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July 31, 2006

The Echo Chamber Argument

Adam Radwanski has a column in the National Post today (behind the subscriber wall) where he makes the tired claim that all that is happening on political blogs is preaching to the converted. I've heard it before and don't buy it. Here's the summary of the problem as he perceives it:

The blogosphere is good for music and trading notes on pop culture. It can be great for sports commentary. It's a way to pass time for those interested in reading the mundane details of strangers' personal lives.

But what it is absolutely lousy for is political debate -- mostly because what it encourages is not debate at all, so much as support groups in which the converted preach to one another about the evils of some dark and mysterious enemy. Those frequenting blogs don't learn much and their views are rarely challenged. What they get out of the experience is having their own views reinforced over and over again, until even relative moderates are converted into hard-liners.

He doesn't really give any evidence for these claims. This is as close as he gets to explaining why this is:
The Internet has not done it alone; talk radio and Fox News have played their role. But what the blogosphere has going for it, more even than those outlets, is the ability to bring together people of one specific viewpoint from all over a given country.

For simple reasons of geography, other outlets cannot do that. A newspaper can be liberal or conservative in its editorial stance, but there simply aren't enough ideologues in any given city for it to be sustainable as a one-sided pamphlet. And with the broad base of viewers needed to draw in advertisers, the same usually goes for TV networks.

A Web site, however, is a different matter entirely. With little or no overhead and no geographic restrictions, it can be successful just by cobbling together a few thousands fans somewhere within a country's borders.

The result is that opinionated Americans no longer have to suffer the ordeal of encountering views they disagree with. Instead, they can simply go online and find an endless supply of writers eager to tell them that they're right and everyone else is wrong.

And of course, the style sheet for these kind of articles require the writer to close with a warning:
This would be a relatively minor concern if such fulminating was limited to the Internet. But conditioned by their online reading, as well as listening to Fox and talk radio, consumers are demanding the same stuff elsewhere.

The rise of an Ann Coulter on the right or an Al Franken on the left -- commentators who spend most of their time attacking cartoon versions of liberals and conservatives, respectively -- suggests where this culture is taking us.

And it's not just the big names: Go to the American politics section of your local bookstore, and you'll find that half the titles are simple-minded polemics against either the left or the right, many of them written by people who made their reputations online.

In Canada, we're moving slower. But there's little doubt we're headed in the same direction.

Here, the right is a little more organized than the left -- the "Blogging Tories" group creating a community of hundreds of like-minded blogs with similar obsessions (the liberal media, pacifists, etc.) to the ones found south of the border. But it's the Canadian left that has actually shown the biggest crossover into mainstream media, courtesy of Antonia Zerbisias -- a media columnist and blogger for the Toronto Star whose main job appears to be attacking conservative commentators on both sides of the border.

True, we don't yet have entire TV programs devoted to advancing an ideology. But with commentators increasingly emulating the zealous partisanship of the online crowd in the hope of eliciting similarly strong reactions, it might not be long. It's a trend that should remind us to hold ourselves to a higher standard, to seek out dissenting views and think critically about the perspectives being sold to us -- because the last thing we need is a nation of Right Girls and their sycophants.

The whole article is pretty lazy, and I'm sure Radawnski knows it. But if you haven't dipped into the blogosphere before, he presents it as how you would probably imagine it: a bunch of angry, red-faced loonies shouting their talking points over and over while they keep their fingers in their ears. But of course it isn't like that.

First of all, this 'two-camps' view of political discourse is nonsense. Sure, there are people that view themselves as 'right' or 'left', but many are just writing about things as they see them. All types of views are out there that don't easily fall into either 'side'. There are anti-war libertarians, neo-con liberals, so-con isolationists, and everything in-between. There's a great variety of views available.

And there is a lot of communication between even the most contrary of political positions. Blogs are not empty of discussion. If an idea is spinning through the 'left' side of the blogosphere, it will soon appear in the 'right' as well -- for debunking if possible, or just as comments by visiting members of the opposing camp. I see the blogosphere as a brain, with each blog acting somewhat as a synapse. They're all wired up in a way that's impossible to understand, and yet it works. When a useful or interesting idea appears on a blog somewhere, it might be picked up by other blogs in its neighborhood, subjected to close examination, commentary and refinement, and be forwarded along. It might eventually travel through dozens of blogs and may even travel the corpus callosum of the blogosphere to appear on blogs with a different ideological bent than the one that created it. Contrary to Radawnski's characterization, information on many blogs is not one-sided boilerplate, but may have been subjected to more scrutiny than most information in the mainstream media.

What bugs me most about the piece is its intrinsic conceit. There is the conceit that newspapers and other traditional media -- though not Fox News, which he disparages twice in an article ostensibly about blogs -- are a more balanced and honest source of information. When he writes of the importance 'to hold ourselves to a higher standard, to seek out dissenting views and think critically about the perspectives being sold to us', the self-congratulation is palpable -- and for me, completely undeserved. But there is also the conceit that blog readers and writers are unthinking dittoheads, interested only in preserving their cosy cocoon of safe assumptions. But from what I see, these are the people that 'think critically'. There are interested in the world and find the thin gruel of the lowest-common-denominator MSM insufficient for their needs.

A year and a half ago, the Post published another piece bashing blogs. Responding to it I wrote:

[T]he entire tone of this piece was a sneering, 'Ghod, those bloggers are just soooo lame', with which the editors of the Post seem to agree. I see this attitude often when the mainstream press mentions blogs, but other groups of enthusiastic amateurs are never covered in a similar light. You will never see mockery of customized car buffs, or amateur musicians, artists, film makers, and actors. But amateur political writers? Beneath contempt.
And the same hold true to this article. It's understandable, I guess. Considering the dwindling readerships of most newspapers, the last thing they would want to do is turn their customers on to the competition.

UPDATE: Greg Staples at Political Staples has some more commentary on this article.

Stuff & Things XXIII

  • Remember Kart Vader? He's the guy that takes his racing kart out on the streets of Quebec City in the middle of the night. I recently came across this cool video of him challenging authority.
  • Kart Vader is only the latest in the history of outlaw video racers. The first might have been the unknown Ferrari driver in Rendez-Vous, which takes place in Paris in the 70s. Make sure you watch it in full screen with the sound turned up.
  • Speaking of challenging authority, Lisa at the London Fog has released an update on her quest to avoid census enumeration. Of course, this is the same Lisa that begged Darcey and I not to walk on a Toronto street with a beer bottle in our hand. Her battle against the man has its limits, I guess. [insert smiley here]
  • Okay, another video. Should breakdancing be in the Olympics? Yes.
  • What looks like Jimmy Carter, Steve Buscemi, Hillary Clinton, and Gollum all rolled into one? Gnotalex will show you.
  • Okay, that's enough for now. Time to make lunch...

July 30, 2006

This is the life

A beautiful day, a gin and tonic, my slick new laptop to blog on, a comfy chair and groovy tunes. And no kids.

UPDATE: I guess I got a little too comfortable to do any blogging...

Jigsaw Sudoku Solution

Okay, the constant emails were bad enough, but those midnight phone calls were the last straw. Here's the solution to the jigsaw sudoku I posted last week. Just leave me alone already!

It's in the extended entry.

Obsession

I'm sure this video is busily being linked to around the blogosphere, but that's because it's very, very good. Obsession tells the story of modern radical Islam. It's over an hour long, but it's very much worth your time. There is a huge fascist movement building in the world, and the impression given by our media is that it is only small minority committing terrorism and that they are acting out of legitimate grievances. Hopefully this will open a few eyes.

It's also a very pro-Muslim film. It features many Muslim speakers and ends by countering the many examples of Islamist hate it had shown with exhortations from Muslim clerics and leaders to stand against fanaticism.

July 29, 2006

Choice adjectives

NDP MP Alexa McDonough: "slightly obscene and morally bankrupt..."

Steve McKinnon, the national director of the Liberal Party: "depraved..."

Liberal leadership hopeful Gerard Kennedy: "crass" and "offensive."

Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation: "shameful and appalling."

Who? The Tories. Why? They sent an email to Conservative party members requesting donations, and referred to Stephen Harper's lack of dithering in the Middle East in a positive manner.

Kennedy further said, "The implication it makes is that this is just another political issue to make hay out of." Obviously it's not, as can be seen by the Liberal's and NDP's decision not to use the conflict to score cheap political shots.

July 28, 2006

Pop?

A story by Jacquelene Thorpe in today's National Post suggests that the US housing bubble may finally be about to pop:

"The slowdown in house price inflation has been extraordinarily rapid," Gabrielle Stein, chief international economist at Lombard Street Research said in a report this week.

"Unlikely though it seems, the latest data ... mean that falling house prices can no longer be ruled out. And if they do fall, then any thought of an orderly slowdown in the housing market must go out of the window. To be joined by hopes of consumer spending holding up in coming quarters."

Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs, said in a report prices could decline for the first time on record in 2007 on a nominal basis -- that is, unadjusted for inflation.

With credit starting to tighten, and record inventories everywhere, the crash in the real estate market will be severe. It's going to have huge effects on consumer spending, employment, finance, and the general way people look at the future. And it's not a question of if it's going to happen, but when...

Check out the Housing Bubble Blog for more portents of doom.

July 27, 2006

Thursday Tot Shot

Yeah, we finally got haircuts for them...

Work cut out for them

A comment on a story at the Globe and Mail:

P W from Canada writes: It's going to be tough for Israel to eliminate all of Hezbollah, since a good number have already been evacuated to Canada.....

Who's to blame?

Some online polls in the Middle East suggest Arabs are not quite as united behind Hezbollah as coventional wisdom would suggest and the media portray them.

Online surveys by two Middle East news sites offer different answers [to the question of 'Who's to blame?'].

Israel, said a slight plurality of 93,000 plus readers who responded to a poll done by Aljazeera.net, Web site of the Arab TV channel based in Dubai. Thirty percent said Israel was "mainly to blame," while 24 percent cited Hezbollah and 22 percent cited Syria and Iran. Twelve percent said the United States was mainly to blame.

Hezbollah, said a slight plurality of more than 6,500 readers responding to an online survey by Beirut's Naharnet News. Forty-two percent agreed the Shiite militia was to blame for the conflict, while 37 percent faulted Israel. Eleven percent named Iran and 10 percent cited Syria.

Though the Washington Post might like to spin these results as 'different answers', to me they are pretty much the same: about 40% blame Israel (and the US), and about 50% blame Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.

Compared to Quebec, where 57% percent say Israel is unjustified in it's actions (different question, I know), that's pretty good. True, online polls skew towards the more educated and weathly, and can be manipulated; but I think they at least show that there is no broad consensus against Israel. Most Arab countries will be content to sit back and let the Israelis do their thing.

Russia working to improve the UN's effectiveness

Oh, good. Russia supports Chavez on the Security Council for two years. Could you imagine? Thanks, Vladimir.

Actually, I think the US should also support Venezuela's bid. There's no bigger monkey wrench that could be thrown into the UN's workings than Chavez's paranoia and ego. The UN would become completely irrelevant. More obviously so, I mean.

July 26, 2006

Thanks, Dalton

Now the Quebec government is the target of illegal native protesters looking for a bigger slice of government swag:

Hundreds of off-reserve Natives pitched tents on a barricaded Hull street, where their controversial leader vowed they'd stay "as long as it takes" for the federal government to recognize and fund their newly formed organization.

In the shadow of a federal office tower, they raised three tall teepees, roasted a pig and listened to traditional drummers in what organizers called a reunion -- not a demonstration -- yesterday.

But Grand Chief Guillaume Carle, of the Confederation of Aboriginal People of Canada, used militant words.

"They have to give us the first step or all hell is going to break loose," Carle said. "People are not going away. They're coming. We're not looking for a fight. We're looking to tell the government we can't live like this anymore."

I'm not sure what specific demands they have other than money. The Globe says they 'want the same benefits that are afforded refugees and immigrants in Canada', whatever those are. The Ottawa Sun has them 'seeking $3.5 million over five years for its Quebec arm to organize'. (In other words, to set the protest leaders up with posh offices and respectability so they can direct future media stunts more effectively.) It just seems to be a simple shakedown.

Dalton McGuinty's craven response to the situation in Caledonia has brought this latest crowd out. And if this situation isn't handled properly, expect similar protests over the rest of Canada.

The propaganda war heats up

As a rule, I try not to watch much TV news. It's too vapid, too emotional and too stupid for the most part. But I have seen a bit of the coverage in Lebanon, and I'm pretty disappointed. Much of it seems to be concerned with trying to cram as many crying women and bloody children into a two minute segment as possible. Israel may have the advantage in military might, but they always get creamed in the propaganda war.

Of course, this is all due to the media-terrorist feedback loop. They both need each other, and work together well. A CNN reporter has even admitted his coverage was the result of working with Hezbollah. James Taranto suggests this kind of coverage creates a danger for civilians:

Israel, unlike Hezbollah, is constrained by human decency. By using civilians as shields, Hezbollah hopes to limit the Jewish state's military options. Hezbollah wins either way, since if Israeli strikes do hurt or kill civilians, the international media, including CNN, depict this as the result of Israel's, rather than Hezbollah's, brutality.

A report like Cal Perry's, in other words, provides Hezbollah with an incentive to endanger Lebanese civilians further. CNN, then, must bear some degree of moral culpability for the suffering of Lebanon's population.

It's clear Hezbollah is using innocents to win the propaganda war. Israel has dropped leaflets advising civilians to flee, but Hezbollah has worked to prevent this. Their bodies are a military asset, and may be needed (in a mangled form) to appear on TV behind some blow-dried blowhard from Atlanta.

Cox and Forkum illustrates this attitude perfectly:

July 24, 2006

What is he sorry for?

Steve Case is 'sorry' his worthless company managed to buy an established media company rich in assets:

Steve Case, co-founder of the one-time biggest online service AOL, apologized for the company's merger with media conglomerate Time Warner Inc. in an interview with U.S. journalist Charlie Rose.

In an interview broadcast on Friday, Case, who was shoved aside as chairman in 2003 and who left the board entirely in 2005, said, "Yes, I'm sorry I did it," referring to the 2001 merger of Time Warner and AOL.

The deal, known as one of the worst corporate mergers in history, destroyed some $200 billion in shareholder value.

At the time of the merger, AOL was riding the tide of the dot-com stock mania and had a market cap of US$150 billion. And that with little in the way of assets or revenue, just lots of subscribers. Without the merger, AOL would only be known today as a dot-com era joke, judging by its post-merger success. But latched to a big media company, they've managed to stick around until today. Case made a great deal, trading worthless paper for a real, profitable company. I consider it to be the greatest swindle of all time -- and it was legal! The US$200 billion loss in shareholder value was due to the dot-com bust, and would have happened to both companies anyway -- though in a far greater proportion to AOL.

The people who should be sorry for the AOL Time-Warner bungle are Ted Turner and the rest from the Time-Warner side. And I'm sure they are -- they were taken to the cleaners.

Jigsaw Sudoku

Boredom was creeping into my daily sudoku puzzle. But then I found out about jigsaw sudokus! My tried and true solution techniques no longer worked and my interest was reignited. Solve this puzzle if you can.

I'll post the solution in a few days.

(Shamelessly swiped from Extreme Sudoku by Mark Huckvale)

UPDATE: Oh no, I just discovered a daily jigsaw sudoku site! Now I'm never going to get any work done around here...

Morning chuckle

I got a nice laugh reading John Kerry's vital thoughts on the events in the Middle East this morning:

"If I was president, this wouldn't have happened," said Kerry during a noon stop at Honest John's bar and grill in Detroit's Cass Corridor.

Bush has been so concentrated on the war in Iraq that other Middle East tension arose as a result, he said.

"The president has been so absent on diplomacy when it comes to issues affecting the Middle East," Kerry said. "We're going to have a lot of ground to make up (in 2008) because of it."

[...]

Hezbollah guerillas should have been targeted with other terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaida and the Taliban, which operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kerry said. However, Bush, has focused military strength on Iraq.

"This is about American security and Bush has failed. He has made it so much worse because of his lack of reality in going into Iraq.…We have to destroy Hezbollah," he said.

So now he's suggesting America should have invaded Lebanon instead? I'm sure that would have went over well.

During his Presidential run, Kerry was unable to lay out a plan for what he would have done in Iraq, even with the benefit of hindsight. Now he suggests he could have avoided having Israel invade Lebanon, if only he was President. But how? His coma-inducing website somehow neglects to mention it.

UPDATE: Bush is sending Kerry to fix things.

July 20, 2006

A letter from Jack!

In yesterday's mail I received an envelope from Jack! Layton containing a cheap brochure full of typical NDP bumf. Yadda yadda, missile defense, yadda yadda, environmental responsibilities, cancer-causing pesticides, yadda yadda, big oil, child care responsibilities, and protecting public healthcare. Aside from the usual is the message that the Tories have been backed by the Bloc in all their nefarious doings. The title is 'BLOC BACKS CONSERVATIVE AGENDA'. The flyer is in French first, so I gather that it's aimed at trying to pull left-wing Quebecers away from the Bloc and into the embrace of a real progressive, social-justice, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too party. Whatever. Good luck to them.

But what bothers me is that it was sent using Layton's House of Commons stationary as a letter from an MP. The letter is addressed to me and my wife and the NDP paid no postage on it. Presumably it was sent all over Quebec as well, all on the government's dime.

I'm no expert in the campaign financing laws, but I've been involved in a few projects that involve both the Conservative party and the Conservative government and am keenly aware of the importance of keeping the two separate. MP's business can be paid for by the MP's budget. Party business is paid for by the party. It seems to me that an obviously partisan pitch like this flyer is not the business of the government and should be paid for by the NDP. Am I wrong? I'd like to hear from anyone that knows more about this.

July 19, 2006

When will it end?

It's a rare day that I sit in front of the TV at 8:00 and wonder what's on, but tonight I did. On Fox there's the talent reality show So You Think You Can Dance. On CBS, the talent reality show Rock Star: Supernova. ABC has The One: Making A Music Star. I think it might be a talent reality show. NBC has America's Got Talent, possibly another talent reality show. And in Canada we have CBC and CTV both simulcasting one of those shows, with A channel bravely blazing its own path with Canada's Next Top Model.

TreeHouse has Little Bear. I think I'll watch that.

July 18, 2006

Justify

That's what George Jonas tried to do to the news that eight Canadians, including young children, were killed by Israeli bombs the other day. It's not easy to do, probably impossible. Jonas took a pasting in the letters page of today's National Post for trying.

But I've got the Israeli flag up on the sidebar of this blog, indicating I support what Israel is doing. I can't take that support back because something went wrong. And I don't want to -- I want them to continue and be successful in their attacks. So here's my justification:

At the end of the Lebanese civil war, all factions were supposed to disarm, and all of them did -- except Hizbullah. No one in Lebanon wanted to reignite the civil war, so no one pushed very hard for them to abide by the terms of peace. The international community also looked the other way. Hizbullah was laying low, and they only know how to react to crisises.

Hizbullah used this freedom to rearm, recruit and raise money. They turned southern Lebanon into their own kingdom. They used their intimidation of the Lebanese government and their alliances with the worst of the Mid-East's regimes to build an impressive terrorist infrastructure. The rockets they had been accumulating (and occasionally using) before Israel's strikes are useless as military weapons and can only be used to kill civilians. The threat hanging over Israel could not ignored much longer.

Hizbullah, like all terrorist organizations, use civilians for cover. They depend on the decency of their enemies to prevent retaliation. Their weapon stockpiles and their command centers are all mixed in with civilian buildings. It's inevitable that in fighting such an enemy there are going to be civilian casualties. But if blame has to be assigned to these deaths, assign it to those that use the innocent as a shield to attack from.

Spider blogging II

Last year I shared with the world a photo of a huge spider I found inside a log. Due to the tremendous response to that photo (2 comments! Wow!), I have decided to show the world the latest giant arachnid hiding out in my yard. She's at least as big as the one from last year, but she's a lot friskier.

Her name is Laverne and she lives in a hollow of a tree next to Max and Talia's play structure. The kids are both fascinated with spiders and have absolutely no fear of them. If you can look closely at her, you can see an egg sac underneath. That's right, Laverne is going to be a mommy!

I'll try to keep the blogosphere up to date.

My, that's a big burrito!

Some people say portion sizes have got too large in the US. Nonsense. Why, I could probable finish this burrito in a week and still have some room for ice cream!

(via Nobody's Business)

July 14, 2006

Living in interesting times

There have been real wars before, there will be real wars again. I think many people have forgotten this -- I know I have. Sure, I can understand the thought intellectually; I've studied history and think I have a fair understanding of the international tensions in the world today. But the idea has never really sunk in.

Up until now in my adult life, wars involving the great powers have largely been against isolated, weak regimes with the result not in doubt. Only the Iraq war -- or rather the Iraq 'insurgency' -- bears any similarity to a 'real' conflict. But even there, there is restraint -- on both sides, I think -- to keep the battle from slipping the borders and becoming a greater confrontation.

But the possibility exists now that that may all change. Israel may want to confine its attacks to Lebanon even though they know it is Syria and Iran that are controling Hezbollah, but Syria and Iran may decide to overtly aid Hezbollah enough that Israel has no choice but to expand operations. This would be the cue for Jihadist movements throughout the Middle East -- and the Arab governments that fear them -- to join the fray. Another '67 war could be right around the corner. As it stands today, I can't see Israel backing down, and Hezbollah seems to be itching for a fight.

What would the US do if the war expands? Actively support Israel? They should, but could they? What happens if Iran attempts to close the Strait of Hormuz? How will China side? Russia? How does it end? The difference between now and the Six Day War is that then Israel was fighting armies organized by nations. Nations can be occupied and can sue for peace. Today they are fighting terrorist groups don't fight for land but for an ideal. They don't have those old 20th century restrictions.

Personally, I blame the media, the Democrats, and the international elites for what's happening. After Iraq was liberated, Iran and Syria were terrified that they were going to be next. But after three years of incessant criticism from those three groups the message has gone out loud and clear that the United States is divided and Bush is diplomatically isolated. Iran and Syria feel that they can get away with whatever mischief they can come up with, so the masks they hid behind to carry out their proxy wars are starting to slip. I think they've underestimated the power and the resolve of the US, though I'm not sure if I want that belief to be put to the test.

July 13, 2006

You learn something new every day

Sometimes, when you're driving behind some slowpoke down the highway, you find yourself asking questions that are not easy to answer -- without getting into a lot of trouble. Fortunately, the internet has the answers:

It seems those Smart cars are more resilient than they look. Oh well, better to find out now.

Of course, there are other bad things that can happen to Smart cars

Papa Kofi

Kofi Annan reminds me of an powerless father that his children refuse to listen to:

"I condemn without reservation the attack that took place ... and demand that the Israeli troops be released immediately ..." Annan told a news conference in Rome.

Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed up to seven Israelis, in what Israel described as an act of war by Lebanon that would draw a "very painful" response.

Israel mobilised a reserve infantry division and Hezbollah declared an all-out military alert.

"I think they (regional leaders) should also do whatever they can to press all parties to exercise restraint. We are looking at a very dangerous part of the world and we would not want to see an expansion, an escalation of conflict in region," he said.

'I said stop it! Did you hear me? I said stop it! Now! Look, I'm only going to say this once more...'

Not that I would know anything about that kind of situation, of course...

July 11, 2006

Another rock uncovered

Yesterday, Industry Canada released the results of an audit on a sampling of companies that received 'loans' from the Technology Partnerships Canada program. This was a program that handed money out to tech companies promising products so dubious they couldn't find any other source of funding, and were conveniently located in strategic ridings around the country. The program had such a bad stench that it was the Liberals that decided to close it down last September -- unless the needy technology company involved aerospace or defence. In which case the gravy train was still rolling.

The audit only looked at whether the companies broke the terms of their contracts with TPC with regards to paid lobbying. It was found that almost a third of the sample had used lobbyists to get their hands on the cash, paying between $100,000 and $900,000. The audits didn't look at whether the projects funded made any sense, or what work was done. They also didn't look at the chances that Canadian taxpayers would ever see any of these 'loans' paid back. So far it doesn't look good, out of the roughly $2.15 billion paid out since 1996, only $156 million has been paid back. Hopefully more rocks will be uncovered in the near future and more information will be revealed on how the Liberals spent our money.

Many of the companies that cashed in were legitimate, but we can also assume that some small companies whose major assets were slick PowerPoint presentations and the phone numbers of good lobbyists were able to loot millions from the taxpayers. This should be big news, but it isn't. We all knew this kind of stuff was going on and we collectively shrugged our shoulders. That's why this story is relegated to the business section of today's paper and will soon be forgotten.

July 10, 2006

Must be tertiary syphilis

I'm so glad to have had the chance to meet Fenris Badwulf in Toronto before he went completely insane. But then again, I somewhat regret not meeting the individual who wrote this:

Accept the smoke of burning airships with your morning Tim Horton coffee and donut. Let cougar women feast upon the sexual delights of fresh trained eighteen year old soldiers. Say ‘Welcome’ to the business opportunities of total war. Make a service contract offer with The War God.

Soon, you will have a comfortable air raid shelter. The government will give you a coffee machine, and donuts after each large city wide attack. It will have running water, electricity for your computer and air conditioner, and recycled air out of the deepest sewers. What a deal! You will be as safe as a mushroom. You will be the man with the car and the hot chick when the lights go out and city evacuates during the attacks from the city melting machine from beyond Pluto.

Sound the War Timpani! Honk the Clarinets! Pummel the Tamobrine Ensemble! Let the fearsome roar of our Castanetes sound across the land as our invincible squares of pikemen and dashing halberdiers move to subjugate new territories for our mutual economic benefit. Hurrah for Monopoly Capitalism!

Yes, This Country is assembling a pre-emptive planning sub-committee (ex folio ut nil captum barbarorum) for the aggressive reconnaissence of the least outer and greatest inner parameters of the projected problem exploration grouping. Our Enemies are Doomed!

It'll all be over soon.

The best of a bad situation

My friend Pato and I often have little clashes about politics. But maybe the libertarian in him is starting to come out. He wanted to build a tennis court on his large plot of land and applied to his municipality for a building permit. They told him to forget about it (apparently because it's on a flood plain; but then, so is his house), so he decided to do it anyway. After spending many thousands of dollars clearing the land, flattening it, and bringing in the sand and rock for the foundation, he was discovered and told to immediately halt work -- or else. A conservative is a liberal that's been mugged, and a libertarian is a liberal that's had a dispute with their local government. I've got high hopes for his future development.

But on the bright side, the blasted landscape that was left (and evidently must remain) is a wonderful place for preschoolers to play. Max and Talia spent a happy couple of hours getting dirty driving toy trucks and digging for treasure.

July 09, 2006

Zidane lets it slip through his fingers

So what the heck was that guy thinking? It's the last ten minutes of a match in which France is clearly outplaying their opponents. A billion people are watching; it's the last game of Zidane's career -- and possibly the most important. And he head-butts some guy out of play and knocks him to the ground? Did he think he could get away with it?

Sure France might have lost anyway, but he killed the great momentum the team had at that moment. And he was definitely going to be needed for the shoot-out in the end. What a waste.

UPDATE: I spent some time looking for this last night on YouTube but was unsuccessful, but here it is, the moment Zidane loses it:

Reform in the UN...

...is meaningless. The old UN Human Rights Commission has been replaced by the new and 'reformed' Human Rights Council. The fact that Iran sent a known human rights abuser to be their representative was a bad sign, but now the Council has met for two weeks we can see just how similar to the old corrupt Commision they are:

The widespread misrepresentation of the Council made its self-immolation in its first two weeks of operation even more striking. The Human Rights Council is the UN's lead human rights body, and examples of egregious human rights violations should not have been hard to find.

In Darfur, there are three quarters of a million people beyond humanitarian reach, 2.5 million people displaced by the violence, 385,000 people in immediate risk of starvation, and over two million dead in 22 years of violence and deprivation.

But it wasn't genocide in Sudan that interested the Human Rights Council. Nor was it a billion Chinese without civil and political rights. Not 13 million women in Saudi Arabia whose lives depend on hiding from sight in public places and never being caught behind the wheel of an automobile.

Not the dire human rights conditions of 23 million people in North Korea. Not Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's incitement to genocide or his country's legal system, which includes crucifixion, stoning and amputation.

No, there was only one country singled out by the UN Human Rights Council, and that was Israel.

The Council decided that the program for the first session should focus discussion on five issues; the first one being the "human rights situation in the occupied Arab Territories, including Palestine." (The rest were "support for the Abuja Peace Agreement," and three thematic subjects.) The Council placed criticism of Israel permanently on the agenda of all future sessions. It gave only the special investigator on Israel what amounted to a permanent mandate. On its final day, the Council passed just one resolution condemning human rights violations by any of the 192 UN members, and directed it at Israel. When it was all over, the Council decided to hold its first special (emergency) session within the next few days - on Israel.

You'd think that with everyone watching, and with so much being made of the 'fresh start' that the Council was going to provide, they'd try a little harder to take their role seriously. But no; they can't help themselves. It's all they know.

July 07, 2006

The nicer parts of Hell

It's not often you get a glimpse of the most paranoid state in the world. Check out this message board for dozens of revealing photos taken secretly by a Russian on a tour of North Korea.

(via Vodkapundit)

MSM quote of the day

In these violent times, Um Ahmed takes steps to ensure her safety, strapping on a suicide belt before going to bed at night.
(via Tim Blair)

July 06, 2006

You Tubed

Here at Autonomous Source headquarters, we're always on the lookout for the latest blog fad so we can jump on the bandwagon too. Lately it seems that embedding other's YouTube videos on your site is all the rage. It's wrong to fight these things; better to just go with the flow...

The first amusing video is from a Japanese game show, or perhaps a morning show. An annoyed monitor lizard must decide which maiden's headgear he wishes to devour. Why can't we get this kind of stuff on Canada AM?

The next selection is from the most significant rock band of the 20th century, with a video for the song that changed the world. It's 1976 -- Can you handle DEVO?

Johnny Knoxville is now a Hollywood mega-star, starring in such timeless films as The Dukes of Hazzard and The Ringer. But before he was a household name, he abused his body and his dignity for a show on an obscure cable channel. This is possibly the funniest thing you will see in your lifetime:

YouTube has people creating their own original content, not just sharing the contents of their old VHS tapes. This one is pretty popular. (Okay, it's not completely original...)

And finally, nostalgia. If you're a Canadian of a certain age, this video will bring back lots of old memories. If you're not, it will be a pointless waste of two minutes of your life.

Okay, that's enough for this week. I reserve the right to do this again, for as long as this fad continues.

July 05, 2006

More justification for Neo-Imperialism

Rule of law, adjudicated by even-handed justice, simply does not exist anywhere in the developing world and this is the real culprit that stifles development and condemns the poor to live in zero-sum societies. All developing countries are failed states to one degree or another and most of their citizens are miserably poor. In fact, calling them "developing" is misleading because it suggests an upward spiral. But these people are the great grandkids of folks who were poor a half century ago when we started giving out foreign aid in large chunks.

Without laws -- and the institutions to administer them fairly -- people make up their own rules. Society requires predictability to function and so absent national law they create informal rule-sets. But rules without the force of law can only be sanctioned through bribery or physical force. If the beat cop has no rules, he follows the local norms, the neighborhood rule-set. But to use his monopoly of force on behalf of the neighborhood rule-set he will extract a price. A bribe.

When that happens, the law comes to mean corruption. And since this system is not just accepted but actively reinforced by a network of beneficiaries, corruption becomes the organizing principle of society. At that point, demands by aid donors that governments control corruption are not just impossible to meet, but could even be dangerous and destabilizing for recipient governments and so are largely ignored.

Peter F. Schaefer sounds like a decent guy, and details his extensive knowledge of corruption in the Third World. It's not a very optimistic look, because he sees corruption as being too deeply entrenched in these cultures to stop. His only advice is for aid donor nations to take a harder line on this corruption and freeze the ill-gotten plunder as soon as it reaches the Western banking system. Good luck on that -- and even if it could be implemented it would do nothing to stop the low level corruption the people in these countries endure every day.

What these countries really need is a fair legal system and civil protection, coupled with a smaller, less intrusive government. The problem is that most of these countries model themselves on Western governments, with our big sprawling bureaucracies. This is not as much of a problem in the West, because our bureaucracies are, for the most part, not corrupt. But it's disastrous in countries where the ruling principle is, "What's in it for me?"

I read an interesting article in the Economist a while ago, and it described the efforts a reporter had to make to visit a train station in some God-forsaken country in Africa. He had to get numerous authorizations and pass through many check points -- each autorization and checkpoint requiring a bribe. When he finally got to his destination, he found the building and all the trains deserted, and looted of everything that was not too heavy to carry.

What happens is, the rulers of these countries sell portions of their power to underlings, who further divide up and sell their powers to others, who resell it again and so on -- creating a vast tentacled network of suckers, each using their tiny portion of the power of the state to feed on the public.

But imagine an occupying Imperial force, free from the stifling PC conventions of the day, occupying a country like this, cutting off the leeching network at its source, and providing security and a system for resolving disputes. Wouldn't everything be perfect from then on? No, of course not. But it would be a start, and allow the stability and safety people need to improve their lives. And it would be much better than the hopeless situation that stands today.

Unfortunately, I think the political climate in the world is a just a little unready for this kind of thinking. Better to just support whatever's the latest fashionable idea for saving the Third World -- what was it again? Oh right, debt forgiveness. That'll work, for sure.

Go France, Go!

After my favourites, Argentina and Holland, were eliminated from the World Cup, I thought I wanted Portugal to go all the way. But after watching their synchronized diving routine in their match with France today, I lost all respect for them. Seriously, there was one play today when two Portugese players were approaching the French net with one French defender close by, and as soon as they lost possession of the ball they both fell down together clutching their legs and rolling in feigned agony. The replay showed neither of them had been touched. I found myself rooting for France pretty quickly.

And between France and Italy, it's an easy choice on who should win. I don't make it based on national attributes, or the character of the teams, but on the fans. And Italy's fans are among the most annoying. I can't bear the thought of those smug clowns driving around and around cities all over North America honking their horns and waving their flags -- even though I'll be unlikely to see it. So it's gotta be France.

July 04, 2006

Well this is pretty monstrous...

The enormous cocoon of unnecessary government services that the British people are being enveloped in keeps getting more constraining:

Mr Ternouth's thriller flooded back to me this week when I read of the Government's plan to spend £224million of your money and mine on setting up a database, recording details of the lives of all 12 million children in England and Wales.

Among other things, the Children's Index will record whether a child's parents are providing a 'positive role model', how the child is performing at school — and even whether youngsters are eating the daily five portions of fruit and vegetables recommended by the Government.

Presumably, children will be questioned at school each morning on what their parents fed them the night before.

The database, we are told, will be made available to social workers, teachers and doctors, who will have the power to flag up 'concerns' when they think that children are not meeting the criteria laid down by the state.

I can imagine Ken Dryden endorsing a similarly intrusive registry to 'care' for the nation's children (no, they'll not be yours anymore) should the unthinkable happen and he winds up sitting in the Prime Minister's office.

(via Small Dead Animals)

July 03, 2006

The new playgrounds

A year ago I lamented that playgrounds in the suburbs were now virtually abandoned and tried to figure out why it was. And -- whoops, Talia just poured chocolate milk all over herself and the floor -- now I know: they're all at McDonald's. At many McDonald's restaurants they now have some of the most elaborate play structures I've ever seen. And they usually have at least half a dozen pre-schoolers crawling all through them.

I'm in one of them right now. They also offer free wi-fi if you spend three bucks -- or just a coffee and a couple of milks. It's easy to understand why they're so popular. You get the kids out of the dangerous sun and an unpredictable open space into a fluorescent lit chamber with only one exit. Treats and a bathroom are conveniently nearby, and there's always the change your child might get injured allowing you to get rich at the expense of a weathly corporation. What's not to like?

Let's give Neo-Imperialism a chance!

It's not too often that you read a really new idea; something big that opens many new avenues of thought. But No Pasaran has posted an essay by a former US State Department officer has enough food for thought to keep you going for a week. Here's a sample:

The United States has a terrible case of the Post-Imperial Blues.

The only cure is an intellectual realization that not all places are fit for present self-government as based on the ample empirical evidence from decolonization and subsequent UN and NATO protectorates in the Balkans. Knee-jerk anti-imperialism must be jettisoned in addition to the corresponding obsession with the nation-state as the only just and most effective form of international political organization.

It seems like a shocking proposition at first, but he fills in the details quite effectively. Read the whole thing.