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In case I haven't mentioned it lately (and my editor tells me I haven't), I have a fortnightly sports column in the Western Standard. I use it to try and plunge a little deeper into sport than the ordinary daily-paper drudge has a chance to--or, at least, that is the idea. Here's a column that appeared late last month.

Someone once wrote that "cheering for the New York Yankees is like cheering for U.S. Steel." I'm pretty sure that is the original form of the sentiment, anyway. When I recently consulted Google on the source of the quotation, I discovered an astonishing list of things that people think cheering for the Yankees is like cheering for:

"for Microsoft"
"for Enron"
"for Donald Trump"
"for Wal-Mart"
"for General Motors"
"for the house in blackjack"
"for the tanks in Tienanmen Square"
"for Satan"
"for Darth Vader"
"for the Edmonton Eskimos" (ha!)

Google doesn't know which came first. But you can see the common crux of the folk saying in most of its incarnations. The Yankees are an American business. The guiding ideology of modern American business is that it owes everything to its shareholders and literally nothing to the social good. Isn't it absurd for a non-shareholder to feel loyalty to the Yankees? Or, by extension, to any other sports team?

Businesses, as it happens, serve the greater good precisely by ignoring it. But the truth is more interesting than that: everywhere you look, you can see people cheering for corporations. Even in the 1950s, General Motors had passionate devotees--grease-haired teens who chanted "Fo No Go" at Ford buyers. U.S. Steel, regarded widely as an unsavoury predator in the 1960s, became an object of hope for American protectionists when foreign firms became more competitive in the 1980s and steelworkers became romantic, doomed Deer Hunter figures. If Microsoft lacks for visible true believers, its rival, Apple, certainly doesn't. And in places like the Wall Street Journal and Forbes you can read countless fan-like pieces trumpeting Wal-Mart's contributions to American productivity. Hell, with a little digging through back issues you could find similar odes to Enron.

Corporations are simply groups of people acting with a certain end in view. Like individuals, they have personalities--and if they didn't, we'd anthropomorphize them anyway, because that's how our brains are wired. Companies have learned to take advantage of this. When suitably assisted by advertising and P.R., it's called "branding". Sports teams were doing it fifty years before any other North American business had thought of it.

The public's relationship to corporations has changed radically in our time. Retirement-related tax reforms undertaken widely in the 1980s have transformed the middle class in Canada and the U.S. into an investor class; this will, one day, be recognized as the most electrifying social change of the period. The average man has become more corporate-friendly, more intelligent about business, and better disposed to capitalism. And a whole new tier of business journalism has arisen to turn CEOs into celebrities.

I don't think it's a coincidence that, within sports, there has been a parallel shift of attention from players to management. Some general managers, like the Oakland Athletics' Billy Beane, have already become folk heroes. We've seen the rise of legendary figures who don't play or even run teams (like the surrealistically successful pitching coach Leo Mazzone, or the author and Red Sox advisor Bill James). As investors have become more broadly aware of obscure metrics of business performance--P/E ratio or EBITDA--similar measures have become more popular with sports fans, spawning an analytical "sabermetrics" industry that is already large in baseball and growing in football and basketball.

It has become necessary for all football and hockey fans to become conversant with the minutiae of salary caps. But today's young sports fan doesn't mind; he spends as much time imitating general managers in fantasy leagues as he does watching the games. And thanks to the Internet and the growth of casinos, he regards sports gambling, which has its own complex mathematical shorthand and bears strong similarities to investing, as a natural, socially acceptable activity.

Other changes are on the way; the sports freak just being born will be as unrecognizable to his forebears as today's 20-year-old fan is to his 40-year-old compatriot. To take just one example, a fascinating concomitant of the new mass capitalism has been the rise of "ethical investing". We have mutual funds dedicated to particular environmental or religious norms, and there are whole sectors, from "fair trade coffee" to organic farming, predicated on a special claim to piety. So I'll ask you: who will be the first baseball club to insist on "ethical" contracts with poor Latin players? Or the first NHL team to introduce proper education programs for young draftees skipping college? The future skitters away as the mind reaches ever outward to grasp it.

[UPDATE, 2:56 pm: The Baseball Think Factory gang is on the case.]

- 3:03 am, December 31 (link)

Here's my column about the Green Party of Canada from December 22's National Post.

Ever since Jim Harris took over as leader of the Green Party in 2003, he has been complaining that the country's fastest-growing political movement is largely neglected by the national media. Well, in the past few days newspapers have been running sizable stories on Harris and the Greens, and on high, some celestial being can be heard whispering "Careful what you wish for." According to a Monday CP story, Harris and the party have been "in talks" with Elections Canada about their bookkeeping. Two former Green officials -- described by current Green spokesmen as disgruntled rejects -- are raising questions about the reported expenses for Harris's leadership campaign (officially said to have cost $2,651.12) and about the transparency of the party's budgeting.

I am sure that the controversy will not amount to much in the end. But I am a little amazed that there should be a controversy in the first place, when the fundamental emptiness of the Green Party seems so self-evident. The party's 4% of the national vote in the 2004 election qualified it for $1.1-million a year in federal funding. Does it strike you that the money is turning up anywhere immediately obvious in the 2006 campaign? Are we seeing a more robust Green campaign machine with a harder-hitting media presence and stronger candidates? If so, why are the Greens -- whom everyone has surely now heard about -- still hovering in the same old 4%-5% territory in the polls?

CP's Dennis Bueckert asked Harris how the party was deploying its new financial firepower. Harris ducked the question: "I am the leader of the party," he said, "[but] I don't manage the party." He also refused to disclose how much of the $1.1-million a year goes toward his own salary -- a fact that is surely taxpayer's business under our new system of campaign financing.

I'm always surprised at how many people are considering a Green vote for the specific reason that none of the other parties deserve the $1.75/year that now attaches to a vote. My basic response to this is "Hey! If we all just stay home on January 23, we could save millions." More to the point, I'm unsure what more the Greens have done than anyone else to merit the money. People are prone to sympathizing instinctively with an underdog, and Harris's continual whining about being excluded from televised leaders' debates has made him the über-underdog of Canadian politics. But in an era when the Internet makes the unlimited benefit of the press available to any fringe party, it does not seem especially onerous to require the Greens to, say, finish higher than fourth somewhere in the country. Or, God forbid, even win one seat.

At times, one gets the impression that their exclusion from the ceremony of televised debate is the one real issue for the GPC -- that they exist solely to be treated unjustly, and to gripe about it. The Greens are in fact improvising a platform as the campaign proceeds, but it is hard to take seriously. As in 2004, it's a mix of measures designed to establish the party's trans-ideological credibility (reducing pollution by lowering income taxes? Howzat work?) and classic "green" ideas. The latter, in turn, are either merely infeasible (unilaterally rewriting trade agreements to "protect our natural resources") distastefully cuddly (hey, what say we reforest Haiti?), or inadvisable.

It has often been noted that Jim Harris's attempt to create a non-leftist Green Party yields somewhat awkward results, and occasionally it's also observed that not everyone is happy with his leadership of the party. On Dec. 16, the rabid old leftist Murray Dobbin accused him in B.C.'s independent Tyee newspaper of having an "authoritarian style." As Dobbin points out, recent turnover in the party's general council would seem to suggest an unusual amount of internal turmoil.

Seeing Dobbin tear into Harris provided a moment of clarity for me. I've always thought of the ex-Tory Harris as being much like a skilled cybersquatter -- someone who swooped in on the valuable "Green" brand-property, cleaned it up a little, and built a means of support and publicity from the resulting electoral rent. He knew there existed a slothful, casually Earth-conscious 5% of us who would vote reflexively for anything labelled "Green," or simply for any semi-serious alternative to the old parties.

This cynical suspicion troubled me before. But, after all, the last thing I want in Canadian politics is a serious, strong, left-environmentalist Green Party of the sort that has infected the economies of the Euro-democracies with regulation and superstition. If Harris is indeed just a squatter, well, long may he squat.

- 2:50 am, December 31 (link)

The shortcut to serfdom

Hugo Chávez's Venezuela is of special interest to Albertans as the only other place with reserves of oilsand to rival ours. Nothing I've read from Venezuela, however bleak, terrified me as much as this Thursday cover story from El Universal. According to the article, the Chávez regime is moving from establishing traditional worker cooperatives to the second pillar of his economic revolution: "social production companies" (EPSes). And what are EPSes?

This concept is under construction... Unlike cooperatives, whose business formula was designed several decades ago in other countries, EPS are a Venezuelan native creation. They base on Chávez' promised endogenous and sovereign development. Given their novelty, EPS are hard to define clearly.

So: no one knows, quite. Yet some of the rhetoric in which Chávez's EPSes are wrapped will sound familiar to the student of 20th-century communism, particularly in its most radical and bloodthirsty phases. All socialists believe deep down that the masses must be made fit for power before they can accede to it. But if there is any defining characteristic of "social democracy" as opposed to genuine deep-red communism, it is the degree to which the former shies from the openly millenarian ambitions of Lenin, the Red Guards, and Pol Pot--the Year Zero, homo novus instinct. It is not hard to tell on which side the Venezuelan government intends to plant its flag.

In a paper currently being distributed in pro-government circles, titled "The role of social production companies in the new productive model", the ideological grounds of EPS are outlined. "If the government wants to conquer the second and ultimate independence of the country, our challenge in the ideological arena is even bolder: to make citizens feel the collective sentiment, love their neighbors as themselves, identify a common solution to get out of the swamp of egocentrism, alienation, lack of commitment and indifference, exacerbated by neoliberal globalization."

EPS are therefore essential to create "new" men and women within the framework of socialism for the next millennium.

One may be certain that other essential institutions--disguised paddywagons, vast windowless buildings of unstated function, great fenced and guarded areas in inaccessible rural regions--will eventually appear as needed.

The New Chavista Man, like his predecessors everywhere, will be free from material desires. "...through EPS the government intends to control exaggerated consumption and desire of lucre. Based on the premise that 'being rich is wrong,' the document questions the citizens' basic needs." And eventually money will disappear altogether.

In the medium to long term, the document proposes to replace currency relations, i.e., money, with moral and material incentives. Material incentives may comprise foreign language courses, learning travels abroad, and bonds for purchases in Mercal, among others. This idea, according to the paper, is based on Ernesto "Che" Guevara's "Budgetary Financing System" created in 1963-1964.

It is much too late in history to snicker at the logic of replacing "currency relations" with slips of paper that can be used to buy goods and services--but only at the government store. I will give Chavez supporters the same advice that their Maoist fathers and Stalinist grandfathers ignored: you can save yourselves a couple of decades by being ashamed of yourselves right this minute.

- 2:04 am, December 30 (link)

The Flickr page has gained a few new holiday snaps. -2:32 am, December 30
Art of the possible?

This breaking news from Australia will be of interest to hardly anybody outside that country. Why, you'd almost have to be living in some other senior dominion of the Commonwealth that faces demographically-driven shortages of skilled labour, but cannot simply impose national accreditation standards on a highly decentralized federal system. Can't think of anyplace that fits that bill.

- 1:55 am, December 30 (link)

Lost in translation

Am I the only one who was a little disappointed to learn that David Emerson's Dec. 5 cheap shot at Jack Layton--a weblog entry referring to Layton's "boiled dog's-head smile"--was lifted from the Cantonese vernacular? For a second there, I thought some Canadian politician might accidentally have perpetrated an original witticism. I should have known better.

- 9:51 pm, December 29 (link)

The quiet storm

Ex-Montrealer Evan McElravy has further thoughts on the Supreme Court's ratification of swingers' clubs.

- 4:44 pm, December 28 (link)

2005's most spectacular lost political opportunity

It's December 22.

Your party, in the midst of a heated national election, is releasing its plan to assert and defend Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.

And you forget to mention Santa Claus?

Remember, kids, Canada has an outstanding claim on the North Pole. A vote for the Liberals is a vote for the party that's too chintzy to defend Santa's workshop. It's vote for an Icelandic Santa--i.e., a filthy pagan who probably couldn't read letters in either of our official languages even if he were sober. Make sure your parents do the right thing.

- 6:59 am, December 24 (link)

Memo to the Globe, CTV, CBC, and every other Canadian media organization that devoted column-inches or prime-time seconds to St. Tookie Williams: you have a homework assignment. He's named Cory Maye. -5:41 am, December 24
A little light holiday reading--

--from the Chosun Ilbo, specially for Canadian enthusiasts of more-'n'-better government-backed Big Science:

The [South Korean] stem cell project was initiated by Prof. Hwang on his own. It grew into a state project with government backing and then became the people's project, adding a massive weight of national expectation. That very fact simply short-circuited any stringent verification procedures by scientists and the government. Scientists kept mum because they saw hope in one of their own becoming a national hero, and the government was happy to bask in reflected glory without asking too many questions. Between them, they immobilized the cool, rational process of scientific enquiry.

The government will not be able to dodge its responsibility for having failed to endure proper supervision of the research process despite its pouring billions of taxpayers’ won into the project. When President Roh Moo-hyun visited Hwang's laboratory, he said he hadn’t been so moved since he took office. The prime minister visited Hwang's dairy farm to promise official support; Cabinet ministers and other politicians were so keen to be seen backing Hwang that they set up a supporters club.

The presidential secretary for science and technology, who lists his name as a co-author of Prof. Hwang's 2004 paper on stem cells cloned from somatic cells, formed a Hwang support group dubbed the "Golden Bat" along with the presidential policy aide and the information and communications minister. Quite a few people who invested in bioengineering trusting the authorities’ assurances that Hwang’s research would create tremendous national wealth are now greatly perplexed.

The media, admittedly, also transmitted Hwang’s every assertion more or less unfiltered, using terms like "the people's project" to embrace everything he did. By sanctifying Hwang, there is no doubt that the press is partly responsible for making scientific scrutiny difficult.

- 3:39 am, December 24 (link)

Sticking to the script

You may have noticed a theme running through coverage of the suicide of the teenaged son of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. I'm exaggerating for effect here: you couldn't possibly have missed it if you have eyeballs and you follow the NFL. Everybody from Dungy's closest friends to Podunk beat writers is singing from the same hymnal: "Tony Dungy," the book goes, "is a man of great faith, and he's going to need that faith as he mourns his child."

Well, pardon me for playing the village atheist here, but how the hell does anybody know what shape and course Tony Dungy's grief is going to assume? I'm afraid this sort of talk is distasteful to me even coming from people who know the coach well. He's going to come back even stronger in his religious faith? He's going to grow ever closer to God? How do they know this? Is it because nobody ever has a crisis of belief when their kid dies of a drug overdose? Is it because James Dungy's suicide so elegantly expresses the fine Italian hand of a loving creator? Is it because the idea of humans as frightened, outnumbered primates struggling through an impersonal, chaotic world somehow seems less probable at times like this?

And how are these people going to react if Tony Dungy comes back to Indianapolis and says--as might well be expected--"Don't talk to me about God. We aren't on speaking terms." Will it be disappointing to them? Are they going to feel somehow let down by their paragon of virtue?

What I think is that the people who talk about Tony Dungy's great faith mean to support and comfort him. Actually, they're probably not that stupid, because no celebrity reads the paper the day he goes home to pack up his dead son's clothes for the Sally Ann. Most of the commentators are sportswriters, and by nature such creatures wallow in private calamity like pigs in moist clay. What they want is to be seen to be supporting and comforting. But when you pick it apart, aren't they sort of imposing expectations on Dungy and choosing a pretty weird time to remind him of his established persona as a public figure? Am I the only one who sees it this way?

- 3:20 am, December 24 (link)

Yeah, it's a tough game

I made a special trip to the bar to watch Wednesday's mindblowing 7-6 Edmonton Oilers road victory over the Canucks. Early in the tilt, Vancouver defenceman Nolan Baumgartner was--for the second straight game--doing yeoman service as a nuisance and obstacle to the Oiler forwards. About halfway through the game the flow of the Oiler attack loosened a little, but I didn't notice that Baumgartner had left the ice. Only today did I find out that he disappeared for an appalling reason: he severed the tip of his left ring finger blocking a shot. Baumgartner skated to the bench with the bone sticking out, and the fingertip was reattached, which suggests that medicine has progressed since the same thing happened to Paul Cavallini (whose digit could not be saved) in 1990.

- 3:23 am, December 23 (link)

A memo to all those social conservatives who are apoplectic about the Supreme Court of Canada's decision that group-sex clubs cause no harm to non-members

Hey, guys, maybe you could explain what harm group-sex clubs actually do cause to non-members? Is there even one in your city, and if so could you find it?

I'm no friend to the Butler definition of criminal indecency, which was used to decide the case. That's because Butler contains two implied proscriptions. The first is a relatively reasonable one against objective harm to an unwilling viewer of, or participant in the creation of, potentially "obscene" material. The second one outlaws materials that "predispos[e] others to anti-social behaviour". The latter half of the test is, to my mind, self-evidently fascist--a bizarre charter for the unlimited incineration of subjectively "anti-social" tracts and images. As applied by the hands of ignorant Customs regulators who wriggle through rap CDs and indie movies looking for "socially harmful" content, it has made Canada an international laughingstock.

Naturally, the social-conservative objection to the new ruling (actually two conjoined decisions, Labaye and Kouri) isn't that Butler sucks; it's that the illiberal, ugly half of the Butler test was left unused against a bunch of naughty people. As usual, the socons regard the law as a field for free social welfare between a moral majority and a weirdo minority, and are shocked whenever the Supreme Court protects the minority. Here's an excerpt from the Chief Justice's Kouri finding (which was supported 7-2);

...there is no evidence of inducing anti-social attitudes through demeaning, abusive or humiliating treatment of any individual or group [within the confines of the club]. As in the companion case of Labaye, no one was pressured into sex, paid for sex, or treated as a mere object for the sexual gratification of others. On the present set of facts, the commercial aspect of the respondent’s operation is hardly relevant to this type of harm. The entrance fee was not paid by some to secure the sexual services of others. It merely enabled all the customers to gain access to the bar and to equally participate in the activities taking place therein. As such, the payment of a fee may lower one’s moral estimation of the activities at issue, but it is not helpful in seeing how they can be a source of attitudinal harm through encouraging anti-social behaviour.

In the past I have cited uneven but enticing hints that Chief Justice McLachlin takes quite a libertarian and individualistic view of social legislation; my general sense is that, relative to justices of the past, she's "American" on free speech and "European" on sexual mores. (As is your correspondent.) Here she has gone as far as she can go without overturning predecent altogether; she seems to have adopted a restrictive, almost self-annulling view of the nasty half of Butler. She wants strong, unambiguous evidence of the "attitudinal harm" created in the community by a sex club.

The two dissenters from the decision, Bastarache and LeBel, cottoned to this and didn't like it one bit. From their notes to Labaye:

The new approach to indecency proposed by the majority is neither desirable nor workable. Not only does it constitute an unwarranted break with the most important principles of our past decisions regarding indecency, but it also replaces the community standard of tolerance with a harm-based test. Whether or not serious social harm is sustained has never been the determinative test for indecency. Moreover, when the standard of tolerance is established on the basis of the three categories of harm, it becomes impossible to take into account the multitude of situations that could exceed the threshold for indecency. This new harm-based approach also strips of all relevance the social values that the Canadian community as a whole believes should be protected. The existence of harm is not a prerequisite for exercising the state’s power to criminalize certain conduct: the existence of fundamental social and ethical considerations is sufficient.

Socons will find themselves, presumably to their surprise, in the Bastarache/Lebel camp. They will see some meaning in the phrase "the Canadian community as a whole" where absolutely none exists. They will regard the court as having usurped and destroyed a power of determining "indecency" that belongs to Parliament. In principle I don't like genuine "judicial activism", but this decision also binds future courts; it has the effect of reducing the power of every branch of government, including the judiciary, to assist in outlawing private behaviour and expressive materials. Can't social conservatives tell the difference between judicial activism that expands the power of the state--like adding newly-invented "protected grounds" to discrimination law--and judicial activism that inhibits it?

Nah. What they care about is that the power of the state be used for their own preferred ends. Hey, some of my best friends are social conservatives. But when it comes to subjects like this, most of them posses nothing resembling a philosophy--merely a reflexive claim to authority.

[UPDATE, December 28: More here.]

- 12:51 am, December 23 (link)

Remember, you're not paranoid if they actually hate you

It's easy for an Albertan to conclude that Alberta--as both a real polity and a bogeyman of the imagination--has been the only real issue in the last few federal elections. One reason it's easy is because it's very largely true. Witness this conversation between Kelly Nestruck and an "intelligent" friend, or Alan McLeod's brief, conventional analysis of the "Alberta-centred" Conservatives (a species of thought that isn't going to go away soon, despite the efficiency with which the non-Albertan Kate McMillan shreds it).

- 12:50 am, December 23 (link)


South Korean investigators are close to finding out whether anything at all is salvageable from the fraudulent scientific work of Hwang Woo-Suk, who was thought to have pioneered the practical creation of patient-specific stem cells. Not long ago, certain R&D obsessives were citing Hwang's research as exactly the kind of thing that would be happening right here in Canada if we weren't so damned beggarly toward scientists. And it may still be true!

The National Association of Professors for Democratic Society said in a separate statement the scandal had awakened the whole nation from its "Hwang Woo-Suk cult." The government had showered Hwang with honors and research funds. Since 2002 the Science and Technology Ministry alone had provided him with some 40 million dollars.

I don't want to argue in favour of the poverty of scientists, but it is perhaps worth turning the Hwang affair on its head and really asking whether could it happen here. If I gave a flat "no" as the answer I'm sure it wouldn't be long before events conspired to humiliate me. No institution is immune to bold liars. But I think it is true that a blockbusting announcement from a leading Canadian scientist in an academic post would be accepted implicitly by the world in a way it is perhaps not--or should not--coming from Asia. Our culture is still pervaded by Victorian notions of fair play, "sportsmanship", and scientific inquiry as non-instrumental--as done for its own sake, rather than as a matter of advancing national or personal prestige. We are not taught to regard bosses as unchallengeable masters, teachers, or parent-substitutes; it is hard to imagine Canadian graduate students letting rampant data-fudging go so far as to put their laboratory head on the cover of Time magazine. (Though I wouldn't advise excessive naivety on that point either.)

The scientific idea of subjecting one's own work to the profoundest possible criticism, from self and colleagues, has its roots in distinctively Western beliefs about the individual, the open society, and the marketplace of ideas. Even as they stood before the whistle was blown, Hwang's findings in the stem-cell field were the sort of technical accomplishment that no longer takes us by surprise coming from Asia--but one would still be very surprised at the advent of an Asian Barry Marshall who was willing to challenge a powerful professional consensus on the basis of evidence alone.

- 2:35 pm, December 22 (link)

I'm in this morning's National Post with a piece [subscriber-only link] about the triviality of the Green Party of Canada--and why that triviality is a good thing.

- 12:15 pm, December 22 (link)

"I guess my main influences would be: Public Enemy, Yes, His Name is Alive, ELO, Emperor, and Squarepusher." After reading that quote from Jason Forrest, how can you NOT go watch the video for "War Photographer"? -1:34 am, December 22
Where there's smoke

Butt bus update: the City of Edmonton's response to the working class's newest cultural invention [my original entry, Sullum, Selley] appears to have been mixed. Yesterday, bylaw enforcement cop Randy Kirillo visited the two Edmonton taverns which have parked buses outside their premises for the use of icebound cigarette-smoking customers. Wally Zack, owner of the Borderline Sports Pub and Eatery, actually got in his bus and drove away when Kirillo showed up with an advisory letter. Apparently, however, the news was good for Zack: the Journal reports that he's been told he can keep his butt bus. The more strident Tony Burke, owner of TB's Pub, was on the scene Tuesday to receive a different ruling. His bus, which is stationary and uninsured as a vehicle, has mysteriously been deemed a "nuisance" by the city. The exasperated property owner ordered the two government goons out of his bar ("See the door? Get out") and promised that "No one is taking that bus off my property and if they do, I’ll have them charged with stealing."

If Mr. Burke truly wishes to charge the bored city employees who are tormenting him, allow me to suggest a 10-kilovolt capacitor bank and a pair of alligator clips affixed to the testicles.

- 9:57 pm, December 20 (link)

Yeah, I'd say flag protocol has gotten a little sloppy in this country.

As I understand it, tradition and correct procedure permit Canada's flag to fly at half-mast only when the Sovereign or one of her representatives dies, and only for thirty days at a time. But aggressive idiots--the kind who say things like "How dare you tell me how to express my love for Canada?"--have ruined the ceremonious pleasure of the flag for everyone; when in private hands it now dips, routinely and almost universally, to honour cirrhotic disk jockeys or police dogs. In fact, try finding a Canadian flag not on a government building that ever flies at the top of the mast; it's not as easy as it sounds (and Phyllis Gretzky's last cigarette won't make it any easier).

I guess I thought the abuse of the flag had lost its power to annoy me--but have a look at this photo from the grounds of Woodhaven Middle School, which is performing a ritual act of patriotic obeisance on behalf of an outstanding employee.

Steven Bradley Smith, 31, was found hanging by paramedics who were called to his home at 19035 46 Ave. in Edmonton before midnight. ... charges against Smith, laid by Spruce Grove RCMP last month, include sexual assault, sexual interference, inviting sexual touching and sexual exploitation involving... two girls. Smith was also charged with making child pornography and shooting digital video footage of one of the girls while she was nude, as well as having anal intercourse with her. Police alleged the incidents took place between Sept. 1, 2003, and Oct. 30, 2005, and said both girls were under 14 when the alleged assaults began.

Er.... A nation mourns?

- 12:11 pm, December 20 (link)

Wait a second

I've never pretended to be the world's biggest NFL fan, but I'm embarrassed to be as startled as I am when I hear that Brett Favre is only 36 years old. Wha? Does this surprise anyone else? Normally it works the other way around: I think of everyone whose arrival in sports I can personally remember as, practically, a child. So I damn near crumble when someone points out that Ryan Smyth is turning 30 in eight weeks, or that Tim Raines Jr. is 26.

And when I think about it, Favre seizing the Packers from Don Majkowski is something else that seems like it just happened yesterday. (Majik's still in the league, right? Didn't he start for Detroit somewhere around Week 10?) It's just that Favre has been playing older than his age for years now. You tell me when he started making the frustrated, senile decisions that characterize his highlights every week. 2003? 2002? Don't get me wrong, a 36-year-old NFL quarterback has a lot of miles on the odometer. But if you were a 36-year-old certain Hall of Famer, and playing in a Monday Night game, and every reporter was talking about how it might be your last Monday Night game, wouldn't you consider it presumption amounting to a clear insult?

Not, mind you, that Favre has any good answer to make, even if it is an insult.

- 3:06 am, December 20 (link)

My official election prediction

I already put this on record in the December 5 Hill Times, so I might as well share it with you here (in a more exact form):

Liberal: 126
Conservative: 105
Bloc Quebecois: 59
New Democrat: 18

My dismally unbudging forecast is perhaps most similar to that of George Stroumboulopoulos, who told the Times "I think the next House will look almost exactly like it did before." Crazy name, not-so-crazy guy!

My accounting contains room for small BQ gains at the Liberals' expense and a wee movement towards the Conservatives in Ontario. To me, the fine-grained math in B.C. doesn't bear out widespread Conservative terrors about a Tory bloodbath there. If this seems like a boring prediction, well, it is--but it does leave the Conservatives and the BQ with the combined balance of power in the House.

- 1:19 am, December 17 (link)

Media therapy

If you're thinking of spending a protest vote on the Green Party--especially on the grounds that you'd like them to have campaign funding to "promote their ideas"--you should read Murray Dobbin's piece in The Tyee. Does it strike you that the Greens accomplished a lot with the $1 million-plus in financing that well-meaning voters handed them in 2004?

If you're thinking that Michael Ignatieff has a future in Canadian politics despite starting out on the wrong foot with the Ukrainians, don't miss this extraordinary exchange between Nicholas Kohler of Maclean's and Ignatieff's media coordinator. I guess that old proverb "Even a cat may look at a king" is out the window!

- 8:30 pm, December 16 (link)

It may be Edmonton, but it's still Alberta

Q: What do you do when your city's stuffed-shirt postliberal politicians ban smoking in public buildings, and the temperature becomes too cold for all but the hardiest patrons to duck outside for a quick nail?

A: You invent the butt bus.

City officials have been working feverishly to figure out a way to shut down the buses that have sprung up outside at least two bars since the city's strict smoking bylaw came into effect July 1. A decision could come as early as today.

"This city is becoming so... communist. You'd think we lived in freaking Toronto or something," Kevin Schotts, a 31-year-old T.B.'s Pub regular, complained as he took a drag on his cigarette. "This is redneck Alberta. We should be able to have a smoke wherever we want to."

God bless you, Mr. Schotts. The buses, as one Globe commenter points out, actually serve to prevent smokers from doing what they do in other cities with similar bans--namely, crowding tavern entrances and suffusing them with their noxious exhalations. It's a wholly logical, win-win response to the bylaw--which is why the practice will presumably be stamped out in short order.

- 3:19 pm, December 16 (link)

Hi, we're the replacements

An inspirational hockey-movie premise you might have missed: on November 23 the ECHL's Augusta Lynx learned that nine of their Canadian players would be stranded north of the border indefinitely because of delays in their immigration paperwork. Left with just 12 eligible men, the Georgia-based team--facing the prospect of a home game in about 48 hours--began to scour beer leagues, phone brothers and cousins, and prise old collegiate players out of the woodwork. Former Lynx assistant coach John Whitwell came back from a job at an Augusta bank to score a game-winning shootout goal Nov. 24. Slaughtered by Greenville the next night, the Lynx came back to win the third game on two goals by David Maracle, who had once had a cup of coffee in the E but had quit the game to get a college degree. After that the Canadian regulars were able to rejoin the Lynx, and the stand-ins returned to private life as the proud owners of a 2-1 record.

Sure, it's the ECHL, but it's still kind of amazing this story didn't get more play, don't you think? Immigration issues are apparently becoming an increasing problem for American bush-league clubs, whose unique dependence on Canadian labour leaves them at constant low-grade war with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. (þ: the dead-tree Hockey News)

- 11:13 am, December 16 (link)

The way of the fedora

What Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper needs to do, says [Ottawa image consultant Bernie] Gauthier, is loosen up.

"I think at some point people are going to need to see Harper in something other than the dark suit and the crisp white shirt and tie. I think he needs to round off his image. It's pretty much the only way that we see Stephen Harper."

University of Manitoba political scientist David Stewart agrees. He says "(Harper's) image is that of a very staunch ideologue. And he needs to probably soften that into a kinder, gentler Harper to make connections with the people." -CTV News, Apr. 28

My implication that Stephen Harper has abandoned neckties should not be taken too seriously: he's worn them in public a few times in the past couple of weeks, mostly when making major policy announcements from a podium. And it's not unusual for a politician to go tieless when mucking about in factories or old-age homes. The really adventurous thing about Harper's recent look is his occasional indulgence in the dark collarless shirt. With a light earth-toned coat it makes him look professorial; under a dark one, as on December 1 and 3, it almost gives him a pinch of Patrick McGoohan zing. And either way his infamous middle-aged spread goes hidden. How come that genius Naomi Wolf couldn't find this formula for Al Gore?

Ordinarily I'd sneer at someone who noticed this sort of thing--but here it seems like a new clinical stage in the slow death of the necktie. For politicians, ties remain truly de rigueur only on international stages. Paul Martin favours them about half the time because he's old-school, and playing that up is to his advantage. Jack Layton wears them because he's a dashing guy who is good at choosing neckties (or has good help), and because his party secretly wants a patriarch after years of being an unsightly coven for identity groups. That's what the necktie is, more or less--openly patriarchal. For someone like Harper, who is already suspected of having ambitions to be an operant-conditioning Daddy Dearest for the nation, it must be avoided. One can't help feeling that the tie's time may soon be up for almost everybody, if only because the father himself seems pretty doomed in our civilization. The defenders of neckwear get more defensive every year.

- 11:41 am, December 15 (link)

Last cruise notes: advice for the traveller

Lifebuoy The concept of free (or sunk-cost) unlimited food is central to the attraction of a sea cruise. But as with almost everything else aboard ship, there's a catch. You'll make your way across the gangplank and be dazzled by the sheer number of restaurants and cafeterias--aboard the Westerdam there must be at least eight or nine places to eat. (And no wonder: its 1,800 or so passengers make it 50% more populous than the town I grew up in, without even counting the crew.)

But some of these haunts are hidden away in odd corners, and others tend to appear and disappear, Brigadoon-fashion. That fajita bar by the aft pool? Closes at 4:30 p.m. The huge cafeteria on Deck 9? Great place to go at midnight, but from 5 to 7 p.m. it's serving crew only--you'll look awfully gauche with your chinos and deck shoes amongst the gleaming white uniforms.

The trick here is twofold. First of all, you must immediately overcome your instinctive fear of abusing room service privileges. The hamburger they send to your cabin is just as free as the one in the Terrace Grill, and just as tasty. Second, you should pay attention to your surroundings and actively quiz, or eavesdrop on, fellow passengers. Where'd that septuaginarian Czech guy get that grouper sandwich? Is that lox you smelled near the coffee bar?

No one can really be surprised by high shipboard prices for alcohol, but the cruise line will also squeeze your balls pretty significantly on fountain drinks and bottled water. From what I hear, the island stops are even worse in this regard. You'll want to stay hydrated, and there are no good options that I know of--other than living on tap water, but what are you, some kind of animal?

The great news--I was practically moved to tears by this about twice a day--is that Holland America, at least, still pursues a virtuous and humane policy on cigarettes. Smoking is unrestricted on outdoor decks, but subtle cues involving ashtray placement gently herd the smokers to one side of the ship. There is a handsome, voluminous room provided topside for cigar and pipe fans. And, honestly, you're going to smoke less on board anyway. I'm the kind of guy who is basically pursuing diabetes the way Buddhist monks chase enlightenment, but in the Caribbean climate even I found myself looking forward to long saunters on the promenade deck and not wanting to "spoil the sea air."

The cruise documents don't come right out and tell you that you're allowed to smoke in your stateroom--they merely ask you to be "extremely careful with smoking materials." You are likely to spend some time warily studying the large smoke detector in the middle of your room and conducting terrified little cigarettic microexperiments, wondering if your door is about to be chopped down by angry Dutch firemen. Relax. Somehow that thing just knows you're having a fag and not setting fire to the curtains. It's all cool.

If you're smart you'll do what I did and carry a map of the ship with you at all times. But if you're really smart, you'll realize early on that the map is totally useless unless you know right now which direction you're facing. Again, there are tricks to determining this. If you're near a window, and the ship is in transit, you can find out which way is fore by looking at the ship's motion--and if that sounds stunningly obvious, please look for Edmonton on a map and sympathize with a landlocked dolt who took a good 72 hours to figure this out. I also took a while to reckon that (on the Westerdam) all even-numbered cabins and emergency stations lie to the port side.

- 6:07 am, December 15 (link)

If you're like me (and mercifully, few are), you're already getting a little bored with online prediction markets. But I'm afraid we must keep grinding the axe until they get one-tenth as much press attention as the tracking polls. Check out the current Tradesports numbers for the Canadian election. I rate the Liberals a definite "buy" at 69... -11:20 pm, December 14
A five-hanky movie for the age of slashfic?

Earlier today--before the New Yorker jerked it off their website [careful with those verbs! -ed.]--I read Annie Proulx's original short story "Brokeback Mountain". I daresay even Louis L'Amour possessed enough of a snicker-radar to avoid giving two cowboys the names "Jack Twist" and "Ennis Del Mar." But the story is surprisingly good--the inherent requirement for restraint imposed by the subject matter seems to have nearly annulled Proulx's perennial and infuriating taste for awkward, empty metaphors. The tale must be considered a high point in a mysteriously overrated oeuvre. By 2010 it will be impossible to graduate from university without having read it. (It should fit snugly into the lavender mosaic that is the typical English undergrad curriculum: Beloved, The Color Purple, Mrs. Dalloway, The Awakening...)

In print, "Brokeback Mountain" isn't the gay polemic some accuse it of having become on the screen. But I can't help asking: will an animated version of Jim Goad's Trucker Fags in Denial be far behind?

- 8:52 pm, December 14 (link)

All the photos fit to print

I have a handful of shipboard pictures here; a few more from others are finding their way onto the Shotgun.

- 1:22 am, December 13 (link)

Green days

I don't know if mentioning it will enhance or deplete the esteem in which the Western Standard is held, but we were sharing the Westerdam with at least one other themed cruise group: the Lou Ferrigno fan club. That's right. You could hardly exit your cabin without a risk of thumping into the original Hulk, who remains impressively potato-shaped at 52.

For much of the cruise, Lou was surrounded by a small coterie of creatine-inhaling guys in pyjamas and their chirpy blonde girlfriends. Yet the fans didn't actually interact much with Lou, who suffers from near-complete hearing loss. They just orbited around him, discussing his sheer awesomeness with each other, as he hovered along like some silent, impassive tiki. In all my life I've never seen anyone look so lonesome.

- 12:50 am, December 13 (link)


I'm back from the first Western Standard Cruise, and the predicted itinerary below turned out to be way too pessimistic! Hell, I got all the way back to Edmonton before mislaying my camera. I know that sounds bad, but I've already reclaimed the item, and for someone with my organizational skills it's pretty much the biggest moral victory since the Battle of Shiloh.

The cruise, an organizational effort without precedent in Canada, proved to be an astonishing success in the face of widespread jeers. Plans are already being made for a second event--it's scheduled for the Pacific coast in early 2007. I can't speak for the customers, but even as a pathetically unadventurous traveller and a "celebrity guest" facing nightmarish pressure to be semi-interesting, I had a blast. The ms Westerdam is probably the most efficiently-run moving object in the history of the human species; it's a giant glittering pleasure machine for people of all temperaments. And the readers of the Standard are a fascinating group, self-selected from just about every walk of life. It is strongly recommended, but you don't have to hate the Liberals to have a good time on the second Standard cruise; it's probably enough if you just like mojitos, room service, clever conversation, and turquoise-bubblegum seas that would melt the heart of a motherless ninja.

I'll have more on the cruise as I settle in; right now I'm just fraternizing with my cats, recuperating from the long air voyage home, and waiting for my house to abandon its curious new habit of bobbing back and forth ever so gently. (But, no, I didn't get seasick. The stumpy legs I've inherited from seagoing ancestors turn out to be a superb Darwinian adaptation.)

- 7:22 am, December 12 (link)

I depart for the first Western Standard Cruise early Saturday morning; you can expect this site to be largely idle until I return on Sunday, December 11. Here is an unadulterated itinerary on which you can follow the progress of me and my fellow Western "right-wingers." It should be a great help to those of you praying for our destruction.

- 6:03 am, December 2 (link)

Say it ain't so, Joe

The latest act in the remarkable drama that is the post-lockout NHL: the Bruins yank the rug from under their franchise player, sending Joe Thornton to San Jose in what's possibly the game's biggest 21st-century trade.

What isn't in doubt is that the Bruins thread about the trade is the century's funniest. (þ: Rodent.) It starts when word arrives of three mysterious pre-game sitdowns in the St. Joe...

Staurt,sturm & Primeau all scratched for tonights game vs the stars. rumors of a blockbuster circulating. Could they be headed to boston?
They're all scratched? I'm being optimistic here. If they are rumoured in trade with the Bruins I'm almost certain Samsonov is the one invovled on our end.
stuart, sturm and primeau - i shudder to think what kind of deal OC might be offering up. maybe samsonov, tanabe OR gill (hopefully gill), 1st rounder and isbister?
One sly wag even jokes that "Thornton straight up might work too". Whoops! A few pages in, the joke becomes cruel reality and the mood turns sour.

this can't be true, no no no no non nono
I think I'm goign to puke....
I think i resign myself as a Bruins fan....This is making me puke. Someone tell me this is a joke please....
Completely lost, confused, just numb.
i'm sick to my stomach,... how is this good?
I WAS making custom furniture for [Thornton's Boston home]...I doubt that happens now... $76,000 down the toilet...
I feel sorry for all Bruins fans, I cann't believe it Joe Thornton Joe Thornton
I think that last guy just got a good start on a folk song. "Where have you gone, Joe Thornton, Joe Thornton? Where have you gone, our pillow-soft boy?" My take on the trade is in this BoA thread.

- 9:27 am, December 1 (link)