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Parental advisory: explicit lyrics.

Deer sur: I rite to prowtest...

Via The Antic Muse we discover a site that is organizing "Flood the Zone Fridays" to coordinate Democrat letters to the editor for U.S. newspapers. TAM calls the idea "brilliant", and if's advice can minimize the post-traumatic stress on underpaid American editors, I can only agree.

First, let's go over some information on how to write a good letter to the editor. The biggest thing is don't be insulting, don't collapse into partisan hysteria. Be calm and factual--your viewpoint is right, you don't have to scream. Remember, the people who are going to be reading these are not the Freepers or the webmasters at Bush's website--they are reporters and ombudsmen.

It's Editorial Correspondence for Dummies! Having edited L2Es myself, I understand the necessity for urging people to cool-headedness, but it's still a surprise to see that Democrats keep the Special-Ed Teacher Mode switch turned on even when talking to other Democrats. Organizer Matt Singer goes on to explain that newspapers tend to run letters at no more than about 250 words, which amounts to saying, I guess, that one should have read a newspaper at least once before sending a missive to its editors. Hey, Matt, you forgot to tell 'em not to use crayon.

The recommended topic for the Zone-Flood of the week is President Bush's poor environmental stewardship, with a case in point from--where else?--Friday's New York Times.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Thursday that it does not have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

The act allows the agency to research climate change, but not to issue regulation, said assistant administrator Jeffrey Holmstead, who oversees air programs. "Where there is a major public policy issue, Congress needs to decide."

Singer's shocked summary: "Bush's EPA is claiming that they can't regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act". Can you imagine? Those bastards regard the Clean Air Act as pertaining only to the cleanliness of the country's air.

The Times' Jennifer Lee notes that Bill Clinton's EPA took the view that the Clean Air Act could be used to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The main problem here is that this view of the Act is, if not a downright mistake, certainly a legalistic quasi-fraud. The Act was passed to deal with metropolitan air pollution, and at about fifty different points in its text, its purpose is described as the prevention of air pollution. It's called the Clean Air Act for a reason. You and I can agree that greenhouse emissions are bad, but does it mean one has to participate in the sly, logic-raping redefinition of carbon dioxide as an air pollutant? This is, I think, exactly like a Southern sheriff shooting somebody in the back and saying the cause of death was "lead poisoning".

In the late '80s, when policymakers grew concerned about ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere, the Clean Air Act was amended by Congress to graft the new function of reducing ozone-damaging emissions onto its legal machinery. If you want to add new appurtenances to the Act in order to deal with global warming, that's the ethical way to proceed. The American system of government grants new responsibilities to the federal executive reluctantly; that's sort of, like, one of its foundation principles, y'know? In enforcing a federal law, especially one that infringes upon the responsibilities of the states, a Republican administration is expected to take a minimalistic view of what it's permitted to do--and reasonable people ought to expect Democratic administrations to behave that way, too.

One further point: Lee comments that "There is a growing body of scientific evidence that implicates carbon dioxide in global warming". I can see myself writing a sentence like that, but now that I look at it closely it frightens me a little. If we (or Times reporters) already know which direction "science" is going to "grow" in, might we not just as well go ahead and abandon it? If a body of evidence is large enough, it can't ever be contradicted by later information--is that how science works? Mental note to self: do your part to help drive this "growing body" cliché out of the language. It's certainly a worse pollutant than CO2.

- 11:59 am, August 30 (link)

NASA's Vietnam?

Don't miss the Columbia op-ed by Homer Hickam, NASA engineer and author of the memoir Rocket Boys. (The book may be more familiar from the movie version, October Sky, which is probably the most unfailing tearjerker for men since Brian's Song. And it's certainly the only book ever adapted for the screen with a new title that is an anagram of the original.)

- 10:38 pm, August 30 (link)

Big generators

Columnist Robert Fulford contributes his usual excellent work to Saturday morning's Post, pointing out that tenure only seems to make university professors more and more terrified of speaking their minds about pressing public issues, and particularly about their own professional fields, with each passing decade. But even a brilliant column can contain a bad sentence.

Is there now, in English-speaking Canada, a Canadian professor who visibly generates some of the central ideas of a political party? I can't think of one.

...but then again, I'm on deadline. Fulford is a creature of Toronto, and we wouldn't have it any other way, but his despairing query may cause an inadvertent snort or two in Alberta, the land of Ted Morton, Rainer Knopff, Barry Cooper, David Bercuson, and Tom Flanagan. They're the most prominent members of the Calgary Mafia that has, for more than a decade, provided much of the intellectual horsepower for the Canadian right and for Reform/Alliance. It's not like they've been especially quiet about it; books pour out of these guys like crap from a goose, Flanagan was Reform's research director, and Morton was elected to the Senate in a provincial referendum. I find myself wondering if it's actually necessary to describe the deep influence and involvement of these men, let alone to point out that the country's lowbrow redneck Western-based party is also its only party of ideas. If anyone wants to offer me a book contract, I'll be happy to set Toronto right on this subject...

- 9:29 am, August 30 (link)

Of no use whatsoever

Another old problem in recreational mathematics is licked: there are no magic knight's tours on an 8 × 8 chessboard.

- 4:39 am, August 30 (link)

See cake, eat cake, have cake

What do you notice in this paragraph written by Joe Morgan about his friend, the late Bobby Bonds?

Bobby received lots of support from the Hall of Fame's veterans committee in its most recent vote. I hate to think that now that he's died people will say he belongs in Cooperstown. It would be sad that it took Bobby's death to make people realize how great a player he was. Mays has long supported Bobby's Hall candidacy.

You get to the end of it and you go, hmmmm, but what do you think, Joe? Morgan was probably the greatest second baseman since Eddie Collins, but as a columnist there is often something loathsomely contorted about his utterances. He's paid to tell us what he thinks, and often he can't do it because he's busy preserving the feelings of his fellow Baseball Men. This passage is a good example. It's pretty clear from a close reading that Morgan does not think Bobby Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame, but he manages to sound as though he's saying the opposite.

An interesting side note here--back in the 80s when everyone was obsessed with combinations of home runs and stolen bases, Bill James tried to sort out the debate a bit by devising a strictly fun stat called the "power-speed number", the harmonic mean of a player's steals and home runs. By this measure the top five power-speed combos in the game's history are Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds' godfather, Barry Bonds' father, and... Joe Morgan, Barry Bonds' father's pal.

You can make a case for Bonds Sr. to go into the Hall. It's a stretch, but not a terrible one. For four or five years, Bobby was the best leadoff man in the National League: he finished first, second, second, second, and first in runs scored from 1969-1973. (Morgan was hitting second in Houston for a lot of this time, of course.) On top of that, in those five years he's hitting 158 home runs. So we're talking about a player who, at his best, was among the elite in both basic components of offence: getting into scoring position, and driving runs home. Now, add to that the fact that he's a Gold Glove-level right fielder (he won three, despite Clemente). We now know that his strikeouts weren't doing terribly serious harm to the offence, although they hurt his reputation at the time and held down his OBP.

There aren't many guys who've been that good for five years and who aren't in the Hall of Fame, and Bonds kept on delivering good seasons during his nomadic phase. It would be very unusual to put a mere three-time All-Star in the Hall, but Bonds was a unique and underappreciated player, without question. The real problem is that his career wasn't very long, and the shorter a player's career is, the higher you expect his peak to be when you're considering him for the Hall of Fame.

When you set out to look for near-contemporaries outside the Hall you'll find guys who were just as good, on the whole, and for much longer. Dwight Evans was a better hitter, a better right fielder, and played 20 seasons; he was a good player for 18 years, whereas Bobby was good for maybe ten. So you've got to think Dewey is ahead of Bobby in that line, and then it occurs to you that Dave Parker is nudging in there, too. Dale Murphy, a better hitter and two-time MVP who was a Gold Glove center fielder, is still outside the Hall. Andre Dawson was a pretty good outfielder, pretty good power-speed combo; I might let Bobby into the Hall ahead of him, but most wouldn't. And when you mention Dawson you realize you haven't even mentioned Tim Raines. You're gonna put Bobby Bonds in the Hall for a few good years as a leadoff man and leave out the Rock? On what planet?

If you look at the most-similar batters to Bobby Bonds (using another James method), you see names like--to take the top five--Ron Gant, Reggie Smith, Jack Clark, George Foster, and Fred Lynn. Bobby Bonds isn't truly similar to any of those guys, and he was probably better than all of them, except maybe Lynn at top form (or Clark coming to the plate in the bottom of the ninth). But the list reminds you that it won't do merely to show that Bobby Bonds was terrific, fantastic, splendid: so were Jim Wynn, Kenny Singleton, and Jesse Barfield, for a while. Anybody want to put Singleton in the Hall? (I know some people want to put in Bobby Murcer, who was once traded straight-up for Bobby Bonds.) Now, me, I'm almost willing to vote for Bob just because he smoked in the dugout between plate appearances. But let's do this in the right order, eh? Bobby Bonds isn't going to get any deader while he waits for Evans, Murphy, and Raines.

- 4:32 pm, August 29 (link)

In the neighborhood

I had a good day today. I guess if I'm going to tell this anecdote, I might as well update you on the work situation. I ended up getting a fair amount of work done in August, but not getting paid, yet, for as much of it as I'd like. The void between scraping up freelance work and having cheques land in my box is turning out to be slightly longer than I'd banked on (literally). The minor-league baseball piece I reported and filed last month sat on somebody's desk for a few weeks--I say this with as little bitterness as possible, since I've been an editor myself--and then was killed when the magazine's page count was unexpectedly reduced, though I'm told the item may surface on the Web, and a kill fee is on its way. I'll link to it if it ever shows up; I can't post it here because I'm told we may revive and rework it in the spring, which is too bad because it was kind of a nifty little two-page thing, or that's my memory of it (I'd probably denounce it as juvenilia if I saw it now).

There is no word from the former publishers of the Report on back vacation pay or statutory severance, even though the 60-day "temporary layoff" we were coerced into observing has now ended. No doubt you'll be reading more about this on other sites quite soon. I'm puzzled that they have chosen to handle the matter this way (i.e., by not handling it), even granting that the remaining assets of the company don't amount to much. I'm owed at least C$8,000, by the most conservative possible accounting. Because I'm in such a tight financial fix, I would happily sign away the debt for a good deal less than $8,000, if it arrived (a) quickly and (b) in cash. Go ahead, guys, exploit me! I'm just sitting here!

Anyway, long story short, I'm pretty broke and the rent's due (remember when Ken Layne called me a Tom Waits character? Clairvoyant motherfucker, wasn't he), but right now I've got some unbylined semi-advertorial assignments going on, as well as my Post stuff, which is the basic reason I get up in the mornings, when I get up in the mornings.

So, rewind for a moment to my family reunion earlier this month (and, by the way, isn't that the exact place you want to be when you've lost your job? A family reunion). On the sweltering Saturday afternoon of the weekend, I go up, with the intention of getting a cold drink, to the old one-room schoolhouse where we take our meals during the reunion, and where my Dad actually spent grade one. Who do I find there but Dr. Dave Maskell, my Dad's first cousin? People had said maybe he'd show up, but no one really believed he'd make it because he's so damn busy with his dental practice. (Not that the hard work is without its rewards: if memory serves, he used to commute to his rural office in a Porsche with the license plate MOLAR 1.)

I was exuberantly glad to see Dr. Dave. He lived quite a long space from our hometown, but we used to make the trip to get our teeth looked at, not just because he was a relative but also because he's a hell of a good dentist, and when you find a good dentist you aren't easily persuaded to move on. If you live anywhere near Redwater, Alberta, Dave's your man. My sister and her husband still go out there, even though it's a sixty-minute drive for them in their Porscheless state. Dr. Dave is a wonderful guy--friendly, inquisitive, informed; I probably hadn't seen him in eight or nine years. And I mean no disrespect to anyone when I say that a dentist qualifies as a fellow intellectual, in the context of our family. Dave asked me what I was up to and I told him I was writing political columns for the National Post.

"Politics? Right-wing politics?"

"Uh, yeah."

"All riiiight!" And he goes up for a high five.

So that was fun. The weird part of this is that today I was interviewing Lisa Hewitt, a local country singer who recently opened for Adam Gregory on a West Coast tour. Aside from a trivial amount of background research, I didn't really know this girl from a barrel of apples. The peg for the piece is that she's touring with her band and she's about to release her second album despite continuing to work pretty steady hours as a dental assistant here in Edmonton. I guess you can see where this is going: I asked her how she was able to manage this two-career schtick, and the first words out of her mouth were that she's been lucky to have good-natured, flexible, encouraging, incredible bosses like David Maskell up in Redwater. Can you beat that? My second cousin. It got even weirder soon after, because her husband turns out to be one of the Hewitts who made up about 20% of the population of my hometown, Bon Accord. Probably my mother already knew all this and has Lisa's album and is about to send me a long e-mail about it.

I also got to interview the rapturous Global TV personality Su-Ling Goh--alas, by phone, since her office is in Calgary. But, you know, I'd have chickened out and done it by phone even if she was down the street. I have a stage-IV case of hottiephobia. The two interviews provided an interesting study in contrasts. Su-Ling emphasized that she'd more or less gone in front of the camera by accident, still can't believe she gets to go to Cannes and the Grammys, and doesn't have any further career aspirations she's willing to admit to. Lisa, on the other hand, went into passionate detail about the steps she has consciously taken to become a recording artist, and outlined pretty clearly just how she intends to bid for the next level of celebrity. That was fascinating to me, to encounter two such markedly different approaches to fame--one passive, almost playful, the other intense and self-conscious--in one day.

- 3:07 am, August 29 (link)

Fly in the unguent

With Labour Day approaching, Steve Sailer looks back for UPI on what could be a pivotal summer in the movie business. I don't play the Hollywood Stock Exchange nearly as attentively as I did when I gave Steve the quote that appears halfway down in the piece, but I've been keeping an eye out for a sleeper hit to succeed summer 2001's The Others. Steve's data suggest that none has arrived--and The Others was a modest runaway compared to unstoppable industry legends like There's Something About Mary.

One should note, though, that his definition of wide release excludes My Big Fat Greek Wedding, whose buildup to box-office success is hard to quantify as a ratio of opening-weekend gross. That movie didn't really "open" so much as, perhaps, unfold; the precise nature of its success is without precedent in recent Hollywood history. When it was released, and kept crawling upward on the charts from 16th to 14th to 11th to 8th, I came close to disbelieving outright in the box-office reports. "What is this? No movie does this!"

But Greek Wedding only serves to prove the point that Hollywood seems to be mired in a certain kind of crisis. The big studios can't seem to identify and shoot material that people will fall in love with, and send their friends to see, without being subjected to terabytes of hype. I don't actually get out to the cinema very much, and The Others was a movie where a friend grabbed me about a month into its run and said "We have to go see this, I hear it's really good!" That hasn't happened since: as a single male WASP I suppose I wasn't part of the target market for Greek Wedding. (That one was for the loud, madcap ethnic groups, which from a WASP standpoint is pretty much all the others. We Anglos just stayed home and watched Ordinary People on DVD.)

- 5:59 pm, August 28 (link)

Splish, splash

It would be a shame, I think, if we all read the 1977 Oui interview with Schwarzenegger only for the juicy bits ("...there was a black girl who came out naked. Everybody jumped on her and took her upstairs, where we all got together"). There's a lot here that's of interest, and some of it isn't even about sex! Consider this potential insight into the genesis of a Republican:

Most bodybuilders are straight, regular street guys, though a lot aren't serious. Many in California are punks, beach bums just lying around in the sun and maybe collecting unemployment.

No wonder Mickey Kaus found this thing--it's an artifact in the prehistory of welfare reform! (Remember that Arnold was already quite rich from managing gyms in Austria when he came to the United States.) Sadly for those Republi-droids who would dismiss the interview as a pack of lies, it clearly conveys the genuine voice of the terrifyingly, ahem, cocksure Styrian giant.

I don't know if it makes me more confident in him as an American politician of potential importance. His frank chat with Oui makes me like him all the more, but in a way it makes me all the more suspicious on that ineffable level too. I certainly don't hold the upstairs gangbang against him (but is his dismissal of the gay presence in bodybuilding naïve or disingenuous?). It'll take a full-on golden shower to dampen this campaign!

- 3:47 pm, August 28 (link)

Rocky mountain high, slight return

Don Burton has an entry, featuring actual research, on the unusual home-field advantage enjoyed by the Rockies at Coors Field. Don found that extreme parks lead to extreme HFAs, and points to the .337 disparity enjoyed (or, on the road, disenjoyed) by the 1949 Red Sox. Good catch, Don, although note that the .315 difference Adam Coutts pointed to covers almost two seasons. Over 1949 and 1950, the Sox were 116-38 (.753) at home and 74-80 (.481), for a less dramatic difference of .272. Still, that's a big advantage, and if we presume that more extreme parks create more extreme HFAs, no sinister explanation for the Coors Effect need be sought: it's the most extreme park that has existed since major league baseball's infancy.

- 11:19 pm, August 27 (link)

Buhay Jollibee!

New-ish Canadian weblogger Jim Elve (whose site detournes the look-and-feel of the Government of Canada's standardized sites--try not to get sued, Jim) feels panicky about agreeing with my last couple of entries.

Either I'm not as much of a lefty as I like to think I am or else conservatives actually make sense once in awhile... I find the whole idea of fast food chains being sued by weak-willed consumers to be utterly absurd. Does that mean that I'm not a liberal?

It depends on why you find the idea absurd! If it's because you think coercive interventions in people's lives are presumptively objectionable, then no, you're not a liberal (in the modern sense of the term). If it's because tackling McDonald's may divert valuable energy from confiscating guns, increasing taxes, and policing society for "hatred", then you get to keep your membership card. Jim attempts to retrieve his liberal credentials about midway through his entry:

I don't want to lose all of my liberal credibility by coming out in favour of McDonald's et al., though. I deplore the fact that every European city and world capital has McD's, KFC and Pizza Hut creating a blight on the urban landscape and are serving over-packaged, over-hyped junk food. I don't see the export of American pop culture as a positive thing. Can I have my crypto-commie membership card back now?

Jim's is, of course, a purely aesthetic judgment with no necessary political implication at all; indeed, only a liberal would assume otherwise. Q.E.D.! There are plenty of conservatives, and I'm sure plenty of libertarians, who won't touch fast food with a Garden Weasel (as the recent "crunchy-cons" debate in National Review Online showed). As far as discomfort with American cultural and political imperialism goes, you'd be hard-pressed to top the paleo-cons at places like The American Conservative,,, and The Ambler. To name a few.

For myself, I'm willing to let European consumers make choices for themselves: I'm easygoing that way. And, with all due respect, I think it's terribly simple-minded to look at an American fast-food restaurant in an old European city and instinctively cringe. Isn't it possible there are reasons people may want to eat at McDonald's in Paris or London? Anyone who has had to pay for a sit-down meal or even a prepackaged egg-salad sandwich in those places can identify one instantly: it can be bloody expensive to keep body and soul together in big European cities. McDonald's, KFC, and Pizza Hut are good at providing safe food, prepared to a certain standard of quality, in a great hurry and at a very low price. Take this for granted at your peril. In contemporary Canada, we have plenty of alternatives, which apparently doesn't stop us from occasionally enjoying a wing covered in the Colonel's eleven herbs and spices. In parts of Europe, where car ownership is uniformly scarce, getting a decent cheap meal may be harder. It can be very hard for a visitor or a new immigrant not intimately acquainted with his city of residence. Really now, does the familiarity and internationality of the McDonald's menu have no positive aspects whatever? (McDonald's, of course, makes efforts to vary its menu in accordance with local customs and habits--which, I suppose, only makes its culinary imperialism all the more sinister.)

So many standard liberal cultural lamentations are plain failures of imagination: there's a straight line from "Why would anyone want a McDonald's parked smackdab in the middle of Prague?" to "Why would anyone want a gun in their home?" or "Why would anyone want to drive an SUV?" But I digress. As far as the utilitarian, aggressive unattractiveness of fast-food places goes (the "urban blight" question)--well, they're businesses, mostly found in business zones, and the cookie-cutter design relates to the inexpensiveness of the meals served. I suspect you'd find that 99 of 100 American-originated fast-food outlets in European cities had replaced or altered buildings of little or no architectural distinction. I haven't noticed that the average McDonald's in my own city is inherently less attractive than most locally-owned establishments, though I'll admit Edmonton is unusually blighted to begin with.

(Oh, er, wait... actually, McDonald's is a franchiser, isn't it? Just scratch that "locally-owned" bit, and make a note of the fact that the global menace is usually, in the process of peddling Royales with Cheese to those who don't know any better, giving domestic middle-class franchise-holders a leg up into financial independence. The bastards!)

In fact, there is every reason to believe that McDonald's and other fast-food chains are losing their historic lead in the provision of standardized nutrition. Here at home, old-school fast-food chains are threatened by rising outfits like Wendy's and Subway, who do the same thing a little better, and with notionally healthier menus that others have been quick to ape. The old giants also have to worry about a new class of--what does Postrel call them?--right: "fast casual" chains. Me, I can't wait until those get to Edmonton and start uglying the place up. Capitalism means that next year's profits are promised to no one, not even Mickey D's. What I really wonder is, does the McDonald's-hater hate McDonald's strictly because it's American? What will Jim say when a Jollibee's opens up on his block (perhaps in place of a McD's) in 2015? Is the export of Filipino pop culture a "positive thing", or not...?

Actually, talking of Edmonton, the exciting new development here is that you can get drive-through sushi that rates near the best in town. (We're 1,500 miles from the sea in every direction: "best in town", in such a place, is not a standard of quality that will knock any Vancouverite's eyes out. But still.) Is something indefinable lost, or misplaced, in the process of ordering sushi from your car? I wouldn't say no, but then no one's bulldozed the more traditional sushi places here yet. If you want to thrash the market for introducing such abominations as drive-through sushi, go ahead, but remember that "the market" is a synonym for "your fellow man".

- 11:19 pm, August 27 (link)

Cui bono?

Here's the new National Post column from your favourite starving writer. You can also read Michael Maren's famous "waste of money" interview (conveniently archived at a Peace Corps website!).

- 10:02 am, August 27 (link)


I spent the day writing an op-ed for the Post that should appear tomorrow morning. Believe it or not, the inspiration for it came from Paul Martin's much-derided(-by-me) weblog, particularly Monday's entry. I guess I owe Uncle Junior one, although since I was implicitly pretty kind to him in the piece, I'll consider us even. In my 800 words for the Post, I was unable to express quite how freaky it is for me to see a powerful Canadian Liberal acting as the number-one supporter, bar none, of an international libertarian hero like Hernando de Soto. But I'd best shut up and let you read the op-ed in situ tomorrow.

Some stuff I enjoyed reading today: Andrew Orlowski puts a dent in the armour of God, a correspondent to Steve Sailer upends the conventional wisdom on the inscrutable Japanese, and a funny news story on how Edmonton still has the largest Fringe theatre festival outside Edinburgh, but can't convince people to go see the damn plays. Christ, that last one's no bloody surprise at all: the best drama at the Fringe has always been available for free on the streets.

Incidentally, Edmonton expatriates may not know it, but the Fringe has, with time, become the true, living, unbridled article amongst Edmonton's countless boostery, bullshit, tax-funded festivals. It is now the one moment each summer when Edmonton attains--and this is no word of a lie, though I'm not the best-qualified person to say this--the feeling you get every day living in a place like New York or San Francisco. It is really a great moment for the Fringe that it has transcended its pretext. Great moment for Edmonton, too, because you can get a jolt of that Canetti/Buford crowd energy in the summertime, if it's your thing, and then the city's proletarian virtues are magically restored when it all ends. A million people is a nice size, I think, for a metropolis.

Since I mentioned Orlowski and Sailer, let me make a California threefer by also mentioning that I caught up on a few months' worth of the San Francisco Chronicle's "Night Cabbie". The Cabbie's is one of the best columns in a U.S. newspaper.

I scanned the Columbia Accident Investigation Report in the morning, while I was waiting to hear if my op-ed pitch was gonna work; I was fishing for a good backup in the event I had to switch topics. The sad message is that NASA learned nothing, or didn't learn enough, from Challenger. This seems a bit harsh, actually, since about three times the number of safe missions were flown between the two accidents as took place before Challenger exploded. If Challenger made the shuttle program three times safer, as we may conclude from this datum, perhaps the seven Challenger crew members did not die in vain.

Still, the report makes depressing reading: by the time of the Columbia accident, it seems NASA was saddled with the same bonobo-esque status hierarchies, the same dualistic job descriptions, and the same institutional timidities that decided Challenger's fate. The authors almost aspire to poetry in their exploration of the parallels (see Chapter 8 for the most relevant material).

I suspect, though it grieves me to say it, that NASA may have been let off the hook institutionally by Richard Feynman's famous tabletop demonstration of why the O-rings on Challenger might have failed. Before a national television audience, Feynman reduced the "problem" that doomed Challenger to the scale of a glass of ice water. It was typical Feynman through and through, and it cut through the crap Feynman faced from his fellow investigators in his pursuit of the technical core of Challenger's problems. But it may have been too successful, too easy. How much simpler for engineers and managers to say "Ah yes, if only we'd thought things through with the clarity of this Nobel physics laureate," than to address and prune the eternally spreading thickets of space-program bureaucracy. NASA's problems, far from being unique to NASA, are universal to human organizations. Truly, they cannot ever be finally solved; the battles have to be fought anew by every generation. This generation failed, as perhaps all do in the end. And the accident investigators cannot really possess the certainty they claim as to whether NASA failed--got lazy, got comfortable, went blind--sooner than might reasonably have been expected.

- 7:16 pm, August 26 (link)

A pig/ in a cage/ on antibiotics

The older I get, the less I seem able to understand the mysterious forces dragging us all towards Dystopia. How many actual, living, working people in North America do you suppose consider fat to be a public-policy issue? Do you often run into people who actively think "Gosh, the government should really do something about McDonald's"? Yet somehow, the power of ridicule has not stopped obesity from entering the political agenda and being discussed as if both "sides"--an overwhelming majority of the public on one, and a cabal of what I can only imagine to be crypto-communist fanatics on the other--had some pretty good arguments. Case in point: a new AP wire story on the subject.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Even fat is the stuff of politics in Washington. And with obesity a growing health problem, lawmakers, lawyers and activists are lining up the way they do for most issues: on two sides.

The left's view is that the food industry and advertisers are big bullies that practically force-feed people with gimmicks and high-calorie treats. They say Ronald McDonald is the cousin of Joe Camel.

The right's argument has been dubbed: You're fat, your fault. They say people can make their own choices about food and exercise.

This kind of thing is why, as what is rightly called a "classical liberal", I can never really accept or argue for a moral equivalency between (which is to say, the equal contemptibility of) modern "liberals" and conservatives. I know that the conservatives say the same damnfool things about pornography and drugs that the "left", according to AP, is saying about the Whopper. Based on my very extensive experience of working and talking with conservatives, I believe the difference is that the conservatives are, basically, hypocrites: they at least have elaborate philosophical excuses for considering something like marijuana an exception to a general rule that human behaviour should be unfettered by the State. No self-proclaimed liberal believes in such a rule: they aren't even slightly embarrassed about resorting to coercion.

You will notice that the social jihad against smoking is serving as the model for new crusades, which comes as no surprise, certainly, to anybody who both smokes and thinks. The public, by and large, does support the increasingly oppressive measures being taken against smokers up and down the continent. I believe those who have supported these measures believed that smoking was an exceptionally nasty behaviour whose attempted elimination could not possibly serve as a model for other political campaigns. I don't think anyone imagined, ten or twenty years ago, that by taking a stand against smoking they were laying groundwork for the therapeutic policing of every aspect of human life. As most of us are only beginning to see, those people have now been proven wrong: they have been shown to be unwitting fellow-travellers of totalitarianism. Does that seem like a hard claim to swallow? Maybe you weren't paying attention: Ronald McDonald is the cousin of Joe Camel. Jack Daniels and Samuel Colt, unquestionably, are his uncles. If there were some convenient personification of the sport utility vehicle, he'd be the squalling baby brother. And so it goes.

Perhaps you're comfortable with all this because your own unhealthy pleasures haven't been proscribed yet. That makes you--and I'm afraid there's no nice way to put this--a one-hundred-percent asshole. But no matter. Your turn is coming, as long as the premise that good health is an unlimited pretext for state action remains unresisted as such. Do you suppose you'll be permitted to burn incense at your pad in the brave new world, or hazard zoonotic disease from a housepet, or elevate your heartrate with a soothing cup of coffee (Juan Valdez is Joe Camel's grandnephew!), or risk catching the brainvirus of race prejudice from some book written before 1978? Dream on.

- 12:09 am, August 25 (link)

Coors 'n' calls

I've got two baseball items that may be of semi-general interest. One is an observation by one of the amateur sabermetricians at

In the 2001-2002 off-season, the National League's Colorado Rockies were, as ever, looking to reduce the historically unprecedented levels of offence in their home park, Coors Field. Colorado has always been a hitter's paradise because of the high elevation and the dry air. The Coors Effect (not the one that causes you to see double after drinking 15 Silver Bullets) acts on both teams in a game at Coors Field, so in theory it shouldn't be a particular problem for the home club, especially since, as a general rule, fans like more offence. In practice, fans don't really like games with scores of 17-8, and the Rockies have had some trouble signing free-agent pitchers who can't be certain whether their breaking ball will break at Coors. No pitcher really likes having line drives pinging off the outfield walls, even if the other guy has the same problem.

One answer adopted by the team in that off-season was the infamous Coors humidor. The Rockies began storing baseballs intended for play at a specific humidity--one no higher than normal for other cities, but one that guarantees, in theory, that the balls will be as slick as they're supposed to be and won't act like dried peas. Now Adam Coutts is wondering whether the Rockies are doing something funny with the humidor--somehow, perhaps, sticking opposing pitchers with dry balls and getting moist, heavy ones into the hands of their own pitchers. Why is he suspicious? Before the humidor was introduced, the Rockies' home-field advantage was .152, much higher than the major-league norm of about .100. Since the humidor was brought in, over 275 games, the advantage has been a positively outlandish .315. Most of the commenters in the BP thread don't believe this is, in itself, a reason for suspicion. Hey, it's obviously not probative, but still--.315??

The math-averse can avoid that article in favour of Ethan Skolnick's slice-of-life from the Sun-Sentinel about Tom Candiotti's participation in The knuckleballing Candyman, now a broadcaster, won 151 games in a 16-year big-league career. Skolnick paid US$20 to have Candiotti phone him personally with a canned message of inspiration. Then he called back for a real interview.

"My wife asked me to do it," Candiotti said. "She was reading People magazine and she said, 'What about this?' and she went to some Web site. She looked at the list and said, 'Hey, I can put you on the list.' And I said, 'OK, you want some spending money.' ...She's the one getting the check. We're almost out of diapers, so it's good for that."

Funniest part of the article? I shouldn't give it away, I guess, but I cracked up at this: "He is supposed to end each call in the allotted time. But he's too nice. He sometimes spends 20 minutes explaining to an inquisitive recipient how he threw the knuckler." Shoot, maybe he should go into business for himself. Is available?

- 12:36 am, August 24 (link)


From the New York Post's Page Six:

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds have also noted that the Governator [electing Schwarzenegger California governor] would be a "huge" mistake, and Cybill Shepherd is freaked out by the prospect of the Austrian-born action hero in the executive mansion.

"That would be the worst tragedy in the history of California," Shepherd hyperventilated to "Access Hollywood."

I guess the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 can just go screw itself! And I know we've all agreed to ignore the correct meaning of the word "tragedy", but should actors go along with that?

- 12:58 am, August 23 (link)

Rock over London, rock on, Chicago

Alternative Tentacles Records is reporting the death of Chicago's punk rock hero from the streets, Wesley Willis.

Dear Friends and fellow Wesleynauts,

We are deeply saddened to report that Wesley Willis passed away yesterday, Thursday, August 21st. Wesley will be greatly missed by all that had the privilege to know him, as well as the fans who have been fortunate enough to experience his genius.

Wesley was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) at the end of 2002, and had to undergo emergency surgery on June 2nd to identify the source of, and to suppress internal bleeding. It is not clear if this bleeding was related to his leukemia or not, and the exact cause of death is still unknown. Wesley had been recovering at a Hospice in Illinois, and since the surgery his health had deteriorated rapidly.

To be perfectly honest, Wesley lived longer than I expected him to. When I went to his packed Edmonton club show in the spring of 2001, he appeared to weigh at least 400 pounds, and before the show he seemed unhappy and only intermittently aware of his surroundings. When the fans started turning up in large numbers to buy CDs and greet Wesley with a headbutt, he cheered up. The nervous, abashed laughter of the indie kids changed quickly and became wholly unironic pleasure. Like any performer, Wesley fed off the crowd's energy, and the show was practically a religious experience. You had to be there.

MTV has an obituary with quotes from Jello Biafra. You can read or view Nardwuar's January 2002 interview with Wesley.

- 3:55 pm, August 22 (link)


The City of Edmonton has agreed to temporarily cease enforcing the civic smoking bylaw against Keep It Simple, the club for recovering alcoholics. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein tipped the scales on Wednesday by calling the city's actions "stupid".

David Aitken, the city's director of complaints and investigations, said Thursday that smoking can continue at the club Keep It Simple until there's a decision on whether it qualifies for a full exemption. That won't happen before city lawyer Steven Phipps, who drafted the bylaw, returns from holiday at the beginning of September.

...Aitken said the designation is in question after a meeting Thursday involving himself, a handful of city councillors, a city lawyer and club members. "In speaking with the co-owners of the establishment, they enlightened us as to the actual board of directors and club side of it, run as a non-profit group, which the (city) enforcement area wasn't aware of."

Keep It Simple was, of course, identified as a non-profit private club in the very first news stories on the issue a week ago. Pick up a newspaper next time, fellas! The club's desperate sots are now hoping for a permanent exception to city smoking law that will survive even after bars, casinos, and bingo halls are required to go smoke-free on July 1, 2005. But anything could change between now and then--like, for example, the membership of this city council (which faces re-election in October 2004). One hopes that even in so-called "Redmonton" you can only go so far in rubbishing the principles of consumer choice and private property.

- 10:43 am, August 22 (link)

California's got the Terminator; we've got the Burninator

I hope you saw Bourque's link to the new dark horse candidate in the Liberal leadership race before it moved off his front page. It's about damn time somebody tackled one of the major issues confronting Canada in the 21st century: the need for mandatory postmortem cremation.

Taints to which humanity and Canadians are prone are found in the soil, and this is largely due to the burial, down the ages, of billions of corpses. By the increased use of cremation, this condition will be steadily improved.

By the use of fire, all forms are dissolved; the quicker the human physical vehicle is destroyed, the quicker is its hold upon the withdrawing soul broken. ...If delay is necessary from family feeling, cremation should follow death within thirty-six hours; where no reason for delay exists, cremation can be rightly permitted in twelve hours. It is wise, however, to wait twelve hours in order to ensure true death.

It is proposed that all burials stop in the next five years. Current cemeteries will be allowed to remain for approximately 20 years, at which time they will be dismantled. It is recognized that this policy destroys certain market segments, hence the lengthy period of time to allow for transition. This is unfortunate for those individuals involved, but necessary for the health of the many. It is also recognized that certain religious groups will be very upset over this policy. The solution rests with education and a coming together of principles.

Speaking on behalf of humanity, and also Canadians, I think we have our next prime minister!

- 6:55 am, August 22 (link)


A choice bit from an L.A. Times snoozer on Schwarzenegger (via Romenesko):

Soon, the media had descended on Barbara Gasser, a reporter for Kleine Zeitung, the newspaper from Schwarzenegger's home province of Styria, Austria. Before long, she was doing stand-ups, telling radio and television reporters that her country is proud of the journey of the farm boy from the village of Thal.

"We are surprised and also very happy," Gasser said, "because he always says that he comes from Austria and from a small village. He shows everybody that they can do it too, even when they have obstacles to overcome."

Some in the press corps disapproved. "Reporters interviewing other reporters. Give me a break!" hissed one.

Obviously there are good reasons for an informal, non-absolute rule against interviewing other reporters, but when another reporter has some genuine expertise you don't that is relevant to the story, what the hell could the objection possibly be? Barbara Gasser is out of bounds for questions about Styria just because she works for a newspaper there? How? Why? This is a childish, reflexive view of "journalistic ethics", which is the common, deliberately misleading term for "ordinary ethics and good professional habits, as applied to journalism". Hissing, indeed! I suppose etiquette is just another one of those things they don't get around to teaching in J-school, along with math, economics, history, and scientific method...

- 3:11 pm, August 21 (link)

See this here egg-shaped ball?

You know the NFL season is getting close: Gregg "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" Easterbrook is back taking snaps. About a fifth of the way in, this week's AFC preview takes an unexpected turn!

Surely it's too cold up in Canada for cheer-babes in revealing outfits. But no! The Edmonton Eskimos (whom TMQ, if he tracked the CFL, would call the Edmonton Inuits) boast a squad of impressive aesthetic appeal.

Oddly enough, this potential revision of the "Eskimos" name is a recurring nightmare for your correspondent, as he once noted in a print piece about Easterbrook-style hypersensitivity over team nicknames. (Scroll down to find the bit: the headline was actually a stealthy tributary nod to TMQ, meant kindly although it was attached to a quasi-polemic with which he would certainly disagree.)

ACQ (Arctic Circle Quarterback) predicts a red-faced correction in next week's TMQ when someone points out that the formulation "Inuits" is a blunder. As every well-drilled Canadian schoolchild knows, "Inuit" is already the plural of the singular "Inuk".

Schoolchildren won't necessarily know--though a Brookings scholar might be expected to!--that "Inuit" and "Eskimo" are not interchangeable terms, in any case. There are indigenous people in the far north of Easterbrook's own beloved United States who are not Inuit and don't speak Inuktitut, but are--and call themselves--Eskimos. Steve Sailer explained the whole thing in a column last year. Put simply, all Inuit are Eskimos (and while some don't like to be called that, most do not mind); all Eskimos, however, are certainly not Inuit.

Fun fact: the Eskimos football club was founded in 1895, although at the time the team name (unofficial until 1910) was more commonly given the older French spelling then in use in Anglophone countries--"Esquimaux" (!). Canadians may have the second-best form of North American football these days, but it should be borne in mind that our league is of great antiquity, pre-dating the NFL by at least three decades. Moreover, the basic game of North American football was brought south by the players of McGill University, who taught the Harvard men in 1874 that they could pick up the ball and it wouldn't necessarily bite them. Running and tackling, old boy? The devil you say! Blame Canada by all means, but let's remember who had to show Americans what a "touchdown" was.

- 12:25 am, August 21 (link)


Fun! Tim Blair quoted me a couple of times in his neophyte's guide to the weblog universe for Australia's Bulletin magazine. On his site he also has a few spare observations that wouldn't fit in the print piece.

- 10:51 pm, August 20 (link)

Soft logs, hard heads

Crikey, I was never so glad to see my own byline. New from me in this morning's National Post: if a tree falls in the forest, how much will the NAFTA secretariat say it's worth?

Incidentally, if anyone wants to call my bluff and accept my invitation to read the new NAFTA panel decision, you can find the link near the top of this page. Fun footnote for Albertans: one of the signatures on the decision is that of Calgary Liberal and legal heavyweight Bill Code.

- 7:29 am, August 20 (link)

Accounting of whereabouts

Sometimes I disappear from here because I'm fooling around with baseball statistics (or some other kind) and Microsoft Excel. This is something about me, I'm afraid, that cannot be changed. The last bit of time here, I've been looking at pitching statistics.

Someday, for someone, I'd like to do a sports piece entitled something like "Behind Moneyball". I know other people have already tried to sell this idea without success... Michael Lewis's book about what Bill James called "the search for objective knowledge about baseball" has expanded the potential audience for "sabermetrics" (the ugly shorthand term) by about, I dunno, fivefold in something like six months. Unfortunately a lot of people have learned to say the three letters "OPS" without getting a real feel for any of the other things that are known about baseball, thanks to the work of James and others. Weirdly, James has become somewhat synonymous with OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) even though it's a shorthand metric he didn't use explicitly in his annual books. It was pioneered and pushed forward during the Dark Age of sabermetrics--the 1990s, between James' ceasing to write scientific annuals and the popularization of the World Wide Web.

Anyway, I found myself re-treading a timeworn sabermetric path for myself while I was playing around with pitching stats. As a way of familiarizing myself with new pitchers and changed stat norms, I was sorting pitchers into quintiles according to their rate stats and assigning them letter grades... wanted to see how they'd shape up. Pedro Martinez gets an A for throwing strikeouts, an A for preventing home runs, and a B for control: his rate of walks allowed is in the second-best quintile, not the top one. Jamie Moyer is a C student in all three categories. David Wells has F power--he doesn't strike anyone out anymore--but he's got the lowest rate of walks in the league, so he's an A there, and a C at stopping gopher balls. Roger Clemens this year gets an A, a B, and a C in the three categories.

I was doing this to see who was especially good or bad at what, exactly, amongst these defence-independent skills--which, taken all together, probably determine at least 80% of how well a pitcher is going to really perform. (Pitchers, with certain important exceptions, all allow pretty much the same rate of hits on balls put into play.) But once you have the chart in front of you, you rediscover an old maxim: a pitcher's strikeout rate is the single most important component, by far, of his overall performance.

If you rank the regular pitchers in the league by ERA, and assign letter grades to the performance components, you'll see that the guys with the lowest ERAs mostly have "A" grades in striking people out. The correlation is very, very strong. Of the top ten in ERA right this minute, seven have A's. Two--numbers nine and ten, Hideo Nomo and Mark Redman--have B's. Only Tim Hudson has a C. Over the ERA-ranked list generally, the A grades are clumped near the top and get scarcer as you go down. At the bottom, plenty of Ds and Fs. To pitch in the majors for any length of time, you have to be striking people out. You can do very well with a league-average strikeout rate or just below if you're good at all the other things and have a good defence behind you; otherwise, it's a tall order.

In the category of home run prevention, the correlation is a little weaker. Not much: at the very top, in fact, it's stronger--nine of ten ERA leaders are in the top quintile of HR-preventers. But the grades don't fall into quite as neat lockstep up and down the list. The Yankees' Jeff Weaver is perhaps the most notorious disappointment of the season so far, yet he has allowed very few homers, enough for an A in that category. It's his D grade in strikeouts that's doing him in.

And in control--preventing walks? The correlation is loose: positive, but loose. Nomo is in the top ten in ERA despite walking four men per nine innings, which is a hell of a lot--easily good for an F. There are many pitchers with D-grade control having OK seasons, and many with C grades having abhorrent ones.

Not to say that walks don't count: Kerry Wood is striking out 11 batters every nine innings, but walking four and a half of them. If he were walking two, he'd be Pedro Martinez. But Wood is a good example of how this works. He has an A for strikeout power and an F for control, and his ERA is seven-tenths of a run better than major-league average; he's having a fine season. Nobody with F power and A control, like David Wells, is doing nearly as well.

This all touches on what I call the Sabermetric Paradox. Throughout most of baseball history--to make a loose generalization--there was a strong taint of moral opprobrium attached to batters who struck out a lot and pitchers who gave up a lot of walks. That we say a pitcher "gave up" a walk, but never that a batter attained one, shows you how we still think about this. Yet we now know that striking out isn't such a bad outcome or indicator for an individual batter, within reason; his walk total is more important. For the batter, a walk is almost as good as a hit, but a strikeout is hardly any worse than some other kind of out. We also know, and this is the paradox, that it is more important for a pitcher to strike out many batters than to issue few walks. From his standpoint, a strikeout is very much better than a ball put in play, but a walk is hardly any worse.

This makes my head feel hot when I try to think it through, to be honest with you. How can the same outcome be of great importance to one party in the batter-pitcher confrontation but less so to the other party? I suppose we have to think of it this way, roughly speaking (and ignoring home runs): the pitcher has control of which bin an at-bat goes into--the Strikeout bin and the Everything Else bin. Once the at-bat is permitted to go into the Everything Else bin--once the batter makes contact--it's the batter who has control of where it goes from there. A batter with a lot of walks is making pretty good use of the at-bats placed in the E.E. bin by the pitcher. The pitcher's main task is to see that fewer of them get there in the first place.

No... my head still hurts. But I gave it a shot...

- 7:04 am, August 20 (link)

Hypocrite's lament

I participated in a poll of "right-wing webloggers" on "the greatest figures of the 20th century", knowing full well that the results would just irritate me. Fellow respondents who put "Mahatma Ghandi" [sic] on their list and left off Alexander Solzhenitsyn, as at least seven of them clearly did, might want to consider turning in their "right-wing" credentials.

Not that my own are so strong, mind you. In making my list and imagining the final results, I decided, in a moment of exasperation, not to choose any politicians at all. Then, somewhere along the line, I wilted and added Margaret Thatcher without extending the same courtesy to either Reagan or Churchill (though you can make a case for doing so!). But Reagan and Churchill didn't need my help in finishing one-two anyhow.

I'll leave you with six particularly curious omissions from the webloggers' top 20, aside from Solzhenitsyn:

The Wright Brothers
Robert H. Goddard
Guglielmo Marconi
George Orwell
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web (doh!)

- 11:12 pm, August 17 (link)

Accentuate the contradictions

The latest on the City of Edmonton's attempt to destroy a private liquor-free club for alcoholics: city mayor and certifiable cretin Bill Smith says the idea of making an exception to the city's anti-smoking bylaw for Keep It Simple is "insane." Funny, I'd have thought mindlessly persecuting a harmless bunch of dry drunks in the run-up to a civic election was "insane", but there you go--I didn't vote for the man anyway, and the thousands of horse's asses who did cannot possibly be surprised by his witless brutalitarianism.

I don't know which local paper had the Keep It Simple story first, but Journal intern Jason Markusoff (who interviewed me a few months ago about the demise of the Report magazine) is doing a good job with it. My ex-colleague and good pal Mike Jenkinson over at the Sun had an excellent editorial on the affair, but sadly his paper gives you about 15 hours rather than 15 days to look at archived content, and I missed my chance to link to him.

[UPDATE, August 18: As Monday morning breaks, the city is remaining stubborn.]

[UPDATE, August 22: Global humiliation has forced the city to finally relent, for the time being.]

- 10:01 pm, August 17 (link)

Men, marble, memory

I interrupt your day to ask you to spare a thought for George Washington Glick, a distinguished man robbed by history.

I read somewhere earlier today--probably this is well known--that each U.S. state is allowed to send two statues of prominent citizens to Washington to be placed on permanent display in the Capitol. "That's pretty interesting," I thought to myself, wondering immediately who had been chosen from certain states. It turns out that a full, updated list with links to images is maintained at the website of the Architect of the Capitol. It's a very neat little walk through a panorama of American history and portrait sculpture. The featured worthies are citizens both obscure and world-historical, and portrait sculptures range from the matchless art of Houdon to--well, the less said about the Father Damien portrait, the better.

Three states--New Mexico, Nevada, and North Dakota--still have one space apiece left in the National Statuary Hall. They are well advised to consider carefully. Some states are unlikely to have cause to regret their two choices: I think we can agree that it would be hard to find better representatives of the specifically Virginian spirit than George Washington and Robert E. Lee, although no doubt the latter statue will one day be pulled down and replaced by an image of Sally Hemings. Certainly some states have concluded, with the passage of time, that their early choices were premature. In the year 2000, a new federal law gave states the power to request the replacement of one or both of their statues in the Hall.

So far, this power has been used only once. Kansas chose two citizens to be honoured in 1905 and 1914, only to see a sort-of-native son (actually a transplanted Texan) become the supreme commander of the free world in arms. This year, Ike was installed in the Capitol and Governor G.W. Glick (1827-1911) was quietly done away with. People just don't appreciate the value of a good livestock sanitary commission anymore, I guess.

To be fair, the governor's effigy is probably quite content to be transferred to the Kansas state house, and happy to defer to the saviour of liberal democracy in Europe. But the implications are ominous. Already there is talk of supplanting Glick's old Statuary Hall partner, the caustic abolitionist J.J. Ingalls, with--of all people--Amelia Earhart, an aviatrix best known for getting lost and staying that way. Hey, fighting against slavery is one thing, but we can't let our appreciation interfere with the sacred principle of gender balance, am I right?

I would warn anyone against venturing to say "But at least we know who Amelia Earhart was; who now remembers J.J. Ingalls?" Certainly almost nobody remembers him, but if they were to happen by his image and be struck by its particular character, they might just ask who he was and what he did. That's supposed to frigging be the frigging point of putting up frigging statues, goddammit.

- 9:40 pm, August 17 (link)

Sunday morning quarterback

Hey, what are you looking at? Go 'way, I'm on deadline. You know what a hung-over freelancer says when he wakes up and realizes he's on deadline, don't you? That's right: "Life is so unfair!"

Actually, I'm in fine shape--just a mite dehydrated. First thing I did upon waking was to go see how Mike Weir's doing after three rounds of the PGA. He's three strokes back of a couple of gormless-looking Americans, so he's positioned well for a Sunday charge. Can you believe how tenaciously this guy's stayed in the hunt? It used to be news when a Canadian had even a sniff of a lead at a major. "Dick Zokol finishes twelfth"--that would be a front-page headline in the sports section, here, in the old days. In fact, Calgary's Stephen Ames is quietly having what would have been a stunning year for a Canadian golfer before Weir took his game into world-top-ten territory. Nobody's paying much attention: like so many of us, Steve was born at the wrong time.

I spent the full evening last night, round the pub, staring at the broad besevened back of a jarheaded, roughhousing fratlout in a Michael Vick jersey. So I have to admit to a horrendous snort of impulsive laughter when I went to look for golf news and saw a wire photo of Vick crumpled and clutching his right fibula, which was smashed to kindling in a pre-season game last night. Isn't it awful, the things your brain will make you laugh at? I have nothing but love for Mike Vick, whose introduction of actual entertainment to the NFL pitch seems to have enraged the gods. But when I thought of that guy from the bar seeing Vick snarling with pain in the newspaper--or, more probably, on TV--I just couldn't help myself.

- 9:20 am, August 17 (link)

Why I am a libertarian

There's a "bar" on Edmonton's north side that's not really a bar. It's called Keep It Simple, and it's a private club for recovering alcoholics and drug abusers in 12-step programs. Needless to say, a very large majority of such people smoke cigarettes. On July 1 the City of Edmonton stepped up its ban on public smoking, allowing only establishments with a liquor license to permit smoking indoors. As Jason Markusoff reports in today's Edmonton Journal, a bylaw enforcement officer visited Keep It Simple and ordered the club to get a liquor license.

Yes, you read that right--an officer enforcing a health regulation ordered a club for recovering alcoholics to get a liquor license. But wait--it gets worse. The club's application was turned down by the province.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission refused to issue [the club] a licence Thursday, because they weren't planning to actually sell liquor.

"They weren't looking for a liquor licence, they were looking for a smoking licence," said Alberta Gaming spokeswoman Marilyn Carlyle-Helms.

Sneering arrogance plus stupidity and cruelty! It really takes public-sector training to pack all these things into just 14 words.

[UPDATE, August 17: the Journal remains on the case.]

- 5:38 pm, August 15 (link)

Special guest star

Since I don't offer comment threads here, I don't often add to them on other sites, either--but very occasionally I do indulge.

- 11:18 am, August 15 (link)

Fuel's gold

Who ultimately foots the bill when carbon emissions are taxed? It's one of the $64 questions of environmental regulation, but you won't have to pay a dime to find the answer in my new column for TechCentralStation.

- 10:46 am, August 15 (link)

CP's PC PC piece

The Canadian Press, covering the federal Progressive Conservative caucus retreat, solicited some opinions on "same-sex marriage". And by the way, didn't we used to have a word "homosexual" in this language? Where did this "same-sex" horsecrap come from--caveman times? "Sorry, me not attracted to Urg. Urg of same sex as me. Not that anything wrong with Urg."

Anyway, see if you can tell what's missing from this same-sexcerpt:

One possibility supported by MP Scott Brison is the idea of civil unions. "The way to avoid the morally charged issue of the word 'marriage' would be to have a registered domestic partnership available to all Canadians and effectively get the government out of the marriage business completely," said Brison.

[Jeopardy music plays.] Time's up! The misplaced datum here is that Scott Brison is gay (and out). CP didn't think this was worth mentioning. I understand their squeamishness, but to my mind CP's observation of political niceties here only deprives Brison of extra credibility he deserves on this issue. The position he's taking is not only sound on its own merits, but it shows that Brison, despite his relevant personal stake in the issue, respects the Canadian consensus on the social singularity of the concept "marriage". He is prepared to defer, despite belonging to a certain interest group, what many members of that group regard as an essential moral entitlement. Whether he's right to take that attitude, isn't it indicative of a certain courage on his part, or at least independence of mind? In any event, shouldn't the reader be allowed to judge?

Like all politically correct gestures, the one CP has made here is pathologically destructive of vital nuances. Brison has often said "I'm gay but I'm not a 'gay politician'." It's important to him that people understand this and appreciate the distinction. And he's walking the walk. He couldn't possibly be offended if someone implicitly pointed out "Hey, here's a gay chap in politics who is trying to find a way to represent all sides on this issue." CP got cold feet anyway: it crammed its reporting into a prison of verbal rules. (Not that it's unusual these days.) Boooo.

- 10:48 pm, August 13 (link)


Fresh off the CBC website:

VANCOUVER - The RCMP and its counter-terrorism unit are investigating a possible link between terrorists and drugs in Vancouver.

Cpl. Pierre Lemaitre says the circumstances that led to the death of a man in the city's West End on the weekend are still being pieced together. The man died from his injuries after falling from a balcony, trying to escape from police. Lemaitre says the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) is still investigating. Its job is to identify potential extremist threats inside Canada.

The what who hey now? INSET? What's with this "INSET" business?

That was my reaction, anyway: probably a lot of you recognized the acronym immediately and nodded sagely. If not, you may be wondering why something called an INSET (there are actually four of them) is doing a job that sounds very much like the traditional responsibility of CSIS, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

As best I can infer, the background seems to be thus: Canada's law-enforcement apparatus was jolted awake like the rest of us on September 11, 2001, spent the day watching TV and trembling and whispering "Holy Jesus Murphy in Heavenopolis"--like the rest of us--and decided that the historic decision to divide ordinary policing from intelligence-gathering and national-security functions had been an error. The INSETs are the mechanism of repair, and as with the mechanism devised for the same function in the United States, it was deemed convenient to multiply agencies rather than merge them. Hey, just because a couple buildings fell down doesn't mean anyone wants to get bumped down in a public-service hierarchy.

To quote from an RCMP statement on the new "integrated policing" that appeared in the force's in-house magazine, Pony Express:

"Prior to September 11, the national security program within the RCMP was, for the most part, isolated from mainstream law enforcement," says Supt. Wayne Pilgrim, the officer in charge of the National Security Investigations Branch, which monitored and co-ordinated Project Shock.

"After September 11, many of the tangible and intangible barriers were taken down," he states. "This has facilitated partnership-building internally and externally."

...[This led to] the creation of Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSETs), comprised of representatives from across the RCMP and partner agencies at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

"At the heart of INSETs is the philosophy that they are intelligence-led and integrated," Pilgrim says. "We want to expand this concept to national security investigation areas across the country, so no matter where you are, the integration philosophy is being applied."

This philosophy has already taken root in the form of secondments within and between federal departments and agencies involved in national security. For instance, the Criminal Intelligence Directorate has seconded an inspector-level employee from CSIS to head up the Threat Assessment Section within the National Security Investigations Branch. In turn, the RCMP has provided an inspector to the CSIS management team. Similar exchanges exist with Transport Canada and the Canadian Security Establishment.

Anyone still awake? The INSETs are not to be confused with the IBETs (Integrated Border Enforcement Teams) or the IMETs (Integrated Marine Enforcement Teams).

It is a good thing, of course, for law enforcement to take terrorism seriously. Even if it weren't a good thing, changed American priorities and American suspicion of our freewheeling multicultural "mosaic", whose grimier tiles include everything from reformed airplane hijackers to exiled Somali warlords, would make it inevitable here in Canada. My question is, does one person within the Canadian government have control of and responsibility for all these new "teams" (for which read "bureaucratic empires")? You can foresee the problems that might arise if the answer is "No".

God may strike me dead for betraying the libertarian conscience--or possibly seeming to contradict past jibes about the U.S. Department of, ugh, Homeland Security--but if counterterrorism is going to be such a big priority from now on, maybe there ought to be a cabinet minister for it? If you're going to tie together the functions of the RCMP and CSIS (who are answerable to the Solicitor General) and Customs (whose boss is the Ministry of Customs and Revenue) and the Coast Guard (Fisheries and Oceans) and the Transport ministry, who ends up being the boss? Is there one? A Zen koan, perhaps?

- 8:02 pm, August 13 (link)


On July 8, this weblog made note of the following fact:

I must take this opportunity to tip my hat to AlbertaViews, a handsome glossy bimonthly in the ever-beleaguered tradition of dissent from Alberta's large-C conservative rule and small-c conservative habits of mind. The paid part of its circulation does not amount to ten thousand copies, yet it has outlived its grubby, strident, vastly more popular opposite, Alberta Report. And that's scarcely a surprise, for its publisher, Jackie Flanagan, is married to Allan Markin, chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (2002 revenues: US$2.6 billion).

While the statement was factually accurate, it has now transpired that Ms. Flanagan commenced an acrimonious, clownish divorce against Mr. Markin the very next day. regrets any inadvertent implication that the pair constituted a happy, contented partnership.

(And, quite seriously, don't fail to click on that last link if you're in the mood for a belly laugh. Nice to know Canada's the kind of country where you can become a millionaire while still being plumb crazy enough to kidnap a dog and put it on a vegetarian diet.)

- 11:19 am, August 13 (link)

Collision alert!

Readers waiting with bated breath for my next Post piece will have to wait just a bit longer; I spent Monday writing an op-ed on the fate of the Canadian Grand Prix, but by some mischance a more senior columnist filed a piece on the same material in the meantime. I could re-sell my op-ed to another daily, but based on late experience, I think trying to crowbar another piece into the Post by week's end is a better use of the time. I'm also mindful of my debt to the kindhearted readers of this weblog, so I'm going to slap the bounced op-ed up here. This is a piece commissioned by the Post, and a kill fee is en route--and since their kill fees are larger than many other newspapers' actual column rates, an acknowledgment of their generosity is in order. (If anyone still wants to reprint it, drop me a line!)

I have a confession to make: I am a victim of Formula One tobacco advertising. I was first inspired to try my current brand by memories of the most beautiful livery in the history of auto racing, the gold and black used to flog a certain coffin nail by Team Lotus between 1972 and 1986. I walk alongside the great Senna on every step toward cancer. Of course, I was already a smoker by the time this romantic reverie influenced my habits. Advertising didn't make me smoke; I have always felt it was giving advertising far too much credit to argue that it could. (Don't illegal, unbranded drugs fare pretty well in the marketplace without ads?) All the advertising did was to encourage me to try these cigarettes in particular.

Still, some will say it's all part of Big Tobacco's sinister conspiracy against the public, and who am I to argue? "A rational, autonomous adult human", you say? Sorry, we don't have those in Canada anymore.

The long and comic story of Ottawa's war on cigarette advertising took a weird turn this weekend with conflicting reports on the future of the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix. After October 1, racing teams will be forbidden to promote cigarette brands on their cars in Canadian races. The chief executive of Canada's GP, held annually in June, announced Thursday that the race had been dropped from the 2004 calendar. F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone was quizzed on the cancellation and denied that any decision had been made. Whether or not there is a 2004 race, the long-term fate of Formula One in Canada seems clear. There are a half-dozen Asian governments who will be happy to take our place in the schedule and let the teams advertise whatever they like, as long as it's not an opposition political party.

It is interesting that the effect of the new legislation will be to transfer a supposedly potent form of tobacco promotion to the less-developed world. If branded liveries really create new smokers, surely they will create a lot more in China than they ever did in Canada. From an internationalist standpoint--one the federal government is normally happy to assume--portable forms of tobacco advertising should obviously be encouraged to remain in Western societies, where the public is relatively well-informed about the hazards of smoking. Why are the professional protesters of the Left silent on this issue? I want to see them outside 24 Sussex with signs saying "Banning tobacco ads means exporting death".

Alas, it doesn't seem likely. Canadians, on the whole, seem to rue the loss of our annual F1 festival. It is a real cause for grief that Ferraris may no longer inscribe new legends in tire rubber on the great papyrus of Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. It is enough of a cause for grief, I think, that we may be inclined to ask why we are doing this to ourselves.

Consider the costs and benefits. Anyone still smoking in Canada is bound to be damned stubborn about it, whether on rational grounds or not; no one will quit just because the Liberals drove Formula One out of Canada (although some may take up the habit out of sheer spite). Perhaps tobacco advertising on Formula One cars creates a trivial number of new, young smokers, but the research I've seen on such advertising suggests that its main effect, as in my case, is to persuade people who already smoke to consider switching brands. Banning such advertising will thus punish public-spirited tobacco companies who fund cultural and sporting activities in order to promote their brands. It may well be a positive help in maintaining Canadian market share for tobacco brands that don't invest in Canadian culture.

That seems like a funny sort of benefit. The one unquestionable gain from the policy is that Liberal cabinet ministers and anti-smoking crusaders will get to feel good about themselves for an afternoon or so. I wouldn't want to underestimate the value of that, but the cost in ruined livelihoods seems a tad high.

We had developed, in this country, a system whereby tobacco companies could soft-sell their brands through a sort of legal trickery. You might have noticed that that jazz festival in your downtown was not sponsored by Du Maurier cigarettes but by the "Du Maurier Arts Council", whose logo is an oddly familiar red colour. The positive good done for Canadian culture under this regime has been overwhelming--and the harm, if any harm has been done, has been voluntarily accepted by those who choose to buy and smoke cigarettes. Smokers, in effect, have been given the chance to advance the causes of art and sport at a certain cost to themselves.

The government, too, uses tobacco revenue to accomplish its work. I am not convinced it is nearly as efficient about it, or as responsive to public priorities, as the tobacco companies are. You may feel that there are cold, logical public-health calculations behind the government's war against the last quirky remnant of Canadian tobacco advertising. Me, I suspect they're motivated by pure, plain, sickening jealousy.

- 12:05 pm, August 12 (link)

Amblin' entertainment

The Ambler has a geographic deconstruction of my ill-fated trip home from the football game; since my house is within ambling distance of the stadium, he wonders why I did not, in fact, choose to amble the rest of the way.

Any cigarette smoker--and the Ambler has been known to partake--should have been able to anticipate the answer. While my ultimate destination was relatively close, I was out of butts and needed to find an all-night store selling my brand. My house is indeed within the boundaries of Kevin's map; in fact, it's wedged in one corner of it. The nearest suitable store is not within the boundaries of the map; it is situated well beyond an entirely different corner of it.

The full trek would still have been possible for an ambitious pedestrian, I suppose. I'll plead guilty to misdemeanour shiftlessness, but the felony accusation is a bum rap. I trust the prosecution will not insult the jury's intelligence by asking why I couldn't have gone without nicotine until a nearer store opened its doors in the morning.

- 2:43 pm, August 11 (link)

A haus divided

I learned something about running a political campaign today, watching the coverage of the California Recallympics. I'm writing it down here because I'll be more likely to remember it later that way. Remember what I said about Arnold and the immigration issue the other day?

You ask Arnold about immigration, he's going to give you his speech about how an Austrian farm boy can come to the U.S.A. with two and a half pfennigs in his pocket and become the biggest box-office star in the world and blah blah blah... he's never, ever going to have to get around to actually answering a question on that subject.

In fact, it turned out that there had been just such an exchange on the Tonight Show appearance; I almost even had the wording right. And no, Arnold didn't answer the question, really. But some clever California Democrat came up with a way to lay a glove on the Styrian Studmuffin. Observe the lede from an AP wire story that ran today on

Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign said Sunday that the actor had voted for Proposition 187, the divisive 1994 ballot measure to deny social services to illegal immigrants, offering a glimpse at one of his policy stances.

Ignore the implications of that adjective "divisive" for a moment (remember, Liberal Media Bias Does Not Exist). What do you notice about the news peg here? The focus is not on what Arnold thinks. The focus is on his historic behaviour, on the way he has acted. The reporters who will be pressing Arnold for policy statements will now have a scalpel they can use to cut to the heart of his real position. "Here's how you actually voted: can you account for it?" It's a remarkable flourish, I think. Somebody in an opposition-research mill had to have received a tip (maybe from a troublemaking Kennedy relative?) that Arnold voted a certain way on Prop 187. When Arnold announced his candidacy, that information had to be retrieved, and then someone had to come up with a method to put that knowledge to use in a socially acceptable way--namely by drafting a reporter to force the campaign staff to give a yes/no answer on Prop 187. It all happened in a heartbeat.

Now, the "divisive" Prop 187 did win 59%-41% at the ballot box, a fact scarcely ever mentioned even by its remaining defenders. So if some distance has been put hereby between Arnold and his Hispanic support, he has the chance to win it back by playing to the three-fifths of Californians who thought denying social services to illegal immigrants was a pretty good idea. That's assuming it's still only three-fifths, what with the state budget an international laughingstock and all.

- 8:08 pm, August 10 (link)

Hack vs. hacks

Well, the football game couldn't have been better: 44,000 people showed up, the weather stayed nice and cool without the threatened thunderstorm ever appearing, and above all, the Eskimos pasted the Argos 49-20. And that score's generous: a lot of people filed out while it was 42-7. Ricky Ray, our starting QB with the strange technique and the nerves of steel, went 20-for-23 before coming out of the rout. The Eskimos, perhaps inspired by talk of their coach's job being on the line, reversed the unhappy trend they've shown of throwing away games on dumb penalties. They drew five last night to the Boatmen's 17.

The depressing part came after the game as I was trying to get home from the stadium. I hoofed it as far as 95 St., hoping that it would be easier to get a taxi if I got far enough away from the stadium crowd, and parked myself on the steps of the old Odd Fellows' hall on 112 Ave. When I called for a cab they told me it'd be about 15 minutes.

Forty minutes later, I called back. "Am I ever gonna get a cab here?"

"I'll put a check and a rush on that for you."

At T-plus-sixty--by which time I was getting to be on a first-name basis with just about every hooker in the city--I called again. "Is there something wrong with this corner? It's not like the Odd Fellows hall is hard to spot." You just have to look for the huge fucking sign that says ODD FELLOWS.

"We're sorry for the delay--there was a football game tonight." By this time, it would have been more accurate for the dispatcher to say "last night". "I'll put a check and a rush on it." Super.

Forty-five more minutes pass, making a total of 105 since my original call. I am attaining Zen unity with the concrete steps. Even the whores have gone to bed--to sleep, that is. My cell phone battery is getting desperately low on juice. I call back.

"What, exactly, do you recommend I do here?"

"Well, the drivers don't like to make corner pickups," dispatcher No. 4 tells me. "They tend to get ripped off more often." This is lovely, hearing this; how much do I have to spend with this cab company to get my name recognized? $10,000 over two years isn't enough? "I'm sorry about the frustrating experience," Mr. Sympathy adds, "but there's only so much we can do."

My forbearance, normally the stuff of legend, snaps like a dry twig. "Yeah, and apparently it doesn't include sending me a goddamned taxicab."

His voice becomes uncannily like that of Lily Tomlin's irritating telephone operator. "Sir, if you're going to be rude, I'll hang up and suggest you call somebody else." In that order? Does he think I haven't been suggesting this to myself for the last hour? Why am I more reluctant to sever this commercial relationship than he is?

"I'm not aware of having said anything rude," I say. "I'm certainly not aware of having said anything that's more rude than telling someone you'll send them a taxi in 15 minutes and then leaving them marooned for close to two hours in a shitty part of town."

A stalemate, really, but the dispatcher recouped enough of his common sense not to hang up, for which he should receive a lavish Christmas gift from the drivers whose kids I'm sending to college. I cancelled the order, walked another five blocks to a well-lit business with a recognizable address, called back, and had a cab in another twenty minutes. I wouldn't have been terribly unwilling to do so before, but I had to fight them to get them to suggest the best course of action. Why?

It's because the taxi business, here as in most other cities, hasn't been deregulated. New plates are never auctioned off: the cab commission is captive to the current plate-holders, whose licenses have become ever more lucrative family heirlooms, continually appreciating in market value. It's an Elizabethan monopoly shared amongst a class of greedheaded "noblemen". This city's population, as I understand it, has grown from 650,000 to 900,000 without any new taxi licenses being created. Anyone with an ounce of sense could see that there is something wrong here--and the younger cabbies, who have been more or less legally barred from buying their own cabs and competing with older entrenched colleagues (or their idiot nephews), will be happy to explain it to you.

Calgary's very similar system is scheduled to be challenged before the Supreme Court of Canada in the fall; if the indie drivers there succeed in forcing Calgary to create new plates, Edmonton will probably have to follow suit. This will set fire to a lot of unjustly accumulated fortunes, and allow for new, independent cab companies that have a paramecium's appreciation of customer service. The challenge, to be honest, is founded on a somewhat dodgy technical basis relating to the language of the provincial Municipal Government Act. But it won at the provincial appeal court level, and after last night I'm pulling extra hard for the Supremes to ratify that ruling.

Hey, I'll probably stay loyal to my current company, despite everything: they have the largest fleet in town, and the drivers are invariably amiable--a few of them have even become friends. I don't intend to switch providers. If the SCOC introduces a jolt of competition to the industry, I probably won't have to switch to realize the benefits.

[UPDATE, August 11: There's a brief follow-up supra.]

- 12:07 pm, August 10 (link)

Are you ready for the futuboro?

Whoa! This place has suddenly become as poorly tended as my backyard. I can only plead that I've been caught up in a social whirlwind, along with a slight clutch of paying work. Well, non-paying preparation for paying work, anyway; it's shocking how much of that stuff there is in freelance life.

Tonight, if everything goes according to plan, I'll be attending the Toronto Argonauts-Edmonton Eskimos game at Commonwealth Stadium, the 60,000-seat concrete monstrosity that is celebrating its 25th anniversary. I still have nothing encouraging to write about the struggling Eskimos. It may seem counterintuitive to describe a 4-3 team as "struggling", but of the four wins two came against 0-8 Hamilton, one against a second-year expansion team (the Ottawa Renegades), and one against Calgary, which is quite clearly bound for the West Division basement. Dissatisfaction with the coaching staff is marked right now, and this home-and-home series against Toronto is a make-or-break moment for the season. I'm anticipating "break", being of pessimistic temper. Somehow all the other quality teams, in the offseason, upgraded their special teams to a superhuman level--there are all these robot placekickers and star punt returners now. It's a new and upsetting development for me, as an Eskimos fan, to watch my team concede yards on every exchange of possessions.

The game'll keep me busy until quite late (it's an 8:00 local start time) but I'll be back with content overnight or tomorrow morning, I promise.

- 5:47 pm, August 9 (link)

Insert Total Recall joke here

So Arnold is running for governor of California. Does anybody need me to specify a surname there? No? It's an old showbiz cliché that being identifiable by your first name alone is a sign of truly high-watt stardom. The people who can be described in this way are often simply those with unusual or counterintuitive names, but it is true that they must at least have the star power to bind those names to themselves, and themselves alone, for a good long time. I pity males who have reached adulthood with the names "Drew" or "Cameron" and who now may find themselves receiving mail headed "Dear Miss So-and-So...". I myself am waiting with dread to find out what gender the first major star named "Colby" will be.

Personally I was hoping that the Republican celebrity to come out of the woodwork for the California recall race would be legendary '70s guitarist and Pentagon missile-defence analyst Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, who lives in Sherman Oaks. Schwarzenegger seems like a Republican by default rather than conviction--somebody who came to America, succeeded in America, and found that his emotional sympathies naturally gravitated toward the party that loves America unconditionally.

(Since I'm just busting through some mild writer's block here anyway, you won't mind if I digress on those last three words... somebody, I think it was Jude Wanniski, devised an idea now often heard that the Republicans are America's "Daddy Party" and the Democrats are the "Mommy Party". Doesn't the metaphor work equally well the other way around? The Republicans are the party of unconditional approval of the United States and all its actions; they're a Mommy that supports all its foreign adventures and endorses its past conduct wherever possible. From the Democrats, a statement of love for America always comes with a hidden caveat or a frustrated sigh; they're more of a humourless Daddy, on the Kurtwood Smith ["That '70s Show", Dead Poets Society] model. Sure, sure, we love the little bastard, but we wish he'd clean up his room and take out the trash more often.)

Now, on the other hand, Arnold could have switched parties anytime, and he's presumably been under constant familial pressure to do so. In terms of domestic policy I'm not aware of anything he's ever said that would make the mainstream of the Democratic Party especially uncomfortable. He talks a lot about the Kennedys--how they started the Peace Corps, laid the groundwork for the Great Society, all that expensive tommyrot. He thinks Head Start is the cat's pyjamas. When Bush Sr. invited Arnold to be the national Fitness Czar, Arnold didn't object on constitutional grounds (not that more than one Republican in a hundred would); he didn't even object on the grounds that an office dedicated to promotion of the cult of the body might not be the best place in public life for the son of a member of the SA.

My guess is that Arnold didn't cross over because Arnold is a Reaganite, and will be until the day he dies. All right, his Austrian origins allow for cheap shots like the one in that last paragraph. But Austria also shared borders with Communist East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. It's slotted in amongst those countries (OK, mostly ex-countries) like a chicken bone in Joe Stalin's throat--which is pretty much what it was. Austria was the neutral eye in the Cold War hurricane, and an Austrian understands well what Reagan meant to history. Europeans from east of a certain geographic line persist in Republican sympathies, as the Second Gulf War demonstrated, and will probably do so for another hundred years. Compared to a bond like this, having a Kennedy wife (and even children) doesn't count for so much.

[UPDATE, 11:47 pm: David Janes gets a gold star for reminding me--I emphasize that word, reminding--that Austria did not border on East Germany.]

This kind of candidate--a born National Greatness Conservative who can talk up a Kennedy line on domestic policy--seems suited to the California scene in a multi-sided fight amongst pygmies. Starting today, you are going to see a lot of commentators race towards contrarian territory: Arnie Can't Win. But be careful not to underestimate him. He has, without question, spent the last two weeks taking a crash course on California's problems, and particularly the budget crisis. Arnold has an M.B.A., so the concepts should be well within his grasp. And even if you suspect, as I do, that M.B.A. degrees are mostly content-free, the man's still a self-educator par excellence. Hardboiled journos will approach Arnold, to begin with, as giggly fans: when he demonstrates a modestly competent command of the relevant rhetoric, as I expect he will, they're going to physically melt.

Anyway, what could they really bushwhack him with, exactly? The immigration issue? You ask Arnold about immigration, he's going to give you his speech about how an Austrian farm boy can come to the U.S.A. with two and a half pfennigs in his pocket and become the biggest box-office star in the world and blah blah blah... he's never, ever going to have to get around to actually answering a question on that subject. And as Democratic consultant Patrick Reddy pointed out in NRO, Arnold already performs well with Hispanic voters; his lead in name-recognition amongst them will be positively insurmountable.

Not that I know anything about California, really; maybe I am underestimating the potential for an overt class-warfare attack, or something of the sort. But Arnold looks to me, psephologically, like Reagan with fewer negatives. I'm really sort of glad he's excluded from the Presidency. I don't know that I like the idea of an ex-bodybuilder president... it would be hard for me to trust (even to the microscopic degree I'm willing to extend trust to any politician) someone whose will was that strong, you know? I always figure that if your personality is that mutable, if your soul is so easily set aside in favour of some teleological project of self-reinvention, then maybe your real character wasn't very strong in the first place. Perhaps it sounds defensive to say so, but nothing's more pathetic than someone who needs to assert his strength that visibly. You want to know, if you have any imagination, what the hell it is he's so busy overcoming.

[UPDATE, August 10: The saga continues here.]

- 2:04 am, August 7 (link)


From the MedPost's story on the federal government's plan to make physicians instead of pharmacists the providers of medical marijuana:

The Canadian Medical Association recommends doctors at the grassroots don't participate.


- 4:21 pm, August 6 (link)

'I was even compared to Saddam Hussein'

The latest Medical Post has a head-scratcher on the subject of why people sometimes seem to hate and fear medical officers of health. They're sometimes regarded as political, apparently, even though all they do is take positions on "medical issues"--you know, like gun control, the Kyoto Protocol, and violent television programs. Read the piece, which is valuable despite being one-sided. All the relevant facts are there: MOHs draft laws, are responsible for enforcing laws, and at the same time believe they should be immune from "arbitrary firing" even by the (unelected!) boards who appoint them. In short, they have power over every aspect of human life that can conceivably be regarded as "medical", and regard accountability as objectionable. Hey--where's the problem exactly?

- 4:15 pm, August 6 (link)

We won! Ouch! We won!

I'm pulling for Research in Motion Ltd., the Canadian maker of the Blackberry handheld computer, to survive its ongoing U.S. patent battle. That said, I think they've become eligible for a Least Convincing Spin of 2003 Award. Here's how the Canadian Press and RIM framed yesterday's decision in a Virginia federal court:

Research In Motion Ltd. claimed an interim victory Tuesday in an American court case in which tens of millions of dollars and its ability to sell its products in the United States are at stake. ..."This ruling favoured RIM and allows RIM to continue selling its products and services in the United States without interruption," Research In Motion stated Tuesday evening.

This is an interesting use of the word "favoured", in light of several facts. First of all, RIM is appealing the decision, so it appears they aren't quite satisfied with the "favour". Second, they've got every reason not to be, since the decision awards $50 million to the plaintiff and will end sales of core RIM products in the United States if it isn't overturned on appeal. Third, the company's stock lost about 20% of its value right away when news of the decision emerged. And fourth, analysts are spending Wednesday downgrading the stock. If this is "interim victory", it's hard to imagine what defeat would look like.

- 10:55 am, August 6 (link)

Er... I guess that would be yes, based on what I wrote

New from me in the National Post: is rodeo a religion?

- 9:11 am, August 6 (link)

Where rationally ignorant armies clash by night

Eugene Volokh--what a clear-headed and clever man. Now I think I know what people really mean when they call someone frighteningly intelligent: they mean that he invents a new concept in order to warn, or forecast, that someone might actually one day put it into practice. Will he deserve praise or blame when "guided electronic voting" destroys the American party system? Or neither?

- 10:06 pm, August 5 (link)

When inarticulacy 'outways' liberty

Matt Welch, wearing his Hit & Run hat, passes on this exchange from a U.S. News interview with Democratic golden boy Howard Dean, M.D.:

You were at Yale from 1967 to '71. What were you like?
I had long hair. My drug of choice was beer. I didn't generally engage in an excessive lifestyle. I mean, you know, I dabbled in a little of this and a little of that. We did some heavy-duty partying, but I didn't do anything outrageous.

Did you ever break the law?
I'm not going to answer that.

And that, apparently, was that. Drug use is a strictly private affair--if you're a presidential candidate rather than a plaintiff. Dr. Dean has been pretty cagey about his stand on the War on Drugs per se. Here's what he calls "a short summary of my drug policy", typed out laboriously onto a thread at I'll leave the punctuation, idiom, and capitalization intact for the benefit of those who may be considering sending their children to Yale.

1) drug abuse ought to be treated as a public health problem not a judicial problem. I do not favor legalization because we already have enough problems with the two drugs that are legal, alcohol and tobacco. I also believe that if people are dealing heroin to kids or shooting people that jail is more than appropriate. But if your "crime", is being a substance abuser you belong in rehab, not jail. 2)I will order the FDA to study marijuana to see what medicinal effects it may have. I do not think marijuana should have a process different than every other drug to evaluate whether or not it has medical value. Based on the studies I have read, my guess is that the FDA may find that is useful in patients with HIV/Aids, and various forms of cancer, but not for such things as treating glaucoma, where there are other drugs available, and where the risks outway the benefits.

Dean has given other versions of this statement in other venues and actually been lauded for the punchy honesty, the refreshing directness, of it. "Drug abusers should receive treatment, and you should probably go to jail if you shoot somebody." This is considered a drug policy in the contemporary United States. Honest to God, I am banging my forehead against the desk here. Wait, though--it gets better. Dig this excerpt from a July 2002 interview with Dean:

How about drug use? There was an article in the Bridge, a local paper here, on heroin use in Montpelier, and I've also talked to libertarians who are concerned about the war on drugs.
You get 'em all the perspectives [sic], but you don't get them from the middle that's for sure.

Well I want to make sure I get a balanced picture.
You can get a balanced picture by going here and here [stretching arms far apart] or you can get a balanced picture by going here [draws hands close together].

That's right: the interviewer asked him a question about the War on Drugs, and Dean's ultimate answer took the form of a hand gesture.

In fact, it seems there isn't much doubt that Dean is a Drug Warrior in the conventional mould (bigger budget for the DEA, incinerate the meth labs, nuke Colombia, etc., etc.); he just hasn't met with a really tough interviewer yet. His "a little of this and a little of that", I suppose, tells us all we really need to know. Howard Dean, M.D., can use hard drugs casually and grow up to be governor of a great state; Joe Lunchbox, N.D. (no degree), is a different matter altogether.

- 12:41 am, August 5 (link)

Return of the teeming piñata

I had an embarrassing experience today--I ran across this sentence in a Canadian Press wire story:

[Jean Chretien's] family history symbolizes the traditional separation between church and state that has dominated Canada's political culture and differentiated Ottawa's politics from those of Washington.

Now, this is just a mountainously dumb thing to write. I don't need to explain to Americans what's dumb about it: they will be shocked at the dumbth without help. Many Canadians, however, don't quite seem to understand that the American constitution contains a formal principle of church-state separation and that ours does not and never has. Discriminatory church-state relations, though often fraught with tension, are a continual thread in our history, from the Anglican establishment in old Upper Canada through the Papal Zouaves, the Jesuit Estates controversy, and the Act of Parliament which created the United Church in 1925. We still have--and I don't know how anybody fails to notice this--public Roman Catholic and Protestant schools; moreover, other faiths receive funding for alternative, experimental, and charter schools, at least here in Alberta. Public-school prayer lasted much longer in Canada than it did in the U.S. (we were reciting the Lord's Prayer at my school as late as 1977) and was eliminated, not on principle, but by a gradual agreement amongst educators that such religious indoctrination was increasingly untenable in a multiculturalizing society. I assume morning prayer is still going on in fully-funded Roman Catholic schools, which instruct attendees in religion without inciting any controversy whatsoever. Doesn't that strike you as a slightly odd state of affairs in a country whose political life is "dominated" by church-state separation?

There is a contemporary consensus, in Canada, in favour of such separation. It is slowly being promoted to the status of an operating principle of the Canadian state by the effect of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a newly activist judiciary. That does not, as a matter of historical fact, call some sort of non-existent "tradition" into being after the fact. Nor does our supposed failure to inquire into the religious beliefs of our leaders--which, not to grind a well-worn axe, doesn't seem to have protected poor old Stockwell Day and his creationist beliefs too well, does it? Some academic naïf is quoted in the CP story as saying that "We have this tradition where it's considered bad taste to raise religion in an election campaign." Only a halfwit could have failed to add "...unless the candidate happens to be a conservative evangelical Protestant; then the CBC releases the hounds on cue." But maybe he spent the year 2000 in the Caymans waiting out the Y2K bug, I don't know. There was certainly no outcry against Mothercorp's "bad taste" from anyone outside Stock's already-shrinking circle of supporters.

Why should it be embarrassing to point all this out? Because the author of the wire story is Alexander Panetta, whom I just had a go at last week. I don't want to give the impression I have a vendetta going here; it's just that every time I read something risible in a CP story lately, his name's at the top. Can we agree amongst ourselves that his editor is probably to blame? That will help me sleep a bit better.

- 10:51 pm, August 4 (link)

Our hero returns

Yes, I am back. I've been resting; the trip out to the farm is always more exhausting than I expect. Well, anybody who was out there with me will snort at that, since they're fully aware I husband my energy as greedily as a gila monster. What can I say?--I'm a weak person. I like air conditioning and naps and cold beverages, preferably all administered at the same time. Note to self: it is essential to bring a battery-powered fan next time you go to stay outdoors at a place that is slowly turning into Mojave North.

I don't know why, exactly, rainfall seems to have ceased utterly in northwestern Saskatchewan. Last year was dry all across the Prairies. This winter, however, was a generous one for snow, and most evenings seem to have brought thunderstorms here in Edmonton; it's been hot, but muggy, muggy in a tropical way you normally associate with places where the people say "y'all" or "mon" (or both?) at the ends of their sentences. Throughout central Alberta the crops are OK, but out in Tangleflags it's only getting drier. Sloughs are now weedy patches that seem semi-arable, former dugouts look like sunken dirt infields, and entire lakes are M.I.A. in some cases. The frightening thing is, there's evidence that the current climate is the true historical norm and that the relatively ag-friendly 20th century was merely an aberration.

My uncle, fortunately, only has to come up with a little feed for his cattle out of that land; but then again there's nothing very fortunate about being in the cattle business in Canada right now. He doesn't ask for very much out of his cows, since he earns a pretty nice living out of the region's real cash crop (a rich black fluid, sometimes known as Texas tea, which is readily extractable even in semi-arid regions). If he does no better than break-even on the cows, he'll make out all right, but with the U.S. border closed and the Japanese in control of the master switch... well, breaking even in this market is suddenly a lot to ask.

Speaking of beef, did you see Slate's review of the new fast-food salads? Wendy's Mandarin Chicken salad got deservedly high marks; reviewer Bill Barol rightly identified it as perhaps the outstanding culinary experience now available from any sort of a drive-up window. But why does he insist on comparing the raw fat content of the salads with that of a hamburger, straight-up? Pardon me for putting it this way, but, duhhh, these salads are a damned generous meal unto themselves; you would have to be a pathologically determined eater to inhale one with a side of fries and a milkshake. The comparison is therefore completely ridiculous; even the Center for Science in the Public Interest, whose mission is to terrify the public with misleading statistical sound bites ("Ice Cream Shops Serving Coronaries in Cones!"), anointed the Mandarin Chicken one of the "best fast foods of 2002". If you're raising fat-panic about a food the extremist CSPI has given its seal of approval, that's a sign you've travelled way, way too far down the road of culinary wussdom.

- 8:11 pm, August 4 (link)

Random notes before departure

I guess I'll take the bouillabaisse approach here and put everything into one catch-all entry before I hop the eight o'clock bus to Lloydminster. I'll be down on the farm until Sunday night.

· The ancestral Cosh farm is a place, I tell people misleadingly, where cellular phones don't work: you pretty much have to point something at a satellite to talk digitally to civilization. In truth, my uncle's house has Internet access, but it's a dialup account and the interface baffles me and I don't know if they pay a metered rate for access or what, so I try to avoid their computer. They don't seem to use it, themselves, for anything but keeping the books, if that. My uncle's wife is trained as an accountant, so I assume she knows her way around Excel. The uncle, himself, is an oilfield consultant who was, of necessity, an early adopter of computers: I believe the first laptop I ever saw belonged to him. Come to think of it, another uncle on that side bought me the first computer I ever owned, a TRS-80 PC-4 BASIC-programmable pocket computer that I was inseparable from for five years.

None of those guys are engineers or anything; they don't come from what you'd think of as the "computing professions". But the oilpatch, seated as close as it is to the economic fulcrum of civilization, has a way of calling needful technology into existence and ramrodding it into our lives. (One way or another, almost all Albertans are "in" the patch, in the sense of being ultimately dependent on it for a livelihood.) I've pointed out before that the development of the cellular phone was hastened because it was badly needed in this particular place for that particular industry.

Anyway, I'd feel a little self-conscious about going all the way out to the farm and then plunking myself down in front of the same beige appliance I spend fourteen hours a day eye-glued to while I'm here. You know I'll probably post when I get back, because the guilt will be intolerable by then, but I'll be working on my next NatPost column on Monday, so don't expect miracles.

· Talking of expectations, I've been completely stuck for how to react to my anointment, by Michael Blowhard and Aaron Haspel, as the finest pure literary talent in the [English-language] "blogosphere." This event induced severe cognitive dissonance in three ways:

(1) I had firmly decided that making any response at all would be gauche, since it could only serve to call attention to the laurel, but on the other hand, it seemed unkind not to flow some traffic their way in return for such an overwhelming compliment.

(2) Both Aaron and "Michael" complain that I've been overlooked by major magazines and/or newspapers. In fact, at the moment, I'm getting regular work from the National Post, which is just about as Big as Big Media gets in Canada. But pointing this out also seemed, potentially, unkind. Does the Post just have a really low profile in the United States? I don't quite feel right asking. I know Canadian friends there sometimes have trouble obtaining it.

(3) Aaron and Michael are, I believe, probably two of the hundred or so most intelligent humans alive. Their own sites provide a suitable gold standard for literary activity online, and their taste is normally impeccable. But in this case, they really got it wrong--not slightly wrong, not "left-myself-a-ten-foot-putt" wrong, but the kind of metaphysically wrenching wrong you would feel hammering at your viscera if you walked out onto the back porch one sunny morning and stumbled across the Pope, in full regalia, receiving a blowjob from your grandmother.

· That's about all I'm ever going to have to say about that subject. I've also been unsure whether to link to the slightly celebre weblog devoted to Dissecting Leah McLaren, the Globe columnist. There are all kinds of issues here which may not be worth discussing for a general audience, even one that's about half Canadian. And now that I'm taking cheques from the Post I may be suspected of having partisan reasons for the link. Still, part of me feels that dissecting Leah McLaren can only be wholly good. I agree, for instance, with most of this part of the author's introduction to his project:

...she is a 20-something columnist for the Globe and Mail (, which is the most respected of Canada's newspapers. She writes a column entitled "Generation Why", which is probably a not-too-clever reference to Douglas Coupland's novel Generation X, but appropriately titled considering that she seems to have no idea what the hell is going on in the world. Her column is effectively a mosaic of ridiculous cultural and gender stereotypes, vacant explorations of pop culture and her own sense of self-importance. On the oft occasion, she'll try to appear self-depreciating, but the veneer that Ms. McLaren believes that she is anything but the greatest human being in history the universe isn't even worth laughing at.

With her model-like appearance and likewise proportioned ego, McLaren is the daughter of another writer and former editor of the same paper, and now a synonym for "nepotism" in Canada. Because god knows that there are thousands upon thousands of struggling young writers across the nation who are wittier, more incisive, more intelligent and much, much more interesting than Leah, but will never get the chance at having her job because they lack the requisite connections to be as successful as she is.

Most of that, I can go along with. I just think that if you're going to lash out at journalistic nepotism from a barstool at the James Joyce (ugh), you should probably arrange in advance not to be the kind of writer who is capable of the last sentence in that first paragraph. He's got us laughing at a "self-depreciating" "veneer" "on the oft occasion"... man, that one sentence is to English idiom what Jeffrey Dahmer was to Milwaukee's gay teenagers. This wouldn't be a problem if the author were not advancing an implied claim to be one of the "witty" young writers whose rightful place in the universe has been usurped by the Blonde Menace; but, er, I think he pretty much is. So that's a misgiving I have.

The other misgiving is that I can't imagine anyone actually spurning the advantages which got McLaren her column. What's she supposed to do, say, "No thanks, think I'll go work in a hospice instead"? Doesn't attacking a beneficiary of nepotism kind of miss the point? If there's a cosmic injustice here, the Globe is the perpetrator, but the weblog's not called "Dissecting the Globe". Far from raising a scalpel against it, our friend declares it the country's "most respected newspaper". That would seem to weaken his moral case to the point of mortality, but I still intend to enjoy the show. I imagine Leah's accustomed to the abuse by now.

· There's an interesting story in a less "respected" newspaper, the Edmonton Sun, this morning.

Offended by a so-called payday loan company's business practices and interest rate, an Alberta judge has ruled that a borrower doesn't have to pay back one thin dime. And the borrower did not even appear in court to argue his side of the case when the company sought a default order against him.

...Judge D.G. Ingram ruled that the borrower, whose payback cheque to the lender bounced, can keep what he was loaned and owes the company nothing. "I am departing from the usual practice of this court and I find that the plaintiff is not entitled to the court's assistance in enforcement of ...any part of its claim," Ingram wrote in his decision against Direct Advances (Spruce) Ltd. of Spruce Grove. "The transaction is illegal by reason of breaching the Criminal Code," he wrote.

The story goes on to note a couple of prior judgments against usurious lenders by Judge D.G. Ingram--who, in a former life, was Don Ingram, legal counsel for, inter alia, Alberta Report magazine. I know and esteem Judge Ingram, but I'm disturbed by this traditionalist treatment of usury as an asymmetric offence. He's treating high-interest lending as a crime against one, and only one, of the parties to the contract. I know this isn't really novel: he is reviving an old view of the matter. But does it deserve the sudden reviving? It takes two parties to make a contract. Saying that only the lender ought to be punished for fomenting usury is exactly like saying that only the hooker should be punished for prostitution. Far from punishing the debtor here, however, the judge is actively rewarding him. Maybe we should pay the john a bounty for dragging a whore into the cop shop by the hair after he's finished his business?

I suppose that Don's tough approach will do as much to stamp out usury as a fairer one would. But why do we want to stamp out usury? The people who seek high-interest loans are by definition those who cannot obtain credit any other way. With the growth of various forms of "subprime credit" in blue-collar Edmonton, I was beginning to think we'd seen the last of the deranged paternalistic view that people are better off not having loans than they are paying what the Criminal Code considers "too much" for them. Apparently I was mistaken.

· There's more I wanted to write, but my time's running out. See you Sunday.

- 7:02 am, August 2 (link)

Working in a coal mine

Nature gave me a personality very much like Douglas Adams' ("I love the sound [deadlines] make as they go whooshing by") but sometimes (like when the whooshing gets real loud) even I have to get all professional and responsible-like. Don't expect too much action around here for the next twelve hours... I'm leaving for the annual Cosh reunion in scenic Tangleflags, Saskatchewan, tomorrow, but I'll certainly update at least once before I disappear into the bush.

- 12:06 pm, August 1 (link)

Ninth man's Morris

Every time a Quebec seat on the Supreme Court opens up, the name of Quebec Court of Appeal Justice and old-fashioned fighting liberal Morris Fish comes up. Justice Fish has finally got his red ermine. In retrospect, recent SCOC appointments of Francophones from outside Quebec could conceivably be seen as serving to make room for an Anglo Quebecker. There's a photo of Justice Fish at that link--doesn't he just look like a Supreme Court judge? I have to admit part of me is looking forward to having gray hair--as long as, you know, I get to hang onto a certain amount of it.

A small, spicy taste of Piscine jurisprudence can be found in Reg. v. Kaufman. Part III of Fish's reasons for judgment contains a memorable, dryly humorous dismantling of an ill-tempered, out-of-control prosecutor.

- 2:07 am, August 1 (link)