Pedantry - Moved to

Friday, June 06, 2003
Got my Dutch exam results

I passed with a 71.3%. That's good enough to get a mention: onderscheiding. I'm still not quite sure what that means, but I did better than just passed. It's only a few points below what I got last year, and I was a lot more pessimistic about this year's exam.

Anyway... the wife and I are going in to Brussels tomorrow to look for a new appartment. We're torn. We both like Leuven, but my wife's commute is awful, and we pay far too much for our apartment. An hour or more in transit each way isn't any fun for me either, but I'm not from California, I'm used to it.

She needs to learn French, and that's a lot easier if we live in Brussels where she has to use it than living here where everyone speaks English and no one uses French. Also, I'm beginning to realise how much I miss speaking French. I could once pass as a native speaker, but now... People still recognise me as Québécois before they recognise me as anglo, but I can't speak it the way I used to. I want my fluency back.

As a younger man, speaking French was extraordinarily liberating. For those who've never felt it, it's hard to explain how wonderful it is to find out - in my case quite suddenly - that there is a whole other world than the one you know: different writers, different music, different conventions, different history, different ways of expressing things. Learning French - becoming really fluent - means getting into contact with a world which lacks for none of the things you're used to growing up anglo, but where they're all, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes obviously, other.

Even most of the other western European languages aren't quite so liberating in their foreignness. Flemish people talk about American TV shows and share so many cultural references with the anglophone world that it's almost like I haven't even left. With the 'Net, I have almost as much media connection to North America as I did before I left.

I still remember that first night in Montreal - September 1991 - staying in an apartment on the Plateau. It's one of the memories that I hope I never lose. The smell of a warm night in late summer, the feel of hardwood floors on my feet, the noise the Metro makes when it pulls out of a station, poutine Chez Lafleur on Square St-Louis, French used bookstores on rue St-Denis, really living - for the first time in my life - on my own and in French.

For most teenagers, driving a car is their first taste of adult freedom. I've never had a car or even a license. For me, it was French. I suppose it's more nostalgia than anything else, but I still feel that way when I can speak French, me with my pea soup Montreal accent.

On the other hand... I really want to learn Dutch. I intend to pursue a career in natural language processing, and that is one of the few careers where Dutch is a huge asset. My industry is centred in the low countries. But, if I'm going to face my situation honestly, living in Leuven isn't exactly immersion Dutch. I doubt that living in Brussels and working in Leuven would accually reduce my exposure to Dutch, at least as long as I kept studying it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003
NDP wins big in Manitoba

With 35 of the 57 seats in the Manitoba legislature and approximately 50% of the popular vote, the NDP has won a second term in government. The NDP has two provincial governments - Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Although there were catastrophically failed NDP governments in BC and Ontario within recent memory, the party doesn't look quite as down and out as many have claimed it was.

I also note that long time Tory MLA for Seine River Louise Dacquay has lost her seat to former high school teacher and new NDP candidate Teresa Oswald. This was unexpected. Seine River has been a Tory riding for quite a while now, and Louise Dacquay was considered a strong candidate. My family lives in the Seine River riding, and my brother was one of her campaign volunteers and one of her students many years ago, so I'm going to count this as a win for my side.

This story is much more interesting and important to me that the Tory leadership race.

I originally learned French at my parents insistence, because my father had unrealised political aspirations which he wanted to pass on to his loinfruit. There was even a time when I imagined myself running in Mercier - the only neighbourhood in Canada that's ever really been my home. It won't happen, although I might encourage my little brother to get involved in riding politics if he's had a good experience with this election.

But, I can still cheer the Canadian left on, even from out here in here in the not-so-far east. This means the NDP and the UFP in Quebec. It would be nice to see a progessive government in Canada in my lifetime.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003
Nom de Dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperie de connard d'enculé de ta mère

Heh heh heh...

If you search for the above string on Google, Pedantry is currently number four. That explains the hike in Google referrals lately.

New blogs on the roll

I've been meaning to add Mac-a-ro-nies to the blogroll for a while, but the New Weblog Showcase seems like a good reason to. MacDiva's post on using blogs as punching bags is a good entry.

Also The Lefty Directory has linked to me, and has a pretty good list of blogs.

Monday, June 02, 2003
The Blair Witch Project

(My wife has a knack for titling pictures.)

Blog review

First, let me offer my support for Silver Rights on the New Weblog Showcase, by linking to the well worth reading post Some logs and a bottle of wine.

And, the New Weblog Showcase links to Weapons of mass retraction on I protest, where Tony Blair's WMD mess is covered.

Ken MacLeod points to another take on The Matrix Reloaded. Actually, I don't think it's an American sense of powerlessness that people are identifying with, rather, it's a sense of that everything is fake. The news is fake, the President is fake, most people's jobs are fake and the realisation that watching 9/11 on TV is hard to distinguish from a good special effects film gets to people after a while.

Kip Manley is pretty pissed off. Can't say I blame him.

Ikram Saeed wonders what's going on with America's values. I spent 18 of the last 23 years in America and I ask myself the same question everytime I read the American papers.

Also, I see from Dan over at Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics that Canuck bloggers like yours truly have largely neglected the story on the new Tory leader in the motherland. That is because the Progressive Conservatives are a bunch of useless wankers whose sole virtue is that they keep the Alliance down.

Actually, my mom and I talked about it a few days ago. Mom doesn't use words like "wanker", but she has been known to come close in talking about the PC. She thought the PC leadership race was pretty slim pickings. We're all NDP loyalists in my family. My Dad was on the riding committee in Interlakes back in the 70's and was the chief party wonk in Iqaluit before that. My brother is now campaigning for his former English teacher Teresa Oswald, the NDP candiate in Seine River for the Manitoba provincial election tomorrow.

Thus, the PC's down-and-out post-Mulroney state fills me with nothing but Schadenfreude.

Furthermore, I see that Steven den Beste has placed the old country at the top of America's new enemy list. Canada scores even higher than France, Belgium, North Korea and Syria. I've never been so proud to be Canadian.

Bâtir l'Europe Spatiale

I was just watching the Mars Express launch on the Beeb - it's a European Mars probe, launch on a new model Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Russia - and that reminded me of something I meant to blog a few days ago.

La fusée russe Soyouz prochainement à Kourou?

Les choses se précipitent en Guyane. Alors que les responsables du centre spatial guyanais ont à gérer la réduction de leurs effectifs consécutive à la fin du programme Ariane-4 et à la révision à la baisse du nombre des lancements effectués par le lanceur européen Ariane-5, il leur faut aussi se préparer à accueillir bientôt sur leur base le Soyouz russe.

L'exploitation à Kourou de ce lanceur, affirme l'Agence spatiale européenne, "compléterait l'offre d'Ariane-5 et -du petit lanceur sous maîtrise d'œuvre italienne- Vega dans la catégorie des charges utiles intermédiaires pour l'orbite basse". Dans le cas de mission en orbite géostationnaire, elle "donnerait à Arianespace une plus grande flexibilité", ce qui optimiserait l'exploitation commerciale d'Ariane-5. Quand la fusée européenne pourra, en 2005, mettre 10 t en orbite, et, plus tard, 12 t, le lanceur russe, par simple déplacement à Kourou, portera ses performances à 2,8 t contre 1,8 t depuis Baïkonour.

Now, while the ESA (which BTW includes the EU and EFTA states as well as Canada) is talking about commercial launches and increased efficiency, I notice that as long as the Space Shuttle is grounded, the Soyuz rocket is the only manned spacecraft out there. As I understand it, it is an order of magnitude cheaper to operate than the Shuttle, and as the article points out, just moving the launches to Kourou raises the payload capacity by some 50%. It would seem logical to me, if you're building a launcher anyway, to use it for manned spacecraft. How much more could it cost and how much would it save?

China is quite serious about starting up a manned space programme using locally cloned Soyuz vehicles. Russia is still launching whenever someone's willing to pay. If the ESA starts up a manned programme - and with their investment in the ISS it would seem like the sensible thing to do - how will America take being out of space just as everyone else is in? This fits poorly into this rumoured plan out of the Pentagon to deny other nations access to space.

Pinker does good

For the first time ever, Pedantry endorses an editorial written by Steven Pinker.

Better babies? Why genetic enhancement is too unlikely to worry about

Many prognosticators assume that we are currently discovering single genes for mathematical giftedness, musical talent, athletic prowess, and the like. The reality is very different. The Achilles heel of genetic enhancement will be the rarity of single genes with consistent beneficial effects.

Isn't that something I've said before?

It gets worse. Most genes have multiple effects, and evolution selects those genes that achieve the best compromise between positive and negative impacts. Take the most famous case of genetic enhancement on record: the mice that were given extra copies of the NMDA receptor, which is critical to learning and memory. These poster mice did learn mazes more quickly-but they also turned out to be hypersensitive to pain. Closer to home, there is a gene in humans that may be correlated with a 10-point boost in IQ. But it is also associated with a 10-percent chance of developing torsion dystonia, which can confine the sufferer to a wheelchair with uncontrollable muscle spasms.

I should probably stop here, but I can't quite let this self-parodying bit slide:

As it happens, some kinds of genetic enhancement are already here. Anyone who has been turned down for a date has been a victim of the human drive to exert control over half the genes of one's future children.

Annals of Funky Translation

It seems that Get Your War On is now available in French. How, you may be asking yourself, does one translate off-colour hip-hop jive into la langue de Voltaire? That's a good question, and for €9.50 I could get the answer by ordering Putain, c'est la Guerre from the good people down at

I'm personally quite curious - it's hard enough for me to explain humour that rests on a foundation of Anglo-American dialectology, and I'd like to see a professional take a shot at it. Strangely enough, for some reason there's a discount if you buy it in conjunction with Milan Kundera's L'Ignorance. I would also be deeply curious to see what data mining code came up with that match. is offering livraison gratuite for all orders of €20 and up, so long as you live in l'Hexagone. Alas, for some asinine reason, Belgian addresses have to pay for delivery...