Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Goodbye for the foreseeable future.

There will be no more posts on this blog for the foreseeable future. In the unlikely event that I have readers, I thank you.

Have a good 2009.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A question about Sir Roger Hollis.

Roger Hollis was the Director General of MI5 (Britain's counterintelligence service) for nine years starting in 1956. His period as DG is, I believe fairly, considered to be a very, very low patch for that organization.

In the 1980s, two books came out which made a damning case for the theory that Hollis was a Soviet mole. I won't go into details today, but suffice to say that much in his past and in his conduct as DG is startling and lends great credence to worries about his loyalty. (It is difficult, for example, to picture a man who knew Agnes Smedley would get past a vetting, had it been known, let alone making it to DG.) It's a fascinating case and I may blog about it some other day.

What baffles me is the notion that Hollis has been cleared by the revelations of KGB* defectors Oleg Gordievsky and Yuri Modin; they go on about how he wasn't the famous "Fifth Man", even though it is now known that the "Fifth Man" was John Cairncross. What has been made clear by the excellent work of Peter Wright and Chapman Pincher is that if Hollis was a Soviet spy then he was a GRU spy, not KGB. The famous Cambridge spies (Philby, Burgess, McLean, Blunt and Cairncross were all a Cambridge men of a specific time and background, and all were KGB agents.) These men would have no direct knowledge of any such GRU agent. The GRU and the KGB had often notoriously bad relations, so information would not be mixed freely. And the GRU is still a going concern, whereas KGB has, in the American model, split off into two separate organizations (the SVR and the FSB, roughly corresponding to CIA and FBI, respectively) .. and has leaked far more information since the end of the Cold War than its military counterpart, some of which is quite accurate. Some.

My own take? I take Option A: Hollis was a spy; if I blog on this later I will note why**. Option B: (only shortly behind A) is that Hollis was a skilled bureaucrat who rose many, many levels about his level of professional, but not political, competence. He was cunning and ambitious enough to rise to the top, but nowhere near smart enough to actually do a good job there.

* - The Soviet spy service went through a myriad of forms and names during its history. I use its best-known and modern label, the KGB, to cover all periods of time merely for convenience sake.

* - Just one short note: To me the most damning this is his debrief of Igor Gouzenko; Hollis was the Five man sent out to conduct it. His report back in London was painfully short and downright deceitful: it ignored all of the information most important to Five (including and especially information on a GRU mole in British counter-intelligence, complete with codename and background information). If Hollis was merely an incompetent then the report would have just been bad, not a tissue of lies and concealment. If he was ambitious, then the opportunity to unmask a mole would have been sweet. (There are, however, two strong counter-arguments to that argument. First, there was a comparatively pro-Soviet labour government in place, one with fresh and very angry memories of the Zinoviev letter. Pissing on the Russians might have been a career-killer at a stage when Labour was cheerfully selling jet engines to make the first combat-effective MIGs. Second, Gouzenko's information on the mole matched up to a great extent with Hollis himself. If Hollis wasn't a GRU agent one could still see him covering all that up in order to save his career.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Something interesting to think about....

from the Star's Brent Ledger:
One of the great advantages of gay life has always been its social freedom. Unfettered by institutional restraints, gay relationships were free to seek their own balance.

People would pal around with friends, lovers and various combinations of the two, and few of these relationships were as exclusive or as hierarchical as marriage, which basically suggests that there's only one intimate relationship worth having and it had better be sexual and exclusive.

But like everyone else, I find myself getting on the pro-marriage bandwagon just because to do otherwise would be un-gay. And this annoys me, because it stifles nuance, innovation and discussion.

There are a million ways to support relationships, gay and straight, and they don't all have to start with the letter "m."

I want to support friends who have married but I don't want marriage to become the default position for gay relationships the way it is for straights. Nor do I want gays to think less of themselves for not participating in an essentially straight ritual.

While marriage confers undeniable legal and financial benefits – perks that should be available to all – its sociopsychological benefits are perhaps more open to debate. Reading about the queer couples lined up for marriage in the U.S., many of whom had been together for decades, I couldn't help noticing how well they'd done without it.

The only thing that I would add to these sensible points to ponder would be this: should marriage for straights be the default setting? Straights are probably long overdue to be "free to seek their own balance", to "pal around with friends, lovers and various combinations of the two" and be wary of "relationships were as exclusive or as hierarchical as marriage, which basically suggests that there's only one intimate relationship worth having and it had better be sexual and exclusive".

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I don't know who this pain in the ass is, but I love him.

"Checkpoint USA" is a fellow who, to use his own words, "dedicated to exposing the police state - one checkpoint at a time".

This video is especially delicious:
Driver: Am I being detained?
USBP Officer: No.
Driver: Then I'm free to go?
USBP Officer: No.
[Note: Summary and fair paraphrase.]

In the end, they didn't arrest him and let him go. I must confess that this surprised me. The American police agencies have gotten so used to ignoring their Constitution (and having that validated by judges like Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas) that the simple fact that a person who hadn't done anything wrong and who insisted on his Constitutional rights was not arrested actually surprised the hell out of me. I have gotten so used to bogus charges like "obstructing police", "resisting arrest" and the like being laid in the USA when somebody doesn't roll over like a puppy for authority that I'm amazed when what should happen does happen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How to identify a troll ... Yet another update.

Here ya go!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some thoughts on debating courtesy

I just finished watching this Anderson Cooper 360 Proposition 8 "debate" between Dan Savage -- the sex columnist, writer and educator -- and Tony Perkins, writer and president of the Mormon "Family Research Council". (Bias: I'm pro gay-marriage, and a huge Dan Savage fan. I also profoundly dislike gleaming, smarmy apologists for authoritarian religions.)

That said, the exchange was depressing if you like the clash of ideas.

First, they constantly try and talk over each other and the moderator does nothing about it; Anderson Cooper's role can be kindly described as "completely supine". I've never really seen Cooper's show before (I try to avoid the next-to-useless US mainstream media) and I was very unimpressed. He's very pretty. And that seems to be it.

Second, I profoundly disliked Mr. Perkins' constantly complaining about being talked over when he was doing the same thing. (Frankly, I think that it's a bit of a microcosm of how the Religious Right operates in the US: it defines freedom and courtesy and the right to be heard as if they are things that only they are entitled to, but that's for another day.)

Third, I disliked Mr. Perkin's complaining about interruptions in specific light of one of his debating tactics: to keep talking and talking and not letting Mr. Savage get a word in edgeways. He just keeps rolling along, making point after point, never pausing, never stopping and then gets all self-righteous about interruptions when somebody tries to get a word in edgeways. It's the moderator's job to stop that sort of thing. (Still, points to Savage for noting that this fellow seemed to think that being interrupted was a far greater wrong being done than he and his type stripping fellow citizens of their rights.)

Fourth (and a sub-set of the third) is the insertion of deliberate of sequential falsehoods. If somebody is allowed to just roll along like Perkins does then one permits that person to erect a wall of their positions with the falsehoods inserted as supporting bricks in the wall of their assertions. Again, it is a journalist's job to be well-versed enough to know what's true and what's a fib, and that journalist-moderator's job to call people on it. Against such an opponent Savage had to repeatedly leap in and counter a falsehood resulting in even more crosstalk and protests about interruption.

Fifth, I notice that one of the most interesting thing about the Mormon Church's participation did not come up: taxes. The average Mormon's fiscal and personal participation in support of Prop 8 was mandated by their Church. It wasn't optional. Tens of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of foot soldiers for the lobbying and GOTV and related efforts were made obligations of the Mormon faith by the Church's hierarchy. Why isn't their tax-exempt status at issue? Savage had the principle grasped, at least, and called it at the beginning when he noted that American churches as a general rule want to have it both ways: they want to participate in the public arena but still retain a kind of benefit of clergy. Here there and everywhere they want tax-exempt status for not participating in the political process.... while still participating in the political process.

Sixth, I find it more than a little revolting that a church that started out as a persecuted minority turns so eagerly to persecuting other minorities. Then again, the Mormons have never been a tolerant bunch; they only admitted that blacks were as important as whites in 1978.

In the end, if I walked away from it disgusted it was for two reasons. There will always be Tony Perkinses out there, smoothly and sanctimoniously presenting lies about why their views must use law as a club to beat others of whom they disapprove. And I was stupid enough to watch something on American mainstream news. I totally deserved to walk away feeling ill.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Self-Quoting is still a sin.

And I'm not only going to hell, I will have to polish the desks when I get there.
"Most of the Dems current caucus are very much Subs in the B&D game of politics."

No, I don't exaggerate. The Dems are debating whether or not to keep Joe Lieberman in its caucus (!) and whether or not to let him retain his HSC Chairmanship (!!!!!!!!!!!). My god, if these people ran the FBI or CIA they'd be debating about letting Hanssen and Ames keep their security clearance.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Self-quoting is a Sin

I'm going to hell.

Religion is a bit like The Jackal’s crutch in the famous thriller: it serves to hold some people up, to gain sympathy, and obtain entry into where they should not be permitted to go; having served that purpose it can now be used to hurt somebody.
How to identify a troll...

another update.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Do you think that the Russians would be foolish enough to take it back if the Americans asked very, very, very, very nicely?

I made some predictions. How'd I do?

1. The Democratic leadership would continue to foolishly tack to what it and the MSM erroneously called "the centre", i.e. it would continue to move to the right and be Republicans whilst claiming to be an alternative.

Congressional level: They did not continue their tack to the right. There was no repeat of 2002, 2004 and 2006 where they sought to be the GOP.
Presidential level: They selected a reasonably progressive Senator as the nominee and won with him, and did so without pandering Right.
Result: seeker was WRONG.

2. The Democratic leadership would continue to "alienat[e] liberals and progressives by abandoning their objectives and principles...".

WRONG. See #1.

3. The Democratic leadership would continue to "alienat[e] independents because of their inaction on the war and their constant, demonstrated weakness...".

WRONG. See #1.

4. "[R]ecord low turnouts" [amongst Democrats and independents] in the 2008 elections.

64% voter turnout, "the biggest voter turnout since women got the vote in 1920", according to the Wall Street Journal.
Result? Not only was I wrong but I was WRONG WRONG WRONG.

5. "[S]urprisingly large GOP votes" in the 2008 elections.

McCain pulled 62,040,610 votes [Wiki, as of today's date], a drop of 6,031,257 from Bush's 2004 total, and in a year of record voter turnout.
Result? WRONG.

6. "[R]ecord levels of vote fraud in bellweather areas". I should have clarified that I meant GOP voter fraud. I should also note that I should have said "swing states". In any event, a prediction for high levels of GOP vote fraud, by which I mean voter suppression and perhaps computer theft like Ohio in 1984.

Result? If it happened, (and it probably did... or maybe it didn't) then it was too little to swing the election to McCain. I would be worried that the Democrats, secure in their majorities and with a historic president, will not do their utmost to correct the multitude of systemic cheats built into the system for the GOP.
Prediction result: INCONCLUSIVE.

Wow. Five out of six wrong, and the sixth is too early to tell and we may never know.

In my defence, I made the prediction in September of 2007, based only on the performance of the Dems in that Congress. I still think that they were weak, Chamberlainish turds. But in making the prediction I grossly underestimated the transformative effect of Barack Obama.

What I will be interested to see (and sorry, no predictions, I've learned my lesson), is whether or not Dem congresscritters who wouldn't say boo to George Bush or fight back against their GOP counterparts will suddenly stand up, dust off their knees and install a spine when it comes to being obstinate to a Democratic President.

I will also be interested to see just who, both on the Hill and in the new Obama administration, had the stones to undo the massive, massive damage done to governmental institutions during the Bush years. The number of hack appointees to career-level positions has been astounding. It is darkly and unamusingly ironic that the Bushies, having ridden roughshod over the civil service rules and legislation (in hiring unqualified people for career slots and using blatant ideological tests to do so) will scream blue murder and wave the law and paint the Dems as the bad guys as they try to smoke the cockroaches out of the woodwork. (And the CMSM will suddenly discover the story, the story that it for the most part avoided as the damage was being done.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Droll sarcasm at its accurate finest.

MSNBC’s staying with four hours of former GOP Representative Joe Scarborough, who sits with moderate conservative radio host Mike Barnicle and ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan talking the entire time about how the media is too much in Obama’s tank.

Jesse Taylor over at Pandagon, today.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I don't use marijuana. But I do stand by this.

A comment that I made at theagitator.com:

The marijuana laws exist for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is to take something normal and useful and safe (the WD40 of the drug world) and make it illegal. Its very ubiquity and utility guarantees a demand for more and more enforcement, “necessitating” harsher laws, more police, more raids, etc. ; it also serves as a backup justification for any other mistakes they make. (A raid of the wrong house magically becomes a righteous raid because, almost inevitably, some cop is going to find a joint.)

Marijuana/cannibis isn’t illegal because we need protection from it. It’s illegal because many forces within the state need it to craft a growing, authoritarian, moralistic, anti-constitutional police state. If cannabis had never existed it would be something else.

Marijuana is not the End which necessitates the Means of an aggressive police state. It is the Means by which the End of the aggressive police state is created, justified and maintained.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

She's got it.

Commenter "Thena, Sultana of Stale Raisin Bread" addresses the difference between poor, working class and middle class:

The difference (IMO) between working-class and middle-class is not just about income but about security.

I figure it this way:

the genuinely poor are those who struggle to get by on a day to day, week to week basis. The keyword here is Survival.

the working class (where I see myself) are those who get by but can’t really get ahead - able to pay the rent but not save up enough for a down payment, perhaps, or employed but uninsured, for instance. The keyword here is Security.

Real middle-class status, to me, implies a certain basic level of security: you know you’ve got enough to take a hit and keep rolling in a “One down three engines good” sort of way. You own your home (or have a mortgage that you can easily keep up with); you have health insurance and savings and a 401K or a government pension and you can reasonably expect that things are going to be Okay - maybe not fabulous, maybe you won’t make that trip to DisneyVille this summer, but you’ll eat regularly and go straight to the ER when you injure yourself instead of waiting a few days to see if it gets better on its own. The keyword here is Stability.

(In this paradigm I’d use “Savings” as the keyword for the upper class - being those who have money left over to save or invest after their material needs and comforts are assured for the foreseeable future - and “Surfeit” as the keyword for the genuinely wealthy, the people who have more money than I can figure out what to do with. And I am capable of finding good homes for absurdly large dollar figures, I work in a state government accounting office. At the moment.)

By this measure I believe there are a whole lot of people in this country who are not middle class but call themselves by that name because they don’t want to admit the economy’s broken.

(In case you were wondering about the name: there was a period where most regular posters at Pandagon had a food-related nickname, or a foody variant on their normal nickname. Why, I cannot recall.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Name the people in the picture

Foreground: Mr. Barack Obama, future candidate for US President; Mr. Stanley A. Dunham, Mr. Obama's maternal grandfather.

Background: Unidentified future McCain-Palin "Real America" supporter.
Ummmm... Yeaaaaahhhhhh.... Riiiiiiiiiight...

It has been interesting and instructive to watch representatives of the American Right and the GOP complain about how the "liberal media" (which is a unicorn fantasy in itself) favours Obama, they want him elected, and so forth.

Before I make my short point, just this first: no movement or party which has received the ass-kissing that it's candidate got in 2000 and 2004 and right up until Katrina can complain about the media. There's a joke about how the left and right both hate the media in America: the left hates it because it doesn't do its job, and the right hates it when it does. Bush and the GOP received ludicrously favourable coverage and they can't complain.

Let's use Vincent Bugliosi's simple test of reversal of situations. That famous American trial lawyer, in analyzing Bush v. Gore, asked the reader this: if the situation had been reversed, and Gore was seeking the relief that Bush was seeking, would those judges have decided the case exactly the same? The answer is an inarguable no. (Scalia, for example, decided in favour of Bush using the "equal protection" principle that he had mocked and derided in every single other case that he'd ever heard. For that matter, would the media have been silent if the USSC had decided in favour of Gore and we found out afterwards that no judge recused themselves even though one exclaimed in public that she was horrified that Bush might win, and two others had close relatives on the Gore team who would later receive senior governmental posts?)

That test in place, let's ask ourselves two simple questions:

1. If it turned out that Michelle Obama had become a drug addict, stole from her own charity, forged doctor's signatures and later crushed the whistleblower, and only evaded jail by her husband exerting his political influence, would Obama even be the nominee, let alone in the lead? Obviously not. Yet that's what happened with Cindy McCain.

2. If it turned out that Michelle Obama or Jill Biden had been members of an anti-American secessionist organization until very recently, and had, while their husbands were in office, actively inserted themselves into their spouse's jobs, including having space in their offices, would these Democratic figures get away with that? Obviously not. But nobody outside the lefty blogsphere mentions this about Todd Palin.

Liberal media my foot. The American right is whining so loud because they have to deal with a bit of their own medicine now. They've had it their own way so completely for so long they are getting ugly, like a spoiled child hearing the word "no" for the first time.
I hate to admit it, but he's right.

Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail:
Since 1993, the largest number of francophone Quebeckers apparently has wanted no part of federal parties, and therefore of the government or governance of Canada. Canada is no longer a country they wish to participate in governing, but one from which they wish to withdraw cash, like an automated teller machine.

They want to influence decisions in Ottawa without taking any responsibility for those decisions. They want neither to separate from Canada, nor to govern it. They want, through the Bloc Québécois, a variation of an old and enduring ambition: to be part of Canada, but only sort of, and on their terms, which means some sort of associate status, égal à égal, separate but not fully separate, sovereignty but with association, autonomous but still tied, somewhat in but somewhat out, or, in the metaphor of the brilliant Quebec journalist Jean Paré, parishioners in a church called Canada they seldom attend except for important occasions like Christmas, Easter and maybe marriages. They want to take but not to give. And they always prefer leaders, when given a choice, from Quebec.

Many words spring to mind: "provincial", "tribal", "selfish". They're harsh. They hurt. I wish it weren't this way. But it is. And Simpson goes ruthlessly on in his accuracy:
Conservatives and Liberals in Quebec now appear like parties from the "other," that is to say, the rest of Canada. This perception, in turn, allows the Bloc to portray Quebec's interests as unrepresented in those parties and therefore threatened by them.

It's the acts and lies Constitution debate from the 1980s all over again. Those purporting to represent Quebec storm out, and then convince their electorate that they were kicked out and unwelcome when in fact the wound was self-inflicted. It's where I think that Mulroney's legacy is most poisoned. During his near-decade as PM he and his nationaliste allies accepted, spread and reinforced the lies about Quebec's betrayal during the patriation efforts. There's nothing like an insulting and energizing lie when it comes to sticking to a soul.

What's fatiguing about this is that Quebec's political class often seems wedded to the philosophy of demand and the magic of extortionate pressure. Picture an entire political class being operated under the same principles as a 1970s British trade union. The idea of cooperation is baffling to them. Cooperation and compromise is met with a series of new demands:
Quebeckers have a Premier who, although a federalist of a certain variety, is always demanding, never happy and seeking by all avenues to expand Quebec's powers, prestige and transfers. They have a Prime Minister in Ottawa, of whatever political stripe, who pays enormous attention to the province, owing to its 75 seats and the always-possible threat of national dismemberment. And in the Bloc Québécois, they have their very own, homegrown opposition party, always demanding, never satisfied, and seeking, like the Premier, to expand Quebec's powers, prestige and transfers. ... In this culture, nothing is ever enough.

Simpson ends his article with a question to which I have no answer: What now?

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Hostage to Fortune.

About thirteen months ago I made a prediction over at Pandagon.

In discussing a possible move by the Democrats in the US Congress I said:

Yeah, like the current Dem leadership in Congress has the stones to do this. They are too busy denigrating their own base whilst trying to peel away votes from the 25% of Americans who would neverevereverevereverEVER! vote Democrat.

I’m going to make a prediction here. The Dem performance in 2008 will be far, far poorer than they anticipate. They are alienating liberals and progressives by abandoning their objectives and principles, and they are alienating independents because of their inaction on the war and their constant, demonstrated weakness. Today’s call for 2008: record low turnouts; surprisingly large GOP votes; record levels of vote fraud in bellweather areas.

You read it here first.

So, there's a number of predictions there:

1. The Democratic leadership would continue to foolishly tack to what it and the MSM erroneously called "the centre", i.e. it would continue to move to the right and be Republicans whilst claiming to be an alternative.

2. The Democratic leadership would continue to "alienat[e] liberals and progressives by abandoning their objectives and principles...".

3. The Democratic leadership would continue to "alienat[e] independents because of their inaction on the war and their constant, demonstrated weakness...".

4. "[R]ecord low turnouts" [amongst Democrats and independents] in the 2008 elections.

5. "[S]urprisingly large GOP votes" in the 2008 elections.

6. "[R]ecord levels of vote fraud in bellweather areas". I should have clarified that I meant GOP voter fraud. I should also note that I should have said "swing states". In any event, a prediction for high levels of GOP vote fraud, by which I mean voter suppression and perhaps computer theft like Ohio in 1984.

The American election is coming up. Let's see how I did.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Best quote on abuse of authority that you will hear for a while.

"When your only tool is a hammer, everyone looks like a nail."

Commenter "Cynical in CA" over at The Agitator.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Helpful Cultural Hint

judicial activism” (modified noun)
Term used by American conservatives to decry any judicial decision with which they disagree.

Cultural interpretative note
The visitor to the United States is cautioned that the phrase is not to be taken as an objective descriptor, but rather as a subjective pejorative. A judge declining to substitute his judgment for that of the legislature on a matter on which conservatives wish him to act is a “judicial activist”, even though he is exercising deference to the wishes of the elected legislature. Conversely, a judge who renders a decision of which conservatives approve is not a “judicial activist”, even if the decision in question goes directly contrary to the clear language of the statute and the expressed intent of the legislature.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


If you want to understand the modern Republican Party of the United States:

The GOP is capable of taking mom's apple pie, wrapping it in an American flag, and then swinging it to smash that into their neighbour's face. And while the neighbour is trying to stop the bleeding from their mouth, sputtering "why the hell did you do that???" the GOP turns to the other neighbours and screams "that man hates mom's apple pie and the American flag!!!!" It is capable of doing this while everybody's house is burning down and convincing everyone that the pie/flag issue is more important than the burning houses.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

How to identify a troll...

an update.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Boffo Quote 010: The small businesswoman speaks!

"If the government was my boyfriend, all it would want to do is have me up the ass."

The lady in question insists on anonymity.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"They can look at the damned pictures!"

The tradition of Thomas Nast is alive and well, thank god.

Friday, March 21, 2008

It's amazing how consistent the media is, and will be!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stephen Harper knows where Kosovo is...
thus proving that he's an idiot

The government of Canada today recognized the independence declared by Kosovo.

Now let us be clear on something: there was no referendum, plebiscite or other form of direct popular mandate for the independence of Kosovo. None. Zip. They elected a local government and that government declared independence. The population never got a say. I don't know and little care whether Kosovo should be independent of Serbia. (As a historian I am keenly aware that Balkan quarrels tend to end in two things: bloodbaths, and invitations for outsiders to "step in! the bloodbath's lovely!".) I also know that European governments are accustomed to sweeping, dynamic changes without consulting the sweaty peasants, but that doesn't make it right. (No Czech or Slovak got to vote on whether Czechoslovakia would continue to exist either.) It lacks legitimacy to my democratic eyes. If you are so damned sure that you have public support for such a step, ask.

Fine. They went ahead and did a UDI. We're not obliged to like it or dislike it. We are obliged, however, to note our own national interest in how we react to it and this is where the Harper government decided that the best place to store a knife was in Canada's guts. The Bozo doll currently posing as our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Bernier feels that "the decision to recognize Kosovo ... does not provide a precedent from which Quebec nationalists could launch a similar bid for sovereignty". Horseshit. Utter, steaming, piled-high horseshit. A precedent is a precedent whether or not Bernier is too paralytically stupid to recognize it as such. Bernier can point to a horse and scream "moo-cow!" but it's still a bloody horse.

The PQ and BQ will have noted this. They WILL make use of it. They WILL do their damnedest as a way to end-run around the fact that they haven't been able to win a referendum and -- absent lying like maniacs and promising that separation will be as painless and pleasing as a good toke (and even THAT didn't work the last time) -- probably never will win. So with the precedent of Kosovo, what's to stop them from just declaring a UDI in the Quebec National Assembly the next time they win an election? Nothing. The Government of Canada just told them it was okay. And what he has also done is give France and the other members of la Francophonie the key to recognizing Quebec instantly if such a UDI takes place. All they need to is point to the Government of Canada's own action regarding Kosovo.

It took over a decade to undo the damage done by the last Conservative government to the unity file, to deal with the fact that the Mulroney Tories kissed separatist ass and validated every damned lie that they told about Canada and the Constitution, confirming Quebecers' beliefs in fantasies and deceits peddled by their separatist classes. Now Harper's Tories seem to be back at the game again, convinced that the best way to float a boat is to blow a hole in the bottom with a shotgun and call it progress.

Fools, Fools, FOOLS, FOOLS!
What's theirs is theirs, what's yours is theirs, what's ours is theirs

Digby nails it:
"[T]the Bush era set up a kind of corporate Marxism, where risk is socialized, but where wealth is privatized. And the middle class ... are the only ones who ever feel any pain."
Heather Mills and Beatrice

So, Heather Mills has received a divorce award of about $48 million dollars from her four-year marriage to Paul McCartney. Also awarded was about $70,000 per year in child support. Mills complained bitterly about the latter, feeling that it was grossly inadequate.

There has been much comment on how nasty Mills is, that she was a gold digger out for payout from the get-go, and so forth. So much so that the more interesting point about her comment on child support has gone unnoticed: its implicit message that Beatrice won't be getting any of mummy's money.

Good luck, Beatrice. With a mum that believes that anything you need is daddy's responsibility even though mum is worth $48m you are going to need all the good luck you get can get. My own personal guess is that over the next fourteen or more years you will hear variants on "Daddy is such a SHITE!" more often than you're going to hear anything else.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


So NY Governor and former crusading AG and Wall Street crime buster Elliot Spitzer is going down for going a-whoring. First fact: it seems pretty clear that he broke a few laws along the way and he should resign. Second fact: he cheated on and humiliated his wife and humiliated and embarrassed his family, and he deserves every bit of moral calumny laid on him. (We will leave aside for a moment why so many right-wing bloggers are howling for his blood when the equally guilty Sen. Vitter (R-LA) earns their endless defence.)

All of that aside, the most interesting thing question is going wholly unanswered: Why was the FBI investigating Spitzer in the first place?

The FBI says that they were investigating suspected corruption and just happened (shocked! shocked they were!) upon the prostitution evidence. Why were they investigating Spitzer? He and his family are rich as hell, he has a reputation for being a business and commercial law straight-arrow; he therefore seems a rather odd target for somebody looking for financial malfeasance.

Thing to remember number 1: since the tenure of Louis Freeh the Feebs have been within an inch or two of being a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party.
This started during the Clinton administration when it ran a bit wild from DOJ and AG oversight, overtly aligning itself with House Republicans and their agenda in order to protect its budget.

Thing to remember number 2: Spitzer has been one of the most aggressive enemies of the kind of top-floor white collar corruption that has been the staple of the Bush administration.
Don't forget that the Bushies simply don't believe that any theft done by a corporation or corporate executive is even a crime. That's not exaggeration, that's simply a fact. Spitzer's tenure as AG is neatly summarized by the Toronto Star's David Olive:
What gained Spitzer international renown was the painstaking work by his New York attorney general's office in piecing together the memos and emails by which America's largest brokerage firms were selling stock at the height of the late-1990s dot-com boom that their own analysts regarded as "crap" and "junk."

Spitzer extracted a stupendous $1.4 billion (U.S.) settlement from 10 of America's largest securities firms, including Citigroup Inc. and Merrill Lynch Inc., for their dissemination of this supposed "research" to clients. He then went after dubious sales practices in the mutual fund industry.

Spitzer exposed unsavoury bookkeeping practices in the insurance trade, forcing the ouster of the CEOs of insurance giants American International Group Inc. and Marsh & McLellan Cos. He waded into the field of excessive executive compensation, forcing Dick Grasso to relinquish a portion of his huge severance package on retiring as CEO of the New York Stock Exchange.

In identifying many of the leading culprits in the loss by Main Street investors of some $8 trillion (U.S.) when the dot-com, tech and telecom markets imploded, Spitzer acted while the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission dozed. And in doing so, Spitzer helped bring about higher standards of transparency and CEO accountability for the authenticity of corporate financial reporting.
The Bush administration is a CEO administration, pure and simple. It has corporate and class interests and loyalties which were right in the crosshairs of any genuine effort to enforce the law. Militarizing police forces in order to pursue the ludicrous "war on (certain classes and colours of people who use) drugs", raiding medical marijuana facilities and so forth... those, in the eyes of the Bush Administration, are valid uses of federal authority. Going after CEOs is something best avoided.

Thing to remember number 3: The Bush administration has thoroughly politicized the Department of Justice.
Partisan zealots occupy not only the political slots in the DOJ but have dumped vast numbers of professional career staff and replaced them with even more GOP tools.

My guess? The thoroughly-Roved federal Department of Justice said, "dig and dig and dig until you find something on Spitzer". The prostitution stuff was an easy and unexpected win, negating the need for Plan A: Siegelman him.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Boffo Quotes Numbers 008 and 009

“[A] religion is no more than a cult with an army attached to it.”

Jonathan Meades in “Magnetic North” (Episode 2) (Youtube at 2 of 6, 0:37 et seq.)

"If God had wanted us to worship him, he'd have made it easier by existing."

Linda Smith, spotted by The Real Interrobang on Living the Scientific Life, comments

Friday, March 07, 2008

Coincidence? She thinks not...
And I agree with her.

[I]t is no coincidence that the War On Drugs heated up after the civil rights movement achieved a set of huge victories that gave this country a moment of hope for something like racial equality. Now we have a country where 1 in 15 black people are currently in jail.

Amanda Marcotte, "The brainless, pointless War On Drugs", March 6, 2008

One should also remember that a real wave of felony disenfranchisement laws gained steam at around this time. As the law in the USA currently stands::
* only two US states have no laws on voting by felons;
* only inmates convicted of a felony are barred from voting (with their right to vote restored upon release from prison) in 13 states;
* felons (in prison and on parole) are barred from voting but can vote upon completion of parole in 5 states;
* inmates, parolees, and probationers are barred (and so can vote only upon completion of all supervised release) in 20 states;
* inmates, parolees, probationers, and ex-felons are completely barred from voting (restoration of voting varies by state) in 10 states.

Given that Blacks are grossly disproportionately represented in the American prison population it should come as no surprise that every single state of the former Confederacy is found in the two categories with the toughest restrictions, as are three states which were Confederate Territories in whole or in part, as are three states that remained in the Union but had majority-Reb populations, and "bleeding Kansas", which is currently aggressively pro-GOP. (Further, many of the felony disenfranchisement laws in the Old South started during Reconstruction as the former Confederate states cast about for ways to prevent their'n newly free and unacceptably uppity niggers from votin'.)

Don't forget that these lists don't have to be accurate to stop a person from voting. By way of example: many, many people in Florida (mostly Black) in the notorious 2000 presidential election found themselves unable to vote because of being erroneously listed as having felony convictions, and could not get their right to vote restored in time or at all. (It was, I'm sure that we all agree, just a coincidence that the list was provided by a Texas GOP firm to a state with a GOP governor, a GOP legislature and a GOP Secretary of State - Katherine Harris - who was disgustingly overt about her efforts to stop people from voting Democrat. And most Blacks vote Democrat. Just a coincidence.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Questions are for the little people

From Associated Press:
WASHINGTON - Two years and 144 cases have passed since Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas last spoke up at oral arguments. It is a period of unbroken silence that contrasts with the rest of the court's unceasing inquiries. Hardly a case goes by, including two appeals that were argued Monday, without eight justices peppering lawyers with questions. Oral arguments offer justices the chance to resolve nagging doubts about a case, probe its weaknesses or make a point to their colleagues. Left, right and center, the justices ask and they ask and they ask. Sometimes they debate each other, leaving the lawyer at the podium helpless to jump in. [...] Leaning back in his leather chair, often looking up at the ceiling, Thomas takes it all in, but he never joins in.
I don't see why people are surprised. Questions imply uncertainty and Thomas is the human embodiment of certainty. (Insecure, bitter, resentful, smouldering chip-on-the-shoulder certainty, mind, but certainty nonetheless.)

Thomas is an immovable idealogue, a partisan who does not trouble at any point -- or to any degree -- to conceal that single-mindedness. Why need he ask questions? He has the answers he likes and wants, and will provide the judgments to match. The parties, facts or law are merely irritants to be ignored.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ralph Nader in a nutshell
"[M]y sense is is that Mr. Nader is somebody who, if you don’t listen and adopt all of his policies, thinks you’re not substantive. He seems to have a pretty high opinion of his own work."
Barack Obama, quoted in the New York Times,
February 24, 2008.
The Onion: Kidding on the Square?

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Nepotism, Connections and You - Or Not

Edited on February 26, 2008.

There was a kerfuffle very recently in The Guardian. Apparently a young (19) man , one Max Gogarty, wrote a blog on the Guardian about his rambles. Whether it was good or not I will not say, but it doesn't appear to be anything special, nothing different from thousands of zero-readership personal blogs (this one included, ahem) and nothing better than any other university freshman could do. But and the travel editor has apologized for it.

Why? Did Gogarty say something offensive? No, it appears that he is nothing more than another of the multitude of well-off westerners who are unsettled in their early encounters with the third world. Whence the kerfuffle, then? It seems that many people had questions about why a teenager with so startlingly little to say -- and such a pedestrian way of saying that little -- would get such a sweet spot in The Guardian. It's a valid question: Why him? The qualifications put forward by his defenders seem to fit a few thousand other young men and women. What is obvious, though, is that England must be filled with young people whose qualifications are far, far better than Max's. We all know, we met them; the young flyers whose talent was obvious at even that age, and whose CVs made us cringe with shame: "gad, why haven't I achieved by 19 all the things that they have???". They're out there, but none of them, it seems, has this column. There seems to be no standout reason for Max being chosen; if there had been his defenders would have put it forward.

As you might have guessed by now, many of the people posing the question already have an answer: they believe that he got the gig through connections*. Max's father, Paul Gogarty, is a freelancer who regularly contributes to the Guardian; he appears to be a bit of an A-lister freelancer because his work appears in other large-circulation papers. He has even taken his family (including Max) to India previously, and written about it.

* - Note: for the purposes of this blog I will use "nepotism" to mean the exercise of power or influence to directly benefit one's family or cherished favourites, and "connections" as the use of your contacts or those of your family to gain the same benefit. It is usually implied in such cases -- and is usually true -- that the person for whom the favour is done would not win in a purely merit-based process.

Here in North America it is damned near impossible to get even the most pedestrian job without a university degree and an "in" with somebody. (As one of my acquaintances wittily remarked, "here even your patron needs a patron".) Competition gets more ferocious every year, especially in larger centres. (Some years back I saw a piddly research job for a nonprofit boil down to a battle between a lawyer and a Ph.D.; the competition is often that tough.) In the UK it is not quite so bad, but it is getting there, it seems: Peter Wilby, also of The Guardian, feels that the class privileges and advantages have actually been reinforced by the tools implemented to advance the meritocracy, making it even more difficult for non-Oxbridgers (which often also means people not from the best Public schools) to get into the protected circles. (One does tend to forget just how omnipresent the graduates of such schools are. I noticed recently that not one but both of the actors playing Octavian in the fantastic BBC-HBO-RAI miniseries Rome are old Etonians.)

So, it appears that Max got his job through Daddy's connections. No doubt he expected this to be a benefit; most of us would. What he didn't expect was the merde hitting the fan in such a shocking, startling and worldwide way. The Guardian's comments section lit up like a flare locker with a match dropped into it, prompting the editorial response detailed above, and that too was the subject of ferocious, angry attacks. (See Caroline Davies' article for an okay summary: "But within 24 hours of his first posting on the guardian.co.uk travel pages, the teenager was swamped by a tidal wave of internet hate mail as he became a victim of the phenomenon of 'going viral'. As the north London teenager was touching down in Mumbai, hundreds of comments - many vitriolic - were appearing not only on his blog, but on scores of message boards and social networking forums, including Facebook and high-profile gossip sites such as Holy Moly.") For examples, please see right here, and this one ("it’s about people standing up and shaking their fists at such obvious mediocrity and such bald-faced nepotism. It all really pongs") and some really bitchy, cutting stuff mixed with some devastating, accurate criticisms, and some worthwhile thoughts on whether he deserved it.

It also led, naturally, to some insiders whining that people were being too hard on the lad. (See Rafael Baer's truculent response, or a responding post purporting to be from Max's Dad himself as good examples of the type.)

My own view? If you want to take advantage of the benefits that nepotism and connections can get you then fine, most to all of us would in cases where no rules or laws are broken. The world is not nice and you must seize every opportunity you can. But, in doing so, you cannot complain when called out on it. You have received an ill-deserved benefit; you cannot in return claim about any ill-deserved maligning you get as a part of that package.

More importantly, this sort of nonsense is easier to spot and flag in the age of the internet. Max is a perfect example. Had this little bit of nonsense occurred, say, 10 or more years ago I never would have heard of it. It might have been discussed over a pint in Fleet Street bars, or some of Max's friends might have cut him at parties because they were jealous, but that would have been it. Now his embarrassment is spread across the world and people are commenting on it on different continents. It will, possibly, also make things harder for Max down the road. (Then again, given the ability of bad press to mutate into good careers these days it might also benefit him no end.)

But to return to whether or not the critiques were fair. Pete Ashton feels that the "nepotism charge is, I think, misplaced. Sure, Max got the job (if he's even getting paid for it) based on who he knew but that's generally how most of these things happen. There's nothing inherently wrong with networking to get opportunities, especially in the media. Sure, it's distasteful but it doesn't really mean anything."

I disagree: it does matter, and matter greatly, and Ashton is, contradictorily enough, the one to start to the counterpoint: "Max's blog was deeply authentic to his friends and family, which is why they're so upset by the reaction. But to everyone else it was bollocks. Both opinions are right. That post was the textual equivalent of sitting behind a bunch of annoying teenagers on a train. The teenagers think what they're talking about is vital and important - the rest of us wish they'd shut the fuck up about their holidays." If a self-important, favoured nobody gets to jump to the front of the queue and leave the better-qualified in his wake then it goes beyond "networking", no?

Furthermore, it puts the nail in the coffin of those who want to wag their fingers and say, "oh! you horrible, nasty, nasty bullies!" to all those who launched attacks on Max and the Guardian. How the readers respond was necessary to the process: If we accept blatant favouritism towards mediocrities we undercut the merit principle, completely. To say otherwise is to tell the deserving that they will always have to bow to the entitled. Large institutions filled with favoured people are notoriously resistant to reason and change and very inclined to brush off polite remonstrance. In this case it was the rapidity, size and vitriol of the response that got an instant win. The blog is dead and one young man who got something he didn't deserve -- and the people who slid him the goodie -- have been publicly humiliated. And, one notes and hopes, it is very likely that next time there may be second thoughts when some Bright Old Spark at the Guardian wants to do a favour for somebody's kid and to hell with things like applications and merit.

The bottom line is this: many people (some would argue "most") people get sweet jobs through connections or nepotism. It is common currency and can not and will not be wholly eradicated. That does not make it acceptable, nor something that can be tolerated. Like crime and poverty they will always be with us but we must not stop in our efforts to eradicate or -- more realistically -- minimize them. It is an uphill battle simply because in this increasingly savage and strained workplace world, the the need to find an edge, any edge, becomes more intense so does the use and exploitation of nepotism and connections. (Recently two Toronto-area school trustees got around the bar of hiring their own kids by hiring each other's children, to give just one example.) And as such conduct gets more and more common it also becomes more and more resented.

We either try to sustain meritocracy or we don't. We can't let people undercut it and claim that the meritocracy still exists; the surrender and the sham would be a thousand times worse than the struggle. Nepotism and Connections may always be with us, but the only thing that keeps them in check is a willingness to openly denounce them wherever found. These loud -- and, yes, sometimes disproportionate -- howls are one of the very few things keeping alive any hope for the meritorious but unconnected.

As for the people involved, it seems to me that there is a simple code of conduct: when you get a sweet gig through connections or nepotism you are obliged to "pay" for the privilege in two significant ways. Payment The Firste: do not act as if you got the job because you were better than anybody else. No-one is expecting you to put on sackcloth and ashes and then murmur "I'm not worthy". Just don't be an entitled little wanker about it. Paymente The Seconde: When an in possession of an egregious benefit through entitlement and then caught and called out, don't make a stink about it, nor should you permit surrogates to make a stink about it. You made a good effort, but you got caught. Deal with it and stop whining.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

How to Identify a Troll: A Beginner's Guide.

Note: This article updated: February 21, 2008 at 1420h; July 5, 2008 at 2100h; #23 added on October 4, 2008; #s 24-27 added and #6 expanded, November 6, 2009.; #28 added November 18, 2008.

1. Automatic rejection of evidence which rebuts the troll's assertion(s).

2. Denying that an accurate summary or paraphrase of the troll's statement or view is true or valid simply because the critic didn’t use the exact words that the troll did. "I never said that. I never used the words!" is pretty standard.

3. Rapid descent into ad hominem attack. The attacks can take many forms. Amongst the more common ones are:
-- be condescending* (variants of insults to intelligence, a la "you're stupid!" are a fave-rave);
-- personal sneers that the recipient doesn't even find insulting, (such as allegations that feminists are going to end up lonely spinsters with many cats);
-- gutter, (often sexual and sneering, especially if aimed at homosexuals).
* - A helpful tip in this regard is to remember that a troll, like a rude but wholly wrong child, is more likely to sneer things like "you don't know what you're talking about" as they become more and more wrong.

4. Saying they proved something when they actually haven’t. (Credit for this one goes to Sarah in Chicago.)

5. Boastful declaratory statements after non-existent verbal victories. (For example: "Fish in a barrell [sic], folks. This is too easy.") The experience is like being in a debate and having your opponent shout “I win!” after every point (s)he makes, whether good, bad or incoherent.

6. Talking right past an assertion that has been rebutted by evidence. Pretend it never happened, is their motto. (This is often done more than once in a thread, where the troll's attention is constantly drawn to a telling point and they never acknowledge it.) A variant on this (as noted by commenter Beowulff, below) is "the re-hashing past arguments". You can blow countless holes in that argument, but they will keep advancing it as it it were whole. (This may be simple bad faith, or may have something to do with the fact that some people are so sure in their opinions that they are evidence-proof, like the stories told of 19th C. tribesmen who were convinced that magic x or y would mean that bullets couldn't hurt them, no matter what evidence to the contrary of fellow-believers dropping like flies to the Maxim gun. Another theory is that they believe that if they advance the lie often enough it will be believed, which is a favourite tactic [and self-deluding narcotic] of the American Right.)

7. Projection, usually based on the direct opposite of reality. (For example: "Sarah, you don’t believe me because you choose not to. Okay, but you’re wrong. That’s why I can argue from experience and you can only hurl insults.")

8. An Announced Departure in the middle of the thread. It’s never enough to go, but the troll must Declare It — purportedly because the others in the discussion are too [insert dismissive negative characterization here, (troll favourites include "ignorant", "uninformed" and "unwilling to debate")]. This is often accompanied by a statement that they will not return.

9. Flouncing, a verbal drama queen, huffy variant of the Announced Departure. (Credit to "Aloysius Watermelontail" for this one, but Aloysius asks for credit to Poppy Z. Brite.) This is always accompanied by a statement that they will not return.

10. The Inevitable Return after the Announced Departure. Put simply, if the troll said that it wouldn't come back then it will usually come back.

11. Onset of Jerk Fatigue (or its subset “Bigot Fatigue”) amongst the rational; this involves people not addressing the troll or his points for a while. (Jack Goff gets credit for this one.) Such a state is almost always shortly followed by the troll claiming credit for people being unwilling or unable to debate with him.

12. It's all about the troll. If people move on to a different part of the discussion, the troll will insert themselves into that (usually rudely) or make an effort to force the thread back to their own discussion of preference.

13. Irrelevant tangents advanced as proof (especially likely to be used where the troll was proved wrong). (Another credit to Sarah in Chicago.)

14. False Disavowal of like-thinkers. The troll will often say things indistinguishable from total sleazes, but does not wish to be associated with them, and so pretends to be different from same (even though they believe the same things that the troll does) in order to pretend that it is "not really like them" or "they don't speak for me".

15. Say-it-here-but-nowhere-elsers. This is similar to False Disavowal. The troll sliming a progressive blog might find it impolitic to identify with, say, Michelle Malkin's anti-immigrant views or John Derbyshire's quasi-pedo rantings, and assert up and down that it is different. However, one could go to the sites of those people and search in vain for any post from the troll excoriating those slatherers.

16. Troll manners 1: you must be polite to the troll, but the troll need not be polite to you. (Yes, I know I called you an ignorant, rapist faggot, but it was outrageous that you called me a rude bigot. How dare you!) This is self-explanatory. However, one need note that a troll of this kind need not actually be on another's blog to do this. Ann Althouse, for example, is a superb example of a troll is who is a troll even on her own blog or out in public.

17. Ostentatious displays of boredom when accurately called out on something that they don't want to hear. If they advance an argument and you advance evidence which blows a shotgun-blast-sized-hole through their argument you are often likely to see something like "Yawn! Bored now!" The odds of this increase exponentially if the damning counter-argument had been made often before against their silly assertion which continues to be advanced by them no matter how often it has been disproven.

18. The troll's life is perfect! Perfect, I tell you! One often sees this in discussions of social issues turning on gender and finance. The troll has a wonderful education, a gleaming home, wealth, a perfect job, a girlfriend who looks like a supermodel whom he beds hourly.... You get the picture. (It is interesting to note that such trolls' happy, sated existences are never the result of privilege or luck, but result solely from the trolls' hard work, brains, skills and copious quantities of their own bootstraps, pulling up for the uses of. The libertarian ideal reigns supreme as, magically, nobody got their Ivy League education as a Legacy Admission, or entered the bond trading firm because dad's fraternity buddy hired them. It's true, they swear!) The troll, in his assertion, is an ideal as a person and as a social model and as a Prize Catch. Like Charteris' Simon Templar, the persona represents typed masturbation about what the author really, really wants to be, but isn't. (The male pronoun is used because that sort of prat is invariably male.)

19. A troll about to be ignored is a Troll More So. If people start to refuse to engage the troll, he will become deliberately more provocative and offensive, like a child at the adult table gleefully moving from words like "bastard" onto ones like "slut". ("He", for the same reason given in 17.) This is a variant on "It's All About The Troll", but more immature and pathetically obvious.

20. You must prove everything, everything !
A demand that you provide evidence for your assertion is not trollishness, but an essential part of debating. What is trollishness is a demand that you, in the context of your debate, prove that wheels are round and that water is wet. Some trolls love to do this: make demands for more and more data that you need not provide then crow that you haven't done so. It is not without significance that this point often goes hand in hand with "6. Talking right past an assertion that has been rebutted by evidence". If the troll demands X proof, and it is provided he will demand Y, Z, A, B, proof that you are a carbon-based biped, proof that.... Well, you get the idea. It is linked to 21, which is...

21. Troll manners 2: you must provide evidence to the troll, but the troll need not provide evidence to you. Assertions are usually deemed to be enough. This sort of type is most commonly found amongst ideologue trolls, especially of the conservative and libertarian types. (Venn note: there is a fair degree of overlap between the two, caused in no small part by the fact that a lot of nasty conservatives call themselves "libertarians" when in fact they are just right-wing assholes who don't want to be arrested for pot.) They don't need prove their assertions because they are self-evidently true, it seems. Oddly enough, liberal and leftist bloggers are less prone to this simply because (a) they are more addicted to facts and proud of being "reality based", and (b) people on the left love to disagree with each other and point out flaws in each other's arguments; conservatives like mutual reinforcement of shared views.

22. A refusal to ever concede a point. Everevereverever. There's nothing wrong with admitting a gap in your argument, if you are arguing with somebody in good faith and they are extending the same courtesy to you. Nobody's perfect and nobody's argument is without weaknesses. Trolls, however, don't live in a good faith world and they don't argue to prove a point or to engage in debate in order that mutual learning and refinement of views may result. They're there (in their minds) because they're smart and right and you're stupid and wrong and it is their duty to explain this too you and to everybody else.

23. False claims of repression of dissent. A troll called out on being a troll will often claim something like, "so this is how you treat dissent!" or raise claims of censorship. They are unable to grasp the difference between disagreeing and being a total fool. Basically, it's a simple correlation: the dumber or more ideologically driven the troll then the more likely they are to whine about counterfire. Picture the Constitutional Peasant from Holy Grail shouting, "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!" about two minutes earlier in the sketch, when Arthur simply says, "What?!"

24. The focus on your minutiae. The troll will "pick you up on minor typos, read as grammatical mistakes [and] claim ... that you should not be in the position you are in" or that they irrefutably undermine your point, (a point that he is unable to refute himself). (Credit: Jennifer Cascadia).

25. The Change of Topic. Commenter Beowullf: "Change Of Topic is most often used to allow the troll to weasel out of an argument they're about to lose. Of course, it also nicely derails the thread from its original topic. Some trolls also have a favorite subject they'll try to change to, whether it's related or not. Another favorite is to change the topic to a meta-argument (arguing about the (style of) arguing).Change Of Topic can also be applied many times in rapid succession, like a rapid-fire of new falsehoods and bad arguments to be refuted. This makes the troll look like he's always ahead on the discussion, while honest commenters are tangled up in trying to refute all the lies and fallacies.

26. Dismissiveness. Often an argument made to the troll will be dismissed out of hand with all of the disdain of a spoiled princess waving away an unwanted gift. (Linkage note: Trolls who exhibit this behaviour will often do so in linkage with comlaints that others on the thread won't engage with her, the debating equivalent of demanding a square circle.)

27. False attribution of negative characteristics. When called on something, or faced with a compelling argument which undercuts their position, the troll will refuse to engage based on a spurious claim that the poster in question is [insert negative personality characteristic here: racist, sexist, unwilling to listen, wev].

28. The Troll is a very special expert. Many trolls very conveniently claim to have special expertise into the topic at hand, "usually due to a flashy job or some sort of high-status social standing". ”... In a thread about the liberal media, all trolls know for a FACT that all reporters are leftists because they are news editors, and everyone who’s ever worked in “their newsroom” (actual quote from an actual thread!) has been a raving commie.  In a thread about deadbeat dads, the trolls are always divorce lawyers who have seen judges take everything from men and give it to women time and time again. ...” “The trolls ALWAYS have special expertise on the matter at hand!  Trolls are never paper pushers, CPA’s, schoolteachers, salespeople, or programmers.  Trolls are ALWAYS attorneys, reporters, and members of other fields that tend to be firsthand witness[es]” with experience that exactly suits both their position in the thread. (Credit and quotes: The Opoponax.)

Remember, kids: If it snorts like a troll, and lurks under a bridge like a troll, then it must be ...
Self-Quoting Is Tacky, But I'm Going To Do It Anyway! - #1

"I strongly suggest that you keep your apology; do not offer worthless things as gifts."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Boffo Quote 007

"When you relax and don't try to be charming you can be quite charming."

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Uh. Huh.

Jim Kelley is a sportswriter with CNNSI.com. He recently wrote posted this article about the NHL's Commissioner: "So Far So Good: Despite a few hiccups, Gary Bettman's done a solid job."

I must confess that my first thought was, "well that's convincing proof that SI doesn't drug test its writers".

Now, Mr. Kelley appears to make some telling points but the whole is unconvincing. He commits two critical errors. First, he cherry picks Bettman's achievements over 15 years; Bettman's multitude of failures, errors and biases go studiously unrecorded. (Two work stoppages ten years apart? A decade-long failure to address the scoring-smothering, TV-ratings-diminishing, attendance-killing neutral zone trap? Letting a broadcaster dictate schedules and even whether overtimes are shown or not? All unmentioned.) Second, some things which he records as achievements are not necessarily achievements. He notes, for example, breaking Goodenow and the union as a success. I fail to see how one finds a positive in Bettman's ensuring that the people who actually earn the money should be beaten down be precluded from keeping the lion's share of it and the balance restored to owners who made a series of stupid decisions from which they want to be protected. It's corporate welfare from within the NHL. If one wants to chalk that up as a Bettman achievement in being the hatchet man for the owners, find. Just don't lie to me that it is a gain for the NHL; the NHL is the players and teams together, not just the owners of the teams. It's the nonviolent equivalent of snowing me that the Carnegie thugs were Helping the Industry rather than just the plutocrats who grew rich off of it.

As a Canadian, though, I find Kelley's complete omission of Bettman's loathing for Canadian franchises astounding. The support for small markets that Kelley advances as one of Bettman's achievements is disingenuous to the point of deceit. Bettman's support for smaller markets is conditional upon two things: the franchise must not have a bigger, more glamorous alternative and the small market in question must be American. If the Winnipeg Jets or the Quebec Nordiques had received a quarter of the support from Bettman that the Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes have had they would still be in their home towns. Ditto the Hartford Whalers, a small market which didn't fit Bettman's long held dream: a TV-contract rich, almost wholly American NHL spread across the whole of the United States, strong in markets so little conversant with hockey that a child saying "puck" is slapped and told to watch his mouth.* This dream of Bettman's is more fantasy and a downright masturbatory one at that, given how it, like erotic wishes, is largely divorced from reality.

Bettman's dislike of Canadian markets is obvious, and it is infuriating that the American sports media studiously pretends not to notice it, or, equally likely, they share it. It is a measure of Kelley's insularity, though, that he neglects to mention the fact that while Canadian franchises are one-sixth of the teams they generate one-third of its revenues. (Scott Burnside does not make the same mistake, which may be the difference between a freelancer who actually does his job rather as opposed to a hack opinion columnist, but I digress.)

Last summer's nonsense with the Nashville Predators brought it out into the open, miles past any deniability. The simple fact was that Hamilton's bid for the Predators was backed by by massive pre-sales of season's tickets, huge money and by RIM's Jim Balsillie, a man who the NHL had, in a different case, had already cleared as an acceptable owner. (Balsillie had sought to buy the Penguins, but walked away when the NHL loaded on a series of last-minute restrictions that would have applied to him only and no other NHL owner.) Had a fresh-market American offer come in with one third as good a purchaser's CV as the Balsillie bid Bettman would have helped load the trucks. Don't forget, either, that Bettman's fallback position in the event that keeping the Predators in Nashville became impossible was a buyout to move the team to Kansas City. The NHL has already dismally failed there once and the KC group simply did not have the deep pockets and fan base that the Hamilton bid did, nor were they willing to pay as much money for the franchise. (One also notes that Bettman was furious that Balsillie went ahead and secured a lease and started to sell seasons' tickets in Hamilton, but didn't have a word of complaint about the KC group having an arena and selling box suites. In fact, Balsillie's actions were actually in line with the requirements of the NHL: "Having an arena and proving that the market can support an NHL franchise are both requirements spelled out in the NHL's bylaws as requirements for applying to relocate an NHL franchise".) In Bettman's world, piss-poor American choices are always better than rich and devoted Canadian ones, even when the move is guaranteed to increase the NHL's revenues. It is fascinating to note that the KC bid began to shrink as the drama progressed, which is an astute business move on their part. Why on earth should the KC bunch pay more if the fix is in for them as far as Gary Bettman is concerned?

Sorry, Mr. Kelley. Mr. Bettman having a résumé centred around making sure that rich owners never pay for their mistakes, that expansion is governed by what one wants rather than what is doable, that TV contracts are always botched, that labour peace won't be obtained and that ensuring that the country that is the heart and soul and engine of the game is treated like dirt is not commendable. Period.

I'll be glad when Bettman is gone. And I strongly suggest that Kelley either follow him, or write about something that he bothers to find out about.


* - Methinks that the best comment on just how disconnected Carolina is from its Stanley Cup quality team is found in this satirical Onion post:

Carolina Residents Confused, Terrified As Victorious Hurricane Players Riot In Streets

June 22, 2006 | Onion Sports

RALEIGH, NC—Only hours after the Carolina Hurricanes won the NHL Championship Monday night in a hard-fought Game 7 against the Edmonton Oilers, North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley mobilized the National Guard to contain over two dozen members of what he described as "some sort of depraved, violent, heretofore unheard-of gang calling themselves the Hurricanes."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Oh mon dieu! Ce n'est pas possible!

My Inner European is French!

Smart and sophisticated.
You have the best of everything - at least, *you* think so.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Boffo Quote 006

"Modern conservatism is built around the idea that collective, government sponsored solutions to social problems can't work, and operates by making certain that those solutions won't work."

Robert Farley, "The Big Con: Disability Edition",
from Lawyers, Guns & Money

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Boffo Quote 005
“Most people tend to blame their triumphs on internal excellence and their failures on environment, but reverse it for others.”
Amanda Marcotte, "Just admit it", November 26, 2007.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socio-economic unfairness
"The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

"Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

"But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet."
From Terry Pratchett's Men At Arms.

It's always wise to listen to the comedians and satirists. They usually tell the Truth well in a few memorable lines, as opposed to Serious Thinkers who often can't be as pithy or as accurate no matter how many extra chapters you give them. And this is a perfect example.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Boffo Quote 004

“Popular fiction doesn't just mirror its readers' reality, it inspires and creates it -- which makes it somehow more real than reality.”

Douglas Wolk summarizing Alan Moore’s take on pop culture in Moore’s graphic novel Black Dossier. Quote is found in the review “Who are these unmasked men?”, Salon, November 24, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dan Savage remains one of the best reads out there

You neglect generic guy/girl/girl threesomes.

I've neglected threesomes 'cause they're about as controversial as brunch plans for us gay guys...

Savage Love, November 14, 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007

Boffo quote Number 003

"You can say that `anecdote is not evidence', but isn't every day, every experience, every anecdote a sample? Are you not allowed to draw conclusions from thousands upon thousands of cumulative samples?"

Robert Rose, Friday, November 16, 2007


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nobody did Diefenbaker as well as Duncan Macpherson

Boffo quote Number 002
"Your modesty is so retiring it left for Mexico years ago and never came back. It's sitting on a beach somewhere wondering if you'll ever write..."

The Real Interrobang, November 15, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

More on the Parking.

This is a followup post to "I can guess how this one will turn out", "Well done, the Star" and "Pylons, Impark and a very big bit of weird".

The Star now has a follow-up story on this: "Unit Park responds on use of pylons at Cirque tent". Short version? Unit Park says, `yeah it wuz us who done it but we dids it to maintain da traffic flow and prevent traffic jams, 'cuz ya got a nice traffic flow here and ya wouldna wanted sometin' ta happen to it, wouldja?'.

Note to Mr. Hudson: Nobody delegated law enforcement authority to you. You had no more authority to block that street than I do to rush out and start ticketing people for jaywalking. The difference, though, is that if I rush out and start spewing tickets and collecting money I will be arrested. You, on the other hand, are completely safe and you know it. In fact, you are so confident of this that you admit to your actions in writing to the largest circulation newspaper in the country.

Okay. We have:
>> A blocking of City roads, admitted on the record by the blocker ("Unit Park ... was the operator... [Its]vice president Bill Hudson ... declined an interview but emailed confirmation to us that his company put out the pylons and explained why Unit Park thought it was necessary to eliminate the on-street parking ...")
>> The blocking was illegal ("[The Star] checked it out at city hall and determined that [Unit Park] had no authority to put out pylons").
>> Unit Park may have made a profit of about $150,000 from this illegal act.
In short, a crime: the obtaining of money by false pretenses. And it is clear what law enforcement will do about this.


I repeat: nothing will come of this. If you or I threw up pylons blocking legal parking on our street and earned $5 from drivers having to park on your lot we would be in the back of a cruiser in fairly short order. But you and I aren't corporations, are we? This is not some angry anti-capitalist rant; I'm a capitalist myself. No, it is rather the simple telling of a disturbing and infuriating fact: there is something about crimes committed by companies that causes police forces to go all giggly and shy, the tongue-tied wallflowers of the law enforcement world. Sad and pathetic, but true. Disgusting and a dereliction of duty? Also true.

Monday, October 29, 2007

You know who you are.

From today's edition of Pibgorn. In my view one of the best comics out there, and certainly one of the least known, hardest to explain to the uninitiated, and most delightful to read.

(Note: Pibgorn creator and writer Brooke McEldowney is also the man who does the bloody marvellous (and comparatively more "normal") strip 9 Chickweed Lane.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Dinosaurs Were Pretty Damn Sure of Themselves, Too

I recently received a fairly simple request from my mother, a woman who rarely asks for favours though she does a great many. Simple: go by the Sears catalogue store and pick up a Christmas Wish Book. No problem. I thought.

Good luck. I call the store. Not only do they no longer have any they didn't know if they would get any in, and seemed annoyed that I would ask. I have to ask for a number to order one. They give me a wrong toll free number, then, hurriedly, the "correct" one. It isn't the correct one. It is the administrative line. The person there gives me the number for ordering the catalogue. I call that number, and press the correct button for ordering a catalogue. No. Answer. Fine. I try the number again, and press the button for ordering a product. This time, after a wait, I get a live body. They tell me that they can send a copy of the Christmas Wish Book to a store, as long as I go and pick it up. (It's at this point that I start moving into Very Annoyed territory. Hello, Sears, you want me to buy things from you. "Dance, monkey, dance! It is not up to us to assist that process!" is not something that a sane retailer should have in its sales repertoire.) No, I explain, it's for my mother who has poor mobility. She's a Sears catalogue customer, can the Wish Book not be sent to her? Not without giving them a credit card number, I'm told, because The System is not set up that way. It's at this point that I become mildly angry and point out that I want them to flag this as a customer complaint, that it's ludicrous to ask for a credit card number just to get a catalogue, and remark that customers don't want to have to jump through hoops for the privilege of trying to buy something from them. The woman on the phone moves right to dismissive and says, "well, sir, we do have customers who have no problem with that and don't get upset like you do". I give it up as a bad job, knowing that it will not be flagged as a complaint and even if it was the call centre rep has made it clear that nobody gives a damn. (I don't know if they give a damn. I do know that the person that they specifically assigned to me to ensure that Sears gives a damn -- or is at least seen to give a damn -- doesn't give a damn.)

On an impulse I go onto google and start searching Sears customer service complaints and come back with rafts of 'em similar to mine.

Then it occurs to me: the outlet isn't the only Sears store in town. I call one that's on my way, get a warm and friendly voice who tells me that they have lots of the Wish Book, and tells me exactly where in the store itself that one can find it. Stunned silence on my part, followed by profuse thanks.

Three important things in this, so far as Sears is concerned.

First, I am going to get the catalogue because of my problem-solving, not because Sears made any effort or even gave a flying shit about it. They didn't. When I was in retail I would offer the the customer the option of waiting while I checked with our other stores to see if they had the product that our store did not. Why didn't the outlet store say, "hang on, let me check where you can get one" instead of making me feel like an idiot because I asked for a Christmas book as late as two months before Christmas?

Second, I only went the extra mile because it was for my mother. If it had been me looking for the catalogue I would have just said,"to hell with it" and forgotten about it... and Sears.

Third, the call centre rep is a good example of the mindset of a retail organization that does not respond well to change. The retail industry becomes more savagely competitive by the year. Classic names like Eatons have gone under, and others are struggling in the face of internet shopping, Wal-Mart and the like. The fact that a company has "customers who have no problem with that" is not the point because there are always going to be customers who calmly accept terrible service or simply drudge forward out of force of habit. The problem lies in the vastly larger number of customers who just shrug and never go back, or, worse, customers like me to make a little Brain Note not to forget this moment no matter, ever, and do things like blog about it or bring it up in conversations or e-seek people with the same experiences. Negatives spread faster than positives, and people remember them faster and longer.

The essence of retail is to make things as easy, inexpensive and satisfying for the customer as possible. Telling a customer to do it your way or the highway when the highway has other, better options is a recipe for failure.