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I hate cyclists

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

"Typos are very important to all written form. It gives the reader something to look for so they aren't distracted by the total lack of content in your writing." - Randy K. Milholland


My Favourite Periodical:

March 8th:

"Mr Savoia has developed a system to assess the quality of software written in Java, which he has jokingly named “change, risk, analysis and predictions”, or CRAP."

"The second was the violent suppression of a protest in Moscow and the detention of a liberal politician in St Petersburg. The arrest gave new meaning to law enforcement. Maksim Reznik, an activist of the liberal Yabloko party, came out of his office, saw a street squabble between a colleague and a group of thugs, and tried to pull them apart. When the police arrived, they arrested Mr Reznik and let the provocateurs go. Mr Reznik is now in pre-trial detention for two months, charged with assaulting representatives of the state."

"Small, complicated and with names that are hard to spell, Armenia has long been out of the mainstream of world news."

"“God be praised, our village is all Muslim, and we don't have the evil internet,” says Necdet Gulen, Fethullah's cousin."

"It is certainly impressive to see 20,000 people queuing for hours to see a politician. But should they worship their man with such wide-eyed intensity? And should they shout “Yes we can” with such unbridled enthusiasm? The slogan, after all, reminds any parent of “Bob the Builder”, a cartoon for toddlers, and Mr Obama himself rejected it as naff when it was first suggested to him. His supporters are rather like high-school nerds who surround the coolest kid in the class in the hope of looking cool themselves."

"Kenya banned hunting for sport and other consumptive uses of wildlife in the late 1970s. But the competition for land between a rising human population and animals, which can be a danger to crops, life and limb, is intense. Kenya's wild-animal population has fallen by about 70% in the past 30 years, says Michael Norton-Griffiths, an economist in Nairobi. A recent European Union ban on the import of wild birds has had a similar effect. Ostensibly a veterinary measure to prevent the spread of avian influenza, the ban has bankrupted an Argentine plan to conserve the blue-fronted amazon, a parrot, through sustainable use. “It went from a well policed, sustainably managed operation, to one where there was no incentive to conserve the birds at all,” says John Caldwell, who manages CITES's trade database in Britain. As a result, habitat may be stripped out for commercial crops."

March 15th:

"The combination of legalism and puritanism invariably produces the same dismal results. It creates expensive government bureaucracies that seize on any excuse—rules relating to inter-state commerce are a particular favourite—to extend their powers to boss people about or spy on them. It throws up swivel-eyed zealots who pursue their manias with little sense of proportion or decency (remember Kenneth Starr). And it ends by devouring its children. Mr Spitzer is only the latest in an endless line of self-righteous crusaders impaled on their own swords."

"According to one study, while 80% of men say they use a condom during casual sex, only 40% of women say their partners do. (There may be some lying here, as this suggests that the unprotected 20% of men get very little sleep.)"

March 22nd:

[On religion] "Religion might have emerged as a way of improving group co-operation while reducing the need to keep an eye out for free-riders... the more constraints a religious commune placed on its members, the longer it lasted (one is still going, at the grand old age of 149). But the same did not hold true of secular communes, where the oldest was 40. Dr Sosis therefore concludes that ritual constraints are not by themselves enough to sustain co-operation in a community—what is needed in addition is a belief that those constraints are sanctified."

"The researchers' hypothesis was that in religious kibbutzim men would be better collaborators (and thus would take less) than women, while in secular kibbutzim men and women would take about the same. And that was exactly what happened."

"Dr Wilson himself has studied the relationship between social insecurity and religious fervour, and discovered that, regardless of the religion in question, it is the least secure societies that tend to be most fundamentalist."
This explains a lot.

[On Mugabe] "After 1980 the rest of the world, which had been so keen to see Zimbabwean majority rule as a success, chose to look the other way when he ordered massacres in Matabeleland in the south-west of the country. Many in the Catholic church, unable or unwilling to admit that the golden boy educated by missionaries was turning into a monster, continued to endorse him."

March 29th:

"China may rail against those seeking to “politicise” a sporting occasion. But it knows that it has itself introduced the most political elements: a torch relay taking the Olympic flame round the world and, provocatively, through Tibet; and an opening ceremony to which it has invited the world's leaders."

"SIR – I was surprised to read that Britain's chancellor is proposing a tax on plastic shopping-bags (The world this week, March 15th). A recent study in Australia found that banning plastic bags would cost the economy A$1 billion (around $900m) and result in job losses. That is before you properly account for all of the secondary uses for plastic bags, some of which actually help reduce litter. It is also doubtful that getting rid of the bags would have much of an impact on the environment. Heavier shopping bags are not all that “reusable” and have to be replaced. So what is the upside in taxing plastic bags? Maybe it is just the political kudos that comes from pandering to public opinion.

Gerard van Rijswijk

"When researchers ask parents what they enjoy, it turns out that they prefer almost anything to looking after their children. Eating, shopping, exercising, cooking, praying and watching television were all rated more pleasurable than watching the brats, even if they don't bite. As Mr Brooks puts it: “There are many things in a parent's life that bring great joy. For example, spending time away from [one's] children.”"

"American conservatives tend to believe that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed. This makes them more optimistic than liberals, more likely to feel in control of their lives and therefore happier. American liberals, at their most pessimistic, stress the injustice of the economic system, the crushing impersonal forces that keep the little guy down and what David Mamet, a playwright, recently summed up as the belief that “everything is always wrong”... Mr Brooks also finds that extremists of both sides are happier than moderates... Extremists are happy, Mr Brooks reckons, because they are certain they are right. Alas, this often leads them to conclude that the other side is not merely wrong, but evil. Some two-thirds of America's far left and half of the far right say they dislike not only the other side's ideas, but also the people who hold them."

"A county in Virginia recently banned giving food to the homeless unless it was prepared in a county-approved kitchen, to prevent food poisoning. Churches stopped ladling soup, and more homeless people were forced to scavenge in skips. This hurt not only the hungry, but also the volunteers who might have found satisfaction in helping them."
Ah, regulation!

"Hunger as such is the wrong target, says Meera Shekar of the World Bank. Hunger is transient and hard to measure, but malnutrition, she notes, is a pernicious killer (with lack of food as only one contributing variable). She points out that South Asia, which has plentiful food, suffers from twice the level of malnutrition as crisis-prone sub-Saharan Africa."

"America's defences have also been undermined by a tendency to treat homeland security as another form of political pork... America's list of potential terrorist targets includes a petting zoo, a popcorn factory and an annual parade of mules."

"An Obama presidency might well produce a frenzy of good feeling that dissolves into disillusionment on both sides."

April 5th:

"Profound faith is probably less widespread than its symbols: drug-dealers in Frankfurt flaunt Islam as rappers do bling."

"Smoking bans seem to have been followed by an increase in drunk-driving and in fatal accidents involving alcohol. In research published in the Journal of Public Economics, the authors find evidence that smokers are driving farther to places where smoking in bars is allowed... They found a smoking ban increased fatal alcohol-related car accidents by 13% in a typical county containing 680,000 people. This is the equivalent of 2.5 fatal accidents (equivalent to approximately six deaths)."

[On Israel] "Leftists are furious when right-wingers describe Palestinians as “backward”, “dirty” or “fanatical”, but they themselves can be heard saying the same about the ultra-Orthodox."

"The rabbis, says Kimi Kaplan, a sociologist who studies the haredim, have belatedly realised that the best way to keep their young men from the temptations of homosexuality is not to mention it."

"“The depressing truth is that financial literacy is impossible, at least for many of the big financial decisions all of us have to take,” says Richard Thaler, a behavioural economist at the University of Chicago. Aptly for someone who has built his career on the study of irrational financial behaviour, Mr Thaler admits that even he finds it hard to know the right thing to do. “If these things are perplexing to people with PhDs in economics, financial literacy is not the right road to go down.”"

"“It takes less credentials to be a mortgage broker than a pimp on a street corner in Harlem,” he says. “Because a pimp needs references.”"

[On the Lisbon Earthquake] "Parts of the church viewed the earthquake as God's punishment. An influential Jesuit, Gabriel Malagrida, published his “Opinion on the True Cause of the Earthquake”, arguing that rebuilding was an offence against God. The Jesuits sought to prevent reconstruction. The conflict between clerical and secular authorities came to a head with an assassination attempt on the king"
It's a pity they didn't have the Sedition Act at the time, or this would not have happened.

April 12th:

"WERE shooting oneself in the foot an Olympic event, China would surely be well placed for a gold... the suppression of riots and protests in Tibet has ensured the torch's progress has graduated from minor diplomatic embarrassment to full-scale public-relations disaster... To accuse China's critics of “politicising” a sporting event is nonsense. What has the relay to do with sport? It is not some timeworn practice integral to the games. Rather, the idea of a relay from Greece to the Olympic venue was revived by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which is hardly a precedent China wants to advertise"

"SIR - I reject Charlemagne's suggestion that a pre-nuptial agreement dampens romantic ardour. Marrying for money is as old as history. A pre-nup proves that the match is not driven by financial considerations, which means it must be love after all.

Martin Graham

"SIR – Barack Obama is dismissing the will of Democratic voters in Michigan and Florida, where Hillary Clinton won both primaries, by not wanting to count their delegates on the basis that those states broke the party's rules on election schedules (“Of snipers and sniping”, March 29th). Yet his campaign shows little respect for the party's rules on allowing superdelegates to pick whichever candidate they prefer when it argues that if the superdelegates choose Mrs Clinton they will be betraying the will of voters. Mr Obama is pursuing every advantage he can without regard to principle.

Jeff James
Kirkland, Washington"

"Nobody knows how many were killed as the protests were quashed; much of Myanmar remains an information chasm. A United Nations rapporteur has said at least 31 died. In Yangon many believe, probably wrongly, that hundreds or thousands did. Suppressing the truth lets all sorts of rumours flourish... [The generals] can return to what they do best: wrecking their country and making a good living out of it... It is not that the economy is on the point of collapse. It collapsed long ago. Those eking out a living in the rubble are still vulnerable to aftershocks."

[On Tibet and the Olympic flame] "The Chinese press has portrayed the disruptions as marginal, amid massive shows of support by ordinary citizens. State television aired a brief comment by Paula Radcliffe, a British marathon runner, endorsing the importance of the protesters' cause while condemning their methods. The Chinese subtitle, however, removed the endorsement. The Chinese press have called the thugs in blue and white “valiant and heroic”... Just as damaging for China in the long run, however, may be the effect on ordinary citizens. One place the Tibetan flag no longer flies is in the window of a bed shop in the English city of Sheffield. Its owner is a Tibetan sympathiser, who displayed the flag last month. Two young Chinese, apparently students, visited and made threats. That night his windows were smashed. A celebration supposed to mark China's emergence as a friendly global power has made some people think for the first time that its rise is something to fear."

"Chinese leaders have another reason not to gloat over the KMT's victory. Officials in Beijing have long cited Taiwan as an example of the pitfalls of democracy, with its frequent street protests and its gridlocked legislature. Yet now a smooth transfer of power appears to be under way. China does not want its citizens drawing lessons from that."

"WHEN Chinese officials talk about security threats to the Olympic games, they use the term loosely. They worry not just about terrorist attacks, but about behaviour in the stands that poses no more of a risk than embarrassment to the hosts."

"Five of the ten bestselling novels in Japan last year were written on mobile phones."

[On the Stata centre at MIT] "Students, teachers and visitors are cramming for exams, flirting, napping, instant-messaging, researching, reading and discussing. No part of the student street is physically specialised for any of these activities. Instead, every bit of it can instantaneously become the venue for a seminar, a snack or romance."

"Bizarre new patterns were cropping up, such as a “reverse commute” in Seattle as lots of male computer scientists at Microsoft in the suburb of Redmond raced downtown to find females—a weekday ritual called “the running of the programmers”.

"In the 1990s, as the internet came into widespread use, sociologists, never an upbeat bunch to begin with, became decidedly pessimistic."

"For about 250 years, the consensus in Western societies has been that grammar, syntax and spelling matter, and that rules have to be observed. That consensus now appears to be at risk... The academically and politically correct response is to welcome this trend with open arms. Language, after all, appears only to be returning to its natural and healthy state of flux. When Geoffrey Chaucer was writing in the 14th century there were no set spelling rules, but he managed to compose interesting texts nonetheless. For all we know, today's digital and mobile world might be teeming with potential Chaucers."

"“I am as American as April in Arizona,” Nabokov wrote in 1966. It's a beautiful sentence. That it does not really mean anything, makes it no less beautiful or American."
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