Quebec vs. The Evil Book Discounters

Quebec has had it up to here with large bookstores in the Canadian province. Think of the horrors — large book chains like Chapters Inc. offer steep discounts for international bestsellers. Meanwhile the small independent bookstores selling French-language books have a tough time making a buck.

Don’t worry though, Parti Quebecois’ Gerald Larose has a solution — get rid of the book discounts. That’s right, no longer in Quebec will book buyers have to suffer the indignity of buying the latest English bestseller at 15 to 20 percent off. If Quebec’s Minister of Culture Agnes Maltais gives approval to the recommendations of a committee headed by Larose, such vulgar discounts will be a thing of the past.

No more would a Quebec consumer be able to enjoy priceless literature like Celine Dion’s new biography, My Story, My Dream for $24.50. Surely it is the proper role of government to ensure that such priceless treasures get sold at their full suggested retail price of $35.

Some naysayers suggest that Quebec book shoppers would simply turn to the Internet and order from companies like Amazon.Com which offer large discounts on numerous books. Perhaps, but why should Quebec participate in the evil that is low book prices.

It’s not about the practicalities of the issue, as much as it is a matter of principles.


Committee suggests ban on book discounts. Charlie Gillis. The National Post, October 23, 2000.

From “Cop Killer” to Cop?

I had a not so good night last night (bad dreams), but all that changed thanks to Seth Dillingham who had me howling in laughter with news that Ice-T has joined the cast of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit as a cop.

Unlike Seth I think Ice-T can pull off the cop routine (remember “New Jack Hustler”?), but definitely not in a Law & Order style show. Anyone remember the “Players” show that lasted 20 minutes where he played one of three ex-cons who got special assignments working with police? That’s the kind cop you want Ice-T playing.

Quick sidebar: I once got insulted by Ice-T at a concert, though somewhat indirectly. I used to do entertainment reporting for the local newspaper and since I was always an Ice-T fan I wrangled my way to reviewing a concert that turned out to be a real dud — this was right after the Body Count album was out but before “Cop Killer” became a huge national controversy.

Anyway, Ice-T comes out and before kicking off the concert announces that he just talked to a reporter from the paper I worked for who was reviewing the concert who asked him all of these ridiculous questions. Then Ice-T let off a few profanities at the unnamed individual.

Of course the alleged interview never took place and this was just sort of preemptive strike he did in every town. David Lee Roth actually pioneered this technique after Van Halen hit it big and some in the media were criticizing their lifestyle. So Roth would just get on stage and rip into the local press regardless of whether or not he’d actually talked to them.

I guess the idea was that the press was probably going to rip them anyway after the show, so what did they have to lose? Actually I gave Ice-T a good review which didn’t go over well with my boss who wanted to make the story about Ice-T’s bizarre tirade rather than whether or not the concert was any good.

A Complete Map of the Web? I Think Not

Slashdot linked to this Financial Times story that claims a Scotland-based company has created a complete map of the web. The only problem is that the claims the company makes can’t possibly be true.

The main objections are large technical. A complete page-level map of the web, which they claim to have, would require a huge database — it would certainly be among the largest private databases in the world and it is extremely doubtful they could construct and implement such a database a) on their rather low investment funding and b) without anyone noticing before now.

That this is basically marketing hype becomes apparent when the article gets around to describing a form of encryption (well not quite encryption but close),

Finally, Whitelaw demonstrates steganography – the art of concealing text within more text. “Steganography is considered the third biggest threat to US security after biological and chemical attack,” he says.

If I encode a love letter to my wife in a JPEG of my daughter, I’m the third biggest threat to US security? In fact most of the steganography schemes I’ve run across aren’t really sophisticated enough to hide the hidden message. Especially when you’re talking about concealing a plaintext message within another plaintext message — it’s usually pretty easy to distinguish between such messages given the artificial constraints they have to operate under (this is also why watermarking with audio files to prevent piracy has been such a bust — it is not trivial to hide one message into another, different message).

This looks like a company hoping to make a killing by selling to gullible police forces (which is a redundancy) and corporations.

Another Example of Microsoft Cluelessness

The Register (UK) has a brief look at Windows ME that highlights some of the inane bugs in ME as well as the typical MS response — customers aren’t supposed to try that. Consider what happens if you are silly enough to think that Microsoft’s Personal Web Server will install properly on Windows ME:

Microsoft’s Personal Web Server (PWS) is one of the applications that falls foul of Windows Me. PWS tries to overwrite some of the core system files and when it doesn’t instead of aborting the installation, it creates several nasty registry errors.

Microsoft responds with the obvious, once again, stating that this technology is more appropriate for business and/or corporate users, and since Windows Me was designed solely for the home user, PWS is not supported by Windows Me. Which leads to it not being able to work in Windows Me.

But it screwing your registry does seem a bit hard, even so. Particularly if you didn’t have a backup. You did have a backup, didn’t you?

Morons. Okay, if it’s not supposed to be used by home users, why the hell did they call it the Personal Web Server? Maybe what they really should say is they never meant Windows to be used in the home — people with home PCs should install Linux or buy Macs!

Computers and Schools

Don Larson linked to a CNN article about computers in education. The article basically opposes some exposing young children to computers in the school environment. Since I’m going to buy daughter a computer for her fourth birthday, I disagree strongly with the “keep small kids away from computers” line, but on the other hand I’m not very impressed by schools’ use of computers.

To put it bluntly, the problem from my experience isn’t the computers, it’s the schools. The biggest problem is that public schools tend to take the approaches to teaching other subjects that don’t work for those subjects and that really don’t work for computers.

One school district in Michigan, for example, developed an elaborate plan for making children computer literate that started in the earliest grades and went through high school. The problem? The entire curriculum basically involved extensive long-term training in two software packages that are available only on a single platform. I can’t think of a worse way to teach kids about computers.

The big problem is that most computer instruction treats computers as a tool to complete specific tasks rather than a general purpose tool like the encyclopedia or dictionary that kids should have a broad understanding of how to use. A lot of computer instruction that I’ve seen the next door neighbors bring home, for example, goes down to the level of telling kids exactly which menu selection to pick in IE4 or something along those lines.

On the other hand, it is foolish to go to the other extreme and not give young kids access to computers. We’ve got four functioning computers in my home (and several nonfunctioning ones in the basement) and our 3-year-old is intensely curious about them. She regularly asks me to see the pictures of her that are on her web site, and recently became fascinated with watching her mom play The Sims (now she asks mom to show her the “little people” who live inside the computer and “helps” Lisa play the game).

Should Men Have A Right to Choose Too?

Cathy Young has a very long, very well written piece in Salon.Com about an idea originally propounded by the men’s rights movement that is likely to be tested in courts within the decade — do men have unequal rights when it comes to issue of abortion that should be solved via a legal remedy?

The basic argument simply turns pro-choice argument on its head. If women should be able to have control over entering in to parental obligations, why not men as well? The idea seems inane at first, but most of the arguments against it, in one way or another, rely on claims that abortion rights activists already say are preposterous when used by pro-lifers. Typically feminists reply that if men don’t want to have to pay child support they should keep their pants on, which is a crude version of an early argument against abortion — if women don’t want to get pregnant, they shouldn’t sleep around. As Young notes, there is a “willingness to liberate women but not men from the unwanted consequences of sex…”

Young quotes from a Planned Parenthood pamphlet, “9 Reasons Why Abortions Are Legal,” which says, in part,

At the most basic level, the abortion issue is not really about abortion. … Should women make their own decisions about family, career and how to live their lives? Or should government do that for them? Do women have the option of deciding when or whether to have children?

Young essentially wants to know that if they are serious about the rhetoric, why shouldn’t men have the same opportunities. And if not, why not?

Most people of the folks who support the so-called men’s right to choose typically have some scheme whereby either parent is able to forego parental obligations — women can obviously abort a fetus as a remedy, and typically the remedy for men would be to renounce parental obligations during the pregnancy.

Does this sort of thinking make sense? Up to a point there are some important insights to be taken away from this sort of argument, but ultimately it has no chance of being accepted by courts and is suspect morally. The problem for feminists, however, is that the reason most people will find the men’s right to choose arguments fallacious is the persistent sexual stereotypes which see men as economic providers for children. The idea of father simply being able to renounce their parental obligations is probably revolting non-feminists and feminists alike (who, when contemplating it, might get a hint of how pro-lifers feel about the idea of a woman being able to abort a fetus) largely because of expectations society has of fathers.

Personally I think that’s, on balance, a very good thing. Besides technological solutions on the horizon such as the male birth control pill are likely to put men and women on more equal technological footing when it comes to controlling reproduction, and a massive change of the sort proposed by those advocating for a man’s right to choose would be a very bad idea.

On the other hand there is a subset of cases of forced fatherhood which Young cites which probably does deserve additional looking into. Namely, how should the law handle the responsibilities of a man when he is forced into being a father thanks to nonconsensual sexual activity?

Young finds a couple of doozies that are stunning. In one case a woman seeking to get pregnant took advantage of a male co-worker who had passed out drunk at a party, and subsequently bragged to friends that she saved a trip to the sperm bank. In another, a woman had oral sex with a man and requested he use a condom. Afterward, unbeknownst to him, she used a syringe to retrieve semen and inseminate herself. In both cases, the mothers sued for and won child support payments from the involuntary father.

And of course there was a much-reported case of a woman convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a 12 year-old. Even though the state concurred that this was in fact a criminal sexual act, the young boy was forced to pay child support when he was 18.

Some sort of legal remedy is in order for those sorts of bizarre cases, but otherwise dramatic legal changes in the way parental obligations are established would be a very bad idea.


A man’s right to choose. Cathy Young, Salon.Com, October 19, 2000.