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Parental advisory: explicit lyrics.

Decoding the referral logs

Now here's a contrarian exercise for you: I'm going to argue that Glenn Reynolds needs more Web traffic! A case of taking coals to Newcastle, you say? Without doubt; but there's a puzzling paradox in my traffic stats and I'm wonder if other people have noticed it.

The god-emperor of weblogging saw fit to include my site (Serving Pedantry and Petulance Since 2002™) on the streamlined blogroll at his MSNBC page. A very humbling honour. To venture a statistical hypothesis, it seems to me that, ceteris paribus, if your site is on blogrolls on two pages receiving equal traffic, you should get more hits from the short blogroll than the long one. Sounds logical, right?--people are surely more likely to follow a link from a list of 25 than from a list of 150+. Yet, around here at least, the evidence is that the Instapundit blogroll still has more pushing power, by a factor I'd estimate at around 2.0-5.0, than the MSNBC blogroll. (I can't make accurate observations at the moment, because my Instapundit referrals are coming from an entry there, not the roll.) My best guess as to the meaning of this is that Instapundit is still receiving a lot more visitors, perhaps a full order of magnitude more, than

You can imagine confounding effects that could account for this phenomenon, the main one being that the Instapundit blogroll might be seen as an important feature of, while the blogroll may be dismissed on sight or regarded as slightly perfunctory. It's certainly possible. But the blogroll is more visually prominent on its page than the Instapundit blogroll, and if people aren't paying attention to Reynolds' personal winnowing of the weblog world's elite, why aren't they? All right--my bias is showing. I'm still surprised that the ratio of Instapundit blogroll power to blogroll power is significantly greater than unity. Isn't MSNBC supposed to be, y'know, a media empire? Aren't there supposed to be synergies going on here?

If you're a Glenn Reynolds fan, you should make a point of visiting his new site, for several reasons: (1) the paycheque represents his first recompense for the free editorial labour he's been putting into the original site; (2) this is not your father's Instapundit--the entries are proper columns and he's tackling new subjects; (3) I'm asking you to do it, not just for the selfish reason that the prof promotes me occasionally, but for the way more important selfish reason that high-profile transitions from weblogging to paying journalism should be encouraged in general. And did I mention that you should definitely be buying a trial subscription to the L.A. Examiner?

- 8:03 pm, January 31 (link)

Myth congeniality

I tried to go to bed and sleep; Lord knows it's what I want to do most in the world right now. But I found myself lying there, composing, in my head, this weblog entry. I've learned from experience that it's best not to struggle in those situations. You've got to wake up and put the words on the page; no sense tossing and turning.

So. Our subject is Michael Fumento's New Republic piece on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder--the Disease Formerly Known As Attention Deficit Disorder Or Hyperactivity, Depending On What Diagnostic Criteria You Used And What Year It Was. I won't attempt to summarize the piece, but the peg for it, clearly, is that the most famous debunker of medical myths in our time finds himself on the side of the angels, for once, instead of playing devil's advocate. ("A Liberal Hoax Turns Out To Be True" is the subhed.) ADHD has been a flashpoint for conservative/libertarian criticism of the inappropriate medicalizing of ordinary human behaviour. Fumento, in defending the widespread practice of prescribing Ritalin to hyperactive children, is conscious of momentarily stepping outside the lib-con camp. The exercise is fascinating.

One feels immense trepidation in questioning Fumento's framing of a medical issue, in this case or any other. I have no meaningful expertise on the subject of ADHD: and, please, read that twice. But I do have some points to raise.

· Fumento writes:

Many conservative writers, myself included, have criticized the growing tendency to pathologize every undesirable behavior--especially where children are concerned. But, when it comes to ADHD, this skepticism is misplaced.

I think this is a decidedly unfortunate statement. Under what circumstances, exactly, is "skepticism" of this sort ever "misplaced" outright? You may believe, and Fumento goes on to try and show, that the skepticism is unsuccessful at overthrowing the evidence; but you can't reasonably expect people to abandon the actual skepticism. The skepticism is not misplaced; it could not possibly be more appropriate than in a case of feeding drugs to millions of children on the grounds that they have a suppositional mental disorder. Fumento knows this; the hand of a frisky TNR editor may even be to blame for the locution.

· This quote from Mona Charen left a pretty sour taste with me:

"I have two non-ADHD children, so it's not a matter of parenting technique," says Charen. "People without such children have no idea what it's like."

In the first part, Charen appears to be contending that parenting technique can't possibly have anything to do with ADHD, because hers is perfect. In the second part, an appeal is made that sounds very familiar indeed; it is the cry that is instantly raised against Fumento himself when he points out, say, that there is no evidence for the existence of any such thing as Gulf War Syndrome. "You don't know! You haven't lived with the screaming, the fainting, the diarrhea, etc." Didn't Fumento recognize that he was indulging, by its inclusion, a debating tactic he loves to pour scorn on?

All that said, I should add that I have no data about Charen's "parenting technique"--which is my point. While she is openly inviting speculation here, I'm sure she really is a great mom. Children do come into the world with the rudiments of a personality; parents have a large, but limited, ability to form them as people. But that's not relevant to the central question.

· And that central question, to me, seems to be "ADHD: trait or disease?" When people say that "ADHD doesn't exist" they aren't really saying there are no hyperactive, distracted children in the world. They are challenging the "disease" identification. Similarly, the opposite camp is challenging the "trait" identification.

And when we're dealing with the brain and the mind, we are best advised to recognize that there is, in fact, a gray area here. Fumento argues for a neurological interpretation of ADHD, or at least adopts one partway through the piece, without (herein) presenting very good evidence for it. We are provided with a picture of brain scans of a "normal" child working out a math problem and an ADHD sufferer doing it. The image is suspicious on its face, because it shows different coloured blots mapped onto what appears to be the same brain. But never mind that: my question is, why wouldn't we expect to find evidence of different operations taking place in the brains of people who were merely, and acknowledged to be, different only in personality? The pretty brain pictures can't settle the semantic issue unless there is actual evidence of a defect, or deficit, or damage, on one side. I'm sure that when a child with a 160 IQ tackles a math problem, it "looks" different than when a child with a 100 IQ does it. In principle, there must be some neurochemical distinction involved. Yet no one suggests that the child with the 100 IQ has a disease or disorder. Should we?

· To take the semantic distinction a step further, note the attempted reductio ad absurdum by a psychology professor, quoted by Fumento:

"Half of all medical disorders are diagnosed without benefit of a lab procedure," notes Dr. Russell Barkley, professor of psychology at the College of Health Professionals at the Medical University of South Carolina. ..."Such a standard would virtually eliminate all mental disorders."

Well, pardon me for bringing it up, but if you're going to make a big show of tackling libertarian and conservative critiques of ADHD, shouldn't you maybe mention the most famous libertarian psychiatrist alive--Thomas Szasz? How can you credibly go into this territory without meeting Szasz, or at least mentioning him? I'm no adherent of the pure Szaszian doctrine that mental illness doesn't exist, but the doctrine is there, and it is influential amongst lots of people who don't subscribe to it in toto. I am mystified that the argument "Most mental disorders are diagnosed appropriately, therefore ADHD is diagnosed appropriately" would be allowed to stand. Both sides of the comma are surely vulnerable.

· The part about the silly proposed laws against schools recommending Ritalin fits as narrative with the rest of the article, definitely, but it is disconnected logically. You could believe that ADHD is real and common, yet believe that such a law was a good idea. You could believe that ADHD is wholly imaginary, yet believe that such a law was a bad idea. I wouldn't want the legal issue to be excised from the piece, which is a list of "myths" for a general readership, not just a polemic. It's still beside the central point.

· Fumento deals with the illicit trade in Ritalin and attempts to reconcile its street reputation with the appropriateness of administering it to children. He does a good job of this, too. But I have a short wish list. I'd like to have seen some mention of the large and growing number of adults who have been prescribed with ADHD, and who are being medicated for it. I'd like to have seen some mention of the positive social incentives one can receive from such a diagnosis; you can get extra time on some standardized tests like the LSAT if you have ADHD, for example. I'd like to have seen some description of the actual, and notoriously loose, diagnostic criteria for ADHD. I believe the psychiatric profession will admit that close study of a child's behaviour for an extended period of time is necessary to arrive at a true diagnosis--which, in essence, leaves the diagnosis in the hands of the parent most of the time, and not the doctor. And Fumento might have mentioned, while fending off claims that Ritalin is like cocaine or methamphetamine, that actual dextromethamphetamine (Dexedrine) is still sometimes prescribed for ADHD in Canada. Maybe this stuff is relevant, maybe it isn't. Since Fumento raised peripheral issues like the aforementioned legal proposals, I guess I'm claiming the privilege, here, of raising others.

· What I think about ADHD is that it's not important for us to reach firm agreement that it is all one thing (disease) or all another (personality trait). We see Virginia Postrel entering this debate, because she knows first-hand about depression and wants it to be characterized as a disease, an illness. I hope one can have full sympathy with the condition, and recognize its ferocious, life-inhibiting qualities, without necessarily agreeing on the semantic point. Ah, you say, but if some mental illnesses are mere "traits", then surely you wouldn't advocate using drugs to treat them?

Well, why the heck not? When we drink beer, self-"medicating" our personality traits is exactly what we're doing. I'm not silly enough to think that when I drink Jack Daniels or coffee, or smoke a John Player Special, I'm not altering my personality with a drug. Usually, at least when the cigarette is involved, the alteration is an improvement. Nicotine helps me cope with loneliness and despair I choose not to characterize as depression, and which, in fact, do not come close to meeting the arbitrary-but-necessary criteria for such a characterization. (I mean "arbitrary but necessary" in the sense that age limits on voting are arbitrary but necessary: there is no logical reason for choosing 18 years as a cutoff rather than 19 or 17, but there are overwhelming arguments that such a limit must exist. So it goes, I think, with many mental illnesses.)

In principle, I believe personality modification is the same kind of activity as treating an "illness" like ADHD or depression. Perhaps that's a Szaszian thing to say, I don't rightly know. The point is this: it's certainly OK to give Ritalin to some children. If it helps them, and they report that it helps them, and it makes them better human beings, and brings relief to their parents and teachers, then I don't really give a crap, at the individual level, whether a disease is being cured or not. But I do think there are compelling social reasons to discourage reinterpreting traits as diseases. (And to be honest, I strongly suspect there are compelling therapeutic reasons for it, too.) Yet we shouldn't let our reluctance to engage in this reinterpretation stop us from embracing drugs, where they can help us. To use an obvious example, I'm not bothered by the prospect of men using Viagra (unless you mean "prospect" literally--ew), but I'm bothered by the idea that we have to redefine normal human aging as illness to convince us it's OK to use Viagra. And that's roughly what I'd say about Ritalin, too, with the caveat that there is justification for the fear that feminized schools are trying to suppress biologically male, high-spirited, shit-disturbing behaviour. It's not so good to recommend an abandonment of skepticism to a parent who may be in that circumstance.

In essence I'm saying there is a middle position in the debate, rarely stated, and I think it may even be, by and large, where Michael Fumento really stands. But he took the opportunity to have a mildly sensationalistic go at his (many) lib-con buddies. Helpful? I wonder. It certainly made me think, anyway, and I don't respect him any the less.

Off to bed, then. Sorry if what I've said was tangled, or too strong, in places, but it's gotten the lightest editing polish I can get away with. I'm sure I've said ten or so things I don't really mean; if I have to take back an important one I'll let you know. Correspondence is, as always, welcome.

[UPDATE, February 1: A reader responds.]

- 7:16 am, January 31 (link)

I can see the future

I was talking about my weblog, on the way home from work, with Kevin Steel, and for some reason I happened to mention that I didn't expect I'd have to add too many bells and whistles to my hand-coded site. Approximate quote: "By the time XML/RSS becomes essential for weblogs--or indeed acquires any observable importance at all--I'm sure someone will have figured out a way to automatically translate my source code into RSS output. Figuring out how to add RSS to my site would be a source of great grief and annoyance to me, and of none at all to some clever coder. So I'll wait for that."

Approximate length of wait: five hours. Now that's Internet time! I just now discovered, by chance, that David Janes' Blogosphere is offering RSS feeds for the weblogs it "scrapes", including my site. If you want yours added, all you need to do is follow his instructions. You can view the Janesian RSS output for even with a regular web browser. It's a bit clumsy: Janes' code hasn't learned to tell my entry titles apart from my body text. But that's a lot to ask, and I can't imagine who'd complain (plus it sounds like I could solve it myself with an HTML tweak--maybe I'll look into that on some day when I'm feeling customer-service-y). Some aggregators may only read RSS feeds, but I doubt any actual humans limit their weblog-viewing in this way. Thanks to David for the free benefit; I'll add the appropriate button to my sidebar shortly.

- 5:28 am, January 31 (link)

A tale of two kids

I got an Instapundit hit earlier today, and you know what that means. For some reason the tradition seems to be for me to sicken and repel new foreign readers by writing about hockey. Just wait until the men's curling playoffs start! You think I'm joking, but I'm not! I'm that living cliché, a Canadian who considers curling to be first-class entertainment! Curlers are like rock stars in this country! I look forward to explaining why the sport is so great!

The CBC is replaying a few classic hockey games late at night this week as a means of helping starved fans over the All-Star hump. Tonight's was a game that put the Wayne Gretzky legend in first gear, an 8-5 Oiler thumping of the Leafs in Maple Leaf Gardens from March 29, 1980. Gretzky had six points (2 G, 4 A) playing before a very friendly crowd, one full of people who'd watched him play junior hockey. (Leaf players who tried to run him quickly found themselves the target of a chorus of boos. They got over that fairly quickly when the Oilers started winning Stanley Cups.) It's a wondrous thing hearing CBC broadcasters explain Gretzky to a nation not yet intimate with the full dimensions of his talent. (It is perhaps even more wondrous to hear them leave dead air for seconds, checking the roster, when #11 gets the puck. Mark Messier, in 1980, is still far from a household name.)

Early in the broadcast we are warned that Gretzky is unstoppable behind the net, and even though the Leafs are just as aware of it as the men in the booth are, they are helpless, exasperated, and doomed. Gretzky cannot be contained by Borje Salming, a Hall of Famer who is repeatedly humiliated in this game; Gretzky cannot be contained, at this point in his development, by anybody. (The relentlessly ignorant, who say legendary goon Dave Semenko was the key to Gretzky's success, should note that "Cementhead" drew at most two or three shifts on this night, and none alongside 99.) Gretzky's first goal is particularly hallucinatory: given the puck in his "office" behind Mike Palmateer, he simply takes two steps and backhands the disc past the Leaf goalie, on the short side, without even looking at the net. Knowing that Palmateer has the fatal disadvantage of being human, Gretzky doesn't even have to check that the puck went in after he pulls the trigger. Ho-hum, back to the bench.

But while it would be easy to celebrate Gretzky in prose until the end of time, he had plenty of six-point games. Not so Don "Ants" Ashby, who played six games on Gretzky's line and had six points, including a hat trick, in the March 29 game. Afterwards, Ashby joked with his wunderkind linemate: "I've never heard of a guy getting three goals, three assists on Hockey Night in Canada and being named the second star." Gretzky still remembers the quip, though it was uttered longer ago, now, than Don Ashby's whole life lasted. (And Mark Messier's still in the NHL.) The big night couldn't keep Ashby in the league: he was in the CHL the next season and died on a bad road two weeks after it wound up.

- 3:20 am, January 31 (link)

Voice from the grave

Ian Buruma filed a farewell column in Tuesday's Guardian, explaining--in clear Buruman language anyone can understand--why he supports the U.S. and Israel.

There is much wrong with American society and foreign policy, and there are pressing reasons for attacking Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. That I chose to defend both countries none the less is because they still come closer to my definition of freedom than most countries, even if they fall far short of their own claims. Perhaps this is one reason why the Pinters, Paulins and non-Muslim liberals get so worked up: the hypocrisy; the fact that Americans preach freedom but manipulate elections, support foreign dictators, and mangle the English language. Or the fact that Jews, having suffered such persecution themselves, should now behave badly to others.

So it is perhaps a compliment to both nations that they should be held to higher standards than any other.

There's no "perhaps" about it, in my view. The best statement of this theme of which I know emerged from the pen of Jorge Luis Borges in his essay "A Comment on August 23, 1944." This was the date of the liberation of Paris--that date when, in the exultant streets of Buenos Aires, Borges made "the discovery that a collective emotion can be noble." I've never seen Borges' writings on the war discussed as such, and this is a shame: they are as marvelous as, though far less compendious than, Orwell's contemporary work along the same lines. The half-English Borges' final terse comment on the Germanophiles surrounding him in Argentina is one a reader may have cause to recall, very often, in our own time:

They apply the canon of Jesus to the actions of England, but the canon of Zarathustra to those of Germany.

- 6:58 pm, January 30 (link)

You pray toward Mecca, I'll pray toward Charing Cross Road

Via MobyLives, we learn of an appreciation in the Independent of the world's largest and most inflammable bookstore, Foyles of London, which is about to turn 100 years old. By "largest" I mean "has the most books", which is what counts, or should.

For decades, Foyles has been a shopper's nightmare, with miles and miles of haphazardly arranged titles, non-English-speaking student staff, and a payment system apparently designed by a Victorian lunatic.

I was pretty startled, upon my visit to the store, to see it staffed by the same stroppy, scraggly, besweatered Raskolnikovs I was familiar with from home. Is there some kind of international secret society to which independent bookstore staffers subscribe? Are they like the Masons? Do they order the John Lennon specs from some centralized warehouse? What would happen if you fed one of them a decent meal--would he spontaneously combust? As for the cataloguing and shelving, the main influence seems to be Attila the Hun; you're quite likely to see volumes of the Loeb Classical Library interspersed with Captain Shambles' Colour Annual for Rumbustious Boy-Children. The store is, in sum, absolutely the best thing ever in the whole world. I'm hoping to move in to one of the upper floors someday--just take a pillow and a sleeping bag and remain there to live out my golden years. Trust me: it's not like I'd be noticed.

- 6:00 am, January 30 (link)

Married to the mob

Here's some advice for those of you who may be planning "hate crimes": get good and drunk first! The Edmonton police are still investigating a New Year's Day incident on the subway in which a crowd of Indian youths randomly antagonized, attacked, and beat five white teenagers. But they've made up their mind about at least one thing: no hate here!

Edmonton police admitted Tuesday they may have been "a little premature" to conclude an attack by a group of native teens on five white teenagers on the LRT was racially motivated. ...Police originally described the incident as a racially motivated attack by about 30 native teens on white teenagers. Now, however, police say there were only about five teens involved in the attack and there is no firm evidence that racism was a factor.

But look a little closer at the story--you'll have to. It is still undisputed that the five victims were outnumbered by a group of at least 15 native Indians who entered the train together. Police spokesman Wes Bellmore wants us to state and accept that only five of the Indian kids were "involved in the attack" because they were the only ones doing the actual physical attacking. If you stand around intimidating other passengers who might have come to the aid of the victims (which they notably did not), well, that's not "involvement", apparently. Unfortunately, the Journal's slanted language gives the false impression that the violence was a relatively fair five-on-five fight.

And what of this "lack of racial motivation"? Are the police saying that no one in the mob of attackers shouted "Let's fuck up these white bitches," as was reported previously? No indeed.

"Racial comments that were reportedly uttered by someone in the group of attackers cannot be attributed to any one person," police spokesman Wes Bellmore said...

By this standard, if someone shouts "Hang the nigger" and an all-white crowd responds with a lynching, there's no "racial motivation" involved unless you can "attribute" the original battle cry to "any one person". This is a highly unorthodox and nuanced view indeed--but one must wonder whether the police are as evolved as they make themselves out to be when they say something like this:

The investigating police officer believes the attack was the result of "alcohol consumption and a rowdy 'group mentality' among the attackers."
"The more the investigator spoke with people who were involved, the more he realized that it was likely just boisterous, alcohol-related trouble-making," Bellmore said.

Is it just me, or does it sound like these cops have decided "Aw, those crazy, drunken savages--you can't hold 'em responsible! They're like children really--get 'em in a big group, fill them with firewater, it's like tossing a cigarette in a powderkeg."

But it's probably not mere condescension-cum-white-guilt that has the cops downplaying the "hate" angle. The position Bellmore et al. are in is not difficult to understand: they rely on "healthy linkages" with aboriginal communities to do their job effectively. As soon as this incident was reported in the press, the papers immediately went to the Rolodexes and found plenty of Indians willing to say that they were the real victims here, because the troublemaking of a few boisterous bad apples was inevitably going to reflect on innocent Indians. They're right to be concerned, and certainly right to worry about the setback for race relations in Edmonton: but a double standard on "hate crime" is only going to make things worse for them in the long run, and we all know that the outrage would still be on full boil if the attackers had been white and the victims Indian. I'm afraid I cannot, on the available evidence, join Edmonton's finest in their self-serving pretense.

- 4:45 am, January 30 (link)

Swanning about the world

Baghdad resident "Salam Pax" is anti-Saddam, but isn't super thrilled at the prospect of being boiled, blasted or burned to death, either. He's too fatalistic to be pigeonholed quite accurately. But it's easy to say how he feels about foreign "human shields" in Iraq.

Those foreigners are all over the place, I think I know what it should be called: War Tourism. betcha they will be out of here faster than you can say 'Iraqi-peace-team' when things get a bit too hot.

It must have been a slow day for news people because the Mutanabi Street was full of them, or Iraqis selling second hand books have become important news items. At least three news teams were filming in that crowded street with their Iraqi minders shooing people away from the cameras. Later on I walked thru Al-Rasheed and Al-Sadoon and they were all over. Not news teams this time but the War Tourists, some of them even carrying backpacks which have [Iraq peace team] written on them in gold marker. And I guess we will be getting more tourists soon. Come on, have a couple of days on us. They will be accommodating you in Al-Rasheed Hotel for free and you get the official sight seeing tour, a couple of lunches with people you can tell your kids you met, when they are shown on CNN and you get to be on TV singing "give peace a chance" in front of the UN building in Abu Nawas (don't miss the excellent grilled fish--masgoof--while you are there, the restaurants have a good view of one of the oldest presidential palaces).

I know they all mean well, but I really don't think coming here and getting photographed with Iraqi officials is helping their "cause". Do thy really want to stand up and risk their lives for this regime. If you are so in love with the situation here, be my guest. Let's trade places because if it is a "cause" for you, for me it's my life and the way I have to go thru it.

Actually, some of the "human shields" aren't waiting for things to heat up. Dr. David Swann, the former public health officer in southern Alberta who was perhaps the most famous of the Canadian Shields, left Iraq December 15 without nearly as much fanfare as accompanied his departure. You'll have plenty of chances to hear him speak in Alberta in the coming weeks. If you'd really gotten on your horse you could have gone to the Parkway in Calgary last Saturday for "Food, music, drinks and David Swann". $5 cover, cash bar. Being a Hero of the Iraqi People is now Dr. Swann's business--and business is good.

- 7:45 pm, January 29 (link)

Get me Francis Gary Powers on line 2

All right... there is one thing I'm curious about with the SOTU speech. Here's a morsel of Bush's indictment of Saddam:

Iraq is blocking U-2 surveillance flights requested by the United Nations.

Is there really any prospect of Iraqi air defence successfully bringing down a U-2? I'm no expert, but it seems improbable. And apparently U-2s have overflown Iraq with impunity at other times in the post-Gulf war era. So why doesn't the president just send in the planes? If the Iraqis won the lottery and actually shot down a UN-sanctioned surveillance overflight, wouldn't this be a perfectly satisfactory casus belli?

- 3:20 pm, January 29 (link)

Pint of laager

Headline from today's Chicago-Sun Times:

SAG hops aboard 'Chicago' bandwagon

Where is this bandwagon? What's it made of, and who's driving it? Can it be burned, and its occupants murdered??? Please?

James Bowman hinted at the possible existence of such a juggernaut when Chicago first came out. He wrote:

On Broadway, the invitation to feel superior works better, since part of the Broadway experience is the sense of belonging to an élite. Of course you're a sophisticate; that's why you're watching a Broadway play. The rubes and the suckers are everybody who doesn't watch Broadway plays. But that sociological raison d'être doesn't translate along with the rest of the material to the movies. The movies are watched by everybody. They're too democratic to invite their audience to feel superior to others.

A clue that the filmmakers understand this difficulty comes during the credits, when we are solemnly notified as follows:

"Richard Gere's singing and dancing performed by Richard Gere."

"Renée Zellweger's singing and dancing performed by Renée Zellweger."

"Catherine Zeta-Jones's singing and dancing performed by Catherine Zeta-Jones."

I have no reason to doubt these assurances, but they suggest a nervous awareness of the need to follow such an exercise in cynicism by assurances that, although everything may be a fake and a sham and a con-job, here in the movie at least all is--for the only time ever, perhaps--just what it claims to be.

No one ever went broke, the old saying goes, underestimating the capacity for cognitive dissonance of the American public. Bowman might object to a small exercise in cod-Marxism, but I think there's a hidden economic reason for the curious disclaimer in Chicago's credits. As you may have heard, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences intends to move the date of the Oscars to much earlier in the calendar next year. This is a sort of studio détente designed to end the crazed arms race of Oscar lobbying which takes over the industry now for the first six weeks of the year. The trade papers and the junketeers, those pumps eternally ready for priming, will be de-privileged. In that light, what do you notice about the nature of the announcement that Chicago's stars did all their own crooning and hoofing? That's right: it's a means of lobbying for Oscars inside the film itself. It costs nothing and it grabs you before you've even lifted your feet from the gummy cinema floor. And, judging by Chicago's very healthy box-office numbers, it works damn well.

- 5:54 am, January 29 (link)

The Not So Great Communicator?

If you're looking for instapunditry on the SOTU address you've come to the wrong place. However, can I say--since I was just talking somebody's ear off about it and I felt it was a good pretext for updating the weblog--that Bush is certainly the best American political communicator since Reagan? It may sound funny to say this of a man who can't pronounce "nuclear" correctly, but it occurs to me that he probably knows perfectly damn well how to say the word. (It may be useful to recall what I told you before about the "Ki-ota Protocol" and Churchill's "narzees".)

The almost laboured and desperate quality of Bush's oratory is in fact a new solution to the problem of how to perform a speech for broadcast. FDR and Stanley Baldwin discovered the orthodox approach before TV was invented: avoid dramatic gestures and flourishes--go for intimacy. (Whenever he was introduced on the radio, Baldwin was said to take a moment to light his pipe before proceeding. This is recognizable as a manifestation of genius, that rare but essential actor on history's stage.) But now that the masses have learned to recognize politicians as their enemy, instead of as father figures, attaining this sort of intimacy has become impossible. Reagan, a trained actor, was the last person capable of it. Unless Tom Hanks goes entirely mad and runs for office, we are not likely to see another orthodox politician in the style of the intimate patriarch.

But I think Bush, as I say, is a whole new model. This isn't cultivated folksiness: anybody who describes Bush as a "good ol' boy" probably hasn't met one. It's something else. How does the viewer respond to his "I just gotta put my head down and get through the next 45 minutes alive" technique? It creates drama, for one thing. I think the most hysterical Democrat alive would admit that Bush's SOTU speeches are vastly more compelling, in that respect, than Bill Clinton's agonizing orgies of silky-smooth self-congratulation. Bush's visible difficulties give him a wholly genuine aura of intensity. He's got a message; he's struggling, just a little, to get it out to you. Who can reject that on a psychic level? The occasional "nucular" locks you in on the words, when your natural bent might be to drift off on the uniquely patterned waves of Texan oratorical music. I've never found myself parsing political speech on the fly so closely as I do with W.

Being a little scared isn't Bush's only advantage: it helps him that he is understood, by us, to be a man with real convictions, and it helps him that there are still shadings of New England in his Texanismus. At any rate, I don't think he's like anything we've seen before. He's found--blundered into, if you like--a whole new way of doing this exercise.

- 5:46 am, January 29 (link)

If you rebuild it, he will come

Deroy Murdock has a posse! Our Bermuda correspondent, financial analyst Jefferson Glapski, has taken umbrage with my distaste at the idea of rebuilding the WTC exactly as it was. He thinks it's a terrific notion. I've given his letter its own page for those seeking a view contrary to my own. Warning: JNG writes like the offspring of Ayn Rand and a longshoreman. Swear words have not been edited out (perish the thought), and editorial interpolations are indicated in square brackets. Additional, pro forma warning: JNG's opinions are strictly his own, and do not represent the views of any employer or client of his, nor of this site. Enjoy!

- 2:27 am, January 29 (link)

It's obvious when someone tells you

Pack, Not a Herd, Dept.: Rick "The Miscellanist" Hiebert has offered a convincing solution to the mystery of the winemongering Salvationist. He wasn't a "wine clerk", he was a wire clerk, handling telegrams for a bank or some similar institution. Yeah, I knew that all along, I was just testing you guys...

[UPDATE, January 29: The digital Canadian memory does not just contain WW1 personnel records; the Canadian Virtual War Memorial contains individual pages for all of Canada's known war dead. My great-granduncle R.M. lived to a ripe old age, but his son, trainee bomber crewman LAC Robert Monteith Cosh Jr., RCAF, was killed in a crash on Canadian soil in August 1943. He is commemorated here and you can view his page in the national Book of Remembrance. In case this text attracts hardcore military buffs, I must state that I am unrelated to Lt Cdr D.R.B. Cosh, DSC, RCNVR, who commanded HMCS Niobe (an onshore naval facility in Scotland) and participated in the disabling of the Kriegsmarine battleship Tirpitz at Altenfjord in April 1944.]

- 8:56 pm, January 28 (link)

Holes in wholes, part 2

Great Minds, Etc., Dept.: My ill-informed take on the Super Bowl is ratified almost to the letter in the NFL season's final, not-at-all-ill-informed Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Here's Cosh, yesterday:

Buccaneer pass-rushers spent the whole day beating the Raider tackles like red-headed stepchildren with fetal alcohol syndrome. An O-line is a connected whole, a team within a team, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if weakness at centre manifests itself on the outside.

And here's Easterbrook with the details:

The Oakland OL produced one of the worst blocking performances TMQ has ever winced through, in part because its schemes were disrupted. On most plays, one of the guards, Mo Collins or Frank Middleton, helped reserve center Adam Treu handle his man, leaving the Raiders' tackles "on islands." Left tackle Barry Sims usually gets guard help. With Robbins out and Treu getting the help, Sims was cover-your-eyes, too, on two occasions barely so much as waving at Rice before the gentleman blew in to paste Gannon.

In not so many words: the weakness at centre manifested itself on the outside. Don't they cover this stuff in Football Theory 101?

- 4:53 pm, January 28 (link)

Salvation in a wineskin?

Now this is quite amazing. The National Archives' online digital version of the 1906 Census (discussed here) doesn't quite work yet, or I can't get it to. But while messing around at the Archives site I discovered that images of the attestation papers of 765,000 Canadian soldiers of the Great War are online. Including two of my great-granduncles, Robert Monteith Cosh (1892-1970) and his younger brother Thomas Rankin Cosh (1894-1975). An apparent paradox emerges in the latter's record--he seems to have stated his occupation as "wine clerk" but his religious affiliation is listed as Salvationist. A Salvationist wine clerk...? If anyone can supply a plausible alternate reading of T.R.'s hard-to-decipher occupation, I'd like to hear it. [UPDATE, 9:03 pm: Case closed!]

You can search for your CEF relations here. Don't panic if Gramps isn't in the database, though; many Canadian enlistees served with British units.

- 2:43 pm, January 28 (link)

Life in plastic, it's fantastic

Talk about missing the real story! In reporting on Monday's U.S. Supreme Court activity, newspapers and wire services are zeroing in on the Nextwave decision (denying the FCC the right to swoop in on a bankrupt telco and re-sell its wireless spectrum licenses) as well as the refusal to review Hain (a juvenile-on-death-row case). That's all very interesting, I guess, especially if you're related to the teenage murderer or whatnot, but what about the magnificent victory handed down to Danish bubblegum popsters Aqua?

The high court denied review in an important trademark case, Mattel Inc. v. MCA Records, No. 02-633. Mattel claimed that MCA had diluted and damaged its Barbie trademark by marketing the song "Barbie Girl," by the Danish group Aqua. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had sided with MCA, finding that consumers would not be confused by the song.

Alas, the foursome did not last long enough to experience sweet legal vindication.

- 12:06 am, January 28 (link)

Enlightening the world

Deroy Murdock wants the WTC towers replaced exactly as they were, "right down to the last butter knife at Windows on the World". A tempting idea. We'll probably never get consensus, in advance, on what should replace them. Murdock's imagined simulacrum offers an attractive means of cutting the Gordian knot. The one problem is that the Towers themselves were pretty horrid; they were sanctified only retrospectively, by their sudden disappearance. Even admirers of Yamasaki don't seem to have thought much of them until they were gone. It is somehow creepy to say that we should take advantage of the opportunity presented by Atta and co., but how much creepier is what Murdock's advocating? When we're finished rebuilding the Towers, what do we do?--move on to cloning the 3,000-some dead?

Anyway, that's neither here nor there; I wanted to direct your attention to Murdock's lede:

A team of architecture scholars is scanning U.S. landmarks with laser beams, just in case. Should terrorists demolish the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, or the U.S. Capitol, Texas Tech University's highly detailed, reverse-engineered, digital database will make it easier to restore those structures to their rightful homes in America's hearts and minds.

A brief search led me to Texas Tech's Digital Liberty, where the laser scanning of the Statue of Liberty is chronicled. There are some extraordinary images under "Work Examples". I particularly like the point-cloud image of the tablet, the oddly Kollwitz-isch wireframe image of the head, and this blue-stained face-on register image--Boadicea rediviva, perhaps?

- 11:14 pm, January 27 (link)

Someday I'll make the All-Madden weblog team

My ill-informed take on yesterday's Super Bowl: Rich Gannon's arm was always pretty slender material to build a title on. A lot of commentators have praised his dog's-breakfast throwing technique. I myself rather like seeing the 37-year-old Gannon out there, chucking the ball like a bursitic dad having a catch with his teenage son. But this isn't baseball; nobody's standing there with a bat. Good quarterbacks, on the whole, display good form. Gannon piled up yards this year because the Raider offense was designed to take maximum advantage of his chicken wing.

It might have worked, too, if the Raider offensive line had been its usual self. During the broadcast Madden said something like "The Raiders aren't losing this game because they have Adam Treu playing centre [instead of All-Pro Barret Robbins]." Yeah, well, OK, Madden: your soft spot for bench-warming fatties is well known. The fact remains that Buccaneer pass-rushers spent the whole day beating the Raider tackles like red-headed stepchildren with fetal alcohol syndrome. An O-line is a connected whole, a team within a team, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if weakness at centre manifests itself on the outside. Defenses of Treu like John Clayton's ("Treu did a respectable job and didn't get beaten for a sack until late in the fourth quarter...") are valid as far as they go, but beside the point. Anyone who's played football will tell you that it's never just one guy who's beaten for a sack unless he misses a blocking assignment outright.

- 5:47 pm, January 27 (link)

One more time for all the old times

From the Inbox: the Liberal government announced Friday that it is going to have another go at what the Americans call campaign finance reform. This illustrates the operating maxim of the Liberals: "Extremism in the offence of liberty is no vice." The Calgary Herald's Joan Bryden reports:

Canada's House leader announced Friday the government will appeal an Alberta court ruling last month that struck down the so-called election gag law, which imposes spending limits on advocacy groups during election campaigns.

Don Boudria said it would make no sense to allow groups such as the National Citizens' Coalition to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections when parties and candidates are all subject to strict limits.

However, NCC vice-president Gerry Nicholls said the law denies "freedom of expression." He added that groups such as the coalition should not be compared to political parties since they don't pass legislation or hand out subsidies.

Canada: the country where "freedom of expression" takes scare quotes!

The Herald is a magisterial newspaper; one is shocked to find, in a Herald story on spending limits, absolutely no mention of just how often Canadian courts have struck down such limits. That spending limits on third parties are an assault on free speech is not merely Gerry Nicholls' opinion; it has been the opinion of every judge who has ever scrutinized them. The cases have generally been brought by the NCC and its officers, which the Liberals are now openly singling out as a target.

To review the history Joan Bryden didn't give you, then: the Elections Act was amended to include electoral spending limits, with a "good faith" exception for single-issue advertising by third parties, in 1974. The Liberals threw out the "good faith" exception in 1983, describing it as a "loophole". An Alberta court struck down that amendment, on Charter grounds, in 1984. The Mulroney government let things stand thus, but when the Liberals got back in they rapidly introduced a spending ban confined to the period immediately before an election. Alberta Queen's Bench struck that law down on Charter grounds in 1993. The government appealed, but the Alberta Court of Appeal endorsed the Queen's Bench ruling in 1996. So naturally the Liberals re-introduced new Election Act amendments, essentially similar to the quashed ones, in 2000. Queen's Bench struck down the new limits in June 2001. The government appealed to the Alberta Court of Appeal, which endorsed the Queen's Bench ruling, again, in December. Outside Alberta, the Supreme Court has struck down spending limits on Quebec referendum campaigns (1997), has struck down federal limits on peri-electoral news broadcasting (1998), and has struck down provincial spending limits imposed by the old New Democrat government of British Columbia (1998).

By my count, the writers of gag laws on political advertising are oh-for-at-least-eight in trying to sneak past the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They've never won on a Charter test. But the Liberals, despite this very strident message from Canada's judges, now intend to spend your money and mine trying, once again, to bully private, non-profit political activist groups.

Constitution, you say? What Constitution?

- 2:17 pm, January 27 (link)

They'd have had better luck with

The New Democratic Party is keeping quite shtum, you may have noticed, about its daffy leadership convention vote. By the way, for those who recall how I made fun of the French language for the way it explodes Anglo-Saxon noun pairings (like, for example, "noun pairings"), I have a counterexample for you: I noticed while watching CPAC that the French call a leadership convention a chefferie. One word to stand for our two clumsy ones! I'd like to see the English language steal it, although the chef part might create confusion...

...anyway, I have a quick point to make about, the company that oversaw the balloting on behalf of the NDs. This is the first time most of us have heard of, surely. How do we know these guys can be counted on? Their name doesn't exactly scream "long, trusted tradition". (It doesn't even scream "good sense"--how many dot-com firms still haven't gotten around to getting rid of their equity-poisoning dot-com names?) Fortunately, is allied with, and partly owned by, a firm with a long track record of probity--Accenture, the Company Formerly Known As Andersen Consulting. The Accenturions would definitely want me to note that "since August 7, 2000, Accenture has not been associated with Andersen Worldwide or Arthur Andersen". They're also not associated with X-Files star Gillian Anderson, but they remain huge fans of her work.

Go ahead and laugh! Me, I think it's great that the New Dems have gotten wise to the value of outsourcing. Follow the bouncing ball: has offices in the United States (Garden City, NY; Washington, DC; Austin, TX; and Chicago, IL); Europe (London; Paris; Geneva and Dublin); and the Asia-Pacific (Sydney; Canberra; Brisbane; and Christchurch, New Zealand).

Damn, I don't have my contact lenses in, but I'm sure there's a Canadian branch office, with Canadian employees, in that list somewhere...

- 3:43 am, January 27 (link)

I've grown accustomed...

So Dave Barry has a weblog now. It's probably not cool to respect Dave's talent, because your mom--practically by definition--thinks he's really "funny and cute." But I do. I'm not even going to make the snide joke I had planned about how "Dave Barry's Blog" would be a really good name for a rock band [pause for riotous laughter].

What I do wonder is this: between writing his column (approx. 1 day/week) and mugging for camera lenses (approx. 6 days/week), where's the poor guy going to find the time to post? As Layne says, enjoy it while it lasts.

- 1:45 am, January 27 (link)

Last days

Hugh Trevor-Roper, Lord Dacre of Glanton, has died at the age of 89. The poor man must have been bedevilled by the fear--now confirmed--that his botched authentication of the "Hitler diaries" would be right up in the lede of his obituary. How could it have been otherwise? Once the diaries were combed seriously for chronological implausibilities, their fraudulence was obvious; the arcane forensic tests performed on them were a formality. T-R just didn't do the legwork. I've never heard the whole story--checking the diaries is the sort of work that strikes me as perfect for a graduate student, so perhaps that's how he got into trouble: by overdelegating. (Doesn't anyone else find it funny that when academic scandal strikes somebody like Michael Bellesiles, there is never any hint that graduate students might have assisted with their documentary work, or even, say, done the bulk of it?)

The real irony was that his haphazard signing-off on the Stern forgery dented his radically antiprofessional views on the practice of history--which I believe to be correct.

His approach to history was essentially belletrist--based not so much on original research as on wide reading and an ability to bring to bear insights derived from other disciplines on his subjects. He sought to appeal to a wide cultivated audience.
In his inaugural lecture as regius professor, he defended this approach, saying modern history would have "dried up and perished long ago" without the contribution of economists, sociologists, philosophers, art historians and even anthropologists and psychologists.

How funny it is that A.J.P. Taylor, of all people, was Trevor-Roper's bête noire. The compelling things about Taylor were (1) the excellence of his prose, (2) his devastatingly wide learning, and (3) his appeal to a broad cultivated audience--he was one of the genuinely popular broadcasting stars among British academics, forming a pretty direct bridge from C.E.M. Joad to Simon Schama and David Starkey. Trevor-Roper couldn't match Taylor in any of these areas, but he was right to emphasize them; if more than three or four professional historians in the entire world could speak as clearly and confidently as Taylor, the case for professionalism would be a good deal stronger.

- 11:30 pm, January 26 (link)

And they call it democracy

David Artemiw is having a field day with the New Democrats--his own former party of choice, if I recall right. He's got a semi-official reaction from the party, some comedic boilerplate from the company who ran the technical side, and, most important, some preliminary math on those supersized labour votes. We can't say whether the inflated ballots of the 957 labour voters changed the outcome--yet. However, we can say, based on Artemiw's calculations, that each labour union representative cast the equivalent of 15.2 ordinary ballots in the voting. But then, some animals have always been more equal than others.

- 10:55 pm, January 25 (link)

Freedom of information

And now I have to do an uncharacteristic thing: thank the federal government. (CHOKE! GAG!) As usual, I have to thank them not for any positive good, but for relenting on years of unpleasant bureaucratic behaviour. Canadian law has traditionally allowed census records to be made public after a 92-year period of secrecy, and in 1998 historians and geneologists were excited about the imminent release of the data from the special 1906 Census of the North-West Provinces. To westerners doing this work, no historical data could be of greater value. This census is the most detailed extant record of the first wave of immigration to Manitoba and the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. For hundreds of thousands of us, this was the first documentary snapshot of our families' appearance in the new land.

But things never go as easy as they should, do they? The staff of the National Archives, as I understand it, was eager to release the data. But some ardent lawyer at Statistics Canada, hoping to win a gold star, pointed out that personal information had been given to the 1906 census-takers under a promise of perpetual secrecy. The release of the data would therefore violate new federal privacy legislation. In the presumptive interests of (mostly) dead people, the government sabotaged the perfectly reasonable expectations and plans of Western historians.

A see-saw battle of letters and complaints ensued as the withheld census mouldered in the vaults. The federal information commissioner saw reason and ordered Statscan to allow the release of the census ("I find it difficult to understand what the big problem is"--join the club). Statscan refused. No one, to this day, is quite certain why the agency held so fast to its flimsy legal pretext. Perhaps they were simply trying to prove that they take privacy seriously, or perhaps they just wanted to delay until the last living people inscribed on the rolls were a little older, a little less likely to launch a frivolous lawsuit. In any event, the controlling federal department, Industry Canada, instructed the Archives to release the census today. It was online in a heartbeat. Does the Internet not rule? It does.

- 8:08 pm, January 25 (link)

Rage against the machines

Bourque has spun up the NDP's electronic-voting troubles to a thousand RPM, excellently encapsulating David Artemiw's experience with questions raised before and after the vote totals were released.

Have others also acted out on this opportunity to skew the NDP leadership vote count? How many? Were the names of unsuspecting NDP members picked off membership lists, with wholesale substitute voting undertaken without either the individual member or even the Party itself knowing anything about it? It remains unclear if the NDP is aware that their vote count has been tainted by this shocking defect in their electoral process. Add to all of this the developing concerns about why so few votes were done over the Internet, why close to half of all eligible members failed to record a vote, and why convention organizers repeatedly delayed announcing the voting results, especially given the few actual votes cast today alone...

Will the newspapers run with the ball? Can't wait to find out. Reporters should keep the pressure on the party to release those weighted labour union vote totals, too. Most observers on the scene anticipated that Layton would have problems cracking 50% if he didn't get there on the first ballot; most of the tail-enders seemed ready to bolt towards Blaikie, rather than to the maverick outsider. Would Layton have reached 50% under a one-man one-vote system? Let's hope somebody in Canadian journalism is able to handle the math. [UPDATE, 10:56 pm: more here.]

Meanwhile, Warren Kinsella has hit a new level of stridency in his accusations of election theft against what he calls the "Martinite gang". There's not going to be a Liberal coronation if Warren can help it! It's impossible to credit him with any such thing as "idealism", but he's certainly got guts to go with those big brass balls. His own horse in the race, Allan Rock, couldn't stand the early pace and had to be humanely destroyed at trackside. Warren's not the kind of political operator who is likely to find a soft landing in another party when the dust settles, and his stunts have already made him somewhat radioactive amongst Liberals. Idealist or not, he's burning bridges he could have more profitably spent the next year painting. But he does have the slight advantage of being right--if a logical explanation exists as to why the party is limiting access to memberships, I haven't seen it. And the spectre of a loose cannon below decks on the HMS Liberal is always edifying.

[UPDATE, January 26: My inner editor has sentenced me to death for mixed metaphor in the eighteenth degree. Ironically, the punishment involves being lashed to a loose cannon atop a burning bridge whereon a horserace is taking place. Top of the world, Ma! This entry will remain here as a terrible warning to future generations.]

- 6:23 pm, January 25 (link)

Breaking news: the NDP con game

NDP leadership news: the first-ballot results have been delayed, and an uncertain number of voters driven off outright, by a denial-of-service attack. Aw, who did that? That's not mature, that's not clever. The record of electronic balloting in Canada is an unrelenting saga of failure and embarrassment, so naturally the NDs couldn't resist. Now there will be lingering questions about the validity of any victor. Just ask David Artemiw: he was able to vote by using the old "Lost my login ID" scam.

[UPDATE, 1:27 pm: The Ontario president of CUPE (the Canadian Union of Public Employees) just called the mandatory 25% weighting of labour-union votes "undemocratic". Finally a socialist uses that word correctly! The party will disclose the distribution of the union vote for the first time in its history.]

[UPDATE, 2:25 pm: Layton wins, getting clear of 50% on the first ballot by about 2,000 "votes" (some of which came in fractions when the math was done on the labour-union weighting).]

- 1:22 pm, January 25 (link)

My heart bleeds for Canada under this Seahawks jersey

Gotta love that Ambler, but I didn't approve of him using the Super Bowl as an occasion for waving the Canadian flag in 1999, and I still don't in 2003. His argument implies directly that he shouldn't watch American football at all, or even be permitted to. If we're to bar the American commercials at the border, why not the American game itself? Because it's "better"?--well, so are the commercials, aren't they?

Of course, even in the oppressive presence of the splendid foreign festival that is the Super Bowl, one is free to celebrate and enjoy the distinct, exciting game of Canadian football during its season--as some of us actually do. If Canadian cultural sovereignty begins anywhere, surely it's on the 55-yard line?

[UPDATE, January 26: The Ambler ripostes.]

- 5:39 am, January 25 (link)

Why Johnny Canuck can read

I made some changes to the blogroll. I had dithered so long in adding links to Julian Sanchez and Radley Balko that I decided to build a "libertarian" category around them. Everyone packed in there with them is either a super-obvious libertoid or belongs there by virtue of their own explicit declaration to that effect. If anyone wants to be moved or added, drop me a line. Non-U.S. libertarians will remain in geographic categories, though. According to my vague and preposterous classification scheme, I myself would fall under "Canadian Content". But, man, pleeeeeeze don't ask me to justify the sorting.

Not on the blogroll is my old buddy Ian. Why the hell not? First of all, by his own admission, he has no idea whether he'll be updating regularly. Secondly, I don't have a category for "I Went to High School With This Guy". Bluegrass will probably be a major theme of his weblog if he can find the spare time to work on it. There's an interesting bit in his latest entry:

In other news, a scary article on Opinion Journal today about the percentage of black students that graduate high school/pass basic testing. I'm originally from Canada and I always thought our schools were lousy, but when I compare them to things like this or to the stories my girlfriend tells about going to school in Pinole, they come out looking a lot better. I had to deal with dull teachers, incompetent staff and misguided curriculums, but I not only learned to read, I also learned the basics of math and science. That's not saying much given what schools should be teaching, but I guess in the education lottery, I came out OK.

I'm afraid I share the feeling that public-school-educated Canadians--Albertans in particular--have a much better head start in reading, math, and science than p.-s.-e. Americans. It's not necessarily that we're better at education, but social conditions favour us. Litigious parents are only now learning how to throw schools into chaos here. We haven't had to deal with fallout from Brown vs. Board of Education, forced busing, or any serious race problem; East and South Asian immigrants have a relatively congenial relationship to the majority culture here, and we've kept the natives/Indians/aboriginal peoples out of sight and out of mind, with a considerable assist from their own self-segregating tendencies. There are other factors. It's certainly not a question of moral superiority--we basically just get a lot of unearned benefits out of being humble, muddled, milquetoast Canada. Kids, parents, and teachers can go ahead and focus on the work without the outlandish amateur dramatics that have infected so many American schools. But of course everything is gradually changing for the worse.

- 4:36 am, January 25 (link)

Into the fog

Tomorrow morning the New Democrats, Canada's ever more marginalized party of overt social democracy, will select a new leader. What fun! It's farewell to champagne Marxist Alexa McDonough--but who will replace her? Much is being made of the deep differences between favourite Jack Layton (he's the one who looks vaguely like Ted Turner) and Bill Blaikie (he's the gap-toothed, ursine one). As I understand it, Layton stands for transforming the New Democrats into a pro-active, progressive, realistic left-wing alternative. By contrast, Blaikie is striking a totally different path towards a realistic, pro-active, left-wing progressive alternative. It's always nice when the choices are so starkly defined.

By the time you read this, the New Dems will have flipped a coin and gone with one man or the other. McDonough didn't make any headway in her attempt to be the NDP's midget harridan version of Tony Blair. Layton offers the vision of a green, urban-centred NDP: that won't play well in Saskatchewan, the old heartland, but it should work very nicely on Toronto voters, with their infinite thirst for snake oil. Layton would probably grow the party in the short term, not that it will take much. Blaikie wants to recruit a new generation of NDs from amongst the Starbucks-smashing set--a doomed enterprise that can only bring freelance-Left schisms into the bosom of an already disunited political instrument. Neither one has found the formula that could actually save the party: ignoring the shrill interest groups who have been dragging it down for twenty years. Although Layton could capture the energy of green paranoia, I do find myself respecting the idealism of Blaikie's pitch. He told the Ottawa Citizen that his model for the future of the NDP is--believe it or not--the Canadian Alliance.

You haven't seen thousands of right-wingers, marching and waving protest signs, except for maybe a few about gun control. But you have seen them elect dozens of MPs and you have seen Liberal governments sufficiently frightened by that to do their bidding.

Despite the powerful look of the big demonstrations in Quebec City and elsewhere, you haven't seen many of the left's ideas adopted by the Liberals. Governments act out of fear of losing, not out of fear of being protested against. They fear voters, not demonstrators.

While the Canadian Alliance worries incessantly about becoming a "right-wing NDP", at least some New Democrats are trying to turn their party into a left-wing Alliance. They can't all be right! And Blaikie certainly isn't--not all the way. I believe the Liberal government is largely happy to let vague left-wing discontent peter itself out in the occasional brawl with the RCMP. But what are the "right-wing ideas" supposedly put into effect due to Reform/Alliance pressure? The Alliance likes to take credit for deficit reduction and privatization, and deserves some, but these things have happened in all Western democracies--even those under the aegis of left and social-democratic governments. If Ed Broadbent had been prime minister in 1990, it's hard to see how history would have been substantially different between then and now. Beyond the bottom line of the federal budget, it's the Supreme Court that's driven much if not most of the real political change. What's left when you filter out judicial fiat--the gun registry and Kyoto? These are the right-wing wet dreams Blaikie is yammering about?

Fact is, the Liberals don't much fear voters or demonstrators. They control the horizontal and vertical--they've got the Supreme Court and the Senate sewn up for the foreseeable future, and their baseline support among the electorate can't go too low as long as their coalition of ethnic interests and public-sector beneficiaries doesn't fly apart. Their national share of the vote was 38% in 1997 and 41% in 2000. Their floor is probably not far shy of 30%--that is to say, that's about the number of Canadians whose votes are controlled by the leaders of various religious or ethnic communities, or who stand to suffer a direct financial penalty from a loss by the open-handed Liberals, or both. Half of Quebec is what, 10% of the country right there.

Which tends to militate against Blaikie's faith in electoral politics: the non-Liberal parties, taken together, already do nearly as good a job as can be reasonably expected. If the Liberal floor is 30%, that suggests that the Liberals, even in 2000, only got 11% out of the 70% of votes not previously and quasi-permanently committed to them. One in six. In '97 it was more like one in nine. If the New Democrats can't hit the Liberals where they live, and it's not likely they can, they have to try and skim support from the other parties. That means cutting out the interest-group politics and defining a platform that transcends the political spectrum to some degree. It's not my job to do that for them, and won't be; but environmentalism isn't going to work, identity politicking isn't going to work, and nationalizing industry isn't going to work. Does this ragged band know how to play any other tunes?

- 2:23 am, January 25 (link)

Larger than life

I'm gonna warn you right now: it's important not to laugh at the Colossal Colon. I'm sure you're probably thinking, in your immature way, there's something real snickerworthy about a 40-foot walk-in (crawl-in, actually) replica of the human intestinal tract. No doubt you find it highly amusing that the Colossal Colon has a "back door" festooned with hemorrhoids the size of pumpkins. But when the Colossal Colon saves your life, will you still think it's so funny? Huh? Maybe this little tidbit of depressing information will silence your infernal tittering:

The Colossal Colon is the creation of Molly McMaster, a 26-year-old cancer survivor, with help and support from the clinical and educational staff of the C.R. Wood Cancer Center at Glens Falls Hospital, Glens Falls, N.Y. The Colon is dedicated to the memory of Molly's friend, Amanda Sherwood Roberts, who lost her battle with colon cancer at age 27.

That's right, Mr. Everything-Is-A-Joke-To-Me: the Colossal Colon is a solemnly consecrated monument to an absent friend. So why don't you wipe that smirk off your face and get inside the rectum already. (Via the Layne-discovered "DaveB".)

- 1:44 pm, January 24 (link)

Heavy metal parking lot

Oh man. Don't put off checking out the Vancouver Police's photos of Guns & Roses rioters. They're disappearing one by one as police identify the property-smashing metallions, which is a shame; a superb piece of cultural anthropology like this deserves to be saved for future generations. My favourites are Party #44, Party #20, and loogie-spraying Party #22.

- 8:25 am, January 24 (link)

Doom and gloom from the tomb

Any other Richard Thompson fans out there? No, don't bother writing in only to say "Yes." I ask because Sufism (The Real Religion of Peace™) appears to be quite hip indeed just now. Richard Thompson, onetime lead guitarist for Fairport Convention and critically esteemed singer-songwriter, converted to Sufism in the early '70s when a lot of rock stars seemed to be facing a choice between drugs and Godhead. Thompson was deadly serious about his new faith, joining an improverished, filthy Sufi commune in the UK and taking a long sabbatical to study Muslim scriptures and generally avoid bad rock-industry influences--including electricity, according to some sketchy accounts. If Sufism is here to stay, perhaps RT won the religious lottery--or perhaps the Sufis did; Pete Townshend's embrace of Avatar Meher Baba at around the same time doesn't seem, at the moment, to have done either man or cult much good. And I doubt Carlos Santana likes being reminded of that whole "Devadip" thing.

It would be nice if there were a little glory deflected Thompson's way for having chosen a relatively respectable "spiritual path". But when you mention Islam to RT these days, he kind of laughs uneasily and protests that he's not a very good Muslim, all but holding up a ham on rye to prove it. In fact, he protests in a way that suggests, to me at least, that he's not much of a Muslim at all. He can't be reasonably expected to come right out and admit it--Sufi or no Sufi, Muslim apostates are "fair game," to use the old Scientologist term of art. Musicians run enough risk of sudden violent death without displays of excessive religious integrity.

I think Thompson--a sensible, charming sort--probably had some scales drop from his eyes right around the time that whole Salman Rushdie thing blew up. (He, himself, denounced the fatwa.) But the Sufis are the nice ones, you say? Maybe, maybe; certainly they're nicer than the alternative. What I notice, looking at Thommo's recorded output, is that the cynical, bleak tenor of his early solo work took on positively violent and apocalyptic tones after he went Muslim. I've always thought so--this isn't me rewriting history to suit a new view of Islam, although I could be plain wrong about it.

The critical consensus on Thompson favours the gloomy, man-at-the-end-of-his-rope stuff (I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight and Shoot Out the Lights), but I've always rather preferred Thommo's angry, crazy Muslim period. The albums First Light (1978) and Sunnyvista (1979) rampage across the emotional colour wheel, turning on a dime from shimmering, oceanic crypto-hymns to superlative heights of paranoia. There is gorgeous fodder for those seeking support for a view of Sufis as Muslim Shmoos. Never was religious questing more alluring than in the lacquered voice of Richard's wife Linda, who converted alongside him. (Linda split from Richard in history's ugliest and most public marital secession--literally played out on the stages of their last tour together--and now has a rich husband. She has recently overcome a longtime hysterical inability to sing, is resuming her career, and is open about her abandonment of Islam.) She sells the Islamic requirement of submission to God incomparably in "Sweet Surrender" ("I'd give the world for you/ Oh, oh, oh, sweet surrender... Allah, Allah, Allah") and riffs 23rd Psalm-style in "First Light" (Take me through the mountains/ Lead me from confusion/ Take me by the hand/ Through real and through illusion"). These are very seductive religious love songs, redolent of the Persian strain in Islam that tempers and humanizes its desert heart. (I trust and hope no Iranian, however Islamized, would ever chant "Down with beauty" like the Nigerian Miss World protesters.)

But when Richard sings, it's in the snarling voice of an Old Testament prophet. "Everyone is in love with money," he spits in "Don't Let a Thief Steal Into Your Heart". "How many days does a man think he has/ That he can spend his whole time dreaming?" Lest the bourgeoisie think it can get off with such a minor chiding, RT raises the stakes in "Civilisation":

They're not human, where do they come from?
I don't know what they're living here for
They don't belong here on this planet
What are they doing in the house next door

Wives tranquilised, pets pasteurised
Kids hypnotised by the TV
Gotta beat you, gotta leech you
They'll treat you like family

Thom Yorke, call your agent! Richard's basic grimness, hitherto contained and inner-directed, has tipped over into a rejection of humanity and an overt relishing of the unhappy fate in store for--whom? The unbeliever?

Oh, the rain is falling
And the wild wind roars
It'll shake your windows
And rattle your doors

Ah, blow down this house of cards...

They're washing the streets
With the blood of your kind
Ah, look over your shoulder
They're right behind

That harrowing yelp from "House of Cards", backed by an ominous chant of "Blow, blow down", is followed by a similar hejira on Sunnyvista's "Borrowed Time", one which might almost be a particularly Cormac McCarthy-esque cowboy song: "There's riders in this county/ They're taking heads for bounty." The soft life is over for the narrator as he flees with family and portable possessions, with some unnamed, demonic posse mere steps behind. Meanwhile, the title track, "Sunnyvista", transfers the paranoia to a music-hall-ish number set in a postwar British housing estate. "There's parks and there's bingo," we're told in rollicking style, but morbid notes keep creeping in. "The cemetery is most discreet, all done without a fuss." Richard's true message about comfortable Western life is driven home in a reference to the arrangements made for the children in fictional Sunnyvista:

They'll be off your hands all day,
in the camps they'll play and play

It's the creepiest couplet in 20th-century songwriting, delivered as it is by the ironic vehicle of sprightly songbird Linda. Hier, in Britain anno 1979, ist kein warum, apparently. But never fear--all is redeemed in Richard's most sanguinary vision, cheerily entitled "Justice in the Streets".

There's sickness in this land, hearts are turned to sand
Crushed with an iron hand, there's justice in the street
Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah
Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah

They've fooled you for so long, you can't tell right from wrong
They're weak and you are strong, there's justice in the street
Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah
Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah

...Tired of living in shame, tired of a ball and chain
Run them down like a train, there's justice in the street
Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah
Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah

They've got you chained to a wheel and you don't know how to feel
Till you can't tell what's real, there's justice in the street
Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah
Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah

In a final, Travis Bickle-esque promise, we are told that "A drop of rain will run into a river/ Oh, see the river wash the valley clean." Cleanliness is next to Godliness, they say.

Richard soon returned to his old, relatively congenial self after fashioning these harrowing and enrapturing artistic documents. I'm a big fan, and of these records in particular; this level of intensity and bitterness is rarely attained, and certainly not in the electric folk bin, of all places. Perhaps I ought not to have gone on at such length about the post-conversion records' wild, vengeful, schizoid content; but Richard Thompson is one of the few cultural figures I can claim something close to expertise in, and his midlife conversion to Sufism, combined with his sublimity as a performer, give what I think is a useful window into the soul of the believer. What we see there is deeply, self-consciously uncivilized. Once you've renounced the world it is easy to form the desire to destroy it.

- 10:33 pm, January 23 (link)

Corner Corner

On NRO's Corner, Jonah Goldberg discusses problems with Alexa's traffic rankings, providing a useful caveat to the previously mentioned web-traffic claims. A correspondent has also noted that FreeDominion's analysis only gives Bourque credit for his URL--but lots of people may still be using the old URL, which points to the same page. Connie at FreeDominion is investigating (but still thinks FD comes out ahead).

Elsewhere in the Corner Rod Dreher throws the M-word into the capital punishment debate:

My view is that if we can protect society reasonably without using the [death penalty], then we should choose life, and mercy, even though a murderer deserves to die.

Showing "mercy" to a criminal can only mean that, in his case, we spare him the punishment he would otherwise receive for his crime. If capital punishment is banned outright, the possibility of bestowing mercy by sparing life is thereby eliminated. You cannot make mercy a matter of policy; an act of mercy must be, by definition, an exception to a behavioural norm. If a judge has no choice but to grant it, it ain't mercy.

Mercy is, in fact, already given a significant place in the American justice system: that's why condemned criminals are always waiting for the call from the governor, no? And while the argumentum ad misericordiam may move sensitive souls, it is a universal corrosive. It can be used against any punishment--and therefore shouldn't be.

- 12:01 pm, January 23 (link)

Coles Notes to Kubrick

The Relapsed Catholic on 2001: A Space Odyssey: "Nobody really understands this ponderous mess. Admit it."

I think the makers of this Flash-animated guide to 2001 have made a monkey out of you, Ms. Shaidle. (Link via Metafilter)

- 10:10 am, January 23 (link)

You gotta serve somebody

March 28, 29, and 30. Those are the dates of the Alberta Conservative party's annual general meeting in Red Deer, and they could be the dates when Western alienation suddenly appears on the national agenda. Neil Waugh reports in today's Edmonton Sun that Premier Ralph Klein could find himself in an uncomfortable minority on federalism at the convention.

Constituency presidents have in their hands a package of resolutions from a dissident group of longtime Alberta PCs, led by Airdrie Tory Rob James, that hangs out all of Alberta's dirty laundry. The list includes the Kyoto accord, environmental authority, health care, the Triple-E Senate, firearms, the dictatorship of the prime minister, the Canadian Wheat Board, pensions, employment insurance, taxes and an Alberta police force.

In each case, PC delegates will be asked to instruct the government to "get constitutional agreement from the Government of Canada by Dec. 31, 2003. ...In the event all the approved resolutions have not been accomplished by the dates specified," the final resolution states, "the Alberta government will hold a binding referendum asking Albertans if they wish to separate from Confederation."

In a letter that James recently e-mailed to all constituency presidents and the executive, he claimed the response he has been getting is "nothing short of phenomenal."

And if there's anything like a fair vote, the resolution will pass. In fact, whether Klein allows that to happen or not will be the real test of whether he truly represents Albertans to Ottawa, or Ottawa to Albertans. Take to make up your mind, Ralph.

[UPDATE, January 4: the link to the relevant Waugh column now points to a later one and has been removed.]

- 8:54 am, January 23 (link)

One born every minute

Is there a creationist conspiracy within the paleontological profession? Scientific American explodes with delight this morning over a new and counterintuitive fossil discovery in China:

Paleontologists have recovered from deposits in Liaoning, China, dinosaur fossils that exhibit evidence of flight feathers on their hindlimbs as well as their forelimbs. The specimens are said to represent a long-sought intermediate stage in the evolution of birds from flightless theropod dinosaurs, and could breathe new life into the theory that protobirds glided between trees before developing powered, flapping flight.

Evolutionary biologists have long debated whether birds began winging it by gliding among the trees or by racing along on the ground. The latter scenario has gained favor in recent years. But the new finds, described in a report published today in the journal Nature, "provide negative evidence for the ground-up hypothesis" and instead support the arboreal gliding scenario, assert study author Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his colleagues.

Amazing! But wait! Aren't paleontologists still desperately trying to reassemble their credibility from the last major hoax to strike the profession? You might remember it--it was a new and counterintuitive fossil discovery in China that was said to represent a long-sought intermediate stage in the evolution of birds from dinosaurs...

The principal part of a famously fabricated dinosaur fossil is an ancient fish-eating bird, scientists report. The Archaeoraptor fossil was introduced in 1999 and hailed as the missing evolutionary link between carnivorous dinosaurs and modern birds. It was fairly quickly exposed as bogus, a composite containing the head and body of a primitive bird and the tail and hind limbs of a dromaeosaur dinosaur, glued together by a Chinese farmer.

Initial CT scans suggested that the fossil might have been made up of anywhere from two to five specimens of two or more species. Chinese and American scientists now report that the fabricated fossil is made up of two species.

Archaeoraptor was indeed exposed "fairly quickly"--but not until it had been celebrated around the world and made the subject of dozens of science stories. (And given a sexy Latin name.) Now it's a shiny new arrow in the creationists' quiver of scientific gullibility, to be fired at well-meaning Darwinists in debates for the next hundred years. Instead of waiting for the dust to settle and handling bizarre new fossils with caution, paleontologists seem determined to hype the Next Big Thing out of China. There appears to be zero recognition that a standard of even slightly higher rigour might need to be applied to Chinese dino-bird discoveries. So who do you suppose manufactured this one? A merchant banker? A gang of mischievous schoolchildren?

- 7:49 am, January 23 (link)

Let the games begin

This is why good P.R. men get the big bucks. Since there's no chance my Expos are going to be on television much this year, and I'm practically past caring, I've been waiting for an announcement on whether Toronto Blue Jays games are going to be on the CBC in 2003, so I can pick them up at my house. (I don't have cable.) With 22 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the Jays' Cro-magnon abortion of an MLB-centralized web site is still proudly announcing the TV and radio arrangements... for 2002. Thanks for absolutely nothing, you sacks of ape throwup at The CBC announced when it opened the 2002-03 season that baseball would be back, and CBC Sports' baseball page still has a Rogers Blue Jays Baseball logo on it. That looks promising. But the Toronto Star announced last week that cable networks TSN and Sportsnet will carry 145 Jays games between them. That doesn't leave many dates open for the CBC, and the Star doesn't mention the public broadcaster, but who the hell knows? I'm sick of looking for a straight answer from any of these people. I could cheat and use my press credentials to get the truth, but I don't want to go showing them round under false pretenses. Usually.

The Iowa Electronic Markets make a similar error on their webpage, failing to inform readers whether they will be offering winner-take-all futures in 2004 presidential candidates. (IEM is a University of Iowa laboratory exploring the predictive value of artificial markets.) But--lesson #1--the IEM folks, in designing their site, made it very easy for me to dash off an e-mail and ask! And they replied quickly. "We are planning on offering futures markets in candidates for the 2004 presidential election. However, we have no details as to when these markets will be starting as of late." Watch this space. Not this specific space, I mean, but the page generally.

- 10:54 pm, January 22 (link)

The soap opera is now daily

Q: How insular is the world of American chess? A: The newly-crowned 2003 men's U.S. champion is Latvian emigré Alexander Shabalov, and the newly-crowned 2003 women's U.S. champion is... his ex-girlfriend, Latvian emigrée Anna Hahn. Unheralded Anna had an easy draw, but did have to take down reigning champ Jennifer Shahade to nab the title.

In more important news, finest living chess journalist Mig Greengard has a weblog! It's a kid-in-a-candy-store moment for chess fans.

- 10:08 pm, January 22 (link)

The Null Device links to this nixie-tube clock. Cool! But cooler still, surely, is the nixie-tube digital wristwatch?

- 12:58 pm, January 22 (link)

But it's a dry cold

Hey, it's an Edmonton sports weblog. Read it during the remainder of the NHL season, then ignore it when Canadian football starts: the poor masochist S.O.B. is a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan. Enjoy watching a quarterback who can't throw for the next couple years, sucker. That shit isn't going to work in a three-down league with midget running backs.

It's heartbreaking to hear this site's boss say the Oilers have "essentially no chance to win the Stanley Cup." Heartbreaking--and irritating. What the hell, dude? They're hovering around #5, #6 in the Western conference, where all the good teams are, so how does that give them "no chance" to win the Cup? Right now they'd be a 20-to-1, 30-to-1 longshot, but if that's "no chance" then most teams in any sport might as well throw in the towel most years. Show a little backbone.

But maybe it's just Edmonton fatalism talking. Weather like this will break a fellow's spirit awful quick... current temperature, at high noon, is -28° Celsius, -18° Fahrenheit.

- 12:11 pm, January 22 (link)

Damn that adoring public

A weblogger challenges Matt Welch to put down the L.A. Examiner dummy proofs for a second and tell us what he thinks about Iraq--you're our only hope, Obi-Wan. Welch curses audibly, throws down his green eyeshade, whips off the sleeve garters, and writes a highly nuanced, admirably tentative e-mail on the subject. Key points, for me: (1) The "let the inspectors do their work" crowd should ask themselves whether inspectors would be in Iraq at all without American "bullying" (answer: no). (2) It's not necessarily a bad thing--for the world--if some countries seem "unfaithful" and others "faithful" to U.S. foreign policy. (3) "Homeland Security"--why? When the new entity sinks into a swamp of bureaucracy, indolence, and self-defeating political blindness, as the Three-Letter Agencies who were supposed to be doing its work apparently have, are they going to create another new bureau? What do they call that one--the Department of Really Real Intelligence Gathering and Security, And This Time We Mean It? The acronym's going to be a bitch.

- 4:28 am, January 22 (link)

Cats, conservatives, Canablogs

Some items!

The first is a fun AP update on "Cc", the cat who has the distinction of being history's first cloned housepet. Surprise! The clone has a completely different personality and appearance from the original article ("Rainbow") down to the colour of her coat. This tells us something we've, er, already known about identical twins for centuries. (There's a full-size photo of the pair interacting here.)

Clones are identical twins: say it with me until it's inscribed on your brain! They're twins! The intentionality of their creation does not change their metaphysical status one whit. And as Rainbow and Cc's fur shows, not all of the divergence between identical twins happens outside the womb. Whether or not "life" begins at conception in the political sense, as the pro-lifers would have it, biological development sure does. Growth patterns are extremely sensitive to initial uterine conditions; in the case of a cat's coat, I think you'd find, though I don't know that they have, that the "fabric" which eventually appears is "knitted" by a very simple genetic instruction set in the DNA--an analog computer program whose output can be radically changed by a bug, glitch, or skip in the hardware.

Item two comes from a member over at, the rabble-rousing conservative news forum that serves as the Canadian analogue to the famous/infamous I was asked through an intermediary if I could work it into my print column, and while I don't think I can (though tips are always appreciated), I probably reach more Internet-equipped readers here at my site anyway. The news is this Free Dominion presser which makes startling, but independently generated, claims for Free Dominion's traffic levels. (The figures come from, which doesn't have much to say about its proprietary traffic-measurement methodology.)

FD says, for example, that it's blown past, Canada's indispensable Drudge-style single-sheet site. [UPDATE, Jan. 23: more here.] If so, I'm not sure I've got any reason to be glad of it; Bourque gave me a nice boost in the early days of my own site, and still lists me on his Blog Log, although he doesn't go out of his way to make that page easy to find. By contrast, I can find no evidence that I've ever been so much as mentioned at FreeDominion--though, come to that, you'll search in vain for any evidence that I've mentioned them ere now! Perhaps I've been derelict in my duty as a leading Canadian "right-wing" weblogger (cue histrionic rolling of eyes at reductionist, antiquated, misleading political label). Or maybe I just have a visceral hostility to public forums of all sorts... Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I'm not a "joiner".

That reminds me... they've announced the finalists for the 2003 Weblog Awards, an exercise which is far from sufficiently unbogus, but which may, by blind luck, help readers find new daily must-visits. I intend to check out the five "Best Canadian Weblog" finalists real soon now, but I'll point out some Canadian connections in other categories. The team that produces BoingBoing, which is terrific every single day, includes Canada's own Cory Doctorow, freedom fighter, novelist, and freelance genius. He's visibly Canadian, too (in his writing), in that sort of Douglas Couplandy way. BoingBoing is up for Weblog of the Year and a bunch of other prizes.

So is Textism, home of Canadian expat Dean Allen. This is a different, more complicated story: while I have pretty much a non-sexual crush on Doctorow, I've never been able to escape the suspicion that Allen is a loathsome human being... which creates all sorts of issues for me, because I spend 24 hours a day dreading that that's how I come across, too. I end up feeling a weird kinship with the guy (one he'd doubtless disavow with a string of skin-abrading Saxonisms), and I visit Textism once or twice a week. But oh, the smugness, oh, the superciliousness. "Occupation: worker"--in two words on his masthead he manages to convey everything about the brittle, trendoid-left, McSweeney's-wannabe, twattish attitude that seeps out of every serif of his prose. Moving to France, as he did a while back, placed him in serious jeopardy of transcending self-caricature. Yet his dog photos are, simply, one of the finest monuments to love you can find on the Internet; the decency and joy invested in them almost outfaces the pissy self-conscious schoolmarm-ism of his weblog. Thus making the whole shebang, with its paradoxes and tensions, a work of art. And he is a pretty goddamn amazing designer.

So that's two Canadians out of six Weblog of the Year nominees... go us! Canuck photoblogger Heather Champ is also up for a Lifetime Achievement Award.

- 3:52 am, January 22 (link)

It's time to feel good about food again.

Sure, I thought adding edge to the Jared Fogle Subway ads was a good idea. But I never thought of going as far as Chris Onstad.

- 2:17 am, January 22 (link)

Somebody call the SPCA--and the SWAT

An update on the Craig MacTavish meltdown: it could have been a lot worse. ESPN has the AP wire story on MacTavish's battle with Flames mascot Harvey the Hound, some QuickTime video of the surprise tongue-ectomy, and a photo of trainer Ken Lowe convincing MacTavish--who has, let's recall, served time in prison for homicide--not to beat Harvey to death. You think I'm kidding?

At another stoppage, Harvey leaned over the glass behind the bench which prompted MacTavish to grab the tongue, rip it out and throw it into the crowd. Undeterred, Harvey kept leaning over the glass. MacTavish reached for a hockey stick but was calmed by Oilers trainer Ken Lowe.

Ken, you're one of the best in the business--but strictly between us Oiler fans: next time, let MacT finish the job. Incidentally, you can write to Harvey and let him know what you think of his antics.

- 9:34 pm, January 21 (link)

A Talbot! A Talbot!

There's no free lunch on the Web anymore.

So says Salon editor David Talbot in the L.A. Times, apparently--I saw the quote on Romenesko's Media News, right below a link to the Village Voice's cool story on the Tim Cavanaugh-led If there's no free lunch on the Web, why do I feel so full after chowing down at Cavanaugh's Reason café? Or, for that matter, at Casa Romenesko?

The old "free lunch" saying, as I understand it, actually comes from the days when most American taverns laid out sandwiches and cheese and eggs to attract afternoon drinkers. "There's no such thing as a free lunch" really means that there are ostensibly free lunches everywhere. Talbot is the publican who's stopped serving food gratis, and wants to convince you that the other bars on his block will probably stop doing it real soon, too. Any day now. You just wait.

Unfortunately, the new Salon business model, involving making visitors thumb through "pages" of ads to get to the content, sounds more like a free lunch available only after you've been kicked in the nuts for fifteen minutes.

[UPDATE, January 22: It's all very well to beat a metaphor to death but Ken Layne has actual ideas about how Salon should be run. He is absolutely right about the relevant principles--even the editorial payroll cuts, although I don't even like typing the phrase "editorial payroll cuts". Call it a phobia.]

- 5:12 pm, January 21 (link)

Somebody call the SPCA always ahead of the curve! This is me writing about Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish on December 3:

He speaks very deliberately and seriously, like a man who's had a whole bunch of anger-management classes. Every time some reporter asks him a real stupid question ("Hey, coach, how does it feel to lose to Calgary?") you can feel him pause and gather up overtaxed reserves of strength and patience. You can hear him suck in breath with difficulty, like St. Sebastian pinned to the tree.

Fast-forward: last night MacTavish went ballistic during a loss to Calgary and ripped the tongue right out of the head of Calgary Flames mascot Harvey the Hound. The league's wire report of the incident is misleading: the score was 4-0 when MacTavish attacked Harvey. It was apparently the right move! Eric Francis tells the story entertainingly in the Calgary Sun this morning:

With seven minutes to go in one of the most humiliating efforts in Battle of Alberta history, Craig MacTavish gave the most entertaining tongue-lashing in NHL history.

Furious over a 4-0 deficit and an annoying hound named Harvey who had his dirty paws on the glass behind him, the Oilers coach reached up to grab the mascot's tongue, ripping it clean out of his mouth. Unsure what to do next, he chucked it back into the crowd while security scrambled to reprimand the cagey canine.

Next thing you know, the four-goal lead was dog-gone and the host Flames found themselves one goal away from being, um, tongue-tied.

"I think it was one of those tear-away tongues, otherwise he might have (fallen into the bench)," said MacTavish, tongue firmly in cheek. "When I got Harvey's tongue... that seemed to turn things around." Less than a minute after MacT silenced the hound, the Oilers scored the first of three goals in a four-minute span to threaten what was otherwise the most complete Flames effort since last year's season-opener.

- 8:20 am, January 21 (link)

In other Report weblogs, issue 9

Rick the Miscellanist is unimpressed with my sleeping abilities: he actually dozed through the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Well, I can't beat that. My most impressive sleep achievement was to nod right out during a Testament show in 1990; they were opening for Megadeth and headliners Judas Priest, still fronted at that time by Rob Halford and covered by a tacit audience-band agreement not to inquire too deeply into the significance of all that leather. (My memory was of a slightly different lineup, but I defer to the online expertise of Priest fansites.)

Testament wasn't using the same PA as the other bands, it seemed, but rather some nightmarish electric agglomeration of their own childish devising. Even at its best, Testament's brand of metal was noxious and garbled, but on this night they were incapable of generating anything but the unrelenting white noise of a busted hydroelectric dynamo. The waves of 90-dB sklurge had a perverse soporific effect on me; they were almost physically soothing, a sonic massage. When I finally jolted myself awake, Dave Mustaine would, I suppose, have been screeching away about AIDS and nuclear war, as was his habit. I can't really remember; I was there to see the Priest, and they put on a terrific show once they finally displaced their bawling bush-league imitators.

Whoa, I almost forgot that this was an In Other Report Weblogs... embarrassingly, the Ambler has covered some of the same ground that I did in the entry immediately below, and he got to it sooner. He has, generally, been at work on a Very Big Picture of the political future lately. I never find much to disagree with him about; he has a black outlook that almost amounts a perverse optimism. Elsewhere, Jeremy Lott also has some borrowed comedy in his weblog, and the TorranceWatch is 61 days and counting.

- 6:27 am, January 21 (link)

P.-M. dawn?

Seen in the inbox: a classic reportorial judo slam of Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper. The online version of the Calgary Herald story mucks about with psephology, leaving the original lede off the story. In the longer, printed version, Joe Paraskevas kicks off by interviewing two teenagers who came to the town meeting in Stratford:

"[Harper]'s not doing it for me," [17-year-old Rachel] Van Harten said afterwards, as [17-year-old Caroline] Dykstra nodded in agreement. "The emphasis of his platform is on the economic future, paying off the debt and cutting taxes. That's a really realistic emphasis. I think this country could stand to be more idealistic.

"What about people in this society who don't contribute by paying taxes?" Van Harten added. "What about those who aren't upstanding citizens? Where do they fit in, in the future for Canada?"

People who aren't upstanding citizens? Who exactly do you mean, Rachel--embezzlers? Child molesters? You want a party that speaks for auto thieves and crack dealers, is that it?

These youngsters, to their eternal credit, are already grown up enough to despise the Liberals, which puts them ahead of a majority of Ontarians. These aren't stupid people; they drove something like two hours to hear Harper speak, in the apparent hope that he'd inspire them and show them they don't have to spend their lives wasting votes on the Natural Governing Party. Unfortunately, inspiration isn't Harper's stock in trade. The correct term for the "economic future", whose discussion they find so dispiriting, is "the standard of living." People who aren't living on a wage yet often find talk of "economics" dull and non-"idealistic". Once you start having to pay the rent through your own effort, the subject suddenly takes on a new and positively enthralling aspect.

Interviewing legal infants is a game reporters like to play, one they should be discouraged from playing. I suppose if kids are willing to present themselves at a political meeting, they're entitled to be heard; but whether they're entitled to be entirely respected, to the degree of going to them first in coverage of an important political meeting, is another question.

I have to admit, though, that the questionable technique does suggest problems and approaches in reaching out to young voters. No politician can afford to talk frankly about the intergenerational robbery that has gone on in this country (and most other Western democracies, I suppose); the aged and aging are too powerful and selfish to sit still for such a message. But Harper could stand to drop in a pitch to young people about the brain drain. I'll never make a politician, but me, I'd tell those girls to pick a cohort of ten of their brightest, best-performing, most motivated classmates and see what they do with their lives. I think they'll find that between two and four of them will immediately go do an undergraduate degree in the States; another couple will flee there, or elsewhere, for postgraduate degrees; and of the rest, almost all will either start careers in the U.S., or be seriously thinking about it, or be wishing that they could. Canada is a country, now, where talented people are basically made to feel stupid for staying put. This is a real problem, a symptom of the living-standards gap (and the Liberal-inculcated cultural differences) between ourselves and the U.S.; and it's one the Liberals have zero interest in fixing or even acknowledging.

It's good to see Harper working the Perth-Middlesex riding, anyway; I hope he puts in plenty of time there. And he should knock some doors. Harper's not going to suddenly turn into a charmer in one-on-one conversations, as we're always told Al Gore does, but he can at least make a self-deprecating, human acknowledgment of his lack of charisma. People do focus on your ideas in conversation, but political meetings have a spectacular aspect that can't be negotiated out of existence by the most brilliant image consultant. Subconsciously, people in a crowd--even the emotionally cool crowd at a town hall meeting--always put on the crowd, like a mental garment.

Perth-Middlesex is a big deal for the Alliance. The Liberal timeserver there, a retired CF brigadier-general, had to quit in October when his long-evident Alzheimer's disease finally grew too severe to be politely overlooked. There was controversy over his fitness for the seat even before his renomination in 2001, and some local bad feeling towards the Liberals survives. (Right or wrong, there is the supposition that it was cruel and cynical to ask the sitting member, who had a bundle of other personal problems to go with his advancing disease, to go over the top one last time just because of a dearth of local talent.) The search for a Liberal replacement is snarled in squabbling and recrimination; Abbas Rana has a piece on this in the Hill Times. So the government is vulnerable, at least theoretically, and the London area has normally been a good one, as Ontario regions go, for the Alliance. But in the last two elections the CA/Reform nominated some gray ex-Liberal pillar of the community and got nowhere; as I recall, CA support held steady around 9%, a few points behind the Progressives (that's the nickname I want to start using for the Progressive Conservatives--think it'll stick?). This time around the Alliance picked a young female candidate, one who, I gather, is a quite aggressive (not to say rabid) and energetic small-C conservative.

With Harper the only stable leader amongst the four main English Canadian parties--a situation that might have been foreseen when everyone was cringing over the CA's "troubles" last year; settling problems sooner rather than later is good!--there's a sort of "now or never" feeling, amongst some in the CA, about the imminent byelection. As the months go by, the riding is going to turn into a stage. To be sure, we've had this "make-or-break" feeling before. Everybody always underestimates how long we can just limp onward with Canadian politics in the crippled shape they're in now. But it looks like a pivotal act in the drama, anyway, one that could advance the plot if the CA will expend the necessary energy wisely.

- 4:53 am, January 21 (link)

Somebody get me a cape

Hey, check out who showed up in my visitor statistics today! (Image slightly enhanced for ease of identification.)

It's an honour to see you, Mr. Batman, sir. Reclusive millionaire Bruce Wayne speaks very highly of you... the green pinstripe is, ah, an adventurous look. Love it. Love it.

- 5:09 pm, January 20 (link)

But he was so good in Tomcats

I've been up all night working, and I'm almost tired enough to use the verb "to blog" non-ironically. But not that tired. I took a short nap earlier and as I was nodding out I thought to myself, "What do you suppose Trent Lott's 100th birthday party will be like? Maybe Senate Majority Leader Jenna Bush will get in trouble for saying he should have been president." Did SNL already do this sketch? I get the coolest ideas when I'm drifting off--maybe I should have a DSL-equipped laptop for my bedroom. Not that I sleep there all that much. I tend to crash at the office a night or two a week, and often when I've got work to do at home, I deliberately pass out on the couch, thinking to myself, if I sleep on the couch, my body will, like, sense that I should be awake, and I won't waste six hours being comatose. Normally I wake up 8-10 hours later feeling like my upper back's been used as a jai-alai fronton.

As a result of the peripatetic sleeping, my bed has become an instinctive locus of only very deep sleep. My mother didn't help matters by buying me new sheets for Christmas that are made from some insanely soft damn material--I think it's the down from goose fetuses whose parents were fed on silkworms, or something. Basically when I crawl into that bed, there's no leaving for a good long time. I have to have my schedule cleared out for the next 48 hours if I even think of lying down there. There could be smoke alarms going off, a cop outside the door counting down from ten into a bullhorn--it wouldn't matter. Even the need to urinate is negotiable when I'm in bed. Can you buy chamber pots on eBay? Were you ever so sleepy that you looked at the toilet and shouted "This isn't progress! THIS IS NOT PROGRESS!"

I see Chicago won a passel of Golden Globe awards last night. Those are the ones picked by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, right? So, basically, this is a question of them not understanding English? They just picked the movie with the nice-looking women in hooker clothes and plenty of singing, I'm thinking. I mean, jeez, these are the people we look to for early Oscar handicapping? Sure, Richard Gere's got a long career behind him; it's not like tipping Jerry O'Connell for the big gong. But I'm still left truly aghast.

- 8:40 am, January 20 (link)

A previous entry has been updated. All are urged to re-read. - morning of January 20
Death, too, imitates art

(Link from Arts & Letters Daily) The long Julian Barnes essay published Jan. 11 in the Guardian takes for its novel theme Kipling and France. They enjoyed, it seems, a long and mostly mutually contented relationship. But note that Barnes--a novelist of distinction--can't resist taking a detour to Meerut, India to describe a 1922 incident that must have been nearly the most startling in Kipling's life. The relevant entry from Kipling's diary:

Cemetery austere and dignified--in spite of bakehouse crematorium in corner where Hindus had been burned. All sorts burned here inside stone wall, spaced with what should be dignified evergreens (like cypresses) in years to come... Went round graves, spoke to gardeners, etc., etc. I saw grave of Gunga Din, cooly, bearer.

- 2:27 am, January 20 (link)

It just keeps growing

Another one for the aforementioned "unbelievers disgusted at the self-destruction of mainstream churches" file!

I'm probably an even more decided atheist than Orwell was. I'm a militant atheist. But I find it revolting to see the Church of England posing in secular progressive garb, trying to be popular, throwing street parties and going to rock concerts and generally trying to be hip. I find the sight of that completely nauseating for about 1,500 reasons. And I feel sure that Orwell would have felt the same way. Even though the beliefs upon which they base themselves might be absurd and even sinister, there was a certain dignity to the Church of England. It represents quite a long struggle and conflict and a lot of very serious people willing to risk a lot for it, and now it's become a kind of clownish, trendy, almost vote-catching outfit. When I talk like that I don't know whether I sound like a conservative or not, and I don't particularly care.

Christopher Hitchens in the Atlantic, ladies and gentlemen. I think it would be more accurate for Chris to say he doesn't want to know whether he sounds like a conservative.

- 11:10 pm, January 19 (link)

Return of the Social Blemish

Warren Kinsella is sending me more traffic. Do check out his January 20 entry, in which he yawps on about a (wholly silly) Alberta Human Rights Commission decision without mentioning that it was thrown out, for procedural unfairness, by the Court of Queen's Bench in December. Our interlocutor apparently intends to overawe the reader with the massive moral authority of a "quasi-judicial body", but, see, actual judicial bodies still outrank the "quasi-" kind. That's how that works. A Quicklaw search would have revealed the facts, but it's not like Warren's a lawyer or anything.

[UPDATE, 7:29 am, January 20: Warren has politely asked me to state for the record that "Warren Kinsella is indeed a lawyer, and a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada." I will repeat for emphasis: Warren really is a lawyer, and a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada. My unreserved apologies to Warren for making a sarcastic joke that may have been lost on readers who do not know that he is a lawyer. Which, in case I have failed to be clear, is what he is. -C.]

- 10:20 pm, January 19 (link)

Another thoughtcrime nipped in the bud

The Canada Customs follies continue! Mark Frauenfelder reports at BoingBoing that Patrick Rosencranz's underground-comics history Rebel Visions was turned away at the border--en route to one of the cartoonists chronicled within--because it supposedly combines "sex with mutilation, bestiality, and incest." (Frauenfelder previously reviewed the book for LA Weekly.)

If true, such a decision is typical of the relentlessly stupid personnel who determine what we are to be allowed to read, view, and hear. And I have no doubt that it is true; a friend of mine had Wesley Willis albums turned aside because someone spotted a lyric sheet containing the phrase "Suck a donkey's dick". They seem to have a thing about bestiality--isn't it nice that animal rights are making progress? Their sympathy for the lower orders of life is easily accounted for, of course. Unquestionably the statute on obscenity is vague, and the Supreme Court has done very little--though probably no less than everything possible--to make it any more rigorous. But one thing is clear, or ought to be, even to the excrement-formed golems who patrol our border: no possible interpretation of Canadian obscenity law can forbid the import of scholarly works which happen to refer to obscenity.

It is unfortunate, but inevitable, that the interpretation of the law has been left up to frontline Customs hu-boons. What's not inevitable is that they should do their job with such obvious relish. With Canada Customs, the burden of proof of "non-obscenity" always falls on the importer. Or at least that's true if the importer is an individual or a small bookstore; appears to have no qualms about offering Rebel Visions for sale to the Canadian public. Is a pallet-load of this barbaric filth already squatting in a Mississauga warehouse, waiting to be unleashed on an innocent populace? The voters demand an answer!

One simple memo from the federal minister of customs and revenue would make life easier for everybody, including the agents. It need be no longer than this: "All personnel are reminded of their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution of Canada, which recognizes 'freedom of expression' and 'freedom of the press and other media' as fundamental principles of Canadian law. Every decision made by agents regarding printed and expressive material must, and will, take this into account. Failure to respect the spirit of the Constitution will not be tolerated in the law officers of the country." Alas, no Liberal could ever write such a thing without his body's very atoms flying apart in a million directions at once.

- 9:19 pm, January 19 (link)

The bilious entry on "working-class greens" has been updated. - 4:15 pm, January 19

Before we turn to the crateload of hitherto unhandled missives to, let's do a special TorranceWatch update. As you recall, this is the recurring feature in which we check in with AWOL weblogger Kelly Torrance's site. Has she updated? Nope: according to the unchanging lead entry, which is beginning to take on aspects of a hypnotic incantation, she still finds Sam Waterston damn attractive. Perhaps her schoolgirl crush on the tousled thespian lion runs so deep that she can't bear to discuss anything else online. For whatever reason, the TorranceWatch inertia meter stands at an amazing 59 days.

But, truth be told, I'm merely feigning ignorance, dear reader. I spoke with Mlle. Torrance a couple days ago, and I'm pleased to dispel the reports of her death. She gave a long account of her reasons for not updating in a such a long--and ever longer--period of time. It pretty much went like this:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, and also, I got digital cable.

Other exculpatory factors include a recent and unforeseen house-move, hosting duties at a conference for young journalists, a painful struggle with a new DSL setup, and laptop troubles. If it's excuses you want, she's got plenty. Even she doesn't know if she'll be coming back to her site, so I can't give any reassurance on that score. Any normal human being would have been goaded into a frenzy of posting long ago by repeated installments of TorranceWatch. The vigil continues.

To the mailbag, then! First, I received a missive on Alberta separatism from something called the Alberta Independence Association. This appears to be Cory Morgan's next separatist project; he led a fledgling separatist party that collapsed over tactical disagreements last year.

I wrote last month about the need for credible, familiar leadership on separatism. AIA member Jon Koch wrote me a very nice letter alerting me to the new group; he disagrees with the need for an establishment figure to marshal the existing sentiment, saying "Realistically, if we are going to get this going, people like me will have to do it ourselves. We can't count on the Ray Speakers or Ted Mortons [respected, experienced Alberta political figures] to do it for us." My view is that without such a person, you can't count on the political class to listen to you. But in the current vacuum, Cory Morgan could be that person; my advice to him would be to run for a provincial seat at the earliest suitable opportunity, and never mind getting the grassroots to agree on whether the future Alberta Army should have nuclear weapons. Nothing succeeds like electoral success; if a guy like Gordon Kesler could galvanize the province, Mr. Morgan certainly can.

Harry Eagar wrote an interesting letter from Maui (look out for drunken premiers!) when the Instapundit and I were talking about the supposed need for the West to inculcate gratitude in the Muslim world. They've got plenty to be grateful for already, of course, and Harry discusses one example I hadn't heard about.

Rightwingers will be appalled to find that Jimmy Carter is behind it. [Actually, evangelical Protestants may vote Republican, but they admire Carter, or did before his Nobel Prize sellout. -ed.] Mostly private, volunteer work, by mostly Americans and Norwegians, has come close to eradicating guinea worm from the world. If it happens, it will be the first human parasite ever eliminated, not quite as significant as smallpox or poliomyelitis but still a very big deal.

Most westerners have never heard of guinea worm, but it's a very, very bad thing. It requires warmth, filth and ignorance, which explains why it is restricted to Mohammedan countries. Unlike some other pests, though, it can easily be controlled, using nothing more technically advanced than a soda straw and some muslin--and, of course, some social concept of mercy and sympathy for the unfortunate, also missing in Mohammedan countries. [Not quite fair!--assisting the unfortunate is an important and explicit religious duty in Islam. We in the West now think first of ways to permanently ameliorate their condition through policy, but it wasn't always so. -ed.]

Anyway, working quietly away, westerners have eliminated guinea worm from Pakistan, where there were once a million cases a year, and most of the rest of the Koran Belt. It survives in places where do-gooders cannot go, like Sudan, and the more remote parts of Central Africa and in parts of India.

Curiously, the best single overview of guinea worm in English is a novel, Cause Celeb, by the same person who wrote Bridget Jones' Diary. [Helen Fielding. -ed.] Cause Celeb was greeted with such indifference that it wasn't even published in North America until after the success of Jones.

So, did elimimating a debilitating scourge from Mohammedan communities generate any gratitude from the beneficiaries? To ask the question is to answer it.

I haven't checked Harry's facts too closely, but I'll be happy to print any corrections if people have got 'em. Here's a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article on guinea worm eradication. Since Harry mentioned Jimmy Carter's role, I should add that the equally reviled Bill Gates deserves big credit too. And the February 3 Report will have a short item, written by yours truly, on the historical antecedent to the guinea worm campaign: John D. Rockefeller's crusade to eliminate hookworm from the American South. (The Wall Street Journal covered the subject a little while ago.)

Elsewhere in the mailbag, there's more on the Oxford comma (previously discussed here and here). I'd hoped to spare you, but it wouldn't be right to ignore a rebuttal to my own position. Robert Speirs says:

I always thought the comma before the last in a series was otiose because the "and" filled the function of a comma. This is not new at all. I've heard it all my life. One could, after all, say "Muslims and Christians and Jews and Buddhists". So when you shorten it to "Muslims, Christians, Jews and Buddhists", why add a comma? The commas between the other elements of the list replace "and". The misinterpretation you point out may supply a reason in that situation to add a comma, but in any other list, where that misinterpretation is not to be feared, why add an extra comma? In longer, more complex lists, where each element is compound, the "and" may not suffice to mark the end of the second-to-last element and the beginning of the last. But in that situation you may need to use semicolons, because there may be commas within the elements. I've always suspected the "Oxford comma" is an error of hyper-correctness.

This is a fatal confusion of the comma's purely semantic function and its role as an aid to the reader. Commas are, in fact, never strictly necessary; if I wrote "Muslims Christians Jews and Buddhists" you'd recognize it as a list, soon enough, after your brain stalled over it for a fraction of a second. The point is to keep the reader's brain from stalling in the first place. That is the essence of fluid writing. When I write "Muslims, Christians, Jews and Buddhists", with no Oxford comma, your brain has to halt to make sure that "Jews and Buddhists" aren't sub-grouped together logically. In fact, if you didn't know what Jews and Buddhists were, you wouldn't be able to work it out at all. The serial or Oxford comma dispels ambiguity. Every writer with a good ear will naturally favour it.

Moving along quickly... I received several different, mutually conflicting stories about the nefarious chemical content of factory cigarettes, which makes them burn faster, or slower, depending on whom I'm supposed to believe. Thanks to those who wrote about that; I'm sure at least one of you is right. John Perricone of Only Baseball Matters wrote in about The Godfather, to note that Kay's motives are a little clearer in the book than in the movie. Objectivist weblogger Arthur Silber called my attention to an entry about cross-burning, the First Amendment, and Charles Pickering--should have linked to that ages ago. Same deal with Howard Owens, who has an entry on Tom Hanks' unnatural gifts and another one with a (real) message for China. (Short version: freedom good!)

James Killmond argues that troubled Gordon Campbell (discussed in entries passim) might have been telling the truth about having three martinis and three glasses of wine before his attempt to play Crazy Taxi in real life:

Martinis are supposedly a chilled mixture of gin and dry vermouth. When served "dry", as is often the case, they are almost all gin. Also, they are almost always served "up", which means without ice, the chilling having been accomplished outside the glass, usually with the eye-catching silver shaker. A "drink" is an ounce and one half of 80 proof liquor. People do not drink martinis out of shot glasses. They drink them out of martini glasses, often oversized. A single martini often contains in excess of four ounces of straight gin. Three martinis means almost nine "drinks".

Dude, give me the name of the bar you visit! Since Campbell was quaffing in a private home, the alcohol content of his drinks is impossible to ascertain; the point may be relevant. If so, we must absolve him of strict untruth, and convict him of merely misleading the electorate before his blood alcohol level--which, remember, had to have peaked markedly higher than the observed level of .015--become common knowledge.

I received a bit of mail, naturally, on the subject of weblog comment sections after cracking wise about them a couple of times. Mostly, people agree with me that they're mostly awful. Pallavi Guniganti praises Eric Alterman's approach; Alterman conducts "Slacker Fridays", selecting reader comments for short replies one day a week. But wait! That's exactly what I'm doing right now, isn't it?

On the subject of French-immersion schooling, I got this interesting letter from a Canadian reader--a local (to me) fellow, I think, but he didn't specify. Joanne Jacobs take note:

When your local public school is a hovel full of kids with behavioural problems (as mine is), you start looking for other options. Sure, I could strike a blow for class equality and send my son to the local school, where the teachers spend a good portion of their time dealing with crises. I could be high-minded and hope that my child would have a positive effect on his peers, rather than the other way round. But I get the uneasy feeling I'd be sacrificing my son on the altar of my ideals. So my ex-wife and I are considering French immersion, which is--not incidentally--run out of the best school in the area.

I recognize the hypocrisy and cynicism inherent in my position, but my mother and brother have spent many years in total teaching in such schools, and I have no desire to subject my son to that environment. I'd also point out that this is entirely a function of the current catchment-based school system, which ghettoizes inner-city schools. Another argument in favour of vouchers, perhaps?

Definitely--if another one was needed.

That's more than enough mailbag for now, although we haven't reached the bottom. Thanks again to everyone who wrote, whether acknowledged here or not. Keep 'em coming.

- 6:48 am, January 19 (link)

Science meets Scients

You're sure not going to see me link to Rosie: The Magazine very often, but I cracked up over this excerpt from Christopher Reeve's book, Nothing Is Impossible. It seems that Reeve dabbled in Scientology as a young Broadway actor, but by the time they started him on "past life regression", he began to wonder if he was getting full value for the staggering amounts of money he was contributing. So he tried a little experiment.

I began to remember details from a past life in ancient Greece. I commanded a warship returning victoriously to Athens. My father was the king, and I was his only son. When I had cast off, he had made me promise that on our return we would set white sails for victory and black sails if I had been lost. I had forgotten to change the black sails to white, and my father, in despair over my death, killed himself. I could sense that my auditor was deeply moved.

And that was the end of my training as a Scientologist. The fact that I got away with a fabrication devalued my belief in the process.

Don't listen to him! It's the body thetans talking!

- 4:14 am, January 19 (link)

Something to be

Reason's Hit and Run links to an LA Weekly story about a half-dozen eminently euthanizable young Green activists, 15-year-olds who say things like "Politically, the energy is with the Green Party." Lot of talk about "new ideas" the Greens are putting forward. Go on, try to find one in the article: and remember, "sustainability" doesn't fucking count.

I don't want to call reporter Seven (??) McDonald's research into question, but I'm afraid my bullshit radar screams when I read this:

The young people interviewed for this story have some things in common besides the Green Party: Five excel at creative writing and/or poetry. Four are in a band or aspire to be... Six are from working-class or middle-class families.

Working-class families, huh? Really? Really? Do you really really mean that?

I suppose it's possible, theoretically, that someone who grew up in a "working-class" family could end up as a mealy-mouthed hipster Green camp-following fuckface. I mean, it could happen--maybe the kid gets infected with some sort of ecologist spirochete, I don't know. But I find it rather hard to imagine. I'd really like for Mr. Seven (or Ms.) to tell us if any of these kids have actually, say, seen the inside of a double-wide trailer. The only parental occupations actually mentioned in the story are: teacher, computer consultant, and record producer for Rage Against the Machine. Maybe the producer guy counts as a member of the "working class" in California...? Is that the deal?

Yeah, I guess you can tell that whenever "sustainability" and the "working class" are mentioned close together, I get angry. Kurt Cobain's loathing-soaked scream of "A denial, a denial, a denial" would be a suitable soundtrack for such thoughts. Myself, I believe the concept of the "working class" is less relevant all the time; it's normally used as a tacit argument-in-one-word that capitalists are parasitic and government beneficiaries aren't. The fact remains that undeniably working-class people, by the traditional definition, don't raise "Baby Greens". It's tough, you see, to convince somebody with that upbringing that prosperity is obnoxious.

[UPDATE, January 19: See, I should have just asked Weisblott about the obscure journalist with the mysterious name. "Seven McDonald is the daughter of Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe & The Fish... So that explains her disposition re the green party kiddies," he writes. How exquisite: from commie to hippie to greenie in three generations. Joe's parents are said to have named the future flash-in-pan folksinger after Stalin. What genocidal sadist is "Seven" named for?]

- 9:01 pm, January 18 (link)

Heard through the grape vigne

Gene Healy reports on a recent Brush With Fame:

I saw Avril Lavigne last night at the D.C. Cafe, at about 10:45, while I was ordering a chicken shwarma. That's it, that's the whole story.

Naturally, 400 or so more words follow... it's all right, Gene, I do that too. What struck me was the closing bit:

Losing your anonymity is a loss of freedom, even if it's not a kind of freedom that libertarian rights theory is equipped to recognize. If you're a teenybopper star like Ms. Lavigne, you can't go out for a latte without other kids recognizing you, and cell-phone swarming the area. As I was waiting for a cab in front of the restaurant, Lavigne and her buddy walked out. She pulled her jacket's hood down over her eyes like she was a criminal on the lam.

If you think Avril Lavigne is overexposed in the United States, try living here. I've seen her on a half-dozen magazine covers, probably, in the last eight weeks... yet how can I be certain I'd recognize her if I ran into her? She's certainly lovely, but--this just in--there's a surfeit of loveliness amongst 17-year-old girls. A lot of them look more or less like Avril Lavigne; in fact, I think that's part of why she has caught on--she's the first celebrity face and style leader of a particular generation. (Didn't you have the feeling the first time you saw Avril that you recognized her? That you'd seen her before, looking dissatisfied behind the counter of a donut shop?) Since her usual look is so sharply defined, she could blend into the mass quite easily if she, say, put her hair up and laid off the mascara before leaving the house.

But apparently that's too easy; Avril would rather make a show of making like Ol' Dirty Bastard with her hoodie on the way out of the restaurant. This doesn't sound to me like a way of blending in; it sounds like a way of announcing, at a hundred visual decibels, "Step aside! Bona fide celebrity comin' through!"

- 2:52 am, January 18 (link)

A rebel's gratitude

(Via The Null Device) I haven't read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which seems to be widely considered the thinking man's (thinking child's?) alternative to the Harry Potter books. But I do like combative, deep interviews. This talk with Pullman appeared in a UK Christian magazine, Third Way. It's another clipping for the bulging "unbelievers who are disgusted at what mainstream churches are doing to the Bible, the hymnal, and the liturgy" file:

My grandfather was a clergyman and so every Sunday I went to Sunday school and church. I was confirmed, I was a member of the choir, all that sort of stuff.
We still had the Authorised Version of the Bible, and the Book of Common Prayer, and Hymns Ancient and Modern--all those old forms of worship that had given comfort and joy to generations were still there for me to enjoy. Nowadays it's all been swept away, and if ever I go into a church and look at the dreadful, barren language that disfigures the forms of service they have now, I am very thankful that I grew up at a time when it was possible for me to go to Matins and sing the Psalms in the old versions.

This, mind you, from a man who breezily dumps Christians in the same conceptual bin as the Taliban not ninety seconds later in the interview. Perhaps mainstream liberal Christians will think it slightly de trop that a quasi-Satanist like Pullman should care to lecture them on sacred texts. Well, we keep hearing that Western civilization was built on the bedrock of Christianity, and some of us even believe it; I take that to imply, in some sense, that it's our heritage too, even if we no longer happen to believe the stories.

- 1:20 am, January 18 (link)

Art imitates life, or is it the other way round's Assignment Desk: has anyone working for a daily thought to take another look at the book of Pete Townshend's 1993 concept album/rock opera Psychoderelict? Some fans of solo Townshend, like myself, regard this record as a last, spasmodic return to top form before Pete remounted the treadmill of endless, unthrilling reunion tours. This is not the majority view: the album was actually re-released, in a possible effort to locate an audience, with the spoken-word bits removed. The actual subject matter of Psychoderelict seems to have been forgotten. Just to get you started, I'll mention that it's an album about a washed-up old rocker whose creativity is revived by a sexy fan letter, complete with nude photo, from a 14-year-old girl... do I hear someone saying "Exhibit A"?

- 9:39 pm, January 17 (link)

The Social Blemish speaketh

I slept in late, as you might have expected, and I awoke to rather mindbending traffic levels flowing from the new, Times- and MSNBC-inflated Instapundit. The 800-pound gorilla of weblogs now weighs closer to 1,400, at a guess.

Warren Kinsella also sent some traffic my way. His personal, purely cosmetic abuse is actually rather touching; making fun of your appearance is just Warren's way of saying "Howdy, neighbour!" We know he considers the insult of an adversary to be the greatest laurel a polemicist can win; and we accept this one from his hand, gratefully.

- 5:08 pm, January 17 (link)

An uninterrupted education

Janet Steffenhagen writes in the Jan. 9 Vancouver Sun about an unexpected growth period for French immersion schooling in British Columbia. French immersion's popularity in English Canada, I gather, peaked in the early '90s and then sort of levelled off or fell slightly. Why is it climbing again in B.C.? Some parents are apparently convinced that French is a key job qualification in B.C.; some are convinced that teaching in a foreign language breeds concentration; some merely wish to incorporate their children into a show of support for the political principle of bilingualism. But why do I have the uneasy feeling that this tidbit may be the most important of all?:

French immersion classes generally have fewer special needs children, fewer behavioural problems, and fewer ESL children.

[UPDATE, January 19: A reader contributes a personal note on this subject near the end of a long installment of the mailbag. Worth the rummage.]

- 5:58 am, January 17 (link)

Oh, those Russians

(Via Kottke) You may keep your Welleses and your de Palmas and your Altmen, sir; a Russian director has made "the first entirely unedited, single-screen, single-take, full-length feature film." The complete film, Russian Ark, is also the longest Steadicam sequence ever shot, as well as the first uncompressed high-definition feature film recorded to hard disk.

Oh, did I mention that it was shot in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg? I love that, that's the real Russian spirit. You ask the government if you can annex one of the world's six or seven greatest cultural treasures, for a day, to make a movie in one single long take, which is probably not even possible, by the way, and honestly we'll try very hard not to break anything beyond repair, really. And they say yes! I imagine some gray-faced bureaucrat giving a tired little Russian shrug. "You can't stop artists. No sense trying. They're voracious, amoral monsters, the lot of them."

- 4:17 am, January 17 (link)

The big chill

My regrets for recent silence--I'm almost done my magazine work for the week. In the meantime, take cold comfort in John Bloom's unsentimental new UPI feature article: a personal view of suicide. (Not too personal! Joe Bob's OK as far I know, kids!)

It's a good article, though I disapprove of writing about suicide without mentioning that men kill themselves three to four times as often as women do; this is one of those gigantic, unquestionably meaningful social indicators that nobody knows (and that, in many cases, invites positive disbelief). Bloom writes:

In the United States, most people kill themselves with guns (57 percent), although this is not true in the rest of the world. In the United Kingdom poison is No. 1. In Australia it's hanging. In Israel and parts of Asia it's burning, usually by dousing yourself with gasoline or kerosene.

Curious as to how Canada fits in? The most recent data is in this table, which tastelessly keeps the sexes separate in the Next World. Here's how the methods rank (1990-92) if you reunite them:

Guns, explosives   3,214  30%
Hanging            3,104  29%
Poisoning          1,638  15%
Gases, vapours     1,244  12%
Jumping              522  5%
Drowning             422  4%
Cutting, piercing    196  2%
Other                341  3%
TOTAL             10,681  100%

You can always tell it's deadline time when I start thinking about this stuff.

- 8:32 pm, January 16 (link)

Talking to the Middle Kingdom

In response to my generous offer, I have been asked to relay the following messages through the Internet censoring filter of the People's Republic of China.

Dudes, what the hell was up with that whole Tiananmen Square thing? Excuse me, but that was fucked up. I mean, HELLO, it's called democracy? Maybe you learned about it in school? It's that thing where everybody gets a vote and you don't mass-murder people for having opinions? When that tank drove over the little business guy that was JUST NOT RIGHT.

A Message to the glorious people of China: not intending to give offense, but surely it's occurred to someone over there that 200 surnames is not really enough to go around between 1.3 billion people? Seriously, think about straightening this out, it will enhance your international credibility about a thousand percent. Signed, A Friend

Deer China, I am an scared of Geogrw Bush...? I dont want to die for OIL from terrorits??? Do you think I can join up and be a Chinese. I promise to be good. Please send a pamhplet, thank you(s). Hugz, Alec Baldwin

SWM seeks SAF(NS) w/good SOH for long walks, art movies, urine play. Bring own Saran Wrap. Reply to No fatties

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This All Natural Cream Will Actually Expand, Lengthen And Corruscate Your Member Safely and Naturally By 500% Or More GUARANTEED!
Earn Up To $1000 A Week From The Comfort Of Your Own Bedroom... With Dog-Loving Bosnian Teen Sluts!!!
Horny Housewives Want Herbal Viagra and Financial Security! Ask Me How! Amazing Sea-Monkeys Lose Weight Before Your Very Eyes! You Can Too!?!

Thank you for your attention.

- 3:51 am, January 16 (link)

Smells like teen spirit?

Mr. Helpful, by e-mail, offers some help understanding why inline comments are desirable in a weblog:

Comments are a form of immediate communication with the blogger. Only allowing email access to the blogger takes away any hope of two-way dialogue between not only the blogger but also the other readers of the blog who may find it useful to be able to join the conversation. At home there is no need for a "visitor graffiti wall" because the visitor is able to immediately communicate with the host verbally.

The answer is simple: who decreed that this was a conversation?

It has conversational aspects which arise naturally from the activity, of course, and which are a source of pleasure to your proprietor. Sometimes reader animadversions (like the one above) will be permitted to spill onto the page. Newspapers make room for "conversation" too; some of the great written conversations in our language have taken place in the correspondence columns of the Times of London.

But a newspaper is not a conversation. Not that this web page is a newspaper, exactly, but it is a good deal more like a newspaper than it is like a conversation. But perhaps this is a rather roundabout way of getting at my point--if so, it suffices to observe that weblog comment sections are, with vanishingly rare exceptions, either overgrown thickets of inanity or barren heaths strewn with slivers of in-group banter. I find it baffling that anyone could regret the absence of such a thing, unless he felt a compulsive, unjustified entitlement to a share in is, in law and fact, a wholly owned subsidiary of the human being named Colby Cosh.

Of course, this page might not even be a weblog at all. I try very hard not to think of it as one.

- 6:50 pm, January 15 (link)

Is that a gun in your pocket or... oh, never mind

It strikes me that a good joke would be to use this (link via Vicky Drachenberg) to carry this (link via... ah, hell, she probably doesn't want you to know).

- 5:35 pm, January 15 (link)

Harmless quackery or army of human slaybots?

If any of you Blogspot guys have a message for mainland China, I'd be happy to, y'know, pass it along. I've got my own domain and so far I've been able to fly right under the radar. Maybe I should take over Damian Penny's old "Not yet banned in China" colophon. Of course it's all over as soon as they find out I have a red belt in deadly secret Falun Gong fighting techniques. Come on, you didn't really believe the Chinese were executing people for redirecting their qi in a freaking city park, did you? Falun Gong taught me thirty-seven different ways to kill an adult male using only my eyelids.

- 3:49 pm, January 15 (link)

More Campbell, more trouble

The Ambler informs me (by that old-fashioned device, Tele-Phone) that the Maui police, in an apparent fit of pique over Gordon Campbell's "five or six drinks in seven hours" howler, have leaked the Great Man's blood alcohol reading to Southam News. Mark your scorecards, ladies and germs, with a ".149". That's nearly twice the impairment limit (throughout Canada and in Maui) of .08. Point-zero-eight can fairly be said to denote a state of klutzy congeniality. At point-one-five, the suitable technical term is "fucking blitzed".

The reading, if accurately reported, makes an even more thorough nonsense of Campbell's claims to a long day of light beverage consumption (three martinis, and up to three proverbial glasses of wine). This is especially so in view of the fact that considerable time elapsed between Campbell's clambering behind the wheel and his eventual breath test: he did not blow in the field, but at the cop shop, long after he failed the on-scene sobriety check. If the elapsed time was more than an hour, Campbell's peak level of blottosity could have been closer to .17 or .18 (though keep in mind I'm no toxicologist). At a BAC of .2 most people can't even find their goddamn car.

[UPDATE, January 19: A correspondent rejoins, with a toxicological subtlety, in the mailbag.]

[UPDATE: January 25: Readers not following the story may be unaware that Campbell is now reported to have blown .161, at roadside, when originally stopped by the police. This suggests he was indeed in the neighbourhood of .17 when he left the house he was drinking at--advantage Cosh!]

- 2:16 pm, January 15 (link)

All gone

In case you missed it: the last surviving fighter pilot of the First World War, Canada's Henry Botterell, died on January 3 in Toronto at the age of 106.

On his second operational flight in a Sopwith Pup, he stalled at Dunkirk just after take-off, spun, and hit the ground, breaking his leg, losing some teeth, and gashing his head. He spent six months in hospital, then was removed from the service.

Which was about the only way a First World War fighter pilot could live to be 106.

- 12:36 pm, January 15 (link)

He simply cannot be bothered

Josh Sargent says he won't even sully his eyes looking at a weblog that doesn't have online comments. I trust that the people who feel this way have designated walls for visitor graffiti in their homes.

- 10:00 am, January 15 (link)

Law of unintended consequences, part n

Readers may recall a link I provided in September to a Canadian doctor's radical dissent from the aggressive pursuit of "preventive medicine". The Canadian Medical Association Journal has published a brief, uninteresting correspondence on the issue. But there is one notable curveball from the author of the original article, David Sackett. He notes:

...because the absence of proof is not the proof of absence, folks like me don't advocate abandoning established practices just because they haven't been tested in randomized controlled trials. ...[S]eat belt use satisfied the second criterion for level 1 evidence as soon as users began to survive auto crashes that were previously uniformly fatal. Importantly, however, when this same criterion is applied to another auto safety tradition, school-based drivers' education, the level 1 evidence shows that this intervention doesn't create better drivers, only younger ones, and its net effect appears to be harmful. [Emphasis mine]

Eh? School-based driver education is harmful? It appears so. A 2002 review of the clinical literature revealed that school-educated drivers had more auto accidents than other new drivers. Far from saving lives, classroom driver-ed seems to merely put younger, less capable drivers on the road sooner. There is "no evidence," the authors conclude, "that driver education reduces road crash involvement, and... it may lead to a modest but potentially important increase in the proportion of teenagers involved in traffic crashes." Parents of said teenagers, take note.

- 4:40 am, January 15 (link)

The wages of success

For those following the evolving Kyoto-in-Canada train wreck, superwonk Finn Poschmann has a state-of-the-union summary from the Friday National Post. To summarize the summary: federal resources minister Herb Dhaliwal has put a two-part "15-15" plan on the table. The first part calls for the burden of the CO2 reductions to be spread amongst sectors by "negotiation" (read: "fiat"). The second part is the quid pro quo; it limits the compliance cost to $15 per metric ton.

If tradeable emissions credits are available on the market at less than $15/t, the responsible industries will simply give a bunch of money to Russia (which is awash in credits thanks to the catastrophic contraction of its economy) and keep spewing carbon dioxide as before. Net environmental impact: nil. But it'll be the good kind of CO2, you see. Essentially the Kyoto Protocol, in this respect, is revealed to be an agreement that we'll pay restitution to Russia for the crime of not having screwed up our own economy with Communism...

If the market price of the credits end up being much higher than $15/t, Ottawa has two options. It could directly pay back the industrial emitters for any abatement cost incurred over $15/t--which would leave the emitters no incentive to choose the lowest-cost measures--or buy the credits at the market price and resell them to the emitters at $15/t--in which case we'd still get only $15/t worth of abatement out of the emitters, all the while sending potentially unlimited amounts of tax money to Holy Russia. Let's hope they don't blow it all on vodka.

This is all fairly ridiculous. It could be worse: the Liberals could blunder ahead as if the laws of economics simply did not exist, as they would have in Trudeau's day. The people working for Herb Dhaliwal seem to understand something of how the world works. But here in Alberta, enviro minister Lorne Taylor pointed out over and over again that the Kyoto Protocol was nothing more than a global welfare program in the guise of an environmental accord. He was shouted down, and is now being proven right--the fate of many such people.

Where are the critics of foreign-policy "unilateralism" when you need them? At Kyoto, a whole bunch of economically successful countries were basically asked whether they felt like paying a voluntary tax to the world's basket cases. The only significant one to say "Yes", at any real cost to itself, was Canada. (Direct your jokes about Canada being "significant" to the circular file, please.) Now Canada's businesses and the people who work for them have to go out and compete with the countries who said "No", including a rather large one right next door. Good luck to us.

- 2:05 am, January 15 (link)

Plugged in

In the latest edition of his online mailbag, Mark Steyn notes in fending off a deranged correspondent:

I believe I've given more acknowledgments to more Internet commentators than any other print columnist, as Colby Cosh, Joanne Jacobs, Charles Johnson, Megan McArdle, Bill Quick, Glenn Reynolds, Eugene Volokh, and others can attest.

Since the invitation has been extended, I am happy to confirm that this is so: Steyn was quick to see the value in the good weblogs, quick to borrow ideas from them, and quick to give credit where due. The latter is no small thing, because if you have ordinary human self-consciousness, you don't want to appear to be a mere conduit between Old Media and New. Heavy reliance on, for example, is now standard for morning radio shows in North America; but the hosts, in most cases, would rather tongue the birth canal of a dead she-bear than actually point listeners to Fark. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

I've faced this problem myself while wearing my Old Media hat; my rule has been if you've gotten a story off one particular Internet site without adding enough value to essentially reinvent it, you absolutely have to suck it up and give the credit, as you would to a newspaper. But there's still a certain amount of psychic trauma involved--am I merely the sum of the websites I happen to view? A couple of times I've resorted to making the Web source part of the story. That's a bit of a sneaky trick, you see; you get to promote the person who did the legwork, while maintaining a sort of narrative priority on the page. "Here's what these crazy kids on the Web are up to these days! Look at 'em go!"

Steyn, who has justly attained a distinctive position of international prestige, is much more scrupulous and less fudge-prone than I am; he'll source a fact, a trifling observation, a mere phrase. There's an element of noblesse oblige here, and probably an element, too, of personal gratitude toward webloggers as a group; they're the people who made "Mark Steyn's latest is a must-read!" a embarrassingly ubiquitous clarion call. But above all, it's a highly creditable decency. As easily as Steyn can afford to mention a subarctic schlub like your correspondent in the pages of the Spectator of London, he could much more easily afford not to mention him.

- 3:27 pm, January 14 (link)

MADD maths beyound thunderdome

It's official: B.C. (stands for Booze-Craving) premier Gordon Campbell is the new Trent Lott. Just as Lott's slip-up breathed an extra ten years of life into America's racial bullying industry, Campbell's Wild Maui Adventure has revived the P.R. fortunes of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a group of self-righteous hysterics who have outlived their usefulness so long that their main crusade these days is getting the blood-alcohol limit for impaired-driving charges lowered to 0.05. It's a natural move for any advocacy group: they've won their battle to turn society against drunk driving, so now they have to change the definition of "drunk driving" to include behaviours people aren't yet against. How else do you keep the cheques rolling in?

But I'll say this for MADD: they can add and subtract. The Globe's André Picard channels them thus:

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell would have to have consumed 10 standard-sized drinks over eight hours to have exceeded the legal limit for drinking and driving in Hawaii, toxicologists and activists against drunk driving say.
At a tearful press conference on Sunday, Mr. Campbell said that he consumed three martinis and "two or three" glasses of wine over a period of about eight hours and that he made a "stupid" mistake by driving back to his hotel. He was charged last Friday after being pulled over by Maui police.
Andrew Murie, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, doubted the veracity of the Premier's recollection. "If you do the math, there's no way he's telling the truth," Mr. Murie said in an interview.
He said that if Mr. Campbell is correct, his breath-analysis reading would have been 0.015, well below the legal limit of 0.08 (80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood).
"He would have had to drink a hell of a lot to blow over the limit," he said. "So either he had a lot more than six drinks or those were pretty stiff martinis and some big glasses of wine."

Readers will recognize, in Premier Campbell's attempted defence, the classic political "few glasses of wine" last observed in November when federal defence minister John McCallum was barred from an Air Canada flight. Apparently it is all right for a politician to admit impaired driving, which is a crime in Canada, but it's not all right to admit drinking anything heavier than wine and martinis. What, you think guys named Campbell and McCallum would drink whisky? Get outta here, you crazy scamp!

For my money, Campbell should now quit, not because he drove for a few hundred yards with a load on, but because he followed it up with a bald-faced lie to the public, one that left the fanatics from MADD to point out the bloody obvious. It's not a trivial lie about a personal affair, either; it's a lie about evidence in a quasi-criminal matter. No 200-pound mammal this side of Jupiter has six drinks over eight hours and then turns around and blows 0.08-plus.

- 11:24 am, January 14 (link)

Short pigs, long pigs

The preliminary hearing in the Willie Pickton trial began Monday and the stringent court-ordered publication ban had the Globe and Mail openly navel-gazing.

The 53-year-old farmer seemed to be wearing a new sweater for the occasion. With little to write or report because of the publication ban, several Canadian reporters subsequently took part in a lively discussion over the colour of the sweater.
The consensus was that it was beige with dark navy stripes, but one reporter held out for taupe.

Hey, man, this is the Globe and Mail: no putting a human face on the news! I shouldn't make fun, they're providing helpful hints on how to circumvent the ban:

The publication ban, however, does not apply to U.S.-based media. Several Seattle television stations and The Seattle Times sent reporters to cover the preliminary hearing.
The televised trial reports, however, were blacked out for B.C. audiences, who can receive the Seattle stations on cable.
As the items began, Shaw Cable stopped transmission and told viewers in a full-screen notice that they were required by Canadian law "to black out any news story that may contain possible evidence in the Robert Pickton murder trial." Regular programming resumed once the Pickton trial items were over.
It is not known what will happen if news reports of the trial appear on the Internet via U.S. media Web sites.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer had an AP wire pickup from the hearing--I believe that link is without actual evidentiary content, so I'm in the clear legally. The Times goes into a little more detail. It would be constitute contempt of court for a Canadian reader to go to the Times website and find their first-day Pickton story for himself. Just say no, kids!

It's all very nostalgic for me, you know: a lurid, sensational murder trial with a severe cross-Canada publication ban... back when Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka went on trial in 1993, the Internet was not yet the full-featured appliance we're all familiar with now. I'm an older and wiser man now; I wouldn't dream of succumbing to temptation and using the Net to circumvent a court order. Back then I had a young man's commitment to living dangerously. But newspapers didn't have websites; indeed, the World Wide Web mostly consisted of professional astrophysicists' lists of favourite Anne McCaffrey characters. You had to get your information from helpful foreigners on USENET. It helped me sort the rumours which rush in to fill the void when a publication ban settles over the land like a sulfurous black cloud. Although, frankly, in the Bernardo case, the hard part was believing the truth.

I don't think it helps the defence, in a case of this sort, to pursue a publication ban. You can defend a client against evidence; you can't defend him against rumours. The main effect of the ban in the Bernardo case was to keep the public ignorant of the deal between the prosecution and Karla, who assisted gleefully in the rape-murder of her own sister and is scheduled to go free in, I believe, 2005.

- 3:11 am, January 14 (link)

O sancta simplicitas

The best things in life are still free dept.: how is it that Tim Cavanaugh was unable to place his long piece on Frank Sinatra's forgotten 1969 record Watertown with a magazine? It's real good, and it's at his personal site,

- 11:27 pm, January 13 (link)

Grab bag

Hey yo. Sorry I didn't post earlier today, but... well, what is my excuse? I basically felt like I had mono. It was all I could do to push my real work forward, and I didn't push it forward nearly as far as it needs pushing. Partly it's because I ran out of cigarettes around midday and became trapped in a dilemma I'm sure amblers everywhere are familiar with: want nicotine, don't want to go particularly far to get it. Partly it's attributable to series of minor, dispiriting kicks to the balls. Suffice to say, by way of example, that in the version of "The Gift of the Magi" starring your correspondent, the exquisite little tortoiseshell combs with jewelled rims end up lying, forgotten, in a massive cardboard bin, full to the brim, marked "COMBS". There's no touching irony to be found--just the bin, silent and mocking.

I wrote this for you earlier but didn't post it:

The thing I enjoyed most about watching Sunday's NFL blowouts was watching the Raider fans. It's no wonder the A's are having such revenue trouble, because from the looks of that crowd Oakland is the kind of place where even the women think baseball is a "fag sport." During the baseball playoffs there isn't a stadium where the front rows aren't dominated by accountant-looking guys and/or wannabe model-actresses, but football, in Oakland at least, still seemingly belongs to the masses: bleach-blonde single moms, Hispanic bus drivers, creatine addicts whose dream in life is to own a "bitchin' kart track". And, in fact, it's like this in a lot of cities. Football remains the sport of choice for the stew-fed and the wrench-savvy...

Then I realized that that's just obvious: everybody already knows that the NFL is the American working-class diversion par excellence. It's just taken for granted that people are allowed to make asses of themselves at American football games--that the game, implicitly, is worth the ass-making. If you wear an elaborate, ridiculous costume to a baseball game, your basic judgment is called into question: why spend so much passion celebrating the poncy activities of a bunch of millionaires, many of them foreign? There's an old saying that cheering for the Yankees is like cheering for U.S. Steel. It's a trenchant observation, but more and more, cheering for any major-league ballclub is like cheering for U.S. Steel.

Aaron Haspel has a lot of clever things to say about the "overrated" Pulp Fiction. Nearly everything in it is lifted from older sources, you see, so it's impossible to enjoy the movie because you're just too damn busy looking down your nose at its "plagiarism". Thank goodness I am still too ignorant to do anything but appreciate a heavily allusive artwork on its own merits. Perhaps someday I'll be the sort of person who convulses in his seat during King Lear, thinking wild thoughts of poor Raphael Holinshed. But hasn't Aaron heard the ancient maxim that borrowing from one source is plagiarism, while borrowing from many is research? Pulp Fiction pulls in everything from Rashomon to blaxploitation; this is called acquaintance with the grammar of one's art. Now, of course, I don't really mean to place Tarantino beside a guy like Whit Stillman, who makes far more singular and original movies, ones which borrow from Jane Austen rather than Wong Kar-Wai. But that's a damn high standard. Pulp Fiction arrived as a desperately desirable, and specifically Hollywood, flood of octane in a landscape of oh-so-careful movies etched in Camembert--Forrest Gump and what have you; the stuff that always rules the world, but seemed just then to rule it more cruelly and thoroughly than usual.

If it's now de rigeur to pretend not to like Pulp Fiction, then I'll pass on my helping of rigeur.

- 10:21 pm, January 13 (link)

In other Report weblogs, special edition

The best thing in other Report weblogs at the moment is Kathy Shaidle's entry on movies and their evolving critical reputations. Basically it's a list of movies about which people are going to come to their senses and start thinking exactly like Kathy Shaidle in the future. I've played this "history will vindicate me" game before myself. She's right (speaking strictly for myself and not for the muse Clio) about a lot of these films, wrong about quite a few.

· Fargo is always going to be a more respected movie amongst non-Coen-cultists than Raising Arizona. William Goldman may have been exaggerating to himself in the theatre when he realized, with a start, that America had finally found its Sherlock Holmes in Frances McDormand. Nevertheless, Fargo is still the Coen masterpiece to date (though I personally prefer Miller's Crossing), because the Coenisms serve the story, not the other way around.

· Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction may become period pieces, but what amazing ones. I'm not going to forget how Pulp Fiction restored my faith in the movies, and I think it did that for a lot of people. Frankly, I think I'm still coasting on the jolt it gave me (that, plus the hope of more from Wes Anderson, Todd Solondz, and Whit Stillman). "There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about Pulp Fiction unless you have never read Flannery O'Connor," writes Shaidle. Fair enough, but its function wasn't to be groundbreaking; it was to return us, for a happy moment, to the cinematic golden age of the early '70s. And just how often is that Flannery O'Connor tone successfully captured in a movie, anyway? How often does a movie make you say, as Pulp Fiction made me say, "Jeez, this is like reading a really good book"? But we're too close to it now; we'll never forget Pulp Fiction completely enough for it to be able to have the same impact it did when it came out. In that sense, it is a "Loser". As is Reservoir Dogs, which, for its part, is probably the best American play of the last forty years (there just happened to be a camera running while the roles were created).

· I think nearly everyone already agrees that Easy Rider is unwatchable nonsense. Most people haven't noticed that Star Wars is pretty dire dialogue- and premise-wise, but more and more children are being born all the time who don't have a prior commitment to the false premise of its excellence. They'll see through it.

· Uh... Monsieur Verdoux? Well, maybe; I haven't seen it. But when all the nostalgic leftists are finally dead, Chaplin is more likely to be ignored completely in favour of contemporaries who actually make you laugh. Buster Keaton was an incomparably greater artist (better at both physical comedy and pathos), and Harold Lloyd, forever the third wheel in that trio, was considerably funnier.

· I'm not so concerned about whether Crimes and Misdemeanours overtakes Manhattan. Annie Hall is better than either, but people were so taken with the fashion and the nuance that it never had the chance to establish itself as, simply, a really fine, hilarious movie. It become a sort of byword for a lifestyle and sensibility, and people forgot how good it was. Same with Zelig; it's become nothing more than an adjective for urbane writers (any nebbishy but ubiquitous cultural figure instantly becomes "Zelig-like") and you never hear about how plain cool the actual film is.

· The Hitchcock cult is bound to dwindle, I think. He's been a beneficiary of auteur theory, which is now moribund. Cutesy gimmicks and plain nastiness are no substitute for artistry. Rear Window is wonderful, but to echo my earlier comments about Scorsese, a lot of people could make a wonderful movie starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Psycho, the supposed masterpiece, is laborious, hokey (though blackly so, to be sure), and pornographic without any of the advantages of real pornography.

· Breakfast at Tiffany's is still a pretty good movie, although you have to overlook the lamentable Mickey Rooney stuff. Once you clue in to the gay subtext--or I suppose the correct term here is "gay ur-text"--it gets more interesting all over again.

· Chinatown's not going to remain in the "hold" category; despite the canonical status of its screenplay, it's really not all that special, or at least I can't see what's so special about it. I think people my age have serious trouble understanding why there's quite so much fuss made over Jack Nicholson. And if you want to find out, Five Easy Pieces provides a much stronger example.

I could go on, but we'd be here all night. And I can't afford to be. See you tomorrow.

- 1:54 am, January 13 (link)

The can of worms reopens

Activity has resumed again in the world of competitive chess and some hot stories are brewing. Former world champion and leading chess ambassador Garry Kasparov has shut down his website, The site opened a few years ago with a big financial splash, plenty of Kasparov's GM cronies on hand, and some innovative features. But it proved unable to compete with the low-cost, low-tech Internet Chess Club, which had already won the loyalty of the elite and the ordinary woodpushers alike. It's a case of a communitarian, open-source model beating the hell out of commercial muscle. The demise of Kasparov Chess was foretold months ago, but there's an unexpected wrinkle: Kasparov is being sued by an Israeli creditor for closing the site, which allegedly served as collateral for a $1.6 million debt.

Meanwhile, the annual supertournament in Wijk aan Zee, Holland, is underway. The home page of ChessBase, German manufacturers of leading chess software, is a good source of continuing news. Sickly teenaged Ukrainian Ruslan Ponomariov defeated world champion Vladimir Kramnik shockingly in round two, and is at the centre of a drama parallel to the chessboard. Ponomariov, recognized by chess governing body FIDE as the current world champion, is one of four players who has qualified for a title-unification tournament under the so-called "Prague agreement." (For the backstory, go to my July archives and scroll down to, or search for, the post entitled "Chessity chess chess".) But now Ponomariov has deliberately missed a deadline to sign a contract to play his planned semifinal match against Kasparov. FIDE must decide whether to proceed without its own representative in the unification horserace, or continue negotiations. According to the official website of the Wijk aan Zee tournament:

Ponomariov issued a statement in which he declared that, although he supports the agreement of Prague, he still has nothing on paper from FIDE about his rights and obligations concerning the upcoming world championship. Ponomariov insists that he needs such a document because verbal agreements with FIDE have not proven too valuable in the past. Ponomariov thinks it is a disgrace that FIDE is pressing him to sign a contract for the cycle by means of an ultimatum that ends during the Corus Chess Tournament, since that distracts him from his games.

Fans will cringe at anything that might interfere with the smooth implementation of the Prague agreement, which has been a slender reed of hope for resolving the ugly chaos in competitive chess. But Ponomariov is unquestionably right about his first point and arguably right about the second. Nevertheless, if he bows out he will be accused of ducking Kasparov, who is still the planet's most feared player. The soap opera continues.

- 6:59 pm, January 12 (link)

I've got something of a sonsie face myself

Burns Night is approaching, and the Corner is waxing enthusiastic about haggis, the emblematic foodstuff of Scotland.

Enthusiasm about haggis? But isn't it a horrible concoction of sheep's stomach, oats, fat, organ meat, and other nasty stuff? The answer is "yes", except for the "horrible". I finally had the chance to sample haggis at a Burns Supper last year and it was outrageously delicious. I went back for seconds. Let me rephrase for emphasis: I went back for seconds of sheep's stomach. Prepared properly, it seems haggis is a marvelous, exotic-smelling bready sort of meatloaf. It has that wonderful intensity, that heaviness that promises you'll never have to eat again, that only the cuisine of impoverished societies attains. Coming January 25 to a British watering hole near you.

- 4:34 pm, January 12 (link)

Full buffet

Damian Penny's site has been great the last few days. The Peacenik Perfidy content is still there, but it's been interspersed with interesting shots from the Detroit auto show, evidence in the matter of Pete Townshend and child porn, a deft deflection of Gregg Easterbrook's TNR denunciation of SUVs, and some sound centrist thinking on the national gun registry.

Some people, it seems, are under the impression that there exists no "right to bear arms" in Canada. Oh? Where, then, did it go? Such a right has always been recognized in English common law, and was made explicit in the Bill of Rights of 1689. This tradition, of itself, does not forbid regulation, registration, or even the disarmament of some parts of the citizenry; but unless it has magically evaporated from our constitution (which is part written, part unwritten) it must be understood to bestow a presumptive right of firearm ownership on law-abiding citizens.

- 2:04 pm, January 12 (link)

Riding the Subway

2nd intermission in the hockey game; Oilers are down 2-0 to the Senators, so I'll stop in with you while I'm waiting for the team to get the two goals back and then throw the game away in OT. Shame about the Falcons, but perhaps they used up their luck beating the Packers at Lambeau. My favourite guy from that football game is the Eagles' Todd Pinkston because he appears able to catch a football when it's thrown to him. Maybe I'm crazy, but it seems that in my lifetime, quarterbacks have become gradually able to deliver the ball within an ever-smaller radius, and wideouts have become less and less able to hang onto it. Quite honestly, I suspect I have hands as good as some of these guys.

I think I know why this is, too; it's the coaching maxim that you can't teach speed. (My hands are fine but my speed over 40 yards can be measured with a sundial.) The teams draft the fastest guys to play receiver, figuring that catching ability can be drilled into a player but raw speed is something you're born with. Which may be true. But if catching ability can be taught, how come it so rarely seems to be? I watch these games, screaming at these guys for dropping picture-perfect passes, but I know intellectually that speed's got to come first against modern DBs. If you can't get open, you might as well have stumps on the ends of your arms.

Have you seen this new Jared Fogle ad for Subway? It talks about what a busy guy he is, fixing up his fabulous new home bought with sandwich money. A pretty wife hovers in the background just to drive the point home. My god, have they ever been milking the heck out of Jared for a long time now. But the more we see of him living off his sheer ability to not get fat, the less he resonates with us as an ordinary dork who beat the odds. The whole thing is starting to put me in mind of The Truman Show--we're watching him clean gutters now, for heaven's sake. Am I the only one starting to get a little creeped out? Are we going to follow Jared to the grave, seeing him deal with a swelling prostate and his wife's increasingly out-of-control drinking? Is there a rebellious son who refuses to eat at Subway in his future? "Jesus, Pop! Normal families don't have sweet onion teriyaki subs for Thanksgiving! I'm going out for a Big Mac, Hitler!"

- 9:58 pm, January 11 (link)

Busy, busy!

Just got back from going to the newsstand and dinner. I'll try to update tonight, but I have this feeling I'll look a right idiot fifty years from now if I don't watch Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb square off. And later my Oilers are on Hockey Night in Canada.

- 7:32 pm, January 11 (link)


Bourque has the mug shots of British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell getting booked for drunk driving in Hawaii. Never was the term "mug shot" more appropriate. If Campbell had a chance of beating this rap politically, that woozy grin on his face in the left-hand photos took it away. The B.C. Liberals are in enough trouble without having to run against campaign posters of beer-sodden Gord holding up a police slate.

I never dreamed I'd be typing the words "The B.C. Liberals are in enough trouble" so soon; the Campbell government seemed to have the right guy, the right approach, and no tenable opposition whatsoever. But it's B.C.: how many premiers in a row have done dumb things to destroy their careers now? Five? Six? Christy Clark seems to be in line for the premiership, and that's not necessarily good news either. She's smart as a whip; however--and I don't think anyone disputes this--no woman has ever been successful as a political party leader in Canada above the municipal level. I explored this phenomenon in a short sidebar piece written after the 2001 Alberta election. (Scroll down to "Female leaders almost always lose.") Although I had to work in the biological explanation, which is persuasive, I feel there is definitely merit in the point made to me by political scientist Caroline Andrew:

History teaches us that parties which are in a position to succeed are risk-averse. They will seek the least risky candidate--a young-but-not-too-young male who is personable but determined. Women are simply more likely to be given a leadership role in a desperate situation, like that faced by the federal Conservatives in 1992 when they chose Kim Campbell.

And, indeed, the Gordon Campbell fiasco (sorry about all the Campbells, but this is Canada, you know) may be taken as a confirming example.

For myself, I take Gord's self-destruction to be a deliberate act of political suicide. It's not hard for a provincial premier to find someone to do the driving for him, even on holiday. In seven years of pretty Olympian boozery, Alberta's Ralph Klein never made a mistake like this that we know of; someone was always there to pack him off, bundle him into the back seat, ferry him to a safe house, and tuck him in. So what made Campbell, an experienced politician, think he had dipso-matic immunity in a foreign country? This is an elementary political error, as easily avoided as kerb-crawling--unless you want to get caught. Campbell had diffused and, largely, defused his attack on B.C.'s entrenched interests, and his micromanagerial style, which had worked for him as a mayor, was apparently meeting with stiff bureacratic and caucus friction. He's a young man, and maybe part of him just wanted out. Although drunk driving is a serious social crime, he's leaving--if he's leaving--early enough for people to say "What might he have accomplished if he'd just laid off the sauce that night?"

In other Bourqian news of self-destruction, Pete Townshend, my own rock hero of choice, has revealed he is the senior UK music figure whose name is "linked" to an investigation of child pornography. This is far too depressing to put all the way under the microscope. Pete has been courageous, under the circumstances, to go out, look the media in the eye, and account for his behaviour. This can be taken as evidence of a basic lack of guilt, if you're so disposed. However, he is visibly playing the "I was sexually abused as a child, I think, possibly, or at least that would certainly explain things, wouldn't it?" card. And this should be, at best, looked on askance. Too many people seem unaware that recent psychiatric doctrine on "repressed memory" has been discredited. I suspect "revelations" like this are very antagonizing to those people whose history of abuse isn't in any doubt, precisely because they can't forget it.

- 1:00 pm, January 11 (link)

Nihil nisi bonum dept.

The December Wired has a terrific story by Po Bronson on Elizabeth Targ, the late psychiatrist whose work led to a wave of publicity for a suppositional "prayer effect" on healing. (Alas, a coterie of shamans and druids could not save her when she was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer.) It begins with a recitation of her most startling results--and ends with what Bronson, given wide access to what remains of Targ's work, hesitates to describe outright as hypocrisy and scientific malfeasance. Ho-hum. The data in one particularly notable "double-blind" study, it turns out, were actually unblinded, picked over, and then reblinded in a quest for more suitable statistical endpoints.

They gathered the medical charts and gave them to their assistant to black out the names of the patients. This done, Targ and Sicher began poring over the charts again, noting the data they hadn't previously collected. Since Sicher had interviewed many of these patients (up to three times), Moore worried Sicher could recognize them just by the dates they came to the hospital and what they were treated for. Sicher admitted he could (there were only 40). He had also seen which group each patient was assigned to, treatment or control, but he swore he didn't remember and maintained he was therefore impartial. (Sicher remembers this differently. He insists he couldn't recognize the patients from their charts and never knew which group each was in.) Targ told her boyfriend she was worried about Sicher's impartiality, but she took him at his word, even though Sicher was an ardent believer in distant healing, by his own frequent admission. He had put up the money himself for the pilot study ($7,500), had paid for the blood tests. He had a vested interest in the outcome.

This isn't what science means by double-blind.

That's certainly one way of putting it.

- 5:56 pm, January 10 (link)

The ne'er-do-well

Damian Penny presents extensive research into the driving habits of webloggers in a new entry. Your correspondent brings up the rear of his list.

- 4:33 pm, January 10 (link)

Poster girl

Here's a thunderous newsflash for you: magazine photos of celebrities are sometimes digitally retouched to idealize their appearance. What's that you say? That's not news? Ah, but it becomes news when it's Kate Winslet who's being retouched--because, through some occult process, she's become the poster girl, perhaps literally, for ordinary male heterosexual taste in women.

The feminists would have me believe that when I leer at Kate in her usual onscreen state (which ranges from décolletage to outright nudity) I'm "objectifying" her. The male gaze and all that--quelle horreur. I can't help feeling, though, that she is far more severely "objectified" when she is made the media's plus-sized screen queen of choice, and treated as though her body is anything but a little on the thin side of wholly healthy. And blaming her for a magazine's (probably very minimal) adjustment of her image is downright unjust. The aforelinked BBC story doesn't even really come out and say that Kate was digitally altered to look thinner. Maybe they just changed the colour of her shoes; if so, it's hardly an appropriate occasion for even the usual, stupid "Kate's weight" story.

The usual tone of articles about Kate is that the writer can't... quite... believe that she's been successful despite, as she puts it herself, "having an arse." Have we learned nothing from J-Lo's world conquest?

- 3:48 pm, January 10 (link)

Meeting of the generations

Went to another movie tonight: this time it was Catch Me If You Can. If you've seen it you might be interested in some comments from the hero of the piece, reformed con man Frank Abagnale.

In Gangs of New York Leo DiCaprio spends most of his time glowering and trying to look intimidating. This, he does not do particularly well. In Catch Me If You Can he spends most of his time being ingratiating and deceptive. This, he does very well. Gangs made me forget why he was once a wildly admired young actor, but Catch Me is a nice little reminder. It's been six years since Marvin's Room, his last true actorly turn. Although I think we were all impressed by his cameo in Celebrity, we maybe weren't so sure he actually knew the camera was on. I'm not looking forward to his Alexander the Great.

At 29, incidentally, Leo seems not to have aged since This Boy's Life. What's going on with that? In Catch Me he runs quite an age gamut, but he's still most convincing as the 15-year-old in the Rotary Club scene. Ordinarily this would be a serious problem, but Leo's already been the star of the highest-grossing motion picture ever made, so I don't think he's having nightmares about Gary Coleman syndrome.

Tom Hanks is note-perfect, as always. Tell me, did this guy have an ego-ectomy or what? When most actors get this big, and there are none bigger, they normally end up Taking the Money for some big-budget abomination to fund their Formula One hobby. When is Hanks going to get around to having his Battlefield Earth, I ask you? The man does not put a foot wrong. I remember when it was announced that he was writing and directing That Thing You Do!, and I thought, well, here we go, finally Hanks meets his nemesis. And instead, he came up with this intricately crafted little thing... this labour of love that, while not actually downright superb, showed levels of care and meticulousness that most full-time lifelong movie directors don't put forward in their wet dreams. As a pure director, someone who is there to make sure things look right, Tom Hanks' achievement in that movie was one of the most remarkable in the 1990s. And, hell, isn't that just offensive? He dropped that thing, That Thing, in the theatres, and you couldn't help but go "Oh, so it's not enough, apparently, that you're basically the most beloved actor since Jimmy Stewart; you're also a good screenwriter and an excellent director too. Well, that's just great."

Somehow it's exasperating that Hanks doesn't stick to the script for Hollywood Existence: not only does he not make bad movies or deliver cut-rate performances, he's never been "hospitalized for exhaustion" or caught carrying a handgun through an airport. I think maybe Spielberg made Catch Me If You Can in the hope that whatever vital essence Hanks has will rub off on Leo.

Anyway, Catch Me is a really good movie (I'm not even going to mention Walken--I think he's in line for an Oscar), and its very inconsequence is welcome after sitting through all those Uruk-hai and Ents.

- 4:57 am, January 10 (link)

A queer way of doing history

Looks like the "gay Hitler" book is going to be turned into a documentary. I haven't read the book, only the reviews, but I know a nosestretcher when I see one. As far as I know, there's only the one piece of positive documentary evidence that Hitler engaged in homosexual acts during the First World War, and the source is badly tainted. Even granting its truth, it's a real long step from "Hitler did some weird things in the trenches when he was a kid" to "Hitler was gay." If that's the standard, a lot of ostensible adult heterosexuals probably have some big explaining to do about their summer camp days.

Now, if you want to play with gay stereotypes, you can push the evidence in a "gay Hitler" direction. As a young man he was obviously sensitive, almost neurasthenic, and let's not forget he was a painter. He steered the Nazi party in the direction of hypermasculinized hero worship and body cultism; his plans for the Reich had a strong Greek-classical streak. And, as everyone points out, he doesn't seem to have had much use for women.

There were a lot of "gay" things about Nazism; we can't get around that. After all, the party was built around a homosexual mafia, the SA (which was disposed of bloodily when it became too powerful to be useful). But Hitler "gay"? Surely we're imposing a modern sexual category, inappropriately, on a human being from the past here? Some of the stuff cited in defence of the near-meaningless "gay Hitler" thesis is pretty far over the top. He frequented centres of "gay activity" in Vienna? Well, Jesus, he was an unsuccessful artist, you know; they're not all gay, but they usually do find themselves in the bohemian, funky parts of large urban areas. He liked Wagner and went to Bayreuth, so he must be gay? He tried to suppress details of his past, so... gay? You call that evidence?

As for his apparent indifference to women as lust objects, I'd be more convinced it meant something if he cultivated close female friends, which he didn't. To me that points to simple misogyny more than it points to outright homosexuality. If you've moved in political circles, you know that politics attracts a sort of asexual person who isn't necessarily gay. Power means more to them than sex; that's how they end up in politics. They're just too busy to chase women. And Hitler, with his overweening sense of his own destiny, was certainly busy.

The number of people who simply have no use for sexuality as a prominent component in their lives is constantly underestimated, and the tendency of publicity-hungry historians to slap a "gay" label on these people willy-nilly is extremely irritating. We used to have all these useful concepts for celibates-by-choice--"lifelong bachelor", "woman-hater", and the like. (No one ever suspected that Jughead Jones was gay just because he kept running away from Big Ethel.) Now we try to cram everybody into little binary compartments, and we consider this a form of growth in our sexual universe--we call it progress, a flourishing. It's not. It impoverishes us.

Anyway, we need more than one piece of positive evidence to show than someone was homosexual, even assuming that sort of polarized judgment makes sense. If you believe that Hitler was gay, I can give you equally convincing reasons to consider nearly anyone gay, starting with Abraham Lincoln. You might not remember the "gay Lincoln" scandal from a few years back; it was based on one letter which suggested he'd shared a bed, and maybe the occasional fraternal kiss, with a close male friend. The "gay Lincoln" thing blew over quickly, and I don't think the "gay Hitler" thing will last any longer as a serious subject of discussion. Undoubtedly arriving in late 2003: Winston Churchill's Secret Gay Life.

- 3:45 pm, January 9 (link)

Senatorial inquisition

Jeez, between work and sleeping I've really let this place go to seed, haven't I? I find it difficult to weblog when I haven't been chatting with people--I need some kind of conversational yeast to do this right, I guess. The big story in Canada this morning seems to be the bankruptcy of the NHL Ottawa Senators, which is more or less a direct consequence of the high-tech slump. The team (which plays at the Corel Centre, a good candidate for one of Gregg Easterbrook's "Not Bankrupt Yet Stadium" appellations) was created in the expectation that the economic growth of the heavily digitized Ottawa region, and a corresponding boom in high-end suburban real estate, would last forever.

I can't resist a bit of private Schadenfreude, since we Albertans are always being lectured, indeed are always lecturing ourselves, on how tenuous the commodity base of our economy is. Right now, despite the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, oil and gas still look like a more solid pathway to the future than pure nerdclout.

Anyway, I don't want the Senators to fail or move--and it seems there's no prospect of that; indeed the conventional wisdom has majority owner Rod Bryden standing by while the receivers engineer an unsecured-creditor bloodbath, then repurchasing the Sens with the blessing of the league. Canadian fans have come to regard the Canadian teams as an interest bloc within the league: we all cheer for one another when possible, especially in the playoffs. It's a strange way for me to think, after watching the Oilers destroy the Jets and Flames pretty much every year in my childhood. I'll never feel entirely comfortable cheering for the Canadiens, whose fans believe the Stanley Cup is a matter of divine right. But there's definitely a much stronger feeling of national brotherhood now, since it's been so long since a Canadian team won the Cup. With the individual teams such longshots, you begin to root for the country instinctively. It makes watching the playoffs a lot more fun when your own team doesn't always make the tournament automatically.

Incidentally, now that the league has expanded to 30 teams, can we stop the casual mockery of the NHL playoff format? It's still cited as an example of letting way too many teams in the postseason door, but only half the clubs--in theory, basically those over .500--get in nowadays. That's not so bad: that's about the lowest of the reasonable barriers you can devise to playoff entry. 16 of 30 is a lot better than 16 of 21 (the situation that prevailed during my youth), and the league hasn't really gotten credit.

- 2:21 pm, January 9 (link)

Long live Brucie

HRH Count Frightenstein, also known as Billy Van, has died of cancer at the age of 68. You can visit to learn more about his legacy.

- 2:01 am, January 9 (link)

Two for the road (but there is no actual road)

Memo to Mark Simonson: if you are serious about policing period movies for typeface anachronisms, you'd better go see Gangs of New York RIGHT THIS MINUTE. I predict you'll give it one and a half stars. Some truly brutal handling of printed material in this movie.

Here's a Tired/Wired for you status-conscious types out there. Tired: the oft-linked Bloggus Caesari (which is actually a lot of fun, but you have to play along when you're doing Tired/Wireds). Wired: the rarely-linked personal weblog of the brain behind Bloggus Caesari, Daragh Sankey. I'm pretty sure he's Canadian, so that takes care of my cultural protectionism responsibilities for 2003.

- 10:04 pm, January 8 (link)

Here's to your health

First John Ellis started weblogging daily weight updates ("233 lbs. Weight training today"). Now an American couple is weblogging their workouts. ("I am aware that I will never have that ass back.") Who says the Internet can't save your life? What I'm considering--and tell me if you think this would be a good idea--is starting my own Laxative Abuse Blog. "Day fifteen. Spent the morning shoplifting Ex-Lax Ultras. Came home with a trunkful--should last at least five days. Am getting used to the Metamucil sandwiches, but think shat out own spleen last night. Spleen strictly necessary? Consult doc. Have been forgiven for accident involving sister's couch, but her cat remains ill-tempered."

- 1:14 pm, January 8 (link)

The power corporation

First some quick business: David Janes wants me to mention that his weblog tracking tool has been updated. You are encouraged to investigate. Now, me, I'm what you might call a sub-Luddite. I embrace new technologies, but only in time-tested versions that are safe, user-friendly, and stable. I can't use a weblog tracker until at least 2007. He's also trolling for a "Bloggie Award", and while I refuse to link to the nominations page on grounds of dignity preservation, I'll gladly say he deserves one.

On to our main topic. Canada's federal justice minister, Liberal Martin Cauchon, said something astonishing this morning (as so often happens, we're linking to a Globe story by Darren Yourk):

The control of firearms is a core Canadian value.

My first thought upon hearing this quote on the CBC was, "What amazing self-deception." I'll admit that polls have shown strong support amongst Canadians for gun control, as a principle. But by any measure, somewhere between 20% and 40% of Canadians have always opposed the Liberal gun registry. In some regions of this country--regions which are presumably entitled to a presumption of Canadian-ness, no?--opposition runs closer to 50%, 60%. With the recent revelations of insane uncontrolled costs, relevations made by the Liberal-appointed auditor general, these figures will have climbed. So how, on that basis, can the registry be defended as part of the furtherance of a "core Canadian value"? Must the cause of gun control stand or fall on the performance and cost of the registry? Does it not even matter how many actual Canadians are annoyed, enraged, or punished by a program, as long as it's intended to promote "Canadian values"?

But you all know--even those of you foolish enough to vote Liberal know--that this is not self-deception. It's just an evil political tactic. Cauchon hopes to convince you that people who are against increasing "control" of firearms (I'm not sure, by the way, that a registry even qualifies as "control"), as achieved by the expensive and futile Liberal method, are somehow less than Canadian. It's a standard sort of demonization, but will anyone dare say that it is good and acceptable? Shouldn't "core Canadian values" be shared, in fact, by nearly all of us? No: by implication, in Cauchon's philosophy, "core Canadian values" are found in Liberal campaign pamphlets.

Because, you see, some people do oppose new, bureaucratic, and illiberal gun-control programs, like it or not. If you are going to accuse them of being "non-Canadian", they may take you at your word. You'd think a French-Canadian like Cauchon would understand the long-term consequences of this sort of thing. Call me un-Canadian? Very well, I'm un-Canadian: the Liberals, guardians of Canadian-ness, have cast me out. Don't expect me, henceforth, to defend Canada when it needs defending--say, the next time Quebec votes to bail out of Confederation, or the first time Alberta does it. Hell, maybe we can all leave, and let a little strip of land between Ottawa and Toronto--where "Canadian values" are defined--wear the name of Canada.

No cabinet minister has any better moral claim to define "core Canadian values" than your plumber or your cab driver. Cauchon has a simple job to do: preserve public order and promote the quality of life in Canada. If the gun registry is to survive in any form, it had better be defended on those grounds. When a government program is justified on any other pretext, any sensible human will know he's being cheated. I'd like to see a pro-gun-control person stand up and denounce Cauchon's tactic, but in my experience, liberals with both small Ls and large ones don't care how they get what they want in politics. They only care about the power, its exercise, and its perpetuation.

- 10:45 am, January 8 (link)

Diary of a madman

Yeah, well. I've slept every bit of four hours since late Sunday afternoon and I get back from The Two Towers to a pantload of nitpicky and/or hostile e-mail. Just imagine how colossally capable of ignoring it I am right now. I am... a chasm of indifference. However: Razib says in an e-mail that it's been "a LONG TIME" since the Muslim population in Lebanon crossed over the Christian one, and he's always right, especially about this stuff, and also especially when he disagrees with you and you can't retrace your sources. The Christian exodus isn't in question, though, and to restate my basic point, it's still odd and disconcerting that we can now take Lebanon's status as a "Muslim country" for granted. What countries are going to be offhandedly described as "Muslim" in the year 2080? I'm just kind of hoping that Great Britain isn't one of them.

I don't have much to say about The Two Towers. I'd like nothing better than to be, you know, the contrarian ass who pans the living hell out of it. The Two Towers is the least of the books in the trilogy (please don't send me pedantic e-mails in Elvish character encoding explaining how it's actually an octet, or whatever) but the jumping between subplots that makes the printed matter such a slog works well on screen. The battle sequences are amazing. Again. If I have a complaint it's the way Gimli is abused for comic relief. But if I were to start whining about the stereotyping of imaginary races in LOTR--a popular spectator sport, now, among leftish newspaper contrarians--I would be forced to conclude that I had become a pathetic mirror-image of the Simpsons Comic Book Guy.

The two-day editorial meeting is finally over. These meetings need to get shorter or move to a less psychically oppressive venue. (Some days I really thank God I don't have to travel only to end up in Edmonton.) Things were conducted civilly, and much important work was done, although unfortunately none of it involved writing and reporting the magazine. Despite the pleasure of having most of the staff in one place talking freely about exciting issues, I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels like he's been freed from prison. Subscribers to The Report will notice certain improvements in the next issue, most notably in the area of design. Also the whole thing's going to be written in French. No, just kidding! About the French part, I mean.

I overheard my colleague Terry O'Neill raving about the Mercedes Maybach today, during a coffee break, and Mickey Kaus has a picture over at his Gearbox blog. Not to denigrate Terry's esthetic sensibilities, but what is that exactly--German styling without the style? The Maybach looks to me like something you'd vacuum your rug with.

Also, what's with the frigging Engrish car names? Honda Element? Ford Faction? Please let this stop right here, before I catch my neighbour buying a Pontiac Vulva.

- 2:08 pm, January 8 (link)

Credit where it's due

Kathy Shaidle writes about Scorsese:

What about Taxi Driver?

What about Taxi Driver? Give me a young Robert de Niro and a camera and I'll make you as many "American masterpieces" as you like, that's what about Taxi Driver.

- 5:13 pm, January 7 (link)

Scorsese at Colonus

Warning: the next paragraph contains a mild Gangs of New York spoiler.

I don't really have time to weblog properly, as there's another all-day meeting tomorrow, this one beginning at the unhealthy and absurd hour of 9:00 a.m. I just got back from the aforementioned Gangs of New York. Scorsese may be senile, but then, haven't you always wanted to see a movie made by a gibbering senile person? I think what happened was that the title (who else but Scorsese was going to make a movie with this name?) attracted him to unfilmable material, he quickly got in over his head, and he had to basically hand the movie over to Daniel Day-Lewis as a sort of Plan Z. Day-Lewis's performance is one of those things where you can't tell if it's genius or idiocy. Are they even opposites? Give him the Oscar and let history decide: he saved Marty's ass. But there is still a good deal to dislike, intensely, about this movie. Why exactly is the movie's climax intercut with the New York conscription riots? The flirtation with pure deus ex machina makes of the ending a disappointing mess, a farcical letdown after three-plus hours of movie.

This, by the way, is the kind of major structural error often found in Scorsese's movies; his anointment as the Greatest American Filmmaker is pure pack criticism at its absolute nadir. Take Goodfellas out of his filmography and he's not fit to be Sidney Lumet's key grip. I think a lot of people know it, too; they do, anyway, if they have an erg of independent brainpower in their heads and they were forced to sit through that saccharine kaleidoscope called Kundun and the cake-frosting shambles known as The Age of Innocence.

And: it was, I think, a major mistake to cast Leonardo DiCaprio as Liam Neeson's son, heir, and destiny-fulfiller. Do they look to you like father and son? I realize folic acid wasn't easy to come by in the 1840s... Anyway, if you're like me you'll spend the whole movie wanting Liam to come back.

An anecdote from dinner. We're sitting in the lounge and the Oilers, who are playing the Sharks on the TV, score two super-quick goals against Evgeni Nabokov. Before the red light even comes on for the second one Sarah goes "Oh, the poor goalie! He must feel awful!" (Final score: 5-5.)

- 2:42 am, January 7 (link)

Gruesome admission

I spent the whole day in a meeting. Whenever this happens now--does this make me a bad person?--I check the news right away, when I get out, to make sure New York City is still there.

- 5:59 pm, January 6 (link)

The post below has been updated. -12:30 pm, January 6

Where there's smoke

Non-smokers are welcome to write newspaper articles about smoking, but they should get help before they write something like this:

Health Canada has proposed regulatory changes aimed at altering the way that cigarettes burn, which could reduce the number of fire-related deaths in Canada. New standards outlined in a December consultation paper could force tobacco companies to manufacture cigarettes that would serve as an antidote to careless behaviour such as falling asleep with a cigarette or discarding it irresponsibly. They could be designed to burn at lower temperatures or self-extinguish within minutes if a puff is not taken.

Manufactured cigarettes, as smokers will know, already self-extinguish within "minutes" if a puff is not taken. At least that's what my brand does. I wouldn't know how start a fire with a cigarette without inhaling. In fact, I'm pretty confident I could throw a lit John Player Special into a bin of newsprint without starting a fire. All these people who supposedly die in cigarette-originated fires--how the hell are they doing it? Are they falling asleep in pools of methylated spirit, or what? Any fire investigators out there want to give me some insight into this?

My best guess is that home-rolled cigarettes contain more flame potential than factory cigarettes--there's more air in the smoke and more loose bits of paper that can flare up. If that's the case, then any move to regulate factory cigarettes which drives people toward rolling their own will lead to more deaths. (Note, too, that the fire chiefs' statistics in the Star story include all "smoking materials"--thus making tobacco smokers responsible for dozy bong misuse and freebasing gone awry. The Star, in its commitment to the "If It Saves Even One Life" principle, didn't point this out or ask for a breakdown of the numbers.)

I doubt, however, that the federal government is in earnest in any regulatory move toward "fire-safe" cigarettes. "Fire" and "safe" aren't concepts that fit together: if "fire-safe" cigarettes are introduced to the market, you're going to have a whole lot of idiots who think it is now OK to have a heater going while you nod out in bed, or while you're filling your gas tank. Cue the usual parade of retards: "It said 'fire-safe' on the packet, and now my face is gone", etc. If the government makes "fire safety" a question of law, the liability from the inevitable lawsuits will be the government's to bear. What it would rather do, I'm sure, is what it did with low-tar smokes: lean on the industry to offer "consumer choice", and then denounce it as a gang of deceivers and slaughterers twenty years later.

[UPDATE: A.C. Douglas writes that roll-your-owns burn out more quickly than factory smokes.

I roll my own (American Spirit tobacco, and Rizla papers), and one of the first things I discovered is that if one leaves the cigarette puff-less for more than about 45 seconds, out it goes. I suspect (but don't really know) it's a quality built into the paper itself. By contrast, a Camel or a Winston cigarette once lit stays lit whether one puffs or not -- all the way down to a butt and beyond (the tobacco of the then-paperless butt stays hot on its own for some little time).
I also discovered an unintended benefit from rolling my own: Smoking manufactured nails, I used to think I smoked a pack a day. Turns out I smoke no more than eight nails a day. Looked like a pack a day with the manufactured nails 'cause I would light one, take only a puff or two, put it down in the ashtray to go on with whatever I was doing, and the damn thing just kept on burning. Like throwing $$$ into a fire. With a rolled nail, when I put it down, out it goes within less than a minute. Makes me believe the makers of the manufactured product make it burn the way it does by design.]

- 8:06 am, January 6 (link)

In other Report weblogs, issue 7

I wish I could write entertainingly about magazine work the way my colleague, The Ambler, has been lately; he's just completed a sort of trilogy about getting the magazine out the door on the production end. The Ambler is now, after various personnel shifts, losses, and generalized foofaraw, in charge of the back of the magazine process, wherein the text is laid out, proofread, converted to the appropriate computer format for the press, and what have you. My work is almost all at the front of the process: I scribble, and I edit the obituary section written by Victor Olivier and Rick "The Miscellanist" Hiebert. The back end is collaborative and full of incident. The Internet's not working! We proofread the wrong version! Dave Stevens shot up some bad horse and he's lost feeling in his extremities! The front end of a magazine is solitary and private work, mostly; it doesn't lend itself to anecdote. Not that I want to trade jobs with Kevin--not without trading salaries too, anyway. With apologies to Billy Beck, I prefer "creative work" to handling the output of other people, let alone doing anything of an administrative flavour.

Kevin Steel has a report from a friend's wedding and has magically convinced that old typewriter I talked about to handle permalinks. Rick Hiebert remembers the computers of his youth. Kathy Shaidle has questions about the canonization of Mother Teresa. And the TorranceWatch is on day 46 and counting. Does she still refuse to watch Law & Order after all this time, or has she succumbed to Dick Wolf's siren song?--inquiring minds want to know.

- 3:58 am, January 6 (link)

Score one for Allah

I was slightly jolted earlier tonight by a newspaper lede which referred to Lebanon as a "Muslim country". I've misplaced the text and it's not turning up in our modest Canuck analogue of LEXIS-NEXIS, so I'd better not try to name names. But it was strictly an en passant reference, offered up without expectation of challenge.

The last time I'd checked, the (mostly Maronite) Christians in Lebanon were in only a slight minority compared to the Muslims--assuming you count the Druze as Muslims, which most people do, because that's who the Druze generally find themselves fighting alongside. Theologically this characterization is wildly inaccurate, since the Druze don't follow Muslim observances and have their own (poorly-understood) holy books.

Before the civil war, no one would have called Lebanon a "Muslim country"; it was a majority-Catholic country. In law, the Lebanese parliament is still split evenly between Christians and Muslims (with the Druze sitting on the Muslim side). And the presidency, for what that's worth, is still a Christian appanage. But the Syrian military presence in the country has led to a demographic catastrophe--quiet colonization and high fertility on one side, human rights abuses and exodus on the other. Christians are apparently now only about a quarter of the Lebanese population. By some accounts, a million have fled in the last ten years.

The Canadian government spent much of 2002 arguing with itself over whether to withdraw Hezbollah's fundraising privileges in Canada--whether, that is, Hezbollah counts as a "terrorist" organization. It's not in question that Hezbollah has perpetrated terrorism, but Hezbollah has theoretically clean "social activism" wings that raise funds abroad for butter rather than guns. Hezbollah Lite was given a free hand to work here in Canada for as long as possible, and it was only in December that the Liberals moved the whole caboodle to the federal government's list of terrorist organizations.

In the actual event, Hezbollah's "terrorism" is practically beside the point. Lebanon has been transformed into a "Muslim country" by means of both guns and butter. In that theatre, the battle between Jihad and McWorld is over. With a Syrian army policing the country and jailing undesirables, who needs "terrorism"?

[UPDATE, Jan. 8: There's more on the subject, including a factual caveat, up here.]

- 2:46 am, January 6 (link)

See, the government's not crazy, just evil

A brief update on the rampant cigarette-tax rumours I reported on last week. The much-feared tax increase that everyone thought was scheduled for Jan. 1 didn't happen. Another urban legend turns into a busted flush. I'd still like to know where it came from...

- 12:23 am, January 6 (link)

Principled objection

John Derbyshire writes in today's Corner:

Shame on the [Financial Times] for letting [David] Gilmour write "flaunt" in place of "flout"--a solecism that is on the "Top Ten Things to Look Out For" list in every copy-editing course.

No doubt it is. All the more so because the confusion is easy to understand. Flaunt and flout are both slightly archaic verbs absorbed into English, at a guess, from Norman French; they are both used in contexts of defiance, or generalized sauciness. The strongest writer might have to pause five seconds before being sure of his ground in using one, or the other.

What really alarms me is the increasingly common failure to get principle and principal straight. I'm seeing this error in truly terrifying contexts--daily newspapers, esteemed magazines, scholarly texts. It's far more worrisome than flaunt/flout because no one who's learned the parts of speech, as such, should be making the mistake. Hey, homophones are tough, but principle doesn't look anything like an adjective (are whole-language-fogged readers seeing an -ible, perhaps?), and principal has the helpful -al suffix to remind you that the substantive use, as in "Principal Skinner", is a disguised colloquialism. Some part of your brain should always ask "Principal what?" when you see principal as a noun. (The answer is usually "principal paper-shuffling numbnut.")

When I see "President Bush's principle advisor" written somewhere (though he could use such an advisor, at that), I can write it off: to err is human. When I see it in plenty of places, I worry that it signifies mass ignorance, amongst professional writers and editors, of the grammatical parts of speech. And, of course, we already know this ignorance exists. Sentence diagramming went out the window right around the time whole-language education was let in. I consider myself lucky to have had a junior-high English teacher who was old, traditionalist, and cussed. Other students my age in different home rooms missed the bus entirely; as have, I suspect, whole generations since. But maybe I'm overstating the case.

- 5:33 pm, January 5 (link)

Searching for Bobby... Nemenyi?

There's startling news about reclusive chess champion Bobby Fischer. A Philadelphia Inquirer investigation appears to have identified Bobby's true biological father. Doubt remains, but for those of us who suspected there had to be a Hungarian somewhere in the lineage of this apoplectic genius, the case is all but closed.

- 6:18 am, January 5 (link)

My kind of town?

Did I get around to mentioning that I saw Chicago? Guess not. Here are my thoughts, because you wouldn't be here if you weren't interested in 'em:

· There are certain movies which are made strictly for "If You Liked X, You'll Love Y" reasons. I gather this is a case of "If You Liked Moulin Rouge, You'll Love Chicago", although I'm sure the real expectation of the producers is that if you absolutely loved Moulin Rouge, you might slightly like Chicago. Anyway, I didn't see Moulin Rouge, and it's probably an error to go see the Y movie without first seeing the X.

· OK, so you're making a movie musical. You've got two terrific assets working for you: a ragingly beautiful actress, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and a pretty one, Renee Zellweger. You choose to put the beautiful one in an unsuitable Louise Brooks bob and truly unpleasant makeup. You then fail to order the pretty one to put on some goddamn weight so she won't be so ropey from the waist up. Q: are you really that stupid? What the hell's wrong with you?

· That said, it's Chicago; it's Kander and Ebb. There are some solid numbers here, particularly "Razzle Dazzle" (although why Richard Gere sings it like a hyperglycemic 65-year-old Englishman, I'm not quite certain). But while I'm no expert on musicals (Mark Steyn's your man there), it strikes me that this is not Golden Age stuff. It's not Rodgers and Hammerstein or anything like that where you're being pummelled by musical genius. It's not even Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose tunes at least know how to glue themselves to your brain for a few weeks. There are dead spots in Chicago; there's stuff that's just phoned in. I gather that Kander and Ebb are the guys who tried to make musical theatre Relevant. What more scathing criticism can be offered?

· The great mass of people, myself included, no longer have any strong connection to the Broadway tradition. It won't do to make a movie of a semi-classic musical and just sort of... let it sit there, like people are going to genuflect. This isn't 1950. We are tone-deaf. Using big-name actors to bring us the message is a terrific idea. (Using '70s and '80s pop songs like Moulin Rouge did is just cheating.) But the whole thing felt sort of perfunctory. I felt like I was expected to do half the work, and I really think I was expected to do half the work--thrill to little theatre-y moments, hum along to "All That Jazz".

And, yeah, I enjoyed myself, I guess, largely because I sat there quite determined to enjoy myself. But I'm not recommending Chicago unless you're already sitting there feeling like you really need to go see it.

- 5:30 am, January 5 (link)


Some recent reader missives to get back on track after a day of snoozing, socializing, etc. Here's Mark Wickens on the Oxford comma:

Have you heard about the valedictorian who announced "I'd like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God"?

That one's a classic amongst lapsed movement Objectivists. Also writing from eastward-facing Canada, about The Godfather, is Paul Duffy:

I think in 1946 Americans may well have been unaware of "organized crime", or at least not too familiar with it until the hearings in the fifties. People of Kay's background might have only connected that with old-country Moustache Petes and prohibition-era gangland stuff. Confronted with a rich family boasting a legitimate importing businesses, whose youngest son was well-spoken, a war veteran--well, people like to indulge in wishful thinking. Also, it seems to me Michael immediately tells Kay, after the brains-on-the-contract anecdote, something like "That's my family--not me!" [Correct. -ed.]

You could be right about Kay's seeming awfully dense, of course, but this apparent desire to slip into the normal fabric of American life is one big point of the movie, and in Kay you have a best-possible dupe. Not too long ago a bunch of celebrities were defending John Gotti--people like Anthony Quinn, etc.

Marlon Brando had it exactly wrong when he said the story of the Corleone family was the story of America, the crooked business, the violence, the this and the that. If that were so, you'd have no story. I admire the movie too.

Yes, Michael Corleone knows there's another America--why else would he break his back trying to reach it? Elsewhere in the mailbag, the gifted vitriolist Billy Beck notifies me of a weblog entry taking me to task thus (in re Chuck Klosterman):

My dear sir: "good taste" is not "kind of a device used to create gaps in the intellectual class structure." Good taste identifies gaps. Period. (To hell with that "class structure" flubber.) Good taste is a big part of what separates us from tree-dwellers, glue-heads, and persons who listened to Ratt.

I will also point out that the word "create" is now a delinquent of lexicon and requires stern disciplinary moratorium. This is because of the idiotic explosion of "creation" in the 1960's, after which every dopey coat-hang-wire & paper-mâché dingbat on the scene is applauded for his "creativity" and all this "creating" is just goddamned giving me the winds.

Beat 'em in the head where it counts. That's what I always say.

But, see, notions of good taste do reinforce and define gaps in the structure; I wasn't suggesting that the underlying reality reflected in the structure is unreal. There are distinct, intellectually ordered classes of humans out there in the world, and we who fancy that we have a place on the upper rungs do cite "good taste" for the purpose of asserting that placement. If there's a problematic word here it's "class" (with its Marxist overtones), not "create". But maybe we're talking past each other. Since I've committed the faux pas of quoting Billy's entire weblog entry, I'll just link to him one more time here.

We also have another pro-serial-comma letter from Patrick Currie:

Thanks for revealing that despite being a grammatical dinosaur, I am not yet extinct.

I spent a good portion of New Year's day proofreading a public policy report written by my wife. As it will be subjected to intense public scrutiny, she wanted a second set of eyes to go over it before it was circulated for comment even in draft form. However, whatever smugness I had concerning her obviously well-founded recognition of my superior editing skills was quickly squashed when she rejected my repeated addition of the "Oxford comma", dismissing each of them with the comment "it's not done that way anymore".

I had to face the reality that lists could now end in "....V, W, X and Y and Z" and be perfectly acceptable. As a recent fogey not yet past my mid-forties, I found myself wondering when did the grammar rules change, and why didn't anybody tell me?

Unlike you, I am denied the liberty of your random fits of Tourettic cursing due to the fact I have a close relative with that condition. While I am of the opinion that accusations of being politically incorrect should be borne by simply considering the source, in this instance I am forced to contain my surprisingly abundant bile. I doubt I would be able to contain my pent up fury if someone were to label me "grammatically incorrect".

While I am usually somewhat amenable to social progress and the indignities they sometimes create, I refuse to compromise on this issue. For to not use the Oxford comma is an abomination against God, Mankind, and all things right and good in the world. Good luck to you, Sir, in resisting the Philistines.

I can't say that I've noticed a movement against the Oxford comma myself. The split in high-quality printed material has always seemed to be about 70-30 in its favour, but that's a guess. I adopted it simply as a matter of ear; my grammatical sensibility has mostly been acquired by osmosis. But the threefold case for the Oxford comma is absolutely irrefutable. (1) Commas are a help to the reader when not downright otiose, (2) the serial comma corresponds to the way lists are read aloud, and (3) sometimes you are forced to use a comma before "and", or you hazard absurdities like the one pointed out supra by Wickens. It is simply a logical element in English sentence structure, the way the presumption of innocence is a logical element in law. To have a rule that says "items in lists should be separated with commas except for the last two" is offensive to right reason.

Finally, a comment on Godfather Kay from Greg at Mr. Helpful:

In an uncharacteristically brief comment on your Godfather piece, I would just like to say the reason Kay is so idealistically dumb in the movie is because she was simply following in the footsteps of all Mafioso women whose questions about bloodstains on the shirt collars were timidly asked and easily swatted aside. You don't think, just because they didn't show much of Vito Corleone's interaction with his wife, that she acted any smarter when it came to her hubby's deeds than Kay did with Michael's?

By the way, the reason Diane Keaton did such a good job of portraying Kay's dumb and idealistic naïveté is because, by a number of accounts, Keaton is dumber than a box of rocks in real life. So she just played herself...

Well, she did have a relationship with Woody Allen; that's some pretty damning evidence right there. Thanks to all who wrote. A lot of you haven't gotten answers over the past month or so, and please accept apologies for that. Keep those letters coming. All are read and appreciated.

- 12:32 am, January 5 (link)

Parking the tiger

I don't really like to vomit. It's tolerable enough when you're drunk, much like ugly girls and pickled eggs, but if you're fully conscious it's a real unpleasant experience. Well, you know that. But what I'm saying is, I'm really pretty afraid of this winter vomiting virus. I've had cases of stomach flu, like anyone else, but this is apparently a disease where the vomiting's so bad that they don't mince words. Truth in advertising. Oh yeah, with this bug, the chills aren't so bad and the fever is child's play, but the VOMITING, whoa hoh hoh. You've never seen such vomiting in your life, no sir. You're going to explore whole new planets of vomitorial activity, my friend. Prepare yourself to conquer the lonely summit of Mount Vomit.

No! No! Who invented this virus? Who's responsible? I don't want it! Do NOT give me the winter vomiting virus. I'm just going to stay in until vomit season ends.

- 4:37 am, January 4 (link)

Oh, Kay

I love the Godfather movies as much as the next guy. Actually, "the next guy" is often an imbecile who takes delight in disassembling the movies for purposes of generalized hilarity, so maybe I love them more, since I don't really wish to see them turned into mere cult objects. Yes, yes, leave the gun, take the cannoli, by all means, you jarheaded dinksmack.

Anyway... The Godfather, wonderful movie, just watched it for the nth time, but doesn't it strike you that there's one flaw in it, to wit, that Kay (Diane Keaton) borders on being annoyingly dumb? She has the family business explained to her in no uncertain terms about ten minutes in, when Michael explains to her what "an offer he couldn't refuse" consists of. Even that object lesson is arguably a bit heavy-handed; who would sit there thinking "Like, wow, man, this here Italian family has a thinly disguised Frank Sinatra showing up to sing at its weddings, but I'm sure they're not involved in anything unsavoury"?

But some of us catch on faster than others, and it is only 1946; maybe everyone just forgot about Al Capone. However, later on, a cop and a narcotics lord get shot to death in a restaurant and Michael mysteriously goes missing for several months; Kay doesn't connect the dots too quick, but, hey, she's an idealist. She's only known the nice Michael. Later, she lets fly her noted blooper about how senators and presidents don't have men killed, but anyone could make a mistake like that, right? And of course, after Michael tells her that he's getting into the family business--which, remember, has been explained to her quite carefully, even assuming she never picked up a damn newspaper--she goes with him... gets in the car, goes along for the big ride.

So, fine, she's cast her lot with the guineas and all, you'd think she was about ready to square up to the true nature of the thing. Yet in the justly famous final sequence of the movie, she's still totally clueless, accepting Michael's lie, desperately shoring up her belief in his good nature with her eyes swimming. That's a poignant scene, no question, but it's like, jeez, when is this woman going to get around to growing some emotional calluses already? You can't help but think that however sheltered her upbringing might have been, her lack of awareness of her surroundings is remarkable. I suppose that's what makes for the drama of that last shot: she's had the truth of Michael's fate hammered into her so bloody hard that the light finally switches on. Hey!--husband's in the Mafia! This might just suck!

i dunno, maybe I'm just being a jerk about this: I have the advantage of living in a world where they've already made The Godfather Parts One through Three, The Last Don, The Sopranos, etc., etc.

- 4:16 am, January 4 (link)

Rock fight

Marc Weisblott points us to a fun flamewar on the message board. Fun, and also a bit disheartening.

Why disheartening? The controversy begins with a New York Times piece by Chuck Klosterman that basically waxes indignant that Dee Dee Ramone and Robbin Crosby of Ratt died 24 hours apart last spring, and Dee Dee led off entertainment sections all over the world while Crosby's demise was consigned to the agate type. Klosterman sees this, essentially, as evidence of a conspiracy of snobbery that passes for a rock-critic establishment.

Ratt was profoundly uncool (read: populist) and the Ramones were profoundly significant (read: interesting to rock critics). Consequently, it has become totally acceptable to say that the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" changed your life; in fact, saying that would define you as part of a generation that became disenfranchised with the soullessness of suburbia, only to rediscover salvation through the integrity of simplicity. However, it is laughable to admit (without irony) that Ratt's "I Want a Woman" was your favorite song in 1989; that would mean you were stupid, and that your teenage experience meant nothing, and that you probably had a tragic haircut.

Klosterman has a point, sort of. I know from my high school days that Ratt, froufrou hair and psychedelic-pirate clothes and all, spoke to an unimaginably reviled, nay, psychically exiled constituency of fucked-up, no-future, frankly dumb kids--the kind of kids, in fact, that the Ramones pretended, not very convincingly, to be. Ratt fans were guys who really did sniff glue.

But using Dee Dee Ramone as the occasion for this kind of argument isn't really appropriate, because everybody, everybody, loves the fucking Ramones. The Ratt kids would have loved them too if they'd been given a fair chance to get acquainted. Anyway, Klosterman strangles whatever validity may exist in his own argument with this attempted trump:

Now, I know what you're thinking; you're thinking I'm overlooking the obvious, which is that the Ramones made "good music" and Ratt made "bad music"... And that rebuttal makes sense, I suppose, if you're the kind of person who honestly believes the concept of "good taste" is anything more than a subjective device used to create gaps in the intellectual class structure.

Actually, "good taste" is kind of a device used to create gaps in the intellectual class structure. And thank God for it. Chuck's crypto-Marxist pan-skeptical egalitarianism won't be pushed an inch further without collapsing, and it's certainly no kind of principle on which a newspaper arts page could be run, even in a hypothetical Headbanger Utopia.

Further down the thread the distinguished critic Ira Robbins happens along and takes after Chuck, but with a feeble tantrum that basically accuses Klosterman of somehow sullying the New York Times with the article they printed in their pages. "The Times' invariably reverent and probing tribute-to-dead-people issue is hardly the place for such vindictive folly." Gee, Ira, you might want to comb a dictionary for a definition of "invariable" if you think Chuck's article was that bad. And keep that head bobbing; you might just swallow yourself a freelance gig or two.

- 9:27 pm, January 3 (link)


[Here is the entry you missed last night when I forgot to upload it! Whee! - 8:55 pm, January 3]

Speaking of bad writing, I have been much antagonized lately by this ubiquitous pop-up ad for something called AccuQuote. Hey, go ahead and click--the good thing about linking directly to a pop-up ad is that it usually won't contain more pop-up ads within it. The eye-catching text in the ad reads:

What Would Happen to Your Family, If You Died?

Now, don't get me wrong. I favour lavish use of the comma, so much so that I am sometimes derided for it by co-workers. (My magazine's stylebook orders writers to eschew the "Oxford comma" before "and" in lists: oranges, lemons and apples is preferred to oranges, lemons, and apples. I have at least two loud, spasmodic, random fits of Tourettic cursing at everybody in sight about this, every year.) But this particular comma is odious beyond belief: it creates an appalling fracture between the verb "happen" and the conditional conjunction "if". No sane user of English would write "What would happen, if you died?", but the writer of this ad copy was befuddled by the insertion of a modest little prepositional phrase.

What elevates this from the ordinarily bad is the unintentional cadence introduced by the injudicious comma. Combined with the needless capitalization, the sentence suggests the title of a song. Perhaps one set to the tune of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain", or at least that's what I hear capering crazily in my head whenever this ad pops up. All together now:

What would happen to your family, if you died?
What would happen to your family, if you died?
What would happen to your family,
What would HAPpen to your FAMily,
What would happen to your family, if you died?

Readers are encouraged to add further verses as they see fit.

- 11:56 pm, January 2 (link)

And I'm going to start tithing, too

John Ellis is using his weblog as a weight loss tool, announcing his poundage on the site at the start of every day to motivate himself. He started at 229 and has worked his way down to... uh, 236. Doh! Nuts! Mmmm, dohnuts...

What I know about weight loss wouldn't fill a fly's bathtub, but I have real trouble taking a guy seriously when he tries to lose weight and quit smoking at the same time, as John is doing. That's just providing yourself with excuses for failure. "Hey, of course I gained five pounds on my diet, dude... I was trying to quit smoking at the same time!"

- 4:36 pm, January 3 (link)

Imaginary crimes

Hmmm... I wrote two entries last night, I'm sure, but one (the better one) is mysteriously missing from the page. Did I forget to upload? What the hell's going on here? That's all I need, is for my website to start being as disorganized as my real work. Maybe I dreamed about writing the second entry...

The Deuce of Clubs sends the URL of the No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again page, which has links to various exercises in whimsy (and whose hypothetical existence was mentioned here.) "I had to use Google to find it--even I can't navigate Deuce of Clubs," writes DoC. Thank God! I thought maybe it was just me.

- 3:26 pm, January 3 (link)


Hi, gang. Sorry about the sparse posting today: since traffic tore the roof off the mother ship with only a medium-sized Instapush, I feel like quite the traitor. I was hoping to sneak past deadline day at my Real (Surreal?) Job without an observable dip in weblog productivity, but in the end I was mired in a morass of near-impossible journalistic challenges. Go on, try to compile a 2,400-word notebook column this time of year without recourse to wretchedly stale Christmas items. I dare you.

I think I ended up cheating and using a couple of past-due Christmas holdovers, but I'm by no means sure. After I file my last item of the editorial cycle, an instant, protective amnesia takes over and I forget everything I've written for the past two weeks. I am not exaggerating. This is a defence mechanism I developed unconsciously in university to prevent myself from agonizing over possible solecisms and clumsy locutions after I could no longer repair them, but I must say it works real well.

The self-torture I'd suffer otherwise is too much to ponder. The excellent Aaron Haspel wrote in a New Years' weblog entry that I should "resolve to write less well" in 2003 to spare him a serious burden of envy. What, Aaron, you mean become even more haphazard with my logorrheic spewings? How would I go about that, exactly? Do you want to see unconscionably many more needless intensifier adverbs in my prose? Do you want me to--God forbid--make even more showy, pointless uses of the em-dash? Should I continue to add phony je ne sais quoi to my writing by leaning even harder on foreign-language tags? Perhaps you'd like still more pedantic references that would bring a blush to the cheek of the Great Cham himself? Or maybe you'd like me to besteep myself still further in my most characteristic sin; my ugly little delusion that I can, single-handed, rescue the semicolon from obsolescence in English persists, despite repeated hunting and assassinating of the cloacal little bastards.

No, sorry, Aaron, but with your permission I'll continue to dash my brains against the wall of this humiliating craft. But the compliment is very, very [adverbs!] kind. Like any writer I nourish myself on a tiny, secret pantry of crumbs thrown by persons of taste. If you listen closely you can hear the moist, repellent noise of my jaws smacking.

- 11:35 pm, January 2 (link)

The Rockers have got to be behind this

Brighton's West Pier, closed to the public since 1975, has fallen into the Channel. Fellow cisatlantic Quadrophenia fanatics: that's this thing.

- 11:31 am, January 2 (link)

Saving several dozen Private Ryans

The mid-December edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal is, as is traditional, full of holiday whimsy. So I almost missed "Of mortars and morphine: one physician's D-Day". It's a letter dated June 7, 1944 and written by Dr. Maj. Charles Baker, who landed in the Nan Sector opposite Tailleville with the North Shore Regiment. Try reading it and keeping track of the doctor's shrapnel wounds: I count at least eight.

As the sergeant and Etherington and I made a run for it along the ditch, the ammo was going up continually. We ran around to the corner of the house where I had posted the sentries. Quite a number of wounded had gathered there so we sat down for a bit and hid from the flying steel. Finally we got everybody down into a big cement basement under the building. We cleaned up the basement and made a small hospital there. ...The boys were very much afraid, of booby traps in the old house. A North Shore sergeant walked through a doorway and had his brains blown out onto the floor beside him. There was an old bed and a lot of junk in the basement which they were afraid to move. A couple of us with five or six holes in us decided that a few more holes wouldn't make much difference. We threw the junk out. Nothing happened.

Note the part at the end where Dr. Baker--who is still alive today--offers rather testily to account in writing for a jeep left on the beach due to the unforeseen want of wire cutters.

- 2:48 am, January 2 (link)

You go, girl

If anyone wants to know, my middle name is James.

The Agenda Bender reminds me that Jane Fonda was recently visiting Israel on behalf of the "V-Day Movement". And that ain't a 'V' for Victory.

Actress and activist Fonda described how she hesitated at first to say yes a couple of years ago when she was asked to perform in "The Vagina Monologues."

"I was afraid to say the word vagina," Fonda said. "I was afraid to say the word for my most intimate, core, feminine part. I have that (fear) in common with most women."

In a late-breaking development, it turns out that the 'V' in 'V'-day does stand for Victory, as well as Valentine and Vagina. Huh. These are three concepts men have always associated with one another when Feb. 14 rolls around. I guess the gals are just catching up.

- 12:56 am, January 2 (link)

And also cave canem, naturally

The Instapundit has all but declared 2003 the year of dogblogging. Never one to defy a missive from weblog Mecca, I will take this opportunity to introduce you to the sublime art of Henry Raddick, Amazon reviewer. Henry's struggles with unemployment, marital discord, goitre, and a homophobic uncle are truly inspirational. Of course, you may already be consonant with Henry's work: last year spokesmen for HRH the Prince of Wales were obliged to formally deny rumours that Henry, in real life, was none other than Charles Windsor. Anyway, Mr. Raddick is a Dog Person nonpareil, having borne in quick succession the demise of his spaniel Barry and the unwitting purchase of a pug, now named Grendel. Apparently an unscrupulous pet salesman had reassured Henry that he was receiving a "baby bulldog". So caveat emptor and all that.

- 11:18 pm, January 1 (link)

Krypto dreams

(Link via Something Awful) OK, I'm willing to admit that dogs look better in Lycra than humans, but this is still so wrong in so many ways.

- 2:14 pm, January 1 (link)