February 28, 2013

“All rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are subject to reasonable limitations”

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:03

The Supreme Court of Canada demonstrated a lack of belief in the value of free speech in yesterday’s Whatcott ruling:

The very first line in the Supreme Court’s calamitous decision in the case of Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott gives a clue to where it is going. “All rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” it declares, “are subject to reasonable limitations.”

This is a legal truism, but as always it is as important what the Court did not say. It did not choose to begin a ruling on an important freedom of speech case with a ringing affirmation of the importance of free speech, or what an extraordinary thing it is to place restrictions upon it.

Indeed, in its haste to get on with the limiting, it did not even pause to properly quote the section of the Charter that grants the state such authority. The Charter “guarantees” the rights set out in it, Section 1 declares, “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The limits don’t just have to be reasonable. They have to be “demonstrably justified.”

Where the Court’s view of such limits is expansive and approving, the Charter is grudging (“only”) and cautious (“demonstrably”). That’s as it should be. If we accept the bedrock premise of a free society, that government is its servant and not its master, then it is up to the state, always, to ask the citizens’ permission before it intrudes on their liberty, and to prove its necessity: it is never the citizen’s obligation to show why he may remain unmolested. That spirit is lamentably absent from the Court’s reasoning.

The headline really does say it all

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:51

Jon, my former virtual landlord, sent me a link to this article in the Toronto Star. I’m just gobsmacked:

Black police officer faces charges for not investigating racial taunts against himself
A black York Regional Police officer faces misconduct charges for his handling of a farm party turned ugly, when he was allegedly subjected to repeated racial taunts and told, “I would love to see that guy hanging from a tree.”

A black York Region officer faces Police Act charges for not investigating racial taunts thrown at him when he was called to a bush party.

Const. Dameian Muirhead, 33, is charged with three counts of misconduct for his handling of a farm party turned ugly, where he was allegedly subjected to repeated racial slurs and told, “I would love to see that guy hanging from a tree.”

Muirhead, an eight-year veteran, was charged with insubordination and discreditable conduct over the way he allegedly investigated the party on the Victoria Day long weekend in May 2011. A partygoer lodged the complaint, saying he was rudely treated — but Muirhead also faces a neglect of duty charge for failing to properly investigate the racial remarks.

A police disciplinary hearing which began Tuesday was told that Muirhead and other officers were sent to the party after a woman was seriously injured when run over by an off-road vehicle.

White House staffer tells Bob Woodward he’ll “regret doing this” over sequestration criticisms

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:38

The White House has taken note of the Washington Post columnist’s out-of-line comments:

The best-selling author and Washington Post reporter is protesting White House pushback over his criticism of how Obama and aides are handling the sequester issue.

“It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this,” Woodward told CNN, citing an e-mail he received from “a senior person” at the White House.

“I mean, it makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, you’re going to regret doing something that you believe in,” Woodward said.

In a statement, the White House said that “of course no threat was intended. As Mr. Woodward noted, the e-mail from the aide was sent to apologize for voices being raised in their previous conversation. The note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more. And Mr. Woodward responded to this aide’s e-mail in a friendly manner.”

All we can say is: We know more than a few reporters have received similar e-mails from White House officials. Yelling has also been known to happen.

Nice newspaper you’ve got here, Mister Woodward. It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it, yeah?

Update: Matt Welch rounds up the media reactions here.

It has been a special night on Twitter for those of us who take a perverse interest in the way that ideologically aligned journalists and politicos will pack-attack critics of a sitting American president. Seems that Washington Post investigative-journalism legend Bob Woodward crossed a bridge too far when, in talking about reaction to his narrative-debunking Feb. 22 piece pinning the origination of the sequester directly on a White House that had vociferously denied paternity, has now gone on to dish on a “senior White House official” (later identified as White House Economic Council Director Gene Sperling) who “yelled at me for about a half hour” about the op-ed, and warned that “I think you will regret staking out that claim.”

North Korea struggling with loss of faith in the state

Filed under: Asia, China, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:50

Strategy Page on the challenges facing the government as the younger generation grows up:

A major source of information about North Korea is obtained by South Korean intelligence experts interviewing the steady flow of refugees arriving in South Korea (via China and the South Korean embassies in neighboring countries like Thailand). For the last decade, over a thousand of these refugees have arrived each year. In the last few years China and North Korea have increased their efforts to reduce that number, which peaked at 2,900 in 2009 and was 1,500 last year. These determined and desperate people keep coming. Separate interviews are compared and checked against each other to obtain an updated and accurate first-hand view of life in the north. This also helps detect the spies North Korea tries (often with success) getting into the south via the refugee route. While the refugees detail the growing decline in living standards up north, it’s also become clear that there is a very real generational shift in loyalties in the north. The generation who grew up during the 1990s famine (that killed about ten percent of the population and starved most of the rest for years) no longer believe in the North Korean dictatorship. Many who came of age before 1990 still do, but for most everyone under 30 the state is the enemy and self-reliance, and not a benevolent dictatorship, is the only way to survive. The North Korean government has been fighting these attitudes more and more, as this generation of unbelievers grows larger each year. The more astute members of the northern leadership see this as a no-win situation. Eventually most North Koreans will be very hostile to the state and more adept at making money in spite of the government, or simply getting out of the country. Most of the leadership is still afraid of enacting Chinese style economic reforms because they believe a more affluent population would seek revenge for the decades of misrule and tyranny. The Chinese say that didn’t happen in China. The North Koreans point out that, as bad as the Chinese communists were in the 1950s and 60s (killing over 50 million people via starvation, labor camps and execution) that was not as bad (proportionately) as what the North Koreans have suffered. Moreover, the North Korean leaders point out that, historically, Koreans have been a bit more excitable and brutal when aroused by misrule. The Chinese say times have changed but the North Korean leaders are not yet willing to bet their lives on that being the case.

The refugees report that most North Koreans understand that the police state up there is strong enough to suppress any uprising now or in the foreseeable future and that the only real threat to the dictatorship is intervention (openly or via a coup) by China. Refugees also report that it’s common knowledge that hundreds of North Koreans have died of radiation poisoning or been born with birth defects because of the uranium mining and working with nuclear materials. The government has responded by offering large cash bonuses to those who will work in the uranium mines. The refugees report in detail many other ways the Kim government abuses their subjects.

Cybersecurity … can it be anything more than fear + handwaving = “we must have a law!”

Filed under: Business, Government, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick fisks “the worst article you might ever read about ‘Cybersecurity'”:

There has been a lot of discussion lately about “cybersecurity” “cyberwar” “cyberattacks” and all sorts of related subjects which really really (really!) could do without the outdated and undeniably lame “cyber-” prefix. This is, in large part, due to the return of CISPA along with the White House’s cybersecurity executive order. Of course, the unfortunate part is that we’re still dealing in a massive amount of hype about the “threats” these initiatives are trying to face. They’re always couched in vague and scary terms, like something out of a movie. There are rarely any specifics, and the few times there are, there is no indication how things like CISPA would actually help. The formula is straightforward: fear + handwaving = “we must have a law!”

However, I think we may now have come across what I believe may top the list of the worst articles ever written about cybersecurity. If it’s not at the top, it’s close. It is by lawyer Michael Volkov, and kicks off with a title that shows us that Volkov is fully on board with new laws and ramping up the FUD: The Storm Has Arrived: Cybersecurity, Risks And Response. As with many of these types of articles, I went searching for the evidence of these risks, but came away, instead, scratching my head, wondering if Volkov actually understands this subject at all, with his confused thinking culminating in an amazing paragraph so full of wrong that almost makes me wonder if the whole thing is a parody.

[. . .]

There’s been plenty of talk about these Chinese hacks, which definitely do appear to be happening. But, what economic activity has been undermined? So far, the hacks may have been a nuisance, but it’s unclear that they’ve done any real damage. It is also unclear how CISPA helps stop such hacks, other than making Congress feel like it’s “done something.”

Are there issues with online security that need to be taken seriously? Yes, absolutely. Do we need legislation to deal with those problems? That’s debatable, and we’re still waiting for some evidence not just of scary sounding threats, but that this kind of legislation will actually help. Unfortunately, this article keeps us waiting. But, it did make us laugh. Unintentionally (we think).

February 27, 2013

RIP Allan B. Calhamer

Filed under: Gaming, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:33

The creator of the game Diplomacy died this week:

I was a big fan of the game for many years, even publishing a play-by-mail “zine”, as I mentioned a couple of months back:

Long ago, in the days before personal computers were ubiquitous, there were “zines” (short for magazines, correctly reflecting both non-professional status and less-than-totally-serious content). There was a wide variety of zines for all sorts of interests — rather like the back corners of the internet today, except they were physically distributed using the post office (and therefore had to stay within certain boundaries to be safe). Clive and I used to publish a zine for postal Diplomacy:

Infidel 11 cover
Download PDF
Infidel 12 cover
Download PDF

Update: Should have included a hat-tip to John Kovalic, who linked to a highly appropriate Dork Tower strip from last year.

Update, the second: The Chicago Sun-Times obituary:

To people in La Grange Park, Allan B. Calhamer was the guy who delivered the mail.

But to those who have played Diplomacy — the popular board game he invented while a law student at Harvard — Mr. Calhamer, who died Monday, was a geek god.

Back in the Fortran era, the game was a sort of board-game version of TV’s Survivor set in pre-World War I Europe, with its shifting alliances, deception and back-stabbing.

[. . .]

In an article he wrote for diplomacy-archive.com, Mr. Calhamer said the game can “make some people almost euphoric and causes others to shake like a leaf.”

“It’s pitiless because, in the game Diplomacy, there will be one winner,” said game designer Steve Jackson, founder of Steve Jackson Games. “You negotiate, you make deals, you lie.”

Game experts and industry analysts say “Dip” influenced generations of designers.

More than 50 years after Mr. Calhamer invented it, enthusiasts still engage in Diplomacy all-nighters, their long stretches of quiet strategizing punctuated by occasional shouts like: “You gave me your word you would attack Berlin!” And: “My own mother took part of Russia from me!” That’s according to chatter on boardgamegeek.com.

The game is jokingly referred to as a pastime that has been “Destroying Friendships since 1959,” said Mike Webb, vice president of marketing and data services for Alliance Game Distributors.

Parliamentary Budget Officer conducting “constitutional vandalism”

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:58

Senator Anne Cools is displeased by the PBO’s ongoing legal and media campaign against the Federal government:

An independent senator says the parliamentary budget watchdog, Kevin Page, overstepped his mandate by taking the government to court in a battle for spending figures, and the Senate should force Page to withdraw the legal proceedings.

In a speech to the Senate Tuesday, Sen. Anne Cools argued that Page’s regular comments to reporters and more recent comments to his international counterparts about his battles with the government over spending figures were “provocative and inflammatory public statements” that are “intolerable and unacceptable.”

Page’s actions, Cools argued, were tantamount to contempt of Parliament, were a breach of parliamentary privilege and were affecting the Senate’s credibility to carry out its functions.

“Contemptuous and un-parliamentary,” she said of Page’s actions and comments, “they are constitutional vandalism.”

“They are inappropriate conduct from a Library officer under the direction of the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons. This Senate cannot accept this and should take some ‘shock-no-more’ actions.”

Is the President a munchkin?

Filed under: Gaming, Government, Humour, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:18

Moe Lane compares the type of role-playing gamer that most RPG’ers dislike the most to the current performance of President Obama in his role:

To begin with: a munchkin (or power gamer, or mini-maxer, or a bunch of terms that cannot be repeated here) is a type of gamer (roleplaying, computer, roleplaying-computer) who looks for loopholes in the rules — because games have rules, and there isn’t a ruleset in the world that cannot be manipulated by somebody with enough motivation/obsession. And it turns out that the American Democratic primary system was full of such loopholes, which is why Barack Obama won the nomination in 2008 despite losing almost all the big Democratic primary states […] And it also turns out that the intersection of our electoral system with our rapidly-expanding online culture can produce what computer gamers call “exploits:” which is to say, a glitch in the system that gives someone an unintended benefit (if it just crashes the system, it’s a bug). Strictly speaking, the system is not designed to elevate a state Senator to the Presidency in five years — for what turned out to be very good reasons — but it can be done.

The problem, though, is that Barack Obama (and I should note that I am lumping his election team in with him here, as Obama largely does not really have much of an independent personality himself) has what the gaming community calls “mini-maxed” himself. Let me explain that one a bit more: lots of video games allow for the player to control a character that gets better at the game as he or she goes through the various game ‘boards.’ Special abilities, improved combat techniques, cool-looking items: if you’re playing a game that is something else besides a straight combat game, you can usually improve how you interact with computer-generated characters (“NPCs”) in the game, or learn how to make your own cool items, or whatever else the game designers thought that you’d like to do. Since gamers like to have unique characters (this is very much the young adult male equivalent to playing dress-up with dolls) there’s usually a way to customize your character, which is to say: people get to choose how and where the character improves.

Mini-maxing is when a player designs a character that is fantastically good at one thing, at the expense of everything else. So you could end up with a character who is, say, obscenely good at hitting things with a sword — but can’t convince a bunch of sailors to drink free beer. The mini-maxer doesn’t mind; he’ll just go around the game trying to resolve as many problems as he can by hitting them with a sword (tabletop gamers — err, “D&D players” — often call this The Gun is My Skill List, although obviously substitute a sword for a gun in the name). The problems that the mini-maxer can’t resolve that way he’ll either ignore until later, or else flail about on the screen while hitting the buttons quickly and/or at random (“button-mashing”), in the hopes that eventually the laws of probability will allow him to bull on through anyway.

And that’s where we are now. Barack Obama knows how to do one thing: elect Barack Obama to public office. And that’s not ‘elect Democrats.’ Or ‘elect liberals.’ Or even ‘elect people that Barack Obama likes.’ It’s just him: his team is trying pretty hard right now to figure out how to use their over-specialized skill more generally, but they don’t have much time to figure it out and the system is actually rigged against them in this case. Barack Obama certainly doesn’t know how to govern effectively; take away a Congress that will rubber-stamp the Democratic agenda and he flails about. He’s so bad at this, in fact, that when confronted with a situation where all he had to do was do nothing to fulfill a campaign promise (the tax cuts) we somehow ended up with a situation where Obama gave in on 98% of those tax cuts and voluntarily signed up to take the blame for the AMT fix. In short: Obama was woefully unprepared for the Presidency, and he hasn’t really spent the last four years trying to catch up. Instead, he goes from situation to situation either trying to recast the problem in ways that he does have some skill in (permanent campaigning for office), or else… flail about on the scene while hitting people’s buttons quickly and/or at random, in the hopes that eventually the laws of probability will allow him to bull on through anyway.

H/T to Jim Geraghty for the link.

Australia’s “human rights enforcement” industry

Australia, like Canada, has a large and over-mighty set of bureaucracies empowered to pursue “human rights” scofflaws (I put “human rights” in scare quotes because the most prominent cases in both countries appear to be enforcement of certain privileges rather than ensuring equal rights for all). Nick Cater says that the joyride for these — if you’ll pardon the expression — kangaroo courts may be coming to an end:

Quietly at first, but with a swelling, indignant chorus, respectable Australians of unimpeachable character began howling Roxon’s bill down. The contrivance of describing race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or 14 other grounds for victimhood as ‘protected attributes’ jarred; the inclusion of industrial history, breastfeeding or pregnancy or social origin suggested overkill; the reversal on the onus of proof, obliging alleged racists, misogynists and wheelchair kickers to demonstrate their innocence, seemed a step too far. The ABC’s chairman, Jim Spigelman, a lawyer of some standing, voiced his concerns about the outcome of the Bolt case. ‘I am not aware of any international human-rights instrument or national anti-discrimination statute in another liberal democracy that extends to conduct which is merely offensive’, Mr Spigelman said. ‘We would be pretty much on our own in declaring conduct which does no more than offend to be unlawful. The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech.’

[. . .]

Unlike political opinion, attributes like age or gender or sexuality are objective facts. They did not have to be demonstrated. As Senator Brandis pointed out: ‘There is no imperative for a 45-year-old man to go around saying, “I’m 45”. That does not happen.’ Political opinion, however, means nothing unless it is expressed.

Brandis: ‘I do not know if you are familiar with Czeslaw Milosz’s work The Captive Mind, or Arthur Koestler’s book Darkness At Noon… The whole point of political freedom is that there is an imperishable conjunction between the right to hold the opinion and the right to express the opinion. That is why political censorship is so evil — not because it prohibits us holding an opinion but because it prohibits us articulating the opinion that we hold.

‘We all agree that there is no law in Australia that says you cannot have a particular opinion. We all agree that there are certain laws in Australia, including defamation laws, that limit the freedom of speech. My contention is that there should not, in a free society, be laws that prohibit the expression of an opinion… This attempt to say, “Holding an opinion is one thing but expressing an opinion is quite different”, is terribly dangerous in a liberal democratic politic.’

Sequestration and the defence budget

Filed under: Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:10

At the Cato At Liberty blog, Christopher Preble graphically refutes the notion that sequestration will automatically weaken the US military:

Click to see full-size infographic at the Cato Institute blog.

Click to see full-size infographic at Cato At Liberty.

Military spending will remain at roughly 2006 levels — $603 billion, higher than peak U.S. spending during the Cold War. Meanwhile, we live in a safer world. The Soviet Union has been dead for more than two decades; no other nation, or combination of nations, has emerged since that can pose a comparable threat. We should have a defense budget that reflects this reality.

To be clear, sequestration was no one’s first choice. But the alternative — ever-increasing military spending detached from a legitimate debate over strategy — is worse. We should have had such a debate, one over the roles and missions of the U.S. military, long before this day of reckoning. And politicians could have pursued serious proposals to prudently reduce military spending. Instead, they chose the easy way out, avoiding difficult decisions that would have allowed for smarter cuts.

Update: Nick Gillespie explains why you shouldn’t worry too much about the sequester:

Update, the second: Putting the actual numbers in perspective:

QotD: “There ought to be a law”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Before 25-30 years ago, most people had a sense of what the law was, without having to go to law school, because they understood, intuitively, that some things were bad. Mala in se, the law calls it — “bad in itself.”

But the criminal codes have proliferated mala prohibata offenses — “bad just because the law has prohibited it” — like evil freedom-eating Tribbles for 30 years.

Do you know what you are currently permitted to do? Do you know what you will face a criminal penalty for doing?

You don’t. None of us are aware of the myriad laws we’re breaking every day, simply by doing things that seem obviously legal but some vicious Marxist bureaucrat somewhere decided to put you in jail for.

And this state of affairs works out perfectly for the Marxists.

30 years ago, you’d just assume that anything that wasn’t obviously contrary to morality was legal. That is, you’d have a built-in default setting of assuming liberty. And that assumption of liberty would then propel you to take actions.

But now, you have to assume that many things that aren’t contrary to morality are illegal anyway. And so you now have — quel coincidence! — a built-in default setting of assuming prohibition. And that assumption that many of the things you’d like to do are illegal and criminal thereby reduces your desire to take any action at all.

You become docile, unmotivated, compliant, and risk-averse.

And this state of affairs works out perfectly for those who would control you. Only half the things you’d like to do are actually criminal, but you assume the rest might be too, thus putting it in your head you need State Permission to take virtually any action besides going to work and, of course, paying the state its dues.

Ace, “Enemy of the State”, Ace of Spades HQ, 2013-02-26

February 26, 2013

Kipling rediscovered

Filed under: Britain, History, Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 17:27

In the Guardian, Alison Flood talks about the newly discovered Rudyard Kipling poems:

Kipling scholars are celebrating the publication of lost poems by the author whose exhortations in “If” to “keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you” are regularly voted the nation’s favourite poem. Discovered by the American scholar Thomas Pinney in an array of hiding places including family papers, the archive of a former head of the Cunard Line and during renovations at a Manhattan house, more than 50 previously unpublished poems by Rudyard Kipling will be released for the first time next month.

The collection includes several poems dating from the first world war, which Kipling initially supported, helping his son John to gain a commission in the Irish Guards.

A short poem, “The Gambler”, finishes with the couplet: “Three times wounded; three times gassed / Three times wrecked – I lost at last”, while another fragment runs: “This was a Godlike soul before it was crazed / No matter. The grave makes whole.”

After his son’s death at the Battle of Loos in 1915, Kipling regretted his earlier enthusiasm for the conflict, writing in his “Epitaphs of the War”: “If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied”.

Budget cutting gets real in Ottawa

Filed under: Cancon, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:11

David Akin tweeted some news about upcoming budget cuts for various Canadian government agencies:

Why did Machiavelli write The Prince?

Filed under: Books, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:45

In History Today, Alexander Lee discusses the situation in Florence leading up to the time when Niccolò Machiavelli wrote his (in)famous work:

In 1512, however, everything fell apart. After a series of military defeats, Soderini was forced from office. With the help of Pope Julius II, Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici was installed as the de facto ruler of Florence. The Republic collapsed.

Immediately, Giuliano purged the government and instituted a city-wide witch-hunt. As a prominent republican, Machiavelli was summarily dismissed from his positions in late 1512, and in 1513, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Accused of plotting against the Medici, he was tortured using a cruel technique known as the ‘strappado’ — which left his shoulders dislocated, and his whole body in excruciating pain — before being released and exiled to his country estate.

It was at this point that Machiavelli penned The Prince. Broken, depressed, and penniless, he saw it as his best chance of getting into the Medici’s good books, and of recouping his losses. Dedicating the book first to Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici — the very man who had destroyed his life — and, after Giuliano’s death, to his nephew, Lorenzo, Machiavelli set out to provide not just a guide to princely government, but a positive justification of all of the terrible things to which he had fallen victim. Much like a fallen Politburo members at a Soviet show trial, Machiavelli defended his persecution in the hope of securing favour. Only later did he feel safe enough to express his republican sympathies more openly.

Defence industry lobbyists versus actual USAF needs

Filed under: Business, Government, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:35

Strategy Page talks about the ongoing drama of the Global Hawk UAV and the US Air Force’s attempt to get rid of the weapon:

The U.S. Air Force recently disbanded a Global Hawk UAV squadron. The reserve unit contained 200 personnel and operated an aircraft the air force is getting rid of. This is in spite of political opposition to the move (helped along by the manufacturers many lobbyists).

This all began last year when the U.S. Air Force cancelled all orders for the Block 30 Global Hawk because of reliability issues. This renewed Department of Defense threats to cancel the Global Hawk program entirely. In response Northrop Grumman (the RQ-4 manufacturer) lobbyists made sure that key members of Congress knew where Global Hawk components were being built and how many jobs that added up to. Elected politicians pay attention to that. This move delayed the RQ-4 Block 30 until there was enough political support to convince Congress to order the air force to accept the Block 30 RQ-4s and shut up.

The air force can take some comfort in the fact that Northrop Grumman fixed some of the problems (some of which the manufacturer said don’t exist or didn’t matter). The Block 30 was supposed to be good to go but the air force was not convinced and decided that Block 30 was just more broken promises. Congress was also tired of all the feuding and being caught between Northrup lobbyists and exasperated air force generals. The lobbyists, as is usually the case, eventually won. But the air force is not required to pay for operating the Global Hawks, thus the disbanding of the Global Hawk unit.

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