January 29, 2010

Australia’s film censors got bored, so decided to call attention to themselves

Filed under: Australia, Bureaucracy, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 19:12

At least, that’s a sensible an interpretation as I can come up with for this lovely little policy change:

A reader writes, “Australian Classification Board (ACB) is now banning depictions of small-breasted women in adult publications and films. They banned mainstream pornography from showing women with A-cup breasts, apparently on the grounds that they encourage paedophilia, and in spite of the fact this is a normal breast size for many adult women. Presumably small breasted women taking photographs of themselves will now be guilty of creating simulated child pornography, to say nothing of the message this sends to women with modestly sized chests or those who favour them. Australia has also banned pornographic depictions of female ejaculation, a normal orgasmic sexual response in many women, with censors branding it as ‘abhorrent.'”

Hard to come up with a sensible explanation for this, you have to admit.

Even more evidence to support Agent Smith

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:34

Remember the point in The Matrix where Agent Smith explains that he’s decided that humans are actually viruses (“Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure“). Here’s even more to support his point of view:

When, in 2001, the human genome was sequenced for the first time, we were confronted by several surprises. One was the sheer lack of genes: where we had anticipated perhaps 100,000 there were actually as few as 20,000. A bigger surprise came from analysis of the genetic sequences, which revealed that these genes made up a mere 1.5 per cent of the genome. This is dwarfed by DNA deriving from viruses, which amounts to roughly 9 per cent.

On top of that, huge chunks of the genome are made up of mysterious virus-like entities called retrotransposons, pieces of selfish DNA that appear to serve no function other than to make copies of themselves. These account for no less than 34 per cent of our genome.

All in all, the virus-like components of the human genome amount to almost half of our DNA. This would once have been dismissed as mere “junk DNA”, but we now know that some of it plays a critical role in our biology. As to the origins and function of the rest, we simply do not know.

High taxes/low taxes, it’s all relative

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:27

Lorne Gunter finds that what were once considered “intolerable” rates of taxation are microscopic compared to what we pay today:

The American colonists, by comparison, felt they were groaning under a crippling tax burden. Many of their staples, they felt, were onerously taxed while they received little from England in return and had no say in how large the levies against them would be.

[. . .]

So out of curiosity, I asked the historian what the level of taxation was in 1776 that caused the U.S. to declare its independence.

I will always recall his answer: “the equivalent today of about 5% to 7% of their income.”


Today, in Canada, all levels of government, through all their taxes, can confiscate as much as half or more of a taxpayer’s income, in total. Income taxes, pension claw-backs, the GST, gasoline excise taxes, import duties and tariffs, estate taxes, property taxes, capital gains and on and on and on.

And yet, like the abused spouse rushing back to an abuser, many Canadians continue to sing the praises of ever bigger and bigger government. They rush to it in any crisis looking to be saved, whether through “free” health care during times of personal crisis or through auto company bailouts that demonstrate solidarity with distant workers in distant communities during times of global crisis.

The problem has been that Canadians expect the government (at all levels) to do something any time there’s a real or perceived crisis. Governments are happy to oblige by (at least appearing) to do something. Inevitably, the scope of what the government does increases every year. As “Steve the Pundit” wrote in the comments to the original article:

It’s true that Canadians have become far too dependent on government to save us from any crisis, large or small, much in the same way that the citizens of Metropolis continually looked to “Superman” to save them from all of their ills, whether it be an irradiated mutant bent on mass destruction … or a purse snatcher. Any crisis, it seems, “… look(ed) like a job for Superman!”


Short (political and economic) memories

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:20

David Harsanyi looks at the “lost decade” of the last 10 years and finds not so much of a disaster:

Of the many tall tales spun by President Barack Obama during the State of the Union address this week, there is one, and perhaps only one, that most Americans believe to be true.

The old yarn goes something like this: A long time ago, the United States was an economic powerhouse. We built things with our hands and worked in factories and we loved it.

Our recent prosperity, on the other hand, was built on a house of cards — intellectual innovation, risk, free-wheeling markets and international trade — and nothing more than an illusion.

“We can’t afford another so- called economic expansion like the one from the last decade — what some call the ‘lost decade,’ ” Obama explained. The president went on to promise he would do all he could to stop any pesky so-called expansions in the future. And I believe him.

A recent poll shows that Obama is not alone in his aversion to the 2000s. According to a Pew Research Center poll, over 50 percent of American hold a negative view of the decade. Yet, the 2000s, like decades before it, are by nearly any measure — be it health, standard of living, the environment or technology — a success.

The average unemployment rate during this “lost decade” — including one of those unfortunate man-made disasters to the country’s financial center — was at 5.6 percent. One would think that the president — a man who believes a “jobs” bills that only saw unemployment go from nearly 8 percent to over 10 percent was a wild success — would be sort of impressed.

It may be a factor in any given decade, but it’s surprising how deep the short-term memories seem to be coloured by the recession at the end of the decade (the one we’re still struggling out of).

This is more than a slight confusion of terminology

Filed under: Asia, Health, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:33

Jon (my former virtual landlord) sent along a link to this FoxNews story indicating that there is a long road ahead — sociologically speaking — for Afghanistan:

An unclassified study from a military research unit in southern Afghanistan details how homosexual behavior is unusually common among men in the large ethnic group known as Pashtuns — though they seem to be in complete denial about it.

The study, obtained by Fox News, found that Pashtun men commonly have sex with other men, admire other men physically, have sexual relationships with boys and shun women both socially and sexually — yet they completely reject the label of “homosexual.” The research was conducted as part of a longstanding effort to better understand Afghan culture and improve Western interaction with the local people.

The research unit, which was attached to a Marine battalion in southern Afghanistan, acknowledged that the behavior of some Afghan men has left Western forces “frequently confused.”

The report details the bizarre interactions a U.S. Army medic and her colleagues had with Afghan men in the southern province of Kandahar.

[. . .]

Apparently, according to the report, Pashtun men interpret the Islamic prohibition on homosexuality to mean they cannot “love” another man — but that doesn’t mean they can’t use men for “sexual gratification.”

Trying to use a western term, which almost certainly has highly negative connotations to Afghans who may have encountered it, isn’t likely to be helpful in dealing with the Pashtuns. Labelling is the least of the concerns, I’d think.

The U.S. army medic also told members of the research unit that she and her colleagues had to explain to a local man how to get his wife pregnant.

The report said: “When it was explained to him what was necessary, he reacted with disgust and asked, ‘How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean, when one could be with a man, who is clean? Surely this must be wrong.'”

January 28, 2010

“It starts here, with a lack-lustre establishing shot . . .”

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 22:39

See more funny videos and funny pictures at CollegeHumor.

H/T to Victor for the link. Utterly brilliant.

Have aliens stolen the Prime Minister’s brain?

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:41

Kevin Libin points out just how little today’s Stephen Harper resembles the young Reform Party MP when he first went to Ottawa:

Who’s that Prime Minister in Ottawa preparing to appoint a string of partisan senators tomorrow, and dreaming of converting the G8 from an economic focus to one of promoting health care for mothers and children in the developing world — and what’s he done with Stephen Harper? The man who first came to Ottawa as a Reform MP in 1993 with an agenda to privatize social services, restrict immigration and end Upper Chamber patronage would likely not recognize the Conservative leader of today, and not just because of the greyer hair.

Mr. Harper has come a vast distance in his approach to policy in the four years he’s been running the federal government, rather than sniping at it from inside a regionally focused rump party. “How much of that is the natural evolution, or maturity and wisdom or prudence that comes with age,” says Faron Ellis, a Lethbridge College political scientist and author of a book on the Reform party’s history, as opposed to a “political learning curve,” is hard to say. Whatever the reasons, there’s no question, things look much different in Stephen Harper’s mirror than they did 17 years ago.

January 27, 2010

Apple’s latest . . . marketing mis-step

Filed under: Humour, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:53

AdRants has a bit of fun with Apple’s choice of name for its latest rapture-of-the-nerds tech device:

Apple Introduces New Feminine Protection Product: The iPad

According to an explosion of tweets following Steve Jobs’ announcement of the iPad, the device’s new name isn’t going over so well:

– For now the iPad’s really exciting, but wait until they release the iTampon

– iPad: You only need to plug it in once a month

– Wow – its the iPad. Wonder if it comes in 2 sizes (maxi and mini)

– I guess it’s Apple’s “time of the month”

– The Apple iPad: for all your heavy (work) flow days

– Our little iPod has hit womanhood

– To recap: the iPad will come with an iRag (to keep it clean) + some iBruprofen (to keep it working smoothly) + iWings (protection plan)

H/T to Virginia Postrel, who wrote “And so the jokes begin…Apple needs more female marketers”.

Update: Francis Turner sent a link to the official announcement photo.

More serious coverage of the new product from The Register.

Welcome to Canada . . . this is our variant of English

Filed under: Cancon, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 13:28

SherryGrammarian would like to extend a welcome to all the soon-to-be-arriving Winter Olympics visitors and offers some explanations about the variant of English spoken in (parts of) Canada:

Like the country itself, Canadian English suffers from a bit of an identity crisis: Do we speak the tongue of our British heritage? Or do we employ the vernacular of our closest geographical and cultural neighbour, the United States?

And in quintessentially Canadian fashion, we’ve come up with an offend-no-one resolution: a little deference, a little defiance. Canadian English is the bastard child of a queen and a cowboy.

We honour the monarchy by minding our p’s and q’s, and in using u’s in words like “labour” and “flavour.” In Canada, you enter the “centre” and catch a feature at the “theatre.”

The last letter of the alphabet retains its British pronunciation yet appears American in words like “organize” and “realize” — but we draw the line at calling the bearded Texas rock band “ZedZed Top,” and for that we will not apologize.

[. . .]

And (Americans, take note), “rout” is what my hockey team does to your hockey team. “Route” — pronounced root — is the path to the nearest donut shop.

Where Virginia is headed, will Ontario follow?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Law, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:31

HRH Prince Charles and his political tin ear

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:28

It’s been a long-standing — and safe — practice for members of the royal family to avoid controversy (at least, controversy in topics not actually involving members of the royal family). Prince Charles apparently didn’t get the memo recently:

The Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia is under government investigation for fraud, data manipulation and withholding or destroying scientific data in defiance of freedom of information requests. Many of the disgraced scientists working at the CRU were closely involved in putting together the now ferociously suspect Fourth Assessment Report for the notoriously unreliable Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) headed by the lethally compromised Dr Rajendra Pachauri.

Is this really the best time, you might wonder, for the future King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to praise the CRU for the “quality” of its work and to dismiss the Climategate scandal as a “little blip”? (Hat tip: Roddy Campbell)

Well the Prince of Wales clearly thinks so or he wouldn’t have paid a visit to Norwich yesterday to deliver a jolly little fillip to the beleaguered scientists. In his sublime wisdom, Prince Charles clearly believes they have done no wrong at all.

Is it open season on Toronto’s pedestrians?

Filed under: Cancon, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:16

Toronto has had a remarkable spike in the number of pedestrian fatalities this month. Last year, two pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in the city. This year (so far) there have been 14. There are a number of possible answers as to why this is happening, but you can always trust politicians to leap at the answer that inconveniences the largest number of people:

That increase prompted City Councillor Bill Saundercook (Park-dale-High Park) to lobby for the city to reduce speed limits in areas identified as hot-spots — those areas with a high amount of pedestrian activity.

Mr. Saundercook, who co-chairs the city’s pedestrian committee, says decreasing the speed limit by 10 kilo-metres per hour in those key areas will increase reaction time and hopefully prevent the kind of accidents that have been happening over the last three weeks.

That may or may not help: the police have not definitely identified excessive speed as the primary or even major contributing cause to the high number of fatal accidents. If past experience is any guide, it might actually frustrate drivers by forcing them to go slower than the “natural” driving conditions in that area, encouraging more speeding. Of course, the city is looking at a big budget shortfall, so increasing the chances for issuing speeding tickets might be the real reason for the suggestion.

Constable Hugh Smith, of Toronto Police traffic services, said that all the fatalities so far this year were preventable.

“All the fatalities this year have been due to some kind of human error,” he said. “These were either pedestrians walking into a live lane of traffic or a motorist not taking the time to come to a stop, or turning a corner unsafely.”

January 26, 2010

QotD: Esquire magazine, tongue-bath attendant to the (political) stars

Filed under: Humour, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:09

Anytime Esquire writes extensively about politicians, it’s going to be pretty icky, and this Tom Junod piece which compares Obama’s governing style to “positive discipline” parenting (this makes us a bunch of bratty children) is pretty super-icky. (Esquire can never quite get it through its head that what politicians do, mostly, is order around mass murder, mass theft, and the spinning of resources and power to their buddies. They certainly aren’t alone in missing this point, though. But they really, really, really miss it. Politicians to them are always noble guardians of the best in the American spirit or some such sententious bullshit.)

Brian Doherty, “Jazz and Modern Liberalism: The Eerie Parallels”, Hit and Run, 2010-01-26

A message from Transport Canada

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:01

From the Rick Mercer Report.

Charities to avoid when donating to help in Haiti

Filed under: Americas, Cancon, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:49

Ezra Levant warns about two particular charities that probably don’t deserve to get your donation for Haiti relief:

I’ve spotted two Haiti-oriented NGOs that readers should stay away from, for reasons of corruption. Simply put, not enough money given to these NGOs actually winds up helping Haitians — too much is spent on lavish luxuries for NGO staff and managers.

[. . .]

I love Wyclef Jean’s sound, but I wouldn’t give a cent to his charity. Jean has been ubiquitous these past weeks raising money for Haiti, and no doubt his tears are real. But financial records from Yele Haiti show that Jean has made sure the first person to get paid from Yele Haiti events was himself — including a staggering $100,000 fee for him to perform at one of his own events (that benefit was cancelled because of his demands) and other gigs that poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into companies he controlled. Here’s one where he took nearly $100,000 out of $150,000 raised. Even if Jean’s fading star could still fetch that on the open market (he can’t — here’s a contract showing he performs for a fraction of that), it’s still outrageous that people donating to Yele Haiti are told the money is going to help Haitians, when the poor Haitian benefiting the most is Wyclef himself.

Best to take Jean for who he is — a talented musician who has helped spread the Haitian creole sound around the world — but put your trust (and money) into accredited charities that take only a modest sum for administration and overhead. The Red Cross is probably your best bet.

I came to the same conclusion, and my donation went to the Canadian Red Cross.

Another corrupt NGO that donors should stay away from is Rights and Democracy (R&D), the ironically-named Canadian government-funded NGO that has recently been rocked by scandal for donating money to a Palestinian terrorist.

R&D has a Haiti program, but like Yele Haiti, an inordinate amount of money received by R&D is spent on their own jet-setting staff. Here’s a 22-page internal audit memo from just two years ago, for example, that looks into a raft of corruption allegations — and unfortunately finds many of them to be true. The review, conducted by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Foreign Affairs found “weak internal controls” over money.

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