Autonomous Source

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August 28, 2007

There's no place like home

The plan was to leave Fredericton and just go as far as Quebec City on the first day, but the lure of getting home encouraged me to continue and we made it home in just one day. It took exactly thirteen hours -- including three hour long stops -- to make it. I drove the whole way, and was probably passed only a half dozen times by other cars. We were also blessed by the fastest passage through Montreal ever.

We couldn't have made it had Captain Destructo and the Mistress of Chaos not remained in their mild-mannered secret identities for most of the ride. They were terrific. I was surprised.

It was nice not to worry about the blog for a couple of weeks, but now I'm itching to get back at it. I'll slap some photos up soon, and then will get back to my role as Canada's most beloved blogger. But give me a day to unpack, mow the lawn, shop, go through the mail, and find the one cat that is still missing.

August 20, 2007

The Globe can get stuffed

What a bunch of whiny elitists these guys are! Apparently the erecting of amateur inukshuks in the wilderness is offending the delicate sensibilities of our betters. God forbid a Canadian cultural tradition arises without government sponsorship. Captain Destructo and the Mistress of Chaos refuse to obey the Globe's holy commandment.

They (with some technical assistance from Papa) built these on Grand Manan Island last week. Now we are in Moncton, enduring the special hell that is Holiday Inn with small children. More later.

August 09, 2007

Outta here!

Well, that's it. Tomorrow my family and I head out on the open road in the Improbabus. We don't know where we'll wind up or what we'll do. We're just going to throw caution to the wind and see where the open road takes us. We may go East, we may go West, or we may even go South. A week from now we may be crossing a desert, or climbing a mountain, or lounging in front of a pool in Las Vegas. There's nothing like the excitement of the unknown.

Of course, there is a small chance that we may do what my wife has planned: drive to New Brunswick to spend a week in a cottage by the ocean, followed by attending her brother's wedding. But I'm sure I can talk her out of it.

Either way, posting will be infrequent. More so, I mean. Here's a last photo of my traveling companions, taken during a hike the other day. I'm sure they're going to be perfectly well-behaved.

Right?

August 08, 2007

Stuff & Things XXIV

  • I haven't done one of these S&Ts for over a year. Today seems like a good day to renew this once popular Autonomous Source feature as I've found a bunch of interesting things to read lately and haven't the time to comment on them all in detail. This interweb thing is great!
  • To me, an individual's first responsibility is to look after himself. Too bad then that in Canada we have to trust our health care needs to the government. Lately, the Tories seem to be fishing about for visionary project they can put their stamp on. Might I suggest freeing the provinces to experiment in new methods of delivering health care? Rebecca Walberg of the Calgary herald has a detailed and concise article on the need for more private involvement. Guys, take note. And this American take on the Canadian system from City Journal is also worth a read.
  • The Daily Express has a great piece on the steady flow of young, educated Britons emigrating to the rest of the Commonwealth. The article sort of dances around what the reasons are, but the comments on the article sure don't. I've met quite a few recent immigrants from the UK in the past few years and they are all in awe of how wonderful life is in Canada. This won't stop me from continuing to complain about things, however...
  • On a somewhat related note, Theodore Dalrymple gave a speech in Halifax this year on the topic of cultural confidence, and the text is available online. He touches on something that I've been musing about a bit lately: When and why did Western Civilization stop believing in itself? For Dalrymple, he ends the speech on a fairly positive note. (via Daimnation, by way of Blazing Cat Fur collected from Opinions Canada.)
  • Unfortunately, it looks like South Africa is following Zimbabwe's lead in destroying their country. Are they fifteen years behind them? Ten?
  • Do you love Opera? Me neither, but I found this article on the modern trend of 'updating' operas to make them 'more relevant'. You know, by having the characters masturbate on stage, take drugs, torture, rape, murder or make trite jokes about Bush. It's a pretty long piece, but well researched and well written.
  • Is that all we got? Is that a wrap? Hmm, seemed like there was more. Okay then, 'til next time...

China talks tough to hide a weak hand

China is apparently threatening to dump their massive holding of US dollars if Congress gets too aggressive with trade tariffs:

Described as China's "nuclear option" in the state media, such action could trigger a dollar crash at a time when the US currency is already breaking down through historic support levels.

It would also cause a spike in US bond yields, hammering the US housing market and perhaps tipping the economy into recession. It is estimated that China holds over $900bn in a mix of US bonds.

The unfortunate thing is that China and the US have a unhealthy codependent relationship. The US is addicted to the cheap money the Chinese have been providing, which allows interest rates to stay low and keep the economy moving. And China is dependent on the US to soak up all the crap they produce so they can keep their people working and avoid social unrest. It's a situation that can't go on forever, and perhaps the cracks are finally beginning to show.

But economic crises are caused not by changing economic conditions, but by the rate of change of those conditions. Markets generally adapt to change very well, but too much too fast will cause enormous disruptions that unpredictable effects. Both the tariffs proposed by the US and the dumping of dollars by the Chinese will rebound to their own countries and cause a lot of economic devastation.

The fact that the two countries are still making threats to each other in public tells me they're still a long way from cooperating in disentangling themselves from this mess they're in. Personally, I think it's far too late to do anything anyway, especially with the debt crisis growing in the US. It's likely the rhetoric will get more heated as the two nations seek to blame each other for the inevitable pain as they break free of their codependency the hard way.

August 06, 2007

Bourne Supremacy: what a mess...

A couple of years ago, I raved about the second part of the Bourne Trilogy. I've been eagerly waiting for the third and final act to come out, and last night I finally got to see it. 'Disappointed' is too weak a word to describe how I felt. There may be a few spoilers below.

Gone was the sense of reality. According to this movie, the CIA is listening in to all -- yes all! -- cell phone conversations in the whole world using voice-recognition software. They can take control of any CCTV camera in the world, and operate with such impunity that they can burst onto a bus in London, flashing guns, to stick a needle in the back of someone's neck and drag him away. And, oh yes, they have brainwashed super assassins lounging around hotel rooms all over the world, five minutes from any location, awaiting a text message on their phone telling them to kill someone. And if by some chance they fail, well, there's a back up assassin on his way soon. The agents in The Matrix would be in awe of the incredible reach and power of the CIA.

Gone were the coherent action scenes. The interminable chase scene in Tangiers -- yes, there are CIA super assassins waiting around in Tangiers, too -- made no sense. I had no clue in what was going on in the (quite short) car chase in New York.

Gone was any kind of logic in the story. Characters' actions were frequently baffling. The main CIA bad guy brings a known Bourne sympathizer into his team and tells her about all the terrible and top secret things they do. A CIA agent throws away her career and betrays her superiors for Bourne before knowing anything of what's going on. One of the brainwashed assassins has Bourne in his sights and Bourne says to him, "Do you really know why you're supposed to kill me?" This convinces the assassin to reconsider his career options and he lets Bourne get away. There's some madly dumb stuff in this flick.

I could go on and on about the plot holes and general stupidity, but what really bothered me about this movie was its attitude. It's a film made for truthers. The CIA bad guys operate from their command room in Manhattan. Dozens and dozens of people work there, not looking too stressed as they obey their boss's orders to send assassins to kill reporters or former colleagues. It's just another day on the job for them. And the movie makes it clear that this is all sanctioned by the American government. They control absolutely everything, you see.

But the most offensive part was at the end. In a flashback sequence, Bourne is volunteering to join this new special ops unit that is being formed. Square jaw jutting forward, he is shown to be doing it because he is a patriot and believes he will be saving American lives. Cut to the program's evil mastermind leering almost sexually at him. The message wouldn't be any less subtle if they flashed the word "SUCKER!" over Matt Damon's face.

And yet the critics rave! It's Sky Captain all over again.

Both sides happy. 'It's deplorable!'

Most sensible people would rather have a root canal than go to a Celine Dion concert. So if a sensible person found themselves in the possession of free tickets, they -- being sensible -- would do well to sell them to some of those strange, non-sensible people that enjoy suffering. But apparently this is some kind of moral faux pas:

Dion performed at the Bell Centre for patients, volunteers and staff of Ste. Justine Hospital. Tickets were free for about 1,000 patients and their families, 4,500 staff and 500 doctors, Ste. Justine spokeswoman Chantal Huot said.

But just days before the show, some tickets were being offered for as much as $200 a pair on popular online classified websites.

"I really think that's just deplorable," Huot said. "Some employees saw the ads and got in touch with management. They thought it was horrible."

What's the problem? Some people seeking to preserve their sanity freely traded the tickets to others who had obviously lost theirs. If the tickets were intended as a 'reward' to the hospital staff, well, what could be more rewarding than a bit of money?

Perhaps the outrage is directed at the ticket sellers for taking cruel advantage of those poor addled souls that actually want to be trapped in a room with Celine Dion. Yes, that must be it; nothing else makes sense.

August 04, 2007

What have you done with my Laphroaig?

Laphroaig Scotch from the Isle of Islay off Scotland is unique. It advertises itself as 'the most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies' and that is undeniably true. It's smoky and salty and peaty, and there is a little something else there that is hard to define. The tiniest of sips fills your mouth with its awesome, earthy flavour. It has its own unique look as well, using the same green bottle with the plastic cap and the same imprecisely glued black-on-white label that has been around since the 60's. Those elegant, faux-Victorian labels found on most other Scotches are so pretentious.

But the monopoly liquor supplier in Ontario has recently discontinued the Laphroaig 10 yr old single malt. And since it's never been available from the Quebec monopoly liquor supplier, I now have no source for my favourite Scotch, and only a couple fingers left in my last bottle.

I'm not sure why they got rid of it. Every Scotch drinker I know is familiar with it and rates it highly. For those who appreciate a peaty Scotch, only Lagavulin rivals its experience. But Lagavulin is twice as expensive; I could never justify buying it. Laphroaig is a connoisseur's Scotch at a working class price -- which, now that I think of it, is maybe why the LCBO dropped it.

But I'm not worried. The friends of Laphroaig will not let the LCBO get away with this. Right now, the LCBO switchboard is probably jammed with angry Laphroaig drinkers, their servers are clogged with angry emails, and letters have arrived from all over Ontario denouncing their short-sighted decision. With a provincial election coming up, I don't think Dalton McGuinty can afford to alienate such a large part of the voting public. You can write to complain to the LCBO (as I have done) at infoline@lcbo.com.

And in case I haven't completely convinced you of how special and unique this Scotch is, I present this video. Though the creator says he adds ice to Laphroaig and pronounces the name wrong, he is clearly passionate about it. I salute him.

August 01, 2007

'You're all suckers!'

That's what Homer tells the audience at the beginning of The Simpsons Movie, and I have to say I agree with him. The show has been pretty lame for a long time, yet I thought that with the focus and polish that a movie requires the creators would be able to create one last gem. But no, it was pretty much like the current episodes (or so I imagine them to be, as I never watch the show anymore), just longer and slower. Other than the 'Spider-pig' segment -- which was very funny -- I don't think I laughed out loud during the whole film. But if you like to see Homer get hit in the head or fall down, you'll love it; 85% of the jokes involved one or the other.

I didn't frown through the whole thing either. It was an amusing film. But I just expected more. Sad to say but The Transformers was funnier.

The Carnival Of The Politically Correct

The Mayor of Mitchieville has managed to corral enough bloggers to declare the Carnival Of The Politically Correct. Representative of the submissions, Steve B lays down the current state of the world before getting around to listing the simple solutions to fix it:

Now, we all know that in this world, there are just two kinds of people: 1) Those who value the environment, those who understand the danger of global warming and capitalist over-consumption, who understand the felt-needs of the downtrodden and disenfranchised, and are willing to provide whatever entitlements and social programs are necessary, regardless of the drain on the economy, and then of course there are: 2) Earth despoiling christo-fascist hate mongers who wait for a Rapture so that they can escape a raped and despoiled Gaia, leaving the rest of you losers here to burn.
Unfortunately, I was unable to contribute as an unfortunate accident has left me with the tragic inability to speak in politically correct cant. I admire those who do though. Fenris, you're a treasure to the world and your tear-drenched keyboard should be enshrined in a museum after you're composted. (Hey! Maybe I'm cured!)