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Oliver & Wendy

Oliver and Wendy

This just cracked my 50 most interesting photos of all time on Flickr.  Oliver loved the Fringe but was overcome by a touch of the flu.  He was so sick that he actually turned down ice cream (his loss, my gain).  It was part of a larger group of photos I took at the 2014 Fringe Theatre Festival.

Mark’s Cell Phone

I gave Mark an Sony Xperia J last Christmas which he loved.  He thought it was the greatest phone ever, even if it wasn’t.  The Sony Xperia J has a memory problem that means that it doesn’t handle apps well.  I am not sure why this version of Android on this phone acts so poorly but according to the tech forums, it does.

The phone broke this summer and all of a sudden Mark’s attitude changed for the better.  So much that we had some very long talks about it.  He told me he missed being able to talk to his friends and Wendy and I via text but he didn’t really miss his phone very much.  He was kind of glad that he didn’t have it around.  He was funnier, more laid back, and said he was sleeping better.

It wasn’t the phone that was the problem, it was that he would find some time and play some games that would keep him on it for hours.  He was like a lot of youth, addicted to their phone.

So we talked about the kind of phone that we would get.  I decided on getting him a Blackberry Curve. It would let him text others and not be distracted by other stuff. Virgin Mobile’s was $150 which I found a little steep.  Telus had one for $100 so I decided to make the switch.  He isn’t under contract so I set off to Best Buy and get his phone.  While I was there, I saw they had a Nokia Lumia 520 for Windows Phone for $110.  I was torn over what phone to get but in the end it was the constant barrage of Windows Phone tweets by Darren Sproat that won me over.  I haven’t heard of anyone excited over a Blackberry since 2005.

Nokia Lumia 520

I set it up with Telus who has far inferior pre-paid plans than Virgin Mobile and gave it to Mark.  The next day the phone wasn’t working.  I called back and Telus said that they hadn’t gotten paid.  I had a receipt and a confirmation number from Mastercard and still that wasn’t enough.  It was kind of weird.  

So I took Mark’s phone to Tech Box.  I had never been in there and they unlocked the phone for $20.  It took a couple of days more than they said (the first code was slow coming and then didn’t work) but they told me that one of them would be in the office on a Sunday and to stop by.  We did, they unlocked the doors, and the phone was working.  He was thrilled.

So I set up Mark’s phone for him and I have really come to like it.  It doesn’t have all of the apps that the iPhone or Android does but I was able to get him…

  • Instagram
  • Vine
  • Twitter
  • The Score
  • BBC
  • CBC
  • CNN
  • Metro
  • TuneIn
  • A podcast app
  • Weather app
  • Photoshop

He told me today that he misses having a StarPhoenix app but other than that, he is set.  Internet Explorer isn’t that bad on the phone either.  I didn’t install any games and he is fine with that.  The phone is pretty snappy and the tiles feature of Windows 8 is designed for a phone (and not a computer screen).  It works really well.  I have told a couple of people that while I love my iPhone, I could switch to Windows Phone and be perfectly happy.   Especially when I think that I spent $110 for the phone.

There are some other cool stuff installed for apps like a transit app (that doesn’t work in Saskatoon because we don’t make our route information available like most other cities).  Bing Maps is no better or worse than Apple Maps (actually it is probably better).

So back to Mark.  He’s happy with the phone.  He likes not having a phone with the distractions of games and then frustrated over not getting other things done.  He’s like a lot of 14 year olds but with this phone, he seems to have found a mix of being connected and not being too connected.  We will see how it goes.

Is the new governance model in Saskatoon for it’s citizens or for the councillors

The StarPhoenix asks some hard questions about the new City of Saskatoon governance model that seems to more about the lifestyle of the councillors than it is about being good for the city.

When city council holds its next meeting a week from today, it will be the first such meeting in nearly two months after city hall adopted a new governance model that has cut council meetings in half to once a month.

Only a couple of voices on council expressed skepticism over the new system, while most heralded the change as making council’s activities more accessible.
However, there’s reason for Saskatoon residents to doubt whether the new system will improve how the city is run and increase people’s access to decisions and those who make them.

The StarPhoenix examined governance formats in seven other western Canadian cities and found little similarity to Saskatoon’s new model.

Few other municipalities hold council meetings just once a month and, of those that do, appearances can be deceiving.

Regina, for example, generally holds council meetings once a month, but held 23 meetings in 2013 and has held 10 so far this year.

Will Saskatoon’s new approach be flexible and allow for special meetings to be called to address urgent issues?

None of the other councils studied held all the major committee meetings on a single day of the week the way Saskatoon city hall plans to on Mondays (or Tuesdays after a long weekend).

Supporters say the new system will allow people greater access to committee meetings, which will now be held in council chambers and broadcast on the city’s website.

Why hold all the committees on the same day, though? That would seem to limit accessibility – particularly for those who happen to be busy on Mondays.

Is the real motivation access for residents, or convenience for councillors and administrators?

City officials cited Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton as the inspiration for the new system, but Saskatoon’s new approach bears little resemblance to the latter two Alberta cities. Both Edmonton and Calgary hold multiple council meetings each month, making one wonder if Saskatoon is really making an effective transition to becoming a big city.

I agree with questions that The StarPhoenix is asking.  From the start I have said that this is about the convenience of City Councillors who want to streamline their work load, make themselves less accountable, and make it far harder for the lowly public to participate or communicate with their elected officials.  Saskatoon City Council took this new arrangement so seriously that they actually drew names from a hat to fulfill one of the committee memberships.  You can’t do that and tell anyone that you take governance seriously.

I’ll give The StarPhoenix the last word.

No one can credibly argue these changes came about due to public pressure or through extensive consultation with voters.

It’s now up to the new model’s supporters to communicate how and why the new system is working and to be candid and admit when it’s failing the citizens who are paying for it.

Otherwise, Saskatoon residents will quite correctly feel they’ve been bamboozled and watched democracy get eroded by those who should be defending it.

How Militarizing Police Can Increase Violence

Does more military gear make cops more likely to act violent?

Long before the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which have brought with them countless images of heavily armored local authorities pointing guns at and firing tear gas and other nonlethal weapons at unarmed protesters, some were disturbed by what Washington Post journalist Radley Balko calls “the rise of the warrior cop” — that is, the increasing tendency of some local police forces to rely on military-style gear and tactics, even in situations that appear devoid of any real threat to officers’ safety.

The story of how this happened and the oftentimes tragic results have been well-told by Balko, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others. In short, there’s been a flood of drug-war and post-9/11 money that has helped outfit police departments, even towns where a single murder is an incredibly rare event, with gear that could help repel seasoned paramilitaries.

What’s less clear is how this gear changes the psychological dynamics of policing and crowd control. Is it true, as many people are arguing online, that “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” — that is, that simply having military gear will make police more likely to act in an aggressive manner toward civilians? How does this change the relationship between police and civilians?

At the most specific level, these questions haven’t been studied empirically. But a great deal of social-psychological research, as well as important anecdotal evidence from law-enforcement specialists themselves, suggests that militarized policing can greatly inflame situations that might otherwise end peacefully.

The so-called “weapons effect” can partly explain what’s going on in Ferguson and elsewhere. The mere presence of weapons, in short, appears to prime more aggressive behavior. This has been shown in a variety of experiments in different lab and real-world settings.

“Theory underlying the weapons effect or similar kinds of phenomena would suggest that the more you fill the environment with stimuli that are associated with violence, the more likely violence is to occur,” said Bruce Bartholow, a University of Missouri social psychologist who has studied the weapons effect. Brad Bushman, a psychologist at Ohio State, agreed. “I would expect a bigger effect if you see military weapons than if you see normal weapons,” he said.

This isn’t just about a link between visual stimuli like guns and violence, however. It also has to do with the roles people adopt, with how they respond to the presence of others who may — or may not — mean them harm. To a certain extent, if you dress and treat people like soldiers facing a deadly enemy, they’ll act like it.

“This process isn’t necessarily good or bad, but depends on the extent to which the more militaristic role fits the situation,” said Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State, in an email. “When it doesn’t fit well, it is likely to lead to more judgment and behavior errors.” Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has studied how police departments outfit themselves, said the dynamic could be particularly dangerous in the context of nonviolent protests like Ferguson (there was rioting and looting earlier this week, but there have also been widespread reports of nonviolent protests being broken up by police aggression).

“Military equipment is used against an enemy,” said Haberfeld. “So if you give the same equipment to local police, by default you create an environment in which the public is perceived as an enemy.” On the other side of these confrontations, this could have a negative effect on protesters. “We live in a democratic country, and we believe that this is our right to go out and exercise the right to [free speech],” she said. “And when you go out there and exercise that right and suddenly you are faced with soldiers — even though these are not soldiers, but police officers looking like soldiers — then something is triggered, definitely.”

Bushman said that meeting nonviolent protests with a militarized response is “really a bad idea. I can’t believe they’re doing it.” “It’s just really bad for the officers because they feel more powerful, more invincible, more militaristic, ready to attack,” he said. “And also, I think it elicits a response from the observers that, hey, this is war, and people become defensive and they have a fight/flight response.” The adoption of masks themselves in a militarized setting, on the part of police or protesters, can also contribute to violence by triggering senses of anonymity and what psychologists call deindividuation. “There’s all kinds of evidence in social psychology that that will lead people to do things that they wouldn’t do if they could be identified,” said Bartholow.

All this militarization, said Bartholow, can be contrasted “against the old kind of beat-cop model where people in the neighborhood know the police officers’ name and he’s kind of everybody’s buddy in a sense.”

My ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

10 Years after the Olympic Games

There are ruins everywhere in Athens all left over from a rather unsuccessful 2004 Olympic Games.

Olympic Games in Athens

Why did the U.S. invade Iraq?

It was hubris

So what’s the best explanation for why America invaded Iraq? Hubris born of success. From Panama to the Gulf War to Bosnia to Kosovo, America spent the decade preceding 9/11 intervening successfully overseas. As a result, elites in both parties lost the fear of war they felt after Vietnam. In 1988 Reagan had been so afraid of another Vietnam that he refused to send ground troops to Panama. In 1990 John McCain had responded to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait by declaring, “If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think [public] support will erode significantly … We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood.” In his emotional 1991 speech opposing the Gulf War, John Kerry had mentioned Vietnam 10 times. In his 2002 speech supporting the invasion of Iraq, by contrast, he mentioned Vietnam only once.

It wasn’t only military success that by 9/11 had eroded America’s caution. It was economic and ideological success, too. By 2001 the boom of the late 1990s had turned America’s budget deficit to surplus. For top Bush officials, the lesson was that just as America had overcome the deficits Reagan amassed while fighting the Cold War, America could easily overcome whatever temporary debt the Bushies incurred fighting the “war on terror.” As Dick Cheney declared during the run-up to Iraq, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”

The final ingredient was ideological success. In the 1980s, before democratization swept across Eastern Europe, East Asia, and Latin America, prominent liberals and conservatives would have found the idea that democracy could take root in a country like Iraq utterly fanciful. As late as 1983, Irving Kristol, the “godfather” of neoconservatism, was writing that “the traditions—political, religious, cultural—that shape Latin American thinking and behavior are such as to make it exceedingly difficult for the countries of Southern America to proceed along the [democratic] lines followed by Northern America and Western Europe.” By 2001, however, “neoconservatism” had been redefined by ideological optimists like Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, and Irving’s son, William, men shaped by the very democratic transformations that Irving Kristol had deemed impossible.

Obviously, it took 9/11 for the Bush administration to rally the public behind the Iraq war. But had the success of the 1990s not bred so much military, economic, and ideological overconfidence on both sides of the aisle, it’s unlikely they would have tried.

The key thing that has changed in the decade since America invaded Iraq is not Barack Obama’s election. It’s the collapse of American hubris. Far fewer people in either party now claim that America can easily topple and occupy distant lands. Far fewer believe we can conduct foreign policy as if “deficits don’t matter.” Far fewer believe that the peoples of the Middle East yearn for secular, liberal, pro-American democracies. That doesn’t mean the United States has stopped acting like a superpower. We’ve simply turned to methods that cost less money and fewer American lives.

It’s an old story. After Korea left the United States exhausted, Eisenhower told the CIA to overthrow leftist Third World governments because it could do so more cheaply than the Marines. When Richard Nixon could no longer sustain a large U.S. ground presence in Vietnam, he began bombing ferociously from the air. Now Obama has pulled U.S. ground troops from Iraq, is pulling them from Afghanistan, and is fighting al Qaeda with drones instead.

There’s nothing particularly glorious, or moral, about empire on the cheap. But at least war will no longer cost America so much money and so many young American lives. Maybe we’ve grown wiser over the last 10 years. Or maybe we’ve just lost the epic ambition that true tragedy requires.

The World Has Changed

And the United States finds itself between a rock and a hard place

Deep into this summer of global turmoil, with the United States once again seeking to steer the course of events in Iraq with precision-guided missiles, my thoughts have turned to the late historian Tony Judt. In a brief but brilliant essay written for The New Republic hours after the 9/11 attacks (not available online), Judt described gazing out his downtown-facing New York University office window that late summer morning to watch the 21st century begin.

The prevailing geopolitical dynamic of the coming century, he argued, would be disintegration.

And so it has been. Nearly 13 years later, the international order painstakingly constructed by the United States in the years following World War II has begun to crumble. That order survived and expanded its reach throughout the Cold War because both superpowers played by the traditional rules of international relations, despite the intensity of their ideological conflict. The U.S. and the Soviets were engaged in a national rivalry on an international scale, with nearly all the countries of the world compelled to join sides. And as the American side flourished, so, too, did the institutions it founded and funded throughout the West and in those regions of the developing world that joined the anti-Communist side of the Cold War.

It was partially inertia that led this order to persist and expand further for more than a decade following the collapse of the USSR. But by September 2001 (if not before), we had turned a corner into a new reality, one in which insurgent forces throughout the Middle East, northern Africa, and South Asia would attack key elements of the international order. Not laterally, as the Soviets once did and Vladimir Putin’s Russia is doing now in Ukraine, but from below, using the asymmetrical warfare of mass terrorism.

From al Qaeda to ISIS, these groups have had two main targets. One is America and its global leadership as expressed through international institutions (the U.N., IMF, World Bank, USAID, NGOs, etc.). Another is the nation-states created by the colonial powers after World War I, long ruled by autocrats and dictators who were sustained by those American-led international institutions.

The question is how the U.S. should respond to this challenge to the international order. To judge by our words and actions from 9/11 right down to President Obama’s latest statements and policies, we haven’t got a clue.

On one side are the neoconservatives. One might think that their identification with the Iraq War and the bloody, unpopular, nearly decade-long occupation that followed it would have discredited the neocons. But to judge by the influence they continue to exercise on Republicans and Democrats alike, it hasn’t.

There are at least two reasons. As military maximalists, the neocons are always able to respond to a failure by suggesting that things would have turned out better if only more force had been used. The problem, then, is never the policy itself but merely its insufficiently tough-minded execution. In this respect, neocon ideas are empirically unfalsifiable.

Then there’s the simplicity and coherence of the neocon reading of history — qualities that were on full display in Robert Kagan’s much-discussed cover story in The New Republic last May. The essay elegantly (and flatteringly) portrayed the U.S. as the singular guarantor of world order since the end of World War II. Without the ample use of American military might to impose and sustain that order, chaos would have reigned in the past — and will reign again in the future, if Barack Obama and his successor fail to fight it militarily. As events this summer have spun out of control from Kiev to Mosul, Kagan’s late-spring predictions have appeared to receive lightning-fast confirmation.

So is more active military engagement the answer? Can the United States use force to bring stability to Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and thereby prop up the crumbling international order?

Sure. All it would take is millions of troops and an occupation of indefinite duration. Think of George W. Bush’s Iraq surge times 10 — or 20.

Needless to say, America has neither the will nor the resources to attempt anything remotely like this. Especially because the occupied Muslim populations would be exceedingly unlikely to appreciate the humiliation of long-term occupation by a foreign, Western, Judeo-Christian power. Our very efforts to bring peace and order would fuel the very insurgency we’d be trying to combat. (This is of course precisely what happened in Iraq from 2003 to 2007.)

So what does a President do?

Unless we are willing to depose Maliki, reoccupy the country with hundreds of thousands of troops, impose order with overwhelming force, and accept the resulting casualties and blowback, the situation is exceedingly unlikely to improve in any serious way.

Short of that, we could of course focus on protecting Iraq’s Kurdish regions. But that might hasten the dissolution of the nation, leading to an increase in violence throughout the rest of the country. Renewed calls for outright Kurdish independence could also end up stirring unrest and violence in Kurdish areas just over the Turkish border.

One definition of tragedy is a situation in which there are no good options, in which every conceivable course of action — no less than the choice to do nothing at all — seems to make things worse or merely defer inevitable heartbreak and suffering.

Americans, incorrigibly optimistic, are famously averse to tragedy. Which means that we’re unlikely to respond well to the rapidly multiplying tragedies of our time.

But that doesn’t mean the tragedies can be waved away with bombs and good intentions.

So again tell me why invading Iraq and getting rid of an already isolated and neutered Saddam Hussein only to have him replaced by Al Qaeda 2.0 was a good idea?  This is all related to the incredibly flawed foreign policy (if we can call it that) of the W. administration and as bizarre as it is, the fulfillment of Osama Bin Laden’s goal in attacking the World Trade Centre.  According to CIA reports, he wanted to provoke a disproportionate response by the United States that would turn the Middle East against it militarily and domestically.  It’s too soon to tell but in some weird way, this could be happening.

When confronted with the problem, Gulf leaders often justify allowing their Salafi constituents to fund Syrian extremist groups by pointing back to what they see as a failed U.S. policy in Syria and a loss of credibility after President Obama reneged on his pledge to strike Assad after the regime used chemical weapons.

That’s what Prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of Saudi intelligence since 2012 and former Saudi ambassador in Washington, reportedly told Secretary of State John Kerry when Kerry pressed him on Saudi financing of extremist groups earlier this year. Saudi Arabia has retaken a leadership role in past months guiding help to the Syrian armed rebels, displacing Qatar, which was seen as supporting some of the worst of the worst organizations on the ground.

When a cop approaches you in Saskatoon

I managed to tear my left quadricep while hiking in Drumheller (more on that later) last weekend.  It hurts worse than it sounds and I can barely walk.  Steps are almost impossible and even a slight incline is horrible to navigate.   I was walking downtown to my car and I was limping and wobbly when I was approached by two Saskatoon Police officers who thought I was intoxicated.  As they approached, I knew they thought I was drunk and two thoughts came to my mind.  

The first was the worst thing that will happen is they will make me take a breathalyzer.  I don’t drink so that isn’t a problem.  Then I realized the worst thing anyone could do would was to poke my leg but I wasn’t really at risk of that happening.  Still my second thought was, “DON’T TOUCH MY LEG”.

The officers got close, realized that I wasn’t drunk and I explained that I had torn my quad which got an immediate response and discussion about that.  Some jokes were made about the smell of A535 and then one asked how hard it was to walk.  I mentioned that it really screws up your balance but I was fine.  A final joke was made about being “wobbly is not a crime” and I hobbled to my car. 

I kept thinking about that non-incident compared to the craziness going on in Ferguson.  Even if the Saskatoon Police Officers were going to be jerks (and they weren’t) my biggest concern was a 2 minute delay.  Instead it was almost a five minute chat about stupid injuries, Louis CK, and getting old.  Wendy and I have been stopped by SPS offers while out taking some photographs.  While people are being ordered and arrested for taking photos in Ferguson, the officers we dealt with had some camera questions and just made small talk about photography.  

Not all Saskatoon Police officers have been like that (over the years) and I have talked to some friends who have never been on the wrong side of the law who are terrified of Saskatoon Police (I am not sure why) but when I am out and I see a beat cop approach, I have never been concerned to worried about anything.  I am old enough to remember when you WANTED a cop to approach you because they used to be your sole source of Saskatoon Blades hockey cards (that was a great idea in the day)

Sadly there are places in the United States who have legitimate reason to worry even if they have never committed a crime and that is an incredibly depressing thing to think about.

That monkey over there owns the copyright

Monkey in the wilds of Indonesia snaps a selfie with stolen camera and sets off legal battle between nature photographer and Wikipedia.

Monkey Selfie

Slater apparently doesn’t find any humour in what he considers Wikimedia, the organization behind Wikipedia, monkeying with his livelihood.He argues the photos are rightly his. It was his effort and expense that got him to the jungle on the island of Sulawesi with his expensive equipment.

He hired the guide who led him deep into the wilds, where the inquisitive monkey could grab his camera and start snapping.

He has also argued that he would hold the copyright to any images taken by an assistant. In effect, the smiling simian was his assistant that day in the jungle, he reasoned.In an interview, Slater said he has repeatedly asked Wikipedia to take the monkey photos down from Wikimedia Commons.

“They know I claim to hold not just ownership of the image but copyright too,” Slater says.

China will create own Christian belief system amid tensions with church, says official

I know some in the west will lose their mind over this but China is creating a version of Christianity that is compatible with Chinese culture.

China will construct a “Chinese Christian theology” suitable for the country, state media reported on Thursday, as both the number of believers and tensions with the authorities are on the rise.

China has between 23 million and 40 million Protestants, accounting for 1.7 to 2.9 per cent of the total population, the state-run China Daily said, citing figures given at a seminar in Shanghai.

About 500,000 people are baptised as Protestants every year, it added.

“Over the past decades, the Protestant churches in China have developed very quickly with the implementation of the country’s religious policy,” the paper quoted Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, as saying.

“The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.”

China’s ruling Communist Party is officially atheistic and keeps a tight grip on religion for fear it could challenge its grip on power. It requires believers to worship in places approved by the state and under government supervision.

I am not sure why the Chinese government is going through all of this effort.  A look at church history in the west will show that the church itself will create a Christianity compatible it’s surrounding culture all by itself

ISIS has conquered an area the size of England

This is not a small insurgency, this is Osama Bin Laden’s dream when he attacked the World Trade Centre coming true

For America, Britain and the Western powers, the rise of Isis and the Caliphate is the ultimate disaster. Whatever they intended by their invasion of Iraq in 2003 and their efforts to get rid of Assad in Syria since 2011, it was not to see the creation of a jihadi state spanning northern Iraq and Syria run by a movement a hundred times bigger and much better organised than the al-Qaida of Osama bin Laden. The war on terror for which civil liberties have been curtailed and hundreds of billions of dollars spent has failed miserably. The belief that Isis is interested only in ‘Muslim against Muslim’ struggles is another instance of wishful thinking: Isis has shown it will fight anybody who doesn’t adhere to its bigoted, puritanical and violent variant of Islam. Where Isis differs from al-Qaida is that it’s a well-run military organisation that is very careful in choosing its targets and the optimum moment to attack them.

Many in Baghdad hope the excesses of Isis – for example, blowing up mosques it deems shrines, like that of Younis (Jonah) in Mosul – will alienate the Sunnis. In the long term they may do just that, but opposing Isis is very dangerous and, for all its brutality, it has brought victory to a defeated and persecuted Sunni community. Even those Sunnis in Mosul who don’t like it are fearful of the return of a vengeful Shia-dominated Iraqi government. So far Baghdad’s response to its defeat has been to bomb Mosul and Tikrit randomly, leaving local people in no doubt about its indifference to their welfare or survival. The fear will not change even if Maliki is replaced by a more conciliatory prime minister. A Sunni in Mosul, writing just after a missile fired by government forces had exploded in the city, told me: ‘Maliki’s forces have already demolished the University of Tikrit. It has become havoc and rubble like all the city. If Maliki reaches us in Mosul he will kill its people or turn them into refugees. Pray for us.’ Such views are common, and make it less likely that Sunnis will rise up in opposition to Isis and its Caliphate. A new and terrifying state has been born.

CIA intelligence reports were very clear that Osama Bin Laden’s intent when attacking the World Trade Centre was to have the United States respond disproportionally in invading part of the Middle East (umm, Iraq) and have the radical elements of Islam rise up against the west.  It may have taken longer than he envisioned but this looks a lot what the CIA feared happening.

Here is how AOL makes money

It’s bad news for content providers because AOL makes no money from them at all.  Instead they make all of their money from old AOL dial-up subscribers who haven’t looked at their credit card statement in a very long time.

AOL beat Wall Street’s Q2 revenue and profit numbers. And, like the last few quarters, the company says that its content business — sites like Huffington Post and TechCrunch — was profitable, if you’re willing to accept a fuzzy definition of profit.

But as always, the most amazing thing about AOL’s business is the thing that drives AOL’s business: Millions of people, who started paying the company a monthly fee for Internet access more than a decade ago, who continue to pay the company a monthly fee for Internet access, even though they likely aren’t getting Internet access from AOL anymore.

AOL doesn’t break out precise earnings numbers for this business, but it gives you enough hints to understand that it’s enormously profitable. As it should be!

Tim Armstrong’s company says its subscription business generated $143 million in “Adjusted OIBDA” – its proxy for operating income — last quarter. That’s more than the $121 million in Adjusted OIBDA that the entire company generated.

Here’s how it makes that money: Getting a shrinking number of subscribers — 2.34 million this quarter, down from 3.62 million at the beginning of 2011 — to pay an increasing amount — the average AOL subscriber now pays $20.86 per month, up from around $18 a few years ago. 

Iraqi Yazidis stranded on isolated mountaintop begin to die of thirst

An incredibly depressing story from the war in Iraq

Stranded on a barren mountaintop, thousands of minority Iraqis are faced with a bleak choice: descend and risk slaughter at the hands of the encircled Sunni extremists or sit tight and risk dying of thirst.

Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar two days earlier. But the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children.

Unable to dig deep into the rocky mountainside, displaced families said they have buried young and elderly victims of the harsh conditions in shallow graves, their bodies covered with stones. Iraqi government planes attempted to airdrop bottled water to the mountain on Monday night but reached few of those marooned.

So it begins

Readers of this blog know that I am a huge America’s Cup fan.  Not only that but I have adopted Team Emirates New Zealand as my favourite team.  So yeah, this news excites me.

The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has lodged a challenge for the 35th America’s Cup.

Out-going Commodore Steve Burrett announced that the challenge would go ahead at the Squadron’s annual meeting last night.

The Squadron will be represented by Emirates Team New Zealand. Challenges must received by the defending yacht club, the Golden Gate Yacht Club, by midnight Friday, San Francisco time.

The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has been involved with all but one New Zealand America’s Cup campaign since 1987, winning at San Diego in 1995 and successfully defending at Auckland in 2000.

Mr Burrett said: “New Zealand has a distinguished history in the America’s Cup and we expect Emirates Team New Zealand will once again make New Zealand proud, just as it has done many times in the past.

“We wish the team well and we look forward to contributing to the success of the 35th America’s Cup.”

Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton says the team is pleased to be able to be in a position to challenge with the confidence of being able to represent the country well.  

“This is the official start of a long, hard journey. We do not under-estimate the challenges ahead.

Now the field of play goes back to the lawyers who will fight in New York courts over the boat design.  In my mind it is the world’s purest expression of sport; unathletic billionaires and their lawyers fighting over specs that well paid engineers will build and someone else will sail.  It gets no better than that.