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December 27, 2004

Most Annoying Canadian update V

Less than a week until the Most Annoying Canadian competition is over. The race has become a dead heat between the Helpful Canadian Tire Guy and Carolyn Parrish. With a race this close, you might think that there's been a lot of voting going on by different actions trying to push their candidate over the finish line, but you'd be wrong. The number of votes is considerably down since the last heat. Oh well, I've sort of lost interest in this whole thing, so I can understand why others have too. The vote will conclude midnight on December 31. I have nothing better to do so I'll be there to wave the checkered flag. Remember: Vote or Fly! (Cry? Sigh? Wait a second, I'll remember...)

Strange people out there

I like to check my referers sometimes to see where visitors to my page are coming from. Many of them are from Google, some of which are the results of some pretty strange searches. Things like "girls in diapers" or "mango boy" I might be able to understand, but today someone stumbled onto my site looking for "John Ralston Saul on Gwynne Dyer". Ugh! I can't bear thinking about it, and can't even image looking at pictures of it...

December 25, 2004

Enemies with guns and enemies with cameras

Roger L. Simon blasts the attempt by the AP "Director of Media Relations" to justify their publicity activity for terrorists in Iraq. AP has essentially admitted that they were tipped off that something was going to happen in the shooting I mentioned a few days ago, but they felt no regret in acting as a tool of terror because the 'insurgents want their stories told as much as other people'.

What Stokes sees to be saying in his gnomic fashion is that because the "Insurgents" seek to have their stories told, the Associated Press is obligated to do so. It sounds as if the "Insurgents" were calling a press conference to express their campaign positions. But they weren't. What they were doing was brutally murdering innocent people in the street and they wanted the press there to record the event. The Associated Press, like good poodles of fascism, came along for that most necessary of tasks for terrorists in assymetrical war--publicity.

Stokes has the temerity to describe this as the "Insurgents" being "willing to let Iraqi photographers take their pictures." But we all know this is shameful lie because the AP itself has acknowledged the "Insurgents" called the AP photographer to invite him to a "demonstration." Of course these photographers "do not have to" swear allegiance to the "Insurgents" (Stokes' words here. He should do a better job.) He also assures us they are not "embedded" with the fascists. I agree with Hindrocket on that one. In the Post-Rather world, I reserve judgment. It is now incumbent on the media to prove their honesty. We can no longer take them at their word--and all we have now is the "word" of a "director of media relations." (How insulting, when you think about it? Where are the editors in charge of Iraq?)

Unless and until, the AP makes a full disclosure of their methods in this case, including the identities of their photographers, I will continue to regard their behavior as, in Orwell's words, "objectively pro-fascist."

Leni Riefenstahl was roundly (and rightly) condemned for glorifying the Third Reich. Her work sent their carefully crafted message all over the world. How is what this news service is doing any different?

Powerline and Belmont Club have more on this story.

Christmas kid shot

Here's the photo of the kids that when out with our Christmas cards. We sent them out pretty late, so if you haven't received it yet, you can still look at the picture. Merry Christmas everyone!

On the twelveth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

An inexpensive Linux laptop for blogging!

If only it were true...
VIA C3 processor 1.0 GHz 14.1" LCD panel Lindows/Linspire version 4.5 128 MB memory 30 GB hard drive CD-ROM drive 4 cell battery 4 USB 2.0 ports Complete Microsoft Office file-compatible office software suite to create and share Word (.doc), Excel (.xls) and PowerPoint (.ppt) documents
Hey. With this I'll lose one of my favourite pastimes: whining about how much I hate Windows. Well, it's nice anyways. Thanks.

December 24, 2004

On the eleventh day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

The Last Exile Complete Series!

Japan's top anime creators bring a richly romantic action/adventure fantasy in an imaginary planet where retro-futuristic sky vehicles permeate the skies. Against this lavish background are the lives of young and heroic van ship sky porters – Claus and Lavie – who are forced to take on the mission to deliver a mysterious girl, Alvis, to the battle ship Silvana. Before they know it, they become entangled in an aerial adventure between two countries griped in an eternal war of magnificent air battleships.
Oh wow! This is great. I saw a few episodes of these on Internet TV (from desync) and they were extremely cool. My inner-nerd is being re-awakened. Thanks so much!

December 23, 2004

On the tenth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

A talking Shrek cookie jar!

The fairytale continues! Each time the cookie jar's lid is lifted, the lovable green Shrek and his best friend Donkey engage in one of 4 interactive conversations in the actor's voices from the original movie.
Huh! What were you thinking? Well, I guess you had a busy day. No really, it's okay. You should maybe get some rest. I hope you kept the receipt?

December 22, 2004

Santa Claus. Fear him.

Check out this series of photos of kids with Santa. The theme is raw terror. It's one of those collections that just keeps getting funnier as you page through it.

What a lovely souvenir!

We're waiting until next year before introducing St. Nick to Max and Talia.

(via Nealenews)

On the ninth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

Giant Microbes!

The Common Cold!The Flu!
Ebola!The Black Death!
Giantmicrobes™ are plush dolls that look like common microbes. The product line was introduced in July 2002 and has been enthusiastically received at a retail level. The combination of humor, education, and sympathy resonates with parents, children, educators, pediatricians, science buffs and many others.
These are adorable. Thanks.

December 21, 2004

On the eighth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

A pair of Stacy Adams Navy Blue Madison Croco shoes!

Stacy Adams and Men who know style have been a perfect fit for over 100 years. Founded in 1875 in Brockton, MA. by William H. Stacy and Henry L. Adams, the Stacy Adams Shoe Company has long been a part of American Culture. From the roaring 20's and the post war boom, to prohibition and the jazz era, Stacy Adams has been there.

Stacy Adams is more than shoes. From head to toe: we cover your style from Hip-hop to silky Soul.

Oh, these are beautiful! These will look great with my powder blue tuxedo at that big wedding we're going to this summer. Thank you so much.

The depth of the media-terrorist feedback loop

Wretchard at Belmont club asks some questions about how a AP photographer just happened to be in place to capture photos of some Iraqi elections officials being murdered in the street by terrorists.

Even with today's proliferation of compact photographic equipment, a legitimate photojournalist rarely gets the opportunity to capture an execution. Apart from the beheadings which are purposely recorded on video by the jihadis and from gun camera film, most footage of people actually being shot are taken by photographers in company with combatants who are ready to film an ambush. Those individuals are combat cameramen for their armies or embedded reporters.
It would not surprise me in the least if this reporter was tipped off beforehand. The terrorists want to magnify the effects of their carnage, and the media wants a nice bloody story. The only losers in the exchange are the poor men at the wrong end of the gun.

The war in Iraq is a media war. The enemy can't face the US Marines in a straight fight, and can't crack their morale. But they can crack the morale of the American people, and that seems to be their strategy. The modern news media is their weapon, and they're using it with great skill. Or is it using them? It's pretty hard to tell sometimes.

December 20, 2004

On the seventh day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

A Winnipeg Jets jersey!

Ahh! A nostalgia gift. This reminds me of the days when I actually cared about hockey. Thank you so much.

December 19, 2004

On the sixth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

Blue Wizard Is About to Die: Prose, Poems, and Emoto-Versatronic Expressionist Pieces About Video Games 1980-2003


King Of Plumbers; cartoon hands
white gloves, a psychotic
jumping thing made of big
slabs of solid color punctuated
by black lines, giving him features;
old hand... old hand... the savior
of the princess, hero of the mushroom kingdom,
commander of the psychotic and useless power of Yoshi,
a creature so dumb and pointless that,
only you, my little mustachioed Italian freak,
would dare punch it in the back of the head,
as if to say
"ready the tongue!
prepare to fire!"

mounted like a monkey on a dog at a rodeo;
you bastard, sent him - after jumping - to his death,
using his doomed back for leverage.

Jump those pits, flee into the safety
of the green pipes, spit those shells,
send up the flag at every castle in the kingdom,
for, I, the liberator, the conquering Italian hero,
have returned, again and again and again;
we’re going to make millions doing this!
you and me, kid, millions.

Shopping at the remaindered bookstore again, eh Sweety? Well, that's okay. It's perfect.

December 18, 2004

Healing the divide

The biggest theme to get bounced around the United States following the election is the Red State/Blue State 'divide'. Everyone's been talking about it, but Dave Berry has decided to do something about it:

And as Americans, we must ask ourselves: Are we really so different? Must we stereotype those who disagree with us? Do we truly believe that ALL red-state residents are ignorant racist fascist knuckle-dragging NASCAR-obsessed cousin-marrying road-kill-eating tobacco-juice-dribbling gun-fondling religious fanatic rednecks; or that ALL blue-state residents are godless unpatriotic pierced-nose Volvo-driving France-loving left-wing Communist latte-sucking tofu-chomping holistic-wacko neurotic vegan weenie perverts?

Yes. This is called "diversity," and it is why we are such a great nation - a nation that has given the world both nuclear weapons AND SpongeBob SquarePants.

And so today I am calling upon both sides in the red-blue rift to reach out. Maybe we could have a cultural-exchange program between red and blue states. For example, a delegation from Texas could go to California and show the Californians how to do some traditional Texas thing such as castrate a bull using only your teeth, and then the Californians could show the Texans how to rearrange their football stadiums in accordance with the principles of "feng shui" (for openers, both goalposts should be at the west end of the field). Or maybe New York and Kentucky could have a college-style "mixer," featuring special "crossover" hors d'oeuvres, such as bagels topped with squirrel parts.

On the fifth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

A Stinkblaster Gun!

Blast your Friends with a ball of harmless but stinky air from up to twenty feet away. Just pull back the plunger, squeeze the pod release, aim and fire. The Stink Blaster Blaster coils the air as it races towards your target for a concentrated blast of air and smell. The power of the air ruffles shirts and blows hair, while the smell will wrinkle noses and annoy your friends. Blast them from a distance, they'll never see you coming. The ultimate in stink prank play, the stink toy is smelly wind blowing fun. The toy comes complete with blaster and two stink pods.
Thank you. I will never forget this.

December 17, 2004

On the fourth day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

William Shatner's Has Been!

Folds' easygoing way with thematic contradiction-- smug sincerity, for one example; nerd chic for another-- makes him the ideal musical foil for Shatner's full-frontal Shatnerizing (it's a word, google it). Whether you know him from his early work, his hammy Priceline TV spots, or his recent tour de force as legal eagle Denny Crane on "The Practice" and its spinoff "Boston Legal", you know what I'm talking about. William Shatner's histrionic. Verbal. Cadence is the stuff of. Legend and. Many. A comedy routine. And fortunately, he never deigns himself to sing. But it's the fact that he's in on the joke these days that elevates him to some kind of groundbreaking standard-bearer of self-aware irony and innate honesty.

Can those two elements co-exist? Remarkably, they do on Has Been-- even after multiple listens. For an album I approached ready to shrug off as sheer novelty, its humor and candor give it a fair amount of staying power. Turn up the burlesque swing of "Ideal Woman" or the title track's goofy spaghetti western rant at a party and watch the room go silent. Shatner's voice is naturally magnetic, lending alternating gravitas and levity; his delivery is that of an accomplished actor, so with only a slight deviation of emphasis he can shift from bombastic to sullen.

Hey, this is great, darling. I've always thought William Shatner is one of the 20th century's most misunderstood artists. Now I'll get a chance to confirm it. Thank you.

December 16, 2004

Compare and contrast

Jimmy Carter, yesterday:

Carter told Reuters he was hopeful about the elections to replace the late President Yasser Arafat. "You have to be optimistic. I have the hope and expectation that the elections will be honest, fair, free and safe," he said in an interview.

He hoped a Palestinian leader would emerge who had the confidence of his people, who would not be seen as a puppet of the Israelis or the Americans and who would speak out strongly against violence as a way to achieve Palestinian goals.

"I think we have increasingly a good chance to see that occur," Carter said in an interview.

Jimmy Carter, today:
"I think the whole Iraqi situation has been a debacle, a very costly one. I don't see how all the rudimentary requirements for a free and safe election can be achieved in another month. How can anyone campaign? How can anyone go and vote without fear?," he said in an interview.

"They might contrive some substitute for an orthodox election by having the vote take place over several weeks or in certain little spots scattered about Iraq and not in the troubled areas.

"But there is not enough security there in my opinion to have a legitimate election."

I don't see how anyone can take this guy seriously. And yet he's treated with great reverence by 'progressives'. After legitimizing the sham election that made Arafat dictator for life, and endorsing Hugo Chávez's corrupt vote, he prepares to crown the next West Bank gangster while laying the groundwork for disputing the tremendously important election in Iraq. Words fail me.

Stuff & Things XII

  • Mark Steyn takes some time out from his time out to pick on environmentalists. And why not? It's easy and fun!
  • I've always loved the 20th century rococo architecture of Antoni Gaudi. Here's some great photos of a Gaudi inspired building in Japan.
  • The quotable Victor Davis Hanson:
    Hitler, like bin Laden and his epigones, was the problem, not us. The only difference is that our grandparents knew that and we don't.
  • Tim Blair has enabled trackbacks. That's good.
  • I've been called "consistently intelligent and insightful". It's about time someone noticed.
  • For those of you who are economic girlie-men like me, this piece on the US trade deficit by Steve Stein is a must read.
  • Don't let Bush win! Roger L. Simon links to a report showing how 'humanitarian' organizations (including, of course, the UN) are undermining the attempts by the Iraqi government to conduct war crimes trials. Real sweethearts, these guys are.
  • A computer horror story. And it could happen to you.
  • Max has developed a fetish for trucks. He'll just be standing there, doing nothing, when he starts saying, "Tuck. Beeeg Tuck. Tuck!" Talia, on the other hand, is exhibiting the first signs of an obsessive-compulsive disorder by demanding very frequent hand washings. The joys of children never end.

On the third day of Christmas

...My truelove gave to me:

NRA Varmint Hunter!

Both western "dog" hunting and eastern "hog" hunting are presented in stunning realistic terrain locations, determined by combing the country for the best locations to represent the sport. The animal behavior has been modeled in the most realistic way utilizing the expertise of serious hunters. With the help and close cooperation of the Varmint Hunters Association the game is as realistic as possible and offers a great introduction into this fast growing sport. If you like pulling the trigger often, you will find NRA Varmint Hunting a great introduction to the sport and a terrific training aid to help you in the field.

The game will teach the player how to approach a "dog town" and work that town to achieve stimulating shooting. It will also teach the player stalking techniques needed when the target is a wary groundhog.

For anyone that likes to shoot a lot at both short and long range, pit their shooting skills against one of the most elusive targets in the shooting sports, with a wide assortment of guns and ammo combinations, the NRA Varmint Hunting game is a must have.

Wow. I've never played one of those hunting games before. I've always wondered what they're like. And it'll be a great stress reliever, I'm sure. Thanks, Sweety.

December 15, 2004

Get around, get around, he gets around...

I think it's time we had a chat with little Paul. Seems he's been truant quite a bit recently, missing over half the days he should be at his lessons. The Truant Officer says he's been seen in Burkina Faso, Sudan, Brazil, Chile, Haiti, Russia, France, and Hungary. He's also been hanging out with an unscrupulous gang of thieves that go by the name of the UN. I'm really worried about him. I tried talking to him about it, about how he should be working on more important things, but he just won't listen. He says he's going to Libya this weekend and India, Japan, China and Hong Kong next month. Isn't there anything we can do? I think he's got a problem...

On the second day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:


It's Monopoly. With Kiss. It's Kiss-opoly! Part of the tradition that brought you such unique games as Cat in the Hat-opoly, Motown-opoly, Dog-opoly, Dawg-opoly, Cat-opoly, Bible-opoly, Ocean-opoly, Wild Animal-opoly, Canada-opoly, Whoville-opoly, Cocktail-opoly, and many more.

Well... thank you dear. It's very... thoughtful. I, uh, was quite a Kiss fan when I was 12 years old. You will play it with me?

Technical difficulties

I'm an electrical engineer. In my career, I've been involved in the design and debug of complex digital computer systems. I'm also a pretty bright guy, and am able to usually solve technical problems in products I know nothing about with just some documentation and a little bit of time.

But Wintel computers consistently manage to baffle me.

Something's always going wrong. Usually they're little things that I manage to work around. A program that usually launches on start-up doesn't. The computer almost grinds to a halt because MS Explorer has for some reason sucked up all the memory and processor time. Blue screens of death. Random freezes.

But sometimes the problems are more serious. The other day the DVD drive on my desktop computer just stopped recognizing any disks. I'd normally think something like this was a hardware problem, but the icon for the drive changed too, so I'm guessing this is just another of those Windows XP surprises that are destined to drive me mad. I still haven't managed to fix it.

But today, when I woke my laptop from its evening slumber and I found that the network connection had disappeared, I nearly lost it. I need my network connection. I need the internet. It was fine yesterday, but wasn't working today -- nothing had happened to the machine! I hadn't even shut it down! Time to debug. I rebooted the modem, router and computer: no change. I uninstalled and reinstalled the network card adapter: nothing. I removed the card from the machine, removed all software traces that it had ever even existed on my computer, and reinstalled everything from scratch (finding the disk after only fifteeen minutes of digging through the disaster zone know as my 'office'): nope. Finally, sitting there in a daze and cursing the thought of buying a new wireless network card, I had the illogical idea to change the slot of the network card to slot 1. Bingo. I came upon this idea only because I remembered pulling my hair out in frustration installing the card the first time, because it absolutely refused to work in slot 1.

Do these things only happen to me? Have only I been cursed with these invisible computer gremlins that mess up my computers when my back is turned? Or is there hidden code in device drivers and the XP operating system that causes random, annoying gliches to keep us dependent on tech support and drive a demand for replacement equipment? I'm serious. I'm really starting to think this...

December 14, 2004

On the first day of Christmas...

...My truelove gave to me:

The Hummer Holiday Gift Pack.

"The Hummer adventure begins with a fresh and exhilarating burst of freshness comprised of green foliage, cardamom, thyme, and peppercorns that capture the essence of the outdoors. These lively notes are then melded with a warm, rugged, masculine, adrenaline rush of leather, patchouli, amber, and sandalwood. The smooth richness of tonka bean act as the 'axle' that links and balances the fresh and warm notes, creating an olfactory sensation that can only be Hummer."
Well, that sounds nice -- who wouldn't want to smell like patchouli? -- but the truth is Hummer Eau de Toilette consists of one part remaindered Hai Karate and two parts Brut. But it's the thought that counts.

December 13, 2004

The abridged Oil-for-Food

Mortimer B. Zuckerman of US News and World Report summarizes the history so far of the UN Oil-for-Food scandal, one of the largest financial scams in history. As you might expect, Kofi Annan comes out of it not smelling very sweet:

In May 2002, the U.N. Security Council passed a new resolution "cutting itself out of the loop on oil-for-food contracts deemed humanitarian," as Rosett put it, transferring responsibility for such contracts to Secretary General Annan and his staff. What happened? Kofi Annan promptly approved items that had nothing to do with food and medicine but a whole lot to do with propping up Saddam. There was the $20 million Annan approved to pay for an Olympic sports city, and an additional $50 million to support Saddam's propaganda-mad Ministry of Information. At no time did Annan reveal the commercial interests of key parties in continuing the oil-for-food program, nor was mention made of the fact that France and Russia were reaping fat profits on the Iraqi oil sales.
The real meat of this scandal hasn't been dug into yet. Sure, the cooperation of a humanitarian organization with a brutal dictatorship to line each others pockets is pretty awful. But how this collaboration was used to bribe influencial people in democratic governments and influence policy is the real story.

Can someone come dig me out?

A few days ago, I slipped on some ice in the Loblaws parking lot. I was holding my little girl at the time, so I wasn't able to break my fall. I landed on a low metal shopping cart bumper and it knocked the wind out of me and bruised my ribs. Very painful. Well, I thought it was healing, but today everything seized up, and I can barely move without absolute agony. What a drag it is getting old.

We got a big dump of new snow last night, and it's still coming down. I had planned to shovel out the driveway today while the kids scampered and played in the snow beside me, but instead, we're all camped out in the basement listening to Alec Baldwin narrate Thomas the Tank Engine. Soon we'll be completely buried and my wife won't be able to get in. Any kind readers with a snowplow live nearby?

UPDATE: Never mind, I sent Max out to take care of it.

About time he started pulling his weight around here.  And Talia can make dinner...

The positive view

Iraqi bloggers Omar and Mohammed of Iraq the Model met up with Roger L. Simon yesterday. They've been travelling across America and have met some of the bloggers that have shared their message of hope for the future of Iraq. (They also met President Bush.) Roger has some thoughts on the absurdity of why their view of the Iraqi situation is not being heard:

When you meet them it's hard to understand why some of us could be rooting against them, but the not-so-sub subtext of many of the war's opponents is just that. You see, they keep saying, look how bad it is-it's our fault. I wish they could talk to Mohammed and Omar. I think even the Michael Moores of the world would have trouble saying it to them face-to-face. These men are the hope of democracy.
Unfortunately, the view of Iraq we're given by the media is of youths firing RPGs and hooded men decapitating prisoners. And I can't count how many times I've seen a tight angle news shot of a clot of angry men shouting about whatever it is the reporter is covering today.

Instapundit relayed an interesting anecdote the other day from a teacher in Syria (who opposes the war in Iraq) being surprised by his students' overwhelming support of Bush:

"But doesn't he scare you?" I asked finally, unable to contain my personal feelings and throwing the lesson plan out the window. "Because of Bush's ideas many people in my country think that all of you are terrorists."
The support for Bush is interesting, but note the teacher's belief that Bush is unfairly smearing the whole of the Middle East with the 'terrorist' brush. I've heard similar things from other people opposed to the war in Iraq, and -- I'm sorry -- it just doesn't hold water. As I've mentioned before, the people that are determined to create the image of bloodthirsty Jihadis as the prevailing view of the Middle East are the international media and the opponents of the war. The good that is happening in Iraq is ignored or attached to selfish motives, and the bad is magnified a hundred times by the camera's lens. Bush's message -- and Omar and Mohammed's message -- is that Arabs can built a stable democracy and a healthy society. That's a positive message, and it needs to be heard.

Guilt sells

David Carr at Samizdata cuts into the hypocrisy of the new Do They Know It's Christmas? single:

Less pure and less simple, I wager, are the motives of the organisers. Two of the prominent names are Bob Geldof and Bono, both ageing rockers who have managed to sustain lucrative careers long past their sell-by dates by successfully reinventing themselves as saviours of the planet. Hey, it's all about getting down the with kidz, man. Or something. To me, they have more in common with American TV evangelists. They also promise salvation provided you send them your money.

Lining up alongside them are a rabble of pasty-faced no-talents, has-beens, wannabes and never-wases: a million mediocrity march. But together they can make a big noise and that matters a lot in an industry where the noisiest wins. In fact, if they owe anything to Africans at all then it is not spurious Christmas wishes but a royalty cheque and a big thank you for being the best marketing tool in the world.

The bad thing about this type of charity is that it's long on visuals and short on effectiveness. The money winds up going mostly to middlemen with the balance turning up in some corrupt autocrat's Swiss bank account. Poor Africans will see none of this money, unless they happen to live in the rustic, picturesque village where the celebrities come for the photo shoot. To help the poor in Africa it would be far better to support (by force, if necessary) the removal of the corrupt governments that keep their people poor, and to stand up to to the special interests in the rich countries that prevent Africa from selling us their agricultural products. But that would take away the crucial element of self-loathing from the problem. Which is really what this kind of charity is about, isn't it?

December 10, 2004

Live the dream

I remember those dreamy, fluorescent days of living in a small felt-enclosed cube inside a big glass one. Thoughts occasionally arose which were never acted on. The exciting Whack Your Boss game brought those days back and allowed me to live my dream.

(Note: This site sometimes wants to install junk on your computer. Do what Nancy Reagan said to do about drugs.)

Profound thought for the day

Inner Strength

If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can overlook when people take things out on you when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can do all these things,
Then you are probably the family dog.

Doesn't she look cheerful?

(via the internet)

December 09, 2004

Was it something I said?

I just noticed that Ghost of a Flea has delisted me from his blogroll. And I have to say... I'm a little hurt. The only possible thing I ever said that could of offended him was when I mentioned the public disagreement between his blog and Heart of Canada. But I don't think anyone's that sensitive. Maybe he just doesn't like kids.

Blog linking etiquette has not (and probably never will be) formalized, but I think dropping someone that links to you, comments on your blog occasionally, maintains output, and occupies a similar political, cultural, and geographic space is, well... kind of rude. But that's just me. It's his blog and he's entitled to do whatever he wants with it. But he won't get any more votes from me in any internet popularity contests.

What they knew, and when they knew it

Kofi Annan was the head of UN peacekeeping operations during the Rwanda genocide over ten years ago. He dithered while UN forces there (led by Romeo Dallaire) watched and pleaded for more forces and the authority to act. He appears to have no remorse for that tragedy because he is calmly allowing another even worse genocide to occur in Darfur. In Eric Reeves' history of the crisis so far, he tells us what information the UN had, and what their pathetic response was to it:

"'Such reports leave me with a deep sense of foreboding,' said the Secretary-General. 'Whatever terms it uses to describe the situation [in Darfur], the international community cannot stand idle.'" (UN News Center, April 7, 2004)

Almost eight months later, despite Annan's "deep sense of foreboding," "the international community" has essentially "stood idle," relying exclusively on a woefully inadequate African Union force and humanitarian relief that is increasingly inadequate and endangered. And still the destruction of the African tribal populations of Darfur proceeds at a horrifying rate.

In a moment of characteristic bluster, Annan went on to say:

"'It is vital that international humanitarian workers and human rights experts be given full access to the region, and to the victims, without further delay,' he said. 'If that is denied, the international community must be prepared to take swift and appropriate action,' he warned." (UN News Center, April 7, 2004)

But of course Khartoum would contrive months of further delay in humanitarian access, and severely constrain UN human rights officials. There certainly was no "swift" or "appropriate" response.

"'Let us not wait until the worst has happened, or is already happening,' the Secretary-General concluded. 'Let us not wait until the only alternatives to military action are futile hand-wringing or callous indifference. Let us be serious about preventing genocide.'" (UN News Center, April 7, 2004)

Annan, with unintended accuracy, was describing precisely the situation that now prevails in Darfur. His own response seems to alternate fitfully between "hand-wringing" and "indifference" (he would say nothing significant about Darfur for two months following his April 7, 2004 comments). And though he himself explicitly evoked the threat of military intervention on April 7, there is still no sign---almost eight months later---that any planning for such intervention has even begun.

The Bush administation does not get a free ride in this story. Despite having openly declared what is occuring to be 'genocide', nothing is expected to come of it:
Powell knows the Bush administration has no intention of undertaking to "prevent genocide" in Darfur, a contractual obligation for the US under the 1948 UN "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide" (Article 1). Insisting that US contractual obligations are fulfilled by sending a determination to the Security Council is simply a way for the administration to wash its hands of greater responsibility.
Considering the devastation to the agricultural output of the area in the last year, the point of no return is fast approaching -- or may even have been crossed. With the close relations and business interests China has with government in Khartoum, there's no chance of the Security Council doing anything. But a strong-willed, well-respected international leader advocating an aggressive response might yet be able to turn the tide by forming another 'Coalition of the Willing'. Unfortunately, Bush doesn't have the 'well-respected' qualification and is a little over extended, and nobody else can be found with 'strong will'. 'Never Again' is just another empty slogan.

Where Kyoto is leading us

Britain is further ahead than Canada when it comes to meeting obligations under the Kyoto treaty. In Canada, all we've done is create a healthy environmental consultancy industry and have bombarded our citizens with earnest public service messages. In Britain they've started making the laws. Here's one poor British citizen on the edge of a breakdown describing one of them:

I tell her about that infamous legal text, and the insane requirements it places on all of us who break our own windows, in our own homes, in the course of a loving affray, and how we are compelled, if we wish to replace that window, to become members of the Society of Window Replacers, called FENSA, provided we can stump up the fee and pass the exam; and if we cannot pass the FENSA exam, how we must go to the council and deposit a plan showing how we propose to replace our own windows, in OUR OWN HOMES, in line with Britain's commitments under the Kyoto protocol on climate change, and having replaced the window how we must then go back to the council and get a COUNCIL APPOINTED WINDOW INSPECTOR to come out and verify that whatever we have done is in line with those international commitments. And is that not mad, ladies and gentlemen, I demand. Is that not the height of insanity?
The height of insanity? Let's not be too quick to judge. We haven't seen what our government will come up with yet.

(via Samizdata)

The most dangerous video game

It's Christmas. Time for the busybodies to issue press releases on things they oppose. One group, called the Interfaith Center of Corporate Responsibility, has issued a strong warning (Word format) on video games. It's the same old thing:

Years of research have shown that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children. Research on violent interactive media indicates that it has a strong and more lasting effect on violent behavior.
Okay, whatever. But it gets interesting when they list 'several games whose scenes of violence, gender and/or racial stereotyping are such that we would urge parents to avoid purchasing them'. Their number one pick? America's Army.

America's Army is not a standard 'video game' in the sense that you buy it at Wal-Mart, play it until you beat the final 'boss', then wait for the sequel to come out. Instead, it's a open-ended simulation of a career in the US Army and is available as a free download. Here's how the game is described:

America’s Army is one of the five most popular PC action games played online. It provides players with the most authentic military experience available, from exploring the development of Soldiers in individual and collective training to their deployment in simulated missions in the War on Terror.

Players are bound by the laws of land warfare, Army values (honor, duty and integrity) and realistic rules of engagement as they navigate challenges in teamwork-based multiplayer force vs. force operations. Mission accomplishment standings are evaluated based on team effort and adherence to a set of values and norms of conduct.

It sounds like there may be some violence in the game, but is it enough to make it the number one game they want to warn parents about? I played one of the Grand Theft Auto games once (GTA: San Andreas: out just in time for Christmas!), and one of the first things I was required to do was to beat someone to death with a baseball bat. The game was a nihilistic celebration of criminal culture and I really wouldn't want any teenager of mine to play it (though I wouldn't want it banned either). And America's Army, requiring 'honor, duty and integrity' from the player is worse than this?

In the minds of the Interfaith Center of Corporate Responsibility, yes. But they don't say why. I'm guessing because the game is a recruiting tool for the US Army and these people have anti-war beliefs. Labeling something you disagree with politically as dangerously loaded with 'violence, gender and/or racial stereotyping' is pretty low. But don't be surprised to see their list turning up in newspaper stories -- rewriting press releases is what they do best.

December 08, 2004

I'm an economic girlie-man

In his speech at the Republican National Convention, Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: 'Don't be economic girlie-men!'". But I am, and have been for some time. Optimism is great and is necessary for economic growth, but a willful blindness to reality can make a bad situation much worse. I've been expecting a big shake-up in the global economy, and now think I see the first signs of it's arrival: the steady drift lower of the US dollar.

My reasoning has always been ideological rather than based on some trendy economic theory. I think having governments mucking around in markets is a bad idea. And what's been going on for the last ten years is governments messing around in the foreign exchange and credit markets. Bigtime.

The Asian governments have been soaking up US dollars from the currency markets to keep their currencies low, thus keeping their exporters busy. The policy hasn't really kept Japan out of the doldrums, but it's kept the pedal to the floor in China and boosted places like South Korea and India. All those dollars held by the Asians have gone back to America to be loaned out, creating low interest rates and bottomless credit. This has contributed to a real estate bubble, a negligable savings rate, and a massively indebted population (and government).

Few problems are yet seen in the commonly quoted economic metrics. But because it takes ever increasing amounts of cash to maintain this artificial situation, it will eventually have to end. And when it does, it won't happen gradually. I really don't think a 'soft landing' on this one is possible. The amounts of American bonds held by Asian governments and corporations is a truly staggering, preposterous sum. When the great cash-out starts -- when traders conclude that a significant portion of the Asian governments can no longer keep the game going -- there'll be a rush to the exits. The US dollar will tank hard, and interest rates and inflation will shoot up. And if you don't want to believe the word of an unemployed blogger, take the word of brilliant Morgan Stanley economist Stephen Roach:

Our updated foreign exchange forecast now calls for a sharp depreciation of the dollar over the next six months. Relative to the dollar, we are now forecasting a 1.37 euro and a 95 yen by mid-2005 -- about 15% higher than our previous forecast and levels that could well put significant further downside pressure on externally-dependent European and Japanese economies. Moreover, given America’s record current account deficit, together with the huge dollar overweight in official foreign exchange reserve portfolios -- close to a 70% share of dollar-denominated assets versus America’s 30% share in world GDP -- the possibility of a flight out of dollars can hardly be ruled out.
He goes on to say that the only thing that will avert this financial earthquake would be a concerted effort by the major economies to increase their amount of intervention in these markets -- which will only delay the eventual reckoning and make it worse.

Stephen Roach works for a big financial services company, so he can't run around in circles flapping his arms in panic. But I can.

The end is nigh! Buy gold! Stock up on canned goods!

(Okay, I'm stretching it a little. But be warned...)

The gang's all here

I usually get emails from a few people complaining if there's no photo when I write about the kids. So this time I'll pre-empt them with this photo. As a bonus, our three, rapidly filling-out cats are in the photo: Squeak (bottom-left), Samba (top-right), Piccolo (bottom).

They all soon fled, as is the smart thing to do when Max gets that look in his eye...

An hour (and a bit) in the life

I haven't written much in the past week, and in my opinion, my output has dipped quite a bit in the past month. I'm writing this as an explanation. I'm busy. I have two kids that keep me running and continually off balance. It's crazy around here; you have no idea. I've written a number of pieces called 'A Day in the Life', which try to capture what life is like with these two little people. But they do a poor job at capturing the density of everyday activity, because I just can't write that much. But maybe if I concentrate on just one hour you can get an idea...

Mama had gone to work and I was downstairs with the kids watching videos. They've been changed, dressed, and have eaten and are moderately content. I hadn't eaten, but I had had my coffee, which is much more important. I've got my laptop with me -- plugged in because the battery seems to hold only fifteen minutes of charge -- and I'm doing my preliminary webcrawl of the day. I find a great piece by one of my favourite 'big picture' writers, Robert D. Kaplan, called 'The Media and Medievalism'. It's a little long, but I start to read it. How long will it take me?

We're watching 'Blue's Clues' (starring Steve, of course) because Talia demanded it. We have only three BC tapes, but Max and Talia can watch them over and over. The first episode on the tape is over and the second is just starting. I manage to read over a paragraph and a half before Max climbs up next to me with this ancient book from the Seventies my brother-in-law picked up at a garage sale that focuses on the amazing world on motorized transport. It has many pictures of of vehicles in that icky commercial art style of the era. He says, "Tuck! Tuck!", meaning he wants to look at the pictures of trucks. I hook him onto my lap with one arm and hold the book for him. He turns the pages on his own, happy to be sharing this wonderful resource with his Papa and expressing astonishment with each page. Meanwhile, I'm feigning interest in the 'tucks' while rereading the second paragraph on the article. Talia is watching the show while playing with some Fisher Price 'Peek-a-boo Blocks'.

I'm on the third paragraph when Steve whips out his handy-dandy...

Max: "No-book!"

Talia: "No-book!"

Papa: "Notebook"

Right. The show has a strange way of capturing your attention.

Max is now losing interest in the book and is starting to twist towards the computer. I know from past experience how fast he can be, and also that the button he wants to push is the big round one that shuts the computer down -- no 'are you sures?', just an automatic power-down. I move it out of his reach and get a better grip on him. I scroll the page I'm reading down to reveal unread text and try to let my eyes rest on a few new words.

Talia approaches me with some of her blocks, and says, "Pus! Pus!" Some of these blocks can make sounds if you manipulate them properly, but Talia is still working out how to do that. I take one of them and make the clicking sound for her. Unfortunately, Max -- with his long reach -- also takes one. This one block, out of many, many blocks, and just one toy out of dozens and dozens strewn around the floor, now becomes the center of a major confrontation. Talia wants it back. Max doesn't want to give it up. Both start screaming.

Distraction is the key to these disputes. I grab the nearest toy animal -- another gift of my brother-in-law: a smirking chihuahua that will hump your leg when you turn it on (the batteries are dead now, sadly) -- and make it jump on Talia to lick her face. It turns around in a circle and barks and jumps, and soon both of them have forgotten the standoff over the plastic block with the monkey inside it. They're giggling. But both of them are now focused on me for their entertainment, so I've got get them interested in something else if I'm ever going to crack that fourth paragraph. Hey look at the TV! I feign an intense interest in what's happening with Blue and Steve (Periwinkle and a tractor have joined them for a trip to an imaginary city where they're looking for the tractor's friend, a taxi cab). I ask Max and Talia questions about what's going on, and soon their attention is diverted enough that I manage to get through another three or four paragraphs.

Then: "Taya pee-pee!" Okay, time to take Talia upstairs for a session on the potty. I carefully hide the computer under the sofa (because you can't imagine what Max can do to it in just a few minutes) and take Talia upstairs. Except now she doesn't want to go. Something's happened on the show that has captured her attention and now she's looking at the TV and saying, "No pee-pee! No pee-pee!" No point trying to drag her up, she'll just scream; I take out the computer, sit down and read perhaps a sentence before: "Taya pee-pee! Taya pee-pee!" I hide the computer and hustle her upstairs.

Once she's sitting, she starts making demands. "Book! Book!"

"What do you say?"

"Peez!", she says sweetly. I give her a book. She drops it and says, "Book! Book!" She wants the other book.

I look at her sharply. She says, "Peez..." We're getting there.

The potty's just a little big for her, and she swings her legs as she flips through the other book. Finally she gets up and says, "Ah-done!" There's maybe 5 ccs of liquid in the cup. Once she's dressed, she runs into the kitchen and demands a cookie. I figure a cookie will distract them for a couple of minutes, so, once I coax the 'P' word out of her, I grab a couple of cookies, hook her under my arm and take her downstairs.

I give them their cookies and try to decide what to watch next. Blue's Clues has just concluded. We have a DVD of 'Finding Nemo', Talia has been interested in fish for a while, so, maybe that'll be good. They've never seen it, but maybe they can get something out of it. And maybe I'll get enough quiet to finish this article. I slap it in and let them watch.

It's got a few scary bits in it, so Max has curled up next to me. Max is pretty sensitive about these things. Talia is standing in the middle of the room watching. I get about ten minutes of reading in before Talia starts heading upstairs. I call her back down, but she doesn't listen. Because I'm cuddled with Max, I don't want to run up after her, so I set my internal trouble timer for five minutes and leave her alone. She can't get in too much trouble in that time. I try to read a bit more, but I'm distracted.

When the trouble timer goes off, I go up and see what she's up to. She's sitting on her little tricycle and pushing herself around. Someone must have brought it inside. I take her and it downstairs so she can continue to play.

Back downstairs and reading, I manage another few sentences before another confrontation is underway. Max has somehow taken the tricycle away from Talia and is sitting on it and rocking back and forth. Talia is shrieking at the injustice of it all. This will be a difficult situation to resolve. I pick up Talia and try some intense cuddling and tickling to distract her. She's having none of that; she arches her back and squirms and screams. I sit her on the couch and call up some pictures on the computer. She loves to look at pictures and is soon happily naming all the people she sees and answering my questions about what colour things are. Max has now abandoned the tricycle and is back to watching the movie, but I have the feeling the confrontation would erupt again if Talia were to touch it. It's still his property.

Eventually I get her watching the movie again, but their attention doesn't last. First Max starts heading upstairs, then Talia follows. We've had enough TV, I guess, so I take the computer upstairs and plug it in on the kitchen counter. I've finished almost two thirds of the article! I put together a snack for them. They get cut-up dates with Cheerios in two little bowls. Max eats all his dates first, and Talia eats all her Cheerios. Then Max spills his Cheerios on the floor and raids Talia's bowl for more dates while she picks up and eats Max's Cheerios. Since screaming is not involved in these activities, I pay little mind as I start getting close to the end of the article.

Once Max is done, he grabs my leg and says, "Mee! Mee!" This means 'More! More!', but I tell him he's had enough. This was not the answer he was hoping for so he starts shrieking. Again.

Looking at the clock, I say, "I think someone's tired. Would you like to have a sleepy?" Max doesn't seem too keen, but Talia is already climbing the stairs. I pour them a couple of cups of water and carry Max upstairs. He's sniffling a bit when I put him in bed, but he accepts it and is happy to take his cup of water -- or "ow" as they both now call it. Talia easily lies down in bed and takes her cup. As I close the door to their room they're already falling asleep.

I get down to the kitchen, and in five minutes finish the article! (I can't say much for my comprehension though...)

December 03, 2004

Most Annoying Canadian Update IV

The second round of voting in the Most Annoying Canadian competition has been completed. The results are as follows:

Who is your choice for Most Annoying Canadian?

Brian Mulroney 4%17
Louise Beaudoin 1%5
Jean Chrétien 11%46
Buzz Hargrove 6%24
Naomi Klein 11%44
Jacques Parizeau 2%7
Antonia Zerbisias 18%73
Jaggi Singh 4%18
John Ralston Saul 15%60
That Helpful Canadian Tire Guy 28%115
232 votes total

Congratulations to Jean Chrétien, Naomi Klein, Antonia Zerbisias, John Ralston Saul, and the Helpful Canadian Tire Guy -- you're moving into the finals! Joining them will be the four winners from the first round, plus Carolyn Parrish, whose recent burst of annoying behavior on the national scene has earned her the privilege of skipping the qualifying rounds. The final will run until the end of this month, so that the Most Annoying Canadian can be crowned in the new year. I'm thinking of having a trophy made and having it sent to the winner.

The voting rules haven't changed. Each computer you own gets one vote each day. Jamming the ballot box is encouraged, as is any kind of devious internet campaign you can think of. There can be only one winner, so unlike the first rounds when it was only necessary to get your choice into the top five, this round is serious. Let's see who the Most Annoying Canadian is!

If Arafat can win it...

... Why not a thug like Hugo Chávez? Obviously having a long rap sheet of human rights abuses is no impediment to winning. Venezeula is lobbying to award the Nobel Peace Prize to him for his 'educational and health programs'. (Vote here!)

Destroying the brand

The WSJ has an article on how the Red Cross are using their moral authority as a cudgel to bash the United States -- without regards to the facts, common sense or historical precident.

In this latest case, the ICRC is alleging that the psychological conditions faced by Guantanamo detainees are "tantamount to torture." Why? Because--we kid you not--prisoners are being held for indefinite periods, and the uncertainty is stressful.
Other advocacy groups are following the same pattern. We've also had Amnesty International making formal complaints that handing food to prisoners in Iraq in plastic bags is 'degrading', and the ACLU managing to force the County of Los Angeles to remove a tiny cross from their seal, to name just a few.

The power these groups have is in their status as impartial advocates for just causes. If instead they allow themselves to be frequently associated with reflexive anti-American or anti-Christian attitudes, they're going to find fewer and fewer people willing to listen to them. It might even be too late.

December 01, 2004

Most Embarrassing Canadian chosen!

No, not the Most Annoying Canadian -- the Most Embarrassing Canadian. The Most Annoying Canadian is a serious competition that is not rushing to a conclusion. I feel it's important to give people time to stack the voting to get the right candidate to win. But the Most Embarrassing Canadian competition is more interested in efficiency and so has announced the winner now.

And so... The Most Embarrassing Canadian is...

Tommy Douglas!
No, wait. That's not right. I'm not sure how I've got this mixed up. But go here if you want to see who the winner is...

Snow! Snow!

Big excitement around here today as the first major snowfall laid a thick, wet, white covering over everything. Max and Talia had had snow explained to them and they had been reading about it in books such as Stella, Queen of the Snow, but today they finally got to see it. Right after breakfast, I dressed them in their oversized snowsuits and took them out.

The snow was perfect for packing, and I found I could roll a big ball without a bit of effort, just like in the cartoons. In my childhood, I rarely encountered snow like this, but then, I grew up in Winnipeg, and it was usually too cold for snow to be sticky. We had to make a snowman.

We named him Roger. He was a big hit with the kids, and hopefully we can keep him around for a while.