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Parental advisory: explicit lyrics.


Death to Field of Dreams, say Matt Welch and Roger Angell. Matt calls it "insidious, cynical bullshit" and Angell describes it as "baloney, sweet and gooey". Ew, sweet and gooey baloney! That is one nasty-ass mixed metaphor.

Well, if I were going to rummage through Angell's oeuvre for goo, I don't think I'd find any shortage. But Matt's got a point: it is pretty cynical, the way the movie makes the Black Sox out to be these ethereal martyred naïfs. And there's no question that this whole mystic Bart Giamatti schtick that baseball's been saddled with is no help to the game at all.

But I can't raise a hand even indirectly to my hero, Bill Kinsella. I think Umberto Eco's thoughts are relevant here:

I think that in order to transform a work into a cult object one must be able to break, dislocate, unhinge it so that one can remember only parts of it, irrespective of their original relationship with the whole. In the case of a book one can unhinge it, so to speak, physically, reducing it to a series of excerpts. A movie, on the contrary, must be already ramshackle, rickety, unhinged in itself.

And boy oh boy has this ever happened with Field of Dreams--and, at one remove, Kinsella's Shoeless Joe, against which the semiotic violence is far more to be deplored.

- 7:32 pm, August 31 (link)


(Link from Robot Wisdom) These are desperate times at NASA, writes computer engineer William H. Jones in an IFPTE publication.

In some distant past, the Agency, then the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, was perhaps nearly free of politics; it was thought to be a good thing for the Government to devote a little money towards learning what flight was really all about so that our aeronautical industry could grow and mature, and that was about all the attention it got. With the coming of the missile gap, and with the gigantic push President Kennedy gave to that issue, NASA became a political instrument of world-spanning and unassailable importance. The unfortunate truth, though, is that the moment Neil Armstrong's foot touched the surface of the moon, that all evaporated. We had met the challenge, we had reached the goal, and the question of every day since then has really been "Why waste any more money on space?".

- 7:02 am, August 31 (link)

Dear God, get that man a ball gag

Memo to Jeremy Lott: the next time you want to suggest to my bosses that my workload should be increased, why don't you just SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE THE HELL UP instead? Someone might be listening.

- 5:42 am, August 31 (link)


If the lovefest between myself and the Blowhards gets any more earnest, we will pretty much have to have sex. One of "Friedrich"'s entries today is an encomium to my site which is far too flattering for me to link to. I instead direct you to this fun excerpt from Paul Johnson's Intellectuals, a wonderful book skewering influential figures in philosophy from the past couple centuries.

Friedrich wonders why he wasn't exposed to the material in Intellectuals at university. Tcha!--the answer is that you went to the wrong university. Some of us, I am happy to report, got lucky. I caught the tail end of Professor Ronald Hamowy's tenure at the University of Alberta and was actually assigned Intellectuals in one of his history seminars.

This was the most extreme serendipity I ever hope to experience in my lifetime. As late as my fourth year, I didn't know Prof. Hamowy from a canned ham. I signed up for a first-semester seminar on the basis of the course description alone. As a prof, he played his cards quite close to the vest. I sat through the first couple of classes, trying to remain quite invisible; however, I have a problem with excessively mobile eyebrows, and whenever a fellow student would say something particularly bizarre, Hamowy would notice my contemptuous expression and ask for a rejoinder, nodding sagely when he received one. He seemed to delight in ratting me out this way--I didn't know why.

Then one day I was lined up outside his door, probably to discuss the due date of some term paper or other, when a huge gaggle of my libertarian/Objectivist friends descended out of nowhere.

"Uh... what are you guys doing here?"

"Dude, we're here to visit Hamowy!" They looked like groupies waiting to see who'd be allowed backstage at the Aerosmith show. I quickly learned that my tormentor was, in fact, one of Murray Rothbard's closest intellectual intimates and had even, briefly, been a member of the Ayn Rand cénacle. (He'd been cast into outer darkness, naturally, with Rothbard and the other "hippies of the right".) He'd met everybody--he was living history! One of the demigods!

When I made my way into Prof. Hamowy's office with this crew of adulators, he smirked and said "Oh, do you know those people, Mr. Cosh?" It didn't take us long to become friends now that I knew where I stood--I didn't have to hide my copy of Human Action in class or anything. It was my belated chance to experience what the teacher-student relationship really ought to be.

I've neglected my friendship with Hamowy most awfully--I have next to no idea what he's up to now, although I did read a recent paper he wrote on Hayek and the common law, so I know he's keeping his hand in. He was close to retirement when I was his student, and he was not very happy with the way the department was treating him. (If you have tenure, they can't fire you, but they can, say, deny you basic office supplies.) I have good memories of my chats with him, but my fondest memories are of the classes. Eventually he stopped sounding out his students and started interacting with them.

He never advanced a laissez-faire or libertarian or classical liberal agenda, as such, in the history classes. What he stood for was an awareness that history exists. The things we have, whether institutions or items or ideas, did not get here by themselves, and were not always here. In this, I believe he was trying to redress the general "taking for granted" that is the most common intellectual failing in modern education. We're producing people who can own and use an automobile without ever considering the origins of the design, or of the materials that make it up, or of the gas that makes it go, or of the economy that makes it possible. They aren't even aware that such things have an origin. The thing, the car, just plain exists--didn't it always? Well, if you really knew how to look at a car in all its historical and economic dimensions, you would fall to your knees in amazement at the sight of one--but no one is encouraged to think that way. (Economists and economic historians have this sort of imagination.) Prof. Hamowy tried to push people along, a little bit.

And he wouldn't sit still for horseshit. The Hamowy anecdote I never tire of telling people... we were spitballing Dostoevsky or somebody in the second-semester seminar, and for some reason one of the girls piped up "But aren't moral principles relative?" She hadn't spoken all year, poor twitchy thing, but she had seen her chance to say the one thing she knew for sure.

"You think moral principles are 'relative,' Miss P-----s?" he asked her. An ominous silence descended.

"Well, yes..."

"Are you quite sure of that?"

"Er... yes..."

And so Hamowy, with a exquisite cruelty that staggers the imagination, launched upon a ten-minute description of the classic fraternity/army prank known as the "Pig Night" (or, in some versions, the "Dogfight"), in which pledges/soldiers are sent out to woo unsuspecting girls into coming to a party--a party which ends with cash prizes, awarded in the presence of all, for the fellows who have brought the ugliest girls. Before the entranced class, Hamowy spun the details, led us into the mind of the girl who has never had a date in her life, and is sitting somewhere, perhaps contemplating self-murder, and suddenly out of nowhere comes Prince Charming... and she thinks to herself, At last, at last, my luck has changed at last, the expensive pimple creams have paid off and I've been rewarded for turning down the second piece of fried chicken... all to discover at the end of the night that she is nothing but the forlorn, prize-winning Pig.

"Now are you seriously telling me, Miss P------s," he said, turning to the girl in question--who was not what you would call a "looker"--"that there is nothing objectively horrible, disreputable, objectionable, disgusting about the behaviour of young men at a Pig Night?"

She never did answer. Saved by the bell. I went home feeling something very akin to awe.

- 5:28 am, August 31 (link)

I hereby promise never to mess with Texas

Got country? R. Alex Whitlock, who of course has his own Weblog, writes with actual information to follow up on my dilettantish Dixie Chicks observations. Here's what he has to say:

I live in Houston, Texas. My beerhall friends and I feel partly gratified and partly resentful of the Chicks. The Dixie Chicks deserve credit for bringing the rock and blues portions of country back in the face of a pop-country culture. For that we are grateful. However, they've been referred to as innovative and groundbreaking for bringing back the old stuff with a new twist and such. The trouble is that down here Hank Williams and Johnny Cash never died. [Technically, Johnny Cash never died anywhere else either. -ed.] They only took what is very prevalent down here and succeeded with it in Nashville. So we're also kind of resentful because they are certainly not the best we have to offer and are there because of their appearance and Natalie Maines's influential father.

Most of us aren't waiting on the revolution anymore and see the Chicks more or less as the fluke they are. Charlie Robison and Pat Green have made some headway up there, but the songs that make it on the radio are their most mainstream stuff. Their good stuff never quite makes it. In the meantime, down here we've got Jason Boland and Bleu Edmondson. Roger Creager until he makes a break for Nashville and sells out. I recommend any of these guys to you to one extent or another if you can get your hands on them and are interested in hearing some of the good stuff that most people don't know is still around.

R. Alex Whitlock, ladies and gentlemen, with some ideas for your next trip to Tower or HMV.

- 2:42 am, August 31 (link)

Mercy for a liar?

(Link from the Drudge Report) Well, well--so John Walker Lindh wants America to forgive him.

I'm not an American, so it's not my business whether America forgives him, but if I were the one being spun, I dare say I'd stand my ground. Here's an excerpt from AP's story:

West [one of Lindh's lawyers] said Lindh did not know that al-Qaida ran or financed the camp, even though Lindh told a television interviewer after his capture late last year that he thought the facility was financed by bin Laden. He was simply relaying what he had heard from other soldiers, the lawyer said.
Harris said Lindh heard about al-Qaida operations from others in his unit only after Sept. 11, and had no way of verifying what he heard.

Okaaay... so Lindh, in asking for forgiveness, is having his lawyers directly contradict what he told the cameras after he'd been captured. We could overlook this, I suppose, but there's one other small problem: Lindh went East after, and because of, the USS Cole bombing. (A BBC profile explains the chronology.)

Basically, he's saying he had no intention of fighting against the United States and never knew anything about no Talibans or Al-Qaedies. Bullshit. Bullshit seven times over. I suggest this: let him be forgiven when he is willing to be candid. No sooner. Defining down treason is a big mistake.

- 1:46 am, August 31 (link)

More on Eternal Canadians

I'm not sure people haven't entirely missed the point of what I've been saying about Canadians who will be remembered 250 years from now (that is, their names will be recognizable to some educated persons, or might appear in a commodious general reference book). My point was not really to test or weigh Canada's contribution to civilized life, although that is part of the fun. My point was that even advanced civilizations must face the fate of Nineveh and Tyre.

We're talking about two hundred and fifty years here, people. The quotidian intellectual concerns of this time, or the shape of its society, are impossible to guess at. We face a hundred different futures, any of them about equally likely. One hopes for and, to some extent, trusts in continued material progress, and that's been my basic premise. But where will 250 years of material progress bring us? To a state where such basic categories as "childhood" and "family" and "politics" and "literature" may not have any currency whatsoever.

I left Glenn Gould on my list and Lucy Maud Montgomery off of it. This isn't because Gould is necessarily more famous and influential, or "better", than Montgomery even within his own field. This is because Gould was an important pianist and philosopher of music, and I'm fairly confident people will still have music in 250 years. As a supreme Bach interpreter, just for starters, he has hitched his wagon to a very strong horse. Montgomery's work is the product of a certain place and time and stirs certain sentiments in us which may not even be comprehensible 50 years from now, much less 250. If family structures change, or relationships between the sexes change, or children's literature is proscribed by the Astro-Puritans, it's all out the window. I'm afraid this is a plain fact: literature is fragile, music is not. (And even music is a little fragile--Bach himself had to be revived.)

Mark Byron takes quite the opposite tack, and he's certainly entitled. However, I think this statement--

I think [McLuhan] will likely be a footnote in a history of mass media class for the class of 2256.

--is completely insupportable. Since McLuhan was the first serious media theorist, how exactly can he become a "footnote" in media studies? This is like calling William Harvey a "footnote" in cardiology. McLuhan is the whole reason we think in terms of "media." He had big, provocative, influential theories of art and culture and consciousness and history: I believe his place is assured.

Byron's is one strange future world indeed: classical music is so far forgotten as to render Glenn Gould a "footnote", and documentary cinema is so far abandoned as to make Grierson a "footnote", yet people are still watching Leslie Nielsen on TV, hyuk, hyuk. In the real world, as far as actors and sports figures go, you get the names of three or four a century surviving to the next but one. (Assuming that future centuries do take as much care with history as we do, which is by no means assured.) If hockey changes, Gretzky may one day be regarded as a trivial figure--a master of a very primitive and violent form of the game. I'm not saying that will happen, but he's not nearly as safe as Gould and McLuhan. Hockey could be banned outright, or simply forgotten (who were the Gretzkys of bear-baiting?), or the world demographically swamped with people who don't like it. Global warming could make it impossible to play. Plenty of things could happen: sports don't have long historical lifespans, as far as we know.

We're talking about 250 years here. You people are not stretching your imaginations enough. If the English language isn't spoken in its current form anymore, then there's not much room for a lyric poet whose reputation stands on a single work that's normally recited orally, is there? Our important philosophers and historians will survive in translation, and our important poets will have their oeuvres preserved like Catullus and Horace, but sentimental scraps like "In Flanders Fields"? No. Absolutely not: not in general anthologies of dead-language poetry. I would be shocked to find "In Flanders Fields" in an anthology of English poetry even now, so how is it going to get there 250 years from now?

Your response to all this should not be horror or denial: instead you should sympathize with the historian who must try to recover some of these flavourful elements from the records of past centuries. For many cultures, they are simply gone. I am sure the Incas of Peru had their own "In Flanders Fields"--that is, a popular poem with a symbolic function, expressing the pity of war and the determination to uphold justice at the expense of human lives. But we don't have a text or a memory of it, and if we did, we could at best pretend to understand the nuance of it. Nuances die: and while historians 250 years from now may have some intellectual account of what it was like to bet on a ballgame or go to a drive-in, they won't have the colour, and it will be their loss.

P.S. - Adam Barken e-mails some half-hearted further suggestions: the best are Reginald Fessenden, who is supposed to have beaten Marconi to the invention of wireless radio, and Abraham Gesner, inventor of kerosene. Rightly or wrongly, Fessenden isn't much recognized outside Canada, I fear, and Gesner has the same problem as Frederick Banting (only he has it already: kerosene, once the most ubiquitous petroleum product, has become marginal).

- 6:56 pm, August 30 (link)


I can't sleep, so I figure I'll hang out, listen to sports radio, and see if anything transpires before the strike deadline this afternoon. This is a grab bag.

My morning Post tells me the U.S. Transport Security Administration has abandoned the routine check-in questions in air terminals. "Did you pack your own luggage?" Naw, I let my friend do it--my friend Abdul, fresh out of university in Pakistan! He is, like, the goddamn packing master! I think it was his major! Canada is retaining the routine questions, which a ministry spokesman explained by saying "We're all pretty much bonobos with chromosome damage around here." I'm paraphrasing, of course.

Former B.C. premier Glen Clark has been found not guilty of influence-peddling: a judge decided that he honestly didn't notice anything funny when a casino applicant agreed to renovate his house, build him a deck, pave his driveway, impregnate his wife and send the fetus to college, etc., etc. Priceless moment from the Post story:

"I get angry when I think about it," said Mr. Clark when reminded he might still be in office today.

Uh, pardon me, but what monument to brain damage "reminded" Clark that he might still be in office? Yeah, he was forced to step down as New Democrat leader when the police raided his home on TV, but who honestly thinks the NDP was going to win the next B.C. election? Of course, they do have some pretty good drugs out there on the coast.

I recommend to all and sundry but Pierre is up to one of his most tiresome tricks this morning--namely, subliminal republicanism. "NO CDN THRONE SPEECH FOR UK-BASED QUEEN" roars a headline on his front page this morning. Hang on a minute! The Queen is based in the U.K.? Whoa, somebody hit the "stop press" button! This changes everything! I'm been sticking up for constitutional monarchy and now I find out the bitch doesn't even live here? Pierre, you have opened this man's eyes. Both of them.

Of course, the monarchy can't win with this kind of spin. Republicans habitually jump back and forth over the fence on this issue. "Ugh! Look at the Queen--she's a dirty foreigner, she is! She doesn't represent Canadian values!" *Hop*. "Ugh! Think how our lily-white queen must offend new immigrants! If you thought bigoted, old-fashioned Canadian values had gone out of style, take a look!" *Hop*. "Ugh, here comes our funny-talking, mostly-German head of state again! Why can't we have a real Canadian in charge?" *Hop*. "How content 'real Canadians' must feel knowing one of their own kind is still in charge. Makes me want to puke." In the old days, we'd know what to do with these infantile Jacobins. But it'll offend my new friends in Australia if I recommend transportation...

And here's a CBC headline: "Bin Laden question resuscitated in British newspaper: Pakistan says he's dead". Why do I have the distressing feeling that the Pakistanis know he's dead because he told them so himself?

- 4:52 am, August 30 (link)

Runaway blogger

Oh dear. I fear our friend Bene Diction is letting sentiment get the better of him. He defends his choice of John McCrae as a name that will be familiar, or at least found in reference books, 250 years from now (see previous post):

The poppy will survive even if Canada doesn't. Since the seeds grow so deeply in the ground, I doubt poppies will be extinct 250 years in the future. Some weary archivist 250 years from now will question those faded pictures of Canadians wearing those red flowers in November and the poem will be resurrected. The poppy and the poem are representative of millions of Canadians who gave their lives in the 20th century. The courage, duty and sacrifice it represents is part of all human history. I will not give up this pick without a fight.

By no means, but are you offering a fair one? I am put in the position of somehow diminishing the "courage, duty, and sacrifice" of Canadians in a century's wars if I point out that even Canadians don't much have a clue as to why the poppy is worn. It would be nice, perhaps, if they shared the rather fantastic idea that "millions" of Canadians had perished fighting Jerry (in fact, Canadian battle deaths from the two World Wars don't quite come to 100,000). If your point is that the practice of wearing poppies on November 11 may make for an amusing footnote in some historical journal 250 years from now, fair enough.

And as for Montgomery, are you suggesting that her role in the economic life of Prince Edward Island is somehow more important than her books, or that it will outlive them? I think not.

I considered Banting (discoverer of insulin) for my list, then rejected him. He has great meaning in the lives of diabetics, but he is not on the level of a Pasteur, an Ehrlich, a Lister. He didn't discover a new class of drugs, or pioneer new methods. We have the problem that, regarded historically, Banting was part of a great transnational flowering of practical medical research, not a solitary figure of genius. We also have the problem that diabetes will certainly be beaten outright in the next hundred years or so. Who remembers anyone who worked on polio before Salk and Sabin?

As for Robert Munsch (a children's book author), no comment.

- 11:54 pm, August 29

Mailbag, 2

The quest for the Eternal Canadian continues at Bene Diction's house: he proposes John McCrae and Lucy Maud Montgomery. I suspect, though I cannot say for sure, that McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" will require the survival of Canada itself to endure so long. I'm not willing to bet on it. It is not a major poem on its own merit.

L.M. Montgomery's a harder case, and not a bad one to bring up. She is known in precincts where the name of Canada itself would elicit bafflement. However, I think people generally are unaware of how fast fashions in literature can change, and how far down the memory hole a once-popular book can go--even a book, that is, which has deep, worldwide, and seemingly permanent popularity. Two favourite cases in point:

· In 1899 the Daily Telegraph printed a list of the "100 Best Novels in the World", chosen collectively by several distinguished men of letters. The books were so far trusted to be recognized by the broad public that they were offered for sale in a special edition ("nine guineas the lot"). Not on the list: Stendhal, Flaubert, Turgenev, Dostoevsky. On the list: Eugène Sue, Charles Reade, Henry Cockton, and E. Lynn Linton. Some details here.

· When I was a child I had, on loan from my grandmother, a very old edition of a pastoral novel called Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush by Ian MacLaren. I cannot put it more simply than to describe it as an unreadable book; the dialect is in a form of Scots that a Scot himself would have trouble deciphering now, and the plot is insipid, nearly nonexistent. The sole remarkable thing about the book, to me, was a passing reference to a character with the surname of Cosh. Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush, though you certainly haven't heard of it, was a prominent instance of the "Kailyard school" of Scots writing--an entire literary movement that has been utterly lost to time. ("MacLaren" was actually named Watson and came from Essex, but never mind that--it's another example of the vaguely perverted Victorian fascination with things Scotch, whether authentic or not.)

How popular was Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush in its time? It was only the best-selling fiction book in the entire world in 1896. It sold half a million copies in the United States (then a country of 76 million people, many illiterate) and another quarter-million in the U.K. It was still well-known enough in 1921 to have a feature-length silent film made of it (the intertitles were designed by a young A. Hitchcock). Today, MacLaren might as well never have lived at all, even as far as scholars are concerned.

So am I willing to bet that anyone will know of Anne of Green Gables 250 years from now, when our English itself may grind against the ear like Chaucer? Not on your damn life.

(Note: Mark Byron is playing with a similar theme, though with American names, here.)

- 8:10 pm, August 29


Adam Barken of Montreal writes to say that I have undervalued the enduring Canadian contribution to the current of world civilization. He proposes four additional names to go with Gould, McLuhan, and Jas. Naismith:

· Northrop Frye

Eehhh. Can't go along with you here, Adam; pure literary critics do not age well, as a rule. Not any more than music critics, come to think of it. The artistic criticism that survives from past ages is by men who were either philosophers of significance or outstanding artists themselves. I don't mean to underrate Frye, but who knows how he will be thought of in 50 years, let alone 250.

· Yousuf Karsh

Not a great photographer, in my opinion; just a photographer who shot great men. Vastly, vastly overrated.

· Robertson Davies

And speaking of overrated--the very mention of this mincing grotesque blinds me with patriotic rage. Couldn't you have at least thrown Mordecai Richler out there? Davies is someone who makes Canadians swoon because he actually attained the rank of "second-rate novelist", which so few of us have. We have yet to produce a first-rate one. (I am fond of pointing out, although it doesn't bear directly on the question, that Iceland and Guatemala each have more Nobel Prizes for literature than Canada. And we have just as many as Mauritius and the Faroe Islands--which is to say, none.)

· John Grierson

Now this one I can give you. As the substantive father of documentary cinema, Grierson may be unbudgeable from the historical record. I'll add him to my own list unless anyone cares to quarrel. That gives us four. Feel free to send more.

- 3:33 pm, August 29

Green light, red light

It was predictable that when the Prime Minister cried "Uncle" and agreed to step aside, there'd be a big push to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, just so the son of a bitch could have a chorus of acclaim ringing in his ears as he totters to his last reward. The National Post more or less declares this morning that ratification is going to happen. Well, if so, we're all screwed. But there is an unexplained bit in the midst of the Post story:

The ratification plan is being pushed forward by Environment Canada and has the support of the Privy Council, the chief advisory group to the Prime Minister.
The plan has five core elements, including a proposal for a $500-million annual federal-provincial fund to offset the costs to business of implementing the accord and the continuation of Canada's demand that it receive credit for exports of clean-burning natural gas and of hydroelectricity.

Emphasis mine. Chretien has personally insisted that since the United States is not a signatory, Canada should receive credit for exporting clean energy south--energy that the U.S. would otherwise get credit for importing. Such a credit would dramatically reduce the greenhouse-reduction requirements of the treaty, as they apply to Canada.

The European signatories to the Kyoto Protocol have shown absolutely no interest in amending the document to accommodate this demand. They are tired of everyone's cute little ideas for tweaking the Protocol to their own advantage. Canada has had the door slammed in its face, very vigorously, on this issue. If Chretien is going to continue insisting on clean energy credits, and Europe isn't going to give him clean energy credits, then how can the National Post, or anyone else, be so sure the Protocol is ever going to be ratified?

Either the clean energy credits are a deal-breaker for us or they aren't. The government has waffled on this--I've tried questioning them myself on it, and got no clear answer (surprise surprise). Reporters need to keep the pressure on. It's a big key to the story and the Post basically dropped the ball.

- 8:00 am, August 29

What do we want?

Sam Mikes lives here in Edmonton, I infer, but I wouldn't know the man if he threw a glass of beer over me. He wrote something insightful and characteristically Albertan this morning:

Speaking as a victim of Canadian redistributionism, I have to come out in support of the system where there exists the freedom to be rich.

By world standards, Canada is in fact good at facilitating the creation and survival of enormous private fortunes. It is not so good at encouraging people to make that step from a $40,000 income to a $60,000 one, or from $60,000 to $80,000. The experience of the typical Canadian working person is a slide backward that never seems to end. Work for a raise, or put in overtime, and you'll see about half of every extra dollar you've earned disappear. Assuming you can hold a job and go up the salary ladder in the first place, that is.

As the Fraser Institute has pointed out, the average Canadian's tax bill increased $761 in the past year. Income taxes went down, but the gain was promptly swallowed by Canada Pension Plan contribution hikes. If you fly, there's a new "security" tax. If you drink or smoke, you're paying more tax than you did before: I'm paying $3 a pack more for cigarettes than I did at the start of 2002, but then, smoking makes me evil so I deserve to be broke. Medicare premiums are going up in the provinces that have them; but those that don't will have them soon, don't worry.

These are the good times, mind. The pattern is that taxes more or less stagnate when there's no crisis, and go up when there is. They don't ever go down. I speak solely from the standpoint of one who works for a living. This, of course, is unforgivable selfishness in a Canadian.

For everything our rulers say about creating the conditions for middle-class people to get ahead (and to become "rich" in the sense in which it is possible for a reasonable number of us), they say twenty about protecting the "most vulnerable." The Liberals' moral priorities are democratic-socialist in every essential, with the difference that old-time democratic socialists believed in freedom of thought and expression (and probably would have been fucking revolted at confiscatory taxes on a nickel miner's cigarettes).

The Radwanski argument is that Canadians, if asked "Shall we continue to have socialism or not?", would answer "yes" as one. I should like for the question to be put to the electorate in that form before we decide that there is no use arguing about it. Nearly every other issue--foreign policy, immigration, medicare--is identity politics in disguise. The Canadian Alliance shouldn't get bogged down in fighting on the enemy's ground. (Neither should the Republicans down south, for that matter, but that's a matter for another day.)

- 1:55 am, August 29

Time travel

He is now best known as editor of Arts & Letters Daily, but the 2 Blowhards have revealed that Denis Dutton made his bones as a Glenn Gould worshipper.

Who are the Canadians whose names will still be part of the history of civilization 250 years from now? They are, I think, disconcertingly few. Counting Alexander Graham Bell as a "Canadian", as we sometimes do, is definitely cheating. The two I'm quite certain of are Glenn Gould and Marshall McLuhan. If basketball is still played by the post-apocalyptic mutants, James Naismith will of course have a place of esteem. Sir Sandford Fleming was the first to make a practical proposal for time zones, but the natural demarcation lines are so much meddled with and shifted around by Daylight Saving that we are hardly any further ahead than we were in his day.

I don't think there are any other good candidates. As things stand, the sum of our striving will be represented in the long-term record by two or three people... and that's if we're lucky.

(Update: more possibilities are discussed here, here.)

- 11:28 pm, August 28

Come on Eileen

Very depressing photo feature on Shania Twain in lad mag FHM. Men aren't stupid: we can see perfectly clearly that with all the costume changes the shoot must have taken nearly a full day. If you can't be bothered to crack a smile, Shania, then looking at your bony ass is going to be just as much a chore for us as it is for you. You're trying to "smoulder", you say? Oh, very well, do your best, but I don't recommend that approach to someone who is basically the girl next door--two doors down, really--with a skillful makeup artist and a Wonderbra.

There's a certain spark of divine fire in some women, and if they don't have it then the camera can't supply it. If it's not there, you can distract the viewer by doing any number of things. Wearing outrageous outfits or highlighting very obvious assets would be one way of doing this. If you can somehow convey that you have endless reserves of lusty joy, or indeed any sort of energy, that's good too. If have an intelligent, active face, then you don't need to worry about anything; you'll be compelling to men on the worst day of your life. But if you're a glassy-eyed, thin-lipped, absurd-boobed, slack-mouthed Barbie doll, don't suppose that merely lounging around is going to work. Go grab a hamburger, Shania. I've often suspected it's red meat that contains that divine secret: you'll need plenty.

- 4:55 pm, August 28

The god of the gaps

Canadian content time! Adam Radwanski has an op-ed in today's National Post (no link) arguing that the Tories may look like a dead, dismembered, and putrefying political party, but honestly, they're the future of opposition in Canada. No, really.

Although the Alliance's numbers have stabilized under Mr. Harper's leadership, his party suffers from a natural limit. To win a federal election in Canada, a party must be able to appeal to moderate voters. Of the four national parties, the Alliance and the NDP are too wedded to a specific ideology to do so. That's increasingly a problem for Mr. Harper's party, because there is simply not enough room to the right of the Liberals for hard-line conservatives to win many votes. Tax cuts are no longer a priority for most Canadians, the budget is balanced and the economy is relatively strong.

Hear that, "most Canadians"? Your taxes are just fine. There, there, don't grind your teeth: the general will has spoken through its anointed avatar.

Perhaps "most Canadians" do agree with Mr. Radwanski. Certainly "most Canadians" should be made aware that the Conservatives, as he implies, aren't going to do a damn thing about your taxes, no matter what insalubrious Muppet they choose as their next leader. However, I find his claim that the economy is "relatively" strong to be most intriguing. Relative to whom, exactly? Cyprus? North Korea?

It is generally agreed that the most instructive comparisons in such matters are made with the United States: even if we didn't share a three-thousand-mile border with it, it would still be the world's standard of economic health. And what do you see when you compare Canada's economic health to that of the U.S.?

Gaps. Gaps galore. As individuals, we face a huge "tax gap" with the U.S., or at least our middle and upper classes do. A similar "gap" applies to the profits of the company you work for and to any capital gains you might have, you lucky devil. Our personal disposable income is, on average, two-thirds that in the U.S.: there's a lovely graph here illustrating the growing "disposable income gap". In real dollars, their DI is increasing, ours has flatlined. (Only in the mind of a Tory supporter could flatlining equal health.)

And why shouldn't American incomes increase? Say hello to the "productivity gap", which you may inform yourself upon here. Canadian labour was 85-88% as productive as American labour in 1976, depending on what measure you choose. Today we're around 80%, and dropping very fast. And don't forget the "unemployment gap", which hovers around 3-4% and has since I was a wee tyke. Oh, and while the federal deficit is gone, there's still a huge "public debt gap", too, which means more of our tax dollars get hoovered up by lenders.

Look, here's my point: by any measure of economic health you could possibly devise, there is a large gap--one which is ever growing, in the vital respects--between Canada and the United States. No credible economist disagrees with this. If there are, by chance, some Canadians who haven't noticed their paycheques shrinking, then perhaps they can be convinced to give a crap about the declining productivity of labour, or the pervasive Sovietness of the businesses and government services around them, or the brain drain to the United States.

This is all about tax policy. We're not dumber than the Americans, or naturally shiftless; we just pay a much larger state apparatus to tax and regulate us. In some ways, Canadians clearly do want that: by and large, we do favour publicly funded health insurance, for example. That's fine--but how does medicare depress labour productivity? How does medicare create unemployment? Medicare is a government service for which we pay a great deal of tax money--far too much--but it's not government services that are the real big problem here. It's marginal tax rates, economic mismanagement, the regulatory burden, the debt burden, and government programs that don't contribute to quality of life that are the problem.

Our economy isn't strong, it's pathetic. Huge, underlying problems are not being fixed. I don't really think Canadians want to live like the hopeless muzhiks we now are. But perhaps I'm mistaken, and Radwanski is right.

- 6:46 am, August 28

Hold the Serengeti Sauce

(Link via pretty much everybody) The Guardian reports, as you've probably already heard:

McDonald's has been accused of extreme insensitivity after releasing a new sandwich called the "McAfrika" in Norway, one of the world's richest countries, at a time when 12 million people are facing starvation in southern Africa.
The launch of the new hamburger has infuriated the Norwegian equivalent of Christian Aid and the Norwegian Red Cross and generated a storm of bad publicity for the American fast-food giant.

The solution, it seems to me, is obvious. Why don't the aid agencies start up a rival to McDonald's? Lord knows they have the know-how when it comes to distributing food. Here's how it will work: when you enter McNGO's, you are immediately herded into a corner of the restaurant with your fellow patrons. Your server will count heads, go to the counter with your cash, and order enough food for treble the number. When the food is ready, he'll take 90% of it for himself, selling what little he can't eat (it takes a lot of calories to keep a fast-food restaurant running!). The remainder is distributed to patrons more or less on a first-come first-serve basis, although it will help if you know somebody, hint hint, or you're a member of the right ethnic group, hint hint. Each McNGO's franchise will be required to obtain massive lines of credit to build atomic pizza ovens and grease-powered helicopters; when they go broke, U2 vocalist Bono will personally lobby banks and governments to forgive the debt on humanitarian grounds. That's a solemn promise to you, the customer.

- 12:34 pm, August 27

To live and die in Dixie

(Link from Fark) The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Dixie Chicks are feeling nostalgic and stroppy. In their new single they croon:

We listen to the radio to hear what's cookin'
But the music ain't got no soul
Now they sound tired but they don't sound Haggard
They got money but they don't have Cash
They got Junior but they don't have Hank...

It's hard to know how much to credit this dissent from the radio-driven homogenization of country music, given that the Dixie Chicks are among the prime beneficiaries. Certainly they represent old-fashioned performance values (and unlike Merle Haggard, they probably show up for most of their concert bookings) but would their records sell ten million copies if they didn't look like figure-skating bronze medallists?

I'm probably like a lot of you: I didn't start feeling nostalgic for Merle Haggard or his contemporaries until country music got Garthified and then, in turn, flooded with supermodels manqué. It takes age and distance to recognize real talent, at least in a stance-afflicted genre where personality is so much to the forefront. Back in the '70s, everything that came out of country radio seemed to be coming from the same swampy place. Some of it has aged well, better than could be expected.

My objection to the Dixie Chicks is that Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., and Merle Haggard don't really need the help. That's real bold of you ladies to climb aboard the bus and point out recognized American geniuses to us. Hey, Don Williams is still alive and playing casinos, how about throwing him a bone? And perhaps Marty Robbins isn't nearly po-faced enough to sit alongside Hank Sr., but he had few equals as a storyteller.

- 11:32 am, August 27

Fuck me if I can't take a joke

Ha bloody ha. A lot of people, as it happens, have been playing up the purported link between driving your car and financing global terror. You may have believed the propaganda: you may feel queasy taking your SUV to the golf course, knowing that somewhere Osama is cackling over your decadent, dirty American consumerism. You may have thought "Will the money I spend at the pump today fund a jihad against my grandchildren?"

Well, my American friends, the truth is far far worse. In actual fact, the money you spend at the pump funds this website.

Don't believe me? Have a look at the numbers. Pop quiz: what country is the largest single supplier of crude oil and petroleum products to the United States? Saudi Arabia? Iraq? Nay: the correct answer is "Canada." We may be the retarded giant on your doorstep, in the words of National Lampoon, but we shit pure Texas tea.

Most of the crude oil we supply to the United States comes from here, in Alberta, a fact that is an endless source of grief and envy to the other nine provinces. The US consumes, if I recall right, about 50% of our output. It would probably not be overstating matters for me to say that the livelihood of nearly every member of my extended family depends, directly or indirectly, upon the petroleum business. My father fixes cranes, for example, at the Syncrude bitumen mine near Fort McMurray, in the far north. And without a broad base of loyal Alberta readers with large disposable incomes, the magazine I work for would be up the creek. In fact, its majority owners are two Calgary oilmen who bailed it out the last time it went broke (something that's happened from time to time over its checkered 28-year history). I draw a paycheque for two reasons: oil and gas. (OK, three if you count my abundant talent.)

As time goes by, the oil sands in Alberta's north are only going to become more important to the American petro-economy, not less. The price of extracting oil from those sands gets cheaper every year. Soon enough, it won't even occur to your politicians to suck up to the Saudis: they'll be priced right out of the market. "Thank you for financing global terror" says the phunnee Situationist prefab graffito. Thank you for financing my next meal, say I, entirely in earnest.

- 3:49 pm, August 26

Real horrorshow, droogies

One of my usual Sunday night stops when I'm story-gathering is the Canadian Medical Association Journal. An article in the Aug. 20 issue carries the intriguing headline "A woman with a mummified leg". I surfed over and began reading about an 81-year-old schizophrenic woman who was admitted with irreversible ischemia in her left leg.

Although aware of the possibility of complications, including death from sepsis, the woman adamantly refused amputation. Her answers to questions were brief, but she had no obvious delusional thoughts. She had recently been active in caring for herself, maintaining her own home and helping neighbours with lawn care. She no longer took neuroleptics but had severe tardive dyskinesias from her past use. She was considered to have adequate decision-making capacity, and no amputation was undertaken.

Having made this decision, the doctors had little choice but to admit the lady, put her on painkillers, and watch the leg. The reader begins to squirm rather seriously around this point:

Dry gangrene developed in her left lower limb over the ensuing weeks, and the area of interface between the healthy tissue and the dry gangrene developed putrefaction, which required debridement several times...

While making strangled noises, you think to yourself "Jesus, thank god there are no photos with this article."

And then you scroll down... and find out... that there are photos with this article.

I cannot be responsible for the consequences if you click on this link to "A woman with a mummified leg" (Gallagher, CMAJ 167(4): 380).

- 4:41 am, August 26

Dog, meet pony

I'll probably be adding real material after midnight tonight, as I work to round out my pitch list for my real job. In the meantime I'm trying to relax, but here are some things I've been thinking about.

· Conventional wisdom in the libertarian blogosphere: Ann Coulter is a Very Bad Person, but Norah Vincent is a Genius. I suppose I ought to agree. But I like cruel, funny commentators; if someone really is funny I'll cut them a world of slack for outré comments. And I'm sorry, but Ann's joke about Tim McVeigh and the New York Times was pretty funny: I read it as a joke at her own expense, and it made me warm considerably to the toothsome berserker. I try to extend the same courtesy to the left--I liked Michael Moore well enough when he was still a satirist, for example, but there was no evidence he was trying to be funny when he wondered why the 9/11 hijackers had the tactical naiveté to crash the jets into the Blue States.

As for Norah, I'm trying to go along with the hype, I really am. But when a person takes 400 words to say "my blog doesn't have an editor, so please forgive the occasional error of usage or spelling," my guard goes up. And when an emerging libertarian icon defends the banning of smoking in private establishments on the grounds that she doesn't like smoke--well, not only does my guard go up, but I start saying the words that make baby Jesus cry.

· Government surveillance of private citizens is such a hot topic these days... I've been apprised by someone apparently in a position to know that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service has a file on me. I don't really know what to make of this, to be honest with you. It makes sense that they'd keep a clip file on a radical journalist with ties to the right and sentiments in favour of Western separatism. I'd expect a government intelligence agency to do the same basic research on an analogous figure from the left. Assuming, charitably, that they're only doing basic research. There's the rub, I suppose. I should really get around to filing an Access to Information request one of these days, but I can't imagine they'd find anything bad about me that I wouldn't own up to if asked. I don't frequent brothels and I'm not in the pay of the dreaded Slovaks. I make no secret of my dodgy credit history or my tax arrears (which are probably below average for an ex-freelancer). My personal history isn't quite anodyne enough for me to run for high public office, but the bar is set pretty damn low for a mere journalist. Would that there were more entertainingly misshapen skeletons in my closet...

That's it for now. Back later.

- 9:05 pm, August 25

Great minds think alike, some slower than others

Andrew Stuttaford asks on The Corner whether the anti-war left is channelling Robert A. Heinlein in its quest to have soldiers dominate foreign policy decisions. Instapundit thinks it's an excellent question. I thought so too--when I asked it in practically the same form three weeks ago, complete with Starship Troopers reference! Advantage: Cosh! Disadvantage: I get one-twentieth the hits these guys do, so no one will ever know I thought of this first! Waaah! [Addendum -- InstaPower has eliminated the basis for this puerile squalling! - 12:04 am, August 27]

- 5:31 pm, August 25

From the mixed-up files of...

Three links of general interest:

· (Link from The Null Device) Remember how, in Whit Stillman's Barcelona, that Spanish journalist was holding court and he kept going on and on about the pernicious transnational influence of the "AFL-CIA"? It seems more than ever, doesn't it, that when you scratch a seemingly rational European you'll often find a cluster of bizarre, uninformed, and frankly retarded beliefs about the United States of America? A paranormal skeptic recently investigated an urban legend about a time traveller in Times Square which had no currency in the U.S. but had been widely heard in Europe. Here are, for me, the money grafs:

...It took another six months of research before Aubeck found the story in a 1975 French book.

The French book had cited a 1974 Italian magazine.

The Italian magazine referred to a 1973 Norwegian article.

The Norwegians had lifted it from a Swedish periodical.

My question: does the multi-lingual nature of Europe accommodate the viral transmission of bullshit?

· This one's from the weblog of a Texas physician named Chris Rangel. It will tell you how out-of-control trial lawyers are endangering your health by making it less likely that you will get timely medical assistance if you fall ill on an airplane. And lots of people fall ill on airplanes. I had a sudden consciousness-raising on this issue when a elderly gentleman had the misfortune to die in his seat, three rows ahead of me, on a Toronto-Edmonton flight three years ago. (It ended up being a Toronto-Thunder Bay-Edmonton flight punctuated by a Stuka-esque dive through the clouds.) Since then I always notice the clippings...

· On a lighter note we have's interesting interview with recording engineer Bob Olhsson, who cut the vinyl on those classic Motown records, which some of you young sprats may know as "Ally McBeal records". I don't understand 90% of the techie stuff but I enjoy being immersed in it anyway. Bob has some trenchant observations on music, record production, performance, and the future of the industry. Myths are punctured. If you didn't know that Stevie Wonder played all the parts on his records because "he basically was putting together combinations of dead musicians," then go read.

- 4:18 am, August 25

Don't let the facts ruin a good column

[Note: the Charles Adler column discussed herein is no longer online, so the link has been removed.]

(Link from Bourque) The Winnipeg Sun's Charles Adler is an OK columnist but he has a propensity for saying bizarre things. He pens a homage to his father today in which he strays into discussing baseball, a subject upon which he is supposedly expert:

One of the hungriest parts of the planet is the Dominican Republic, and it's not surprising the Sandy and Roberto Alomars and so many others filling major-league rosters come from places where people poorer than church mice grow up with the hearts of lions, fed by the hunger that creates the desire to play hard and win big.

This is the kind of casual observation you see a lot, so much so that the facts start to slip around like a chimp on rollerblades. (1) If "hunger" creates "desire", how come the somewhat poor Dominican Republic has produced a hundred times as many big leaguers as its far poorer neighbour Haiti? Tough to match the Haitians in the "hunger" department, I should think. (2) Adler doesn't come right out and say that the Alomars are from the D.R., but he suggests it, and if you didn't know better you wouldn't suspect that they're actually Puerto Rican. (3) If Sandy and Robbie grew up "poor as church mice", then their famous father Sandy Sr., who played major league baseball well into the free agent era and was a coach for the San Diego Padres, must be pretty horrible at handling money. Indeed, if an impoverished childhood is some sort of key to success, it is damned odd that any child of a post-1970 major leaguer should do well at the game. As well as, say, Barry Bonds. Or Ken Griffey Jr.

But Adler isn't finished:

I covered the Red Sox in Boston, where I ran into an oldtimer who, at one time, knew Mickey Mantle's heart. I had grown up watching the New York Yankees outfielder on TV and I asked the old scout about the Mick. What made Mick tick? He told me Mickey was the son of an Oklahoma coal miner. And he never forgot it. He said if Mick had been the son of a doctor or a wealthy businessman, he still would have had an abundance of talent. But he would have been missing the greatest gift a champion can have: hunger.

What can he possibly mean?--hunger for booze? I will be the last person to denigrate the glory and grace of Mickey Mantle, but "hunger" does not strike me as the dominant note in the career of a man who routinely turned up for games hung over. Pete Rose, he had hunger. Ty Cobb--now he had hunger. What Mantle had was genius, which can afford not to be hungry.

- 3:04 pm, August 24

New business

Time for a bit of backscratching... distinguished NYC warblogger Susanna Cornett won't hear a word against Monet. I should acknowledge that the Impressionists are just as popular as the academicians contemporary with them... this fact was most useful to me when I visited the National Gallery in London, as I was able to blow past the hordes perusing seven different paintings of water lilies and concentrate on painters more to my taste, like Holbein, van Dyck, and the Spanish masters.

Floridian Andrea Harris, who daubs a bit herself, says she likes the Impressionists but would rather have the academicians' talent. I feel guilty hoovering up links from what is really the Blowhards' find, so I will urge you again to visit them.

I have been neglecting to keep up with chess news lately so I am tardy in reporting an amusing disaster at the British Championships in Torquay. By an old Imperial tradition, Commonwealth players from outside the UK are normally given seats, but the last foreigner to take the title had been Canadian chess great Abe Yanofsky in 1953. At this year's tournament, however, a handful of Indians showed up and stomped the British field senseless, taking away three of the four top placings, the women's title, and the junior prize. The overall winner was unheralded IM (!) R.B. Ramesh. Chess journalist Malcolm Pein speculates that the invasion will lead to the adoption of a closed Brits-only tournament and a separate Commonwealth championship.

- 2:29 pm, August 24

Aw shucks

The Banana Counting Monkey has expanded most usefully upon my brief "grandkids" sneer. Pretty smart for a monkey.

[Added 11:15 pm:] Elsewhere, Mark Byron's thoughts about a Second Players' League predate mine and are worth reading.

- 11:16 am, August 23

Blow harder

This is the best weblog you haven't heard of. (And if you have: well, ooh, aren't you a clever little man, we're all super-duper impressed.) Join the Two Blowhards and get your seat on the 50-yard line for the Decline of the West. I pretty much want to marry these unabashed elitists. But first check out a cool thing one of them found: a site which attempts to subvert the orthodox scorn for 19th-century academic art. Hooray!

The fashion in art history courses, I can confirm, is still to praise theory-bound Impressionism and post-Impressionism to the skies, and to heap nightsoil on artists like Bouguereau, Leighton, and Alma-Tadema. Well, the debates which animated that time, and made Waterhouse and Courbet "opponents" or "opposites", have really lost their immediacy. I don't see why we can't leave the infighting behind and have the best of both worlds. At, Fred Ross makes a very strident case in favour of a strongly idealized, dramatic, technically fantastic art of pure beauty--an art that was, in the 19th century, "academic" in status and method. Ross is speaking for painterly values which have been destroyed. I'm not speaking in metaphors here. They've literally been destroyed: we no longer have the kind of society that can produce those ripe, compelling Bouguereau nymphs, which is unspeakably sad. When I think of it, I long for some mullah with a dirty nuke to do his worst to us, a hundred times over.

But, you know, I'm not going to turn around and say that pure craft and pure beauty are the only aims of art. Can't go quite that far, though I believe Ross has hit on something important. Munch speaks to me; Courbet speaks to me; van Gogh speaks to me, in his finer, bleaker moments. (But Monet I have no use for, and I wouldn't have a Cezanne in my home as a rug.)

What's funny is that, although the intellectual prejudice against 19th-century academicians has endured, these same painters are enormously popular with the mass public. I know literally dozens of people, mostly people who know little about art history, who have these paintings on their walls and computer desktops. If you and I got together and entered the apartment of a randomly selected female undergraduate, I'd be happy to bet, straight up, on the presence of at least one 19th-century academic painting, probably from England or France. People go mad for this stuff, but they'll be told--if they enter an art history class--that they're perpetuating something that's really kind of patriarchal, and stale, and lacking in irony, and blah blah blah.

But in reality, their instincts are much truer than the received wisdom. Because this painting, for its mild defects, represents the highest pitch to which mankind has ever been able to raise its sense of beauty, and awe, and love of the visual. The 19th century is talking to us through these paintings. Like any time's art, it is asking two questions: "Do you have anything to match these? And are you still capable of responding to them the way we did?" I'm afraid we don't come off very well next to 19th-century man. Perpetual shame is the truly educated person's lot, anno 2002.

- 10:53 am, August 23


Bad news: I'm going back on my promise about sports. I wanted to post something, and sports is what I've been thinking about. I've been firing e-mails back and forth with a friend of mine, because I basically asked him to critique an idea I had for labour peace in baseball.

The idea is simple: the players should take steps to destroy the major leagues.

I won't give you the full-blown version of my scenario, which is like a demented cross between speculative fiction and Marxism. Basically, my question is this: what if two wealthy, fairly senior, respected ballplayers got together, convinced many of the top players to defect from the MLB, and formed two barnstorming clubs to play 150-200 games around the U.S. and the world, sharing the gate receipts plus TV income between them according to their winning percentage?

If you could attract a large enough fraction of the top tier of MLB talent, there is little question in my mind that people would pay attention and take it seriously. How would you convince the players to defect? Give them shares in the income generated by the club. For all but two or three guys, I think this would mean a significant raise. There's no question in my mind that two de facto all-star teams playing ten nights in Mexico would sell out the biggest stadium you could find all ten nights. There's no question they'd sell out ten or more nights in the Tokyo Dome, although it would help if Ichiro were on one of the teams.

The players, having shares in the club income, would be motivated to play colourful, winning baseball, and lots of it. Would players play 180 games a year, with double-headers and four-man pitching rotations, if each additional game meant $50M in revenue split 25 (or 40, or 50) ways? I think so.

Could you find ways to improve the game and its marketing if you took the best players out from under the confining rubric of MLB? Absolutely.

A mobile barnstorming unit of this type could easily serve as the nucleus of a new, streamlined league. Initially it would be the Higher League, the Better-Than-MLB league, people have sometimes spoken of. (If it isn't, it can't get off the ground: it's just another USFL.) After a while, the money men in MLB would start to close up shop, having been reduced to a sophisticated sort of Triple-A status. The collapse in the market value of franchises would bankrupt many. You'd see a regrouping, a reforming, and eventually, some kind of peace deal between the barnstormers and the surviving MLB clubs.

The reason I suggest all this is that, thinking about it, I don't know how there is any sense in having George Steinbrenner "own" the New York Yankees. What value does he add to the organization that the players wouldn't basically retain if they went across town and reformed as the Wankees? What, do the players need his towering marketing genius? Do we think that ballplayers, some of whom are worth nine figures, can't run a sophisticated business enterprise? Like they can't hire a comptroller or a GM or scouts? Why are this man and his class still in the game? He's the holder of a franchise that only has value because it's a monopoly: if there's no monopoly he's got nothing. If you're wondering why the strikes are so frequent, that's why.

I do think some kind of Second Players' League will come about, one day, through one process or another. Either MLBPA will make it happen by force, or the players will gradually grow in economic power until they elbow out the owners altogether. The Rangers would, frankly, probably have been smarter just to give Alex Rodriguez 49% of the shares in the club. Hollywood offers its stars a percentage of the gross--why doesn't baseball? Only because the books are closed. If the players want to pry them open, they'll have to become "producers" themselves, just like Tom Cruise and Robert Redford.

Player stakeholdership is the long-term future of baseball and other pro sports, and these labour troubles are just the growing pains. The sooner we get the growing pains over with and get where we're going, the better.

- 8:56 am, August 23

Summer Stock?

Fellow Report editor Kevin Michael Grace was self-Googling when he discovered something priceless on the website of a Shakespeare class at the University of Alberta. Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present Charles Macdonald's seminal paper, Shakespeare's Henry V as an Allegory for the Post-Modern Western Canadian Politics of Protest and Alienation: the Machiavellian Corruption of the Grassroots Democracy Movement.

In order to make our presentation of Henry V more relevant to a modern audience, and to de-emphasize the play as a History, we chose to set the play in the context of the Canadian Alliance party under the leadership of Stockwell Day.

Stockwell Day as Henry V? I hope this guy got a 9. [That's 9 out of 9 for those not familiar with the bizarre University of Alberta grading system, which no other school uses or understands.]

- 3:49 am, August 23

'It's just a pain in the neck'

(Link from Baseball Primer's Clutch Hits) I promise to lay off the sports for a bit, but I couldn't resist sharing an article from the San Jose Mercury News about protective cups in pro sport. Turns out a lot of baseball players don't bother with them, and they are practically unknown in the NFL. I... am astonished to learn this.

- 3:15 am, August 23

Memo to our elders

Found in my clip files: a CP report headlined "Aging Canadians want grandkids".
Even with three children in their 30s, Gloria Gutman sometimes wonders if she'll ever be a grandmother.
"There's some wishfulness," the Vancouver resident said when asked if she hopes one day to bounce grandchildren on her knee.
Gutman, director of the gerontology centre at Simon Fraser University, says career issues are among the reasons none of her adult kids has started a family.
"I keep hearing how nice it is to be a grandparent, but whether I become a grandparent remains to be seen," she says.
With the aging population -- emphasized by Statistics Canada census data released in July -- and the fact that baby boomers and their kids are having fewer offspring, many older Canadians share Gutman's uncertainty.

Here's a hint for those of you awaiting grandkids. We younger folk were born into a world of confiscatory tax rates. We were never asked to vote on Canada's generous welfare programs, nationalized healthcare, interprovincial equalization, pension plan, or phony unemployment "insurance". These things were already in place when we were born, and thanks to your own rather inhibited fertility, we're outvoted until you die.

In short, you already busted our balls--don't expect them to suddenly start working now.

- 6:31 pm, August 22

Under new management

Baseball Reference sponsorship update: I am officially the proud owner (until August 2003) of Dennis Martinez. His perfect game against the Dodgers is my happiest baseball memory, possibly my happiest sports memory.

(Digression: if anything rivals it, it's maybe that '91 Oilers-Flames playoff series where the Oilers went up 3-0, then lost three straight, then went down three-zip in game seven, then pulled even, and then Esa Tikkanen beat that sieve Mike Vernon top-shelf-glove-side from forty feet out seven minutes into overtime. I had already seen the Oilers go to six Cup finals and bring home five, and they didn't finish the job in '91, but that goal was pretty much the best.)

(Further digression: although if you held a gun to my head I might pick the 1981 Grey Cup game. At halftime: Ottawa Roughriders 20, Edmonton Eskimos 0. Final score: Edmonton Eskimos 26, Ottawa Roughriders 23. The opposing quarterbacks: Warren Moon for the good guys, future Congressman Julius Caesar "J.C." Watts for the forces of evil.)

Where was I... right! Martinez. I got home from university early that day and the game was still in the third inning, El Presidente going head-to-head with already-ageless Mike Morgan. No score on the board, but I had a funny feeling, and I popped in a VHS tape, which I've never done for a sporting event before or since. And I have to admit to you that when I watch that tape, which I still do occasionally, what I notice is that Martinez sure went to his mouth an awful lot. I just have no idea why the umpires never told him to cut it out. I'm not gonna come right out and tell you Martinez was loading up the ball, but the way his curve was breaking, the Dodgers could have stayed in there for 54 outs. They weren't going anyplace.

Most of the time, from the center field camera, the motion of a pitched ball is suppositional at best to the ordinary viewer, but Martinez's stuff was breaking downward, what?--eighteen inches? Two feet? Plus his fastball was still a good 92, maybe 93 miles an hour at that point in his career. Really it's no wonder I started the tape.

By the most generous possible count, there have been 19 perfect games thrown in 120-plus years of major league ball. About one every six years if you count oddities like Ernie Shore and Harvey Haddix. If you're around 30, like I am, you've got, let's say, fifty years left to catch one of those games. About eight chances, maybe 10 or 12 if you account for expansion. Do you feel like that's going to happen for you? You'd wear yourself out chasing after the perfect game: it's got to come to where you are. If it happens to your favourite pitcher, on your favourite team, in a season in which the team licks the big one in all other respects, well, I can assure you that you are a man very much to be envied.

- 5:44 pm, August 22


I've got nothing for you on Canadian news this morning because the papers are full, and I mean full, of Chretien. Have a look at today's National Post: I didn't write down the count, but I believe the first 19 pages are devoted to our outgoing head of government. Save your quarter if you already lived through it all and don't need a tortuous replay.

I was re-reading Bill James's New Historical Baseball Abstract the other day. He has little capsule comments or biographies for the top 100 players, all-time, at each position. For the much-reviled Albert Belle he asks the counterintuitive question "What are ten good things we can say about Albert Belle?" And damned if he doesn't come up with ten.

I can list 100 bad things about Chretien, but I thought that, as an exercise, I'd sit down and see if I could find ten good things to say for the man. Here's my best effort.

1. As Prime Minister, Chretien passed the Clarity Act (2000) on provincial secession, acknowledging its possibility and imposing rules on how it can be voted on and carried out. The rules are fairly reasonable. They are not as clear, themselves, as they could be, but the statute is only quasi-constitutional. Incidentally, the magazine I work for helped push this idea to the forefront in a 1998 cover story conceived by Paul Bunner and written by him and Brian Mulawka.

2. Chretien is the nominal author of the 1969 White Paper advocating the annihilation of the department of Indian Affairs and freeing Canada's Indians from their status as enfeebled wards of the state. Chretien had little to do with the inception and composition of the White Paper, as I understand it, and it was murdered in its cradle by Indian activists who preferred, and prefer, to think of themselves as "Citizens Plus." It is still the best blueprint we have for extricating ourselves from our ghastly gavotte with the downtrodden Canadian treaty Indian. Chretien's name is on it, Chretien took the heat for it: Chretien deserves part of the credit for it.

3. Chretien returned the Liberal Party to its natural, historical, and sane position on free trade with the United States.

4. Chretien backed down on renaming Mount Logan after Pierre Trudeau.

5. I don't exactly agree with making a former television presenter the Governor-General, as Chretien did, but I understand what he was getting at with that appointment, and with similar ones made to the Senate (he installed semi-distinguished jazz pianist Tommy Banks in the Red Chamber, to take one example). Chretien was trying, in his farcical way, to find people of achievement outside of politics for those jobs. Adrienne Clarkson obviously has Liberal sympathies, but she's not some drooling hack who got beaten in an election, as previous viceregents had been. Her husband is, to me, an unspeakable leftist jackanapes: but he's a public intellectual. He's written books, and people buy them and read them. Chretien has been made fun of for putting nuns and hockey players in the Senate, but he's trying to make it a house of accomplished citizens from the private sector. I don't like the choices he's made, but I like that principle.

6. He dumped Hedy Fry from the Cabinet for demented racial fear-mongering, and he dumped Maria Minna for violating voting rules in a municipal election. He has been too slow, generally, to hold cabinet ministers accountable for their words and actions, but he acted in good faith in these cases and faced up to a first minister's responsibility.

7. That guy he tried to strangle pretty much had it coming.

Sorry, that's it. I can only get to seven. I tried, I really did. This is two hours' work you're looking at here. If there's a number eight... well, let me put it this way. When I'm not wishing simultaneous brain and penis cancer on the man, I'm like anybody else: I want to like him. I think it is a wholly good thing that he is sometimes flippant and cruel when asked about Important Issues. We may remember him, one day, as the last Canadian politician who was capable of black humour. ("Pepper? Dat is someting I put on my steak.") As the touchy-feely apocalypse descends, we may value him more, in retrospect, for that. I guess what I'm saying is:

8. Chretien was, at least, an authentic autocrat.

- 6:40 am, August 22

All access

The presence of female sports reporters in men's locker rooms after professional sports matches is one of those things that we've largely learned to accept without question, though the process has not been without its difficult moments. (In 1997, for example, a rookie female sports reporter for a Christian TV station in Tucson sued Charles Barkley for wiping his family jewels in front of her after a Suns game. As if Charles doesn't create enough trouble for himself intentionally!) One the one hand, we acknowledge a woman reporter's need to "get the story"--to the point of loud protest if her dignity is offended by some sort of naked mischief, à la Lisa Olsen--and on the other hand we don't much question the double standard that imposes limited-access rules on the WNBA locker room.

(Nota bene: it's not a double standard insofar as male and female reporters are treated differently; under the league rule, both genders are shown the door after 20 minutes of interviewing the players, who remain in their togs. It's only a double standard insofar as we expect male football and baseball players to deal with unlimited access by both sexes, but we don't expect it of the women.)

It's a precarious modus vivendi, probably an unfair one, but male pro athletes are recompensed more than amply. I'm sure the shy or religious ones find a way to deal with it. But what happens when a woman working the beat for the first time goes ballistic in print and her editors are too drunk or stupid to stop her?

Last week, I was assigned to cover a story at Dodger Stadium. Two of my co-workers passed on the assignment, so I went. Easy enough. Get paid to watch a Dodger game? What was there to think about? Never in my wildest dreams could I have dreamed of the adventure that I lived... I'm told that, with my credential, I can go on the field, in the press box, or even more dangerous, in the clubhouse. Yes, the clubhouse... with baseball players... male baseball players... professional male baseball players... I'm sure you get the point.[...]
As I'm trying to mentally "put it together," I'm leaning against this blue table in the center of the room waiting for Shawn Green, No. 15, to appear from the showers that are just a few mad dashes away. While I'm waiting, I listen to Jesse Orosco, Chad Kreuter, Dave Roberts and Brian Jordan give interviews. Nice guys. Then I discover that I'm in the way because Eric Karros - who is 15 times better looking in person - asked me to move so he could get by. Gulp!
Just then, Shawn Green emerges from the showers, rubbing a towel on his head and wearing only a towel. Three millimeters thick of terry cloth is separating Green's goodies from my life's most embarrassing moment. I really didn't have that much time to think about it before Green whipped off the towel and began to get dressed.
Holy ?$@!!! I'm going to need to see a chiropractor for the whiplash I gave myself. I turned away to not see most of the goods, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I saw Greenie's buns, le toosh, el booty. Catch my drift?

Indubitably, madam (these are just the highlights of the column, you understand). According to, Patti Shea is a reporter for the Signal of Santa Clarita, CA, which yanked the glassy-eyed column off their website as soon as they realized they had a crate of dynamite on their hands. Romenesko's MediaNews has Shea's apology to the Association for Women in Sports Media, which is presumably living its worst nightmare, times ten, as a result of her behaviour.

Of course, Ms. Shea's true offence was not ogling Shawn Green's "goodies", but in raising the question whether other female reporters are really such human popsicles. I know this much: the last thing baseball needs right now is another goddamn labour-relations issue.

- 3:08 am, August 22

Meanwhile, history marches on

With Chretien booking his tickets for Valhalla, this story is likely to be ignored, so I thought I'd throw it out there.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has shut down a Web site that equates gays with pedophilia and bestiality, saying it contravenes the country's hate laws. "If the telephone is ideally suited to spread prejudicial ideas, the Internet is even better positioned," wrote Tribunal chairman Grant Sinclair in the ruling.

Free speech in Canada? Ha ha ha! What are we, Americans or something? The Globe apparently believes that your brain will melt if they mention the URL of the proscribed website (maybe they're worried they're next in line). Go visit it at your own risk (it's still online as of 3:30 pm Mountain time Monday). does not endorse any of the content at that link, but the management supposes it's only a matter of time before its own opinions are banned.

- 3:35 pm, August 21


Breaking: Prime Minister Chretien has announced he will not seek a fourth term (Southam, CBC). Paul Martin wins. And since he's muscled out a sitting Prime Minister it's not bloody likely any of the small fry will be able to nip him at the convention, even given 18 months to campaign.

The humiliating climbdown is mighty delicious. But the round of lame-duck "legacy" legislation isn't going to taste very good. Chretien's got nothing to lose now: prepare to see the true face of Liberal government.

- 3:19 pm, August 21

The price of arrogance

MUST-READ alert: an extraordinary commentary in the new Canadian Medical Association Journal says our increasing focus on "preventive medicine" violates the physician's legendary prime directive: first, do no harm.

Without evidence from positive randomized trials (and, better still, systematic reviews of randomized trials) we cannot justify soliciting the well to accept any personal health intervention. There are simply too many examples of the disastrous inadequacy of lesser evidence as a basis for individual interventions among the well: supplemental oxygen for healthy premies (causing retrolental fibroplasia), healthy babies sleeping face down (causing SIDS), thymic irradiation in healthy children, and the list goes on. To this sad list we must now add estrogen plus progestin when given to healthy postmenopausal women under the presumption that they will be protected against cardiovascular disease.

Preventing disease, argues Dr. David Sackett, is an essentially arrogant enterprise in a way that curing disease is not. It requires a higher standard of scientific evidence, one that isn't being applied. And the mass screwups that result are not because of "greedy" drug companies or "demanding patients": they're because of the culture of the "expert." Take a look at what Sackett has to say, it's not long.

- 12:09 am, August 21


Attention news editors! We have a breaking Internet success story for you from Philadelphia, PA, where mathematics professor and ball fan Sean Forman runs the website Baseball Reference. BBRef is essentially a free online version of printed baseball encyclopedias, only with additional statistics and useful hyperlinks.

Since the site was started in February 2000, it has grown in popularity (and functionality), and Sean's costs have grown to more than $7,000 a year. What started as a labour of love has become a significant pain in the ass in the life of an underpaid academic. Last year Sean added PayPal and buttons to the site, begging the thousands of freeloaders to pay for all that sweet, sweet data. Some ponied up, but not enough for Sean to turn a profit.

Now, practically overnight, he's discovered a revenue model that seems to work: paid sponsorships for text ads on individual team and player pages. In the past 24 hours Sean's been deluged with money as ball fans race to snap up their favourites. Few if any of the buyers are interested in commerce: most are just buying bragging rights to their favourite teams or players, either for themselves or, in many cases, their fathers. If you want to sign up, you'd better damn well hurry.

I don't know if Sean's reached the break-even point, or if he will, but the excitement that this simple idea has created is insane. It will certainly put a large dent in his costs. I think everybody who has followed his ups and downs is ashamed of himself for not thinking of this sooner. Eventually he intends to implement a system whereby pages can be bought and sold, so consider this message your chance to get in on the ground floor of the next tulipomania. When you read about it in Wired News, remember where you heard it first.

- 11:15 pm, August 20

When has-beens attack

A couple of MeFi links:

· Henry Jenkins, a researcher who is skeptical of claims that video games cause youth violence, went on Donahue and got bushwhacked, bullied, and browbeaten. deserves credit for giving him space in a deliberative medium to fight back. Drawing-room leftism , moral panics no!

· A ZDNet article suggests that the invention shown to bigwigs during the hype over Dean Kamen's "Ginger" may not actually have been the Segway. Which is odd, since the rumours which got out before the unveiling all pointed to something very much like the Segway, and so did almost all the hints that were dropped by the aforementioned bigwigs. Apparently 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe told the New York Times:

Some months ago when speculation was running high, I said that Kamen's IT was more important than the Internet, but not as important as cold fusion, had cold fusion worked out. The IT I was talking about, which I did not disclose, was NOT Segway. That's all I can say.

This actually isn't hard to parse. Metcalfe doesn't say he wasn't shown the Segway. He only says that when he talked about something "more important than the Internet," he wasn't talking about the Segway itself.

What could he have been talking about? How about the engine inside the Segway? Reader John Hall points out [by way of correcting the original paragraph here--thanks, John] that the current-generation machine runs on batteries, but Kamen is said to be working on a practical Stirling engine: if so, that would represent a pretty significant advance in basic engineering. (With many Segways now in the hands of users, albeit public-sector ones, I'm waiting for someone to crack one open on the sly and report back on their tinkering.) Could Metcalfe have seen such an engine, or a Segway prototype powered by one?

- 9:28 pm, August 20

Don't wear it out

Godbloggerer Bene Diction has also linked to my recent CA post, or has tried to, for which many thanks. He offers a response similar to the Banana Counting Monkey's. Scroll down for my re-response.

Incidentally, Ben, my surname isn't "Cash", although you are hardly the first to make the mistake. Look, the banner on my page is already the size of a infant's head, plus you got "Cosh" right in the URL. What more can I do here? Don't make me demonstrate the verb "cosh" on you people. [UPDATE: The offender has now restored the dignity of the Cosh name, which is in its third millennium of verifiable historical existence and expects no less.]

- 3:43 pm, August 20

Why can't we all just get along

The Banana Counting Monkey, an Ontarian CA voter, has responded to my thing about CA strategy and "uniting the right." A very interesting response it is too.

I'm Ontarian, and I've voted Alliance/Reform for the last two elections. What I can comment on is the attitude of other Ontarians towards the Alliance. I've never once heard any mention of antipathy to the West as being a reason for disliking the Alliance. What seems to jar people, especially women, is the image that the Alliance has been saddled with of being the party of the Religious right and a bunch of racist, homophobic bigots. (The moment of truth for me in dating has more than once been telling a girl that yes, I support the Alliance. This has not always worked out well. one girl from Queens told me never to speak to her again after I had the temerity to ask for proof that Stockwell Day was a racist as she'd claimed.)

Silly monkey! Do you think the image of the Alliance as the party of bigotry would be credible for one minute if the party wasn't dominated by Albertans and British Columbians? Of course people don't mention regional antipathy as a factor, because they're ashamed of it or (more likely) they don't even consider it. It just is a factor.

Look, the Alliance is the overwhelmingly dominant party here--nobody who's from here doesn't vote for them. So when someone tells you that the CA is a party of Holocaust-denying gay-bashers, he (or she) is ipso facto admitting to regional hatred. What else would you call it when an entire region of the country is arraigned for voting, pretty much unanimously, for a neo-fascist conspiracy? This ugly regional prejudice may not be a sufficient cause for the "stigma" you speak of, but it's certainly a necessary one. The stigma is the antipathy. If you think this through you'll see they're logically equivalent.

To put it another way, how does one maintain that Stockwell Day is a bigot, and yet not think that Albertans, who overwhelmingly supported a government in which he was a senior minister, are themselves a bunch of bigots? The two beliefs go hand in hand, and I'm inclined to think (in the absence of evidence that poor Stock Day has a racist bone in his body) that the implicit one is actually the prior one. As an exercise, you may wish to find an Ontario resident who comes from Alberta originally and is willing to admit to it: they'll tell you quick enough whether the never-mentioned regional bias exists, and is common, and figures large in people's minds. Hell, try telling some new acquaintances you're from Alberta yourself, and check the reaction.

I really admire your courage, BCM, in sticking up for your political beliefs (and mine). It's a shame you have to feel jumpy about voting your self-evident self-interest. But there are nearly a million of you out there, as I have to remind myself every day. So you're obviously not alone. Several dozen of that million may even be chicks! Woo-hoo!

- 3:04 pm, August 20

Panic in the streets of... where??

(Link from The Null Device) I Don't Understand What The Hell's Going On Dept.: this Spin story chronicles the sudden growth of a cult of "Latino neo-Mozzers" in East L.A. That's Mozzers as in Morrissey fans. Yes, that Morrissey.

"Some nights I lay in my bedroom and I listen to 'There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,' and I cry," he tells me. "I cry and cry and cry. I cry like a little bitch, man."

We've all been there, dude. I could keep you here all day with baffling quotes from this article.

It's possible this whole "Why do Latinos love Morrissey?" question will haunt us forever.

"People have actually said to me, 'You like Morrissey? That's weird for a white guy.'"

See, I gotta stop or I'll ruin it for you. I want to just hug these kids--they're giving poor Moz's life a second act. It's a beautiful, mind-bending thing.

- 6:44 am, August 20

A Canadian Alliance future

(Warning: this post is long, and heavy on the Canadian content.)

Chuck Strahl simply won't give up. The British Columbia MP, part of the Flight Club that crossed to the Progressive Conservatives when the Canadian Alliance ushered Preston Manning out the door, is now back in the CA fold under new leader Stephen Harper. But he still wants to "unite the right", because if the Tory and CA benches were all in the same place, he'd save a bundle on shoe leather. Here's Chuck in the Monday Vancouver Province:

"It takes maturity and a recognition that none of our ideas will get carried forward if the Liberals win another majority.
"Do you want a chance to implement a plan, or are you more satisfied with a war of attrition in the trenches?"
It is all such a muddle. While he talks of unification, Strahl must also support the Alliance.
It has to find its way again with a "positive, compelling" new vision, he says, the old one tattered after too much internal turmoil.
"We have to decide it's not all just about lower taxes. If we get stuck on our '93 rhetoric, we won't get the next generation of voters."

How much is wrong with all this? Let's see:

· First of all, "maturity" is the war cry of the L-O-S-E-R. It's the word you trot out when your ideas are not only bankrupt, but actually wearing a barrel around them like a cartoon from the 1930's. There is no "immaturity" bloc in any political dispute, OK? Can we agree to drop this word? It's an even worse synonym for "bipartisanship", which we are mercifully free of here in the Northern Heptarchy.

· Another Liberal majority would be bad, says Chuck. Well, no shit, Sherlock. We'd all like it if there were an obvious means of reducing the Liberals to sooty rubble, but as it happens, there is a very good argument, supported by pretty much all the psephological evidence and common sense, that the Tories are siphoning votes from the Liberals.

I don't, myself, know why people still vote Tory. But no one has ever given me any reason to suspect that the answer is anything but this: Tory voters would rather choke to death on their own shit than vote for anything which comes from the West, is led by the West, or favours the political agenda of Westerners. How is a Western party supposed to accommodate that slight difficulty? Or am I perhaps missing some policy difference between the PCs and the CA? Because I thought the whole point of the "unite-the-right" argument was that there is no policy difference. If there's no policy difference, why are people still voting Tory, if not out of anti-Western fear, suspicion, and hatred? And if there is a policy difference, then why are we talking about a merger?

· Finally we have Chuck admitting that "It's not about lower taxes". Well, I can go along with that, if what he means is that "It's about smaller government and closing the standard-of-living gap with the U.S.". But lower taxes would seem to be a perfectly reasonable third leg in that tripod. What else do you fellows want to run on? Banning abortion? Good luck with that. Stopping gay marriage? News flash: no one gives a crap. Building a giant ice lens in Nunavut to focus the sun's rays on our enemies? Sure, go for it.

This addled man is really worried, it appears, that the "younger generation" is going to bolt from the CA because it intends to focus on economic issues. This is the same younger generation that knows, and dreads, that it's going to be carrying the Baby Boomers on its back until Doomsday under various intergenerational Ponzi schemes devised by the Liberals. It's grown up knowing nothing but Cuban standards of healthcare. It's grown up soaked in public and private debt, watching payroll taxes increase every year. In the "have-not" provinces, this "younger generation" has watched its own most talented members--and several entire economies--pack up and move on to Alberta and Ontario. In Alberta and Ontario, it has watched those same talents pack up and move south to the U.S.

It's the economy, STUPID. The reason the Canadian Alliance isn't occupying 24 Sussex right now is that the economic message has never been given a fair chance. The party began as a mechanism for desirable, but improbable, constitutional reforms favourable to the West. Even as it's tried to shake its original raison d'être, which won it the West and understandably hindered growth in Ontario, it's been saddled with sideshows at every turn. From bogus accusations of racism to disputes over Quebec to this unite-the-right fiddle-faddle, the party's economic platform has never been more than a background issue. The various leaders have all, most of the time, allowed the media to shine the light elsewhere.

The successful strategy is simple. Get taxes and the economy at the top of the agenda. Don't let reporters distract you with bullshit wastes of time.

"Mr. Harper, what if Mike Harris runs for the Tory leadership?"

"Can't say that I give a damn, Jim: here's our plan for cleaner, smaller government and economic growth. Mike Harris is welcome to steal it if he likes. In fact, I've sent him ten copies."

"Mr. Harper, there are signs that the Quebec separatist movement is reviving. Your thoughts?"

"Well, Jane, maybe you haven't heard about our economic plan to give Canada, including Quebec, cleaner, smaller government and economic growth. If we're given the chance to implement it, I don't think you'll be hearing much about separatism five years down the road."

"Mr. Harper, where do you stand on gay marriage?"

"Well, I married a woman myself, and that seems to work out OK for me. But as a party, we have no formal position on gay marriage. Our plan to give Canada cleaner, smaller government and economic growth will enrich working people--gay, straight, celibate, or transsexual."

"Mr. Harper, will you call for a free vote in the Commons on abortion?"

"Not in my first term as Prime Minister. That's a promise. We'll have our hands full in the first four years introducing cleaner, smaller government and economic growth."

"Mr. Harper, what about those who say your economic proposals victimize society's most vulnerable?"

"I feel sorry for anyone who feels victimized by cleaner, smaller government and economic growth. If you want dirty, huge government and economic stagnation, I invite you to vote Liberal."

The economy's not everything, of course. There are some other issues too popular to resist including in a short-term Alliance platform: you could win trainloads of votes promising to shut down Indian Affairs and to give treaty Indians the same economic rights as the rest of us. If the Liberals resist, point out that you're merely advocating the principles in the 1969 Liberal white paper written by a certain J. Chretien. You could include the text in your campaign literature. The Indians won't like it, you say? Oh, many will like it very much, I suspect, but either way, Indians (for complex cultural reasons) don't vote in very great numbers. There will be violent protests fomented by the corrupt band councils who grow fat under the current system, of course. They should be worth about 100,000 Alliance votes apiece.

· To return to my original point, why is Chuck so sure that no Canadian Alliance ideas will be implemented even if the Liberals do win again? "None of our ideas"? None? Are you quite sure about that, Chuck? It seems to me that the classic Liberal method of survival has been to steal ideas wholesale from whomever poses the greatest threat electorally. This is, in fact, a frequent complaint of the satellite parties clustered around the Liberal sun.

Of course, in a situation of the sort we have now, no one poses any threat, and the Liberals can let their imaginations run wild with new foreign aid programs for African dictators. A strong Opposition forces them to do good things they don't really want to do (e.g., they've had to stop giving untendered advertising contracts to storefront sleazebags in Quebec). The stronger the Opposition, the better the country will be run by the Liberals. Ideally we won't have Liberals in power, but if we end up with Liberals in power using the Canadian Alliance playbook, I'll be fairly happy with that. It's not so important to me that "my guy" get into 24 Sussex. I know it's important to Chuck, though: perhaps he has his eye on one of those cushy Senate seats.

- 4:41 am, August 20


UPDATE: they came through after all! My server just burped up an e-mail, dated Saturday, from Tom White, who had slipped up a bit in his column about bad journalistic math.

I am to do a revision of the piece for the archives... Face very red. Thanks for writing.

The reputation of for accountability is restored! And I owe Tom a big apology, myself, for my system's throwing his actually very prompt e-mail into a locker for two days. Tom was, in truth, on top of things immediately, and the piece isn't going to be made to disappear forever, just fixed up. Bravo to Mr. White.

- 2:16 am, August 20

Huddled masses

An Instapundit reader speaks for South Africa in an unsigned letter to Reynolds. The interesting part is at the end, when he explains why the letter's unsigned:

I am in enough trouble with the SA government as it is, by daring to get a foreign temporary work visa. I've had deposits into my accounts frozen for "money laundering" once already. Plenty of SA politicians would have no problem calling me a "traitor", and have done so in general terms when talking about "the brain drain" (which they are creating).

A "brain drain" is what we have here in Canada: in South Africa it's more like a brain flush, with an inept president working the lever. The government can't, or won't, do anything about the ongoing national rape and murder spree, and there does seem to be a feeling abroad in the country that the whites are just getting their own back. It's a slow-motion version of the process now being completed in Zimbabwe, and in the long term it's bound to reach the same terminus. I'm not complaining, myself--Canada is a net beneficiary from the flight of South African professionals, black and white. In particular, medical doctors seem to be hightailing it in large numbers, providing understaffed rural areas of Canada with plenty of De Wets, De Boers, and Cronjes who just want to be able go outside unarmed.

The ground was seeded when a large number of doctors left the RSA in the '70s to avoid the military draft and because they were heartsick at the "business" apartheid was sending their way. But when apartheid ended, the influx didn't stop. The Canadian Medical Association Journal observed last year that 1,500 Canadian doctors are South African-trained. In the province of Saskatchewan, 17% of the physicians are from SA.

This is not, needless to say, good for South Africa, but what's South Africa doing about it? Asking the Canadian government to stop "recruiting" South African physicians? That's a laugh and a half: it's not Canada's brilliant marketing that's bringing South African doctors over, it's emigré classmates, friends, and relatives who are already here, and who have found that they like it.

Martin Vogel explained to the CMAJ why he was "recruited" away from South Africa:

"To know your kids are safe while you're at work. To know that if you're going to be back late, somebody will pick them up and take them to hockey or to dance class. To know if you're going to be out of town they can have a sleepover. I can't speak highly enough about that."

Some people would call Dr. Vogel a "traitor" to South Africa, but did South Africa fulfill its obligations to Dr. Vogel? Loyalty is, or ought to be, a two-way street.

- 1:01 am, August 20

Immovable object

Afternoon news (and sports) roundup:

· The Canadian Press reports that Bartolo Colon's two-hit shutout of the Padres may be the Expos' "last game in Montreal." The Spos are on the road now until the strike date, August 30. How many "possible Montreal finales" have been played over the years? As I've said, it strikes me as extremely unlikely that the former minority owners of the team would not ask the judge in their RICO suit to order an injunction if MLB tried to move the club. And it's almost as unlikely that he wouldn't grant it. On what legal grounds could he not grant it? They're just not moving, CP, get your head screwed on straight.

· The 8-0 Montreal Alouettes, who are playing awfully well for a team whose name is French for larks, are staring into the abyss. NFL pariah Lawrence Phillips, a woman-assaulting drunk driver who won't take orders from a coach, won the starting fullback job from probable Hall of Famer Mike Pringle in camp. But now Pringle's out for the year with a buggered knee. And then this happens:

Lawrence Phillips is missing in action again.
The Montreal Alouettes suspended the CFL's leading rusher Monday after he left the team Sunday morning and skipped practice without explanation.
Phillips' only contact with the club came Monday morning, when he complained of knee pain in a brief phone call to an Alouettes trainer.
General manager Jim Popp suspended Phillips when he missed the team's 5 p.m. EDT flight Monday to B.C., where they play the Lions on Wednesday.

The CFL gets a lot of these NFL "reclamation projects". In the case of your Doug Flutie type, where the guy's failure to stick is a pure question of prejudice and cowardice among NFL coaches, they usually work. In the cases where the guy has burned his own bridges and comes with a rap sheet as long as your arm... well, you can't argue with an 8-0 start, but the Als are sure in a fix now.

In sports generally, an important difference between good organizations and bad ones is that good organizations seem able to get guys with "bad attitude" raps onto the same page as the club. My Eskimos seem to do a good job of this--it's been a long time now since the last Cup win, mind you, but I will point out that they're 6-2 with guys like Ron Williams and Elfrid Payton who were basically discarded by martinets in other cities. Of course, those are acknowledged all-league players and there's some suspicion that the Esks just blew off the salary cap in an effort to get to the Cup game, which is here this November. At least the Calgary papers are suspicious, anyway.

· Are Canadian soldiers nervous wrecks? CP reports:

Canada's soldiers, sailors and air crews booked off about 27,000 more days of sick leave last year than in 1999, raising troubling questions about the health of the military.
The amount of sick leave jumped 25 per cent over two years -- from 106,151 days in 1999-00 to 132,890 sick days in 2001-02, figures released under the Access to Information Act show.
And last week, a health survey of half of the Canadian Force's 52,000 active members suggested personnel are less healthy than the average Canadian and are more likely to be mentally distressed.
Only 22 per cent reported being in excellent health, compared with 29 per cent of the wider population, which is surprising given that physical fitness is emphasized in the military, the report said.

There's no hint in the story that soldiers may gauge their own fitness differently than the general population, because they work in a field where "physical fitness" is emphasized. There's a lot of sucking and blowing in the story about how Canadian soldiers are "burned out", and Lord knows it's not an easy life. But near the back end, a colonel points out that the increase in sick time may be a simple question of more units signing onto the database that keeps track of this stuff! What's more, a retired Forces doctor points out that the military is outsourcing more of its medical work, and civilian doctors may be more likely to put a guy on sick leave than military ones are. (I'd consider this a near certainty, myself.)

The real explanation is probably some combination of all of these, plus the factor no one dares mention: the disgust of the ordinary soldier with our bureaucratized, social-engineered, "soft-power" armed forces, which will court-martial a guy for hanging a "Fuck Terrorism" sign on a dead Taliban shitbag. If you hate your bosses, you're going to take more sick leave: simple as that.

· Martha meltdown? Drudge says yes!

Embattled media mogul Martha Stewart is said to see a political conspiracy behind the deepening investigation into her questionable stock trades, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.
"Martha really believes it is the Republicans who are behind this -- and they are chasing her for purely political reasons," a Stewart intimate said this weekend.
"Martha told me that she believes they are doing the very same thing to her, they did to President Clinton...."

Go on, Martha, I dare you to tell your customers with your own mouth that you're the victim of a Republican conspiracy. As things stand, most of them aren't aware of your feverish fundraising for the party of Clinton and Gore. By all means, go out of your way to call the attention of white yuppies to your political predicament. It'll play absolutely brilliantly in Peoria.

I'm sympathetic to anyone who attracts the unwelcome attention of--well, any government agency with an acronym, really: IRS, DEA, ATF, SEC, they're all Satan. But come now, Martha, are you really so shocked that an insider-trading investigation has them looking at your e-mails and checking into whom you've dated? I wasn't a Bill Clinton defender in any way, but this isn't anything like what Clinton faced. Is the ultimate legacy of the Starr investigation going to be that people suspected of fraud invariably play the Clinton card? "Now I understand Bill's pain!" No you don't: not until the whole world has a detailed record of you licking a 22-year-old's ass and having a wank into a bathroom fixture, you don't.

- 5:51 pm, August 19

Rollin', rollin', rollin'

I confess I've been adding links to the left-hand sidebar mostly on the lazy principle of "You link to me, I link to you" (or even "You send me fan mail or chat me up on MSN Messenger, I link to you, unless you're self-evidently illiterate"). It does not represent an exercise of deliberate critical judgment. But. Yesterday I discovered something extraordinary: without even having been chosen, really, all the weblogs in my link list are pretty goddamn good. Does this suggest that people who link to me and read my page are themselves overwhelmingly talented? Yes. Yes, it does.

I'm pleased to be able to actively recommend all these sites, but I should highlight a couple I've rather neglected to talk up... if you agree with my "Let's get informed about Australia, fellow Canadians" initiative you should make Gareth Parker part of your diet. Sasha Castel is charming and erudite enough to rise far above the common run of "Come back with your shield or on it" female bloggers. The boss of Fumbling, which I linked purely as a matter of reflex, turns out to be an emergency-room medical resident with some frightfully interesting observations. And I'm just about to add the Greeblie Blog to the sidebar. Again, it's just reflexive backscratching--guy linked to me, didn't say a word about it. And yes, the name of his site sounds like an invisible forest creature who performs anilingus on unsuspecting wayfarers. But if you like rampaging, sweary middle American blogs, then rock on.

- 3:40 pm, August 19

The Dutch master

Sasha Volokh has had his fill. Watching two warbloggers go after the Washington Post like hyenas for the implied "moral equivalency" involved in a dispassionate military analysis of suicide bombing, he puts his foot down:

I'm personally rather sick of the view that you need to express an opinion on the morality of the practices you're describing, especially in news reporting. The Washington Post is supposed to state that targeting innocent civilians is immoral? In a news article?

(The Volokhs' permalinks are busted at the moment, which is becoming typical for Blogspot sites. You'll have to search for the particular posting yourself.)

I'm afraid, although I respect the warbloggers Volokh is chiding, that I feel the same way he does. If your goal is analysis, outrage will only interfere. "We are much beholden to Machiavel and others," wrote Francis Bacon, "that write what men do, and not what they ought to do." Indignation, however appropriate it may be to the circumstances, is not a tool of cognition.

Sasha then asks for input on the question of why "suicide bombers targeting civilians" are wrong--that is, for a logical elucidation of why, apart from the justice or injustice of the Palestinian cause, we feel or assume that "suicide bombers targeting civilians" are wrong. Is it the "suicide" part that bothers us? Or the targeting of civilians? Or is there some mutual interaction of the elements there that makes the whole objectionable?

I believe the answer is that we are right to be bothered by both, independently, with qualifications.

A suicidal attack which is made to further a larger war aim is one thing; any war would offer examples, some of which have justly entered the annals of human heroism. And why is that? Because the men who made them were giving their lives for their brothers in arms, for their families, or for their country--for things which they valued more than their lives. In these cases, the common consent of mankind ratifies the action: we can all--Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Christian, atheist--respect these men for acting on their values in the face of human fears.

But I think we are correct to object to a suicide attack where the suicide is part of the essential nature of the attack--where the suicide is itself the goal, or part of the goal. A suicide states by his action that he values nothing, or nothing worldly at any rate. The Palestinian suicide bombers horrify us because they are not men and women who can reasonably think "There will be a Palestinian state in 90 days because I blew up this cafe, and my children will live at peace in that state." They are men and women who think "Allah is going to love this. Virgins, here I cum!" Operationally, from a secular standpoint, a religious fetish for suicide is tantamount to nihilism: you can't reason with, or placate, a person who is ab initio committed to self-annihilation. We rightly feel aggrieved in the face of a nihilistic enemy, because he has raised the stakes on us, on no pretext we share. We feel that he is cheating at the rules of war, which is supposed to be the furtherance of political ends by means of reluctant coercion and destruction. We are, ourselves, reluctant to abandon our humanity by taking him at his implicit word that he does not care if he lives or dies.

(And I will digress in this connection to say that it is too fucking rich that the Palestinian sympathizers, who ask us to understand the "freedom fighters" on one hand, are the same people who demand that the United States, in its relations with Iraq et al., be placed in a straitjacket of wholly novel and fantastic conventions of international "law". Make up your mind, Lefty.)

As to the targeting of civilians... Sasha asks:

What's the problem with targeting civilians? Is the claim that you should never target civilians, or that targeting civilians is a strike against your side which you need to make up for with (a) an exceptionally worthy cause or (b) an inability to go after military targets? If we're against Palestinian terror on those grounds, do we have to be against having dropped the bomb on Hiroshima too?

In fact, what Sasha's suggesting in the bit with the (a) and the (b) sounds quite a lot like what Grotius, who is The Man on this issue, told us in Book Three of De Jure Belli ac Pacis. I expect he's read it:

Though there may be circumstances, in which absolute justice will not condemn the sacrifice of lives in war, yet humanity will require that the greatest precaution should be used against involving the innocent in danger, except in cases of extreme urgency and utility.

(Text provided by Wei Wilson Chen.)

This doctrine leaves a fair amount of room for Hiroshima, or both the atom bomb attacks, because they (a) ended the war immediately and (b) were arguably not a "sacrifice of lives" at all, but rather the means of saving them, on both sides. There was also an element of "taking the enemy at his word" in the bombing too: after the mass suicide on Saipan and the kamikaze attacks, there could have been no remaining doubt about the frightfulness necessary to bring the conflict to a conclusion.

Whether the Palestinians' random bombings of discos and cafes satisfy the requirement of "extreme urgency or utility" that Grotius proposed, I cannot rightly say here, because Sasha wishes to leave aside questions about the nature of the Palestinian cause. These questions are intimately connected with the problem of what level of violence against innocent citizens is permissible.

But three case-specific things are crying out to be noted in this connection:

(1) The Palestinians are not fighting against enslavement or destruction: they are fighting against disenfranchisement, dispossession of property, and the sovereign authority of people they don't like because of ethnic and religious differences. They are not fighting for "freedom": they're fighting against a liberal democracy, and for substantive enslavement by people who read from the same hymnal they do (not even that, in the case of the Palestinian Christians). I think we are required to impose very different moral criteria on Yasser Arafat's actions and, say, Nat Turner's.

(2) Are the Israelis always as careful as Grotius would wish about killing civilians? Perhaps not, although I've always been impressed to the point of dumbfoundedness by the actual care the IDF takes when I've read trustworthy accounts of its behaviour. But ignore that. The point is this: the Israelis do believe their actions are bound by a moral law and will be judged by it. When they kill civilians, they defend their actions and assert that they do not want to kill civilians haphazardly. Hypocrisy? Perhaps: but hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. It is a sign of moral judgment, of moral consciousness. What self-imposed moral limits do the suicide bombers accept? "We'll stop killing babies when you give us what we want"? That's not a moral limit, that's a ransom demand.

(3) Killing innocents because they are innocents is very different, morally, from killing innocents because they are in the way. However depraved the latter, the former is on a whole other level, no matter how you slice it.

- 2:38 am, August 19


[IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: As explained above, Tom White cleared up the mess described below almost immediately: his e-mail to me had been confiscated by cybergremlins. There is therefore nothing remotely "disconcerting" about the behaviour of or Tom White, and any suggestion thereof should be ignored. I apologize for jumping the gun. The post is preserved so that others may still learn from Tom's wholly understandable math error. -C.C.]

I've promoted Lew Rockwell's site here before, and with good reason: it's extremely useful and I think it's an important locus of paleoconservative dissent. So I feel obliged to report a disconcerting experience I've just had with it.

Rockwell columnist Tom White of Odessa, Texas, posted a column on Thursday or Friday that led off by talking about how journalists are generally very poor at math or anything that smacks of math. This is a theme I've written about, too, so I was glad to see someone else wrestle with it. Unfortunately Mr. White couldn't get two out of three falls. He rapidly turned from his initial subject to that of the U.S. national debt, writing the following sentence:

"The public debt has grown $3,812 billion in 15 years; that's a 162% increase, or an average of 10.8% a year."

I wrote him an e-mail correcting his mistake, which was to try to derive an annual growth rate by simply dividing the 162% overall increase by the 15 years. In fact--and please correct me if I'm mistaken--you can't just divide. Because of the compound-interest effect, you need to use logarithms to solve for 'r' in the equation 2.62 = (1 + r) ^ 15. The real growth rate in the debt over the 15 years was more like 6.6%. He had overstated it considerably.

This didn't really harm either of his basic premises--the debt really has grown too fast, and journalists really are bad at math--but it did kind of trample on the sneering lede of his piece (and don't get me wrong, I'm all in favour of sneering). I was hoping he'd check my work and get back to me. I haven't heard from him yet. However, I do notice that his column--originally located at this URL--is now offline. There's no link to it in any of's archived pages from the last seven days (here's Thursday, here's Friday). There's no link to it at Tom White's own archive page at the site either. And I can't find the original column in Google's cache or in the Wayback Machine.

In short--all together now--it's as though the offending column never existed. Make of it what you will, ethically. I can certainly understand why Tom and Lew would want to get rid quietly, and I don't think it's a big issue, but why no letter? "Thanks for reading--and good catch; a site run by an economist probably shouldn't contain mistakes like this"? Something along those lines? I'll let you know if I ever hear from old Tom.

- 7:18 pm, August 18

If man is still alive, if woman can survive

Have a seat, Mr. Cosh. Thank you for coming in, we'll try to make this quick. How are you this afternoon?

Well, I guess I'm pretty good, considering. You know, I never thought I'd live to be 80, so just waking up in the morning is a bonus.

That's good, that's a good attitude. Now before we get started, I'm required under the terms of the Client Contentment Act of 2020 to ask you if you had any problems filling out the online Genealogic Culpability Form.

Problems? No, I wouldn't say I had any problems.


Well, you know. The form, that was fairly easy, it's just that a lot of us... you know, white, WASP-type guys...

Persons of Historically Oppressionary Identity, yes...

...yeah, well, a lot of us are losing our shirts on this deal, so naturally I was nervous.

Well, we appreciate your filing on time, because frankly a lot of persons in your ostensive ethnographic and genderoidal position seem to think they can avoid the final accounting which our government has very sensibly decided to implement. The whole point is to bring about reconciliation, so we appreciate that you've chosen not to be stubborn. Especially considering the position you took on this issue back in the unregulated mass media days.

Well, I don't want any trouble. I figured I'd be first in line for a DNA audit if it came to that.

And I'm going to be honest with you here. You're absolutely right.


We apply the law equally, you understand, but there are hate-crime flags all over your file. I'm afraid you'd have been at, or near, the top of the list of non-cöoperatives. Potential ones, that is.

I just wanted to avoid a visit from the Mobile Human Rights Task Force is all.

Actually--and it's understandable you don't know this: it wasn't announced--but enforcement of Reparations is being carried out by the Health and Lifestyle Branch. An executive decision was made on that, since DNA is involved and the HLB units don't have much to do, now that the Euthanasia for Tobacco Consumers program is in its tenth year.

*cough* *cough*

Everything all right?

Oh, yeah. Summer cold coming on.

You should knock that out with some echinacea. Are you ready to hear the results of your ethnic accounting?

Yeah, hit me.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. The news is good.

It is???

Your problem is, of course, the heavy English component of your ancestry, but a good deal of that is cancelled out--see this pie chart--by the even heavier Scottish component. You can see that it's not as simple as merely being a white male. Your Scots ancestors belonged to persecuted religious minorities, Mr. Cosh. That's worth big points in the reparations calculation, big points.

I can't believe it.

Now, of course, those British elements don't cancel out each other out entirely--it's not just yourself you owe money to. We have, in your case, what we call the imperial problem--massive, multigenerational debts to the indigenous peoples of Asia, Africa, North America, Australia. Look what happens to the pie chart when we factor those in.

Hey, the little brown guy is eating the pie!

Exactly. Exactly, Mr. Cosh. And he's enjoying it. Because he's long overdue for his slice. We put together this animation to really drive home the message. Fortunately, leaving aside the irrelevant static in your family tree, we have one more element to consider.

What's that?

I speak of the slender, saving thread upon which your continued prosperity, speaking from a Reparations viewpoint, hangs--your Jewish great-great-grandparent.

Hey... the little brown guy is vomiting up the pie!

Of course. Because you are part Jewish, Mr. Cosh--though a regrettably small part, accounting-wise--the claims against the majority of your ancestors arising from modern history are counterbalanced by a debt of persecution reaching back into the mists of time. Ethnically, you're essentially in a break-even position. Five dollars and twelve cents ahead, actually.


Minus the $15,102 processing fee.


Don't worry, you don't have to pay that now; we'll invoice you by e-mail and you can take care of it at tax time.

Hang on a minute... you're charging me fifteen thousand dollars to tell me my dead ancestors all owe each other money?

Minus the five dollars and twelve cents, yes. I think we're done here... there's a copy of your statement. You'll want to hang onto that: I hear Starbonald's is going to give discounts to people who are, to use the old politically incorrect phrase, in the black.


Oh, I did think that joke would go over a little better with an old non-cöop like yourself. Send in the next client on your way out, will you?

- 4:12 pm, August 18

Lessons in power

I finally got the chance to catch up with Virginia Postrel's return from exile, and a short item caught my eye:

GREAT NEWS: The most heartening article I've read in a long time is this piece on how a diesel-powered food processor is transforming life in Mali. [Posted 8/15.]

Without even following the link, I knew exactly what the article was about: yams. It was part of my Canadian public education in multiculturalism, you see, to watch long ethnographic films about the unspoiled, pre-industrial, damn-near-saintly cultures of Africa and South America, all of which seemed to revolve around having a lot of women sit around, all day, hunched over wooden bowls, pounding the crap out of yams. Or some other foodstuff. In the case of the aforelinked article, it's actually not yams, it's peanuts. But the principle is the same.

You should go read it. The article is not really about a food processor: the food processor is just what the real subject of the article spends most of its day hooked to. The real subject of the article is the cheap, easy-to-fix, multipurpose diesel engine that provides the power: it can drive belts for an electrical generator or a mill or a water pump.

Known blandly as the "multifunctional platform" in United Nations parlance, the contraption was invented in the mid-1990s by a Swiss development worker in Mali who believed that easing the domestic load of African women would unleash their entrepreneurial zeal. The machine, simple and sturdy, was tailored for rural Africa.

Of course it was a Swiss who invented it. Up your ass, Harry Lime!

Now, if you're a anti-globalist reading the article, your reaction will be indignation as you contemplate the brutish way in which Mali is being dragged into the black tentacles of the oil economy, blah blah, replay of the horrors of the Industrial Revolution, blah blah, loss of a traditional culture, etc. If you're a "family values" conservative reading the article, your reaction will be indignation as you contemplate the threat to the Malian family structure, blah blah, thin edge of the feminist wedge, blah blah, loss of a traditional culture, etc. If you're a remotely honest Chomskyite (I know, I know--dream on), you'll admit that giving a multipurpose diesel engine to an African village is nothing more or less than "manufacturing consent", and you'll object it immediately. I bid you all continued happiness inside your respective mental universes.

- 3:54 am, August 18

By the book

Hey, ESPN Page 2 columnist Eric Neel, I hear you're looking for classic sports books to profile! My suggestion is Wait Till Next Year, a 1987 joint effort about the year in New York sports, with chapters alternating between screenwriter William Goldman and sportswriter Mike Lupica. Lupica's stuff is all right; it's acquired nostalgia value over the years (the book opens with Doc Gooden being presented with the result of his EMIT drug test, bawling "Didn't do it, swear to god!"). But Goldman's chapters haven't aged a day: I've read his half of the book about once a year since I got it in a Christmas stocking. Goldman writes about Don Hutson, the nature of memory, Ben Hogan, superstition, the NFL's adventure with replacement players... his firsthand account of Bronko Nagurski's comeback game is what I remember most, but I could probably recite other long sections of the book from memory. It's just a killer little thing, still in print. I don't know if suggesting it really makes sense, whether it's some kind of hugely popular book and everybody knows about it already, like Bouton's Ball Four. I live in Canada and I only ever met one other person who'd read it: he was crazy about it too.

- 3:04 am, August 18

Return of the Elitist

Here's more Australia-relevant content, I'm afraid--I find myself becoming increasingly implicated with this utterly foreign place. For those with access to the Report magazine in print, my column in the forthcoming issue contains an actually-quite-fascinating-if-I-say-so-myself item on certain Australian politicians' surreptitious quest to join the nuclear club back in the '60s. Several higher-ups were quite serious about acquiring "sovereign" Australian nukes after the Chinese got theirs. We tend to think of Australia as a highly Greenpeacy country full of surfers and croc huntahs, forgetting--to take the obvious example--that it fought actively in the Vietnam War.

Do you know, though, what strikes me? It's funny how little attention is paid to Australia here in Canada. It is perhaps the country whose historical and political situation is closest to our own: yet I doubt one Canadian in a hundred could even name the Australian prime minister. In an ideal Canadian news marketplace, our newspapers and networks would pay quite close attention to Australian affairs. It's just not done: Oz probably gets about as much ink as Indonesia.

Anyway, the difficult-to-classify David Morgan has returned to weblogging after the birth of his first child. After the excellent Tim Blair linked to me last week, David wrote me to complain that I had characterized the Australian people as having voted "for" the monarchy in 1999. I am sure he will forgive a short quote from his letter:

The slogan of the 'No' coalition wasn't 'Vote No to a republic' but 'Vote No to THIS republic'. They were a coalition of monarchists, who wanted no change, and radical republicans who thought the change didn't go far enough. It was the greatest coalition from hell since the Hitler-Stalin pact.

If this is an issue that interests you, you can check out David's account of "What Went Wrong" for the republican cause in Australia in 1999.

For Canadians, there is an interesting angle here. If you accept David's version, you end up with an account of the Australian republic campaign as an unexpected three-sided fight on a binary issue. The ballot offered a "Yes/No" choice on the republic, but the actual campaign had three sides:

· pure procedural republicans like David;
· radicals and special interests who wanted to use the constitutional change as the occasion for more substantive, deep changes in Australia's political structure;
· monarchists fighting for the status quo.

Where have we Canadians seen this kind of fight before? Right: Meech Lake, 1990, and Charlottetown, 1992. For foreigners, I'll explain that these were sets of amendments to the Canadian constitution, drafted to accommodate the French-speaking province of Quebec, which has never signed the 1982 Constitution Act. Both deals contained vague guarantees of "special status" for that province; the first required ratification in the assemblies of all ten provinces, which it failed to get by a narrow margin, and the second was voted on in a national referendum, which it lost.

The mutual failure of Meech Lake and Charlottetown occurred because of an attempt to fit three into two, very similar to what David complains about. Observe the three camps:

· Those fighting for the status quo--equality of the ten provinces, and no special status for Quebec;
· radicals and special interests who wanted to use the constitutional change as the occasion for other deep changes to Canada's political structure;
· pure procedural "Quebeckists" who wanted only to accomplish the goal of bringing the orphaned province back under the Constitutional umbrella, and didn't much care how they did so.

Why did Meech Lake fail? The Quebeckists would have won the day, but the accord was blocked by camp number two--i.e., by the dissenting vote of Elijah Harper, the Manitoba Indian MLA who thought that no constitutional bargain should take place without goodies for his lot.

What was Charlottetown, basically? Charlottetown was a work-around, a kludge, a jury-rig. It was a broader version of Meech, containing catnip for Indians, women, social democrats, Tahitian kudu fanciers, anyone who had the political pull to get their pet peeve on the agenda. Why did it fail? Because trying to bring camp number two into the balance made ordinary folk with no special interests despise the accord, and gave an easy, crushing victory to the status quo side. Thank God.

What is the lesson? It seems that special interests can always hold procedural changes to a national constitution hostage, if they want to. But in the end they may just be forced to kill the hostage.

- 5:29 am, August 17


(Link from Gimboland) From a database of clever quotes from IRC logfiles, here is a 27-word summary of the essence of Canada which is worth preserving for posterity.

- 3:45 am, August 17

Reconsider baby

Here's a friendly suggestion for you: let's all just shut the hell up about Elvis Presley for a while. Every year around the anniversary of his death it's the same damn thing: Elvis impersonators, Elvis cookbooks, platinum reissues of Elvis Having Fun on Stage... it's way, way out of control.

Sure, Elvis was an important musical and cultural figure. He was the white guy who brought black music to America, right? Well, Paul Whiteman did the exact same thing thirty years earlier, kicking the doors open for black music while actually supporting black composers and singers. But who remembers Whiteman as anything but a figure of ridicule with an unfortunately ironic surname? Does someone want to explain to me the real difference in significance between Elvis Presley and Paul Whiteman?

Sure, Elvis was a wonderful, wonderful song interpreter, but so was Sam Cooke, and there are no mass pilgrimages to Sam's home. Sure, Elvis challenged a staid eroto-musical climate, but can he really compete with Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard in this regard? I live in 2002 and old footage of Little Richard still kinda freaks me out. Certainly Elvis prefigured the sexual liberation of Western civilization, but wasn't the Pill going to have that effect anyway, whomever ended up providing the soundtrack?

I don't object to the idea that Elvis was good or important, but we seem to have moved beyond that. I just heard a radio interview with a woman who owns literal Elvis relics, including toenails and a wart. I can't think of anybody whose wart I'd want to own. This whole Elvis thing, it's just generational bullying: we're probably going to inflict the same thing on our own children with Kurt Cobain or someone like that, I suppose.

- 9:46 pm, August 16

Seen a million faces, and I've rocked them all

Malcolm Gladwell's latest masterpiece for the New Yorker is available on his personal website. "The Naked Face" discusses a wild and innate (or is it?) talent, apparently manifesting in a tiny handful of humans, for interpreting secret emotional cues in facial expressions. There are a few people alive, a very few, who can almost literally read your mind.

DO read the Gladwell piece; DON'T go read it without having this handy chart of the Facial Action Coding System to hand.

- 1:28 pm, August 16

True names

I learn, to my great pleasure, that there is a movement, apparently quite in earnest, to restore to the city and environs of "Kaliningrad" their glorious old name of Königsberg. The similar change from Leningrad back to St. Petersburg was apparently quite uncontroversial, although one could make a case that one historical monster was merely being swapped for another (I refer to Peter the tsar, and not Peter the saint). Why should Kaliningrad be denied a change that is far less freighted with semiotic difficulty? The current name is only a few decades old and celebrates the memory of a Bolshevik functionary. The word "Königsberg", by contrast, connotes European civilization at its best: it was the home of Kant and the sacred geographic heart of topology.

Of course, there is one troublesome aspect to this onomastic duality. "Königsberg" was served up to Stalin in 1946, and the change from a German to a Russian name was accompanied by a corresponding ethnic cleansing. The people who live there now are Russians. Perhaps they don't want to be reminded of why it is they are there. I can't say I begrudge them the sentiment, much less the place, but I do hope the name will be changed.

- 7:08 am, August 16

Hey Jude

The supply-side economic philosopher Jude Wanniski is, if nothing else, an interesting figure. His sallies against conventional wisdom on various subjects have entertained me for years and made him an influential figure among conservatives until he became obsessed with dragging Louis Farrakhan into the big tent of the American Right (a process chronicled in a memorable 1997 New Republic cover story by Jonathan Chait). Today he cuts a lonesome figure, dashing off open "memos" to politicians and journalists and never indicating that he gets any answer.

Is he a crackpot? If he is, he's a crackpot still worth listening to on many subjects. And he's a crackpot with the best motives: he sells Farrakhan because he honestly thinks Farrakhan's anti-Semitism has been overstated, because Farrakhan is admired by American blacks (perhaps more of them than one would like to admit), and because conservatives need a way to communicate with, and win the trust of, American blacks. Wanniski, believing all this, thinks he has a responsibility, as a political conservative, to get the truth out and to do the right thing by all groups concerned. [Correction, Aug. 16: I originally had here that Wanniski is Jewish, but he is Roman Catholic, as I ought to have remembered.]

The problem with a semi-credible crackpot, though, is that you can't possibly spend as much time researching the issues he cares about as he does. When he hits on a contrarian position--like, say, that Saddam Hussein is a potential force for good in the Middle East--he's going to deluge you with more information than you can possibly evaluate, or even keep track of. His usual style is to take a commonly acknowledged fact on the level of "The sun sets in the West" and lead off with "Well, I've looked into this sun-in-West thing, Congressman Blagworth, and I can tell you it's simply not true." (Note: congressman may not actually be paying attention.)

How do we know Wanniski has enough rigour to be trusted? Well, in a recent website posting, we have the testimony of a wholly unbiased observer--his wife:

Website readers know that his enthusiasm for unpopular figures such as Minister Louis Farrakhan often seems to exceed the bounds of prudence. It is not often, though, that his devotion is uncritical. I have found that any opinion I express has to be backed up by verifiable fact and at least five different sources. (I have asked on several occasions if affidavits were also necessary.) This kind of grilling sure does teach a person to think before he or she speaks.

Sounds like it sure would. The previous day, Wanniski had written a revisionist Memo on the Margin with a familiar theme--that Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons in the Kurdish regions of Iraq never killed anywhere near 100,000 people, and was part of a wholly military attempt to suppress a rebellion, not an effort at genocide.

Does Wanniski's story check out? My first step in the fact-checking process was to follow a link at the bottom of the memo, a link generously offering more information on "Iraq and weapons of mass destruction." Wanniski's link took me to's September 11 FAQ, which says, almost before it even gets rolling:

...the United States and its allies have allegedly caused over a million deaths in Iraq alone, through...bombings and the economic sanctions that follow.

A million deaths? We've heard that one before, right? It's a frequently-cited figure that's been comprehensively examined and found to be dramatically overstated. None of the agencies that originally produced numbers resembling "a million", as a mortality figure from the sanctions, stands by them. And it's not exactly a secret that the figure is wrong, at least in the blogosphere. It shouldn't be a secret to Jude Wanniski, whose full-time job these days is lobbying against war with Iraq.

Since he's so careless about this mortality figure, how is he to be trusted in his findings about the other one? Outbound linking to a questionable source is a mistake anyone might make, but not everyone is going to trot out his wife the next day to inform me that he is the most skeptical and well-informed human being in the known universe. This, I am afraid, goes beyond mere hubris into the realm of horseshit.

- 3:12 am, August 16

What God abandoned, these defended

Quick question for baseball fans: which Canadian major league team generated more revenue per capita from its metro market last year?

Wrong! Derek Zumsteg crunches the numbers over at Baseball Prospectus. Using numbers from Forbes magazine he finds that Toronto created less revenue, per Torontonian, than the Expos did per Montrealer in 2001.

Does this mean that reports of baseball being "dead" in Montreal are overblown? I'd say so--if baseball's dead in Montreal, how much more dead is it in Philadelphia, where the Phillies attracted two-thirds as much cash per capita? But for my money this isn't about the Expos: it's about the Jays, who are apparently making less efficient use of their market than a rival club which is acknowledged to have sodomized fans continuously for ten years.

In fact, the situation is a lot worse than the numbers suggest, because the effective Jays market is all of English Canada. Oh, not for walk-up ticket sales, naturally, but as far as general fan interest and merchandising and television go, the Jays have a free hand everywhere west of Hull. They are supposed to be Canada's Team, and they're screwing it up badly.

Canada's got about the same population as California, more or less: California has about 34 million people as opposed to 30 up here. Now, certainly Canada has a significantly lower standard of living, with less disposable income to spend on sporting frivolities. But California supports five major league clubs. The Jays, more or less, have this whole market to themselves, yet they're finding it necessary to burn payroll and give away players. Why shouldn't they be engaging in some Steinbrenner-style spending? They should have financial clout much closer to that of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers than that of the Royals. But the franchise, right now, is being run on a basis a lot more like the Royals than the Red Sox.

Well, the club just changed hands: maybe Ted Rogers has some idea of what to do about this. We shall see.

- 6:17 pm, August 15

Late early morning CanCon, III

Boy, the National Post site has gone downhill. I had heard from Southam sources that they were going to scootch their online system toward a pay model (good luck with that, fellas), but it's still irritating. They used to have a simple search for pages from the paper going back 60 days; now it's 14. Still better than the Globe's seven, but what's the real difference between 14 and 60? Do they really think there's a ton of revenue in those 46 extra days of binned fishwrap?

Anyway, I can't tell if this morning's Christie Blatchford piece is online for free or not, but it's interesting. Kimberly Rogers, a poster child for the evils of the Conservative Mike Harris government in Ontario, turns out not to have died of heatstroke while under house arrest for welfare fraud after all. The angel-faced martyr of the Harris-haters overdosed on antidepressants, the Post has discovered: she was emphatically not survived by her eight-month-old fetus. As Blatchford relates:

At Queen's Park, Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty characterized Ms. Rogers' death "nothing less than tragic" and "accountability gone mad;" Liberal social services critic Michael Gravelle wondered aloud "whatever has become of our society" when a pregnant woman would be condemned to house arrest; and Shelley Martel, the children's critic for the New Democratic Party, likened the treatment of Ms. Rogers to caging an animal.
Even Ms. Rogers' mother, from whom she was reportedly estranged, was quoted by the Globe, saying unequivocally, "Of course it's [then Ontario premier] Mike Harris's fault. It's his law. It's his stupidity."
In fact, the Post has learned, toxicology tests clearly indicating that Ms. Rogers had overdosed on the prescription drug she took for depression, though whether deliberately or accidentally isn't known, were completed and sent to the coroner's office by early last September.
Yet when chief coroner Dr. Jim Young officially announced, weeks later on Sept. 24, an inquest would indeed be held--it begins in Sudbury on Oct. 7--there was no mention of the official cause of death.

We can still argue over whether it makes sense to keep a pregnant woman under house arrest, I suppose. I was never a big fan of Harris's government, which encouraged this sort of righty-baiting with a vaguely authoritarian, slack-jawed style. But I was always more shocked--I still am--by the willingness of certain Ontarians to accuse Harris, offhandedly and frequently, of murder. The same thing happened with the tainted water scandal in Walkerton. Rural schlub Stan Koebel, who had charge of keeping the water supply free of fecal coliforms, killed a pile of his neighbours by criminally neglecting his job and then falsified records and deliberately delayed an investigation that could have saved lives. The party line is that somehow--by means understandable only to Liberals, to New Democrats, and to Koebel's legal team--this was the Harris government's fault, the fault of conservatism. No one seems to have noticed that New Democrat-governed Saskatchewan nearly staged a replay of Walkerton (in Battleford) the next year. This sort of thing can happen anywhere, unless you believe that democratic socialism kills bugs dead like Raid.

- 9:24 am, August 15 the website that loves you

How despicably I've been ignoring you all day. It's the big deadline crunch so I can't write luxuriant billets-doux for a little while. I've been talking shop with the webmaster of the Report, home of my hard-copy writing. He told me I should see a double-humped shape in my hourly hits. Most people don't have high-speed internet access at home, but many do at work, and the typical office environment is congenial to surreptitious browsing. He says the magazine's site sees a peak in its hits in the mid-morning, a fall-off over lunch, another peak in the mid-afternoon, and a rapid fall-off as people go home. I checked it out, and it is exactly so. The habits of my readers are thus confirmed to be as lazy as my own, which makes me feel kindly disposed to you. Here, therefore, is a preview of my print column, or, rather, a non-preview, since I had to kill this short item because it conflicted with another guy's column, already filed. SON OF A ---- well, never mind that.

We would like to wish Somalian-born Ms. Faduma Said Hassan a hearty welcome to Canada, but there would be no point, since she neither reads nor speaks English, and does not intend to learn to do either. On July 9, Federal Court Judge Michael Klein issued an unprecedented ruling that Ms. Hassan, a 55-year-old Toronto resident, can be given a medical exemption from the language requirements of the Immigration Act on the grounds that she is illiterate. Ms. Hassan has no mental disability in the ordinary sense: she simply cannot read, and was never, according to her daughter, "taught how to learn."
In September 1997, Ms. Hassan failed the citizenship test, appealed to another judge, and was turned down again in April 2000. Both citizenship judges cited the fact that she was unable to "understand and respond to simple questions in either official language." In the second case, her lawyer tried to introduce "medical evidence"--not from a medical doctor or a psychologist, but a "psychological associate" with a master's degree--stating that the appellant suffered from "the virtual total [sic] absence of organizational, orientating [sic] and analytic skills which underlie written language." [Author's note: the witness appears to have the same problems he's diagnosed in his "patient".]
The citizenship judge, Doreen Wicks, rejected this claim. "The medical opinion states that you had never been schooled and therefore your doctor [sic] suggested that being thrust into an adult literacy program as an adult is not appropriate," she wrote. "I have met many applicants who have been in the same situation and have at least used the incredible LINC [adult literacy] programs we have to offer immigrants at no cost and who benefit from such teaching." Judge Klein disagreed, calling this part of Judge Wicks' opinion "patently unreasonable" and "perverse." Ms. Hassan will now have a third innings before a third citizenship judge, and presumably another episode of the tax-funded Immigration and Refugee Follies will draw to a merciful close with a finding in her favour.

If you're still confused after reading this précis, join the fucking club. The hired quack for the Somali appellant appears to be saying that she is too old to master written language. Very well--we all know how committed Islamic societies are to educating women, don't we--but why should that stop her from acquiring a rudimentary grasp of either spoken English or French? And since she won't go to the trouble, and she already has secure landed immigrant status, why should she want to be a citizen? What does she want to do, vote? Anyway, if you're 55 or over, know that the Canadian judiciary has officially declared you to old to learn. You might as well hook a pipe to your car exhaust and suck down some death.

- 6:37 pm, August 14

Early morning Canadian content, part deux

· When Mitchell Sharp speaks about the Liberal civil war, you sit up and take notice. He's the Gandalf of the federal party, its Gielgud-esque éminence grise. He's in today's Citizen (no link) spinning Susan Delacourt about what Jean Chretien wants:

"While the Prime Minister has not stated exactly what he's going to do for the rest of his political term, the likelihood of him wanting to run again is so slight," Mr. Sharp said yesterday in an interview at his office within the Prime Minister's headquarters at Langevin Block.
"I would have thought that what he would like is to complete his work that he has before him and then leave in a graceful way, you know, with the thanks of the people for making the efforts he's made."

I'm sure Herb Gray thought the same thing before he got tossed on the woodpile by Chretien earlier this year for the sake of a cabinet shuffle. Chretien's had plenty of chances to make a graceful exit. I don't know whether the Prime Minister did make an explicit promise to step down early in his third term, but a lot of Liberals seem to think he did. Paul Martin, for one, is under that distinct impression. If all Chretien wanted was a graceful exit, why did he fire Martin from the cabinet and blab it to the networks before having the decency to inform the man? Was that his idea of a move designed to reassure the party that he wasn't a vindictive power-crazed idiot?

I've been a Martin bettor all along; most of my colleagues, the ones I've talked to, do not agree with me, and think Chretien is indestructible in principle. Well, fellas, do have a look at the Post story. Because, as I read it--and I don't see any other way to read it--Mitch Sharp is begging the party not to kill Caesar. This weepy plea for understanding doesn't look to me like a play from strength. It's a plea for mercy.

· Remember the great news that British Columbia is going to privatize its liquor stores, as neighbouring Alberta did almost a decade ago with great success? Well, B.C. is not only playing catchup in liquor-law reform, it's actually pulling ahead. The province recently announced that mandatory last call will be pushed forward from 2 a.m.--the existing cutoff time for serving alcohol in nearly every province--to 4 a.m. Now CP is reporting that Ontario is considering the same move.

Last call always seems unreasonable to a drunken bar patron, of course. But the real importance of pushing back last call is that you won't have everybody spilling onto the street simultaneously at 2 a.m. anymore in areas with lots of bars. An early last call creates an artificial mob scene, promotes violence and property damage, and makes getting a taxi difficult--which increases the temptation to drive home with a load on. Hopefully not every bar owner will feel that he absolutely has to wait until 4 a.m. to ring the time bell. The more staggered the outflow from taverns, the better things are for the surrounding community. Hooray for B.C.!

· Here's one for the Aussies. From the Citizen (p. A5, Jim Bronskill):

A blind Chilean woman fired for bringing her guide dog to the Santiago radio station where she worked has won a second chance for refugee status in Canada.
The Federal Court of Canada has ruled the Immigration and Refugee Board was mistaken in concluding Marie Marcelina Troncoso Soto could easily find another job in her homeland despite being dismissed for taking guide dog Reeses to Radio Armonia.
Ms. Soto, who lives in British Columbia, entered Canada on a visitor's permit in August 2000 and made a refugee claim the next month.

That's right, folks. Canada is officially, formally, and explicitly a country where anybody and his dog can get political asylum. Ms. Soto sounds very inventive--I'm sure she'd make a terrific immigrant. But of course, she has no interest in getting in line with everybody else. Who would?

- 5:56 am, August 14

Homer nods

I followed Jason Kottke's link to a page with .mov files of Japanese soft-drink ads featuring the Simpsons. Nothing too surprising here, as animated celebrities cannot be expected to turn down Japanese advertising megabucks any more than 3-D ones do.

But notice the dubbing on the fourth ad, the one in the stadium. Apparently, in Japanese, Homer doesn't say "d'oh!" The commercial concludes with him making what's obviously meant to be his trademark verbalization, but it sounds more like "doo!" or perhaps even "dü!"

- 4:11 am, August 14

Whom are you angry at?

Rod Dreher says America has already forgotten September 11. Or if it hasn't forgotten it, it's certainly not angry enough about it. And you know, I'm not sure he's wrong: the emotional tenor of the whole discussion does seem to have cooled rather quickly. But let's share the blame around fairly. Since Sept. 11 there has been a concerted effort to call our attention to the situation the Israelis face, and to connect or even conflate Palestinian suicide bombing with the attack on the United States. Then George W. Bush came out with the "axis of evil", suggesting directly that however great a threat militant Islam is, Iraq and North Korea are just as bad if not worse. The line on Iraq has been picked up eagerly by the conservative press, including--drum roll, please--Rod Dreher.

Well, I hold no brief for Saddam, you understand, but I feel obliged to point out that he fought an actual war with a neighbouring Islamic Republic full of fundamentalist fanatics. There has been a deliberate attempt to confuse us, for political purposes which may themselves be noble, into thinking that Iraq is literally equivalent to Wahhabism and/or al-Qaeda. How many Americans could even tell you that Saddam is the head of a formally secular and socialist government?

America was attacked by a specific international group with specific aims. American leaders appear to have decided to "solve" the country's problems with that group by agreeing that, well, Osama is probably dead and we sure killed a lot of those guys, didn't we. The message to Americans is "Seeing as how you're still somewhat pissed off, there are these bad Palestinians to deal with, and we have unfinished business with Saddam, and maybe we can get this Korean monkey off our backs while we're at it."

Of course the American public is going to lose focus. If you lecture it for long enough about how September 11 was a bagatelle compared to what the Israelis face every day, and compared to what Saddam might be cooking up, then they are going to lose focus--it's what you're deliberately inviting them to do, isn't it? Conservatives make the correct argument that America is entitled to revenge for Sept. 11, and then they make the possibly correct argument that America is entitled to wipe out Saddam for reasons of cold-blooded realpolitik. There's nothing wrong with that. What's wrong is when you say, Dreher-style, "Because we're entitled to revenge for Sept. 11, we must wipe out Saddam." Sorry, but those are two separate moral issues despite the deep links between them, and people sense that. If you try to smear out righteous and justifiable American anger over the whole globe, you shouldn't be surprised when Americans become confused and indifferent.

The same effect is created by triumphalism over Afghanistan. After the fact, the war crowd points gleefully to girls attending school and men listening to music: "Look what great good our bombs did!" And they're not wrong! The bombs did do good--but that wasn't the reason for going to war in the first place, and people shouldn't argue or imply that it was. This strikes me an attempt to evade understandable discomfort over unresolved questions whether the Afghan war accomplished its actual goals. Is Osama dead? Nobody really knows, although Mark Steyn thinks he knows. Where's Mullah Omar? I don't know--maybe he's living up the street from me and drawing welfare cheques. Have the Pakistani madrassahs and spies that mass-produce anti-American killers been dealt with? Well, uh, that's really General Musharraf's department, maybe you should ask him. What's going to be done about the class of underemployed and propagandized Saudi youths whose hand-picked representatives actually flew the planes? Well, uh, we hope to... hey, look, the Afghans are allowed to fly kites and play chess now!

I'm not against war on principle. I wasn't against the war in Afghanistan (indeed, I'd have fought it in much more sanguinary fashion if I'd been the commander-in-chief). I'm not against war with Iraq, on principle. I'm not against assassinating Saddam on principle or for any other reason. I'm not against a massive seaborne Normandy-style invasion of North Korea, if there are good reasons to launch one. But I'm opposed to intellectual sloppiness and demagoguery. There's too much of it right now, and it is sapping the American will at the time of its greatest test in a century or more. Trying to project the American anger over September 11 on places it simply won't go--onto passive enemies of the United States who haven't yet committed mass murder on U.S. soil, or, still more, onto the active (and despicable) enemies of Israel--is not going to help.

- 8:54 pm, August 13

Morning CanCon

Canada's morning headlines are trickling in as I do battle with my column. The Ottawa Sun reports that Tim Horton's, Canada's largest donut chain, is looking at switching to frozen dough.

Chris Keizer, assistant manager at the 38 Robertson Rd. store [in Ottawa], said renovations are planned to install a larger freezer and specialty oven. The location will serve as a pilot for the new baked-from-frozen product, he said.

Maybe some of you non-Canadians think this is trivial, but you need to realize the central social role of the donut shop in this country. Imagine you woke up to a headline like:




and you'll have some idea how disorienting it is. Why does Tim Horton's need to tamper with its formula now, of all times, with Krispy Kreme coming over the border and barging around with its second-rate pastries (which are reliably reported to contain cows' hooves and rat feces) and generally making a meaningless marketing ruckus? Guys, switching from a fresh product to a frozen one is not how you see off a competitor. Horton's is good at marketing and very good at making tasty stuff, but somebody didn't stop to think how this "frozen" atrocity was going to play in the hands of irresponsible press agitators like me.

In other news, the National Post (p. A2, story by Tim Naumetz) has evidence of a Liberal bait-and-switch on the gas tax issue. You'll recall that Transport Minister David Collenette proposed a federal gas tax increase on Sunday to help urban areas deal with traffic congestion. Boo! But on Monday, Finance Minister John Manley--a.k.a the guy who's really in charge--said he didn't favour the idea. Yaaay! Except the story doesn't end there.

Dan McTeague, a Liberal MP and former chairman of the Liberal committee on gasoline pricing, said Ottawa could address the issue under existing gas taxes. The 1995 federal budget introduced a 1.5 cents-per-litre transportation fuel tax to address the deficit. The deficit was eliminated in 1999 yet the tax still exists, he noted.

Instead of getting the deficit surcharge back like we were supposed to three years ago, McTeague wants to give the money to the cities, who would then presumably use it to buy shiny train sets from the Liberals' buddies over at Bombardier. Double boooo! I have a feeling McTeague's bright idea will be the synthesis which emerges from the opposed positions of Manley and Collenette. Call it an educated hunch.

- 5:32 am, August 13


Alcibiades Hidalgo, the former Cuban ambassador to the UN, has defected to the United States, bring with him tales of socialist misery and a new inside view of the top echelon of the Cuban government. The indispensable Matt Welch is, as always, on the case! But as a critic of the U.S. embargo of Cuba, Matt probably should have included in his blockquote this startling bit from the WaPo story's back end:

Hidalgo shares the Bush administration's view that congressional attempts to end curbs on Americans' travel to Cuba, if approved, would be an economic windfall for Cuba and a "gift for Fidel."
The U.S. economic embargo against Cuba aggravates the island's problems, he said, but he believes Castro's socialist policies are principally to blame, something he did not say when he was ambassador to the United Nations in 1992-93. Then he followed the party line by identifying the embargo as the culprit.
"The truth," he said Monday, "is otherwise."

Advantage: Dubya! (And why are these very nutty-tasting grafs buried so deep in the story, anyway?)

- 1:45 am, August 13

First with the most men

Steven den Beste has, at my invitation, weighed in on Athena and Ares and the Allies and the Axis and probably some other things starting with A. I didn't actually e-mail him; he sniffed out my link in his server logs within about 15 minutes and proceeded to compose a lecture on the topic which was even more comprehensive than I expected. The man is a force of nature.

His ruling awards damages to both sides: he cites many good examples of the Americans having "better stuff" in places where it really counted, but can be read, I think, as endorsing my position that "the American economic system... could produce quantities of matériel capable of overcoming any disparity in quality." Key phrase:

While some of what America produced was better than the German equivalents and much was not as good, virtually everything that America produced was created in vastly larger amounts than anything the Germans could manage.

Advantage: Cosh? I think so, but I'm hardly a neutral observer. If you are, let us say, winning a war of attrition at sea not by finding an acceptable defence against submarines, but simply stamping out so many ships that the submarines can't stop you, then that's a question of "more stuff", not "better stuff".

Cryptonomicon is a book about advanced technology. A humble Jeep is not what anyone would have thought of as "advanced technology" even in 1941, but it is a good symbol of the distinctive quality of American genius. A Jeep can be made quickly and in large quantities. A Jeep is simple, and easy to repair in combat conditions. It is not fast or indestructible, but because of basic design considerations like wheel clearance, it is adaptable to many different types of battlefield and many different jobs. Hitler had the V-1, a very impressive piece of "stuff" which had but one purpose, and not a very useful one under the circumstances. America had the Jeep. The Jeep won. If you use simple, adaptable items as the components of your war machine, you ensure their replaceability, and you prepare yourself well to defeat an enemy whose culture of engineering is as "smart" as yours, but whose pure productive capacity isn't nearly as great.

It may be of some comfort to realize that we do not, in 2002, face an enemy whose command of high technology is equal to or better than ours, as was the case in 1939 or 1941 (feel free to choose whatever year your country got in the game).

- 12:28 am, August 13

Getting the goods

Two must-reads for the day: Peter Schjeldahl discusses interpreting Hitler as a superlative modern artist in the New Yorker, and Mickey Kaus rallies our attention to the final demise of Doris Kearns Goodwin's defence against plagiarism accusations.

A lot of people seem inclined to stick up for Goodwin and for Stephen Ambrose, who was hit with similar and equally credible charges at around the same time. I've dabbled in writing history for a popular (though parochial) audience. I think I know why literary and academic professionals are tempted to defend Goodwin and Ambrose: it is because they know just how haphazard the process of writing such history can be. We've all hard our dark nights of the soul, perhaps, wherein we ping-pong between overmined sources, trying to scrub the thinnest plagiaristic finish off our own text. As a popular historian you'd have to be stupid not to worry about letting something through. Most readers would be shocked, I think, if they knew how most nonfiction books are made. The temptation to defend these two overpraised factory historians is our bad conscience made visible.

But these errors of plagiarism by Goodwin and Ambrose are the size of several city buses. Sympathy can only carry me along with the defence for about five words, I'm afraid. I might worry about plagiarism, but the point is, it is something I worry about. The pains I take over it are not as great as they ought to be, but I take some. And when something has my name on it, I take responsibility for it. What has happened in the cases of Goodwin and Ambrose is pretty clear: they leaned too heavily on researchers, got lazy, and lost control of their texts. They then accepted prizes, honours, and media attention for their reheated literary dinners, and blew smoke up our butts (largely via spokesmen) when they got caught.

Their celebrity status is relevant to the issue for two reasons. One is that their mistakes left them in the position of unjustly exploiting the serious, academic work of people less well known and less well paid (I refer to the plagiarized authors). The grunt work of history is done by people who don't always have pinpoint literary style and who are rarely telegenic. Pop historians have access to a body of data which was gathered and organized meticulously at no expense to them. We do need both kinds of historians. But the kind that finds it easy to turn up on PBS every other week should not spit on the other kind. We shouldn't let them. They should behave toward their more conscientious and professional colleagues with profound humility and gratitude, not contempt. Violations of this code must not be tolerated: they must be punished. If that means someone loses a Pulitzer, excellent.

The other reason is that there are plenty of people who could become good historical writers if they were only willing to have no standards and do no work. The lazy approach is too tempting. If you overlook the "minor" sins of prolific popular historians, you'll end up with nothing but shiftless word-thieves in that role. I'm not sure that hasn't happened already. After Goodwin/Ambrose, I am suspicious of every historian who sells a lot of books and writes a lot of books.

- 2:05 pm, August 12

Surfin' USA

Here's a crude sample blogmap of the United States to clarify what I was babbling about earlier. In an ideal world, this would be an imagemap, and it would not be shaped like the blade of a hockey stick.

     AK                            VT NH ME
                                 MA RI CT
        WA ID MT  ND MN WI  MI  NY NJ DE
        OR        SD IA IL IN OH PA MD
         NV  WY   NE MO     KY WV VA
            AZ NM OK LA   AL GA SC
                 TX           FL

- 11:32 pm, August 10

Guess what

Some early-morning Canadian content (I'm trying to keep both the national and international audiences interested here, and probably succeeding at neither)... the federal government has a new "plan" to "deal with" traffic congestion in Canadian urban centres. It's a tax! You knew that already. In Canada, the answer to every problem is a tax. I swear to God, if you ask a Liberal cabinet minister "What's the square root of seven to four decimal places?" he'll say "I don't know... but I'm pretty sure it's a tax!"

"Who was the chancellor of Germany in 1930?" "TAX!" "What's the scientific name for the bridge of your nose?" "TAX!"

As the CBC story linked to above notes, federal taxes alone already constitute 40% of the price of retail gasoline. All I want to know is, what is the limit? What would be a tax rate beyond which we ought not to go for that product? Would that be... 50%? 80%? 90%? Granted that the tax should exist at all, is there any compelling logic which would suggest that 40% is closer to the right level than 80%?

No Canadian government ever talks about taxes as though they have a reasonable natural limit. They are unwilling to specify any point beyond which taxes ought not to go. Our grandparents would have been horrified at the thought of relinquishing, say, 8% of their income to the state. Today the figure floats around, what, 30%-50% for most of us when you add it all up and count "mandatory contributions" to various con jobs as taxes. I defy any Liberal to tell me with a straight face that their party does not believe in the unlimited confiscation of labour income. What's the limit, and on what grounds do you justify it? Anyone? Anyone? *clunk* *clunk* Is this thing on?

It's not slavery if you get your health care paid for, I guess, is the idea. The more you read this CBC story, the more it seems like these people want to deliberately antagonize us into shooting them. Case in point:

[Transport minister Collenette] said urban transportation congestion hurts national trade and the economy.

So we'll raise taxes instead? It's funny how some forms of economic pain are OK and some aren't. Let's review: self-reinforcing natural limits on the economic attractiveness of large cities, baaaad. Taxes, goooood. Repeat as necessary until you are dead.

- 5:29 am, August 12

In the big World War Two

In a new post, Instantman endorses a theory of warfare propounded in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I'm not interested in arguing about the theory, but I wanted to call your attention to this quote from the book, borrowed for Glenn's post:

"...Do you know why we won the Second World War, Randy?"
"Because we built better stuff than the Germans?"
"But why did we build better stuff, Randy?... Well, the short answer is that we won because the Germans worshipped Ares and we worshipped Athena."

Paging Steven den Beste! I do not know where Neal Stephenson got the idea that the Americans built "better stuff" than Nazi Germany, but much as we'd all like to believe it, the status of this comment must range somewhere from "drastic oversimplification" to "nonsense." Anyone who seriously contends that the Germans of that period suffered from technological ineptitude has some reading to catch up on.

It was the Germans, let us recall, who built the first working jet fighter during that war (and it's hardly the technology's fault that Hitler insisted on using it as a hybrid fighter-bomber). It was the Germans who believed in, and developed, rocket weapons. The Germans never lost their lead in optics, never lost their huge lead in anti-tank weaponry, and never lost their lead over the Americans, at any rate, in building tanks that wouldn't brew up under a crew. Nobody else was even in the submarine business in a serious way, compared to the Germans. It was the Germans who had to, and did, improvise a synthetic oil industry to keep from being starved of petroleum. The Luger was, or seems to have been, a universally admired sidearm, esteemed for its design and reliability.

This list could be expanded; and I imagine one could perhaps cite an equally impressive list of American technical achievements during the war. (If we're talking about "beating the Germans", we are of course not allowed to count the A-bomb.) But to state flatly that the Americans had vastly "better stuff", and won because of that, is to underrate what America really accomplished. I think it would be more accurate to state that America was able to overcome certain technological disadvantages to help beat Germany.

Partly this was because of the unmatched American economic system, which could produce quantities of matériel capable of overcoming any disparity in quality. Partly it was because of America's distance from the theatre. Partly it was because America was willing to promote military geniuses, and didn't shoot them for political reasons. The basic point that a free country will beat an unfree one is not mistaken. But an evil régime does not reduce a high industrialized civilization to incompetence overnight, per se. This was indeed one good reason (though perhaps not sufficient) to consider Hitler's Germany such a special threat to the world, greater than the satanic Russian one with which we collaborated.

- 9:07 pm, August 11

Outward bound

Relapsed Catholic readers can read my puncturing of Citizen Kane by clicking here. Those who don't keep up with the Relapsarians shouldn't miss Philip Marchand's column about Hitler in the Torstar and the Times of London's interview with V.S. Naipaul.

- 6:02 pm, August 11

Puck the Liberals

(Links from Bourque) The Ottawa Sun's very intelligent Greg Weston has a column today discussing Liberal quasi-corruption. One thing he forgot to mention about the tax money wasted on government advertising in hockey arenas: the Alberta NHL teams didn't get any of it. Not a dollar. That's worth remembering, for those of you who grumble about chronic Western alienation. In my experience, such people simply aren't aware how plentiful the causes are. I mean, come on--even our community-owned hockey teams have to be taxed to subsidize the deep-pocketed Leafs and Canadiens? Is this really fair payback for the several dozen moth-eaten blankets the East shipped our way during the Depression?

Weston also gives a good short rundown of the RCMP's playground bullying of the National Post:

Funny thing: So far, the Mounties seem more interested in who leaked a document embarrassing to the prime minister, than whether it is indeed a fake.

Newspapers aren't always willing to get involved in fights for press freedom when a competitor's ox is being gored. The Sun deserves praise for calling attention to this situation. In my limited experience, the Sun chain generally is very good about this stuff. They stay on top of the issues, they're willing to publicize potential abuses of power, and they are quick to provide advice and legal intervention. That's good newspaper citizenship. Competing and/or independent journalists are indebted to them.

Elsewhere in Sun Media land, Hartley Steward is actually a little bit unfair to the departing Joe Clark. His rap on Joe Who contains the old saws that Clark tried to run his minority government as if it were a majority, and that Clark was "the first politician to come to 24 Sussex Dr. without ever having a successful career in any area of endeavour."

In the first place, Joe's approach to running a House minority was scarcely without precedent: it's one of the only two options that can possibly work for any length of time. The other is leveraging a crisis to form a "government of national unity" run by a cabinet of talents. Often, and I think this was so in 1979, this second choice is simply not in the cards. Joe took the right attitude toward the Opposition: "You guys can fire me anytime you like, but I'll just go back to the country for a mandate if Parliament is dissolved." It didn't work: it generally works a lot better if you are the "indispensable man" of the assembly, and Joe wasn't that. But the problem was his policies (particularly his budget), not his tactics.

As for Joe's lack of a life, well, maybe someone can explain to me what Trudeau's "successful career" outside of politics consisted of. As I understand it, he spent a lot of time swanning about the world on his father's chequebook, then eventually started doing legal and administrative work for Quebec labour unions. News flash, Hartley: in Quebec, labour unions are political institutions. There is no important difference between Trudeau and Clark in this respect, and people shouldn't pretend there was. They were both basically student politicians who blundered into ultimate power, Being There-style.

(Note: the content in the Steward and Weston links will be replaced soon, so if you aren't reading this on Sunday, you may have been directed to newer columns by these men. Apologies.)

- 3:07 pm, August 11

Vice's tribute to virtue

AP is reporting, in a somewhat clueless fashion, that the four Danish directors who signed the famous Dogme 95 Vow of Chastity actually violated the holy rules a few times when making Mifune, The Celebration, The Idiots, and The King Is Alive. Thomas Vinterberg made an adjustment to the natural lighting conditions, for example, in Celebration, and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen had a hairdresser on the set, at one point, for King. Anyone might have suspected this, of course. The Dogme enterprise always had a self-confessed farcical side. The filmmakers acknowledged openly that they thought they could get worldwide publicity if they made a public show of founding a pseudish "movement" complete with its own manifesto. And so they did.

But at the same time, as silly as some of the Dogme rules may have seemed (no costumes, all shooting on location, no post-production manipulation of sound), they did have a serious purpose. The message of the "Vow of Chastity" is that the seductions of artificiality are so great that you have to have an iron backbone to resist them. The "violations" of the Vow now being confessed are sufficient proof of that.

I believe it may well have come to the point that the only way to restore the cinema to a proper concern with human life is to set crazy, arbitrary Dogme-style limits on it. It is probably easy to say to oneself, "Well, I can't afford the production values Steven Spielberg does, so there's no danger of me making huge, flavourless wedding-cakes the way Steven Spielberg does." But once you have conceded the fatal conceit of "production values", are you not already on the road to hell?

The thing nobody mentions about the Dogme Vow of Chastity is that it worked. Never mind whether it made sense as a proposition, on the page. If The Celebration and The Idiots are not, simply, two of the ten best movies of the last ten years, then I'm a teakettle. All that is necessary to understand the value of the Vow is to imagine Hollywood remakes of these movies.

Somehow, a overbroad joke made over dinner magically elevated the Danes, in a matter of months, very close to the pinnacle of European film. Shouldn't this tell us that there's something there? Or are we supposed to think it's a coincidence?

- 4:31 am, August 11


I almost forgot to mention it, but reader Steve Schroer has kindly pointed out that while there have been no movies about Dummy Hoy, there has been "a not-completely-obscure play about him" entitled The Single Season of Dummy Hoy. (Hoy actually enjoyed one of the longer careers in 19th-century ball, playing until he was 40. Presumably some irony is intended.) Steve, consider your service to human knowledge recorded.

- 3:52 am, August 11

Not just a river in Egypt

I'm sorry, but I have to just say this, and get it off my chest. September 11 was supposed to herald the arrival of a tougher, more serious America, an America with perspective and tenacity, a bellicose, stoic America in which Teddy Roosevelt and Hemingway could once again feel comfortable.

Instead, it is shitting bricks about the West Nile virus.

Yes, yes, it's very unfortunate that a few old, sick people will die slightly prematurely because their body can't fight off the virus. These are, however, the same people who die in the tens of thousands, every year, because of the damn flu. So far, the "death toll" from the current outbreak of West Nile is seven. Rhymes with heaven, which is where infirm people living near stagnant pools of murk often end up.

The mosquitoes are active this year because of the hot weather, which kills roughly 400 Americans annually. The West Nile virus, right now, is a mere sideshow. It is a blip. It is a cigarette butt. It is not the winner of the Name the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse Contest. Maybe the United States is ready, in 2002, to have its soldiers come back in bags by the dozen from the suburbs of Baghdad; but its news editors are doing a damned poor job of showing it.

- 3:28 am, August 11

Inside the numbers

Two fascinating recent MeFi links:

· Who are you really supporting when you buy season tickets to your favourite ballclub? has the goods on political contributions from Major League Baseball employees and owners. Orioles owner Peter Angelos gives quite astonishing amounts of cash to the Democrats; the Reds' Carl Lindner is the biggest GOP backer in baseball, although he split his money more or less 50-50 in 1999-2000. The Braves provide an interesting case: owner Ted Turner's Democratic sympathies are well known, but he employs a Republican GM (John Schuerholz) who employs a Democrat manager (Bobby Cox) who relies on a brilliant Republican closer (John Smoltz). Collaborating Expos destroyers Jeff Loria and David Samson gave money to Democrats: the genius scout they took to the Marlins with them, Fred Ferreira, donated to the Republicans. Bud Selig backs the Dems, George Brett and Yogi Berra the Republicans (looks like Yogi, wife Carmen, and son Dale ponied $1,000 apiece to somebody). Note: any conclusions about a person's politics are purely suppositional, as individuals may well have given small sums to friends in the party opposite to that for which they vote.

· The sixth decennial Sight and Sound poll of film directors and critics has been released. It is widely considered the most prestigious and representative of "top ten movies of all time" lists. If you've been waiting with bated breath to hear that, yes, Citizen Kane is still the greatest movie ever made, go feast your eyes.

Personally I don't think the poll proves much, other than that collective decision-making filters out good individual judgment. Almost anybody's individual top-ten list will be more intriguing and defensible than what you get when you mash them together. There are a lot of critics and directors who know perfectly well that Kane, for all its expansion of the grammar of film, has not aged well. Specifically, the movie has a bizarre, frankly inept structure; it is mannered almost to the point of burlesque; its psychological insights are passé and naïve; and Welles' overbroad stage-acting techniques never did translate really well to the screen. Tack on the fact that William Randolph Hearst is no longer a figure of current interest, and that everybody knows the damn ending of the movie, and you have a near-unwatchable "masterpiece". The only reason it is number one in all these polls is that it won the 1952 one, and became The Greatest Film Ever Made as a simple matter of reflexive mental association. It's not even one of the three best films Welles made, and it certainly doesn't belong on any "top ten" list which is free of any trace of Ingmar Bergman, John Ford, or Buster Keaton.

- 11:42 am, August 10

Homegrown halfbakery

Here's an idea I wanted to put out there in the, like, blogging community. Just in case anyone wanted to run faster with it than I will.

The idea is this: it's a blog imagemap of the world. You click on a country, and you get taken to a representative, respected weblog in that country. Get it? I thought of constructing such a thing myself to attract hits to my site, and while I am capable of the necessary HTML, early experiments proved that it would be a real huge chore. But I'd almost like such a thing to exist enough to do it.

If the one country = one link equation seems authoritarian or generally un-nice, one could point to a submenu instead: but the necessity of keeping the country menus current would add preposterous complexity to the task. Better, I think, to have competing 1:1 blogmaps. Anyone could do their own, with a little research, if they were provided with a suitable imagemap file. You could have leftist blogmaps, libertarian blogmaps, bestiality blogmaps, whatever. Your map could be English-only or polylinguistic (or Tagalog-only or whatever). You could simply decide to let the most popular weblog, as measured by Google or whatever, stand for the country entry. American dominance of the medium makes breaking the US into the 50 states advisable if not mandatory. An American blogmap, in itself, would be of interest. "Let's see what they're talking about in Delaware!"

- 2:42 am, August 10

Parental approval

Holy crap! Matt Welch is ordering people to bookmark my site like some kind of out-of-control Civil War-hardened sheriff! Two of my four blogparents have linked to me now (please don't ask why four, we're in therapy), and since Fresh Hell is dormant and Jorn Barger doesn't seem to go in for blogrolling, I think this is the pinnacle of my existence right here.

I'm pretty sure I discovered Matt's site in the post-Sept. 11 chaos, so I can't claim the kind of prehistory, as a reader, that I have with J. Lileks. I became a hardcore fan when he cited Bill James and George Orwell in a single afternoon (although I also had the sudden fear that perhaps my main literary influences were actually common to the point of triteness: if Welch ever mentions G.K. Chesterton and Lester Bangs within ten paragraphs of each other, I'll probably close up shop and go get my welding ticket). Lots of people name-check Orwell, of course, but only about 5% show any sign of having actually done the reading. Welch, clearly, has been properly immersed.

It's always fun to read somebody who has trod such a similar path bookwise, but who arrived elsewhere intellectually by means of very different life experiences. My only continuing complaint is, of course, the hat. Fellow Canadians may enjoy exercising their cereal-box French, as I do, at the Interweb home of Mme. Welch.

- 1:50 am, August 10

Waters in a time of thirst

I didn't have FTP access this morning, and I can't do a long update right away, but I wanted to direct your attention to the blog of NYC editor and author Clay Waters, who has very kindly linked to me on a week when I seem to have some form of horrible Internet leprosy. Waters juxtaposes me with Mark Steyn, which is not to my advantage: but if I only write half as well as Steyn, I do hope people will remember I'm paid less than one-tenth. And don't miss Clay's page of NYC bar hotties.

- 2:10 pm, August 9

The lucky country

Thanks to Instapower I've now had hits from all over the globe. Despite the heavy Canadian content, I've got one repeat visitor from Japan and I even had hits from Saudi Arabia and Chile: but the country that apparently brings the most hits outside North America is, to my surprise, Australia.

So it's time for a rethink of a country I've perpetually abused as a byword for instant comedy. The Australians, with their background as a giant prison, their weird sports and fauna, their beery ways, and their culture cringe, are always good for a laugh. Well, it's time for me to grovel. Seen in a different light, Australia's different notions of good taste and entertainment are simply the tokens of an admirable resistance to globalist homogenization. When Australians go abroad, they are able to remain Australian: their special nature endures, rather than melting into an amorphous Anglospherical goo as a Canadian's does.

More importantly, Australia--unlike my own native Canada--is an ex-British colony that works, as a country. When Australia held a referendum on keeping the monarchy, I scoffed. I said things like "Isn't that just like them, to think that republicanism is somehow 'grown-up' and sensible." But the country ended up having a serious adult debate on the subject, and the merits of monarchism were delineated in a very lucid way (most memorably by Peter Slezak). The right side won, as far as my own preference is concerned, but I couldn't have argued with the quality of the discourse either way. You would not have seen that if such a referendum had been held here. In fact, I doubt the process would have been conducted in such an exemplary fashion even in Britain.

Canada is a country which has put up a permanent white flag on the issue of international refugees, letting in people from all corners of the globe without any serious effort at regulating the flow. Detaining refugee claimants, however self-evidently bogus the claim, is considered unconstitutional under Canadian law. This poses an enduring problem for our southern neighbour, as we have become an acknowledged haven for international terrorists. If you believe in an open-borders policy, of course, you won't mind this: but we don't formally have an open-borders policy, and no one here has ever been asked to vote on an open-borders policy, and if asked, the government will deny it has an open-borders policy. It all just sort of... happened, with the help of an activist and aggressively illogical Supreme Court. That's the sign of a country that doesn't work. In Australia, they still believe in the concept of citizenship, and they're rigorous enough about it to detain people who try to bypass the legitimate immigration queue. In Canada, "legal immigrant" is just another word for "sucker."

Another example: in Canada, judges have ruled that treaties with the aboriginal occupants of the land must be interpreted according to the "oral traditions" said to exist amongst their descendants. On the apparent basis of the paternalistic (and false) idea that the unlettered red beasts didn't really know what they were signing, treaties are being reinterpreted according to... well, according to whatever a few Indians can be convinced to say the treaties mean. In Australia, this doesn't seem to happen: the formal treaty language is respected, as it ought to be--which is to say, as the memory of the treatymakers on both sides ought to be. Australian courts seem to act like courts rather than social welfare agencies, although white Australians generally have a much worse conscience about their treatment of the Australian aborigines--as perhaps they ought.

Generally, Australia seems less hagridden about race, gender, and "wellness" than any other English-speaking country. It produces exemplary capitalists, journalists with élan, and pretty much all the good actors. It has a prime minister who isn't a half-crazy, deformed socialist. It seems, from a distance, to succeed at balancing multiculturalism with common sense. And can Canada claim a single critic or popular historian who could stand to remain in the same room as Robert Hughes without dying of pure embarrassment? I have a large debt of ridicule to repay, Australia, and this doesn't go one-tenth of the way, but please accept the apology.

- 2:34 am, August 8

Asymmetric poetry

(Link from Kevin Michael Grace) Pete Gray, the only one-armed man to play major league baseball, has died at the age of 87. My favourite detail of this obituary:

Playing in local semi-pro teams, Pete took the name Gray to make it easier for scouts to remember...

Er...the one-armed guy was worried that the scouts were gonna forget him?

My favourite never-mentioned detail of Gray's career: in his half-season as a major leaguer, he stole five bases. Somehow I actually imagine this as a tougher task for a one-armed guy than swinging a bat or fielding a ball, don't you? My assessment of Gray: obviously he overcame his disability very impressively, but I always wondered why they made movies about Gray, when so far they've ignored the much more impressive accomplishments and colourful life of W.E. "Dummy" Hoy.

- 1:09 am, August 9

More living history

(Link from Mark Fox) A Slashdot poster recently unearthed a January 1985 USENET discussion of the Y2K bug. Readers will note the old-style ARPA-configured e-mail addresses, and of course the one guy who has "Duty Now For The Future" in his .sig.

- 7:35 pm, August 8

Sailer's tale

Somebody is trying to get UPI journalist and "human biodiversity" expert Steve Sailer murdered (his blog makes up the right half of his page):

Some jerk forged my email address, which I've had for six years, onto an email he sent to to all sorts of Death-to-Israel-type discussion groups. The forged email contains an anti-Islamic essay originally written, I've discovered, by somebody named Carl Pearlston. Hey, I stick my neck out enough in what I write. I don't need anybody else putting words in my mouth to taunt easily excitable folks in my name.

That's a tactic I haven't heard of before--I hope it doesn't gain currency. Incidentally, Steve, if you happen to read this, I don't agree that we should be glad Saudi Arabia isn't more messed up than it already is. Steve writes:

Saudi Arabia is a dismal place, but, despite the absurd rock-star like wealth that suddenly descended on it in 1973, it hasn't yet descended into complete VH1 "Behind the Music"-style moral collapse.

True, there aren't many visible signs of street crime or egregious moral disorder in Arabia, but this doesn't have anything to do with the steadying influence of Islam per se. Saudi Arabia executes street criminals and public moral scofflaws. Dozens of them, every year. And anyway, the Saudi reputation in the rest of the Muslim world is, in fact, very much like a "Behind the Music" documentary. I think you'll find Muslims in other countries regard the Saudi royals--deservedly or not--as a gang of hypocritical, violent perverts. The whole point of "Behind the Music" is that the nasty stuff is behind the music, right?

- 11:13 am, August 8

The purist

We learn from Jerry Pournelle of the death of computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra in his native Holland. Dijkstra introduced the terms "stack" and "vector" to computing and is perhaps best known for consigning the GOTO command to the outer darkness in a 1968 paper. He was a wrathful prophet of mathematical elegance in computing, and seems to have regarded our kludge-dependent, bloated cosmos of software as direct evidence of the Fall of Man. He refused to have a computer in his office, or even a typewriter. R.I.P.

- 10:14 am, August 8

Insomniac's grab bag

· Buy high, sell low: Bob Tyrrell is back in charge of the American Spectator. Tech guru and cultural observer George Gilder bought the magazine out a couple years ago, in an effort to rescue it from its circulation spiral and to use it to promote the New Economy. Remember the New Economy? Gilder is now flat broke, as are the investors who took his advice on equities: Wired magazine recently reported that there's a lien on his home. The old Tyrrell-led Spectator was a combative and eccentric gem amongst American magazines. I'm certainly in the minority when I say that Gilder more or less kept the standard up. Yes, he changed its style, for the worse, and yes, he crammed it full of articles about bond-yield spreads and multi-dimensional wave widgetry and such. It was still damn interesting most every issue, and they held onto Tom Bethell and Ben Stein. There a lot of people rejoicing at the downfall of Gilder. I'd rather not, thanks. There is always a shortage of geniuses, however idiosyncratic.

· James Lileks' Wednesday Bleat discusses, an Islamic message board for American and Canadian youths to discuss and get advice on matters religious. Favourite topics include where to find the hottest Jew-killing Net vids, whether it's OK to kill your sexually active sister, and just how much hatred you have to have in your heart for non-Muslims. Lileks (what is that, Swedish? Faroese or something?) contrasts this kewl youth chat with his own Lutheran upbringing and finds--disturbing similarities!! No, fooled you: he finds a complete conceptual disconnect between the Islamic mind and the Western one. Which ought to be obvious by now, I guess, but Lileks always delivers the edutainment goods. What a writer. Everyone's insanely jealous of Lileks, and they don't even make a secret of it. It's like, "Aw, I'd like to punch that guy, he's so good." "Yeah, I always curl up in the fetal position after I read his stuff." You know, though, I was into Lileks before he even had the blog, when his site was just a clearinghouse for really old photos of meat and stuff. So I've got credibility, dammit!

· Did I mention I haven't slept in 45 hours?

· If you want to read the David Romer economics/football study discussed below (no in-page link! Did I mention I haven't slept in 45 hours?), you can find it by clicking here. The value-estimation techniques he uses are fascinating, but perhaps questionable. Still, the "situation value" charts in the appendix are a must for any fan of mathematics and sports... uh, I guess I just lost everybody there, didn't I?

- 6:46 pm, August 7

Lowering expectations

Why does Barry Bonds keep saying that he's too old to catch Hank Aaron for the career home run record? I hope no one actually believes his protestations. I haven't double-checked my math, but it appears to me that Aaron hit his 600th HR on April 27, 1971, at the age of 37 years, 2 months, and 22 days. Barry Bonds is about to hit his 600th and is 38 years and 14 days of age. That's ten months. Not too much of a gap, I'd say, especially when you consider that Bonds is hitting about one gopher per day.

Even assuming he were to slow to the rate of the latter-day Aaron, Bonds would have a reasonable shot at hanging around and getting to 756. Aaron hit his last HR July 20, 1976 at 42y 5m 15d. That means Barry would have to stick until he were 43. Admittedly he doesn't seem like the type to hang on just to chase the record, like Pete Rose (who was still stinking up ballparks at age 45). But even leaving aside pitchers, Yastrzemski played until he was 43, Honus Wagner was an OK part-timer at 43, and the ageless wonder of our time, Rickey Henderson, remains a perfectly good leadoff man even though he'll turn 44 on Christmas Day. Plus: longevity is connected closely to quality, and Bonds is better than all of these guys (well, maybe not Wagner). Indeed, he's probably better right now than anyone's ever been--and that means he has further to fall than anyone who's ever lived. The more you think about it, the harder it is to see why he'd stop before he turned 43.

- 4:54 pm, August 7

That Hertz

Hendrik Hertzberg still occasionally makes sense, but he's slowly, slooowly sliding, before our eyes, into a twilight world of Lewis Lapham boulevardier incomprehensibility and antic nincompoopishness. In this New Yorker piece he uses Robert Dahl's new book to jab a thumb in the eye of the U.S. Constitution. Wot larks! (Like the Curies labouring over their pitchblende, it took Hertzberg et al. years of effort to discover that the Electoral College is, like, undemocratic. Just ask PRESIDENT GORE if you don't believe me, man.) I was going to do a blog entry, sometime or other, explaining just how stupid Hertzberg's article is. But you don't need me: you have Jane Galt.

- 3:25 pm, August 7

"And Mammon, too, will be served"

Frederick Turner thinks he knows what to build on the site of Ground Zero. I'm not sure I agree. His "memorial arch" isn't really an arch--it's a big Roman numeral 2, and it feels awkward. Turner talks a good game, but I'm not sure marrying an arch with a twinned skyscraper shows good instincts. Yamasaki's WTC was sort of nasty, but it did have the virtue of purity. An over-exercised virtue in modern architecture, to be sure, but with the ironized way things are built nowadays, one feels nostalgic for it.

But here's the thing about Turner: at least somebody's finally trying, for God's sake. The proposed designs being talked out in NYC so far have shown a lack of imagination that is, under the circumstances, despicable. The civic planners want to pour concrete on sacred ground and raise buildings best suited to a mid-sized savings & loan in downtown Akron.

I could go on about this, but I don't wish to be accused of discriminating against Philistine-Americans. Turner basically has it right when he says that the existing designs express that America was defeated by the terrorists. He at least has risked embarrassment and put forth something bold. His understanding of capitalism is just the icing on the cake:

Probably the best thing I could do in practical charity for my fellow humans across the globe would be to buy a brand new Lexus.
- 12:17 pm, August 7

Toujours l'audace

Sports by Brooks reports that a UC Berkeley economist has studied the outcomes of drives in NFL football games and has concluded that NFL teams punt too often.

[David Romer's] findings: A team that's near midfield on the fourth down should try for a first down--rather than punt or attempt a field goal--as long as it's within five yards of making it. A team should also try for a touchdown if it's within five yards of the goal line on the fourth down.

It's been a while since I read The Hidden Game of Football, which was the first book to apply the sabermetric style of analysis to the sport, but if I recall rightly this agrees with the general conclusions of that book. Intuitively, it makes sense, although I'm sure Romer's findings are more complex than the summary here: the game state (the score, time remaining) would enter into the calculation, certainly. But why not be a little braver about going for first downs near midfield, or close to the end zone? The game is set up, you may have noticed, so that touchdowns are worth more than twice as much as a field goal. The most important indicator of the success of a drive it whether it led to a touchdown or not--that's the biggest binary consideration in the game. It dwarfs everything else.

When you punt, or opt for a field goal within a few yards of the goal line, you're giving away the drive. You're giving up on the touchdown. Maybe coaches need to do that less. They certainly need to be more open to the idea than this guy:

Asked for reaction, Dallas Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple says: "If he knows so much, why doesn't he get a job in coaching? There's plenty of turnover."

The coaching job is not the place for a theorist even under the most favourable of circumstances, of course, because the coach has to be able to gain the respect of several dozen gigantic and violent human beings. That's always going to take an alpha male. What Dalrymple's really asking is "If this guy knows so much, why haven't we used his information yet?" Well, why haven't you, ass? It's a pretty good question.

You know, when computers first started being developed, Earl Weaver didn't say "If a computer knows so much, why don't you hire it to manage the blankety-blank club?" Weaver learned his way around a database and became the most successful baseball manager of the last thirty years. The guys his Oriole teams beat on, day in and day out, 90-100 times every year, were the ones who had Rich's attitude. Davey Johnson played for Weaver and took the approach a step further, and he was pretty successful, too. I can understand why there's cultural resistance to math in a place like a locker room, but it's not like Romer is recommending that the defensive line learn how to cook pastry here, for Christ's sake. What, is your punter going to be offended because you're going for fourth-down conversions more often? Is that what this is about?

As an afterthought I'll mention another thing I wonder about football. Gregg Easterbrook, who writes about football for Slate during the season, said tongue-in-cheek last year that teams that tried a fake kick during games always won. Well, I've been watching CFL games this year and there hasn't been one that didn't include a fake kick or punt at some point. The league's gone mad for 'em. I haven't noticed whether the attempting team always wins, but I have noticed that the fake always works. It hasn't failed in four tries I've seen. It's apparent to me that there's no good way to defend the fake punt, in particular, without totally messing up your blocking scheme. But the NFL remains rather stodgy about such plays. I think they're deemed "high school" or something. They're also incredibly exciting. Maybe we should turn off the TV and go watch the high school games.

- 9:30 am, August 7

Farewell to yesterday's man

Well, Joe Clark really did quit today, completing a balletic object lesson in Canadian media bias. For the past two weeks we've been subjected to stories about the Alliance and Stephen Harper's image problems. While everyone was looking at problem-plagued Party Leader X, Party Leader Y was slowly being garroted to death in an alleyway. And now suddenly Harper's poker hand is looking somewhat stronger, no?

About a minute or so after Clark quit, Harper suggested that the two parties hold a joint leadership convention, one he'd be perfectly placed to win. Given that the PCs are a coalition of groups with no common interests--old-time bagmen and jobholders, economic nationalists, and cranky right-wingers who can't swallow anything that comes from Alberta--it is hard to imagine anyone building up the base of support Harper would instantly have in a straight fight. So it's unlikely to happen.

But it was unlikely to happen anytime over the last year, either, when Clark and the Alliance were bouncing such approaches back and forth like ping-pong balls. Nothing is risked by either side saying to the other "Sure we can 'unite the right': you just have to give up your history, your leader, and your policies." Nothing much can be expected of it, though.

There appears to be a lot of inchoate anger among the anti-Liberal majority of voters in this country. "Why don't you guys (the Alliance and the Conservatives) just get your act together and unite?" It's easily enough done, folks--if you want the Liberals to lose, stop voting for the fuckin' Tories already. But then again, credulous right-leaning yuppie Easterners with paranoid beefs against the Alliance--people who have implicitly swallowed the Liberal line that the party is a nest of Holocaust deniers and lepenistes--have the same objection from the other side. They're entitled to cling to their media-fed caricature of Westerners, I suppose.

There's no reason to assign blame for the fact that the Tories and the Alliance can't unite. The Alliance is an ideological party which exists to advance certain ideas in Parliament and the country. The Tories are an electoral coalition which has outlasted the conditions which produced it. Two different machines with two different purposes. It's very simple really. If you believe the purpose of a party is to win elections by advocating as broad a range of policies as possible (perhaps even broader), then you'll prefer the Tories. (More likely, though, you'll prefer the Liberals, who own and operate a far more successful machine of this nature.) If you believe the purpose of a party is to work for the implementation of a specific, bounded set of policies, you'll prefer the Alliance.

In accepting the entire premise of the "unite-the-right" discussion, which is that policy must take a back seat to the inclusiveness that supposedly wins elections, the Alliance--or the Reform Party, as it then was--betrayed its own basic nature. The people who form the broad mass of the Reform Party recognized this and gave the author of the betrayal, Preston Manning, his natural reward: a swift boot to the gonads. The party is always at risk of reverting to an inclusiveness agenda. Its day-to-day operations, like any other party's, are run by people who are trained to think in terms of winning elections. They have a passion for politics because of its sporting nature.

But politics isn't sport: politics is the art of promoting human welfare by means of policy. How, pray tell, did Joe Clark specifically propose to promote the welfare of Canada's citizens? What vision did he have for improving our overtaxed and increasingly Third Worldish lot?

Uh... well... hmmm... huhhh... you see... errr...

Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, Joe.

- 12:07 am, August 7

Rowan in the wind

Before I pontificate, some fun links from MeFi and Fark: get on the horns of an analemma, taste M.C. Escher's posthumous easter egg, and learn how Ozzy can save your life.

The world press is reporting this morning that the archbishop-elect of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has signed his name to a petition stating that a unilateral U.S. attack on Iraq without prior approval of the UN Security Council would be "immoral and illegal". (And presumably also fattening.) Depressing, isn't it, that one of the world's putative Christian leaders would talk this way? At least I'd be damned depressed about it if I were a Christian. I'm not a "hawk" on the whole war thing, but declaring that a war which hasn't happened yet will be immoral and illegal simply won't do.

The minor objection is that it is tactically stupid, and unhealthy for national sovereignty and the human species generally, for Christian leaders to go around treating the UN like it was the 10th-century Papacy. The United Nations has no Christian warrant (nor any natural one as far as I'm concerned) to impose laws of war upon sovereign states. Come on, Williams, your church was founded on national resistance to supranational political structures. Have you forgotten this? Did you reject Rome only to kiss the feet of the Antichrist? Was that the idea?

The major objection is that it is foolish to speak of the supposedly-imminent war as a certain piece of immorality. As far as you or I know, Saddam Hussein has his finger, at this moment, on the trigger of a nuclear device secreted in the nave of Salisbury Cathedral. If this were so, and known to be so, could the soon-to-be-archbishop object to the making of a war on Saddam?

We don't know what the case is yet. A half-baked case for war has been made already, by some: maybe you accept it. (I don't, yet, but I have a lot of thinking left to do on the subject.) It is possible that the executive branch of the American republic will still make a sound case for war, revealing information we now lack. At any rate, it is permissible to say "We don't know whether it would be moral to go to war, and we shouldn't go to war until the full indictment against the Iraqi state has been presented by those who intend to carry out the attack. There is no convincing pretext that we yet know of." But the thing is, no one's fired a shot yet! What we cannot yet say, unless we are gargantuan fools, is that war would be immoral no matter what the circumstances. To rule out the possibility of any war whatsoever being just is neither Christian nor intelligent.

- 4:58 pm, August 6

Breaking news

CBC radio is reporting that Joe Clark is going to hold a news conference in about twenty minutes to announce that the Progressive Conservative Democratic Representative Thingy will be holding a leadership convention. No word on whether he'll be one of the candidates. It's 1983 all over again! Don't do it, Joe! Think of the children!

- 11:14 am, August 6

Excedrin journalism

Just spent a few minutes (about 40 of them, I'd reckon) trying to decrypt the National Post's twin Tuesday morning stories on the Business Development Bank, l'Auberge Grand-Mere, etc.... no links yet, but if you keep normal hours you can doubtless find the stories on the Post's site by the time you read this. I'm working from the 6 a.m. wire copy.

If I've read it right, the RCMP wants to see a copy of the Business Development Bank loan documents leaked to the Post last year. They, the cops, are claiming that the Post documents are forged, and that they have possession of the "real" loan documents. This is important because the leaked papers are the ones that suggested that the Prime Minister was in direct conflict of interest at the time he was leaning on the BDC to approve doomed government loans to Yvon Duhaime, owner of the hotel. (No one could possibly argue he wasn't in an indirect conflict in about five different ways, or that it is especially appropriate for a PM to force a government lending agency to make a loan its own officials acknowledged to be bad.)

The Post's copy of the loan papers refers to a $23,000 debt owed by the hotel to the Prime Minister's consulting company. That's the direct conflict, the smoking gun--a government official isn't allowed to funnel government loans to his debtors, period. But the RCMP's copy of the loan papers is missing that particular bit about the $23,000. This is the first time this difference between the two documents has been made public knowledge.

How do the cops know they have the genuine documents? They won't say. The Post hired a handwriting expert who says there is possible evidence of forgery in the RCMP version of the loan docs. And the paper is fighting a court order which would allow the cops to seize their copy, or, rather, to force editor-in-chief Ken Whyte to turn their copy over.

Why do the cops want the Post's copy?

The RCMP states the original documents mailed to the Post can help them "determine the identity of someone who has maliciously attempted to mislead the press with a view to the publication of false information. It is not intended to identify a person providing truthful information to a news outlet," the RCMP Constable [Rolland Gallant] added.

In other words, they supposedly want to find the leaker, whom they imply to be a forger as well. They don't seem to say anywhere in the Post story what crime, exactly, they're investigating. "Malicious misleading"? Is that in the Criminal Code?

Developing with a vengeance...

- 4:32 am, August 6

Does not compute

Here's an emotionalist trope to watch for as the argument over an invasion of Iraq gets louder. It's very common, and you can use it as an instant litmus test for bullshit. The latest appearance is in Bernard Weiners's Aug. 5 Saddam's-P.O.V. piece for Ready?

[The U.S.] military, and the British military too, are opposed to a Western attack on Iraq, as well they might be--we'd tie them up here for years, and send a lot of their young men home in garbage bags--but the civilian "hawks" in the White House and Pentagon (who have never fought in a war, of course) are raring to take me out.
Emphasis mine. We hear a lot of complaints from the left about warmongering members of the executive branch who have never, ever, ever fought in a war. Doesn't it strike anyone else as funny that the anti-war left would endorse the doctrine that only soldiers should make foreign policy decisions?

It is just me, or is Mr. Comedy here blowing a rather casual raspberry at the republican principle of civilian control of the military?

Don't get me wrong: if he wants to go there, we can have a reasonable argument about it. Non-veterans--and that includes "playwrights and poets" who contribute to The Nation--will have to be disenfranchised à la Starship Troopers. With some persuading I could get behind that, despite my civilian status: I'm just surprised that Counterpunch would. Funny old world...

- 11:09 pm, August 5

Spectator sport

Taki Theodoracopoulos's column in the latest Spectator is a good example of why I traditionally had trouble believing it wasn't all just made up--the cartoonish vie de Taki, I mean. I've come to appreciate the man very much. After a while you just come to regard it as natural that a Germano-Greek shipping heir would build a house and call it the Palazzo Pinochet, or that he'd be interrupted on a trip to the washroom with the news that his son was in a fistfight with Puff Daddy. Who amongst us, etc.

Elsewhere in the Spectator, classicist Peter Jones' theme is abortion. The familiar debate is an old, old one. The Greeks took all conceivable sides on the matter, and found no more certain solution in first principles than we can. The Romans--the original "family values" crowd--would have regarded abortion with horror, as a crime against the patriarchy; but the idea that the fetus was inviolable owing to its own human status would have, I think, made them laugh. The early Christians seem to have regarded abortion as a very serious sin, but on the grounds--unlikely to be accepted by anyone anymore--that pharmaceuticals were a form of sinister pagan magic. The debate, as I say, is old, but the terms in which it is now carried on are new to our liberal, secular world. Often the ancients have useful things to tell us, by way of Jones, their most prominent living medium: but not this time.

- 8:43 pm, August 5

Atlas shrugged, Jesus wept

It's time to play connect-the-dots. We lead off with this Great Moment in Polling:
QUEBEC (CP) - Almost half of Canadians felt the West should do more to help poor countries while nine per cent said too much aid is already offered, a new poll suggests. About 45 per cent of respondents to the Leger Marketing survey said rich countries aren't doing enough, while 35 per cent said just enough is being done. Another 10 per cent said they didn't know or refused to answer.

Allow me to sign up alongside the nine percent who have a clue. This story in the Sunday New York Times tells us that the ethnic cleansing of Zimbabwe is in the endgame stage. The remaining white farmers have been offered a soft landing in neighbouring Mozambique, and most are taking it; some gluttons for punishment are holding on, but they're to be deprived of their farms. Some black Zimbabweans know what they're in for now: the Times story concludes with a young man reciting to himself that the white farmers "must stay for now." Let's hope this idealist teen lives to see the spring. His beloved president, Robert Mugabe, has succeeded in his campaign of purging his country of the people who feed it.

And you, dear Canadian taxpayer, helped.

The C.D. Howe Institute recently printed a list of the top recipients of Canadian International Development Agency funding between 1994 and 1999. The government of Zimbabwe received--which is to say, Mugabe received--$78 million from you and I over that time.

At best, we may hope this money was, in the words of Michael Maren, wasted on keeping a few Westerners employed. At worst, it may have been used to arm Mugabe's "war veteran" stormtroopers. Doesn't really matter anyway. Zimbabwe is about to commit slow self-murder. Those of you who think African dictatorships need more financial support can congratulate yourselves on your Christian feelings while a country goes without bread.

- 3:18 am, August 5

Paint it black

John Derbyshire's 20 reasons to fear the future are the talk of conservatives everywhere right now. It's an inspired column, and even a useful corrective to the Western triumphalism that September 11 has (perversely) spawned. Despite being a libertarian, I'm ill-equipped by nature to offer an optimistic or "dynamist" rebuttal, but some of his points are certainly less sharp than others.

Most of us will die in poverty. There is no way that systems devised to provide for mid-20th-century retirees will be able to cope in the mid-21st, with imploding demographics and a centenarian on every block.

Derb sort of makes a rubbish of this point with his very next one, actually ("Quality health care for all is not possible"); as a forecaster, you can't have the demographic nightmare scenarios AND an imminent end to the steady lowering in morbidity and mortality we've experienced over the 21st century. They're mutually exclusive futures.

More importantly, there's something that's always ignored when we're talking about the aging of the Baby Boomers, who are just starting to file out of the workforce. The subsequent generations who have to provide for their elders' dotage have an enormous advantage, in that the Baby Boom was followed by a more or less continual plunge in fertility. Put simply, we (younger folk) don't have many siblings. My mother has ten brothers and sisters; my father has six. When their parents died, they didn't inherit a whole lot. But they've saved a reasonable fortune, and made some sound investments: and I only have one sibling to share with. My saving habits are pretty bad, but through the miracle of compound interest, we should be pretty comfortable as a family when I'm 65 and the folks are pushing 90.

It's always seemed to me that the post-Boomer generations, or those members of them in typically small families, are sitting at the sharp end of an inverted pyramid of funneled wealth. Isn't this the never-mentioned flip side of the demographic calamity? I'm certainly not happy about the intergenerational robbery scheme our government runs, but with any luck at all I won't have to rely on it.

Science has stopped. None of the really major scientific advances that you have been reading about since 1970 as "just over the horizon" is ever going to happen. Cheap fusion power; the colonization of Mars; artificial intelligence; supersonic air travel you can afford; contact with extraterrestrial civilizations; the conquest of cancer, tooth decay, or the common cold; fuhgeddaboutit.

It suffices to note, doesn't it, that this complaint was published on the Internet? In most respects, we certainly won't get the scientific advancements we expect. We'll get different ones we didn't foresee. Microprocessors took about thirty years to become literally ubiquitous: the next concept or development to remake society is probably already out there, largely unobserved.

Conservatism is dead. No genuinely conservative policy will ever be enacted, ever again, by any U.S. government or the government of any important state. Great masses of ordinary Americans believe that "conservative" means "repressed fundamentalist freak." Why would they not believe this? Every medium of mass entertainment and mass information has been preaching it to them, over and over and over, for twenty years. The Ronald Reagan of 1980, if he were to stride onto the national stage today, would be unelectable.
Again, a simple rejoinder suffices: the Ronald Reagan of 1980 was unelectable, or was universally thought so until about mid-1979. The mass media have a lot of power, but past a certain point--and maybe the only reason I know this for sure is Reagan--people stop believing it.

Nothing will be done about immigration.

Another self-contradiction, I think: further down Derbyshire notes that further terrorist attacks on the United States, much more fearful ones, are probably inevitable. If, like the World Trade Centre attack, they are facilitated by a casual, laissez-faire attitude to things like student visas, then the current structure of immigration in the Western world will be revealed to have been insupportable. Any conflict with an increasingly powerful China (that's another Derbyshire forecast) would, or should, have similar effects.

A lot of the other predictions fall into the "Who gives a shit" category. Polluted Chinese rivers? Not to sound callous, but I don't live in China, do I? The environmental indicators in my country are continually improving. There are no global environmental issues, as yet, which are really worth the sweat we're expending on them. (Come on, Derb, you're not really losing sleep over space junk.) Microsoft Windows getting ever more buggy? What, is someone holding a gun to your head and telling you you have to upgrade? Pop culture is filth? So opt out already: we share a 3,000-year cultural inheritance of which none of us has tasted the true depths.

None of this is to say the future won't be violent, decadent, and depressing. What I believe most firmly about the future is that it really is not ours to see. Everyone believes this formally, but nobody really REALLY believes it, not to the point of acting on it. It is, in fact, necessary for us to think about the future and to make our best guesses about it. How we invest, where we choose to live, how we raise our children--you can't make any of those decisions without trying to peer forward into the darkness. But let's not take it to the point of hubris. Total despair is a sin.

- 9:57 pm, August 4

Reports of his demise

Scribbly Tate is back!

- 2:51 pm, August 4


British Columbian Mike Sugimoto endorses my argument that liquor privatization is almost entirely a good thing. And not only does he agree with me, presumptively making him an intellectual giant, but his blog is pretty good and he appears to be an Expos fan. You'll have to ignore the bit about Albertans being "yahoos": B.C.'s gotten all sour-grapey since it became a "have-not" province under the federal equalization formula.

- 2:08 pm, August 4

But what about Prem?

Am I the only one who thinks this CNN story about spam is about six months behind the curve? The exponential growth we were seeing in spam for a while there is, quite simply, no longer happening, as far as I can tell. We have good filters now--not perfect ones, but they take care of 80% of the problem. The only new wrinkle I'm aware of is spam in Korean and Chinese characters, but for some reason I'm not finding it hard to detect and delete those messages.

My main personal e-mail account (not the one linked to on this page) is wholly unfiltered, has existed continuously for about eight or nine years, and must be visible on at least a couple hundred Web pages by now. Spam's simply not an issue there: I get maybe three or four a day. (Perhaps it's tempting fate to mention this.) The CNN story argues that there's a crisis because 20-25% of all e-mail sent is now spam. Well, the amount of unsolicited direct mail I get in my mailbox is more like 90% of the total traffic, or even more if you go by weight. That's garbage I can't get rid of with the 'D' key: I have to physically carry pounds of it to the curb every week. Does anybody think snailmail isn't worth the trouble?--that it is "more of a chore than a convenience"?

In the end, "dumb", non-targeted spamming is going to dwindle because it doesn't work. If it did, I'd be getting spam from Proctor & Gamble and General Motors, not from somebody who thinks selling penis enlargers is a career. Eventually, someone's going to come up with truly "smart" harvesting software, and charge as much for it as it costs to buy direct-mail lists (i.e., a lot). The use of the weapon will be limited to legitimate businesses, and you'll be more likely to get offers you may actually wish to examine. Frankly, I wish we could persuade junk snailmailers to switch to spam.

- 1:15 pm, August 4

Regiment of women, part II

RIPOSTE! Allison M. of Toronto thinks is all wet on the gun issue:

The fact that this woman did not receive proper protection from police is appalling, but the logical solution would be to *give* her that protection, rather than giving her the tools to attempt to do a job for herself that many others have taken on as a career.
The article also fails to mention the possibility that women would suffer violent crime from gun owners.
...Let's not turn gun control into an issue that it isn't...

No, let's not. I think this a typical reaction, and not unreasonable, but there are problems.

· The issue is not really whether Holly Desimone received "proper protection." My complaint is with the bureaucratic limbo she was left in while awaiting a decision on whether she'd get the help she had asked for. This was not a simple matter of getting a restraining order, remember; she had filed to enter a witness protection program, no doubt at tremendous public expense.
How many women are survivors of rape, or domestic abuse, or stalking? The sad answer is this: millions. Can the police put them all in witness protection programs? They can not. Giving Holly Desimone this level of assistance may, in her case, be the "logical solution". But there are a lot of women in her position, or in less dramatic variations of it.

· Choosing a career as a policeman doesn't make you psychic. Another sad fact: most of a policeman's job is cleaning up after crime, not preventing it. If someone is truly determined to harm you, the cops have no way--none--of stopping them. "Police protection", in a nuts-and-bolts sense, should not be expected: what the police provide is investigation and detention.

· As to the possibility that women will suffer violent crime from gun owners... well, they already do. All the law does in that regard is to impose storage rules on, and practically ban handguns from, the law-abiding.
There are a lot of urban Canadians who seem to believe there aren't any guns in the country. Think different. Most of the seven million or more firearms in Canada are longarms, of course. Very useful for killing a woman, if you have a mind to; no use at all for self-defence on a public thoroughfare, though, nor are they much good when stored under lock and key in a house, according to the law. Many of the women killed by guns in this country are killed by estranged spouses or male acquaintances under perfectly foreseeable circumstances; but because of our culture, it absolutely never occurs to them that they can do something about it. Still more women waste their lives in a ceaseless pilgrimage from city to city and shelter to shelter, when they might be best advised to stay put and learn their way around a Glock 9-mm. Or so some would argue.

I don't honestly think that the creators of our gun-control laws were motivated by sexism, in case that's unclear. I just happen to think that a disarmed society is not in the interest of the physically vulnerable. What is the actual argument against female rape survivors having handguns? That they shouldn't have to "do the job" of self-defence? It's not a job: it's a right.

- 3:55 am, August 4

Uncle Thomas?

Howard Bashman has kindly sent some traffic my way and also has a link to a remarkable Washington Post Magazine profile of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Bet you didn't know this, for example:

Evidence of [early libertarian] leanings can be seen in the influence of libertarian icon Ayn Rand on Thomas. In Rand's work, Thomas saw a model for independence and self-sufficiency. Dating back to his days at the EEOC, and continuing once he got to the Supreme Court, he would require staffers to watch the 1949 film version of Rand's best-selling book The Fountainhead.

The article, by Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher, is nuanced, sympathetic, and thorough. Possibly the key passage, for me, is the one in which Thomas's old friend Leonard Small, a "community activist", trots out a sheaf of Thomas's opinions to "explain" the overwhelming hostility of American blacks toward one of their most sensational achievers. The explanation consists, depressingly, of a series of bizarre distortions like this one:

...[Thomas] criticized some of the rationale the court employed in the seminal Brown v. Board of Education decision, the 1954 case that effectively ended state-sponsored segregation. In reaching its decision in Brown, the court considered evidence of the psychological harm suffered by black school children as the result of segregation.
"'Racial isolation' itself is not a harm; only state-enforced segregation is," Thomas wrote. "After all, if separation itself is a harm, and if integration therefore is the only way that blacks can receive a proper education, then there must be something inferior about blacks."
This leaves Small incredulous. "Segregation doesn't impact the psyche of blacks?" Small says. "That's a foolish notion."

This is a man who hasn't made the most rudimentary effort to read what Thomas actually said (i.e., that state segregation is, specifically, harmful). It's a literally insane summary of Thomas's opinion, yet it's Thomas, and not his opponents, who comes in for endless psychoanalysis in the press. Why?

The case of Clarence Thomas seems pretty simple, as it's presented here: he's someone who decided very early on to make a conscious effort, in his life and in his philosophy, to transcend questions of black authenticity. That's threatening to people, like "community activists", who make their living exploiting that authenticity. Unfortunately, at a guess, it's those same community activists who do a lot of the heavy lifting of raising and shaping black youths in America.

Postscript one: Incidentally, I thought it was now permissible to admit that the psychological evidence used by the Court in Brown was bogus...? I thought people knew generally that this decision was unique in U.S. history, an acknowledged piece of bad law crafted by mutual consent of the Justices to attain an overwhelming social good. Surely it can be understood as a bit of force majeure analogous to Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War? Or am I saying this fifty years too early?

Postscript two: Ayn Rand once summarized her view of ethnicity by quoting a poem called "The Westerner" by Badger Clark:

My fathers sleep on the Eastern plain,
and each one sleeps alone.
But I lean on no dead kin.
My name is mine for fame or scorn,
And the world began when I was born,
And the world is mine to win.

If these are Thomas's views, it's no wonder he has a troubled relationship with American blacks; and if so, he'll sleep pretty comfortably most nights anyway. I still feel a bit sorry for him after reading the Post piece.

- 11:34 pm, August 3

I can cheat you blind

It's probably a stupid error to lead off with a local item when I'm swimming in Instapundoid traffic, but maybe I can tell this story in a way that will amuse the furriners too. It's an object lesson in police politics: attend, hearers. (Funny how many words we have from that one etymological root, isn't it? Police, politics, polite, policy...)

Your correspondent writes from Edmonton, the princely capital of Alberta, metro population around 900,000. A couple of years ago, Calgary--the province's other major city, alike in size and dignity--got itself a police helicopter. You can imagine the effects. Our flatfeet were jealous, and the local boosters, still bleeding lightly from having been torn out of the pages of Sinclair Lewis's books, were easily whipped into a frenzy. We must have a helicopter! Now! No, even sooner than now! It must be faster than Calgary's, and shinier! If at all possible, T.J. from Magnum, P.I. must be hired to fly it!

Helicopter, helicopter... it was all you ever read for months around here. But the elected councillors of the city said, well, we'd like to study this question first. A helicopter will cost a lot of money, money that could be spent to hire more policemen to patrol the actual surface of the city. We don't know if this is a cost-effective measure. We have an increasing Asian gang problem, and the Hells Angels have moved into town: maybe there are smarter ways to use that cash.

For once, the politicians were smarter and saner than the public. So, naturally, the public said "Screw those soft bastards. We want the WHIRLYBIRD." The Edmonton Police Foundation and other charities started raising the money to buy it themselves. The chief got behind it. An intense media blitz--which in no way, I'm sure, took money away from other charitable causes--raised $1.5 million in a matter of about a year. On the morning of August 1 the chief took possession of a cheque for that amount in a joyous ceremony.

Can you see where this is going?

The coppers now have the money to buy the helicopter. But the helicopter also costs money to operate. A lot more. In fact, the $1.5M up-front price of the aircraft is loose change compared to the $500,000 a year it's going to take to run the damn thing. (Not counting personnel expenditures.)

The chief has announced his intention of asking city council for that money. If there's no money, the chopper doesn't fly, even though it's bought and paid for. The council is, in essence, trapped. They're awaiting the results of a KMPG study on the potential usefulness (or lack thereof) of the chopper, but they aren't going to get to wait. If they ground the chopper on budgetary grounds, the citizens of the city are out $1.5 million because of their own stupidity: do you suppose they'll actually blame themselves? I doubt it. Moreover, the cops have, I think, earned some leverage in other areas of the budget by means of this manouevre. They can fill their end-of-year request with whatever they like, and the council looks like the bad guys if they turn anything down. "Oh, those cheap sons of bitches, they didn't even want to pay for the helicopter, and now they won't buy new rifles for the tactical squad."

Doesn't all this strike anyone else as massively cynical? The police are supposed to be answerable to civil authority, and here they are manipulating it--and the media, and the public--to get themselves new toys. I'm more than a trifle disgusted.

- 4:49 am, August 3

Call for the nurse

MALLSHARK INVASION! West Edmonton Mall, the world's largest shopping centre (56% larger than the Mall of America, in fact, and please do not send me tiresome e-mails about how this is incorrect) and therefore the indisputable epicentre of world capitalism, is adding a real live shark to its aquatic facility. Er, if the shark survives the trip across Canada, that is. [Note: Late-breaking word in the Saturday papers is that Bob is in town, and OK.]

Best quote:

"Bob was the star attraction at the Mississauga store. You can handle this animal, pet him and hand-feed him," [current shark owner Torsten] Eide says.

"Hand-feed" him? I need the use of both, actually, but thanks for the suggestion.

- 3:36 am, August 3

Fear and loathing

Instapundit just linked to a story in Newsday that begins thus:

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster reminded women Thursday that they can pack a gun to protect themselves from a serial killer who has slain three women in the capital in the past 10 months.
"You have the right to get a gun permit," Foster said. "Learn to use it."

How very, very different Canada's southern neighbour still is. Governor Foster's advice reminded me of the ongoing story of Holly Desimone, a Canadian rape victim whose case is currently making national headlines. Ms. Desimone was raped in 1990 by Ali Rasai, an Iranian who was one of the real crown jewels of our refugee-admission system. Desimone was only his first victim, raped mere weeks after he was admitted to the country. (He was eventually convicted of three rapes and is believed responsible for at least five.) She became a public advocate for victims of crime, pressuring the police into coordinating an international effort to catch Rasai after he fled the country. Eventually he served four and a half years in prison.

Upon release, Rasai was deported and banned from Canada permanently. Near the end of his prison term--which she prolonged as far as possible by making appearances at his parole hearings--Desimone filed a request to join the provincial witness protection program here in her home province of Alberta. She hid in women's shelters for 17 months. No action was taken on her request. The Calgary police argues that the assessment period is "reasonable" and hints that she has not met the requirements of the program. Desimone, rightly or wrongly, is still afraid of her rapist. She doesn't trust Canada's immigration system to keep Rasai out, and who would? (I wouldn't trust it to make change for a five-dollar bill.) The police have stonewalled on providing her with a new identity, so she's hardly in a position to trust them either.

In American states like Louisiana, solving her problems would be as simple as buying a gun, learning to use it, and carrying it. Canada prides itself on gender equity--boy, does it--but you'll notice its gun laws deny women a practical, fundamental form of equality. Most Canadians, male and female, will snicker into their sleeves about Governor Foster's cowboy attitude. Meanwhile women like Holly Desimone have no refuge, and must rely on male-dominated police forces to watch over them, if they happen to feel like it. Oddly, this sexist legal situation is perpetuated by a female-led cabal of gun-control freaks. Where are the feminists? Naomi Klein, do you want to carry the ball on this one? Judy Rebick? Alexa McDonough? Is there one woman in Canada who will stand up to say that Canadian women have the right to be armed? Or do you all believe, deep down, that Canadianist deference to authority comes ahead of the basic human right of self-defence?

- 4:05 pm, August 2

In a minor key

The following people are jackasses: Louise Elliott of the Canadian Press, Prof. Henry Jacek of McMaster University, and Prof. David Docherty of Wilfrid Laurier University. Oh, and the editors of the Globe and Mail.

All right--maybe they're not jackasses. One or two of them might even be quite intelligent. But, boy oh boy, is that a steaming heap of jackassery on page A5 of today's Globe. For weeks now, there has been a rising chorus of complaint about Stephen Harper's extremely quiet approach to the job of Opposition leader. Today's Globe story goes the limit. The headline: "Harper's avoidance of spotlight casts doubt on [Canadian] Alliance health".

You might remember the variation on this theme from about six months ago: "Stockwell Day's embarrassing publicity ploys cast doubt on Alliance health." For a certain breed of especially lazy journalist, everything can be construed as "casting doubt on Alliance health." Wood tick counts on the rise in Prince George lumber mills? Casts some pretty clear doubt on the Canadian Alliance's health, wouldn't you say? Chinese spacecraft lands on Venus? Jeez, I don't know how the Canadian Alliance is going to survive this one.

Let's just review the big picture, shall we? The Liberal prime minister--one of whose cabinet members recently made a rather disturbing phone call to the mother of a girl claiming to have been raped by the PM's son--is trying to stare down a popular minister he fired, constituency associations who almost unanimously want him to quit, and an estimated 60 members of his own caucus who want the same thing. Oh, plus his government is being investigated for systematic irregularities in the dispensing of contracts, and yesterday he was heavily heckled at a public appearance in one of his most secure enclaves. Meanwhile, the New Democratic Party is between leaders and has no clear idea of its reason for existing. And the Progressive Conservative leader, Joe Clark, is actively opposed by more than half of his caucus.

And Stephen Harper's the guy who's got problems???

Yeah, donations to the party dropped 80% in 2001--that was under, and quite plainly because of, the previous leader, who made a lot of effort to remain in the "public eye" and was deliberately assassinated by the media for it. And yeah, the Alliance is only at 14% in the polls. That's a typical midterm figure: if Chretien or somebody else has to debate Stephen Harper on TV, do you honestly think that figure's going to stay at 14% at election time? The Alliance/Reform Party has outperformed its polling numbers at every election to date. Sure, the Liberal support is holding up: they haven't been forced to choose between Chretien and Martin yet. Besides, parties of the right always do worse in polling than in elections. People tell pollsters what they think they should think, then go vote according to their actual interests. Far be it from political scientists to undercut the foundation of their discipline by mentioning this, of course.

I don't think the Alliance is poised for a large gain at the next election, although, actually, they've never yet failed to make a large gain from election to election--something that is quite easy to forget, what with all the people questioning the party's "health." If the Alliance stands still, though, that's fine by me. But I know what Stephen Harper is thinking. Successful political leaders are blank slates for people to project their ideals and hopes onto. Chretien goes around talking complete gibberish, and people vote for the guy: in the absence of any intelligible utterance, we are allowed to conclude that this multi-millionaire, this caliph of corruption, reflects our own core beliefs. Trudeau swanned about spewing partly-digested Harold Laski-isms and contradicting himself so much it's a wonder he didn't explode (national unity through multiculturalism? Say wha?), and people voted for the guy. They thought he felt the way they did because he gave them no possible reason to think otherwise, unless they happened to be the victims of his policies. Mackenzie King--show me one thing the guy said that had any semantic content, ever. People voted for him. Louis St. Laurent--hello? The guy was senile, not right in the damn head, for the last half of his government. People voted for him.

For most voters, a political leader is a blank slate, a surface for projection. People who are interested in policies already know what Stephen Harper stands for. When the election comes, we will hear him give a sound-bite version of his philosophy, hopefully in an appetizing form like the Contract with America. In the meantime, Harper's not going to say anything if he can possibly help it. He already spoke up, pointing out what only a fool would deny--that Atlantic Canada has serious cultural and economic problems, that it is dominated by a pervasive culture of entitlement; and that those problems are spreading to other parts of the country. People didn't like hearing that much, or so the press would have you believe.

Let's say you don't like the way Stephen Harper's campaigning right now. Fine: what's the alternative? Should he ask to borrow Stockwell Day's jet-ski? Never mind the health of the Alliance--I'd worry about the health of Stephen Harper.

The parties the CA will be running against are all in a state of total chaos right now--I don't mean minor squabbling, I mean open, bloody civil war. In the face of such divided enemies, does standing pat and retrenching really seem like such a bad idea? Are we really supposed to conclude, despite massive daily evidence, that it's the Alliance that has problems? I suppose there are some things so stupid that only a university professor could believe them.

- 5:54 am, August 1

Soft white underbelly

I installed a hit counter just the other day, although I don't really want to call attention to the fact until my numbers start getting more respectable. A charming feature of the service is that you can see how you rank compared to the sites of other users. Since my counter is new, my figures for recent days have a lot of zeroes in them. This leaves me near the bottom of league table with--as of this morning--the official website of Gary the sea snail,, and a page of "AMATEUR COCK PICS". Sorry, no link provided for that last one--a lot of my readers have delicate sensibilities, and the material on display is pretty unimpressive anyway.

So tell your friends about this site! Please! I don't want to end up losing out to the snails and the penises!

- 3:23 am, August 2

The art of understatement

The Times-Colonist of Victoria reports that the auditor-general of British Columbia has ruled that former police complaint commissioner Don Morrison mismanaged his office's budget, paying for services without getting written contracts or proper authorization. (Morrison quit a few months ago to save the legislature the trouble of firing him.) Fun quote from the auditor:

He was not managing public money in the best way possible and that has implications for public confidence in our institutions of government.

"Has implications for" meaning "destroys", of course. But how high can British Columbians' confidence in their police institutions be, anyway? Stanley Park sounds like the set of Mad Max these days, and apparently you have to feed 50 dead hookers to your pigs before you get arrested for it. Political assassinations, open gang warfare which makes the Hells Angels look like Hello Kitty, terrorist mass murders which remain unprosecuted 17 years after the fact... other provinces don't have problems like this, fellas. You don't need a police complaints commissioner out there--you need some kind of relentless, sadistic Rudy Giuliani figure to give 'em a whiff of grapeshot.

- 12:36 am, August 2

Show your work

How hard would it be, exactly, to give us good, useful information on the risks of smoking? I ask because, well, it's never done--not by the media. There are examples of this every week or so: the latest turned up on Bourque this afternoon. The headline of the BBC item is "Passive smoking put pets at risk". When you read the story, though, well, it's not actually about "pets" in general--it's about cats. Specifically, a Tufts University study has found that second-hand smoke is associated with an increased risk of feline lymphoma.
They found that, adjusting for age and other factors, cats exposed to second-hand smoke were twice as likely to develop the disease. However, if they were exposed to passive smoking for five years or more that risk tripled. If two people living in the house smoke, the cats were four times more likely to contract the cancer.

Doubled, tripled, quadrupled risk... this is useful information, but only in conjunction with information the BBC doesn't give you: how large is the risk being multiplied? Do 10% of cats contract lymphoma in the absence of passive smoke? Is it 1%? Is it 0.1%? Without some kind of estimate of this information, this article is totally useless crap. It is worthless in helping a person think about the risk he's creating for his cat, because we aren't being told the size of the risk--yet you'll notice the story concludes with an RSPCA plea to pet owners to do just that: "think about the risk."

I will think about the risk if you'll tell me what the risk is, you fuckheads!

This is an extremely common failing of news items about smoking risks--multipliers without base figures. Let's see if we can do a rough workaround. I've seen a figure cited in a couple of lecture slideshows like this one--it suggests the general incidence of lymphoma in cats is 157 per 100,000. You can't just go ahead and double or treble that figure, though, because it presumably includes all cats--ones that live in smoking households and in non-smoking households. We have to break it up into the smoking and non-smoking components.

For simplicity's sake, let's go with the most basic finding of the study--"passive smoking" cats have doubled risk--and break it up that way. Imagine a hypothetical population of 100,000 cats. Our premise is, 157 of them will contract lymphoma. The fraction of households in which smoking takes place is likely to be around 30% nowadays, so we'll make two groups:

· 30,000 "passive smoking" cats, and
· 70,000 cats not exposed to smoke.

We have to sort the 157 lymphoma cases so that the percentage of cats getting lymphoma in the passive-smoking group is twice as great. Where 'x' is equal to the number of cases in the passive-smoking group, you have to solve for x in this equation:

x/30,000 = 2*(157-x)/70,000

Junior-high algebra, to be sure, but already well beyond the competence of many journalists. The equation gives you a figure of 72 lymphoma cases among the 30,000 passive-smoking cats and 85 among the 70,000 non-smokers. That second figure represents our best estimate of the approximate risk of lymphoma in a cat living in a house sans smoke--less than 1 in 800.

Is this figure likely to be remotely accurate? Hell no: but it gives us a ballpark, which is more than the BBC bothered to do. In fact, I believe this figure is likely to overstate the risk by an order of magnitude or so. Why? Because many cases of feline lymphoma arise in the presence of a common viral disease, feline infectious leukemia.

The BBC story says that the Tufts researchers controlled their study for "age and other factors." I would be thunderstruck by their incompetence if the presence of infectious leukemia were NOT one of the factors they controlled for. And do you know what that means? Right: it means that the baseline lymphoma risk being elevated by passive smoking isn't the general risk of lymphoma--it's the risk of non-FeLV lymphoma, which leaves us with far less than 157 cases to sort between our two groups of cats.

But then again, I don't know any of this for sure. It's speculation. I'm doing the best I can with the Neanderthal statistical tools available to me. The point is, no one in the media wants to help. Responsible science journalism would touch on these issues instead of blanketing us in a fog of meaningless numbers. Why do they think their job is to frighten us? Conversely, why do they suppose no ordinary person believes a single fucking thing he reads about science or medicine in the newspaper?

(Interest declared: my cat is a passive smoker, although to be entirely honest "passive" is not an adjective I'd ever use to describe the little maniac.)

- 11:31 pm, August 1


Stewart Butterfield unearthed this innovative new use of Blogger. You should visit Stewart's site: he's an interesting guy and I don't think I've ever seen anyone but his wife link to him. (And no wonder! He doesn't even seem to have a permanent link to her site on his page! This is grounds for divorce in some countries!) He took his blog (I still hate that word) offline for about half a year or so just as the medium was getting popular. I interviewed him once, but the subject matter was a horrid fit for the magazine. Occasionally I'll look for an excuse to interview really smart people just to keep my job interesting. I think everyone does that, and it can lead to terrific journalism. Or not.

- 4:19 pm, August 1


ESPN commentator and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan says it's silly to start calling Willie Mays the greatest living ballplayer just because Ted Williams has died. Willie, says Morgan, was greater than Williams to begin with.

Have you noticed that no other sport has this debate? Well, I guess we all know who the greatest living hockey and basketball players are, unless we're idiot contrarians of some sort. And football is too specialized to allow for a multivariate debate: the greatest living football player, if they are to be ranked by individual contributions to wins, pretty much has to be a quarterback. Otherwise you'd get into a squabble as to how you weigh a great centre against a great cornerback...

Anyway, I don't agree with Morgan. Ted Williams reached base safely in 48% of his career at-bats. Willie reached base in 38% of his. This is an enormous difference in the largest single dimension of the game. It takes a lot to make up for a factor that size. Mays didn't play half his games in Fenway, and Ted Williams wasn't one of the greatest defensive players who ever lived, but that 10% gap is a lot of outs. A LOT.

Mays may be the greatest living player now, although I'd have trouble rejecting the cases for Stan Musial and Barry Bonds. Hank Aaron is occasionally discussed, and he's not far behind those guys. The funny thing is, you know who never gets mentioned in this debate? A Gold Glove middle infielder who led the league four times in on-base percentage, combined decent power with blazing speed, drew 110 walks a year, and was a key player on four pennant winners and two World Champions. Frankly, I'm not entirely certain I'd draft Mays ahead of this guy.

- 3:51 pm, August 1

I ask you, is this some kind of sick joke

City of Edmonton.
Tonight..Showers ending this evening then partly cloudy. Wind
northwest 30 km/h diminishing to light overnight. Low 3. Risk of

No, that's not the Edmonton weather forecast from February 13. It's the forecast from earlier tonight. The evening of July 31, that is. Cover your tomato plants. (For Americans, 3° Celsius works out to 37° Fahrenheit. Yes, really.)

- 1:20 am, August 1

The Empire strikes back

Mortal kombat! Globian and "acknowledged [Canadian] beauty" Leah McLaren went to London, dated a few English guys, and rocked the island race with a Spectator cover story essentially complaining that none of her paramours had yet had the bottle to throw her to the floor and give her the old Austin Powers treatment.

Now Mark Palmer, one of those who has stood Leah to a dinner or two since her arrival, steps to the wicket (in the Daily Telegraph) and barks "Let me put you straight." Turns out he considered trying to raid Leah's maple-leaf-monogrammed step-ins, but she conjured up a "boyfriend back in Toronto" as soon as the temperature rose a tad. Oh, Leah! Say it isn't all just a tawdry hoax.

- 12:44 am, August 1