Thursday, February 24, 2005

Binmore at Christie's

Ken Binmore
Originally uploaded by piotrek.
Ken Binmore gave a talk about auctions at Christie's Auction House to the Game Theory Society. He illustrated a number of different auction strategies, and gave us a sample chapter from his forthcoming book entitled 'Playing Fair' (or something like that).

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Talking Beans

So I heard word that it is all right for me to post my conversation with one of my sources for the Bean story. So here it is:

A conversation with Jim, legislative officer at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Update: Beans in the Digest

Thanks to Ollivia, I now have the scanned version of the Bean Counters article from the Reader's Digest. As you can see from the photo, they went so far as to commission a cartoon. Fun.

Here's page 139 from the Digest, and here's page 140. Compare to the original version published in the Western Standard (PDF).

For more, read my prior post.

Monday, February 14, 2005

London Underground

The Tube (that's London-speak for subway) workers were on strike a while back to prevent a driver from getting fired for something as petty as blowing past four red signals. That made some people upset. A couple of medical doctors were upset enough to put this together. Enjoy! (Warning: Includes plenty of foul language).

[Hat tip to Jason Song]

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Beans in the Reader's Digest

An article I wrote for the Western Standard has been picked up by the Reader's Digest (Canadian edition for sure, maybe the American one as well. pp. 139-140) and published this month with the title, "They count beans, don't they?" under the section, "That's Outrageous!"

Read the actual story here (or just scroll up a bit): They count beans, don't they?
Read the original Western Standard story entitled: Bean counters get literal (PDF).

The basic story is this: British baked beans are illegal in Canada. That's right, illegal. Were they found to be unhealthy? Unsafe? Nope. Instead, the beans fail to meet a 60 per cent quotient the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has deemed to be the appropriate minimal amount of beans in every can of baked beans. British baked beans contain only 49 per cent beans.

According to the Food and Drugs Act:
B.11.041. [S]. Beans or Vegetarian Beans shall be the food prepared from dried beans, may contain sauce, seasoning, spices and a sweetening agent and shall contain not less than 60 per cent drained solids, as determined by official method FO-20, Determination of Drained Solids of Beans with Pork or Beans and Pork and Beans or Vegetarian Beans, October 15, 1981. SOR/82-768, s. 29.
(Think they don't bust you for these sorts of absurdities? Think again. Here is one fine for a British baked beans-related infraction. And here's another.)

Thank goodness for this sort of oversight! I hope the CFIA is well paid for this important work keeping us Canadians safe and oblivious to the potential abuse the Brits could subject us to.

[I'm just now trying to figure out whether or not it's all right, and considered decent journalistic form, to make public a taped interview that I conducted with a CFIA legislative officer for the purposes of this article. The conversation is fun to listen to, and gives you a good sense of just how daft these regulations are. If anyone knows what the rules are regarding this, let me know. Keep in mind that the officer was well aware of the fact that I was a journalist, and that I wanted to speak to him for the purpose of making what he has to say public (at least in print).]

Update on Stalin and wines

So I heard back from Dr. Luciano at the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Since I sent him an email from my LSE account, he quickly promoted me to "Dr. Jaworski," and then explained that, since he doesn't participate in "blogs" and "chat rooms," he doesn't want me to post his response... I did--lesson learned--offer confidentiality if he asked for it, so I can't post his response, I'm afraid. So that marks the end of that story (unless he changes his mind).

Friday, February 11, 2005

Getting drunk on Stalin

[Cross-posted at Crash Landing: Original post, Update]

8 Feb: The Manitoba Liquor Control Commission caved under pressure from the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association and will no longer offer wines with Stalin's mug on the label. Apparently, for Ukrainians in Manitoba, the image of Stalin on a bench with Churchill and Roosevelt was enough to kill their buzz.

The civil liberties association, however, must have been drunk when they figured that pressuring a government agency to put the kibosh on this wine was consistent with their mandate of upholding things like, oh, freedom of speech, say. Or expression. I suppose this just means that we have a new liberty--freedom from looking at a Communist dictator.

Update 11 Feb: Okay, so I emailed the person on the UCCLA's press release about their successful campaign to have wines featuring Stalin's mug removed from Manitoba liquor stores. They name a Diana Soroka. It turns out that she's not from the UCCLA, but the communications manager of the gov liquor command & control agency, (or whatever). "I was not aware," she says, "that they had put my name on their news release until the release was sent to me by a member of the media."

Sneaky bastards. Still, Soroka was nice enough to pretend like I had asked her qua MLCC. To wit, here's what I wrote:

"I applaud the fact that Stalin's face won't be on wines any longer. I consider Stalin to be one of the worst monsters of the 20th century. Still, I'm curious why you decided to pursue this issue as the civil liberties association? Shouldn't you be defending the wine producers right to place whatever image they'd like on the bottle on the grounds of freedom of speech/expression?"

She says that this issue struck a chord with Ukrainians and others in the community and that they have "heard from people in other parts of Canada and the US thanking us for removing the wine from our shelves." Well that's great. Good on you.

As for stifling liberty: "While we recognize the winery's right to place whatever image they choose on their wine labels," wrote Soroka, "we also have the right to sell or not sell any beverage alcohol product that we feel may offend our customers. These particular wines were brought in to appeal to our Ukrainian customers. As these customers indicated to us that they were offended by the label, we chose to remove the product from our shelves."

Holy shit. Are you telling me that the motivation has something to do with what customers might want? (And if I say I'm skeptical, would that make me a jerk?) And, well, as the monopoly provider of these wines, no niche market can develop for those of us who like to collect bottles of wine with swine on them.

That still leaves this question: What is a civil liberties association doing trying to get a product pulled from the shelves for having a picture of a jackass on it? I've sent the UCCLA an email. I'll post any response I might get as soon. (Developing...)

This, by the way, is the second time I've taken issue with a purported civil liberties association in Canada. The first time had to do with Bountiful, British Columbia, where a bunch of fundamentalist Mormons practice polygamy. The BC civil liberties association went ahead and urged the BC attorney general's office to investigate and press charges against the Mormon's for statutory rape and related "liberties" violations (but, please note, not for the polygamy thing...).

Of course, the attorney general had no choice but to pursue the polygamy business as well as soon as the BCCLA made enough of a stink to get other groups to clamor on about all those wives. Yeah, I'm jealous too (but I didn't call the feds). You can read my story on that here (PDF).

(Note: I let Soroka know that I intended to use her questions for blogging purposes.)

Pierne at the Cathedral

Last Sunday I went to St. Paul's Cathedral for their Sunday recitals. Malcolm Archer was on the organ playing pieces by Mozart, Bach, Mendelssohn and Pierne. I managed to record some of them on my MP3 player (which has a recording function). I've posted the song up on my website, and you can listen to it by clicking here. The song, by G. Pierne (1863-1937), is entitled Cantilene Op.29 no.2. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

turn(ing) it out

I went to a concert with Song and Obrecht last night.

We saw Death from Above 1979 and a band called Fever at Fear of Music in New Cross. It turns out that Death from Above 1979 both rocks, and is Canadian (or do I repeat myself? Go nationalism!) After hurting my neck from all the moshing--and getting an elbow or two in the chest from this dude who had no moshing etiquette... no! No back and forth headbanging. Clear a space and bang up and down, not back and forth. You'll knock someone's teeth out (jackass)--the band informed us that they were up for two Junos. One for best new band.

And for pretty good reason. There's only two of them--a drummer and a bass guitarist. The drummer sings, and the guitarist also does something with some machine that looks like a keyboard but isn't. The minimalism works.

Anarchist mugging

It's not what you might think. It isn't anarchists that did the mugging, it's the anarchist that got mugged. Like a trooper, my anarchist friend wrote all about it here.

Is this a good reason for concealed carry? Yeah, I think so.

At any rate, let's hope this particular adventure has a happy ending.

Prentice and Marriage

Jim Prentice, member of Parliament for Calgary Centre, came out with a remarkable statement in support of gay marriage. It's remarkable for two reasons: For one, he's a member of the Conservative Party, and Stephen Harper has taken out ads opposing same sex marriage recently. He's making the difference of opinion within the Party obvious. For two, the language of the statement is surprisingly libertarian.

Prentice quotes John Stuart Mill, for instance: "Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." (Taken from On Liberty) He uses that as partial justification for this: "Each of us has the right to fashion our own life to suit our own character without impediment from others, providing we harm no one else and providing we accept the consequences of our own decisions." I wonder if Prentice realises that this is the argument made by libertarians against the war on drugs and for legalising prostitution. But whatever.

This resulted in a lot of press and attention. Most recently, however, the Concerned Christians Canada (yes, my American friends, Concerned Christians Canada...) have come out with a full campaign attempting to get Conservatives to oust Prentice. They give five reasons for this, including this, the fifth and final reason:
Jim Prentice has shown that he can't be trusted on his campaign promises, is not conservative, but merely a progressive. Conservatives are not for same-sex marriage. Jim Prentice belongs in the Liberal Party. The new Conservative Party is going through purging pains at the moment but needs to ensure that the Conservative party represents truly conservative views. Those who want to vote liberally, need to vote for any of; the Liberal party, the NDP party, the Green party, the Marajuana party, or the Communist party of Canada. The Conservative party is for conservatives. Liberals need to leave and go where they belong.

Yeah: "purging pains." That's what they said.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Blog on WS

Jason Kenney, member of Parliament, gave a nice speech last Thursday. I thought I'd blog about it on the Shotgun. You have to wonder to what extent what you say is more important than what you do. And what role perception has to play in all of it.

Kenney makes the point that, while the Liberal Party has a few skeletons in its closet when it comes to treating people humanely, the Conservatives do not. In fact, the Tories have put in place a number of bills and reforms that seem aimed at being more 'liberal' (in terms of civil/political liberties).

Even so, the Liberals are seen as moderate, tolerant, and progressive while the Tories are seen as backwards and bigoted. Of course, some Tories say bigoted things, but who cares what they say? If it isn't reflective of their policies, then what difference does it make if they think the moon is made of green cheese or not?

I suppose part of the answer has to do with the fact that we vote on the basis of personality. We want the guy who runs our ship to not only know how to do it, but to be a nice guy besides. And since we think we're electing the guy who will steer some ship (which people, generally, are not since political types have handlers and advisors) it will make a difference to us whether or not he likes kittens and dislikes snakes and reptiles.

Anyways, have a look at the blog, read Kenney's (short) comments, and then post a comment yourself over there, if you'd like.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Western Standard

Meanwhile, on the Shotgun: Posting about social conservatism and defending gay marriage.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Missed opportunity

So I'm reading the Adam Smith Institute's blog (maintained by my friend Alex Singleton), when what do I see but a photo of Elaine Sternberg and Antony Flew at the Ayn Rand seminar. The same seminar that I attended (on the eve of Rand's centenary, which was on 2 February). Antony Flew was there. Antony Flew! Obviously, I had no idea, since they don't often publish vanity shots of philosophers on their papers or books.

Alas. I could have asked Flew myself about the recent controversy in atheist circles--some say Flew has reconsidered his firm atheist stance to a general belief in God (well, sort of), but definitely not the God of Christianity or Islam. That one, he still maintains, doesn't exist. It made theists happy.

Crash Landing

Gene Callahan, the man you see in the picture below, asked me to join his blog recently. I said I would. So now I might have something to say on Crash Landing. (Do go read Callahan's post on Ayn Rand. It's funny.)

Friday, February 04, 2005


Originally uploaded by piotrek.
My man, Gene Callahan. Proof positive that he does, in fact, occasionally study something other than beer in London.

Callahan, by the way, has much to do with the Mises Institute, and wrote a book entitled "Economics for Real People," which I'm reading at the moment. The book is a great overview of the Austrian school of economics.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Mandela in London

Mandela in London
Originally uploaded by piotrek.
I went to see Nelson Mandela at Trafalgar Square today. He didn't say anything that was surprising. Said some things about 'trade justice,' but didn't give any indication as to what that might mean. He said he would like to see us get rid of poverty but, other than ask for more money, didn't say exactly how we'll accomplish this. As you can see by the photo, it drew a huge crowd, and got some press. And in case that link doesn't work tomorrow or the day after, here's a good one, and here's the CBC's.

Empty platitudes didn't stop me from telling some lady with a microphone that I thought it great to be in the Square with Mandela speaking. I'm sure I said something lame like, "he's a world historical individual," or some other Hegelian nonsense along those lines.