A little-known scene from the hidden history of children's television: Snuffleupagus vs. Snuffleupagus.
Remember the Toronto Star's story last month about Thane Heins, that college dropout from Almonte who juuuuuust might have rewritten the law of conservation of energy? Reporter Tyler Hamilton has revisited the subject under pressure from scientifically informed readers: in a Feb. 25 Star piece he is careful to note that "The story was the most read and emailed story on the Toronto Star website for most of the following week, and ranked as one of the most popular stories of the past year." You don't find out until quite late in the column that Heins' own scientific consultant was furious at being associated publicly with the concept of perpetual motion, decrying the content of the story as "foolishness". And in a separate defence of the piece Hamilton rightly comes in for a rocketing by a disappointed reader:
If you had any understanding of the rigour of the scientific method, you would recognize the folly of such half-baked claims as made by the inventor of this latest machine. Such articles add fuel to the religious fundamentalists who grossly misinterpret science to justify such monstrous ideas as 'intelligent design' and creationism. You have a degree in journalism, don't you? A story like this is more appropriate for an April 1st publication.
Hamilton's original piece reflected poor judgment (specifically because there have been thousands of people who thought they were onto perpetual motion, most of whom are no better trained in physics than Heins and none of whom have contributed anything useful to science or engineering once their five minutes of fame was up). His response to this accusation, however, might be worse, since it is actively misleading rather than just an underinformed waste of time:
The story was never presented as a science feature. It appeared in the business section as a profile of a man who is struggling to build a business out of an invention that nobody is able to clearly explain...
Star readers who were greeted with the headline "Turning physics on its ear" and read about Heins' "mysterious", "heretical" discovery must now be surprised to learn they weren't reading a science feature after all. It's in the business section of the print edition—hell, you can't trust half the crap that ends up in there, amiright? And if you read it on the Internet, where it was specifically presented as a "SCIENCE/TECH" story (with a URL of thestar.com/sciencetech/Technology/article/300042), well, you're probably just some sad obsessed nerd anyway, right?
Hamilton adds that
[Heins'] marriage is broken. He's strapped for cash. He's driven, with help from the University of Ottawa, to earn credibility for his invention and prove his skeptics wrong. Most of all, he's presented as a sympathetic figure up against a rigid world of scientific consensus.
I would love to read a really in-depth feature about the psychology, struggles, and marital problems of a delusional inventor. (These people are endlessly compelling.) Why doesn't Tyler Hamilton go back and write one? His piece contained one brief mention of Heins' "20-year obsession that has broken up his marriage and lost him custody of his two young daughters." Now, even though the rest of the article was mostly folderol about futuristic cars and letters to Al Gore, he's pretending to have been interested in the man's Byronic struggle against the establishment. Bullshit the reader once, shame on you. Bullshit him twice—and, well, he might stop reading newspapers, actually.
This response to one of my recent columns—I wish I could narrow it down for you from the evidence herein—arrived Tuesday:
just read your piece on Alberta's Stelmac premier...
just facce it, you guys can't stand the idea of a Ukraininan farmer running the province.
his English is certainly no worse than Klein's mangling style.
This feeling is even greater in Calgary where those "cowboy" racists still think they are decendants of Engish polo players.. the closest those British immigrants came to polo is cleaning out the stables of the horses.
get a clue and realize that other cultures can do it as well and better than anglo ethnic people.
What's interesting is that I know our friend is not alone in feeling that there still exists racial prejudice against Ukrainians (Ukraininans?) in Alberta; such an instinct wouldn't have occurred to any of the people I grew up with, but this gentleman seems to feel things are worse in the more consciously Anglo south of the province. Ed Stelmach's appeal to Ukrainian voters is certainly another one of those factors that the prognosticators underestimated.
It's been a long U.S. election campaign. Remember back when Hillary Clinton's people were playing that song about raping nuns at her personal appearances? Man was that awesome.
OK, so technically the song's not really about rape, but (a) the mini-controversy was still hilarious, and (b) who deserves a little 21st-century attention more than Golden Earring? They were kind of done out of their chance at transatlantic stardom through carelessness, poor Dutch bastards. I've been playing the YouTube version of "When the Lady Smiles" a lot since Hillary collided with it, as much for the music as for the foxy redhead. Maybe I'm thirsting for popular art from a time when it still had breathing room for the id. Or maybe I just miss two-minute instrumental outros and establishing shots in music videos.
My latest signed column for the Post asks why Canadian diplomats should be unable to cite the rule of law, instead of a meddlesome, condescending opposition to capital punishment, as the basis of a plea for the life of a citizen facing Saudi justice. The brouhaha over the Kohail file, I must say, has been sincerely confusing to me. Since the Saudis themselves don't agree with us that capital punishment is wrong anyway, and aren't going to change their minds about this anytime soon, why not emphasize norms of procedural fairness that anyone would hope to have observed by the authorities if he were charged with a crime? Wouldn't that be the sensible approach to take if you had limited time to convince a king to spare one of your compatriots?
"The state may not take a life" is not a transcultural rule; it wasn't anybody's rule until the Enlightenment, didn't find widespread international support until well after, and probably still doesn't enjoy majority support in Canada. "Nobody should be punished disproportionately, contrary to reason, or without a fair hearing" is surely a far more basic and portable principle of justice.
What do Stephen Malkmus and Colby Cosh have in common? It seems they both drafted Milwaukee Brewers OF Corey Hart for their fantasy baseball teams last year, based on preseason assurances from the team that he would play every day, and then gave up on him just in time to watch him become the terror of the National League. He sat on my league's waiver wire from May 10 to June 1: Fenwick got to him first once Ned Yost came to his senses. Not coincidentally, Matt ended the year as Alberta Baseball Confederacy champion.
I also believed J.P. Ricciardi when he said that B.J. Ryan was just having minor back trouble. That cost me the draft pick I traded for BJR and the keeper tag I used on him. This is how you finish the season 41-51*: by trusting too much.
*Note: horrible record was just good enough to snag playoff berth and beat defending league champ in nailbiting storybook classic of a division semifinal
Things aren't looking good for Ben Heppner's long-awaited Tristan at the Metropolitan Opera, which was supposed to be the commercial and artistic highlight of the season. Opening night will go ahead with the understudy, but the March 22 simulcast matinée starring Canada's great Wagner interpreter is still on, for the moment. No pressure, Benny! It's not like millions of dollars are at stake!
Some people might be skeptical about the new plan to transform Edmonton's downtown square into a giant dome wherein the homeless battle senselessly for the public's edification and entertainment. All I have to say is: BEST. CITY. EVER.
The really sick thing about me making charts like this one of my performance in the 2007 fantasy draft is that I know half the league is way more hardcore about this stuff than I am. It is an unrelenting, dire arms race in which the laggard faces ego annihilation.
(I think the chart teaches three lessons about the owner behind it. He worries too much about filling out a lineup card in the middle rounds, when he should still be in "best player available" mode. His research pays off in the late rounds. And he was actually very lucky not to have more injuries in 2007.)
Why, yes, Bill Simmons, I sure would like a side order of Wire spoilers with my entrée of well-done maudlin! I guess it's way too late, though, to ask whether you can still hear that Socratic daemon that might have advised you against shovelling inappropriate, inherently trivializing pop-culture references into sensitive material. Sincerely, A Horrified Fan
It turns out that global warming is likely to actually make Canada warmer, with attendant benefits outlined in a controversial new federal government report. I discuss this revelation in today's column for the National Post.
A Saturday diversion: meet the crazy-ass new handgun that supposedly has Canada's street soldiers (and perhaps its professional carjackers?) quaking in their boots.
After being eviscerated in yet another Alberta election, Liberals and New Democrats are engaged in their usual exercise of moping around and trying to figure out why the left can't pick up votes here. Maybe they should read this incredible op-ed from the University of Alberta's Gateway, which just might contain a clue or two.
On election night Premier Stelmach gave a remarkable speech (remarkable, that is, for being garbled yet poignant), making a joke about how glad he was that his Ukrainian ancestors got on the boat going to Alberta instead of the one going to Argentina. How did one student react? TOTAL MELTDOWN. How dare the premier say that Alberta is better than Argentina?! What a "culturally insensitive" "jackass"! Doesn't he know that Argentina is a wonderful multicultural mosaic, just like ours? And if living standards there are a little different (don't you dare say they're "worse"!) it's all the fault of the same neoliberals who are pulling the strings here!* Our political system is just as corrupt!
Oh yeah, it's a big mystery why Albertans don't vote for the parties of the left. A real thorny head-scratcheroo.
*Note Dave Spart-style logic
I just noticed that clicking on the tag of one of my Full Comment entries will take you to this page—a sort of alternative Colby Cosh world that contains a lot of stuff I've neglected to link from here. And if you like, you can subscribe to a separate RSS feed for that page and receive super-timely alerts in your reader. Otherwise you're missing out on the full experience, dontchaknow.
Bravo: let us hope the Mother of Parliaments really does deplore
the apparent increase in the number of reported incidents in which the police, police community support officers (PCSOs) or wardens attempt to stop street photography and order the deletion of photographs or the confiscation of cards, cameras or film on various specious ground such as claims that some public buildings are strategic or sensitive, that children and adults can only be photographed with their written permission, that photographs of police and PCSOs are illegal, or that photographs may be used by terrorists...
A lot of you have probably already heard about Celemony's new Direct Note Access music-editing application, but I didn't want any of my music-minded friends and readers to miss out on the news:
It is only recently that software has been able to interpret chords and pitch-correct them without messing them up: now mad scientist Peter Neubäcker is claiming to be able to totally break down the waveform of a chord into individual notes and edit them as entirely separate entities, which opens up a whole universe for music production. Think of what it does just for the mashup industry, or of the possibilities created for editable musique concrète—if this thingamabob really works, you could now, with enough processing power, match any two tracks in key and tempo.
Two families are united. Champagne corks pop. But it's not a wedding—it's a stunning, almost Einstein-grade breakthrough in comparative linguistics.
In an amusing Globe & Mail comment thread about preserving the meagre remains of Upper Fort Garry, angry interlocutors are screaming back and forth at each other about Louis Riel. "Riel was a rebel, criminal, and madman!" "He was the founder of Manitoba--a Father of Confederation!" Um, fellas? Is there any reason he can't be both?
I've written about Louis Riel a few times over the years. At his worst he was no crazier than the binarizing tendency that afflicts the responses I've gotten, and that is visible on the Globe page. Any positive statement about Riel will be taken as a suggestion that he was a saint, that his trial was unjust, and that mass settlement of the Prairies was a crime. Any negative statement will be taken as ignorance of his historical role, contempt for the Métis, and support for every detail of the subsequent hundred years or so of Canadian policy towards First Nations and the West.
The Globian goofball who mentions Robert E. Lee is really onto something. The Americans have a found a relatively comfortable niche in their historical pantheon for Lee; even though he fought for the cause of slavery, it's understood that that was not the uppermost issue in his own mind, and his virtues are recognized and even revered. Riel should arguably be much less controversial; he worked for the rights of local communities to make representative, inclusive institutions of government for themselves, and sought to enslave no one. We might have had a slower-growing, priest-ridden, francophone West governed by the laws of the buffalo hunt if he had won, but to take this personally in 2008 seems inappropriate.
I think this year's Democratic nomination got locked down this morning. Read my instant reaction to what will be remembered as Barack Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech in Philadelphia.
From ESPN: Jim Caple visits R.A. Dickey, acolyte of the mysterious and increasingly scarce art of the knuckleball.
Dickey is not just a guy trying to make the majors on a freak pitch, he's also a freak of nature. In 2006 I used my last-round designated-wacky pick on him in our fantasy baseball draft; although I didn't really expect him to tear up the American League, I suffered real pangs of sympathy when he made the worst start in living memory and was hustled down to Triple-A faster than you can say "Phil Niekro". But he has gone 22-14 at Oklahoma and Nashville since.
Question: couldn't they have given that poor bastard Caple a real knuckleball mitt to catch with?
When did the corpse of the 2007-08 Edmonton Oilers get up and start skating around? After an 8-2 run they are five points out of a playoff slot with eight regular-season games to go. I kind of wish there were a prediction market that priced "will make playoffs" contracts, but I don't know of one. Right now Vegas has the team at 90-to-1 to win the whole shooting match. Considering that they'll be entering the playoffs as a #8 seed, the probability of the Oilers winning on the condition that they reach the tournament can't be objectively rated much higher than 1/16; Vegas must think that the Oilers have at least a 1-in-6 shot to get in. I think anybody in this city would have taken that deal on September 1.
Maybe those of us who occasionally write science and medicine columns should latch onto Derek Lowe's subtle distinction between "me-too" drugs and "now-with-the-great-taste-of-fish" drugs.
The latest mini-documentary from Reason.tv, guest-starring kidney-buddies Sally Satel M.D. and Virginia Postrel.
Note to readers: there will be no National Post, and hence no column from me, on Good Friday. I'll be back with new content in Monday's edition.
That means I'll miss my chance to write about the Eastertide controversy that is tearing the UK apart: a new movie of the Passion produced by the BBC will depict Christ nailed to the Cross by his arms, with his feet tucked up in a foetal-type position, instead of reproducing the traditional iconography. This apparently has some Christian leaders outraged, even though there is little in Scripture to suggest how Jesus was oriented on the rood, and the only crucifixion victim archaeologists have managed to find was killed in the BBC manner. Mark Goodacre, a leading Bible scholar who was consulted on the program, talks about his experience with the media here.
A comment in the earlier Obama thread reminded me that I have something in common with the senator: I, too, have been accused of "ageism" after making a ringing defence of lower standards of PC for the elderly! After the jump, my November 28, 2003 column about the Larry Spencer ruckus, which at times bears weird tonal similarities to Obama's speech (and yet which seems to have bubbled up from some forgotten age, with its background of a disunited right in the House of Commons and a proudly Conservative Scott Brison).
1) "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."
2) "But, alas! Have not the sins of America, and of New England in particular, had a hand in bringing down upon us the righteous judgments of Heaven? Wherefore is all this evil come upon us? Is it not because we have forsaken the Lord? Can we say we are innocent of crimes against God? No, surely; it becomes us to humble ourselves under His mighty hand, that He may exalt us in due time. However unjustly and cruelly we have been treated by man, we certainly deserve, at the hand of God, all the calamities in which we are now involved. Have we not lost much of that spirit of genuine Christianity which so remarkably appeared in our ancestors, for which God distinguished them with the signal favors of providence, when they fled from tyranny and persecution into this western desert? Have we not departed from their virtues? Though I hope and am confident that as much true religion, agreeable to the purity and simplicity of the gospel, remains among us as among any people in the world, yet in the midst of the present great apostasy of the nations professing Christianity, have not we likewise been guilty of departing from the living God? Have we not made light of the gospel of salvation, and too much affected the cold, formal, fashionable religion of countries grown old in vice and overspread with infidelity? Do not our follies and iniquities testify against us? Have we not, especially in our seaports, gone much too far into the pride and luxuries of life? Is it not a fact open to common observation, that profaneness, intemperance, unchastity, the love of pleasure, fraud, avarice, and other vices, are increasing among us from year to year? And have not even these young governments been in some measure infected with the corruptions of European courts? Has there been no flattery, no bribery, no artifices practiced, to get into places of honor and profit, or carry a vote to serve a particular interest, without regard to right or wrong? Have our statesmen always acted with integrity? And every judge with impartiality, in the fear of God?
"In short, have all ranks of men showed regard to the divine commands, and joined to promote the Redeemer's kingdom and the public welfare? I wish we could more fully justify ourselves in all these respects. If such sins have not been so notorious among us as in older countries, we must, nevertheless, remember, that the sins of a people who have been remarkable for the profession of godliness, are more aggravated by all the advantages and favors they have enjoyed, and will receive more speedy and signal punishment; as God says of Israel: 'You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities'."
3) "Now, if it be possible for a nation to sin, it must be when it systematically violates the natural rights of a whole people. I propose to point out some evidences of God's retributive movement over this nation, as displayed in the matter of slavery... for a period of fifty years, on pleas of national peace, for sake of harmony and prosperity, the loyal and free states have declined to maintain the policy of liberty, and have permitted slavery to augment. 'Are not,' said our bribed statesmen, 'the Union and compromise better than all the issue of reformers; and commercial prosperity than God's law?' And when any eminent statesman, who has not of late uttered any such truism, spoke of God's law as the 'Higher Law', there was a howl from all the pulpits and forums in the land, and holy hands, in pious horror, were raised deprecatingly to the Constitution. What's the result? This war is the result. What's the penalty? Go to Sharpsburg, go to Virginia, in the neighbourhood of Washington, look into the swamps which line the Chickahominy, and the trenches filled with your sons, look at Kentucky and Missouri, where the land rocks and reels under the convulsions of the time, and read the assurances of peace. We are reaping what we have sown."
4) "...can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest."
In completely unrelated news, a lot of churchgoing American "conservatives" seem to have forgotten what authentic American Protestantism sounds like.
This? This is the long-awaited report on a brand-new hockey arena for Edmonton's downtown that has everyone panting and grabbing their spades to break ground? Well, of course it's not: it's merely a summary. There has been a study of requirements for a new arena by international sports-architecture giant HOK, but you can't see that, nor can you see the market research by Convention, Sports, and Leisure International. They "cannot be released due to the commercially competitive nature of their information on prospective facility sites and Oilers business information." But everything looks good, trust us!
Say, we're not going to let HOK actually build this arena after letting them advise us on the construction parameters, are we? Because that seems like it would be a conflict of interest.
I'm not too clear after reading the summary just what is wrong with the existing Rexall Place. I was looking forward to some clear public explanation of this, but all we've been given is a lot of wind about "downtown revitalization." (It's not the kind of revitalization that pays for itself, though: "Major civic facilities such as these do not generate sufficient returns on investment to attract 100 percent private development capital," HOK tells us, forcing one to wonder how other Canadian cities managed exactly that. "Incentives and participation from the public sector should be considered a necessary component of a financing plan.") There's a note on the "Financial Perspectives" page that says
Alternatives to a new facility are not zero cost. The status quo has a cost, driven by ongoing and escalating costs of regular facility maintenance and upgrades to Rexall Place. These costs are expected to reach into the tens of millions of dollars over the next 15 years. The cost of the status quo would also be reflected in lost opportunity costs to the citizens of Edmonton.
Set this "tens of millions of dollars over 15 years" against the upfront $450 million capital cost of the new facility, which doesn't include buying someplace to put the damn thing. How much does six acres smackdab in the middle of Edmonton go for these days? And won't this new arenaplex thingy require maintenance and occasional upgrades? Or will it be made of self-healing nanomachines and fairy dust?
Bonus surprise for the Alberta taxpayer:
Committee member Charlotte Robb said government contributions, combined with the $135 million from private sources, might combine to cover 60 per cent of the total cost. Robb said she believes senior governments "would be delighted" to contribute to a new arena. She said Calgary isn't far behind Edmonton in planning its new arena.
It's official, folks!—the 25-year-old Pengrowth Saddledome is in the crosshairs too. That's the expected life of a modern sports arena now: about a quarter-century. Most of them have been built by HOK, of course. There's no business model like being paid by your customers to declare their existing version of your product obsolete.
Here's my Monday morning National Post column about Magdi Allam, the Egyptian-Italian journalist who renounced Islam on Easter weekend and joined the Roman Catholic Church. And here's an editorial for Wednesday's paper about Jonathan and Patrick Roy.
A review of the Heppner-less Met simulcast of Tristan. Or, rather, Tetristan.
Crucial Layers of Editorial Oversight dep't: When I read that the Washington Post is apparently too timid to permit the acronym "MILF" to appear in its pages—not the phrase, the acronym—I immediately thought, "Ooh, Daniel Radosh isn't going to like this." It turns out the Post's TV writer likes it even less.
Another note concerning that "feasibility report" on a new Edmonton arena: locals may have missed the recent announcement that the obsolete, crumbling, cramped, technically inadequate Rexall Place is, despite everything, one of the planet's highest-traffic music venues. I was curious to see whether the much-touted report would address this fact. It does! Right on page 13!
Rexall Place, under Northlands’ management, is currently the third-busiest concert venue in Canada and 12th in the world. A new sports/entertainment facility will build on this success.
And how are we going to build on the success of Rexall Place? By tearing the fucker down! Sheer common sense, isn't it?
Let there be no doubt in your mind that the old Coliseum might escape the wrecking ball, by the way:
Should a new sports/entertainment facility move forward, the subcommittee assumed that the existing Rexall Place would not continue to operate. Under this circumstance, the City and Northlands will have to decide the best use of that land and facility, including its own potential neighbourhood redevelopment opportunity. This could, in turn, generate funding which could be used to support the new facility and/or support the rejuvenation of the 118 Avenue area.
Or it could just be something else we pour a mess of tax dollars into. Which reminds me: when we built an LRT station right next to the Coliseum in the '70s, did anyone come right out and say "This facility will essentially be abandoned by the city long before Helen Mirren stops taking her clothes off in movies"?
Edmonton Journal investigative-reporting legend David Staples is operating a "Fan's Notes"-type weblog about the Oilers this year. Here's an excerpt from an entry written after the team's Monday night firewagon victory against Minnesota:
Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano. OK, I saved the best until last here. They put on such a spectacular show, I spent much of the night in my head, trying to think up the perfect nickname for them.
The Flying Circus, because they are all such aces?
The Houdini Line, because what they do out there is unexpected and magic?
History is our great teacher, David. You remember the "Kid Line" that propelled the Oilers to the 1990 Stanley Cup? Martin Gélinas, Joe Murphy, Adam Graves. Their combined age in that amazing summer was 63. Kid line? More like old farts. If you lay Mini Magic (22), Gagner West (18), and Cogliano (19) end-to-end, their ages sum to a mere 59. You can do what you like with this theme; I'd go with something like "The Kindergarten Express". Or "Les Enfants Terribles".
Friday's National Post comes with a helping of nutritious libertarian breakfast: my column on why federal government failed and corporations succeeded when Hurricane Katrina hit. Reason's Michael Moynihan deserves a hat tip for this one, and you can read the original study online; Steven Horwitz's specific recommendations for disaster response are particularly important.
Supporters of a new downtown SuperHyperHockeyPlex for Edmonton will surely try to downplay this development in the debate. They're a disingenuous lot, in some cases shameless; it won't bother them that Rexall Place's second most important anchor tenant has essentially just stood up and said "You knock down Rexall and we're off to Calgary." But please, at least spare us any more talk of how brilliant the "communications strategy" pursued by the mayor and the pro-arena interests has been. Apparently none of these bright sparks thought to communicate with the CFR before the feasibility report was released. (And any communications strategy that's relying on Scott McKeen not to blow his cool and menstruate all over the city section like he did on Wednesday is destined for failure.)
I hasten to add that various quantitative estimates of "how much the Canadian Finals Rodeo contributes to Edmonton's economy" should be ignored. But the CFR's impact is, by any reckoning, enormous. Most buyers of Edmonton Oiler tickets come from Edmonton and the surrounding area; cash spent by them is merely moving from place to place within the metropolis. The CFR and the FarmFair add real money to Edmonton—money that comes from Calgary, and Rocky Mountain House, and Kindersley, Sask., and Texas and Wyoming and Nevada. For a whole week every year, the city is full of hundred-dollar hats and two-hundred-dollar shitkickers. Losing the CFR would devastate local businesses, and have an annual macro impact that you'd have to think would be equal to at least four or five Oiler home games.
You know what? I'm pretty close to 100% certain that the best thing on the menu at Taco Bell is the plain hard taco, the one that costs like a buck. I always get roped into buying something flashy with huge gobbets of cheese or beans as my "entrée" and having a couple of those little tacos on the side just to fill in the corners (my stomach has corners, little known fact). Naw, man. I've been fooling myself all these years. Everything I really need is in that little crunchy package. I'm having, like, a borderline spiritual awakening here. The food at Taco Bell gets worse as it gets more expensive. A perfect vision of hell is a Taco Bell menu item that cost $20.
Razor Reaugh introduces a radical third option in the NHL's touch/no-touch icing debate.