September 30, 2011

British defence minister tries to justify decommission of HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier

Filed under: Britain, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:19

In an update on the EMALS electro-magnetic catapult (things appear to be going well, which is good news for both the USN and the RN), Lewis Page finds the British defence minister still in full denial mode over the decision to scrap the navy’s last carrier and take the Harrier out of service:

The Royal Navy has been doing its best to overcome its current lack of carriers and Harriers in the Libyan campaign, instead inviting a group of the Army’s Apache attack choppers aboard the assault ship HMS Ocean. The Apaches have been doing useful work in the skies above Libya, which they can reach just minutes after taking off (as opposed to the hours it takes for land-based RAF jets to fly in from Italy or — as they are still routinely doing — all the way from the UK). Long haul operations by the RAF are putting its air-to-air tanker fleet under serious strain, and it will not have escaped carrier fans that the just commencing PFI tanker deal is set to cost much more than the Prince of Wales and sister ship Queen Elizabeth combined.

Defence minister Liam Fox made a bizarre statement on the question to reporters yesterday, claiming:

“Harrier could not have carried the weapons we have used to such great effect. They are too heavy. Harriers would have been no help to us at all. The critics have been silenced.”

The weapons used by the RAF so far have mainly been Paveway smartbombs and lightweight Brimstone anti-armour missiles, with a few dubious Storm Shadow air-launched cruise jobs mixed in (these latter missions are normally flown all the way from the UK).

The Harrier was the first British aircraft to be cleared for the latest Paveway IVs — the main weapon now in use by British planes over Libya — ahead of the Tornado and the Typhoon, as the RAF will tell you. It could also carry Brimstone. The Harrier GR9 could also carry Storm Shadow, supposing you actually wanted to.

“Some things are eternal, like the stars above and the conflicted feelings towards the United States Canadians have in their hearts”

Filed under: Cancon, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:01

Matt Gurney recommends that the US worry about Boston before the start putting up fences on the US-Canadian border:

Oh, Lord, here we go again: The U.S. is (kind of) considering erecting a fence along parts of the U.S.-Canadian border, as well as various high-tech monitoring systems. This latest variation was floated by the American Customs and Border Protection Agency, but quickly dismissed by that same agency as merely a hypothetical after the report caught the media’s attention.

Whenever the U.S. considers — or hypothetically muses about potentially considering — additional security along the northern border, you can count on Canadians whipping their heads ’round in shock. “Keep out us?” they ask. “But … we’re Canadians. That’s like being American. Why would they want to keep us out?” Many of those same Canadians are the ones who become outraged if the United States does not genuflect in the requisite manner at the holy pillar of Canadian sovereignty and international importance. That’s non-negotiable for Canadians, because we’re not Americans, and Uncle Sam, with his war machines and ghetto scenes, had best not forget it. But as soon as Americans agree that we’re separate countries and try to act like it, much outrage ensues.

It’s a particularly irritating manifestation of the Canadian inferiority complex, but probably can’t be helped. Some things are eternal, like the stars above and the conflicted feelings towards the United States Canadians have in their hearts. At least this time, though, we’re not alone in looking kind of silly: If there’s anything as dumb as the Canadian double-think on whether we’re American enough for America, it’s the bizarre notion among our southern siblings that if they pay enough attention to Canada, they’ll be safe from terrorism.

Coming soon: the “sober-up” pill

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

Scientists at the University of Illinois may have cracked the secret to sobering up after a night on the town:

It’s your mutinous immune system that gives you that sozzled feeling after a boozy session, scientists claim in a paper published today in the British Journal of Pharmacology.

Conk out certain immuno receptors in your brain and you’ll be able to walk in a straight line, perform complex manual tasks and probably even stay awake on the night bus home after a heavy dose of alcoholic refreshment.

These receptors are a particular part of your immune system and scientists have been trying to figure out their connection to alcohol for years. When active TLR4s react with alcohol they release an inflammatory chemical called cytokine that seems to contribute to making us sleepy and poorly-coordinated.

It was a research team at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Illinois, that made the breakthrough. Their pill works for mice, at least.

Another science fiction device may be on the way to reality

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:59

Ever read some of those late-60s or early-70s SF stories that assumed that computers that ran using non-binary logic would replace the binary logic machines of the day? Welcome to the future:

In 2007, Hewlett-Packard’s labs demonstrated the first memristor recognized as such. A portmanteau of “memory” and “resistor,” “memristance” was the theoretical fourth circuit variable first described in 1971. While HP stock will probably not yield the sort of profits we’re looking for here, it will help generate them indirectly.

Because of its unique properties, memristors will enable far more powerful circuitry. Unlike transistor-based circuits that form the core of modern electronics, memristive circuits retain their state after losing power. Theoretically, you could power on a memristor-based computer and have all the data in memory that it had when you powered off. Memristor memory could replace hard drives and transistor-based RAM.

Memristors, however, can do more than act as memory. They can replace existing processing components. This means that much more functionality can be implemented in a single component. Instead of busing data back and forth between separate memory and processing locations on a circuit board, memristors do it all. Data, then, are available for processing with shorter wait times. Memristors reduce total hardware size, cost and energy consumption. Yet memristors can multitask in other ways, opening up a whole range of exciting possibilities.

The Guild, S5E10

Filed under: Gaming, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:20

<a href='http://www.bing.com/videos/browse?mkt=en-us&#038;vid=y05t9u0n&#038;from=us-Video' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 10 - Strategy Timez' >Video: Season 5 &#8211; Episode 10 &#8211; Strategy Timez</a>

September 29, 2011

ReasonTV: Prohibition Vogue

Filed under: Government, History, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:25

Greek tax evasion: not a new problem at all

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:28

In a New York Times article from last year, Suzanne Daley reported the rather amazing statistic from Athens:

In the wealthy, northern suburbs of this city, where summer temperatures often hit the high 90s, just 324 residents checked the box on their tax returns admitting that they owned pools.

So tax investigators studied satellite photos of the area — a sprawling collection of expensive villas tucked behind tall gates — and came back with a decidedly different number: 16,974 pools.

That kind of wholesale lying about assets, and other eye-popping cases that are surfacing in the news media here, points to the staggering breadth of tax dodging that has long been a way of life here.

H/T to Araminta Wordsworth for the link.

Charles de Gaulle as euro-skeptic

Filed under: Economics, Europe, France, Germany, History — Tags: — Nicholas @ 09:13

Conrad Black provides a thumbnail sketch of de Gaulle’s real intentions regarding European integration:

Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille in 1890, to the family of a monarchist schoolteacher. De Gaulle was a Flaubertesque haut bourgeois, as well as an officer of the French army when it was rivaled only by the German army as the greatest in the world, and was unrivaled as the most storied army of all. He was imbued with the middle-class concept of the value of savings, frugality, pay-as-you-go. To him, greatness and security could never be bought or sustained on the installment plan. And mere politicians, whom he considered a lesser breed swimming in a sticky fondue of moral weakness and opportunism, could never be trusted to resist the temptation to pander, devalue, or seek short-term gain.

De Gaulle’s farsightedness was not confined to national projections of household economics; he also warned of the dangers of Euro-integration. He was the chief architect of the Franco-German friendship treaty of 1963, and — as a veteran of the terrible hecatomb of the Battle of Verdun and a World War I prisoner of war of the Germans, as well as the founder of the Free French in World War II — he knew as well as anyone the horrors of the centuries-long conflict along the Rhine. He also favored a common market and the end of violent ancient rivalries among the many European nationalities. But he always saw a homogenized, centralized Europe as a dangerous fantasy. He believed that a Continental interest, composed of as many as 20 or 25 languages and cultures, would be only an alphabet gruel, blended and stirred by faceless bureaucrats from the little countries, and not representing any real popular interest at all.

He thought that the original Common Market of France, West Germany, Italy, and Benelux could be used by France, effectively maneuvering between the U.S. and the USSR, and between Germany and the Russians, to project and amplify France’s — and, more particularly, his own — influence. Up to a point, while the U.S. was mired in Vietnam, and before European Communism became too enfeebled to challenge the West (which de Gaulle also foresaw), he was correct. But he believed that an unlimitedly accessible Europe would become an incoherent Tower of Babel, governed by bureaucratic intermeddlers in the name of feckless politicians, and liable to excessive outside influence, including from the U.S.

H/T to Monty at Ace of Spades HQ for the link.

“The euro isn’t just a failed currency, but a language unto itself”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Europe, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:01

Jonathan Weil provides a sampling of Euro terms and their real-world meanings:

It’s bad enough for average Americans that most European leaders speak English with heavy accents. What’s worse, even when we can make out the words they utter, it’s almost always impossible to figure out what these officials are really saying. That’s because they’re speaking in Euro-ese.

Fortunately, there is an answer to their endless riddles: a Euro-to-English dictionary, excerpts of which I have included below. To truly see the meaning of the seismic events rapidly reshaping Europe, you must know what the following 10 Euro terms of art mean in plain American English:

1. Finance ministry: A house of worship where government leaders go to pray for bailouts, economic miracles, panaceas and other forms of divine intervention.

How to use in a sentence: Officials at the Greek Finance Ministry said they remain hopeful the country will receive its next batch of rescue loans in time to avoid a cataclysmic default.

2. Coordinated: Chaotic, unfocused, brain-dead, paralyzed to the point of nonexistence; even in its best moments resembling a hopeless klutz.

Example: Finance ministers from the Group of 20 nations last week said they were “committed to a strong and coordinated international response to address the renewed challenges facing the global economy.”

Quebec may create its own gun registry

Filed under: Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:10

Matt Gurney examines the Quebec government’s declared intention to create a provincial gun registry:

In July, Quebec’s Public Safety Minister Robert Dutil told reporters that his government was considering a “Plan B” in the (highly probable) event that the federal Tories scrapped the long-gun registry — the creation of a provincial registry. Quebec is particularly sensitive to crimes committed by firearm, and has been more wedded than most provinces to the faulty notion that registration provides public-safety benefits. The Supreme Court has already ruled that firearms registration is a federal responsibility due to the public safety nature of gun control, but Quebec could theoretically try to establish a registry for firearms that treats them as simple property, no different than dogs, cats or boats. It would be a political stunt only … but then again, that’s all the registry has been since the beginning: A costly act of political theatre in which politicians impose burdensome red tape on lawful firearms owners and proclaim society somehow safer as a result.

September 28, 2011

“‘Sensitivity to hurt feelings’ is not, in fact, a First Amendment value or a justification for censorship”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:42

Follow-up to Monday’s link to Popehat on bureaucratic censorship at the University of Wisconsin, Ken has a few words to say about the administration’s “justification”:

2. The problem with demanding a campus free of “implied threats” is illustrated by this case. Campus police first censored a poster of an imaginary space cowboy with a fan-pleasing quote. Next, just to say FUCK YOU IRONY they used threats of official retaliation against a poster condemning threats of official retaliation. No rational person could construe either poster as a threat, actual or implied, to commit violence against any person (although I suppose the second could be construed as a warning — a correct one — that thugs will act thuggishly when questioned.) If a rational person wouldn’t take it as an actual threat of violence, then it’s not a true threat that can be censored, however much the hysterical, irrational, nanny-stating, coddling, or professionally emo think about it, and however much university chancellors would like to believe otherwise.

3. Similarly, this case illustrates the problem with an approach to freedom of expression premised on “sensitivity” and making people feel “welcome, safe and secure.” “Sensitivity to hurt feelings” is not, in fact, a First Amendment value or a justification for censorship. In fact, stopping people from speaking because the speech hurts people’s feelings is the essence of censorship. A system in which what we can say is premised upon the likely reactions of the mentally ill and the undernourished pussywillows of the world is a system that encourages suppression of all unpopular, forceful, interesting, or challenging speech. The irrational and the morally and mentally weak are not entitled to have their feelings protected through the force of law, however prevalent they are on campus.

“Fairtrade locks many Africans into non-mechanised, back-breaking cheap labour”

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:14

The feel-good virtue implied in the Fairtrade label is actually a deal with the devil for the poor farmer, says Tim Black:

The purpose of the Fairtrade Foundation, we are told, is to guarantee that the producer gets a good deal. The Fairtrade-labelling system, then, is meant to assure us that, when we buy something with the Fairtrade logo, the producers get a better cut of the cash than they would do otherwise. So we effectively pay a little bit more — hence the price premium — to feel a whole lot better about our purchases. Or at least that’s the theory.

But as researchers pointed out earlier this year, the actuality of Fairtrade is not quite as easy on the self-regarding eye of ethical shoppers as the Fairtrade Foundation would have us believe. For a start, it has been suggested that only 25 per cent of the premium price paid for Fairtrade products reaches the producers. Not only that, already-poor farmers actually have to pay to join up to the Fairtrade scheme. And in doing so, they also have to ensure that their business meets certain requirements, whether it is in their long-term interests or not.

And here we come to the main problem. The Fairtrade Foundation demands certain things of the producers if they are to be accepted on to the scheme. For example, producers have to employ what the Fairtrade Foundation deems to be ‘environmentally sound agricultural practices’ and, to qualify as small producers, they have to ‘rely mainly on their own or their family’s labour’. It’s almost cruelly ironic: while champions of Fairtrade claim it is freeing producers from the exploitative relations of the market, it simultaneously ties them into the oppressive and exploitative moral relations of ‘us’ and ‘them’. They have to stick to the letter of ‘our’ vision of the world, in all its sustainable, anti-growth glory. That is, in exchange for a marginally better deal on the market, producers have to adhere to what the Fairtrade Foundation deems to be the right way of farming or harvesting.

This effectively condemns producers desperate for a bit more cash to a low level of material and economic development. In the Fairtrade vision of production, you can forget about the large-scale industrialised production of cocoa; you can forget about the crop-protecting usage of pesticides. What Fairtrade insists upon instead is small-scale cottage industry free of anything that looks too modern, let alone chemical. As Patrick Hayes noted on spiked a couple of years ago, citing a WORLDwrite film called The Bitter Aftertaste, Fairtrade locks many Africans into non-mechanised, back-breaking cheap labour ‘as they cull weeds by hand rather than being able to destroy them with chemicals’.

So while Fairtrade might make us feel good when shopping, it does nothing of the sort for those doing the producing. Which is something to bear in mind when enjoying a bag of non-Fairtrade Skittles.

Ed West: The utopian pipe dreams of the European project

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:55

Ed West bids an unfond farewell to the Euro (and the European Union):

The diversity delusion and the euro delusion are both symptoms of a similar pseudo-religious mania. Both sprung from a noble attempt to ensure that the horrors of 1914-1945, inspired by nationalism and scientific racism, were never repeated. Both make them more likely to be repeated. Jean Monnet, architect and first president of the European Coal and Steel Community, conceived the idea of a United States of Europe in order to ensure such wars never happened again, through a new empire in which nationalism had been erased. Because Monnet was opposed by Charles de Gaulle, who favoured a Europe of nations, he therefore he developed the “Monnet method” of “integration by stealth”, a policy that ultimately led to the tragedy of economic union.

Perhaps more influential still was Alexandre Kojeve, who set up the embryonic European Union and influenced a generation of pro-EU thinkers in France. He came up with the “end of history” theme, whereby national boundaries and exclusive communities would wash away and a new world without borders would emerge. The EU’s vapid motto, United in diversity, reflects this neo-Christian utopianism.

Without exception the guilty men of Europe also shared, and still, share, the diversity delusion. The Liberal Democrats have entirely signed up, and most of the Labour Party too, although the Tories must share the blame too. Only one senior Tory spoke up against both mass immigration and the Common Market, Enoch Powell (who was also a voice in the wilderness in opposing Keynesian policies — only Paul the Octopus in recent years has been more right). Powell’s provocative language certainly helped his opponents, but as immigration is by its very nature a more toxic subject, so milder opponents have been silenced, leaving only the cranks, oddballs and extremists to represent opposition to this new utopia. This in turn makes it easier to present critics as extremists, just as even a couple of years ago opponents of the euro were labeled extremists and xenophobes. Contrary to what proponents of this delusion claim, it is not about xenophobia or racism; the issue, as Charles Moore wrote on Saturday, is one of sovereignty, and sovereignty relies on the legitimacy that only nations can provide.

Instead, as Roger Scruton noted, European intellectuals tried to “discard national loyalty and to replace it with the cosmopolitan ideals of the Enlightenment… The problem… is that cosmopolitan ideals are the property of an elite and will never be shared by the mass of human kind.”

The European project was a utopian idea, and I suspect that Britain’s peripheral part in the third great stupid, European idea of the last century will soon be over. National loyalty, whatever the elites feel, is here to stay. I guess we’re all extremists now.

Toronto: paradise of the high-profit, cellar-dwelling sports franchise

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Sports — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:11

Last year, I posted a bit of Toronto-baiting, referring to the town as the place “where professional sports go to be embalmed”. In the comment thread to that post, “Lickmuffin” set me straight about just why Toronto teams are so bad — the answer is that Toronto fans expect no more of them, and are happy to pay for mediocrity. Stephen Marche goes a few steps further on that line (largely proving Lickmuffin’s point):

It’s a given that the true fan goes to games not for the necessarily occasional thrill of winning, but for the quotidian experience of losing — a truth articulated originally and beautifully by Nick Hornby in Fever Pitch. Losing in Toronto, however, is an unremitting condition. The CFL team, the Argonauts, is so bad that when I recently found a friend of mine betting on it, I immediately wondered if it was time for an intervention about his gambling addiction. As it stands, the Argonauts are 2 and 6 3 and 9. The Blue Jays this year aren’t completely terrible, but when you’ve said that, you’ve said everything. They may be a rising power in the East, as many claim, but they sure haven’t risen yet. The Raptors are still in their post-Bosh wilderness (not that the Bosh period was a golden age), and Toronto FC currently rests at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Leafs, who matter to Torontonians more than all the other teams combined, have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, and they haven’t made the playoffs in a franchise-record six seasons. The only team with a longer dry spell is the Florida Panthers. The Leafs’ major source of hope seems to be Brian Burke himself, but when the major source of your dreams is a front-office guy, you are in a dark place. Cheering a GM, to me, is hitting rock bottom.

And this in Canada’s biggest city, where hockey matters more than baseball in Boston or basketball in Indiana or football in Texas. The only other places where sports dwell so near the most profound and abiding national questions are rugby in New Zealand, which recoups the warrior culture of the Maori, and football in Buenos Aires, where the slumdog Boca Juniors battle the uptown Millonarios in a never-ending class war. Maybe Real Madrid against Barcelona could be added to that list, but nobody else. People who were surprised that Vancouver burned after the Stanley Cup playoffs last year are unaware of the history of the sport in Canada. Of the 10 biggest riots in Canadian history, six began at hockey games.

[. . .]

So who can blame Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, the business that controls the Leafs and the Raptors, for following that oldest and truest of rules: Never give a sucker an even break? The most recently released financial reports, published by the Toronto Star in 2007 and which were neither confirmed nor denied by the privately held MLSE, suggest they run a profit margin of more than 20 percent. Before we start hacking away at the irresponsible evil-capitalist angle, however, we should recognize that the majority shareholder in MLSE is the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund (although they are currently looking to sell); the profits of MLSE have paid for the retirement of a lot of hardworking people, so it’s good that they’re good at business. And they are excellent business people.

Economics on one foot

Filed under: Economics, Government, Liberty — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:03

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