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Another country

I found Dahlia Lithwick's interpretation of the new Supreme Court spanking decision to be a slightly bizarre foray. I have never been especially impressed with SCOTUS-watcher Lithwick, who starts bleeding from the eyes and speaking in tongues when Justice Scalia so much as shifts in his chair. She obviously stands foursquare with those, including the Foundation for Children, Family, and the Law, who believe "violence" is never acceptable in punishing even a violent child. (Or one who does something else, like stealing or destroying property--things which would get an adult arrested, and "violently" if necessary.) I found her final point interesting:

The important legal point is that whether or not you consider your kids to be your property [vreep! vreep! Straw man alert! -ed.], the courts will step in when you've crossed a line. And that line is decided by courts and legislatures, not by you.

Courts and legislatures? Behold the nuanced constitutional worldview of an Expert Lawyer, who conflates different branches of government with all the casualness of a terrycloth track suit. Famval conservatives seem happy, overall, with the clarity and caution used by Canada's Supreme Court in the Friday judgment. But surely it is arguable whether Justice McLachlin's decision was essentially a helpful illumination of a vague law or a substantive redrafting of it. Without doubt, the fact remains that she could have rewritten the law if she had wanted to, which is the especially vexatious element of the "judicial activism" controversy under a system wherein high justices are never reviewed or approved by Parliament. Has Lithwick forgotten that particular wrinkle since leaving Canada? In the U.S., the same controversy exists, but the country's Supreme Court at least offers a pretense of legitimacy and transparency in the form of Congressional involvement in appointments. Up here, we simply find out one day that So-and-So will henceforth be wearing red ermine.

Lithwick argues, herself, that the "social consensus" discovered by McLachlin et al. is entirely imaginary. One supposes, then, that the spanking/anti-spanking fight is a pure contest of power between irreconcible tastes in parenting. Not for one moment does she contemplate any such principle as maximizing parental discretion as far as possible: the "line" to be drawn is simply arbitrary, and might with equal justice encompass the raising of a voice or the denial of dessert.

Eheu--if only we had elected officials whose job it was to determine the popular will on fine social questions and to implement some suitable approximation of it! Then we wouldn't need to leave the task to a corps of fogeys chosen by a mysterious process from the upper ranks of one particular profession. (Of course, joking aside, some might point out that this description suits Parliament almost as well as it does the SCC.) I'm no flamingly passionate democrat, but I'm always amazed to see just how far to the other side legal commentators can get away with creeping. The more power a Supreme Court has, the better, one supposes, for those who make a living covering that Supreme Court.

- 9:05 pm, January 31 (link)

Hasta la victoria siempre

A reader sends a Washington Post story with an unsurprising lede--

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Fidel Castro vowed on Friday to die fighting "with a gun in my hand" if the United States invaded Cuba to overthrow his communist government. "I don't care how I die, but for sure, if they invade us, I will die fighting," the 77-year-old leader said at a meeting of anti-free trade activists from across the hemisphere...

--and a final paragraph that makes you go "Huh?"

Castro spoke to more than 1,000 activists, from Andean Indians and landless Brazilians to Canadian postal workers, who met in Havana to plan protests against the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has indeed sent a large delegation to the "Hemispheric Encounter" in Havana. The union's website boasts of "CUPW's long history of worker solidarity with the people of Cuba", without mentioning the cheap tropical vacations its members get in exchange for a little Castro-fellating. In fact, plenty of Canadian groups are down there for the anti-trade summit.

Some of the organizations that make up the Canadian contingent include: Alternatives, Regroupement Autonome des jeunes de l'Estrie, ATTAC, Confédération des Syndicates Nationaux (CSN), Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Worker to Worker program, Council of Canadians, Communist Youth Union of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist). Youth and workers comprise the majority of the Canadian delegation.

Cheers of "Cuba! Cuba! Fidel! Fidel!" and a standing ovation greeted Cuban President Fidel Castro when he joined the opening session and entered the hall of the Congress Centre with other members of the conference coordinating committee.

- 12:30 pm, January 30 (link)

Saw, meet limb

My Friday morning Post column is about a Supreme Court of Canada decision, expected this morning, which will decide the legality of corporal punishment for children. Background here.

I'm writing this on Thursday, but it's not hard to guess what kind of decision the court will hand down.

On one hand, there is no compelling reason for the court to criminalize what is still deemed part of ordinary child-rearing by most parents. A total spanking ban would make the "judicial activism" controversy all too immediate for casual moderate voters, create a controversy the approximate size of the Morgentaler decision cubed, and hand the Conservative party 50 or so new seats in the spring election. You think the Supreme Court wants all that? No--it has the same survival instinct as any other vicious animal. It knows about how far it can go politically, and about how often it can go too far.

On the other hand, the justices did hear the case. If they meant to chase off the Foundation empty-handed, they simply would have refused to grant leave to entertain the reference.

I stuck my neck out a little there. Jackass or genius: in about five hours we'll know! But my bets are hedged, of course: if the court really does ban spanking, this column will be forgotten amidst the resulting clamour...

[UPDATE, 12:33 pm: Nothing but net.]

- 4:25 am, January 30 (link)

Dio mio

Now here's a candidacy I can get excited about! After all, in a democracy, the mob rules. (Via BoingBoing.)

- 1:38 am, January 30 (link)

Five? Do I hear five?

I admit to feeling a perverted pleasure when some cancer-battling smoker turned non-smoking poster-child accidentally lets slip a hint of the dose-response relationship, that great void at the centre of all anti-tobacco movements and campaigns. Barb Tarbox, the now-departed ex-model who spent her last months as a wraithlike scold haunting Alberta's schools, owned up to having had a two-pack-a-day habit; in this province those would be two flat packs, or 50 nails, if you're counting. (A cigarette usually lasts me six or seven minutes. 50 smokes is five or six hours of continuous smoking, every day.) Peter Gzowski, the CBC's gone-too-soon National Treasure™, warned against the filthy habit from his deathbed, but had once indulged to the frantic tune of three packs a day. I can't even get out of bed if I accidentally smoke a whole pack in 24 hours!

But the proverbial cake has now been taken by Joe Eszterhas, the throat cancer survivor and screenwriter of questionable talent who is waging a "personal war" on tobacco. From a profile in the New York Observer:

Barely visible above his collar was a five-inch scar, a fault line in that ruddy football-coach neck. In March 2001, Joe Eszterhas was diagnosed with throat cancer. It was now or perhaps never to release Hollywood Animal (Alfred A. Knopf), a 736-page monster truck of a memoir that lumbers into bookstores this week. His four-pack-a day devotion to Salem Ultra Lights had cost Mr. Eszterhas, 59, most of his larynx.

Four packs. When I hear that x thousand people are dying from the effects of smoking every year, I can only wonder how many of them are this stupid.

- 8:02 pm, January 29 (link)


You say the upcoming movie about the 1980 Miracle on Ice won't appeal to Canadians? Au contraire: while Americans are revelling in the memory of their country's greatest hockey moment, Canadians will be watching for the real stars--stunt doubles like Edmonton Oiler and Team Canada goalie Bill Ranford. [Cue Nelson Muntz "ha-ha".] (Via McErlain.)

Ranford played half of the outdoor Heritage Classic game at Commonwealth Stadium in November. As I wrote at the time, the one truly immortal split-second of the affair was Grant Fuhr's first-period glove save on Stephane Richer. But let the record show that Ranford was equally convincing in net, and almost seemed to be playing in a style more acrobatic than the one he used during his NHL career. The way things are going for the Oilers this year, I almost wonder if Kevin Lowe shouldn't have signed him to a contract...

- 3:47 pm, January 29 (link)

Medium crowding

Investigators Seek Answers In Cat's Escape From Bag Dept.: Paul Wells has mischievously pulled back the curtain and revealed the embryonic weblog of National Post columnist Andrew Coyne.

Also bookmarkable: Jim Elve has created a group blog for the Canadian federal election expected in 2004.

(And here, I see in my referrer log as I'm about to upload this, is the Post's Aaron Wherry. And he's got a link to an Adam Daifallah site I hadn't even heard about. Was there a memo or something?)

- 1:39 am, January 29 (link)

Reefer madness

Depressing Canadian political spectacle of the evening: Sen. Pierre-Claude "Free the Weed" Nolin on CPAC trying to account for his puzzling presence on the Tory leadership campaign of Belinda "Hemp Is For Hanging" Stronach. Nolin has spent a decade or more amassing research on and arguments for rationalizing Canadian law on marijuana. He was apparently somewhat mortified when the débutante Stronach declared that, as a mother, she intends to have no truck with all this Liberal hippy-trippy drug-law reform.

Watching the CPAC broadcast, I found myself almost regretting that I had chosen the translated English audio, rather than the original French--which is, after all, the language of seduction and diplomacy. I couldn't say precisely which of the two Nolin was engaged in as he spoke simperingly of Stronach's "evolution" as a candidate and expressed confidence that she will adopt his extremely libertarian view of drug law. The hidden but indisputable premise here is that Belinda's views are merely a manifestation of ignorance--an ignorance which the senator believes he can correct over a tête-à-tête.

Assuming his uncharitable opinion of his own candidate is right, does he really expect us to entertain the fantasy that Stronach, a politician in search of every scrap of credibility she can find, will give the media a "flip-flop" to sink their teeth into halfway through the leadership race?

- 12:58 am, January 29 (link)

Peace sells, but who's buying?

I'm a little different as a Canadian. I believe I have much better contacts, higher in the Iraqi government, than even our government does. I keep somebody in Baghdad all the time, so we can call for ongoing intelligence on the situation in the country. Through that, and through my quest to find and search for answers--because I've read all sides of the issue to see what is the truth and to answer those questions--that has taken me right to the levels of the senior advisers to Mr. Saddam Hussein himself, but also, through that, it has given me access as a foreigner and as a Canadian to Iraq, to the country, to the people, which is not normally done unless you are trusted. What I've seen is a nation of people who don't have fangs, who look at themselves and ask themselves what they have done to deserve what has been put on them.

These words were spoken in March 2000 by Arthur Millholland, president of Calgary's Oilexco Inc., who was appearing before the Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs to plead for a lifting of the oil sanctions against Iraq. His friends from Saddam's sanctum include Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, according to a December 2002 National Post article. Oilexco was, at the time of Millholland's testimony, a participant in the UN oil-for-food program. Mr. Millholland's name has now appeared, according to documents published by the Baghdad newspaper Al-Mada, on a list of foreigners who received gifts of oil from Saddam Hussein in exchange for their support of the regime.

Undoubtedly, if he had known this sort of thing would surface one day, Millholland wouldn't have been so relentless about promoting his peace credentials by emphasizing his closeness to the inner circle of "Mr. Saddam Hussein himself". Am I a very terrible person to be surprised that he's the only Canadian named so far?

- 2:04 pm, January 28 (link)

One shot

More astonishing digitized stuff from the National Archives of Canada: you can now see images of the diaries of individual units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War. Within seconds of beginning to poke around I found a couple of pages relating to Lance-Corporal Henry L. Norwest, MM and Bar, a Métis sharpshooter and sometime rodeo performer from Hobbema, Alberta, who became one of the most feared snipers on the Western Front. He certainly did in more Germans, at any rate, than the much better-known Billy Bishop... These words were written Apr. 28, 1918:

[Norwest] today accounted for his hundredth German, and before night had added another to the score, a record enjoyed by few, if any, other snipers in the British Army. Norwest's methods are peculiarly his own. "Wait until not a single Hun has a chance of seeing your rifle flash, then get your man," is his motto. On one occasion, he waited two days for two enemy snipers who had heard his rifle as he accounted for another of their friends, knowing they were suspicious of his post. At last he caught them off their guard and one went down, followed by the other in 15 minutes. Very few men could display the patience displayed by Norwest. His indifference to danger and his ability to negotiate practically open ground makes it possible for him to use No Man's Land as a sniping ground to the fullest advantage.

Norwest killed or grievously wounded 115 Germans before his luck and skill failed him. He was mortally wounded on Aug. 18, painfully close to the eventual armistice, while engaged in an uncharacteristic team effort to ferret out a German sniper's roost. His commanding officer wrote this appendix to the August diary of the 50th Canadian Regiment--words which may never yet have found their way into any secondary source:

Norwest is dead. I doubt if anyone in the Canadian Corps or in the whole British Army for that matter, had a finer record than he... He was a peculiar character. Very silent, very intent. As delighted as a child at his success and as grim as the avenging angel when on his work. I have seen him in his position waiting for a chance to get a shot, and he reminded me for all the world of a pointer pointing. His whole body tense with eagerness, his whole mind set on his work.

Day after day he would lie out in exposed positions waiting, waiting. His patience was colossal. No place was too dangerous for him to go. No risks too great to take, as long as he was killing. He won the Military Medal and Bar and richly he earned them. His Indian blood possibly helped him in his work, possibly inherited his patience and cunning from his hunting forbears.

He fell at last, shot through the head by a German sniper... and was buried at Warvilliers, a small village he had helped to wrest from the enemy. The most fitting epitaph that can be put on his grave is the remark that was made by men when they heard of his death: "It must have been a damned good sniper that got Norwest."

The reference to "Indian blood" is almost understandable, as the only other Canadian sniper to challenge Norwest's record was Francis Pegahmagabow, an Ojibwa from Ontario. But Australians know--if they remember Billy Sing, the scourge of the Turks--that it has a lot to do with growing up in the bush with a rifle in your hand, whoever your parents were.

- 1:56 am, January 27 (link)

No enemies to the extreme left

What Liberal Media? Dept.: we are presented with an interesting laboratory experiment today, a rare opportunity to ascertain the position from which the American media look out over the contemporary scene. I invite you to consider two news stories: that a 9/11-radicalized Dennis Miller intends to lay off of the President in his new talk show for CNBC, and that longtime Democratic Party heavyweight Robert Redford is in Cuba, helping to promote the cult of Che Guevara. I won't ask which ought to inspire more indignation and criticism, as that would be contrary to the spirit of science. But we can at least see which one will do so.

- 1:01 pm, January 26 (link)

Negative capability

The fateful day has arrived: Monday's National Post column is available online only to subscribers. You can read the first paragraph, which does summarize a story that appeared only in the Journal over the weekend. By now you can probably just about write for yourselves my own thoughts on appointing a token aboriginal to the Supreme Court of Canada. (Hint: if I'm writing about it, it's a good bet that I don't like it!) I'll post the full column here a week from now.

- 12:29 pm, January 26 (link)

Lend me your ears

A good new letter, from Rich Rostrom, about an old entry:

You wrote, "30-year-old Jimmy Gardner died in 1905 from an ear abscess, which sounds like a sick joke but actually wasn't terribly uncommon then." I happened to be on the train a few days ago, and was seated next to an elderly woman who wanted to talk. (Not one of the crazy types, just feeling a bit chatty, I think.) Looking at some of the loonier stories in her supermarket tabloid, she lamented things were crazy and there was too much "progress". I agreed, but pointed to the improvements in medicine. That she couldn't argue with.

And she recalled that several of her childhood friends had died of ear infections... This would have been around 1930, I think.

"I don't know how anybody kept from just going insane before antibiotics existed, with death lurking around every corner." People just accepted early death as a common fact of life. They had to, to keep from going insane. Have you ever read Wodehouse? Fluffy, light-hearted stuff, yes? And yet most of the stories include wards and young nieces and nephews and cousins who are parentless in childhood. So common then it wasn't even remarkable.

- 7:59 pm, January 25 (link)

War cry

When Conrad Black sold a controlling interest in the Southam newspapers to the Asper family, it was widely acknowledged (even by Black) that the deal was mutually advantageous because the Liberal Aspers would be willing to paddle along placidly as the government's print-world poodle. Remember that? Seems like about ten years ago, doesn't it? It's been not quite two-and-a-half. Even Lord Black would be hard-pressed to summon up the unfeigned indignation in today's editorial jointly written by David Asper and the Talleyrand of the chain, Gordon Fisher:

Make no mistake: The news media are sensitive to legitimate matters of national secrecy and security. There are, moreover, ample precedents where the media have cooperated with government on such matters. But that does not mean freedom of the press may be extinguished by fiat.

As this editorial stresses, we will not be cowed by bullies wearing badges issued by the state.

Canadian journalists must not be deterred. Our message to colleagues: There are people within government who are as outraged as you by Wednesday's raid, and who will talk to you. And if the RCMP raids your house as they did O'Neill's, you will be defended by your colleagues in a similar fashion.

Emphasis mine, but not only mine: the highlighted phrase was used as a headline in some papers. Granted, the editorial doesn't mention the L-word. But it does suggest that the Liberal official-secrets law is--pardon the worn-out allusion--an ass. "If it can be shown that O'Neill's article comprises a technical violation of the recently enacted Security of Information Act--which has not been proven--that is an indictment of the law's poor drafting, not of O'Neill's behaviour."

- 4:06 pm, January 24 (link)

We place our trust in the flyer

"I don't think it's patriotic to dress up in a flight suit and prance around on the deck of an aircraft carrier." -Gen. Wesley Clark speaking in Milford, N.H., January 10, and ad nauseam throughout the state

"Remember, it was Action Figure Bush who donned flight suit and strutted like a Viagra-fueled rooster beneath a White House-approved banner..." -Nicky Hernandez, Vail Trail, January 23

"Last spring, clad in a pilot's uniform and strutting like Tom Cruise at the end of 'Top Gun,' [Bush] announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq with a staged landing on an aircraft carrier." -unsigned leader, The Star-Ledger (Newark), January 23

"Others have already decided to support Wesley Clark. 'Well, he's definitely not an empty flight suit, is he?' asked Patrick Corbett of Neeses." -Lee Hendren, the Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, S.C.), January 24

Etc., etc., etc. Flight suit! Flight suit! Flight suit! All flight suit, all the time! Hey, didja hear? President Bush wore a flight suit!

People... need... really badly... to let go of the flight suit already. The photo-op in question took place on May 1 of last year, and it's still mentioned in fifty American newspapers every morning. He wore a flight suit while flying a jet aircraft!--where's our impeachment hearing? Gleaves Whitney wrote in NRO on May 8 that the flight suit was "driving liberals nuts." It's now obvious he was right. He probably didn't even know that he was literally right. This flight-suit business can go straight into the DSM now.

I understand that there are a lot of you out there, who are revolted, for sound reasons, by the symbolism of an American president--one with a sketchy personal track record as a soldier--decked out in militaria, or quasi-militaria, while giving a speech, or, rather, travelling to give one. (Some of you may even not be the same ones who jack off every night to the thought of Wes Clark, the man who tried to start a shooting war with the Russians in the Balkan peninsula, as president.) Mencken would have gleefully savaged Bush for his sartorial gesture--once, or twice, and memorably. Then he would have moved on, if I may use this tainted verb, if only because he was very far from retarded, and he would know that it was extremely unwise to keep mentioning a visual moment you hated because it was so crushingly effective for your enemy. And to make it painfully obvious, at the same time, that that's the main reason you keep bringing it up.

Some keep reurgitating the f.s., no doubt, because they hope to remind readers of the related critique: that Bush declared an end to "major combat operations" in Iraq while wearing the hated garment. Double oops: this semantic nitpicking over the definition of "major" and "combat" (combat, as opposed to policing of a country already pretty firmly occupied) signifies in the mind of an intelligent voter nothing but a self-serving desire to crucify the administration on any plank that happens to hand. The banner said "Mission Accomplished"! But the mission wasn't accomplished! If the "mission" had been defined as inoculating every Iraqi child against rubella, then, no, I guess the mission wasn't yet accomplished. The odd use of the phrase to mean "The United States has won its war against Iraq" can, I think, be excused.

I don't mean to suggest that my perceptions here should carry any overwhelming argumentative weight. I'm only suggesting that, the next time you want to mention President McFlightsuit and his Flight-Suity Photo Ops Conducted in a Flight Suit, you take a breather. Ask yourself if doing so will lose you more respect than you amass by the extremely clever joke you no doubt have planned. (Action Figure Bush! Ha-ha! And they say satire's dead on the Left!) Consider that it may be important for a Commander-in-Chief to show solidarity with his armed forces, even if the means seem cheap and extravagant to a civilian. Think back over an important nine months in history and ask yourself if you can see through the red mist to anything else you might want to bring to a reader's attention. Your brain will thank you. Hell, anyone who basically likes Bush but has begun to smell the reek of a rotting presidency will thank you.

- 5:00 am, January 24 (link)

I got the Glögg powerup

From The Morning News: your guide to traversing the five awesome worlds of Ikea.

- 1:18 pm, January 23 (link)

Ink by the barrel

From me in Friday's Post: a column about twinges of guilt, and questions of logic, concerning special legal protection for journalists. A new court ruling here raises some of the same questions as the Bob Novak/Valerie Plame controversy, though the behaviour of the police in trying to obtain evidence from Post reporter Andrew McIntosh is so hard to account for that the issues are somewhat disguised by basic questions of fairness. For independent background you can read the Toronto Star's coverage of the ruling.

Meanwhile, the RCMP raid on Juliet O'Neill's home is making life that much more difficult for Paul Martin. If someone hoped to reduce the blowback from the Maher Arar case, ransacking a journalist's house was not the way to go about it. The New York Times and the International Herald-Tribune, among others, are raising questions about the state of press freedom in Canada. The CanWest papers are in gloves-off mode, with O'Neill's Citizen delivering the sharpest jabs:

You can see why the RCMP would be curious about who is telling the media stuff they'd like to keep buried, but raiding a reporter's home and office makes them look like a bunch of hamhanded louts who would have exceeded their level of competence pulling over drunk drivers out in the Prairies somewhere.

On the positive side, they didn't burn down O'Neill's house, or pepper-spray her. That shows that the Mounties are really learning from some of their past mistakes. She could still be charged with something like embarrassing the RCMP, which is serious because that's work normally done by trained police officers...

In strictly unrelated news, a 16-year-old suspect fell down an elevator shaft Thursday while in the custody of two Edmonton city constables at the Law Courts building. I'll have your badge for this, Callahan!

- 11:05 am, January 23 (link)

The simple life of politics

I didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. -Belinda Stronach, at the January 20 launch of her Conservative leadership campaign

[Tom] Taylor was a year ahead of Ms. Stronach at Newmarket High School and remembers her as a popular, pleasant girl who received a new Camaro for her 16th birthday. "There was no doubt about it. Everybody in the school knew Belinda was different. She was very wealthy." -Tom Blackwell, in Thursday's National Post

It's a funny thing about those who have grown up rich, and a universal law concerning them: they can never just fucking admit to having grown up rich. It's because we have imperturbable stereotypes about them, founded on experience. Belinda Stronach, sad to stay, is off to a poor start smashing them.

The United States, being the continual cynosure of the world's attention, produces many star spin-doctors and campaign consultants: your James Carvilles, your Dick Morrises, your Lee Atwaters. The number of people doing essentially the same job for the media is much greater, and there's a great deal of overlap (Carville now being a TV star and Morris a columnist). I hardly need to tell you that most of these people have mixed track records. The term "political science", as the Iowa caucuses reminded us, is just about the biggest lie in the whole danged universe. What's scary is that in Canada, the fog of ignorance seems even worse. No one here can come close to claiming a comprehensive understanding of Canadian politics by a falsifiable standard.

And that includes me. But the way ahead for a "pundit" (shudder) is to self-promote: harp on your lucky guesses, make 'em forget your failures. In this spirit I'll remind everyone that I wrote on January 11 that Belinda Stronach was not to be taken seriously: "If Kim Campbell was 'Canada's Madonna,' is this our Paris Hilton?" At the time I was surrounded by columnists who were insisting that Stronach's total lack of a track record was an advantage. It wasn't just the columnists, who can at least claim they write entertainingly for a living, and that accuracy comes second in their job description. MP Chuck Strahl bowed out of the leadership to make way for Stronach (which is not to say it wouldn't have been the right move anyway):

Strahl said yesterday he will come out for one of three candidates expected in the race--"I will be supporting someone. I don't want to be neutral"--but spoke especially favourably of Stronach.
"She's intriguing. She's got drawing power. She's got that star power. That doesn't hurt when you're leader." -Vancouver Province, Jan. 18

Next time ask if she can also do a radio interview without sounding like a junkie, Chuck! (Granted, he left himself an out, and can now move in Tony Clement's direction.) Or take P.E.I. Premier Pat Binns, who has actually won elections and stuff:

"Binns said Stronach is breathing new life into the leadership race. He said she's bringing vitality, business success and an East Coast connection to the race. ...Binns said not having any political experience could actually benefit Stronach, making reference to Brian Mulroney, who never held public office before running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party." -Charlottetown Guardian, Jan. 21

Admittedly, some others refused to be contrarian, which may be the secret to being right slightly more often than you're wrong. Chantal Hébert issued a useful caution in the Star on the 19th, which was early enough. The surprise for me is seeing the (overly cheeky) Paris Hilton meme take off. There it is, practically in the lede of Roy MacGregor's Globe column from Thursday.

And maybe this weblog entry will come back to haunt me in a few months, as Ms. Stronach gains on-the-job training in such rudimentary skills as reading a speech without seeming to read it. (Some of us learned this from giving oral presentations in university, but as the impoverished daughter of an immigrant, Belinda never got to attend.) The fact remains that a whole flock of elite Tory political organizers, people who do this stuff for a living, failed to manage expectations for their new candidate. They needed to cool off the hype and emphasize that her campaign was highly experimental. Instead they allowed her to be greeted as Margaret Thatcher in the corporeal form of a porn star. Frankly, she deserved better, because it's clear she's got some good ideas. (And some calamitous ones: if you're going to oppose decriminalizing marijuana, despite admitting to having tried it yourself, don't do it on the grounds that the United States will punish us economically for pursuing our own social policy.)

(P.S.: Don't miss Evan Kirchhoff's review of the leadership candidates' websites. I was just remarking to someone that Tony Clement sometimes seems to have been "born under a bad sign" politically: maybe that's reflected in the mesmerizing constellation surrounding his torso in the GIF on his webpage.)

[UPDATE, February 2: Tony's website has now been cleaned up considerably.]

- 1:37 am, January 23 (link)

Mort à crédit

A selection of quotes about the Montreal Expos, presented without comment.

"The Expos will play what is likely to be their final season in Montreal on a brand new artificial surface at Olympic Stadium." -CanWest News Service sports brief, yesterday

"This year, Montreal will play 22 of its "home" games in Puerto Rico in an effort to increase revenue. The Expos will play just 59 times at Olympic Stadium in what could be their final season in Montreal." -AP wire story, April 1, 2003

"The club is owned by the league's 29 other teams. It drew fewer fans last year than the Sacramento River Cats. ...And for the third year in a row, it's expected to leave Montreal for good after the season." -Jim Caple,, March 28, 2003

"The Expos, who report to spring training in 16 days for what could be their final season in Montreal, have drawn poorly in recent years at Olympic Stadium." -Ronald Blum, AP wire story, January 29, 2003

"Expos plan to go out with bang: It might be the team's final season, but Montreal GM goes out and lands slugger Cliff Floyd while not adding to its payroll." -Canadian Press headline, July 12, 2002

"Run production remains Expos' Achilles heel: If bats come alive, final season in Montreal could [be] memorable one." -Canadian Press headline, March 31, 2002

"The Expos will play in front of a TV audience at least once in what may be its final season in Montreal." -National Post sports brief, March 26, 2002

"Baseball's plan to fold the Expos and Twins was blocked by a Minnesota injunction, causing the commissioner's office to take over operation of the Expos, a team that appears to be in its final season in Montreal." -Ronald Blum, AP wire story, February 12, 2002

"With stunning speed, the entire relaunch drive of the Montreal Expos has come undone. ...Now, barring a miracle, the Expos are playing their final season in Montreal." -Jack Todd, Montreal Gazette, May 28, 2000

"Ignore any positive signs--next year is not looking good for the Expos. The team will remain in very serious trouble, and it could be baseball's last season in Montreal despite claims to the contrary. The Expos may limp through two or three more seasons at the absolute most, but the team is almost certainly dying. ...There is no doubt that the Expos will move." -"Danielle and Mary-Anne of GlobalPsychics Inc.", interviewed by Chris Jones of the National Post, December 31, 1999

"It's hardly a secret that the Expos could very well be playing their final season in Montreal, their home since their inception in 1969." -Pedro Gomez, Arizona Republic, May 12, 1999

"It is all but inevitable now: the Expos will be sold and moved. This will be their final season in Montreal." -Jack Todd, Montreal Gazette, March 12, 1999

"As straight and open as [Expos GM Jim] Beattie is, you believe him when he says he really doesn't have a clue whether or not this will be the Expos' final season in Montreal." -Wayne Scanlan, Ottawa Citizen, February 12, 1999

"Unfortunately, we also had crowds of 12,000 to see Martinez pitch down the stretch--and the distinct possibility, unless the business community gets behind the new stadium in a big way, that this will be the Expos' final season in Montreal." -Jack Todd, Montreal Gazette, December 31, 1997

"Montreal pundits ... expect the Expos to be sold within a year and quickly moved ... In June [1998], Claude Brochu will announce the club is on the block. By September, a new ownership group will be eyeing points south." -William Houston, The Globe and Mail, August 26, 1997 [quoted in a 1999 National Post story full of completely different quotes exactly like these]

- 12:08 am, January 22 (link)

Bookmark this!

The blogroll on this here crappy handmade site has been a surprisingly popular feature over the years; despite the small amounts of trouble I take with it, it is at least categorized in a rudimentary way, and I'm always surprised how quickly people notice being added (or, yes, dropped). Recently I've been using it less, myself, because it was growing swollen and contained links to so many dormant or semi-dormant sites. I've now reformed it somewhat to correct both problems.

I'm always meaning to point out my very favourite sites, the ones I lean on heavily for edutainment... maybe it's not too late to do this in the traditional form of year-end awards.

The Best Canadian Weblog of 2003 was, for me, probably Bruce Rolston's Flit; he had such a good war that I am required to overlook his bad judgment in temporarily bringing another, more hyperactive author onto his page. Honourable mentions to Paul Wells' acerbic weblog for Maclean's and the erudite Caterina Fake. The Best Canadian Weblogger will probably always be the expatriate Cory Doctorow, shop foreman of BoingBoing, which is like some insane, free-of-charge mélange of Omni magazine circa 1983, Giant Robot, and a worldly-wise older brother with a roomful of cool posters and LPs.

Which Classic Weblogger had the best 2003? As other sites pall or lose the plot, Kausfiles remains perennially relevant. I visit so many times a day that my browser history should probably be issuing a Non-Sexual Crush alert. If I had to pick a Best Weblog, full-stop-no-qualifier, I'd probably choose this one. Kaus's writing is an indescribable fantasia of tones, the bastard child of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the staff of Private Eye, or something. I think he knows he was born to work in this medium.

Steve Sailer and the 2 Blowhards have retained their mountain view (from different angles) of the murky crossroads between biology, politics, and art. I bestow upon them two Special Interdisciplinary Statuettes. The Best pure Arts Weblog is Terry Teachout's, practically by definition.

The Best Magazine Weblog of 2003 is clearly Hit and Run, such a vital daily stop that it has come to somewhat overshadow the many fine individual websites in the "Libertarian" category on the left here. I rely much on The Corner and the New Republic's many sub-weblogs. In fact, let's give TNR a Thousand Flowers Blooming prize: between Lizza, the Dean-o-phobe, Scheiber, and Easterblogg, who's left over there to put out an actual magazine?

Aaron Haspel is to amateur weblogging what Kaus is to the professional class. He doesn't run what you'd call a "personal" site (after a couple years reading him, I am at a loss to tell you how he earns an income): nowadays the whole thing is given over to cultural and literary criticism. Every single entry is good, and many or most are hilarious. He receives the Undiscovered Genius Award for 2003. Runner-up and strong challenger: the Canadian turncoat Evan Kirchhoff.

Finally, I'm tossing a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Instapundit, who in 2003 crossed some kind of line without actually changing one iota. People are becoming visibly uncomfortable with the high platform he's built through his persistence and affability: what were once regarded as Glenn's charming quirks are now sometimes criticized as brutalitarian attempts to hijack the American agenda. Through it all, he just keeps doing his thing. Becoming the Instapundit must have changed his life (and lifestyle) considerably, but his ego seems utterly impermeable. There is no sign of him cracking (or inflating) under the strain of being so influential. One cannot imagine Instapundit suddenly disappearing, though it be made of mere electrons, any more than one can imagine there not being a New York Times tomorrow.

- 3:42 pm, January 21 (link)

Distant drums

Did anybody else think there was something oddly familiar about the prison-rape scream of YWRAAAAGHHH! that Gov. Howard Dean emitted on Monday night after he bellowed out his campaign itinerary? That's right, film fans... it was The Wilhelm!

- 1:51 pm, January 20 (link)

Primary sources

Oddly enough, if you were riveted to C-SPAN for Monday's Iowa caucuses, you got the real story of the night long before the networks did. Though I suppose it takes a strange sort of person to become "riveted" to C-SPAN. I think it's the foreign-ness of it. I don't spend much time watching the Canadian version, CPAC, even though its content bears directly on my professional responsibilities. C-SPAN's really doesn't, since it's easy for the National Post to get a well-informed take on American politics from Charles Krauthammer, David Frum, or John O'Sullivan. Yet on a night like tonight I can't resist wasting three hours watching what's supposed to be the most boring television station on the air.

And, just maybe, it was the right move. Network viewers will be left with only a crude second-hand picture of the Iowa festival. They didn't get to see the touching images of consensual democracy from the meeting of the Democratic Party in the Dubuque 20th precinct--like, say, the pretty yet hideous young Gephardt organizer whining felinely at uncommitted voters to cross over and help her candidate meet the 15% viability standard, in order to forestall the inevitable pantsing. Particularly poignant, in a revolting sort of way, was her effort to woo the entire Lieberman delegation--one fat, old Eskimo-looking Iowa lady who absolutely could not have been moved by a Caterpillar D10. That woman is basically my hero now. "No, sorry, I'm staying right here, thank you very much."

The network addicts also missed the grumblings over the deal made at the last minute by Kucinich and Edwards; nonviable supporters of the former agreed to come over to the latter camp in exchange for positions as pledged Edwards delegates who'd be "carrying Dennis's message of peace" to the county convention. (Editors inflating the Edwards boomlet, take note.) They missed the awesome spectacle of the viable sub-caucuses trying to choose county delegations from voters in a democratic manner while observing the federal party's "affirmative action" directive. Are there any other women who wanna go to the Fairgrounds? Hey, listennup, people, we need another lady type in the delegation heah... have we got any minorities? Jake, I don't suppose your exchange student theah is eligible ta vote...

Most of all, they missed the hubbub that, early on in the night, signalled the strong Kerry victory. In Dubuque 20, Kerry locked up half the delegates in a trice, and one tizzied female supporter with a cell phone was going around telling people "We're winning everywhere!" in the voice a 22-year-old fiancée would use to say "He bought me the Koh-i-noor Diamond!"

- 11:29 pm, January 19 (link)

Did he say "A comic-strip biography"?

An old referrer-log link from Sequential, a weblog devoted to the Montreal comics scene, reminds me that I should talk about Chester Brown's Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, which I bought for myself while Christmas shopping.

Let me tell you--the book is splendid, and everyone should look for it on the shelves of their local Android's Dungeon. Many people outside Canada will have heard of Riel, but won't know much about him. Most Canadians will have a vague basic idea of the Riel Rebellions of 1870 and 1885. If your father grew up in northwest Saskatchewan, as mine did, or in the valley of the Red River, Riel's tragic path will practically be family history to you. But no story ever benefitted more from the comic-book treatment: I'll admit that the battles of Duck Lake and Fish Creek were little better than hazy abstractions to me before I read Brown, even though I have a lot of experience (though never too much success) in trying to extract mental images from the brutally linear, textual stuff of conventional military histories.

These battles helped decide the future of Western Canada, the country, and the continent. The two rebellions are more important than they're normally given credit for: though they involved small numbers of soldiers, they were an important symbolic struggle between principled Gallic ideals of liberté and Victorian mercantilism. The Métis of the Red River and the Plains might have made an interim republic for themselves in 1885 if they'd had something better to place their trust in than Riel, who by then was suffering from advanced religious dementia. The long-term result probably would have been an American state in what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan. A sea-to-sea Canada would probably not have been viable.

Brown's treatment of the history is, on the whole, pretty rigorous about the details. You see the Northcote wheezing its way up the South Saskatchewan River just when you expect to. The author even makes a joke about the absurdity of creating a comic book with a bibliography, but this kind of meticulousness can only be admired. This is not a replacement for Riel scholarship, but it is a serious book, and if we have any sense, it will be read in Canadian schools for the next hundred years. In a way, a country doesn't even have a history until comic-book versions of its past exist.

Although Brown's treatment of Sir John A. Macdonald (the prime minister who fought Riel and allowed him to be executed) is necessarily a little, er, cartoonish, he extends just enough sympathy to be credible. Macdonald had a vision, and he was willing to tolerate a few frontier battles, a little bit of otherwise unnecessary bloodshed, to see it through. Brown doesn't gloss over Riel's weaknesses as a leader in 1870 or his madness in 1885. The real hero of the piece is Gabriel Dumont, Canada's Geronimo (or its Nestor Makhno), whose great-great-grandchildren still take pride in their illustrious descent. I would suspect anyone who didn't handle Dumont in this way of either extreme laziness or plain old shittiness of soul. Chester Brown, you are all right in my book, fella.

- 10:23 pm, January 19 (link)

Return to the quagmire

A plug from Michael of reminds me that I never followed up on the first part of my primer on Canadian politics. It got a strong response from American readers (are they "ignorant of Canada", as they're so often accused of being, just because Canada's never been explained to them properly?), so I'll push on despite feeling very self-conscious about the exercise. Remember that every Canadian has a different account of the country's past, recent or distant: if you ask two Canadians for a neutral explanation of Canadian politics, they'll most likely be fighting with each other in the first three minutes.

In the previous entry I introduced you to Paul Martin, the Liberal Prime Minister. The Liberals, simply put, are the broad centrist party of Canadian politics, the biggest of big tents. They have a presence in every region of Canada, and are backed by the rich and powerful, because it normally takes a very strong, hot ball of voter unrest to topple them. I don't think it is controversial to say that doing so becomes a harder project with each generation, because of Canada's immigration rates, the highest in the industrialized world save Israel's. New Canadians are attracted to begin with by the Liberal welfare/medicare state, are schooled in the Liberal pieties and the Liberal version of history when they arrive, and often find themselves living in close-knit communities overseen by Liberal-connected organizers. When you combine their ever-replenished numbers with those of obvious Liberal clients, a class which generally includes people who rely on federal handouts to some degree for their income, you see what an uphill battle the opposition faces. The grade becomes steeper when the Liberals have a Quebec leader, because Quebeckers won't vote for a party that doesn't have one. This is an observation that has very nearly the character of physical law, I'm afraid, in Canadian political science.

Until the fall, there were four other major political parties in Canada.

The Canadian Alliance--this had been the new name of the Reform Party, created in 1987 by Westerners who felt betrayed by Brian Mulroney's Conservative government. Mulroney was elected to a massive majority government in the wake of Reagan and Thatcher, and laissez-faire Westerners of libertarian and evangelical temper had high hopes for procedural and substantive reforms of the dirigiste Canadian state, and of the many federal programs and spending habits designed to keep Quebec in Confederation. When Mulroney tried to amend the Constitution to extend special status to Quebec, while continuing to run up debt and skew high-profile government contracts toward Quebec businesses, the Conservatives fractured. Reform, founded as a protest movement, soon won overwhelming electoral support in Western Canada. (It, or its ghost, is more popular here than the Liberals are anywhere.) The movement tried to go national with a procedural message, incorporating devolution of powers to all provinces, reform of Parliament's unelected upper chamber, and the curbing of some of Ottawa's worst porkbarreling excesses. The Liberals co-opted from their platform what was feasible (for Liberals), succeeded in characterizing the Western party to Ontarians as a gang of crazed racist rednecks, avoided socialist excess, and won three straight majorities. The Liberals continue to have a visegrip on the hundred or so Commons seats in Ontario and a solid core in the federalist parts of Quebec. That means they only need a tiny fraction of the vote outside Toronto and Montreal to keep down the rival parties.

The Bloc Quebecois--Reform's mirror-image in Quebec, formed in a similar schism (1990) when Mulroney's constitutional amendments failed to pass into law with the unanimous consent of the provinces. Mulroney's Quebec-nationalist cabinet minister Lucien Bouchard quit and started the BQ, which is the paradoxical agent of separatism in the national parliament. Quebec independence is the only item on their agenda, but naturally that goal has many corollaries in practical politics. Like most Quebec-separatist organizations, the BQ stands far to the left by English Canadian standards; in Quebec, labour unions and Quebecois public institutions are still considered agents of the common man's aspirations and of the survival of the French-Canadian culture in a sea of greedy Anglo corporations.

The Progressive Conservatives--formed in 1942 from an awkward merger between western agricultural Progressives and monocled eastern Tories, this had traditionally been Canada's even clumsier version of the Republican Party. As you can imagine from the preceding two paragraphs, life was hard for the PCs after 1990. Old Mulroney cabinet ministers and lifelong Tory voters hung on for dear life, but when the Western power base defected and Bouchard broke his alliance with Mulroney, the party was reduced to just two Commons seats in the 1993 election. Afterwards it bounced back very slightly as a soft, federalist RINO (right-wing in name only) alternative to the more subsiditarian and radical Reform/Alliance.

The New Democrats--Canada's social-democratic party, the NDP flies an orange flag to signify that it's Red with a yellow streak. In good times the New Democrats get about 20% of the vote and can wield power by denying the Liberals a majority government. The 1990s were not good times. Like all socdems in the Western world, the NDP was faced with a tough choice it still hasn't resolved. Remain a traditional organ of Marxian class warfare? Hard to do in a world where meatcutters and machinists own Ford Explorers and mutual funds. Opt for a Blairite Third Way approach? You need a Tony Blair (a ruthless, dynamic post-socialist with a personal following) for that. So the NDP has remained a conscience without a brain, adrift in a Dave Spart-esque chaos where the feminists squabble with the Indians and the union organizers squabble with the granolas. On top of all that, it can't make any headway in Quebec, where it has never won a seat in a general election. New Democrats believe in a strong federal government: that's anathema in a part of the country that would, tout en tout, prefer no federal government.

The key political events of 2003 were Paul Martin's takeover of the governing Liberals and the merger of the Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives, both of which had become exhausted, top to bottom, from their lack of electoral progress. The 2004 election will be a three-sided fight in English Canada, with the BQ battling the Liberals in Quebec.

The fight is simple in Quebec, since Quebec, as always, will vote its interest very cunningly. No, that's too crude a way of putting it. The rule, properly stated, is that Quebeckers will vote in a way that advances the cause of Quebec as a nation. There are cores of true believers on both sides--the urban, Liberal-voting Anglophone minority and the hardcore separatists in the boonies. But the choice for most voters is between the tough negotiating position of the BQ and the chance of winning Liberal favour.

The nuances of Quebec sentiment are almost too fine to capture in words, and hard to understand at all for an outsider. The BQ continued to be a going concern under Chretien because of Chretien's historical baggage--his old Trudeau Liberal view that Quebec and English Canada exist in a sort of happy symbiosis of mutual ownership. Chretien had Stéphane Dion in his cabinet; Dion is an academic who is a lonely symbol of this view, and he captained the Clarity Bill (2000) and secured the Supreme Court reference on Quebec separation (1998). Taken together, these two things are a sort of joint assertion by the federal government that Quebec may choose to leave Confederation, and will be allowed to go peacefully, but only after a "clear majority" vote on a clear referendum question regarding separation. This concession is an extraordinary one for a federal state to make after 1865. Opinions differ as to whether it has made Quebec any more comfortable in Canada, though active separatism is quite dormant now, and a majority of Quebeckers approved of the Clarity Bill. But the Bill and the reference leave an issue part-way open: who will decide what makes a clear majority and a clear question?

The federal government is determined that the federal government would have a say, especially since--and this is rarely mentioned out loud--the 1995 referendum on separation involved separatist vote fraud that was blantantly obvious from the rejected-ballot counts. In the self-victimizing mythology of Quebec nationalism, the insistence on a role for Ottawa in any separation procedure makes the Clarity Bill just another flavour of tyranny. (And, to be fair, it wouldn't be hard for large numbers of federalist ringers to claim Quebec residency for the purpose of voting in such a referendum, as some clearly did in 1995.) Martin has dropped Dion from cabinet, but as an Anglo business giant representing a Quebec riding, he may need to do more to take seats from the BQ.

I'll save the discussion of the new united Conservative party, the NDP, and the major personalities therein for another entry.

[UPDATE, January 21: Sam Mikes makes an instructive observation from the viewpoint of an American expat in Alberta.]

- 8:59 pm, January 19 (link)


What can politicians and businessmen learn from the NHL? Watch the new fiber-composite hockey sticks blow up in the hands of a Mats Sundin or a Dan Alfredsson, and you might conclude that "better" ideas aren't always better. That's the theme of my Monday column for the National Post.

- 3:13 pm, January 19 (link)

Use your ganglia

A correspondent to NRO's Corner on the day of Iowa's sham coronation makes "cauci" the plural of the word "caucus", though perhaps he does so tongue-in-cheek. This might be a suitable occasion to direct one and all to the Straight Dope's fun guide to plurals of foreign and foreign-derived words in English. I certainly learned a thing or two--although I did know that Detroit Red Wings fans throw octopodes onto the ice during the playoffs, and not octopi, I couldn't have told you that viscus was the hidden singular of "viscera".

TSD's language maven is silent on "caucus", but it's easily enough dealt with: since the pre-English origins of the word are mysterious, it won't do to treat it as anything but native English. If we don't send faces by fax machine, we should certainly attend caucuses, rather than cauci.

- 3:07 pm, January 19 (link)

Apologies for the lack of Saturday entries...

...I was lost in a universe of humble plastic tokens and human savagery, a universe known as Diplomacy.

- 11:00 pm, January 17 (link)

The not-so-great McGuinty

For the home crowd: a Friday morning Post column on how photo radar degrades the fabric of the polis. Just say no, Ontarians!

- 4:49 pm, January 16 (link)

Easterboner of the Day

God's Bestseller reminds us of what a twit Henry VIII was. I chortle each time today's conservative Anglicans or Episcopalians complain that gay union would trample "traditional" marriage. Their denominations were, after all, founded by a man who divorced five women, beheading some for amusement. -from Gregg Easterbrook's weblog, today

Well, we can tell Easterbrook's college degree isn't in history, anyway. Details are always a bit tricky, but technically the number of women Henry VIII divorced would be more like, um, one--that being the first of the six wives, Catherine of Aragon. His marriage with Wife #2, Anne Boleyn, was declared invalid by the new English church at his instigation. You could call that a "divorce", I suppose--but the term certainly isn't applicable to Jane Seymour, who died as consort, or to Anne of Cleves, the "Flanders mare" with whom Henry never consummated marriage. Catherine Howard was executed, which I wouldn't really call a "divorce" either.

The idea that Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were executed for "amusement" is equally silly. England, in Henry's time, was not far past a long epoch of succession struggles accompanied by what are still the bloodiest infantry battles to have taken place on the country's soil. His desire for a male heir, which prompted him to move on from Anne Boleyn, is perfectly comprehensible in terms other than mere "amusement". Raison d'état is cruel, but there's no need to belittle it. Her execution is less justifiable, but as mother of a female heir, she would have been a chronic danger to Henry as long as she lived. As for Catherine Howard, she does seem to have committed what was then the capital crime of adultery against the monarch. The law was on Henry's side, as any objective contemporary observer would have been. [UPDATE, January 17: Sarah Kelly has more, and more accurate, detail about the six wives.]

Bonus Easterboner: if you scroll down to a slightly earlier entry, you can catch Easterbrook playing a familiar card in the immigration-policy poker game:

Working conditions will almost surely improve for the millions of illegals who take the restaurant, lawn-service, cleaning, and other jobs that most Americans simply do not want.

All together now: at any price? Guess that degree isn't in economics, either. The most entertaining recent rebuttal of this idea that some jobs won't be performed by Americans for any wage whatsoever can be found under the byline of Kate O'Beirne:

According to the 2000 census, 87 percent of illegal immigrants are in 15 states, with about 80 percent in only 10 states. California ranks number one. About 6.5 percent of its total population of 33.9 million is estimated to be illegal aliens. Texas, New York, Illinois, and Florida rank in the top five states. But, 40 states have relatively insignificant illegal-immigrant populations.

Californians (with over 30 percent of all illegal aliens), Texans, (with 15 percent) and New Yorkers (with 7 percent) might understandably wonder who will take undesirable jobs if a willing pool of illegal aliens weren't available. They should check with Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, or any one of the majority of states to see how they cope.

[Emphasis mine.] What they'd find if they looked, of course, is a whole passel of economies that have never come to depend on undocumented migrant labour in the first place. No one can expect the economies of California and Texas to transform into their like overnight, but the incentives provided by the federal government will determine which way the wind blows.

- 4:38 pm, January 16 (link)

Hawkeyes pierced

There's an increasing clamour of impatience about the sheer madness of Iowa's caucusing system for choosing delegates to national party conventions, and about the power of the national media to spin the highly preliminary results which will emerge from the process. The latest Zogby tracking results show, basically, than Dean, Kerry, and Gephardt are in a three-way tie for the "lead" in the Iowa vote, with Edwards close behind in fourth. All right--ignore the questions about Zogby's methodology for the moment. Even if these numbers could be counted on, how much would they mean? It has been pointed out that at the precinct caucuses themselves, the voters first get together and eliminate "non-viable" candidates with less than 15% local support, creating a pool of loose fish who must decide on a second choice from among the survivors. This means that even though Candidates X and Y have the same statewide vote total, they could end up with dramatically different numbers of precinct delegates.

But there's a further, less commonly discussed complication here, which is that no delegates to the Democratic national convention are selected at the so-called "Iowa caucuses", at all. That part happens on April 24--when the precinct delegates selected on Tuesday will meet in congressional-district caucuses, the process of winnowing out non-viable candidates will happen all over again (using the same 15% cutoff), and the makeup of the Iowa delegation will actually be determined. Modelling this two-stage cull of non-viables is, simply, impossible. So the importance of the Tuesday vote would seem to be that it is a beauty contest, another mere poll in an endless series of polls--yet, somehow, more respectable than the widely scorned one that took place in the District of Columbia this week.

Am I wrong in thinking that D.C. might be owed an apology here? Is the premise that Iowa is more representative of the United States than the city of Washington? It is more representative in some ways, of course, but the state's political culture and the budget of the United States government have been distorted in well-known ways by this first-in-the-nation tradition. Yet no candidate dares challenge it too loudly, not even the ones who choose not to campaign in Iowa. Go on, tell me again how silly constitutional monarchies are...

- 2:34 am, January 16 (link)

Republican party reptile

After the September 11 calamity, one phenomenon forecast in some circles was the "death of irony" in American culture. It wouldn't have been polite to say so at the time, but I'll admit now, my immediate reaction to this was "Waitaminnit--you mean there's irony in American culture?" Ba-dump-tssssh!

I kid. But as often as irony is declared "dead", and as unreasonable as it was to think that all humour more refined than a seltzer blast down the pants would just go away, certain spots of satirical necrosis are, in fact, noticeable. Perhaps the best example is smarm maven Dennis Miller. A lot of people will tell you that Miller is a lightweight, a guy who uses arcane allusions to extort reflexive, half-mystified laughs from audiences. I think it's a bum rap, though there may be a grain of truth in it. You would find it hard to turn up many Millerian references that don't have a certain beautiful, weird logic to them. He's not just a name-dropper, but almost the constructor of a new medium. And I thought the Monday Night Football experiment was pretty courageous, though as even Miller admits, it was only right for him to give way to John Madden (the Pliny the Elder of football commentators--guess who called him that).

He was always pretty catholic in his targets, a genuine satirical outsider who occasionally could muster up the force of the best. Like it or not, 9/11 was the death of that Dennis Miller: he's gone all Republican and is now destined to play a different role. This is not to say that a committed right-winger can't be a comic performer of real worth: the time is past when the talent of a P.J. O'Rourke or a Florence King could be demeaned without contradiction. The problem is that it's not easy to be funny when your views are mutating--Miller has used the same "Can you blame me?" script in several dozen interviews now, it seems--and it's really not easy to be funny if you intend to run for office in the foreseeable future. The little electrical gate you need to switch on to protect yourself from saying something outrageous is the same one you need to disable, through years of work, to be a master of repartée.

When asked about an oft-bruited run against California Democratic senator Barbara Boxer, Miller's answer is "I'm not at the point where I would consider it." So... what, you've considered considering it, then? Once someone starts to tell the sort of casual lie that is universally accepted in public life (perhaps necessarily so), the lie can itself be taken a clear sign of political ambitions. Civilians don't talk like that.

- 1:34 am, January 16 (link)

What's so funny 'bout pease...

Warren "Transmetropolitan" Ellis loses his patience, to impressive effect:

So I'm reading this argument against GM crops over here in Little Britain, and some granola-crunching hippie who probably lives on rectum-paralysing medication to stop them constantly fountaining a stream of seed-riddled diarrhoea makes what they think is a point. Now, this person's brain is clouded by malnutrition and leaf mould, so maybe I should cut them some slack. But, frankly, these branch-gnawing Archaic Revival fuckwits have a life expectancy of about forty-five, they don't have to live through the world they're trying to visit upon the rest of us, and they should be swatted like the mayflies in bicycle clips they are.

So this thing says, "Don't we want our food to have stories?"...

- 9:56 pm, January 15 (link)

If Vishes were horses

The annual Corus chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Holland, is underway, signifying the start of the ever-shorter season during which the game is played at classical time controls. The situation for the top-echelon game has never looked bleaker. FIDE's plans for a unified world championship have fallen and they can't get up. And the best players now spend about the last seven months of each year playing in blitz or rapid events. How interesting would pro football be if there were no Super Bowl, important teams routinely refused to face each other, and the players insisted on participating mostly in ten-minute no-huddle indoor games? Even boxing isn't quite this messed up.

Still, at least we've figured out what to call popular world no. 3 Viswanathan Anand, who recently gave the press a much-needed primer on the correct form of address for a South Indian Brahmin. The link points to an interesting article by Frederic Friedel about the confusing onomastic situation in Anand's household, Russian patronymics, and other chess-relevant conventions.

In Russia your full name comprises a first name (imia); a patronymic (otchestvo); and surname (familiya). A person’s otchestvo is really important to know. My first raw encounter with the system was in the early eighties when I was visiting Moscow with Ken Thompson, the computer chess pionieer scientist who also invented Unix. He came in from New York, I from Hamburg, and we were put into different hotels. Since I could not locate him I decided to call our host, ex-world champion Mikhail Botvinnik. I tried, but someone spoke to me in Russian.

So I asked my Intourist guide to call for me. "You want to make phone call with great champion Botvinnik?" he asked in disbelief. When I convinced him it was okay, he said he would do it, but needed to know Botvinnik's otchestvo. Huh? "What is his father name?" he repeated in clarification. "I don't know," I said impatiently, "just call him, please." Why did he want to know Botvinnik's father's name?

But my Intourist guide was adamant. He actually went down the street to a bookstore and came back triumphantly with the information he needed to be able to call Botvinnik: Moiseevich, son of Moise (Moses). Without that he simply couldn't call--it would have been too rude to call him Mr. Botvinnik.

- 11:39 am, January 13 (link)

Radio ga-ga

Some few of you might have heard me on Vancouver's CKNW radio this afternoon, talking with host Jennifer Mather for a half-hour about my Monday morning column. I'm sorry if I rambled a little--that's not uncommon, because I always freak out before a show about not having enough to say, and so naturally I make a million little notes (mental and literal) and just go nuts when the segment starts. I figure that's not the worst mistake you can make on the radio, though it's close.

At one point during the broadcast, we were talking--or I was talking, and Ms. Mather was desperately trying to get a word in edgewise--have you noticed that the adverb "edgewise" occurs in only one context in English?--I was talking about NDP leader Jack Layton's style of machine-gun negative campaigning. This is how it probably sounded to listeners:

What's, umm, interesting about this is that in attacking, uh, attacking Paul Martin so tirelessly [nose makes weird whistling sound], Layton is, ah, trying something that is supposedly taboo in Canadian politics. It's supposed to be an axiom that you don't negative-campaign. But I think it's a [subsonic but obvious belch], a proposition that hasn't really been tested in Canada. This Howard Dean style is something nobody's tried here. [Weird whistling sound resumes]

The media have told us one billion times that Canadians are "too nice" to entertain "negative" campaigning, and perhaps we have, as a result, come to accept this as a social norm. But I don't quite believe it, and I don't believe that "negative ads" are the devil, either. When I brought it up in the segment, the host immediately mentioned the 1993 Conservative ad that is still Canada's canonical example of negative tactics. The ad applied a visual distorting effect to Jean Chretien's face while viewers heard spoken text to the effect of "Is this the man you want representing your country?". It was universally perceived as having made fun of the facial paralysis Chretien has suffered since boyhood. The country went ballistic with self-righteousness for about 48 hours, and Tory numbers dropped from the basement to the eighth level of the Inferno. And, for ten years, Chretien really did represent us on the world stage--a possibly unforeseen outcome of our instinctual indignation on his behalf.

Mentioning the '93 ad is a reflex I understand, because I think of it myself when I talk about negative campaigning. You can't not think of it, in Canada. But it occurred to me to ask a question this afternoon, while I was quietly postmorteming the radio appearance: would any American political campaign ever have made the mistake the Tories did in '93? Would any U.S. spin doctor have let something like that through?

I believe the answer is "no". It's not that the ad was unfair: American politicians have been using blatantly unfair ads since LBJ's people dropped their "Daisy" cutter. It's that it was unfair in a way people won't tolerate. It wasn't funny or ambivalent enough to carry a burden of innuendo, and no one could have thought its perceived target--Chretien's infirmity--have anything to do with his fitness to lead. You can cast subliminal aspersions on a person's patriotism or his masculinity, even creep right up to the edge of calling him a hydrocephalic jackanapes. The Tories would have been well in bounds to edit together a 30-second clip of Chretien's Martian lingo in either official language. But why did a passel of Canadian Conservative advisers think people would tolerate making fun of a disability? Or fail to notice that the ad might have that effect? Stupid, or stupider?

Negative advertising is a balancing act which sometimes backfires and, sometimes, works out fine. The 1993 Chretien's-face ad didn't prove that Canadians don't like negative ads; it proved only that they need to be executed with a modicum of subtlety to succeed. The other example of backlash in the Canadian canon of nicedom is a 1997 Reform Party ad which asked exactly how much longer Canada was going to be governed from Quebec, anyhoo. Reform war-roomer Andre Turcotte later made a strong inferential case from the poll numbers that the ad had helped increase Reform's support in Ontario: it didn't seem to hurt, in any event, and the Quebec question was a fair one to put before the voters, especially since the answer now seems to be "forever".

Speaking of the honourable member for La Salle-Émard, his website now appears to contain his own self-negating ad!--That's right! Our new prime minister plays with dolls! (Actually, he's just cooperating with a clever school project. We categorically reject the vicious rumours that Flat Mark was later found to be holding five separate Liberal membership cards, all paid for from the proceeds of a hashish plantation in Revelstoke.)

- 1:11 am, January 13 (link)

A website for those over 50, or 300 wins

Unintentional Comedy Dept.--this was visible tonight at the bottom of the New York Times' story about Roger Clemens un-retiring and signing with the Houston Astros:

- 8:15 pm, January 12 (link)


Today's Post column is a quickie survey, held together by a questionable extended metaphor, of the federal political scene.

- 11:47 am, January 12 (link)

Teach a man to fish

It's not every day you get an obituary that contains a recipe.

- 9:16 am, January 11 (link)

It was just a meal, you know?

On Thursday the New York Post's gossip column reported on a Satyricon-like bout of gastronomy and boozing by the Edmonton Oilers, who ran up a $20,000 tab at Bruno's on East 58th St. and left a $6,000 tip. The Saturday Edmonton Sun has an elaborate apologia for the adventure, which ended at roughly 4 a.m. at the Suede nightclub [isn't "Suede" just this side of "leather"? -ed.] You can read the whole thing if you're quick enough--Sun links don't last quite as long as an Oiler roadtrip pissup.

Last night, [Ryan] Smyth told the Sun from Philadelphia the meal was a new take on an old tradition. Six rookies were in tow, along with some of the training staff, he said.
"Way back when, they used to initiate them by shaving the rookies and painting them, and they'd be painted for a week or two because the paint wouldn't come off," he said.
"Now it's more or less go out for a nice, fine dinner."
Dubbing the event an "epic night of drinking," however, the gossip column says players washed steak, lobster, veal and pasta down with oceans of expensive wine and cognac.

We trust that "tradition" wasn't responsible for the inexcusable penalty Smytty took with 113 seconds left in Thursday's game against the Islanders. The Isles scored on the resulting power play to win 3-2, making Smyth possibly the wrong guy to be absorbing the media flak here.

Some of you may not, incidentally, be able to decode the reference to the tradition of "painting" a rookie. What they specifically shave and paint, or at least what they used to paint before the era of litigation and expensive health insurance, was the rookie's testicles.

Smyth said he didn't recall the amount of the bill, but the night was nothing extravagant and out of the ordinary.
The food was great, he said. Otherwise, the party was just a normal initiation for the rookies.
"As veterans you have fun with them and you tell a few jokes and laugh and stuff. And that's what it's all about," Smyth said. "Team bonding and building some chemistry and making the young guys feel welcome and eager to play and be a part of the team."

Again, there's a certain lack of specificity here: the whole point of the tradition is for the meal to be obscenely expensive--and for the rookie, or rookies, to foot the bill. In the past they were expected to do so with their first NHL paycheque, but in a 30-team league, an Eastern road trip is a once-a-year special occasion for which everyone saves his bacchanalian energies. The one thing Smyth's definitely being candid about is that he didn't know the final amount.

- 6:57 pm, January 10 (link)

Strange McNamara

It's strange... to feel that you're simultaneously learning an enormous amount about history and politics and having your ability to form clear judgments about what you're learning clouded and compromised. - A.O. Scott, writing about Errol Morris's Fog of War in Slate's Movie Club

"Strange"? This sentence made me do a bit of a double-take, as I had assumed that the distinctive queasiness of which Scott speaks was a natural result of a liberal education--at least, a suitably fortified one. Can you become a high-paid American intellectual these days without having discovered that inquiring deeply into some historical nexus rarely makes moral judgments about it easier? Apparently so. "At the New York Times, anyway," I hear some of you add.

One shouldn't make too much of the Movie Club, which is just fun year-end riffing, but I had thought the basic justification for the stuffed shirt's existence was that he was more cultured than us. A.O. (Midcentury Initials Alert!) is practically a caricature of the pretentious yet postmodern film critic--the kind of guy who would rather watch The Sorrow and the Pity than Blade Runner, but at the same time feels like that's a "preconception" that requires an apology.

- 5:44 pm, January 10 (link)

Hand of doom

George Will's overview of Gregg Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox is online; he is generally impressed with its message, which signifies, as one might have anticipated, that the book is better-designed to appeal to conservatives than to libertarians. Virginia Postrel had a go at Easterbrook in the New York Post last week, having been enraged by Easterbrook's liberal nostrums. As she notes, and as I wrote for the American Spectator in November, this is a book that recommends a near-doubling of the U.S. minimum wage without mentioning unemployment. Of course, I gave the book a mildly positive notice anyway, because I thought broaching of the "paradox" was timely.

One thing Easterbrook might have expanded upon in exploring our material condition, a thing that's fascinated me since my days awash in Edwardian and interwar newspapers, is the way that people used to die of infection, and of now-easily-treatable medical problems, so easily. The slightest scrape could do in a healthy adult until after the Second World War. Take a look at some of the stuff that used to carry off old-time ballplayers, physically fit people, at ages under 50. "Dropsy"? That's edema--we can treat that with diuretics. Syphilis and consumption (tuberculosis) are bacterial infections; drug resistance is causing some trouble in treating them now, but you won't hear of a professional athlete dying from them. Nor of "blood poisoning", i.e., sepsis. Cholera and typhoid went out with the buggy whip and the cold phosphate. 30-year-old Jimmy Gardner died in 1905 from an ear abscess, which sounds like a sick joke but actually wasn't terribly uncommon then. I don't know how anybody kept from just going insane before antibiotics existed, with death lurking around every corner.

- 9:15 am, January 10 (link)

Weddings, parties, bar mitzvahs

Harvey Pekar is the subject of my Friday Post column. Harvey has a weblog he hasn't touched since October, although I think the "CLICK HERE to Have Harvey Speak At Your Next Event!" notice is fairly new, and at least suggests he hasn't gotten sick or depressed or anything.

- 1:31 pm, January 9 (link)

An invitation to babble

Loyal reader and first-rate weblogger Richard Ames writes:

Re: your "Man on horseback"--it just amazes me that you Canadians can write so intelligently about American political personalities. ...[Other than a couple of] Canadian notables I don't have a clue of the Canadian political personalities. And please believe me when I say that I am one of the more informed Americans when it comes to such things, which is, I know, rather pathetic. Who is Canada's Al Sharpton? Your Bill Clinton? Ronald Reagan? Newt Gingrich? Your Hillary? A piece along these lines would be extraordinarily educational and fun for us Americans to read.

Canada starts with a population base one-tenth the size of the U.S.A.'s, and after correcting for thirty years of brain drain one is left with a good deal less talent up here. Furthermore, our policy debates are overlaid by obvious ethnic and constitutional faultlines which the U.S. doesn't possess. So it's small wonder that Canada doesn't produce exact analogues of prominent Americans. It's interesting, by the way, that Richard mentions Newt Gingrich, who may have been the most remarkable communicator in American politics since Reagan. Gingrich has acquired a skunky odour that still allows the Democrats to conjure him up as a political boogerman, despite the enduring pro-Republican effects of the Contract With America (which seems to have failed as a long-term strategy solely through being unfulfilled). Shouldn't the Republicans try running a Newt for president just once? Having Jack Kemp on the bottom half of the ticket doesn't quite count.

Anyway, a thumbnail sketch of Canadian politics, anno 2004, would show that, for the foreseeable future, Parliament will continue to be controlled by the Liberals, our analogue to the centrist parties that tend to dominate European countries for decades on end. It is telling that the Liberals are able to pull this off in a Westminsterian democracy, where first-past-the-post electioneering keeps the fringe parties down. Our opposition parties do an adequate job of fringe-ifying themselves, it seems.

The new head of government, replacing familiar G8 comic foil J.J.J. Chretien, is Paul Martin Jr., 65. A shipping magnate, Martin is considered the richest PM since R.B. Bennett (1930-35), and may be the richest ever. As one might expect, Martin is a calculating, managerial politician rather than a visionary. He resembles British treasurer Gordon Brown more than he does any American figure, only he had the good luck of being finance minister to a much more vulnerable PM. Martin made himself the cabinet's indispensable man while creating a cult that took over the party at the operational level with shocking speed and ruthlessness. He forced Chretien to fire him while there was still some vigour left in his career. Within a year, supreme power was his. Blair isn't foolish enough to give Brown that sort of opening.

What Martin will do with the power remains unclear. His life in business creates the presumption that he will streamline the federal government and avoid ambitious program spending, ruling from the "right". This is reinforced by his record as Finance Minister--but he held that job in a period of deficit-fighting for all Western governments. And, on the other hand, Martin's father, who was the leading figure on the English side of the Liberal Party for years, was a committed member of the welfarist left. Martin Sr. would have been Prime Minister, without doubt, but the timing didn't work out. The Liberal Party observes an unwritten but sacred rule that it must alternate between "English" and "French" leaders. Martin Sr. ran for the leadership three times. In 1948, it was the French turn; in 1958, he was up against the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize winner; and in 1968, it was the French turn again.

The common temptation is to psychoanalyze the son as the father's revenge on the Liberal Party--the Perfect Beast, assembled in a subterranean lab (with programming for seamless bilingualism) for the purpose of taking over the Liberal machine. But Junior, being a pensioner, doesn't make a very convincing Hamlet. Martin is more properly considered as a rebel against the Chretien style. It's true that the Liberals believe in no policy principle but eternal Liberal power, but they do believe in governing well, if it doesn't interfere with winning elections. (The god Liberals worship in public is Pierre Trudeau; the one they bow to in private is C.D. Howe.) What enabled Martin to take over the party was, I believe, widespread Liberal impatience with Chretien's cronyism, his strange brainfarts, his autocratic instincts, and his apparently limitless patronage of mediocrities and sleazebags. Martin has ascended on an unstated promise of competence and probity, and that is the aura he will personally try to project, even if he is forced (poor man) to build a cabinet from the crooked timber of the Liberal caucus.

All democratic politicians, perhaps, face the choice of cajoling the voter into one of two attitudes: "I trust him because he's smarter than me," or "I trust him because he's just like me." Martin certainly has no hope of succeeding with the latter approach, yet he doesn't come off as detached, either; he'd fail the Margarine Test catastrophically, but it doesn't matter. (The Margarine Test is my name for the trap G.H.W. Bush fell into when he expressed astonishment at seeing a bar-code scanner in a grocery for the first time. The reference is to the episode of the perpetually instructive Yes, Prime Minister in which the bolshie feminist councilwoman catches Sir Humphrey unawares by asking him how much a pahnd of mar-jar-ein costs.) The power of the Canadian elite is the more entrenched because it's not defined by an accent, by conspicuous consumption, or by glamour. All it does is run the country. Sometimes I even consider the possibility that I'm not grateful enough for the way it does it.

Anyway, I'm rambling--though I've certainly owed you a proper ramble--and I need to decide what I'm going to write for Friday's paper. Monday's column, by the way, is online if you haven't seen it yet. This is your starting point for background material you may want to explore. I'll come back here later and talk about some of the other important chess pieces in Canadian politics.

[UPDATE, January 19: Continued here.]

- 5:02 am, January 8 (link)

Man on horseback

What really surprises me is that no one has yet seen where the Democratic presidential campaign is really headed. I mean, look at the field, honestly. You've got Dean, the unelectable insurgent, the time bomb who's already detonated several times over; you've got Clark, who apparently has never heard of George B. McClellan; you've got Lieberman, trying to remake the Democrats as the Anti-Fun Party, Edwards, a member of the most loathed profession in the United States, Gephardt, who is basically Pat Paulsen, and Al Sharpton, who is, for God's sake, Al Sharpton. And, joke candidates aside, you've got John Kerry, who at this point has to be actually looking to the historical example of Michael Dukakis for hope and succour. Clearly this is a group which is just waiting around to be swept away by a late-arriving saviour.

And I think somewhere in the back of our minds we all know, without formulating the thought explicitly, who it's going to be. Let me just remind you that Chappaquiddick was thirty-five years ago, and after Monica, the American people are ready for a Democrat who knows how to take a firm hand in his personal life. Am I right?

- 5:51 am, January 6 (link)

I'll have the astro-crèpe with galaxy berries

I watched Apollo 13 for about the third time on Friday, being a sucker (probably by sheer timing of birth) for the Golden Age of Spaceflight. Did you ever wonder, watching the movie, whatever became of that solemn young Jay Lovell, who watched the TV coverage of the mission with his friends at military school? The natural assumption would be that he ended up flying for the Navy or something, but foodies in Lake Forest, Ill., know different.

- 5:32 pm, January 4 (link)

Have an apple, luv

In Canada, where the fixed term of copyright is still, y'know, fixed, January 1 was a day in which thousands of new artistic works were welcomed into the Valhalla of public domain. Lawrence Lessig relates a correspondent's report through gnashing teeth:

...[T]oday, the published works of people who had the good sense to die in 1953 have become public domain in Canada and any other country which retains the life-plus-50 rule for copyright term. These people include Polish poet Julian Tuwim, British mathematician Alan Turing, Dutch children’s author Hugo Pilon, Russian author and Nobel laureate Ivan Bunin, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, metaphysical author Baird Spalding, Norwegian novelist and Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun, playwright and Nobel laureate Eugene O’Neill (1953 was a bad year for Nobel laureates!), Irish poet and Yeats’ one-time lover Maud Gonne, Welsh poet and playwright Dylan Thomas (bad year for poets!), country music singer-songwriter Hank Williams, French author Hilaire Belloc, American historian J.G. Randall, Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (bad year for Russians!), founder of Saudi Arabia Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud, Maria Montessori of school fame, and many more.

Looks like I can finally get to work finishing that one-man arrangement of the Lieutenant Kijé Suite. I just have to glue some sleigh bells to a hat and I'm ready to rock!

(Incidentally, one has to admire the appalling taste of referring to Alan Turing's suicide as "good sense", doesn't one?)

- 3:59 am, January 3 (link)

The doh! moment of 2003

The yearning eyes of concerned cows and stunned North American cattlemen are turned uniformly in this direction this weekend, as the federal government investigates the possibility that the same Edmonton plant may have provided feed to both the single BSE case in Canada and the one discovered last month in Washington State. The Northern Alberta Processing Co. must be given the full benefit of the doubt, and may not have broken any laws even if it used beef by-products in cattle feed before August 1997. Still, this excerpt from a May 24 Edmonton Journal story--in which plant owner Barry Glotman complains that Canada's BSE scare is hurting his business--may already be good for a bitter laugh or two.

The $300-million Canadian [rendering] industry exports about half of its product. The BSE scare means that it won't be able to sell that export half of its production, Barry Glotman, spokesman for West Coast Reduction Ltd. in Vancouver, said Thursday. His company owns six plants in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, including Northern Alberta Processing in Edmonton, where the carcass of the suspect cow was rendered, minus the head.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency found that the plant, located on the eastern outskirts of Edmonton, followed all the federal rules for keeping records and for ensuring that cattle products did not go into feed for other cattle.

Glotman said the export ban on beef will have a "huge effect" on his business. "Right now the rendering industry in Canada is somewhat in turmoil because there are a lot of unanswered questions of where the marketplace is going to be in the fallout of what has happened," he said.

- 3:46 am, January 3 (link)

Kid gloves

The inexhaustible Canadian power trio Rush has never, to my knowledge, covered "Every Picture Tells a Story", but in the aftermath of guitarist Alex Lifeson's bloody New Year's brawl at the Naples, Fla. Ritz-Carlton, maybe they should think about adding it to the set. Darron Silva's photo for the Naples Daily News captures the poignancy of a 50-year-old Canadian, looking every minute of his age and then some, whose foray into Keith Moon-style chaos was mistimed by a good quarter-century. And sure enough, there's a dork behind him with a hand-scrawled "Free Alex" sign. Uh, buddy, he's leaving the prison--that suggests they have freed him.

The account by Alex's son Justin suggests that Junior was stun-gunned first, causing Dad's long-suppressed Chetnik instincts to suddenly effloresce with felonious consequences. But the family that's tased together stays together, right?

- 11:22 pm, January 2 (link)

I saw Mummy flaying Santa Claus

My new National Post column about Satanic-abuse panics is online.

- 9:03 am, January 2 (link)

But maybe Andy Rooney disagrees

Lake Superior State University has engaged in its annual exercise in futility, releasing its Hogmanay list of Banned Words for 2004. Leading the charge is "metrosexual"... well, that one was really rather DOA, wasn't it? One's time would be better spent thumping more robust novelties.

I'll probably use the list as a low road to a Monday column (Friday morning's is already in the can), in the best tradition of the sleepy, corpulent newspaperman. I will say, though, that I'm of two minds on "embedded journalist". On one hand, since there was a clear operational distinction between embeddeds and independents during the Gulf War, we needed some phrase, and it's hard to see how this one would be more objectionable than another. Any protest against the practice of embedding is beside the point--and, indeed, argues in favour of the concept's usefulness.

On the other hand... an "embedded journalist" is just a tarted-up "war correspondent", no? During the World Wars, reporters not only travelled alongside individual Allied and German units, but carried arms and bore military rank. A whole lot of people who ought to have known better seemed awfully excited about this new invention, the "embedded journalist". Whoopee ding balls, you're embedded: now shut up and eat your fucking MRE.

What is, or was, wrong with the phrase "war correspondent"? Why did I watch an entire war without hearing this phrase once that I can remember? Does it seem too pompous for our contemporaries to wear a mantle sanctified by the Greatest Generation? We had guys over there getting killed and having their hands blown off by RPGs: I think they've earned the right to a dignified name.

- 4:55 am, January 1 (link)