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ARCHIVES for February 2006

'I told my wrath/ My wrath did end'

If you can find 15 minutes to watch a recent segment of the video podcast with Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus, you should. Ann Coulter recently accused Wright in print of having "affection for terrorists"; in the segment, Kaus tries to defend her and Wright becomes livid in the literal anatomical meaning of the term. It's great television, though it would have been Jim-Everett-vs.-Jim-Rome great if they had been in the same room. (Wright wins the argument, I think, but on a split decision at best.)

- 4:09 pm, February 28 (link)


Could this be the popular general-interest Canadian legal weblog I've been calling for these past two or three years? bills itself as "a co-operative weblog about Canadian legal research and the impact of technology on it." It scarcely sounds like the quasi-populist sort of exercise I've been seeking--namely, the kind of thing that invites participation from the legally aware lay public. But it's easy to see how the site could "accidentally" grow in the desired direction, and its remarkable Marshall Rothstein Pages represent a tremendous step in the right direction. Message to this sort of thing is excellent and should be done more often.

- 4:08 pm, February 28 (link)

A note on the Rothstein hearing

On Monday, for the first time, a prospective appointee to the Supreme Court of Canada was invited to field polite questions from members of the House of Commons. I'll have a column about the hearing in an upcoming National Post (probably tomorrow's). But I wanted to call attention to my favourite exchange during the hearing--one that did not even involve Justice-to-be Marshall Rothstein.

For those who watched the historic event, I refer to Peter Hogg's surprise counterambush and thorough stomping of NDP MP Joe Comartin. Professor Hogg, perhaps the single most esteemed law professor in the country, was present as a sort of compère, one whose acknowledged constitutional expertise was meant to help the committee steer clear of questions that endangered the principle of judicial independence. At one point in the merry-go-round of questioning, Comartin decided to give Judge Rothstein a break and instead chose to present Hogg with a question-cum-speech expressing his own distaste for transparency in judicial appointments. Isn't it true, Comartin asked, that the countries whose legal systems are most like our own--the UK, Australia, and New Zealand--don't feel it necessary to hold such hearings?

Hogg could have been content with a simple "It's true that they don't." Instead, he mounted a surprisingly ferocious implied defence of the novel exercise. The UK doesn't require its law lords to face questions from elected representatives, Hogg pointed out, but it also doesn't have a written core constitution, nor does it give its judicial branch the unilateral authority to strike down laws. New Zealand is much the same, and Australia's written Constitution deals almost solely with the division of powers between the federation and the states. Comartin, visibly taken aback, tried to argue that the British judiciary can in fact now nullify British laws on the human rights principles of the EU--but Hogg sharply corrected him, noting that the power in question is strictly advisory.

I don't know if I should have been surprised that Hogg, who was brought in to control and circumscribe the hearing process, turned out to be such a vigorous defender of it. But it was an unexpected pleasure to see Comartin, who wears the Charter on his sleeve pretty egregiously even by parliamentary standards, confronted with the brute fact that its adoption was the greatest step ever taken towards the Americanization of our political system. On the American logic that the branches of government serve to check and balance one another, there can be no possible objection to legislative review of high judicial appointees: one is a direct implication of the other. And, in fact, as the British judiciary's power to impose EU legal norms grows, the British constitution will find it equally uncomfortable to resist the logic of creeping Americanism.

- 12:24 pm, February 28 (link)

Fear part II

In which readers nominate their own Great Terrors in sport, and mostly do an excellent job.

How about Rocket Richard, Bobby Orr, Valeri Kharlamov (what little we saw of him), Vince Young, and Barry Sanders?
Also, Evgeni Malkin has promise too, donít you agree? -Gord Tulk

[Yes to all of those, but we'll have to see Malkin play in North America. Did you know that Dave King is Malkin's coach this year at Metallurg Magnitogorsk?]

Kharlamov. When I was in grade 9, others felt the terror. Ferguson and Clarke broke his ankle because they couldn't beat him and they knew in their souls that they couldn't beat him. -Rod Wiltshire

Looking at the list of players you enumerate, it's clear that it's not terribly well correllated with 'best.' That means this notion of 'explosiveness' is incredibly important, as difficult as it is to really define. Lemieux's scoring--the freakish points per game type stuff--clearly indicates a type of explosiveness, but only if you're willing to tie 'explosiveness' to actual in-game outcomes. It seems you're going for something slightly different--a mixture of fear, 'style,' and the nemesis of statheads everywhere, 'clutch' performance.
As a Canucks fan, I know what you mean about Bure. He was a fundamentally different type of player, and the most exciting thing I'd seen at a time when I was just getting into hockey. But I'm still not sure I wouldn't have traded him straight-up for Lemieux. Would you? [Christ no -ed.] The difference, to this horribly underqualified observer, was that Lemieux seemed like a technician. [His play] lacked the flair of one of Bure's mad-dash sprints complete with incredible puck handling, but I'd love to ask a goalie how much fear they had seeing Lemieux with the puck behind the net or parallel to the goalmouth. There's a special kind of humiliation, I'd think, getting beat to the short side from a single-digit angle, and Mario did that with regularity. It lacks the sort of ecumenical spirit of Bure's run through four defenders, but it's also somewhat more unique. I mean, as much as I hate to say it, if Bure was a great terror, then Mogilny kind of needs to be, at least for a year or two.

As for football, this is an even more idiosyncratic list. I think the number in football is rather high--Marino, Steve Young and probably Joe Montana, unless again that style and 'explosiveness' are more important than the fear borne of the certainty that this guy who looks like an accountant is simply going to beat you, and there's nothing you can do about it. But Dickerson? He's gotta be there. By choosing Bo, which I agree with, it's clear that the team the terror plays for doesn't have to be championship-caliber, and if that's true, then Barry Sanders is probably the sine qua non of great terrors. In this more individualistic era, I think Sanders inculcated his own brand of terror: that of having a highlight of yourself looking like an epileptic repeated on Sportscenter again and again. You knew you'd probably win the game, but Sportcenter would slow it down until everyone could see your left knee flying right, and your left hand flying out left; the entire right side of the body going into a fugue state to prevent the groin from literally ripping off the bone--all before just falling over without being hit. Nothing can be more emasculating to a football player, and he'd do that like 15 times a game. With no help. Scott Mitchell was NOT keeping anyone 'honest.'
In baseball, I have to put Pedro Martinez in the list. Seeing what he's done to my beloved Mariners is nothing short of remarkable. I instinctively feel that sort of 'it's good for the game' type reaction you had to Ovechkin--the kind of thing we'll repeat to bored grandchildren should we ever have kids. By the way, is this sort of praise for or appreciation of great terrors a form of Stockholm Syndrome? I never got the sense that Yankee fans ever 'appreciated' Pedro; maybe they did, or maybe they didn't because they really aren't human after all.
That George Brett is included really dates you. I could do the same and include Kirby Puckett. But I just don't see how Ortiz or Quisenberry can be taken ahead of Barry Bonds. What says 'fear' more than Bonds obliteration of the walks in a season record, to say nothing of the HR record? If he doesn't qualify because he's always walked, then what we're really talking about are the players who are scary but not scary enough that the run expectation works out better by giving them a free pass no matter what the situation. And that seems weird. Pujols is another--the constant questions over his age/pedigree are the kinds of rumors that inevitably spring up when people try to make sense of something that's fundamentally, historically bizarre. "Have you seen what this 21 year old kid is doing! He never played AA! ...I heard he's actually 30, and won the Venezuelan Triple Crown 10 times. They eventually shut down the whole league. ...No, he's actually 26, and was raised on tiger's milk and human flesh. ...I heard he was only 16, though he fathered 3 kids by the time he was 11. One is now a Brewer's farmhand, though he's only 6." -Marc Webster

Marc brings to the forefront my failure to offer a genuine definition of "Great Terror", though everybody who wrote seems to know more or less what I'm talking about. The most salient quality of a Terror is that the opponent will absolutely have to focus on stopping or beating him, no matter how good the quality of his team is otherwise. The Terror must have extreme physical gifts, and should be capable of mythic statistical and highlight-reel feats; if he provokes actual mythmaking (like Pujols), or if footage of him is handed around like samizdat (like Reggie Bush), these are strong arguments in his favour. It is also a plus if he inspires actual fear of injury or death (like Walter Johnson or Lawrence Taylor).

But the definition ultimately is ostensive: either a player makes you break out in a cold sweat, or he doesn't. I don't think Kirby Puckett (who was perhaps underestimated because of cheerfulness and body type) or Alex Mogilny really had this effect, nor can I endorse Tom Modl's suggestion of Walter Payton. John Elway was closer to Terror status than any of the quarterbacks Mike Webster names, but was humbled in the big game too often. And Pedro Martinez is not as good a model for the Terror starting pitcher as Dwight Gooden in his prime, or some others that will come up in this list...

Bure was the kid you heard about at the juniors who was unstoppable and if memory serves, provided his team with excellent results; whereas Mario has the ability to dominate games with his presence in the sense that his instincts for being in the right spot to score or assist were Gretzky-uncanny. With the exception of the nights where he was scoring multiple times in multiple ways (the famous goals every way possible game for example), he was this enormous entity--God, not Satan.

The players you missed for terrorizing hockey fans of the opposing teams: how about Rocket Richard? Surely there is no one in his league given the helmetless shock of black hair and burning eyes. A quick read of the memoirs of players from his era give no doubt to the man's dominance and determination. He didn't just beat you, he wanted to bury you. Or perhaps Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr for the end-to-end unstoppability that drove this Ranger and Flame fan to distraction? Coffey in particular: I had a sort of cringing admiration when he skated past my heroes with such ridiculous ease. [Yes to Richard, obviously. I suspect Coffey qualifies, but it is hard for me as an Oilers fan to rule decisively on the issue. -ed.]

Football? Taylor makes sense and I agree about the QBs: they tended to have an aura of inevitability rather than the terror aspect. Warren Moon is a prime example of this from his Eskies days. He personified the team's magic during those championship years. Joe Montana had the same quality. As for terror--try Gizmo Williams on CFL punt returns. I can't think of an NFL example outside of your choices except for Jim Brown or maybe O.J. in his pre-crime days.

Baseball--Barry Bonds over Ortiz (I'm not a Bonds fan but few others drove the fans crazier when he stepped up to the plate). As for pitchers, a starter who alternately dazzled and terrorized players was Sandy Koufax. In a short career, he was the guy who got stronger as the game went on if you believe the mythology. He's the one pitcher I wished I had witnessed. Maybe Nolan Ryan belongs with him for the hard throwing but not the accuracy--today's relievers pale by comparison: their brand of terror is short-lived, not game-long like Koufax.-Ian Page

Barry Bonds ain't a terror? He was twice; the young, Mayes-esque Barry, and the old, Ruthian (or is it Cansecoid?) Barry. But the stats may obscure that. I've seen, when he was still in Montreal, quite a few pitchers go nuts over the young, wild eyed, run-like-hell-and-hack-everything Guerrero. But then, we always over-value those we saw emerge, don't we? Maybe baseball just isn't fit for that kind of gut feeling.
I think Mark Messier did qualify as a Great Terror in his prime, didn't he? -Olivier Bouchard

Maybe, but part of what made Messier great was the way he elevated his teammates to another level; he was rarely the explosive lone individual you felt like you had to beat. I would be tempted to put him in an inspiration/relentlessness category with Joe Montana and John Elway, but then, he was such a brutal son of a bitch, too... Messier and Howe may just occupy their own room.

For the benefit of NFL fans, let me add that Henry "Gizmo" Williams' special Terror status within the CFL is unquestioned. A kick returner listed generously at 5'6" and hailing from Northwest Mississippi Junior College, Giz ran back 31 regular-season kick-return touchdowns in 14 seasons--and had 28 more called back on penalties.

I think in baseball there is no question that Barry Bonds has been there for the last few years. The intentional walks speak for themselves... the free passes he gets are insane, we've never seen anything like these levels. Remember the 2002 playoffs when he hit eight home runs in 17 games despite being walked 27 times? The most unstoppable baseball player I've ever seen.

One more ballplayer... Nolan Ryan, but only on the rare occsaions when he was on his game. You often wondered how your team would ever hit the baseball, let alone score a run. I think Koufax and Gibson hit this level too, for a few years, probably due to the structure of the game in the '60s when it was easier for a pitcher to dominate.

Shaq was a Terror too, although he's lost that since the foot injury has slowed his movement inside.

In tennis, I think there's no question that Roger Federer is reaching those levels now. There is just no way anyone around him can beat him unless he makes mistakes... and he just doesn't make mistakes.

But I can't believe you missed the Greatest Terror of Them All... the one current guy who has no comparables in history, who has Terrorized his sport as much as anyone ever... Tiger! -Craig Burley

The fact that golfers are fighting the course as well as each other makes the anointment of a Terror awfully difficult in golf. And then again, Woods is so dominant that the feeling he inspires at his best isn't fear so much as a grim sort of "Let's compete for second place" despondency. He's a hard case who may actually be on a higher level of the pantheon. Remember, this is not the only room in that structure.

But I will say a very affirmative yes to Gibson, Shaq, and Federer.

Interesting you didn't have any goalies but I think Hasek, may he burn in hell, might qualify. And bless you for not forgetting Bo. -Chris Lloyd-Smith

I feel like Hasek and Roy are too temperamental to qualify. Strangely enough, I can't name a goaltender who quite meets my emotional criteria, but when it comes to occupying the forefront of the opposing fan's imagination, Ed Belfour and Ron Hextall come closest amongst those I've seen.

- 12:09 am, February 28 (link)


If you're looking for my thoughts about Canada's disastrous Olympic hockey tournament, you'll want to wait for me to put them in the Western Standard. (Or you could go look here.) But I would like to make one point.

Canada's loss to Russia is, in one sense, a great day for hockey; it marks the decisive step in the ascension of Alexander Ovechkin to the plane of Great Terrors. For me, this is the most treasured wing of the sports pantheon--that of the practically unstoppable, explosive athlete who reduces opponents, as an individual, to a state of obsession and snivelling fear. These are the guys who remind you of Butch and Sundance running, bleary-eyed and panicking, from the Superposse. There are not many of them, and many greats don't reach that level. In football, you have Gale Sayers and Bo Jackson, and damned few others. In baseball, no one has ever quite been able to make room beside Babe Ruth; Rickey Henderson and George Brett are loitering in the lobby, but the truest offensive Great Terror in my own years of watching baseball has probably been David Ortiz. Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan are model Terrors; based on my slender knowledge of basketball I would let Bird in and leave Magic out. Darryl Sittler reached this level briefly when I was a little kid, and Kobe Bryant is establishing his credentials. Mike Tyson goes without saying. John McEnroe, during that one run where he went like 85-and-2, was the irreplaceable Terror of tennis.

How hard is this level to reach? Mario Lemieux was never a Terror, for my money--but Pavel Bure was, even though Lemieux has the finer record of championships and overall scoring. Bjorn Borg won Wimbledon five years running without ever becoming a Terror. I don't know that any NFL quarterback I've seen has quite been a Terror unto himself. It is possible, but exceedingly rare, for a defender to be Terrifying, like Lawrence Taylor. In baseball there are arguably quite a few pitching Terrors, but most would be relievers: Gossage, Eckersley, Rivera. Dan Quisenberry was a legitimate Terror for a couple of years.

Ovechkin is there now; it doesn't matter much that he is only 20, because these guys don't waste much time letting you know. My reptile brain spent the game screaming the anti-Terror anthem: stop him, stop him, SOMEBODY STOP HIM. But in the cool abstract corners of the mind I was capable of seeing a certain poignance in watching Ovechkin fillet the Canadian defence repeatedly before the watching eyes of Gretzky, GM of the Canadian team, and Bure, playing the analogous role for the Russians. It's not necessary that Terrors always deliver the win, though Ovechkin did. It's only necessary that they hit you as a fan where you live, in your deepest-rooted survival instincts.

- 6:23 am, February 24 (link)

To inform, entertain, and terrify

The Ottawa Citizen, ordinarily a bastion of quality, presents us today with a nasty case study in how bogus news becomes an irresponsible headline. Take a walk with me down the garden path.

(1) The Conference Board of Canada issues an unsigned and rather undistinguished six-page summary of global trends that threaten Canadian national and economic security. The report (which you can download if you're prepared to give the CBC your name, address, phone number, and colonscopy results) devotes about 400 words to the potential for an avian flu epidemic.

There is a growing consensus that a large-scale, and possibly catastrophic, flu epidemic is imminent. While it is not the only health crisis threatening world populations, it is the most menacing one. ...Canada will not escape the imminent pandemic, and unless the level of global preparedness improves, panic will reign. Estimates of the scale of fatalities vary widely, but in the worst-case scenario, an H5N1 avian flu epidemic could kill as many as 1.6 million Canadians.

The statement that "panic will reign" in the event of an influenza pandemic is unsourced; there is no mention of the fact that the human species survived three such pandemics in the 20th century without witnessing the arrival of the Great Anarch (and, indeed, without fatal injury to retail trade and the manufacturing economy). But leave that aside.

(2) The statement that a flu epidemic could kill 1.6 million Canadians is sourced: here's the text of the footnote.

This figure is based on estimates for the U.S. population, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and pro-rated for the Canadian population. It is an extreme outcome based on the worst-case scenario.

Got that? The 1.6 million figure is the most extreme number that can be derived from a completely unjustified comparison of Canada with its more crowded neighbour. The author of the report, though perhaps historically ill-informed and over-excitable, has bent over backwards to make this clear--he's used the phrase "worst-case scenario" twice as a signal that he is essentially making stuff up. And the material in question, remember, is only a small part of the original report.

(3) So how does this one dodgy number get handled in the Citizen version of the story? Why, it goes directly into the headline:


(4) And then, in the lede, this estimate is described positively as a "prediction"--not, more correctly, as "an extreme outcome based on the worst-case scenario" by a lunatic with a calculator. Yecchh. Is it possible that someone at the paper owns shares in an embalming-equipment manufacturer?

- 7:50 am, February 21 (link)

Messenger of God and seal of the prophets, sure, but a man's got to eat

Edmonton's Muslims, who built Canada's first mosque in 1938, have put a list of UPC country codes on their website as a guide to adherents who wish to "Boycott the countries that published the cartoons that insulted Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)". Believers are advised to treat goods from Denmark, Norway, France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Austria, and (surprise!) Israel as Islamophobic haram. No word on when they'll get around to adding Canada, the United States, Holland, Italy, Austria, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Indonesia, and at least 34 other countries to the list.

- 8:29 am, February 20 (link)

Olympic hockey: state of the confederation

As you'll have noticed, Team Canada has been shut out back-to-back by Switzerland and Finland. The despair that this would ordinarily induce is coupled in this case by a crushing sort of prospective boredom. If we ultimately lose, the sportswriters are all going to write finger-waggling articles saying that of course (of course) our failure shouldn't be blamed on leaving young players like Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, et al., in the bus terminal. If we win they're basically going to say "See? We didn't need Crosby & Co. anyway." The sportswriter's standard worldview is unfalsifiable, like Freudian psychoanalysis or Marxism; it's amorphous enough to phagocytose any set of real-world facts.

Does that mean I think Crosby and Phaneuf should be there in Turin? W-e-eeeelll... that's not so simple. There were analysts and fans who thought before the Games that more young stars should have been in the lineup--but the selections they leered at skeptically would have been hypothetical bubble-dwellers like Jay Bouwmeester, who has been a solid +3 for Team Canada, or Shane Doan, who is tied for the team scoring lead and has been one of the two or three best Canadian forwards.

Personally, I don't think there can be any reasonable doubt about it: Staal or Spezza would almost certainly be doing more for the team right now than the badly-calibrated Rick Nash, and Dion Phaneuf would unquestionably be holding up better at the blue line than the crippled Chris Pronger. But these are genuine cases of 20/20 hindsight: beforehand, nobody would have advocated leaving Nash or the Orbs of Power at home.

The only crime I can really see convicting Wayne Gretzky of is leaving Sidney Crosby behind. But it's a doozy of a one-count indictment. Crosby's colour, fire, confidence, and creativity seem to represent everything this Team Canada has lacked; it's agonizing to imagine the difference his presence might have made in the last period of that Finland game. Just having him on the bench as a threat, I think, would have changed the dynamic. They're only round-robin games, but I fear greatly that ten years from now, everybody will be agreeing with me about this.

[UPDATE, 8:19 am: Take Nash off the team? Perish the thought, says reader Craig Burley: "Rick Nash can rush down the wrong wing and rip a shot four feet past the top corner, leading to a three-on-two the other way, better than any other winger in hockey. He adds more breathless excitement to a hockey game than any other player I can think of." Yeah--the mood is just super good in Canada right now.]

- 3:03 am, February 20 (link)


Sorry--I guess I've said what I had to say about the United Church, but I just wanted to put this in perspective in case anyone else needed an extra day or so, like me, to fully swallow what is happening here:

A major national church has, without any kind of trial process or consultation with its members, formally denounced identifiable private individuals for "hatred."

This is a pretty big deal, right? I realize that the health of the UCC as a social concern is hovering somewhere around the level of Blockbuster Video's, but it is still the historic voice of an entire Canadian social class. Christian churches in the modern Western world simply don't call people out--not when politicians steal money from the public, or when teenagers desecrate grave markers. They don't issue indignant press releases about a Clifford Olson or a Paul Bernardo; indeed, they are typically the first to look for exculpatory accounts of ordinary crimes. Perhaps the church could make its new style of social engagement a running periodical feature for the media--every Friday there could be a press release headed "Casting the First Stone," or "Motes in Our Brethren's Eyes."

It will be interesting to see how the clergy responds to the actions of the general secretary of its general council (who issued the controversial letter in the absence of the church's moderator). One UCC minister writes:

For your information... I found that press release to be profoundly embarassing (and, yes, I've let those responsible know). They sure don't speak for me. I am cheered to note that I haven't found many colleagues leaping to defend this silliness, either.

Our correspondent points to this thread on a forum for United Church clergymen and activists. The UCC is the bastard grandchild of the faith of my fathers; I'm encouraged that at least some of its leaders, even among those who question the wisdom of reprinting the cartoon, regard the letter as an error.

- 9:43 pm, February 19 (link)

The friends of Imam Slimi

It's official: the besweatered whitebread leadership of the United Church of Canada has just immolated the last of its credibility in an effort to pursue ecumenism to the gates of Mecca. The publication of the Danish Muhammad cartoons in the Western Standard provoked the UCC to fire off an open letter to two handpicked representatives of the Muslim community:

On behalf of The United Church of Canada we wish to express to you and through the Council of Imams, to the Islamic communities of Canada, our deepest regret that the name of Muhammad has been so tragically misused in the depictions of cartoons first published in Europe, but now also in Canada.
We believe that the intention of publishing the cartoons has little to do with freedom of expression and much to do with incitement to racial and religious hatred. ...The answer to your question of "why publish such cartoons?" we believe is simply racial hatred. In other forms it has been called Islamophobia.

What I want to know is, how come our other constitutional freedoms are never hogtied and thrown onto the psychoanalyst's couch like this? No one ever seems to ask what ugly or antisocial purposes might sometimes be promoted by the exercise of our voting rights, our mobility rights, our equality rights, or our rights to due process of the law. When it comes to some individual rights--for instance, the right of a witness not to self-incriminate at a criminal trial--it is practically only bad people and instances of evil conduct that are ostensibly protected. But these rights have, for the most part, well-understood purposes; we know that to preserve liberal democracy, there are good reasons for these rules to be upheld absolutely and universally.

But let anyone exercise freedom of the press, or freedom of speech, and suddenly his motives are interrogated--suddenly the "right" is only available to the well-meaning, which is to be defined none too broadly. It should be emphasized that the UCC's letter leaves absolutely no room for the possibility that that reprinting of the cartoons by the Standard and the Calgary Jewish Free Press might have been a well-intended but misguided gesture on behalf of press freedom. The Church has declared categorically that the senior staffs of the magazines in question are motivated by racial hatred. Period.

The problem is that anybody can play this game.

I wonder, for example, whether the UCC would have raced so quickly to weigh in if the editors and publishers of the Standard and the JFP had been UCC members in good standing? That seems improbable, doesn't it? In view of the United Church's admitted history of anti-Semitism, I'd like to ask James Sinclair and Bruce Gregersen on behalf of all Canadians whether it's a coincidence that they feel so progressive and so comfortable in judging people with names like Richard Bronstein, Ezra Levant, and Kevin Libin guilty of presumptive "racial hatred" where no evidence exists. Surely the question whether the UCC regards public Jew-bashing as marvelous sport for an idle Friday afternoon is at least as fair as the UCC's own letter is.

[UPDATE, February 19: More here.]

- 9:43 pm, February 18 (link)

'He had a dangerously cheesy attitude': covers the decline and fall of Gretzky. -8:49 pm, February 18
Attention Canadian farmers: You may want to start following the news from Australia, where the national single-desk Wheat Board may be doomed because of kickbacks to Saddam. One wonders what skeletons might be buried in the CWB's "marketing expenses" line items... -6:23 pm, February 16

Hot off the AP wire:

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Voters in the tiny South Pacific territory of Tokelau have failed to endorse a plan for self-government in a U.N.-mandated referendum -- 117 years after it was seized by Britain as a colony, election officials said Thursday.

...The vote means Tokelau remains on the U.N decolonization list of non self-governing territories. ...Tokelau is one of 16 non-self-governing territories left on the U.N. decolonization list, which also includes Gibraltar, Western Sahara and Guam.

Needless to say, in this era of primitive telegraphy and Pony Express riders, the AP couldn't afford to waste valuable space by giving readers the full list of 16 territories slated by the UN for decolonization. Since this is the friggin' Internet, here's the list direct from the Special Committee on Decolonization:

The 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories are: American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands/Malvinas, Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands, and Western Sahara.

Tokelau, where sentiment in favour of independence fell just short of a two-thirds supermajority, is probably the only one of these territories in which half the populace genuinely desires self-government.

- 6:17 pm, February 16 (link)

Our long national nightmare is over: You'll never again have to sit through one of those awful Alexander Keith's commercials. And when I say never, I do mean never... -10:21 am, February 16
That's about the size/ Where you put your eyes

Belgium's Atomium, one of the loveliest surviving artifacts of retrofuturism, was reopened to the public yesterday after two years of renovations. The Atomium is so popular amongst Belgians that rust from its nine balls was sold to raise a million Euros for its refit. Click the photo at left [taken by Jan-Gerd Tenberge] to visit Flickr's Atomium tag-cluster full of new and old images.

- 6:47 pm, February 15 (link)

Cartoon War: the far side

Isn't it always the Australians who keep things in perspective best? When the largest-selling newspaper in Iran decided to get revenge on the infidel by conducting an "international cartoon contest about the Holocaust," a brilliant prankster successfully entered the prior work of an anti-Zionist Aussie cartoonist. Tim Blair has worldwide reaction to the semi-hoax and even has a lead on the perp. (It appears to have been the work of writers at The Chaser, the ABC's non-smug, deadpan answer to The Daily Show.)

Incidentally, be sure to check tomorrow's National Post for my first in-print weigh-in on the original warToons. The Western Standard has reprinted many of them in this week's issue: keep checking The Shotgun for updates. Calgary's Jewish Free Press has also republished the offending material.

- 6:24 pm, February 15 (link)

Bono vs. Mexico

In the grand tradition of The Who's war with Australia, U2 has been carrying on a decade-long boycott against Mexico, where their security director was run over and nearly killed by the hired goons of Ernesto Zedillo's sons. This week the band is relenting and will play two dates in the Zedillo-free US of M. The Colony Reporter of Guadalajara has the strange story.

- 12:19 pm, February 15 (link)


OK: let's take it as read that the right to bear arms no longer applies to someone who discharges a fowling-piece accidentally in the face of a hunting buddy. That shouldn't be the kind of thing you settle over a couple of beers. And it doesn't help Dick Cheney's case that he possesses a demeanour that makes it easy to imagine him standing over his victim with two Secret Servicemen at his flanks, cackling and snarling "So what are you gonna do, Fred? Call the cops?"

But do you have any idea how many people I would be shooting in the face if I were a second-term U.S. Vice President? I practically have a list ready for the occasion, for crying out loud. I think I can name the first two dozen right off the top of my head.

Some random links:

I think I've discovered the missed design opportunity that doomed my site to mediocre popularity (þ: Kottke).

Something Awful breaks open the Muslim Man Complaint Box.

Jeff Polage is Hollywood's hottest new sensation (þ: SE).

Bonus weird discovery: The francogenic surname "Gervais", along with variants like Gervase and Jarvis, has been native to the British Isles since at least the time of the Conqueror. So it shouldn't be surprising that the UK's hottest comedian (and impresario of the world's most popular podcast) is a bloke named Ricky Gervais. The surprise is that, in R.G.'s case, the name is actually French--more specifically, French-Canadian. Gervais's father was a Canadian soldier who stayed in Blighty and settled down after the Second World War (unlike Eric Clapton's disappearing Canadian dad). No word on whether Ricky himself knows enough joual to lend a hand with the new French adaptation of The Office.

- 12:23 am, February 14 (link)

Par for the course

We've all learned this week that people react badly when you make blasphemous insinuations against the central figure of a dominant religion. Nevertheless, that's not going to stop me from writing about Gretzky.

On Thursday morning, the pace of events in the Rick Tocchet scandal seemed to be so quick that anything might happen by the end of the day; one half-expected Gretzky to call a press conference and pull a Budd Dwyer. 99's firm denial of wrongdoing, made late Thursday, has since brought things to an unsteady stasis. But we're left with the pure unexplained weirdness of his denial that he knew of his wife's betting habits.

It makes one wonder whether the tight-sphinctered symbiosis between Gretzky and the Canadian press can last. Already adventurous journalists are making uncharacteristically barbed comments about the nouveau riche swindlers in whose circles Gretzky has hitherto moved. Perhaps, on a day when Janet Jones' spiritual sibling Yoko Ono helps open the Winter Olympics, reporters can finally turn the clock back four years to the opening of the Salt Lake games and get to the bottom of a strange incident that took place there. For those who've forgotten, Gretzky was scheduled to make an appearance at the stadium amidst a sequence of animatronic dinosaurs and figure skaters. But when the announcer wound the crowd up to a fever pitch and introduced Gretzky, a spotlight was thrown, and nothing ensued but ten seconds of awkward silence. No one, to my knowledge, ever inquired into the missed cue; the bizarre occurrence was overshadowed by Gretzky's arguably even stranger conduct later on at the Olympic hockey tournament. If Madonna or Dick Cheney had pulled such a glaring no-show at an Olympic ceremony, you can bet it would have been news.

- 4:36 pm, February 10 (link)

I heartily endorse this product and/or service

The Ambler is holding a pledge drive to finance his return to weblogging. Elsewhere, the international cartoon controversy has claimed an unlikely victim as the New York Press's mass walkout leaves Jeremy Lott dangling.

- 4:13 pm, February 10 (link)

"Is it just me, or has Cosh just signed away his future as a Canadian journalist?" Boy, here's hoping it's just you, bro... -12:25 am, February 9
A short note to newspapermen everywhere

Having massive amounts of capital located in vulnerable public places, it is understandable that most of you should be reluctant to publish those controversial Danish cartoons.

Without wishing to overdramatize or display disrespect, I'd say the price for not doing so is simple and even fairly modest. From now on your employees, editors, and theoreticians have to shut their traps, forever, about how your "resources" for reporting and disseminating information are superior to those of distributed individuals. People will remember that when the chips were down, those mighty "resources" were hostages to protest, boycott, and vandalism. Face it: you've been left looking just like the idiot Hummer owner who boasts of his ability to go anywhere--but who cannot leave paved roads out of fear for his paint job.

- 5:19 pm, February 8 (link)

This I believe

Is anybody else enjoying the barrage of headlines discussing "cartoon violence" in the Muslim world? Perhaps I'm just insensitive, but I keep imagining Wile E. Coyote in a turban.

On Tuesday the National Post, seeking to make a sharp point about all this "cartoon violence", printed a selection of vicious anti-Semitic cartoons taken from the recent pages of the Muslim press. Today the Post prints a brief, tart letter from one Bonnie Marie Shahin of Calgary, who writes:

There is a huge difference between the distasteful cartoons from Arab newspapers that the National Post reprinted and those published in the Danish media. The cartoons you reprinted are political in nature and do not denigrate the Jewish religion. They are directed at Israel, which is a political entity.

An enlightening summary of the issue, don't you think? If you merely advocate genocide against a "political entity," you are entitled to the protections of free speech, and to full deference to your intellectual dignity. But to criticize a religious creed--well, that's just hateful.

This is, of course, a spectacular subversion of the postliberal ethos of programmed "free expression". Western societies like Canada were encouraged to adopt laws against "hate" in order to protect people from violence and discrimination on the basis of their inalterable, inherent characteristics, most significantly race. But perhaps Bonnie Marie Shahin's view represents our future. "Political entities", including racial groups, will be regarded as fair game--but discussion of the demerits of any belief system, whether Islam, Mormonism, logical positivism, or New Math, will be proscribed. This amounts to a universal ban on reasoned discourse, but then why should mere philosophy be allowed to interfere with the entertaining struggle of rival "cultures" for political power?

My own view is that if we're not free to say fuck Islam, then we're not free, period. My apologies to any Canadian diplomats abroad whose lives and property may be endangered by a simple statement of the essential credo of liberalism.

- 11:17 am, February 8 (link)

It's all about the children

A furious David Emerson lashed out at the federal Liberal Party last night... Emerson said his children -- a son, 14, and daughter, 12 -- were bearing the brunt of attacks over his defection to the Conservative Party this week.

"My kids are being treated with hostility in school because of what's being said. My kids are crying because of what's being said at school," Emerson told The Province from Ottawa.

The front-page story in today's newspaper will, of course, be a real huge help to Emerson's kids.

But let it not be said that the minister's sudden defection to the Conservative Party isn't paying immediate dividends: the man is giving a male WASP-dominated caucus a valuable lesson in 21st-century political discourse. In an earlier age it would have gone without saying that the best way to protect the reputation of one's family is to not do disgraceful things. All children are hostages to their parents' public conduct: if you get caught sexually molesting St. Bernards, it's sort of inevitable that they're going to call your kids "Beethoven" in the schoolyard and make little barrels of brandy out of construction paper. But the new Saddamist doctrine, espoused here by Emerson, is that one's own offspring make terribly convenient human shields. Lay off the criticism or the shorties get it!

Yet that, perhaps, isn't even the pinnacle of the man's shamelessness.

[Liberal riding president] Curman said about 300 volunteers rallied to work on the Emerson campaign, giving up time with family, friends and their businesses. "They believed in the ideals of the Liberal Party and wanted you to represent Vancouver-Kingsway as our Liberal MP," Curman wrote. "Your actions have made their gifts of time meaningless."

But Emerson shot back that he had raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Liberal Party in B.C. and across Canada -- and had left at least $80,000 in the riding association's coffers thanks to his efforts. "I challenge them publicly with me and my wife present to demonstrate they are not better off as a result of the fundraising activities we have undertaken," Emerson fumed.

Translation: Sure, I could "challenge" the complainants by running for re-election and submitting myself to the judgment of the public. But that's using the word "challenge" in an obsolete meaning that incorporates the concept of a fair fight! Surely it's much easier all around for me to cling to my seat and fling counterfactuals at the people who got me elected? And if that sounds like "cowardice", I think you'll find that word has changed its meaning overnight too.

- 9:04 am, February 8 (link)

And little Stevie and the gang lived happily ever after

I've signed off with one last post at my Maclean's election weblog. I'm grateful to the magazine's brain-trust for suggesting the experiment, and to online editor Derek Chezzi, who had to implement a new weblogging interface on a very tight schedule. The normal one-stop service now resumes here at

- 12:03 pm, February 7 (link)

New traditionalists

A couple of recent '80s gems from the WFMU blog:

Devo and Neil Young meet at the end of the Human Highway to perform "Hey Hey, My My" [MP3]. (A small fraction of the unbelieveable truth about Human Highway can be located here.)

Two years or so later, Mark E. Smith and The Fall are dragged along to appear on Channel 4's The Tube with John Peel. Their performance of "Smile" does its best to herald the extinction of the human race. Not shown: smug ass Jools Holland reappearing peppily after the commercial to shoot off some cheeky pre-chambered witticism.

- 2:19 am, February 6 (link)


8:03 pm Jesus, would you look at Cowher. His jaw is stuck out there even further than ever. Hines Ward is the MVP--not my preferred choice, but as a keen advocate of players who can catch the ball I've always been terribly fond of the guy. If Jerramy Stevens had Ward's hands (not that anyone else in the league does), Seattle would be going home with the Lombardi Trophy.

8:00 pm Weird two-minute drill from the Seahawks--do they simply not have any sideline passes in the playbook? Holmgren screwed up the clock management in both halves; he picked an awful bad day to bring tiddlywinks to a damn chess match.

7:53 pm Seattle is about to get the ball back at the two-minute warning with no timeouts, if it makes any difference. Sweet Shaun Alexander has 95 yards on 20 carries today; Jerome Bettis has 43 on 14. I think I'd rather have the guy who dialed it up in the second half and started making the interstitial 4- and 5-yard inside runs, as Bettis has.

7:47 pm Just remarkable how you see Cowher's mind at work in every series... the Steelers just converted on 3rd-and-6 with a fake reverse that depended entirely on the earlier gadget play and opened up the middle completely for Randle-El.

And Pittsburgh fans may lose a lot of worry weight during Roethlisberger's frequent minor dents and IR visits, but how many big first downs has he run for today? (There's one now, pushing the clock toward 3:00.) Do you get the sense that Cowher discourages his love of contact at all?

7:39 pm Is that a Marvin the Martian tattoo I saw on Seattle backup QB Seneca Wallace? Nifty.

7:27 pm There's the high-school play we were waiting for: reverse to Randle-El, who completes a 43-yard TD pass to Hines Ward, the Apollo of the Gridiron. Surely it barely even counts as a gadget play if you always run it the same way with the same personnel? There's not much excuse for leaving Ward that far open if you watch NFL Primetime, and you're not going to win a lot of Super Bowls if you give the opposition a free major. 21-10 with nine minutes on the clock.

7:19 pm A bruising Seattle drive starting from the Seahawk 2 reaches the Pittsburgh 28. Anybody else wondering about that Polamalu groin injury? He just made his first two tackles of the night. I don't think Alexander is going to be a major factor from here on, but he is starting to make Pittsburgh defenders miss.

Ike Taylor, on the other hand, has been on fire (6 tackles) and just picked off Hasselback at the 5. If the Steelers can run some time off here, he'll have an excellent MVP case.

7:07 pm This is how Madden earns his aviation fuel for the super-bus even at his most annoying: he's just reminded us that we haven't seen a gadget play from the Steelers yet.

6:51 pm While we were waiting for Shaun Alexander to "break it open", Roethlisberger marched the ball 55 yards without breaking a sweat--but then he tossed an easy pick to Kelly Herndon at the Seahawk 2 and watched Herndon return it 76 yards (another surprising Super Bowl record). He saw most of the return, anyway, before he got blocked about a foot deep into Ford Field. Hasselbeck finds Jeremy Stevens in the end zone for the TD, and it's 14-10 Pittsburgh. Seattle's got to challenge Roethlisberger now; it's been almost a blitz-free game, but I expect the gentleman's agreement will end.

6:32 pm POW. With Seattle hanging back in a loose nickel defence, Willie Parker steps gracefully inside the Steeler tackle and cuts loose for 75 yards, the longest run from scrimmage in forty years of Super Bowls. 14-3 Pittsburgh. Now, is anybody else still confused about Bill Cowher's big plan? The whole first half was designed to create that play, and none of the Hall of Famers doing colour commentary seem to have realized it. I'm afraid this feels exactly like the Barret Robbins Super Bowl, when Madden spent the whole game trying to explain away a painfully crummy performance by the Raiders' depleted offensive line. He's sitting here telling me that Shaun Alexander is going to "break it open" any minute now.

6:11 pm "Ladies and gennamin, we'd like to do a number faw yuh now called... 'Cocksucker Blues'!" These are the words I dreamt of hearing. Sadly, the Stones just didn't have the Stones, though I'm sure there are still three people in Nebraska who are shocked by the salacious content (or blown away by the novelty) of "Satisfaction".

5:52 pm Wow. With 30 seconds left in the half, one time-out, and the play clock running, Hasselbeck spots something wrong at the line of scrimmage. Hasselbeck spends 17 seconds screaming at his linemen and his backfield. Finally Cowher calls a time-out, to the utter confusion of Madden and Michaels, and the camera cuts to Old Fistface nodding with satisfaction.

Why did Cowher bail Hasselbeck out? I have a funny feeling the answer is "Fuck you, that's why." The score at the half is 7-3 Steelers; it could just as easily be 21-3.

5:29 pm "The Super Bowl is supposed to be a neutral-site game, but this crowd is about as neutral as Lake Placid was when the Americans played the Soviet hockey team in 1980." Man, I bet Al Michael's friends get real tired of forced Miracle-on-Ice references. "I'd say this cabernet has all the persistence and asperity of a Mike Eruzione."

Roethlisberger finally completed one of these long bombs, to Hines Ward at the 3. Bad news for Seattle--this was going to happen eventually, and they needed to have ten points or so on the board. Even if the Steelers don't score here it's going to create space for Bettis (and Randle-El in the flat, assuming he's not stone dead from that ugly hit a few minutes ago).

5:05 pm "House M.D. returns in February with all-new episodes. Will a 'perfect mother's' mystery illness reveal her shocking secret?" Well, yeah, I would assume so.

Seattle is moving the ball effectively with short passes; Roethlisberger is 1-for-5 and has no first downs through one quarter. But if anybody's plan is being followed, it's got to be Cowher's. Alexander has looked helpless on the ground, and Seattle is taking stupid penalties. Pittsburgh hasn't yet tried to test the stretched Seattle defence.

4:51 pm It's the Super Bowl--couldn't Sweet Shaun Alexander be convinced to throw an actual block or two? Or is there an insurance company with a sniper located in the stands for just such an eventuality?

4:47 pm Looks like Canadians will be vouchsafed an unusual opportunity to see one of the big-ticket SB ads--the Jay Mohr Diet Pepsi spot. If you listened to ESPN radio at all this week, you know Mohr was hanging around Radio Row constantly and you strongly suspect he had a pretty good Johnny Walker buzz going. He visited Jim Rome and mock-lamented at one point "I've been in three Oscar-nominated movies, and now here I am in Detroit doing publicity for an inanimate object."

4:21 pm Here's the new Hall of Famer, John Madden. Apparently that is exactly as much acknowledgment as the big man's election is going to get from ABC today: Al Michaels called him "the newest Hall of Famer" in passing, and he looked a little resentful even about that. Well, why not? Madden's bigger than the Hall of Fame--if he died tomorrow, and they put his bus up on blocks next to the actual Hall, it would be a bigger tourist draw.

I suspect JM is about twenty years away from the rarest of linguistic distinctions--namely, having his name become a common noun in the English language. "Hey, my girlfriend's out of town. You dudes want to get together Saturday and play some madden? You feel like maddening it up?" At the very least we need a verb for what pro athletes do when they play themselves in video games.

4:11 pm Untouched Super Bowl storyline: the quarterbacking battle, Hasselbeck vs. Roethlisberger, sounds like a lawsuit over a weisswurst recipe. Anybody noticed that you have to have an angry-sounding German name to succeed as a Seattle QB?

4:04 pm Parade of former Super Bowl MVPs, providing a nice little series of awkward moments as Steeler fans boo old nemeses. Fred Biletnikoff should be legally required to grow his hair and moustache out for these appearances.
Am I the only one who's pretty sure that John Riggins is in better game shape right now than Jerome Bettis?

3:53 pm A few minutes from kickoff. The pre-game concert performance, a medley compered from behind the keyboard by Stevie Wonder, is marred by clumsy transitions between songs. At least half the singing is simply gone with the wind, lost to poorly-mixed or disconnected audio signals. Which is, bafflingly, typical: surely running a PA, even a complicated one, isn't rocket science. Wasn't there a sound check? Why does this happen at every single Super Bowl?

But the real lesson is that you can't ruin Stevie Wonder entirely, any more than amateurish city-park performances hurt Shakespeare.

- February 5 (link)

Cy Young candidate

Now that ties have been eliminated from the NHL, every game comes with a game-winning goal. Jarret Stoll recorded the GWG in tonight's 3-1 Oiler victory over the Canucks--but that's probably not what he's going to remember about it. Stoll won 21 faceoffs tonight and lost just one, an unfathomable display of witchcraft in a league where the best faceoff men win scarcely 60% of the time over a whole season. Stoll went 9-1 against rookie Ryan Kesler and was perfect against Henrik Sedin (5-0), Trevor Linden (3-0), Brendan Morrison (3-0), and Josh Green (1-0). (The woebegone Kesler had been the first star in Vancouver's 3-1 win over Calgary Friday, scoring a goal and trading blows with sluggish superstar Jarome Iginla in the first period.)

- 10:51 pm, February 4 (link)

Incidentally, my Super Bowl prediction is East Whale-Steaks 37, Superb Streetlights 17. -9:09 pm, February 4
Engages no skills

The only rock-solid traffic-building secret I know is that everybody loves anagrams. Everybody.

I was playing with a new piece of anagram software today, plugging in the names of various National Hockey League teams. It began to dawn on me that, despite the best efforts of franchises like the Minnesota Wild, there isn't nearly enough poetic, surrealistic imagery in hockey. Rearranging the letters in the team names opens up a whole new imaginative universe to the hockey fan. You tell me--why would you cheer for the pedestrian New York Rangers when you could root for the Narrow Green Sky? You're already thinking of how beautiful the uniforms would be, am I right? And isn't it true that a much more evocative and accurate name for the Toronto Maple Leafs would be the Lame Forest Platoon? It summarizes their entire history perfectly, and you wouldn't even have to change the logo.

I live for the day when an ordinary game between the Washington Capitals and the Ottawa Senators is replaced by a romantic collision between the Asphalt Wainscoting and the Two-Tear Sonatas. See if you can find your favourite NHL club under the name it occupies in the dreamlike world of anagrams.

Ornamental Candies
Indolent Swami
Oral Pathfinders
Minor Lodestone
Rural China Scenario
Small Gray Face
Soluble Suits
Kind Norse Lawyers
Bleak Cumulus Objects
Gin-Ordered Twits
Gambling Antipathy
Very Snide Jewels
Mud Mafia Hockey Things
Fairly Hep Pillheads
Exotic Pony Hose
Anal Coach Overload*

*(It probably goes without saying, but Marc Crawford did once work for this team.)

- 9:01 pm, February 4 (link)

Block that metaphor

Thanks to everybody who wrote to congratulate me on my recent election-related appearance in the Los Angeles Times. I cannot deny the widespread suspicion that Matt Welch's simultaneous hiring by the Times comment desk is less than coincidental. (A "director's cut" of my Times column appeared in Monday's edition of the National Post.)

Welch is more than qualified for his new job, and the Times will benefit from his wide acquaintance, his political seasoning at the hands of Reason magazine, and his experience as a discount globetrotter. That said, it is still a remarkable act of courage for a newspaper with a sealed-and-delivered market share to hire one of its fiercest critics. At the very least, we've learned what happens when a frequent contributor to the Times' "Outside the Tent" section is invited inside the flap: he immediately writes a column about institutional peeing. Cleanup on aisle three!

- 3:35 am, February 2 (link)

Some of the stuff I've been reading when I could have been weblogging

Mike and Dave of Covered in Oil write up their visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Sir Richard Burton discusses the history and theory of dueling in a chapter from a forgotten 1911 book on swordsmanship.

Huge chunks of the Oxford Companion to World War II. Did you know that Britain established an official Falconry Unit to intercept hypothetical carrier-pigeon messages from German spies? Can you name the three Germans who received ceremonial samurai swords from the Japanese military government during the war? (Göring and Rommel are pretty guessable; the third was a one-quarter-Jewish Kriegsmarine captain whose disguised merchant raider captured crucial information about Allied defence arrangements in Asia.)

Bonus eye candy: Google Maps has now upgraded its satellite imagery for many urban areas once covered in low resolution. This includes the city of Edmonton, whose eastern half was until last week just an array of blobs. Compare this old image of Commonwealth Stadium with the creamy new hi-res goodness. The new superimposed imagery has the amusing effect of splitting the city in two between summer and winter.

Super double bonus: Cat lovers will want to stay abreast of my massively updated Flickr stream.

- 11:21 am, February 1 (link)