Main Index Page
About Your Host
Send Me E-Mail
Browse the Archives
Read My Work
ARCHIVES for April 2005

The folks at the Ludwig von Mises Institute have cunningly (and with permission) grafted my April 18 Post column about Hans-Hermann Hoppe onto the weblog entry that followed it. Instead of re-posting the column here, I'll just point you to the resulting piece. I'm thrilled to have the imprimatur of the Institute, which is doing a lot to make the tradition of Austrian economics available to students, to scholars, and to dilettantes like me.

- 6:12 pm, April 28 (link)

He made his first million when he was still 33

On Saturday afternoon I'll be down in Calgary participating in a panel discussion on weblogging at the annual conference of Civitas, Canada's sinister, shadowy right-wing intellectual cabal. My fellow panelists, at last report, were to be Adam Daifallah and Norman Spector. The Sitemeter on the sidebar at left has cracked seven digits just in time to give me that added fillip of credibility (though one must remember that Sitemeter undercounts visits by 15%-35%). Weblogging will be light over the weekend, since I'm too poor to afford a laptop. But it's not too late to use the long-absent Paypal donor button, also at left, to correct that! Perhaps there's a cheeky plutocrat out there who would perceive a gratifying karmic symmetry in sending me a million dollars to celebrate my millionth reader.

Thanks to all of you who've supported the site with your good wishes, your criticisms, and your attention. Rest assured the proprietor gives no thought whatsoever to quitting.

- 5:22 pm, April 28 (link)

Bigger than life

...I hate the Beatles. I'm sick of hearing nonsense about how we'd all be listening to warmed-over rockabilly to this day if it wasn't for their brilliant innovative talent... Sure, they had a few good songs, but the rest of it is so cloyingly cutesy and cringe-inducing.

The words are Gene Healy's, in the sense that he typed them out and hit "publish", but the sentiment is familiar--so familiar, I think, that the people who utter them don't even realize that they're trolling, or counter-trolling. You hear actual contempt for the Beatles from real people more often than you hear praise, though in part it's an understandable reaction to being antagonized by continual corporate hype. (As opposed to precious, dire hipster silliness about how Elvis Presley invented fucking.)

There are a dozen groups that mean more to me personally than the Beatles do, but in my opinion the four may be underrated as historical figures. As to the music proper, Chuck Klosterman said it best and most decisively in Spin, at the end of a hilarious list of artists who are neither overrated nor underrated but just-right-rated:

The Beatles are generally seen as the single most important rock band of all time, because they wrote all the best songs. Since both of these facts are true, the Beatles are rated properly.

There are a lot of things people haven't quite absorbed about the Beatles. I remember being dumbstruck by a passage in Ian Macdonald's Revolution in the Head, which, incidentally, has no credible rival as the best book ever written about rock music. Macdonald paints us a scene of the Beatles' earliest days as celebrities, after they'd just migrated to London. We meet two promising young performers whose blues-influenced band has just been signed to a contract: a Mr. Mick Jagger and a Mr. Keith Richards. They've swung by the studio to exchange pleasantries and watch the northern quartet at work. They watch as McCartney and Lennon, equipped with a chorus and a verse they've worked on earlier, try to stitch things together with a middle eight, messing around on a piano. In maybe fifteen minutes of banter and tinkling, they've knitted a few chords into a future hit.

This is all completely foreign to Mick and Keef, and as they watch, the penny drops. They realize that a person who can play an instrument can write a song. There's no magic to it--no massive leather-bound manual locked in a Brill Building safe that tells you how to do it. It hadn't occurred to them that there could be such an animal as a rock-and-roll group that wrote its own songs. Until Lennon-McCartney, rock songs were, for the most part, something that arrived intact and complete from the record company.

They had precursors, of course: if Macdonald's book has one major failing it's the lack of attention devoted to their single most important influence, Buddy Holly. If you're looking for someone whose ink falls short of his importance, there's your single best example. But Buddy died young, before he was recognized as being lightyears ahead of contemporary teenyboppers, and much of his best work disappeared from American shops for fifteen years after his death. It was Lennon and McCartney (and George Martin) who combined Holly's rockabilly energy with superior craftsmanship, releasing the virus of rock songwriting from its industrialized vial. That Holly and the other Crickets routinely had the writing credit on their songs ascribed to non-writers--to their manager Norman Petty, or to record-company staffers--only hammers home the point.

It is even possible to overstate the influence of the men who invented songwriting in the form in which it's existed ever since? This is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the Beatles are concerned. Americans cannot be expected to understand how radically the Beatles subverted the cultural balance between London and the provinces. What the younger ones don't understand is how the Beatles united America and Britain culturally--how foreign Britain was to Americans, and how unaware they were of it as anything but an invisible national paterfamilias, before the Beatles hit. It's not too much to state that the "Anglosphere", in large measure, was established on a particular night in February 1964.

In this sense what the boys from Liverpool did will outlive rock music itself--though if rock is alive, it's mostly because they made it transgenerational and yanked it out of its youth-music ghetto. Some other quartet with the necessary blend of charm and intelligence--someone else exciting but fundamentally non-threatening--might have come along eventually. But there didn't have to be a British Invasion in rock music; there certainly wasn't one in, say, jazz (even though Britain had developed its own jazz community, structures, and traditions). It's a strict accident of history, a contingent event that depended on the existence of five or six particular individuals with certain backgrounds and gifts--yet its ripples are arguably still being felt everywhere from the global economy to the world's battlefields.

- 4:46 pm, April 28 (link)

Fire and rain

In the past week, I regret to say, the city of Edmonton has lost two of its most enduring landmarks. Anybody who has lived in northern Alberta will recognize the name of Wes Montgomery, who died on Monday. He made his money as a morning radio man, playing top-forty hits on CHED from 1968 to 1985 and then migrating along with his audience from easy-listening to country. But his true calling was that of "local character". He was deeply embedded in Edmonton's football and curling culture--which is to say, Edmonton's culture--serving for years as the PA announcer at Commonwealth Stadium. His threadbare postwar jokes could not be avoided at charity dinners and auctions, and his Edmonton Sun column was a weird throwback to the age when journalists were expected to crack wise about hangovers and make their bookies recurring characters. No doubt every town has one of these horseshitters, but he was ours; his last employer, CFCW, has a page of unexpectedly moving condolences.

When you heard Montgomery on the air in Edmonton, you knew were marooned in the furthest, coldest corner of cow country. But when you visited Hub Cigar on Whyte Avenue, you could be fooled into thinking you were in a great city. It is positively shocking how many soi-disant capitals of culture don't have one decent newsstand to their name. Edmonton has a couple, but Hub--founded by Charles Fisher in 1910--was without peer, and was for a long time the largest newsdealer between Vancouver and the lakehead. Yesterday the story above the shop caught fire; owner Ken Knowles watched in anguish as firemen took axes to its iconic neon sign. Both the sign and the building may be salvageable, and Knowles intends to find temporary premises in the meantime. The lost inventory, consisting of pretty much everything from Giant Robot to Black Tail and the Daily Telegraph to the Socialist Worker, is mercifully ephemeral. Only the sum of the parts is, as a symbol of civilization, irreplaceable.

- 3:59 am, April 27 (link)

That damned mainstream media

Girl detective Nancy Drew turns 75 this week, and the New York Times has a feuilleton d'occasion that explores her influence on generations of women. Surprisingly, the Times whitewashes her Nazi past (not to mention her noir period and the time she was apparently played by Marilyn Monroe). Secret editorial directive from the new Pope? You make the call.

- 6:21 pm, April 26 (link)

In Tuesday's National Post: my column (which subscribers can read online) about Sativex, a "new" British drug that has just been conditionally approved for sale by Health Canada. Notice anything familiar about that name? Sativex is just marijuana in titrated oral-spray form, give or take a few registered-trade-mark symbols splattered around like spilled bongwater. Check your nearest newsstand for my treatment of the implications.

- 1:45 am, April 26 (link)

Orare est laborare: Ginna Dowler discovers the laser monks of Wisconsin. No, it's not the name of a postpunk band. Yet. -1:21 am, April 26
Terri Schiavo upside-down: Chris Selley wants to know why this new case hasn't become a pro-life cause celebre. -12:45 pm, April 25
Harvard man on horseback

The worse things get for Paul Martin, the more you hear the name that Peter C. Newman whispered into the wind in February--the name of the Liberal Party's rescuer-in-waiting, Michael Ignatieff. Foreigners may be surprised to learn that the acolyte-biographer of Isaiah Berlin is thought by some to be holding a golden Wonka ticket to ultimate political power in his home country, where he hasn't really resided since 1978. But such are the mechanics of culture cringe. For Ignatieff, having missed out on the first Quebec sovereignty referendum, the patriation of the Constitution, the Meech Lake Accord, the negotiations on free trade and the 1988 election, the Charlottetown Accord, and the second Quebec sovereignty referendum--all of which catches us up only as far as ten years ago--must be counted a decisive advantage.

Of course, he's been watching it all unfold from various perches like the BBC, the Soros Foundation, and his present posting at the Kennedy School of Government, which is nothing if not a self-conscious laboratory for the creation of a global énarque class. And, without doubt, a suitable distance can allow one to see the whole forest instead of just the neighbouring trees. Still, it's a bit much to play the immigrant card on your own behalf. "Hey, believe me, I know all about what it's like to flee a stagnant authoritarian country for greener pastures--my Russian grandparents did it, and so did I..."

Newman's column was accompanied by a laboured and unconvincing thesis about "discontinuity" being the key principle of Liberal leadership selection. But Ignatieff is certainly aware of how Liberal sentiment was rallied behind Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. (As convenient as it is for him to recall his refugee ancestry to mind, he remains the nephew of George Grant and the grandson of George M. Grant, WASP ascendancy figures whose stature might best be compared to Thomas and Matthew Arnold's in England.) And Ignatieff has been seeding Canadian soil lately with op-eds, finding fertile soil at both the Globe, where he once served as a reporter, and the Post, where his support for the Bush administration's "war on terror" commands respect.

It is a respect I am tempted to share. Last night, during a long evening power outage in my neighbourhood, I settled in with a flashlight and a recent book I venerate, Robert Conquest's Reflections on a Ravaged Century. Lo and behold, who should turn up in its earliest pages but the 1992 incarnation of Ignatieff, in the guise of a BBC interviewer, giving E.J. Hobsbawm a most deserved what-for about his unapologetic Communism. On questions of geopolitics, Ignatieff is admirably uncringing, especially for a leader in the global human rights industry.

The practical question for Ignatieff is whether such a man can possibly seduce the mass of the Liberal Party. Ignatieff's take on American imperialism flies in the face of Liberal history; he calls it "a new invention in the annals of political science, an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known." For supporting the Iraq war, questioning the apostolic bona fides of the UN, and accepting the legitimacy of superpower intervention against rogue states, Ignatieff has already been permanently tarred on the Left as a late-life neoconvert. Paul Martin's other potential successors--even assuming the party's iambic pattern of French and English leaders doesn't hold--can do their opposition research at the nearest Chapters store.

Like others I would feel a intellectual's satisfaction at living in a country where Ignatieff and Stephen Harper were the leaders of the two main parties. But the truth is that political leadership has done much to de-intellectualize Stephen Harper; and when it comes to the state of Canada, I'm frankly not certain that Ignatieff wouldn't already come pre-de-intellectualized. Ignatieff's Liberal convention address was a plea for trans-regional unity that commenced, awkwardly, with the requisite homage to Pierre Trudeau--

I watched a great man become a great politician, and let me tell you if you weren't there, all I can say (I hope some of you were there) but if you weren't there, the words of the poet apply, 'blessed was it in that dawn to be alive and to be young was very heaven'.

--confirmed the attendees in the corrosive and despicable view that the Liberal Party bears the same relationship to Canada that the Holy Spirit does to the Son--

Other parties represent regional grievances and regional interests, other parties represent sectional, class interests. Our party represents the nation, ocean to ocean. Our party has never been just a machine for winning elections, though they were the best machine for winning elections in the world. But we've never, my friends, just been a machine for winning elections. We are the governing party of our nation.

--and proceeded to offer a litany of dialectical platitudes and policy prescriptions that were mostly offensive when they made any sense at all. This paragraph, for example:

We need to use federal power to make education a ladder of mobility for all our people and an engine of productivity for our economy. Let's not, my dear friends, let's not get tangled up in federal-provincial battles over jurisdiction. Let's just do it.

Hey, it's only the constitution! How Paul Martin must have felt, hearing Ignatieff--whom he had personally invited to be the cynosure of the convention--dismiss the tension between the federation and the provinces as a "tangle", a mere creation of the mind. That Ignatieff was applauded for this sort of thing only shows how far the Liberals have wandered from the etymology of their name. All that's needed is a strong will--we'll have those Pontine marshes cleared up in no time. (He also explicitly celebrated Trudeau's support for Cuba and Red China, which makes one wonder whether old Hobsbawm might have managed to daub some sort of musk on Ignatieff's skin during their televised contretemps.)

Well, as you get closer to Broadway, the critics get tougher. One week ago Ignatieff elbowed his way into the Post again with some trenchant observations about the implications of Adscam for the future of the country. Again, he displayed an intellectual's willingness to think clearly instead of wishfully on a key point:

Federalists have wasted a good deal of time contesting the idea that Quebec is a nation. I have never had difficulty conceiving Quebec as such. My central objection to Quebec nationalism is to its claim that it is necessary for their nation to have a state.

But, in the end, he passed the buck:

What makes the current situation serious is that our constitutional crisis is rapidly becoming systemic: Atlantic provinces discovering new energy wealth are seeking to patriate this wealth for their own development alone. Hard-pressed Ontario is asking how it can meet the steadily escalating costs of its commitments in health and education and is raising fundamental questions about its historic role in equalization. Alberta has its own concerns with equalization. Saskatchewan wants to re-negotiate its deal. Strapped municipalities -- many of them larger than some provinces -- are asking where they fit into a fiscal federalism constructed primarily to distribute taxation and revenue between federal and provincial governments.

Successive federal and provincial governments have compounded the problem with case-by-case improvisation, making deals that are slowly provoking a systemic crisis, in which Canada backs its way, without fully intending it, into an ever more asymmetrical, and ever more unsustainable, fiscal crisis.

If our fiscal crisis is systemic then it needs to be dealt with systematically. A Royal Commission -- with bipartisan representation from all three levels of government -- is one possible way to re-order fiscal federalism for the 21st century.

Nothing printed in any Canadian newspaper this year can have provoked as much laughter as this punchline, for which Peter Foster eviscerated Ignatieff in Wednesday's Financial Post. It speaks to Ignatieff's real detachment from the scene: "I dunno, why don't you guys ask some smart people what they think?"

If he were seeking a real response to the worst political scandal in Canadian history, he could have addressed the progress of Liberal autocracy through the 20th century--the way it has persistently impoverished our constitutional safety nets, transferred power from Parliament to the Prime Minister's Office, centralized authority in Ottawa, and used the public purse as a political war chest. All of which set the table for Adscam--hell, it cooked and served the whole meal.

But Ignatieff regards the Liberals the same way all Liberals do, though he is more candid than most. He sees them as "the governing party", period. It's a matter of religious faith. So while he might be capable of quarrelling with the Liberals on fine points of post-Pearsonian foreign policy, he is utterly unprepared to offer a comprehensive critique of the party's history. He is no use at all to Canada, even as a guide to the Liberal Party's soul-searching (and let us know when you find one, fellas). Still, one almost wishes the movement to bring him "home" would pick up steam; it might be a fitting penalty for his fatuity for him to return to Canada and be confronted with the crooked, mean, evasive, plumb-stupid reality of Liberalism. Imagine the courtly, learned professor trying to absorb the reality of--never mind actually dealing with--creatures like Alfonso Gagliano. Dante himself could not devise a better hell for an intellectual than the one called Ottawa.

- 10:16 pm, April 23 (link)

Facelift for the Colonel

Hot off the Bloomberg wire:

Col. Harland Sanders, the advertising icon of KFC restaurants for decades, has a new image as the company seeks younger customers. Yum! Brands Inc., which operates the fried-chicken restaurants, is testing a more youthful version of Sanders' image and bringing back the Kentucky Fried Chicken name to 50 stores that it's opening, company spokeswoman Bonnie Warschauer said Wednesday.

...The chain changed its name from Kentucky Fried Chicken to just KFC in 1991 as part of an attempt to promote a healthier image.

So... the image is now too healthy, and it needs a little more danger put back in? "Try KFC's new Widowmaker Sports Bucket... we dare you!"

No, I don't think they'll be including a Jagged Metal Krusty-O with every box of Popcorn Chicken anytime soon. Perhaps the deep thinkers at Yum Brands are beginning to realize how silly it was to expect the public to forget that KFC's main product offering is fried chicken. There are signs here of a planned reversion to the brand's real strengths--its dignified antiquity, and its relative authenticity.

KFC on Wednesday opened a store in Louisville, Ky., that uses the full Kentucky Fried Chicken name and features the new, updated image of Sanders, who's wearing a red apron over his white suit. The new store is "a restaurant of the future" and will also test new items, including $3.95 entrees such as chicken mashed potatoes and chicken rice, Warschauer said. The new menu includes buttermilk popcorn shrimp and "Kentucky" sides like corn, yams, cinnamon apples, and collard greens.

That's right, kiddies--the "K" in "KFC" once stood for a mythical place called "Kentucky"! I hope the test works out. There is nothing more depressing than ordering up a big tub of delicious chicken from KFC and trying to decide how best to dispose of the lamentable side dishes--the lifeless, twice-digested coleslaw, the macaroni salad fabricated with Elmer's Glue, the One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich dinner roll, and the gloopy, joyless potato salad that would break your mother's heart clean into two neat, bloodless, pathetic pieces. (þ: AdRants)

- 12:52 am, April 22 (link)

"Is anyone else sick to tears of commentary drowning out information? Signed, a commentator." Inkless Wells covers the Prime Minister's televised mea minima culpa as it unfolds. Me, I'm keeping the powder dry for Saturday's Post... -9:12 pm, April 21
German shepherd

From Wednesday morning's New York Times, which I cite here not because it is a bad newspaper but because it is a good one:

Pope Benedict's well-known stands include the assertion that Catholicism is "true" and other religions are "deficient"; that the modern, secular world, especially in Europe, is spiritually weak; and that Catholicism is in competition with Islam.

In other words--oh my God! They picked a Catholic to be Pope!

An arguable solecism crept into early wire stories about Ratzinger's election; he has been widely described as the first German pope since Victor II (1055-57). It should be noted that the unfortunate Adrian VI (1522-23)--also one of Benedict's forerunners as supreme inquisitor of the Roman church--was born in Utrecht, but had German ancestry and is sometimes claimed by the Germans.

I haven't been able, all day, to shake the science-fictiony feeling of seeing someone other than John Paul II wearing the papal regalia. "Benedict XVI? C'mon! This is some kind of weird Hollywood movie set in the year 2007, right?" At least my forecast of the outcome rewarded all those years of reading. I'm not the man to ask what will happen next, but in view of the new Pope's advanced age (and his obvious readiness to assume the papal power), it may be expected to happen quickly.

[UPDATE, April 21: On a strictly human level, even those opponents of Ratzinger who are pre-emptively denouncing his papacy must be moved by his brother's statement that he had "hoped he would be spared".

[Georg Ratzinger] told the Munich paper TZ that he had already begun mourning his brother, fearing that their regular get-togethers were now over.
The brothers used to meet for their favourite roast dinner at least four times a year. "Our motto was: as long as our stomachs and intestines are still working, we're still alive," said Fr Ratzinger.
"But that's just not going to happen anymore. I suppose I'll just have to go to Rome instead."

Knight-Ridder's Matthew Schofield has filed an article on the new pope's love of cats, which I'm afraid I can't help regarding as an appealing quality.]

- 1:20 am, April 20 (link)

And that's why they call it Hit & Run: Welch 1, Mellencamp(s) 0. -9:45 pm, April 18
Skinny legs and all

So Time magazine gives Ann Coulter a stunningly flattering treatment--humanizing her, capturing her complexities, dispelling misconceptions, and even pointing out how rarely she gets caught in print errors--and how does she react? She bitches about Platon's cover photo for the issue. Disconcerted that the Greek celebrity photographer shot her from a low angle and used a slightly fisheyed lens, she apparently raged "Why can't they just photograph conservatives straight?!"

You know... conservatives like, um, Max Cleland and Al Sharpton. I suppose Ann Coulter's just being Ann Coulter here--if she got hit by a bus, you know she'd find some way to blame Ted Kennedy for it--but complaining that Platon shot you from a low angle is like griping that Lucian Freud made you look lumpy.

- 4:18 pm, April 18 (link)

Monday's National Post features my brief primer for Canadians on the scary Hans-Hermann Hoppe affair, which recently ended in a Pyrrhic victory for the UNLV Austrian-school economist and author of Democracy: The God That Failed. Readers may wish to note that while the administrative bullying of Prof. Hoppe has ceased, the question whether the bizarre medieval process might have been prolonged remains open:

President Carol Harter's statement that the university has dropped its case against Hans-Hermann Hoppe is a victory of sorts, and yet it is not a clarion call on behalf of the freedom to teach; indeed, it seems to leave an opening for future violations of its contractual guarantee of academic freedom insofar as lecture content must be tempered by "significant corresponding academic responsibility"; "where there may be ambiguity between the two" freedom must be "foremost."

Academic freedom here seems more like contingent administrative permission, something granted to prisoners on parole. The statement also implies that the Hoppe case was somehow ambiguous.

The grotesquely funny thing about the whole battle is that the comment that drove Prof. Hoppe's persecutor over the edge was really value-neutral. Hoppe noted that some demographic groups might be expected to have a shorter time-horizon than others, and cited homosexuals--who usually have no progeny--as an example of such a group. This could account, as Hoppe said, for certain persistent patterns of risk-acceptance amongst gay men. The patterns themselves ought not to be a matter of controversy, statistically; what Hoppe's hypothesis does is to provide a rational account of them. Personal time-preference judgments are just that--personal.

This concept is a powerful tool for reinterpreting political debates ranging from tobacco reduction to the Kyoto Protocol to estate taxes. Are we supposed to believe that it ought to be left out of the toolkit when it comes time to tackle policy questions raised by gay and lesbian liberation? To take one example, that renowned homophobe Andrew Sullivan has been exasperated for months at the apparent determination of gay sex educators and public-health officials to tolerate--if not actively foster--the conditions for a recrudescence of AIDS in a tougher, meaner form. Sullivan himself might benefit from a reconsideration of the "debate" as a quarrel between groups of people with different--and, arguably, equally rational--time-horizons.

- 2:19 am, April 18 (link)

Your weekend homework

I'll be out of town (this town, anyway) overnight, but if I were staying put there'd be three sites I'd be monitoring closely.

The jeers of a large fan base that just wants content instead of constant interface-tinkering have finally intimidated Andrew Coyne, and he's been all over the Gomery Commission inquiry like a cop on a Timbit. This is where you should be going for history's first cool, delicious draft. In related news, new polls are confirming a mass migration in support from Liberal to Conservative outside Quebec. Oddly enough, the Globe's Ipsos poll has the NDP suffering some mysterious collateral damage.

Meanwhile, Steve Sailer is quietly destroying the suddenly-ubiquitous Steven Levitt Freakonomics hypothesis that the demographic effects of Roe v. Wade ultimately served to drive American crime rates down in the 1990s. It feels like Levitt's theory has been embraced by both pro-choicers, who would like to believe that legalized abortion has positive social effects, and by pro-lifers, who just want to convince people that it has some sort of second-order social effect we are obliged to consider. Unfortunately for both sides, the theory had already been reduced to a rapidly drying heap of bones before Levitt put it in book form.

If you're looking for a break from politics, you might consider tuning in to's live online coverage of the CanWest national spelling bee, which starts at 7 p.m. Eastern time today.

- 12:14 pm, April 16 (link)

Live from the centre of the universe: Channel 102's Cat News. -9:21 pm, April 15
Live by the sword: Interfax is reporting that Garry Kasparov was seriously assaulted in Moscow today--with a chessboard. -8:59 pm, April 15
It was erected today. On Monday afternoon it will become the most closely-watched object on Earth... -5:20 pm, April 15
Before there was Serrano: "This picture of a patient who had alkaptonuria was taken by my father, Dr. Ian Maxwell, in 1957 and was developed using the patient's own urine." -2:50 pm, April 14
Stan up for your rights

Time for an update on the Free Stanley movement that continues to give tangible existence to this site's fantasies of hidden influence. (Would you believe me if I told you that the domain was spotted in this site's logs right around the time this story broke? Weird, but absolutely true.) The Canadian Press reported late yesterday that a group of amateur hockey players in Toronto have taken a step long contemplated but never yet fulfilled: they're bringing an actual lawsuit asking for the Cup to be declared a public trust. Moreover, CP actually missed an encouraging part of the story.

The Wednesday Nighters, led by Torontonians David Burt and Gard Shelley and represented by lawyer Tim Gilbert, filed a claim against the NHL and the Cup's trustees in Ontario Superior Court on Wednesday.

The missing datum is that Tim Gilbert (who's working pro bono) is the Gilbert in Gilbert's LLP, an intimidating élite boutique founded in 2001. He is playing outside his big-pharma home turf, but we are not talking about some ambu-chaser with time on his hands. The official website of the plaintiffs,, is slender on documentation at the moment.

Free Stanley, the Edmonton-based group that was the first to board the bandwagon, is applauding the Wednesday Nighters for getting the issue before a court. They've already obtained a legal opinion to the effect that the Cup is a public trust.

We are of the view the trustees of the cup, Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Morrison, act as fiduciaries. As such, the trustees may not simply exercise their power in favour of those objects who "happen to be at hand or to claim their attention." In short, simply because the National Hockey League is the most viable professional league in Canada the trustees must, from time to time, consider whether or not to exercise the power to allow another team, league or association to challenge for the Stanley Cup. This is particularly relevant at a time when the NHL has locked out its players during the 2004-2005 hockey season...

In our opinion, the Memorandum of Agreement entered into between the league and the Trustees on June 30, 1947, is not only voidable, but void. Delegatus non potest delegare. The simple fact the trustees sought to relieve themselves of the duty of custody as to who should compete for the Stanley Cup is not, in our view, sufficient to suggest the NHL has control over the trophy. The trustees were not entitled to delegate their powers and discretion in such matters and the agreement, as such, is not valid at law. Moreover, the present trustees have a duty, in our view, to seek to set aside the agreement and restore the terms of the trust.

Who would compete for the Cup if the suit were won and the trustees were required to organize a tournament? I'm afraid I may be accused of a vested interest if I point out what I couldn't have foreseen last year--that the team most often mentioned as a possible contender, so far, has been the University of Alberta Golden Bears, who just won their 11th national title.

- 1:06 am, April 14 (link)

Wide world of sports

Registered users of the Western Standard's website can now read my column for the May 2 issue, which covers intensifying interest in the Canadian curling championship and proposes that it is "reality television" at its finest. Subscribers should soon have the May 16 issue containing some thoughts about peer-reviewed research on how NHL hockey could really bring in more fans. And I've just been helping to brush up the May 30 column, which is a Western Canadian story pegged to the sudden new popularity of the poker variant known as Texas hold-'em.

You'll have to buy the magazine to read what I have to say in there, but the rise of poker generally is a subject that we're only now coming to grips with. If you'd told anyone in 2000 that the coming decade would see a Golden Age of Poker, with several successful cable-TV series devoted entirely to the game and leading players becoming major cult figures, you'd have been snickered at. I, at least, would have snickered at you. Poker involves statistical reasoning and quantitative risk assessment. North American culture makes poor mathematical skills practically a point of pride, and is truly woeful about inculcating numeracy. So why is Daniel Negreanu suddenly on my TV and the local sports-radio station all the time?

Well, if you've heard Negreanu give interviews, you already know part of the answer. No-limit Texas hold-'em is a form of the game that downplays the statistical side, by allowing everybody just two concealed cards, and puts the strongest possible emphasis on psychology--the imperative choice of the right moment to go all-in. What Negreanu often says is that, yes, it's important to know how to price your preflop cards correctly, but opponent modelling is what really separates the men from the boys.

There's an interesting irony here. Before the poker boom, there existed a popular misconception that success at Texas hold-'em was dependent on searching your opponent's face and hands for "tells"--tics or gestures that might somehow give away the substantive content of his concealed cards. Top players encouraged this belief--as some still do--by wearing sunglasses, scarves, and big floppy hats to the table in high-end tournaments. But the success of Chris Moneymaker and other players who learned the game online, without the benefit of tells, has somewhat discredited the idea that tells are a major part of the high-level game. Yet success is obviously not an algorithmic matter of evaluating your own hand correctly, either; you really do have to use psychology, and to know when to strike. The relevant information doesn't come from tells, but from building up and refining a mental picture of your opponents from their actual behaviour in the play. And, sometimes, just guessing from their history or general conduct when they might be feeling desperate or vulnerable.

Last night, after I'd completed the research on my WS story, I happened to catch about ten seconds of the Celebrity Poker Showdown and saw Maura Tierney try to drive some schlub from the table by going all-in after the flop. She happened to remark, "This game would be a lot easier if I knew math." She is probably underrating her command of the relevant pre-flop hand values, even if that command is strictly intuitive. But it so happens that the mathless Newsradio cutie is one of the better poker-playing celebs. It got me thinking about the gender angle in poker; the elite players are, with one or two exceptions, all male, as is the case in chess and other games. And, as in chess, it's hard to know which of two major mutual confounders creates this difference--whether men dominate the game because they are overrepresented on the right tail of the bell curve when it comes to mathematics and the attendant probabilistic calculations, or whether they dominate because of the gift of testosterone.

One assumes it's the latter. But the reflexive liberal assumption that the gender distribution is a social construct probably should not be rejected here either; if any activity is archetypally "male", it's poker. Role models like Annie Duke, or for that matter Maura Tierney, may attract more women to tournament play over time. And one would suspect that their advantage in interpreting facial expressions and subtle emotional cues, which is confirmed by science as well our common experience of the sexes, would give them an edge as opponent-modellers.

(This might be a good juncture at which to confess that I took Simon Baron-Cohen's "brain sex" test and came out something like 70% female. Ouch. My strongest suit on the test, by far, was the interpreting-expressions bit. The comical part of this is that in taking that part of the test, I quickly realized that I couldn't trust my male intuitions, which more or less immediately interpreted any female pair of eyes as signalling a wild estrous frenzy. So I had to step back and construe the muscle behaviour and the lid and brow positioning of women's faces carefully and intellectually--which worked like a charm. There is probably a lesson in this if I can ever overcome the implied insult to my manhood long enough to reflect on it...)

- 9:15 pm, April 13 (link)

Casting the first stone?

A reader writes with a question:

Ralph Klein made a comment that he would be "drawn and quartered" for doing things similar to that which are being alleged at the Gomery Inquiry. Given Alberta's long-running one-party state, what prevents Adscam-type activity there?

Let's just say that Ralph should be more careful about shooting his mouth off. The Kelley Charlebois affair perhaps doesn't rise to the level of Adscam, but if I were Klein I wouldn't be issuing open invitations for people to recall it to mind. And some say that if the whole truth were known about the quid pro quo in the ATB-WEM scandal, it would make Adscam look like dime-store stuff quantitatively and ethically. The openly discussable facts about loan guarantees extended to West Edmonton Mall in the 1990s are bad enough, but the bottom-line effects on the notional sale price of the Treasury Branches (our province's oddball government-owned quasi-bank) have been delayed far into a wispy future, and while the guarantees were extended on the basis of bogus economic reasoning, there was at least a paper trail.

Alberta doesn't have some kind of magical insulation against sleaze; you have only to pick up the National Post and read the latest about the Alberta Securities Commission to confirm it. At the interface between business and government, this province has the same problems of parochialism and incestuousness that Quebec does. They might be worse. The points in our "defence" are that these problems don't affect taxpayers outside Alberta; that the government of Alberta is a successful economic manager, and imposes less of a total tax burden for its mildly crooked operations; and that there is a bloc of cranky, pious evangelicals in the Assembly, serving as a redeeming corvine presence on guard against the most egregious behaviour by public servants. Perhaps the most important point of all is that the "one-party state" in Alberta depends to an enormous degree on the continued stumbles of the federal Liberals; to the degree that the Grits can't clean up their act, they make life harder for our opposition, which is lucky to get its deposits back, never mind run a proper research mill. But rest assured, a lot of Albertans are dying to vote for someone other than Ralph Klein, and the truth is that right now he is suffering a slow-motion version of Jean Chretien's political fate (itself an absurdly protracted process). Like any party in unchallenged command of a polity, the Alberta Conservatives encompass many factions that are constantly watching each other, hoping to stick the knife in. It's not genuine accountability, but it will do in a pinch.

- 2:04 pm, April 12 (link)

Ham on Rye

Samantha Israel's immersive research project on weblogging has ended with a 2,400-word Ryerson Review of Journalism piece on the Canadian weblog scene. The arrival of another piece about blawwwwwgs must be deemed unwelcome in principle, but the article is unusually thorough, and your correspondent pops up several times therein.

- 11:50 pm, April 11 (link)

A question of loyalties

My Post column today was revealed, in the cold light of late afternoon, to have been a sort of moralizing drum solo with one fairly novel observation buried in the back:

According to interviews given [late last] week by Alain Renaud, [the Liberal Party's man on the Groupaction payroll], Groupaction -- sustained by its federal connections -- ended up giving the Parti Québécois $100,000 to help nail down an ad contract with the Société des Alcools du Québec. (Incidentally, those of you who have been opposing privatized liquor retailing can now shut up forever.) The present prime minister appears to regard the existence of this donation as a demonstrated fact, since he brought it up in the House of Commons; and the PQ, which offered on Saturday to return the money, has thereby confirmed it.

Which reminds us that at the outset of the Gomery inquiry, Jean Chrétien himself turned up and told a folksy fairy story about how there are two mutually exclusive kinds of ad agencies in Quebec, separatist and federalist; and if things got a little out of hand while some extra juice was being applied to the federalist ones, tant pis. But now it seems Groupaction belonged to both species. So are there really two clearly demarcated tribes, or is the whole thing -- perhaps even the ostensive antagonism of "separatism" and "federalism" -- just a shell game designed to befuddle the federal taxpayer?

This was a rhetorical question asked purely for effect: anyone who has tracked the comic migrations of major Quebec politicians knows that, to some degree, separatism and federalism are labels of convenience. What we call "separatism" is (for most) a negotiating position, not an ideological switch that's set to "on" or "off". These are points on a continuum or spectrum--perhaps not even that, since one can conditionally support both the perpetuation and destruction of Canada without contradiction. These categories are not hermetically sealed boxes.

The failure of English Canadian commentators to understand this can perhaps be seen as a classic "Two Solitudes" dichotomy between Canada's linear, Aristotelian Anglos and its politically ludic and elusive French. But the "two tribes" story is deliberately promoted by the Liberals to foster the useful mass perception of eternal war for national unity; and the Conservatives, perhaps rightly despairing of being able to disabuse Canadians of a lifetime's mental habits, are now playing the game vigorously. Jason Kenney actually stated today that the Tories would support the Liberal government against a Bloc Quebecois non-confidence motion because the caucus "refuses to let the separatists dictate the timing of an election." The Conservatives would then, of course, reserve the right to bring their own motion.

The problem with this sort of posturing is that Adscam is scarcely likely to reduce the BQ's seat totals in Quebec; even if their support remains flat, as it does in this morning's brain-melting Ekos poll, they'll gain from facing a divided federalist enemy. In order to govern, either the Liberals or the Conservatives may have to eventually stop denying the Bloc members their due dignity as parliamentarians and start treating them as though they actually represent Canadian citizens possessing democratic privileges. But neither Paul Martin nor Stephen Harper wants to be the first to "get into bed" with the Satanic separatists--many of whom were Liberals ten years ago, and who may become Liberals or Conservatives five years hence.

But I digress. What I wanted to note--and what is relevant to all this--was the news emerging from today's Gomery Commission testimony: namely, that Jean Brault is a separatist, or was at least perceived that way by Alain Renaud. We already know that Brault's wife, Johanne Archambault, contributed to the Bloc Quebecois in fiscal 2002. Today, according to the CP's Brian Daly, Renaud told Gomery

...about Brault's efforts to help take Canada apart while earning money to keep it together. The curious contradiction between Brault's politics and his business drew smiles and sardonic remarks from those who witnessed the surprise revelation, including presiding judge John Gomery.

Sylvain Lussier, lawyer for the federal solicitor general, had asked Renaud about his former boss's leanings during cross-examination. "I think he was more on the sovereigntist side than the federalist side," said Renaud, adding he heard from a colleague that Brault once did door-to-door work for the Parti Quebecois.

...Brault has implicated nearly all Quebec political parties in his allegations of corruption and shady political donations. Aside from his allegedly covert dealings with the federal Liberals, he has said he used subterfuge to donate $50,000 to Jean Charest's provincial Grits. Another $100,000 was sent to the PQ through donations from employees who were later reimbursed - a violation of provincial law.

All the while, Brault and his employees often appreared at federal Liberal dinners and golf tournaments - often for mere show, the inquiry heard. His former accountant, Roger Desjeans, testified Monday that attendance at the events became a mere formality. "When Mr. Brault bought tables, they had to be filled, so volunteers were needed," said Desjeans.

Gomery couldn't help but interject: "The same employees who made donations to the Parti Quebecois. It's a bit amusing. You were in a position to make contributions to the Parti Quebecois and applaud Mr. (Jean) Chretien." Lead inquiry counsel Bernard Roy then offered his explanation for the charade.

"Free meal."

Who knows whether Renaud was telling what he understood to be the truth about Brault? If he is right, then there is a solecism in my Post column: Brault's present and past assurances of Liberal fealty are to be regarded as outrageous lies rather than markers of the lawless Liberal culture. But either way, that culture clearly exists, if only amongst Brault's paymasters, and must be judged all the more harshly--if we are to use the Liberals' self-proclaimed standards--in the event it steered public funds into what looks like a swamp of federo-separatist crooks, or separo-federalist ones. I'll repeat here what Chretien told the inquiry on Feb. 8 about the political preferences that were used to determine which agencies got the cash from the sponsorship program:

We have to be very careful about labels. In Quebec, there are basically two types of advertising agencies: those who are "separatist-friendly", and those who are "federalist-friendly". "Federalist-friendly" agencies tended to support the Conservatives when they were in power and the Liberals when they were in power. I do hope the Government of Canada used "federalist-friendly" agencies to promote the visibility of Canada in Quebec, not because the agencies contributed to the Liberal Party until we abolished corporate donations or contributions, but because the only alternative in practical terms was to use "separatist-friendly" agencies to promote Canada.

Do the French have a word for the situation in which a monstrous excuse for criminal conduct doesn't even turn out to be factually correct? I'm pretty sure English doesn't.

- 9:43 pm, April 11 (link)

Revenge of the cats: Kelly Nestruck is folding up the tent. -5:04 pm, April 11
Ooh, nice design: The Tyee is running an elegant-looking weblog for the May 17 B.C. election. -5:02 pm, April 11
The brother from another planet: John Holbo fries, serves comment spam with relish at Crooked Timber. Results appetizing. -6:53 am, April 11
Cage match of the millennium: vs. The Ultimate Warrior. -5:48 am, April 11
Coop has a blog! And if you understand the import of this statement, you'll already have clicked on the link... (þ: Welch) -12:51 am, April 11
The death of historical memory, part DCCLXII

Mark Steyn beat me to this relevant point about the papacy hubbub (so what else is new?):

We live in a present-tense culture where novelty is its own virtue: the Guardian, for example, has already been touting the Nigerian Francis Arinze as "candidate for first black pope". This would be news to Pope St. Victor, an African and pontiff from 189 to 199. Among his legacies: the celebration of Easter on a Sunday. That's not what the Guardian had in mind, of course: it meant "the first black pope since the death of Elvis"--or however far back our societal memory now goes.

You've probably already read the whole thing. I can't count how many times I've seen this "first black pope" meme, invariably from liberals (like those at 60 Minutes) who are undisguisedly thrilled at the mere possibility that Arinze might win the triregnum. These people, many of whom are "Vatican correspondents", apparently have no clue that "Catholicism" as such was essentially born in Africa. They'll be outraged if the animist-weaned Arinze doesn't win, as he probably won't. And if he were to win, they'd quickly start heaping abuse on him for his doctrinal orthodoxy, just as they did with the late pontiff.

The Canadian press is becoming mildly excited about the papacy prospects of Cardinal Ouellet, the country's primate. I don't think this is entirely without warrant, though the true reasons have mostly escaped the press, which emphasizes Ouellet's command of five languages, including Italian. (But the named languages also include French, English, Spanish, and German. Are we to believe that a 60-year-old Catholic cardinal possesses no Latin?)

The real reason for looking at Ouellet is that he, like Cardinal Ratzinger, is a former student of Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, the "conservative" foil to the once-popular Vatican II interpreter Karl Rahner. It is an open question whether Ratzinger is the actual favourite in the election, but no one disputes his substantive role as a kingmaker. And Urs von Balthasar is, at the moment, the supreme modern theological figure in the Church--the heir to prior Christian superstars like Barth and Tillich. I don't really know whether Ouellet has the proper papal veneer, but it's not impossible that a Quebecker could come to be seen as an attractive bridge between Old and New World parties amongst the cardinal-electors. More to the point, the selection of Ouellet would re-evangelize the French-Canadians, a nation that was one of the world's most passionately Catholic in 1960 and one of the world's most secularized by about 1970. Ouellet is known as a calm voice in favour of revision of Quebec's Quiet Revolution. His elevation to the See of Peter would create a powerful, perhaps implacable challenge to the still-new social order in Quebec, just as Karol Wojtyla's challenged the political order in Poland. It must be a tempting thought for some.

For those who missed the news, we note with grief that Cardinal Sin of the Philippines is unable to attend the conclave due to illness.

- 12:31 am, April 11 (link)

I keep replaying Scott Reid's comment in my mind...

..."Paul Martin is the wire brush that will scrub clean this stain on Canadian politics."

Honestly, now, if you moved this metaphor any closer to the bathroom, there'd be no room for anybody to sit down. What have we come to when the communications director for the prime minister of Canada comes within an ace of referring to his own party as a filthy toilet in need of some elbow grease?

And was it in the Globe that I read the rejoinder of some wag to the effect that what the Liberals really need isn't a wire brush--it's an S.O.S. pad? Rimshot!

- 12:05 am, April 11 (link)

The phantom menace?

It doesn't take a genius to recognize that Adscam is a scandal for the Liberal party (though we are only slowly absorbing just how great a scandal it might be; it arguably portends the ruin of the country). Jean Brault's testimony to the Gomery inquiry, however, calls our attention to the flip side of the matter: it's also a scandal for the advertising trade. Siri Agrell had an interesting story in the Saturday National Post which contained this gruesome passage:

"No one should think that a cozy relationship between advertising agencies and government advertising was invented in Quebec," said Keith McKerracher, former president of the Institute of Canadian Advertising, in a letter to the National Post.

"For decades, the largest advertising agencies in Canada, all based in Toronto, have been giving free services to political parties during an election. If they were lucky enough to support the party that formed the government, they were rewarded with the advertising contracts for large government accounts."

Mr. McKerracher said he spoke out about the practice as early as 1978, during his tenure as president of the institute. "All that the Quebec agencies have done, in my opinion," he wrote, "is refine the system."

When Ms. Agrell contacted the current president of the institute, Rupert Brendon, she did not get the furious denial one might have expected. Brendon in fact suggested that McKerracher was probably right, noting that, by "surprising coincidence," the agencies that do election-time work for political parties always seem to end up getting the quotidian contracts for departmental work.

The government buys a lot of things from a lot of firms. Why, one might ask, was it advertising that proved to be the vulnerable, maggot-ridden part of the system here? A political party needs many things besides advertising; it might do contra deals with anyone in exchange for illicitly supplied goods or services. So what are the salient properties of ad agencies that make them such a fine field--so we are told by the industry's leaders--for corruption?

First of all, they provide a service, rather than goods, making slippery accounting much easier. Secondly, the agencies in question tend to be of the right size to foster like-mindedness and to protect corporate secrets. At an enormous company, you'd be bound to have one cranky Conservative-voting guy in the mailroom who blew the whistle on the whole deal. At a very tiny one, you might not have the margins to--in essence--lend money to a political party in the hope of getting a manifold return on investment later.

But one wonders just how much of it boils down to this: that ad agencies tend to be staffed by mercenary pricks whose work has no easily quantifiable value to anybody. As I understand it, these agencies do little or none of the actual creative work themselves; their job is to develop "strategies" for media buying and maintain contacts on the artistic and production side. And deciding where to place an advertisement, in the oligopoly-ridden Canadian market, is not exactly rocket science.

As a rule, most goods and services don't require an elaborate system of brokerage; when you're buying office supplies or hiring cleaning staff, you are dealing with established, fairly predictable market values. It seems to me that the kind of middle-man structure one sees in advertising arises in businesses like the stock market, where there's an unusually strong risk you may be misled about the value of what you're buying, or in trades like insurance, where the pricing is different for different customers. The latter shouldn't be generally true of advertising, since column-inches and billboard space presumably go directly to the highest bidder. The issue is that advertising isn't fungible; the value received for money depends on the hideously fine semiotic intricacies of the ad itself, and on the degree of consonance between the advertising vehicle and the target market. And the value received is not terribly easy to verify after the fact, either.

In fact--and I say this as someone whose livelihood depends on advertising, who may sell it himself in this space one day, and who has high regard for its creative aspects--it's not real easy to show that most of the miasma of advertising that surrounds us accomplishes any damn thing at all. Like the stock market and Hollywood, advertising agencies are a natural habitat for sly trimmers and cheese-thieves, and any such agency that gets most of its business from the government must be regarded as questionable ipso facto. There's a reason the ad game is, in cinema and literature, the archetypal place to create soul-rending conflict for some ethics-saddled do-gooder.

Monday's Post, by the way, should have my more prosaic (but less speculative) early thoughts on the post-Brault dimensions of Adscam. Grab it at a newsstand near you.

- 11:40 pm, April 10 (link)

Open sesame

This videotaped conference presentation by Dutch cryptographer/lockpicker Barry Wels is some pretty riveting online TV. Wels is part of a European network of "sport lockpickers" who share physical-security exploits and open-source the results. He's the co-author, with Rop Gonggrijp, of a seminal paper on "key bumping", a brutally simple break-in technique that works more effectively on more expensive locks that have lower engineering tolerances. In the presentation he makes short work of a few fantastically convoluted high-security locks, finishing with a hair-raising demo of how a state-of-the-art European-made lock with an implanted RFID chip can be cracked using a blank key and a high-strength neodymium magnet. Set aside fifty minutes or so if you want to watch the whole video--it starts slow, but gets better. (þ: Schneier)

[UPDATE, Apr. 11: An employee of Canada's Parliament who enjoyed this video notes that Wels uses locks from Swedish-based multinational Abloy to protect his own stuff--as, it turns out, do Parliamentary offices. Viewers of Wels' presentation can see from the exploded diagram here why Abloy's "disc" locks would be resistant to the "bumping" method.]

- 11:22 pm, April 10 (link)

Now it can be told

Justice Gomery appears to have opened the door pretty wide for publication of Jean Brault's testimony, setting aside only a few details of Brault's relationship with Chuck Guité that might complicate their June criminal trial. CBC and the Globe have released extensive canned stories containing the crux of the Brault testimony. Even those who have been keeping up with summaries on U.S. weblogs will want to read these much more intricate reports, and you can probably expect to follow suit within the hour.

- 12:43 am, April 7 (link)

Time bomb

The Post is reporting that Justice Gomery's ruling on the Brault publication ban will come down at 2 pm Eastern; I'm hearing that the ETA is 2:30. If you're a Westerner who listens to CBC Radio One you may hear me checking in on your local affiliate's afternoon chat show.

The Star's editorial board, of all benighted groups, made an important point about the ban this morning:

On the face of it, technology has made publication bans largely ineffective. Anyone with a computer can Google their way to U.S. weblogs that claim to summarize the testimony that Canadian media have been barred from reporting.
But that is exactly why such bans are dangerous. In the absence of reports from reputable news sources, Canadians must decide on their own whether the blogs are accurate.

When it comes to overwhelmingly important matters of state, publication bans don't restrict information; they merely drive out good information in favour of questionable information. This is not to say that what we've heard from the States about Brault's testimony is incorrect; my impression, based on what I've heard second-hand from people who've had access to the CPAC media feed, is that it's accurate. But on the principle of the Telephone Game it might be in the interests of justice--and even in the interests of the accused, in some cases--to let the data flow freely in their first-hand form.

Of course, in the case of the Karla Homolka publication ban, the suppression of evidence helped the accused a great deal by allowing prosecutors to cut a plea-bargain with relative impunity, safe from public criticism. By the time Canadians found out the facts of the case, Karla had made a cozy arrangement that has her coming to a neighbourhood near you this summer.

- 11:24 am, April 7 (link)

Time to catch up with recent National Post material you might not have seen... we'll start with the more interesting piece, which ran on March 26 and discussed a dramatic change in the legal framework of the world's clothing market. This is an underreported subject in the newspapers of the western world, and you really have to do some scrounging and interpreting amongst sites with names like to find out what's going on in textiles.

It happened on Jan. 1 of this year, and one economist has called it the world's "largest industrial shift in the last century." Yet in Canada, the death of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement has gone little noticed even in the business pages. You may not have known that the clothes on your back and the sheets on your bed were the product of industries shaped, and in some cases entirely created, at the behest of a global power pact. But now that the deal has been abandoned, your pocketbook may begin to notice a slight difference.

The MFA was a GATT side agreement -- actually a complicated web of bilateral treaties -- that was enacted in 1974 with the goal of slowing trade liberalization with respect to clothing and textiles. This is a polite way of saying that the rag trades in rich countries felt particularly vulnerable to all this free-trade chatter that was going around, and wanted protection for as long as possible. So Western governments adopted a system of import quotas, agreeing, essentially, to divvy up the world's textile production and enforce the division by fiat. The original agreement was meant to last only five years, but was renewed five times. This year, after a process of phase-out that began in 1995, it was finally permitted to lapse.

The quotas were originally assigned with the idea of giving every textile-exporting country about the same market share it had possessed before. But there were flaws in the distribution, explicit prejudices against potential textile giants like China and India, and countries that weren't parties to the deal at all. Garment businesses, often funded by textile makers in the countries with the tightest quotas, sprang up overnight in many places where none had been before. Over the next three decades, those businesses -- insulated from the "chaos" of international competition, and with small need to invest in increased productivity -- came to be regarded by workers as permanent features of Third World economies such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and sub-Saharan Africa.

But the world changed while the rules stayed the same. And one of the biggest changes was China's abandonment of the old Maoist command economy. With the end of the MFA, China's share of the world textiles and clothing trade, about 20% under the quotas, is expected to soar to between 45% and 70%. The figure would be even higher, but China, anxious to keep peace in the World Trade Organization, responded to Jan. 1 by voluntarily imposing a new export tax on textiles (a rather weird instance of reverse protectionism).

Many manufacturers in the developed world, who were originally intended to benefit from the MFA, have already prepared for the new order; they're mostly the sort that compete on quality rather than price. Mexican garment workers in California are feeling the pinch, as are Canadian ones in such places as Huntington, Que., where 700 workers were laid off shortly before Christmas. WestPoint Stevens Inc., a major U.S. linen manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 20.

But the blow is expected to fall the hardest on the "developing world," which so often seems not to be developing at all. For the past few months, officials around the globe have been gnawing their knuckles waiting to see exactly what will happen. Africa will be cushioned somewhat by the U.S.'s African Growth and Opportunity Act, passed in 2000, which is designed to keep American trade lanes open with the non-WTO countries there and assist countries such as Mauritius, which have almost no non-textile industries. (Thanks to AGOA, Ethiopia is exporting sportswear these days.)

But newspapers in Bangladesh, where 75% of the 1.8 million garment workers are women, have apocalyptically called Jan. 1 "our last day." In the Philippines, authorities are preparing for a sharp hit to first-quarter national export figures, and Egypt, hoping to forestall the day of reckoning, has signed on to a Jordanian-Israeli agreement allowing Arab manufacturers to piggyback on the U.S.-Israeli free-trade link. The soft U.S. dollar, it goes without saying, only intensifies the pain for the exporters.

Trade liberalization is often accused of creating a "race to the bottom," encouraging companies to transfer jobs to the lowest-paid workers they can find. But the demise of the MFA, whether good or bad in itself, re-emphasizes the real truth: A free market, on the global scale or any other, doesn't have an inherent preference for cheap labour. What it seeks out is the most productive labour, which isn't always the lowest-priced. If the new world order in textiles were a "race to the bottom," jobs would be migrating from relatively affluent China and India to miserable Bangladesh. Instead, it's going the other way -- creating a large net gain for the world economy, and particularly for textile consumers everywhere. Which is admittedly cold comfort, at best, to those who suffer from the adjustment. (March 26, 2004)

Two days later, I bounced back with a piece on Bobby Fischer--that's me, the human embodiment of versatility--whose content will be somewhat familiar to this site's frequent visitors. But at the very end I take time for one important point I haven't made here or anywhere else. I should note that the original text referred to Fischer's effort to leave Japan with an "expired" passport. That adjective attracted objections from Fischer fans, who noted that the passport had been actively revoked by the State Department (which had let Fischer travel for years, and renew the document, without raising any objections). I've changed the wording of the column to reflect those objections. No one had any complaints about the adjective "schizophrenic"...

Whenever chess fans congregate and converse, there is one topic that is absolutely fated to emerge unless it is consciously forbidden: that of Bobby Fischer, the game's great Western hero and mad lost soul. It has been 33 years since Fischer wrested the world championship from the USSR's Boris Spassky in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik. Since that time Fischer has been, essentially, absent from serious play. Generations of stars have come and gone; six of today's 10 highest-rated grandmasters were not yet born when Fischer won the title in '72. The red empire he defied has crumbled. But he remains the incomparable lodestar of attention.

The man himself made a rare public appearance on Thursday, returning to Reykjavik as a newly minted Icelandic citizen after spending eight months in detention near Narita Airport for attempting to leave Japan on an American passport that had been revoked. (Fischer says this was done behind his back, without notice.) Fischer, looking rather like the captive Saddam Hussein, thanked Iceland and held forth with a bit of his usual vile nonsense about the "Jew-controlled U.S. government." The U.S. still has an arrest warrant out for Fischer, who broke international sanctions against Yugoslavia by playing a 1992 match there with Spassky. According to recent reports, there is also an IRS grand jury proceeding underway against the ex-champion, who has boasted for decades about dodging taxes while wandering forlornly from country to country.

Iceland granted Fischer a passport in recognition of his 1972 triumph, and Japan let him go willingly enough. But Iceland has an extradition treaty with the United States, so he may not be free for long. And even if the State Department relents, it probably won't take Fischer much time to wear out his welcome in Iceland. He is greedy, uncouth, paranoid, anti-Semitic, anti-social and probably schizophrenic. He made obscene, jubilant anti-American radio broadcasts in the Philippines after 9/11, and has had the fillings removed from his teeth to prevent them from being used as mind-control receptors. Despite (or because of) his 180 IQ, he relies on sycophants to manage daily life, but inevitably denounces them in the end. It won't take him long to turn the boreal statelet into just another self-constructed prison.

Yet it would be hard to exaggerate Fischer's stature in chess. At times his seclusion has produced effects not unlike Elvis Presley's irrepressible haunting of Middle America; Fischer was, not long ago, "sighted" on the net anonymously pummelling several ranking grandmasters. It might just have been some wiseacre with a very fast computer, and it might not: No one is sure. Fischer, tormented by fantasies (and remembered realities) of Russian collusion in high-level games, says that he absolutely won't play "the old chess." He prefers "Fischerrandom," a variant he invented in which the pieces are shuffled before play commences.

To appreciate Fischer's legacy, consider his eventual successor as undisputed heavyweight champ, the intense, but normally lucid and civil, Garry Kasparov. Two weeks ago, Kasparov announced his own retirement from chess moments after winning a supertournament in Spain. Kasparov's accomplishment -- 15 years as champion, two decades as the highest-ranked player -- ostensibly dwarfs that of Fischer, who failed to fight on after reaching the pinnacle. But Kasparov's retirement caused only a modest ripple in the international press, compared with the noise generated by Fischer's imprisonment.

Lately, one of Kasparov's main preoccupations -- he is writing a mammoth multi-volume history of chess -- has been addressing a provocative hypothetical: Would Fischer have beaten Anatoly Karpov if they had played a title match in 1975? (No way, says Kasparov; but he has a vested interest in building up Karpov, his greatest rival.) The chess community, one notices, seems more interested in Kasparov's views on the Fischer-Karpov question than it is in his own actual career, or anyone else's.

It is sad to see the dynamic, spirited Kasparov take a back seat to a deranged American recluse, but it must be admitted that there is something in it, too. Fischer is as brilliant as he is loathsome, and not just at shifting chess pieces. His unpalatable, "unsportsmanlike" behaviour during the 1960s and 1970s served to establish higher standards of pay and treatment for players. His cocksure lone struggle against the Russian machine reawakened chess interest in the Western world. The introductory manual Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess (1966) remains the best-selling chess book ever printed. The Fischer chess clock, which adds time increments with each move, is the universal standard in today's game. And even Fischerrandom is recognized as a respectable attempt to rescue chess from a fate now widely feared -- slow death by endless draws at the highest echelon.

Fischer left an ineffaceable imprint on the texture of chess, not just in its won-loss records. If only he merited the respect and affection -- the safe, comfortable place in a gleaming pantheon of genius -- that his achievements might otherwise have earned. (March 28, 2004)

- 12:19 am, April 5 (link)

Can Americans take a hint?

There has been no shortage of sharp practice regarding judicial publication bans in recent Canadian history. And it seems to me as though matters have only gotten worse in the past two decades, even though the Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly wiped out the common law on the subject and put free expression on a supposedly "fundamental" footing in this country. All the same, we Canadians should probably not feel especially persecuted by the ban on reporting Jean Brault's incendiary testimony in the Gomery Commission hearings. The whole thing is a damned nuisance, to be sure, but Gomery, unlike many judges, made his ruling with grave respect for Charter principles and for the Supreme Court jurisprudence that urges judges to use such bans cautiously, rarely, and with minimal hazard to freedom of the press. He applied the ban only to the personal testimony of Brault and the others who requested one. He allowed for the revision of the ban immediately after the testimony in question had concluded in each case. And he endorses Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory's dictum in the Westray case--

Often the publicity pertaining to the evidence given at the Inquiry will have little effect on potential jurors. The impact may be fleeting and quickly fade away. How very quickly the details of a news story can be forgotten. The passage of a very few days may suffice to dim if not obliterate the memory of the reporting of Inquiry evidence. The likelihood of a prejudicial effect upon fair trial rights may be small indeed, a minor item washed away in the flood of information generated daily by the media.

--though if we are honest about it, we will have to admit that Brault's testimony is not likely to be a mere nine days' wonder.

Because of the careful manner in which Gomery has expressed himself, there is a powerful supposition that he will lift the ban on the blood-curdling Brault material, should Mr. Brault succeed in obtaining a delay in the criminal trial which was originally to commence May 2. In the meantime, Canadian webloggers may be a little baffled as to how to deal with the publication ban--what exactly it forbids them from doing, and what it permits. Judge Gomery implicitly concedes, in his ruling on the ban, that this is not entirely clear.

The expression "publication ban" as it is used in this decision, should be taken to have the meaning those words have been given in subsection 486(4.9) of the Criminal Code, which states that "no person shall publish in any way (...) any evidence taken, information given or submissions made at a hearing", in this case, a hearing of the Commission. In my interpretation of this disposition, "broadcast" includes a posting on the Internet.

Any action taken against a webmaster who posted the content of Brault's testimony, or linked to it, or linked to a page that linked to it, would presumably be subject to a later judicial review with an unforeseeable outcome. I believe that this entry complies with the ban--but does it? On Saturday Instapundit linked to "Captain" Ed Morrissey's posting (which is the top hit returned by a Google search for "brault liberal") about the Brault testimony. Is it legal for me to tell you that if I don't link to Morrissey's site itself? What about my three-year-old link to I now obliged by the ban to remove it from my sidebar? If so, for how long? Must I monitor every site on the sidebar for content whose publication by me would constitute contempt of court? I don't believe any legally solid answer is available to these questions; the nature of a hyperlink as a "publication" just hasn't been nailed down.

In the meantime, webloggers who aren't part of the media shouldn't pull too many faces just because they are encountering the contempt problem for the first time themselves. It's not unique to Canada, though it is generally worse in Canada than it is in the U.S. If webloggers are to be accorded the dignity and legal protections due to journalists, and I believe they should be, then it's only natural that they will stumble into some of the legal pitfalls inherent to journalism. Years ago, shortly after I sold my soul to the most ignoble of all trades, the Alberta Report held a short media-law seminar for its employees; it was hosted by our in-house counsel, Don Ingram, who is now a Provincial Court judge. To my surprise, the portion of the seminar devoted to defamation--which I suppose a civilian imagines to be the greatest legal threat facing reporters--was about five minutes long. It amounted to, y'know, "Have sources, don't print lies, and take good notes." And then there was a full hour about contempt of court and publication bans. Defamation is, essentially, quite tightly circumscribed in Canadian law; a publication, having printed something even slightly difficult to defend, can indemnify itself against unlimited damages by printing a suitable apology later on. But when it comes to contempt of court, you don't get any second chances, and a judge's freedom of action in protecting the sanctity of a courtroom is practically much greater than his ability to rubbish freedom of expression in defence of a reputation.

There is something important to note here: the efficacy of the ban itself will necessarily be an important component in the decision to perpetuate or abandon it. Here's a key part of the Dagenais ruling which re-wrote the common law on publication bans.

It should... be noted that recent technological advances have brought with them considerable difficulties for those who seek to enforce bans. The efficacy of bans has been reduced by the growth of interprovincial and international television and radio broadcasts available through cable television, satellite dishes, and shortwave radios. It has also been reduced by the advent of information exchanges available through computer networks. In this global electronic age, meaningfully restricting the flow of information is becoming increasingly difficult. Therefore, the actual effect of bans on jury impartiality is substantially diminishing.

These concerns about the efficacy of some publication bans fit into the analytical approach under the common law rule outlined previously at several stages, since it is necessary to consider how efficacious a publication ban will be before deciding whether a ban is necessary, whether alternative measures would be equally successful at controlling the risk of trial unfairness, and whether the salutary effects of the ban are outweighed by its negative impact on freedom of expression.

If any adverse influence of a publication on jurors can be remedied by means short of banning the publication, then it might well be argued that there is no rational connection between the publication ban and the objective of preventing the jury from being adversely influenced by information other than that presented in evidence during the trial. In such a case, it could not be asserted that a ban was necessary to protect the fairness of the trial.

Under the metaconstitutional Oakes test, any infringement of individual Charter liberties, such as a publication ban, must have a "rational connection" to the intended benefit and must be the most minimally restrictive measure that can bring about the benefit. The argument here is that if a ban doesn't work in practice--say, because American webloggers are all printing the mind-blowing stuff Canadian ones cannot--it can't meet Oakes. With due respect to the ban, which I consider myself to have observed herein, it would actively help free the hands of Canadian webloggers and reporters if our foreign cousins were to be aggressive about "publishing" the substance of the Brault testimony outside the reach of Canadian law.

Chris Selley has a brief comment that stays within the bounds of the ban, as does Norman Spector.

- 11:10 pm, April 3 (link)

Volo, nolo

There turned out to be one other thing in common between Terri Schiavo and Pope John Paul II, those strangely paired Catholic newsmakers, besides the feeding tubes and all the talk of living wills. When Mrs. Schiavo died on Thursday after two weeks without food or water, the ubiquitous photos of the swollen, inarticulate, potato-shaped invalid were suddenly replaced by forgotten images of a pretty young blonde who had struggled--quite successfully, on the photographic evidence--with her weight. As far as the newspaper reader was concerned, Terri Schiavo was suddenly transfigured in death: renewed and made whole, or as whole as she ever had been.

Similarly, we have grown accustomed to thinking of Karol Wojtyla as a trembling, drooling old gentleman whose consciousness was always fragile in his public appearances. After his death Sunday, time was bent once again, and to our temporal shock we were once again given images of a charismatic, tireless young Pope, just 58 at the time of his election. We had forgotten that he once represented middle-aged vigour as intensely as he lately symbolized the ravages of age. The biography of the human being behind the starry majesty--the military training, the hard physical work, the hiking and skiing, the secular success as a university theologian--was visible in the Pope's bright eyes and aristocratic posture. It is amusing to consider that of the two men who perhaps did the most to end the Cold War--Ronald Reagan and the Pope--both had acting on their resumes. The one might never have become President if he'd been more popular with audiences; the other, who appeared on the Polish stage clandestinely during the war, could easily have ended up resisting Fascism and Communism from within the arts rather than the Church.

Non-Catholics are rightly grateful that the Church, faced with the unexpected crisis precipitated by the premature death of John Paul I, chose a man with experience of the 20th century's worst ideological horrors. The direction Catholicism was to take still had not finally been settled in 1978; the church was still, then, emerging tentatively from the maelstrom of the Second Vatican Council. The Pope's influence stretches well beyond the Cold War proper. Marxist-influenced Liberation Theology was near the height of its prestige at the time of his election, and under a more accommodating Pope it could have survived as a vehicle for Third World socialism. It certainly has the better of the scriptural arguments.

In modern times, the eventual identity of the papal successor has been a surprise more often than not. On the other hand, the attention to the candidacy of Cardinal Ratzinger has become so intense in the past year or so that one half-expects to see him chosen quickly by a cardinal-electorate that is 98% composed of John Paul II's personal appointees. All things being equal, I should have much preferred the present pope to live on much longer, just to go on frustrating the dishonest liberal wishful thinking that characterizes most press coverage of the papacy. Reporters following the Vatican tend to robotically promote candidates representing "diversity" or "change"; any minute now I expect to pick up the morning paper and read the headline "Is It Time For A Gay Pope?"

Popes are actually chosen, as far as I can discern, for one or more of three qualities--diplomatic success in the service of the Church, attractive pastoral qualities, or orthodox intellectual brilliance. The former should not be a consideration this time, since John Paul II has done so much of the geopolitical lifting himself. The last points to Ratzinger; the only other figure who can rival his theological stature is perhaps Archbishop von Schönborn of Austria, but Schönborn is fatally idiosyncratic, and his national church is under a serious cloud at the moment. If the cardinals seek the middle type--the Luciani type, the Pope-as-beloved-paterfamilias--no one can really say who will emerge. Bergoglio, the bus-riding Archbishop of Buenos Aires, is perhaps one underappreciated candidate from this standpoint, though the church may not yet be ready for a Jesuit pope.

- 12:11 pm, April 3 (link)