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October 2007 Archives

October 4, 2007

Lomo sovieticus?

Typical Lomo shotMany of you will have heard of the Lomo, the charmingly cheesy Russian-manufactured film camera that has become the god of its own lo-fi cult in the decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Like other less well-organized cheap-camera cults (there’s one that swears by the Chinese-made Holga), the Lomographers counterintuitively embrace the Lomo’s lens vignetting, its oversaturated colours, and even the light leaks in its plastic body. But how many of them know about the role of Vladimir Putin in saving their strange hobby from oblivion?

Meanwhile, Metafilter recently had an entry on that camera collector’s treat, the Soviets’ FED (ФЭД) knockoff of the legendary Leica 35mm rangefinder. Some Eastern Europeans may still be shooting with cameras stamped FED, little suspecting what the initials stand for.

Trouble at the manse

Many of my readers will be aghast to learn that the west Edmonton home of Ted Byfield, the legendary columnist and publisher, has been destroyed in a fire. The best account is in this morning’s Ottawa Citizen and adds several layers of awfulness to the news; some members of the old Byfield circle will be learning for the first time that Ted’s daughter Philippa, who has long served the family enterprises as a world-weary but witty and fun-loving supernumerary, is battling terminal illness. The Byfields are all safe and the house was insured, and Ted’s current project was found intact in the ruins on a memory stick, but many personal papers and rare books and much irreplaceable correspondence will have been lost. Perhaps the most painful blow to Alberta’s heritage is the loss of the house itself; it was a place where editors, politicians, and bishops met and found themselves talking religion and history with poor immigrants, displaced churchgoers, and a whole galaxy of brilliant oddballs of the sort that Ted has always been so good at cultivating and employing. There will probably never be another place quite like it, here or anywhere. See also the Edmonton Journal’s version of the story.

October 8, 2007

Got beef?

Tucows? A selection of livestock photos from Thanksgiving weekend. Cows got personalities!

October 9, 2007

The battle of the Standard

The Western Standard, R.I.P.

I suppose it behooves me to comment on the demise of the Western Standard, the plucky little Calgary-based magazine that has been a second home for my writing over the last couple of years. The Standard was founded in the spring of 2004 in the hopes of replacing the defunct Alberta Report as the independent voice of Western conservatism. Publisher and impresario Ezra Levant obtained AR’s legacy subscriber data, put together an ambitious business plan, worked with talented designers to create a classy, distinctive look for the magazine, obtained the services of Mark Steyn and other top columnists, and set out confidently toward profitability. Unfortunately, despite some impressive advertiser support, he never got there. I have always been pretty far out of the loop on financials, and over the past year I have been hearing less and less from Ezra personally—it was an early and obvious sign of trouble when he stopped phoning all the time to share the latest good news—so I don’t know exactly what went wrong. According to the rumour mill, the major cause of death was investor fatigue and a subsequent shortage of white knights. There were other problems; the magazine lost two editors-in-chief within six months at one point, although you would have had to look hard to perceive any precipitious decline in quality resulting from that alone. It’s possible everybody just realized more or less simultaneously that print is a bad business to be in right now. The Shotgun weblog may end up being a going concern long after the death of the Standard itself.

It has to be admitted that the shutdown was poorly handled from the standpoint of the editorial employees and contributors. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I got the news the same way the public did, from Ezra’s announcement on the Shotgun. I was mere hours away from leaving town for Thanksgiving, and those who depended more heavily on the Standard for their income must have been in the same rather awkward situation. (Cook a bigger turkey, Grandma, I’m out of work!) After the summer break the magazine started experiencing delays with each new issue; these were attributed to vague logistical problems at Quebecor, though anyone with experience of the invariably dreadful relationship between a small publication and its printer could read the writing on the wall. Paycheques were delayed, too, but at the moment I personally am in arrears for only one issue, and if I never see the final payment that makes me even-steven with the magazine (no one has officially told me it is not in the mail), I will still have been treated more fairly than I was by my longtime employers at Alberta Report, who owed me thousands of dollars in back pay and statutory severance and failed to follow up on repeated verbal promises to send at least some meagre crust. (I’m grateful that the Standard did not attempt some preposterous strategy like converting the magazine to a non-profit while everyone was still employed and then claiming that the old obligations of the for-profit company had been mystically liquidated by the changeover. Such are the disgraceful hazards of life in small-market journalism.) There is also the matter of the 2008 Western Standard Cruise, which Ezra “postponed” a few months ago on the pretext that the original date was likely to coincide with the birth of his first child. I hope it doesn’t sound ungrateful if I note that some new official statement on this matter would probably be welcome; it struck me at the time that the ship could have sailed easily enough without Ezra being aboard, though if you know Ezra, you know it would have broken his heart to miss out on another chance to play “skipper.” It now seems more likely that the real reason for the postponement was that the magazine itself was headed for a fatal shoal.

It is worth noting that the WS Cruise, which was widely derided in its first incarnation (and thoroughly enjoyed by those of us who were actually on it), is now being imitated by no less than the Globe and Mail, though the Globe has had the good sense to realize that it cannot advertise a roster of celebrity guests owing to its cultivated lack of personality. One hopes that Ezra, his founding editor Kevin Libin, and the other creators of the Standard will get credit for innovation as others follow up on this marketing idea. (I expect the first Maclean’s cruise to set sail no later than 2010.) Perhaps some will remember the personal courage that Ezra, Kevin, and others displayed in printing the controversial Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons when no one else in Canada had the guts. Others may recall that the magazine paid real dollar costs for its independence and refusal to cater to political correctness; while other publications quietly pay abusers of human rights law to disappear, and live in fear of legal and economic terrorism from certain interest groups, the Standard always chose, perhaps suicidally, to fight for free speech out in the open.

And still others may regret that no one else will step in quickly to replace some of the Standard’s greatest strengths as a news publication. It kept Mark Steyn in front of a Canadian audience (more as a favour to the latter than the former) after he left the National Post. It gave the vastly underrated Ric Dolphin a platform after he was dropped in a remarkable display of cowardice by the Calgary Herald. It showcased the tireless West Coast reporting of Terry O’Neill and the dynamic descriptive prose of Kevin Steel. It gave valuable amplification to radical libertarian voices like mine and Karen Selick’s, thus taking seriously a philosophy that is still given less weight in the mainstream media than it has in the real world amongst younger generations cheated by confiscatory taxes, government monopolies, and Ponzi-scheme public pensions. It took agriculture seriously as a business in the era of mad-cow disease, and it did serious reporting on aboriginal issues of a species that is simply impossible if you have never lived in the West. It chronicled the strange, almost surreal pressures that the energy boom is imposing on communities from Fort St. John to Prince Albert.

In Jon Kay’s otherwise dead-on and superbly informed tribute to the deceased magazine, he says that the Standard provided an “awkward mix” of “regional news stories” and polemical content. Well, Jon and I both work awfully hard to make sure that the National Post deserves its adjective, and he is conscientious about it, and after all, we do ultimately answer to Winnipeg. But all the same, if someone wants to write for our Post comment pages about the stupidity of Toronto’s city government or the plight of the Oakville auto worker, hardly anyone at our editorial meetings will complain that it is “regional” content. The Western Standard was one more small step toward a Canada in which the parts of the map west of the Sault are no longer branded Terra Incognita. Then again, maybe it’s truly no longer necessary for the West to have its own independent (segregated?) media; maybe it doesn’t even help. We do, after all, live in a world where the oilpatch was left alone for years by a Liberal federal government only to be bushwhacked by Alberta’s own Conservatives. (Ten years ago, would you have believed such a sequence of events possible?)

A few of you have written to offer personal condolences over the death of the Standard. They are appreciated, but unnecessary. As a reader, I mourn, but as a worker, I am past having to rely on the extra income. Indeed, I was really ready for a break from the pressure of having to produce so many different kinds of column material; for the past year or so I’ve been working from a multi-tiered spreadsheet of pitch ideas whose intricacies and colour codes are almost too complicated for me to understand. It will be nice to be able to concentrate a little harder on my key responsibilities at the Post, to have more time to think and absorb news in between deadlines, and who knows?—maybe even blog a little more.


Accidental referrer log discovery: apparently in Latvia I am known as “Kolbijs Košs”. I’ll warn you right now, I may just go ahead and permanently switch to that spelling.

October 11, 2007

NP: Do the right thing!

As you’ve probably heard, Ontario Conservative leader John Tory lost his Don Valley West constituency race in yesterday’s election. I argue in an editorial for tomorrow’s National Post that since the provincewide Conservative vote will be dramatically underrepresented in the new provincial parliament, it would seem logically that the many Liberals, New Democrats, and Greens who favoured the defeated proposal for proportional representation should be willing to let Mr. Tory into the assembly unopposed at the first available opportunity. If we had MMP, he’d almost certainly have gotten in at the top of the handpicked party slate. So come on, guys, are we going to let the voters of one riding stand in the path of justice?

That must have been some other Stephen Mandel

What’s that clanging noise I’ve been hearing in Edmonton lately? Oh, pay it no mind—it’s just the mayor’s gigantic brass balls.

October 12, 2007

NP: Where ignorant armies clash by night

Today’s National Post contains a new column from me that examines the latest wrinkle in Quebec’s “reasonable accommodation” debate. And did you check out last week’s, which was full of surprising data from a new cross-border study of Canadian and American healthcare?

October 15, 2007

A major event in sabermetrics

I’ll compress this as tightly as possible for the benefit of the casual sports fan. “Sabermetrics” is just a term for the organized study of baseball using the traditional means of science and scholarship; it most commonly refers to the study, in particular, of baseball statistics.

There is a predictable, empirically established relationship between (a) the number of runs a major-league baseball team scores and allows in a season and (b) its won-loss record. This relationship is usually called the “Pythagorean expectation” because there’s a sum of squares in the equation. Bill James, who originally discovered the Pythagorean formula, announced a finding in the early ‘80s that teams which do better in the standings than their run totals would suggest will revert to the Pythagorean norm the next year; on the basis of a limited sample he could find no tendency for teams to outperform Pythagoras from year-to-year.

He has now searched again for such a tendency, using 100 years of data, and found it. Beating Pythagoras appears to be a repeatable skill. If this result holds up under peer review, it will overturn (or at least modify, as Einstein did Newton) one of the most widely accepted statistical laws of baseball.

October 16, 2007

@FullComment.com: A book recommendation...

...from somebody who doesn’t really inflict a lot of book recommendations upon you.

October 17, 2007

NP: Liberal warfare, at home and abroad

This Wednesday editorial for the Post about Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, John Manley, and Afghanistan was mostly my work (the print version had a few extra flourishes). If you are favourably impressed, let it serve as a reminder that only about one-quarter of my output for the Post appears under my byline. You should be reading every day!

October 18, 2007

Straight to hell

A reader asked a little while ago what I think about the controversy over the proposed increase to oil royalties in Alberta, which is currently being pondered and undoubtedly finessed in the office of Premier Ed Stelmach. The short answer is that I think it’s ridiculous that we have to discuss it. The government, ideally, should not be in the business of setting a price for oil, in the ground or anywhere else. The issue does not exist in the American jurisdictions where subsurface rights are attached to land titles, as they traditionally were under the common-law doctrine of ad caelum et ad inferos. But that divorce was decreed in Canada long ago and cannot readily be reversed. Since the government has no choice but to set a price for the oil, the test for any given price level should be pretty simple: does it maximize revenue? Stelmach, in his mushmouthed way, has actually tried to advance this idea. The problem is that in principle no one, including him, knows whether the new price regime he imposes will accomplish this.

But the place to go for the best guess is the market. The oil companies and their investors reacted to Bill Hunter’s report on royalties, issued Sept. 18, with indignation and accusations that Alberta was going Chavista. The skeptic might consider looking at energy companies with a major Alberta presence to see whether the shareholders are really all that troubled by Hunter’s rhetoric. Since Sept. 17, the last day on which the information in the report was not public, we can see the effect it has had on the prospects for future profit in the sector. The share price for the Canadian Oil Sands Trust, for one, has plunged from $33.30 to $34.95. A battered Suncor, which stood at $98.71, has slumped to $100.84 per share. Husky Energy Inc. has plunged from $41.22 to $43.28. Clearly Stelmach must take a stand and call a halt to this financial bloodbath!

Keep the car running

I don’t suppose Win Butler could really turn this opportunity down. But personally, I gotta say I wouldn’t let my super-adorable wife/accordionist anywhere near Bruce Springsteen in mid-tour.

October 19, 2007

Poetry corner

The Chaos: a “virtuoso” rhyming compendium of English spelling irregularities by the Dutch pedagogue Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946).

October 20, 2007

Formerly of the Royal Irish Hussars

God, it’s pathetic the way right-wingers grovel in front of the Queen, innit? Just listen to this Tory folderol from the Daily Mail:

I don’t have a problem with having a monarchy that is symbolic. After all, the Queen already plays that role, especially for the generation who lived through World War II. They do seem to revere her more than the rest of us. So I believe that while there are still those among us whose loved ones fought and died for king and country in that conflict, then we owe them a debt of respect, not only for the sacrifices they made during the war, but for the legacy of the Welfare State, which they created and handed down to us. By respecting the Queen, we respect them.

...just look at how our Queen comports herself. She does her job pretty well, playing the role of our national figurehead with diligence and decorum, giving us a sense of continuity in a world where change seems to be getting faster. My respect for our monarch is entirely personal – it is not vested in her office.

Wait… what was that about the Welfare State? Who wrote this thing, anyway? (þ: Goldacre)

October 22, 2007

Monday items

My Friday column for the Post, part of a series in which commentators are asked:
“If you had the power to change a single thing about Canada, what would it be?”

My latest post from Full Comment:

Can we trust Chinese economic-growth figures?

And a totally random, curiously life-affirming video that I neither need nor possess any context for, other than the name of the sitcom it comes from (þ: PCL):

Man down!

Lowetide explains to the Toronto media how its coverage of Darcy Tucker’s injury makes it look to the rest of Canada.

October 23, 2007


Riders share certificate

Profiled by Roy MacGregor in Monday’s Globe: the Macklin branch of the Cosh family, whose Saskatchewan Roughrider fandom has made them “as well known as some of the players.”

They drive five hours each way from their town near the Alberta border to attend every Roughriders home game. They have season’s tickets for six—Robin and Lori and their four children, 12-year-old Taylor, nine-year-old Keifer, Laine and six-year-old Connor—and treat becoming an “owner” the way other families regard First Communion or bar and bat mitzvahs.

Sunday afternoon was the day Laine came to pick up her share—an official document declaring her one more owner of this community-owned team.

Her parents have their shares, her big sister and brother have theirs —leaving only the youngest, Connor, to sulk and dream of the day he, too, becomes a CFL owner.

Normally I’d be pretty taken aback if a Globe columnist called my relatives “eccentric” in print, but let’s face it, he’s being polite: raising your kids as Rider fans is arguably a form of child abuse. MacGregor writes of my uncle and aunt that “The $1,400 they spend a year on regular season’s tickets, they believe, is the best bargain available in pro sports.” Well, sure, it’s a heck of a deal when they’re 11-5, but if history is any guide, Connor is gonna be drawing a pension cheque on the Moon the next time that happens.

October 31, 2007

NP: The unkindest cut

It’s sports time in my most recent column for the National Post, in which I talk about the forgotten incident that sent NHL forward Scott Mellanby to Edmonton long ago and redefined Canadian liability law. It’s from the “interesting stuff I ran across on Wednesday afternoon” file, which can produce excellent columns or lame ones: you be the judge.

About October 2007

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

September 2007 is the previous archive.

November 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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