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August 31, 2006

Childcare in Quebec - going out of business

As of tomorrow, private daycares that had been operating in Quebec's subsidized system will no longer be able to charge supplementary fees over the $7/day base. Up until now, daycares could charge for extra services. For example, the all-natural daycare Max and Talia had been going to charged $9/day extra for 'organic' food and 'educational activities' -- most of which seemed to consist of learning various yoga positions. Whatever. I'm pretty much against the 'organic' movement and am agnostic about yoga, but I didn't mind paying the extra money because I knew spots in the subsidized system were very hard to find, and I knew the providers were good people running a difficult business. The money they got from the government was just enough for them to make ends meet. And to get that money, they had to perform an enormous amount of paperwork.

Last month, they gave up and moved out of the community. Other, more lucrative and less insanity-inducing opportunities were taken. But it may also be that they heard about these new regulations. As might be expected, the Quebec government has rationalized preventing people from voluntarily negotiating a price for services by appealing to the common good and claiming those greedy daycares already have enough money:

Family Minister Carole Theberge insists that the total funding available to day cares is sufficient to provide a quality service to Quebec's children.

"They have all the money they need to absorb the costs of running a day care for children zero to four years old, and meet all the educational requirements and social development of the children," she told the Canadian Press.

Theberge said the new regulations were designed, among other things, to ensure the universality of Quebec's day-care system.

Of course, price controls always, always cause shortages. Expect an already limited supply of subsidized daycare spaces to shrink even more. But beyond that, money was invested and business plans were made based on carefully laid-out government funding regulations. With a stroke of a pen, the Quebec government has destroyed those plans, likely resulting in bankruptcy for many small businesses.

Wise words from Rumsfeld

I'm currently reading Cobra II, so far the best book on how the war in Iraq was conceived and executed. Maybe someday I'll even finish it. For enemies of the Bush administration, the book was widely used as a cudgel to whack Donald Rumsfeld: he ignored the advice of senior generals, he was inflexible, he was intrusive, etc, etc. My reading is that he saved the lives of thousands of Iraqis by his insistence on an early ground war and fewer troops. If he listened to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Iraq would have been pounded flat in a 40 day air offensive so the infantry wouldn't have to risk any stubbed toes on their march to Baghdad. And as to the personality conflicts and power games, well, no big and complicated project can be completed without a lot of them.

But then I like Rumsfeld, so I'm eager to let him off the hook. He's a straight shooter that sees the big picture and doesn't forget about it. He gave an good speech to the American Legion the other day about the cultural side of the 'war on terror' -- the part of the war I think we're losing. Here's the meaty heart of it:

That year -- 1919 -- turned out to be one of the pivotal junctures in modern history with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the creation of the League of Nations, a treaty and an organization intended to make future wars unnecessary and obsolete. Indeed, 1919 was the beginning of a period where, over time, a very different set of views would come to dominate public discourse and thinking in the West.

Over the next decades, a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be accommodated, then the carnage and the destruction of then-recent memory of World War I could be avoided.

It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies. When those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored. Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated or that it was someone else's problem. Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace, even as the enemy made its deadly ambitions crystal clear. It was, as Winston Churchill observed, a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.

There was a strange innocence about the world. Someone recently recalled one U.S. senator's reaction in September of 1939 upon hearing that Hitler had invaded Poland to start World War II. He exclaimed:

"Lord, if only I had talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided!"

I recount that history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism. Today -- another enemy, a different kind of enemy -- has made clear its intentions with attacks in places like New York and Washington, D.C., Bali, London, Madrid, Moscow and so many other places. But some seem not to have learned history's lessons.

We need to consider the following questions, I would submit:

  • With the growing lethality and the increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?
  • Can folks really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?
  • Can we afford the luxury of pretending that the threats today are simply law enforcement problems, like robbing a bank or stealing a car; rather than threats of a fundamentally different nature requiring fundamentally different approaches?
  • And can we really afford to return to the destructive view that America, not the enemy, but America, is the source of the world's troubles?

These are central questions of our time, and we must face them and face them honestly.

We hear every day of new plans, new efforts to murder Americans and other free people. Indeed, the plot that was discovered in London that would have killed hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of innocent men, women and children on aircraft flying from London to the United States should remind us that this enemy is serious, lethal, and relentless.

But this is still not well recognized or fully understood. It seems that in some quarters there's more of a focus on dividing our country than acting with unity against the gathering threats.

It's a strange time:

  • When a database search of America's leading newspapers turns up literally 10 times as many mentions of one of the soldiers who has been punished for misconduct -- 10 times more -- than the mentions of Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terror;
  • Or when a senior editor at Newsweek disparagingly refers to the brave volunteers in our armed forces -- the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard -- as a "mercenary army;"
  • When the former head of CNN accuses the American military of deliberately targeting journalists; and the once CNN Baghdad bureau chief finally admits that as bureau chief in Baghdad, he concealed reports of Saddam Hussein's crimes when he was in charge there so that CNN could keep on reporting selective news;
  • And it's a time when Amnesty International refers to the military facility at Guantanamo Bay -- which holds terrorists who have vowed to kill Americans and which is arguably the best run and most scrutinized detention facility in the history of warfare -- "the gulag of our times." It’s inexcusable. (Applause.)

Those who know the truth need to speak out against these kinds of myths and distortions that are being told about our troops and about our country. America is not what's wrong with the world. (Applause.)

The struggle we are in -- the consequences are too severe -- the struggle too important to have the luxury of returning to that old mentality of "Blame America First."

One of the most important things the American Legion has done is not only to serve and assist and advocate, as you have done so superbly for so much of the past century, but also to educate and to speak the truth about our country and about the men and women in the military.

Not so long ago, an exhibit -- Enola Gay at the Smithsonian during the 1990s -- seemed to try to rewrite the history of World War II by portraying the United States as somewhat of an aggressor. Fortunately, the American Legion was there to lead the effort to set the record straight. (Applause.)

Your watchdog role is particularly important today in a war that is to a great extent fought in the media on a global stage, a role to not allow the distortions and myths be repeated without challenge so that at the least the second or third draft of history will be more accurate than the first quick allegations we see.

You know from experience personally that in every war there have been mistakes, setbacks, and casualties. War is, as Clemenceau said, "a series of catastrophes that result in victory."

And in every army, there are occasional bad actors, the ones who dominate the headlines today, who don't live up to the standards of the oath and of our country. But you also know that they are a very, very small percentage of the literally hundreds of thousands of honorable men and women in all theaters in this struggle who are serving our country with humanity, with decency, with professionalism, and with courage in the face of continuous provocation. (Applause.)

And that is important in any long struggle or long war, where any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong, can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.

Our enemies know this well. They frequently invoke the names of Beirut or Somalia -- places they see as examples of American retreat and American weakness. And as we've seen -- even this month -- in Lebanon, they design attacks and manipulate the media to try to demoralize public opinion. They doctor photographs of casualties. They use civilians as human shields. And then they try to provoke an outcry when civilians are killed in their midst, which of course was their intent.

The good news is that most Americans, though understandably influenced by what they see and read, have good inner gyroscopes. They have good center of gravity. So, I'm confident that over time they will evaluate and reflect on what is happening in this struggle and come to wise conclusions about it.

Iraq, a country that was brutalized by a cruel and dangerous dictatorship, is now traveling the slow, difficult, bumpy, uncertain path to a secure new future under a representative government that will be at peace with its neighbors, rather than a threat to their own people, to their neighbors, or to the world.

As the nature of the threat and the conflict in Iraq has changed over these past several years, so have the tactics and the deployments. But while military tactics have changed and adapted to the realities on the ground -- as they must -- the strategy has not changed, which is to empower the Iraqi people to be able to defend, and govern, and rebuild their own country.

The extremists themselves call Iraq the “epicenter” in the War on Terror. And our troops know how important their mission is.

A soldier who recently volunteered for a second tour in Iraq captured the feeling of many of his peers. In an e-mail to some friends, he wrote the following, and I quote:

“I ask that you never take advantage of the liberties guaranteed by the shedding of free blood, never take for granted the freedoms granted by our Constitution. For those liberties would be merely ink on paper were it not for the sacrifice of generations of Americans who heard the call of duty and responded heart, mind and soul with ‘Yes, I will.’”

Some day that young man very likely will be a member of the American Legion attending a convention like this. I certainly hope so. And I hope he does that and that we all have a chance to meet. And one day a future speaker may reflect back on the time of historic choice, remembering the questions raised as to our country's courage, and dedication, and willingness to persevere in this fight until we prevail.

The question is not whether we can win; it's whether we have the will to persevere to win. I'm convinced that Americans do have that determination and that we have learned the lessons of history, of the folly of trying to turn a blind eye to danger. These are lessons you know well, lessons that your heroism has helped to teach to generations of Americans.

May God bless each of you. May God bless the men and women in uniform, and their families. And may God continue to bless our wonderful country.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

August 30, 2006

Speaking of the kooks...

Darcey points to a great Steyn article highlighting some of the Canadian contributors to the crowded kook market:

Who is A. K. Dewdney? He's an adjunct professor of biology at the University of Western Ontario, and he has pieced together the truth about what happened on 9/11. You may be familiar with the official version: "To account for the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush White House has produced a scenario involving Arab hijackers flying large aircraft into American landmarks," writes the eminent Ontario academic. "We, like millions of other 9/11 skeptics, have found this explanation to be inconsistent with the facts of the matter."

Instead, he argues, a mid-air plane switch took place on three of the jets. "The passengers of one of the flights died in an aerial explosion over Shanksville, Pa.," he writes, "and the remaining passengers (and aircraft) were disposed of in the Atlantic Ocean." Most of us swallowed "the Bush-Cheney scenario" because we were unaware that, when two planes are less than half a kilometre apart, they appear as a single blip on the radar screen. Thus, the covert switch. Instead of crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the flights were diverted by FBI agents on board to Harrisburg, Pa., where the passengers from all three planes were herded onto UA Flight 175 and flown on to Cleveland Hopkins and their deaths. By then, unmanned Predator drones had been substituted for the passenger jets and directed into their high-profile targets. The original planes and their passengers were finished off over the Atlantic.

Really, it's all very simple...

Cartoon from Filibuster Cartoons by way of ¡No Pasarán!

9/11 Illustrated

Slate is serializing the graphic adaptation of the 9/11 report. It's remarkably well done and quite chilling to read.

Even more chilling to read are the conspiracy kooks polluting the forums on the book version's Amazon page.

The End of the Plame Kerfuffle?

I don't often listen to the CBC Radio News, but I recall listening to it a few months ago as one of the umpteen dozen 'revelations' of the Plame saga came to light. It was the top of the news, and was followed by interviews with at least a half a dozen 'experts' rounded up by the impartial reporters of our national broadcaster, who each claimed that Bush was toast, that this was the smoking gun, that this would finally connect the nefarious casual mentioning of a Bush critic's wife's profession to the evil machinations of the Bush administration.

And what was this new revelation? Only that Bush authorized a document to be declassified in order to rebut one of Joe Wilson's false claims. Which seems to be a reasonable response to a person who has used the authority of his work with the government in order to discredit it. But for the CBC and the other millions of Plame conspiracy freaks, this indicated that the White House had noticed Wilson's criticisms, and might have done even more to discredit him. Perhaps even going as far as to... getting a subordinate to casually mention to the press that Wilson's wife worked... for the CIA!

Anyways, due to the development of the internet, this non-story has probably spawned a greater word count than that of both Kennedy assasinations put together. It went on for years and years. And there was absolutely nothing there.

Hopefully the last 'revelation' of this ridiculous conspiracy theory has come to light: that Bush critic Richard Armitage was the 'leaker' of Plame's secret identity, and did it with no ill intent. I somehow doubt this fact will deter the most enthusiastic Plame conspiracy nuts, but maybe the rest of the media will at least shut up about it. It's important for the media to investigate the government and be suspicious of it, but it's also important for them to work at least partially in the real world. The idea that Bush would get 'revenge' on an attention-seeking nobody like Joe Wilson by revealing what his wife did was so ludicrous that is should have been laughed off the front pages. But instead they devoted enormous resources over three years in trying to prove this nutty theory -- when they had absolutely no evidence! It boggles my mind.

August 29, 2006

Liquid Neale Replacement

National Newswatch is a new 'rightish' Canadian news aggregator to replace the retired and revered NealeNews. Does it fit the bill? Let's see.

Sparse, 'Drudge-style' black and white presentation? Check.

Hotlinked images vulnerable to being 'Goatse'd'? Check.

Decent selection of Canadian News? Check.

Celebrity and reality-TV news? Check.

Link to my page? Nope. Blog links are coming soon.

Looks good so far. The layout is atrocious (Bourquish, actually), but give them some time. To the editors, I wish you good luck and hope you have more stamina than that deadbeat Brian Neale had... [Yes, yes, I'm only joking...]

UPDATE: Okay, that's much better...

August 28, 2006

Nominations needed for Most Annoying Canadian: 2006

Canada ranks third in the world at creating annoying personalities, falling behind only the United States and France. Our country's smugness and self-righteousness are world-renowned, and our isolated and state-sponsored media produces an abundance of vacuous, self-regarding talking heads. Annoying people incubated in Canada have gone on to annoy millions of others around the world. We should be proud of our leadership in this area, but I feel our country is instead at best apathetic, and at worst, ashamed.

Almost two years ago, I launched an online contest to determine who the Most Annoying Canadian was so we could celebrate this aspect of our national makeup. The fact that it got me my best traffic ever, and even had me noticed (in a small way) by the mainstream media has nothing to do with me launching the contest again. The real reason is that being annoying in Canada is incredibly competitive, so new personalities are constantly pushing the old to the sidelines in the battle for leadership. Ben Mulroney and George Stroumboulopoulos were not even nominated last time, but this time around I think they may be major competitors. Also, there was some controversy with the results last time, as a huge last-minute surge pushed Antonia Zerbisias over the top. This time I've got the Carter Center to help validate the voting procedure, so I'm pretty sure it'll be fair.

The first stage of the competition will to nominate the candidates. The cutoff is the end of September. The photos above are a few contenders I've chosen to get people thinking, but I'm sure there are many annoying Canadians I haven't considered. Drop your suggestion in the comments, or just second the nomination if your favourite is already there. Thanks for your interest, and may the Most Annoying Canadian win.

August 27, 2006

Sunday music: James McMurtry

A friend of mine has a theory that 'genius' in any kind of artistic endeavour is a result of both the nature of the artist's work and of the audience's response to it. The work of the artist alone isn't enough; it has to be acclaimed and studied and obsessed over to be defined this way. In a way, I understand what he means: that 'genius' cannot really be intrinsic in anything, and can only be claimed when something has made a true impact on an aspect of our culture -- even if it's very small.

But in another way I find the definition disappointing. We live in an age of unimaginable wealth, with an overabundance of leisure time. Tools to create art have never been more affordable, and the means to share it have never been more powerful. Never have so many books been written, paintings painted, and songs been recorded. Most of it is crap, sure, but there are still too many brilliant creators that go mostly unnoticed, and who will die in obscurity.

I've spent a lot of my life looking for musicians that I consider 'geniuses', but who are not appreciated as much as they deserve. It makes me sad that too many people are more interested in the most insignificant sound-fart by the likes of the Beatles or Bob Dylan to bother to look for great works by the less famous. In my own minor way, I'm going to attempt to alter this karmic imbalance: I'm going to slap a few tunes by some of my favourites every week or so, depending on whether this starts to cost me too much money from my webhost. I hope you enjoy them.

First up is James McMurtry, who you could stick in the country/rock/folk category. You can find out anything you need to know about him on his website, but let the music do the talking. If you can only listen to one song, make sure it's Choctaw Bingo. From the opening lines you'll know you're in for a wild ride:

Strap them kids in,
Give 'em a little bit of vodka
In a cherry coke, we're going to
Oklahoma to the family reunion
For the first time in years...

Okay, I've written enough here. I really have to get to bed...

August 26, 2006

The circle of life

It's happened. I'm a parent. Yesterday I found myself herding my children through one of those bad roadside attractions of the type I remember visiting when I was a little boy. The place was Storyland, located about an hour west of downtown Ottawa. It features an odd collection of ancient statuary, an ancient mini-golf course, a half-dozen peddle-boats (yes, ancient) in a stagnant pond, one of those big, air-filled jumpy things, a couple of oversized sprinklers and one of the biggest backyard water slides that Wal-Mart sells. And it's all operated by a dozen high school students wearing badly maintained costumes.

Unfortunately for me, Max and Talia were having the time of their life. Which means I spent over five hours there. Which meant I promised to take them back...

August 23, 2006

So long, Brian

Brian Neale of Nealenews has decided to hang up his hat, call it a day, and 'spend more time with his family'. He's retiring from the business of linking to the news. Or so he says, anyway, he faked his site's death once already, two years ago, so he may still be back.

For a long time, when visiting his site I could be reasonably assured that there would be a story -- and usually a Canadian story -- that would interest me. I could also be assured that there would be at least one story about reality TV shows. It was a quirky site that had an important place in the Canadian blogosphere and I'm going to miss it. Now I'll have to check in on the CBC and the Toronto Star myself. What a drag.

Today's morning smile...

...Is provided by Andrew Coyne:

With the environment on everyone's agenda and Canada groping for a strategy to deal with global warming, the government of Ontario has stepped up with an imaginative, far-seeing response to the challenge that confronts us all. While others are content merely to debate the issue, the McGuinty government has bet hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds on a revolutionary new form of mass transit that maybe, just maybe, holds the key to a greener future. Perhaps you've heard of it. It's called the Camaro.

Based on a leading-edge, eco-friendly technology known as the internal combustion engine, the Camaro concept car may seem like something out of science fiction, but in fact starts production in just three years. Using the advanced industrial wizardry of rear-wheel drive -- whatever will they think of next? -- the Camaro's whisper-quiet 400 horsepower engine can carry its two passengers as many as three kilometres on a litre of gas. Take that, climate change!

But this sort of technological breakthrough doesn't just happen on its own. It's the fruit of the kind of dynamic, creative partnership between business and government that naysayers typically decry as "corporate welfare." Left to the short-term obsessions of the marketplace, Detroit would probably just turn out a string of gas-guzzling muscle cars, high-octane Viagra for aging baby-boomers recalling their carefree youth. Whereas with government money they can pretend it's about jobs.

Unfortunately, Coyne's piece is behind the National Post's subscriber wall, so to RTWT you'll have to buy the paper. But I'll summarize so you can save your buck: corporate subsidies are stupid.

August 21, 2006

Dipsy does MC Hammer

Why am I putting this video up? I really don't know. Today I just got nothin'. But it has to be seen to be believed.

Dipsy really deserves to headline his own show. He's carried the Teletubbies long enough.

(via Videosift)

August 19, 2006

Spam filters relaxed

Since moving to Movable Type 3.2 a month or so ago, my terrible, terrible spam problems have disappeared. The hundred or so notes from various bottom-feeding scum that greeted me in the morning are no more. But then again, so are any legitimate comments -- except from Chris Taylor, who bravely endured the dread Typepad registration system.

I got an email from a world renowned blogger yesterday complaining how my site had turned into an unfriendly fascist gulag, unwilling to allow free expression. He had a point, and so I've decided to lower my defenses slightly to see what will happen. No longer will approval from Typepad be necessary to post here, and for now, I've stopped moderating new comments. I still have a few defenses in place; hopefully they'll be enough.

August 18, 2006

MMORPG Tourist: Eve Online

When I was younger, I used to enjoy browsing comic stores, used books and music stores, and computer game stores. Now that I'm in my 40's, the only stores I go to are Wal-Mart, Loblaws, and the SAQ. Comics, with very rare exceptions, are too juvenile, preachy, or pretentious for me to even look at anymore. I find it harder and harder to find music I'm interested in, and I just can't be bothered to dig through musty stacks looking for a book I'll probably never read anyway.

But I never thought I'd give up on computer games. From the earliest beginning of home computers, I've had one -- not to write, program, or process data, but to play stoopid, time-wasting games. And I loved every minute of it. I played the sprawling turn-based strategy games, I played the geeky role-playing games, I played the puzzle games, I played the real-time strategy games, and I played the action games. (I never played any sports or driving games though. I feel it's important to point that out.) And I loved them all.

But now the buzz is almost gone. I've tried getting into a few of the recent offerings, but I can't even finish the demos. I now have what most people assume is the curse of the young: a short attention span. It must be this fast-paced, consistantly-challenging lifestyle I find myself with. The games bore me.

But one game in the last year got my attention and kept it for a few months. World of Warcraft was fun. (I wrote about it a bit here.) It was easy to get into, could be played for short periods or much longer sessions, and had enough variety that when I was getting bored with one activity, I could switch to another. Eventually, I sucked all the entertainment out of it that I could and quit, but for a while I was very entertained.

WoW is a MMORPG, a Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game. In these types of games, a virtual world exists online where you can meet, interact, and fight other real people from around the world. Clever marketing people have decided that these games are the wave of the future, so computer game companies are busy creating their own virtual worlds for their nerd customers to inhabit. There are dozens and dozens of different games available, with many more under development.

Luckily for cheapskates like me, all this competition means free access to the games. Because the companies are each desperate to create 'buzz' for their offerings, many offer different varieties of 'demos' to allow potential customers to sample their games. Rather than buying new games for the next little while, I think I'm just going to take mini vacations in these alternate universes. And luckily for the readers of this blog, you will get to read about my upcoming adventures. Try not to get too excited.

Read the extended entry for my poorly written exposé of Eve Online.

Eve Online

The first alternate universe I decided to visit was Eve Online. I've written about this game before, and it has consistently been rated as one of the best MMORPGs out there. It sounded interesting. It's a sci-fi game set in one massive universe (every Eve player is in the same 'realm' as everyone else). It's also been portrayed as a 'libertarian' game -- the economy is real and complex, and it's up to the player to decide how to play and what to do. It's not a virtual sandbox -- as I found WoW to be (not that there's anything wrong with that) -- it's a real virtual universe!

Okay, sure. Let's see what it's like. The avatar I entered this universe with was FibDynamo. I tried to create him to look as pathetic and wimpy as I could, hopefully to force other, stronger players to take pity on him and not chew him up into dogfood. I think I did a pretty good job.

I was forced to endure 'training' before I was allowed to go out into the universe and make my fortune -- and it was a good thing too. The game is complex and the tutorial lasted for a few hours. I had to learn how to navigate, communicate, trade, fight, and manage assets. I was led through an interminable tutorial by a sexy AI voice right out of a mid-seventies sci-fi movie. You know the type: British, female, cold but hot at the same time. Once I was trained, she bid me farewell and I was out on my own in a massive universe.

I had a small ship with a small 'civilian' laser for defense, a mining laser, and a tiny cargo hold, and a few personal skills with which to make my fortune. There were thousands of stars in the galaxy, each with a few planets, each with a few moons. I could go to any of them. (Well, try anyway.) There was over a hundred thousand other players in the same galaxy, each my enemy or perhaps my friend. It was quite an exciting moment. It was hard to think of what to do, or where to go.

But I did have a contact. An 'agent' would give me missions ('quests' in any other MMORPG) I could do for a bit of spare cash. Though there was an interesting story behind most of them, they were all simple delivery jobs. Go to planet A, pick up cargo, deliver to planet B. Repeat. And there I first ran into the biggest problem with the game: traveling takes time.

To go somewhere, you select your destination on the star map, turn on your auto-pilot, and wait. And wait and wait and wait. It takes a little while to get to your destination. First your ship will use your 'warp drive' to travel to a 'star gate' within the system you're in. Then you'll decelerate and fly slowly towards the gate. Then your ship jumps to a new system, engages your 'warp drive' again, and flies to another 'stargate'. Most trips were about five jumps, but I heard from other players that they were regularly making twenty and thirty jump journeys.

It's fun to watch the first few times. The game is undeniably beautiful to behold. Because the blackness of space would get dull after a while, the artists have livened it up with fanciful nebulae everywhere. And for some reason, as I warped within a system, I would always have close flybys with gas giants, though in reality it would be pretty unlikely that a straight path between two points in a solar system would have any scenery to look at. But even with these decorations, after a short while the trips get kind of boring.

There is a truly fantastic economic simulation at the heart of the game. Raw materials are mined and refined into commodities which are used to create a bewildering variety of goods. Each system has a separate market, and prices for these goods are based on real-time supply and demand. Careful study of prices will uncover lucrative trade routes, but your profit margins will dwindle over time as prices reflect the new conditions you've introduced.

In a week of playing I never entered into combat once. As a wimpy newbie, I kept to 'secure' areas of space where a police force would come to the rescue of anyone under attack. I almost had one encounter though. After finishing the last jump of a journey, the autopilot doesn't take you to dock with the starbase you're traveling to. It leaves you floating by the stargate. Since there's a good chance you're now watching TV, or in the kitchen getting another beer, of taking your dog for a walk, this is an ideal spot for pirates to hang out and kill without resistance. Luckily I was paying attention and I watched as a much larger ship than mine headed towards me. 22kms. 21kms. 19kms. 17kms. He was still just a dot. I let him get within 10 klicks before I engaged my warp drive and headed to the starbase. Sorry buddy.

Soon I was in a rut. I would take one of these delivery jobs, stop off before docking with each starbase to do a bit of mining to fill my cargo hold, and then head off to the next job. I was an interstellar trucker. Supposedly the best part of the game is joining a 'corporation' to work with other players, but knowing I wasn't going to keep playing prevented me from getting involved. For me, this game requires too much time and dedication. But if you're one of those people that spend the day in front of a computer, it might be fun having this game running minimized on a corner of your desktop. But to actually sit down and play? I don't recommend it.

A dark time for Israel -- and us

George Bush said Hezbollah was the loser in its war with Israel. On paper it looks that way. Hezbollah was pounded, hard, by the Israeli Air Force. They were forced to retreat everywhere that the Israel army attacked, and suffered disproportionate loses. They only survived by cowardly hiding behind women and children, and depending on the decency of their enemies. I want to believe that Hezbollah lost. It's important that they lose.

But they didn't.

Ralph Peters sums up the war like this:

  • Despite the physical damage the Israeli Defense Forces inflicted, Hezbollah's terror-troops were still standing (and firing rockets) when the bell rang.
  • At the strategic level, Hezbollah's masterful manipulation of the seduce-me-please media convinced the region's Shi'a and Sunni spectators alike that Hassan Nasrallah is the new Great Arab Hope. He's got a powerful Persian cheering section, too.
  • While Israel couldn't plan or execute a winning campaign, it also failed to think beyond the inevitable cease-fire. But Hezbollah did. The terrorists had mapped out precisely what they had to do the moment the shooting stopped: Hand out Iranian money, promise they'll rebuild what Israel destroyed - and simply refuse to honor the terms of the U.N. resolution.
But the damage goes even deeper. Arthur Herman compares UN resolution 1701 that ended the war with Chamberlain's capitulation to Hitler in Munich, and sees it sending a dangerous message:
But other states in the region will have learned their lesson. Faced by an internal terrorist organization, especially one with links with Tehran, they will have to make accommodations. No white knight in the guise of U.S. Marines will ride to their rescue; no Israeli tanks and F-16s will do their dirty work for them. Appeasement will be the order of the day.

That includes Iraq. The disarming of Sunni and Shia militias, the necessary first step to ending sectarian violence there, will be postponed - perhaps for good. On the contrary, this crisis has taught Iraq's Shia minority that extremism pays, particularly the Iranian kind.

For everyone in the Middle East knows Iran is the clear winner. Only the diplomats and politicians, including the Bush administration, will pretend otherwise. Iran has emerged as the clear champion of anti-Israeli feeling and radical Islam. The Iranians have their useful puppet in Syria; they have their proxy armies in place with Hezbollah and Hamas. They have been able to install missiles, even Revolutionary Guards, in Lebanon with impunity. Sunni regimes in the region will move to strike their own deals with Iran, just as Eastern European states did with Germany after Czechoslovakia. That includes Iraq; the lesson will not be lost on Russia and China, either. And all the while, the Iranians proceed with their nuclear plans - with the same impunity.

The 'War on Terror' -- or, as it should properly be known, the War on Islamic Fascism -- is similar to the cold war in that it's a war of ideologies. Propaganda victories are more important than military ones. And Hezbollah just won a huge propaganda victory, there's no question about it.

August 11, 2006

Robert Lajzerowicz

My wife's father, and Max and Talia's Opa, died this morning at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer.

I can still see the suspicious and serious look he gave me when we first met. I was the unemployed, uneducated, 21 year old in the ripped jeans and black leather jacket dating his high-achieving 17 year old daughter. And I didn't even know enough to stand up when when I shook his hand.

But despite this friction in our early relationship, he helped me get my first real job at Northern Telecom, which inspired me to go back to school to study engineering. As the years passed, we grew closer. And when I finally graduated, he also got me my first professional job at Newbridge Networks.

Though I never shared his love of fishing and hunting, we shared many opinions and attitudes. Like myself, Robert was married to a strong woman that dominates conversation, so that in family gatherings we both often found ourselves on the periphery of the discussion -- which we didn't mind. But when we needed to interject a point that the women had overlooked, we often backed each other up to make our voices heard.

Robert was a good man, and provided a lot of guidance to me in my life. Everyone in this house is going to miss him. But we're never going to forget him.

August 10, 2006

Prophetic words from The Terminator

Listen. And understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.
(via Jeff Goldstein)

Them's fightin' words!


Bush, speaking briefly on a visit to Green Bay, Wisconsin, said the foiled plane plot was "..a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation."
About time, really...

Isn't it interesting...

...How quickly the conspiracy nuts come out everytime a new terrorist plot is uncovered. Today a plan to cause "mass murder on an unimaginable scale" was busted by British police. And fully a third of the comments on the story at the Globe and Mail's website are believing this is all made up. 'Zeke X' is typical:

This seems pretty staged to me as well. Why does no one ever question the use of terror, by our own governments, to keep the populance afraid to speak up as our freedoms are eroded. If you aren't with us you are with the terrorists ring a bell? This is a joke.
I'm not sure if I'm more afraid of the mass movement of fanatics that are desperate to kill so many innocents, or the larger movement that keeps digging its head deeper in the sand to pretend they don't exist.

And now the other side of the story...

The National Post's Sonia Verma offers a far gloomier future for Lebanon than Béhé:

The Lebanese government estimates it will take between 40 and 50 years to rebuild the country's infrastructure.

Young people in their late 20s and 30s, who are old enough to remember the violence of the civil war and Israel's occupation of the south are also young enough to leave and start fresh somewhere else.

Local observers fear the trend of university-educated people leaving will only radicalize those who are left.

"Those who are leaving are those who can afford to leave and generally speaking these are politically liberal people," says Minia Boujaoude, a columnist with the left-leaning daily As-Safir.

"We need these people to rebuild Lebanon as a modern country. It can't fall to Hezbollah," she said.

At Ashrafieh Mall, a shopping centre in an upscale part of Beirut, the end-of-summer sales have started early, but nobody's buying. Inside, the air-conditioned shops, designer clothes and imported linens seem a world away from the war raging outside, but it is always close to people's hearts.

"When I see my friends leaving, I think this place will be thrown back 60 years in time," says Sami Zakhi, a young doctor who just opened his orthopedic practice.

Oh come on. Sixty years? While I can believe Béhé was being a little optimistic, this is absolute nonsense. And what about this: 'The Lebanese government estimates it will take between 40 and 50 years to rebuild the country's infrastructure.' Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the restraint Israel is showing and how much international aid will be flowing to Lebanon after this is over knows that this is ridiculous. But the statement is made with absolutely no skepticism or further investigation.

Adding more smoke to an already smokey scene is wrong, certainly; but this kind of willfully blind pessimism is far worse, surely.

August 09, 2006

The Lebanese voice we don't hear

Ezra Levant at the Shotgun has linked to an eye-opening essay on a Lebanese point of view that the MSM is strangely reluctant to air. Michael Béhé says the Lebanese knew something like the Israeli invasion was going to happen, that their spineless political class is to blame, and that most Lebanese are rooting for Israel to give the country a good scrubbing.

Lebanon a victim? What a joke!

Before the Israeli attack, Lebanon no longer existed, it was no more than a hologram. At Beirut innocent citizens like myself were forbidden access to certain areas of their own capital. But our police, our army and our judges were also excluded. That was the case, for example, of Hezbollah’s and the Syrians’ command zone in the Haret Hreik quarter (in red on the satellite map). A square measuring a kilometer wide, a capital within the capital, permanently guarded by a Horla army, possessing its own institutions, its schools, its crèches, its tribunals, its radio, its television and, above all… its government. A “government” that, alone decided, in the place of the figureheads of the Lebanese government – in which Hezbollah also had its ministers! – to attack a neighboring state, with which we had no substantial or grounded quarrel, and to plunge US into a bloody conflict. And if attacking a sovereign nation on its territory, assassinating eight of its soldiers, kidnapping two others and, simultaneously, launching missiles on nine of its towns does not constitute a casus belli, the latter juridical principle will seriously need revising.

Thus almost all of these cowardly politicians, including numerous shiah leaders and religious personalities themselves, are blessing each bomb that falls from a Jewish F-16 turning the insult to our sovereignty that was Haret Hreik, right in the heart of Beirut, into a lunar landscape. Without the Israelis, how could we have received another chance – that we in no way deserve! – to rebuild our country?

Each Irano-Syrian fort that Jerusalem destroys, each islamic fighter they eliminate, and Lebanon proportionally starts to live again! Once again, the soldiers of Israel are doing our work. Once again, like in 1982, we are watching – cowardly, lying low, despicable, and insulting them to boot – their heroic sacrifice that allows us to keep hoping. To not be swallowed up in the bowels of the earth. Because, of course, by dint of not giving a damn for southern Lebanon, of letting foreigners take hold of the privileges that belong to us, we no longer had the ability to recover our independence and sovereignty. If, at the end of this war, the Lebanese army retakes control over its territory and gets rid of the state within a state – that tried to suffocate the latter –, it will only be thanks to Tsahal [the Israeli Defense Forces. Translator’s note], and that, all these faint-hearted politicians, from the crook Fouad Siniora, to Saad Hariri, the son of Lebanon’s plunderer, and general Aoun all know perfectly well.

Béhé doesn't direct all his anger at his country's politicians. He saves some for the international media as well:
Beirut, all the rest of Beirut, 95% of Beirut, lives and breathes better than a fortnight ago. All those who have not sided with terrorism know they have strictly nothing to fear from the Israeli planes, on the contrary! One example: last night the restaurant where I went to eat was jammed full and I had to wait until 9:30 pm to get a table. Everyone was smiling, relaxed, but no one filmed them: a strange destruction of Beirut, is it not?
He goes on to say that Hezbollah is getting clobbered and predicts their defeat is imminent. Like anything you read on the internet, take what this essay says with a grain of salt. I'd like to believe everything Béhé says, but some of it may be wishful thinking. But given the blatant propagandizing the MSM has recently been shown to be engaging in, it has more credibility to me than the rewritten wire piece on the front page of tomorrow's Globe and Mail.

What are you waiting for? RTWT.

August 08, 2006

We are all Mushrooms now

No, I don't know what the title means. These are some mushrooms the kids and I found the other day. (Larger pic.)

The Popsicle Quest

It was late afternoon. The kids had been home all day and Mama was heading off to work in the ER overnight. It was a pretty dreary day, grey clouds threatening rain combined with a heavy humidity.

Max and Talia were bored. They'd done the Play-doh thing, they'd had their daily allotment of the insideous brain control device, they'd ran around outside, and now they needed something else. The idea entered their little minds that they needed a treat.

I thought about it. As the authority figure, I knew I could deny them this. I could point out that suppertime was coming up and I didn't want them to spoil their appetites. And I also knew that there would be much resistance to my denial, possibly involving screaming. My hesitation gave them the opening they needed to press their demands further. The treat was now a reality, all that was unclear was what the treat would be.

Talia raised the idea of going next door to get a popsicle. The couple next door have no dog and long ago started giving treats to our dog to compensate. We asked them to stop, and they said they would, but every morning Musette trots over there to sit outside their door until she gets her cookie. And she always does. They also have no kids, and have started handing out candy to my kids to compensate. Horrible stuff too, for the most part: sorbitol-sweetened hard candy that have been sitting in a bowl for a couple of years. They finally ran out of that stuff and now have taken to giving popsicles to Max and Talia.

But I really don't like the idea of my kids begging at the neighbors. Knowing I had to compete, I offered to take the kids into town to buy them popsicles at the depanneur and play at the playground. They enthusiastically agreed.

We piled in the Improbabus, waved goodbye to Mama, and drove off. But on the short drive to town it started to rain. Hard. This ruined my plans. Though I would still be able to buy the popsicles, we would have nowhere to eat them. So I had to think.

I inquired whether they would be willing to accept ice cream as a substitute for popsicles? That way we could go to the McDonald's playroom and I could relax and have a coffee. No, they replied, my suggestion was not acceptable. They had been promised popsicles and nothing else would suffice.

I had to think now. I headed onto the highway into town and tried to think of somewhere you could buy popsicles near somewhere you could eat them inside. The only possibility? A mall. But which mall? I was approaching downtown Gatineau (formerly Hull) and could only think of two places: a fairly upscale mall with fountains and fashionable boutiques, and a dingy, ancient mall anchored by Zeller's and Provigo. The dingy mall was more likely to have popsicles, so that was our destination.

And inside it was dingy. And deserted. Most of the shops were empty and I didn't find a little magazine/cigarette/soft drink kiosk that could possibly sell popsicles. I was getting desperate and the kids were getting a little whiney. We went to the Zeller's, which made our regular Wal-Mart look like Bloomingdales. After wandering for ten minutes, I concluded there were no popsicles to be found here. On to the Provigo at the other end of the mall.

Here we found some popsicles. But not singles, only in packages of twelve. Whatever, lets buy them and get out. But which ones? For those of you that haven't shopped for popsicles in a long time, I can tell you the offerings are completely different from what you remember. Almost all are in the shape of some popular children's character, Spongebob and Dora being the best represented. I wasn't going to buy those. How about these 'Carnival' ones? No, they look like they've been in this freezer for at least three years. Finally I settled on Bugz -- popsicles with gummy bugs sprinkled within. I bought that one item, opened it up, and handed them each one of the wretched things.

Okay, that was kind of dull, I guess. But that's my life.

August 06, 2006

Google pulls Obsession

Well, that didn't take long. Obsession, a revealing film on radical Islam that I linked to last week, has been pulled down by Google Video. I'm sure there was a complaint that it was 'racist', even though -- as I said -- it clearly offered a positive view of Muslims and separated the religion from the fanatics. Sadly, it doesn't take much to silence a voice that challenges our comfortable assumptions.

Then again, it could be a copyright issue. The trailer is still up, and the website for the movie is still trying to sell DVDs.

UPDATE: Then again, I might not know what I'm talking about. The movie is still up under a different filename.

The CBC celebrates individual initiative...

...But gives credit to the communists.

Back when the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba was unable to feed itself, and the country depended on food aid (among other things) from its communist allies. Facing starvation when this aid was withdrawn, Cubans started growing their own food on small patches of land. And the government didn't stop them.

This, according to the CBC, is a 'green revolution'. They sent David Suzuki down there to make a two-part documentary celebrating how a repressive state removed enough repression from their agricultural system to allow people to scratch out a subsistance lifestyle using pre-industrial farming methods. And isn't it worth celebrating?

Without fertilizer and pesticides, Cubans turned to organic methods. Without fuel and machinery parts, Cubans turned to oxen. Without fuel to transport food, Cubans started to grow food in the cities where it is consumed. Urban gardens were established in vacant lots, school playgrounds, patios and back yards. As a result Cuba created the largest program in sustainable agriculture ever undertaken. By 1999 Cuba's agricultural production had recovered and in some cases reached historic levels.
Imagine! A fertile tropical island growing enough food to feed itself! Will the wonders of Fidel's revolution never cease?

According to Terence Corcoran (I could never sit through watching the show myself), Suzuki rhapsodizes about these charming, earthy people digging potatoes out of the ground with their fingers, and complains about Canada's modernity:

The big equipment breakthrough is the return of oxen to pull ploughs. There's no money for tractors or fuel. One scene lovingly records a man struggling to wedge his plow into the ground as two oxen push forward, a beautiful setting reminiscent of Canadian farming, circa 1870. Suzuki provides commentary: "Oxen don't compact the soil, like heavy machines. As a result, soil fertility is improved. Oxen can go into the fields when it's too wet for tractors."


Each small garden farm produces multiple crops -- vegetables, fruits, coffee, forage. That avoids the Canadian "practice of monoculture where large tracts of land are planted with a single species that creates the most severe pest problems."

Suzuki says the old Soviet industrial farm system imposed on Cuba by Castro is "the same system used today by northern countries like Canada."

The use of earthworm composting, based on labour-intensive movement of earth and animal and garden waste, is said to be "extremely efficient." Pests are controlled using bacteria, ladybugs and natural chemical such as extracts of garlic. "Nothing is wasted," Suzuki claims.

But there are problems looming on the horizon for Cuba. Eventually the 20th century might intrude on this idyllic medieval form of living, and following that might be the 21st. Cubans may eventually be allowed to have some kind of control over their lives:
Fidel Castro has survived many perils and at 78, he is rumoured to suffer from a number of afflictions. As his health declines the world wonders: what will become of Cuba's Green Revolution after he is gone? Even now Castro presides over a political system, which although socialist, has an economy where bartering and quasi-entrepreneurial practice seemingly influence many trades and professions, including the "green" sector. There is also ever-increasing pressure from Canada and European nations for the U.S. to come to terms with Cuba's political dissent.

Will Cuba's "Green Revolution" become a blueprint for sustainable agriculture, medicine, and biotechnology, or will it be swept aside by the economic weight of foreign investors? Or will the public clamour for consumer goods from a weary people, fed up with lack of choice, overwhelm contemporary Cuba? Will Cuba's enormous experiment in sustainable development be maintained if the U.S. embargo is lifted and Cuba is exposed to the brutal arena of world trade?

Let's hope not.

August 04, 2006

Following in Paul Martin's footsteps

The National Post has been running a series of columns by the Liberal leadership contenders. Today was Ken Dryden's turn. You'd think that these kind of soapbox proclamations would be available to non-subscribers, but Dryden's isn't. But for him that's probably a good thing, because it's hard to imagine a more pandering and pointless piece of drivel.

Fully two thirds of the column is about how seriously he regards the history and lessons of the Holocaust, and how he understands the Jews' determination to defend themselves. I mean, he just goes on and on and on! Here's a small sample:

As a kid, I attended the United Church of Canada. I grew up in a time when Jews were identified by non-Jews as Jews before they were identified as friends or co-workers -- the word "Jew" always said with a swallowed quietness. It is often still the case. It is part of my job as an MP to represent the Jewish community. The question is how to do that best. Despite the work of very strong advocates over a long time, many of the same issues remain. Maybe there is a different way to approach them. Maybe an important role might be to try to explain Israel and the Jewish community to others, and others to the Jewish community.

With the events in the Middle East, this is another moment to try.

As kids, we learned about the murder of 6 million Jews. We saw images of the concentration camps. We heard of the persecution of Jews in other times, but that didn't register with us so clearly. The Jewish Museum in Berlin tells the story of the Jewish people from the beginning. Nineteenth century Europe was perhaps the best of all times for the Jews, when their contribution in so may fields -- science, the arts, politics -- was so great it seemed more important than their Jewishness. And as museum-goers, knowing what we knew, we could feel the perfect, awful trap. Then the slide; and then what was thought impossible, even unthinkable, happened.

Never again.

I knew how important the Holocaust was to Jews, but I think I really didn't know. It's not just the number of Jews that were murdered, nor that the Jewish people were almost wiped from the face of Europe. But it was what such an overwhelmingly defining moment had to mean, finally and forever. Never again -- not just that this couldn't, couldn't, ever be allowed to happen again. But that bad times would always follow better times, and you could never imagine, never pretend, otherwise. This was survival, now, at every moment, forever.

After the serious stroking of the Jewish community I was waiting for the inevitable 'But...' -- and frankly would respect him more for it -- but it never arrived. Instead, Dryden starts tugging on his chin and indulging in aimless musing:
In today's context, to most around the world Israel doesn't seem like the underdog. The Palestinians do. For the Jewish community, this is hard to take. Don't you understand? The Jews are the underdog of history and will always be. To the non-Jew, the battle in south Lebanon had to do with kidnappings, periodic rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Israel's right to defend itself. To Israel, it had to do with the actions of a surrogate of Iran and Syria and was a matter of Israel's survival as a nation. "Proportionality" is in the eye of what one beholds.

This is a difficult time. It may prove a very dangerous time. It may prove the beginning of a turning point. Once again, we may be learning that military might is less mighty than we thought. It may be that there is no security in any piece of land held by anybody anywhere on earth. It may be that different understandings and approaches will be needed to survive the future. The important voice is the voice that's missing. That is why Canada can matter.

Never again.

To survive in this world, to survive in the future, for "never again" it may mean that "some time again" you have to trust.

But how can the Jewish people trust? But they must trust. But how can they?

Which is how he concludes. So... maybe I'm missing something, but is there anything of substance in there? What's he advocating? What's he saying? Maybe Dryden doesn't understand this, but he's running for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada and a chance to be Prime Minister. The last thing this country needs is another leader unwilling to lead and only able to emote.

August 03, 2006

What 'cease-fire' means in Hezbollese

Hezbollah's patron Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated his call for an immediate peace in Lebanon today -- and he also gave his reasons for wanting it:

In a speech during an emergency meeting of Muslim leaders in Malaysia, Ahmadinejad also called for an immediate cease-fire to end the fighting between Israel and the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah. "Although the main solution is for the elimination of the Zionist regime, at this stage an immediate cease-fire must be implemented," Ahmadinejad said, according to state-run television in a report posted on its Web site.
In other words, Israel is ruining all their prep work and has to stop if the great dream of another holocaust is ever to take place.

He didn't mention whether he appreciates the help of such useful idiots as Jack and Alexa in the NDP, but I'm sure he does.

(via Dust My Broom)

Putting a sock in them

It seems the Lebanese-Canadian Coordinating Council didn't want to follow the opposition party's plan. As everyone knows, on the issue of Israel's invasion, hyphenated Canadians from the Middle East are supposed to be singing from the same songsheet as the Liberals, Bloc and NDP. But Elias Bejjani, who was invited to speak to the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs committee, turned out to have another perspective. So they prevented him from speaking. Here's the LCCC's statement:

The LCCC, an umbrella organization for six non-profit Lebanese Canadian groups, strongly condemns the undemocratic political tactics that the Opposition Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois parties executed yesterday during a hearing session for the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. The session was initiated by the Opposition parties to challenge the Conservative government’s Middle East policy and the evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon. Several groups and individuals applied to be witnesses and were accepted by the Clerk of the Committee. These witnesses traveled to Ottawa from across the country, but were unjustly prevented from delivering their statements. Among them was Mr. Elias Bejjani, LCCC Chairman and the Canadian Lebanese Human Right Federation (CLHRF) Spokesman, (a member in the LCCC coalition). It is astounding that although the hearing pertained to Lebanon, Opposition MPs deemed it appropriate to silence Lebanese witnesses.
To read the heresy that all three of Canada's opposition parties refused to allow to be entered into the Parliamentary record, follow this link. Hopefully, due to this sleazy bit of procedural trickery, Bejjani's words will get even more mileage.

(via the National Post)

UPDATE: The Canadian Coalition for Democracies was also told to go away by Alexa McDonough and friends. And you can see why if you read their prepared statement that they didn't get a chance to deliver. It pulls no punches:

In today’s terms, Prime Minister Harper recognizes that sacrificing Israel to the demands of a fascist enemy will not bring peace. Just as Hitler peddled his self-inflicted and self-serving grievances to gullible Western leaders and peace activists while pursuing his well-publicized charter, so too will Hamas and Hezbollah. And they will be further emboldened by the apparent weakness of today’s gullible Westerners.

In contrast to Prime Minister Harper’s moral clarity, we now hear former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence, Bill Graham, tell the Guardian newspaper on July 18, "Mr. Harper is proud of the fact he wasn't nuanced … Nuance has kept us in a position where we could help.”

Nuance? Does Mr. Graham actually believe that nuance will curb the homicidal ambitions of an organization that has amassed over 10,000 missiles and sent 1,500 of those missiles packed with flesh-shredding ball bearings into Israel, and done so from positions within densely populated Lebanese cities and towns? Does he believe that nuance is an effective weapon against an organization that is the heavily financed and armed proxy of Iran, whose president has called for the nuclear annihilation of Israel? It would be laughable were it not for the slaughter of innocents and the threat to Canada that flows from Mr. Graham’s deadly naiveté.

Mr. Graham actually believes that Israel should negotiate with an organization that his own government has designated as a terrorist entity. He is telling Israel that she must deal with Hezbollah, whose opening demand is the release of hundreds of prisoners with Israeli blood on their hands, starting with Samir Kuntar, a Palestinian whose gang kidnapped 4-year-old Israeli Anat Hanan and his father, and took them to Gaza where they smashed in the head of the child in front of his father before shooting the man to death. For this atrocity, Kuntar is a Hezbollah hero.

It is Prime Minister Harper, not Bill Graham, who is the honest broker, for honesty demands that we not be impartial between the fireman and the arsonist, to paraphrase Winston Churchill.

A quick laugh

I got a genuine chuckle out of this one...

(via ¡No Pasarán!)

August 02, 2006

It's a wonder there's any small business at all

From the London Fog: the tale of a ruthless government shakedown. At least with the mob you can be sure they don't really think they're offering you protection. And they don't have as much paperwork...

August 01, 2006

China Syndrome

Far from the wonder economy some people represent it as, China's economy is a over-heated, smoking mess. So far it's managed to keep chugging along, but problems are building that will eventually cause it to fall apart.

China's leaders are finding that the world's largest command economy no longer responds to their commands.

Growth is hurtling along at the fastest pace in a decade, defying official efforts to curb investment in unneeded factories and real-estate projects. The government's immediate concerns are that overheated growth will saddle China with excess capacity, create more asset bubbles and increase friction with the United States and other trading partners.

"China's unbalanced growth model has now gone to excess and seems in danger of veering out of control," said Stephen Roach, the chief global economist at Morgan Stanley in New York. "The longer China's economic boom runs, the tougher it will be to avoid a more treacherous endgame."

That might include defaults on bank loans, and eventually deflation and a collapse of asset values. Such a hard landing would risk breeding social unrest within China while drying up export markets for neighbors like South Korea and Taiwan.
The problem is that the financial system that has funded China's boom does not make its decisions based on economic analysis, but on what the Communist Party tells it. This can create a lot of activity quickly, but has problems in delivering a return on investment.
In the banking system, measures taken so far to curb lending "are like taking a spoonful of water from an overflowing swimming pool," said Dong Tao, chief Asia economist at Credit Suisse Group in Hong Kong.

Outstanding yuan-denominated loans on June 30 stood at 21.5 trillion yuan, or $2.7 trillion, 15.2 percent higher than a year earlier. New yuan lending in the first half totaled 2.18 trillion yuan, approaching the central bank's full-year target of 2.5 trillion yuan.

China's banks carry more than 1.3 trillion yuan of nonperforming loans, which exceeds the 8 percent carried on their books, according to Moody's Investors Service.

Chinese banks are "backward in terms of their risk management and pricing of loans," said May Yan, vice president at Moody's in Hong Kong. "It's going to take years for these banks to learn how to price risk, and they're going to get burned along the way."
China already has a lot of popular unrest bubbling just under the surface. A serious reversal in their miracle economy would throw millions out of work and destroy the savings of millions more. What happens after that is impossible to predict.