January 31, 2011

QotD: A hopeful view of Egypt’s way forward

Filed under: Liberty, Middle East, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 17:32

The Old Media — not to mention Hillary Clinton’s comic relief State Department — apparently don’t have a clue what’s really going on. Conservative talk radio already assumes that the whole thing has been orchestrated by militant “Islamists”, in particular, the 80-year-old Muslim Brotherhood. Whenever you see that word, mentally remove the first R to get a clearer picture if what they’re really up to.

The Botherhood of Man is gonna gitcha if you don’t look out.

But I digress.

America’s home grown would-be dictators clearly believe “It can’t happen here”, as demonstrated by their reactions — dazed at first, then hysterical — to the far gentler rise of the Tea Parties and the results of the 2010 election, which they are trying to believe never happened. They’ve spent all of their time since, not changing so that they won’t be despised any more, but trying to shut their critics up by destroying talk radio and requiring individuals to have Internet permits.

[. . .]

Out of sheer habit, if nothing else, it is very difficult not make the same mistake as the pundits and politicians. As Robert A. Heinlein observed, every revolution is a freak. By definition there can be no rules to govern or even understand them, and we must avoid thinking collectively about them. There are as many reasons to rebel as there are rebels, and that’s the only important truth we’ll ever glean from them.

It’s also very difficult to say from what we know now, and I could easily be wrong (I have been before), but it seems to me that this is not a fundamentalist uprising like we saw in Iran a generation ago — although the fundamentalists are desperately trying to coopt it — but an essentially secular revolt by the productive class against both fundamentalism and the fascist management states that dominate the region.

L. Neil Smith, “Egyptian Tea Party”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2011-01-30

Showing their true colours?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Law, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:42

To mark the Egyptian government’s shutdown of cellphone and internet access to their angry citizenry, the US government wants to have the power to do the same. Subtle, eh?

Legislation granting the president internet-killing powers is to be re-introduced soon to a Senate committee, the proposal’s chief sponsor told Wired.com on Friday.

The resurgence of the so-called “kill switch” legislation came the same day Egyptians faced an internet blackout designed to counter massive demonstrations in that country.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, is being floated by Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The proposed legislation, which Collins said would not give the president the same power Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is exercising to quell dissent, sailed through the Homeland Security Committee in December but expired with the new Congress weeks later.

The bill is designed to protect against “significant” cyber threats before they cause damage, Collins said.

Got to admire the balls of brass required to introduce legislation to do something in America at exactly the same time the US government is demanding that Egypt restore their citizens’ internet access. Breathtaking hypocrisy.

Update: By way of American Digest, a most appropriate image:

Study implies that “traditional” parenting roles may be better for children

Filed under: Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:22

Cue the outrage:

Despite the long push for more equality in parenting duties, new research suggests that mothers and fathers may actually get along better when parenting roles are divided along more traditional lines — that is, when fathers back off caregiving duties, such as feeding and bathing, and put more effort into playtime.

[. . .]

Families in which fathers were more involved in play activities had more of what researchers called supportive interaction between the two parents.

In contrast, more of what is described by researchers as “undermining behaviour” was seen among families in which fathers do more of the caregiving.

[. . .]

It is unclear why the study yielded the results it did, but Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of family science at Ohio State University and one of the study’s co-authors, suggested parents may be subconsciously bothered when parenting roles conflict with their pre-conceived ideas.

From the mother’s point of view, it could be a function of “maternal gatekeeping,” she said. “For mothers, maybe, it’s hard to give up some control to the father. That could be a total social effect, but there could some sort of biological underpinning to it.”

It’s a single study, so the results are hardly conclusive, but the general tenor of the study will not be popular in certain academic and political circles.

Smartphone release cycles speed up

Filed under: Economics, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:05

It’s tough to always have the newest electronic wonder, and (at least in the smartphone world) getting harder all the time:

If you bought a smartphone within the past year, you might already have noticed that your once-cool superdevice is feeling outdated.

There’s a reason for that: “Android’s law.”

Smartphones are continually outdueling one another in terms of performance, and they’re coming to market at a breakneck speed.

For instance, if you picked up the Motorola (MMI) Droid when it went on sale in November 2009, you had the best Android device on the market. But then the twice-as-fast Nexus One went on sale in January 2010. Then the HTC Droid Incredible hit the market in April. Then in June, the Evo 4G put the Droid Incredible to shame. The Samsung Galaxy S came out later that month. Then the Nexus S … You get the point.

The average time smartphones spend on the market is now just six to nine months, according to HTC. But it wasn’t always this way: Average shelf time was about three years prior to 2007, HTC estimates.

US Army to keep MRAP, speed up development of JLTV

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:48

For your morning dose of military acronyms, here’s a report from Strategy Page on a recent change in US Army planning caused by field experience in Iraq and Afghanistan:

The U.S. Army has decided that the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) should be a permanent part of their vehicle fleet. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Four years ago, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps were in the midst of spending $20 billion to buy over 20,000 MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles. Shortly thereafter, the terrorist resistance in Iraq collapsed, and so did the need for MRAPs. This resulted in about a quarter of the MRAP orders being cancelled, and others changed to designs more suitable for use in Afghanistan, which had far fewer roads to use them on.

While the troops appreciated the MRAPs, some of the generals saw serious problems in the future. In Iraq and Afghanistan, people in these bomb resistant vehicles were much less likely to be killed or injured if they encountered a roadside bomb. But MRAPs are basically armored trucks (weighing 8-23 tons) that are hardened to survive bombs and mines, and cost about five to ten times more than an armored hummer.

As you can see, the MRAP isn’t a dainty sort of vehicle (this one has the recent overhead wire kit attached):

But now, thousands of those MRAPs will stay in service after the war in Afghanistan has ended. They will be considered armored combat vehicles, not transport, like the hummer and army trucks, and not used on a daily basis. This will keep down the operating expenses, as MRAPs consume a lot of fuel.

In addition to keeping thousands of the MRAPS, the army is developing a heavier replacement for the hummer, using a design with lots of MRAP features. This is the JLTV(Joint Light Tactical Vehicle), which is arriving a little ahead of schedule, as part of a program to massively upgrade army vehicles every few decades.

The JLTV competition is still underway, with three vehicles being tested:

Image from Wikipedia.

In addition to being built to better survive mines and roadside bombs, the JLTV will be able to generate 30 KW of electricity (for operating all the new electronic gear, and recharging batteries), have an automatic fire extinguishing system and jam-resistant doors. Like the hummer, JLTV will be easy to reconfigure, for everything from a four seat, armed scout vehicle, to an ambulance, command vehicle or cargo or troop transport. The hummer will continue to be used outside of the combat zone, where most troops spend most of their time. But the JLTV will be built to better handle the beating vehicles take in the combat zone, including a design that enables troops to quickly slide in armor and Kevlar panels to make the vehicles bullet and blast proof.

Shock! Horror! Wikipedia contributors are disproportionally male!

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:24

Don’t worry, kids, the New York Times is on the case:

In 10 short years, Wikipedia has accomplished some remarkable goals. More than 3.5 million articles in English? Done. More than 250 languages? Sure.

But another number has proved to be an intractable obstacle for the online encyclopedia: surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.

About a year ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and discovered that it was barely 13 percent women; the average age of a contributor was in the mid-20s, according to the study by a joint center of the United Nations University and Maastricht University.

And this is clearly evidence of neo-patriarchal oppression, right? If so, the mechanism by which this form of oppression is accomplished is a bit less than crystalline: anyone can sign up to contribute to Wikipedia. If the NYT thinks that this is really a problem, then we can’t have that many serious problems.

With so many subjects represented — most everything has an article on Wikipedia — the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis. A topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs when compared with lengthy articles on something boys might favor, like, toy soldiers or baseball cards, whose voluminous entry includes a detailed chronological history of the subject.

Even the most famous fashion designers — Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo — get but a handful of paragraphs. And consider the disparity between two popular series on HBO: The entry on “Sex and the City” includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on “The Sopranos” includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode.

Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in “The Simpsons”?

Isn’t it normally considered positive that women are not as inclined to obsessive monomania as men are? Doesn’t this evidence rather support the notion that (some) men devote disproportional effort to topics of interest that (most) women would consider unhealthy?

January 30, 2011

QotD: The baby blue movies

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:04

In the late ’70s in Toronto, Citytv started showing “blue movies” at 11 p.m. every Friday. Pretty soon, every kid was asking their parents if they could sleep over at whatever kid had an unsupervised TV set in the basement. The films were pretty lame: convict gets out of jail; convict tries to integrate himself into society; convict is rejected by an unforgiving society. There was a vague social message, but all kids like me cared about was whether or not the stripper with the heart of gold was going to take off her tank top (she was). A few years later, cable started showing scrambled porn in the middle of the night. My friends called these films the “fuzzy blues,” remembering times when kids would crouch in front of the set, imagining a boob here, a crotch there, until inevitably, a penis would flash across the screen, rejecting the attention of everyone but Edward. These days, not only are the blues unscrambled, but titillation and nudity comes so easily, it’s a wonder kids today haven’t decided to dress in Mennonite vests and long hats in an attempt to rebel against all of this mainstream sexual telegenia. A teen show with sex in it? Show me a teen show without sex, and maybe we’d have something to discuss.

Dave Bidini, “It’s a friggin’ nuclear Technicolor smutfest!”, National Post, 2011-01-30

January 29, 2011

Government spending: it’s a problem of scale comprehension

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:04

Alberta’s Wildrose Alliance gets some international attention

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:54

An article in The Economist reports on the state of play in the Alberta political realm:

Mr Stelmach seems to have been pushed out by his own party’s fiscal hawks, led by Ted Morton, his finance minister. The premier wanted to balance the budget gradually, without big cuts to services. Mr Morton, a leader of the party’s right-wing brought in by Mr Stelmach last year, wants fiscal balance now. Mr Morton and his allies in the party worry about the rise of the Wildrose Alliance, a libertarian, small-government group which won its first seat in the legislature in a by-election in 2009 but has since attracted three Conservative defectors and drawn close to the ruling party in some opinion polls. Its leader, Danielle Smith, sparkles in comparison to the Conservatives’ dull suits.

More surprisingly, the left is also showing signs of life in the shape of the Alberta Party, a moribund group newly revived last October by two smaller outfits. It gained a voice in the legislature when a former Liberal elected as an independent said he would represent the new party. The Liberals have been shunned in Alberta since the 1980s when a Liberal federal government imposed an energy plan widely seen by westerners as benefiting the rest of Canada at their expense. But with its new and different banner, the Alberta Party will hope to attract centrists dismayed by the Conservatives’ impending lurch further to the right.

Mr Morton, beaten by Mr Stelmach in a leadership election in 2006, may now take over as Conservative leader. He might steal the Wildrose ground. But Albertans have a habit of rejecting former governing parties so decisively that they disappear from the political landscape. That happened with the Social Credit party in 1971 and the United Farmers in 1935.

Wired How-to: Get back on the internet after a government shut-down

Filed under: Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:47

A post at the Wired How-to wiki on getting back online after your government attempts to shut down internet access:

Scenario: Your government is displeased with the communication going on in your location and pulls the plug on your internet access, most likely by telling the major ISPs to turn off service.

This is what happened in Egypt January 25 prompted by citizen protests, with sources estimating that the Egyptian government has cut off approximately 88 percent of the country’s internet access. What do you do without Internet? Step 1: Stop crying in the corner. Then start taking steps to reconnect with your network. Here’s a list of things you can do to keep the communication flowing.

This article is part of a wiki anyone can edit. If you have advice to add, please log in and contribute.

Bad news for US small businesses

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:32

A very small item in the recent US Obamacare legislation will mean a huge increase in tax compliance paperwork:

Section 9006 of the health care bill — just a few lines buried in the 2,409-page document — mandates that beginning in 2012 all companies will have to issue 1099 tax forms not just to contract workers but to any individual or corporation from which they buy more than $600 in goods or services in a tax year.

[. . .]

But under the new rules, if a freelance designer buys a new iMac from the Apple Store, they’ll have to send Apple a 1099. A laundromat that buys soap each week from a local distributor will have to send the supplier a 1099 at the end of the year tallying up their purchases.

The bill makes two key changes to how 1099s are used. First, it expands their scope by using them to track payments not only for services but also for tangible goods. Plus, it requires that 1099s be issued not just to individuals, but also to corporations.

Taken together, the two seemingly small changes will require millions of additional forms to be sent out.

“It’s a pretty heavy administrative burden,” particularly for small businesses without large in-house accounting staffs, says Bill Rys, tax counsel for the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Eliminating the goods exemption could launch an avalanche of paperwork, he says: “If you cater a lunch for other businesses every Wednesday, say, that’s a lot of information to keep track of throughout the year.”

For a one-person business, this change could double or triple the tax-related paperwork right there. Given that a lot of people have started new businesses in the last couple of years — partly because big businesses downsized and haven’t been hiring again — this will be a significant discouragement to self-employment.

H/T to Virginia Postrel for the link.

Update: It may not stand: there’s a bi-partisan coalition in the Senate to repeal that provision.

A bit of history, from a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London

Filed under: Britain, History, Humour — Tags: — Nicholas @ 10:39

H/T to Craig Zeni for the link.

Inappropriate license plates, Virginia style

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:07

Jason Ciastko send a link to this article. You can see why the Virginia authorities decided to recall the license plate (but you’re probably wrong):

A Virginia motorist has apparently had to return their vanity license plate after the Department of Motor Vehicles decided it was too lewd for public roadways.

According to the user-generated news website Reddit, the DMV revoked a special-issue “Kids First” Virginia plate with the personalized license plate “EATTHE” to spell out the phrase, well, you know…

Full story, including the sad bureaucratic recall procedure, here.

Most reactions were like the one from a mom in a minivan plastered with pro-Christian bumper stickers who chased him down.

“I thought she was going to yell at me and tell me I’m going straight to hell, but she and her kids found it absolutely hilarious and she took pics of it with her kids next to the plate,” said Yeaman. “I learned my lesson on judging people before they speak.”

Sadly, the Virginia DMV didn’t talk to him before they judged him offensive and sent him a letter requesting the plates back immediately. With his brother’s encouragement, Yeaman requested a hearing with a mediator to keep the plates, which he didn’t find offensive.

H/T to Craig Zeni for the Jalopnik link.

January 28, 2011

Egypt goes dark, shuts down DNS servers

Filed under: Liberty, Middle East, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:40

Updates added to the bottom of this post

The Egyptian government is attempting to foil protests by eliminating internet traffic. Renesys reports:

Confirming what a few have reported this evening: in an action unprecedented in Internet history, the Egyptian government appears to have ordered service providers to shut down all international connections to the Internet. Critical European-Asian fiber-optic routes through Egypt appear to be unaffected for now. But every Egyptian provider, every business, bank, Internet cafe, website, school, embassy, and government office that relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world. Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and all their customers and partners are, for the moment, off the air.

At 22:34 UTC (00:34am local time), Renesys observed the virtually simultaneous withdrawal of all routes to Egyptian networks in the Internet’s global routing table. Approximately 3,500 individual BGP routes were withdrawn, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt’s service providers. Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide.

I have seen very little traffic coming to this site from Egypt before the DNS server shutdown (under 40 unique visitors last year, according to FlagCounter), so the following information isn’t likely to be of direct assistance to Egyptians, but hopefully some can be filtered onwards.

The first suggestion (from Shereef Abbas) is to use Google’s Public DNS 2 to change “your DNS ‘switchboard’ operator from your ISP to Google Public DNS”.

John Perry Barlow suggests “more tools to access blocked websites and maintain anonymity”: http://jan25.in/how-to-access-blocked-websites-by-government and https://www.torproject.org/download/download.html.en.

Update: Vice President Joe Biden appears to be missing a wonderful opportunity to shut up.

Biden urged non-violence from both protesters and the government and said: “We’re encouraging the protesters to – as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we’re encouraging the government to act responsibly and – and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out.” He also said: “I think that what we should continue to do is to encourage reasonable… accommodation and discussion to try to resolve peacefully and amicably the concerns and claims made by those who have taken to the street. And those that are legitimate should be responded to because the economic well-being and the stability of Egypt rests upon that middle class buying into the future of Egypt.”

Egypt’s protesters, if they’re paying attention to Biden at all, will certainly be wondering which of their demands thus far have been illegitimate.

Update, the second: Live blogging the protests at the Guardian. And several sources are recommending the coverage streamed online from Al Jazeera’s English-language site.

Update, the third: The effectiveness of Egypt’s internet blackout shows why giving the American president (or any national leader) an internet “kill switch” is such a bad idea. To most of us, anyway. I’m sure that to some people it’s an argument in favour.

Update, the fourth: National Post has a graphic showing the locations of the reported activity:

Click to enlarge

QotD: If those were the “good old days” then to hell with them

Filed under: Economics, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:37

One of the difficulties progressives face is trying to make centralized planning sound like a good idea. Even the president, with all his rhetorical genius and majestic vagueness, can struggle with the task. So, from time to time, it’s important to mold history a bit to, you know, make a point.

Early on in his State of the Union, for instance, President Barack Obama reminisced of an age when “good jobs” meant “showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown.” A time when you “didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors,” and, if you “worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.”

Way to dream big! Really, was this country ever about being proud that your children ended up in the same plant you slaved in for 30 years? Even with a promise of a union pension and — if you’re lucky — an “occasional” promotion, it sounds like a soul-crushing grind you’d want your offspring to escape, tout de suite.

Luckily, in the real world, history tells of a story filled with dynamic movements of people, class climbing, churning innovation, booms and busts and widespread embrace of risk-taking.

Now, as the president explained, “painful” changes have crashed down on his revisionism and Americans have been forced to compete, find India on a map, move from town to town and study.

David Harsanyi, “Who are we in ‘Sputnik moment’?”, Denver Post, 2011-02-28

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