Quotulatiousness

January 31, 2013

Blaming “austerity” for most recent slowdown

Filed under: Economics, Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:47

David Harsanyi discusses the named (by the mainstream media) culprits for the unexpected drop in US fourth-quarter GDP:

So, U.S. consumer confidence unexpectedly plunged in January to its lowest level in more than a year. The U.S. economy unexpectedly posted a contraction in the fourth quarter of 2012 — for the first time since the recession — “defying” expectations that economic growth is in our future.

If the economy were as vibrant as President Barack Obama has told us it is, a belt tightening in a single sector of government surely wouldn’t be enough to bring about “negative growth.” But one did. Unexpectedly. No worries, though. Pundits on the left tell us that this contraction was good news — possibly the best contraction in the history of all contractions. The White House blamed Republicans and, I kid you not, corporate jet owners because — well, who else? But mostly, the left is bellyaching about the end of temporary military spending and a brutal austerity that’s enveloped a once great nation.

There’s a small problem with that argument. There is no austerity. In the fourth quarter of 2012, Washington spent $908 billion, which was $30 billion more than it spent in the last quarter of 2011 and nearly $100 billion more than it spent in the third quarter of 2012. Taxpayers took on another $400 billion in debt during the quarter. If this is poverty, can you imagine what robust spending looks like?

As always, for “austerity” to take the blame, there’d actually have to have been some austerity to start with. The US government certainly hasn’t been practicing austerity over the last four years.

Talking secession … again … and again … and again

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:28

Paul Wells has a few thoughts on secession:

The reason we have spent nearly 40 years debating the effect of referendum results a few points this side or that of 50 per cent is because we have all known for nearly that long that any separatist “victory” in a referendum will be a close thing. If there ever were such a vote, 50 per cent plus a bit on a confusing question, then a sovereignist Quebec government would run into difficulties that don’t have much to do with the text of the Clarity Act and would not be eased by Tom Mulcair’s attempted compromise.

The Supremes sing the hits better than anyone. In their opinion on the Secession Reference, the top court got everyone excited with Paragraph 88, which identifies (Andrew Coyne and many others have said it “invents”) an “obligation on all parties to Confederation to negotiate constitutional changes to respond” to “the clear expression of the desire to pursue secession by the population of a province.” Every six weeks ever since there has been an op-ed in Le Devoir invoking the “obligation to negotiate” as Quebec secessionists’ trump card after a future third-time-lucky majority referendum vote.

It would be so lovely if somebody read more than one paragraph. Having discerned an obligation to negotiate where few had seen one before, the Supremes then ask the obvious question: “What is the content of this obligation to negotiate?” That’s a hell of a question, and since it comes precisely one paragraph after the one that gets everyone so excited, it’d be swell if a few people followed what comes next. The justices promptly “reject two absolutist propositions.” The first is “that there would be a legal obligation on the other provinces and federal government to accede to the secession of a province, subject only to negotiation of the logistical details of secession.” To anyone who says a Yes vote must lead to secession on Quebec’s terms, “we cannot accept this view.” Make the Yes vote as big as you like — Quebec could still not “dictate the terms of a proposed secession to the other parties: that would not be a negotiation at all.”

[. . .]

So a secession attempt would be just about infinitely more complex than the conventional wisdom usually assumes. I haven’t even considered the near-certainty that local secessionist, purely dissolutionist, or U.S.-annexationist movements would pop up across Canada if Quebec began a secession attempt. But surely governments of good will can overcome dissent? Well, maybe, except that the last time Canada’s governments attempted a coast-to-coast set of constitutional amendments — the Charlottetown process of 1992 — the unanimity and best efforts of every head of government in the land wasn’t enough to ensure passage.

There’s a powerful narcotic quality to any conversation that mentions the “Charlatan Accord” for most Canadians over the age of 40: you can see eyes glaze over and lids get heavy the instant that process enters the discussion.

The “clean” side of archaeology

Filed under: History, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:11

BBC News has an interesting segment on how digital technology is changing the field of archaeology:

Archaeologists may not need to get their hands so dirty any more, thanks to the kind of digital technology being pioneered at Southampton University.

Its ‘µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography’ possesses the largest, high energy scanner of its kind in Europe: a ‘micro-CT’ machine manufactured by Nikon.

Capable of resolutions better than 0.1mm — the diameter of a human hair — it allows archaeologists to carefully examine material while still encased in soil.

Using visualisation software, archaeologists can then analyse their finds in 3D. This keeps the material in its original form, and postpones any commitment to the painstaking process of excavation by hand.

Video of the machine in operation at the BBC News site.

Randy Moss is not the greatest NFL receiver … but he could have been

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Judd Zulgad agrees that Randy Moss was a great wide receiver during his career in Minnesota, was even better in New England, but he was not the best ever:

Randy Moss declared this week that he believes he is the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game.

Moss is wrong. He’s not.

That honor belongs to Jerry Rice and from there the debate about who is second can begin.

But in giving ESPN and sports-talk shows invaluable fodder to discuss during Super Bowl week, one has to wonder this about Moss: Will he wake up one day long after his NFL career is over and realize that he could have been the greatest receiver to have played if only he had elected to apply himself.

There are no denying Moss’ talents.

Moss, who at 35 is spending the twilight of his career with the San Francisco 49ers, served almost immediate notice upon his arrival with the Minnesota Vikings in 1998 that NFL teams had made a mistake by passing on him 19 times in the first round of that draft.

In his rookie season, Moss helped to redefine how we thought about the wide receiver position.

[. . .]

Cris Carter might not have been beloved by the media, but he tried his best to mold Moss into a professional in 1998. Moss arrived back in Minnesota for a tumultuous month in 2010 and did far more damage than good in numerous areas, including when it came to Percy Harvin’s development.

Moss attempted to point out Wednesday the quality of quarterbacks that Rice had to work with during the majority of his career. What Moss failed to mention is that he spent three-plus seasons with a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Tom Brady and broke Rice’s record by catching 23 touchdown passes in 2007.

Guess who ruined the relationship between Moss and the Patriots? It wasn’t the football team. Rice bounced around late in his career because he wanted to hang on too long. Moss began to bounce around during the prime of his career because he had become a pain.

Moss, like Brady, should go into Canton, Ohio, on the first ballot when he’s eligible — it looks like he wants to stick around for at least one more season — and he should go down as a receiver who helped change the NFL as we know it.

What he won’t go down as is the greatest receiver of all time. For that, Randy Moss has no one to blame but himself.

January 30, 2013

“The only people [DRM] annoys are the ones who have [acquired] legal copies”

Filed under: Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:12

At Techdirt, Glyn Moody explains why the attempt to add DRM to the HTML5 standard is doomed to failure:

You would have thought by now that people would understand that DRM is not only a bad idea, but totally unnecessary: Apple dropped DRM from music downloads in 2009 and seems to be making ends meet. Despite these obvious truths, the stupidity that is DRM continues to spread. Here, for example, is a particularly stupid example of DRM stupidity, as revealed by Manu Sporny:

    A few days ago, a new proposal was put forward in the HTML Working Group (HTML WG) by Microsoft, Netflix, and Google to take DRM in HTML5 to the next stage of standardization at W3C.

After all, this is exactly what Web users have been crying out for: “just give us DRM for the Web, and our lives will be complete….”

[. . .]

That clearly implies that when people are not sharing their own content with family and friends, then they are indeed adversaries:

    This “user is not an adversary” text can be found in the first question about use cases. It insinuates that people that listen to radio and watch movies online are potential adversaries. As a business owner, I think that’s a terrible way to frame your customers.

    Thinking of the people that are using the technology that you’re specifying as “adversaries” is also largely wrong. 99.999% of people using DRM-based systems to view content are doing it legally. The folks that are pirating content are not sitting down and viewing the DRM stream, they have acquired a non-DRM stream from somewhere else, like Mega or The Pirate Bay, and are watching that.

This is the fundamental reason why DRM is doomed and should be discarded: the only people it annoys are the ones who have tried to support creators by acquiring legal copies. How stupid is that?

Pirates_vs_Paying_Customers_full

Sequestration cuts must be more likely to happen because the sob stories are getting traction

Filed under: Economics, Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:53

Tad Dehaven thinks the upsurge in horror stories about what sequestration will do to the US economy means it’s more likely that those cuts will actually take place:

The odds that $85 billion in “unthinkable, draconian” sequestration spending cuts will go into effect in March as scheduled are looking better. The odds must be getting better because, as if on cue, the horror stories have commenced.

A perfect example is an article in the Washington Post that details the angst and suffering being experienced by federal bureaucrats and other taxpayer dependents over the mere possibility that the “drastic” cuts will occur. You see, the uncertainty surrounding the issue has forced government employees to draw up contingency plans. Contingency plans? Oh, the humanity!

[. . .]

I certainly believe that Washington’s bouncing from one manufactured fiscal crisis to the next is detrimental to the economy, but my sympathy lies with the private sector – not the federal bureaucracy. It’s the private sector that has been suffering under the constant uncertainty surrounding federal tax and regulatory policy. And let’s not forget that there is no public sector without the private sector – the former existing entirely at the latter’s expense.

Yet, what follows in the Post article is boo-hoo after boo-hoo without the slightest regard to those who are paying for it or whether the whiner’s agency could use some belt-tightening

American fourth quarter GDP down 0.1%

Filed under: Economics, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:29

The optimistic folks at Business Insider assure us that the unexpectedly bad number for the US fourth quarter hides some good news:

People will be stunned to see that today’s GDP report went negative for Q4… the first negative print since The Great Recession.

But the report isn’t that bad. In fact it was arguably good.

For one thing, most of the collapse was due to a stunning fall in military spending. That’s not good for GDP, but it doesn’t reflect the real underlying strength of the economy.

And it’s mostly due to war drawdown. That’s a good thing for everyone!

There’s a big, unstated reason for illegal immigration in the United States

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Law, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:07

The illegal immigration problem won’t improve until the American government addresses the difficulties of legal immigration:

Reason, October 2008 - What Part of Legal Immigration Don't You Understand?!?!?

Reason, October 2008 – What Part of Legal Immigration Don’t You Understand?!?!?

Click the image to see the larger version.

QotD: Confirmation-Bias Theatre Of The Absurd

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Unlike Andrew Coyne and Pierre Karl Péladeau, I am no expert on CRTC television policy. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a “must-carry” Class A license, a Class B carry-at-will, and a class X concealed-carry. But I do know a little about what makes for good journalism. And on that basis, I’d hate to see Sun News get taken off the air for want of revenue.

Sun’s enemies accuse the network’s hosts of being a bunch of haters. And it’s hard to deny the charge. Among the people they hate: Occupy protesters, fake hunger strikers and sanctimonious left-wing activists.

And Omar Khadr. Wow, do they hate Omar Khadr.

We know this because Sun News TV segments tend to go light on actual news, and heavy on middle-aged white guys shouting about people they don’t like. Sometimes, they sit around their Toronto studio interviewing each other. It’s a sort of performance art that might well be dubbed — by the surprisingly large number of left-wing Toronto hipsters who watch the channel ironically — as Confirmation-Bias Theatre Of The Absurd.

Jonathan Kay, “David Suzuki is poster boy for why Canada needs Sun’s brand of journalism”, National Post, 2013-01-29

January 29, 2013

NYC’s petty bureaucrats and the evolution of modern jazz

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:09

From the latest issue of Reason, Chris Kjorness outlines some of the pitfalls New York City thoughtfully put in the way of some of the greatest performers of Jazz:

For more than two decades musicians, comedians, and anyone else employed by a Gotham nightclub would be fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed by police in exchange for a license to work. The card had to be renewed every two years, and it could be revoked at the whim of the police. The story of the cabaret card illustrates how small men with a little bit of power can inhibit creative expression, stifle artistic growth, and humiliate individual citizens, all in the name of the “public good.”

The cabaret card had its origins in the roaring ’20s. Prohibition made outlaws out of ordinary Americans, and the allure of booze, jazz, and debauchery brought the upper and lower classes together in clandestine after-hours spots. It was the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and white New Yorkers frequently made the trip uptown, looking for adventure and an escape from the tight moral constraints of downtown society.

[. . .]

More than just a barrier to work, the cabaret card for beboppers was an impediment to self-expression and artistic fulfillment. While originating in nightclubs, bebop represented something much more than bar music. The color line had not been broken in American symphony orchestras, so for a young black musician at a prestigious music conservatory — Miles Davis at Julliard, for example — sharing a cramped stage in a 52nd Street nightclub with someone like Charlie Parker was the highest realization of artistic ambition. But before he could do so, a musician would have to be judged not just by lauded masters and discerning aficionados but by the police.

Cops distrusted beboppers for three main reasons: The new breed of jazzmen were anti-establishment, they were confrontational in matters of race, and they had a fondness for heroin. The police had an unlikely ally in their crusade against the upstarts: older establishment jazz musicians who had their own reasons to dislike the beboppers.

In a 1951 Ebony article, Cab Calloway, a king of the 1930s jazz world, decried the widespread drug use in the current jazz scene. Though Calloway didn’t single anyone out by name, the magazine illustrated his essay with photos of bebop musicians, and the publication coincided with an upswing in police enforcement. One musician snared in this crackdown was Charlie Parker.

Taking the fight against CCTV surveillance to the streets of Berlin

Filed under: Europe, Government, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:00

TechEye looks at the “gamification” of resistance against CCTV surveillance in Berlin:

A group of German activists has come up with an intriguing campaign to counter state surveillance — turning the destruction of CCTV cameras into a game.

Dubbed ‘Camover’, the aim of the game is simple: destroy as many CCTV cameras as possible.

Once your target is destroyed, you can upload a video of the act to YouTube for internet points and kudos. The rules say players should come up with a name starting with ‘command’, ‘brigade’, or ‘cell’, followed by the name of a historical figure, then destroying as many CCTV cameras as possible.

“Video your trail of destruction and post it on the game’s website,” the activists suggest, but warn that the homepage is continuously being shut down. It’s recommended that players conceal their identities, but this is “not essential”.

Economic analysis of Imperial Rome

Filed under: Economics, Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:43

A post by Jasmine Pui at History Today discusses a new online tool for economic analysis of the Roman Empire:

Sea routes in July AD 200

A recently launched online interactive research source, ORBIS, the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, has made it possible to analyse data about the Roman Empire in new ways that reveal the fragility of Roman communication and freight systems. Conventional maps are often unable to capture the environmental constraints that govern the flows of people, goods and information. Museum and ancient sites usually include titbits of information about the wide-ranging origins of artefacts, hinting at the relative cost of goods and labour in the Roman era, but factors such as sailing times and inland routes for freight cannot be precisely revealed through archaeological finds, Roman coins, taxation records or riot reports.

The first resource of its kind, ORBIS offers comprehensive graphic tools to portray the transport and communication infrastructure that underpinned the Roman Empire’s existence. By typing in a starting point, destination, an imagined weight of goods to transport and the time of year, the site shows whether such a movement would have been feasible and at what cost. Studying movement during the course of the empire’s existence suggests it was far more difficult to hold an empire together than to expand one. There are few scenarios where marching and conquering is not easier and less costly than moving goods and slaves between regions. Cost, rather than distance, was the principal determinant of connectivity in the Roman world.

ORBIS is based on a simplified version of the giant network of cities, roads, rivers and sea lanes that framed movement across the Roman Empire. The Stanford team has relied on data such as historical tide and weather information, size and grade of road surfaces and an average walking distance of 30 kilometres per day. Hundreds of cities, ports and routes, vehicle speeds for ships, ox carts and horses, as well as the variable cost of transport have been logged. The data mainly focuses on the period around AD 200, when Septimius Severus expanded control of Africa and Roman power was at one of its peaks.

Last things

Filed under: Humour, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

By way of Gerard Vandeleun’s Ka-Ching! blog on Tumblr:

Internet-age Medic Alert Bracelet

Next year’s calendars will be for the year “2013+1″ to avoid paying the IOC a licensing fee

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Law, Media, Sports — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Just when you think the depths of idiocy have been fully plumbed, there’s the International Olympic Committee to prove you wrong:

Via the IPKat we learn that the IOC has already locked down next year in preparation for the Winter Olympics. No, seriously. A trademark on the number “2014,” which non-coincidentally happens to be a (lesser) Olympic year, has been granted by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office.

    The IPKat’s attention has been drawn to Community Trade Mark E3307444. The mark in question consists of the number “2014”, which no-one would ever imagine to be the appellation by which next year might just be known. Applied for in 2003 and registered in 2005, this mark is owned by none other than the Comité International Olympique of Château de Vidy, Lausanne.

So, with the kind of efficiency you only find in the most brutal of trademark bullies, the IOC has trademarked a number many people were planning to use starting next January, nine years in advance. And the IOC isn’t leaving anything to chance. It has staked a claim on all 45 of the possible registration classes, including (but good god, certainly not limited to) chemicals, pharmaceuticals, metals/alloys, machines, tools, scientific equipment, surgical instruments, lighting, heating, vehicles, firearms, musical instruments, furniture, ropes, tarps, string, textiles, toys, coffee, fresh fruits and vegetables, beer, other alcoholic beverages, tobacco, insurance, conferences and seminars, design and development of computer programs, restaurant services, asbestos and security.

Anything and everything possibly covered by a registered trademark has been nailed down by the Committee, making it very possible that anyone using the number “2014” in the year 2014 might find themselves dealing with the IOC’s trademark cops.

January 28, 2013

Japanese finance minister: “elderly are an unnecessary drain on the country’s finances”

Filed under: Government, Health, Japan — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:32

The Guardian reports on recent comments by the new finance minister in Japan:

Japan’s new government is barely a month old, and already one of its most senior members has insulted tens of millions of voters by suggesting that the elderly are an unnecessary drain on the country’s finances.

Taro Aso, the finance minister, said on Monday that the elderly should be allowed to “hurry up and die” to relieve pressure on the state to pay for their medical care.

“Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government,” he said during a meeting of the national council on social security reforms. “The problem won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die.”

Aso’s comments are likely to cause offence in Japan, where almost a quarter of the 128 million population is aged over 60. The proportion is forecast to rise to 40% over the next 50 years.

[. . .]

To compound the insult, he referred to elderly patients who are no longer able to feed themselves as “tube people”. The health and welfare ministry, he added, was “well aware that it costs several tens of millions of yen” a month to treat a single patient in the final stages of life.

Cost aside, caring for the elderly is a major challenge for Japan’s stretched social services. According to a report this week, the number of households receiving welfare, which include family members aged 65 or over, stood at more than 678,000, or about 40% of the total. The country is also tackling a rise in the number of people who die alone, most of whom are elderly. In 2010, 4.6 million elderly people lived alone, and the number who died at home soared 61% between 2003 and 2010, from 1,364 to 2,194, according to the bureau of social welfare and public health in Tokyo.

The government is planning to reduce welfare expenditure in its next budget, due to go into force this April, with details of the cuts expected within days.

Sadly, expect more of this kind of comment from hard-pressed governments as the baby boomers move out of work and into retirement.

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