February 16, 2013

Scott Feschuk challenges your detection skills

Filed under: Humour, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:19

In his Maclean’s column, Scott Feschuk wants to see how perceptive you are:

Looking for a fun getaway? Here are five theme cruises. Four of them you can book right now. The other? I made it up. Try to guess which one. (For the answer, scroll down past the end of the column.)

The Wizard Cruise. “Imagine!” the website says. “Imagine 600 Harry Potter fanatics, dressed in their finest wizard robes and brandishing magic wands, descending upon a modern luxury liner.” Do you have that image in your head? Now imagine all of the other passengers pointing and laughing. Imagine the three female “wizards” on board getting tired of hearing the same pickup line: “Wanna pet my hippogriff?” Imagine quidditch being a letdown because the snitch is a beach ball and a muggle keeps deflating your water wings.

Listen: I’m not saying this cruise is likely to attract a homely group of passengers, but before the voyage there will be a brief pause as the ship is christened the Self-Love Boat.

Contrasting the State of the Union Address to the Speech from the Throne

Filed under: Australia, Britain, Cancon, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:40

Mark Steyn looks at how the republican method compares to the constitutional monarchy’s method:

“I’m also issuing a new goal for America,” declared President Obama at his State of the Union on Tuesday. We’ll come to the particular “goal” he “issued” momentarily, but before we do, consider that formulation: Did you know the president of the United States is now in the business of “issuing goals” for his subjects to live up to?

Strange how the monarchical urge persists even in a republic two-and-a-third centuries old. Many commentators have pointed out that the modern State of the Union is in fairly obvious mimicry of the Speech from the Throne that precedes a new legislative session in British Commonwealth countries and continental monarchies, but this is to miss the key difference. When the Queen or her viceroy reads a Throne Speech in Westminster, Ottawa, or Canberra, it’s usually the work of a government with a Parliamentary majority: In other words, the stuff she’s announcing is actually going to happen. That’s why, lest any enthusiasm for this or that legislative proposal be detected, the apolitical monarch overcompensates by reading everything in as flat and unexpressive a monotone as possible. Underneath the ancient rituals — the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod getting the door of the House of Commons slammed in his face three times — it’s actually a very workmanlike affair.

The State of the Union is the opposite. The president gives a performance, extremely animatedly, head swiveling from left-side prompter to right-side prompter, continually urging action now: “Let’s start right away. We can get this done … We can fix this … Now is the time to do it. Now is the time to get it done.” And at the end of the speech, nothing gets done, and nothing gets fixed, and, after a few days’ shadowboxing between admirers and detractors willing to pretend it’s some sort of serious legislative agenda, every single word of it is forgotten until the next one.

“The mainstream news has become the Boy who Cried Internet”

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:29

In Maclean’s, Jesse Brown explains why the mainstream media still doesn’t seem to “get” the internet or social media channels like Twitter, Google+, and Facebook:

While I was delivering some talking-head sound-bites on this item for a certain newscast, the reporter asked me why the Twitter hack was such a huge deal. I was stumped – it wasn’t. So she asked me why it was getting so much attention. I knew the answer, but held my tongue.

Here’s what I was thinking: it gets so much attention because print and TV news love to bash technology, especially social media, and can’t resist a scary story about how the people who use it should be very, very afraid. The truth is, despite years of fear-mongering stories about Facebook identity theft, Gmail phishing attacks and massive Twitter hacks, public interest and concern about these things remains very low. That’s because these things haven’t happened to the vast majority of us, or to anyone we know. For the small number of people this has happened to, the impact is typically minimal. The mainstream news has become the Boy who Cried Internet.

This is not to say privacy isn’t a valid concern when it comes to free Internet services. There’s much to worry about, but little of it has to do with Russian digital mobsters, Chinese military hackers or spammy Nigerian princes. The real data privacy danger – with social media, and beyond – comes from government.

The socialist origins of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, WW2 — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:13

Everyone “knows” that Fascism is an ideology of the extreme right, and Communism is an ideology of the extreme left. Benito Mussolini’s fascist state was bankrolled by big business and the Catholic Church to suppress the democratic demands of the workers in the wake of the First World War. Except that isn’t actually true:

… Mussolini was every bit as much as man of the Left as contemporaries such as Eugene V. Debs. He was what would later come to be known as a “red diaper baby” (meaning the child of revolutionary socialist parents). As a young man, Mussolini himself was a Marxist, fervently anticlerical, went to Switzerland to evade compulsory military service, and was arrested and imprisoned for inciting militant strikes. Eventually, he became a leader in Italy’s Socialist Party and he was imprisoned once again in 1911 for his antiwar activities related to Italy’s invasion of Libya. Mussolini was so prominent a socialist at this point in his career that he won the praise of Lenin who considered him to be the rightful head of a future Italian socialist state.

[. . .]

When the Italian Fascist movement was founded in 1919, most of its leaders and theoreticians were, like Mussolini himself, former Marxists and other radical leftists such as proponents of the revolutionary syndicalist doctrines of Georges Sorel. The official programs issued by the Fascists, translations of which are included in Norling’s book, reflected a standard mixture of republican and socialist ideas that would have been common to any European leftist group of the era. If indeed the evidence is overwhelming that Fascism has its roots on the far Left, then from where does Fascism’s reputation as a rightist ideology originate?

[. . .]

During its twenty-three years in power, Mussolini’s regime certainly made considerable concessions to traditionally conservative interests such as the monarchy, big business, and the Catholic Church. These pragmatic accommodations borne of political necessity are among the evidences typically offered by leftists as indications of Fascism’s rightist nature. Yet there is abundant evidence that Mussolini essentially remained a socialist throughout the entirety of his political life. By 1935, thirteen years after Mussolini seized power in the March on Rome, seventy-five percent of Italian industry had either been nationalized outright or brought under intensive state control. Indeed, it was towards the end of both his life and the life of his regime that Mussolini’s economic policies were at their most leftist.

After briefly losing power for a couple of months during the summer of 1943, Mussolini returned as Italy’s head of state with German assistance and set up what came to be called the Italian Social Republic. The regime subsequently nationalized all companies employing more than a hundred workers, redistributed housing that was formerly privately owned to its worker occupants, engaged in land redistribution, and witnessed a number of prominent Marxists joining the Mussolini government, including Nicola Bombacci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party and a personal friend of Lenin. These events are described in considerable detail in Norling’s work.

It would appear that the historic bitter rivalry between Marxists and Fascists is less a conflict between the Left and the Right, and more of a conflict between erstwhile siblings on the Left. This should come as no particular surprise given the penchant of radical leftist groupings for sectarian blood feuds. Indeed, it might be plausibly argued that leftist ”anti-fascism” is rooted in jealously of a more successful relative as much as anything else.

Nova Scotia Islands

Filed under: Cancon, History, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:34

I got a press release to let me know that “Nova Scotia Islands” will be shown on CBC this Sunday. It looks interesting:

Nova Scotia Islands will have its world broadcast premiere on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 12 Noon on CBC TV’s Land & Sea.

Islands are part of the geography and history of the Maritimes, nowhere more so than Nova Scotia. Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, there are more than 3,800 islands that lie scattered along nearly 5,000 miles of coastline.

Nova Scotia Islands is a half hour documentary that explores some of the most interesting islands in the province, their little known histories, and in some cases their uncertain futures.

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