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Via Lew

Two links from the fine, the news site of the founder of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama.

· The Mises Institute's Robert P. Murphy says that there's a part of the Pledge of Allegiance which is, indeed, objectionable, and which conflicts with the original American credo. No, it's not "under God". It's that bit about the Republic being "indivisible".

· A rumination from Robert X. Cringely, a tech writer who has something of George Gilder's enthusiasm without the fatal Teilhardian hubris. Cringely is always very interesting. Here he talks about eBay, which in the face of the "tech slump" has invisibly become one of the largest employers in the United States. We don't think of the people who earn their living selling things on eBay as "eBay employees", but they're doing new jobs that wouldn't exist without eBay, and eBay's value as a business depends on their activity. Cringely doesn't quite go this deep, but is this the future face of the business corporation? Will our children work "for" companies without ever entering into a classic employee-boss relationship with them?

- 9:42 pm, July 31

Just put it in the hole

The first slam-dunk in a WNBA league game has taken place. The dunker was Lisa Leslie, the biggest celebrity of distaff basketball, which leads one to surmise that the league's players agreed to let her be first, as a mark of respect. Until now, although quite a few women can dunk, an intense cultural prejudice against dunking existed in the WNBA. It was, and is, seen almost universally within the women's game as a showy and even unfortunate part of the modern men's game. Partly for feminist reasons, and partly for marketing reasons, the women like to be seen as playing a strong "fundamental" game: low on brawling and intimidation, high on accurate shooting and passing. The WNBA has been very, very successful at promoting the notion that it plays an attractive and somehow more "authentic" form of the game, analogous to women's tennis.

I always found the gentlewoman's agreement about dunking to be slightly troubling--if you're going to agree to leave valid strategies out of the game, why are you pretending to compete with one another? But I have to admit that I don't stay awake nights worrying out the same phenomenon in baseball. There's no formal rule, as far as I know, against "stealing" the catcher's signals and relaying them to the batter, but it's considered not quite cricket. There's certainly no rule, as Bill James pointed out in The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers, against declaring your starting pitcher and yanking him out of the game immediately to gain the platoon advantage against the opposing lineup. It's an infallible strategy, but managers don't do it, except maybe once every 20 years in the playoffs: again, this is simply a matter of form. Once one guy starts using the tactic, everyone starts doing it, and everyone's life is made more difficult as a consequence. It's a matter of preventing an arms-race-type process. The chicks are 100% entitled to construct the parameters of their game, outside the rules, in the same manner. I'm guessing Leslie has been allowed to dunk at this time to prevent some anti-social young rookie from going off the reservation and bagging the "record" for herself. It won't become common.

The real question I have is, can Wojtyla dunk?

- 6:38 pm, July 31

Or, as I call them, COMMMMIX.

Newspaper comics: to a social historian, they are nuggets of civilization preserved in amber. To a newspaper reader, however, they are an increasingly ignored triviality. As editors have squeezed the comic section (formerly the "comic page") to the limits of legibility, the form itself has responded by becoming static and impossibly banal. We experienced a brief golden age when "Calvin and Hobbes" and "The Far Side" drew us to the comics (some would argue for a trinity including the derivative and gigantically overrated "Bloom County", which tried unsuccessfully to outdo "Doonesbury" in post-hippie naïveté). Alas, the comic section is no longer any place for an artistic performer. The very good "Dilbert" is a sort of rearguard stalwart of a form in decline. As with the literature of imperial Rome, imagination has departed, but satire is still possible.

Looking over the stable of the King Features Syndicate one notices that North American comic pages have become a palimpsest of the shopworn and the downright retrograde. The spirit of every recent decade is there, but no one at all has stepped forward to speak for the now. Incredibly, at least three of the socially concerned "soap opera" comics created by Nicholas P. Dallis ("Apartment 3-G", "Rex Morgan, M.D.", and "Judge Parker") in the '50s are still running, even though three-panel soap episodes were a crappy idea then and are much crappier in a world of MTV-trained nervous systems. The "trials and tribulations of marriage" genre has outlived marriage itself (see "The Lockhorns" and "The Better Half"--remember that idiom, "better half"?). "Sally Forth" is still sallying forth with '80s lessons about working moms, for those who just haven't quite gotten a clue yet. ("Dear editor: I'm confused--the protagonist of this comic is neither barefoot nor pregnant. Are you perhaps Bolsheviks?") "Mark Trail", God help us, is still fomenting hate crimes against men with facial hair, and his son is still "adopted" so you won't get the idea that he and the Mrs. ever got up to anything funny. "Funky Winkerbean" survives with a name, and a striving for "relevance", that's as '70s as blacklight posters and Schoolhouse Rock.

On the rare occasions they're presented with anything new that's worth the ink, editors will try to make room by displacing some of these relics. The inevitable result: a mass of threatened cancellations and a hasty editorial climbdown. When the Beacon-Journal tried to ditch "Prince Valiant", people actually complained that the comic was valuable for teaching history (which it isn't) to children (who don't read it). Why do people care, or pretend to care? It seems the comic section is a comforting layer cake of history--every reader has his own preferred refuge, a frozen part of the past to rub soothingly against, daily. (For some, it may even be the goddamn "Family Circus".) This layered nature, of course, practically signifies the death of the newspaper comic. What you're seeing there is a pile of corpses. Syndicated daily strips are still the steadiest money a cartoonist can earn, but you don't see Art Spiegelman or Dan Clowes going to the trouble.

- 11:05 am, July 31

Formerly known as

I've. Never. Laughed. So. Hard... (deep breath) my entire life.

The domain name is unique to me, I should think. But the numbered IP address corresponding to it?... well, that turns out to be another matter entirely. This Web site for role-playing games on the Web contains a link to the defunct "Lair of the Copper Dragon". Clicking this link will let you see, sort of, what the Lair used to look like. The link from leads to the numbered IP address where the aforesaid Dragon used to live... but the Dragon no longer lives there. I do.

My apologies to role-playing dorks for the decided absence of wyverns and beholders. We're under new management, you see.

- 2:12 am, July 31

Doc Savage

(Link via The Corner) Hey there, America's favourite gay alt-weekly sex-advice columnist! Tell us what you read in your spare time!

"National Review, The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal..."

Dan Savage reads a lot else, of course, but he led off his reading list in this Media Bistro interview with the Holy Trinity of conservative journalism. Shurely shome mishtake? Nope: he specifically cites his first mention in NR as a career highlight and praises the immortal Florence King.

Digression: one of the highlights of my career was being told by the Report's books editor, when I still had time to review books, that any book already reviewed by Florence King somewhere else had to go directly into my hands. At that time, according to her, I was the only reviewer in the stable who wouldn't look ridiculous compared to Miss King. Well, everybody looks ridiculous compared to Florence King, actually: but how pleasant to have someone say otherwise.

Lest there be any lingering doubt about Dan's honesty (and if you've read his column you know the very idea is ridiculous), here's his "take" on the pedophilia crisis in the Catholic Church.

I think the problem is gay priests. People get mad at you for saying that. The problem isn't gay people. The kinds of gay men who would be attracted to the priesthood are, by definition, conflicted, fucked-up, self-hating psycho priests. Of course those are the kinds of gay men who will act out in inappropriate ways. Going to work for an organization that tells you that you suffer from an intrinsic moral disorder says something about what you think about your own desires and the kind of person you are.

Savage is going to be... well, savaged for saying such a thing. But he's reached an honest position, plainly spoken, that ostensibly seems just to both gay men and Catholics. You can imagine either sort of person agreeing with it. It is hard to imagine a gay Catholic priest agreeing with it, but then, Danny is implicitly asking gay Catholic priests a very tricky question, isn't he?

It is entirely typical for Savage to cut through the crap with a buzzsaw like this. No, his column isn't family-friendly reading ("Once you get two or three letters from 'mom-fucking poo-eaters,' you are just not shocked by anything anymore," he says), but you've got to love the way he annihilates the expectations of the people who write in. His pet peeve, I've noticed, is people who want to know if they're "normal." Typical question: "Dear Dan, I like to smell my softball teammates' unwashed jocks while my girlfriend spanks me. Am I normal?" The typical answer is, no, you're not normal, you filthy deviant. He'll usually go on to give very sensible advice as to how one's deviancy can be accommodated, if possible (it isn't always), within the limits of hygiene, health, and privacy. But he's not especially interested in making anyone feel good at truth's expense. He's a rigorous, intrepid man I've always kind of admired.

- 1:03 am, July 31

The seismics of schismatics

Could the Liberal Party of Canada be steering towards self-destruction? Angelo Persichilli of the Hill Times wants to know. A Liberal strategist sends confusing messages, telling the Times that up to 60 MPs (some of them ministers) may be ready to strike out on their own as "Independent Liberals." Read on, though, and the source says it's "very unlikely to happen."

The story behind the story is crystal clear. Persichilli's source is obviously a Martinite who has planted this story in order to neutralize Chretien's nuclear weapon in the fight against Paul Martin--namely, his constitutional privilege of requesting that Parliament be prorogued. The Martinites have a very, very good poker hand in the challenge at next year's leadership convention: they seem to hold the organizational reins in nearly every province. The fear has been that to cut off a referendum on his leadership, Chretien would call a general election in 2002, pleading with the public that he needs a more solid mandate. Like Lloyd George, he fancies that he can use the country as a counterweight to his party. He may even be right: but according to what this source is saying, or advising, or warning, Chretien had better not try it or he'll find himself 60 ships short of a navy. A quick writ wouldn't leave time for Chretien to deal with the dissenters in the traditional ways, although he could doubtless pursue the same scorched-earth policy that Hitler did in the spring of '45.

Incidentally, memo to Dennis Mills, whose ranting provides a back end for Persichilli's piece: please climb off the high horse, we can smell the road apples. You call the challenge to Chretien's leadership "unprecedented", but actually, Captain History, this is the way Westminster-model parliaments are supposed to work (I direct your attention to the interwar history of the UK); if anything is "unprecedented", it is the Führerprinzip on which the Commons has run for 30 years now. Then you mention that disloyal cabinet members have "screwed" Chretien by ignoring policy and brushing off MPs. Who do you think picked the cabinet, buddy? Who picked them???

- 10:58 pm, July 30

Who's next

You know, maybe I shouldn't fight the Romanization of my blog... they do say it's the place all roads lead. I mean, I go the whole day without updating and what's the first thing I find worth discussing? A Christian Science Monitor thumbsucker about the identity of the next Pope. I react to these stories the way all you RCs probably do: instant irritation. Almost all contain obvious falsehoods and wishful thinking. This one's not so bad, but it thrusts forward the usual lot of undistinguished Latin Americans and the favourite candidate of dreamers, Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria. Somehow I can't see those crusty 70-year-old Italian Sopranos extras in the red hats casting a ballot for a man who was born and raised an animist. I expect an Italian pope, not too young, who occupies a high (probably Curial) position already. People don't like to predict that because it's no fun, but I think that's where the smart money lies. You only get oddball choices, like Karol Józef Wojtyla, in the event of a crisis.

I probably shouldn't jinx the poor Holy Father, but you know, just because he's got a Parkinsonian tremor and he's a bit stooped doesn't mean he's at death's door by any means. I realize I poked a little fun at his vigour just last week myself, but his vigour isn't the issue; it's the rate of decline. Old men, and particularly heads of state with access to the absolute best of medical care, can survive a long time in a condition like John Paul's. Think of your own grandparents. Didn't you have at least one who was half-crazy and unable to poop, but who broke 90 anyhow?

Is ten more years really out of the question for this Pope? I should say not. And how many of the current favourites in articles like the CS Monitor's will still be credible in 2012?

- 7:04 pm, July 30

For those arriving from the Relapsed Catholic...

...the post you're looking for is down here--just click this link. Jeez, I think I need to either find someone else to link to me or just go ahead and be received into the Church. Papists to the left of me, Papists to the right! But that's not a bad thing at all. Roman Catholics clearly have an edginess, a certain intellectual élan, that Protestants, as a rule, lack.

They are also doctrinally permitted to hold that the Darwinian theory of evolution is broadly true. In keeping with my role as Footnotes to Relapsed Catholic, I will proclaim my dissent from the Intelligent Design triumphalism of my dear friend Ted Byfield. Ted seems to expect that any day now, scientists faced with the devastating theoretical challenge posed to Darwinism by the ID crowd will force the mainstream of biologists to abandon Darwinism--a theory about whose workings in fine there remain many questions--and take up belief in an Intelligent Designer for whose existence there is not yet any "evidence", properly speaking.

Well, this might happen, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays may win the World Series, too. But the funny thing is, if scientists ever made a decision like that en masse, we'd be sort of stuck, wouldn't we? "How do we get transitions from one species to another? God did it." Abandon your typewriters and laboratory work, boys, all you need do is go home and try to figure out which of the world's religious traditions is the right one.

Sorry, I don't see that happening. Science is the search for mechanistic explanations of observed phenomena. When Kepler discovered that the planets moved in ellipses, scientists didn't say "Wow! God!" and adjourn, although they were temporarily ignorant of the cause of what Kepler saw; instead, they searched for a mechanistic explanation. And found one, notwithstanding the Byfields of the day. When the Michelson-Morley experiment failed to produce evidence for the existence of the aether, scientists didn't say "That's all she wrote, boys. Electromagnetic forces are whispered in the ears of bodies by God." They revised, re-experimented, rethought. ID, right or wrong, is, in its nature, a final answer to a scientific question, because the nature of God cannot be investigated. Such a final answer, in science, is a contradiction in terms. Call ID what you like, but don't call it, or teach it as, science.

- 11:52 am, July 30

Reader bogus bonus

For those who just can't get enough, here's an op-ed I wrote about capital punishment that was rejected by the Citizen only after it was too late to re-write it and sell it somewhere else. (This is bad editorial form, but the piece was unsolicited and it's the first time the Citizen has done that to me. With me, every dog gets at least one bite.) To compound the fiasco, I totally forgot that it existed and failed to give it to the Report's webmaster while it was still only semi-stale. But you can read it if you think it's the sort of thing you might like.

A reader complains that I am posting so much, I may be risking burnout. Or does he secretly fear that he may be the one to go up in smoke? I believe the relevant quote here is: shut up and keep up.

(In a less macho vein, our complaining friend is correct. The volume is only so intimidating because I have some time off work and I want to hang onto my initial burst of readers. I promise to return to a less psychically brutalizing pace in the near future.)

- 3:59 am, July 30

Jane's addiction

One of my new habits is listening to BBC Radio 4. When I was a kid I used to mess about very pleasurably with a shortwave radio, and I still haven't grown tired of being able to dial up Deutsche Welle or Radio Pakistan on my ADSL. But let's face it, no national broadcaster is going to come up to the standard of the BBC in the foreseeable future. (Certainly not Canada's, which I appreciate slightly more in my dotage but which is still, in so many ways, insufferable.) BBC4 just played a half-hour show in the Reference Library series about Jane's Fighting Ships. How do you develop the sheer Beau Geste daring to produce a radio show about a reference book? (Answer: it helps a lot if you have a self-consciously elitist mandate.)

Incidentally, the Jane's website is reporting that Boeing is seriously trying to hire a Russian scientist who claims to have developed anti-gravity devices.

- 3:04 am, July 30

Tops in customer dissatisfaction

Here's a rundown of fairly fresh news stories in my Inbox (and conversations I've been having with a homemade sock puppet about them). No, there aren't any links, just short summaries. What do you think this is, the Internet or something?

The official opposition is warning the Liberal government against getting out of the marriage business to avoid appealing a controversial court decision that allows gays and lesbians to marry. -Calgary Herald

Fellas (I'm addressing the Canadian Alliance here), you're kicking against the pricks (pun not intended, although feel free to guffaw). Repeat after me: civil marriage is doomed. Modern trends have almost erased the distinction between a couple that is really married and one that's living together at common law. As a society, we made up our minds about 30 years ago about the seriousness of marriage as a concept. Gays and lesbians only wish to join the cortège insofar they are misinformed about the social benefits--"acceptability"--it will bring them. Whether or not it is best to leave marriage entirely in the hands of the churches, the fact is that it's much easier for the government, which faces voter defection by an angry minority no matter what side it comes down on in the gay and lesbian issue. The Liberals would rather cross out every reference to "marriage" in the Big Book o' Statutes, by hand, than invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to overrule the courts, or comply with them.

There should be a "negative option" in our law, I think, to allow cohabiting couples in a sex relationship to opt out of common-law marriage. Aside from that, the broad public would be well served by the destruction of civil marriage: it has showed no will to save it. And the same goes, really, for the Canadian Alliance. If any of us really cared, the gay and lesbian marriage crusaders would have been challenged more forcibly on this. People like Andrew Sullivan, who believe the concept of marriage to be malleable enough to include man-plus-man and woman-plus-woman arrangements, could have been asked a simple question: how 'bout man-plus-woman-plus-woman-plus-woman? Polygamy is already rampant in the interior of British Columbia. The police won't prosecute because they know how a Charter challenge by the first unreformed Mormon or transplanted sheik to get busted would turn out. If we can't stop gays from getting married, we most certainly can't stop people from marrying eight other people.

I'm in favour of permitting gay and lesbian marriage and polygamy and polyandry, of course. I just wonder why the people who aren't--which is most of you, at a guess--pretend that society cares about marriage. A society that cared about anything traditional wouldn't keep voting for Liberals, now would it? (Whether English Canada is really one unitary "society" is, of course, a whole other can of worms--but we'll discuss Western separatism another day.)

Yes, a non-Christian who has never heard of Jesus can still get to heaven, the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, England, told a youth from St. John's, Nfld., Friday... The cardinal replied that if such a person lived according to the "lights he was given by God" he could in a mysterious way benefit from Jesus's death on the cross. -Vancouver Sun

Fake news: it's my favourite genre. The Second Vatican Council taught that atheists are "within reach of divine intent of salvation because, although [they have] not (yet) found God," they are following their consciences as best they can. The same council described atheism as a "menace", considered as a social force, but individual atheists have a "mysterious" potential access to divine grace. Roman Catholics, or so I've been told, are not warranted in asserting that anyone is genuinely destined for hell. (Even me!, said the writer gleefully while desecrating a parcel of Communion wafers.) So the Cardinal's announcement isn't exactly a bolt of thunder from the blue.

Cash-strapped McGill University has rebuffed a hefty sum from a donor seeking to create a position in the school's philosophy department for the study of Ayn Rand, the author who espoused a radical brand of individualism. -VanSun

It's just as well: endowing a university chair is a stupid idea. I don't just mean for Objectivists hoping to promote their philosophy, I mean for anyone. Experience shows that any such chair is invariably turned over to purposes subversive of the original intent within about 45 attoseconds. "Oh, look, the Richguy Chair in Studies of the Western Canon has been given to that nice Trotskyite throatsinger from New Guinea!" If you have money to burn and you're feeling death's icy hand, arrange to give it to someone you know and trust. Or, better still, to me.

- 11:12 pm, July 29

For Canadians only

Time to go back to the Scuttlebutt Lodge with 88-year-old Red Fisher, whose show was a staple of '70s TV in Canada. Red basically introduced spin fishing to North America; Ted Williams appeared on his show 14 times. He inspired John Candy to create Gil Fisher, the Fishin' Musician, for SCTV. Presently comedian Steve Smith is building a whole career on parodying Red Fisher. Meanwhile, Red's thinking short-term:

GORD: What's in the future for Red Fisher?
RED: Looks like a grave. You can't live forever.

- 12:33 pm, July 29


The Globe has the next installment of the Michel Chretien story today. The mother's version of the story no longer contains any call whatsoever to the Prime Minister's Office, and while Blondin-Andrew's behaviour looks bad, it's at least partly covered by the fact that she was an old friend of the family and may just have been offering extremely misguided support and advice. In other words, almost all the air's been let out, as far as politics are concerned. What's left is a needlessly frightened woman whose daughter has apparently has very little capacity for sound judgment.

- 12:20 pm, July 29

A guide to the perplexed

I thought about sending you to this piece from the Weekly Standard on Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. It's a good piece if you're interested in the subject, and probably everyone should be aware that KKT is widely considered "VP material" by the Democrats, despite making some truly fantastic verbal slips of the sort often used to pillory Dan Quayle and the current president. (She called Triple Crown contender War Emblem "Warmonger" and told a roomful of Hispanic activists that it was important to "speak Hispanish".)

But what I'd like to talk about is something only tangentially related to this article. It's about how to deal with journalists, and it's a point most people don't seem to understand. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who, given her background, should have a certain familiarity with the press, doesn't understand it. Lots of interview subjects don't, and it can create ill feeling and problems after the fact. You may not ever be interviewed by a member of the press, but go with me here for a bit.

In the Standard piece, there comes a moment where reporter Matt Labash asks KKT a question about prescription drug subsidies for seniors. Understand, Labash is just basically stirring shit by bringing up this point. He doesn't really care about her answer, as he admits. But he asks anyway. KKT freezes in the headlights and directs Labash to an aide, who crams him full of data and arguments. Then KKT's main flack comes up to Labash and says, "Can I give Kathleen another chance to answer that question?" Unusual, Labash thinks, but fair enough.

So KKT trundles over and says:

On the record, you want to ask the question, 'How are we going to pay for this?'"

Whoa! I was flabbergasted when I read this. How could anyone with the slightest familiarity with journalism think this crap would work? He already asked you the question, lady! Damn, she's trying to trick him into thinking they were somehow off the record before! And Labash spots it right away too:

Actually, we were on the record the first time, but yes.

Here's my point, and it's the part you will want to memorize: when you are talking to a reporter, you are not talking OFF THE RECORD just because you decided, in your head, that what you're saying is off the record. You are talking off the record when you ANNOUNCE BEFOREHAND that you want to say something off the record. And you must hear the reporter AGREE that what you are about to say is off the record.

You aren't allowed to go back and say, or even hint, "Oh, by the way, what I said before--that was off the record." Not even five seconds later. If you do, the reporter may play along, or he may not: it's his choice. If you said it without specifying initially that it was not for publication, he is fully within his rights to publish anyway. No colleague will ever criticize him for it.

I am not an expert on journalistic ethics per se, but I believe this rule (or something very like it) is universally observed and understood, by experienced reporters. Now, why is this rule necessary?

When you say something you want left "off the record," you are putting the reporter in a bind. As a practical matter, he can no longer print those facts without getting them from some other source, and he will want to attribute them to someone, so that you, the o.t.r. information provider, will know that they came from somewhere else. This is a problem, because he may already have confirmation of the same facts from an unattributed source, or five unattributed sources. You could destroy or hinder his ability to put something in print by telling it to him "off the record." To be fair, you have to offer an oral contract to the reporter. You're telling him, in effect, "I'm about to tell you something interesting, but if you want to hear it, it can't appear in the paper without some other attribution." If he thinks he knows what you are going to say, the reporter may, in fact, choose to not hear the information. He may say, "Don't tell me anything off the record--it will just tie my hands."

That's why it is all-important to get agreement in advance: you're asking the reporter to give up rights because there's something that, for some reason, you want him to know but can't have attributed to you or put in print on your say-so. If you go back and say "That stuff about the Senator's dildo emporium was off the record", you're trying to get the benefit of passing on the information without giving the reporter a chance to agree to the oral contract. He's not going to let you get away with that, and there's no reason he should. Nine times of ten, he'll say "Up yours, buddy" (after finishing the interview) and make the stuff you wanted "off the record" the lede of the story.

I can't speak for anyone else, but in my work, I basically use three levels of information containment--there are three switches my brain can be set to when I'm taking notes, if you want to think of it that way. Level One is stuff that's free and clear, told to me without prior restraint or encumbrance of any kind. Level Two is stuff "not for attribution." I can print Level Two speech verbatim, inside quote marks, or use it as background, but I cannot attribute it to the speaker in a way that would identify him to the exclusion of all others. Level Two, perhaps, breaks down into 2A and 2B: sometimes the speaker is too scared to permit any attribution whatsoever, but more usually you can use a non-identifying noun phrase to establish the credibility of the information: "Sources in the Prime Minister's Office say..."

Level Three is the true "off the record." I'm allowed to write the story with the information in mind, but I can't print it as background or as a quote of any kind, attributed or unattributed. Not unless someone else will kindly tell me the same stuff for full attribution, that is.

How often have I actually received Level Three quotes from somebody? Well, it's been years since I did that kind of fact-digging, but the answer is "Never, that I can think of." People will sometimes ask me to go "off the record", but they can almost always be bargained down to Level Two, the non-specifically attributed quote. Normally, Level Two is what they really meant by "off the record" in the first place anyway.

The most common hypothetical case of Level Three would be some kind of situation... say you were writing about a horribly mismanaged government program, and you got hold of the relevant minister on the phone. Unbeknownst to you, the minister has been making plans to scrap the whole program and fire the person in charge of it. But they're secret plans; he can't have them appearing in a magazine. In that case, and not in very many others, it may be in both the minister's interests and the reporter's for the minister to say "Look, can I go off the record for a moment? Thank you. I'm gonna set fire to this whole thing, but even my deputies don't know yet. So your story about the subsidies to the dildo industry is going to be old news by the time you get to print. Just back off and let me clean house, OK?"

Another case might be in business journalism, where you want to print something about a private company's revenues. You don't need to print an exact figure: maybe you just want to know whether some outfit is a small, mid-sized, or large company. Maybe you want to know whether it's larger or smaller than some rival. That's a case where a media-relations guy might give you figures he doesn't want printed, to establish the facts, and so you can bargain with him about the appropriate description. The off-the-record stuff isn't some kind of big secret, but at the same time, it's private information, so you play ball and write less than you know. I would guess that obituary writers may have recourse to this level of protection fairly often, for obvious reasons. ("Please don't say Dad was a drunkard. But Dad was a drunkard.")

The most important thing to remember when you're the target rather than the hunter is that everything is Level One unless you specify otherwise in advance. You must assume when talking to a reporter that everything you say is going to appear on the front page tomorrow morning. Imagine it appearing on the page as the words come out of your mouth--and you're not allowed to edit them. You'll be OK if you can manage that. A journalist isn't your enemy: he just wants to get things straight. If wanting to get things straight makes him your enemy, regard him as such and use the appropriate degree of caution. And whatever you do, don't act like that silly ass Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

- 3:14 am, July 29


Doubtless, wise reader, you knew that the two major syndicated advice columns in North American newspapers, "Dear Abby" and "Ann Landers", were originated by rival twins Abigail Van Buren and Eppie Lederer. But did you know that Slate's advice column "Dear Prudence" is written by Margo Howard, the daughter of Eppie Lederer? The twins feuded on and off for most of their mutual lives, but Eppie recently died. So now it's their daughters who are battling. Attention HBO: there's a damn mini-series waiting for you, just above the crossword and the horoscope.

- 1:57 pm, July 29

Fecesville USA

Transplanted Torontonian and Net mogul Cory Doctorow filed this blog entry about being mugged in San Francisco June 30. The tale of the mugging is interesting but his description of the state of the city will curl your hair:

There is visible corruption, felony crimes, and human degradation everywhere, far more so than any other city I've been to in North America or Europe (excluding Naples). There are people squatting and taking dumps, there are streets whose sidewalks are lined with tents and whose gutters are lined with sealed, fermenting 40 oz. malt liquor bottles filled with urine deposited by tent-dwellers who don't want to live in their own piss. Everywhere you go in the city, you step through drifts of discarded pipes, needles, condoms.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, we had reports on SF city council mooting a bylaw to ban public urination and defecation, which gave the rest of us the interesting information that SF doesn't already have a law against public urination and defecation. And now Matt Welch returns from a Bay Area vacation with the brief comment:

The City is covered in horrendous filth. If I had a child, just about the last place in North America I would consider visiting is the formerly touristic Market Street, which has basically become an open-air sewer.

"I seem to see the Tiber, foaming with, fluid..."

- 1:26 am, July 29

Bud Selig, racketeer?

Here's a short Sports Illustrated piece about the RICO lawsuit filed by 14 minority owners of the Montreal Expos, most of them massive Canadian companies, against Major League Baseball, commissioner Bud Selig, and former Expos owner Jeffrey Loria, a New York art dealer with the charm and countenance of a gecko.

The suit contends that MLB systematically sabotaged baseball in Montreal, with Loria as its front man, intending to "contract" the Expos out of existence and save a bundle for other teams in annual revenue-sharing payments. (With MLB's approval, he was recently allowed to bail out of Montreal and take over the Florida Marlins.) The Expos are a business like any other, and baseball could have gone its merry way without interference, but to proceed Loria had to boost his share in the club to a controlling stake. He did this by means of repeated cash calls on the minority owners. Now those owners are contending that the cash calls were not made in good faith. In a partnership, you aren't allowed to use your own deep pockets to chisel your partners out of money that is supposedly for operating expenditures.

Needless to say, I believe the suit has the important advantage of being founded on a wholly correct version of events. A point that reporter Lester Munson doesn't mention: the Expos probably can't be moved to another city, and certainly can't be contracted, until the suit is settled. That shouldn't take more than, oh, about five years? See you at Opening Day 2003!

- 1:01 am, July 29

Macho, macho man

Friday's Saskatoon Star-Phoenix (no link) offers a story headlined "Night shift takes toll on men." It's a good case study in casual male-bashing, disguised as concern for male health problems. Such solicitude is a common disguise for that sort of thing. The theme of the story is that working the night shift has much more dramatic effects on male morbidity and mortality than on womens'. So far, so good. Cue "Saskatoon shift-work consultant" Carolyn Schur:

We still have a macho attitude about being able to work shift work and in the workplace there exists that John Wayne kind of philosophy, that you've just got to be tough. So for men, it's much more difficult to say 'This is not working for me very well. I am having trouble sleeping and I'm having digestive problems' because nobody wants to listen to it if you're in an environment that's primarily men.

The first thing to note is Schur's use of the adverb "still." What does this tell you? That the "macho" attitude described is an anachronism; something from the past, soon to be dispensed with. Men: stuck in the Stone Age.

Let's put the shoe on the other foot, shall we?

"Women still have the Pollyanna attitude that it's OK to miss work with repetitive stress injuries, mysterious 'fatigue syndromes', and menstrual difficulties," said hospital consultant Simon Beefcake. "For women, it's much more difficult to say 'My job is important and I should stay on duty as much as possible. Otherwise I'm cheating my employer out of income' because women are so willing to entertain one another's health complaints at interminable length."

I don't think that would get past the editor, do you?

Whatever the intrinsic merits of the "John Wayne attitude," there is this bagatelle to consider: we cannot have an advanced industrial society without it. Women have shown an admirable eagerness to enter professions which are hazardous but retain some glamour, like soldiering. As a gender, however, they have sensibly exhibited no taste for hazardous occupations which don't come gift-wrapped with chic: owing perhaps to their lack of "machismo", they do not seem to wish to become garbagemen, or mechanics, or rig pigs, or coal miners. As long as we need such people, we will need men raised to be stoic. These jobs, I regret to report, cannot ever be made wholly safe or clean or easy.

Talking of coal miners, how do you suppose those nine Pennsylvania coal miners who were rescued yesterday would have fared without the attitude that they "had to be tough?" What if a bunch of firemen and cops had looked up at the burning World Trade towers and said "This is not working for me very well"? (The brave women who entered those buildings to save lives seem to have reverted, somehow, to the old caveman attitude.) Do we really want to find out what happens if men are systematically discouraged from acting like John Wayne? Apparently Carolyn Schur does.

- 12:27 am, July 29

Walkers all over the world

ESPN's Rob Neyer has anointed Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, B.C. the greatest defensive right fielder in baseball history. For a good long time I (as a lifelong Expos fan) was sorely vexed at the lack of attention paid to Walker's talents. I can still remember the first time I saw a base hit drop into right in front of him, watched him snag the ball in his bare hand, and had my jaw drop as he fired a perfect 100-mile-an-hour strike to first base to beat the runner. This isn't uncommon the way a triple play is uncommon, mind you. Right fielders with good arms do it all the time. But he kept doing it! There was another one two weeks later, and another one about a month after that... Vladimir Guerrero (the current Expos RF) has a sensational arm too, one of the best ever, but he's nowhere near as accurate as Larry, and he makes a lot of errors. Larry didn't even play ball until he was in his mid-teens--he's just a pure athlete. He was (is) great at cutting off balls down the line and making the no-look throw to second, too. The guy is just a sword of Damocles hanging over the head of any baserunner who hits the ball to right.

Neyer is probably going to catch holy hell for choosing anyone over Roberto Clemente, though. Or, to give the great Pirates RF his full, rarely-used Spanish-form name (cue up Twilight Zone music)--

---Roberto Clemente Walker. I shit you not.

- 7:27 pm, July 28

Give war a chance

Does Lorin Partridge think Hitler was groovy? A young man makes the case that California contains at least one genius.

- 6:15 pm, July 28

Grand una-fied theory

(Link from Robot Wisdom) The "Unabomber", now known to have been mathematics professor Theodore Kaczynski, got his nickname because of the code name on his FBI file: UNABOM--"university and airport bomber." Later this enterprising terrorist branched out. He sent bombs to computer scientists and computer retailers; he sent them to an advertising executive and a forestry lobbyist. What yoked these targets together? Was there a conceptual logic behind it? The man himself explains all, indirectly, in an extraordinary new article for the environmentalist journal Green Anarchy.

As is now generally understood, the American legal system's attempt to ascribe insanity to Kaczynski was very, very stupid. This abominable man is clever, direct and lucid: the talk of "insanity", in the newspapers and the courtroom, was merely a reflexive attempt on the part of the therapeutic state to co-opt the moral issue on behalf of psychology. Unfortunately, we cannot utter the word "evil" anymore without self-consciousness. It suffices, however, to see the thing itself in action up close. According to Kaczynski's ideology, what he did was logical. Granted his premises, in fact, I think nearly everything he writes in his afore-linked article is unarguable.

Which is why we ought not to grant them; and I'll call your attention to his espousal of biotechnology as the proper target for the next generation of environmental terrorists. Moreover, he explicitly praises the U.S. House of Representatives for its recent legal action against human cloning:

Now it's true that the U. S. House of Representatives recently voted to ban cloning of human beings, and at least some congressmen even gave the right kinds of reasons for doing so. The reasons I read about were framed in religious terms, but whatever you may think of the religious terms involved, these reasons were not technologically acceptable reasons. And that is what counts. Thus, the congressmen's vote on human cloning was a genuine defeat for the system. But it was only a very, very small defeat, because of the narrow scope of the ban--only one tiny part of biotechnology was affected--and because for the near future cloning of human beings would be of little practical use to the system anyway. But the House of Representatives' action does suggest that this may be a point at which the system is vulnerable, and that a broader attack on all of biotechnology might inflict severe damage on the system and its values.

If you find yourself in need of comic relief, scroll down to the bottom of the article, where Green Anarchy explains in a postscript why it chose to publish Kaczynski's missive:

Although the Green Anarchy editorial collective whole-heartedly supports Ted Kaczynski as an anarchist political prisoner, we had serious reservations about running this article due to Ted's hostility towards feminism and his casual, off-hand dismissal of other liberation struggles which he chooses not to prioritize in his own life. Racism, sexism, homophobia and poverty are not "non-essential issues" to us, as they appear to be to Ted...

There, now, Professor, don't you feel chastened?

- 1:29 am, July 28

Peck of trouble

Yee-haw! Literary sissy-boy slapfight! Yee-haw! The world of Amer. lit. is abuzz over Dale Peck's ambush of novelist Rick Moody in the pages of the New Republic. Rick Moody--that's big game, son! Among the things Peck has to say about Moody's new memoir The Black Veil: "My gut feeling is that if you honestly do not believe that this is bad writing, then you are a part of the problem." "Like all of Moody's books, it is pretentious, muddled, derivative, bathetic." And: "A writer's words, more than his narratives, characters, and themes, are the closest we have to a blueprint of his vision, and in Rick Moody's words there is a single striking consistency. You could call it an ever-widening gap between signifier and signified, or you could call it lies. Or you could just call it what it is, which is bullshit."

I think some of Peck's shots here misfire; at times he is imprecise about what it is he's objecting to in Moody's work. (As he hints when he brings up his "gut feeling", it's an ostensive reaction, not necessarily specifiable in every respect. I share it.) And what's with the length? Does this piece need to be, like, 75,000 words long? But Peck scores one glorious and resounding hit when he goes totally apeshit and starts bashing away at the 20th-century canon with a five-iron:

All I'm suggesting is that [Moody and other "New Narrative" writers] see themselves as the heirs to a bankrupt tradition. A tradition that began with the diarrheic flow of words that is Ulysses; continued on through the incomprehensible ramblings of late Faulkner and the sterile inventions of Nabokov; and then burst into full, foul life in the ridiculous dithering of Barth and Hawkes and Gaddis, and the reductive cardboard constructions of Barthelme, and the word-by-word wasting of a talent as formidable as Pynchon's; and finally broke apart like a cracked sidewalk beneath the weight of the stupid--just plain stupid--tomes of DeLillo.

Oh my god, you glorious bastard, you inscribed it directly onto my heart.

- 12:14 am, July 28

Here there be tygers

I have recurring dreams of witnessing a plane crash, probably fed by a morbid fascination with events like this. Perhaps it's gauche to bring it up while the body parts are still being retrieved, but I feel that the only time we get an appropriate sense of the miracle of aviation is when these aircraft get far too close to the terrain. A plane in level flight seems like the most natural thing in the world; you get no sense at all of the forces on its hull, or you shouldn't. When these forces go out of balance, you are suddenly struck dumb by the size and the biomorphism of these machines. They become raging, muscular animals in distress, releasing a dreadful amount of violence--violence that is ordinarily contained by nothing more than the human work of engineers and aircraft assemblers.

- 11:07 pm, July 27

$0.0062 for your thoughts

One reason I started this page was my perception that there is a bit of a vacuum in Canadian Web-specific commentary. (I need to be threatened with physical harm before I can bring myself to type the word "blogosphere".) Maybe this is unjust, or I'm reacting to summer doldrums, I don't know. But look at it this way. You know the 10:1 rule? Canadians, for those who don't know, rapidly become accustomed to measuring themselves against the Americans by means of a 10:1 ratio. Canada has a population of about 30 million, while the US is pushing 300 million: ergo, ten to one. (One funny thing is, this rule of thumb works pretty well for the past, too; I once took a Canadian intellectual history class in grad school and was surprised to hear the prof applying it quite freely to the mid-19th century. With minor variations, the 10:1 ratio has been quite stable, or so I was taught.)

Now, think of American "bloggers" (someday I will locate the person responsible for this word, "blog", and send him a giftwrapped box of yesterday's breakfast) who consistently give you pleasure at a high journalistic, literary, or purely comic level. Can you name, say, a dozen? I can do it without even switching windows: Welch, Pierce, Reynolds, Lileks, assorted Volokhs, Bashman, Layne, Jacobs, den Beste, Postrel, Kaus, Pournelle. And I figure I could build a second team almost as strong, with very little effort.

Is there even one Canadian who can play in that league? Go on, name one. Well, I'm certainly not going to be the one to do it, but my point is, we're not holding up our end. We're getting beaten more than ten to one on quality, if not quantity. There's no excuse for it. Now, listen: if I can just ask any American readers to leave the room for a moment...

...right, it's just Canadians left then? Good. Now look, you know we have all the natural advantages here, people. The public schools in that country are a nightmare. God love them, the Americans are an example to us all and the best neighbours you could ask for, but even the sanest among them is affected with at least a touch of imperial self-regard, no? Their blood is congenitally deficient in irony. Why are we getting outplayed here? This isn't right. We can't let this happen.

OK, you guys can come back in now. What was I talking about? I forget. Man, I could sure go for some pizza right now, though. Catch you later!

- 10:07 pm, July 27


Morning dawns, and the media is covering the political angle on the Michel Chretien sexual assault charge with varying degrees of assiduousness. The Post merely reprints the terse CP story: no surprise there. But the Globe, knowing it would have a free hand, did some reporting!
The victim's mother told the Northern News Service that she had contacted Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Liberal MP for the Western Arctic riding, to ask for information on how to contact the Prime Minister's Office in Ottawa to inform him the attack had occurred.
She also said Ms. Blondin-Andrew called her three times on Wednesday and urged her not to press charges against Mr. Chretien.
Calls to Ms. Blondin-Andrew, who is secretary of state for children and youth, were referred to Ottawa lawyer Pat Santini.
Mr. Santini said the allegations are unfounded, though he confirmed the junior cabinet minister did speak with the victim's mother.
"She did have conversations with her. I can't comment on the content of the conversations except to say the woman's allegations are unfounded," Mr. Santini said.
He would not comment on whether Ms. Blondin-Andrew discussed an alleged assault with the woman, but said he had no information to suggest that the PMO had been involved. "I doubt it; I think the conversation was between the two of them," he said.

Give them lots of credit for actually taking the trouble to get a denial (the reporter is Darren Yourk). But this version conflicts with the Northern News Service's version: NNS reported that the alleged victim's mother called the PMO first, not Blondin-Andrew. It leaves out Blondin-Andrew saying she had spoken to the Prime Minister, and it leaves out the cash offer. CBC has the story too, and skims equally lightly over the substance of the original report.

This is all last-minute reporting, so maybe they pushed it as far as they could. (If the mother's story has changed, they should say so instead of mischaracterizing the NNS report.) What is it Matt Drudge says in cases like this? "Developing..."

- 10:56 am, July 27

The hunger artist

The Friday Vancouver Sun contains a longer version of this story about residents of a small B.C. town who don't want the local school closed. They are expecting just ten to twelve pupils for September, mind you, which would seem like a modest supply even for a one-room schoolhouse. Still, they're fighting the school board in a totally non-hysterical and reasonable way: they're staging a hunger strike.

Yes, you heard right. The main complaint, according to the print version of the story, is that the students from Wells will now have to be bused 77 km (48 miles) to a school in Quesnel.

I don't always like it when people play the "I know what I'm talking about" card, but I'm afraid I have to do it again here: my bus route to high school had to have been at least 25 miles when you add up all the backroads and loop-the-loops through various rural subdivisions. These kids will have a direct, point-to-point ride. I can't imagine it would take more than about 70 or 80 minutes even on B.C. roads. Lots of kids in my home region had to start out that early. Nobody started a GODDAMN HUNGER STRIKE about it. Yes, a long bus ride is a pain, but the bus offers ample opportunity to doze, chat, or, god forbid, read a book.

Maybe there's something missing from the story, though: maybe these children will actually be powering the bus with their feet, on a big hamster wheel in the back. Or maybe the school board signed a contract with some provider of Rob Zombie-esque hellbuses, laden with vampire bats and half-naked chicks.

More likely, this is just a typical B.C. town full of stoned, attention-seeking cretins. You want proof? The strike was started by an "artist" named Claire Kujundzic who's been off solids for 11 days now. She has dropped to the terrifyingly anorexic weight of 50 kilos (110 pounds). The print version tells us that "Kujundzic is drinking plenty of water and herbal tea. Sometimes she has water with lemon squeezed into it or puts maple syrup into the tea." Call that a serious hunger strike, do you? Presumably a Big Mac liquefied in a blender would be within the rules too. I've seen women get more intense than this about squeezing into bridesmaid's dresses. But Ms. Kujundzic doesn't have any intention of doing us the favour of dropping dead:

"I went to see my doctor on Monday," she said Wednesday from Wells. "I'm in excellent physical condition, and I've never been more determined."
So, what you're telling us is that your "protest" is, basically, a diet. Wow, that is sooo, like, political and stuff. Memo to the Quesnel school board: you have a democratic mandate to run the district within your budget. Do you understand? Your moral duty is to call this woman's bluff.

- 1:38 am, July 27

Little green bag

Here's a world exclusive for you. Improbably enough, it concerns Michael Jackson. Roger Friedman has been covering Michael Jackson's financial problems--which are extremely desperate--for In his new item on Jacko, Friedman reveals hitherto undisclosed material from the singer's personal financial records. This stuff was filed in L.A. Superior Court as part of a lawsuit against Jackson by his former business manager, who says he's owed $12 million that he hasn't seen.

"Michael Jackson," says the plaintiff, "is--and was--a ticking financial time bomb waiting to explode at any moment." Neverland, his ranch, is haemorrhaging money, and he's losing truckloads of cash under his divorce settlement with ex-wife Debbie Rowe. His owes his lawyers money; he owes promoters money; and he owes doctors money.

One of the doctors mentioned in the piece is Arnold Klein, the dermatologist who treats Jacko's much-discussed vitiligo. Another, owed $20,000, is named in the documents only as "Metzger".

Metzger? Who might that be?

Well, Michael's sister Janet, it turns out, used to have a doctor named Metzger. That'd be Allan Metzger, who was officially reprimanded by the California Medical Board in September 2000. The charge? Metzger "engaged in fraudulent medical practice based on prescriptions written for an international entertainer, using a false/fictitious name." The Smoking Gun has produced evidence suggesting that the "international entertainer" in question was Janet.

Does Michael Jackson owe money to a doctor who procured bootleg drugs for his sister? And, if so, why? I think we should be told.

- 11:02 pm, July 26

Follow-up without follow-through

Now here's a useful window on Canadian press standards of decorum for you. Let's recap as carefully as we can. Earlier today, the world south of 60 was informed by a Yellowknife newspaper that an 18-year-old woman claimed to have been raped by the son of the Prime Minister. He's a troubled young man, done jail time for a similar offence in the past. (He is of course entitled to the full presumption of innocence.) The newspaper reported that the alleged victim's mother called the Prime Minister's Office to let them know what young Chretien was supposedly up to. It also reported that the MP for Yellowknife, Ethel Blondin-Andrew, called back shortly afterward. According to the story, Blondin-Andrew:

· specifically said she had spoken to the Prime Minister;
· told the woman "he is the Prime Minister, he has all the power and he will fight this case for Michel";
· said "a lot of dirty things are going to come up about your past and the media will be there";
· made an offer to pay for the family to "attend a healing circle."

Is any of this of interest to the national press? You be the judge: Chretien Jr. was arrested late today, confirming part of the Yellowknife report, and the CP story does not even mention Ethel Blondin-Andrew.

Nice work, guys. You've taken the aspect of this story that could conceivably be construed as having nothing to do with the broad public interest--the sex assault arrest--and reported it thoroughly. And you've taken the aspect of the story which is indisputably part of the public interest--that totally uninteresting business about the PMO and Blondin-Andrew--and, to all appearances, ignored it. As my report cards used to say, "More effort needed." It will be fun to see how it's handled in the morning. Oh, but of course, the Eastern papers are past deadline now. Which is convenient.

- 9:52 pm, July 26

Hey, hey, Ricky Ray, where'd you learn to throw that way

The Eskimos are leading the B.C. Lions 34-14 with a minute left in the third quarter. I was frankly too depressed to post anything about this game earlier today; soon after last week's fiasco against Saskatchewan, we learned that Esk QB Jason Maas was a scratch for this game, WR Ed Hervey was doubtful, and RB Ron Williams was a confirmed scratch. These are arguably the three best players on the team. One had the vague, queasy feeling they were on the IL with strained dignity.

And suddenly this 3-1 football team is putting together as solid a performance as it has all year. (It certainly helps that Hervey, the straw that stirs this particular football beverage, is not only playing, but has two TD catches.) The three wins were ugly and the loss was like a forced Shelley Duvall bukkake in a landfill. Our secret weapon turns out to be backup QB Ricky Ray, who hadn't played a down as a starter in any pro league. We're not just talking about an arena football refugee here, folks. We're talking about a refugee from Arena Football 2. 2! I didn't even know there was an Arena Football 2 until three weeks ago!

Yeah, the Lions are dropping footballs and letting our hitherto abominable special teams have gimmes all over the place. Somebody seems to have read the Riot Act to the O-line, too. But Ray started the game 7-for-7 and now has four TD passes. You don't just blunder into that kind of debut.

And you know what? I'm depressed again. It seems like this team has been in a QB controversy of some kind every year since the '86 Grey Cup. Now the whole thing's shaping up into a Bledsoe-Brady scenario.

Wait, the Patriots won the Super Bowl, didn't they? I guess I can live with that, then!

- 9:26 pm, July 26

Austin Powers 3, Movie Audience 0

A reliable correspondent reports in from a matinee showing of Austin Powers 3: Goldmember. The horrid reviews, alas, are true. If I may be permitted to paraphrase, it sounds as though the movie is a smug, self-referential mess except for a pre-opening-credits surprise which the studio has successfully kept a lid on. Mike Myers' new character, Goldmember, isn't funny; Michael Caine is wasted, popping up at random moments with no reference to the plot; and while Beyonce looks appetizing, she has self-evidently had to be edited around. Our reporter's impression was that she could deliver one line correctly... but only one at a time.

- 7:21 pm, July 26

Billiard balls

(Link via Arts & Letters Daily) I'm going to try to resist the temptation to describe things as "essential reading" too often here. But this interview with Theodore Dalrymple is essential reading. It's not short: you'll need ten or fifteen minutes.

- 3:08 pm, July 26

Stop press

(Link via Bourque) Uh... wow. One way or another, this bombshell is going to blow up in someone's face. Hard to know what to say until it's followed up by the networks and the papers, and one hopes they will, despite the longstanding gentlemen's agreement not to mention the PM's crazy rapist son. If it's a put-up job, then somebody sure has a pair of oversized titanium balls in his jewel case. If the order of events is remotely accurate--mom calls PMO, PMO calls Blondin-Andrew, Blondin-Andrew calls mom--then Chretien's in a world of trouble. I'm not counting on it just yet.

- 2:34 pm, July 26


The Relapsed One links to my gloomy forecast about Martha Stewart, but objects to my characterization of Oprah Winfrey as "pointless": long as there is an Oprah, there is a living, breathing refutation of the (liberal, NOT conservative) cant that poor black Americans are doomed to eternal hopelessness and helplessness.

Actually, I called Oprah regrettable, not pointless. Bit free with the quote marks there, Shaidle!

I guess I approach Oprah as somebody who is providing a product, rather than as a racial symbol (or a polemical convenience). Now that's not to say it's not appropriate to regard her as a racial symbol. If I'm to be forced to consider the matter in such a light, then yes, it's certainly an excellent thing that someone who grew up poor and black (and female to boot) can get fantastically rich in the present-day United States. You may quote me to that effect in letters a mile high.

But is the product any good?

Well, everybody knows what Oprah's show is like. I don't need to describe its exquisitely servile manifestations of celebrity culture, or its constant parading of pop-psych banalities, or its monstrous promises of self-actualization through introspection. She is very far from having created a world where men are de-masculinized and women are atrociously unhappy, but she seems to have somehow distilled the relevant social pathologies, and to serve them in uniquely toxic, or at least emetic, form.

She succeeded because she became a symbol of something that is hard to pin down verbally, but that everybody recognizes. If they didn't recognize it, Oprah wouldn't be parodied nearly so often. Part of the "something", this ominous undercurrent, is the premise that feelings are the most important things in the world. Part of the "something" is that there exists a state of perfect happiness which eludes us, and that this is solely our fault: if we can just find the right jargon, we will no longer be unworthy of serenity. Part of the "something" is the general idea that women are morally superior to men. There are perhaps other parts, unspecifiable by me. Oprah the person, Oprah the show, Oprah the cult--it all seems so much like the opposite of what anyone, whatever their colour, really needs. It's like a warm acid in which rigour and meaning are dissolved...

Anyway, I don't like what the woman's selling; how rich she might have gotten selling it is really beside the point. I think it's unfortunate that she's so successful (and don't even get me started on her role as an arbiter of taste). If it's role models for young black girls that are wanted, well, it isn't possible there's someone much more suitable on offer?

- 3:45 am, July 26

Nose whiskey man

John Entwistle, who lost his title as the finest living rock bass player June 27, has sprung a posthumous surprise. The Associated Press now reports that his death resulted from the effects of cocaine on a pre-existing heart condition.

Cocaine? Entwistle?

This was the man who established on-stage standards of imperturbability and immobility for all bassists who followed, you understand. I'd have been much less surprised to hear he was shooting smack. It's almost enough to put you on the trail of some Nick Broomfield-type conspiracy. I knew the man wasn't going to crack the century mark after I learned what was in the water bottles he used to have bolted to his microphone (one contained water, the other was full of Chivas Regal), but I never dreamed cocaine would do him in. Perhaps it was a taste acquired late in life.

Incidentally, I didn't join the chorus of disapproval when the quasi-Who decided to continue touring despite Entwistle's death. Pete Townshend grew up in a household with old-time musicians: he would have had the first rule of show business taught to him along with his ABCs. The show must go on, and so it does.

- 9:49 pm, July 25

Smullyan alert!

Logician and puzzle creator Raymond Smullyan, the popularizer of retrograde analysis, apparently has a new biography out. Amazon knows nothing of it yet, but it's available from the London Chess Centre. SMULLYAHOO!

- 9:02 pm, July 25

Jeremy spoke in class today

Props to Jeremy Lott, the hardest-working man in show business, who links to me on his blog, Jeremiads, which is devoted to current topics of interest and the worthwhile enterprise of tracking his own published work. Best known as an intern for Reason who has actually appeared in its pages (as opposed to just picking up editors' dry cleaning and running out for lattes on deadline day), Jeremy is the author of this famous book review which uses Jeffrey Simpson's The Friendly Dictatorship as a springboard for some thoughts on Canada.

- 5:50 pm, July 25

Just asking

The Blogosphere collectively requests that we accept two propositions:

1. William Pierce: good riddance to evil rubbish.
2. Steve Earle: Yo, dude, the guy's a songwriter, a'ight? We're talking about an artist here. Yeah, so he wrote a song from the point of view of John Walker Lindh, but c'mon. If he's guilty of anything, it's inflicting boredom.

I don't wish to place Steve Earle outside the civilized pale for writing a song, per se, but then again, I'm not in favour of treating William Pierce as though he actually suited up in an SS uniform and bayoneted babies. Describing Pierce as a Nazi (a correct description, by all accounts) appears to tell us all we need to know about the man; why is it, then, that Steve Earle's Marxism makes him morally complicated and intriguing? Some of us, I think, could do with a perusal of Martin Amis's new book.

In Pierce's obituaries, he was blamed for "inspiring" Timothy McVeigh and the shooting of radio host Alan Berg. (Incidentally, at least half of this is untrue: McVeigh has never been credibly accused of racialist habits of thought, and while he admitted to reading The Turner Diaries, he said quite specifically that it was not a major influence on him--he just found it interesting for what it had to say about gun control.) Steve Earle has the advantage, I suppose, that we don't yet know whom he will "inspire". But it's worth remembering that Tim McVeigh was a mere child when The Turner Diaries was written. Pierce wrote a fantasy, a wild and presumably rather infantile meditation on America's future; Steve Earle has written a song about a real guy who really did join a real outfit which really wanted to, and really did, kill real live Americans. And we know how the hero of Steve's song feels about the Jews, don't we? (For that matter, we know how Steve's actual hero, Karl Marx, felt about them.)

Eric Olsen insists there's no comparison between Earle and Pierce: Earle's song has "ironic distance", and The Turner Diaries doesn't. Is this self-evident? What, are those Muslim calls to prayer in the chorus of "John Walker's Blues" just... "ironic"? They don't sound ironic, and for Steve's sake I sure hope no Muslim takes them that way. I haven't read Pierce's book, so I guess I just have to take Mr. Olsen's word for this distinction, and trust that there isn't a real shred of hatred for America in Steve Earle's whole big Marxist body. But if "ironic distance" is a defence, why didn't Steve Earle go the whole way and write up an ironically distanced verse or two about all them there dirty ole Jews who need a-killin'? He's an artist, isn't he? The consensus seems to involve reading Earle's work "as a perspective" and a "way of getting inside someone's head." Hey, if we're going to get inside someone's head, let's go all the way! Get right in there! Seems to me the only reason a defence of Steve Earle is possible, by the standards used to consign Pierce presumptively to hell, is that Steve Earle has made a dishonest artistic portrait, whereas Pierce gave way fully, as an artist, to the world he made.

Unless it's a simple matter of Steve Earle being a good songwriter, and Pierce being a bad novelist. In which case, I suppose, the more skillful the propaganda, the less morally objectionable it is.

- 4:45 pm, July 25

Booze, glorious booze

I'm undergoing the decompression process familiar to those who wake up having beaten an editorial deadline. This involves pretending that there is nothing in the entire world you need to do just now. In actual fact, you probably have an editor raging at you for an overdue book chapter and several others who have forgotten that you exist and 20 important e-mails to respond to and 10 phone calls, plus you really need to send Revenue Canada a cheque and pay some parking tickets and your phone bill. I'm just guessing, though.

I see in the morning papers that B.C. is going to privatize its liquor stores. It's a heartwarming thought that there's still some hope for getting rid of the many holdovers from the years of mass economic retardation in the Western World. (They are scheduled to end any time now, I'm told.) I've heard a lot of arguments against liquor privatization: they are all similar in character to the cloud of ignorance deliberately fostered in Canada about foreign health care systems. I live in the province which, notoriously, scrapped its liquor board back in 1992 or thereabouts. When I hear people in other provinces predicting that Armageddon will follow from liquor privatization, I literally cannot understand what the fuck they're talking about.

Let me spell it out for you, in case you happen to live in B.C. Liquor privatization here was a gold mine for small business, it keeps prices honest, it had no visible social effects, it expanded opening hours, and it encouraged convenience and creativity amongst retailers. If you're looking for a downside, I can only think of two things: liquor store clerks are no longer paid as much as college professors, and the Liquor Board stores where you can find everything imaginable on the shelf of one shop no longer exist. Instead, we have boutiques: one place has a great wine selection, another place focuses on imported beer or whisky, another is just the corner shop for the popular stuff (and it is literally around the corner). The disappearance of the one-size-fits-all government megastore, even assuming it happens, will only bother you if you're the kind of person who really needs to shop for 26 ounces of absinthe and a six-pack of Rainier in one go. Which is to say, the kind of person who doesn't exist.

Alberta's liquor privatization was something our government did to make our lives happier; how often does anything like that happen? Moreover, the change in Alberta has already made the quality of life for consumers in other provinces better by forcing government shops to think outside the box with crazy innovations like polite staff and sensible opening hours. There is no reason to resist liquor privatization unless you consider liquor cashiering an appropriate lifelong career. Trust me on this: I live here. All possible arguments against it are wholly bogus. Anyone who tries to advance one has an axe to grind or is stupid.

- 10:16 am, July 25

Wiseass subeditor watch

Hey National Post! Did you think that with all the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church, we weren't going to notice your jokey little World Youth Day headline?

Pope's visit touches young girl

You guys are BUSTED.

- 1:09 am, July 25

Tools down

My "Up Front" column is now filed and resides within the hermetically sealed headquarters of the Report. I can't see any harm in giving you a very brief preview. Among the bites of newsy goodness referenced in the "Duly Noted" section of the column is this appalling item from Israel, where doctors are facing a problem unknown in the world's medical literature: blood-borne disease transmitted by fragments of tissue from suicide bombers.

In a piece written for the Atlantic Monthly in 1989, Paul Fussell wrote about the grotesque truths of war which were, and are, largely unknown to those who had not fought in one:

What annoyed the troops and augmented their sardonic, contemptuous attitude toward those who viewed them from afar was in large part... public innocence about the bizarre damage suffered by the human body in modern war. The troops could not contemplate without anger the lack of public knowledge of the Graves Registration form used by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, with its space for indicating "Members Missing." You would expect frontline soldiers to be struck and hurt by bullets and shell fragments, but such is the popular insulation from the facts that you would not expect them to be hurt, sometimes killed, by being struck by parts of their friends' bodies violently detached. If you asked a wounded soldier or Marine what hit him, you'd hardly be ready for the answer "My buddy's head," or his sergeant's heel or his hand, or a Japanese leg, complete with shoe and puttees, or the West Point ring on his captain's severed hand.

The Palestinian "war of liberation" has transplanted this ugliness into the bistros and discos of a liberal democracy. The nauseating rule of history is that one generation's outrages become the next generation's commonplaces, although this is not inevitable: gas attacks on armies were tried in the First World War and eschewed in the Second. This wasn't because Hitler was such a morally sensitive fellow, mind you. Both sides had simply reached the conclusion that gas shells were less deadly, pound for pound, than explosives. One hopes the intifadists will realize, and soon, that suicide bombings are not the most cost-effective way to advance their political agenda.

But then again, according to their evaluation of a human life, perhaps they are.

- 11:41 pm, July 24

Martha Kostyra, human target

(Links from Bourque) I was discussing Martha Stewart's legal problems with a friend not long ago, and I became convinced of her hypothesis that the SEC's investigation couldn't really hurt the Stewart business empire unless it was hit with a heavy financial penalty. No one who interfaces with the creepy universe of Martha Stewart Living could really have entertained the conclusion that Martha was an attractive, admirable human being in the ordinary sense. People don't buy the products because they like Martha Stewart, or even because they want to be like Martha Stewart. She has the function of a religious icon: we strive to be maybe 10% of what she represents, and are content with being a lot less forbidding and fanatical.

So I agreed with the case my friend made that, well, if people find out that Martha cut corners, they'll think it's just another trick, like turning toilet paper into a centrepiece of lovely orchids with the help of an ordinary ballpoint pen. And to the (doubtless miniscule) degree that ordinary people understand what she is really accused of--that is, not ignoring a timely tip from a high-placed friend in a business she held shares in--they wouldn't give it a second thought. Securities regulators expect businessmen to be saints: consumers don't.

But it appears that some people--a few--really are disappointed with Martha. CNN Money's John Chartier reports today that one in five of Martha's customers is now less likely to return to the fold because of the allegations. (Innocent until proven guilty? The hell you say.) However, that's not the real problem Martha faces. The real problem is, once the dogs get their teeth into you, you've had it. This N.Y. Newsday story shows how old news--in this case, old news about 300 or more "rigged" IPOs from the late 1990s--can be re-spun as "Martha Stewart's in trouble." Every one of these stories, no matter how slender the peg, chips away at the social consensus behind Martha's stock price. Pity for the woman is scarcely appropriate or even possible, but the herd instinct is never attractive.

- 4:41 pm, July 24

In which our hero finds unexpected fame

A warm welcome to readers of Bourque Newswatch. The intrepid Mr. Bourque linked to me from his main page briefly this morning. Did you know that the Islamic garment known as the burqa actually derives its name from his ancestors? Bourque males were so irresistible to women that the ladies essentially had to be sewn up in gigantic Glad bags for their own self-protection. Arab visitors saw French women wearing la bourque, and history took its own bizarre course.

- 11:03 am, July 24


You may have read in the Globe and Mail about the Department of Canadian Heritage's Magazine Fund disbursements to periodical publishers. For your infotainment, here are the amounts.

The list illustrates, I think, how hard it is to structure a fair government subsidy even when you know exactly what you want to achieve with it. Tequila Sheila Copps's idea with this thing is simply to protect Canadian cultural content from American competition. The fund was created in response to the emergence of "split-run" Canadian editions of a couple of U.S. magazines a few years ago. It achieves the protectionist goal, for those who feel they need the protection. But look what else it does. The subsidies are pro-rated by circulation; a large-circulation magazine like Maclean's, as you see, can get over a million dollars a year. These magazines, far more than they are in competition with Americans, are in competition with each other for the reader's magazine budget. The fund throws more money at the ones that are already successful; if you are about one-tenth the size of Maclean's you get one-tenth the money. In other words, these rather large subsidies are mummifying the industry in its current state.

Is it fair that the biggest magazines should get the biggest subsidies? And if you don't think so, how else are you going to structure it? Sheila had other ideas and formulae in mind originally, but industry pressure forced her to go with a simple model. Speaking as someone who works for a magazine opposed to the government, I'm glad the subsidy can't be tweaked to favour anybody. Verrrry glad. It's to her credit that it is set up that way, if it must exist. But at the same time, there is a basic equity problem with a subsidy that doles smaller amounts to smaller competitors.

There is also the possibility that the subsidy could be forcing magazine publishers to spend money building circulation in the short term--which increases the size of the handout--at the expense of quality editorial content. Do we want a government subsidy to Canadian culture that may give an incentive to lay off good writers and hire more telemarketers? Or that may divert good writers into magazines and away from other media like newspapers or the Net?

And one more thing: how do you define a "magazine"? Last time I saw The Medical Post, it was on newsprint and looked exactly like a newspaper. I can't remember for sure, but I believe it even bills itself, below the nameplate, as "the newspaper for Canada's medical profession." And it's packed to bursting with expensive colour ads from pharmaceutical companies--but Ted Rogers rakes in a quarter million simoleons just the same.

- 4:51 am, July 24

Let's do the time warp again

I don't know about you, but I am thrilled to the collarbones that Phil Donahue is back on television with a talk show (on MSNBC). Phil is not what you'd call substantial, but I think everyone regrets the momentary lapse of reason that saw him driven off the air by Oprah. (Let's face it: everyone but a dwindling clique of soccer moms regrets Oprah, period.) Donahue was infuriating but distinctive, much like Howard Cosell, and he outlived his time: he pioneered a certain style of audience participation television, but then it was discovered that you can rope in more viewers with a mob than you can with an audience. He's been brought back from the dead now, not because there's any intention of reviving the original model of the Donahue show, but because he can be every bit as superficial as any other talking head, and he's a better showman than most.

Check out the transcript of his July 18 combat with Ann Coulter. Both were a little too busy doing jujitsu to land any punches, but what fun. Choice moments:

DONAHUE: ...We will talk about the book. But you take some heavy incoming from [David] Brock's book, which I'm sure you read.
COULTER: I did not read it. I don't know anyone who read it.
DONAHUE: Let me just tell you. He accuses you, among other things, of being an anti-Semite.
COULTER: Maybe that will help me with the Muslims.

Advantage: Coulter!

DONAHUE: All right, you're on the record as denying that you played these tapes for entertainment at your parties before the Paula Jones thing even was...
COULTER: Preposterous.
DONAHUE: Before the president was even deposed on the Paula Jones...
COULTER: Phil Donahue, do you still beat your wife? Because that's what I say to this charge.
DONAHUE: And we'll be back with Ann Coulter in just a moment.

Bonus non-sequitur points: Donahue!

I just feel young again seeing this guy in action, you know? With his little tangential diatribes and his use of the grammatical second person ("Because you were out there trying to get Bubba. You couldn't get him at the polls so you were going to knock him off right in the middle of his term"). Aw, that's just pure catnip to somebody who watched the Donahue show whenever he had a day off from school. I keep expecting Vladimir Posner to show up to talk about glasnost, you know? Good times, good times.

- 12:19 am, July 24

Red alert

A user of what must be an impossibly aged browser program complains that the red background, which is only supposed to apply to the sidebar at left, covers the whole text portion of this site. RESULT: 8,000+ WORDS OF BLACK TEXT ON A RED BACKGROUND, which makes the whole thing unreadable and putrid. I've tried a fix, but if you're having this problem, for God's sake e-mail me. I have tried to make sure this site is readable and moderately pleasant to look at on every known browser, including Lynx and Mosaic. Evidently these efforts were in vain.

She complained about the photo too, but you're stuck with that for the moment.

UPDATE: The black-on-red problem has been fixed, but I'd still like to hear from anybody who's having problems viewing the page, whether they're technical in nature or merely esthetic. Unless you have WebTV, in which case you're S.O.L., bub. Rule change: the customer is always right unless he's trying to read my shit with a WebTV!

- 9:29 pm, July 23

Number one at last

I am the laziest man in the entire world, and I can prove it.

I first browsed the World Wide Web with Lynx in late 1992, before graphical Web browsers even existed. This was at a time when the number of servers attached to the Web was on the order of one hundred. I remember the Gopher protocol and the fiery Courier letters of Scott Yanoff's List. There are a lot of people with Internet experience dating back further than mine, but the majority are surely in computing science or related technical professions.

Yet despite having watched the Web grow from an embryo to a giant, I only now, almost ten full years later, have finally created my own Web page. This delay must be truly extraordinary, and is perhaps a world record for lassitude. Once again, I have amazed myself.

- 3:35 am, July 23

The alien isolationist

(Via MeFi) Feast your eyes! Before the Interweb descended upon us, only idle plutocrats could peruse Action Comics No. 1, the first Superman comic book and the progenitor of the industry of caped heroes. But now we, the rabble, may see the complete original in all its glory.

And quite a surprise it is too! After some character exposition and chastisement of hoodlums and wife-beaters, we see Superman go after the most nefarious enemy imaginable to Americans young and old of June 1938.

"Hitler! It's got to be Hitler, right?"

No, friends, the wheel of history hadn't turned quite that far yet: in fact, in his very first adventure, Superman goes after a crooked U.S. senator who intends to--brace yourselves--get the United States involved in a European war, at the behest of a mysterious and furtive lobbyist.

SEN. BARROWS: I've told you to avoid me in public! What would people think if they knew I had anything to do with you?

LOBBYIST: Quit sputtering! I had to see you. Tell me: do you think you'll succeed in pushing the bill thru?

SEN. BARROWS: There's no doubt about it! The bill will be passed before its full implications are realized. Before any remedial steps can be taken, our country will be embroiled with Europe.

LOBBYIST: Fine! We'll take care of you financially for this!

SEN. BARROWS: I suppose you're going to be well taken care of yourself?

SUPERMAN [eavesdropping]: YOU BET HE WILL!

Such were the "isolationist" sentiments of ordinary Americans of the day--and no, not only of WASPs: don't forget that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of Superman and authors of this comic, were both Jewish. "America Firsters" of the period like Charles Lindbergh take a lot of crap, but if you're ever tempted to believe it, remember the old rule: you don't tug on Superman's cape.

- 1:51 am, July 23

"Moby" play

Dennis Loy Johnson, proprietor of MobyLives, is impishly trying to make trouble for the New Yorker. "Did you ever notice how the overwhelming majority of The New Yorker magazine's writers are men?", he asks, showing that of the 12-13 bylines normally on the index page, only about two, on average, are women's. "There have even been issues where the magazine's table of contents featured no women at all, or where the only contribution by a woman was a solitary poem."

Then we are asked what we think--challenged, if you will. What I think is that it's the Boston Celtics all over again. People used to hang the rap on the Celtics that they would take a slow, dumb white guy over a black player every time, and that that was the main reason the Celtics were the preferred NBA team of White AmeriKKKa. This is the semiotic role they always played in Spike Lee's theogony, to take the most notable example. What bothered me about this, even at the time, was that this was the same period in which the Celtics were making the damn finals every year. If you wanted to try to accuse, say, the Clippers of systemic discrimination--well, we could at least talk about that; there has never been any prima facie reason to think that team drafts, trades, or acquires free agents on the basis of talent. But how could you sustain such a charge, or even credibly advance it, against a dominant club?

And that's what I think about spraying the New Yorker with the reek of gender bias. It's the best weekly magazine in existence. Period. If that involves having a mostly male staff, fine. Whom do we want to replace with a woman, and what woman, exactly?

- 9:39 pm, July 22

World enough and time

I hope I'm not the only one who is disgusted with the constant push to remove time limits from aptitude tests required for college admissions. As things stand now, students are eligible to plead a "learning disability" and get extra time to write the SAT, the LSAT, and God knows what else. Are these learning disabilities hard to demonstrate? Not at all: you need only convince a doctor you suffer from "attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder." As the National Institute of Mental Health admits,

...ADHD does not have clear physical signs that can be seen in an x-ray or a lab test. ADHD can only be identified by looking for certain characteristic behaviors, and...these behaviors vary from person to person.

Your physician might insist on following you around for several weeks to confirm that an attention deficit exists, but more likely he'll simply take your word for it that you're extremely impulsive, fidgety, and inattentive. In the unlikely event you can't pull off this charade, you can plead dsylxeia dyslexia, or even a repetitive stress injury of the wrist or hand. Trust me, if you know people trying to get into a college or a law school, you know people who have played this little con game.

The result of giving extra time to people with genuine learning disabilities has therefore not been to promote even a fantasyland version of equity: it has been to openly encourage malingering. As a result, the time limits themselves are soon to be abandoned for everyone. (Until recently SAT numbers attained with the extra time were flagged with a stigmatizing asterisk, but the College Board has just backed down on this in the face of a lawsuit.) Timed tests like the SAT have been good statistical predictors--when combined with other data--of success in college. They are on the verge of being bastardized out of existence because college registrars are no longer interested in predicting success, or in promoting excellence. They're interested in fairness.

Well, perhaps not everyone with a learning disability is stupid, but it is certainly true that stupidity is a learning disability. I see no reason to respect or elevate other supposed disabilities above it: if the prejudice against dyslexia is unfair, how much more so the prejudice against stupidity? There are people who would have us say to ourselves that "Billy isn't stupid, he just has a learning disability, poor thing"; but what they really mean is that there are no conceivable circumstances under which Billy could possibly be called, or even treated as, stupid. And this may indeed be fair--but is it a practical basis on which to run institutions of higher learning?

- 5:25 pm, July 22

S to the Z to the A...

Confused by modern life? Me too. One of the fantastic changes which took place in the century just completed was the psychiatric profession's supplanting of the traditional cathartic, confessional function of the priest. For well over a millennium, the social responsibility for identifying and absolving sin had rested with the clergy; in the blink of eye it instead came to rest with the Freudian clerisy, since shattered into a half-dozen schismatic successor schools (VREEP! VREEP! ALLITERATION WARNING). You might think that priests would object to the change. But disarmed by the rhetoric of science, they were, in the main, in no position to object. And in fact, by a queer sort of funicular process, priests have come to rely on the semantic tools of psychiatry and its ever-shifting political definitions of mental disease.

Now, Thomas Szasz writes in Reason magazine, we see the grotesque fruits of this weird historical season: a parade of boy-buggering priests committing what their colleagues would have understood perfectly clearly to be sin 100 years ago, and pleading "sickness" instead. To make it even more bizarre, it takes an atheist like Szasz to explain:

Saying that a priest who takes sexual advantage of a child entrusted to his care "suffers from pedophilia" implies that there is something wrong with his sexual functioning, just as saying that he suffers from pernicious anemia implies that there something wrong with the functioning of his hematopoietic system. If that were the issue, it would be his problem, not ours. Our problem is that there is something wrong with him as a moral agent. We ought to focus on his immorality, and forget about his sexuality.

A priest who has sex with a child commits a grave moral wrong and also violates the criminal law.

Is everyone perfectly clear on that, then? Excellent.

- 4:54 am, July 22

An addendum has been added to a previous post.

- 2:54 am, July 22

A life of its own

Hey, uh... I don't know if anyone reading this has their own Web site, but did you ever load your page expecting that it had updated itself while you were away? Like, for just a moment you were expecting there to be new content, and then you realized how dumb that was?

Uh, never mind.

- 11:55 pm, July 21

A warm welcome to the acolytes of the Relapsed Catholic. The Szasz business is further up the page if that's what you came for. But feel free to sniff around.


The Dortmund chess tournament has ended: Topalov made the final push with the White pieces this morning but Leko held for a draw. The world championship will now be settled between Kramnik, Leko, Kasparov, and Ponomariov. This pretty much concludes the serious chess for 2002: the only events of even moderate interest on the calendar now are Russia vs. the Rest of the World (mid-September) and Kramnik's eight-game match with Fritz, a leading computer program (October). Chess fans might reflect that one benefit of having a disputed world title was that something was always happening. As the price of unity I suppose we must accept a return to the old days of long months between events of significance.

It's been a horribly slow news day too, which is bad news for me as I must start generating actual copy for my Up Front column. The pages are starting to be full of World Youth Day chit-chat, and who gives a damn. So the enfeebled Vicar of Christ is to be wheeled around on some sort of motorized buffet table for our amusement and edification--whoopee. When the Pope was still young and vibrant his travels were important and, I suppose, inspiring to Roman Catholics. Now it just seems like the old fellow intends to tax himself to death in a televised slo-mo suicide; makes one nostalgic for a Pope who would hole up in Castel Gandolfo and scribble anathemas in fine-tuned Latin. The crummy WYD attendance now being anticipated gives one the impression that even Catholics feel this way. There's an overt "last chance to see" element in the whole thing.

And Ipsos-Reid has a new federal poll out showing no slide in Liberal support despite the internecine warfare. Well, that shouldn't be surprising: Liberal voters, for the moment, can still have their cake and eat it too. If there is to be a drop-off in support, it will come when the civil war is finally settled, no sooner. Anyway, since few Anglophones consciously vote Liberal unless they have a direct interest in government, the fate of that party will be decided by how the organizers react to the outcome of the war, not by what people tell pollsters. One way or another, there should be fewer hands to the till at the next election when it comes time to fill buses with propagandized ethnics, HRDC beneficiaries, and demented seniors.

Of course, if Martin wins, he'll have the votes from Alzheimer's sufferers who think they're voting for Paul Martin Sr., so he's got that going for him, which is nice.

I'm mulling over an opinion piece about how the basic illogic of our political system creates this constant squabbling, this leadership churn within the parties. It all goes back to 1919... but for the moment that idea's for sale, not giveaway. I'll let you know if I write it up and flog it successfully somewhere.

- 5:59 pm, July 21

When worlds collide

The Weekly Standard reviews Colin McGinn's new The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey Through Twentieth-Century Philosophy here, but I'm not sending you there unless you have a passionate interest in analytic philosophy, which you don't. I just wanted to observe that Thomas Hibbs' review closes with a good anecdote from the book:

I am not sure McGinn intended the story of his chat with [Jennifer] Aniston at a movie premiere to be funny, but it struck me that way. When she asks, "Who's your favorite philosopher?" McGinn offers a series of names--Russell, Kant, Plato, and Descartes--of which only Plato is known to Aniston. Sensing that the conversation is not going well, McGinn blurts out, "Well, you are wonderful in 'Friends!'" McGinn observes ruefully that "the damage was done.... I just wish she had known who Descartes was, that's all.... It's not often that Hollywood meets analytical philosophy, and it would have been nice for it to have gone more swimmingly."
I love that butt-covering last sentence. Actuated by the purest of motives, was our hero. I'm sure he keenly felt his responsibility to the goddess Sophia, and none whatsoever to Priapus. McGinn should try his luck with Lisa Kudrow; she has a B.Sc.

- 4:04 am, July 21


(Via Fark) It's the Chris Farley Foundation, kids! Hmmm, a charitable foundation dedicated to the memory of Chris Farley. What kind of work do you suppose they might be doing to make the world a better place?

In the spring of 2001 a report by the Substance Abuse Center of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation confirmed a number of significant findings about substance abuse...The report, by one of the largest and most respected U.S. foundations devoted to health, contains significant findings about the influence of media in the problem of substance abuse: "Young people may use substances at an early age because of their perception that many of these substances will not harm them." The report concludes that "counter-advertising" by the media could have a significant impact on children, teenagers and young adults; yet only miniscule amounts of money are being spent to counter pro-substance portrayals.

Emphasis mine. Oh, is it ever mine. If there are only miniscule amounts of money being spent to lecture us about drugs, why are there anti-drug ads on my TV screen every 21.7 seconds??? Am I the only one who remembers the Super Bowl "If you smoke up, you're helping Osama" spots? You guys know the Super Bowl, right? Does the phrase "The most expensive advertising space in the entire history of television?" ring any bells?

I really don't think Chris Farley would want his fans spending money to support anti-drug messages. In fact, I have a suspicion he'd want us to spend it on...really good drugs. If there's an awareness campaign the star of Tommy Boy could conceivably support, maybe it'd be the Phil Hartman Foundation's continued good work against armed psychotic harridans.

- 2:16 am, July 21

What's it all about?

Just paging through the IMDB user comments for Alfie... uh, holy crap, I think this has to be the most misunderstood film ever made.

"Drew" of New Jersey writes that the movie takes a "cavalier attitude toward sex." Er, actually, Drewster, the movie has quite specific and stern things to say about "a cavalier attitude toward sex": I recommend watching it through to the end. With your eyes open.

Welshman "qrt7" says "The tale of non-commital, sleeping around and not taking responsibilities for your actions may have been quite riveting and fresh on the cinema screen in 1966 for a British audience, but now it just leaves one feeling cold." Yes, because obviously we as a civilization have sorted out all that '60s nonsense, haven't we? 1966? Might as well bloody be 1066!

A Croat with the marvelous e-mail address of "" urges us to see this "handy instruction manual for any aspiring lady-killer." Sure, buddy. And Rashomon is a movie about bad weather. Along similar lines, we have an Oklahoman's TV Guide-style summary: "Sex fiend tries to bed every woman he meets in jolly old England." It's the greatest episode Benny Hill never did, innit?

- 12:36 am, July 21

God, make it stop

I've had a reasonably pleasant evening lollygagging around and watching movies on CBC--to wit, Ruggles of Red Gap, which has a terrific screwball raggedness about it, and Alfie, which is quite devastating in that way that American movies just never are. But Jesus does the network ever need to stop running those Sunday Morning ads with Scott Page of the Barenaked Ladies.

[Sombrely:] My job is singing and dancing, and does that have any relevance after September 11?

We can't blame Scott: I'm sure no one does an interview with the idea that he's going to be crucified with interminable airings of the same inane quote. But who really thought, even in the microsecond after the Twin Towers fell, that pop music was going to have to come to a permanent halt? And anyway, just how much "relevance" did he think the Barenaked Ladies had before September 11, anyway? Christ. If I had a million dollars, I'd pay the CBC never to have to hear that line again.

Maybe I'd have enough left over to get them to deep-six the commercial for Mary Walsh's Book Club too. It opens with a portentous list of great works of literature: Hamlet, The Catcher in the Rye...uh, Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler??? Shurely shome mishtake?!

- 11:48 pm, July 20

Addendum: Yes, all right, fine, so it's Steven Page and not Scott. I'm terribly, achingly sorry for the mistake, it's simply subconscious hostility working itself out. Whenever I get my hair cut short, which is almost never anymore, some sack of trash or other tells me heyman anyone ever tell yuh yuh look like the guy from the barenaked whojamacallits, huh huh huh and under the current laws of the Dominion I am forbidden to stave in said sack of trash's face with the nearest coatrack. I've had people in other cars say this to me at stoplights. It's no fault of Steven's or Scott's or Shemp's or whatever the hell his name is. I'm sure he's a very nice fellow and his whimsical merrymaking and musical japery have brought unalloyed ecstasy to positively jillions of people. It's not his fault all fat guys with beards in Canada are now considered his pale simulacra. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. - 2:52 am, July 22

Where in the WorldCom

Reuters and Dow Jones are reporting that WorldCom is going to file for bankruptcy tomorrow. Maybe I imagined this... it seemed to me, though, that when WorldCom was pulling off a merger a week, Bernie Ebbers was always "Edmonton-born Bernie Ebbers" in the local papers. Since the stock nosedived, though, his origins have reascended into a cloud of mystery.

- 11:07 pm, July 20

The Most Dangerous Man Alive

It's official--I've received the first "Charles Manson" comment about the mug shot at upper left. I don't have a lot of options here, people. Short hair makes my head look like a can of pork fat, and the number of extant photos of me which wouldn't break your computer outright is in the low single digits. I'd have much preferred to go with no photo, but I reasoned that you can't self-promote without the "self" component.

To quote Paul Benedict in Spinal Tap, "I'm just as God made me, sir."

- 8:05 pm, July 20

Chessity chess chess

I never knew just how big chess's problems were until I tried to explain to someone what's happening with the World Championship these days. In 1984, when Garry Kasparov challenged Anatoly Karpov for the title for the first time, chess was still popular and comprehensible enough for the games to be broadcast on PBS. Can you imagine that happening now? Back then a fair number of people could have named the champ on request, or even if they couldn't, they'd still know enough to mention Bobby Fischer. Nearly 20 years on, this is certainly no longer true, although plenty of people still know Fischer's name thanks to the movie adaptation of Fred Waitzkin's book Searching for Bobby Fischer.

Well, the chess mess is in the process of being fixed, and here, as briefly as possible, is a primer on it.

As most do know, Kasparov did win the title from Karpov in due course and held on to it through a titanic series of battles lasting five years. When it was all over Kasparov had established himself as not only the champion but far and away the world's finest player. He has never really lost the latter distinction; indeed he is, if anything, more dominant over the board now than he was back then. He also became an immensely popular and influential figure, thanks to his charisma, his advocacy of glasnost, and his command of many languages. Here was a champion who was no jowly, dour Stakhanovite; he could serve as a real ambassador for the game.

And serve he did; but one result was to transfer the political power in chess almost entirely into Kasparov's corner. Kasparov had issues with FIDE, the old governing body of chess, which had developed a reputation much like that of the International Olympic Committee--only perhaps worse, owing to the presence, behind the scenes, of old-time Communist apparatchiks from the Eastern Bloc. In 1993 Nigel Short, a cricket-loving Englishman with a wicked sense of humour, won a so-called "Candidates cycle" to earn the right to play Kasparov for the championship. They mutually decided to leave the auspices of FIDE and hold a traditional over-the-board title match on their own, reasoning that the "world championship" predates FIDE and was not in its gift before the Second World War. (Kasparov won the match handily.) Kasparov also formed the Professional Chess Association, a players' union-cum-promotional organization which would soon succumb to problems of its own (only to be followed by a successor organization, which also collapsed).

FIDE, in a rage, vacated the "championship" title and held a playoff between two loyalists, Karpov and the bibulous, shrewd Dutchman Jan Timman. Soon there were two champions, Kasparov and Karpov, but the world naturally tended to recognize Kasparov as the "real" champion. Both men fended off title challenges in 1998 as the acrimony between Kasparov and FIDE got worse amidst further chaos.

Kasparov was criticized by some for infrequent title defences and gargantuan arrogance, but when FIDE developed an annual world championship in the non-traditional form of a massive knockout tournament, it was criticized for watering down what it called the world championship. Grief for the fate of the old, unified championship title was universal. In 2000 Kasparov organized a London title match between himself and a Russian ex-protege, Novgorod University's Vladimir Kramnik, who had emerged as the world's #2 player. Once pudgy and unkempt, young Kramnik turned up about 40 pounds lighter and tricked out in bespoke suits; he smothered Kasparov by reaching into history's closet and retrieving from it the Berlin Defence, which quickly came to be known as the Berlin Wall. A new champion was crowned, to everyone's surprise.

Meanwhile FIDE was handing out championships to whatever second-tier woodpusher could survive its knockout format; first the practically unknown Alexander Khalifman and then, in 2001, an 18-year-old Ukrainian wunderkind named Ruslan Ponomariov. The big elimination tournaments were great fun to watch, but the outsiders who were winning them weren't doing much for the format's prestige. FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the chess-loving head of state of the former Soviet republic of Kalmykia, was ploughing ever-increasing amounts of money into the promotion of chess, to little visible result.

Which brings us to this year, when the leading American player, the sardonic Yasser Seirawan, published a peace proposal in major chess organs. He was far from the first to do so, but amazingly, this diplomatic stroke from a traditionally rather undiplomatic man worked, resulting in the so-called "Prague Agreement". The charitable view of why it worked is that everyone just wanted to do what was best for chess; perhaps a more realistic view is that Kasparov (who as the top-ranked player still had tons of influence) signed on because he no longer had control of the title, Kirsan signed on because he was sick of haemorrhaging cash, and Kramnik signed on because--well, because he had no choice: the sponsors of his title match had gone belly-up and sold his contract for a rematch to the Einstein TV network, who put the frighteners on him and demanded title unification. (They brokered an arrangement with FIDE which allows them broadcast rights and some say over the title arrangements.)

The Prague Agreement involves a unification cycle which is now underway, although it is opposed by some top players who were left out of the arrangements as the price of peace. Sometime in 2003 or 2004, there will be a universally recognized World Championship match in the traditional style. One of the parties in this match will be the winner of a showdown between Kasparov and young Ponomariov, the current "FIDE World Champion". The other will be the winner of a match between Kramnik and whoever is victorious at the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting, an eight-player tournament whose penultimate game is going on as I type this.

The finalists in Dortmund are the Bulgarian Veselin Topalov, a former world #3 and current #5, and Hungary's Peter Leko, who is #8 or thereabouts (please don't make me check) and who became a Grandmaster in 1994 at the age of 14 years, 4 months, 22 days--a world record at the time, since beaten. Topalov is universally loved in chess circles for his fighting style, and Dortmund has cemented that reputation; in the four-game semifinal against cagey veteran Evgeny Bareev, he won game 1, then lost the next two games, then won the must-win fourth game and a rapid tiebreak to get through against huge odds. The tiebreak featured a finishing combination that was right out of Mortal Kombat; go here and scroll down to "the combination that won the tiebreak" to see it--it's a beauty.

Leko, by contrast, has been almost universally despised for being easily the most drawish of the super-GMs, but he's been going through the field here like a bipolar ninja on angel dust: he looks like a man on a mission, and I never thought I'd say that of Leko.

The first two games of the final were all Leko, who'd had more rest than Topalov and displayed the technical perfection which in the past has always led to polite handshakes and half-points all 'round. It's a four-game final; Topalov was once again up against the wall. This morning (or this evening in Europe), Top did the unthinkable: he won again in a must-win situation, against possibly the hardest player in the world to beat outright. This simply doesn't happen in chess. It's ten times as exciting as the World Cup. Tomorrow morning, Topalov must beat Leko again; if he does, the seat across from Kramnik will go to the winner of a rapid tiebreak. Will the maturing Hungarian prodigy lose the fire in his belly, or will the Bulgarian's run of magnificent chess come to an end? STAY TUNED.

- 1:33 pm, July 20

Cabbie U--

--still cheaper than an actual school. I always try to come away from cab rides with at least one piece of new information, and this was tonight's:

ME: So what city are you from?

RUSSIAN CAB DRIVER: Leningrad. [Catches himself] ...St. Petersburg.

ME: Jeez, you were gonna call it Leningrad? Do people still think of it that way?

CABBIE: Well, you know, when the city was called Leningrad, everyone referred to it as Pyotr--you know, "Peter". But now that it's back to St. Petersburg, everybody calls it Leningrad.

- 12:07 am, July 20

Green giants

I suppose I should have expected this: as soon as I let fly at the expense of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they annihilate the damn Eskimos. The score as I type is 45-11 in the fourth quarter, Riders' favour, and it honestly hasn't been that close. Both starting QBs have left the game. Bryan Hall, on my transistor radio, is screaming "When is this going to end for the Eskimos?" and his partner "Farley" is declaring "one of the worst beatings in the history of the franchise." That will teach me to tempt fate.

In my defense, Nealon Greene hasn't destroyed the Esks with an aerial attack: Saskatchewan has nearly 300 yards on the ground tonight. Part of that is probably attributable to the loss of DE Rahim Abdullah, who went out last week with chest pains and was found to have some strange aorta problem which will probably end his career. (It sounds like Elfrid Payton, the all-league end on the opposite side, has been making a superhuman effort to make up the deficit tonight.) The other problem, one apparent in the three previous Eskimo wins, is the offensive line. They haven't been able to protect Maas; every other snap is a sack or a near-sack. I don't know why the O-line isn't playing as a unit, because they're a talented and certainly experienced enough group.

The Saskatchewan fans are going ballistic, and Lord knows the poor bastards deserve a night like this; for those who don't know, we're talking about the Washington Senators of the CFL. The Esks, by contrast, are the league's equivalent to the Yankees. You can imagine how disconcerting this abominable thrashing is. There, it's over, 45-11. Nobody has left Taylor Field; you can hear the singing. Enjoy it, you bastards.

- 10:15 pm, July 10

The real enemy?

National Review's John Derbyshire, a marvelously unclassifiable man, has a message for us: "Don't Blame Islam". Like the rest of us, he's been wrestling with the most serious question of the day: "Do we, the United States, the West, have an argument with Islam?" He concludes, surprisingly, that the answer is no. The indictment against Islam is formidable:

We surely have an argument with a lot of Muslims. A gang of Muslim fanatics murdered three thousand of us last September. The media in Muslim countries are full of anti-Americanism. Furthermore, most Muslim countries practice forms of government completely at odds with the political ideas cherished by Americans. They are despotic, intolerant and obscurantist. Even the folkways of Muslim countries look to be unpleasant: they seem to conform to the pattern of so-called "shame" cultures, in which the rightness and wrongness of deeds are judged not by some inner moral compass, but by the reactions of onlookers.

And then there is the dreadful antisemitism with which Islam seems to be riddled. From professors of theology at Saudi universities to New York City cab drivers, it seems you only have to scratch a Muslim to find an antisemite of the vicious, irrational kind that disappeared from the Christian world half a century ago.

Where, then, to find exoneration? Derbyshire suggests that while the Islamic scriptures may seem monotonous and barbarous, there is nothing in the Koran which is ostensibly any more absurd or objectionable than the notions promulgated in the holy writ of Christianity, or Buddhism, or any other major faith. (Join me in silently scoring a point for atheism here.) If the lack of economic and intellectual success in Islamic states is to be held against Islam itself, how much more so the horrors of Soviet Russia against Eastern Orthodoxy, or the grinding poverty in Calcutta against Hinduism? And while Islam may seem "fatalistic," this is surely nothing compared to the determinism of the Calvinists, who nonetheless managed to lay the underpinnings of capitalistic civilization.

Everyone knows Muslims, he suggests, who are good-natured and decent and possibly even open-minded. If there happens to be an "Islamic" quarter of world which seems to live by rather different attitudes, we cannot attribute that to the text of the Koran, and therefore not to Islam.

Did you notice that there is an abyss contained within that innocent-looking little comma? I think Mr. Derbyshire has overlooked something important here, which is that "Islam" encompasses not only a sacred text, but a certain attitude to that selfsame text. It would be difficult indeed to argue that the Koran is more sanguinary than, say, the Old Testament. But the way in which Christianity has handled its scripture is very different from the way Islam has.

The formal attitude of the Christian church, from its beginnings until quite recently, has been that its holy books, while divine, are not to be treated as sufficient and wholly perfect statements of doctrine. "Our faith was in the world," the Catholics proudly proclaim, "before the Bible was written." Indeed many generations lived and died before the Christian canon was finally fixed, and disagreements persist. None but the most fire-breathing fundamentalist Protestant theologians would dare suggest discarding the commentaries and historical disputes of the Church Fathers, or of early scholars like Origen who came to be regarded as heretical or halfway so. The major Christian denominations all attempt to explain away some parts of the Bible as mysteries, or metaphors, or simply things we have agreed to no longer believe. Rival translations of Scripture battle in the marketplace. What we have, in short, is a myriad of Bibles--one to suit each man's convenience and historical situation. Christians live in a state of dialogue with their Scripture; it is the pulsebeat of the religion, but it does not constitute the religion. And so it goes, most certainly, with Judaism, and Buddhism, and most religious traditions worth discussing.

The Koran occupies a very different role within Islam. I must protest that I am no expert on this subject, but I am given to understand that as a basic matter of faith, Muslims believe that the Koran is perfect, an exact copy of the original spoken word of God. It is recited hypnotically and ritualistically by the gently swaying believer at prayer; its very sound is the object of orgiastic praise by exponents of Islam. Westerners may credit the Bible with a certain literary beauty, but by comparison the Muslim fetishizes his holy book, regarding it more the way one might a symphony. The original Arabic version is universally considered the only correct one (though translation is not forbidden). Indeed, all major Muslim sects regard the Koran as being uncreated, and eternal like God himself--almost a sort of co-deity, though, to be sure, God remains its author (perhaps in the same way that the Son proceeds from the Father in the Trinity).

The effects of these beliefs are well known. It is often said that "Islam had no Reformation." This is one way of putting it, but it would be relevant to add that Islam also never had an Arian heresy or a Great Schism or a Jesus Seminar. Islam is prostrate before the monumental face of its own sacred text; it is the attitude to the book, and not the book itself, which has discouraged critical thinking and religious liberalism in the Islamic world. (I speak not of the kind of "liberalism" which says "Let lesbians marry their same-sex companion animals!" I'm talking about things like not burning witches.) That's why I think John Derbyshire is off-point; there may indeed not be anything very worrisome in the Koran, relative to other sacred texts, but that really isn't the problem with Islam.

Do I "blame" Islam for the problems the West is having with the Islamic world? I'm hesitant to say yes or no, which makes me a bigger coward than Derb even if he's mistaken. I don't believe Islam is right, but then, I don't really think it's any more wrong, as a set of propositions, than the Christian religion. But there is more to both things than a mere set of propositions. It might be convenient or polite to equate "Islam" with the nice gentleman who runs the corner store, but that approach won't help us get to grips with the essence of the Big Question.

- 8:56 pm, July 19

Hello II

Now that the DNS information has propagated, I've deleted the "beta" greeting message. I forget whether that makes this one alpha or gamma... If you're reading this for the first time: yes, this is basically a new Weblog. Can you imagine? Adding another Weblog to a universe already positively purulent with them... it feels like breeding mosquitos for pleasure. Your correspondent is a journalist and editor in Edmonton, Canada (details here). Expect the unexpected. (Wait, that's stupid. If you expect it, how can it... AW, DAMN.) And feel free to drop me a line.

- 6:56 pm, July 19

But you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

The 3-0 Edmonton Eskimos go to Taylor Field tonight for their first real test of the season against the team we used to call the Green 'Riders. Alas, there is only one team called the Roughriders in the newfangled CFL, but it's quarterbacked by a fellow named Greene. That would be Nealon Greene, who was the starter for the Eskies at the beginning of last season. So the storyline is Nealon seeking revenge against the team that gave up on him. Sounds exciting, but pretty much every CFL team is currently quarterbacked by a former Eskimo, so it's the same story every week. When we play Calgary, it's Marcus Crandell seeking revenge against the team that gave up on him. When we play B.C., it's Damon Allen s.r.a.t.t.t.g.u.o.h. In Ottawa, Dan Crowley...etc., etc.

I happen to think that the Eskimos stuck with the right guy. It's all very well to talk about the value of a mobile, improvisational quarterback, but the football teams that win championships by and large win them with steely-eyed guys who stay in the pocket, stick to a plan, and bring heat. Accurately. I'm fed up with hearing about the great "physical tools" of scrambly waterbugs with 40% completion ratings. Jason Maas can hit a receiver; Nealon Greene can't. I wouldn't trade Maas for three of Nealon Greene.

None of which stops Terry Jones in the Thursday Edmonton Sun (no link) from airing a pile of nonsense about how Nealon Greene has a great future and is basically going to humiliate the Esks tonight. At least, that seems to be the subtext. Jones writes that the "rap" against Greene in Edmonton was that he couldn't read a defence. I don't really care if the guy could read the Oxford English Dictionary in an afternoon: he can't throw a spiral. Jones also writes "Greene is ranked seventh in the league's quarterback efficiency ratings...[Those are] Decent numbers." Hang on...being the seventh best starter in a nine-team league is "decent"?

Then we get a dose of hype from Saskatchewan GM Roy Shivers:

He [Greene] wasn't [current Eskimo head coach] Tom Higgins' guy. If Don Matthews was still there, Nealon would probably still be there and still be starting...I still say when Don Matthews left, that took care of Nealon. Tom liked the other guy. We like Nealon.

It's probably accurate to say that if Don Matthews was still coaching the Eskimos, Greene would still be the starter. But Matthews had to be let go as the coach of the Eskimos, because a mysterious "illness", or possibly a "medication" he was taking for said illness, left him befuddled and indolent. At that time, Maas was #3 on the depth chart. Now it's true that even when not freaked out on crazy juice, Matthews has always been enamoured of mobile signal callers. For whatever reason, we weren't going to get rid of Greene (who is extremely nimble) as long as Matthews was the coach. When Higgins took charge, he got rid of the guy who can't throw the ball. Good for Higgins, I say. By the end of last season Maas was clearly the second best QB in the league behind Khari Jones. In his last quarter of football for Edmonton, Greene went 0-for-9 in passing with an interception. And now, in 2001, the Esks are out to a 3-0 start. But Roy Shivers likes Nealon. Go ahead and marry him, you stubblejumping boob.

- 3:46 pm, July 19

"...and yet he is of course a monster"

Don't miss Carina Chocano's hyena-like savaging of Connie Chung's new show on CNN. The lede gets my vote for best use of the ablative absolute since Julius Caesar. In retrospect, it's not clear to me why Connie Chung has ever been considered quite sane. If you saw someone on the street with that much eye makeup you'd certainly cross to the opposite sidewalk. I've also forgotten why I've been cheering so hard for Salon to die. I guess I'm just a herd follower: it seems like there's nobody on the Net who isn't waiting with bated breath for it to go belly-up. Its continued patronage of Joe Conason would be a good reason to despise it, but that's more than counterbalanced by the paycheques it's supplied to people like Allan Barra, Camille Paglia, Ruben Bolling, and Heather Havrilesky. Leaving aside all the fellating of the Democratic Party, it's largely the magazine I would assemble if someone threw a few million dollars at me.

- 11:55 am, July 19

Back to the future

(Via Gene Expression) The Atlantic Monthly's Web site features a July 1982 piece by James Fallows on "Living with a Computer". Yes, we all know how far computers have come in 20 years: but try reading this article, and then pausing to think what's involved in the simple act of you reading it on the screen of your 2002 model computer. My stomach kind of lurched when I did that, and I don't take computers for granted by any means. (I know I've bored some of you with the story of how I saw a modem for the first time, at my uncle's house, and had it explained to me exactly what it did. And thought to myself, "Well, jeez, big deal. Why would you want to have your computer talk to another computer?" Joke's on me.)

I would have used a word processor for the first time very shortly after Fallows did. That'd be Broderbund's Bank Street Writer for the Apple II. Yes, I have credibility coming out my ass here.

Anyway, the Fallows piece is half personal testimony about how a word processor changed one writer's life, and half shopper's guide to the computers of the time. Too many incredible details to list here, but note that Fallows' first printer was actually a modified IBM Selectric typewriter, that he refers to the exciting prospect of "computer mail", and that at the time of writing IBM "has just burst onto the home market with its Personal Computer." Fallows talks about the ins and outs of various DOS flavours and writes "many people suspect that IBM will wage a counteroffensive with a DOS of its own." IBM had, of course, already made its deal with the devil--namely Microsoft, a company whose name appears not once in the article.

- 3:17 am, July 19

Unilateralism for me, but not for thee

Here is your official inaugural Hour of Anger at Janice Tibbetts writes in the Thursday National Post that Asa Hutchinson, director of the DEA, is complaining that the decriminalization of marijuana in Canada would "complicate" life for him and his fellow drug warriors. To be strictly fair to Hutchinson, he bends over backwards to avoid the impression that he is attempting to influence Canadian policy. ("It's not our job to tell Canada what to do.") It's pure coincidence, I suppose, that he gave this interview to our leading national newspaper just a few days after Justice Minister Martin Cauchon talked about taking pot possession out of the Criminal Code.

But even giving Hutchinson the benefit of the doubt on that score, how are we supposed to regard this prize quote?

We have great respect for Canada and Britain as well, and if they start shifting policies with regards to marijuana it simply increases the rumblings in this country that we ought to re-examine our policy...It is a distraction from a firm policy on drug use.

Lord, no, you wouldn't want to re-examine a policy. Because the next thing you know, people are questioning authority and fornicating in the church aisles and such. I'd like to know if America's drug interdiction officials are chosen for their ability to speak in such an offhandedly Stalinist way, or whether this is a talent they are forced to develop after they get such a job. One way or another, they all end up sounding like this in the end. It wouldn't baffle me so much if these were Frenchmen saying these things, but they're Americans. And it bothers me that most Americans won't be aware that Hutchinson is saying these things to a Canadian reporter. Do they know how this plays in a neighbouring country that is making an honest effort to "re-examine" its drug policy?

- 12:35 am, July 19