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July 2007 Archives

July 2, 2007

@FullComment.com: The Great Satan will tremble when he sees the smoke damage

At Full Comment this morning I complained about the lack of levity with which the Glasgow airport "bombing" (more accurately, "street theatre") is being greeted. At least the gang at b3ta.com is coming across.

July 3, 2007

ColbyCosh.com reserve-price quiz

A trivia challenge arising from a chat with a friend: what is the largest/most populous city named after a borough or suburb of London?

My reserve bid should be fairly obvious, but I'll start you off with Greenwich, Connecticut (pop. 61,101). We have comments now, you can file your answer there.

A series of unfortunate events

Michael NylanderThe other shoe has dropped in the strange case of Bob Stauffer and Michael Nylander. I have to admit, I'm a little surprised to hear such a loud thump. On Monday evening Stauffer, best known in Edmonton as a host on micro-rated sports-talk radio station Team 1260, reported on the air* and on the Web that the Oilers had signed UFA centre Nylander to a contract. The report, which was quickly picked up on the strength of Stauffer's word by TSN.ca, was unequivocal: it did not say "the Oilers are in talks with Nylander" or "the Oilers are close to a deal with Nylander," but that Nylander was signed and delivered. Dan Tencer of rival 630 CHED, who like Stauffer has close ties to the team (and who might have been a little annoyed at being beaten to the story by a station that doesn't control the Oilers radio rights), quickly followed up using his own sources and reported the rumour himself, as did other local journalists.

And then the strangest thing happened. After Oiler fans had pored over Nylander's statistics and scouting reports overnight and begun to slaver over his Jagr-augmented assist totals, the morning dawned, and the widely anticipated official announcement about the contract failed to materialize. By Stauffer's own account, he began to panic and consulted his sources, who could not account for the delay. In the late afternoon, official word came from Washington, D.C., that Nylander had reached a deal with the Capitals. Eric McErlain wasted no time passing along the baffling bulletin to the ColbyCosh.com fortified information centre.

I switched on the radio just in time to hear Stauffer sheepishly break into a Northern League baseball broadcast to announce that his scoop had gone bust. Later, on his regular drivetime show, he staged an underwhelming bit of theatre; he took full responsibility for the faceplant as a couple of local media pals made sarcastic remarks (CP's Robin Brownlee: "So how are YOU doing today, Bob?"), but the damage control quickly began as Stauffer started to refer nebulously to the story behind the story and his tormentors reassured him that his fine track record of breaking news wouldn't suffer too badly from the disaster. What I kept waiting for Stauffer to do, and I guess what he wasn't quite ready to do yet, was to out his sources. That's what's ought to happen, at least in news-page journalism, when you stake your reputation on information from an anonymous source that turns out to be bogus. You can name names or throw away your reputation; when you use anonymously-sourced information, the burden of trust is all on you.

Meanwhile, after an ugly effort at spin control by nonagenarian CHED talker Bryan Hall, Dan Tencer—who hasn't been in the game nearly as long as Stauffer—figured out which way the wind was blowing and wrote a rather extraordinary post for the Oilers forum at HFboards.com.

I was at the Blackhawk Golf Club for 'A Day With The King'...Arnold Palmer and Peter Jacobsen were in town. While there, I had a nice chat with Jarret Stoll (Jake Daniels from 1260 was there for part of it). During that conversation a couple media members got to asking about the Nylander thing. It was Stoll who told me that he heard it was done and that 4 years is what he was hearing. Players are often fairly reliable sources (I first heard about the Pitkanen trade from a player not on either team involved about 30 minutes before TSN reported it, as an example). I didn't leave it there...I called the Oilers. Won't say who I talked to, but I asked about the deal and was told that at last word they were just awaiting the paperwork. I asked about the 4 year term and was met with the same 'no comment' attitude that I was met with yesterday when I asked about the Pitkanen deal. In their defense, they did not indicate that a deal was done. The inference, as I took it, was that a deal was imminent...maybe I'm guilty of misinterpretation.
So, I had a fellow media member reporting it, a player on the team who had knowledge of the deal and had knowledge of term and acknowledgement from the Oilers that the deal was in its latter stages. Was it a lock? In hindsight, obviously the answer is no. But from my chair, I'd probably go to air with this 100 times out of 100 and the deal might fall through, as it did here, once.
My apologies go out to those of you who were upset by this. I hope you can understand that in the rat race that is free agency, it's not an unforgiveable error. I also apologize for those who thought I handled it poorly during my few minutes on this afternoon...to their defense, the Oilers always maintain a 'it's not done until we say it's done' attitude, and anyone who interpreted something I said as a criticism of the organization...well, I certainly didn't mean it that way.
I take full responsibility for my error in judgment. I'm keenly interested to find out exactly what went down and why a deal so seemingly close ended up not coming to fruition.

Today, after this truly surreal and unprecedented sequence, came something still more so: an official announcement from the Oilers that they really did believe themselves to have a binding contract with Nylander and that they are contemplating "every course of action available." This means partial vindication for Stauffer and Tencer; in essence the team has confirmed leaking them the inaccurate, or possibly even accurate, information. But they are going to have to follow through on the claim made today if they expect fans to believe that they aren't just making excuses for a legal screwup which was followed by carelessness in keeping channels open with other unrestricted free agents and then the negligent overscrewing of a few innocent broadcasters. After 13 months of unmitigated psychological torture Edmonton fans are not above wondering whether the whole thing isn't a cheap attempt to bury the mystery, or whether it might not even have been concocted intentionally by the Oiler front office to excuse miserliness in the free-agent market. Certainly some will raise questions about a front office possibly left in disarray by the departure two weeks ago of assistant general manager Scott Howson.

Meanwhile, the litigation-minded will be on the lookout for the equitable remedy if it can be shown that the Oilers were swindled by Nylander's new agent, Mike Gillis. The situation is not one can that be rectified by cash alone, and there must be a doctrine applicable to the situation in the league regulations, if not an actual precedent. Will the organization be left to drag Gillis into court? In a salary-capped universe, how can Gillis compensate the team for the lost day of negotiations and the value to the club of having a particular deal with Nylander? What if Nylander's contract with Washington is voided?—that hardly seems fair to the Capitals, who presumably negotiated in good faith themselves. Is it possible that an extra draft pick will come into play as the fairest possible solution? That would certainly let the Oilers off the hook for the coming year as the Pitkanen-augmented roster grinds noisily toward a 12th-place finish. The key for the Oiler fan is to await word on a lawsuit. After today's press release, not suing means acknowledging that it's them who messed up. And if that's the case, sponsors and ticketholders have a right to know who did it and how.

[UPDATE, 11:08 pm: Ken Berard has a hilarious before-and-after portrait of Oilers VP-communications Allan Watt. Watt, before the Washington announcement: "The deal is done when [GM] Kevin Lowe tells me it's done." Watt afterward: "I don't have anything to say to bloggers." Well, gosh, Mr. Watt, why don't you? In general there seems to be a little confusion over on 110 St. right now about who talks to whom and when.]

[UPDATE, 12:22 am: Tyler Dellow, new paid-up member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, has informed legal commentary. Letter of the law aside, I find the comment from "Relio" especially compelling. Good stuff in Mirtle's comments too. Like Dellow (but without the years of expensive training), I would instinctively assess the chances of Nylander's Caps contract being voided as close to zero.]

*[UPDATE, 5:53 pm, July 4: A minor factual note—Stauffer apparently didn't go to air personally with the story that night. He finished his original round of reporting and doublechecking quite late, after a long on-air shift, and took it to the Hockey's Future/HFBoards web network instead.
Those following the Nylander Affair may be interested in a short backgrounder on Mike Gillis's career as a player and agent.]

July 5, 2007

Like a rock

Tim RainesSabermetrician Tom Tango recently observed that Tim Raines' high lifetime total of 148 intentional walks is an interesting indicator of the terror he inspired in opponents. Leadoff hitters don't normally draw a lot of IBB because the heart of the order is coming up behind them; Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff man of all time, drew just 61 in a much longer career. This chart of every IBB Raines ever took seems to display the increasing respect he commanded as his reputation grew. In his first year he was walked only with a runner on second to set up the double play. By June of his second season managers are walking him with men on second and third to load the bases. Eventually he becomes so difficult to put out that opponents are occasionally walking him with runners on first and third, deliberately preferring to face another hitter at the expense of promoting a man into scoring position. Remarkably, he was intentionally walked on four occasions with nobody out at all, when there could be no hope of an inning-ending double play. Not that you were going to find it a cakewalk getting Raines out on the front end of a DP, anyway.

Yesterday's Tomorrow

In his time, the TV talk-show host Tom Snyder was a respected figure who was nonetheless thought to be trying a little too hard to be hip. These nicotine-saturated clips from a 1976 Tomorrow episode devoted to the burgeoning phenomenon of Star Trek conventions make him seem so exotic and macho, you’d think he could beat up Charlie Rose and impregnate Oprah in ten minutes without setting down his beer. Harlan Ellison fans won’t want to miss a characteristic cameo by their favourite poison dwarf, who defecates all over Star Trek for the unforgivable crime of ensuring his immortality. Not that he says one thing I disagree with…

@FullComment.com: Permission to pollute

FC latest: an environmental guru makes a shocking admission and the design world remembers a man who changed how we see.

July 6, 2007

NP: Speak for England?

Tam Dalyell asked the dreaded West Lothian Question in 1977. In 1999 Tony Blair transformed it from a mere capital-Q Question into a capital-P Problem. Now a Scotsman is Prime Minister and the truth that England is ruled from without is becoming ever harder to evade or shrug off. In Friday’s National Post I ask what happens when a powerful leader bakes a recipe for asymmetrical federalism from scratch.

July 7, 2007

WS: Recent pieces of note

If you feel like jumping through a low registration hoop you can read some of the articles I’ve been producing recently for the Western Standard. Here’s a June piece about the unexpected tension between ethanol and communism; a rumination on whether it’s always better for athletes to live in nicer cities; a look at the Ottawa Senators on the eve of the Stanley Cup finals that highlights an underrated reason for their success; and a couple of case studies in how trial lawyers are expanding the definition of an “accident.”

Lowe blow

Thomas VanekEdmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe broke the National Hockey League’s nuclear taboo Friday, sending a $50 million/seven-year offer sheet to Buffalo Sabres restricted free agent Thomas Vanek. (Whatever else you want to say about the Oilers this off-season, it certainly hasn’t been a dull week.) The Sabres grudgingly exercised their right to beat the offer by $1, announcing the decision at a midday press conference. Even though there had been widespread talk of RFA bids on Vanek, a Second-Team All-Star at 23, the Sabres took Lowe’s attack very personally; no one who heard the live press conference will ever forget managing partner Larry Quinn’s purple-faced vow to keep the Oilers running in circles with RFA counteroffers “for as long as we’re alive.” I’d post here about whether the offer was worth the risk but I already ran off at the mouth about it over at Lowetide.

Vanek pt. 2: we're a hockey team, we're not here to please fans

So let me see if I’ve got this straight, John MacKinnon of the Edmonton Journal: on a week when Kevin Lowe is being beaten up by several hundred thousand hockey fans for taking Michael Nylander’s agent at his word and not waiting for a signed piece of paper, you’re now seriously suggesting that he should have just trusted that nice Darcy Regier when he was told over the phone that the Sabres would match any offer for Vanek?

Despite denials from Lowe on Friday, this looks like another attempt to convince an increasingly agitated fan base, and rival NHL teams, that the Oilers will be bold in their efforts to plug roster holes big enough to drive a convoy of Hummers through.

In the wake of an underwhelming foray into the unrestricted free-agent market (they did sign goalie Mathieu Garon), including the botched attempt to sign centre Michael Nylander, this offer caper smells like a “nothing-to-lose” gamble that the Oilers’ bundle of unspent free-agent mad money would finally do some productive talking.

But how bold is it to make a pricey play for a 43-goal scorer like Vanek when you know you won’t succeed? Which Lowe knew in this case, since he and Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier spoke Thursday night before the offer was submitted.

“I guess he didn’t believe me,” Regier said by telephone. “I gave him all the reasons why he shouldn’t do it and why it would be fruitless.”

Leaving aside MacKinnon’s touchingly naive faith in self-interested ass-covering statements by NHL general managers, Regier doesn’t explain why it is Lowe’s business, or any GM’s, to smooth the financial arrangements for a competitor. The fan cares about wins; wins are zero-sum, so front-office collusion, for better or worse, can’t possibly help everybody, and it doesn’t look very much like it has been helping the Edmonton Oilers. Ownership cares about keeping player salaries down, which is not a zero-sum game, and which is furthered by collusion. (As for ticket prices, you all know from Econ 101 that those are set by supply and demand independent of production costs, right?) This distinction between fan interests and owner interests, which ordinarily does not create open contradiction, is nonetheless inherent. Since the Journal is in fact an owner of the Oilers, its employees can perhaps scarcely be faulted for attacking Oiler management from the standpoint of an owner; but why pester the newspaper reader with an argument that almost explicitly has nothing to do with his own values and interests?

July 9, 2007

Ask me how the internet can improve your fantasy baseball team

What was the secret of Seattle pitching phenom Felix Hernandez’s awesome two-hit start against Oakland last week? Turns out it was the blogosphere—specifically USS Mariner, one of the oldest and most respected team-specific websites in any sport.

The website has been stating repeatedly for the past two months that Hernandez had to stop throwing so many fastballs in a row. [Seattle pitching coach Rafael] Chaves apparently had been telling Hernandez this as well, but when someone in the stands—he didn’t say where—handed him the “letter” he passed it on to Hernandez for reinforcement.
“Chaves gave me a report,” Hernandez said. “On the internet, they say when I throw a lot of fastballs in the first inning, they score a lot of runs. I tried to mix all my pitches in the first inning.”
Will Hernandez read the internet more often now?
“No,” he laughed.
...Chaves said he was handed the “letter” by a person who cares about baseball and the team. He said he didn’t know the fan beforehand.
“It was nothing but reinforcement of the talks we’ve had in the past,” Chaves said. “I just wanted to make Felix aware that ‘It’s not a top secret around baseball that you have a tendency to get into patterns. We all get scouted and…unless you make your own adjustments it’s going to be easy to predict what you’re going to be doing out there to begin with.”

It’s often difficult to get a young hard thrower to keep from feeding major-league hitters a diet of fastballs; most pitchers Felix’s age have spent a decade relying on heat, and they may not be confident that they can throw other pitches for strikes. The subtext here is that Chaves was getting so frustrated with Felix’s easy scoutability that when the Mariner letter reached his hands by chance, he saw an opportunity to show Felix that even a bunch of internet dudes watching on TV could tell what he was doing wrong. (þ: Primer)

They probably just have more important things to do

Nunavut premier Paul Okalik says that the death of a Canadian soldier hailing from Iqaluit shows that Canada’s far north is “doing its bit” to protect Canadian interests and implement its foreign policy.

Q: If Okalik is right, what can one conclude from the near-total absence of soldiers from Vancouver and Toronto amongst Canada’s honoured combat dead?

‘You can’t have four people murdered and no one to blame’

Let’s hope the RCMP has gathered enough evidence to make the accused accomplices of James Roszko stick like superglue in court. Otherwise, someone might later second-guess the decision to parade grieving parents in front of the press in order to essentially declare the pair guilty without trial, accuse the news media of interfering with the police investigation, and randomly attack a commissioner who has held the job for about a week—all in the absence of any half-decent explanation as to how four highly-trained officers of what was once the world’s most legendary police force managed to lose a firefight against a middle-aged loner. (More at Full Comment.)

July 10, 2007

Just how strong is that superglue, anyway?

Despite the absence of details about the charges against the Barrhead duo that is supposed to have assisted mass murderer James Roszko in the hours before he killed four RCMP officers near Mayerthorpe, one can nonetheless spy a major headache for whatever lucky Crown prosecutor is handed the file. Parliament in its infinite wisdom has amended the Criminal Code to make a murder automatically first-degree when the victim or victims are police officers. What it may not have paused to consider is that this would make it harder to convict people who assist in the killing of police officers.

The Criminal Code's language concerning murder specifies that one must "cause the death [of a human being]" in order to be convicted of the offence itself without physically killing someone. The general standard for causation is most clearly outlined in a case that all first-year law students get to eyeball: Smithers v. the Queen. Smithers was a hockey player who kicked a guy in the stomach during a postgame fight, causing him to die of asphyxiation when he aspirated vomit through what may have been a defective epiglottis. The 1977 court ruled that "There was substantial evidence before the jury indicating that the kick was at least a contributing cause of death, outside the de minimis range, and that was all that the Crown was required to establish." Those ten words in boldface have become the core of the Smithers standard and the key guidance for judges instructing juries on causally ambivalent murder charges.

But the Court has since found that because of the "increased penalty and stigma" of a first-degree murder charge, the Crown must meet a markedly higher standard in order to convict—the so-called Harbottle test. The latest jurisprudence (Nette) has arguably reduced the Smithers-Harbottle gap slightly by giving trial judges freedom to restate the fusty Latin of Smithers in their own words, but it also reiterates that the gap still exists and should be respected. Here are some quotes from Justice Cory's majority decision in Harbottle, which was handed down at a time when the murder of a police officer was covered by s.214 of the Criminal Code [emphasis mine throughout]:

The test of causation for s. 214(5) must be a strict one, given the consequences of conviction for first degree murder and given the wording of the section. An accused may only be convicted under the subsection if the Crown establishes that he or she has committed an act or series of acts which are of such a nature that they must be regarded as a substantial and integral cause of the death.

Causation occurs when an act or a series of acts (in exceptional cases an omission or series of omissions) consciously performed by the accused is or are so connected with the event that it or they must be regarded as having a sufficiently substantial causal effect which subsisted up to the happening of the event, without being spent or without being in the eyes of the law sufficiently interrupted by some other act or event. The accused must play a very active role—usually a physical role—in the killing. Under s. 214(5), the actions of the accused must form an essential, substantial and integral part of the killing of the victim. Obviously, this requirement is much higher than that necessary for manslaughter.

Physically causing the death of the victim will in most cases be required to convict under s. 214(5). However, while the intervening act of another will often mean that the accused is no longer the substantial cause of the death under s. 214(5), there will be instances where an accused could well be the substantial cause of the death without physically causing it.

Justice Cory gave posterity a couple of examples of cases in which an accused could "substantially" commit murder without physically killing a human being.

...if one accused with intent to kill locked the victim in a cupboard while the other set fire to that cupboard, then the accused who confined the victim might be found to have caused the death of the victim pursuant to the provisions of s. 214(5). Similarly an accused who fought off rescuers in order to allow his accomplice to complete the strangulation of the victim might also be found to have been a substantial cause of the death.
To convict the boys from Barrhead of first-degree murder—and remember, second-degree murder is not an option—the Crown will have to show that their participation in the murders was intimate enough to be analogous to these examples. Either that, or it will have to somehow get the Smithers standard used at trial, which would seem to fly directly in the face of a stack of Supreme Court precedent. (Plus, it would obviously still have to meet the Smithers standard itself.) This may actually be possible if some appellate judges are caught napping; all the existing SCC Harbottle cases I can find deal with situations where the accused was a participant in some other "crime of domination" like a kidnapping, and none are connected to the special police-are-worth-more clause in the current Code. Nonetheless, the logic of Harbottle is that an accused facing a first-degree conviction for whatever reason is entitled to the stricter standard as a matter of right.

An additional legal point to remember is that under post-Charter law any murder conviction positively requires evidence of "subjective foreknowledge" that one's actions are likely to cause death; it is no longer enough to show that the accused ought to have known it, even in a trial under Code s. 229(c), where the phrase "or ought to know" has been specifically annulled by the SCC. A few murder convictions have been wiped out when judges carelessly read s. 229(c) to the jury without editing out the offending phrase. If the RCMP really has accumulated convincing evidence that Messrs. Cheeseman and Hennessey definitely knew that Roszko was out to kill, and played "an essential, substantial and integral part" in the killing by the Harbottle standard, then it is to be commended for what must be some remarkably subtle police work.

[Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. These interpretations are the work of an amateur. Informed comment and contradiction are welcome, nay, strongly desired.]

July 11, 2007

A question of incentives

B.C.’s solicitor-general said Monday he wants to see cameras installed in all police stations in the province in the wake of the “gut-wrenching” Ian Bush inquest, as recommended by the coroner’s jury. ...“I’m sure that everybody at one point or other has thought, ‘If only there had been surveillance equipment available’,” said Les, referring to what happened after Const. Paul Koester and Bush went into the interview room. At the inquest, Koester said a fight broke out and he killed Bush in self-defence. But a lawyer for Bush’s family questioned the officer’s version and the subsequent RCMP investigation that resulted in no charges being laid against the officer.

The Vietnamese store around the corner from me, which sells weird misspelled cereals and stolen watches and dirty stuffed animals, has a capital budget for two security cameras in neighbouring corners of the store, and those are just the visible ones. I have enough equipment lying around my house unused to set up 24-hour surveillance of a room if I wanted to, with the footage stored on a 12-hour loop. I think we’re at the point where we should just amend the Criminal Code so that any death in police custody that’s not caught on video is automatically ruled culpable homicide. If that’s what it takes.

July 13, 2007

NP: Where there's smoke

You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. Or can you? Has anyone ever tried? My Friday Post column discusses the all-time favourite cliché of the enemies of free speech.

Attention Kevin Lowe

If you really want to encourage NHL players to sign with Edmonton by adding creature comforts to the locker room (how’s that “concierge” idea coming along?), here’s a free agent you should consider signing. (þ: Brooks)

July 14, 2007

We're not saying we hope His Lordship gets buggered senseless

It’s a straight news story in a respected broadsheet, but does one perhaps detect just a wee soupçon of unseemly malice in the Telegraph’s coverage of the Black verdict?

Wherever he ends up, Lord Black is likely to be strip-searched and fingerprinted and removed of all his belongings, aside from a wristwatch and wedding ring. If the system judges him particularly harshly – and as a non-US citizen he could be deemed a flight risk – he could end up in a medium security prison, where guards patrol the razor wire with dogs and prisoners are forced to work as cleaners or cooks for less than a dollar an hour. According to some studies, around 20 per cent of the Midwest prison population report being coerced into sexual activity. Other studies show around 40 per cent of prisoners are infected with hepatitis.
Remember, though, Lord Black attended Upper Canada College, so he's faced much shorter odds than that before.

In view of the verdict, which is essentially an endorsement of the legality of the Hollinger non-compete agreements coupled with instinctive disapproval of some of Black’s peripheral behaviour, civilized sentiment cannot hope for anything but leniency from the judge. Civilized sentiment, of course, is not what British journalists are paid to supply. (Passage spotted by Tyler Dellow. Full disclosure: I contributed to Black-owned publications two or three times before he jumped ship, and I have yet to earn a remotely similar rate for anything I’ve written in the intervening years.)

Wait, I think I do see some silver!

My friend and colleague Terry O’Neill fumbles with new Canadian abortion stats at the Shotgun:

...it’s hard to see the silver lining when the StatsCan report also finds, “Induced abortions continue to be most common among women in their 20s... On average, 25 women out of every 1,000 in their 20s obtained an induced abortion.” That’s 25 out of every 1,000 women over just one year. If my math is correct, this means that over the course of a decade, it’s likely that 250 women in their 20s out of 1,000—or one quarter—will have an abortion.
What a tragedy.

Since only about two-thirds of women seeking therapeutic abortions are undergoing their first one, the right figure is probably closer to 170 or 180. Not that his reaction would have been any different, or that it is anything but unusually sensitive and restrained coming from a right-wing Catholic. (But does anyone else ever wish there were just one flavour of Christian faith that expended more energy bemoaning “tragic” divorce rates, whose true social and medical effects are much worse than those of abortion?)

And God said, it is not good for man to be alone

Commenter Matt Moore has asked what I could possibly mean in the entry below when I speak of the medical impact of divorce. It so happens that it is frickin’ huge, and that I wrote an unsigned editorial on the subject for the Post in May. Click below for an excerpt from the original version.

Continue reading "And God said, it is not good for man to be alone" »

July 17, 2007

New Bill James: judging the past

It’s sort of typical of Bill James to do what he does with performance-enhancing drugs in this new interview with the Daily Bulletin of Ontario, California: proclaim agnosticism and relative ignorance about the subject, and then turn around and address it with a bunch of incredibly sensible and original observations.

I look at it this way. There’s a rule in basketball against traveling but the NBA has pretty much stopped enforcing it. Well, they still call traveling but they will allow you to take about five steps without dribbling as you are running toward the basket. There was no “decision” not to enforce this rule; they just kind of lost track of it. They started not calling one step and progressed to not calling two steps, not calling three steps, and eventually they just kind of lost track of the rule. Should the players who took advantage of this failure to enforce the rule be banned from the NBA Hall of Fame? After all, aren’t they cheating? They’re not obeying the rules. Julius Erving, out. The Hall of Fame doesn’t need cheaters like you. Kobe, Michael, get out. If you don’t play by the rules the way Elgin Baylor did, you’re not deserving.

Or it is, rather, the responsibility of the LEAGUE to enforce the rule? It seems to me that it might be the responsibility of the league to enforce the rule rather than the responsibility of the media to punish those who didn’t obey the rule that wasn’t being enforced. I won’t name any players, but there are a whole bunch of superstars who are now or are going to be involved in the PED accusations. We CAN’T start picking and choosing who we honor on that basis. It’s hypocritical, and it’s impractical…

The steroid debate is, in a sense, very much like the immigration debate, in that at their essence is this problem: 1) Rules weren’t enforced in the past; 2) What do we do now?

(þ: Primer)

July 18, 2007

The Ten?

What would go on your list of the top ten comedy sketches of all time? Here’s a well-informed list from public radio’s The Sound of Young America. I’d be tempted to include at least four of these; “Clayton Bigsby”, “Ass Pennies”, and “Pre-Taped Call-In Show” are very strong representatives of their series’ particular genius. It would be a major challenge trying to decide which SNL stuff to include: there are the popular favourites like Ferrell’s Neil Diamond, “White Like Eddie,” and the original Matt Foley sketch, but then we’ve probably all got more obscure choices—in my case stuff like the Energy Brothers, “Jimmy Tango’s Fat Busters,” or Philip the Hyper-Hypo. I’m not sure anything’s ever made me laugh as hard as seeing “Cluckin’ Chicken” for the first time. SCTV creates ontological issues surrounding the definition of a “sketch” but there’s a ton of stuff I’d want to include. And you could get through the whole exercise and realize that, like the TSOYA list, you’d totally bypassed The State or A Bit of Fry and Laurie or anything with Steve Coogan…

July 20, 2007

NP: The week in Coshery

You want content? Oh, we've got content. There's an editorial predicting the eventual return of Toronto mayor David Miller's attempt to piggyback a new levy on top of the (bad in itself) provincial tax on land-title transfers. There's a discussion of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the brains behind the Green Revolution and founder of the World Food Prize, who received a Congressional Gold Medal this week. And there's a signed column about the hidden sadness behind the Kids in the Hall's stage reunions. Read till you bleed!

July 21, 2007

I guess I’m the only news editor alive who isn’t busy reading about horcruxes

The NBA referee suspected of influencing point spreads has been identified this morning as 13-year veteran Tim Donaghy, and not only is Donaghy said to have resigned pending prosecutor action, but David Stern has issued this extraordinary statement:

We would like to assure our fans that no amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation, to bring to justice an individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports, and to take the necessary steps to protect against this ever happening again.

Now, maybe I’m just reading this way too literally, but didn’t the commissioner of the NBA just admit that league games were influenced by a crooked ref? He didn’t use the conditional mode here: he’s saying it happened and he hopes the investigators nail the bastard. Seems to me this should not only have been the lede of the Times story, it should be on the front of every general-interest electronic news page on this continent. Right now it hasn’t even made the front of the CBC Sports online section (though I admit that Riders-Esks game was pretty awesome) or the home page of CNN.com. In case there’s any uncertainty about this at the news desks, actual corrupt officiating in a major pro team sport would be something that isn’t known to have happened in at least 50 years and would be an order of magnitude larger in importance than any instance of mere cheating by a player.

July 23, 2007

In defence of Michael Vick, sorta

Shorter S.M. Oliva: where the hell in the U.S. Constitution is the federal government given the power to regulate “knowingly buying, transporting, delivering, and receiving for purposes of transportation, in interstate commerce, any dog for the purposes of having the dog participate in an animal fighting venture”?

Yeah, fine, the charge has the words “interstate commerce” in it. You can keep your Harry Potter: more wonders have been worked with that particular magic spell than any other.


An amusing baseball-history discovery from Rob at The Reader: Greg Maddux’s first appearance in a major-league baseball game was not as a pitcher.

Bonus fun fact from an IM conversation earlier today with Matt Fenwick: Chris Chelios is about six months older than Roger Clemens. He would be the second oldest player in the majors today (behind 48-year-old Julio Franco, who’s hanging on by his fingertips in Atlanta) if he were a baseball player.

July 24, 2007

30 essential seconds from the YouTube Democrat debate

I love seeing the hands jerk back and forth as everybody checks to see how the others are answering. You already knew that politicians who bawl about climate change were insincere puppets, but did you ever expect to actually see the strings in action? (Bonus hilarity provided by Anderson Cooper, who can barely keep from giggling maliciously as he prepares to ask a question to which he’s surely already obtained a verified answer.)

July 26, 2007

Looks like everybody lost

Urgh! A Music WarThe 1981 British documentary Urgh! A Music War is universally acknowledged to be the single most important visual artifact of the New Wave. Ever wonder why it pops up on TV fairly often but you can’t buy it on DVD? For once it’s not postmodern intellectual-property madness that’s to blame, or at least not primarily. Wikipedia has the bizarre story:

The film has been released on videocassette but not on DVD. The film rights are currently owned by its original producer, Miles Copeland (founder of IRS Records), however the rights to distribute the film on electronic medium have been “lost” as a result of the collapse of the failed CED or SelectaVision video format. In order to promote the adoption of the format, RCA purchased exclusive rights to Urgh! such that it could not appear on ANY other media without re-negotiation. When Thomson acquired RCA, SelectaVision was a dead issue for them. During the acquisition the legal documentation and contracts for the distribution were lost. Until they are found or the material passed to the public domain, no genuinely legal distribution can be resolved, because should the contracts turn up, any current agreements could be considered void and the rights revert back to the holder. This could be fought in court, but given the number of artists and players involved the potential legal costs would almost certainly be astronomical. It is rumored that three songs from each band were filmed and saved during the editing process, and that Copeland has these in storage. This means that, should the rights ever be resolved, there’s potential for a 6-hour 2-DVD special edition, possibly containing over 100 songs.

N.B.: the careless "Thomson" in question is not the Canadian publishing/info Thomson, it's the French consumer-electronics and multimedia Thomson. (þ: MeFi)

July 28, 2007

Even Home Run Baker nodded

Why Bill James is great: in the 1984 Baseball Abstract he wrote that the Milwaukee Brewers infield was one of the greatest of the postwar era (a judgment borne out by later analysis; it probably still hasn’t been equalled since), noting correctly that it probably had two future Hall of Famers in it.

Why Bill James isn’t God: the two players he was talking about were Robin Yount… and Cecil Cooper.

NP/FC: Latest and greatest Coshery

My Friday column for the National Post is a look at the game-theoretic solving of checkers by a team at my alma mater, the University of Alberta. I've been writing about and occasionally interviewing lead investigator Jonathan Schaeffer for years and I'm tremendously excited about the lab's twin coups; even as Schaeffer's paper for Science was hitting desks, his Polaris poker software was faring pretty well against two top human pros. (This is probably not a coincidence.) Schaeffer is said to be preparing a second edition of One Jump Ahead, his book about the prolonged trial by ordeal between his checkers algorithm, Chinook, and the game's legendary world champion, Marion Tinsley. It is an underappreciated classic of popular science writing (and you can hear my younger self saying the same thing, turgidly and at unconscionable length, if you follow the "Reviews" link at Schaeffer's page for the book).

When you're finished with that you can check out three recent entries at the Post's Full Comment weblog: one on a most unusual Yugo, one on an excellent idea for science journalists (concerning a topic I've always avoided precisely because of the heavy helpings of bogusness one has to swallow), and today's brand-new rumination on the fatal accident at the Scaled Composites facility in Mojave, Calif. And you can also read a big editorial I wrote about Norman Borlaug, the crop scientist who kickstarted the Green Revolution of the '60s and '70s.

Just keep driving west, you're 20 minutes from the border

Emily Scott toplessFrom this morning's Globe [surely some mistake in the dateline??]:

WINNIPEG -- Free wireless Internet service is now available in Saskatchewan's four biggest cities, making it the first province to launch a widespread, publicly funded network. The initiative is part of the government's effort to position Saskatchewan as a high-tech learning centre that appeals to graduates and young professionals. They hope it will also help bridge the digital divide by making the Internet available to those unable to afford a connection at home. "We're doing it to promote our cities as dynamic, progressive places to live and work and go to school," said Richard Murray, the policy and planning director in Saskatchewan's information technology office.
...The service is not quite as fast as the high-speed cable or DSL connection available to most home subscribers, but it's many times faster than dial-up. Mr. Murray said it works well for browsing websites and checking e-mail, but downloading video isn't recommended. Since it's a publicly funded service, users will also be blocked from visiting sites associated with pornography or hate groups.
Well, sure. After all, what could be more "dynamic" and "progressive" than thought control and deliberately damaged technology? Come to Saskatchewan, O ye graduates and young professionals, where the future is now. And if you want a vision of it, just imagine a boot stamping on a Playboy centerfold forever.

Dirty deeds done dirt cheap

I think it's official: I've taken as much shit from Paul Wells for a single column about nosocomial clostridium in Quebec as, well, the average Quebec hospital patient does from his caregivers. Wells doesn't think the persistent crisis has anything to do with unique conditions there, which suggests he hasn't studied the literature too closely—this passage from a CMAJ study of the problem written by Quebecois researchers pretty much sums it up. I'll put the important parts in bold (you don't need the help, but some might):

A lingering question that remains unanswered is why this strain of C. difficile spread so extensively within and between hospitals in Quebec, while dissemination of the same hypervirulent, and presumably highly infectious, strain seems to have been more limited in the rest of Canada and the United States. There is no evidence that Quebec differs from other jurisdictions in North America with regard to the size of its population of elderly inpatients or to the use of antibiotics. In 2003 and 2004, respectively, 686 and 663 prescriptions of antibiotics per 1000 inhabitants were delivered in retail pharmacies of Quebec, compared with 763 and 737 in the rest of Canada. Assuming a mean duration of 10 days per prescription, use of antibiotics in Quebec corresponded to 18.5 defined daily doses per 1000 inhabitants-days, a figure similar to that in British Columbia and to the median in 26 European countries. The lack of investment in our hospitals infrastructure over several decades, with shared bathrooms being the rule rather than the exception, may have facilitated the transmission of this spore-forming pathogen, which can survive on environmental surfaces for months. Providing modern medical care within hospitals built a century ago is no longer acceptable.

This finding is damning enough (and there is abundant testimony from Quebec healthcare workers on every tier that they do think the province has a unique problem with hospital design and funding for maintenance), but other researchers who've tackled the outbreak have argued specifically that the bigger issue is probably the infection-control procedures amongst frontline workers in Quebec's hospitals. An excerpt from my column [supporting material here]:

The theoretical debate over why Quebec might have been hit especially hard is continuing. Relatively little attention has been paid to a presentation given to Quebec's expert panel on C. difficile in October, 2005, in which American epidemiologist Dale Gerding tackled the important question of whether the hospital environment or poor handwashing practices are more likely to be the originating cause of such an outbreak. The data, Gerding told the panel, suggest that the hands of healthcare workers are the most important factor in the transmission of C. difficile. Several studies have suggested that a patient is more likely to get the disease from another patient treated by the same people than he is from a roommate, and the only proven precautions against transmission are the mandatory use of gloves, frequent disinfection of patient rooms, and the adoption of disposable rectal thermometers. To put the matter in plain English, Gerding advised Quebec that it needed, if at all possible, to stop doctors and nurses from carrying diarrhea from bed to bed.

Lest I be accused of singling out Quebec as singularly filthy for political or racial reasons—oops, Paul already pretty much did that, didn't he?—I'd like to note that I also discussed Alberta's own homegrown nosocomial infection/instrument sterilization scandal in that same column. (Funny thing, but an outbreak of serious iatrogenic disease in the hospital closest to where my retired parents live managed to grab and secure my attention, despite my obvious anti-Quebec bias.) An inquiry by the Health Quality Council of Alberta has just been completed, and I'd love to reassure you that the whole ugly mess had nothing at all to do with issues of institutional politics or employee carelessness, but alas, it seems like those are pretty much what was behind it. Never have I argued that hospitals in other countries don't face similar challenges, though I did make one wisecrack about whether Canadian doctors are taught the germ theory of disease. Is this sort of public shaming perhaps too harsh a penalty to be imposed on some unreconstructed brute who would perform a gynecological exam in the 21st century with nonsterile implements? My concern was with highlighting especial outrages, ones that utterly defy understanding to the layman, in the Canadian system. I guess I can see why Wells has a potential beef with Mark Steyn, who was much more ambitious in his political conclusion-drawing than I would be, but I cannot for the life of me perceive why anyone would look at what happened in Alberta and Quebec and think "Nope, nothing of interest to a public-affairs columnist there." What's the matter, don't I write about Nicolas Sarkozy enough?

July 29, 2007

‘I’ve never killed anyone directly!’

Is this suppressed document a genuine last message to the world from executed Chinese bureaucrat Zheng Xiaoyu?

The determination of the central authorities to fight corruption is entirely evident in my death sentence. When Wang Huaizhong was about to die he said: Looks like the central authorities are serious about anti-corruption this time. My death sentence once again demonstrates the determination of the central authorities against corruption. What I most regret now is that I should not have gone into government.

July 31, 2007

Sy Woivendon?

About July 2007

This page contains all entries posted to ColbyCosh.com in July 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2007 is the previous archive.

August 2007 is the next archive.

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