February 16, 2012

ArenaNet gives (lots of) details about Guild Wars 2 World versus World combat

Filed under: Gaming, Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:13

There’s a massively informative article up on the ArenaNet blog discussing the “World versus World” PvP format, including lots of details about how up to 300 players will be able to contribute to their side’s efforts regardless of each player’s current experience level:


Rum running in the Maritimes during Prohibition

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, France, History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:33

I just received a press release about a new documentary to be shown on the CBC this Sunday. Here’s the trailer:

Rum Running is a half hour documentary that will celebrate its world broadcast premiere on CBC Television’s Land & Sea on Sunday, February 19, 2012 at 12 Noon. Rum Running describes the history of rum running and depicts the high stakes role that Nova Scotia and the French Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon played during the era. The film reveals how thousands of law abiding citizens of Atlantic Canada were lured into the alcohol smuggling trade during Prohibition in the 1920’s and 30s.

How long will it take for McGuinty to “lose” the Drummond report?

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:24

Yesterday, the Drummond report was released, containing literally hundreds of recommendations for getting Ontario’s government back on the fiscal straight-and-narrow. Perhaps half a dozen of the recommendations will be welcomed by Dalton McGuinty and his ministers. The rest will be anywhere from mildly unwelcome to outright anathema. In the National Post, Linda Nguyen has an overview:

The Ontario government needs to “swiftly and boldly” implement all of the hundreds of recommendations in a massive report released Wednesday if it wants to eliminate a projected $30.2 billion deficit by 2017, warns economist Don Drummond.

“Unfortunately, we’re dealing with a harsh reality in identity here,” said Mr. Drummond, author of the 543-page report and former chief economist with TD Bank.

The audit, which could be an example to other jurisdictions struggling to control spending, offered 362 recommendations in various sectors including health care, education, social programs, justice and labour relations.

[. . .]

In its 2011 budget, the Ontario government had projected its deficit to climb to $16-billion, but Mr. Drummond says his projects peg it at more than double that if the province continues its current spending.

To reach the target, Ontario must decrease its total program spending to 0.8% for the next seven years.

It’s been an item of faith among Liberals and NDPers that former Premier Mike Harris carpet-bombed the provincial economy during his two terms in office. As Scott Stinson points out, however, “Ontario’s projected spending needs a 17% cut. Mike Harris only cut 3.9%”:

“Avoid across-the-board cuts. Such a blunt tool treats equally a valuable efficiently run program and one that is outdated and sloppily managed. This is dumb.”
Dumb? Such plain speaking! We are used to government reports that prefer to say a measure “fails to properly realize efficiencies by ensuring its actions are in line with forward-looking goals and objectives.”

“This is not a smorgasbord from which the government can choose only the tastiest morsels and ignore the less palatable.”
Eat your brussels sprouts, Dalton McGuinty! But despite the pleasant analogy — who doesn’t enjoy a good buffet? — this is one of the more stark lines in the whole report. Implement it all, or it won’t work, the Commission says. Yikes.

“In budget planning, do not count chickens before they are hatched.”
We’ll say this for Mr. Drummond: he’s not afraid to use the folksy language.

“Kicking the can down the road is no solution.”

“Do not hang onto public assets or public service delivery when better options exist. Consider privatizing assets and moving to the private delivery of services wherever feasible.”
Also, when preparing discussions with public-service unions, bring a helmet.

[. . .]

“The province should, in future discussions with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, reject further employer rate increases to [pension plans] beyond the current rate.”
Another one sure to be a hit with the unions. Did you know that on average a teacher retires at 59, having worked 26 years, and collects a pension for 30 years? Me neither.

“The government should work to discuss, in particular, the overproduction of teachers with Ontario’s 13 universities offering teacher education programs.”
The term “overproduction” of teachers makes them sound kind of like widgets.

“Reshape student financial assistance, including the newly announced 30% Off Ontario Tuition grant, to target more of the assistance to low-income students.”
Say, remember that key plank of your election platform? Yeah, you need to totally rethink that.

Getting rid of that messy, obstructive “democracy” thing in Europe

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Government, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:40

Bruno Waterfield on the destruction of democracy in Greece and what it will mean for the rest of the European Union:

What happens in Greece will mark the opening of a new era in European politics. It is important therefore to understand what is and isn’t going on. The crisis is not, as many believe, being driven by ‘neoliberal’ economic policies. It isn’t caused by any Greek cultural propensity to fecklessness either. And, despite the protest graffiti and the timeless appeal of Nazi references, the Greek tragedy is not a plot to restore an explicit German hegemony in Europe. Angela Merkel is no Adolf Hitler.

What is happening in Greece is a crisis of European proportions because it is the sharpest expression of a destructive trend common to all countries in the EU: the twenty-first-century elite mission to place institutions, policy and statecraft above society. The Greek catastrophe, then, is an indicator of what happens when the question of interest or politics becomes the sole preserve of bureaucratic or state structures decoupled from, and increasingly defined against, the public.

Measures imposed on Greece are explicitly declared, even celebrated, as being in opposition to Greek society. Any attempt by political parties to uphold the democratic representation of Greek interests is met with aggressive hostility. Moreover, the EU-IMF programme, or so-called Memorandum of Understanding, for Greece is utterly divorced from economic reality. As documented in the Daily Telegraph, the Eurozone’s policies are pushing Greece into a ‘death spiral’ that defies any economic logic.

Are you for Orwellian surveillance by government thugs or are you with the child pornographers?

Margaret Wente in the Globe & Mail:

Where do you stand on the new online surveillance bill? Are you with the government? Or are you with the child pornographers? According to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, you have to choose.

In case you fail to get the point, the new legislation is being subtly marketed as the Protecting Children From Internet Predators Act. Of course, maybe you don’t really care about protecting children from Internet predators. Maybe you don’t care that without this law, filthy perverts will continue to roam free. Really, it’s your choice.

I am scarcely the first person to point out that Stephen Harper’s government likes to demonize its opponents, or that it has a nasty authoritarian streak. But in this case, the dissent is unusually widespread. Those with doubts about the bill include opposition politicians, civil libertarians, privacy commissioners and Internet experts — plus more than a few small-c conservatives who wonder why our government insists on whipping up unnecessary moral panic when it doesn’t have to.

[. . .]

So why do I stand with the child pornographers here? Because I’m not convinced the police need new powers to root out online child molesters. Judging by the recent highly publicized busts of child-porn rings, their existing powers seem to be working fine. Nor am I convinced that the police will never abuse their power. History shows they usually do. That’s why they need civilian oversight. That’s not liberal, in my view. That’s prudent.

“Protocols of the Elders of Climategate”

Filed under: Environment, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:08

James Delingpole on the Heartland Institute caper:

I wasn’t going to write about yesterday’s Heartland Institute shock-horror revelations in the Guardian because I thought it was a non-story. “Independent libertarian think-tank spends trifling* sums of money to counter the state’s liberal-left propaganda”. Gosh, hold the front page. Run it next to the story about the Pope being caught worshipping regularly in Rome and the photograph of a bear pooping behind a tree…

Since then, though, it has got much more interesting. Turns out that at least some of the “leaked” documents purporting to show the round, unvarnished face of capitalist, anti-science evil may have been faked.

[. . .]

We climate realists don’t think of ourselves as anti-science.

No, really. We think we’re pro-science. That’s what we want science teachers to teach kids in schools: hard science — physics, chemistry, biology. Stuff that’s empirical. Theories that are falsifiable. Not the kind of junk science they teach in places like the school of “environmental” “science” at comedy institutions like the “University” of East Anglia. Because that’s not science at all. It’s computer-modelling, projection, which is more akin to necromancy.

So, next time you try to fake your Protocols of the Elders of Climategate document, guys, at least try to credit the people you’re trying to smear with a bit of integrity. Not everyone is like you, you realise?

The economics of the military-industrial complex

Eisenhower was right: the military-industrial complex has the US government tight within its grip, and there’s no easy fix. Strategy Page has a useful overview:

For decades the U.S. Armed Forces has been having problems with rapidly growing (much greater than inflation) costs of weapons. Congress passes laws to try and cope and the laws are ignored. One example is the laws calling for accurate life-cycle costs (for development, manufacturer, and maintenance of weapons over their entire service life). A recent study found out that, despite laws calling for accuracy and consistency in these numbers, most manufacturers manipulated the data to make their systems look less expensive than they actually were. The Department of Defense is increasingly taking extreme measures in the face of this corruption and cancelling more and more very expensive systems. But the manufacturers continue to use smoke and mirrors to get new projects started and failed ones funded.

New weapons get approved because of another form of procurement corruption, the Low Ball Bid. Last year the U.S. Air Force demanded that defense contractors stop low balling, which in practice means submitting unrealistically low bids for new weapons (to make it easier for Congress to get things started) and then coming back for more and more money as “unforeseen problems” appear and costs keep escalating and delivery is delayed. Currently, procurement projects are about a third over budget and most items are late as well. Procurement of weapons and major equipment make up about a third of the defense budget. While this is expected to decline over the next decade, as defense budgets shrink, the problem also extends to upgrades and refurbishment of existing equipment.

The most intractable problem is the decades old contractor practice of deliberately making an unreasonably low estimate of cost when proposing a design. The military goes along with this, in the interest of getting Congress to approve the money. Since Congress has a short memory the military does not take much heat for this never ending “low ball” planning process.

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