July 31, 2011

Another book to add to the “to be read” pile

Filed under: Books, Economics, History, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 18:00

From the current issue of Reason, a review of a pair of new books on the concept of “empire”:

The Rule of Empires, by the Washington University historian Timothy Parsons, explores the fundamental contradictions of imperial rule, making the case that empires have become increasingly difficult to maintain as potential subjects’ identities have become less fluid and more nationalistic. In Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World, 1600–1900, the independent historian Stephen Bown takes a less systematic approach to the study of imperial power, but his book supplements Parsons’ by filling in the biographical details of the men who built Europe’s modern commercial empires. Both books demonstrate that while empire may seem a quick route to power and wealth, in the long run the idea is a military and financial loser.

[. . .]

Empires throughout history have claimed “to rule for the good of their subjects,” Parsons maintains, but this “was and always will be a cynical and hypocritical canard. Empire has never been more than naked self-interest masquerading as virtue.” To keep resources flowing from subjects to rulers, empires must walk a tightrope between subjugation and assimilation. If the state imposes draconian laws and taxes, it will face rebellion, so the rulers must seek out collaborators among their subjects who will assist in the domination of their fellow citizens. In return, collaborators are frequently brought into the imperial fold and given a portion of the spoils. But this leaves the empire vulnerable to conquering from the inside out, with many masters and few servants.

[. . .]

Empire building typically falls under the purview of governments, but in the 17th through 19th centuries, European states outsourced imperial conquest to quasi-private joint-stock companies. Governments granted these companies monopoly trading rights in distant regions and frequently offered their military might to ward off potential rivals. States rarely intended for the companies to become independent imperial powers, but the potential spoils of conquest proved hard for company officials to resist. After all, they had been freed from the discipline of competition, they were thousands of miles from political oversight, and their military risks were socialized by their state sponsors. As Bown points out in Merchant Kings, the EIC and similar corporations “were less the product of free-market capitalism than the commercial extension of European national wars and struggles for cultural and economic supremacy. They occupied the muddy grey zone that exists between government and enterprise.”

I’ve been looking for a good (recent) history of the East India Company for the last several months, so Merchant Kings sounds like it’d be of interest.

Is it time to update this to “16 (trillion) tons”?

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 17:44

H/T to Gerard Vanderleun.

Upgrades in slow motion

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 16:55

I bought a new laptop yesterday, as my old laptop is starting to creak when I load up a full suite of work tools (Adobe FrameMaker, Open Office Writer or Microsoft Word, a couple of web browsers plus a virtual machine or two under VMWare). Elizabeth will be taking over my old laptop and retiring her Acer with its constant beeping and lock-ups when I’ve finished installing all the software and moving over all my files to the new laptop.

I’m currently trying to transfer files and settings from my old laptop to the new machine. The Windows Easy Transfer tool makes it look pretty straightforward . . . but it’s slow, slow, slow. I started a transfer last night after dinner, anticipating it’d be done this morning, but the WiFi router glitched not long after I started the process, so it didn’t happen. Plus, we had some lively thunderstorms roll through early this morning, which meant I had to jump out of bed and shut everything down anyway.

Second attempt this afternoon, once the weather cleared up, and it’s now telling me to expect the transfer to take “1 day 15 hours”. And, of course, you can’t use either machine for anything else while the files are being transferred.

Posting will be sporadic this week

Filed under: Administrivia — Tags: — Nicholas @ 16:35

I’m on vacation, which means I’m much less likely to be near a computer. I’ll probably post a few items, but expect it to be fairly quiet here for the coming week.

July 30, 2011

Randall (the Honey Badger guy) recaps the first four seasons of The Guild

Filed under: Gaming, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 14:08

<a href='http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/the-guild-season-4-recap/y06qrupt' target='_new' title='The Guild season 4 recap' >Video: The Guild season 4 recap</a>

If you know Randall, you know that there’s some NSFW commentary in this recap. If you don’t, you do now.

Penn Jillette on his new book, and other experiences

Filed under: Books, Humour, Media, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:53

Video GamesE3 2012AOTS Exclusive

This week in Guild Wars 2 news

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:09

I’ve been accumulating news snippets about the as-yet-to-be-formally-scheduled release of Guild Wars 2 for an email newsletter I send out to my friends and acquaintances in the Guild Wars community.

I got a few comments from non-gaming folks that these posts can get too long to scroll past, so it’s now in the extended post below.


July 29, 2011

“This is the first global human rights legislation. How can people not know about it?”

Filed under: Cancon, History, Law, Liberty — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:54

I’m ashamed to say that this was news to me:

Monday, August 1, is a holiday in Canada. Everyone knows that. But what is the name of the holiday?

[. . .]

It is “Emancipation Day.”

You’re scratching your head, aren’t you? Don’t be embarrassed. Be angry — angry that you have been denied a truly majestic story all Canadians should know and cherish.

On August 1, 1834, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. “Emancipation Day” has been celebrated ever since in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and elsewhere.

[. . .]

In 1793, a free black man named Peter Martin – who had served with Butler’s Rangers in the American Revolution – told the legislature of the abduction of Chloe Cooley, a black slave who had been bound, gagged, thrown in a boat, and taken to the United States for sale. Simcoe seized the opportunity and moved to immediately abolish slavery.

It was a radical, audacious move. And it was too much. Wealthy slaveowners in the legislature resisted and Simcoe was forced to compromise: Existing slaves would be denied their freedom but the importation of slaves would stop and the children of slaves would be freed when they reached age 25. In effect, slavery would slowly vanish.

It was not the sweeping victory Simcoe wanted. But it was the abolitionists’ first legislative victory anywhere in the British Empire.

Boomer bashing: how the idea evolved

Filed under: Economics, History, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

Frank Furedi looks at the evolution of the “bash the boomers” meme, and how it differs from more traditional generational conflict:

Gone are the days when the baby boomers were perceived as the personification of a relaxed but enlightened 1960s live-and-let-live lifestyle.

This cohort of people, generally defined as those born between 1945 and 1965, are globally pathologised as the source of most forms of economic and environmental distress. Constantly accused of living way beyond their means, the baby boomers are blamed for depriving the young of opportunities for a good life. They are condemned for thoughtlessly destroying the environment through their mindless pursuit of material possessions and wealth, as well as resisting change, hanging on to their power and preventing the younger generations from progressing.

[. . .]

The idea that ‘it’s all their fault’ captures the intense sense of cultivated immaturity of the parent-basher. A sentiment that is usually associated with the intellectual universe of a truculent five-year-old is now embraced in earnest by biologically mature generational warriors. Paul Begala’s Esquire article ‘The Worst Generation’ captures this sense of uncontained resentment. ‘I hate the baby boomer’, he wrote, concluding that ‘they’re the most self-centred, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandising generation in American history’.

[. . .]

The guilt-tripping of boomers is underwritten by an unusually philistine interpretation of the way society works. The 18th-century Malthusian obsessions about natural limits has been recycled as a warning to human ambition. From this standpoint, resources are fixed and the consumption of one generation reduces what’s available to the next. Accordingly, the flipside of boomer wealth is the poverty of the generations coming of age today. Catastrophic accounts of how young people have been deprived of opportunities for a comfortable life have fostered a cultural climate where the moral status of the elderly is continually questioned.

[. . .]

One of the most distinctive feature of the denunciation of the baby boomers is that it lacks any hint of a future-oriented idealism. It is principally driven by a sense of resentment against a generation that apparently had a really good time.

Instead of tackling the question of how to create a prosperous future, anti-boomers are more interested in gaining a larger slice of the wealth created in the past. Baby boomer self-indulgence pales into insignificance in comparison to the low horizons of their unambitious critics.

Never has the term ‘rebels without a cause’ had more meaning than today. At least Bazarov’s nihilism was in part motivated by the cause of ridding Russia of its feudal autocracy. Even the Lost Generation of the inter-war period were responding to a very real event that shaped their existence. Today’s anti-boomers are freed from the burden of a cause to fight for. As Tyler Durden remarked in the 1999 film Fight Club: ‘Our generation has had no Great Depression, no Great War’, before adding that ‘our depression is our lives’.

Free agency period so far for Minnesota

Filed under: Football — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:16

It’s been a busy week, with rumours flying fast, but this was the state of play as of last night, as compiled by Skol Girl at the Daily Norseman:

Right now there are so many rumors flying around the NFL it bears a striking resemblance to a high school cafeteria a week before prom. “Who’s he going with?” “What’s he going to wear?” “Did he really say that?” “He’s going with them? That’s not what I heard.” “OMG I didn’t even think he liked Darrell Bevell?”

Just yesterday the Vikings signed 14 rookie free agents, re-signed Ryan Longwell, lost Sidney Rice, released Jimmy Kennedy, and reached an agreement to bring Donovan McNabb to Minnesota. Today Madieu Williams, never fully recovered from a 2008 neck injury, was released. Nose tackle Remi Ayodele came to an agreement with the Vikings for 3 years and $9 million. The Vikings agreed to terms with special-teams ace Eric Frampton. Erin Henderson will sign his restricted free-agent tender. Rookie free agents Alexander Robison and Ed Barham were signed, but Derrick Locke failed his physical. As if all that isn’t enough to make your head spin, there are still a couple days for the Vikings to finish rounding out their 90-man training camp roster. And once they build up the training camp roster, the coaches get to steadily cut away at the roster until we’re back down to the 53-man active roster for the regular season.

NFL free-agency is always weird but this year it’s more like weird took a hit of mescaline and then watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. While it’s hard on teams and players to get deals in place in such a short amount of time, all this roster churn is hard on fans too. Fans have the luxury and hassle of being sentimental.

Kashmir performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Filed under: Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:05

Originally posted by Ghost of a Flea. I listened, I liked, I wanted to buy . . . but neither iTunes nor hmvdigital.ca have it available for purchase.

July 28, 2011

Rice cashes in: $1 million per TD over the last four years

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:42

I really like Sidney Rice, and I’m sorry that he won’t be with the Vikings this year, but I have to agree with Ryan Boser on this: Seattle overpaid to get him.

In four seasons as a Minnesota Viking, Sidney Rice scored 18 touchdowns. Yesterday, he was rewarded with $18.5M in guaranteed cash from the Seattle Seahawks. In a nutshell, Rice’s 2009 breakout was so impressive that agent Drew Rosenhaus found a sucker willing to anti up a gaudy five-year, $41M deal for a guy with one great season smashed between three injury-plagued disasters.

Rice’s first two seasons were marked by underachievement and knee injuries. After stealing his paychecks in 2007 and 2008, Rice showed his true colors on the heals of his 2009 breakout.

Assisted by what may have been Brett Favre’s greatest season, Rice tallied 83 catches for 1,312 yards and eight scores. With one year still left on his contract, Rice demanded a raise from the Vikings.

On the other hand, as has been pointed out by several people, an NFL player’s career can be cut short by injury so it’s hard to blame Rice for taking the bigger paycheck, especially the $18.5 million in guaranteed money.

Penn and Teller talk about their new TV show

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:29

Erik Amaya reports on the duo’s latest show, Penn & Teller Tell a Lie:

“We kind of forced Showtime into doing a show about science and reality,” admitted Penn Jillette, the more outspoken half of the duo. “We did get to have naked people and we did get to say profanity. I am one of the only people who does not own a motorcycle who has said ‘motherfucker’ enough.”

After referring to their new home as “The Disco Channel,” Jillette mentioned that the cable network was “more interested in science.” Unlike Bullshit, the performer hopes Tell a Lie will take a more pointed view of both science and objective reality. He then outlined the format: “We’re doing six packages, most of them [featuring] us. One of those stories will be a fake, a complete lie. [After each episode], the audience can go to discovery.com and vote on which is a lie.”

Teller clarified that segments within each episode will make certain claims. “We will claim that a single head of human hair can lift a Mustang,” he began. “We will claim that a wrecking ball can be stopped by special wallpaper. We’ll claim that you can put a person into a tank of live piranha and they will not kill him.”

“The person will be Teller,” Jillette interjected.

Is Breivik sane enough to prosecute?

Filed under: Europe, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:20

Douglas Murray points out that Breivik’s actions even before the attacks would have marked him as insane:

Anders Behring Breivik believed himself a Knight Templar and awarded himself various military ranks accordingly. He also believed that he and other self-described Islamophobic racists had common cause with jihadis and that the USA has a Jewish problem. So even before he planted a car bomb in a civilian area and gunned down scores of young people, it would have been clear to anyone who bothered to question him that Breivik was insane.

Of course, no discussion of the Oslo massacre is complete without considering the media reaction:

But in the coverage since his atrocities first broke on to the world, two troubling tendencies have converged. The first is the search for reason in a mind that was clearly a stranger to it. The second is the tendency — particularly strong on the left — to use any horrific act as a megaphone for existing prejudices. In the aftermath of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford in January, the left-wing media and politicians hunted for the right-wingers who they claimed had inspired the attack. That the gunman was not only a loner but a psychotic maniac was largely ignored as they rushed off excitedly to attack their ideological enemies. And so it is with Breivik.

For the past decade and more, every time an Islamist has blown something up, a chorus of voices — mainly from the left — has rightly said that ‘we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions’. But this time it was different. The Labour MP Tom Harris observed, with great frankness, that a ‘palpable relief that swept through the left when the identity of the terrorist was made known… Here, thank God, was a terrorist we can all hate without equivocation: white, Christian and far right-wing. Phew.’ So never mind not jumping to conclusions. When it seemed to emerge that, among many other things, the killer also claimed to be opposed to immigration and was fearful of Islam, that jump became a great leap towards group blame.

F-22 fleet still grounded due to pilot oxygen supply problems

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:08

Earlier this month, I linked to an article about the F-22 oxygen problems. According to Strategy Page, the problem still has not been resolved:

The U.S. Air Force is making some progress in finding out what is wrong with their F-22s. It appears that some toxins are somehow getting into the pilot’s air supply. This has kept all 168 F-22s grounded for three months, so far. Despite the new findings, the air force still has not nailed down the exact cause of the problem, much less fixed it. The U.S. Navy had a similar problem with its F-18s (there were 64 incidents between 2002-9, resulting in two dead pilots). The navy found that the problem was carbon monoxide getting sucked into the aircraft air system (which the navy modified, eliminating the problem). The air force is looking into the navy experience with these similar problems, to see if there is anything similar going on with the F-22s.

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