May 31, 2012

GuildMag is holding a contest to give away Guild Wars 2 beta keys

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

ArenaNet distributed some beta keys to several Guild Wars 2 fan sites, including GuildMag (where I’m a contributing writer). We decided to run a contest to decide who should get our allocation of beta keys. We wanted fans to complete the joke “An asura, sylvari and a charr walk into a bar…”

The surge in traffic briefly knocked us offline. The community managers at ArenaNet noticed:

Bush violated US constitution by authorizing drone strikes

Filed under: Government, Law, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:50

At Reason, Judge Andrew Napolitano on the presidential “kill list” and the limits of presidential power under the constitution:

The leader of the government regularly sits down with his senior generals and spies and advisers and reviews a list of the people they want him to authorize their agents to kill. They do this every Tuesday morning when the leader is in town. The leader once condemned any practice even close to this, but now relishes the killing because he has convinced himself that it is a sane and sterile way to keep his country safe and himself in power. The leader, who is running for re-election, even invited his campaign manager to join the group that decides whom to kill.

This is not from a work of fiction, and it is not describing a series of events in the Kremlin or Beijing or Pyongyang. It is a fair summary of a 6,000-word investigative report in The New York Times earlier this week about the White House of Barack Obama. Two Times journalists, Jo Becker and Scott Shane, painstakingly and chillingly reported that the former lecturer in constitutional law and liberal senator who railed against torture and Gitmo now weekly reviews a secret kill list, personally decides who should be killed and then dispatches killers all over the world — and some of his killers have killed Americans.

[. . .]

The president cannot lawfully order the killing of anyone, except according to the Constitution and federal law. Under the Constitution, he can only order killing using the military when the U.S. has been attacked, or when an attack is so imminent and certain that delay would cost innocent American lives, or in pursuit of a congressional declaration of war. Under federal law, he can only order killing using civilians when a person has been sentenced lawfully to death by a federal court and the jury verdict and the death sentence have been upheld on appeal. If he uses the military to kill, federal law requires public reports of its use to Congress and congressional approval after 180 days.

Penn Jillette: Obama’s War on Weed

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:45

Mugabe’s “ambassador” appointment debunked

Filed under: Africa, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:49

It’s a good indicator of how many of us view the United Nations and its doings that a large number of bloggers got taken in by the idea:

Hayes Brown explains in detail. The short version: because of the arcane politics of the UN, Zimbabwe won the right to co-host, along with Zambia, the next meeting of the UN World Tourism Organization’s General Assembly. Brett Schaefer reported that news, which is somewhat outrageous in its own right, on the Heritage Foundation’s blog, adding a sentence:

    The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), created in 1970 and based in Madrid, identifies itself as the “United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.” It announced last year that Zambia and Zimbabwe jointly “won the bid” to host the 20th session of the UNWTO General Assembly in 2013. Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has been appointed a “United Nations international tourism ambassador” in recognition of the promotion and development of tourism.

Oh, those whacky bloggers. I’d like to take this moment to apologize for spreading unsupported rumours that I sourced from shady and unreliable reports in the National Post and the Guardian.

Old worry: the “digital divide”

Filed under: Gaming, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:06

The good news is that the much-feared “digital divide” between the rich and poor never came to pass. Now the worry is rather different:

Remember the “digital divide”? Back in the 1990s, the problem was that poor people did not have enough access to computers and the Internet. Today the problem is that they have too much access. Evidently the digital divide has given way to the “time-wasting gap.” I shit you not. The New York Times reports that bridging the digital divide “created an unintended side effect, one that is surprising and troubling to researchers and policy makers and that the government [naturally] now wants to fix”: “As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites.” Silly lower classes! Don’t they realize this wonderful new technology is for self-improvement, not for pleasure? Something must be done

QotD: A plague on both your houses!

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Protestations from the Obama side that this is all just proof that recession/depression was so much worse than any of us knew that it’s a goddamn great and good thing that Obama is helming the ship of state because if it had been one of those idiot Republicans like George W. Bush we wouldn’t have had bailouts and a stimulus that was too small to really effect the economy — even smaller than the $150 billion tax thingamajig that Bush tried in early 2008 that was really pathetic because we now know that even Obama’s $800 billion attempt was obviously too small christ it should have been two or three or even four times bigger and for god’s sake can’t we just prepare for the alien invasion that Paul Krugman — he won a Nobel Prize so just shut up already! — says will create enough of a multiplier effect to finally restart the economy and screw the debt because we’ll have thousands of years to pay that down, especially now that thank Zardoz we’ve got universal health care that will be awesome if the d-bags on the SCOTUS don’t FUBAR it and Dodd-Frank means there won’t be any fraud or dumb lending!

And of course the Republicans will counter with: See, none of this would have happened if we’d only followed George W. Bush’s disastrous big-government spending ways and expansion of major entitlements and a defense buildup because sharia law is taking over whole hamlets in Oklahoma and our plan to increase annual spending over the next decade by just $1 trillion is so much better than the Prez’s to spend $2 trillion more, especially after increasing federal outlays by 60 percent or more over the previous decade when we controlled things is exactly the tonic the economy needs right now! But seriously folks, what do you expect when you let gay marriage happen? No economy can recover from that!

Nick Gillespie, “Is the Obama Recovery Over? Or Has it Not Really Started Yet?”, Hit and Run, 2012-05-30

May 30, 2012

Inter-provincial trade in wine comes a bit closer to legality

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:13

Gloria Galloway in the Globe and Mail:

Private member’s bills rarely make it this far. But politicians of all stripes rose to echo Mr. Albas’s argument that an 80-year-old wrong needs to be made right.

It is an issue that he says he has been hearing about from his constituents — and from wine growers and lovers across Canada — since the election campaign that brought him to Ottawa for the first time last year.

“Every single winery owner that I have spoken with supports this legislation,” Mr. Albas said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, “especially the small family wineries whose production is so low that they can’t sell through the liquor control monopoly.”

As it stands, anyone who wants to send wine from one province to another for his own consumption must route it through a provincial or territorial liquor control board and must pay the associated taxes and markups.

If a tourist from Saskatchewan visits a winery in Ontario and likes what she is tasting, she is not legally permitted to take it home with her or mail a few bottles to herself. In fact, she could be thrown in prison for up to three months for doing so.

On the other hand, a tourist from Texas could visit the same winery and send crates of the stuff back to his home in Austin.

Update: Whoops. Not so fast … Colby Cosh just sent a twitter update that makes me sad:

Did the NDP really block the wine bill? Why is this occupying more than about 30 seconds of Parliament’s time?

Oh, that’s nice. Thanks, Mr. Mulcair. Good going: that’ll show those wine-swilling Tories who’s boss, won’t it?

Update, the second: Apparently the NDP’s over-enthusiastic supporters talked out the available time to prevent the bill being voted on. This is enough to kill it for this session. Nice, work socialist horde!

The bill would have been sent to the Senate and likely passed into law, if the NDP had agreed to collapse debate and send it to a vote.

Mr. Albas thought he had a deal to do just that because members from all sides of the House were enthusiastic about amending the Prohibition-era Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act that bans wineries across the country from sending their product to another province.

But six NDP MPs were so enthusiastic about their support for the bill, they used up all the available time in an apparent filibuster and Mr. Albas will now have to wait until the fall before he gets a second hour of debate and the chance to go to a vote.

An NDP spokesman said it was an honest mistake. Really? How absent-minded of them. Perhaps they should eat more oily fish.

‘‘This is the stuff that turns most Canadians off politics. It was completely uncalled for,” said Mr. Albas. “I’m disappointed the NDP used petty procedural games, rather than supporting the B.C. and Canadian wine industry.”

Update, 8 June: Well, somehow the filibuster didn’t stop the bill after all:

Canadians will soon be allowed to transport wines across provincial borders after MPs from all parties voted to support a private member’s bill to end the decades-old prohibition. Bill C-311, from British Columbia Tory MP Dan Albas, passed by a vote of 287-0 during third reading in the House of Commons Wednesday. The bill would also allow Canadians to shop for wines online and ship them across borders. “The wine industry has had this thorn in their side for 84 years. It’s time to free the grapes,” Mr. Albas told reporters before the vote. Under the 1928 Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, transporting wines is punishable by a $200 fine or even jail time.

The end of the “predictable” China

Filed under: China, Economics, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:03

Robert D. Kaplan on the end of an era in geopolitical calculations:

The United States has had it easy over the past third of a century in regards to China. Washington has been able to proclaim moral superiority over the Communist Party dictatorship in Beijing, even as those very dictators provided Washington with a stable, businesslike relationship that fostered immense opportunities for American companies in China and for the American economy overall. China’s rulers, ever since Deng Xiaoping consolidated power in 1978, may have been nominally communists, but they have also been professionals and technocrats who have ruled in a self-effacing, collegial style. Yes, they may oppress dissidents, but they have also been enlightened autocrats by the standards of the suffocating rulers who have governed in the Middle East.

But the purging of the pseudo populist boss of the megacity of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, may indicate that a less predictable period in Chinese politics lies ahead. Bo was something not seen in China since Mao Zedong: a leader with real charisma. Bo may indicate that the age of the technocrats will give way to the age of politicians — and politicians, even in liberal democracies, exploit people’s emotions. That could lead to more erratic, nationalistic rulers.

[. . .]

China’s autocrats have for many years been nervously riding a domestic tiger. With communism no longer a philosophical organizing principle for the state, they have had to justify their rule by delivering double-digit annual economic growth — or close to that — to provide jobs for a potentially restive younger generation. Thus, even while China has amassed impressive new air and sea power, it has — by and large — not tried to employ that power in a particularly hostile way. China’s communist rulers have had too much domestically to worry about without creating new problems for themselves by constantly challenging the United States or its allies on the high seas. While China’s push to acquire air-sea power most specifically dates to 1996, when Beijing was humiliated by Washington’s ability to drive two aircraft carrier strike groups through waters near the Taiwan Strait, the building of a substantial air force and navy have so far been part of the natural, organic process of a new and rising great power. At least so far, it has not been particularly destabilizing to the world or regional order, unlike Iran’s push to develop a nuclear capability as part of a drive for Near Eastern leadership. China’s rulers may be dictatorial, but they are not radical and messianic.

New in the battle against Somali pirates: private convoys

Filed under: Africa, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:40

At the BBC News site, Martin Plaut reports on the latest attempt to quell piracy off the shores of Somalia:

Off the pirate-infested waters of Somalia, a new force is taking shape.

The private company Typhon is preparing to operate alongside the world’s navies, offering protection to cargo vessels sailing around the Horn of Africa.

But unlike other private security firms which put guards on board other people’s ships, it will offer vessels of its own.

The chief executive of Typhon, Anthony Sharpe, says the plan is to rendezvous with cargo ships which sign up for their protection and form them into a convoy.

The company says it will establish what it is describing as an exclusion zone of one kilometre around the ships.

The company is buying three boats, which are currently being fitted out in Singapore.

Each of its craft will have up to 40 security officers, drawn from former British Royal Marines, as well as a crew of 20.

The ships will be fitted with machine guns and the staff will have rifles.

More on Robert Mugabe, your Tourism Ambassador

Filed under: Africa, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:30

In the Guardian, David Smith has more on the farcical notion of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as an “Ambassador for Tourism”:

With a line-up that includes Drew Barrymore, David Beckham, Orlando Bloom, and Ricky Martin, the UN’s choice of ambassadors has been known to cause raised eyebrows or the odd smirk.

Seldom, however, has there been such anger, or questioning of the organisation’s credibility, as that greeting the appointment of a new international envoy for tourism: Robert Mugabe.

Improbable as it seems, the Zimbabwean president, who is widely accused of ethnic cleansing, rigging elections, terrorising opposition, controlling media and presiding over a collapsed economy, has been endorsed as a champion of efforts to boost global holidaymaking.

Despite that fact Mugabe, 88, is under a travel ban, he has been honoured as a “leader for tourism” by the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, along with his political ally, Zambian president Michael Sata, 75. The pair signed an agreement with UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai at their shared border at Victoria Falls on Tuesday.

Perhaps, like Obama’s Peace Prize, it’s awarded in expectation that Mugabe will do much to improve tourism in the future?

Boomers versus Millennials

Filed under: Economics, Education, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:09

Barbara Kay on an insight into the generational conflict triggered after a waiter dumps a glass of water into her lap:

We were dining at a good bistro. The waiter — early 20s — accidentally knocked a glass of water onto my lap. Suppressing annoyance, I was summoning a gracious smile to acknowledge his forthcoming apology when instead he chirped, “It’s okay, stuff happens.” Stung, I responded, “You’re unclear on the concept. You’re supposed to say ‘I’m sorry,’ and I’m supposed to say ‘It’s okay, stuff happens.’ ”

Our narrowed eyes locked: the Senior and the Millennial (a.k.a Gen Y or Echo Boomers). I was thinking: Your teflon complacency comes from a lifetime of helicopter parents and teachers ensuring you were failure-proofed to protect your precious self-esteem. He was probably thinking: Why aren’t you dead yet so I can get a decent job and afford the meal I’m serving you.

He would have a point.

We’re witnessing an unprecedented generational social tussle. In 1950, people my age were doddering retirees. Today, we’re healthier longer, enjoying still-productive lives. By clinging to our jobs, or starting new ones, we’re blocking the natural economic pipeline. Yet we’re also hanging on to our untenably expensive government benefits, because politicians genuflect before our massive voting numbers, not to mention our tendency to vote in higher proportions than the already far less numerous 18-34s.

But I have a point too. Cossetted, self-satisfied millennials lack humility and competitive drive. They think real life will echo their easy ride through high school and the artificially inflated grades they got for their dumbed-down university courses. An October 2011 National Report Card on Youth Financial Literacy polled 3,000 recent high school grads on their expectations. More than 70% erroneously assumed they’d own their own home in 10 years. The average respondent over-estimated his future earnings by 300%.

May 29, 2012

Is junk science more credible when presented with a British accent?

Filed under: Britain, Media, Science, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:10

In Slate, Daniel Engber talks about how easy it is for British junk science journalism to get republished in the United States:

More damning was the story’s overseas origin. The five-second study arrived in the American press by way of the Daily Mail, which explained in its own coverage that the work had been funded by a manufacturer of cleaning products, and then advised readers to replace their mop heads every three months so as to “minimize risk” from dangerous bacteria. When I contacted Manchester Metropolitan University for more details, I learned that the “researchers” and “scientists” described in media reports amounted to one person — a lab tech named Kathy Lees, who did not respond to my inquiries.

Let’s not single out the Mancunians, though: Industry-funded science fluff litters the whole of the British Isles. Also in the past few weeks, the U.K. press fawned over a comely chip-shop girl from Kent who was found by a national television network to possess a scientifically validated, perfect face, while the British version of HuffPo reported on a mathematical formula for the “perfect sandwich” — produced by a University of Warwick physicist in collaboration with a major bread manufacturer. Spurious mathematical formulae concocted at the behest of PR firms compose their own journalism beat in England: In recent years, we’ve seen the perfect boiled egg, the perfect day, the perfect breasts, and many more examples of scientists getting paid to turn life into algebra. As a naive magazine intern, I once took an assignment to write up one of these characteristically English equations — a means of calculating the perfect horror movie, in that case. The team of mathematicians behind the research turned out to be a couple of recent grads from King’s College London, who’d watched some movies and gotten drunk on vodka on behalf of Sky Broadcasting. “We only spent a couple of hours doing it,” one of them told me, “and didn’t put all that much thought into whether it works or how accurate it is.”

I love the use of the sure-to-be-useful-frequently term “labvertisements” for this sort of science-flavoured PR spam.

The fuzzy good intentions of equalization and the bad results

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:07

Peter Holle in the National Post, outlining the economic distortions of federal equalization payments in the recipient provinces:

Equalization, viewed critically, does no favours to either the funding or recipient provinces. After 50 years, outside transfers constitute an ever larger portion of the economies in have-not provinces. In an otherwise globally-oriented, market-driven world, Canada’s equalization program has encouraged the development of locally-oriented, public-sector driven economies.

Here are just a few ways that equalization provides incentives to harmful policy, stunting economic growth in the jurisdictions the policy means to help.

  • Inflating the public sector: Equalization has allowed recipient jurisdictions to create disproportionately larger public sectors because someone else is paying the bill. Manitoba’s public sector, for instance, employs 103 people per 1,000 residents, compared to a Canadian average of 84.
  • Politicizing spending. The external funding from equalization has allowed local politicians to build up vote-buying infrastructure with little political cost, by disconnecting taxation from benefit. Quebec’s $7-a-day daycare, and university tuition at less than half the Canadian average, would be unworkable without $7.4-billion in annual equalization subsidies from the rest of Canada.
  • Incentives for higher taxes. A path-breaking study by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies showed that equalization rewards recipient provinces for imposing high and damaging tax rates, which deter private-sector investment and job creation. Manitoba, the only have-not province in Western Canada, has the highest income taxes in the region, and also has the lowest rate of private-sector investment.
  • Artificially inexpensive hydro power. By excluding the true value of renewable hydro energy revenues from the calculation of revenue capacity, the equalization formula rewards Manitoba and Quebec for charging artificially low domestic electricity prices. Below-market prices, in turn, encourage consumers to use more resources that otherwise would be conserved in response to accurate price signals.

Second Guild Wars 2 Beta event scheduled

Filed under: Gaming, Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:06

A happy bit of news to wake up to — if you’re a Guild Wars 2 fan — is that the weekend of June 8-10 will be when ArenaNet will be holding their next beta event:

Your participation is even more important when you consider that we take our beta events very seriously in terms of our development strategy. At ArenaNet, “beta event” means exactly that — it’s a development-centric event in which we test our systems, discover new and exciting bugs, and get pivotal feedback from our testers about what is going in the right direction and what isn’t.

We have listened intently to all of your feedback from our first Beta Weekend Event, and we’ve made great strides toward resolving many of the issues you’ve helped us identify. These include party movement into overflow servers, chat functionality, key bindings, server stability, performance, and many more that we will detail in the near future.

The party mechanic and the chat functionality were both bothersome bugs that I encountered during the first beta weekend event, and I’m happy to hear that they’ve addressed them along with others that I didn’t see.

To take part in the beta event, you need to have a beta invitation or to have pre-purchased (not just pre-ordered) Guild Wars 2. You can pre-purchase a license from the ArenaNet website or from authorized retailers. ArenaNet will also be giving out a limited number of beta keys through their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

A review of the War of 1812 (non-Canadian-centric version)

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:08

The DiploMad appears to be blogging again, and for proof, here’s a neat little capsule of the War of 1812 without the Canadian aspect being treated as the most significant campaigning area of the war:

The war was brought about by British arrogance and American stupidity. The British were not reconciled to an independent United States, and could not take the place and its bombastic pronouncements about liberty seriously. They basically ignored the USA’s assertion of being a sovereign state, and proceeded to treat American ships and seaman as some sort of Brits gone rogue. The USA, for its part, could not understand that the British were in what they saw as a life-and-death struggle with Napoleon Bonaparte. We did not respect that. We reckoned we could trade and make deals with France, such as the spectacular Louisiana Purchase which filled Napoleon’s coffers and served his aim of helping create a huge potential rival to Britain, without raising British concerns or provoking them into action.

[. . .]

The British, despite the war in Europe managed to put together a more than credible military and naval force against the distant United States. The Americans, in turn, showed a talent that would serve us well in future wars by getting our act together at the last minute and putting on a damn good defense of the country. The US army, however, remained plainly horrendous throughout the war with its corrupt and politicized officer corps, and its half-baked, ill-planned and even worse executed invasion of Canada. The US also set the precedent of burning York — today’s Toronto — which led to the British burning of the nascent US capital which the army failed to defend. The army partially redeemed itself in the Battle of New Orleans, under the otherwise reprehensible Andrew Jackson (Note: Why is he on our $20 bill?)

The US navy, however, proved completely different, and did an amazing job of fighting off the much larger British navy, wreaking havoc on it, carrying the war into British waters, and even eliciting a warning from the Admiralty to the Royal Navy to avoid one-on-one combat with US ships. The US navy also fought a superb campaign on the Great Lakes which resulted in the British fleet withdrawing from those waters.

Minor quibble: the Royal Navy withdrew from Lake Erie, not from all the Great Lakes. Lake Ontario was still the scene of a major fleet-building contest with vessels of up to 130 guns under construction or entering service when the war ended.

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