Quotulatiousness

September 30, 2013

Modern terrorism isn’t anti-state … it’s anti-society

Filed under: Africa, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:21

Tim Black discusses what we know and don’t know about the Kenyan terror attack and why recent terrorist attacks seem less directed at the organs of the state and much more at society as a whole:

Some analysts have even gone so far as to pinpoint Kenyan troops’ take over of the port of Kismayo, a lucrative trading position for al-Shabab, as the catalyst for the Westgate attack. As one commentator put it: ‘[The Westgate attack] wasn’t a random act. On the contrary, it was a direct consequence of Kenya’s own policy decisions. To say that in no way justifies this heinous attack – it merely identifies cause and effect.’

Yet tit-for-tat accounts miss something. They appear too glib, too easy. They may not excuse a drawn-out atrocity like Westgate, but they do give it a nicely polished rationale.

But it’s a rationale at odds with what actually happened. Yes, the Kenyan military, under the auspices of the African Union, did play a role in weakening al-Shabab’s position in Somalia. And no doubt members of al-Shabab, already a declining, increasingly unpopular grouping in Somalia (even Osama Bin Laden disowned it because of is brutality), did feel anger towards the Kenyan army. But there is a massive, unexplained causal gap between that sense of grievance and the attack on a shopping centre in Nairobi. That’s right, a shopping centre. This wasn’t an attack on the Kenyan state. This wasn’t a gun battle with the Kenyan army, the principal object of al-Shabab ire. No, this was an indiscriminate attack on men, women and children at a shopping centre. The people targeted weren’t intent on a conflict with militant Islamists in Somalia; they were shopping for Old El Paso fajita mix.

[…]

What’s important to grasp here is that the new terrorism does not draw its militants from any specific struggle in Somalia, or anywhere else for that matter. Rather, it draws upon a broad and deep disillusionment with modern society; it exploits the non-identity between society’s threadbare values and particular members. And it turns certain individuals upon society as a whole. Hence the new terrorism does not target the institutions of the state; it targets the institutions of civil society. In particular, it targets the embodiments of modern social life: a shopping centre in Nairobi, an office block in New York, a market in Baghdad.

In 1911, amid anarchist bomb plots, Vladamir Lenin wrote a scathing critique of what he called ‘individual terrorism’ — the act, for example, of assassinating a minister — on the grounds that it turned what could be a mass struggle into the act of a single individual. ‘In our eyes’, he wrote, ‘individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission’. Today’s individual terrorist is far more degenerate than his anarchist precursors. So far removed from the masses is he, so little concerned is he with any actual struggle for something in particular, that his terror is turned against the masses. The consequences have been barbaric.

The breathtaking scale of Obamacare

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:28

Mark Steyn explains just how big the effective nationalization of the US healthcare system really is:

No one has ever before attempted to devise a uniform health system for 300 million people — for the very good reason that it probably can’t be done. Britain’s National Health Service serves a population less than a fifth the size of America’s and is the third-largest employer on the planet after the Indian National Railways and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the last of which is now largely funded by American taxpayers through interest payment on federal debt. A single-payer U.S. system would be bigger than Britain’s NHS, India’s railways, and China’s army combined, at least in its bureaucracy. So, as in banking and housing and college tuition and so many other areas of endeavor, Washington is engaging in a kind of under-the-counter nationalization, in which the husk of a nominally private industry is conscripted to enforce government rules — and ruthlessly so, as Michelle Malkin and many others have discovered.

Obama’s pointless, traceless super-spending is now (as they used to say after 9/11) “the new normal.” Nancy Pelosi assured the nation last weekend that everything that can be cut has been cut and there are no more cuts to be made. And the disturbing thing is that, as a matter of practical politics, she may well be right. Many people still take my correspondent’s view: If you have old money well managed, you can afford to be stupid — or afford the government’s stupidity on your behalf. If you’re a social-activist celebrity getting $20 million per movie, you can afford the government’s stupidity. If you’re a tenured professor or a unionized bureaucrat whose benefits were chiseled in stone two generations ago, you can afford it. If you’ve got a wind farm and you’re living large on government “green energy” investments, you can afford it. If you’ve got the contract for signing up Obamaphone recipients, you can afford it.

But out there beyond the islands of privilege most Americans don’t have the same comfortably padded margin for error, and they’re hunkering down. Obamacare is something new in American life: the creation of a massive bureaucracy charged with downsizing you — to a world of fewer doctors, higher premiums, lousier care, more debt, fewer jobs, smaller houses, smaller cars, smaller, fewer, less; a world where worse is the new normal. Would Americans, hitherto the most buoyant and expansive of people, really consent to live such shrunken lives? If so, mid-20th-century America and its assumptions of generational progress will be as lost to us as the Great Ziggurat of Ur was to 19th-century Mesopotamian date farmers.

Re-evaluating Neville Chamberlain

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:17

BBC News Magazine on the reputation of British PM Neville Chamberlain:

…this derogatory reference reflects the continuing potency of a well-established conventional wisdom assiduously propagated by Chamberlain’s detractors after his fall from the premiership in May 1940. As Churchill is once supposed to have quipped, “Poor Neville will come badly out of history. I know, I will write that history”.

In his influential account The Gathering Storm, published in 1948, Churchill characterised Chamberlain as “an upright, competent, well meaning man” fatally handicapped by a deluded self-confidence which compounded an already debilitating lack of both vision and diplomatic experience. For many years, this seductive version of events remained unchallenged and unchallengeable.

[…]

The Munich agreement, which later came to symbolise the evils of appeasement, was signed 75 years ago, in the early hours of 30 September. At Munich, Britain and France acquiesced in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the transfer of its Sudeten region to Germany in face of Hitler’s increasingly bellicose threats of military action. Chamberlain’s hopes that this humiliating sacrifice would satisfy Hitler’s last major territorial demand and thus avert another catastrophic war were dashed within four months.

After this monumental failure of policy Chamberlain’s name became an abusive synonym for vacillation, weakness, immoral great-power diplomacy and, above all, the craven appeasement of bullies — whatever the price in national honour. Despite his many achievements in domestic policy, therefore, ultimately Chamberlain’s reputation remains indelibly stained by Munich and the failure of his very personal brand of diplomacy.

As he confessed in the Commons at the outbreak of war, “Everything I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins.”

Vikings beat Steelers 34-27 in London for first win of the season

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:34

London fans of American-style football must have been worried that the NFL had dumped their worst possible combination of teams into Wembley Stadium for yesterday’s game. Both the Vikings and the Steelers were sporting 0-3 records and their respective fanbases were setting off distress flares and starting to man the lifeboats. On the day, however, both teams put in a very creditable performance and the London fans got one of the best games in the international series as the Vikings ran up a scoring lead and (just barely) managed to hang on to it for the full 60 minutes of play.

Matt Cassel, starting in place of injured starter Christian Ponder, had a very strong game with only a few glitches, but he was bailed out a couple of times by his wide receivers. He ended up with a 123.4 passer rating: 16 of 25 for 248 yards and 2 TDs. Jerome Simpson had 124 yards receiving and Adrian Peterson notched 140 yards rushing on the day with two touchdowns. Greg Jennings had a highlight reel catch-and-run 70-yard touchdown. Blair Walsh started the scoring with a 54-yard field goal, but missed on a shorter kick later in the game (his first miss of the season). He’s now 12-for-12 on field goal attempts longer than 50 yards in his career — a new team record.

The Vikings secondary hadn’t stellar up to this point in the season, but on Sunday they were missing two starting players (CB Chris Cook and S Jamarca Sanford). For the first defensive series, The Daily Norseman suggested that the most appropriate music for them taking the field was Yakkity Sax (the Benny Hill Show theme). It wasn’t as bad as that, but every quarterback the Vikings will face for the rest of the season will be throwing as often as they can to wherever Josh Robinson is on the field … Roethlisberger made him look really bad. To be fair, Robinson is an outside corner and he’s having to play the slot this year, but you’d hope he would be better than he’s showing so far.

Late in the game, Big Ben appeared to suffer an injury to his throwing hand. The CBS announcers made a remarkably dumb comment about it somehow being worse to hit another player’s arm/hand than a helmet. Chris Kluwe’s twitter comment sums up the science behind that:

After giving up the last two games on last-minute scores, the Vikings defence finally managed to close out a game, sacking Roethlisberger close to the goal line and forcing a fumble.

A much-needed win going into the bye week … and the beginnings of a quarterback controversy. Should be a fun two weeks until the next game.

September 29, 2013

Unplugging your laptop to give your battery a longer working life

Filed under: Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 11:53

In Wired, Roberto Baldwin says you shouldn’t leave your laptop plugged in all the time:

In order to squeeze as much life out of your lithium-polymer battery, once your laptop hits 100 percent, unplug it. In fact, you should unplug it before that.

Cadex Electronics CEO Isidor Buchmann told WIRED that ideally everyone would charge their batteries to 80 percent then let them drain to about 40 percent. This will prolong the life of your battery — in some cases by as much as four times. The reason is that each cell in a lithium-polymer battery is charged to a voltage level. The higher the charge percentage, the higher the voltage level. The more voltage a cell has to store, the more stress it’s put under. That stress leads to fewer discharge cycles. For example, Battery University states that a battery charged to 100 percent will have only 300-500 discharge cycles, while a battery charged to 70 percent will get 1,200-2,000 discharge cycles.

Buchmann would know. His company Cadex sponsers Battery University. The site is the go-to destination for anyone interested in battery technology. And it’s not just constant power that shortens your battery’s life. While batteries degrade naturally, heat also accelerates the degradation. Extreme heat can cause the cells to expand and bubble. Kyle Wiens of iFixit told WIRED: “Too much heat to the battery over time, and the battery isn’t going to last as long.”

You can battle this degradation by keeping the lid open and your laptop out of your actual lap while using it.

Portland’s tainted $2 bills

Filed under: Business, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:32

Last year there were a large number of red-stained $2 bills circulating in Portland, Oregon. Mary Emily O’Hara investigated the situation:

The manager at the McDonald’s on Northwest Yeon Avenue glanced at the money in the customer’s hand, a $2 bill that looked as if its edges had been dipped in blood. He grew tense, shook his head and turned away.

“Oh, no,” he says. “We’re not allowed to accept those.”

McDonald’s employees had seen the mystery money before — crimson-stained, smeared, always $2 bills — as have food carts, bars, retail stores and other businesses across the Portland area.

The bills have amused some people and alarmed others, who aren’t sure if the stains come from real blood, if the cash is counterfeit, or if the bills were marked by an exploding dye pack during a bank robbery gone wrong.

Thousands of these tainted bills are in circulation around the city, but their source is no longer a mystery: They’re a marketing gimmick for Casa Diablo, a Northwest Portland strip club that is taking U.S. currency and smearing it with blood-red ink.

You’d think defacing the currency would be a problem for the government … and it is:

But the feds have taken a dim view of Zukle’s actions: It’s against federal law to deface U.S. currency with the intent to make it unusable.

WW has learned Zukle and Casa Diablo are now under investigation by the Secret Service. Jon Dalton, resident agent in charge of the Secret Service’s Portland office, tells WW the fact the bills are being rejected show Casa Diablo’s inking of the money violates federal law.

Dalton says his office has told Casa Diablo three times to stop handing out the tainted bills. He also says his office has prepared a cease and desist order and is consulting with federal prosecutors about criminal charges. (WW has also learned the FBI paid the bar a visit in February.)

H/T to Marginal Revolution for the link.

SWATting is not funny

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:16

Patterico on the “funny” SWAT raid at Corey Feldman’s home:

My usual admiration for the way TMZ gets these stories every time is negated by their sniggering. I don’t even feel like throwing them a link. You can Google it.

The headline of their post? “COREY FELDMAN SWATTED … But It’s Kinda Funny.”

[…]

TMZ calls the footage “hilarious.” I find that description not only callous but entirely inaccurate. But maybe it’s different for me, given my own experience. When I watched the clip, I got flashbacks. My heart started racing as I literally felt the adrenalin flow. I don’t see how anyone can watch this, imagine the events that preceded it, and find it “hilarious.”

The updated and noncomprehensive roll call of the SWATted: Corey Feldman; Paris Hilton (again); Miley Cyrus (again); Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom; Anderson Cooper; Magic Johnson; Mike Rogers; Wolf Blitzer; Ted Lieu; Erik Rush; Ryan Seacrest; Russell Brand; Selena Gomez; Justin Timberlake; Rihanna; Sean Combs; Paris Hilton; Brian Krebs; Clint Eastwood; Chris Brown; the Jenners and Kardashians; Tom Cruise; Simon Cowell; Justin Bieber; Ashton Kutcher; Miley Cyrus; Aaron Walker; Erick Erickson; Mike Stack; and me.

Whoever was doing this was quiet for a while, but they seem to have awakened.

This kind of “prank” is very likely to get someone killed. That’s something I could never refer to as “hilarious”.

Royal Navy carrier operations without carriers

Filed under: Britain, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:01

Strategy Page on the Royal Navy’s need to keep their carrier operation knowledge up while they wait for the first of the two new aircraft carriers to come into service:

These two decisions [switching to catapult operation, then reversing the switch] cost the Royal Navy about $115 million in additional expenses, which is a small part of the cost growth of the two carriers (from $5.8 billion in 2007 to over $8 billion now). The size of the ships has also grown, from 40,000 tons in the first plan (late 1990s), to 58,000 tons when construction started, to 70,000 tons now. There won’t be much more weight increases because the first ship has had its hull largely completed and will leave dry dock next year. Sea trials are planned for 2017 and initial flight operations in 2018. Commissioning is to occur by 2020. Construction on the second carrier (the Prince of Wales) began in 2011. These are the largest warships ever built in Britain and require the efforts of some 10,000 people in 90 companies and 6 shipyards (for building sections of the ships as well as other components).

There are some other problems that required more innovative solutions. For example, in 2011, the Royal Navy retired all its Harrier aircraft and the last aircraft carrier that the Harriers operated from. That presented a problem, as the first of two new carriers won’t enter service until the end of the decade. The admirals knew that once the new carrier (Queen Elizabeth) entered service a new generation of pilots would have to be trained to take off and land on a carrier. While the Harriers could land and take off like a helicopter, they often took off (via a “ski jump” flight deck) so they could carry more weight (especially bombs) into action. To deal with this Britain will have four of its naval aviators serve on American aircraft carriers over the next decade, to maintain Royal Navy knowledge of how pilots operate jet aircraft off carriers. The British naval officers will learn to fly F-18s in order to do this. While Britain and the U.S. regularly exchange fighter pilots, this is a special case. The British know from experience that it’s easier to train new pilots with experienced Royal Navy carrier pilots. Thus the need to maintain that experience by having British aviators flying F-18s off American carriers until the new British carriers arrive.

September 28, 2013

Google is “fighting stupid with stupid”

Filed under: Business, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:54

In Maclean’s, Jesse Brown looks at the rather dangerous interpretation of how email works in a recent court decision:

Newsflash: Google scans your email! Whether you have a Gmail account or just send email to people who do, Gmail’s bots automatically read your messages, mostly for the purpose of creating targeted advertising. And if you were reading this in 2005, that might seem shocking.

Today, I think most Internet users understand how free webmail works and are okay with it. But a U.S. federal judge has ruled otherwise. Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh ruled that Google’s terms of service and privacy policies do not explicitly spell out that Google will “intercept” users’ email (here’s the ruling).

The word “intercept” is crucial here, because it may put Google in the crosshairs of State and Federal anti-wiretapping laws. After Judge Koh’s ruling, a class-action lawsuit against Google can proceed, whose plaintiffs seek remedies for themselves and for class groups including “all U.S. citizen non-Gmail users who have sent a message to a Gmail user and received a reply…”. Like they say in Vegas, go big or go home.

[…]

An algorithm that scans my messages for keywords like “vacation” in order to offer me cheap flights is not by any stretch of the imagination a wiretap.

But Google has taken a different tack in their defence. If, they’ve argued, what Gmail does qualifies as interception, than so does all email, since automated processing is needed just to send the stuff, whether or not advertising algorithms or anti-spam filters are in use. This logic can be extended, I suppose, to all data that passes through the Internet.

You might call it fighting stupid with stupid, but I think it’s a bold bluff: rule us illegal, Google warns the court, and be prepared to deem the Internet itself a wiretap violation.

This is what democracy looks like – Indian voters can now vote “None of the above”

Filed under: Government, India — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:40

Alex Tabarrok links to a Wall Street Journal article (paywalled, unfortunately) about the Indian court decision that will allow Indian voters to cast their ballots against all the candidates on offer:

Excellent news. Bear in mind:

    Nearly a third of the members of the lower house of Parliament are facing criminal charges, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms, a New Delhi-based advocacy group for transparency in governance.

Even if that were not the case, however, one of the problems of democracy is that there is too little feedback and information transmission, due both to rational ignorance and the bundle nature of politics. Allowing for “none of the above” provides, not a panacea, but a little bit more feedback. Many people vote but have to hold their noses to do so. Many others don’t vote but do they not vote because they are satisfied or dissatisfied? None of the above gives the dissatisfied a chance to reveal their views and in so doing it may encourage more and better candidates.

At present, voting none of the above is just informational, i.e. none of the above is never “elected” even if it gets a majority, although the option to vote NOTA may change the outcome of the election. In the future a NOTA majority might signal a new election.

There have been a few elections here in Ontario I’d love to have had the option of voting “None of the above”.

Christian Ponder’s injury and the Vikings’ QB decision

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:12

As mentioned the other day, the Vikings have named backup quarterback Matt Cassel as the starter for tomorrow’s game in London against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 1500ESPN‘s Judd Zulgad makes the case that the decision was driven less by Ponder’s actual injury than by the team’s need to spark something by making the change at QB:

A fractured rib means the Minnesota Vikings don’t have to face the reality of the Christian Ponder situation for a few more weeks.

Obviously, the general public doesn’t know the extent of the injury to the Vikings’ first selection in the 2011 draft, but for now the team is well within its rights to sell us on the fact that a quarterback change to Matt Cassel has been made for injury-related reasons.

Eventually, however, the Vikings almost certainly are going to have to come clean and admit that Ponder has been benched. What makes this so intriguing is that many in the organization privately have to be holding out hope that soon a day will come when that admission can be made.

That’s because if Cassel plays the way that coach Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, wide receiver Greg Jennings, running back Adrian Peterson and many others are hoping he does, Ponder won’t see the field again this season.

And that’s not being overly dramatic.

The quarterback play hasn’t been anything like the only issue the Vikings have faced this season, but it’s the one that attracts by far the most attention from fans. The backup quarterback is pretty much always the most popular player on a football team (well, one that isn’t winning consistently, anyway), and Matt Cassel got a relatively big contract to come to Minnesota for two years (second year voidable by the team or by Cassel). Tomorrow is his big test to find out if he’s really the answer for the Vikings.

For now, Frazier is downplaying any potential quarterback controversy and Ponder is saying all the right things about playing against the Panthers. What else would you expect anyone to say?

But if Cassel gets on a roll we all know he will start for the Vikings coming out of the bye and we also know he will have a good chance to remain in that role the following week against the Giants.

Eventually, the Vikings are going to have to take Ponder off the injury report and admit he’s healthy. The second they do that, and he still doesn’t play, the admission will have to be made: Christian Ponder has been benched.

The only question then will be if he will get one last chance to try to get his job back – that might not be until training camp 2014, if Cassel stays healthy – or if he will go down as one of the Vikings’ most disappointing first-round picks.

“Stoking the star maker machinery behind the popular song”

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:51

QotD: Sir Humphrey Appleby on discrediting an expert report

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Sir Humphrey: There is a well established Government procedure for suppress… deciding not to publish reports.
Jim Hacker: Really?
Sir Humphrey: You simply discredit them.
Jim Hacker: Good heavens… how?
Sir Humphrey: Stage one, you give your reasons in terms of the public interest. You hint at security considerations — the report could be used to put pressure on government and could be misinterpreted.
Jim Hacker: Anything could be misinterpreted. The Sermon on the Mount could be misinterpreted!
Sir Humphrey: Indeed — it could be argued that the Sermon on the Mount, had it been a government report, would almost certainly not have been published. A most irresponsible document. All that stuff about the meek inheriting the earth could do irreparable damage to the defence budget.
Sir Humphrey: In stage two you go on to discredit the information you’re not publishing.
Jim Hacker: How, if you’re not publishing it?
Sir Humphrey: It’s much easier if it’s not published. You do it by press leaks. Say it leaves some important questions unanswered, that much of the evidence is inconclusive, that the figures are open to other interpretations, that certain findings are contradictory and that some of the main conclusions have been questioned.
Jim Hacker: Suppose they haven’t?
Sir Humphrey: Then question them. Then they have.
Jim Hacker: But to make accusations like that you’d have to go through it with a fine-toothed comb.
Sir Humphrey: Nonsense — you can say all that without reading it. There are always some questions unanswered.
Jim Hacker: Such as?
Sir Humphrey: The ones that weren’t asked.

Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, “The Greasy Pole”, Yes, Minister, 1981-03-16

September 27, 2013

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:01

My weekly Guild Wars 2 community round-up at GuildMag is now online. The Tequatl Rising event is still going on and (reportedly) most servers have at least managed to defeat the dragon at least one time. We’re getting information about next week’s content release, Twilight Assault, which will include a reworked Twilight Arbour dungeon and other changes. In addition, we’ve also got the usual assortment of blog posts, videos, podcasts, and fan fiction from around the GW2 community.

Harper and climate change … spending

David Akin points out that all the major federal parties believe the same thing about climate change, except that the Tories are the ones who’ve been chucking around the money on climate change programs:

The simple fact of Canadian politics here is that, if you do not believe in climate change, there is no federal political party that shares your view. There almost was one in Alberta in its last provincial election but, boy, did that idea get shouted down.

But back to what [former environment minister Peter] Kent said to me in that interview:

“There is no question that since the Industrial Revolution there have been anthropogenic, man-made effects on our global climate. The argument continues in the scientific community how much is evolution and how much is man-made but there is certainly something we can do.”

So what is the something that the Harper government has been doing? Well, truth be told, the Harper Conservatives, like the Martin and Chretien Liberals before them, have not been doing very much. None of them, in fact, got the job done. Which might, come to think of it, be a good reason — if climate change is the only thing you’re voting on — to consider choosing the NDP or the Greens next time around. Not to say they’d actually get it done but it’s pretty clear the other two parties, while they talk a good game, just don’t have the political stomach for the job. Those New Democrats brought us universal health care. Maybe they can fix the environment, too.

Still, that doesn’t mean Conservatives aren’t prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars — billions even — on a problem they are accused of not admitting even exists. Take biofuels, for example. Early on, the Harper government got the idea that if corn- or plant-based ethanol displaced enough fossil fuels, we’d easily roll back greenhouse gas emissions. Apparently no one bothered to point out that there is serious doubt that corn-based ethanol is actually a lower-emission alternative to fossil fuels but why complicate things? Ethanol is a good, solid, job-creating green story!

In the long run, the subsidies and outright gifts of government money to green-ish sounding companies will likely be the only reminders of the great global warming panic of the last decade. Certainly little or no actual environmental improvements will be traced to the billions of dollars doled out to cronies under this government.

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