fraser.

Sheila Fraser, the Auditor General has released a report on some of the crooked activities the Liberals got into over the last few years. I'm hoping that this will get the press it deserves and PM Paul and his cronies (who are all trying to act like they had nothing to do with any of it) get roasted over the coals.

But how about that Ms Fraser? I could easily imagine the Auditor General as some cold bureaucrat blandly reciting a list of 'government errors' that would have the press yawning and nodding off before he finished. But our girl Sheila takes this personally, saying she found the practices so shocking that she became angry every time she gazed at her own report. She puts some fire behind her words:

This is just such a blatant misuse of public funds. It is shocking. ... Words escape me!
And:
I am deeply disturbed that such practices were allowed to happen in the first place. I don't think anybody can take this lightly.
You go girl!

PM Paul goes inquiry crazy.

Today PM Paul will announce an inquiry into the notorious sponsorship program that funnelled federal tax money into various advertising agencies. This after turning the Arar affair over to an inquiry and passing the buck on the same-sex marriage issue to the Supreme Court. All swept under the rug.

Add to this his apparent willingness to let the UN dictate our foreign policy and we've got a pretty good look at the leadership abilities of our new Prime Minister. He lets someone else make the decisions so nothing that can go sour will ever be his fault. Think about it, is there any contentious issue in which he has come out and taken a stand? The Throne speech offered him an opportunity to say something bold, but instead he just gave the standard Canadian version of Mom-and-Apple-Pie platitudes.

An election is coming in which the leading candidate seems to believe in absolutely nothing except retaining power. I wish this was an abnormality, but I think I've heard this song before.

A reason to be smug.

The Smug Canadian (or is it the Non-Smug Canadian?) is celebrating the birth of his first child. Though he only had one, it's still a great achievement -- Congratulations!

He named his daughter Ada after the first computer programmer. Or so he says anyway -- it's also the name of a programming language. But as a nerdy choice for a name, at least he doesn't go as far as this guy.

Best wishes on the future.

February 09, 2004

It's starting to fade away

I was optimistic a couple of weeks ago that the corruption of the Iraqi oil-for-food program was starting to come to light. Silly me, since then most of the newspapers haven't touched it. But Opinion Journal has a good piece today that lists some of the background.

On Dec. 5, during a trip to Baghdad, Claude Hankes-Drielsma faxed an urgent letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Mr. Drielsma, the U.K. Chairman of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, had recently been appointed to advise the Iraqi Governing Council. What he saw in Baghdad left him shocked. "As a result of my findings here, combined with earlier information," he wrote, "I most strongly urge the U.N. to consider appointing an independent commission to review and investigate the 'Oil for Food Programme.' Failure to do so might bring into question the U.N.'s credibility and the public's perception of it. . . . My belief is that serious transgressions have taken place and may still be taking place."
Read the article and find out what those transgressions are. Ask yourself why this isn't front page news all over the world.

February 08, 2004

Steyn on Cherry.

It probably wasn't for money that Mark Steyn left the National Post. He's willing to write columns on Canada for free on his website. As usual he cuts to the heart of the matter better than anyone else:

The rough’n’tumble of a free society may have its drawbacks, but better unregulated intolerance than tolerance enforced through regulation. We really do have a country where “hurtfulness” is policed. Or in the words of Jean Augustine, the junior Multiculturalism Minister (we need more than one, apparently), in her own official reaction to the Cherry outrage:
The government will not tolerate statements that create dissonance in our society and disrespect for others.
I'm grateful to Glen Parent of Alberta for bringing those words to my attention. If I were writing a satirical novel and wished to craft a sentence for a government spokesperson that summed up the ugly, bullying intolerance of the cult of "tolerance", I'd have rejected that sentence as too crude and obvious. But it never occurred to Ms Augustine that this might not be an appropriate formulation for a Minister of the Crown in what's supposed to be a free society.

Talia and Squeak.

Blogging may be light today due to the pressing demands of real life. But a picture is worth a thousand words, so this should get me off the hook for awhile.

February 07, 2004

Ok, I'm a little late.

Peggy Noonan had an interesting column the other day that used the boobie imbroglio as a launching point to ask what's happened to our culture. I'm not sure an attention-seeking celebrity's desperate stunt means the world's coming to an end, but it's a good article nonetheless and gives a lot to think about. It's sad that an idea that used to be confined only to the art world -- that anything that "pissed off the squares" was "real" -- has now lodged itself in the mainstream. But that's the general vector of art, I suppose. An idea or style is first introduced and appreciated by "visionaries", but then over time becomes part of everyday life. The coarseness we have today may be around until our artistic community begins a "New Traditionalist" movement. As a parent with two little sponges that will be taking many cues from this crap, all I can say is I hope they hurry.

Inside the mind of a government minister.

The government will not tolerate statements that create dissonance in our society and disrespect for others.
-- Jean Augustine, Junior Minister of State for Multiculturalism.

Now I know what you're all thinking. "You mean there's more than one minister of multculturalism?!" Apparently so. But besides that, isn't this an interesting look into the minds of our political class? I would like to live in a society that is vibrant and resiliant, one that can withstand discussions of things that are uncomfortable to some. Our government does not want to have any of that. Instead of trusting the citizens and press to debate and decide for themselves on this very, very, oh so important issue, they reach for their tribunals and commissions to make the decision for them. Instinctively, reflexively, and without a moment's hesitation.

February 06, 2004

Worlds within worlds.

In doing some research for a longer article I'm writing, I came across a site called The Brickshelf, which appears to be the main hangout of Lego fetishists. Strange stuff is to be found here, such as this minifig suicide-bomber. This is just one piece in a series called Conflict Zone - Global Crisis, possibly one day to be a feature-length stop-motion movie. And hey, look! It's Saddam being captured by US troops!

And in case all that isn't enough, here's the Old Testament, lego style.

You're welcome.

UPDATE: I've been flipping through the lego Old Testament and I must say I'm astonished. First, because it's so artistically done. Second, because it's so incredibly strange. You'd think someone telling bible stories with lego would stick to the parts that are safe and that most people are familiar with. Things like the Flood, Exodus, Abraham and Isaac, etc. But they've gone and also illustrated the really creepy parts of the Old Testament. The stuff we all know is in there but doesn't get too much attention. Check out The Law -- and no, I don't think it's work-safe.

Filler

The kids are being especially clingy today, yet I feel I must feed the blog. Here's one of those fun but gimmicky web things I found on Frozen in Montreal: a map of countries I've visited:


Create your own visited country map

I had the idea that I've travelled quite a bit. Looks like there's still lots more to see.

February 05, 2004

Absolutely reckless.

Once again the press in Canada has twisted a story beyond all recognition to shock and outrage people, and create problems for those that have to deal with the real world. I'm talking about the cover story on the National Post today, written in one inch letters, "Study Links Vaccine to Autism" (story not online). Despite the title, if you delve into the article you will find the 'study' they refer to actually makes no link made between autism and vaccines, it only demonstrates (in a test tube) that a preservative used in vaccines can affect a process in the brain called methylation. There is no comparison in rates of autism between children who have and who haven't received the vaccines, there is no evidence given that this preservative ever reaches the brain, and there is no explanation given as to why this supposed side effect is so selective.

There is a large and well-organized anti-science movement that has worked diligently at placing doubt in the minds of many parents as to the safety of vaccinations. My wife is a family doctor and deals regularly with patients who have been frightened by this propaganda. She reminds them that the diseases that vaccines prevent are very dangerous, causing blindness, mental retardation and death. Some still prefer to raise their child 'naturally' and skip the needle. The type of story in the Post gives more power to the doubters and will convince more parents to do the same.

February 04, 2004

The fine art of pictographs.

Anyone have any idea of what this sign on a Japanese subway car is supposed to mean?

The Primaries.

Well, it looks like Kerry has .... ahhh, who cares? Now that Dean is pretty much out of it, the contest is between two coifed weathervanes in blue suits with red ties. Two Ken dolls spouting cliches -- it's almost as dull as Canadian politics.

For anyone who still cares though, Mickey Kaus is the best place to get your fix.

Soros isn't always an idiot.

He is an idiot regarding his paranoid fantasies about the suppression of civil liberties in the US. But in the field of currency markets, his words still have some value. He's warning about the growing pile of US denominated assets being accumulated in Asia and the corresponding hole of debt being dug in the US. He says it's bad news.

I said the same thing a few months ago, but now that Soros is backing me up maybe people will pay more heed.

Kyoto dreams...

Trudeaupia takes a look at the likelyhood of the PM Paul ever following through on his promises to implement the Kyoto protocol. Not very, seems to be the answer.

This is a great comfort to me.

Perfectly skewered.

Tim Blair puts a couple of another blogger's posts together and destroys him. Oh, the humanity!

The finance-based economy.

A few weeks ago I wrote a metaphor for the present state of the world economy that I'm pretty proud of. Let me reprint it here:

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.
I like this metaphor because it captures the absurdity of the present world economy, but also displays the dilemma we're all in. These credit notes can't be cashed because the rich man can't pay them; if we try anyway, their value will decrease rapidly -- disastrous to the village.

Another thing the metaphor shows is that the Americans (or the rich man) are borrowing without paying interest. This is essentially true; interest rates have never been lower. But because of this dependence on free credit, the village economy is dependent not only on more credit being created, but also the maintenance of the present credit terms. An increase would cause a serious drain on the rich man's finances that would end his spending spree.

Bill Gross is a powerful bond trader at PIMCO. He discusses these issues in his latest Investment Outlook essay (he's using a 'Western' metaphor):

But folks, all blame aside, I must tell you in advance that this story or movie does not have a happy ending. In terms of timing it may not be high noon, but High Noon it will be in terms of an ultimate outcome. Because in a finance-based economy that depends on more and more low cost money in order to thrive, the game ends when either the “more and more” or the “low cost” modifiers are replaced with “less” or “higher cost.”
(Emphasis in original.) He offers this chart (among others) to show how the economy has become reliant on debt:

He goes on to talk about the forces that defend this situation, and the inevitability of the whole game collapsing. Read the whole thing (and buy gold!).

The power of self-organizing systems

Before I went to university to get my engineering degree, I taught myself to program in C on my old 386 computer. One program I especially enjoyed working on was based on a Martin Gardner column from an old issue of Scientific American. The program was based on a large, two-dimensional array of numbers (between 0 and 15, say), and displayed visually as a field of pixels each number being represented by a different colour. The program would begin with the numbers (and thus the colours) assigned randomly, but would step through the array and apply a rule to each member. This rule would determine whether the pixel would change colour in the next refresh of the grid. The rule was generally simple, such as if a member directly adjacent to you is larger than you by one, increment yourself by one. (The numbers wrap around, so that for the sake of this program 15 + 1 = 0.)

It was fascinating to run the program and watch the initial digital Jackson Pollack painting evolve into something different. For example, using the sample rule above, order formed with a twinkle of change starting here and there, growing more frequent until small loops were created where the colour was changing each cycle. These loops grew wider and wider, drawing more pixels into their vortex until the loops collided with each other and every pixel in the grid had fallen into some sort of step with its neighbor. Order had grown out of chaos. Different initial rules resulted in different forms of order.

I didn't know it at the time, but I had created a self-organizing system (SOS). This is a (relatively) new area of mathematically based scientific investigation with applications in all fields of study. The basic premise is that small elements or components in a system, working with each other on a local level, create a higher-level order that is not easily predicted. There can be larger, global forces working on elements in an SOS, but the complexity and unpredictability of the comes from the local interactions. In the physical world there are plenty of examples of SOSs: the formation of a snowflake, the patterns made by the wind on a sand dune, the shapes of the galaxies, or the beads of condensation on a bottle of beer.

But you can also see SOSs comprised of elements with more complex behavior than molecules, stars or grains of sand. An ecosystem is an SOS. Each living thing reacts to and is affected by others in its immediate surroundings. The brain is composed of cells which selectively receive and transmit signals to other cells through the synapses. An economy is comprised of individuals and corporations making innumerable exchanges with each other, each believing to have gained value in the trade. Each of these SOSs have larger macro effects that can be seen and quantified, but the power and dynamism of these systems is in the low-level exchanges and interactions.

Humans have a hard time understanding self-organizing systems. They're chaotic and unpredictable, and for governments, uncontrollable. Most of the 20th century's great man-made catastrophes were the result of various vicious leaders attempting to impose 'order' on the 'inefficiencies' of a unregulated society. Though the brutality of the methods used to impose this order have (mostly) changed in the 21st century, the essential goal has not. Modern governments don't trust people to create their own order. The natural feedback loops that encourage some behaviors and discourage others are warped by interventions that regularly harm far more than they help. On the other hand of course, the most natural form of social organization is the gang, tribe, or clan. It's a form of order, and it's quite resistant to change. We clearly need some form of regulation -- where the right balance is is the issue.

My mind has been wandering around these ideas for the past few weeks. They're certainly not original, but have given me a different perspective on the libertarian issues I'm interested in right now. I'll be coming back to them regularly.

February 02, 2004

Warped sensibilities flagrantly displayed.

LGF linked to a graphic video of last week's horrific bus bombing in Israel. Some people are calling it propaganda:

"Showing bodies or body parts . . . lying on the ground and using it for political ends is disgusting," said Jeff Halper, who heads the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition, an organization that monitors Israeli military actions against Palestinians. He accused the Israeli government of "trying to sell a certain political program, the wall, and to recruit the dead for this mission."
Perhaps if Mr. Halper finds the video so disgusting, he could direct some of his venom away from a government that is desperately trying to protect its citizens and towards the producers and visionaries who made the video possible.

Happy 30th Senor Vargas.

Don't worry. Once you're over the hill, you start to pick up speed...

February 01, 2004

It looked so dreary when it was Jean's.

Ghost of a Flea found a picture of PM Paul's office after it was redecorated. He's really brightened the place up.