Monday, September 26, 2005

On the inevitability of Stephen Harper's failure and the spinelessness of Jack Layton's policy proposals, not necessarily in that order

So the New Democrats are now proposing government regulation on the price of gasoline, on the belief that oil companies are engaging in unethical profiteering. I'm afeared that the honourable gentleman's mistrust of free markets has caused him to fail to recognize a gift horse upon seeing one, or something to that effect.

Socialists tend to mistrust the free market because they're conscious of its excesses. Where inequality of opportunity exists, there is created a grossly unfair, and inevitably self-perpetuating, distribution of wealth. Even in the invariaby hypothetical case of perfect equality of opportunity, those who make less of the opportunity than they could are left unable to afford basic necessities. As markets - especially labour markets - cycle, the prices of goods and services can be suppressed to the point that those offering them are unable to make a basic living, and market exit isn't necessarily feasible or desirable from the perspective of the public good. All of these things are quite true, and I have on more than one occasion found myself on the same side as the New Democrats against the positions of most other parties. Social engineering, in these cases, is a quite acceptable (and universally applied, albeit to varying extents) solution.

In imposing controls on the price of gasoline, however, the New Democrats are proposing the sort of social engineering that runs precisely contrary to their objectives: namely, they are seeking government legislation to benefit major consumers of gasoline (who will be disproportionately corporations and high income earners) at the expense of the rest of us. They are proposing to deal a severe blow to the public transit systems that they claim to hold so dear. They are proposing to maintain the illusion of sustainability that masks the ugliness of the North American lifestyle at present. Moreover, they are proposing to impede the operation of the free market in one of the cases in which the free market works in a direction that they ought to find favourable.

The greatest undeniable virtue of the free market is its adapatbility over the long-term. If there is sustained demand for a product or service, the market will eventually provide it. If a good or service is over-priced, there will be, over the long-term, market entry by other players (this applies even in cases where there are significant barriers to market entry, it's just that the term will be longer and the other players will usually be large corporations already successful in the provision of other goods and services). The invisible hand, as hackneyed as a viewpoint as this is, really does work quite marvellously well. This long-term adaptation will often leave short-term victims in its wake, of course (which is yet another rationale for government intervention) but, in the end, the market will provide.

I don't necessarily intend to suggest that the current increase in oil prices is due to a decrease in the supply or an increase in the demand, of course. However, both a decrease in supply (in the form of reserves being exhausted) and an increase in demand (in the form of Chinese people buying automobiles) are inevitable at some indeterminate point in the future. So too, then, is an increase in price. This present price increase may be, as the New Democrats suggest, the premature result of corporate profiteering, or it may not be. What it is clearly is the impetus for an increase in demand for fuel efficient vehicles, public transit, and alternative energy sources. This demand will take a while, to be sure, but it will take a damned site longer if we prance around suppressing the price of gas in the interim. In the meantime, it subsidizes the S.U.V. owner and does little to help the cyclist.

This trumpeting about the low income person who needs a car for his/her job reeks of displayig a case study to justify a decision that won't withstand the scrutiny of statistics. While such people exist, other avenues can be found of helping them - avenues that don't have the aforementioned negative effects. And if the oil companies *are* profiteering unfairly, well, let them.

And then tax the hell out of 'em.

Now the part about Harper

The trouble with this debate over whether Stephen Harper ought to be allowed to continue as Conservative leader (which consists primarily of Carol Jamieson on one side and the increasingly shrill William McBeath on the other) is that the parties aren't speaking the same language. It's reminiscent of the two thousand year long debate in St. Albert over whether or not to build a bridge over the Sturgeon River (on which more here), wherein proponents of the bridge argued quite convincingly that building it would reduce traffic congestion on St. Albert Trail while opponents argued equally convincingly that it would restrict access to natural areas and disturb sensitive bird nesting areas. In this case, the Harpies are arguing that Stephen Harper is a decent man honestly committed to Canada and to his party's principles (which he is), and the depose-a-trons are arguing that the Conservatives under him will never win a majority government (which they won't, and probably won't even win a minority one).

Is it right that a decent man honestly committed to Canada and to his party's principles should be ousted simply because he won't perform electorally? That the question need be asked exposes the rot of political parties - as long as candidates are nominated for office by some sort of organization, there will always need to be a tradeoff between the membership's belief in the candidate's fitness for office and the membership's belief in the candidate's ability to acquire office. In other words, candidates will be nominated (at least) as much for their electability as for their overall fitness for office, and we'll wind up with a Parliament full of Brian Mulroneys.

As for Harper. . . well, you reap what you sow. He was more electable than Stockwell Day, so he was chosen over him. If somebody still more electable should come along - a Montreal lawyer, for example, with a blue-collar Irish Québec background - he can hardly complain.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Krautland Votes 2005

So how about them German elections? For those of you who have either been living in a box or not following politics on different continents, here's a brief synopsis (for those of you who have been following the story, you can skip to beneath the asterisks a few paragraphs down):

Germany was being run by a coalition of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Green Party, who collectively held a majority of seats in the lower house of Parliament, the Bundestag (in Germany, as in Canada, the lower house is where the action is). The Chancellor (head of government) was Gerhard Schroeder of the SPD. Trailing badly in the polls, the government set about to implement a relatively serious series of economic reforms, of the variety that might be termed "right-wing" if one were into such simplistic analyses which, as you all ought to realize, this space most emphatically is. The Social Democrats are perhaps most analogous to the British Labour Party, in that they've gone over the past few decades from being the German version of the New Democrats to being the German version of the Liberals. These proposed reforms caused a number of the more left-leaning members of the SPD to leave the party in favour of an alliance with a party of former communist East Germans, forming the evocatively-named "Left Party".

Schroeder used these defections as an indication that he required an election to obtain a mandate to go ahead with these reforms. This posed a couple of problems:
1. If polls were any indication, an election wouldn't so much allow him to "obtain a mandate to go ahead with these reforms" as it would "seek alternative employment".
2. There was no readily-apparently method of getting an election since, unlike in Canada, the German head of state (the President) doesn't just dissolve Parliament whenever the head of government asks him to, and the government, which still held a majority, seemed in no danger of losing a confidence vote.

Schroeder decided, in a bold and ethically-questionable move, to hold a vote of confidence and order his own members to abstain, meaning that he lost the vote by a commanding margin. As such, he received his election, which, it was generally agreed, he would definitely lose.

The major opposition party was the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), an alliance of two parties (the former of which ran for office everywhere but in Bavaria, the latter of which ran for office exclusively in Bavaria), whose candidate for Chancellor, Angela Merkel, seemed certain to replace Bush, with the only question being whether the CDU/CSU would win an outright majority (less common in Germany than in Canada, on account of their mixed First Past the Post/Proportional electoral system) or whether it would have to resort to an alliance with the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), also known (confusingly, for Canadians) as the "liberals".

Over the course of the campaign, however, things began to change: Schroeder campaigned like a man possessed, portraying himself as the only candidate willing to make necessary economic reforms without sacrificing Germany's "heart", its generous social welfare policies. Merkel suffered from ill-advised marks insulting to East Germans by some of her allies, as well as from the flat tax advocated by her probable finance minister (but not by the party proper). Any talk of a CDU/CSU majority vanished, and some even began to speculate that the CDU/CSU/FDP total would fall short of a majority, and that Merkel would have to resort to a "grand coalition" with the SPD in order to form government. Such a coalition would be precedented (in fact, several German provinces are currently governed by such coalitions), and seemed eminently plausible: the CDU/CSU, robbed of a majority but still with a decisive plurality, would be the logical governing party, and the much-reduced SPD, minus Schroeder who would leave politics, would be willing to join as a junior partner.

Then the election results came in, with the two major parties having approximately equal support (if, as some Social Democrats, suddenly began arguing, the CDU and CSU should be counted as separate parties, the SPD was actually the largest party by quite a wide margin). The seats in the Bundestag post-election stand as follows:

CDU/CSU: 225
SPD: 222
FDP: 61
Left Party: 54
Green Party: 51

The Chancellor will be elected by the Bundestag later this month, and it's traditional for the result to be a foregone conclusion, thanks to coalition negotiations. This year, that won't be the case, as the following summary of the mathematically possible coalition arrangements demonstrates:

Coalition: CDU/CSU, SPD
Why it won't happen: Schroeder has been adamant that he must continue to be Chancellor (his argument being that the election had shown decisively that Germans didn't want Merkel as Chancellor, a fact which polls had indicated even when her party was in the lead), and his party is unlikely to dump him so immediately after he pulled off such a magnificent comeback. The CDU/CSU, as the largest seat holder, won't consent to be a junior partner in government, and won't accept a coalition arrangement with anybody but Merkel as Chancellor.

Coalition: CDU/CSU, FDP, Green Party
Why it won't happen: The Greens have been leery about joining forces with parties with whom they share little in common. The FDP especially has been called the antithesis of the Greens, and Green leadership has been emphatic that it would be much happier returning to the opposition benches than it would be compromising any of its core principles to rejoin the government. Joining a CDU/CSU/FDP government would require the Greens to compromise pretty well all of their core principles.

Coalition: SPD, FDP, Green Party
Why it won't happen: While this initially appeared feasible, since the FDP has acted as kingmaker for both the SPD and CDU/CSU numerous times in German history, FDP leadership as nixed the idea outright, pointing out that it spent the entire campaign criticizing the record of the SPD/Green government.

Coalition: Anything involving the Left Party
Why it won't happen: Every party has said that it won't negotiate with the Left Party, whose views bear even less resemblance to the CDU/CSU/FDP's than do the Greens'. There also remains considerable animosity between the currently-governing parties and the Left Party, many of whose members abandoned that government at a crucial time. The Left Party, for its part, has also indicated that it has no desire to work with any of the other parties in coalition negotiations.

So it's looking like the Germans will be entering minority government territory. Who heads the minority government is still an open question, since the votes of the Left Party representatives in the secret ballot that elects the Chancellor remain in doubt. Several Left Part backbenchers have indicated that they would support Schroeder as the lesser of evils, though party leadership remains adament that it won't. Presumably, this means that they would direct their membership to abstain on a Schroeder-Merkel runoff, which would be enough to give Merkel the Chancellory.

* * * * *

I promised some lessons for Canadian politics, and before I provide the ones I see, I'd like to quote Paul Wells in his identification of a couple of lessons of his own:

1. "Schroeder understands as few politicians do that if you're going to get beat up, you might as well fight."

Paul Martin could learn from this. He's Prime Minister now. He has to make decisions. His days of being all things to all people are long behind him. There is no national consensus on any matter of current political importance - the matters on which there exists national consensus tend to have already been resolved, leaving matters on which there is division in the spotlight - and nobody, least of all a wimp tenuously holding on to a minority government, is in a position to forge one. Leadership means taking sides.

Gerhard Schroeder came up with an explicit set of proposals. Did they go in the wrong direction? Maybe. If they were going in the right direction, did they go far enough? Probably not. But he came up with something, and when some people didn't like what he came up with he forced an election that he couldn't win, because he said he couldn't govern without a renewed mandate to pursue his reforms. And then, on the hustings, he fought. He fought the Left Party, who said that his reforms were completely wrong-headed, and he fought the CDU/CSU, which said that they didn't go far enough. He put the opposition on the defensive, and he came away with what must be considered, in a game where results are measured against expectations rather than any absolute standard, a victory. Paul Martin's never managed anything comparable.

2. "Personality matters. Merkel has her admirers but she's a sourpuss. It made her hard to vote for. Pop quiz: Name a prominent Canadian opposition party led by a sourpuss."

This one needs no elaboration, but my next post will provide it all the same (WitPotS: providing you with unneeded elaboration since 2004).

What else should Canadians learn from this? First, that we either need a politicized head of state, like the Germans have, or a formal vote to determine who gets to attempt to head a government, like the Germans have. In Canada, it's pretty much automatic that the leader of whichever party wins the most seats gets to try to be Prime Minister, even if that leader has no hope of gaining the confidence of Parliament. The last time this rule was broken was 1925, when William Lyon MacKenzie King decided to try to hang on as Prime Minister despite having lost the election (he failed, but one the subsequent election be alleging collusion between Arthur Meighen's Conservatives and the Governor-General, who had impudently asked Meighen to form a government after King's fell). Even during the last election campaign, Paul Martin stated that if the Conservatives won a minority he would resign the Prime Ministership and wouldn't accept a request from the Governor-General to form a new government without another election being held first, this despite the fact that a Conservative minority would have been totally incapable of governing, while a Liberal minority probably could have managed, even absent a plurality. All of this is moot, of course, since a Governor-General who asked anybody but the leader of the largest party to form a government would be a Governor-General who would immediately find herself knee-deep in scandal.

Besides that, the myriad coalition possibilities receiving serious discussion in Germany ought to remind us that, the Bloc excluded (since they quite explicitly advocate something approximating the destruction of Canada), there's not a single political party out there that would destroy Canada (appreciably more than it's already been destroyed, that is). If the Conservatives should ever get a majority, gay rights would progress more slowly, and the deterioration of the social safety net would proceed slightly more rapidly. That's about it. For their part, the New Democrats would oversee modest tax increases. That's about it. Power, besides corrupting, also moderates.

Finally, instability isn't to be feared (contrary to the expressed concerns of so many opponents of proportional representation), but political parties are to be (contrary to the expressed views of most proponents of PR). Either Germany will get a viable government from this mess - and, if it does, it's a reasonable assumption that the government in question will undertake most of the same reforms that the SPD-Green coalition was set to, since four out of five parties considered those reforms to be at least a step in the right direction - or it won't, in which case there will be new elections, which will almost certainly provide a government. However, the talk of coalitions incorporating major parties of both the right and the left, though ultimately fruitless, demonstrates the extent to which the assumption that parties are only interested in power has taken hold in people. The SPD and CDU/CSU purport to stand for totally different things, but each was quite prepared to accept a coalition, just so long as it got the Chancellory. The Greens and the FDP have, at least nominally, absolutely nothing in common, but they came up as potential partners frequently. Even if, in this case, the relevant parties demonstrated an admirable and unusual devotion to principle, the extent to which the expectation that they wouldn't was widespread indicates the sort of peril we're in.

Next time: Should Stephen Harper be allowed to keep his leadership?

To come (maybe):
Countries where politics are more interesting than they are in Canada Part II: Israel
Stephen Lewis
Predictions on the Oilers' season
Why I want to be in a band, despite my total absence of musical talent


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Mulroney Legacy

Let's get this much established right away: in a segment of life with few moral absolutes, Peter C. Newman is 100% in the right and M. Brian Mulroney is 100% in the wrong. I have no trouble believing that Newman didn't tell Mulroney that he was taping their phone conversations. I have very little trouble believing that Newman actively led Mulroney to believe that he was not taping them. Doesn't matter. Newman's a journalist and Mulroney was a Prime Minister, and suggesting that Mulroney ought not to have realized that anything said to one of Canada's most prominent wags stretches too far even my rather elastic capacity for belief in the former's foolishness. If, in the lowest-stakes form of politics to be covered by any media at all, it can be drilled into a Vice President (Operations & Finance)'s head to say nothing to a student journalist that is not either fair game for print or preceded by an explicit acknowledgement on the part of the fourth estatian that it's not, a Prime Minister can be careful who he says what to. This is especially true of Prime Ministers who have previously been burnt by the inability to distinguish between reporters and friends (hello, "There's no whore like an old whore").

The surprise in what Mulroney said to Newman isn't so much what he thought; his delusions of grandeur competed for prominence only with that spectacular moose jaw of his. Rather, the surprise is that Mulroney would be so candid with *anybody*. Even the most arrogant among us (me) tends to slap on an aura of what he hopes is an endearing modesty in the company of even the closest of friends.

Apart from the appallingly bad judgment shown by Lyin' Brian in even making the comments he did, however, let's examine their veracity. Was Brian Mulroney the best Prime Minister since John A.? Did he rescue the country from Trudeau's mismanagement? No.

I like to think that my contrarian cred is pretty well-established - when I'm well-rested, I like to oppose conventional wisdom just because it gets a lot of people all hot-and-bothered (to say nothing of the fact that we've been governed since government was created by conventional wisdom, and look where *that*'s gotten us). So naturally I would like nothing better than to be able to come before you today and explain why Mulroney was correct, and the 92% of Canadians who did not approve of his performance as Prime Minister wrong. Unfortunately, I can't - even overwhelming majorities can't be mistaken *all* of the time.

I'll take a page here out of Stephen Lewis (on whom more on later, if motivation allows) and begin by acknowledging some good in Mulroney. Unlike the vast majority of Canadian Prime Ministers - indeed, all of them except himself, MacDonald, Diefenbaker, and Trudeau - Mulroney possessed the political courage to dare mighty things. While the Chretien-(and especially) Martin years have been reminiscent of the King-St. Laurent barren wasteland of reform or innovation, the Mulroney years were interesting largely because Mulroney himself had the guts to make them so: he tried *twice* to bring Quebec into the constitutional fold, created the GST, and fought (and won) an election on free trade, and issue that had brought down no less cynically successful a politician as Wilfred Laurier, seventy-five or so years previous. In terms of ambition, he's undoubtedly in the MacDonald-Trudeau ranks (Diefenbaker must be denied any claim to greatness by reason of his ambitions' total lack of coherence. But still, the man was at least *interesting*). Unlike either MacDonald or Trudeau, however, Mulroney didn't apply his ambition towards the attainment of any well-articulated goals, but rather to the attainment and retention of his own power - the Lord Voldemort of Canadian politics, except with a bigger chin.

This is not to say that Trudeau and MacDonald weren't guilty of their own opportunistic manipulations of the political process or abuses of power, or even that these were less severe or numerous than those in which Mulroney engaged, but rather that each of those two men would go to great and often unethical lengths to retain power because there was something they wanted to do with power: MacDonald wanted to make Confederation a success, while Trudeau wanted to entrench individual rights and keep Quebec in Canada, and each man had significant accomplishments - the railway and the addition of three provinces in MacDonald's case, and the Constitution Act 1982 and a decisive referendum win in Trudeau's - that were the result of their desires. Mulroney? Well, he was against free trade with the United States; one of his greatest accomplishments was free trade with the United States. He favoured classically liberal economics; he implemented the GST and *still* ran deficits larger than those of the Trudeau governments that he so rightly condemned (yes, he governed during a recession that wasn't his fault - there's only so large a gap between stated beliefs and actions that can be justified by circumstance, however).

One of the knocks on Trudeau - generally a justified one - is that he let a lot of sub-par talent sit around the cabinet table. At least most of his ministers managed to avoid being the target of criminal investigations (and none of them went on to become the most successful sovereigntist politician since Réné Levesque, either).

In fact, pretty well everything that Mulroney blamed Trudeau for, he went on to become as or more guilty of. Did Trudeau, through patriating the constitution, drive a wedge between Quebeckers and other Canadians? No more than did Mulroney through his totally ill-conceived Meech and Charlottetown accords (whose notorious "distinct society" clause, incidentally, is revealed in Newman's book to be, in Mulroney's opinion, meaningless window-dressing: take that, Québec nationalists!). Did Trudeau centralize power in the PMO? Sure - which only gave Mulroney a head start in his own autocratic efforts.

And this is where Paul Wells gets it wrong: Stephen Harper isn't Mulroney minus the vision. He's Mulroney with a more modest vision, but at least one rooted in a coherent political philosophy, however wrong-headed. At this point, his "peevish whining" is preferably to Paul Martin's dithering. But Martin's dithering will is miles ahead of Mulroney's unprincipled daring.

Unfairly maligned? I can think of none who have earned our scorn more.


Monday, September 19, 2005

On the one hand, this is clearly somebody I know running a web search solely to amuse me as I look at my traffic statistics. . .

. . . on the other hand, it's still hilarious.

Somebody found this blog by Googling "roman kotovych blog molester of small children".

I may next blog about seeing Stephen Lewis speak, the lessons Germany's election holds for Canadian politics, or the upcoming Oilers' season. Or I may not. I'm like that.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Lost Art of the Participle

Has anybody else noticed how, a few years ago, processed cheese suddenly became process cheese? Well, along similar lines, I've noticed in recent days such products for sale as "ice tea", "toss salad", and "bottle water".

You'd think we were suffering a shortage of Ds.


Monday, September 12, 2005

Treat her like a princess. This might mean bringinger flowers, it might mean saying "I love you" to her every morning, or it might mean executing her whenever there's a change in government.

You can't make this shit up (and, unless you're a masochist, it's questionable as to whether you'd even want to): Brian "Talk Unctuously and Carry a Big Chin" Mulroney is being profiled in a book by Peter C. Newman, who was given hours of access to the former Prime Minister's store of wit, wisdom, bitterness, and bile. Some samples:

"Trudeau's contribution was not to build Canada but to destroy it, and I had to come in and save it."

"[The Meech Lake Accord was] the sweetest deal ever known to man and it was thrown away."

"Nobody has achievements like this ... you cannot name a Canadian prime minister who has done as many significant things as I did, because there are none."

On the video of Clyde Wells hugging Jean Chrétien at the Liberal leadership convention in the wake of the former's knife in the side of Meech Lake: "That was the modern equivalent of hugging Macdonald for hanging Louis Riel. This is like the hanging of Louis Riel on videotape."

I'll offer some commentary once I manage to pick my jaw up off the floor.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

More on the U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled unanymously that the American government has the right to detain "enemy combatants" indefinitely, even if the combatant in question is a U.S. citizen captured on U.S. soil.

I, of course, no fuck-all about the relevant law in this case, so I'll confine my comments on it to the hackneyed old "if that's what the law says, then the law should be changed". Instead of dwelling on the correctness of the ruling, I'll draw your attention to the article's fourth paragraph (emphasis mine):

But the court's ruling, written by Judge Michael Luttig, who is considered a potential Supreme Court nominee, said definitively that Mr Bush had been given such powers by the congressional declaration authorising military force following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Now, let's play a little game: let's suppose that you're a judge who is considered a potential Supreme Court nominee, and a case comes before you in which the man responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices has a strong vested interest. Is this vested interest likely to make you more or less likely to rule the President's way?

This isn't, of course, some smug Canadian attempt to show how our judicial selection process is preferable, since our process, in the words of some noted legal scholar, "blows donkey chunks". Instead, it's evidence of why both countries need a broader selection process, sort of like the one that the Students' Union was on the verge of selecting for DIE Board before Abboud shot it all to hell on account of his Americophilia.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Let's see how the Hit Counter's been getting on during the last month or so. . .

Somebody from the City of St. Albert just found this site by searching for Elke Blodgett. None of you appreciate how funny this is, but it is.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Does anybody know. . .

. . . whether it's usual for a nominee for Supreme Court Chief Justice to have no experience on the Supreme Court? My impression's always been that it was normally an already sitting justice who was elevated, but I'll defer to readers more knowledgeable than I.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Return of the King

I'm back, apparently. To those thirty to forty of you who have been checking this blog daily over the last month, I offer both my apologies and my undiluted contempt. To the rest, I offer the following story about the battle my computer has been waging against me for the past couple of weeks.

It all started when I moved to a new place, which in turn all started with my acquisition of a steady source of income, which in turn all started with my successful application for the position of Business Manager with Gateway, which in turn all started with my birth (I may have missed a few links, but my feeling is that those of you who continued reading after I announced the subject of this post are pretty non-discriminating readers and probably won't care).

Anyway, my landlord had assured me of wireless access for a reasonable fee, so I bought a wireless card, which worked just fine for the month or so that I had it at my parents' place. Unfortunately, when I moved, my system suddenly decided that the wireless card didn't actually exist. "What wireless card?" it asked me. "You don't have a wireless card. Could you be thinking of your soundcard? Because I totally detect one of those. Don't take it for granted, though, because later on I'm going to decide that you don't have one of those either."

At this point, of course, I should have simply dropped my entire computer off of a tall building, preferably on to somebody who used to work at OA Computers, which was the original source of my system. Instead, I decided to call tech support.

Now, let me just say that D-Link has some excellent tech support people employed. Some of them would listen to my problem, suggest a solution (which sometimes involved downloading software put out by D-Link's competitors), and then tell me to call back if that didn't work. Trouble is that when I'd call back, I'd reach one of the less helpful tech support types who, having concluded that they couldn't fix my problem, shifted their objective to getting me off the phone.

"Reinstall the drivers," they'd advise without fail.

"I've already reinstalled the drivers eight times," I'd reply, growing ever so slightly exasperated, "I've installed drivers for every revision of this card. I've installed drivers that are out of date. I've installed drivers for other operating systems. None of this has worked. You're just trying to get me off the phone, knowing that when I call back I'll wind up talking to somebody different."

"Have you tried rebooting your system?" they'd ask.

At this point, my landlord, who was both feeling sorry for me and tired of my using his computer for my e-mail needs, suggested that I backup my files and reinstall my operating system (Windows 98), since the problem might be with something called the "registry". This seemed a reasonable enough suggestion, so I went to fetch the CD that OA Computers had given me when it delivered the system. The CD was labelled "Windows 98 Starts Here". Some of you are already laughing at me. See, I had assumed for the five years during which I'd owned this computer that this CD was the Windows 98 CD. It turns out it wasn't. It turns out that this was a Windows 98 *help* CD, and that OA had, as part of its Customer Abuse Program, not actually given me the Windows 98 CD (OA Computers, incidentally, proceeded to helpfully go out of business not long after I acquired my system). Another part of this program, which will become relevant in a moment, was using a gluegun to put all of the cards in the PCI slots and to put the power supply plugs into the various drives.

At this point, somebody very unethical who will not be named offered me the use of a bootleg copy of Windows XP, an offer of which I was sadly unable to take advantage by virtue of my system not fulfilling a single one of the Windows XP requirements.

Enter Mark, who suggests to me that I should just bite the bullet and upgrade, since it's possible to get a low-end processor, RAM, and motherboard with onboard sound and video for an amount in the low three digits. He even agrees to drive me to Memory Express, where the bullet is bitten by me, and from which I exit with a shiny new set of stuff (and, I hasten to add, a legal copy of Windows XP). Mark is a good man.

Fortunately, the Memory Express folk installed the RAM and processor for me, and the motherboard came with a helpful set of instructions for the rest. "Be sure to connect the ATX 12V cord from your power supply to your motherboard," state the instructions, "or your computer will not boot up." A detailed examination of my power supply reveals that this is a fictitious cord. I log on to MSN (on the landlord's computer, natch) to see which of my wonderful computer geek friends who are willing to provide free advice are online. Only Mike Esopenko is.

"PWNED!" he advises.

I need a new power supply. Since my intellectual grasp of the concept of sunk cost has never really influenced my life, I buy one. I continue the installation, ripping my old cards out of the hardened glue surrounding the PCI slots on my old mother board and the plugs of my old power supply out of the hardened glue surrounding the power outlets on my drives. After some trial and error, I get the computer to turn on. Unfortunately, the hard drive that I was using as my master drive (which came with my original system) appears to be somehow imcompatible with my new system, so I have to switch the jumpers on my slave to make it the master. This is the drive to which I have backed up all of the files in preparation for the installation of a new OS on the master drive. You probably see where this is going.

The computer's booting up. The Windows XP CD is in the drive, and the system seems to be detecting it. This is progress.

"Welcome to Windows XP setup." Yes!

"We're preparing your system for the installation of Windows XP. Would you like us to format your hard drive before installing Windows XP? It would be our pleasure to do so."

No! No! Don't touch my fucking hard drive! I've got six gig of music on there!

"Installing Windows XP without formatting hard drive."

Time passes.

"We will now reboot your system. Windows XP setup will continue after the system restarts."

The system reboots.

"Welcome to Windows XP setup. We're preparing your system for the installation of Windows XP. Would you like us to format your hard drive before installing Windows XP? It would be our pleasure to do so."

Um, this looks vaguely familiar. No, you foul machine, don't reformat my hard drive.

Time passes.

"We will now reboot your system. Windows XP setup will continue after the system restarts."

The system reboots.

"Welcome to Windows XP setup. . ."

Gah! Fine! Fine! If the only way I'm going to get this thing working is to reformat the hard drive, reformat the fucking thing.

"Thank you. Erasing several gigabytes of precious, precious data now. You will never see it again. We will not even extend the courtesy of giving you time to say goodbye."

Time passes.

"We will now reboot your system. Windows XP setup will continue after the system restarts."

The system reboots.

"Welcome to Windows XP setup. . ."

Eventually, it transpired that all I had to do was remove the Windows XP CD while the computer was rebooting, since it turns out that what it meant by "Windows XP setup will continue after the system restarts." was "Windows XP setup is now complete, and you need to remove the CD." So I lost all of that data needlessly, which is a shame. But at least now the system is working. And looking at the hardware configuration is appears that - could it be? - yes!

"Good news, Steve! You seem to have acquired a wireless card. We're detecting it just fine now. The bad news is that you no longer have a soundcard."

Yes I do. There's a soundcard right on the fucking motherboard, you piece of shit.

"No, no, we're quite positive that there isn't. You have no soundcard."

Good thing I didn't lose any sleep over that music, I guess. Let me just get hooked up to the internet. I give the landlord my MAC address, he gives me the network password, and. . .

"Limited or no connectivity. The network has not assigned this computer a network address."

The landlord is perplexed. I am frustrated. Days later, we discover that in order to add a PC machine to a protected Mac network, you need to use a twenty-six character hexidecimal password in lieu of the seven character base ten password we'd been using before. Of course. In the meantime, I'd successfully convinced the computer through a combination of screaming and modifying the BIOS (I credit the screaming, mostly), that I did have a soundcard, things were definitely looking up. In fact, last night I finally got the computer working exactly as it should.

Cue this afternoon. Steve is playing Baseball Mogul 2006, which is remarkably addictive given that Steve doesn't even care for baseball.

"Are you satisfied with the fashion in which your computer is working?"

Yes. At long last, I am truly satisfied.

"That's unfortunate, because we're now going to shut off inexplicably and refuse to reboot."

True to its word, the computer refuses to turn back on. Oh, it sounds like it's booting up for a moment, but then it turns back off. Some toying with the power plugs leads me to the point at which it will continue sounding as though it's turning on, but won't display any output on the monitor (the monitor, in fact, shows no awareness that the computer is even on, continuing to have its power light flicker as though in standby mode). Further fiddling doesn't rectify the problem, but does cause the system to beep incessantly whenever I attempt to turn on.

In conclusion, who wants to sell me a Mac for cheap?


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