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March 31, 2004

I'm gonna wash that spam right out of my hair...

I discovered some spam in my comments about a month ago and was a little alarmed. They appeared in posts that were a little old and so escaped my notice. Such stoopid spam too -- what the hell are 'penis-pills'? Would anyone be attracted by such a cheesy come-on? I blocked the IPs of the senders and thought no more about it.

But yesterday I discovered I was again infested with this crap, again in my old posts. One post had 15 ads for herbal viagra and orgasm cream. I blocked the IPs again but doubted it would do anything. I had to stop it for good.

I found this page, which has suggestions and links to useful tools. On that page is a link to Junkeater, which I've implemented. It forces the commenter to copy a string of digits from an image -- something a spam 'bot would find impossible. Junkeater was designed for guestbooks on homepages, but works for Movable Type blogs as well. The instructions on how to do that can be found here. The only bit that wasn't too clear was in the setup. Everything refers to the 'guestbook' rather than the 'blog'. I just entered the blog URL where it wanted the guestbook URL, and the comment URL for the post URL and it worked fine. You'll have to edit the comment template and the individual entry archive template to get it to work.

We can beat spam in our lifetime, I believe it.

March 30, 2004

I'm out of my element

I'm going to miss this year's Lebowski Fest, just like I missed last year's Lebowski Fest. It's a travesty, man. But then, life does not stop and start at my convenience. I went and had kids. That's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself, I guess.

Check out the Lebowski Soundboard. Pressing buttons randomly is almost as good as being there.

More on oil, more on food

For some reason, there is a large body of people who think there is no higher standard of selflessness and moral integrity than that held by the upstanding humanitarians that run the UN. Our dopey, deluded PM is one of those people. Apparently, the utopian vision that the UN can solve all of the world's problems by having playboy diplomats from various kleptocratic regimes run up expenses at New York restaurants and occasionally get together to condemn Israel prevents them from seeing how much of a failure the organization really is.

Hopefully the developing Oil for Food Scandal will allow a bit of the light of reason to penetrate their rose-coloured glasses. There have been quite a few developments lately, but I've been too busy marching my topplers around to John Philip Sousa to write about it. Luckily Debbye has been up to the task and has thorough coverage of what's new. Go read it. You'll be shocked.

March 29, 2004

OMG! Something worth reading in Macleans!

Well, on their website at least. I hadn't checked out Paul Wells' blog before, but it's pretty good. You must check out his righteous fisking of an obnoxious Paul Martin puff piece from the Star. A sample:

The big wrap-up: "It's encouraging, even refreshing, that a Prime Minister leading a party in desperate straits is falling back on ideas for salvation."

QUESTION: How does any of this qualify as an "idea?" We're going to change taxes and transfers in a way that makes everybody happy simultaneously. We're going to pull rabbits out of our asses until the plight of the First Nations vanishes. We're going to fix health care over a long weekend. And then we're going to agree on everything else.

Who's Martin's new intergovernmental-affairs minister going to be, Barney the Dinosaur?

This is not a fire of ideas. It is an avalanche of crap. And it suggests the gap between this prime minister's Nietzchian self-image and his cruelly limited ability to turn rhetoric into even the most prosaic of functional reality is becoming the most important phenomenon in Canadian politics.

A refreshing bit of tasty commentary from Canada's magazine of oatmeal and pablum. A good sign that maybe the landscape is changing.

March 28, 2004

The new Rights of Man

In 1789, the National Assembly of France approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. From a nation that was a monarchy, it was quite a step towards a just society.

1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

3. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

And so on. There are 17 simple articles and they lay down a very libertarian basis for a government.

Unfortunately, good government refused to sprout in the French soil and France lurched from tyranny to monarchy to a centrally organized bureaucratic state over the next 200 years. Jacques Chirac has just recently offered an update to France's Rights of Man:

The first human right is to eat, to be cared for, to receive an education and to have housing.
In my opinion, it's a little bit of step down from the lofty sentiments of the earlier declaration. He says you have the right to have your needs taken care of. By a large and powerful bundle of state agencies, I presume. French Economist Frédéric Bastiat said, The state is the great fiction by which everybody seeks to live at the expense of everybody else. It sounds like Chirac doesn't believe it's a fiction.

UPDATE: Dana at Canadian Comment looks over the history of Rights declarations and makes a good point:

So I guess in short, the utopian will create declarations and constitutions that are idealistic, not realistic. Because of this the utopian versions become not rights designed to protect individuals but instead tools used by those in power to advance their political or social causes. That may not be their intent but it is often the result.
He forgot to mention the proposed EU constitution, which definitely falls into the utopian column.

March 25, 2004

Bonus baby photo

I know one photo a day is all most people can handle, but what the heck, it's Christmas. Here's Talia pushing Samba around on the stool. This is a scene oft repeated in our home. Samba quite enjoys it, strangely enough.

Scandal central

I mentioned Colby Cosh's summary of the Liberal scandals the other day and noted Andrew Coyne's great coverage as well. But I should also mention Politics Watch, a great site that has done a great job bringing attention to all the dirt. Their Scandal Watch has the news you need on Paul Martin's latest anxieties.

Obligatory baby post

Things have been hectic, hectic, hectic around here lately and they show no signs of changing for quite some time. On the contrary, I've suddenly comprehended how insanely busy I'll be when these two start walking. They are exceptionally good at finding things they shouldn't have, opening containers they shouldn't open, and getting on top of things that have precarious drops and sharp edges. When their mobility and speed have increased, well, look-out! The crazy days I'm having now will no doubt look like an all-inclusive holiday package compared to what lies down the road. So I'll save some of my whining for then -- just remember to write soothing words of encouragement to me when my blog posts are nothing but all-caps messages saying, "I CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE!"

The babies are fine. They're sleeping right now but will be up soon to cling to my leg and whimper pitifully. Maybe they'll play with their toys for a few minutes as well, until one grabs one of the boring things they've seen a million times before from the other and all hell will break loose.

They're crazy eaters right now. I think some of the leg whimpering I've been experiencing lately is related to their lack of food, and I've moved to fix it. This morning I continued to spoon the goo into them until I actually got a hand-wave from Talia, "No more please, I'm stuffed." But it seems to be changed into poopies pretty quickly (without changing that much sometimes). The problem is not just the quantity, but the frequency.

We took them out to Loblaws the other day. Mama and Papa, Talia and Max, thinking it would be a good outing. Then when we got home I would do some more handyman stuff and Mama could do some kitchen stuff. It didn't work out that way. The trip took way too much time, delayed babies' lunch, resulted in crankiness and parental headaches and nothing being accomplished. But we did get a photo:

Notice the wonderful cart that fits two babies! Notice also that Max has pulled off his left shoe. Max is always pulling off his left shoe these days. Which is always followed by Max pulling off his left sock (as happened here as well). Loblaws is a big, big, store. The shoe was found, but the cute little sock with the logos of all the Canadian NHL teams was lost forever.

Talia has come to pronounce Papa in a new and infinitely more cute way. She says, "Puh-aaaaaaaahhh Pah. Puh-aaaaaaaaaahhhh Pah!" As she holds that long A her pitch rises slowly. They're such wonderful little guys.

The Liberals make lousy farmers

An article in the Wall Street Journal the other day talked about how the Bush campaign is planting the seeds for defining John Kerry on their terms. Kerry's still a bit unknown in America, and Americans are trying to figure him out. With a few subtle negative ads and a few well-aimed quips, they're painting a picture of the candidate they want to fight the election with. I think the nickname 'Flipper' is going to stick.

The Liberals are lousy farmers. Instead of planting the seeds and letting their image of Stephen Harper grow in the minds of voters, they've decided to just tell Canadians how to interpret him. Tory defector Scott Brison has been put forward as the hatchet man to tell Canadians that the party has "been taken over by the far-right-wing, extremist pirates". And in case Canada's reporters were not up to the task, the Liberals have helpfully provided a list of "controversial" quotes Harper has made in the past 10 years.

Will it work? Can the Liberals make the public believe that candidates for the Conservatives have white robes and hoods in their closets? Well, it worked before with the Reform and the Alliance parties. In the last couple of elections the vote was not so much for the Liberals as in fear of the new Brownshirts that threatened the Dominion. But before, this perception of Reform and the Alliance had already been planted in the voters' minds by events. All they had to do was nurse it a bit and it grew. This time I get the feeling they're trying too hard. We'll see how it works out for them.

March 23, 2004

The problem-solvers are the problem

Canada Post works slow, but it still works. I finally received my March 13th issue of the Economist yesterday, a full week after I usually get it. The cover story was on how the obsession with economic equalty from those in the development racket prevent development.

For much of the 20th century the developing countries were held back by an adapted socialist ideology that put global injustice, inequality and victimhood front and centre. Guided by this ideology, governments relied on planning, state monopolies, punitive taxes, grandiose programmes of public spending, and all the other apparatus of applied economic justice. They also repudiated liberal international trade, because the terms of global commerce were deemed exploitative and unfair. Concessions (that is, permission to retain trade barriers) were sought and granted in successive negotiating rounds of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. A kind of equity was thus deemed to have been achieved. The only drawback was that the countries stayed poor.

Towards the end of the century, many developing countries—China and India among them—finally threw off this victim's mantle and began to embrace wicked capitalism, both in the way they organised their domestic economies and in their approach to international trade. All of a sudden, they are a lot less poor, and it hasn't cost the West a cent. In Africa, too, minds are now changing, but far more slowly. Perhaps that has something to do with the chorus that goes up from Africa's supposed friends in the West, telling the region that its plight is all the fault of global inequality, “unfair trade” and an intrinsically unjust market system.

I've mentioned this subject before, but as you might expect the Economist makes a better case. Read the whole article.

March 21, 2004

Getchur program here...

Colby Cosh has a great summary up of all the Liberal boondoggles and scandals that have been erupting around Paul Martin lately. I haven't written anything about them for a while, because ... well, where do I start? I really feel I don't have the time to do justice to the subject. Andrew Coyne's extremely informative site is the place to go for all your up-to-date information, but the summary is the place to go first. You can't tell the scam without a program.

March 20, 2004

Thirteen reasons why the Republicans will likely win

There was an article in the Post today titled, "Thirteen reasons why the Republicans will likely lose". It's by a professor of political science named Clifford Orwin, who probably follows this stuff better than I do. Still, I think his piece is mostly a lot of wishful thinking -- Bush holds all the cards right now. Right off the top of my head I can list a bunch of reasons why:

1) The Incumbent Advantage - Being the incumbent brings many benefits. He can use Air Force One to campaign, he will get press coverage for any policy announcements, and the type of administration he will run is known.

2) Foreign Policy Achievements - Let Victor Hanson describe it:

In less than 3 years we took out the world's 2 worst regimes--and fostered consensual government, not dictators in their place. Al Qaeda is on the run.

Libya is coming clean. Pakistan is helping hunt down OBL and revealing its nuclear roguery, a far cry from its pre-911 behavior. Iran is worried about a revolution and an unpredictable US. Soon no more troops in Saudi Arabia. Arafat is lord of his rubble heap, not in the Lincoln bedroom each month.

So what if the French were annoyed by this? I don't expect the American people to care.

3) Optimism - Bush's message is optimistic. He feels Iraq can become a prosperous and democratic nation and America can compete in international trade. Kerry is pessimistic and wants the UN to lead in Iraq and feels there should be laws to protect American workers. Positive messages sell.

4) The Economy - Not great, but not that bad either. Though I personally feel there's a lot of ugliness buried away to resurface someday, that someday will be after the election. The economy will not be that big an issue.

5) John Kerry's Past - Kerry came up from behind quickly in the primary race and avoided the close scrutiny that front runners get. Now he's getting that scrutiny and he's starting to look shaky. He's been in the Senate a long time, giving his opponents a rich source for finding boneheaded statements and low-level sleaze. He's also been back and forth on the big issues of the day, adopting whatever posture seems appropriate at the time. He's a classic weathervane politician. How many times will he spin during the long, long election campaign?

6) John Kerry's Frenchness - This one may be a little unfair, but I think it'll have an effect nonetheless. The French love Kerry. If I had the HTML skill and the time, the word love in the previous sentence would have little red hearts bubbling out of it. They just adore the guy. He speaks French, vacations there regularly, and has family living there. Too bad for Kerry he's running in a country that is still not too fond of the French...

7) Charm - Bush has it, Kerry doesn't.

8) The Republican Convention - This year it will be in New York City. Expect huge crowds of America's wackiest fringe groups to show up to protest. Expect them to compete with each other at being utterly outrageous to get the most media coverage. Expect Mr. and Mrs. Average American to associate these fringe groups (perhaps unfairly) with Kerry's campaign.

9) Demographics - Many of the states Bush won in 2000 have grown and gained electoral votes, while many Gore states (with the exception of California) have shrunk and lost them. It's an uphill battle for Kerry.

10) Ralph - Ralph's running. Though the Democrats are trying to say he won't be a factor, they also practically got down on their knees and begged him not to run. They know he affects their numbers. One recent poll put him at 7%. I think he's a factor.

11-13) Others - As this blog is interactive, the reader is invited to add three reasons of his or her own portending a Republican victory. (Hey, I'm not the lame one here. The article I'm imitating closed this way. If you have a problem with it, take it up with Cliff.)

UPDATE: Mark Steyn has a good column up looking at just one week in the long, slow collapse of John Kerry.

We have a leader

Stephen Harper took a first ballot win today to become the leader of the new Conservative party. I'm glad he won it -- I voted for him, and I think he's the best of the bunch to take on the Liberals in the next election. But I'm also glad he won because if Stronach came out on top it would have torn the party apart.

It seems the politically incorrect thing to look at in this race was the popular vote. I had the pleasure of listening to the CBC's coverage of the results as they came in and not once was this subject raised. Ditto with the 6:00 news. All that was reported was the result using the 'points' system I mentioned in a previous post.

The pundits the CBC had gathered were surprised by the showing Harper made in Ontario, but noted that Stronach had done well in Quebec and the Maritimes, as expected. The odious Rob Love suggested that this was because Quebecers were impressed by her 'style' and didn't want another "white male in a blue suit" to be chosen. Such a load of horseshit.

Let me clue in the CBC on the reason she was even in the running in this race: her organizers went out to the remote ridings where the Conservative party was virtually unknown and signed people up. Whether they were signed up without their knowledge (as happened at least once), or the nice man at the door was just a good salesman, it doesn't matter. It didn't take too many new members in some ridings to make a big impact. Look at the riding results -- in the ridings where Stronach does well there are obviously few members. In Honoré-Mercier 95.65218% of the votes went to Stronach while Harper took 4.347826% (23 voters?). In Longueuil 66.6666% of the votes went to Stronach versus 33.3333% for Harper (3 voters?). And in Hochelaga, Stronach got fully 100% of the vote. Who knows, maybe there was only one voter. I don't know for sure that the turnout was that low in those ridings, the actual number of voter could be any multiple of my estimates. But turnout was low in Quebec with some ridings having no valid votes. I think my guesses are likely.

And let me also fill in the CBC as to the reason Harper did so well in Ontario: many people who are fed up with the Liberals joined the party and voted for the person they best thought could change things. It's hard to imagine, but there were issues in this election other than the home province of the candidate.

As I said earlier, it's a good thing Harper won. Stronach winning by 'getting out the vote' of people who couldn't give a damn would have ripped the new party apart. Someone would leak a voters list for some of the ridings, and 'unofficial' checks would be made on the circumstances of their vote. There would be challenges to results and threats to start a new party. It would have made the Copps-Valeri conflict look like a thumbwrestling match.

Under Construction

Michelle has had me hard at work mending our dwelling the past couple of days. I think I'm almost done, but it's the last details that always seem to take most of the time. I feel I should put something up to amuse any visitors that might have happened to wander by -- how about a link to this?

March 17, 2004

The Teletubbies Rock

The other day I made an excursion to Wal-Mart to find some kid-vid that will allow me to immobilize my offspring for a half-hour when I need a break. We turned off our satellite feed a few months ago (because we weren't watching anything), but now the kids are at an age when they can watch and follow a simple show. The selection wasn't good. Lots of Disney hyper-kinetic smart-ass animals, some cheap licenced cartoon character junk, and some over-priced Blue's Clues and Dora the Explorer (Swiper, no Swiping! I love that line.). I'm not prepared to pay $10 for 30 minutes of video. I bought some Rolie Polie Olie tapes because they were cheap, Lileks swears by them, and I'd seen one episode before and thought it was pretty good.

But they weren't good for Max and Talia. Too much movement, too much assumed knowledge, too hard to figure out. They lost interest pretty quickly. Maybe in a year they'll appreciate them.

The only kid-vid I've been able to find for their stage of development is the Teletubbies. (Possibly they might like Barney, but I don't think I'd be able to take it. It will not enter this house.) I haven't been able to find any tapes or DVDs for sale anywhere, but Opa records them for us and brings them over.

If you haven't watched any Teletubbies before, you would probably be shocked at how bizarre and surreal the show is. These four pudgy creatures (right to left), Tinky Winky, Dipsy, LaaLaa, and Po, live in a strange, hyper-modern, partially-underground house where they are taken care of by machines. They don't need much care, but there are machines to provide their tubbie-toast and tubbie-custard, and a sentient vacuum cleaner, the Noo-Noo, that cleans up. Outside their home is an idyllic pasture with rabbits and flowers, and overlooking it all is the sun, which is a baby's face. Not much happens in an episode: the Teletubbies run around, eat, fall down, giggle, hug each other, march, and dance. The music is wonderful, and there's no singing! Once in every episode the giant pinwheel starts spinning and triggers one of the Tubbies to play a short film on his or her tummy. These are quick little vignettes of children in a simple setting doing things like hanging laundry or riding tricycles. Seeing the film once isn't enough for the Teletubbies though, they demand to see it again, and so the same film is shown once more. All this is bracketed by the extended opening and closing sequences (which are the same every episode) consisting of the Teletubbies waving. And waving and waving and waving.

For a one-year-old, this is the perfect entertainment. They are absolutely riveted by everything that happens. They laugh when the Tubbies chase each other around, wave when they are waved at, and are fascinated by the kids building sand castles or playing in a box. Talia has said "ta-ta" for Teletubbies for a few weeks now, and now Max's third word -- after "Mama" and "aht" -- is "ta-ta". He'll get around to saying Papa sometime, I'm sure of it.

More filler

It's filler time again! Debbye Stratigacos has a nifty new Movable Type site on which I found yet another of those ubiquitous political personality tests. How could I resist? Here's how they describe me:

You advocate a large degree of economic and personal freedom. Your neighbors include folks like Ayn Rand, Jesse Ventura, Milton Friedman, and Drew Carey, and may refer to themselves as "classical liberals," "libertarians," "market liberals," "old whigs," "objectivists," "propertarians," "agorists," or "anarcho-capitalist."
Drew Carey?

Next time anyone asks what my politics are, I'll tell them I'm an 'agorist'.

March 16, 2004

I'm part of a small and powerful minority

The Conservative leadership race is winding up this weekend. I voted today using the fax ballot -- and what a pain in the ass that was. Three pieces of ID are needed, each with the address showing, photocopied onto one piece of paper. The instructions were poorly explained and as a person that does not take direction easily, it was very frustrating. But it was worth it. I have far more say in who wins this thing than most other Party members.

The 308 ridings in Canada are each worth 100 'points'. Points are assigned based on the percentage of voters in the riding that chose each candidate. So in Quebec, which has only 9,000 party members and 75 ridings, there's an average of 120 potential voters per riding, giving each voter about 0.83 of a 'point'. Canada on the whole has about 250,000 members for an average of about 811 members per riding or 0.12 'points' per member. And that's the average. I wasn't able to find out how many members there are in Alberta, but I'm guessing each vote there is worth less than a twelfth of mine. Even in the Conservative Party, Quebec gets preferential treatment.

The days are just packed

Killing and burying the editor was one of the reasons for taking my week off, the other was to refocus on the most important people in my life, my two wonderful little guys. I was starting to find myself becoming distant and annoyed by them as I argued with the editor and tried to feed the blog. They're not little passive people anymore that can be parked in a pool of toys and ignored. They need a lot more interactive attention. Their little brains are growing so quickly now it's really hard to believe. No more trying to write when they're awake.

Here's a few of the things I've spotted them doing in the last week:

I use a little hand blender to moosh up leftovers that are a little too chunky for people with few teeth. Talia makes brr brr noises to imitate the sound.

Talia has finally learned to crawl on her hands and knees rather than the commando crawl she first learned to get around with. She lifts her hands up high and slaps them down as she moves. It's quite funny.

Max has created a couple of games that get played in the highchairs at feeding time. There's the looking up game, in which he looks at the ceiling and makes a big goofy smile. He started this after I had a particularly stiff neck one day and spent a lot of time stretching. Then there's the shaking head game, in which he shakes his head from side to side while wearing a big goofy smile. Talia always joins in these games.

Oma has taken to sometimes playing the airplane game when feeding the babies. You know, "Rrrrrr, here comes the airplane! Zoom! Right into the hanger!" Sometimes when I'm feeding Talia she'll move her hand slowly in front of her going, "Rrrrrr...".

Watching Teletubbies is one of their big thrills of the day. They watch intently for awhile, but then go off to play with their toys. They're paying attention though. Talia can be off in a corner where she can't see the TV and she'll still wave 'bye-bye' at the end of an episode.

Max likes to keep his crib neat. He carefully tosses every toy we put in with him over the side when he wakes up in the morning.

Talia tries to imitate the sound of a dog's bark. She makes a odd mmm mmm sound when she hears it.

Max is somehow managing to speak using only consonants, just like Grundoon. Unfortunately, he bites like Grundoon too.

Max loves to splash like a maniac in the tub. He uses a cup to scoop the water into the air while laughing.

Talia thinks she has telekinetic powers. She reaches out to whatever's caught her eye as if she expects it to fly to her hand.

When I make a fire in the morning, Max stands beside me and blows little tiny breaths (peh-peh) to help me.

I'm thinking of starting a home paper shredding business.

March 15, 2004

It makes perfect sense, if you're insane

After all the bad news about the sponsorship scandal, how about a nice heartwarming story about a government minister working to save the taxpayers some money?

What do you give someone who’s been proved innocent after spending the best part of their life behind bars, wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn’t commit?

An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne? Compensation? Well, if you’re David Blunkett, the Labour Home Secretary, the choice is simple: you give them a big, fat bill for the cost of board and lodgings for the time they spent freeloading at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in British prisons.

On Tuesday, Blunkett will fight in the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the right to charge victims of miscarriages of justice more than £3000 for every year they spent in jail while wrongly convicted. The logic is that the innocent man shouldn’t have been in prison eating free porridge and sleeping for nothing under regulation grey blankets.

Blunkett’s fight has been described as “outrageous”, “morally repugnant” and the “sickest of sick jokes”, but his spokesmen in the Home Office say it’s a completely “reasonable course of action” as the innocent men and women would have spent the money anyway on food and lodgings if they weren’t in prison. The government deems the claw-back ‘Saved Living Expenses’.

Paddy Hill was one of the Birmingham Six. He spent 16 years behind bars for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings by the IRA. Hill now lives on a farm with his wife and children near Beith in Scotland. He has been charged £50,000 for living expenses by the Home Office.

Canadian Ministers seem only to know how to spend money. They could take some lessons from the frugal Secretary Blunkett.

(from White Rose via Samizdata.)

Terrorism works

The big news story during my week off was the bombing in Madrid and its consequences. I don't know why, but I knew right away that it was the work of Islamic terrorists rather than the 'old school' terrorists, with their roots in 70's style revolutionary nonsense. Wrong and loathsome as those movements were (and are), there was still some tiny bit of a moral code that held them back from wholesale slaughter. They went after 'political targets' that fed their romantic and stupid notions that they were going to make a better world. The deaths of bystanders that happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time were 'regreted'. Monsters. But the Islamicists are even worse. For them, there is no holding back, there is no regret. Their goal is to kill as many as they can. And that was what happened in Spain.

Now it seems that the terrorists have managed to persuade the population of a democratic country to do what they want. The new Socialist government of Spain is going to follow al-Qaeda's 'suggestion' and pull out of the coalition forces working to stabilize Iraq. Expect more of these friendly 'suggestions' in the coming months and years ahead as they seem to have the desired effect.

It was from Ronald Reagan that I first heard the notion that it was wrong to negotiate with terrorists. At the time I was suffering from the delusion that Reagan was a evil and stupid monster that was going to destroy the planet, so I was quite horrified by this idea. How could you not talk with your enemies? How are you going to address their grievences and resolve your differences if you just stick your fingers in your ears?

The idea makes a lot more sense to me now, and I'm encouraged by the growing movement that understands it too. It's very simple. Terrorists' power comes through fear. If through their brutal activities (or the threat of brutal activities) they force concessions from their victims, then they have succeeded. They have been given some political power, influence on how the world works. Unfortunately, this power will only fuel a thirst for greater power. Worse attrocities will be committed and more demands will be made until there's either a showdown or complete submission.

It's the strategy of Hitler leading up to the Second World War. It's the strategy of organized crime. It's the strategy of the schoolyard bully. It's got a long history and that's because it works. Even Reagan caved in and negotiated with his greatest enemies during the Iran-Contra affair. He came to an accomodation with evil.

"Bring it on", is Bush's famous line with regards to terrorists striking back in Iraq. It's a good line, and suggests we are not afraid of you, we will not bend to your will. The angry responses to that line -- accusing Bush of encouraging the terrorists -- and some of the hysterical commentary and misdirected blame that came out of Spain after the attack show that many people are in deep, deep denial about how the strategy of terror works. Not only is there the belief that appeasing these monsters will placate them and make them go away, but there is also the belief that terrorist attacks are somehow the fault of the victim -- as if terrorism is some new disease caused by using too many antibiotics. If these people cannot even assign blame to their enemy, how can they be roused to fight them?

The editor is dead

I was forced to kill the editor the other day. For those of you who knew him, I can assure you he felt no pain. The cause of death was a blow from a blunt instrument to the back of the head (a candlestick ... or was it the lead pipe?). He never saw it coming and was dead before he hit the floor.

One of the great things about the blog world is that for the most part, there are no editors. Writers don't have to follow a style sheet, write as if your readers mainly consist of nervous and prickly 40-somethings, or call terrorists 'militants'. They call the shots and can do whatever they want.

Except that they can't. Most bloggers are concerned about how many hits they get. They (okay, I) want readers. To get readers I feel I must write about topics that interest people and bring them back for more. I don't remember putting out a want-ad for an editor, but one day I noticed I had one -- and he was dictating content to better suit an imagined audience. His influence was minor at the beginning, but over time he started killing posts before they were finished, and making all kinds of unrequested suggestions. Just before his death, he was squeezing the life out of this blog. Posts that made it to the web had been drained of any interesting point of view and had acquired a slight 'dittoish' stench. He had to die. I have no regrets.

The problem with these types of editors -- born in some dark, insecure part of the super-ego -- is that they don't stay dead. Days, weeks, maybe months from now, his arms will force their way out of the dirt and pull his body out of the ground. Then he'll find his way back to his old station, hunched over me as I write, breathing down my neck, and wearing that same disapproving frown. And this time he'll smell bad. I'll just have to be vigilant.

March 09, 2004

A blogless week

I'm going to take a week off from writing this blog. My batteries are low and I haven't been happy with what I've been writing lately. There are things building up around the house that need doing, I've got a few outside projects that need some attention and Max and Talia are keeping me too busy the rest of the time.

Anyways, I gotta go. Back in seven days.

March 08, 2004

It's important to remember

Lee Harris has a good article up today concerning the redefinition of the meaning of 9/11. It seems to have gone from being an act of war that defined a clash of civilizations to being some sort of disaster "that just happened":

To insist that your enemy is not your enemy when he insists on being one is to rob him of his humanity, and to endanger your own existence -- and all for the sake of preserving an unsustainable illusion. To recognize an enemy, and to treat him as one, is not to dehumanize him -- on the contrary, it is to treat him as your equal. It is to take him seriously. It is to meet him on his own terms.

But that is just what liberal Democrats cannot bring themselves to do. They insist on pretending that 9/11 was just a kind of glitch, instead of seeing it as an act of devotion carried out by men who were motivated by the highest ethical purpose that they could comprehend.

This is the terrible truth revealed by 9/11. It was not an act of crazed loonies, unlikely to reoccur; it was the symbolic gesture of an entire culture -- a culture that looked upon those who died in carrying out their mission as heroic martyrs who triumphed over a vastly more powerful enemy. That is why so much of the Arab world celebrated the great victory accordingly, by dancing in the streets and cheering the collapse of the Twin Towers -- another set of images that liberals are forced to repress, since to acknowledge such behavior is to acknowledge the concept of the enemy that is embodied in such wild rejoicing at the annihilation of men and women whom you had never met.

It is almost as if we, as a nation, are entering into what psychologists call denial. Instead of making the necessary adjustments to reality in response to 9/11, we are engaged in a process of denying it, both by outright repression of all public memory of the event and by making it a subject of incomprehensibly stupid political controversy, dividing us as a people into warring factions over absolutely nothing -- and often it would seem for no better reason than to have something to bicker about on radio talk shows.

A question from a reader

As a world-famous blogger and renowned expert in the field of currency markets, I get numerous emails asking me for investment advice. I normally can't begin to answer this veritable tide of requests, but I will make the exception for this one:

Assuming the U.S. dollar is set to weaken considerably what will be the effect on the Canadian dollar. A weaker U.S. dollar will make U.S. exports more competitive and Canadian imorts less attractive to purcahse by our No.1 trading partner. Since 90 percent or so of our goods end up in gringolandia, reduced appetite for our products (and the Canadian dollars needed to buy them) will hurt the C buck. At the same time, Mr. Martin has got the country on a stable balanced budget to surplus tack that's been holding for more than 5 years now. Will that lead investors to seel U.S.dollar denominated instruments and seek the relative safety of Canadian debt, in so doing prop up the loony. Anyway, interested in what your thoughts are....Or do I pour all my money in Argentine peso and provincial quasi-currencies and scrip?
As you can see, this poor man has suffered tremendous damage due to his years working for an international news service and no longer knows how to write coherently, use punctuation, or spell the simplest words. He is also under some sort of delusion that Paul Martin is some kind of financial wizard, and that the temporary Canadian federal surplus is due to something more than drastically raised taxes and the pushing off of expenses onto other levels of government. Nonetheless, I will attempt to answer it. I like a challenge.

I first enlisted the help of an expert in deciphering garbled and unintelligible text (an 8th grade history teacher) to translate the question into something I could work with. She came up with this:

If the US dollar continues to weaken as predicted, what will be the effect on the Canadian dollar? On one hand, I think a weaker US dollar will close the trade surplus Canada has with the US, hurt the Canadian economy and drive down the Canadian dollar. But on the other hand, Canada has its federal budget under better control than the Americans, which should make Canada a better place for international investors to place their money, thus propping up the currency. So, should I put my meagre savings into Canadian or American investments? Or should I just spend it as I earn it in riotous living?
Here's my response, for what it's worth. The first force you cite as having an effect on the value of the Canadian dollar is somewhat important, the second less so. Still, I'd place my money with Canada rather than the US, but would avoid bonds.

The decline of the US buck will probably happen pretty rapidly. A couple of major players will start reducing their support (as might be happening with Buffet and the Reserve Bank of India), and then there will be a rush for the door by the rest of them. It'll be ugly, and that's because international currency markets have been rigged for such a long time. It's almost like a Ponzi scheme, the coupons only having their face value so long as they're not cashed in.

In the US, this decline will cause inflation as the prices for imported goods will rise. In Canada, sales to the US will drop, hurting our economy -- especially the services and manufacturing sectors. The resource and energy fields (with products difficult to replace domestically in the US) will do better. Our government will no doubt try to counter this trend by debasing our currency -- lowering interest rates and buying US dollars. The European and Asian central banks will be doing the same thing. It'll be as effective as shovelling back the tide.

As to the second force on the Canadian dollar you mentioned, I don't think government budgetary management has too much effect on currency prices -- though in the long run it should. Unchecked spending by a government suggests that they will be more likely in the future to inflate their way out of a deep debt pit. But right now I actually believe that the reckless lurch into deficit budget territory in the US is preventing the US buck from a crash. (Temporarily, at least.)

What it all comes down to is that the currencies of the world are on a race to the bottom. A worldwide fiat currency regime depends on the governments to actually work to preserve the value of their currencies. Unfortunately, there are too many short-term political gains to be made by letting things slide. I believe any type of bonds right now are a terrible investment, you must invest in things.

Things that people need, and which cannot be created from thin air through financial trickery are the only investments that will make it through this global convulsion. Jim Puplova has a good column on this idea. Real estate would normally be something that would fall into this catagory, but I think prices are a little excessive right now. That may not matter though if inflation really cranks up. Resource industries and physical holdings of precious metals are what I would recommend. Commodity futures are no good because it's difficult to predict when this meltdown will occur.

Now just let me step out the somewhat smug tone I've adopted in this post. I have no monopoly claim on the truth. I may not know what I'm talking about. These are just my thoughts on the subject. I have a fair amount of money invested in gold and I've done well with it, but everything isn't in that one basket. The best investment I feel is in the quality of your life in the present. A nice house you're comfortable in, good meals with friends, and a bit of travel are things you'll always have. If you also have a small stake in assets that create real and needed goods, you'll never be poor.

My Blogspot

Glenn Reynolds (following a directive from Jeff Jarvis) has decreed that today bloggers post pictures of where they blog from. Since I don't want to get in trouble from the blogosphere illuminati, I am complying.

The ergonomics team here at Autonomous Source head office have pronounced this workspace "fatal within 3-5 years". That means I have a couple of years before I have to worry about it.

Note that the outfit chosen for Talia today was picked before I had a chance to have any coffee. I don't know what I was thinking.

March 06, 2004

Coming soon to a SUV bumper near you

The Dissident Frogman has created a collection of John Kerry for President bumper stickers. I thought this one was pretty good.

Martha's guilty. Good.

My views on Martha Stewart seem to differ from most of what I've seen on the blogosphere. Back in September I got hammered by a bunch of libertarians for suggesting Martha deserves what she's getting. Now she's been found guilty and is probably going to jail. I feel pretty good about it.

Functioning markets depend on symmetrical information. Fair trade cannot happen when either the buyer or seller is partially blindfolded. The state has a legitimate role in ensuring this equality, it can be seen in such things as the regulation of scales and food inspection. Perfectly symmetrical information is an impossible ideal, of course, but obvious and arrogant infractions must be punished.

March 04, 2004

Too hard on the UN?

I was looking back at the post I made yesterday on the UN's 'business' initiative and thought perhaps I might be seen as being unreasonably harsh. Well, I was in a crummy mood, so I might not have softened the words quite as much as I would have if I hadn't been listening to Max shriek for the previous half-hour. But I'll still defend what I wrote.

What really got me going was Paul Martin's claim that, "private investment too rarely benefits the poorest of the poor, who need it most." That may be true, in the short term, but it is also true of the types of development programs the UN and other concerned outsiders have been inflicting on Africa for the past 40 years. They don't work. Don't believe me? Listen to Kofi Annan:

Malloch Brown and Annan agreed that handouts of money to poor countries have often failed to lower poverty statistics, and have sometimes done more to entrench corrupt and repressive leaders in power.
If even the head of the UN can admit that aid "often" fails, and "sometimes" encourages corruption, the truth is probably a lot worse.
Africa, for example, has been the largest recipient of foreign aid. But according to the National Bureau of Economic Research [NBER] analysts Elsa Artadi and Xavier Sala-i-Martin, Africa has experienced decades of economic decline. In sub-Saharan Africa, per capita GDP is now 11 percent lower than what it was in 1974. Ghana, for example, had inflation adjusted per capita income of $800 in 1967. By 1997, that figure had fallen to $370. Regions that received less foreign aid per capita fared better. As a result, Africa today accounts for a greater percentage of the world's poor than ever before. In 1970, only one in 10 poor people lived in Africa. Today that number is one in two.

Foreign aid also fuels corruption among African officials. Because of faulty domestic institutions and poor oversight, African leaders were able to steal billions of foreign aid dollars over the past forty years. A study commissioned by the African Union in 2001 estimates that corruption continues to cost Africa $150 billion per year.

But back to Paul Martin's hang-up with private investment. I think this attitude is the root of all problems in Africa. The deep, unquestioned suspicion of foreign investment or private initiative is firmly installed in the mind of anyone with any power on that continent. Aid workers, government officials, policemen, military leaders -- they all hold the belief that free enterprise can only take, not give.

The roots of this belief are not too hard to trace. The elites have been educated in Western universities and have learned about the exploitation and colonialism of the Western world, and the destructive results of capitalism. The laws of African countries reflect this attitude, and allow property to be arbitrarly seized by the state. For the less well-connected people, resentment of other's success has provided a fertile ground for Marxism -- and has given justification to anyone with a gun to do a bit of freelance wealth distribution. For Paul Martin to pay lip service to these phoney beliefs -- well, it's just appalling.

And it's not true. Private investment is the only thing that will move Africa forward:

In a recent paper, Fredrik Segerfeldt of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, explains that it is not aid that will help the poor but direct investment from business. The paper, "Companies are the Solution, not the Problem" analyses how "economic growth is more important than development assistance in eradicating poverty." And as the United Nations Development Programme admits, poverty is the real enemy. "Therefore, the discussion about world poverty should, to a much greater extent, focus on how economic growth can be achieved, and less on how global resources can be redistributed. Redistribution will never eradicate poverty," Segerfeldt concludes.

Mr. Segerfeldt demonstrates that states that receive a lot of aid but grow slowly have much lower GDP per capita than states that receive little aid but grow faster. The latter grow fast usually due to western corporate direct investment. More importantly he finds that aid does not lead to growth. 12 of the 20 countries that received most aid per capita in the world in 1980 were still on the top-20 list in 1990 and 8 of them were still there in 2000. One would expect far more movement that this if aid actually generated growth, as its proponents at the UNDP claim.

I don't think Paul Martin is stupid. He knows these grand schemes will not work. The only purpose of them is to dampen the guilt we in the developed world (rightly) feel about Africa. But he is willing to play the game because it plays well on the world stage. And it sickens me, it really does.

March 03, 2004

Child's play

There are moments when Talia and Max are not transfixed by the Teletubbies, pulling at my legs begging to be lifted up, or crying because some inanimate object is behaving in a frustrating way. Sometimes they just sit and play with their toys. Incredible but true. I managed to snap this photo to prove I'm not making it up.

Fish to teach mice to fly

It seems that the United Nations has noticed that individual entrepreneurship does more to eradicate poverty than large 'concerned' bureaucracies.

(Paul) Martin co-chairs the Commission on the Private Sector and Development with former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo and senior United Nations official Mark Malloch Brown. And tomorrow they will produce a landmark document for eradicating Third World poverty by bringing people on the margins of society into the economic mainstream.

The report, titled "Unleashing Entrepreneurship: Making Business Work for the Poor," will be introduced by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with a keynote speech by Martin.

"If we succeed, it will mean millions of jobs for people who would otherwise be caught in a hopeless cycle of poverty," says Malloch Brown, head of the U.N. Development Program, and the architect of the world body's most ambitious anti-poverty plan to raise the poorest people from destitution by 2015.

A little late, but better late than never. Welcome to the party, guys. I assume you'll be acting to tie future foreign aid for impoverished countries to their progress in improving property rights, reducing taxes, and removing tariffs. Great. But wait a second, what's this?
Martin and Malloch Brown set their sights on disenfranchised people who scrape out a living in the "grey economy" of Third World countries as unregistered, and often illegal, workers.

War widows who take in washing to make ends meet, teenagers selling soft drinks on street corners, mechanics fixing cars in their back yards, jobless professionals working as gypsy cab drivers, are but a few of the "invisible" workers common in countries where many earn survival wages while the official employment rate soars.

Dropping through the cracks of the economy, they pay no taxes, duties or registration fees. But they also have no access to benefits, or aid programs that are funnelled through government channels.

Nor can these invisible workers hope for financing to help them stay in business or improve their prospects for the future.

The goals of the commission are to convince governments in poor countries to make bureaucratic rules less threatening for unregistered workers, while at the same time pressing them to reduce punitive taxes and crack down on corrupt officials who frighten illegals away from the legitimate economy by forcing them to pay unaffordable bribes.

The commission is also seeking ways to connect larger, legally operating businesses with marginal workers, so they can become partners rather than competitors.

And it must convince the disenfranchised poor that they have more to gain than lose from joining the mainstream economy.

So the goal is to really to get the people that have learned to be suspicious of the state to trust it again. And if I read between the lines correctly, this is so the statistics will be more accurate and more people will be able to plug into UN handout programs. I'm disappointed but not surprised. The UN is not the type of organization to lead the fight to reduce corruption or bureaucracy.

This program is doomed to failure. Here's Martin displaying his ignorance (or is it his cynical political posturing?):

From China to Chile ... there's little debate about whether or not private investment is essential for prosperity and growth," Martin said last August when Annan announced the commission.
Funny. Seems I've heard lots of discussion about this subject.
"But private investment too rarely benefits the poorest of the poor, who need it most."
Groan. Got it? Business is bad. Private enterprise is bad. The only way 'entrepreneurship' is of any benefit to people is when it's done through the various UN bureaucracies as part of a sanctioned, carefully-tracked program.
International development expert Nissim Ezekiel, a consultant to the project, admits that the word "commission" usually means nothing practical will be done.

"But this one is different," he says.

Sure.

March 02, 2004

New Template!

Wheee! There's big excitement here today as I initiate a whole new era in this blog's distinguished history. The washed-out colours of the old style were bothering me, and there were a few annoying bugs I wanted to get rid of. I've been beavering away at this new style-sheet for a month now and I figured I should just turn it on and stop fussing with it. So whaddya think? Michelle says it makes her eyes hurt. My supportive wife. If anyone else has similar comments they can keep them to themselves.

Okay, it's not perfect. It's not the way I wanted it to be, but you have to compromise when dealing multiple fussy browsers. If I ever get around to reading some of the HTML sites I've bookmarked I may get around to fixing a few things (such as the archive pages), but for now this is the new look.

UPDATE: Just noticed that on Netscape the archive pages are messed up. Not so you can't read things, but it just looks just amateurish. Arrgh. I'll fix it later.

The mess we're in

I know, I know -- not again. I try not to write too much about doom 'n' gloom economics but the latest issue of the Economist has an interesting piece that discusses the dangers of a fiat currency that meshes nicely with what I was saying earlier. Libertarians take note: the value of your money is based on the premise that the government bureaucracy that manages the money supply will think of long term stability rather than short term gratification. If that doesn't make you question the value of the buck, I don't know what will.

The article has a concise history of how the US dollar got into such a perilous state and what might happen. There's too much good stuff to quote, just read the whole thing. I'll just quote the conclusion:

Perhaps investors have been lulled into a false sense of security by the performance of central banks in recent years, and the independence that has been granted to many of them by governments. But this very aura of inviolability may be storing up problems, since it means that governments can borrow still more at cheap rates. And if governments then find themselves crushed by debt, you can rest assured that this independence will be taken away. And then, once again, the paper in your pocket will only be as good as a politician's promise.

Coming to a boil in Venezuela?

While attention is focused on Haiti, events in Venezuela are going unnoticed. Sure, the media will pay attention if Chavez calls Bush an 'asshole', but there's very little on the crisis that is set to boil over. Today the National Electoral Council will announce whether there are enough signatures on the petition to hold a recall election. Chavez's opponents claim to have 3.4 million, when all they needed was 2.4 million. Of course Chavez claims there are too many duplicates and forgeries for the petition to be valid. Whichever way the CNE rules, it will ignite conflict.

Caracas Chronicles and The Devil's Excrement are the blogs to be following.

UPDATE: Well it looks like Venezuela is now truly a dictatorship. Chavez's cronies on the CNE have managed to invalidate enough signatures to prevent a recall vote. There's going to be a process to 'validate' some of the questionable signatures, but that might just be a tactic to dampen some of the anger this decision will cause.

What can Venezuela expect as a dictatorship? Probably more of the same. Deteriorating prosperity, gradual tightening of the police state, and the looting of private assets for the regime's cronies. Robert Mugabe, an expert in these types of activities, addressed a pro-Chavez rally recently:

To rapturous applause, Mugabe lavished praise on Chavez, and made clear that ALL problems in Venezuela and Zimbabwe are exclusively the fault of the US and the UK, respectively. He hit an emotional high talking in heart-rending terms about how transnational capitalism robs the children of Zimbabwe of their food.
With allies like Mugabe and Castro, I think things look pretty dark for Venezuela.

UPDATE II: I just read this summary of Chavez's character. Very scary. It was written before today's events and describes the CNE as a beacon of hope for the Venezuelan people. That hope has now been shattered.

A Heretic of the Church of Greenspan

One issue we can be sure will not come up during the presidential elections is whether Alan Greenspan should retain his position as the head of the Fed. Of course he should! This seems to be the only thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on. I think it was John McCain that said during the last election that if Greenspan were to die he would find some way to do a Weekend at Bernie's to keep him in office.

Why? I dunno. This is the man who sat atop the greatest asset bubble in history as it inflated, had it burst on him creating the greatest paper loss of wealth in history, and now is riding the equally massive real estate bubble. Bill Fleckenstein is not a Greenspan fan (to put it mildly) and takes the hatchet to him in his latest column. He first gives a history of Easy Al's previous mistakes and then concludes:

So the most irresponsible central banker in the history of the world created the biggest bubble in the history of the world, which had disastrous consequences for the stock market and the economy. In order to ameliorate that, he has created bubble-like conditions and absurd financing schemes in real estate. Meanwhile, we've seen an enormous concentration of risk develop inside the financial system: We are down to just a handful of big banks and government-sponsored entities that are using his other favorite toy, derivatives, to theoretically manage away all their risks.

The summation of these variables has only increased the risk of something bad happening. And, of course, that risk has been heightened by the tanking of the dollar. The dollar’s decline has been promoted by Greenspan's irresponsible policies and attempts to continually bail out his most recent mistake. He has been doing this serially since junk bonds and bad lending nearly took down the financial system at the end of the 1980s and wiped out the savings and loan industry in 1990-1991.

I believe we are at the end of the string, and things are in the process of slowly deteriorating once again. The pace of that deterioration may pick up speed over the course of the year.

Greenspan's policies have been to simply remove all barriers that would normally prevent excessive borrowing. If prosperity was so easy to create, possibly someone else would have figured out how to do it before today. And sure enough, there was such a man, John Law, who in the 18th century created a state-chartered bank in France that issued unbacked bank notes. It created much 'prosperity' in France as due to all the new 'money', everyone started to get 'rich'. Eventually, however, the whole scheme fell apart and created a world-wide economic catastrophe. When and how will Greenspan's creation collapse?