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Aside from that, how was the play
Listening just now to the Dallas-Anaheim hockey game, I was startled to hear a WBAP report suggesting that President Bush will be piloting a Navy aircraft to a "cable-assisted landing" onto the USS Abraham Lincoln tomorrow. Only part of my surprise was because of that mysterious phrase "cable-assisted". If you're landing a fixed-wing aircraft on a carrier deck, the "cable" has pretty much got to be a given, and yet I wouldn't call its function "assisting" the pilot, either. It's mandatory but it doesn't exactly make the job any easier. Is the idea behind the use of the term "cable-assisted" to minimize Bush's ability as a jet pilot for clueless listeners, or simply to reassure the American people that nothing could possibly go wrong? (And hey--how come nobody on WBAP has the slightest trace of a Texan accent...?)
CNN has a slightly more lucid account of tomorrow's proceedings. Perhaps I'm wrong in feeling a heavy Ford's Theater vibe here. Carrier landings aren't easy--hey, I'm no military expert, but this much I frigging know--and this whole thing smacks of a plan to inject a note of scintillating bravado into President Bush's Roman triumph. Let's hope nobody ends up as a stain on the deck.
Triumph and disaster
Mark Steyn's Thursday column on the SARS outbreak in Toronto gave me the singular experience of having to be persuaded to a position by a Mark Steyn column.
Toronto is the only SARS "hot zone" outside Asia. Of nearly 200 nations on the face of this Earth, Canada is one of only eight where SARS has killed, and currently ranks third, after China and Singapore, in the number of SARS deaths. Indeed, Canada had the highest SARS fatality rate in the world until one of two infected Filipinos died a few days ago--and according to its government she picked it up from the mother of her Toronto roommate.Steyn's answer is, Toronto doesn't have one: he makes circumstantial connections, powerfully convincing to a fellow critic of Canada's socialized medicine, which almost compel us to the conclusion that the Toronto health care system simply blew it. Yet of the other cities he mentions, were any actually presented with a case of SARS before the disease become the Movie of the Week? I feel at a loss to judge whether Toronto truly bungled the outbreak, or whether it just happened to have an elderly visitor return from the Metropole Hotel when other cities, by pure chance, didn't.
But I do have one question--if you're going to rattle off a list of Asianized Western cities, what about Vancouver? That city seems to have made early arrangements to confront SARS and suppressed the disease rather well: its Chinese population is about equal to Toronto's and it's a lot closer to Hong Kong by air, yet it has just four "probable" cases. If you had to guess where in the entire Western world SARS would escape into the population first, you'd probably choose Vancouver. It's the other shoe that didn't drop. Couldn't some defender of Canadian medicare use the Vancouver experience to write the mirror image of Steyn's column, and be just as convincing to those of socialist predisposition?
Hi there! Sorry I abandoned you there for a couple of days--I wouldn't dream of boring you with the explanation. I even missed the 100th anniversary of the Frank Slide, whose grimly humbling aftermath is still lying at the foot of Turtle Mountain, open to tourists with a sense of the macabre. Of the 76 people killed when the mountain's face fell on the town, an estimated 64 are still buried underneath a tidal wave of limestone (whose flow continues to puzzle geologists).
The incredulity in this Hill Times article is not exactly unfamiliar:
In Ralph Klein, Ottawa has the most Canada-centric premier Alberta is ever likely to elect. And Ottawa treats him as if he is some inebriated oaf with oil-stained jeans. If he suggests that there are concerns among some Albertans about their status in Canada, he gets a snotty lecture from Intergovernmental Minister Stéphane Dion--so condescending in tone that even Premier Klein responded that he wasn't going to be hectored by a junior minister in Ottawa who henceforth should communicate with his provincial equivalent. And, if Premier Klein writes a letter to U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci to express sympathy with and support for the coalition effort in Iraq, he gets a slap-down lecture from Deputy Prime Minister John Manley over federal primacy in foreign relations (and leaves one wondering why Ottawa had nothing to say about Premier Landry's vigorous rejection of Canadian participation in Iraq). And commentators appear surprised that the "firewall" concept for Alberta is getting a second look?
It's not the rhetoric that's news, it's the source: not Barry Cooper or Ted Morton, but David Jones, who "was the political minister counsellor at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa from 1992-96." In short, a Clinton-era U.S. diplomat is expressing astonishment that Western Canadian ill-feeling isn't much, much further advanced. "From a U.S. perspective, one puzzles over the durability of Canadian unity in the West, and more specifically its attraction for Alberta." It's a puzzle all right.
I just hope his pince-nez wasn't broken
In The Wind in the Willows, you will all remember, Mr. Badger's den is where the animals go when they are in a fix, or even if they don't come to him, he generally happens to hear of it and manages to mend everything. But to whom can Mr. Badger appeal when he has got himself in trouble? If he were to have, say, a maggot-infested rump wound obtained in a territorial fight? Well, in Somerset at least your man is Glen Cousquer, BSc, BVM&S, MRCVS. Late last year Dr. Cousquer completed and published a comprehensive study of badger wound presentation and treatment. He recommends hydrocolloid dressings, which are "surprisingly well tolerated" and allow recuperating badgers to nest in hay and sawdust. "I have only come across one badger who insisted on removing and eating the dressings," he writes. "This particular problem was resolved by overlaying a few strips of elastoplast over the hydrocolloid dressing and stapling these down--a 'no-nonsense solution' that proved very effective." I should think so!
Wild card or joker in the deck? Find out the answer at the hockey page. -11:07 pm, April 27
Orations and perorations
Since idle surfing has been eating up weblogging time lately, I might as well steer you to a couple of the links that were particularly engrossing. One is Bartleby.com's edition of The World's Famous Orations (1906), edited by none other than William Jennings Bryan. Interestingly, humility apparently obliged Bryan to leave out his own "Cross of Gold" speech, probably the most famous and influential American oration between the Gettysburg Address and the First World War. The other site is SydneyLine.com, Internet home of the historian Keith Windschuttle and of materials relating to the conservative Australian intellectual tradition from which he sprung. You can also view excerpts from the work of David Stove, the rationalist philosopher who has suddenly (and posthumously) become the most famous exponent of the Sydney Line.
Boil up the tar, break out the feathers
I've had a lot of e-mail about city slogans, but I don't really want to get into a whole thing about it, because Virginia Postrel already did two weeks on the subject down in Dallas, and anyway, these marketing guys want nothing more than for us to have a laugh at their expense and overlook their criminal arrogation of the money we've earned. They fully expect to be chided and mocked, and in their hearts they know it's a pretty acceptable alternative to what they deserve. Obviously the best thing Edmonton could really do for its international reputation is to reintroduce the pillory for people who waste public funds, particularly "marketing professionals". Can you imagine the instant worldwide admiration? Oh, certainly there's a hard core of nicey-niceys in every country who would recoil at the idea of reintroducing accountability into administration, and popular sentiment into justice; these are things we have been taught to live without. But for the most part people would be ashamed of not following suit, as most of us secretly are when some Muslim country chops the hand off a thief.
Have you noticed, incidentally, that the very word "thief" has become somewhat archaic? Who is referred to openly as a "thief" anymore? Young men who break into houses are now, at worst, "offenders", as though they'd farted in an enclosed space. Some sort of liberal impulse against "labelling" criminals has earned a stealthy, significant victory here, I think. But then a thief is merely someone who takes private property, and it would be hard to point to any firm sense in which this institution still exists in Canada. You can't defend what you own by means of deadly force; if it is taken, you had better forget about having the cops retrieve it; and if by some miracle the property is recovered, the person who took it is not at all likely to be "punished" in any meaningful way, though he will be made the subject of state attention in a milder and yet more sinister form: re-educated, psychologically probed, inducted into a demeaning array of "programs"--almost anything, really, except treated as a rational being who made a conscious choice to do evil and who must suffer negative consequences. Our lack of pillories is a pity even, perhaps especially, for the thieves.
But I was speaking of marketing experts... for more current examples of their handiwork, you could check out the Globe's Friday survey of their ideas for tackling the P.R. challenge of SARS in Toronto. Remember, marketing is as much art as science, so the ideas may contradict one another directly, and if some of them seem childishly simple (take out a newspaper ad explaining your position!), the fault is almost certainly your own. In other Toronto marketing devilry, major league baseball's Blue Jays, according to AP, are going to have their name and colours changed. Again--as a layman, it may seem puzzling to you that members of the marketing industry cannot inhale five consecutive times without mentioning "building the brand", yet at the same time, cannot resist constantly inventing new looks, logos, slogans, and names for companies and products, according to wholly transitory fashions. It's really too complicated to explain, unless you have the requisite commercial education, how the ceaseless readoption of new guises and disguises paradoxically creates public trust over time.
New on the hockey page: Dallas still favoured, Eastern Conference still stinks. -3:32 am, April 27
New on the hockey page: an essential ethnic ingredient for playoff success? -1:28 pm, April 25
It's right here, though there's no there there
EDMONTON - An exhaustive search costing about $200,000 to date has come up with five front-running candidates for Edmonton's new slogan, an Economic Development Edmonton official revealed Wednesday.
This staggering news arrives by the courtesy of the Edmonton Journal's Bill Mah. I can't decide which of these is the worst, can you? "Smart and soul"? Wasn't it Seinfeld who said that "smart" is the stupid person's word for "intelligent"? "Work, play and prosper"? Aside from the Vulcan tinge, this would look most suitable on the iron gate of a Chinese collective farm circa 1964. Jeez, we paid them $200,000 and they didn't even suggest Arbeit macht frei!
Obviously I made a big mistake not getting into this marketing thing. It only took me thirty seconds to improve on this shortlist with winners like "The Cleveland of the subarctic", and "I'm real cold: please kill me." Heck, for $200,000 I'd let them use "Colby Cosh rapes goats" as the official city slogan. But I'm really hoping they end up going with "Edmonton: still run by assholes."
Freak of nature
This is a hockey posting, sort of, but it also counts as "medical", so I'm putting it here. Tonight Jean-Sebastien Giguere, 25, the goalie for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, won the fourth-longest NHL game ever played. They went at it for six hours--we're talking about quintuple overtime here. Giguere is now 5-0 in the playoffs, having seen off the defending NHL champion Red Wings in four straight, including a triple-overtime win in Game One of that series. In a city that cared about hockey he'd already be a legend.
You know what's amazing about this? Giguere just about didn't make it into the NHL because he was physically incapable of playing long games. Dehydration is a given in hockey, as in any physically intense sport: any goaltender alive will drop a few pounds of pure moisture in a game, especially in a multiple overtime. But Giguere actually suffers from a strange disorder that puts him at greater risk of dehydration than normal humans. In the AHL, back in '97 and '98, trainers noticed Giguere was losing an average of ten pounds per start. One night he collapsed during the game and had to be rushed to the hospital to receive fluids intravenously: he was nineteen pounds below his pre-game weight.
The Calgary Flames' physicians--to the eventual benefit of the Ducks, who stole a franchise goalie from the Flambés for a second-round draft pick--solved the problem. They discovered that he couldn't absorb water properly because he took too much air, a medically preposterous amount of air, into his stomach with fluids. During games, Giguere has to drink gallons of a water/Gatorade mixture through a bottle specially fitted with a straw. His frequent removals of his goalie mask--a habit sometimes attributed to showmanship--are actually required to keep his head as cool as possible, so he won't sweat literally to death. He stopped forty consecutive shots tonight after the end of regulation, so I'd say we can consider the problem licked.
SARS on ice
There's been a lot of back-and-forth today about the World Health Organization's decision to recommend against "non-essential travel" to Toronto, thus placing the Centre of the Universe in the elite class of SARS death zones with Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Peking. You can view the transcript of the WHO press conference discussing the advisory, a CP wire story about the apoplectic response from Toronto officials, and Health Canada's reaction ("Health Canada does not support the WHO's position; it is safe to travel to Toronto").
How droll to hear Mayor Mel Lastman ranting about "the medical evidence before us"; Mel's epidemiological expertise was hitherto undisclosed to the world, but then, he reveals new hidden talents every day. I continue to believe that Toronto hospitals and public health officers have done a good job, on the whole, of containing the epidemic. Nonetheless we cannot, indeed, ignore the "medical evidence before us" that Toronto has provided the seeds of new outbreaks in other world centres and that there have been dismaying lapses in infection control there--the Burlington GO-Train nurse and the mysterious Mr. Belligerence. For the individual traveller Toronto is obviously still a safe place to visit, but avoiding large gatherings there is probably not a bad idea; and the WHO has no mandate or reason to protect the economy or the reputation of any individual city. Isn't that sort of the idea behind having a World Health Organization? Funny how Canadians love squishy institutions of global governance until one of them acts the least bit peremptory towards them.
It's all about oil! No, really
The Christian Science Monitor has a somewhat goofy article on the Chávez government's forced restructuring of Petroleos de Venezuela, the state-owned oil producer. In December PDVSA employees went on strike in an attempt to use the company's stranglehold on the Venezuelan economy to push Chávez out of power, or at least insulate a steadily improving business culture from the effects of his quaint-yet-thuggish leftism. Chávez's response?--he sent in the army. (Hey there, Canadian and American leftists, where's the outrage?) PDVSA is now being made a showpiece of utopian socialism.
At the gleaming offices of [PDVSA], a corporate revolution is under way. Nine-to-fivers have come to think of themselves as patriots. Senior managers now eat at the same cafeteria tables as secretaries. And former soldiers have left the battlefield for the boardroom. ...What was widely regarded as a world-class energy company before the strike has a new philosophy: to help the poor. And a new corporate culture is gradually taking shape, injected with the president's particular brand of leftist ideology.May I be pardoned for thinking that there is a disturbing Soviet Life kinda quality to David Buchbinder's reporting here? "Volunteerism is up"??? Yeah, sending soldiers to run a company and fire suspected class enemies will have that ostensive effect, won't it? An unnamed army commander-turned-energy exec is quoted as saying "We're here to establish a beachhead, move in, and clean the place up. When we are finished... we will move on." Why yes I will bring hot dogs to the company picnic, sir!
The new management claims to have found proof of massive waste by the old regime. This is a convenient propaganda stroke--if you're trying to "socialize" an industry that has already been nationalized, of course you can find evidence of sloth and malfeasance by the Bad Old Managers. The question is not whether PDVSA was wasting more money before than it will now, but whether it can continue to sustain past levels of revenue generation. Even on PDVSA's own numbers--whose accuracy the striking employees have continually questioned--production capacity is off. Foreign analysts have no faith that replacement workers have the technical know-how to restart more complex refining and gas-injection recovery units shut down during the strike, though of course that could just be their political bias talking.
But at least one foreign government has proven willing to assist Chávez with his oil revolution: the U.S. Department of State signed an agreement in late March to start accepting Venezuelan-produced oil for the purpose of topping up its national Strategic Petroleum Reserve (though I can't find out from the Web whether any has been paid for and delivered yet). Of course, this is a pure matter of national interest; the U.S. has been feeling a supply pinch, not least because of the Venezuelan strikes, and before the Iraq war wrapped so fast, American bureaucrats were eyeing the SPR nervously.
[UPDATE, 6:18 pm: Reader Michael Homburger recommends the Caracas Chronicles for weblog coverage of Venezuelan politics and PDVSA. The site promises, and delivers, "the inside scoop on a society that's coming apart at the seams".]
But will she change her surname to Neige?
The clever crew at Tapped believes it has caught out the Republican Club for Growth in a comical error:
Steve Moore's dippy-but-well-funded supply-side PAC is running ads against moderate Republicans George Voinovich of Ohio and Olympia Snowe of Maine, with a narrator explaining that opposition to George W. Bush's tax cut is the same as French opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A Club for Growth press release even describes the two senators as "Franco Republicans." ...The Portland Press-Herald points out that, in fact, thousands of Snowe's constituents are, literally, Franco-Americans--American citizens of French ancestry--and that it can only help her to be considered one of them. Looks like Moore's silly attack may backfire.
The Portland Press-Herald is actually being somewhat disingenuous, and Tapped was either too dumb to notice, or hoping its readers were. The vast, vast, vast majority of those "Franco-Americans" in Maine will have had something like a three-hundred-year stopover in a little country called Canada. The amount of ethnic fellow-feeling between the Canadian French and the French French is probably, when you complete the math, a smidgen below zero. One must concede the potential existence of some Mainiacs--two? Three?--whose families have a century behind them in the U.S., and a couple more centuries behind them in Canada, but who would nevertheless take personally a little French-bashing by the Club for Growth. But as "silly attacks" which "may backfire" go, I honestly think Tapped has given us a better example here than the one they cite.
Great Scottish physicists
Memos to my search-engine-referred visitors:
· To the guy (or gal) who searched for Mike Weir mormon bio: no, he's not a Mormon.
· To the guy (o.g.) who searched for Colby Cosh foreign legion: you probably want this entry, but hurry! It's going to move to a separate March 2003 page soon!
· To the guy who searched for marie currie [sic] along with a bunch of other search terms: damn, ain't having a public-school education a bitch sometimes?
The hockey page has been updated with results from the operatic ending of the first round. Take heart, fans of the main page: from here on out there will be more nights off from serious hockey weblogging. -12:25 am, April 23
All filler, no killer
I've been avoiding mentioning that I went to see Anger Management this weekend... the defence I've been testing out is "Yeah, well, you have a look at the movie listings: they don't actually make very many unshitty movies nowadays, you know, and A Mighty Wind isn't playing here yet." This defence is both true and valid, but it won't convince anyone who's determined to feel contempt. Unfortunately Anger Management is a little slicker and less self-consciously preposterous than Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore, to its detriment. As surely as those other movies, it was written in an afternoon, but it's got less of the necessary hysterical quality.
It's like most Hollywood movies now, insofar as if you pursued the full implications of its existence, you could easily be driven to outright, serious, Tim McVeigh nihilism. But then again, there is that scene on the airplane--the one they showed in the trailer, the one around which the movie was certainly written, and the one which probably convinced Jack Nicholson to take part in what is otherwise such a horrendous failure. This isn't a coincidence: trailers are now central to moviegoing existence and cinema consumerism. Hollywood had better be careful, because movies are now just wraparound packaging for trailers (you really think The Matrix Reloaded is going to be as good as its own trailer? Sucker), and in the long run it's going to put them in the same vulnerable position in which the record industry found itself when compact discs started to be, as a matter of form and custom, one or two hit singles surrounded by 55 minutes of dreck.
Or, for that matter, "fine"
Alexandra at Out of Lascaux has located a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel piece about one of the two official American war artists in Iraq. As combat artist and art historian Avery Chenoweth points out in the story, "Curators now look at war art as beneath the dignity of fine art." Any joke I could make here about present-day museum curators and "dignity" would be superfluous.
New on the hockey page--do I take a flyer on the Flyers or be-leaf in the Leafs? - 5:06 pm, April 21
Oh dear. It seems even mentioning the possibility of an anti-Dave Matthews rally has started the ball rolling. If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve...
I'm glad Sam Mikes is going to subscribe to the Citizens Centre Report on the grounds that he saw the new format and liked it, rather than just because I work there. He's got a funny anecdote about how the magazine is perceived in Canuckistan. I think, or hope, I can announce that the magazine is now (a) going monthly, (b) running twice as long, and (c) selling for a new low annual price. In short, if you subscribe now, you'll get about the same amount of copy for quite a lot less than you used to pay. The monthly Report necessarily won't be quite as newsy: it's always existed in a sort of limbo between a Newsweek/Maclean's model and a National Review/Reason model, and under the new regime it will shift--perhaps almost imperceptibly--a little further toward the latter.
A.C. Douglas has sent e-mail suggesting that the looting of Mesopotamian antiquities during the fall of Baghdad was foreseen by concerned experts, contrary to what I suggested, in passing, in an earlier entry. This story is actually moving fairly quickly: Kaus is all over it (scroll down to "They got the memo").
Annals of health
New in Canada's Medical Post: developing data on men and Botox.
Men may require at least twice as much injected Botox as women to achieve the same visible effect, a Canadian researcher told the recent annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Why do we care what Alistair Carruthers says about Botox? As longtime CC.com readers may recall, he and his wife Jean (an ophthalmic surgeon) invented it: together they were the first to experiment with the cosmetic use of botulinum toxin.
The Medical Post, as a newspaper for physicians, often contains somewhat more candid expressions on scientific controversies than can be found in the lay press. The latest issue also contains word of surprisingly strong concerns about the emerging case-definition of SARS.
[T]he head of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg isn't convinced coronavirus is the cause of SARS, and other Canadians involved in SARS research suggested the CDC move would be premature.
Anybody know where Pierre Bourque's got to? His page was replaced by a "The site you are attempting to access has relocated" message yesterday afternoon and still isn't back. I do hope he kept up with his domain-registry fees.
They're just not using enough lemon, and that's wrong
You know, I did see Martha Burk's pre-Masters protest on CNN, but I kind of shrugged it off as the time; I was at a friend's place and I think we were rewinding a tape of some Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes. CNN had been candid about the protest's amazingly low turnout, which, incidentally, will probably close off the remarkable media access Burk has enjoyed; promising revolution and failing to deliver even a decent riot is a trick that will win her no love from news producers and editors. The CNN announcer intoned solemnly that about 30 people were on hand to persuade the public of the great eternal principle that male-only private clubs are a social cancer. Mark Steyn, writing about the subject on Thursday, pegged the turnout at 40 in a show of graciousness toward the fair sex.
What struck me later was, I saw it on CNN. The implications are spine-tingling, no? You can organize a protest consisting of 30 or 40 people, and you'll get on CNN. If I called in some markers and maybe bought a few kegs of beer, I could get three dozen people to show up at a protest against just about anything. Should I lay siege to the offices of Citizens Centre Report, demanding a higher salary? Or should I issue a manifesto denouncing the continuing failure of gorgeous, morally casual young women to throw themselves at magazine editors? Or maybe I could just organize a protest against the existence of the Dave Matthews Band--but that one might take on a life of its own, and I don't want to do any real work. My true fear is that the strategy would succeed, and pretty soon CNN's programming day would be consumed with footage of daily microprotests from around the world. "Tonight on CNN: Cuba acquires thermonuclear weapons and former President Gerald Ford is convicted of first-degree murder--but first we go to Olathe, Kan., to look at the controversy surrounding the 'insufficient tangyness' of the hollandaise at the local Denny's."
On the hockey page: a brief, depressed note before bedtime. -3:52 am, April 20
Empire and anti-empire
These stolen and destroyed "Iraqi" antiquities (please, ladies and germs, they're Mesopotamian) are certainly a thorny issue, aren't they? What can we say without fear of credible contradiction? Clearly the U.S. bungled this aspect of the occupation; clearly the mass destruction of the Mesopotamian physical heritage is not a trivial issue, and its prevention ought to have been a priority for the occupier; and clearly this is one of those unintended consequences of war which should figure into equations of belligerence in advance, somehow.
Yet, as I recall, the fears expressed in advance for antiquities in Iraq revolved almost entirely around their potential destruction by American bombs. No war opponent I know of predicted in advance what proved to be the case: that the Iraqis themselves were the main threat. I rather think that if someone had piped up and said "Well, if civil society undergoes a temporary collapse in Baghdad, the noble Iraqi people are going to desecrate their own national museum like children making short work of a candy store", he would have been greeted with complaints of preposterous cultural insensitivity. It is somewhat fair, but not entirely fair, to argue that the organizers of the occupation should have foreseen what the collective intelligence of the weblog world and the media failed to. [UPDATE, April 21: I still think the point made in the last sentence is sort of valid, but we are now learning about advance warnings of precisely this sort: go here for more.]
And to use the looting as a pretext for declaring the war invalid, post facto, on cost-benefit grounds...? I have a certain amount of sympathy for this: I'm one of those people who would save the Rembrandt from the burning house and leave the old lady behind. But there is a problem with this, namely that the argument itself is inseparable from the premises of soft imperialism. As I say, no one seems to have stood up and said, exactly, that "We cannot depose Saddam because the resulting period of mild anarchy will involve the sack of the National Museum." But if they had, the statement would have been logically equivalent, as I see it, to saying "Well, we're stuck: notwithstanding the other elements of the casus belli, we have to leave the Iraqi people in the hands of a torturer because he's holding the legacy of Mesopotamia hostage." On this premise, it would be the West's moral responsibility not to assist in a purely internal uprising against Saddam, which almost certainly would have had the same effect. Perhaps we would even be obliged, by our concern for the human past, to offer active support to Saddam. If we hadn't, and Saddam had been overthrown by his own people with consequent damage to the museum's inventory, wouldn't this be a similar sin of omission to that which Rumsfeld, Cheney, and company are now being accused of? In that case, should we not now be hearing the same axe-grinding from various Bushophobes?
The difficulty is that it is quasi-imperialist, in itself, to postulate (1) that the safety of foreign antiquities should be a concern in foreign-policy decisions, and (2) that very ancient antiquities are in some regard the property of the species, and not a single nation. The principle is conceded at the start of the argument. Are you going to venture that we should be concerned with protecting antiquities, but not concerned with the effects on the Iraqis' dignity, life, and prosperity of leaving Saddam in power? It would take considerable courage to detail and defend such a cognitive disjunction; I don't mean to dismiss it, only to point out that no one has really come close to grappling with it, as far as I've seen (which isn't much, honestly, as busy as I've been this past week).
If we are to be actuated in foreign policy by an acute concern for human heritage, after all, our model and guide must inevitably be--yes, the British Empire, which, by such a standard, would easily qualify as the political arrangement that has contributed the most to human good. The British dispersed legions, almost literally, of classically-educated amateur historians, linguists, archaeologists, and--dread word--Orientalists over two hemispheres. They preserved languages which have no indigenous written form, sent trillions of dollars' worth of distinguished objets home to the relative safety of the British Museum, subjected arcane tribal gradations to objective analysis and recorded their details as part of their quotidian work. Of course, American society is not now structured to undertake that sort of project. In Britain, it required generations of self-conscious obsession with education, of routinely turning geniuses into schoolmasters because that was deemed the most important work for them, before Empire could be conducted with anything resembling benignity and wisdom. These strange new American "anti-imperialists", who find themselves accusing the Bush administration of failing to take up The White Man's Burden with sufficient alacrity and efficiency, have long years of work ahead of them.
A failure of imagination
A note about fast food from Charles Curtis of the great state of Maine:
When I eat fast food (which is very rarely, maybe five or six times a year), I'm not interested in a product that tries to imitate real food. I want pure, unadulterated nastiness. Lots of fat, sodium and fake beef. Cheap and fast.There's a certain scent of truth here, but Charles hurts his case, don't you think, by reminding us at the end there that he lives in a place where he can get fresh seafood from a stand or a strip mall? Basic message: eating burger-chain fast food is a sign of self-hatred if you're ten minutes away from a fresh oyster sandwich or a pile of crab cakes. File under "No Shit, Sherlock"?
Forbes dot com
Freelance writer Daniel Forbes--yet another ColbyCosh.com reader with the first name "Daniel" and a Scots surname--has an article in Progressive Review about the weird prescience exhibited during the Iraq campaign by the website IraqWar.ru. It appears probable that the site was supplied with information, including intercepts of U.S. communications, from high-level Russian intelligence officers. I'll let you read the piece to hear the theories on why that might have happened. I'm glad Dan gave me another opportunity to mention him, because he wrote the famous Wired News piece on The Agonist, and I don't think I mentioned his name at the time, which is just plain lazy.
Proof of life
Whew! Finally finished that assignment at work. Because of the short deadline and the heavy dose of leaden leftist lit, researching and writing it was extremely unpleasant. Not least because it's probably going to need Procrustean editing. In fact, I think that process has already begun. If any of you happen to have the May issue lying around, and you see a sentence like this above my byline--
Certainly hardly anyone ever considers reintroducing liquor prohibition, but it is an idea we are reluctant to call naïve.
--just keep in mind that I didn't write "naïve". I wrote "stupid". Notice I'm not coming right out and calling our ancestors stupid--in print, that is, I'm not. As I've said before here, I believe the First World War took a heavy toll in terms of day-to-day reasoning skills, simple IQ, on Western societies generally. Liquor prohibition is a good quick proof. [You mean as in "120 proof"? - ed.]
The sky is falling
Am I the only one slightly troubled by the Globe and Mail's Tuesday headline "SARS starts to fell young, healthy"? The pretext for the story is a cluster of nine deaths in a single day in Hong Kong. Previously the disease hadn't killed anyone under about 40 who wasn't a sufferer of chronic illness. On the 14th, nine people died in HK, including three who don't fit that pattern: three women aged 32, 34, and 37. This is troubling--but as a warrant for suggesting that the nature of SARS has changed, and that it is now going to "start" ravaging people in their 20s and 30s, it's statistically pretty thin. We now have HK Health Department reports from the two days which followed the bad one:
This is the more usual pattern of mortality from the disease. It just seemed to me that a newspaper in a paranoid city might want to think twice about reaching for the most panic-inducing headline possible under the circumstances. I'd like to hear more about the chlamydia correlation Chinese researchers supposedly found, which is given an inaccurate summary here: as I understand it, the Chinese never suggested that C. pneumoniae was causing SARS, merely that it may somehow compound the effect of the true causative pathogen (which is now known to be the mutant coronavirus everyone's been looking at).
Hockey page: the second-round picture clarifies. -1:36 pm, April 17
Ready, aye, ready
I trust that Canadian women are outraged by Sheila Copps' abominable political ploy yesterday--outraged and a bit puzzled by Sheila's defiant assertion that "Canada is ready for a female prime minister", seeing as Canada has already had a female prime minister.
What Manley said on Monday was "I think it's great that Sheila's in [the Liberal leadership race], but I don't think anyone seriously considers her to be a contender for the job of prime minister." There was no codicil to the effect of "...because she's a broad." Nonetheless, Copps went nuts on the radio the next day. "The comments that were made just illustrate how we need to break through that old boys' glass ceiling... a new generation of leadership should not be restricted to one gender." Even if you're a Copps supporter--perhaps especially if you're a Copps supporter--you should be mortally offended by the idea, stated here all but explicitly, that any criticism or dismissal of Copps is ipso facto sexist. If that's the case, then we're morally obligated to support her because she's a fragile, beleaguered woman--and that's closer to a Victorian, chained-to-the-pedestal view of the sexes than any statement ever uttered by a member of a supposed right-wing party. I'll continue to extend women the dignity of judging Copps on the content of her character, thanks. Though when you apply that test it's suddenly very apparent why she's opposed to it.
Surely some mistake
"Dammit, Corporal, when I said 'run those cars over', I meant run them over to headquarters, not run them over with a tank."
Scribble, scribble, scribble
Having been generally kind of AWOL, I suppose I should explain that I got hit with a last-minute assignment at work and I've been ploughing through stupefyingly turgid material on the history of various leftist movements in Canada. Also, I've been reading Gibbon, one of the Perfect Masters of our language, to cleanse my palate. He makes one wish one could regard one's own times with the skepticism, detachment, and serenity with which he regards late Rome. Occasionally a rude parallel with our own times does break the spell, but for the most part Gibbon is one of the greatest pleasures available to a reader of English. And you can keep De Imperatoribus Romanis close to hand if you don't trust him on the details.
A technical note: since I am at the office, amongst the aforementioned books, and not at home, near my Big Spreadsheet, it will be a while before I can properly update the hockey page. However, I don't need Excel to tell you that Detroit's chances of winning the Stanley Cup are now exactly 0%! Congratulations to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, who, by defeating the defending Stanley Cup champions in a 4-0 first-round sweep, have just crossed the line from grim corporate joke to scrappy, mythic assemblage. Is that town on a roll or what?
Here there be monsters
I realize it's dangerous to ask you a hockey question, but could you explain to us American naifs the advantage of shooting left-handed?
I swear to God, a real reader asked this question by e-mail. Since no one wants to leave this subject behind more than me, I'll try to keep the answer short. Shooting left-handed is only an advantage if you're a natural right-hander, and the advantage subsists in pretty much every phase of the game except the actual shooting of the puck. If you're right-handed in the brain, and you hold the stick left-handed, your stronger hand is up high on the stick, and there are a lot of plays which involve controlling the stick with that one hand at the knob end--holding off an aggressive defender (or punching him in the head) while carrying or freezing the puck, for example. Or pokechecking (which, for the untutored, is just what it sounds like--quickly jabbing your stick at a puck being held by an opponent). Or sweeping your stick blade back and forth in a big arc while on the penalty-kill. Watch a hockey game on ESPN sometime and you'll probably see how it works quicker than I can explain it.
The tradeoff from shooting left-handed is that your weaker hand is lower down on the stick, providing the power on a slapshot. But the tradeoff isn't necessarily that dramatic: Mickey Mantle hit plenty of home runs from both sides of the plate. And for an elite forward--which is what nearly every child imagines himself growing up to be, and what every hockey parent imagines his child growing up to be--puckhandling is vastly more important than having five extra miles an hour on your slapshot.
Separation--close but not touching
Now this is an interesting development. First, the text:
Two years ago, a group of prominent Alberta conservatives--including Stephen Harper, now leader of the Canadian Alliance--sent [Premier Ralph] Klein a letter recommending several measures amounting to putting an economic and political firewall around the province.To deal with the last paragraph first, Premier Klein doesn't have to use separation as a bargaining chip with Ottawa as long as he can show Ottawa that a large minority of his party, perhaps a majority, is willing to consider it. The bargaining chip is that Ralph is willing to defend federalism to Albertans, and take a certain amount of crap for it, as he did at the convention--but if Ottawa doesn't do more to make federalism defensible, Ralph cannot guarantee the happy federalist character of his eventual successor.
The "Alberta Agenda" was put forward by the Calgary mafia that, at the time, included Stephen Harper--now Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Harper, having been drafted more or less forcibly into a job he shows little taste for, is now in a bargaining position similar to Ralph's. This is itself a bit odd, as Ralph is a Liberal-style powermonger down to his boots, a secret admirer, one may be certain, of Pierre Trudeau. Harper is, at heart, a Hayekian intellectual who deplores every detail of the last 35 years of Canadian history. Nonetheless he has agreed to participate in the federal state on its own terms, perhaps on the ground that it is well to have one sensible man in Parliament in the event of a major crisis.
The Agenda was a sort of café defence strategy for Alberta-in-Canada, but the version people should probably really be keeping their eye on is Ted Morton's. In recent months Morton, a U of C political scientist and charter member of the Calgary mafia, has set out on his own, conducting a quiet tour of the rural areas that control Alberta politics through the medium of the Conservative Party. The original Alberta Agenda was basically a talking-points memo, a manifesto dictated to the newspapers and written solely for their benefit. Morton's scheme is (a) broader, (b) more radical, and (c) being sold directly to the voters, far from the eyes of the national media. The key idea is that Alberta must abandon its futile pleading for procedural change, like Senate reform, and start acquiring real powers parallel to, and to be bent to the same purposes as, Quebec's. Moreover, Morton sees Quebec as being a potential ally in this project. He said this in a March 7 lecture that he's been reprising for various audiences since:
After 25 years of working for reforms, Western Canada is further from our goals than we were when we started. The gap between Western Canada's economic contribution to Confederation and our political influence is growing, not shrinking. This means that the tactics of past 25 years have not worked--and, I shall argue, will not work. Ontario and Quebec are not, out of the goodness of their hearts, going to consent to changes to an institutional status quo that privileges their interests. That is not how politics works. Central Canadian elites will only become interested in Senate reform and other institutional changes when they come to see these reforms as the lesser of two evils--that is, as preferable to an alternative that is even less in Central Canada's self-interest. The challenge for the next generation of Western Canadian leaders is to construct such an alternative.Notice the accurate implied forecast about the outcome of the Quebec election--which Morton was quoted, in the Calgary Herald, as approving. I can't say Jean Charest strikes me as a very promising partner in such a project, but it's funny how he started sounding the right notes immediately.
The full text of Morton's March 7 lecture is online. It provides a useful summary of Western grievances and sets out the much more ambitious Morton "Plan B" which contains, but goes well beyond, the Alberta Agenda. Morton is careful to disavow, even denounce, separatism; but I do not think that, like Klein, he would discard the "bargaining chip" before the poker game started. By mentioning Quebec's example he implicitly puts the chip on the table; and when he quietly talks of presenting "the lesser of two evils" to central Canada, the subtext is apparent.
To whatever end, Morton is working to cement the real political constituency he already possesses, to some degree, as an elected "Senator-in-Waiting" (one the Chretien government refuses to recognize, despite the precedent Mulroney set by appointing election winner Stan Waters in 1990). Like Harper, he doesn't really want power for its own sake; his ideas are all open to friendly co-option by people who really control votes and money. When you see the headline "Klein To Consider 'Firewall' Ideas" you should realize that that process may already be underway. I think that, at the very least, Morton is well positioned to become the largest intellectual influence on the Alberta Conservatives. Not that this is hard--he would, after all, also be the first intellectual influence on the Alberta Conservatives, with the honourable exception of Sir Roger Douglas.
New entry on the hockey page as the Stars draw even with the Oilers. -11:11 pm, April 15
The left-handed gun
Just in case you haven't got your fill of fun facts about handedness in golf and hockey: on a tip from Daniel Clark I discovered that fully 30% of Canadian golfers swing left-handed, an inordinately high number to say the least. This would certainly be because young Canadian boys are strongly encouraged to shoot the puck left-handed in hockey, and they adapt the technique later when they pick up golf clubs for the first time. Things may well work the other way round in the United States: apparently 70% of American hockey players shoot the puck right-handed. Incidentally, when Mike Weir wants to impress a crowd at some friendly event, he is said to enjoy turning around and banging out 240-yd. drives right-handed, just for giggles.
Anchored down in anchorage
I finally tried David Janes' convenient household tip for overcoming busted Blogspot permalinks. And it works! You have to roll your mouse over the permalink symbol and eyeball the destination URL, which will be something like:
As you can see, that link doesn't work, and it immediately redirects to a "Not Found" page--for the duration of the continuing Blogspot crisis, anyway. (Is everybody still terribly excited about that Google-Pyra deal? Good, good.) But Janes advises--and, indeed, I ought to have seen--that you can use the page anchor to link to the post directly, like so:
Ta-da! As David notes, "The only problem is that this link will break after the link scrolls off the main page. Like some other bloggers." A hit, a very palpable hit. But then ColbyCosh.com doesn't own the world's largest server farm.
When Dad gets out
I'm pretty busy! But there's reader mail on the hockey page, or if you don't go in for that sort of thing, you could go check out Corrections Canada's new cartoon for children of incarcerated fathers.
The voice of poverty
Sarah sticks up for McDonald's on the entirely spurious ground of cost in an April 12 entry.
Back when I lived on the university campus, all I had near me was Wendy's, and I had to spend nigh on eight dollars to get myself a decent, filling meal. At McDonald's I've never had to spend more than five. It's a consideration to some people.
Curiously, after hitting me with those italics, she goes on to point out--to a man who currently does not even own a car, you understand--that McDonald's burgers are easier to eat while driving. Well, granted, I suppose: but it so happens that the Wendy's Super Value Menu is one of the most widely imitated fast-food innovations of the past decade. When I want to save money, I go get myself a baked potato and a cup of chili from Wendy's for about three bucks. Or, I go to Taco Hell, where you can get n Chili Cheese Burritos for n times about ninety cents. At least you could when I was living on campus and trying to make my last twenty bucks stretch out over four days.
In praise of socialized medicine
Latest SARS mortality figures in affected countries, from this morning's World Health Organization update:
Country Cases Deaths Canada 100 13 China 1,418 64 Hong Kong 1,190 47 Singapore 158 12 U.S.A. 174 0
We're number one! We're number one! Er, in death rate, that is... Unfortunately, I cannot in good conscience just leave the numbers there as a sly indictment of the World's Finest Healthcare System™. With the diagnostic techniques available to Canadian doctors, we should have fewer dubious cases in the left-hand column, which includes some questionable "probables" in all countries. That would tend to raise the death rate for Canada--as would the rightward-skewed age demographics of the communities hit by the disease here. In Hong Kong, it spread in a hotel; in Canada the most important locus of initial infection was the Scarborough Grace Hospital. In a sad development whose details are only now being reported, a Filipino-based group of charismatic Catholics is suffering a sub-outbreak.
If you're interested, the hockey page has been updated.
He must be a genius, he's been around forever
It appears that Jean Charest is steamrollering toward a majority government in Quebec--which, on the whole, is good news for Quebeckers, so it's a little hard to begrudge them their votes for a man whose continued political survival is frankly mystifying. Memo to Mario Dumont: this proves that if you hang around long enough, eventually they have to elect you. Things are reportedly pretty grim at ADQ HQ. Dumont needs to reorient his infantry: they're agonizing over dropping from about a 25% substantive peak in the polls to 19% at the ballot, and seemingly not considering just how rare it is for a party to treble its popular support in one election cycle. But who can blame them?--it's the media's job to act as a repository of political memory, and newspapers and talking heads regard two-year-old events as though they were priestly power struggles atop the ziggurat of Ur. Mario's a winner who will be universally cast, tomorrow morning, as a loser.
This man is schizoid or my name's not Napoleon Bonaparte
(Link via Volokh) Just when you think you can trust psychiatrists--only kidding; I'd never trust them--along comes a guy like Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, an entirely sane mob boss who was diagnosed as schizophrenic by 34 different doctors over a period of seven years. Hey, one "doctor" can make a mistake, and that mistake might even be repeated by a second doctor, and a third. But 34??? Doesn't this start to make one's discipline look a bit less like a profession and a bit more like a conspiracy? Gigante, one of the most famous suspected malingerers in the history of psychiatry, was seen by a supposed leading expert in the subject of psychiatric malingering--and the guy still got taken in. This is something worth remembering when we're presented with policy recommendations by psychiatrists, especially the ones who suggest--and some do--that psychoactive drugs should be pre-emptively prescribed to adolescents who show vague biological indications of latent schizophrenia. Hey, fellas, learn to diagnose the real, full-blown thing first, then we'll turn you loose in the classroom, OK?
Oilers 3, Dallas 2: postmortem now on the hockey page. -1:47 am, April 14
Here's one that arose out of a chat with the Tumbleweed. She asked me, and I didn't know the answer to, a question that's probably nagging at a lot of you: why does Mike Weir live in Utah? Is he a Mormon? What's up with that?
Weir's performance at the 1986 U.S. Junior championship attracted the attention of Karl Tucker, Brigham Young University's golf coach. As Joe Scanlon wrote in a July 2001 Ottawa Citizen piece:
A Mormon university may have seemed a strange place for a boy from a Roman Catholic school but Weir immediately liked Tucker and what he heard about Brigham Young. A visit to Utah convinced him. Tucker, too, was satisfied. He told Tim Campbell and Scott Morrison, the authors of On Course With Mike Weir, that when recruiting he looked at a player's overall attitude to life. By then several other university coaches had approached Weir and his parents but he had chosen Utah. He decided the atmosphere more than made up for the fact he would be an outsider--he was left out of some religious activities--and the fact that there would be no drinking on campus. Rich and Rowie were relieved their son would be playing at such a strict university.
Weir graduated from BYU as a golf All-American and then spent all that time in the golfing wilderness that you're going to hear about over the next couple days. Fine, but why did he go back to Utah? One big reason: Weir suffers from horrendous allergies that are mollified by the desert climate. "He had an especially difficult time in Texas and still runs into problems when his eyes water and his nose runs," Scanlon wrote. "He never talks about it--it's not his style to offer excuses." That's right, folks: your 2003 Masters champion is left-handed and Canadian... and vegetation makes him physically ill.
The reason there are so few left-handed golfers is because most people start playing using a borrowed set of clubs, which are almost always right-handed. Ben Hogan, for instance, was left-handed. It doesn't seem to matter much which way you start off but you have apparently have to stay that way. Mickelson is a right-hander. He swings left-handed because when his father was hitting plastic balls in the backyard, 18-month-old Phil kept hanging around wanting to hit some too. Dad needed a place to plant the toddler where he wouldn't brain him, so he stuck Phil right in front of him and had him mirror his swing.And then had to buy left-handed clubs for the next 18 years--doh! Here's an interesting article on how handedness pans out in hockey. I'm a right-hander who learned to shoot right-handed (a reverse Mickelson, if you like) while messing around in the driveway; this made borrowing sticks for road hockey damn near impossible. Often I had to play with the stick turned the wrong way; more usually I just played net, since I owned a catcher's mitt and decent hand-eye coordination anyway.
Hockey, I think, is partly responsible for the fatal distraction of a lot of young Canadian golfers; if Mike Weir had grown to be six feet tall, he'd have unquestionably been a hockey player. And don't forget that "going golfing" has a negative connotation in this country, signifying a failure to qualify for the NHL playoffs...
Nine to play at the Masters and the left-handed Canadian is in the lead. Shurely shome mishtake? No Canadian has ever won a major golf tournament. Everybody I talk to this weekend in Canada--men, women--seems to be watching this. I must say Weir's dressed handsomely, like Gary Player flipped horizontally in Photoshop. Some people expect him to blow up, not realizing how Fonzarellic his cool was in the two tour wins earlier this year. So far he's having that classic Masters last round where everybody melts down around you. What Weir's play makes me wonder is why left-handers were so late in appearing in pro golf. Basically the southpaw plays a different course than everyone else, so you'd think the best southpaw should win an inordinate number of tournaments, if anything... Well, let's go see what will happen.
Going off the rails on a gravy train
Well, one guy has found a reason to keep going to McDonald's. Paul e-mails:
The only thing I go for now is the tartar sauce--yes, I'm one of the small percentage of demented Americans who LOVE tartar sauce and/or mayonnaise on their french fries.God, this praise is sadder than my criticism of McDonald's, isn't it? I was expecting to hear from some fans of McDonald's fries, which used to be beloved of even relative sophisticates. Myself, I'm not a big French-fry fan, and this is another area in which there are arguably better products--like Arby's curly fries, which you can get with horseradish--on offer now. (You can get a whole baked potato from Wendy's.) Moreover, in Canada the fry issue is complicated by our evolution to the higher existential plane of poutine. No fast-food chain has yet gotten poutine right, but if you're in the mood for a mucilaginous imitation, Harvey's offers the product with the least unfortunate cheese, and A&W produces a gravy with recognizable beef taste. Even before poutine became popular outside of Quebec, for years I used to wonder why, in Canada, McD's never offered gravy for its fries: it can't be because there is any shortage of spare beef fat in a McDonald's kitchen. But the chain's still-experimental poutine shows why. Whatever that brown stuff is, it ain't gravy.
Outside looking in
Reader Glenn Thomson points to a recent backdating of the origin of the word "Anglosphere". Enh... what is it that bugs me about this word? It seems to centre on a potential locus of pomposity in that suffix "-sphere", but maybe I'm having an attack of Scottish nationalist sensitivity. Or am I just wondering how other former British colonies like India, Singapore, and Hong Kong fell out of this "sphere"? Or am I just worried that someone will notice that the "Anglo" elements--individual liberty, respect for private property, free expression, monarchist sentiment, resistance to revolutionary change, equality before the law--have been ectomied out of Canadian politics over forty years of popular anaesthesia? If there is such a thing as an "Anglosphere" I'm not sure we qualify anymore.
Hockey-friendly readers can find the post-mortem of tonight's Oilers-Stars game here.
A scattershot prelude to Oilers-Stars Game Two, now on the hockey page. -5:45 pm, April 11
Well, I dropped off for a "half-hour nap" around eleven, after working all night on the SARS piece, and woke up with a start at 3:30. This forced me into a choice from among embarrassing options: go to the office, and turn right around in three hours to go watch the hockey game, or not show up at all after telling everybody I'd be in. The hockey won but I didn't particularly want to lose such a large chunk of this day. Matt Welch has been propping up my traffic single-handed, so I'll mention that after loafing for much of the week he now has a myriad of cool recent entries.
Another sarcastically questioned the Iraqis' sanity, writing "I think I just read where they released all the mental patients."
It's meant to be a joke, but it's a joke one would never make if one know the long history of dictatorships confining their opponents to asylums for "political insanity". I promise you will hear, sometime in the next few weeks, about perfectly sane people who opposed Saddam and found themselves locked up with violent schizophrenics, physically restrained, and fed huge quantities of mind-altering drugs. Russia is full of pale, ruined survivors of such bogus "psychiatric treatment", and China administers it openly to dissidents. Saddam is very familiar with the communist playbook: he won't have neglected this part of the torture apparatus. Some of those people celebrating in Baghdad and Basra may indeed be "mental patients", of a sort.
The tears of a clown
I hadn't been over to McDonald's for a while, but I stopped in at about midnight tonight because I had to make a quick store run to buy cat food anyway. It was a depressing exercise. It took them about twenty minutes to move four or five cars ahead of us through the drive-thru, and when we pulled up, the reason became obvious; there were only two or three employees on hand, and just one window open, so there was only one order at a time in the pipeline. Absolutely astonishing. This was a 24-hour drive-thru, you understand, in one of the busiest parts of town (Kingsway); a franchise location like this is a license to print money--you just have to hire enough people to do the printing. Revenue from a drive-thru window is linear: the more cars you serve, the more money you make. Whoever's managing that McDonald's has to be high on model glue.
Or not. There's a seller's market for low-skill labour in Edmonton right now, with unemployment rates low and the oilpatch in excellent shape. Depending on what the chain is making him do, that manager may not have the budget flexibility to hire the people he needs; and we know the chain is in bad trouble. The reason I don't go to McDonald's much anymore is that it's gradually lost its edge over every competitor. Convenience? Wendy's trains its drive-thru personnel far better than McD's does now, and the food is about a billion times more satisfying: the culinary coup of Wendy's Garden Salads changed my world, and I can only imagine the effect on people who actually care about their health. Tim Horton's has been installing mini-outlets in gas-station convenience stores here: when I go to buy smokes I can come home with a very credible sandwich, a bowl of hot soup, and two or three of the world's best donuts. A&W has done this too, and you know any A&W burger is a lot better than a damn Quarter Pounder.
As I sit here, I swear I can't come up with a reason to ever, ever go back to McDonald's. Wendy's success with healthy menu items like salads and pita pockets (the latter, sadly, are no longer on offer) drew a response from McDonald's, but it was half-hearted, insincere, and completely missed the point that Wendy's new items taste good. And it's the same deal with Subway, a mammoth competitor that barely existed ten years ago. Every time I go there, there's something new to try; and they can accommodate me whether I need fresh vegetables (yes, all right, I pay some attention to dietary balance, there you go, Mom) or I just want to pig out on a meatball sub. This isn't just about Jared Fogle, though lord knows he's responsible for a lot of the damage. Why did Jared study the Subway menu as a means of weight loss in the first place? Obviously he was already stuffing his face at Subway, and not McDonald's, when he still weighed 31 stone. McD's has lost both the health-conscious and the New American Fatties. I came home tonight, no longer especially looking forward to my Big Mac, and I thought: I wish I owned some McDonald's stock, just so I could sell it.
New at the hockey page: Manny's legacy, instant karma, and more. -4:38 pm, April 10
Ana Marie Cox has a hilarious entry (Apr. 7) on the literary technique required to land a Pulitzer Prize, but you'll have to do a scroll-and-hunt because Blogspot permalinks aren't working. BPAW--now there's an Internet acronym that might actually be of some use. AMC her own self is moving to a new Movable Type-equipped URL on Monday.
Yesterday a devoted reader sent me a Robert Fisk story from the Independent, hoping I would sink my teeth into it. I'm glad people enjoy my attempts at fool-killing, and tips of this sort are always welcome. But let's stop and think carefully. Has the conversion of Robert Fisk to a verb hurt his international profile as a journalist, or helped it? Before 9/11 Fisk enjoyed a sort of low-watt but widespread esteem in media circles as a determined venturer into the world's dangerous places--a print Arnett. Now his name is known to the wider public, or a wider public, at any rate; and while it is known mostly as an object of vilification, the fact remains that he is now very much an in-demand guest of antiwar cenacles and journalism schools. At a guess, every time someone commits a "fisking" and calls it that, his lecture fees go up fifty quid. Nobody ever considers the possibility that if the silly twat is ignored, he will eventually go away. So, to the reader who sent the link: sincere thanks, but I'll pass.
[UPDATE, April 11: Jurjen at No Cameras disagrees.]
Should have paid attention in school
An irresistible inbound link: Xavier Basora (Blogspot permalinks are busted) puts a comment I made about Quebec and the "Anglosphere" under the microscope. His rejoinder is notable for (a) being more deeply thought-out than my original flip comment and (b) being written in French.
Unfortunately it's not a bilingual weblog, and I am badly appurtenanced to venture a word-for-word translation. [UPDATE, April 11: Jesus, what a silly way to phrase it--not only is Xavier's weblog bilingual, it's quadrilingual. What I meant to say was, there was no English translation provided of the French entry in question.] To paraphrase: Xavier, presenting himself as an example, writes that Quebeckers may not necessarily object to the notion of an "Anglosphere" as long as it is appropriately understood--which it is notably not, by most webloggers. A Francophone will bristle at an "essentialist" understanding of the Anglosphere--that is to say [the paraphraser supposes], one that regards "Anglo-ness" as some defining, absolute, exclusionary quality of the Anglospheric components. But the same Francophone is capable of welcoming an "Anglosphere-as-network" that is merely understood as a web of shared history, culture, and institutions. James Bennett, who coined the term "Anglosphere", warned against this "essentialism". The Anglosphere, to be acceptable to Quebeckers, must not be implicated with the view of Anglosphere countries as divine beacons to humanity, or with the distressingly frequent characterization of Francophones as rotten and cowardly.
It would probably not be quite right to respond to my own attempted paraphrase of Xavier's ideas: I'm interpreting way too many of the words on the basis of context.
Oilers 2, Stars 1. Not a typo. More on the hockey page. - 8:34 pm, April 9
That old black magic
Just had a nice chat with a Syrian cabbie, a guy who lived in Hafez el-Assad's neighbourhood as a young man--says he pushed the young Bashar Assad around on a tricycle. His take on Bashar: he's intelligent, but a puppet of the strong men who protected his father; however, he is in earnest about re-establishing Syria's economic links to the wider world and allowing exiles to pour in capital and knowledge. Well, why wouldn't he be? The cabbie recalled that occasionally the boy would wander within earshot of someone who was criticizing Hafez and would ball his fists up and cover his ears...
Like many or most foreign cab drivers, this fellow was intelligent and educated. When the talk comes around to the Mossad, and it always does with Middle Easterners, you simply have to regard it as a sort of perfunctory punctuation--a conversational tic. I am always surprised, despite myself, at the casual assumption Arabs and others from the region make that the Mossad can go anywhere and do anything with utter impunity. And of course none of them, however anti-Zionist (this gentleman wasn't, very), can hide their admiration for Israel's ferocious pursuit of its national interest, by the Mossad and other means. In a way you can regard the post-'48 history of the Middle East, with its personality cults and abortive pan-Arab enterprises, as one long response by the neighbouring peoples to the challenge posed by Israel--not the territorial challenge, or even the moral challenge presented by Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, but the constant reproach Israel provides simply by being a real nation. The Israelis were not content to be encompassed within the bounds of a Euro-drawn map, and its borders are not stressed, like a quivering soap bubble at the touch of a feather, by internal tribal conflicts. Far more than Israel's relative economic sanity, this must be a source of antagonism to a cultural group which feels honour so keenly. To account for Israel's success they cannot believe that the Mossad consists only of ordinary clever, well-trained men; for their own self-esteem, they must imagine it, it seems, as a nefarious, faceless, powerful djinn.
The hockey page will be updated shortly; I won't link to the new entry but it should be there by 5:30 MDT when the Oilers game starts...
"Phoenix"? May I suggest "Nancy"?
BoingBoing's permalinks aren't working too well, it seems, but there's a truly classic bit of war-is-bad boohoo on the sideblog by guest editor Jim Griffin:
We're expecting our first child in November, and I'm thinking about the name Phoenix, because there must be some good to arise from these ashes.
Don't misunderstand me: I agree that the shifting rationales for war in Iraq injure the spirit of Solzhenitsyn's injunction to "live not by lies". But is any non-resident of California at a loss to identify one single good consequence arising from the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Hint to Jim: it's a trick question! Ousting Saddam Hussein is itself good!... How are antiwar liberals hoping to reach Americans if they can't sympathize with such a simple human sentiment as exhilaration over dethroning and possibly killing a dictator/torturer? How emotionally plastinated and downright cockamamie do these people have to be? They're the new Nancy Reagan: telling people to "say no" without giving any indication of ever having been high.
And still more hockey--or more details of the Big Spreadsheet, anyway. I'll be posting here later as I move ahead with what's normally called a "day job". - 11:38 pm, April 8
New at the hockey page: the logic of the Norris Trophy. - 4:55 pm, April 8
My playoff "predictions"--or, rather, non-falsifiable probability statements!--are available at the hockey page. - 1:20 pm, April 8
Funny, my strain increases with age too
Engineering corner: Nature ScienceUpdate reports that re-firing old bricks may be a surprisingly accurate method of dating them. The idea is that masonry, however old, never does stop absorbing moisture, though the rate of absorption slows rapidly with time. How rapidly? In their newly published paper a team in Manchester proposes "a new expansion law, in which the expansive strain increases as (age)¼, approximately". I thought about using this as an item for my print column, but I like that ¼ exponent too much not to mention it (how many physical laws involve the fourth root of anything?), and math just pisses people off.
More foreign correspondents check in on the hockey page. - 5:56 am, April 8
Some people seem to be taking a view like this: "OK, The Agonist plagiarized material from another site--but he aggregated war news conveniently, quickly, and accurately all the same. From my standpoint as a reader, why do I care whether the stuff was plagiarized?" Presumably you care because your traffic was rewarding the sneak thief and failing to reward the folks who were doing the actual work. Is that an incentive structure we want to implement knowingly? This lovely breaking war news you're wallowing in--it comes from somewhere, you know. From your standpoint as, say, a stereo purchaser, it may not "matter" to you in advance whether the stereo is stolen. But if you learned that it was stolen, it would then become very much your business, morally, if you went back to the same seller for a stereo cabinet and an amp. To continue to take the view that "it doesn't matter" after the facts have been revealed would be flabbergastingly obtuse.
[UPDATE, April 8: Dean Esmay has been watching The Agonist for a while and has some observations.]
Two fresh updates (uno, dos) on the hockey page. - 4:51 pm, April 7
An angry Canadian has launched a personal campaign against copy-controlled "CDs"--you know the ones, they don't even play in certain stereos and they aren't legally permitted to carry the Phillips "Compact Disc" logo because they don't meet the standards of the patent on CDs. Yeah, those ones.
...[T]he recent EMI discs I have will not play on my car stereo. The ones that do may only play the first 9 seconds or so of a song.Or we could all just stop buying copy-protected "compact discs", which is the long-term solution. Come on, how bad do you need the new Massive Attack album? That group is so over. Look for that "Compact Disc Digital Audio" label before you give the record company your bread. (Link via NullDev.)
World enough and time
The Wired News story on warblogger The Agonist's preening, plagiarism, and mass production of lame excuses is pretty devastating. His defenders should have known the guy was radioactive when he said, two and a half weeks ago, "I really do wish I could cite all the sources here... please understand the time constraints I am under." "Time constraints" translates to "My site is popular because of its 'timeliness', and I want it to stay popular, so I don't intend to conform to even the most rudimentary standard of intellectual decency." Does it take that much time to type "Phil Space writes in this morning's News-Free Press..."?
Instantman has it right, though it would be most accurate to say, I think, that the scandal is a "blow" only to those parts of the weblog world which aspire, inappropriately, to the social status of "real journalism" without containing any aspect of reporting, observation, or reflection. From its banner to its flaunting of highly-placed "sources", the Agonist has always reeked of this sort of social-climbing. Sean says he's learned "lessons"; the lesson for the rest of us, perhaps, is to let our sites be what they are and no more.
[UPDATE, 7:04 pm: Hello Instapundketeers. I have a little more to say on this subject, here.]
From emus to APCs
Fair-used from your morning Calgary Herald, a Bill Redekop biz/war story that hasn't made it to the web yet:
There's been great controversy over who supplied Iraq with night-vision goggles--Russia? Syria?--in its war against the American-led coalition. But there's been no mention of where American troops got theirs. Would you believe Minnedosa?How did a farm boy get into the business of digital vision enhancement? Turns out Wahoski designed an infrared camera to detect heartbeats in emu eggs for a friend in Australia, and unexpectedly found himself with a multimillion-dollar business. But here's my favourite part of the story:
Canadian Photonics is proof you can set up business anywhere in today's Internet world. The company is not only away from a major urban centre, but outside Canada's photonics centre in Ottawa, where the federal government recently dropped $30 million to cluster the industry into a photonics park in conjunction with Carleton University. Wahoski, 41, wasn't even aware of the federal subsidy.
There's already reader mail on the hockey page. - 4:16 am, April 7
If the virus doesn't get you, the Gestapo will
In recent days, SARS has made life more complicated for Canadians of Asian descent. It is seen in the discreet shunning of people of Asian descent on subway cars, in airport lounges and hospital waiting rooms. Says Cynthia Pay, president of the Chinese Canadian National Council: "Broader society is scapegoating this as a Chinese disease--and within the Chinese community itself, people are afraid. It's making Chinese Canadians feel very vulnerable, that they're not in the mainstream."
It's funny the things that will keep some people awake nights, isn't it? If you have the imagination and enterprise of Warren Kinsella, you can spin mere "discreet shunning" into the first ashes falling gently on Auschwitz. You simply pull up your bookmark list of Rabidly Xenophobic Websites That Would Go Out Of Business In 48 Hours Without Warren Kinsella's Brownshirt-Baiting, splice in a few juicy quotes, and steer straight for the familiar shores of history:
Following their rise to power in Germany... Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party aggressively promoted what they called "racial hygiene." A by-product of the eugenics movement, racial hygiene was a pseudo-science that identified and studied biological factors the Nazis felt were potential threats to the purity of the Aryan "race." Under Hitler's 1933 eugenics law, thousands of men, women and children were forcibly sterilized (or murdered) because they suffered from schizophrenia, manic-depressive psychoses, epilepsy... [etc., etc., ad naus. - ed.]
First they came for the Chinese restaurants, and I said nothing, for I did not even like shrimp dumplings. Of course, SARS really is causing a certain amount of tension in Toronto. A Torontonian friend of mine reports that she received an agitated e-mail from her mother telling her "Whatever you do, don't go into Chinatown! You'll get SARS! Stay away!" I'd be happy to give Warren the details and let him work up another hand-wringing column out of it, but alas--both the sender and the recipient of said e-mail are, in fact, Chinese born and bred. On a more serious note, my friend also reports that one particular Chinese restaurant was the guiltless victim of an vicious e-mail rumour, probably launched by a competitor, to the effect that the chef had SARS and was still on duty, ladling germy hot and sour soup out to the customers. Again, though, the story is unsuitable grist for the mill: the e-mail was written in the Chinese language and spread amongst Toronto's Chinese community.
As for the "discreet shunning", it's real, but I get the impression she's rather pleased about it. It turns out that if you're Chinese, other people's paranoia about SARS has the happy effect of protecting you from close contact with them on the subway or in bars. Oh, to be self-quarantining, now that spring is here!
At any rate, no Warren Kinsella column would be complete without the over-the-top headline ("THE RACIST FACE OF SARS")--but it's a subeditor's job to provide that. Also within the subeditor's bailiwick is the bio line at the end of the column, which describes the author's qualifications. In this case it's so giggle-inducing I can't help but suspect a rim pig's cruel joke:
Author and lawyer Warren Kinsella writes often about hate.
Can't argue with that!
This way to the egress
The hockey page is up and running. Regular programming here on the main page resumes later tonight.
Trying to please everybody
Eureka! I decided to build a separate hockey page for those who don't want to read a thousand words a day about a weird Canadian sport for the next month or so. It will be up shortly. Updates to the hockey page will be noted here, so you don't have to change any bookmarks: you can always come here to see whether I've been writing about pucks or petunias. And don't worry: the Oilers don't usually hang around in the playoffs very long, so my interests will remain fairly catholic after they get turfed.
These Romans are crazy
I feel incredibly honoured to be listed as a friend of Rome, even if it does seem like an uncomfortable double entendre in a time of pre-emptive American war. Right now things are particularly thrilling over at Bloggus Caesari because the Original Warblogger is preparing for his showdown with Vercingetorix--a figure immortalized in the pages of that other great chronicle of Roman times, the bande dessinée Asterix.
Texan reader A. Marcoux writes in about the SITE Project's showrooms for Best Products:
I grew up near the Indeterminate Facade building in Houston, and I can tell you that most of the locals were bemused by it at best. The whimsy, when not lost altogether, was unappreciated.
A. also asks a familiar question: why no PayPal button on this page? It's because I prefer to keep building my audience before I offend it even slightly by demanding a Penny for the Old Guy. Begging would bring about subtle psychological changes to the relationship between myself and the reader. For as long as possible, I want the page to be a free gift, and for people to not feel like they're stealing by visiting often, which is encouraged. Eventually I'll probably get into a spot where I need cash super badly, and do a whip-'round, but that day has not quite arrived yet. I think Andrew Sullivan probably had the right idea about weblog fundraising: do one quickie "pledge week" and then shut up for a whole year. In the meantime, let your couch gather spare change for me. (Of course, if you're filthy rich, there's always the Amazon wish list.)
Vote for Cyclops
OK... indulge me for one hockey entry here. It'll be fairly short. And my Nova Scotia readers will like it. There's a movement afoot to give Al MacInnis the Norris Trophy. I say, hey, why stop there--what about the Hart? (That's the Most Valuable Player award, for those following along in heathen lands.)
Sound crazy? Look, there's no question that Naslund and Bertuzzi deserve to be in the running. As a unit, the Vancouver offence is valuable--but if credit is apportioned about equally between Naslund and Bertuzzi, and you account for the terrific Brendan Morrison, the resurgence of Trevor Linden, and the increasing tendency of the Sedin twins to not play like they only share one brain between 'em, there's not all that much to go around.
I would argue that, with the instability of the Blues' goaltending earlier this year, the St. Louis defence corps has been equally valuable, as a unit, to that team's success. Take a look at the shots on goal against: St. Louis was fourth behind teams--Ottawa, Philadelphia, and New Jersey--that are acknowledged to be the premium defensive clubs in hockey. Who was responsible for thus protecting St. Louis's merry band of rotating netminders? Was it Chris Pronger doing it from the press box?
MacInnis is playing with a rookie partner, Jackman, and the rest of the defensive set is not what you'd call distinguished. MacInnis is +22 and his partner's +24; add the rest together and they're +4. At 40 (irrelevant but astonishing), he has single-handedly kept this team credible so it can reassemble itself for a playoff run. And that's without considering offence--concerning which it need only be noted that MacInnis is the league's top-scoring defenceman. Among individual achievements, I can see absolutely no equal in the league this year.
Abyss of geekery
I've been screwing around with my behemoth NHL playoff-handicapping spreadsheet all night; I was taking notes for your benefit as I did it, but I ran off at the mouth and could not, in good conscience, subject anyone to the results. Even the short-short explanation of what the spreadsheet does ran to about 500 words, many of which are like these: "binomial", "transitivity", "log5". Moreover, the spreadsheet itself generates not-easily-falsifiable probability statements which themselves depend on shaky assumptions. What I really need to do is find a bookmaker, but I am advised that the Greatest Generation of cigar-chomping Edmonton bookies is wearing thin nowadays. Anyway, I've been tinkering, and I'll probably have some plain-English assertions to make about the Stanley Cup when the seedings in the West are finally established. Here's how columnist Benjamin Lee Eckstein saw the playoffs shaping up as of a few days ago. At those prices the best bargains would probably be Dallas, St. Louis, and Anaheim; but I'll pipe down for the sake of keeping this a nearly-general-interest website.
After the laughter
Decline and Fall of Postmodern Architecture Dept.: the SITE Project's bizarro showrooms for big-box retailer Best Products created a stir in the 1970s for their undeniable boldness and their technical ingenuity. SITE built nine architectural jokes for Best, buildings which in various ways appeared--despite being wholly functional--to have been shattered, bisected, defaced, or generally subverted (one in Hialeah, Fla., had a glass facade, filled with water, that made it look like an aquarium). When Best succumbed to Wal-Mart in the mid-90s, other uses had to be found for SITE's sites. Were they preserved with whimsy intact? They were not. All but two, writes James McCown in Metropolis Magazine, have been torn down or de-postmodernized. Surprise, surprise: jokes don't work well in brick, because you stop giggling after a couple of weeks, but the big dumb damn building just stays there, year after year, like a crashing bore who won't lay off his favourite catchphrase. This might, with a modicum of intellection, have been foreseen. (Via MeFi)
The waiting game
I've been trying to find a way to talk about SARS without giving away the store on the SARS article I'm currently working on--not that I know how that's going to shape up yet, mind you. Like the rest of you I vacillate as I read the clips. Every discouraging, horrible development seems to be matched by a positive one... it's like watching a pinball drop through the pins on a pachinko machine. If it goes one way, we've got just one more Asian-bred respiratory nuisance to think about during certain seasons (one which, as Mike Sugimoto suggests, will be quietly subsumed into the typical mortality from pneumonia and influenza). If it goes another way, we get a replay of 1919.
As I've mentioned before, I got a weird sort of grounding in early 20th-century culture back when I was working as a history researcher, reading old microfilms all day, every day, for a year and a half or so. The period I covered included the flu epidemic. What I remember about it was the creepy detachment with which the subject was handled. Readers sitting in Lethbridge or someplace like that would receive daily bulletins of the disease's inexorable approach: yesterday it was in Chicago, today it's in Winnipeg, tomorrow it will be in Regina... no doubt there was anxiety, but you didn't get a sense of panic or alarm, just quiet, stern preparation. When the disease finally arrived the cinemas and ballparks would be closed, but the newspapers gave a picture of life proceeding much as usual with only a slight lacuna in the calendar of public festivities. Mortality figures were downplayed or absent. Coverage of scientific issues was thin because the very germ theory of disease was still a relative novelty. People seem to have been mentally prepared for the blind, implacable aspect of epidemic; although the people of 1919 Alberta weren't especially religious, they somehow had a sense of calm and self-possession we won't be able to call upon. We know too much to be content in the face of a crisis like this: virology and epidemiology have given our enemy a face, and we therefore cannot confuse it with God.
And we expect professional treatment for illness: that's going to be the cruelest part of SARS if it attains pandemic status and public medical resources are overstretched in the cities. There wasn't much a physician could really do for a Spanish flu patient, and extended-family structures existed to provide what care was possible. Single people living on their own were exceptions to the social rule, and nursing was not yet a trade, so idle dowagers or nuns could go from house to house looking in on bachelors, unmarried steno girls, and superannuated veterans. There aren't many people outside the labour force now who have an overarching sense of charitable mission, and the bonds of the extended family are attenuated nearly to the point of dissolution. Damn, whose idea was it to organize things this way?
Leap of faith
There's a new press release from the Citizens Centre, the apostrophe-less non-profit organization that now owns the magazine I work for.
EDMONTON, April 3 (CNW) - The Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, which this week acquired ownership of the Edmonton-based magazine formerly published as the Report and now known as the Citizens Centre Report, announced today it will refuse to accept a $240,000 operating subsidy from the federal government and will also decline a further $120,000 in federal postal subsidies this year.
Where the story is
I woke up this morning to find Saddam quite possibly alive and Michael Kelly of the Atlantic dead. Peggy Noonan is certainly right that Kelly's death is a "sin against the order of the world". One embedded journalist of six hundred Americans in the theatre dies, and not only is it a print journalist, but one of the titanic magazine editors of the republic. If that's divine justice then I'm a giraffe. The unkind question arises: why didn't someone tell him to stay home? He was 46 years old; had a wife, and sons aged six and three; and no one can argue that one so distinguished needed to seek the bubble reputation in the cannon's mouth. Perhaps he was too formidable a man to entertain the lecture that friends and colleagues must have considered giving him.
Us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look
Headline: Reporter Locates New Angle On Shock 'N' Awe! In a new installment of Chatterbox, Timothy Noah converses with the creator of the phrase, Harlan Ullman. Like so many others, Noah's dismal piece has already been caught flat-footed by the apparent sudden progress of American ground forces in the last 48 hours. "It would be premature to say that the Pentagon's Rapid Dominance strategy--popularly known as "Shock and Awe"--has failed in Iraq," Noah wrote for an April 1 deadline. Boy, would it ever! Because you never know, they might actually be fighting in Baghdad by the 3rd, right?
"Mr. Shock and Awe" is looking a little craven himself, for the moment, having written a CYA op-ed for the Baltimore Sun. "This isn't really shock and awe, you know," says Ullman. How do we know? Because if it had been... why, it would have worked a lot better, obviously. (Somewhere, Sir Karl Popper utters a sharp German curse.) Noah's presentation of Ullman's ideas veers into the unintentionally hilarious with this series of bullet points:
The four foundations of Shock 'n' Awe are, Ullman says,So this "shock and awe" thing--to make it work, you pretty much have to be omniscient, infallible, and omnipotent? Hey, I know we all suspected that Donald Rumsfeld thinks he's God, but I never expected American battle strategy to be formulated on that basis.
The first casualty of war is orthography
Is it just me or is the copy-editing going to hell around here? I know people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, but when the Washington Post declared "Vice Closing on Saddam's Regime", I couldn't help but giggle. Man, that Saddam really is a badass--not only does he torture dissidents and use chemical weapons on civilians, but apparently he's got a drugs-and-hookers racket going too...
Meanwhile, over in Slate, Michael Kinsley writes a pretty funny piece that name-checks someplace called "Antartica"... and if you're very lucky, you'll also get an embedded ad for the A&E Napoleon mini, in which John Malkovich plays someone called "Tallyrand". Wasn't there an exotic dancer by that name? Tally Rand?
The sands of time
Lisa Dusseault has a neat explanation of--among other things--why Albertans may be more likely than other people to blow off concerns about "non-renewable resources".
Conventional oil production from Alberta peaked in a classic Hubbert curve in about 1976. Heavy oil production took over, however, and that kind of oil peaked in 1984. National oil production dropped 5 to 6% from its peak in 1984 but since then has gone up again because tar sands oil extraction is now economically feasible. So Canada experienced a drastic and sudden increase in economical oil reserves when tar sands entered the picture: an increase of 315 billion barrels, or roughly one sixth of total world conventional oil reserves.
If you should happen to follow Lisa's link to the advice on how to pass as a Canadian overseas, be warned that it's probably not actually possible for Americans to do this. Nobody outside the United States requires twenty minutes of close study to identify an American: indeed, a blind person can do it instantly at a distance of thirty yards. Unless you happen to have access to the volume knob inside your skull, you might as well be brave or stay home.
Let's not pretend they care
Most of you have seen this Calgary Herald quote from Instapundit already:
Support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq is surging in Calgary and across the province, with three-quarters of Albertans in favour of Canada joining the fight, according to a new poll.The original article, with numbers, is here. Disagreeing with Faron Ellis is contrary to my nature, but I don't really think the government "blew it" by its own lights. There's an election in Quebec in eleven days, one which features a new (and welcome) third force stealing Liberal votes. A big lead for the Bloc Quebecois means extra political capital that can be expended to revive separatism--and keeping separatism down is the whole game, to the federal Liberals, even if they haven't always been particularly good at it. They wouldn't throw an ear of corn to a starving baby if they thought it could somehow imperil the long-term prospects of federalism in Quebec. A "ready, aye, ready" attitude on Ottawa's part would have done exactly that: if anything, the "Anglosphere" has more potential to antagonize Quebec than the old Empire did.
As for Ontario, we all know Chretien could bring Saddam to Ottawa and make him Fisheries Minister, and the votes there still wouldn't change. I'm not saying support for the U.S. isn't "increasing", or rather, becoming more visible: I'm just saying the Liberals have good reasons to go on ignoring it.
Man with a pineapple
Donald Coxeter--student of Wittgenstein, friend of M.C. Escher, and almost certainly Canada's greatest mathematician--has died at the age of 96. The Telegraph has an obituary.
His students adored him, though they were sometimes surprised by his other-worldliness. When a female student announced that she would not be attending one of their regular meetings because she was about to give birth, he gave her a complex 50-page draft of a paper for her to look through if she "had nothing else to do in the labour room".
Sometimes backscratching can be good for the reader. Since Aaron Haspel gave me a "via" credit on Evan Kirchhoff's increasingly influential analysis of Michael Moore, he deserves one for pointing to--and finally we come to the new and relevant content here--this Le Figaro interview with Pascal Bruckner on the French stance in the Iraq war, translated into English by "Cinderella Bloggerfeller". CB's language skills are appreciated even if the choice of alias cannot be. Bruckner is hard on the French, but no starry-eyed fan of American policy:
Marcuse has made a paradoxical entrance into the White House. If the leaders of America want to democratize the Middle East, it's because they sincerely believe that men can be reformed. In this sense, these new conservatives are not conservatives. They are revolutionaries. This is the reason why their optimism can only arouse a mixture of enthusiam and scepticism, when it is applied to the "complicated Orient." The one and only benefit of this expedition is to smash a terrible dictatorship--something Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin have themselves acknowledged, even if they differ over the means of overthrowing it.
M. Bruckner is "of two minds" about the emergent American-imperialist project. Very often we describe ourselves as being "of two minds" when what we are really doing is thinking with our whole brain...
Bruckner does say a couple of things I disagree with. He describes the EU as an attempted "Helvetization", that is, a "Switzerland-izing", of Europe. This is a view I've heard put forth before, one which may confuse the effects of Swiss institutions (the country is multilingual and successfully maintains a state of armed neutrality) with the relevant facts about those institutions themselves--namely, that they are incredibly decentralized and accountable to the public. This does not describe the European Union very well. The present-day American federal government seems to clearly be the model the EU is following (calamitously so, I think, since the early American republic had cultural homogeneity on its side and could "ethnic-cleanse" its Tory minority with relatively little pain, thanks to geography). Anyone who describes the building of the EU a process of "Helvetization" must have--to be charitable--a very different perspective than I do. Bruckner is closer to the relevant events, but I was taught never to simply bow to the superior wisdom of "French intellectuals". (Taught? Yes, by long and arduous study of human history... that particular lesson hits you in the face again and again.)
Back to Maine again
Went to see Dreamcatcher tonight. Not my idea. I haven't read the book, but, uh, didn't Stephen King already write It? If anyone knows of a legal way for some amicus curiae to sue 2003 Steve for plagiarism on behalf of 1987 Steve, please contact me.
Over the years, adapters of King's material have learned to filter out his familiar tics: the key seems to be to find the one good idea King started with, if any, and ignore everything else. Somehow that didn't happen here. Moreover, a reportedly rather doorstoppy and disjointed book has, during the adaptation process, broken down completely into an incoherent mess--though one which moves fast and has Morgan Freeman, to be sure. Indeed, not only it is incoherent, but it is rather nasty, insofar as it re-peddles the old Hollywood lesson that disabled people are a species of angel. (They regenerate wounded hearts, you know--but you wouldn't actually want one on the set: the character who has Down's Syndrome in the book magically shed his extra copy of the 21st chromosome in the transition to the screen.) I promise, you will leave the cinema clutching your head from the fantastic cerebral pressure of plot questions that have no answer, even in the most kabbalistic by-ways of movie metaphysics.
Evan Kirchhoff wonders why people just don't give a crap that everything about Bowling for Columbine, including the title, is a lie.
...the people who call Moore's movies "provocative" and "important" are neither fleeing the country nor forming underground resistance cells. They don't believe Moore either. At best, they're choosing to place him in a mental gray area not subject to "truth" or "falsehood" tests.You need to... read the whole thing! Don't you just know this is going to be an acronym six weeks from now, and people's weblog entries are going to end with "RTWT!"? I'm going to hate that.
So Air Canada has sought bankruptcy protection. How surprising is this? Very. Not six weeks ago I did an article on the airline's woes, and had the devil of a time getting any analyst to even discuss this possibility. Some could see it happening late this year, maybe 1Q 2004. Some insisted it would never happen. None of the expert gentlemen who assisted me with the story--and I'm sure not knocking them, because they were terrifically clear in their explanations, and generous with their time--said anything remotely like "They're going to drop the pill on April 1." So this, I assure you, is a very big shockwave.
That being said... now that Air Canada has gone through with it, it's not obvious why we didn't, in fact, see it coming. It's a pre-emptive strike that enhances their bargaining power with the unions (the CAW executed a surprising belly-flop on layoffs last night), ensures that the bridge financing will go where it's needed, and puts extra pressure on the Transport Ministry. The losers are the shareholders, but anyone who didn't already bail out probably didn't have much hope left for a return on their investment.
Heartfelt congratulations are in order for WestJet--and the WestJet wannabes, I suppose, too. For years Air Canada has met complaints about its service with nothing but asinine denials--"No, see, you actually had a happy experience flying with us, as is proven by this award we got from the Institute of Promotional Horseshit." The company took a weird "market share is everything" view of its own business, killing old competitors with debt-funded price wars and creating phony subsidiaries to attack the new ones. Yeah, Air Canada had problems that weren't its own fault, starting with September 11. But for the most part, this is a spectacle of creative destruction that won't move too many airline customers to tears.
Crowds and power
Several thousand affirmative action supporters, many who had traveled by bus overnight, converged at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Northeast Washington this morning as the justices in their solemn chambers heard cases challenging the University of Michigan's race-conscious admissions policies.
This from today's Washington Post. I'd love to have been at the protest--what did these guys chant? "Just Say No to Standards"? "We Want In Because Of Our Skin"? But leave aside the actual issue being discussed. Am I wrong here, or is this protest an attempt to intimidate the deliberations of the Supreme Court of the United States? Would anyone want to live in a country where a show of force changes the outcome of a high-court decision?
Of course, if the idea is not to intimidate the Court, then the real audience for the protest must be the protesters themselves. (Is anyone out there reeling at the news that most liberals and black people favour affirmative action? My God, I had no idea until I saw them all out on the steps there!) Like most protests, it is--by the kindest interpretation--a self-involved, essentially childish exercise, a dumbshow designed to appeal to wholly ignoble collective sentiments.
Yes, it is a premise of democracy that if plenty of people agree with you, you're quite likely right. But it is a premise of liberal democracy that we will use rational persuasion and balloting to resolve issues. No one has yet explained to me what marching and shouting has to do with that--why mass protest, far from being regarded with distaste as the pretexts for it multiply, has been raised nearly to the level of a sacrament. Do you think it's a coincidence that the arts of pamphleteering and oratory are deader than the dodo in countries whose political life was once animated by them? If crowd numbers are all that count, these things are useless. (And no, I do not consider the widespread admiration for Jesse Jackson's speaking "talents" to be a sign of health.)
In other... uh...
...you know... this is the feature we used to call "In Other Report Weblogs". With the changes to the magazine's name and personnel, I don't know what to call it now--"A Bunch of Guys"? But there is activity along the traditional fronts after a period of lassitude: Kevin Steel talks to Norman Spector as the bombs begin to fall, Jeremy Lott discusses This Business of Blogging and other subjects, and Kevin Grace opens a tall can of Evelyn Waugh. (Hmm, smells like incense.) And there's so much more: you just need to browse the "co-workers past and present" section of my blogroll. I'd consider it a personal favour, though not of course one of those personal favours that entitles you to call me up and ask me to help move house or anything.
Apologies for the delay between entries. This morning was the fortnightly editorial meeting, which means an allnighter Sunday night segues into a 10 a.m. start--and that's an odd hour for me, as you can tell, since even the Kitimat Northern Sentinel mentioned my sleep habits without getting around to calling my weblog either good or bad. (Don't worry, I know when to be thankful.) I generally spend the rest of the Monday in a medically certifiable stupor. It's often suggested that the allnighter might not be strictly necessary if I were to organize my time better. Yeah: and if we brought the moon down to Earth we could crush France with it and feast on green cheese for the next thousand years. What's your point.
So I did that, and then spent time following a highly tangy Opening Day which saw the Expos rough up Greg Maddux--the Expos rough up Greg Maddux on Opening Day for God's sake--and the Jays knock the beating heart out of the Yankees in a loss. Keep it up, fellas, you'll make that division interesting yet. I have warm feelings for Derek Jeter because in the "sabermetric community", which is broadly agreed on methods of evaluating a ballplayer's on-field contribution, Jeter is the living symbol that you can still have an old-fashioned nuclear Hot Stove argument about a guy and never settle it. You can find any opinion on Jeter from "He's a bum" to "Hallowed be thy name"--and they're all based on the same data, more or less. Which is perhaps, in itself, a sign of a certain magic. But a Yankee's still a Yankee, so I hope his arm rots off.
And, speaking of the Yankees, that's the other thing I did today: took e-mails from a couple of fans of the Yankees of the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings. Normally I'd just reply with a JPEG of a crumpled limousine and some choice swear words, but they had a point about something I'd written previously, to wit:
...on a side note, Detroit's not going to have quite as many power-play opportunities in the playoffs; they won't be able to fill their boots that way...
which was a reference to the Wings losing the benefit of their league-best power play in the put-the-whistle-away environment of the postseason. One correspondent pointed out that the Red Wings had relatively few power-play opportunities during the season--the Free Press has been bellyaching about the reffing--and another noted that while the Wings had the most efficient power play, a smaller fraction of their goals came from it than for some other clubs, which is, in a way, a restatement of the first point. What this means, I venture, is that if the refereeing becomes more team-neutral in the playoffs, Detroit will suffer less than other teams; they'll lose fewer power plays and continue to score more than others on the remaining ones. But if all teams lose a similar number of power play opportunities per game, or if the decline in power plays is team-neutral but great enough to reduce them to insignificance generally, Detroit will still suffer more.
I don't know which is closer to the truth, if either, but yes, my "side note" is out the window. I still "like" Dallas a lot better in the playoffs, if that's the term (and it's not). Replacing Hasek with the 2003 A.D. Curtis Joseph is a significant loss on its own, and guys like Chelios and Robitaille are now at that "the sooner I quit, the sooner I go into the Hall of Fame" stage of life. Plus, no Scotty Bowman. Yeah, no Scotty this year, that's right: deep down, you Detroit fans know you're going to miss whatever disco voodoo that frog-faced ischemic Buddha was cooking up behind the bench. Bowman and his Czech robot gymnast familiar are gone--you'll have to win as mere mortals, and we all know how that movie ends.