Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The world's greatest omnivores?

Handsdown, the Chinese. I really had to fight the urge to give this post a less appropriate headline- it's just too easy.
As if we already didn't know this.

Hard Time For Groped Behind

A South American man gets 4 years for grabbing a woman's bum. The female judge decided to take a tough stance in order to 'fight sexist behaviour'. I'm guessing she was probably provoked by the fact that at the time of arrest the victim was offered the opportunity to slap the perp rather than press charges. The way I see it, the main effect of this sentence will be to discourage women and police from pressing charges against bum-gropers and increase the likelihood of onsite slap-sentencing. But I have to say, 4 years should give any ass-pincher some pause. At least the guy got off light compared to this Sudanese perv.

Online Gaming Slays Old-School Roleplaying

Here's a link only geeky readers over the age of 25 can truly appreciate. The NYTimes recently ran an article about Dungeons & Dragons going online, and how the 'gaming' market has been almost completely subsumed by online/computer gaming (The article is at the bottom of this post in case they've archived it by the time you read this). Apparently this online version of the D&D experience stays pretty true to the original. They're even trying to replicate the group experience by building in a mic feature that will allow online players to chat with each other. Overall, it sounds pretty interesting, an online treat for the 30-40-something geeks out there. But is it going to pass the discriminating tastes of the comic book guy demographic? Don't count on it. It seems like most of the old-school gamers out there aren't too impressed with the idea. The NYTimes article gives us this quote from one middle-aged gamemaster (I highly recommend you try reading it out loud in the voice of the comic book guy a couple of times for full effect):
I play because I have a very creative mind and a very noncreative job. So the game helps me balance it out. There is no creativity at the computer, because you're limited by what the programmers thought you might do. Here in person, I can react dynamically to the players and craft an adventure specifically for them.

The most surprising revelation of the entire article was finding out that Vin Diesel is a hardcore Dungeons and Dragons freak. You can find corroborating evidence of that fact in this Wikipedia on Diesel. Here's the relevant part of the wiki bio:

Diesel is a long time fan and player of Dungeons & Dragons and other role playing games, a fact that he proudly states in various interviews. He occasionally makes reference to D&D in his films, such as in XXX where one of the tattoos on Xander Cage (Diesel's character) reads "Melkor," the name of one of Diesel's old player characters. (Melkor is also the original name of the Satan-like character in The Silmarillion and other Tolkien stories.) It has been said that his portrayal of Richard Riddick in the Pitch Black series of movies and games is based somewhat on this favorite character, a Drow "witch-hunter" who was a loner, and that Diesel has the character's image tattooed on his leg. He has also written the foreword to the commemorative book 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of D&D, a collection of stories and essays which chronicles the history of D&D. It is also rumored (though never confirmed) that Diesel plays the popular game World of Warcraft under the alias "Dish".

Priceless. Vin Diesel is a massive D&D dork, and is actually very proud of it. I guess it goes a long way in explaining how he gets sucked into these horrific action movies. Hilarious, you can't make this stuff up. Here's another amusing link from bbspot on how a geek with social anxiety overcame his condition by turning his life into to a roleplaying game. The sad thing is, I can actually see this approach working with some hardcore socially-inept gamers out there. And for those of you who doubt the geeky depths roleplaying depravity take a look at these two videos.

Dungeon Masters in Cyberspace

Published: February 27, 2006

Gary Gygax, the original dungeon master, can see as well as anyone how computers have changed the face of gaming. All he has to do is look down the hall at his home in Lake Geneva, Wis.

Three decades ago, when Mr. Gygax helped create the world's first role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, advanced game technology meant the exotic 20-sided dice players roll to determine if their imaginary sword has skewered the orc or manticore they are confronting.

Traditional D&D is still around (the noted role-player Vin Diesel wrote the adoring foreword to a 2004 book celebrating the game's 30th anniversary). But these days, aspiring wizards, druids and paladins are more likely to click and type their way through the evil necromancer's tower rather than huddle around a table casting spells between grabbing bites of pizza. In recent years, millions of people have flocked to rich online games that let players express their inner warlock without leaving home.
"My youngest son — he's 19 — even he stays up until 4 or 5 in the morning many times at the computer playing games like World of Warcraft," Mr. Gygax said recently, referring to one of the world's most successful online games, which could take in $1 billion in revenue this year. "The analogy I make is that pen-and-paper role-playing is live theater and computer games are television. People want the convenience and instant gratification of turning on the TV rather than getting dressed up and going out to see a live play. In the same way, the computer is a more immediately accessible way to play games."

So in classic if-you-can't-beat-'em, join-'em fashion, dozens of programmers and artists in a Boston suburb have spent more than three years trying to bring Dungeons & Dragons online. Many hardcore "old-school" players continue to turn up their noses at digital fare, yet even Mr. Gygax and D&D's other co-creator, Dave Arneson, have lent their voices to the new project. The new game, called, simply enough, Dungeons & Dragons Online, is to be released tomorrow.

"There have been a lot of video games based on Dungeons & Dragons, but in the past they have been almost entirely solo, single-player experiences," Jeff Anderson, chief executive of the company that makes the online game, Turbine Inc., based in Westwood, Mass., said last week. "Now, with the Internet and advances in graphics, we can finally create an online version of that classic sitting-around-the-kitchen-table Dungeons & Dragons experience, without people having to actually go out."

More than 300,000 people signed up to test the game in recent months, and if a similar number subscribe to the final product, which will cost about $15 a month, Turbine and Hasbro, which now owns the Dungeons & Dragons brand, will have a moderate hit on their hands. Mr. Anderson hopes that the well-known D&D brand will bring in players from other online games while his project's close adherence to traditional D&D rules will also entice pen-and-paper holdouts to give cyberspace a chance.

"As gaming has become more popular, you've started to see a change in how it's perceived socially," he said. "It went from something you did as a 13-year-old in the basement to something you might do with buddies in the living room. And a lot of those 13-year-olds are now 35-, 40-year-old guys. And we're hoping we can appeal to them."

But judging by the general reaction Thursday night at Neutral Ground, a gaming store and parlor in Manhattan, the online game may be a tough sell to pen-and-paper diehards.

"The video games are just so impersonal," said Louis Pirozzi, 38, of Jersey City, as he and five friends gathered around a table and prepared to play a D&D module called "Time's Tide on Bright Sands," an adventure into the desert wasteland controlled by a character named Rary the Traitor. "Role-playing games are about interacting with other players, other real people, not about interacting with a computer."

Sam Weiss, 41, from the Bronx, leaned over a few dice and the erasable grid on the table that players use to lay out combat scenarios with miniature figures. "Computer games are inherently limited because they only give you a set number of options," he said. "In a game like this, what we can do is limited only by our minds."

The night's dungeon master, Rich, tax director for a New York City company, would not divulge his last name out of what he described as professional discretion. "I play because I have a very creative mind and a very noncreative job," he said (though some tax experts might disagree). "So the game helps me balance it out. There is no creativity at the computer, because you're limited by what the programmers thought you might do. Here in person, I can react dynamically to the players and craft an adventure specifically for them."

Nonetheless, D&D Online is meant in almost every way to mimic the classic pen-and-paper dungeon crawl. In both the online and traditional game, each player creates an avatar, with its own special abilities based on its race and profession, such as a dwarf warrior or an elf cleric. The players then form an adventuring band and strike off into a game world that is usually filled with innumerable monsters ripe for defeat and plunder.

While pen-and-paper role playing usually involves thick rule books and sacks of special dice, in D&D Online the computer handles the number-crunching and rules adjudication while the players can see a computerized representation of their actions rather than having to (or being enabled to) imagine them.

While players in most online games communicate by typing, Turbine has tried to enhance the in-person feel of D&D Online by building voice-chat software into the game so players can speak with one another using a microphone plugged into their computer. And while most video games try to adopt a cinematic mode of storytelling, D&D Online plainly reminds users that they are playing a computer approximation of a pen-and-paper game. During combat, an icon of a spinning 20-sided die appears in a corner of the screen, just as modern slot machines still show spinning reels even though a microchip has already decided if you've won the jackpot.

Experienced video gamers will scoff at such window dressing, but those little touches are meant to provide a comfort level for pen-and-paper traditionalists. In addition, the game's makers hope to recapture men who may have played D&D in their youth but then given it up amid the mundane responsibilities of adulthood. (Women are a clear minority in almost all serious gaming circles.)

"One of the hardest things about pen-and-paper games is that you have to actually get people together — 'Hey, can you come over on Thursday night? No? How about Saturday afternoon?' " said David Eckelberry, one of D&D Online's lead designers. "It was a lot easier to do that when we were younger, but it's harder to find time with your friends as we get older and get lives and jobs and families. With the computer, the game world is always waiting for you, so you can play when you want."

Keith Baker, a novelist in Colorado, who created the imaginary world of Eberron, where D&D Online is set, said that online gaming could provide a bonding experience for far-flung friends who might not just pick up the phone to chat.

"What am I going to do, call my friends and just talk for four hours?" Mr. Baker said. "That's not going to happen. But if I have my friend in Austin and my friend in Los Angeles and we can get together online to go defeat the mummy king, it gives us something to do. And we can talk about other stuff while we're doing it, but it gives us a shared activity. Whether it's pen-and-paper or online, playing together with friends is what Dungeons & Dragons is all about."

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Thursday, February 23, 2006

ADBL (Audible.com)

As promised I'm going to list off my investments and the rationale for them. This is my first investment in quite a while, but I think it's a great one. Just bought some shares of www.audible.com. The stock price jumped about 11% today alone (I bought it yesterday- lucky timing). I'm hoping it will climb into the mid-high teens in the next few months. For those who don't know Audible is the best online audiobook provider out there. It has tonnes of content, and now can be downloaded onto most MP3 players on the market.
Why do I like it? For a number of reasons actually.

First and foremost, I'm an avid user of their product and I love it. It's really a great service that they offer for a pretty reasonable price. Basically, enables you to listen to book, periodicals, podcasts anywhere- and they do have some very good content. They currently have around 250k users, but I believe the potential market for them is easily in the millions. So a lot of potential growth ahead, and they definitely have the dominant position in the market. The CNN Money website recently had a nice little article on the company too.

Second, the stock has been oversold. A lot of people dumped it because it lost money last quarter due to increased expenses related to growing the business. However, the loss was lower than what has been expected for the past few weeks, so it's actually not bad news at all. The potential for growth is still enormous, and they have been growing by around 50% every year. On top of that, the company just anounced they're buying back a considerable amount of own stock because they believe the stock is dramatically undervalued. That alone will bring upward pressure on the stock.

Last but not least, they just picked up Ricky Gervais' podcast. I think this is pretty big news. Ricky Gervais' podcast is one of the most popular offered through itunes, and is listened to by audience of around 2 million even though it's only a couple of months old. Even if 1/10th of the people listening to it now sign up it will be a huge boost for audible, and I expect the Ricky Gervais Show to bring in a lot more people than that. Just look at what Howard Stern did for Sirius Satellite subscriptions. Kaaching anyone?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ron Paul Explains Why I'm Buying Gold and Shorting the US Dollar

I've been wanting to write something about the growing US debt and the current fiat/dollar-based world monetary system for a while now. Quite a number of economists believe the current economic situation is unsustainable, and will probably lead to some difficult economic times ahead- not just the US economy, but for the world economy as a whole. To sum it up in a sentence, the gist is that the US is accumulating unsustainable levels of debt, which is largely a product of the present dollar-denominated floating currency markets, and soon foreigners will no longer be willing to buy up US debt leading to collapse of the greenback and basically global monetary chaos (which won't be good for anyone's economy)

Recently, I came across this link showing a recent congressional speech by Representative Ron Paul and he sums things up better than I can. Believe it or not Ron Paul is actually a Texas Republican, but definitely not a Neocon- he's also been connected to the Libertarian party as well as the GOP. It's pretty amazing to hear someone advocating the positions he does inside the US congress, his views are definitely far from the political orthodoxy that exists in the States. I don't agree with all his views; in particular, I find it hard to believe that the Iraq war is primarily motivated by a desire to keep the US dollar as the dominant denomination of the oil industry (it might be one of the motivations behind the war, but I very much doubt it's the primary one).

Hopefully I'll get a chance to write more about this topic a little later. Watch the Ron Paul video, it's worth taking the time.

US Supreme Court Allows DMT Tea on the Basis of Religious Freedom

Some groovy news for all the psychonauts out there. The US Supreme Court delivered a pretty substantial victory for the supporters of entheogens. The Supreme Court, which has recently become a lot more conservative, has actually unanimously (8-0, with Alito absent from the court) ruled in favour of allowing a small Christian/Native Brazilian sect use the DMT laced tea in their religious rituals. The South American Christian sect, O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, uses hoasca tea, which contains a moderate amount of DMT, in order to 'understand God' on bimonthly basis. The court essentially ruled that the government was unable to prove that the tea was harmful enough to warrant a restriction on religious freedoms.

You can get more information about the case here. (The link predates the court ruling though)

One of the most interesting aspects of the case was that the Brazilian Christian sect garnered support from a variety of powerful religious groups including Catholics, Jews, Baptists, and Evangelicals. It's strange to see that crowd help preserve Native American traditions of drug-induced reverie. I guess these groups are more concerned with keeping up their cultural 'firewall' than 'correcting' the practices of a small religious sect (less than 200 in the US).

Maybe some creative hippy/new-agers out there will be able to use to their advantage? How about a new religion requiring the use of mushrooms, LSD, DMT, and heck just about any other hallucinogen that God put on the Earth to assist us in grasping the infinite ;-) Actually, I would be surprised if there won't be some new-age group out their that actively challenges the US governments ban on hallucinogens based on this new precedent. A word of advice to those entheogen-popping new-agers: Say you're a sect of some major religion, and whatever you do don't claim Timothy Leary as one of your prophets. Only time will tell I suppose. One thing is for certain, Joe Rogan should be happy to hear the news.

Cheney, Whittington, Birdshot, Lego

Found on www.boingboing.com

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Amateur Stock Market Trading Taking-Off In Japan

An interesting article in the NYTimes yesterday about amateur day trading taking off in Japan. Since they'll stick it in the archives soon, I'll just post the text of the article below and hope no one harasses me about it. What I found most interesting about the article is the degree of success some amateurs are having with their trades. Of course this isn't a new story, it happened here in North America in the late 90s, and really picked up momentum during the internet stock bubble. Many of those amateurs, but not all of them, lost their shirts when the bubble burst. Which shows that the real test of an investors skills is when a bearish market hits. Actually to put it more precisely, the real test is knowing when the economy is undergoing a fundamental change, and understanding how the markets are going to repond to the shift (bearish markets can be just as predictable as bullish ones, and yes you can make money in a bearish market).

Nonetheless, I think the success of many of theses dedicated amateurs says a lot about many of the 'professional' advisors out there. Much of the so-called specialized know-how of the 'pros' can apparently be picked-up and mimicked by a talented and disciplined amateur. The basic fundamentals can understood by most people reasonably quickly, and the necessary information can easily be accessed on the internet. Even 'sophisticated' stuff, like technical analysis, can be performed with inexpensive financial software. On top of that, many financial advisors often have a conflict of interest too. In reality, their primary interest may be to hype-up a particular investment, or simply to cover their butts, rather than find the most rational investment opportunities for their client. The idea that 'professional' investors have some empirically-validated scientific approach to trading is largely a myth. Becoming a 'good' investor is largely an 'art' (i.e. developing a 'feel' or 'sense' for a particular market), or in some cases just blind luck. Similarly, people who think the investments follow the efficient market principle and therefore cannot be beaten by a knowledgeable individual without insider information are wrong. It's pretty obvious to most people who follow the flow of capital, that 'the market' as a whole often behaves in a very 'irrational' way.

Some thoughts on the growth of amateur trading in Japan. I think the growth of individualistic capitalism that stock/commodity/currency trading represent may help the Japanese economy in the long run. It's an indication of increased entrepreneurship among individual citizens, a very different style of business than the crony corporate capitalism which has dragged down Japan's economy over the past 15 years or so. My guess is that in many instances individual rather than institutional investors will do a better job of allocating capital. It was institutional investors at big banks which used the savings of the Japanese people to dole out non-performing loans to inefficient domestic companies with the right connections. What better way to reform the economy than to keep the money out of the hands of the hidebound institutions that produced the mess in the first place. I very much doubt those amateurs are interested in pumping money into the inefficient industries hiding behind a tariff wall- especially when they have a giant economy booming next door.

By the way, I'm about to start dabbling in some trading myself. I plan on investing in gold futures (buying call options), and probably will buy some Audible.com stock too. I've come across some people on the web using their blog as a diary for their trading activity- I think I might end up doing this myself just to have a record. Then I can happily gloat if I get lucky (or hang my head in shame if I'm wiped out). I'll try to provide you guys with some rationale for the trading decisions I've made too- hopefully there will be some rationale for most of my trades :)

In Japan, Day-Trading Like It's 1999

Published: February 19, 2006

YUKA YAMAMOTO dutifully quit work to assume her expected role as suburban homemaker when she married six years ago. But she quickly grew bored at home, and when she saw a television program about online stock investing, she took $2,000 in savings and gave it a try.

Today, Ms. Yamamoto says she has turned her initial investment into more than $1 million as a day trader, scanning her home computer for price movements in stocks, futures and foreign currencies that could lead to quick profits. And by writing books and holding seminars on trading strategies, she has also become a celebrity among homemakers who are investors. She says she has met thousands of other married women who now play the stock market online, many without their husbands' full knowledge.

Having overcome the country's sluggishness in embracing cyberspace and deregulating discount brokerage firms, day-trading has taken off in Japan, the world's second-largest financial market, after the United States. The number of accounts at Japan's electronic brokerage firms reached 7.9 million last September, up from 296,941 in 1999, when the first such firm opened, according to the Japan Security Dealers Association. That is an impressive gain, even after considering that some traders hold more than one account.

While Japan's business establishment still frowns on this new, rough-and-tumble style of trading, it has exploded in popularity among many who previously played only minor roles in Japan's corporate-dominated economy, particularly young people and women.

"Day-trading is great because everyone is equal, even housewives," said Mrs. Yamamoto, an energetic woman in her late 30's who declined to reveal her exact age or to document her trading profits. "Success or failure depends entirely on how clever you are, and nothing else."

ANALYSTS say online investors are driving the soaring volume — and volatility — in Japan's resurgent stock markets. Internet trading, which did not exist before 1999, accounted for almost 29 percent of all equity trades in the six months that ended last September, according to the dealers association.

That more than accounts for all the increased trading during the Japanese market's rally. The leading Japanese stock index, the Nikkei 225, has risen about 40 percent since August. While all the short-term money sloshing around has helped Japanese stocks snap out of their decade-long slump, it is also creating new dangers, say analysts. Many recall how a similar fad in the United States in the late 1990's ended with many traders suffering substantial losses when the telecom and dot-com bubble burst. As the bull market turned, overleveraged speculators dumped their holdings, accelerating and exaggerating the decline in prices.

Something similar happened here last month, though on a much smaller scale, when prosecutors started an investigation of Livedoor, a Web portal company that had been a darling of Internet investors. The news set off an avalanche of sale orders — most placed online, according to securities companies — that shut down the computers at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the world's second-largest bourse, after the New York Stock Exchange.

Since the Tokyo exchange reopened, Livedoor's share price has been in free fall, dropping more than 90 percent in three weeks. The authorities in Tokyo filed charges last week against Livedoor's founder, Takafumi Horie, and three other former executives of his company, accusing them of spreading false information to inflate a subsidiary's stock price.

The exchange is racing to update its computers, but many analysts fear similar waves of panicked selling in the future. They also say that the rising popularity of online trading has coincided with an almost three-year rally in Japan's stock markets. It is easy to make money when prices are rising, they say. But day-trading may lose some of its luster in the next bear market.

"The real test will come when the market goes down," said Yukihiro Yabuki, a managing director for marketing at Matsui Securities, one of Japan's largest online brokerage firms. "Will they abandon day-trading as soon as things get tough? Do they really understand the risks?"

So far, Livedoor's fall has failed to dampen enthusiasm for online trading. That popularity is seen in the appearance of televised day-trading competitions and in books with titles like "How a University Student Like Me Made 300 Million Yen in Internet Trading."

Looking to win more clients, online brokerage firms have begun setting up trading sites that offer cellphone access, with price charts shrunk to fit palm-sized screens. Brokerage firms say that these sites have allowed trading even from taxis or restaurants.

The surge in day-trading has even created celebrities, including its own "stock idol," a young woman named Maiko Asaba who poses in miniskirts for photographs in day-trading and stock investing magazines next to captions describing her fondness for ice cream and index futures.

"In Japan, every true subculture has celebrities," said Ms. Asaba, 28, a financial researcher and part-time day trader who keeps a giant teddy bear next to her trading terminal in her cramped Tokyo apartment.

The dream of many day traders — in Japan and in the United States — is to earn enough to make a living by trading full time. Analysts and traders estimate that only a few thousand people have reached that mark.

One is Yuta Mimura, a 22-year-old university senior. During the four-and-a-half hours each weekday that the Tokyo Stock Exchange is open, Mr. Mimura sits in his bedroom monitoring stock prices on three computer screens. He said he became hooked two years ago, after he put all his savings, $25,400, into shares trading at about 25 cents, and then watched the price jump to 45 cents in just two days. He said his parents, who are farmers, were opposed to his day-trading, but he appeased them by earning $127,000 in a month and using the money to renovate their home outside Nagoya.

Over all, he said, he has made $2.54 million by trading stocks at home, enough to be invited to a New Year's party attended by a few dozen of Japan's biggest day traders. He said the group swapped trading tips at a hostess bar in Tokyo where $2,000 bottles of French liquor flowed, though he said he didn't know what kind it was.

Mr. Mimura says that he wants to use his earnings to start his own investment company after college but that the allure of the stock market was more than the prospect of quick riches. Trading stocks, he said, offers freedoms that he wouldn't have had in a more traditional career path in Japan's rigidly hierarchical corporations: the independence to be his own boss, and to succeed or fail based on his own efforts.

"Day-trading gives me a chance to stand on my own two feet," he said. "Everything I do is up to me. That's a chance you don't often get in Japan."

The rise of online traders, as well as their go-it-alone ethic, has its critics. Many business leaders disdain the stock market as an unsavory money game, for example, while many others dislike stock trading because of a traditional dislike for greed and the bitter memories from the collapse of Japan's equity bubble in the early 1990's.

"The sight of housewives trading stocks on personal computers undermines the education of children," said Shunzo Morishita, the chief executive of NTT West, a phone company. "Making money without sweating for it undermines the work ethic."

Against such attitudes, the biggest reason for the success of online trading here has been its anonymity, analysts say. Traditional brokerage firms scared away potential clients because orders had to placed by phone, or face to face. The Internet allows the Japanese — particularly women — to trade in the privacy of their own homes hidden from the possibly disapproving gaze of neighbors and friends. People "can trade without being embarrassed," said Mr. Yabuki of Matsui Securities.

Mrs. Yamamoto says that her husband, a university professor, has not objected to her trading, but she says she still has to walk a fine line between her desire to trade and her role as wife and mother. To spend more time with her two small daughters, she has started using trading programs to buy or sell shares automatically at certain prices and has hired a secretary to handle her speaking schedule and appointments with publishers. (She says she has already written or contributed to 17 books on Internet trading.)

Despite the public attention she has received, Mrs. Yamamoto said that she still hadn't revealed the full extent of her earnings to her husband, who insists on paying the family's bills from his modest university salary. "He still thinks he's in charge," she said. "He just thinks I'm going to lose all my earnings, or blow it on clothes."

Analysts and traders say that greater financial uncertainty, resulting from sweeping change in the Japanese economy, has also led to changing attitudes about stock investing. Years of deregulation and reforms have created a more competitive economy and eroded traditional social guarantees like lifelong corporate jobs. That may help explain why most account holders at online brokerage firms range in age from their 20's to early 40's, according to the Kinzai Research Institute, a financial research company.

"We learn more about the real economy in our trading club than we do in class," said Kazuhiko Makita, a sophomore at Keio University who founded the Genesis Student Investing Club with five classmates a year ago. "In the old days, when you could join a company for life, you didn't need to learn any real skills."

ONE online brokerage firm, Monex Beans Holdings, has even held after-school classes in stock trading for elementary and junior high school students who are accompanied by their parents. Monex said that about 2,300 students in that age group had already opened accounts at the brokerage firm, after getting their parents' permission.

Analysts say young Japanese, as opposed to many of their elders, are starting to view the stock market in a much more positive light: as a legitimate way to make money.

"This is a real turning point for Japan," said Yoshiyuki Sayama, a researcher at the Kinzai Research Institute who has studied online trading. "Japanese are learning how to take care of themselves financially. They are finally getting a real taste of capitalism."

I want one of these...

It's a Tiki fireplace. Pretty cool eh? I want one, except with the face of Aku.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Richard Pound Petition

Is anyone else disturbed whenever they hear a report about the International Olympic Committee? Why you ask? Because their chair is this guy. Whenever I hear his name in the news and they're using his diminutive I feel like I'm opening up my junk mail folder on hotmail, or reading the guest list to the AVN Awards. In the name of restoring basic decency, I'm inclined to put together a petition to prevent this man from using his diminutive any longer. It worked for Stockwell Day, or should I say Doris. Maybe it's time we exercised our democratic powers for the good again. Anyone in agreement?

And what exactly were they thinking when they designed this book cover?

The Jihad Against European Food Names Continues

Mmmmm...Thanks Mo! Hope they didn't use lard...

A new front has opened up in the cartoon culture conflict. This latest troubling, yet delicious, development has once again been brought to us by some innovative Iranians. Iranians apparently love their cakes (Iranian mange-cakes?), and danish pastries in particular seem to be very popular. Either out of fear of losing their business, or out of righteous indignation bakers all over Tehran have resorted to covering up the Danish origins of the yummy pastry. On Thursday, the 'confectioners union' (a.k.a. the lollipop guild) announced that all danish pastries were to be renamed as the Roses of the Prophet Muhammad. Of course this move parallels measures taken all over the US (including the the congress cafeteria) to rename French fries and toast quite literally in the name of freedom. I have to say, this is pretty ridiculous, but it's actually pretty saavy marketing to Muslim consumers- maybe they can even 'find' some pro-pastry hadith to further boost sales :)

So danish isn't just delicious but also sacred now...maybe this isn't such a bad thing. It would be entertaining to see Mullahs breaking their Ramadan fast with a big filling-oozing Rose of the Prophet Muhammad. Even better, the spread of the pastry consumption might just help those stern and abstemious Mullahs ease up a bit- after all it's kind of difficult to sustain an apoplectic level of rage after tickling your sweet tooth.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Analysis: Cheney Shows His True Face

Everyone has heard it several times already, since it has been the focus of so much media attention. Nonetheless, this deserves to be repeated over and over again. Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States recently shot a friend of his, a 78 year-old man, in the face and chest during a hunting trip. Yes, Cheney bust a cap in his old friends face. Sent a gangsta shower down on a orange-vested good old boy. Just in case this hasn't been stated clearly enough, I'll let Cheney speak for himself:
"I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend."

While Cheney made a belated public appearance, expressing regret about the incident, it seems puzzling that he waited 14 hours before reporting the incident publicly. Why the 'accident' wasn't reported earlier has been the subject of some much speculation. The NYTimes described the handling of the 'accident' as a stark example of the lack of accountability and seeming impunity with which Cheney operates within the White House. Cheney has consistently shown himself to be highly secretive during his time as vice president. He has perpetually avoided the public eye, and even went into hiding following the Sept.11 attacks. In his White House dealings Cheney has been similarly elusive, typically exerting his influence in government through private meetings with the president. Is this simply the behavioral pattern of a power-hungry cynic, a way of avoiding public scrutiny while having access to the highest levels of government? Or is it possible that there is something more sinister afoot? What exactly is Cheney hiding from the public?

Of course the best way to understand what motivates someone is to examine their behavioral patterns. In that spirit let's have a look at Cheney's record in politics. Mr. Cheney has been a supporter of the NRA and an active opponent of gun control; he has traded with Saddam Hussein while condemning others who did the same; he has worked for various interests in the oil industry and the military industrial complex using his political contacts to their advantage; he opposed sanctions on apartheid era South Africa; he has consistently opposed environmental legislation preferring to let rapacious commercial interests run unfettered; he has defended torture and flaunted the Geneva convention; he has actively worked to undermine the UN and has torn up a variety of international treaties; he and his wife Lynn have waged culture wars against diversity and even free speech when it was critical of US foreign policy. Finally, he has been one of the strongest advocates of a extremely irresponsible fiscal policy that is bankrupting the US and threatening to destabilize the world monetary system. And why has he supported this fiscal policy: In order to increase spending on highly-sophisticated killing machines and wage new wars with them. And now he's shot an elderly man in the face.

Examination of his record seem to lead to one overwhelming conclusion: Dick Cheney is evil. While many line-blurring liberals are likely to object to such an uncompromising characterization, most rational people will be in firm agreement- Dick Cheney is an evil evil man. Given Cheney's evil nature and the hyper-secretive way he conducts his affairs in government, it seems quite apparent that Cheney has in fact entered public service in order to sow havoc, destruction, and to spread evilness across the globe. However, one question still remains, exactly what evil cabal is Mr. Cheney a representative of?

Several months ago, the astute political analyst Jon Stewart, offered some interesting speculation as to the nature of Cheney's evilness. Stewart opined that if one were to peel off Cheney's pale fleshy exterior, a titanium skeleton would be revealed. While Stewart didn't elaborate on this comment, the implication was clear: Dick Cheney may be a robot or cyborg plotting to spread mayhem across the planet, in order to pave the way for artificially intelligent beings to inherit the earth. Advocates of this theory point to his frequent absences from public view as possible evidence, arguing they may be necessary in order to reconstruct Cheney's elaborate facade of a human face after any sort of 'flesh wound'. They also the stiff, awkward demeanor and lack of emotional expression as possible evidence.

While the case for a cyborg Cheney may appear compelling, alternatives have been proposed. One intriguing possibility is that Cheney has in fact pledged allegiance to certain dark forces in exchange for unnatural powers. While Cheney has indeed been allied with the military and oil industries, advocates of this theory believe there are even more nefarious allegiances at play. More specifically, it has been speculated that Cheney may be tapping into some sort of universal evil force. Proponents of this particular evil-Cheney model cite his pale and withered exterior, fatigued inexpressive facial musculature, and repeated heart troubles, as evidence of evil-force drainage that Cheney would likely suffer after a particular vigorous channeling of the hypothetical evil force.

These theories likely appear far-fetched and based on unsubstantiated conjecture to some readers. It should be noted however that a cyborg or darkpower-lord Cheney would not be the first instance of there being a dangerous alien presence within the highest levels of the Bush administration. Once a matter of speculation, it is now widely acknowledged that Condaleeza Rice is in fact a extraterrestrial being.

While it is still unclear what the alien Condaleeza's motivation is with regards to gaining access to the highest levels of the US government, it is believed that are also evil in nature. Possible conflict between cyborg and extraterrestrial interests will be of interest during the waning years of the Bush White House. A handful of analysts have already pointed to a possible power struggles emerging between the competing evil cabals. One source of contention appears to be a vigorous disagreement on social security reform. While Cheney has endorsed a plan to liquidate the elderly following retirement, alien Condaleeza is on the record as supporting harvesting this unproductive demographic to prop-up a faultering soylent-green industry.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Darwin Award Recruitment Video

This video has a good shot at inspiring the next Darwin Award winner.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Garth Turner: Rebel Without a Clause

Yes his name is Garth- don't hold it against him. It should be obvious from the portrait above that this cats got more going on then most MPs. He's only been on the job for a couple of weeks and he's already shown he's got true grit. Perhaps, he was unable to spout the party line while keeping a straight face, or maybe he just couldn't walk past reporters quickly enough. Whatever the reason Garth decided to tell it like it is and publicly chastised his party for plucking Emerson from the Liberal ranks. Soon after his straight-talking scrum, Garth sadly declared to the world he may have a little influence in the new Harper government because he didn't tow the line.

Garth is a fairly well-known name, he was an PC MP from 88-93, and even ran against Kim Campbell for the leadership of the party. In private life he's been a successful columnist, editor, broadcaster and is even the CEO of a television production enterprise (this bio brought to you by...). So it's not surprising his name was being kicked around when the pundits were speculating about Harper's possible cabinet picks. Unfortunately, there was just too many shining stars in the new Con caucus, and poor old Garth was left out in the cold. Surely it's merely coincidence that he decided to take the high-road the day after the new Garth-free cabinet was sworn in ;-)

For those you who can't get enough of this leather-clad warrior for truth, you can read more about the world according to Garth at his spiffy weblog. He already seems to have a bit of a fan club there. I really have the feeling this guy is going places- moving on up in the world. Yep...higher up into the back-benches ;-)

So lets add it all up:
Straight-shooting MP +
already has a fan club +
personal political blog +
no cabinet position +
high goofball/eccentric quotient +
f@#$ this, I own my own business +
leather jacket

Canada's next independent MP!

So how does my math look?

By the way, here's some sage financial advice from Garth:

If you own Nortel, or a mutual fund holding it, don't bail out now.… If you do not own Nortel, then this is the time to start accumulating it.
Garth Turner, Conservative candidate (Halton) November 27th 2000 at the start of the stock's plummet from $50 to pennies a share.

Some more wise words from Garth:

I am constantly amazed at the assumption people make that they can manage their own finances, most people can't. They don't have a clue how to pick stocks
Garth Turner in a 2002 personal investment column regarding those unfortunate enough to have lost on Nortel.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Guess who's next on the US list?

Some very detailed plans are being made for a strike against Iran:
"This is more than just the standard military contingency assessment."

Friday, February 10, 2006

Some thoughts on why Europe has more problems integrating Muslims compared to North America

This was a originally a post at a friends website, but it became so long and involved I thought I'd post something similar over here. I was responding to some interesting comments he had made about the whole cartoon controversy, you can find it here. In his blog post he points out an interesting phenomenon, several European papers have published the cartoons while relatively very few have in North America. Why do so many Europeans feel the need to 'defend free speech', while major media outlets in the US and Canada are more concerned with 'avoiding provocation'? In general, it's hard to argue against the assertion that Europeans more readily come into conflict with their Muslim population compared to North Americans. Why the greater conflict between Muslims and native Europeans? My friend argues that the relative difference in integration is largely due to the more 'militantly secular' attitude of Europeans. Basically, he claims that Europeans are more hostile towards any strong religious belief because of a harsher and more complete history of secularization. Here's was my response:

The 'militant secularism' of Europe is an interesting point which I haven't given much thought too. I think you're right that most European countries are more secular-minded and openly critical of religion than the US, or even Canada. This is probably an aggravating factor in terms of Europe's relationship with contemporary Islam. However, I suspect there are other factors that are more relevant than 'militant secularism'.

Europeans define themselves by their ethnicity/race to a much larger degree than North Americans. This also applies to their national identities too- they are defined by ethnicity, race, and language. The US and Canada consist of a much more heterogenous population, and most of the population conceptualizes themselves as being a descendent of immigrants (since most people can find an immigrant among the last few generations of ancestors). It only makes sense that Europeans would therefore be more prone to viewing newcomers with suspicion and sometimes hostility.

I think another factor is the emphasis on preserving history and the old culture in the continent. Overall, North American society is simply more dynamic and adaptable. North Americans are more willing, and capable, of altering their culture in response to changes in their demographics and changes in technology. Since their culture is more fluid to begin with, North Americans are less likely to become apoplectic about immigrants having some influence on the character of the society they live in.

I think another cause behind the differences between NA and Europe is that the fight for the rights of, and inclusion of, various minorities has generally been more successful in NA- at least in recent history. As a result of these victories for a more inclusive society, the sensitivity of North Americans to racial/ethnic/religious minority issues is more acute. To put it in a less flattering way, North Americans are more likely to have 'Politically Correct' views; and to use my friends terminology- North Americans are more 'militant' when it comes to the toleration/acceptance of minorities.
Europe of course has a very different history. I think it is no exaggeration to say that the majority of largescale racial and ethnic conflicts in Europe in the 20th century have either led to the disintegration of multiethnic nation-states, or worse, the elimination of the minority prescence. In the US and Canada, most major racial, ethnic, or religious conflicts have been successfully addressed without resorting to the fragmentation of the state, or wide-spread massacre (the major exception being the Native population- however, the worst of that abuse occurred several generations ago). I believe these different historical backgrounds have produced very different cultures. In NA there are strong cultural norms and attitudes that decrease the likelihood of conflict between diverse groups (some examples: American historical 'amnesia'; downplaying of ethnic roots; optimism; an orientation towards the future rather than the past). Of course the emergence of the EU goes against the generalizations I've just made about Europe. I think the EU might have a very positive transformative effect on old Euro culture- particularly with the inclusion of Eastern Europe and possibly Turkey. The shock therapy of integration might breath some life into a somewhat fossilized culture.

Finally, I think Europeans are just less libertarian in their outlook. They're more likely to expect individuals to adapt to the community, and correspondingly less inclined to have a live and let live attitude. This inevitably leads to more hostility towards Muslims, or any other immigrants, who actively resists adopting the cultural norms of the native inhabitants. And yes- one of the most important cultural conflicts is the clash between the 'militant secularism' of most Europeans and the non-secular attitudes of many Muslims.

P.S. Yes this post is filled to the brim with sweeping generalizations. There are definitely large differences between the various nationalities of Europe. But most of what I said was pretty general and I do think the comparisons hold for most European countries. Of course, it should also be noted that there is a huge amount of individual variation and I'm only talking about the 'average' European and North American. Anyways, I'd appreciate to hear any comments, especially from any Euros out there- or better yet people who have some knowledge of both continents.

What's your blogotype?

Apparently I'm most like Andrew Sullivan :) Well we certainly have different opinions on many of the issues, but perhaps there is some similarity in style??
If you want to determine your blogotype follow the link at the bottom- it's a very short quiz.

You are an Andrew Sullivan.

You are not afraid to share your political views with everyone in candid and clear ways.

You may also be making some money... one day.

Take the What Blogging Archetype Are You test at GAZM.org

Bill Bennett shares his hate with a few million viewers

CNN recently hired America's self-proclaimed paragon of virtue/compulsive high-stakes gambler, Bill Bennett, as a commentator- obviously hoping to win some cred with the wingnut set. In a debate over the Muhammad cartoons with John Zogby, Mr. Bennett decides to try and convince his viewers that Islam is an evil religion. How statesman like of you Bill, thanks for helping to defuse the incredibly tense situation. From the failed 'war on drugs', to peddling cheap fixes to 'save America's values', to his apparent present desire to wage a holy war on Islam: Is it possible for this twit to do any more damage?
P.S. Notice the perpetually-clench-jawed Blitzmeister congratulates both of them on an insightful discussion. Why do I get the sinking feeling Ben and Blitz will get along just fine?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A couple of revealing links: Hypocrisy on both sides of the Muhammad cartoon war

I came across a couple of interesting links concerning the big cartoon kerfuffle which appears to be raging unabated. I think these link show the hyprocrisy that can be found on either side of the cartoon issue. Hopefully they'll give hotheads on either side of the issue some pause.

The first link reveals that an Egyptian newspaper El Fagr actually published the controversial cartoons in October, 2005 without provoking any widespread protests within the country. To be fair, the cartoons were shown with Arabic commentary describing them as examples of Islamophobia and intolerance. But then again I'm sure some of the other papers that republished the cartoons condemned the offensive and provocative nature of the content even if they defended the right of a newspaper to publish them. Is it time to boycott Egyptian goods too? :)

The second revealing example of hypocrisy comes from the original offending newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, itself. Apparently, only two years prior to their publication of the Muhammad cartoons, the same paper refused to publish some Jesus cartoons which were much less offensive. I think this tells you a lot about the underlying attitude and motivation of the paper. Yes, it is true that they did publish the original Muhammad cartoons on the grounds that they were fighting against intimidation of the free press by extremists. However, the Guardian article clearly demonstrates that the editors were willing to restrain their free speech when it involved Christian sensibilities, while they actually went out of their way to provoke Muslims with the Muhammad cartoons. In light of this, it's not believable that Jyllands-Posten's underlying motivation was solely to champion free speech, since if they were truly free speech champions they wouldn't have rejected publishing the Jesus cartoons on the grounds of them being too offensive. I think it's ridiculous to deny that part of what motivated the editors of Jyllands-Posten to print the cartoons was some degree of contempt for Islam and the Muslim immigrants of Denmark.

By the way, here is one of the more insightful and measured assessments of the whole cartoon controversy that I've seen so far. I don't agree with everything she says, but I think her entry is one of the more reasonable I've seen out there so far. I plan on posting some more of my own opinions on this issue soon.

A good place to discuss the cartoon controversy

Want to read a moderate or reform-minded Muslim perspective on the Danish cartoon? Visit Muslim WakeUp! discussion forums. If you haven't heard of it Muslim WakeUp is a progressive online magazine, that is dedicated to discussing religious reform in Islam. Here is their mission statement:
Muslim WakeUp! seeks to bring together Muslims and non-Muslims in America and around the globe in efforts that celebrate cultural and spiritual diversity, tolerance, and understanding. Through online and offline media, events, and community activities, Muslim WakeUp! champions an interpretation of Islam that celebrates the Oneness of God and the Unity of God's creation through the encouragement of the human creative spirit and the free exchange of ideas, in an atmosphere that is filled with compassion and free of intimidation, authoritarianism, and dogmatism. In all its activities, Muslim WakeUp! attempts to reflect a deep belief in justice and against all forms of oppression, bigotry, sexism, and racism.

Anyone is welcome to join the discussion there- all you need to do is register and introduce yourself to the group. I just joined a couple of days ago and overall I've been pretty impressed with the openness and intelligence of most of the posters on the website. By the way, I'll be posting some thoughts on the cartoons and the reaction it's sparked in the next few days.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Weapon of mass distraction

Here's something 90% of the planet will enjoy. Go to google, type in 'asshole' and click the 'I feel lucky' button

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Take that Britannica

Yes, I suppose it was bound to happen. Some of the nerdy contributors of the Wikipedia have already created an entry on the
Liberal leadership convention. I suspect the handiwork of some of my fellow bloggers out there. Anyone man enough (or woman enough- but seriously, how likely is that given the dangerously low estrogen levels of the open source community??) to fess up this uber-geeky and ephemeral contribution to the reservoir of human knowledge? By the way, despite the deprecatory tone of this entry, I'm a huge wikipedia fan. Below is my best google-image-based approximation of the Wiki team that put together this entry. Maybe I'll actually add my bit to this entry at some point (If so I would probably be Booger, the one on the far right...not because I have his hygiene habits, more because I have his irreverent/cynical personality...yes I've seen this movie more than once).

US Media Coverage of Canada's Election Results

Registration is required to view some of the links below.

As usual, the US media paid relatively little attention to the Canadian election. However, in comparison to previous Canadian elections, the US media gave this one a lot more play. The majority of US coverage of this election presented the outcome as a considerable rightward shift in Canadian politics. An AP report run on CNN's webpage immediately after the election highlighted how many of Harper's viewpoints are more aligned with the Bush's than Paul Martin's. The article fails mention that Harper actually ran his campaign on a centrist platform. In one instance they mention that Harper wanted to lend more moral support to the US during the lead-up to Iraq, without mentioning that during the campaign he rejected getting involved in any future US military action without the wide support of the international community. The article also talks about Kyoto, missile defense and abortion in the same way, neglecting to point out they were not major issues during the election. In light of these points, it's clear that this brief article artificially creates an impression of a major shift to the right in Canadian politics. It should be noted that media outlets aren't the only group in the US talking up the Canadian 'move to the right' as can be seen in this quote from the same article:
"We are glad to see that Canadians have values-voters too," said Bob Morrison of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based group opposed to abortion and gay marriage. "We can be optimistic about the end of the social engineering as driven by the Martin government."

Some coverage was given my US group-blog news websites like Plastic.com. A couple of .articles on the election were posted on Plastic. Tellingly most of the comments to the articles seem to be from Canadians (despite the fact that most of the users of the website are overwhelmingly from the US), but there are some US commentators and it's interesting to see what they have to say.

A general editorial from the Washington Post heralded the election results as A Defeat for Anti-Americanism. Here's some of the more interesting quotes from this article:
ACCORDING TO his opponent, Canadian Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper exposed "an agenda really drawn from the extreme right in the United States.".... He might just become -- heaven forbid -- "the most pro-American leader in the Western world."...Despite all those scary warnings, Mr. Harper and his party won Canada's election on Monday. That put an end to 12 years of increasingly incoherent and corrupt rule by the Liberal Party...
Canada sells 85 percent of its exports to the United States and depends on it for security as well as prosperity -- a fact that Mr. Martin opportunistically overlooked when he refused to join the U.S. missile defense program. His grandstanding merely gave Mr. Bush an excuse to ignore Canada's legitimate complaints about tariffs on softwood lumber and the impact of new border controls due to take effect this year.
Foreign political leaders who stick to a platform of friendship and cooperation with the United States in the teeth of anti-American mudslinging ought to be visibly rewarded. As for Mr. Martin, perhaps he will be tempted again by the example of Mr. Schroeder, who has taken a job as an agent for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Does Hugo Chavez need another lobbyist?

Although I'm tempted, I'm not going to spend too much time arguing against the main points of this small-minded and angry little editorial, rather I want to focus on the authors' underlying perceptions of the election. The editorial clearly expresses satisfaction at the defeat of the Liberals, portraying them aggressively anti-American. Martin is portrayed as so anti-American and left-leaning that the editorialist can half-jokingly suggest he become a lobbyist for Hugo Chavez. To most Canadians such a statement is just too patently ludicrous to even be mildly amusing. Again, the article fails to point out the weak mandate the Conservatives have and the moderate policy platform that they ran on. The authors are just too busy ranting about how Western politicians playing the 'anti-American' card will eventually receive their comeuppance. I was a little taken aback by the strident tone of this article; I wasn't expecting it from the Washington Post, which is usually on the liberal side of the spectrum. I can't help but thinking that the Post's perception of anti-Americanism in Canadian politics is greatly exaggerated. Yes, I do agree there is some plenty free-floating contempt for the US government in Canada, but the majority of 'anti-Americanism' is rooted in specific policy differences between the nations ranging from trade, the environment and foreign affairs. Bashing the US by itself doesn't win votes in Canada, but voicing the opposition Canadians have to specific US policy certainly does. Having said that, I'm pretty sure some of the people reading this post would beg to differ (no need to beg friends- just post some comments :)

Here's another interesting article from the NYTimes called Canada's Shift: To the Right, Gently. The general tone of this brief article is that the Canadian electorate has moved rightward, and it does mention that the results may have been more of a product of the scandals then a genuine shift in the electorate. What's most interesting about this article is the way the author describes Harper:
Arriving in Ottawa in the afternoon, he made the briefest, and vaguest, of statements at the airport. ''I know a lot of you are going to be with us now in the next few months and years ahead,'' he said, ''as we start rebuilding this great country of ours. Mr. Harper's modest words in part reflect a man who is shy to the point of being aloof, someone who has always been careful not to show all of his cards. He is known to have a fiery temper, and he barely disguises his distrust for reporters. His sense of humor on the campaign trail was most revealing in its self-deprecating jokes about his lack of charisma.

It's a little odd to hear such an uninhibited description of Stephen Harper. A Canadian columnist wouldn't think of raising such a point due to fear of appearing biased; or maybe the Canadian media is just a little more reserved than its US counterpart. I think the former explanation is more likely than the later. I was surprised by the author's description of Harper as having a 'fiery temper'. While Harper has controversial views and has expressed them in the past, he has commonly been perceived as being fairly unemotional and cerebral. Yes, he has expressed frustration with various aspects of Canadian politics at times, but this has more to do with the fact that he has usually been very out of step with the Canadian political establishment than a matter of him being a hot-tempered person. I've occasionally seen him being caricaturized as a Vulcan- not exactly a hot-blooded species (not including mating season of course). It's a little disconcerting that the hot-tempered description in the article is being presented in passing as if it's some commonly acknowledged fact. But of course such a comment running the NYTimes isn't likely to be widely challenged since most of the readers of the article know next to nothing about Harper.

It's quite instructive to observe the ways the 'foreign media' covers national events. Sometimes the coverage provided by the 'foreign press' is more balanced and insightful than what is reported at home- distance can provide some objectivity and can give a person a wider view. At the same time that distance tends to blur all sorts of detail, and some of them are very important. The lack of detail provided, combined with a need to entertain as well as inform the reader, often leads to the journalist painting a fairly distorted picture. It gives one pause to think that all our news of the world is similarly filtered through a handful of foreign affairs reporters. Recognizing this can only highlight the potential importance of the blogosphere. Any curious US citizen could have easily located Canadian media sources and more importantly opinion from the Canadian public by doing a google blogsearch on the topic. And while admittedly information in the blogosphere is far from objective, it at least provides the unvarnished opinion of people who are participating in the events those reporters are babbling about. The information on foreign events is definitely out there now...it's just a matter of the reader having the will to seek it out.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Norval Morrisseau: Art of Canada's greatest native artist on exhibit

The breathtaking artwork of Norval Morrisseau is on display at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Norval Morrisseau (Copper Thunderbird), an Ojibway born in Thunder Bay, is rightly viewed as one Canada's greatest artists. His work is all the more remarkable considering Morrisseau left school after the 4th grade and initially worked as a miner. Some of Morrisseau's beautiful work is on display below- Enjoy!

Evo Morales: Fighting to free hideous sweaters from their closets

An article in the New York Times today describes a growing new fashion trend running through Latin America. Evo Morales the latest leftist leader to be elected in Latin America, and is the first indigenous leader of Bolivia. Evo has worn the lovely multi-stripped sweater shown above to many important state events, including a meeting with various world leaders a couple of weeks ago. Evo's repeatedly worn gear has apparently caught the attention of the style conscious, and appears to be sparking a new fashion trend. Another article in the Guardian breathlessy babbles about Evo's revolutionary style, here are some of the more informative quotes from the piece:
This week a new front-runner has emerged in the men's wear style stakes...Evo Morales, president-elect of Bolivia, has been rigorously working what is known in the world of fashion as a 'signature look.' Or, in lay terms, wearing the same thing every day, but in a good way...The irregularity and the colour of the stripes lend a slightly 80s look to the jumper, something the president elect is bold enough to embrace in the way he wears it. For a visit to an apartheid museum in Johannesburg, he styled it casually knotted, brat-pack style, around his shoulders...

Now look here Evo, I have nothing against dressing casually and showing your solidarity with the working man...but did you really have to pick such a hideous sweater?? This looks like something out of an Andean Walmart.

Fortunatley, there may be some hope yet for Evo:
Beatriz Canedo Patiño, Bolivia's best-known fashion designer, who designed outfits for Hillary Rodham Clinton during a visit to Bolivia as first lady, was called on to design a suit for Mr. Morales's inauguration. Ms. Canedo Patiño saw no need to outfit him in a tie or standard dark suit but said she wanted to avoid "screaming colors" and to devise something elegant. She went with a dark jacket and pants, made from baby alpaca and embroidered with a pre-Hispanic motif, reflecting Mr. Morales's roots. I wanted something Aymara, and Aymara culture is very rich...I respect that he does not put on a tie, but there are things that he can do to dress for the world.

Keep up the good work Beatriz; the world fashion may hang in the balance.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Martin's final press conference as PM (and some final thoughts on P.M.)

This afternoon Martin met with the media a final time as the PM and leader of the Liberals. On the surface Martin appeared relaxed with no overt display of emotion. But to my eyes, he appeared more muted than usual with a somewhat hangdog expression on his face (as you would expect from a party leader after an upset electoral defeat). But at the same time he did seem to be at ease with himself,and at times almost jovial. He gave his standard spiel about being optimistic about Canada's future and proud of his own accomplishments:
We leave a country in very strong economic shape, in fact, one of the strongest of the industrial world, a country that clearly has the wind in its sails. Canadians are optimistic, with every reason to be so... I think that we accomplished a great deal, and I feel very proud of what my government and what my caucus and what Canadians have done

Martin also cited the Kelowna Accord, the health accord negotiated between the provinces, and funding for childcare as noteworthy accomplishments of the Liberals while he was leader.

Given the short time he had in the PMO, and the fact that his hands were often tied as a minority leader, this isn't an insignificant list of accomplishments. To many people, the agenda of the Martin government may have seemed to be lacking in focus, but the fact is that his government was able to push forward some badly needed legislation on a variety of fronts. Ultimately Martin's reign will be viewed by most as a political failure, but he did demonstrate the capacity to carry out the administrative duties of the PMO as well as any previous prime minister. I think many people out there will agree that one of his major flaws as PM was that he left the 'politics' to his heavy-handed hacks, while he himself focused on formulating and implementing new policy. A leader out of tune with his political wing rarely lasts long or succeeds in contemporary democratic politics.

During the press conference Martin also stated he had no regrets about calling the Gomery inquiry. He stated that it was an ethical necessity, even if it may have been politically harmful. While some Liberal cynics will dismiss this as Martin attempting to sidestep a major political miscalculation, I personally take his comments at face value. I believe Martin when he says that his primary motivation for calling Gomery was to improve governmental ethics. I don't think calling Gomery was primarily a move to mitigate the fallout of the scandal. Yes, many of his closest advisors were probably primarily motivated in supporting the inquiry because it was a chance to purge the party of Chretien's influence, but Martin himself committed himself to the process on ethical grounds. The major political mistake the Martinites made during the sponsorship scandal was not calling the inquiry, rather it was the complete failure to put the scandal into any sort of context. At the very least they should have occasionally pointed out the following: 1. The scandal occurred at a very sensitive time in Canadian politics, 2. The motivation behind the sponsorship program was Canadian patriotism, 3. Not all of the sponsorship funds were lost to corruption. The public perception of any long-term political event is constantly being revised by the messages they here in the media. If the Martinites had periodically put the scandal in context during the inquiry then it would have provided some mitigating factors for why such a mismanaged and wasteful program was ever put into place. Of course they never did this, and most of the blame for this has to fall on his political advisors who are ones primarily responsible for managing the public image of the party.

One of the more interesting exchanges of the press conference concerned Martin's image during the election. A reporter asked whether the Canadian public got to see the true face of Paul Martin during the campaign. Martin essentially responded by saying that he had no clue what the public perception of him was, adding that the reporter probably had a better idea of what the answer was than Martin himself. I think this speaks volumes about the man, and gives us some insight on why he hasn't performed well as a political leader. He's consistently avoided showing his private self to the public, ever reluctant to share his private thoughts and feelings. He would probably deny this by say that his private self is reflected in the policy and decisions he made. But that just doesn't cut it, in the end the public wants to feel that they have seen the unvarnished side of a leader on occasion. The public needs this in order to trust and develop a personal connection with the leader (I talked about this during the election in a previous post). It appears as if Martin simply failed to understand the power of a personal connection in modern politics.

One thing you have to give Martin some credit for is demonstrating loyalty and tact- something he's shown time and again as political leader (and considering the ineptitude his advisors displayed, was arguably a factor in his downfall). During the press conference Martin never said anything negative about his advisors and only had praise for the good work they've done during his time in office.

He spoke briefly about his future plans, indicating that he would be interested in working for the UN commission on private sector development- an agency devoted to increasing foreign investment in the developing world. I expect Martin will be granted his wish, and will have the opportunity to play stateman on the international scene. It's been a lifelong dream of his to work for the economic development of the third world, and he'll probably do an excellent job in representing Canada on that front. I imagine he'll have a lot more success dealing with foreign diplomats and UN officials, then dealing with the Canadian public as PM.

Liberal leadership odds

Interesting website devoted to polling the public on who should win the liberal leadership race. Have your say vote on who should be the next Liberal leader.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Health care izz preciousssss

For more photoshop fun check out Rick Mercer's blog.

Interesting variations on the classic Che t-shirt