Autonomous Source

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June 27, 2007

Price controls cause shortages

Example #2379:

Zimbabwe's government announced sweeping price cuts in a bid to curb inflation Tuesday and said it set up a unit drawn from all its security agencies to enforce the cuts.

But most businesses -- including gas stations ordered to reduce the price of scarce fuel by more than two-thirds -- ignored the government's directive. There were no reports of security agents arresting business managers on the first day of the ordered cuts.

Far from cutting prices, retailers have been struggling to keep up with the falling value of the Zimbabwean dollar, in some cases curtailing their hours of business to give employees time to put new, higher prices on goods.

Industry Minister Obert Mpofu announced price cuts of up to two-thirds on a range of basic goods and services, from commuter transportation to bread, sugar, meat, milk, corn meal and even newspapers, state radio reported Tuesday.

The result?
On Tuesday, shops in central Harare seemed to be defying the new directive. Instead of cutting prices, some supermarkets simply emptied their shelves of goods such as sugar, salt, flour cooking oil, beef and fuel that would be subject to the order.

"We have been instructed by management to remove some of the products from the shelves for now," an assistant at a leading chain store said as shoppers scrambled to buy bathing soap.

At another store there were long queues as people stocked up, saying they feared basic goods would now be in even shorter supply.

Zimbabwe's government must be among the most incompetent gang of morons ever to rule a country. After years and years of stupid policies that have devastated the economy, still they keep at it -- seemingly thinking that their absolute physical power can change the rules of supply and demand. They seem to have some sort of institutional learning disability.

June 26, 2007

A short history of Israel

It's not surprising that the world has such a misguided understanding of Israel, given the state of the media today. This 10 minute flash presentation on the history of Israel should be watched by those whose memories have been clouded by excessive exposure to the CBC.

(Via Mitchieville. Again)

June 23, 2007

That's about right

My blog's suitability for minors:

(via Mitchieville)

Your chance to help the government!

Today I saw this sign in the vacant field opposite the new Canadian War Museum in Ottawa:

Governments today don't make their decisions based on anything as old-fashioned as need, they do things the proper way. They get as much money as they can and then divide it up amongst various departments and other interested parties to decide where it should go. It's a delicate balancing act that aims to keep whining to a minimum but isn't really concerned with doing anything useful. Usually spending the money isn't a difficult task for the recipients, but sometimes it comes so fast that it's hard to know what to do with it. It's this difficult position the National Capital Commission finds itself in. They have a pot of money to spend on a new 'national cultural institution', but they can't figure out what it should be!

To help them out, I suggest the employing the decision-making tool closest to perfect democracy: an internet poll. Answer the question below and help our government spend this money wisely!

The Canadian Government has announced its intentions to build a new 'national cultural institution' on the LeBreton Flats in Ottawa. What should it be?
Canadian Peace Museum
Museum of Multiculturalism
Canadian Curling Hall of Fame
History of Women Discovery Centre
National Shrine to Pierre Elliot Trudeau
Canadian Hunting and Fishing Museum
Temple to Gaia
Canadian Centre for Aboriginal History
Other (use comments)

current results

Distinct Society

St Jean Baptiste is tomorrow, but for the Municipality of La Pêche, just to the north of me, there will be no parade this year. Why? Because last year the parade degenerated into a spontaneous 'smoke show', in which tires were spun to create great clouds of toxic smoke that stunk up the area for miles around. It looks like it was a pretty cool time:

City officials are terrified that it would happen again this year and become an annual event. The government is suppressing Québecois culture! Why is this not front page news all over Québec?

June 22, 2007

Pangya!

People who know me think that I am perfect in every way. But this is not quite true. I must admit to one minor character flaw: a weakness for stoopid computer games.

The latest bauble to catch my attention is an online golf game called Albatross18. It's a strange, surreal, Nintendoish game that is free to download and free to play. The company that produced it makes money by allowing players to purchase 'cookies' with real money that can be exchanged for improved equipment and clothing. But if you're too cheap to pay for items (like me), you can still improve your character buying items with 'pang', earned by competing in tournaments and making good shots. I've managed to purchase a stylish cowboy hat and a pair of sneakers so far.

The game is deceptively easy to play. After a few rounds, you'll easily be hitting par and making birdies on the easy courses. But veteran players can make eagles, albatrosses, and holes-in-one. And the hard courses take a long time to master. There are also special shots like the tomahawk, which rockets a great distance and comes down with an explosion. I've yet to see someone deploy one of these shots on the PGA tour.

To play, get an account on the OgPlanet site, log in, then download the software from the Albatross18 site. But don't do it if you don't have hours to waste on a pointless internet confection. I'm trying to quit cold turkey myself...

The perils of global warming

Maybe I've been a little too blasé about global warming. A site called Numberwatch has compiled a list documenting the dangers to our planet from this threat. And they're all from real news stories so you can be sure that they're true. Here's just a small sample:

...slow death, smaller brains, smog, snowfall increase, snowfall heavy, snowfall reduction, societal collapse, songbirds change eating habits, sour
grapes
, space problem, spiders invade Scotland, squid population explosion, squirrels reproduce earlier, spectacular orchids, stormwater drains stressed, street crime to increasesuicide, taxes, tectonic plate movement, teenage drinking...
The time for talking is over! We have to act!

(via the Financial Post)

June 21, 2007

Behind China's mask of prosperity

In City Journal, Guy Sorman has written a lengthy and comprehensive summary of the human rights abuses in China and the unstable nature of its current 'prosperity'. China's PR is so effective that most people in the West never hear of the everyday horrors there. This essay is a good place to start to find out the truth: The Empire of Lies.

Freedom Vs Environmentalism

Vaclav Klaus addresses the critics of his theory that the modern environmentalist movement is the greatest threat to freedom today:

To say that “the supporters of capitalism demand that they are free to dump their waste on their neighbours lawns without consequence” has the beauty of communist propaganda I had a chance to “enjoy” during the first 48 years of my life.
He's a little nicer to most of the others.

'It is like a feral beast'

Tony Blair has a few words for the media as he walks out the door:

The reality is that as a result of the changing context in which 21st-century communications operates, the media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They are not actually the masters of this change, they're in many ways the victims.

The result, however, is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by "impact." Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamor, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is often secondary to impact.

It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unraveling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.

Broadsheets today face the same pressures as tabloids; broadcasters increasingly the same pressure as broadsheets. The audience needs to be arrested, held and their emotions engaged. Something that is interesting is less powerful than something that makes you angry or shocked.

The consequences of this are acute. First, scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down. News is rarely news unless it generates heat as much as or more than light.

Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal. Conspiratorial. Watergate was a great piece of journalism, but there is a Ph.D. thesis all on its own to examine the consequences for journalism of standing one conspiracy up. What creates cynicism is not mistakes; it is allegations of misconduct. But misconduct is what has impact.

Third, the fear of missing out means that today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out.

Fourth, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than, the news itself. So--for example--there will often be as much interpretation of what a politician is saying as there is coverage of them actually saying it. In the interpretation, what matters is not what they mean; but what they could be taken to mean. This leads to the incredibly frustrating pastime of expending a large amount of energy rebutting claims about the significance of things said, that bears little or no relation to what was intended.

In turn, this leads to a fifth point which is the confusion of news and commentary. Comment is a perfectly respectable part of journalism. But it is supposed to be separate. Opinion and fact should be clearly divisible. The truth is a large part of the media today not merely elides the two but does so now as a matter of course. In other words, this is not exceptional. It is routine.

Read the whole thing. Being Tony Blair, of course, he goes on to suggest that government may have a role in repairing these faults. I don't think so. But he's put his finger on some of the things that are wrong with the news today.

In today's media, a story on some new government policy initiative will open not with what that initiative is, but with a 'critic' saying what's wrong with it. The critic is not the official opposition, but just some unelected busybody fronting an organization claiming to represent some special interest group or be concerned with a particular issue. These sound-bite providers are summoned at will by the media, and are chosen for what they will say much more than any expertise or relevance they have to the story. And if for some reason they are not available the generic 'many', 'some', and 'critics' are always able to speak and let the reporter editorialize behind a facade of objectivity.

Then there is the reporting on motive. No action by the government is reported on without meandering asides as to what nefarious motives are behind it. The latest poll numbers and unrelated events will be woven into the story to cast doubt on the sincerity of all involved.

Skepticism and rebuttal are important to hear, but now they seem to crowd out the actual information. And I think it's just going to get worse before it gets better.

UPDATE: Fark's Drew Curtis has recently written a book about media stupidity. Some of the best quotes from it can be found here.

June 17, 2007

Tradition

This Father's Day I spent part of the day performing a sacred duty: passing to my first-born son the knowledge of how to make totally awesome hamburgers. First Max learned the nine secret spices and sauces that go into the meat to give it the perfect flavour. Then he got to mix it up and form the patties.

Then he had the chance to learn the mysterious ways of the charcoal barbeque, and the best way to get the coals to the ideal temperature. He also learned never to give in to the temptation of propane.

Finally, he learned how to master the tools of the barbecue chef, and use those tools to grill the burgers to perfection.

As you can see, Max is also a master of correct barbeque fashion. I couldn't be more proud of him.

June 13, 2007

Hitchens on Hilton

It's impossible not to be up to date on the great non-story of the past week. I happened to be listening to Lowell Green on CFRA when one of the legal twists in the story occured, and the station switched over to CNN coverage. Lowell did this as a joke, but it was clear CNN took it very seriously. It was reported with as much gravity as an assassination of a world leader or a major earthquake striking the West coast. I haven't watched TV news for a long time, but even I was surprised that it had gotten that bad.

Christopher Hitchens looks at what's driving that wall-to-wall coverage, and doesn't like what he sees:

The supposedly "broad-minded" culture turns out to be as prurient and salacious as the elders in The Scarlet Letter. Hilton is legally an adult but the treatment she is receiving stinks—indeed it reeks—of whatever horrible, buried, vicarious impulse underlies kiddie porn and child abuse.

I cannot imagine what it might be like, while awaiting a prison sentence for a tiny infraction, to see dumb-ass TV-addicted crowds howling with easy, complicit laughter as Sarah Silverman (a culpably unfunny person) describes your cell bars being painted to look like penises and jokes heavily about your teeth being at risk because you might gnaw on them. And this on prime time, and unrebuked. Lynching parties used to be fiestas, as we have no right to forget, and the ugly coincidence of sexual nastiness—obscenity is the right name for it—and vengefulness is what seems to lend the savor to the Saturnalia.

June 12, 2007

Watch your car get destroyed

Consumer reports has put 150 crash test videos online so you can plainly see what will happen to yourself and your family if you're unlucky enough to get in a serious accident. The '05 Honda Odyssey and the '06 Honda Civic both perform heroically.

Owners of Dodge Neons, Chevy Cavaliers, and Pontiac Grand Ams might want to think about getting their wills up to date.

June 11, 2007

The 'devastating urge to do good'

Recently, Bono and Bob Geldof wagged their fingers at Canada for our government's unwillingness to hand over the money they're demanding. But if you listen to Kenyan economist James Shikwati, more big checks and aid handouts are the last thing Africa needs:

SPIEGEL: Even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death each year. Someone has got to help them.

Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there's a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program -- which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It's only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it's not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa ...

SPIEGEL: ... corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers ...

Shikwati: ... and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unsrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN's World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It's a simple but fatal cycle.

Obviously, it's a complex issue. No one wants to turn their back on suffering. But clearly it isn't money alone that will get Africa on the path to modernity. Africa needs reliable banks, dependable currencies, and honest government and law enforcement. Without them, people seen no reason to try to better their lives because the fruits of their labours will be stolen/inflated/taxed away. But since we can't stick those foundations of prosperity in a container and put them on a boat, and because any attempt to provide those services would be met by deafening cries of "Colonialism!" from the usual suspects, perhaps a bit of tough love, as Shikwati suggests, is in order.

(via Instapundit)

June 10, 2007

The Wire

The Sopranos wraps up tonight, and everywhere critics are writing erudite exegeses on the meaning and importance of the show. Check out Peggy Noonan for a preview of the types of pieces to be found in every newpaper in the world tomorrow. Personally, I lost interest in the show around season five. The stories were interesting in showing how organized crime worked in the modern world, but it was such a nihilistic show. Most of the characters left me cold.

The Wire, another HBO show, is a different story. My wife and I just finished watching the first three seasons, and I have to say that it's one of the best shows ever made. Like the Sopranos, it takes the viewers to places they're lucky enough not to know anything about -- in this case, the 'war on drugs' in Baltimore. It weaves a complex story that stretches from the street dealers to the kingpins, and from the frontline cops to the politicians. It explores the cultures of these groups, but also tells a suspenseful story filled with unique characters.

Pick up these DVDs. You won't regret it.

It also has better opening credits than the Sopranos. This is season three:

See also season one, season two, and season four.

The Journey of Mankind

Take a few minutes to explore this flash presentation on how Homo Sapiens spread over the earth. It's based on the latest scientific info and contained quite a few nuggets that surprised me.

(via the Mayor of Mitchieville)

June 09, 2007

Why I hate art

Actually, I don't hate it. I recognize that the creativity, ambition, and determination of people that can only be called 'artists' give me great pleasure and happiness. The people that write the stories, make the movies, play the music, and yes, design the computer games are those that create the vast, complex culture we live in. But they aren't whom most people think of as 'artists'.

'Artists', of course, are those that the CBC fawns over, a self-perpetuating oligarchy of pretentious hacks moving in a crowd, with very little to say. A huge government bureaucracy sustains them, and most of their energy is spent making sure the spigot stays on -- and congratulating themselves for it.

Robert Fulford visited the latest gathering of this crowd in Toronto, for the opening of a very expensive new museum. The situation is worse than I thought:

The performances filling most of the evening were also worked into the religious theme: In between acts, Paul Gross, our host, conducted an argument with a booming voice (Gordon Pinsent's) that claimed to belong to Time. We all realized that Time represented God, who would have come Himself if He hadn't been made illegal.

Time turned out to be just as pushy as the God of Genesis, though less interesting. He said all civilizations die and our time had come. He was "pulling the plug" this very night because we were growing less creative and polluting the earth.

In our defence, Gross offered the show we were watching (rap singers, Celtic dancers, an opera star, native drummers, whatever) as proof of our creativity. Time seemed unimpressed (and nobody would blame him). Besides, that still left Earth-despoiling. What could we say about that?

At this point the producers wheeled out David Suzuki, that national menace, to declare that the world is reforming itself by going green. As an example he cited some young girls who saved some old horses. He mentioned "my friend Al Gore."

Eventually some of us began pawing through the program to learn who conceived this twaddle. It said "Writer: Bernard Rothman." He's a TV guy from Montreal who has spent the last 35 years in Los Angeles, accumulating a modest list of credits (wrote for My Three Sons, produced a George Burns special, etc.).

Musette

On Thursday, we had to let our sweet, elderly dog go. After fifteen years, she could barely walk, was incontinent, and was almost incapable of getting to her feet. But she still seemed to enjoy life, so it was a difficult decision. She ate greedily and could still prance about (somehow) when she was excited.

Pico cat will miss her, and so will the rest of the family.

June 04, 2007

Go Senators! Achieve victory!

While walking in downtown Ottawa on Saturday, I observed an odd ritual being performed by young men dressed in red sweaters. One party would spot another party and shout, "WOO HOO!" The other party would also shout back, "WOO HOO!" and then would approach. Then the two groups engaged in patterns of hand-slapping, accompanied by gutteral noises to indicate their ferocity. Then -- after a last, shared, "WOO HOO!" -- they would separate and continue on their separate ways. I found it quite perplexing.

Using my blogger's instincts, I sensed there was a story to this behavior. After researching, I discovered that a local ice hockey team was engaged in a tournament to win a trophy of some sort. The macho posturing was performed by fans of the team in order to... well, I'm still not really sure why.

Apparently, victory in this tournament is deeply desired by many people in my community. With that in mind, we here at Autonomous Source say:

Go Sens. Go!

UPDATE: Dang. Well, they're not dead yet...

June 02, 2007

Price controls cause shortages

Example #2378...

Political analyst Rosendo Fraga said Argentina's energy woes date to a 2002 economic crisis, when regulators froze rates for home utility bills just after the peso devalued more than 70 percent against the dollar. Since then, far less revenue has been available for upgrading and building plants and other infrastructure.

"A lack of investment in the energy system, in great part generated by the freeze on utility rates, has created a situation which soon or later could explode," Fraga said.

Many factories went idle this week when distributors shut off or reduced gas supplies to give priority to homes. Government regulators also ordered an 800-megawatt electricity cut nationwide for four hours Wednesday night, which led to sporadic blackouts in the capital.

At a shampoo and detergent factory in suburban Buenos Aires, executive Alberto Rodriguez said workers had to race to meet production goals after one outage.

"The lights went out for several hours," Rodriguez said. "To a greater or smaller extent, we are all suffering from a lack of energy and gas."

It's much worse in the People's Republic of Hugo though...

June 01, 2007

A pause for inspiration

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann 1927