Friday, December 31, 2004

Two more additions

The blogroll has just gotten a bit larger, and a bit smarter, which I promise says more about the new additions than it does about the veterans.

Laurent Moss at Le Blog de Polyscopique - I've been reading him periodically since before I started Jerry Aldini. Mr. Tarantino has recently pointed to two excellent entries, and Laurent's opinions are valuable and very well-supported.

Chris Selley at Tart Cider - introduction courtesy of an intelligent debate with Colby Cosh about the relevance of legalizing gay marriage as it pertains to polygamy. Just scrolling down the page, there's hardly a single post that doesn't qualify as both intelligent and interesting (and correct - almost).

Cosh has actually been countered very effectively on a couple of his legal arguments, both by Selley and by correspondent David McCarthy. But here comes the However.

However, Selley's argument is still relatively dependent on this premise: "...public opinion is far more forcefully against polygamy than it is against gay marriage, and that whereas homosexuals always numbered in the millions, the tiny number of Canadian polygamists means that public opinion is far less likely to shift."

I don't think this premise is correct. I certainly concede that on December 31, 2004, the question "Do you agree that gay marriage should be legalized in Canada?" will garner considerably more affirmative responses than "Do you agree that polygamy should be legalized in Canada?" But it's too much of a stretch to characterize that as public opinion being forcefully against polygamy, and furthermore that this opinion is unlikely to shift.

Selley's corresponding interesting argument, which I would like to address concurrently, is this:
For better or for worse, rights are not normally granted to a group until it can produce respectable representatives to lobby on its behalf. There is no Incest Proponents of America, no Cannibals Conspicuous. NAMBLA remains, shall we say, severely marginalized. I see no reason to believe that Canadian polygamists have their Martin Luther King secreted away somewhere, working on The Big Speech. That has always been my most basic argument for "no" on question 1: there's just no one to demand that polygamy be legalized. M. al-Saud n'existe pas.

This is a valid argument if you accept that public opinion on gay marriage has shifted because of its representatives lobbying on its behalf; I think you could argue that the shift has happened despite these dedicated folks.

It only takes one court case. No one supports polygamy right now, because no one has said they want it. But it only takes one - of course there is one Mr. Al-Saud out there. The issue is interesting and controversial, so pundits hither and yon of every political stripe throw in their two cents. How many minds have been changed, to support gay marriage, by a trusted columnist or media outlet (or a friend or relative), compared to the number changed by direct appeals by lobby groups? I'll guess at least a dozen times more, though I wouldn't be surprised if it was 100x. And most of these columnists came out in favour not because they have a deep commitment to equal rights (which was somewhat shallower 5 years ago), but because the issue was in front of them, and they had to have an opinion.

Public opinion on polygamy is irrelevant today - it will be relevant the day someone (anyone) asks for it. And thus the key questions are,
  • when that day comes
  • the pros and cons are tossed around in the media for a few months
  • and gay marriage has been fully legalized
1) Who will protest polygamy, but supported gay marriage? And,
2) Who will OK polygamy, but opposed gay marriage?

I hope you'll all forgive my non-use of "evidence", seeing how this will happen in the future, but I am certain that Selley overestimates the number of people in Camp #1, and even moreso, underestimates the number of people in Camp #2.

All that said, this debate can only go so far. I could write 3000 words about who's going to win the Super Bowl, but really - they're going to play the game in a month, and I'd either be right or wrong. The only difference here is that I don't know what day to sit down on the couch and order a pizza.

Friday, December 24, 2004

"If you need any help, gimme a holler, I'll be upstairs asleep"

My biggest pet peeve of the holiday season has nothing at all to do with commercialization, or religion, or an excess of the former or a shortage of the latter. In short, my family and I will enjoy Christmas in our own way, and I can't believe anyone else is concerned about how we do it in the slightest.

No, my biggest pet peeve is that I cannot watch TV or listen to radio for more than 10 minutes without hearing a public service announcement admonishing me not to drink and drive. It is ridiculous enough to be wished a Happy Holidays from the staff of Carmen's House of Flowers, or Rick's Plumbing, or Bolt Supply Warehouse, but when they add, "Please celebrate responsibly, don't drink and drive", I just about want to do it to spite them.

Anyway, the topic of "Impaired Driving - Enforcement, Punishment, and Public Education, and why we're doing all three wrong" deserves a full post some other day. Let me move on to the best of Christmas Season 2004.

Notwithstanding family considerations, the highlight for me is that National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation appears to have fully completed the transition from Presumably Embarrassing Sequel to Beloved Holiday Favourite. I've watched it four times this month (with probably a fifth tonight), and I laugh my tail off every damn time.

This movie is the crowning achievement of Chevy Chase's career, which has gone downhill unimpeded ever since. Bevery D'Angelo was still hot. Of the 4 pairs of actors playing kids Rusty & Audrey in the 4 Vacation movies, this one is definitely the best:
- Juliette Lewis: her last role in which she was neither creepy nor hideous
- Johnny Galecki: better known as Darlene's boyfriend

It offers a belly laugh every 5 minutes - or less - with virtually no "cringe moments". I'll save myself some pointless work and just point you all to the imdb quotes. And courtesy of Jass, we have one of the greatest rants in the history of film.

Obviously, I'm recommending the movie. But whether you prefer this, or Die Hard, or It's a Wonderful Life, I would like to wish you all:

Merry Christmas!!! (Shitter was full!)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Political?

(UPDATED slightly, re: politics & policy)

Robert McClelland is hosting the 2004 Canadian Weblog AwardsMyrick). I was surprised to find myself nominated as "Best Non-Political Weblog", for 2 reasons:

1) As Robert noted of the nomination, this blog may not fit the category
2) I don't think this blog is particularly great or well-read (Thanks "Paul" by the way, now I know 5 people who read this thing regularly).

So I went back through a few of my posts, and found myself surprised - the majority of my entries aren't political, in any sense. It didn't start out that way; like many, I started this blog after spending a couple of months commenting at Coyne's blog, and writing e-mails to Cosh. Plus, it was about 2 weeks before the federal election, so I felt like I had a lot to say.

I think the biggest reason for the slow change in tone is probably (A) the time and (B) the mental effort inherent in posting anything original about politics. My disillusionment with the CPC is a factor too, no doubt.

This raises a somewhat interesting question, though, that I started thinking about after former fellow comments-lurker SD spilled her guts out last week. It's regarding the difference between policy and politics, and specifically I would like to throw this out there: if you hold a policy position that is shared by exactly zero federal and provincial parties, is it really a political position?

Regular visitors here know that the biggest "issue" I write about (aside from maybe campaign finance and speech restrictions) is the health care system. I happen to believe that the first and most important step towards improving health care for all Canadians is to allow privately financed alternatives, entirely outside the government-insured system. So, which party, exactly, does that align me with? Where would I volunteer to help make this happen?

Is this even necessarily a right-wing position (not that I'm inclined to protest that characterization)? I would imagine that an argument could be constructed, from the left, that public health care would be best served by abandoning the upper income brackets to fend for themselves.

Comments are of course welcome. I'm pretty indifferent to the resolution, or non-resolution, of whether this is a political blog. However, this question needs addressing: if you're a wonk, are you also a hack? Assuming the short answer is "No", what's the ", But..."?

Discuss.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

pinky at mouth corner

(UPDATED)

There are 5 guys I've been friends with since Grade One. We were in the same class for nine straight years, then started on our separate ways. One is a doctor, three are computer geeks, and one owns a small business with his father. We keep in pretty regular touch, and see each other a few times a year.

Why is this of any interest to you? Well, it probably isn't, but I have a proud smile this morning, because the small business owner sold it this morning - for one hundred million dollars.
RONA Inc. ("RONA") (TSX: RON), the leading Canadian home improvement and gardening retailer and distributor, is acquiring Totem Building Supplies Ltd. ("Totem"), a home improvement leader in Alberta.

Subject to closing adjustments, the purchase price will be approximately $100 million, payable in cash.

[...]

A privately held company, Totem operates 16 points of sale in Alberta: 14 retail stores and two stores dedicated for contractors. A seventeenth store is currently under construction in Lloydminster, close to the Saskatchewan border. Totem currently has some 450,000 square feet of retail space and employs more than 900 people. Totem will achieve estimated sales of approximately $260 million in 2004.

Not bad for a guy who's a little short of his 31st birthday. Congratulations, Ryan.

UPDATE: per Babbler's comments - no, and apparently, neither does he. May I strongly encourage you to click on the G&M link. I hope it's not just me, but I think it does a decent job of getting across the weird conflicting emotions of selling away something you helped build. I think anyone who starts their own company wants it to end up being worth a lot of money, or at the very least wants it to provide an excellent income. But at the same time, it belongs to you! It wouldn't exist without you!

All that said: if Jerry Jones sold the Dallas Cowboys for $1Billion, would you expect him to be interested in any position with the club? Naaah, and he doesn't have that many years left, either. He'd try something else. And so, I am guessing, will my friend.

Friday, December 17, 2004

"And speaking of long double headers..."

Possibly the greatest issue ever of The Onion, with such headlines as:

And the best piece might be the Infograph, this week offering suggestions to Major League Baseball on preventing the use of performance-enhancing drugs:
  • Toughening up their "Don't get caught using steroids" policy
  • Putting up posters of Major League players at ever GNC outlet, with the instructions "do not serve"
And,
  • Keeping players off drugs by getting them involved in sports
Zing!

Dr. Eng, meet Occam's Razor

Check out Mickey Kaus from Wednesday:
How dumb are academics? Part XXIII: Today's N.Y. Post reports on a Harvard School of Public Health Study that found "men tend to do less exercise and put on weight" after they remarry, even though they eat healthier diets. The explanation, offered by Dr. Patricia Mona Eng:

Time demands of a new spousal role may preclude routine exercise.

Alternative non-Harvard-approved explanation for why they exercised more before they remarried: They wanted to get laid. ... On second thought, that theory may be crude and inappropriate. Sex isn't a big factor in male motivation. We all know that. Stick with the "time demands of a spousal role" business. Yes, that's the ticket.




Thursday, December 16, 2004

So what if it's cliched - this blogging dealy is a good learning experience

Bruce Ralston graces us with a few hundred words looking at Canada's troop levels, and the dim prospects for an increase, including the Peace Brigade our Rt. Hon. PM pimped during the election campaign. It's damn interesting.

What's the problem? Well, there's lots. But here's one I had never heard of or thought about, at all: the Canadian military won't accept non-citizens, including landed immigrants, since September 11.
It should go without saying that most countries with serious military obligations -- Britain, France, the United States -- do the exact opposite: encouraging even complete non-citizens to enlist, as a road to eventual naturalization, paying their debt to the society they wish to someday join at the front end. We're more enlightened here, I guess. Immigrants have no obligations when they arrive, and thereafter can do anything in Canada except fight for it.

But what about security concerns, Bruce?
(By the way, any security argument is ludicrous. We're talking military jobs with no security-clearance, like infantrymen. Being given any actual military responsibility for classified information takes its own, separate and extremely protracted -- think years, not months -- security-check process, post-enrolment. This really is just bureaucratic stupidity, as far as I can tell, applying the same standards to military recruitment that now apply to federal civil servants... which I suppose means Winsor is right.)

Oh. OK, since I'm dwarfed here, I'll let Bruce conclude:
Ironically, the majority of Canadians who died at Vimy Ridge and other World War One battles were first-generation... this being a country of immigrants and all. In today's army none of them could have served. Only in Canada would citizens who become Rhodes Scholars or backpack to Paris become effectively ineligible for military service. If you ever run into your Member of Parliament, you might want to ask why that is, and why he/she doesn't feel like changing it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Sidebar updates

Long overdue: I've added a few more links on the sidebar to some web-based commenters I've been enjoying, mostly via other people's blogrolls.

* Bruce Gottfred at Autonomous Source - consistently intelligent and insightful. Besides coming up with my favourite line so far on the trans-fat ban, he pointed me to The World, which (A) is fascinating, and (B) seems like the set-up for a Vince Vaughn-Ben Stiller movie.

* Jim Treacher at Mother, May I Sleep With Treacher? - despite laughing my ass off at Protein Wisdom and IMAO, I voted this for Best Humor Blog. Most people, I believe, were introduced to Treacher when he was, uh, needling Dan Rather; yesterday he was abusing Joe Don Baker, most recently in the news for threatening physical violence against the makers of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

* Alan at Occam's Carbuncle - another smart guy. He's having the same inner turmoil as me about the Conservative Party of Canada. He's keeping us safe from bears. And if you're reading this Alan, I hope this clears things up about Spalding and Judge Smails (about 2/3 of the way down).

* The Shotgun - I frequently feel like I should enjoy it more than I do, but there are some excellent contributors, including the staff. One suggestion to the editors would be to put those "Read More >>>" links on the longer posts; call me lazy, but I dislike having to scroll through thousands of words of Spector's (good) work to find even very recent entries.

* Ann Coulter - what can I say? I think she'd better if she didn't furiously alternate between serious and joking dozens of times per column, but she's a good read.

* And Instapundit - you may have heard of him, I think he's a lawyer or something. I guess that means I need to go have a drink.

I want my physician to take care of ME

For the second time in as many days, I read something that gets it so right, it almost ties my gut up in knots.

The Monger, MD, on Canada's Beleaguered Health Care System:
Because the System is designed to serve the collective goals of a mass of humanity, it cannot respond to individual goals appropriately. It is not designed to cater to individual goals, any more than the public transit system is designed to meet my personal commuting goals. But the only goals that matter to a patient--and the only goals that should matter to his physician--are personal goals.

Read it all at Monger, as it's very personal (hypothetically).

Monday, December 13, 2004

"these are essentially the Brezhnev years"

Paul Wells on the 1st year of Team Martin:
So once again, I think the latest Ottawa trope in regard to Martin is a bit behind the times. In 2003 everyone said he'd be a star even though everyone knew he was rarely particularly impressive. This weekend everyone's calling him a disappointment. I think the real point is that the Canadian voter market has discounted Paul Martin. He no longer disappoints because it has been most of a year since Canadians expected anything in particular from him. He plainly doesn't understand that — he's still living in a Boys' Own rocket-ship adventure of the mind — but Canadians have also discounted his utter lack of self-knowledge. As long as he doesn't screw the big things up — budget balance, a reasonable level of public service, manageable danger on the Quebec secession front — nobody is in any hurry to see the back of him.

Read the whole thing, as they say. It is, or ought to be, humiliating for Martin & supporters. But possibly even more than that, I find it comforting for the rest of us. And Wells shows us again, as he does every couple of months, that at his best, he is probably without peer.

Friday, December 10, 2004

It's Your Move

Very interesting and bold proposal from the NHLPA yesterday, offering to slash salaries 24% across the board. Bettman and the owners are now going to have to change their tack a bit, or a lot of their polled support is going to switch sides.

If I was sure of one thing when these negotiations started, it was that the eventual deal would not include a hard salary cap. That seems even more obvious to me now. There may be a relatively severe luxury tax (like, for example, the NBA), but no deal where Total League Revenues = $X, total player salaries = 55% of X, each team gets 1/30th of this to spend on players.

The realist frequently notes that this hard cap is necessary "to save the owners from themselves". There is some truth behind this sentiment, but the actual language confuses the issue. There is no instance I can imagine where the Phoenix Coyotes wish to pay a player $5M, and they need to be prohibited from doing so for the good of the Phoenix Coyotes. None. The owners of the Coyotes are capable of making these decisions.

What the saying should be is, "We need a contract to save the owners from each other." I have a relatively simple plan to solve the NHL/NHLPA dispute. I think if you accept (or stipulate) the following three premises, the solution follows rather naturally.

Premise #1: There is no quantifiable dollar figure that is "too much money" for a given hockey player to make. Gather up a bunch of people who never go to the movies. How many of them will say it's because ticket prices (& snacks etc.) are too expensive, and how many of them will say it's because Bruce Willis and Jim Carrey make too much money?

Premise #2: Most fans' loyalty is to the jersey first and the players second. Certainly any cap enthusiasts arguing that the NFL is the gold standard of pro sports leagues would have to concede this. You could also cite the popularity in U.S. of college sports (and state flatly that support for college sports in Canada is not weak because "the players change too much").

Premise #3: There are numerous reasons why the NFL is so popular, many of which are more instructive than the year-to-year momentum-reset resulting from the hard salary cap. (Sidebar: I understand what the sportswriters are aiming to say, but I don't think 'parity' is a word you can use describing a league with three 11-1 teams.) The weekly nature of the scheduling facilitates fan routines. It's also fantastic for gambling and office pools. They promote the hell out of their game. Having only 9 or 10 home games a year (which are virtually never on a work day) means that middle class fans can afford $80/seat season ticket packages. Oh, and people really like football.

OK, so, if you are willing to stipulate those three premises, the solution should be this:
  • Eliminate restricted free-agency
  • Eliminate arbitration
  • Eliminate the rookie wage scale
  • Institute a luxury tax of whatever threshold, severity, and escalation the two sides can agree on

Restricted free-agency is a mechanism to allow teams to hold onto players they drafted and developed through their prime years. Arbitration is the frequent sub-mechanism for solving wage disputes in these relationships. But the costs have simply not been worth it. Both these policies force teams to pay what is labelled "market value" for players, but is actually nothing of the sort, unless "market value" means "what the Rangers paid for a similar player last month".

Too many fans assume that without the controls that are already in place, salaries would skyrocket even more. Balls. The player budgets of the Rangers, Avalanche, Red Wings, and Flyers are large, but they are not infinite. They can also only dress 20 players a night. They are already spending whatever they want. My proposal would force these teams to pay a tax while they're at it, and it would halt the present situation where the rich teams define the player salaries for every team in the league.

Per premise #2, teams don't need to be able to hold onto their drafted players until they are near retirement; what they need is to be able to afford to replace a good player with another good player. Under this agreement, poor teams will have some extra cash from luxury tax redistributions, and they will have more negotiating freedom in a much freer market. No more agents saying "pay Jones X much money, because that's what he'd get from the Rangers or Flyers if he wasn't restricted". The Rangers and Flyers each only need 12 forwards and 6 defensemen, and they're not going to pay All-Star salaries to all of them. For evidence of this, look at the recent market for unrestricted (roughly, over age 31) free agents. It's weak, or rather, there are good deals to be had for every team in the league.

Pre-conclusion: So what is the remaining problem here? It's that Gary Bettman has stated repeatedly that the contract agreement must result in 30 strong franchises. There's really only two ways this could maybe happen:
1) A hard salary cap low enough that even the poorest 5 teams are able to pay it and still be profitable, perhaps with the help of some revenue sharing.
2) Massive redistribution of revenues from rich franchises to poor ones, so that every team's revenues are about equal.

#1 will not and should not happen; it's a license for the Rangers, Flyers, et al to print money while being prohibited from compensating the players accordingly. #2 will not happen: wise owners with good markets don't want straight-out welfare for stupid owners with weak organizations and markets; the players don't want this near-total disincentive for individual teams to maximize their own revenues.

Conclusion: my proposal above is the owners' best chance at a workable "economic situation", especially combined with some amount of immediate wage rollback. Certain teams will need to move or fold, I just don't see much way around that. I'm not sure if they'd admit it, but I would venture that (say) the Flames could accept a deal where big-spending teams would have to kick some more dollars back to them, and where their own salary negotiations were not based on a de facto wage scale established by the contract dealings of the richest teams in the league.

Coming Soon: even if the NHL and the PA only come to an agreement in February, how they can salvage a season, bring some fans back, and solve a few other nagging problems

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Latest in a series

The Monger, MD, points us to an exchange of letters, involving doctors, in the Post. Doctor A says he's moving to the U.S. because he believes the hand of government is negatively impacting his ability to practice in Ontario. Citizen B says that's not fair, because the government trained him to be a doctor with some of their dimes, and A shouldn't be allowed to just bolt. Citizen C, MD, comes back with this:
Mr. Fulton [Citizen B] seems to suggest that candidates for Canadian medical schools sign an agreement requiring a commitment to stay and practise in Canada for a period of time. This is an evolution from the view of physicians as private agents for their patients and their own interests. Does he really want physicians serving the collective goals of a publicly funded health care system?

E. Klimek, MD, St. Catharines, Ont.

The Monger calls this "the single best question I think I have ever seen, addressed to proponents of Medical Socialism". I would agree that it's valuable, insofar that it's a point that can't be made often enough in our present situation. The error here, if I may be so bold as to contradict someone who is clearly smarter than me, is in the characterization of the question.

That ostensibly rhetorical question by Dr. Klimek is not a winning argument on the issue - it is the issue. If any significant portion of the population saw an inherent contradiction in having "physicians serving the collective goals of a publicly funded health care system", we wouldn't be in the kind of mess we're in. But they most obviously do not! ("Doctors want everyone to be healthy, so does the government, so what's the problem?") Probably even 1/2 of the Post readers read Dr. Klimek's question and said, "sure, why not?"

The McGuinty/OMA deal on incentives for reducing prescriptions a few months ago is a perfect example of this, and demonstrates the gulf between the true believers in Our Sacred National Identity and the market reformers. There are two kinds of people in Canada (both of whom were offended by this deal). The first looks at the government bribing doctors to reduce the amount of prescriptions she writes, and thinks, this is the inevitable consequence of increasing demand for a monopoly funded by finite resources. The second looks at it and thinks the only problem is the sum of the finite resources.

Worst of all, and I know the Monger shares some of this frustration, is that the Medical Associations seem only too happy to throw their lot in with group #2. Their reward for this is that now a large segment of their patients view them as agents of the state, rationing their care in accordance with the available government supply. The doctor/patient relationship has, on average, been seriously devalued. Anyone else noticed that despite living in the Best System In The World, the only time you hear the phrase, "that's between the patient and their doctor", rhetorically or otherwise, is concerning abortion?

Which I suppose can segue to today's conclusion, though unoriginal. We may already have a health care model in place that could scale up, that being the model for abortion care (probably not the right phrase). Let's see - mix of private and public clinics. Relatively timely care on the public side despite the existence of timelier private care. The choice of accepting government service on their timetable, or paying your own hard-earned scratch for service on your timetable. No one is denied an abortion because of an inability to pay.

Is anyone opposed to this model besides the health unions?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The crazy lady has a point...

I've been letting my right-wing pinhead side get overrun a bit in the last couple of weeks. What to do? AHA! How about quoting some Ann Coulter!

I heartily recommend her column from two weeks ago. Specifically, it's about Arlen Specter and the chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, but there is lots of attention given to the way the right deals with the media. The wood:
Only when it comes to the media do Republicans suddenly become Neville Chamberlain: They don't like us, so let's give them what they want.

Republicans seem oblivious to the fact that if anyone cared what Dan Rather had to say, Republicans would not be the majority party. Republicans should be required to say this mantra over and over to themselves: "It is a good thing to be attacked by the likes of the New York Times and 60 Minutes..."...

Or maybe this is a better way of saying the same thing:
Republican senators still think the key to their success is making sure they are purer than Caesar's wife so that the mainstream media can't possibly attack them. That's never worked before, so let's try it again!

And this is with a pretty solid electoral record for 25 years and the support of over 50% of the electorate. Maybe I've been expecting too much from Harper et al. Nonetheless, I find it unbelievably disheartening that the leader of the Conservative Party no longer seems to have time for even vague rhetoric about the limitations of government.

Maybe Bruce's sentiment here, scaled up to a national mail-in campaign to the CPC offices, would get the point across. I would consider promoting a school lunch inspection program as morally superior to the trans-fat ban, because then instead of telling your adult citizens how to both parent and eat, you're only telling them how to parent.

I should also point out that anyone who promotes this ban by arguing that there isn't enough information available on healthy eating should probably add, "I haven't looked at a bookshelf, magazine rack, or local newscast in several years", so as to appear merely insulated rather than indefensibly ignorant.

Mister I-get-up-at-2PM

I haven't linked to 101-280 in, oh, at least a couple of weeks, so I thought I would highlight this post. If there is anyone better at bloodlessly evaluating situations and trends in multimedia, and TEH INTARWEB in particular, I haven't found them.
Transparent Flash ads rely on obscure properties of Internet Explorer, and Firefox is a perfectly good, freely-available browser (and I say that as a Netscape-hater from way back) that you can download here and which will never display these or most of the other types of irritating popup. This is your golden opportunity -- a window that will last until current website revenue models collapse again, say about late 2005 -- to free-ride on the 93% of people who are enduring an irreducible level of IE-driven advertising annoyance and thereby supporting the commercial Internet.
His piece on Taxing Data Storage To Support Our Struggling Artists Being Ripped Off By File Sharing, which I am too lousy with Google to retrieve, is beautiful as well. Or rather, it is if this sentence makes sense to you: "There are several known commercial uses for data storage apart from downloading music."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

and Baby's dad is Lenny Briscoe!

Generally, pop culture Lists of the VH1/EW/end-of-year newspaper filler variety cover the quality range from "bewildering" to "insane". The latest examples of this are Rolling Stone magazine naming Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" the top song of all time, or the American Film Institute, in their 400 nominations for Top 100 Movie Quotes, failing to include anything from Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack.

So what a stunner to check out this Warburton's list of "Cheesiest Movie Moments", and simply think: Bingo!

POSTSCRIPT: it's hard to understate just how bad Andie MacDowell was in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and the cherry on top was the #3 'moment'. It's too bad - the rest of the cast was great, and they all talked with those funny accents like the Queen! The movie reviewer on CBC's DNTO at the time, whose name eludes me at the moment, summed up her abilities thusly: "If Andie MacDowell was pushed off a cliff, she couldn't act a fall."

Monday, December 06, 2004

Sad

Politicizing tragedies is a lose-lose situation. Kevin Steel at the Shotgun marks the 15th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, and points out correctly that those of a particular worldview have seeked to exploit this tragedy to tar all men as violent. The Colby Cosh piece he points us to is probably as definitive an analysis as you'll find.

But, Kevin is doing the same damn thing, and it looks bad on him. No, Marc Lepine is not a typical male, and yes, it was the act of a madman. But the fact still remains that 15 years ago, 14 young women were killed because of (A) their gender, and (B) their career choice. If he deplores the misappropriation of an isolated tragedy to make a political point, wouldn't the proper (and decent) response be to acknowledge the isolated tragedy?

What I find heartbreaking 15 years on is that 15 people died that day, and 99% of the focus is on one of them - the crazed gunman. 1989 wasn't that long ago, but the female component of engineering classes was somewhere in the 10-20% range. Some professors - and fellow students - were decidedly unenthusiatic at having women in their classes. I don't want to overstate it, but it did take a certain amount of bravery for a woman to decide to enroll. Of course, maybe it's impossible to overstate it, because that decision by 14 women led directly to their deaths.

For the first few years after the Massacre (when I myself was at engineering school), every December 6th, the paper published a picture and short bio of each of the 14 women. That seems like a considerably more civilized way to mark such an anniversary than Kevin's contribution - bemoaning kid-glove treatment by the media for Andrea L'Abbe.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Where's the Systems Analyst?

The Onion's "What Do You Think" is absolutely my favourite running gag in the world. I certainly enjoyed this week's:
Studies show that more and more college students are abusing prescription ADHD drugs like Adderall and Ritalin to help them study. What do you think?

"These drugs help them study? Wow. Turns out drugs aren't cool after all." - Jeffrey Stuart, Surgeon

"Hell, I don't blame them. Back in law school, I had to take all kinds of drugs just to be able to appreciate art and music." - Stephen Underhill, Lawyer

"When I was a kid, we didn't have drugs to help us study. If we wanted to get good grades, we had no choice but to stop getting drunk." - Dana Williams, Personal Shopper

That's the way I remember it too, "Dana".

Hold on to that Mexican condo

Via Small Dead Animals (which should be your choice here for best Canadian Blog), we find this world-rocking proposal for tax reform in the USA.
Proponents have spent millions on research and have concluded that a national sales tax can replace the income tax, payroll tax, estate tax and corporate tax. Advocates say the new tax would lower the cost of manufacturing and job creation and attract foreign investments, among other things.

"If we were to get rid of the sales or the income tax and the payroll tax and all compliance costs, we would be so ferociously competitive in a world economy that corporate America would not be competed with unless foreign corporations started building their plants in America," Linder said.

Proponents seek a 23-cent national sales tax on all retail goods, everything from groceries to clothes, cars to electronics. Everyone would pay the same rate, which critics argue is part of the problem.

I've been thinking this over for 15 minutes or so, and I think the lack of progressivity in such a tax is probably a minor hurdle compared to some of the other issues that would need to be addressed.

First of all, full credit to a politician who is actually spending his time thinking about how to make his economy more competitive, instead of dreaming up new ways to prevent citizens from hurting themselves. (Side note: I sent a one-line email to my MP on the topic of the trans-fat ban: "Stay out of my kitchen." I got a prompt response; it began with "We agree with you" and morphed into an explanation of how unhealthy some "school lunch-sized" snacks are. I'm so disappointed in the Conservative Party these days, I nearly can't talk about it.)

Anyway, such a tax reform would be absolutely the greatest experiment ever with the Law of Unintended Consequences. What happens when you turn your economy into a fantastic system for accumulating wealth, and a terrible system for actually having it?

  • I assume the tax will be applied to all imported goods, unless they intend on making reimportation the largest industry in America. Trade war, anyone?
  • Perhaps this is actually a cleverly disguised plan to make up the Social Security liability. You would certainly expect retirees with any significant savings to emigrate, thereby increasing their net worth by roughly 23%.
  • Many industries, certainly manufacturing would indeed become much more competitive. Business providing personal services, though, especially anywhere near a border, would be decimated. Would you like to have your plastic surgery here in Buffalo, or go up to Hamilton and avoid a 23% tax? There doesn't seem like much point in paying your accountant an extra 23% to do your books locally, does there? (Oh, right, there is no more accounting. The CPAs should be fine with that.) How about getting a freaking trim with some highlights? "Where should we go to dinner tonight, honey? Whether or not we pay 23% extra in tax certainly won't enter into my decision!"

Obviously it's not quite that straightforward: if US business aren't paying corporate tax or payroll tax, and their employees aren't paying income tax, you might expect pre-tax prices to be lower. But by how much? Does anyone - can anyone - have the foggiest clue?

Of course none of this really matters, because it will never, ever happen. The unpredictability alone is no doubt reason enough, not to mention the zero-ish likelihood of the U.S. government reducing their own relevance by an order or two of magnitude by eliminating their ability to influence anything at all via tax policy.

But the biggest reason is in the last paragraph of the story. There is presently a segment of the population to whom governments provide everything from monthly cheques to free medicine to discounts on $2 bus fares. They scream bloody murder if anyone so much as broaches the subject of even tinkering with any of these entitlements, and they all vote - every time.

Maybe there is a scenario in which the U.S. government announces to these people that the price of everything is going up 23%, in order to benefit everyone but them. This scenario, such as it is, begins with Satan performing a triple lutz.