September 17, 2009

Admin update

Filed under: Administrivia — Tags: — Nicholas @ 13:18

Sorry for the broken page display over the last half hour or so . . . I’d miscoded a URL and it broke the sidebar template, so that the sidebar appeared in place of the main blog body at the point of the error. I think it’s fixed now.

An alternate reading of Inglourious Basterds

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 13:08

Tyler Cowen has a very different view of Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, Inglourious Basterds:

Tarantino made his Hong Kong movie, his martial arts movie, and his Blaxpoitation flick but I never expected him to dip into Nazi cinema. He sure loves hearing those Germans talk — boy are they eloquent — and fascist chattering takes up most of the movie. There is a veneer of a Jewish revenge plot against the Germans, but most of the movie strikes me as a re-aestheticization of various Nazi ideals, cinematic, linguistic, and otherwise. I’m not suggesting Tarantino literally favors the rule of Hitler, rather he probably got a kick out of getting away with such a swindle, right under the noses of Hollywood and with commercial success to boot. The Jewish assassin squad members hardly seem virtuous (in some ways they’re portrayed to fit Nazi stereotypes), whereas the German characters light up the screen and show extreme cleverness. (Hitler by the way is a “crummy Austrian,” not up to the more rigorous German ideal.) The sniper “movie within a movie” — which has Tarantino constructing a Nazi movie for a screening scene — is a stand-in for the broader enterprise. Throughout one wonders what are the implied references to Israel, such as when the Jewish suicide bombers strap explosives to themselves. There is homage to Riefenstahl, Pabst, Emil Jannings, Nazi “mountain movies” and other unsavory bits. I found viewing this movie a disturbing and negative experience. I’ve done a lot of work on the history of the state and the arts; if you don’t believe me, go away and research Nazi cinema and watch the film again.

Once again, it isn’t a movie I was particularly interested in seeing, and this interpretation makes me even less likely to shell out the price of admission.

The Ontario wine scene

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:36

Michael Pinkus doesn’t pull punches as he reports on some of the big names in the Ontario wine arena:

As you can see, the Cellared in Canada problem has not waned one little bit, in fact, this summer I watched the debate intensify. I even saw the train wreck known as Hillary Dawson, president of the Wine Council of Ontario, defend the practice as “[allowing] Ontario growers and winemakers to compete with low-priced foreign wines”. I really do wonder about this woman sometimes, she says some pretty asinine things and you’d better believe I’m keeping her press clipping cause you can always count on at least one, juicy piece of inanity. The more she opens her mouth, the further she sticks her foot into it. Many have wondered out loud whether she is just a lackey (or mouthpiece) for the larger wineries, those that currently make Cellared product. Hillary, if I could have given you any advice this summer, it would have been to take a vacation, put away the pens, don’t write another word to a newspaper and for God’s sake don’t give another interview. If the topic of Cellared wine comes up, run the other way. Her vacation mate should be my favourite whipping boy Bruce Walker of Vincor. He was at it again, blaming the lack of a winery home for grapes, both this year and last on the growers (“I would suggest less grapes be grown in Canada …”) and not on the thousands of litres his company brings in to make Cellared in Canada CRAP (Cheap Readily Available Plonk).

I also found myself embroiled in the Buckhorn debate , as organizers try to figure out the direction of the festival for next year. Something tells me I’ve probably given my last seminar at Buckhorn, unless they want me to talk about VQA. They should talk to the Shores of Erie organizers about that one. But hopefully, finding their focus will make the festival better in the long run.

Here’s an earlier post on the whole wretched Cellared in Canada mess.

On demand book printing

Filed under: Books, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 12:17

Want a copy of a rare old out-of-print volume? For collectors and antiquarians, this is probably of lesser interest, but for researchers and readers, this is great news:

What’s hot off the presses come Thursday?

Any one of the more than 2 million books old enough to fall out of copyright into the public domain.

Over the last seven years, Google has scanned millions of dusty tomes from deep in the stacks of the nation’s leading university libraries and turned them into searchable documents available anywhere in the world through its search box.

And now Google Book Search, in partnership with On Demand Books, is letting readers turn those digital copies back into paper copies, individually printed by bookstores around the world.

Or at least by those booksellers that have ordered its $100,000 Espresso Book Machine, which cranks out a 300 page gray-scale book with a color cover in about 4 minutes, at a cost to the bookstore of about $3 for materials.

US to abandon plans for ABM system in Europe

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:04

From an article in the Wall Street Journal:

The White House will shelve Bush administration plans to build a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move likely to cheer Moscow and roil the security debate in Europe.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Thursday that the plan was changed to better protect U.S. forces and allies in Europe from Iranian missile attacks.

The U.S. based its decision on a determination that Iran’s long-range missile program hasn’t progressed as rapidly as previously estimated, reducing the threat to the continental U.S. and major European capitals, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Subtext to those plucky pro-US nations in eastern Europe: “So long, suckers.”

Update: The Guardian reports:

The US decision will cheer many in government in western Europe who believed the scheme was an unnecessary provocation to the Russians. But today the Czech Republic and Poland expressed disappointment at the White House’s decision to reverse track after six years of difficult negotiations. Senior sources in Warsaw and Prague said they would insist on the Americans honouring pledges they made to the Nato allies in return for agreeing last year to the plan for missile defence deployments.

Alexandr Vondra, a former Czech deputy prime minister and ambassador to Washington intimately involved in the negotiations with the Americans, said he was surprised. “This is a U-turn in US policy,” he said. “But first we expect the US to honour its commitments. If they don’t they may have problems generating support for Afghanistan and on other things.”

Another example of public funding misdirected

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:00

Following up from a post the other day, here’s another example of public money being used to create something, but the public (who funded the development through their taxes) not being allowed to use the result for free:

Wikileaks is hosting a copy of the “all 1,841,177 post codes together with precise geographic coordinates and other information” for the UK.

One odd thing about Britain is that databases produced at public expense — maps of the country, lists of postal codes, transcripts of Parliamentary debate and so on — do not belong to the public. In order to use this data, you have to pay gigantic licensing fees to the government, who accordingly threatens to sue people who use them without permission.

Just how much do governments owe?

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: — Nicholas @ 07:51

The Economist has a depressing little graphic display for you, showing you just how much your government is in debt:


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