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ARCHIVES for July 2005

Archive inherits wind; leaves it in box gathering dust for 34 years

The Smithsonian has just unearthed some remarkable and hitherto unseen photos taken in Dayton, Tenn., during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Most extraordinary are two snapshots, taken over J.T. Scopes' shoulder, of Clarence Darrow questioning William Jennings Bryan outdoors on July 20, 1925.

- 10:15 am, July 31 (link)

Bureaucratic murder in space?

There's a surprisingly muted reaction today to the Wednesday afternoon NASA press conference in which the shuttle fleet was grounded for the foreseeable future. I hope some of you were watching for yourselves, because I will remember it for as long as I live. As far as anyone could tell, the general mood at NASA was still fairly euphoric over the successful launch when the three officials came into the briefing room to face the press, looking like rogue sepoys getting ready to be lashed to the mouth of the cannon. These gentlemen hastily admitted that Discovery had suffered the very same problem--foam shedding from the interface between the orbiter and the main fuel tank--that had led to the deaths of the Columbia astronauts. As the press inquirers were quick to point out, two years and hundreds of millions of dollars had been invested in this specific problem, and the net benefit appears to have been zero or less.

...the new piece of foam - a hat-shaped chunk as much as 33 inches across at the widest part and 14 inches at the narrow part - sheared off another 0.9-pound ramp on the external tank. It is known as the protuberance air load ramp, which NASA abbreviates as the PAL ramp, and was designed to minimize crosswise airflow and turbulence around cable trays and lines used to pressurize the external tank. The new piece is slightly smaller than the briefcase-size piece that hit the Columbia, Mr. Hale said.

Because of the other redesign efforts on the external tank, NASA engineers estimated that no piece of foam would come off the external tank that was larger than three-hundredths of a pound, and said they hoped to see no foam debris larger than one-hundredth of a pound.

On Wednesday, Mr. Parsons, who led the program requirements control board that considered all modifications, said, "We had enough data that showed we had had very few problems with the PAL ramp." The ramp, they found, performed a valuable protective function, he said; with no other obvious options, they decided the shuttle was safe to fly.

Thus is confirmed one of the wisest of human maxims: "If there's no solution, there's no problem." Discovery, apparently uninjured by the debris, is now locked in a high-altitude embrace with the International Space Station; when it comes home--if it comes home--it and the remainder of the fleet will have to be grounded for a more radical re-work of the fuel-tank design.

It's a shocking disaster. And what made it more shocking were the continual protestations from Michael Griffin and Bill Parsons that Discovery's current mission was a "test flight" in which major anomalies were anticipated. Was this phrase used freely when the crew of STS-114--who, for the moment, seem to have dodged a large cream-coloured bullet made out of synthetic insulation--was being recruited? The original test flights of the space shuttle were conducted with crews as small as two members. Question for NASA: why are there five men and two women aboard a spacecraft whose engineering properties were apparently being "tested" for fundamental survivability?

- 1:29 pm, July 28 (link)

Just overheard on NASA TV

Space shuttle astronaut to mission control: "Thought you'd like to know, Houston, that we're just now crossing over into Canada. It's a really beautiful view."

CAPCOM to Discovery: "Canada? Is that the big country north of the U.S.?"

To get the joke, you have to know that CAPCOM on duty was Julie Payette, space veteran and Canada's official Chief Astronaut. (Say, aren't they looking for a well-known Quebecoise over in Ottawa?) Oddly enough, Payette spent much of the morning guiding the Discovery crew in their use of the Canadarm to photograph the thermal envelope of the shuttle. It's a painstaking process, pretty much day-long, that was absent from previous missions; one curious side-effect of the Columbia disaster has been to ensure that all future shuttle flights will be Canadarm-equipped. Later today, the images will be used to determine whether the shuttle's external surfaces have suffered any damage that would prevent re-entry.

- 12:00 pm, July 27 (link)

Here come the brides

The federal government has legalized gay marriage, and Calgary is alive with the peal of same-sex wedding bells. I was a little surprised to learn, however, that most of the people availing themselves of the new privilege publicly are visiting Americans. The San Francisco Chronicle offers a Martian's-eye-view of Alberta's gay summer; you can feel the reporter straining at his desired thesis that Alberta homosexuals live in a state of low-grade terror, when in truth they merely seem glad to have the nuptial option and not necessarily so interested in exercising it.

It is charming to see American gays discovering that they are in fact "safe as far as walking to restaurants holding hands" in Calgary. I'd like to know exactly where on the planet one would feel more safe doing so than in Calgary or Edmonton. There are parts of Toronto where it might not be advisable, but I don't know of any in the Alberta cities. As the Chronicle points out, Calgary has a (well-attended) annual gay rodeo. In my part of Edmonton, bars and restaurants are too busy keeping the drag queens out of the women's toilets to check whether they're holding hands or not. If there's anyone left who would be fazed or indignant at the sight of a same-sex couple expressing public affection, he must have long since fled for a more heteronormative place.

- 11:42 am, July 27 (link)

Fun fact o' the day

Most everybody knows that genetic-lotto winner Lance Armstrong was born with the significantly less all-American name Lance Gunderson. But did you know that he was named for legendary Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and penis-flasher Lance Rentzel? Strange but true. He's the white version of the black kids who are walking around with the name Orenthal!

- 10:28 am, July 27 (link)

Against arson

One day, chatting with the proprietor of a used bookstore, you drop the name of a significant American poet and critic whose influence on your life has been incalculable. The shopkeeper's face brightens, and he goes to rummage in the back of the store, emerging with--among other things--the manuscripts of two unpublished juvenile poems by your hero.

The poems happen to be awful. And the poet, now dead, made it very clear during his life that every mite of his own work that he might possibly regard as publishable had already been placed between covers.

So what do you do? Annihilate the poems, as you strongly suspect the poet might have wished? Or preserve them for posterity?

Aaron Haspel actually had this problem. Here's how he settled it.

(SPOILER: The poems are bad, truly--but are they entirely without charm? Having assisted in their rescue, I'm inclined to look for virtues in them; you would have to be very unsentimental indeed not to like a child you had just helped pull from the maelstrom, even if he turned out to be a distinctly ugly and unpleasant lad...)

- 11:35 am, July 25 (link) summer entertainment guide

BBC5 coverage of the Ashes

For a North American night owl who's a connoisseur of sports esoterica, a radio broadcast of test cricket ought to be pure comfort food. And the Beeb's ball-by-ball coverage does deliver on the promise of sprawling, unmediated, unpredictable radio delivered ten hours at a time. (On day one of the first Test, Stephen Fry put in a brief appearance.) The Australian networks are picking up the BBC feed, so the network observes a strict one-Brit one-Aussie rule at all times in the booth. This leads to a lot of barbed, culturally volatile exchanges covered by a transparent shellac of collegiality. The English are generally poor at hiding their commingled fascination and horror at the gusto and glowing health of the Australians. The Aussies, for their part, maintain a suitable Zarathustran superciliousness--but it sure seems like homo australis is awfully vulnerable to the verbal stiletto that every Englishman above the age of four carries in his boot. Every time the various English broadcasters start to wax acerbic, their Australian colleagues become flustered and try changing the subject to the events on the field (as well they might, since their squad is making England's cricketers look more like Scotland's). Has any attention been paid to the Australian sense of humour, or absence thereof? They seem to mostly export soap and pop stars to the wider world while their British and Canadian brethren airlift comedians. It's not a good sign when your most sophisticated national ironist is Dame Edna Everage.


As Hollywood movies get stupider, it becomes easier and easier for an upcoming filmmaker to create excitement by flinging brainteasers and red herrings in the path of the viewer. Pulp Fiction was originally celebrated for its narrative complexity; by the time Memento came out it seemed as linear as a Honeymooners episode. Primer, an understated, tight movie whose premise you can't even mention without a spoiler warning, would seem to take the "puzzle" model about as far as it can go. But who knows? Maybe by 2020 the arthouse crowd will be losing its shit over two-hour visual rebuses in unsubtitled Cornish.

Reno 911

No doubt I'm the last one to discover this show, Comedy Central's improv-ensemble takeoff on Cops. The cast is great, and the gag writing is harsh enough to make the show a big favourite of cops and cop-haters alike. It's incredible on every level, and particularly welcome in view of the woeful state of Comedy Central original programming. Somewhere, Dave Chappelle is hot-knifing hash in a treehouse while this show steals his audience one viewer at a time.

Web stuff

Wikipedia is probably the single site that has hoovered up most of my time lately. A couple of weeks ago I found myself trying to absorb the startling news that old-time movement Objectivist Jimbo Wales was Wikipedia's founding father. This is surprising not only because I remember Wales as a mailing-list cop from my movement days, but because Wikipedia still doesn't look like a stable, Hayekian sort of spontaneous order to me. As Lynne Kiesling points out, there's no price mechanism there, just goodwill and spare labour. Despite my crypto-anarchist intellectual conditioning, I still can't figure out why Wikipedia is so good. Which, by the way, it is. I don't, for one second, buy the criticisms of third-rate pedants who have convinced themselves that traditional encyclopedias are bias-free oracles sprung from the brow of Athena.

Elsewhere in the miracles department, check out the Google Maps Pedometer, an indispensable application that should be incorporated into the main Google Maps interface about 2.3 hours after you read this.

Question for the 21st century: where'd Camille Paglia go? I hope her new Random House site turns into something.

Spread the word: is making a fairly rigorous effort to bring serious statistical ranking procedures to boxing, which needs them desperately.

This interesting weblog about New Testament studies is on hiatus until August. Author Mark Goodacre is more or less in the N.T. Wright theological camp--and N.T. Wright's page is pretty good too, by the way--and is a prominent critic of the Two-Source Hypothesis. Most semi-curious laymen probably think that's a settled issue in biblical criticism, but it's not necessarily so.

Fellow heathens may prefer to flip through this remarkable online edition of Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.

- 2:48 am, July 24 (link)

Early thoughts on the New Ice Age

The new rules are a complex, mutually interacting system; references to partial experiments and precedents in international and AHL play are limited help in foretelling what we'll see when skating commences. We will probably be surprised at how little changes, since teams will be forced to adapt to the new conditions with their existing talent and habits.

That said, one strong effect of the new rules would seem to be a risk of running older players out of the game. Aside from goals and penalty calls, there are four major causes of stoppages in play (am I forgetting any?): offside, icing, the goalie covering the puck, and shooting the puck into the stands. The NHL has taken steps to reduce all of these--reintroducing the tag-up offside; giving the linesman the option to wave off unintentional icing; and imposing delay-of-game penalties on goalies who stop play needlessly and on defensive players who put the puck over the glass deliberately. Moreover, teams that ice the puck have lost the right to make line changes before the next face-off. All this would seem to add up to a big advantage for young legs, and a big problem for the Roenicks and Chelioses (Cheliotes?) of the world.

I find Brian Murphy's account* of the erasure of the red line most convincing:

In the AHL, the elimination of the red line allowed teams to position a winger at the far blue line to receive a long pass, although teams were conditioned to defend against those breakouts, Lynn said. So the winger typically chipped the puck into the offensive zone to begin cycling. Not much different from the NHL game... Because goaltenders were limited to handling the puck behind the net, teams would loft the puck into the corner and forecheck it out of there instead of rimming it around the boards, where goalies could corral it for their defensemen.

These are marginal effects, but good ones. The loss of the red line won't, on the AHL evidence, increase scoring by the 40% or so that some people seem to desire. It will break up the trap as we've come to know it. Why else would Larry Robinson, newly come into possession of the New Jersey Devils, be so upset about it?

New Jersey Devils head coach Larry Robinson appeared on TSN's Off The Record two nights ago, and said that without the red line, he would employ a 1-3-1 defensive system, with a defenceman and two forwards lined up along the blueline. "There's no evidence [removing the red line] opens up the game," one NHL scout said. "It needs to be tested to see if that can happen at the highest level with the best players in the world. Let's not make a promise that doesn't have a basis in fact."

English translation of Robinson's comment: oh shit--without the trap, I'm coaching a .500 team here. I can't wait to see if the 1-3-1 is really the best idea Larry has: I'd anticipate a lot of humiliation at the hands of opponents' third and fourth lines.

The removal of the red line should renew some of the intense play in the corners we've lost as goalies have become quarterbacks. I didn't object to the spectacle of free-ranging goalies like Marty Turco on its own merits; I'm open to tactical change in the game, and there are probably conservative NHL fans still learning to cope with the "new" rule that lets goaltenders fall down to make saves. What made goalie quarterbacking absurd was the degree to which they were coddled by the officials. The old rule was that the goalie was fair game for a hit if he left the crease (just as a quarterback can be sacked), and that would have kept goaltender adventuring in check just as well, but apparently it's not an option. Since the modern goalie seems unwilling to grow a pair, we have little choice but to confine him to his stupid little trapezoid. (But N.B.: this rule change will bring a few more good pure puckstoppers into the league, since puckhandling will no longer be a make-or-break skill for young goalies.)

The new dimensions for goaltender equipment correct a recent, egregious, and entirely objectionable change in the game, and are the most thoroughly unimpeachable rule alteration adopted by the NHL governors. Indeed, the relevant question is whether they have gone far enough--only an inch has been taken off the width of the pads, for example. With modern materials we should be able to confine goaltenders to smaller protective equipment than their predecessors; the goalies plead that players shoot harder than in the past, but composite sticks offer scarcely any measurable speed improvement over wood, and contemporary players are still 10-15 m.p.h. behind Bobby Hull. (Many of whose opponents in net played without a mask.) All I ask is that, when I look at a 1981 game next to a 2005 game, the goalies in the latter don't look like they flew in from the Planet of the Michelin Men. Call me a crazed romantic, but I want to see the freakin' glove save come back into hockey.

As for the shootout, it's an abomination we'll learn to love soon enough. [SEE NOTE BELOW about what follows. -ed.] Aside from being an exciting in-game element, it will raise the stakes of every individual late-season game, discouraging frontrunning clubs from playing for ties down the stretch. As distasteful as I find the random nature of the shootout, it solves a worse problem: since the league introduced overtime, not every game has had the same value in the points race. We've all seen games where the teams made a tacit decision to split the three points available in OT between them. And the end of the tied game will enhance water-cooler conversation: now we'll be able to say "Did you see that Dallas is 19-24?" instead of "Did you see that Dallas is 17-15-5-3?", which no one ever does. This is a gain not to be underrated. And in the playoffs we'll still have the manful, sobering shaking-off of the regular-season OT rules in favour of the incomparable, cruel grandeur of sudden death.

[UPDATE, 4:04 pm: Silly me, I took "no more ties" to mean, implicitly, that there would also be no more cheap points for overtime losses. In fact we will still be saddled with late-season three-point games under the new dispensation. (Boo.) Thanks to Matt Fenwick for catching the error. I hope it will be attributed to the flood of new information we are all trying to digest, and not just to carelessness...]

*[UPDATE, July 25: It gets worse--the AHL actually played with a red line in effect last year, contrary to popular (and Brian Murphy's) belief. Goes to show you just how much I supported the Edmonton Roadrunners (R.I.P.) during the lockout. The AHL introduced the following rule change before the '04-'05 season:

...passes will be permitted from the defensive edge of one blue line to the offensive edge of the other blue line...

This led to a reduction in two-line pass calls, but it was not the radical "elimination" of the centre line that the NHL now proposes; the puck still had to be overlapping the rearmost and frontmost lines involved in the pass. Joe Tasca takes the scalp.]

- 2:06 pm, July 23 (link)

Test strippers: Harvard researchers are working to reconstruct the history of Hollywood's most mysterious "movie stars". -5:45 pm, July 22
Here's a slightly brushed-up version of my July 10 essay for the Calgary Herald's centennial series.

"The rest of Canada can't be wrong." That was the Alberta Liberal slogan in the harvest election of 1935, still the meanest and most dramatic in our province's history. Facing a chaotic brawl against Social Crediters, United Farmers, Tories, non-partisan independents, the democratic-socialist CCF, and the Communists, the Liberals tried to distinguish themselves with a simple appeal to Albertans: trust in the wisdom of your provincial brethren, and vote for the natural governing party. Needless to say, it didn't work. In the polls of Aug. 22, 1935, Social Credit won a crushing victory.

And while the Socreds have long since dwindled into insignificance, the Alberta Liberals still aren't getting very far with "The rest of Canada can't be wrong" as a tacit credo.

For students of Alberta history, the 1935 election is an awe-inspiring moment -- perhaps the most startling act of defiance ever perpetrated by a Canadian electorate. William Aberhart, originally a schoolteacher from Ontario, had needed just five years (1918-23) to turn a tiny Bible-study group into Calgary's fastest-growing religious organization. By 1927, when Aberhart founded the Prophetic Bible Institute -- an innovative combination of broadcast facility and Protestant academy -- his ringing voice and back-to-basics evangelism made him the outstanding media star in the Canadian west. But he didn't meddle in politics until 1932, when he chanced upon a pamphlet by an eccentric Scottish engineer, Major C.H. Douglas.

Like any sensitive man living in the Depression, Aberhart was preoccupied with the misery of the aged, the hunger of children, and the hopelessness of the young. No apparent great world crisis or act of physical destruction had caused the crash of 1929. Somehow, a staggering amount of wealth had just evaporated overnight. Douglas's theory -- that purchasing power was chronically short of output under capitalism -- seemed like an essential insight into a world gone mad. Energized, Aberhart began using his radio broadcasts to publicize Social Credit on the radio, delivering thunderous Mosaic speeches and making sly use of what we would now call "sketch comedy."

One message got through loud and clear: Social Credit "experts" could be brought to Alberta to manipulate the monetary system and -- without incurring inflation -- generate a $25-a-month "social dividend" for every man, woman and child in Alberta. This was provocative stuff. (At the time, the average working man's wage in Canada was about 40 cents an hour.) The scandal-wounded United Farmers government had been able to provide no distinctive answer to the Depression, and the pressure from Aberhart was so great that the UFA would gladly have made Douglas god-emperor to save its hide. But the government's best minds understood Social Credit's implications better than Aberhart, and could see no practical way to introduce it on the provincial level. They, and the other parties, became roadkill for the Social Credit media machine.

The $25-a-month Socred promise endowed the election with literal life-and-death importance. Party workers on all sides defaced opponents' signs as a matter of course. Social Credit audiences bullied and jeered opposing speakers; a favourite tactic was to drown them out with car horns. Entire areas of the province became hazard zones for old-line candidates. Eminent men defected to Social Credit simply to preserve their community standing. The hardliners who stuck with the traditional parties tried to demonize Social Credit, warning of food riots and capital flight. And they brought in spokesmen from outside the province to denounce the movement, which only hardened Albertans' determination.

The turnout on election day was well above 80 per cent, and has no equal in Alberta elections held before or since. Because of the complexity of counting transferable ballots, it took days to confirm that Social Credit had won 56 of 63 seats. But the overall outcome was obvious, and worldwide reaction was immediate. Albertans, it seemed, would be the first to test-fly a non-red, Anglo-Saxon alternative to high capitalism. The Social Credit fan Ezra Pound, hearing the news, dashed off excited letters to friends from Italy. In California, a young Robert A. Heinlein was stirred to write his first novel about the glorious Socred future. From California, Upton Sinclair scolded Albertans for having rejected conventional socialism in favour of economic illiteracy. A Boston newspaper printed the legendary headline ALBERTA GOES CRAZY.

But the revolution fizzled quickly. Citizens of Calgary who lined up at City Hall for their first $25 on the day after the election had to be turned away -- and they never did see a cheque. For all Aberhart's passion, control of the monetary levers was firmly in the hands of the brand new Bank of Canada. Douglas refused to travel to Alberta, and sent vague, worthless advice. An effort to introduce made-in-Alberta "prosperity" scrip failed miserably. The premier became preoccupied with podunk authoritarianism, passing laws to torment bank employees and threaten unfriendly reporters. The courts and Parliament fended him off until the Second World War arrived. Aberhart died, largely unmourned, in 1943. His assistant and successor, young Ernest Manning, abandoned the monetarist heresy and became an eloquent spokesman for the newly rehabilitated concept of capitalism.

Looking back, the 1935 election might be regarded as the most ignominious event in Alberta history. It's the classic example of a rural populace falling for pie in the sky from a fast-talking evangelist swindler. What's perhaps notable is that Albertans never seriously considered socialism or communism as an alternative, even when Social Credit failed. Social Credit, as a theory, never claimed to redistribute tangible wealth; it merely sought to recapture a social surplus lost through bad accounting. Aberhart, as nasty and misguided as he was, didn't peddle envy.

The Alberta voters of 1935 didn't want a big government that took over factories or farms. They didn't want to nationalize their neighbour's feed store or his fancy sandstone mansion. They simply wanted the economic and political framework rectified, in order to give every man a chance to realize his own dreams. They might have had the details wrong, but the redemptive individualistic spirit was right.

- 3:46 pm, July 21 (link)

Playing catch-up: I'm a bit behind on reprinting older columns that international and Canwest-phobic readers might not have seen, so I'll be letting 'em trickle out over the next day or so. First up: my July 5 column on the release of Karla Homolka.

The woman who turned in the Scarborough Rapist was released from prison yesterday -- maybe you heard something about it on the news. Apparently the praise of a grateful public was not forthcoming on the occasion. And it's not hard to understand why, since our benefactor also happens to be the ultimate blond demoness of the public imagination. But we might do well to recall the situation in 1993, when Karla left her husband -- remember him? -- and started talking to the cops.

Paul Bernardo is thought to have started raping women as early as 1983. His meeting with the 17-year-old Karla in 1987 had caused the trail of his crimes to grow somewhat cold as he became preoccupied with his new plaything. Niagara Region police investigating the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy had Bernardo on a suspect list when his fists gave Karla the raccoon mask that later helped her engineer her plea-bargain. But criminal profilers had convinced the Niagara task force that they were looking for a working-class suspect.

The successful, stylish, married accountant was far down their list, and the file on him was slender. The Metro cops who eventually nabbed Bernardo had never told their Niagara brethren that Bernardo had been investigated for the Scarborough rapes. And apparently the suspicious 1990 death of Bernardo's sister-in-law didn't figure into anyone's calculations.

I'm writing these words in my home in downtown Edmonton: from the nearest corner, I'm a short stone's throw from the hooker stroll. A serial killer is thought to have killed at least eight of these ruined, blank-eyed women, dumping their corpses in hollows and culverts on the city's periphery. The Edmonton police are playing the same game that their Ontario colleagues had to play back in the '80s and '90s: following hundreds of bogus leads, appealing to the public for help, and, mostly, waiting. One hopes they will play with more skill than the Vancouver cops, who watched a skein of missing women grow to 60 or so before they could connect the dots in 2002.

It is difficult for us to imagine that the capture and imprisonment of Paul Bernardo might actually have been an exemplary outcome -- but society is largely helpless, without some stroke of luck, against his type. Like it or not, Karla provided that stroke of luck. Bernardo was unusually intelligent, bold, and careful for a sexual predator; he could have eluded the police for an awfully long time. His crucial mistake in dealing with Karla was the same as the crown prosecutors': he believed she was an anaesthetized nullity, a brainless slave doll whose free will had been beaten out of her.

In short, like his legal pursuers, Paul Bernardo was a confirmed believer in "battered wife syndrome." But there were limits to the battered wife's masochism. The prosecutors construed her participation in the accidental killing of her younger sister, Tammy, as a particularly acute sign of low self-esteem. The wiser observer can recognize it as a sign of profound self-centredness. And when Karla had to decide whether to go back to her husband, to dwell in a short-lived sexual nirvana until his taste for youth made her disposable, she again made the selfish choice. That selfishness, perversely, served society's interests by leading to Bernardo's arrest. Call it Adam Smith's Bloody Invisible Hand.

I'm a believer in capital punishment, and I believe that Karla was -- given total knowledge of the facts -- an excellent candidate for it. I'd certainly like a proper explanation of why the plea-bargain wasn't thrown out when it was disclosed that she had conveniently "forgotten" the 1990 rape of "Jane Doe." Informed observers insist that Karla could still be charged with that crime, and recent interviews with "Jane" herself have destroyed the Galligan Report's butt-covering account of prosecutorial conduct.

Despite all that, I think nearly everybody now discussing Karla's release is trying to have things both ways. Her "defenders," such as they are, can't tell us why society should feel bad about limiting the freedom of a helpless automaton. (Aren't we equally helpless when it comes to despising murderesses?) Those who insist that she has always been a moral free agent need to explain why she isn't entitled to some credit for voluntarily co-operating with the law. At the very least, we need to be thankful that Paul Bernardo is never again going to be free. The monster released upon us yesterday was merely the sordid sideshow in his circus of horror.

- 2:59 am, July 21 (link)

Potter's wheel: this morning's National Post features my column about living in the eye of the Harry Potter promotional hurricane. Read the print version online for free; I'll have a sampling of the mountains of e-mail soon.

- 11:58 am, July 20 (link)

Sampled, repurposed, detourned, flogged: Got 17 minutes and 46 seconds? Docu-artist Nate Harrison's audio installation about the history of the "Amen break" will knock you flat. (þ: NullDev) -11:20 pm, July 19
Hockey notes

Wait a minute--after all that, the NHL isn't even going to televise the draft lottery? This is a joke, right? Tell me they actually mean to televise it. Tell me they mean to take advantage of the drama everyone has been waiting three years for. Tell me they don't intend to confirm the irresponsible speculations of every NHL-loving conspiracy theorist in the world. Reassure me, against all the evidence, that this game is being run by adults. (Memo to Gary Bettman: if you come out of a closed room and announce that Sidney Crosby is going to a major American market, you are going to get assassinated. A simple streaming webcast could save your life here.)

Tom Benjamin "agreed completely" with the Ken Campbell piece I ripped here, and explained why in a long entry at his hockey weblog. Check the comment thread for a bench-clearing brawl that peters out into civility after a few solid punches (one or two of which land on my nose). Benjamin's work is generally thoughtful, but the collective-bargaining agreement has driven him round the bend a little bit. However, he definitely deserves an answer to his questions about the Oilers' spending plans.

[UPDATE, 10:12 pm: Late today The NHL announced plans for a Friday TSN telecast of the lottery outcome. But, as Pierre Lebrun reports for CP, "only the results of the draw will be shown. The actual drawing will take place away from the cameras." The current plan helps the league create some excitement--with Bettman announcing the teams from #30 to #1--but it doesn't help a bit with the conspiracy theories. In fact, when Lebrun tells me that "The actual drawing is conducted by the NBA's legal department," I start to believe those rumours myself. (But doesn't everybody trust the NBA legal department, Daddy?)

Note this recent quote from ESPN hockey columnist John Buccigross:

I remember watching the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery and seeing the little bend in the corner of the envelope that held the Knicks logo in it and am convinced it was fixed. The NHL needs Crosby in New York, no doubt. They need his 50-foot head in Times Square on a Reebok billboard, need him to appear on TRL and Conan O'Brien, and Last Call with Carson Daly and Letterman, and the million fan viewer guarantee New York playoff games bring a national TV rating.

This is a big deal: the NBA has never been able to shake the Ewing rumours, and something like 75% of basketball fans believe them. At the very least the NHL needs to videotape its lottery drawing, make the tape available after the TSN show, and above all get a proper independent accounting firm to oversee the process. C'mon, the NBA legal department??? How basic is this?]

- 10:24 pm, July 19 (link)


I would be interested to know what people with connections to Prince Edward Island think about this news item:

PEI Premier Pat Binns lashed out yesterday at Air Canada's decision to scrub its Toronto-Charlottetown flights this fall, accusing the airline of mistreating his province by using small planes that cramp the style of tourists.

Mr. Binns defended his government's subsidies for rival WestJet Airlines Ltd., saying the discount carrier's 166-seat Boeing 737-800 aircraft carries passengers in greater comfort than Air Canada's 50-seat Bombardier CRJ-200s.

Air Canada is angry at the PEI government for providing nearly $500,000 in marketing and revenue incentives to lure WestJet to launch summer-only flights between Toronto and Charlottetown. Air Canada will be cancelling flights between the two cities for six months each year starting this October, opting to operate the route only in the spring and summer.

For me, what this story inspires isn't so much indignation as distaste. I feel genuinely freaked out that, in 2005, there are still places where debates like this can happen. What year is this, 1952?

National and provincial politics used to be dominated everywhere by this sort of thing--the government gives a handout to Company X, and the opposition blames them for alienating Company Y. Studying such disputes from the post-Hayek vantage point is depressing: back then everybody granted the virtues of aggressively dirigiste state policy in areas like transportation, and what you generally ended up with was a corporate popularity contest like this one. (The federal Liberals and Conservatives were practically defined by the railroad interests they supported for the first 60 or 70 years of our history.) Here, Binns appears to have laid out $500,000--and imperilled year-round air travel from Charlottetown to Toronto--for the sake of some surprisingly minor considerations.

"We have baseball teams coming in, musicians playing in a week-long concert series and golfers for four or five days. They come fully loaded with luggage, golf clubs and a lot of gear," Mr. Binns said. "And don't forget that Anne of Green Gables is part of the school curriculum in Japan, so that creates a big draw here for the Japanese."

I suppose you can argue that in tiny, tourism-dependent P.E.I.--which is to say, a P.E.I. that has been rendered tourism-dependent by a century of hyperactive policymaking--things like whether golfers feel comfortable in coach really do make a lot of difference. The flip side is that the province's permanent tax base is not large enough to bear the effects of gross political mistakes. One way or another, the islanders are at the mercy of companies like Air Canada--and in that circumstance you are better off with a "no subsidies for anyone" approach that at least lets capital flow transparently towards profit, and leaves you confident that business decisions really are business decisions instead of acts of revenge or rent-seeking. (One thing I do suspect strongly, though, is that the island would be much better off today if Lucy Maud Montgomery had never written those goddamn books.)

- 7:30 am, July 19 (link)

Raising the bar, or crossing it?

Q: How do you suppose the estimable New York Times covered the Jackie Robinson story in 1948? Do you suppose they ever wrote anything like this?

From Oscar Charleston to Cool Papa Bell, Negro ballplayers have historically validated leagues of their own by making important cameo battles against whites. They then returned to their peers, using the residue of attention, respect and good will to lift the visibility of their circuits. But Robinson isn't interested in cultural boomeranging. After each major-league game he plays, he says he is more convinced of his place as one of the big-leaguers and less excited about being a star among blacks.

Or did they ever make a flat assertion like this?

No wonder the Negro Leagues are nervous about Robinson. They cannot afford to lose baseball's black prince to the white man's world.

It doesn't seem to have been the prevailing liberal mood back then, even though the Negro Leagues actually did wither and die after Robinson (and took a little cultural distinctiveness with them). But liberalism has changed a great deal since 1948: the proof is in Selena Roberts' Sunday Times piece about Michelle Wie, which contains passages precisely analogous to the ones above.

- 3:04 pm, July 18 (link)

A six-word preview of my next sports column for the Western Standard

Dear Jack Nicklaus: fuck off already.

- 2:10 am, July 17 (link)

A list: 10 Alberta roadside attractions that could induce nightmares in children and emotionally vulnerable adults

"Susie", unnervingly anthropomorphized World's Largest Softball, Chauvin

Hulking, homicidal giant cowboy, Airdrie

Shambling Tire Man complete with threatening arm gesture, Grassland

Effigy of soiled, corpulent chef, Mariana Lakes

"Eugene the Pipefitter", clumsy automaton mounted on advertising sign like an inarticulate warning from some extinct mutant civilization, Bodo

Ambiguous giant woman lifted directly from the fever swamps of Freud's imagination, Taber

Holocaust victims at play, a.k.a. "Brotherhood of Man", Calgary

Blank-eyed, existentialist giant walleye, Slave Lake

Imagine the World's Largest Western Boot stamping a human face forever, Edmonton

Baffling, ominous political statement in giant slingshot form, Hughenden

For nightmares near you, be sure to visit the exhaustive compendium at Large Canadian Roadside Attractions.

- 11:09 pm, July 16 (link)

Uncertainty principles

Oh no! The Toronto Star says that the new NHL collective bargaining agreement is going to be bad for small-market teams! I suppose I should be terrified, since, in common parlance, this adjective "small-market" is more or less synonymous with "located in Edmonton". Of course--again--yesterday afternoon we sent fifty-five thousand people to the Friday pre-qualifying of a Champ Car race, but small is as small thinks, right?

The Star's Ken Campbell points out that the players won one large victory under the new CBA: unrestricted free agency, which previously kicked in when players turned 31, will gradually slide backwards to 27 (or less for players who crack the NHL at 18 or 19).

...teams will now face the proposition of losing star players because they either won't have enough room under the salary cap or it will force them to spend closer to the cap limit of $39 million (all figures U.S.). In 2003-04, 15 of the league's 30 teams spent under what the cap will be next season.

"Wait until fans of small-market teams like the Ottawa Senators find out about this," said one player agent. "I sure hope they win the Stanley Cup next season because what are they going to do when teams offer Chara and Hossa the cap (of $7.8 million) and Redden $6 million?"

It ought to be noted here that the agents like the CBA less than the players or the owners, which shouldn't be surprising, since they weren't represented at the bargaining table. I think what we have here is a disaffected agent talking--and I'm using the technical term here--bullshit. It's only my opinion, but wouldn't you would have to be high on cheap solvents to pay a big stiff like Zdeno Chara 20% of your maximum possible payroll? What are you going to do, fill your defence corps with Chara and five low-cost AHLers? Is Marian Hossa--easily intimidated as he is--really worth 20% of an entire payroll? Is even Wade Redden, whom I love, worth 15%?

This is pure fantasy, is what it is. NBA teams working under a salary cap have learned that there's no singular formula for success under such a system, but a certain formula for failure is tying yourself to overpaid talent. The only people who are going to be making $7M+ under the new system, without leaving franchises in an awfully deep hole of mediocrity, are four or five superstar goaltenders and the very occasional perennial MVP candidate.

An NHL executive told Campbell that the Calgary Flames are going to be particularly hard-hit by the new CBA, because Jarome Iginla will now go unrestricted next summer, and because--

If you go by 2003-04, they were in the top 10 in revenues so they'll have to share revenues. So now they lose the Canadian assistance plan and they have to share revenues. How exactly does that help them?

Of course, if you "go by 2003-04", Calgary's going to be in the Stanley Cup finals every year. This cockamamie statement suggests soul-shattering things about the intellectual quality of "NHL executives". And remember, these are the guys who won this labour dispute.

Finally, the agent wanders back into Campbell's copy and warns that "Edmonton always complained that they couldn't keep their stars and that they lost Doug Weight and Bill Guerin when they were 30. But now they might lose Eric Brewer when he's 26." If this final dollop of scare sauce is intended to keep me awake at night, I'm afraid I'll have to tell Mr. Unnamed Source that I am, as an Oilers fan, more than ready to buy Eric Brewer his ticket out of town. (Which is fortunate, because he turned 26 in April.) Brewer has been the most overrated object in the known universe since the summer of 2001; when the Oilers still had Niiniimaa he was undeniably the fourth-best defenceman on the team, and in '03-'04 he frankly contributed less game-for-game than Igor Ulanov, which is a statement I never thought I'd find myself making about anyone. What does Brewer do? Considering his ice time, his assists total is a ghastly joke; he doesn't hit hard or often for his size; and there's a reason Mike York was playing point-guard on the power play before York hurt his wrist in '03-'04. But people keep putting Brewer on national teams and citing him as Edmonton's Big Man on Campus.

In the short term, what's obvious is that Canadian teams are going to be the ones whose fans will come back the fastest. Hell, they may the only ones whose fans come back at all. In the long term the new CBA would seem to intensify the importance of accurate player valuation (as well as the subtle art of assessing the negative value of a roster spot) and to put a premium on good scouting (since the general importance of young restricted-agency talent will be larger than ever). For the Oilers under current management, this is a saw-off. GM Kevin Lowe has been very good at snatching underappreciated players--Steve Staios, Jason Smith, Cory Cross, at least a half-dozen ex-Rangers--from under the noses of other teams. He played hardball with Mike Comrie when Comrie was Edmonton's boy idol--I cannot overemphasize the courage of this--and Comrie's shortcomings appeared right on cue as soon as he fled town. So that perceptivity is likely to translate to excellent cheap free-agent signings in the new universe. But so far the jury's still out on Lowe's draft performance, and it's taking longing glances toward the gallows. I don't really know what's going to happen when play resumes. No one does, and fans should keep that uppermost in their minds between now and the start of play.

- 9:02 am, July 16 (link)

Intensity in three cities

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I'm trying to last out an amazing day of sports. On Friday morning we had Nicklaus taking his last poignant amble around the Royal and Ancient as his successor found his extra gear and pulled away from the British Open field. Throughout the day, one could hear (if one lived in my neighbourhood) the faint sounds of Friday qualifying for the inaugural Champ Car Grand Prix of Edmonton. An estimated 55,000 people turned up at the airport--this is on the Friday, mind you, for a freaking Champ Car race. And the circuit is getting rave reviews from the drivers. I wonder if Bernie Ecclestone is still looking out for a North American date to substitute for Indianapolis?

In the evening the Eskimos entertained the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at nearby Commonwealth Stadium--though you can't say they did the same thing for the fans, at least until the winning field goal on the last play of a fumble-filled 14-12 slapfight. (Don't be fooled by the Esks' 14 points: it was four field goals and two singles.) Now I'm hooked on's live audio coverage of the World Series of Poker final table. I'm not a big poker fan, but this is the kind of hilarious, sloppy, sarcastic, unmediated broadcasting marathon I dream of. Poker pros Phil Hellmuth, Erick Lindgren, and Jennifer Harman are basically just shooting the breeze in front of an open mike (placing drink orders all the while). On one huge pot, Lindgren and Hellmuth got distracted by a thousand-dollar bet with each other on the outcome of a hand. At another moment, (the married) Hellmuth spotted a trampily-dressed poker-room bellissima and blurted out "Fuck, Erick, there's your next girlfriend." Much time has been spent dissecting an explosive press-room shoving match between Minh Ly and self-explanatorily-nicknamed Mike "The Mouth" Matusow. (This New York Times profile of Matusow strangely fails to note that The Mouth--who finished 9th--just got sprung from a six-month prison stint for drug possession.) It's glorious insanity, all centered on a handful of unknowns who were lucky enough to reach the final table in a 5,619-player field.'s front page has a link to a terrific WSOP photo essay.

[UPDATE, 2:53 pm: Minh Ly was originally identified in this entry as the better-known Men Nguyen... thanks to Mark Jeays for spotting the mistake. Jeays writes, "That audio broadcast was indeed one of the best broadcasts I've ever heard. [Daniel] Negreanu, Harman, Lindgren, [Chris] Ferguson, Hellmuth, and [Layne] Flack all went being incredibly insightful, to banal, to intentionally funny, to unintentionally funny." I think it was around 2 a.m. Vegas time that Hellmuth and Ferguson--possibly the two most recognizable faces in contemporary poker--had a long discussion about the Starburst candy they were eating.]

- 1:51 am, July 16 (link)

Kids, don't try this at home

As a good Canadian I'm naturally thrilled about the arrival of Inuit Legend Barbie (seen here), the fruit of 20-year-old Christy Marcus's victory in a Mattel-sponsored design competition. Canadian aboriginals deserve a place on the collector's shelf next to other "World Culture" dolls like Flower Drum Song Barbie, Rights of Man Barbie, Gypsy Strumpet Barbie, and Being Devoured by a Fur Amoeba Barbie. I just wonder exactly which Inuit legends the doll commemorates. Maybe this one? Or this one? Possibly this one?

- 4:32 pm, July 15 (link)

J.K. Rowling: fascist creep?

Over the weekend--and this is rapidly becoming a mildly embarrassing Canadian tradition--a couple of Canadian book outlets accidentally sold about a dozen copies of the forthcoming Harry Potter novel before the worldwide launch date. Raincoast Books, the Canadian publisher of the series, joined with lawyers for J.K. Rowling to obtain an extraordinary prior-restraint order against those who had purchased the book in good faith.

While the book has been printed and shipped in sealed boxes to vendors around the world, the work is not considered published. Raincoast is obligated to protect the confidential contents of the book until July 16, as promised to J.K. Rowling and according to her requests regarding the publication. In addition, Raincoast is responsible for ensuring existing contracts are upheld and that the conveyance, communication and misuse of confidential information is prevented.

The content of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is confidential in nature. The content is neither public property nor public knowledge. And significant measures have been taken to ensure the security of the Book and to ensure the contents remain confidential for everyone.

The fans who innocently purchased a copy would not ordinarily be entitled to obtain the confidential information. The injunction asks them not to keep or disclose what they obtained from unauthorized copies of the Book. This includes reading, reviewing and revealing the contents because it gives an unfair advantage over all others who comply with the on-sale date.

That's an interesting choice of verb--"the injunction asks", just as if a court order backed by the threat of prison were no different from a civilized request. It's also interesting that the fans who bought the book are openly described as "innocent." Incredibly, as Michael Geist points out, a close look at a scan of the original order shows that B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kristi Gill refused to grant even harsher prior-restraint measures requested by Raincoast and Rowling. The Scotch billionairess wanted the Canadian media slapped with a general publication ban on any details that might have trickled out due to the accidental sales, and--believe it or not-- to "compel anyone who had read the book to provide full details about anyone with whom they may have discussed the contents of the book."

And after all, it's not like authors and publishers have an interest in protecting free speech, right? It's hard to know whether to be angrier with Rowling--who was prepared to all but lock up fans of her book who happened to find it in a shop on the wrong day--or Raincoast Books, who nakedly abused IP law to protect their windfall Potter profits from the effects of their own egregious screwup. And I'm afraid--especially given Geist's reaction--that I'm awfully suspicious of the National Post's story on the subject. The lawyers quoted therein agree that of course the order is a reasonable application of copyright law, even though Raincoast's claim that the "book is not considered published" is absurd on its face. What the hell would you call it, if not publishing, when a printed text is offered for sale in a Mac's store?

See also Daniel Radosh's take. I am just well-informed enough about the series to get the Dolores Umbridge reference.

- 1:04 am, July 14 (link)

Heard a great deal over the past week:

"...not all Muslims are extremists, and after all, the ones I know aren't capable of something like what happened in London." Do you suppose the people who say things like this are thinking of that keen young cricketer who spends so much time at the park, or perhaps that sweet-faced 30-year-old chap who teaches disabled children? It seems to me our political problem with Islamic terror would be pretty damned simple if it were the outspoken "extremists" who blew themselves up--but it never is, is it? Something in Islam appears capable of creating a near-invisible change in the souls of young men (and women), a change that goes unnoticed even by family members right up until the moment Saeed comes back in tiny bits from a weekend excursion. And this passage from the Independent does not bode well for the British government's plans to attack terrorism through Islamic religious institutions.

When [Hasib Hussein] was last spotted by the friend he had shaved off his beard. Al-Qa'ida analysts have claimed that may be a sign of a radicalised Muslim's intention to become a terrorist. The friend said: "I asked him why he had shaved off the beard. He said it was a long story and that he did not like one mosque saying one thing and another mosque saying that was the wrong way. When he heard so many arguments he thought, 'Forget it. I will go my own way'."

The Blair administration's counterterror strategy, according to leaked documents that have popped up in the U.K. press, depends heavily on co-opting "moderate" imams and mosques. Judging from this evidence, such a strategy may already be part of the problem, since it ultimately serves to sap the credibility of any institution that doesn't advocate violent jihad.

- 11:31 pm, July 13 (link)

Hubbert for dummies

The Peak Oil theory of M. King Hubbert has suddenly become popular with a certain species of intellectual--the kind, mostly, who has a bone to pick with capitalism and who is searching eagerly for a post-Marxist killer flaw in it. If you've ever had one of these guys jawing at you, you'll want to read Steve Verdon's series on peak energy (1, 2, 3, 4). His verdict is that the Hubbert-peak theory is true in a sense, but mostly useless for setting policy or making predictions about the global oil supply. (Hilariously, world oil production already passed a distinctly noticable peak in the late '70s, leading the Hubbertians to declare imminent doom--and then backpedal when they realized it wasn't the real one. Overall their prognosticative record is about as solid as that of the Jehovah's Witnesses.)

What's surprising to me is that I've talked to several Albertans who swallow the calculations of Hubbert's present-day followers without noticing that they often depend heavily on the distinction between "conventional" (or "proven") oil sources and supposedly exotic ones like the Athabasca Tar Sands. When Hubbert himself wrote, the distinction was real and important, because bitumen extraction was still experimental and unprofitable. Today the difference is all but arbitrary, and oil companies are switching capital to the sands en masse, recognizing that "non-conventional" extraction in Northern Alberta may be more economical even than future "conventional" finds. There are any number of excuses for Americans not to know this: for them the education process has just begun. For someone in Alberta not to realize it is just mind-blowing.

- 10:57 pm, July 13 (link)

Sleep soundly, Canada, she's still alive

Congratulations to the absurdly overfunded gang at CBC Arts Online for turning our tax dollars into the 1,000th "She Ain't Anne of Green Gables Anymore" Megan Follows profile... it's nice to see someone keeping that proud Canadian tradition alive after twenty years. I mean, somewhere, there may still be a CBC viewer who has no clue whatsoever that little Annie has gone on to appear in R-rated movies and occasionally use the F-word. I don't know how Follows stands it myself; if I were in her place, there would be a awfully long skein of halfwit entertainment reporters "mysteriously" strangled to death. "The murder weapon appears to have been a long braid of red human hair..."

- 6:27 pm, July 12 (link)

Who wears the pants

From a Monday Globe story about the succession to the viceroyalty:

Other names being circulated include former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark, current Ontario Lt.-Gov. James Bartleman, and former Liberal Ontario premier David Peterson. Ms. Clark, in Ottawa Monday, only chortled at suggestions that Rideau Hall might become available soon. He wouldn't say anything further.

Now come on. I'm no fan of the Rt. Hon. myself, but calling him "Ms." is just low!

Actually, I seem to recall that he got a few snide "Ms. Clarks" back in '79 when he started to look like a contender and people thought it was weird that his wife had kept her maiden name. Remember that? What a bunch of pasty, steak-gnawing churls people used to be--you young 'uns have no idea. People wouldn't let that whole surname thing go until the late '80s, when, as I recall, she finally had a public meltdown after hearing the question for the nth time and broke into tears. ...McTears?

- 4:28 pm, July 12 (link)

When former Wisconsin governor Gaylord Nelson died last week, he was hailed as the inventor of Earth Day. In today's National Post I reveal that the real story's not so simple. You can read the column online for free.

- 11:27 am, July 11 (link)

The Calgary Herald, having planned a series containing personal reflections on the great moments in Alberta history, approached me last month to write about the 1935 provincial election. That's the one in which Alberta elected a Social Credit government against the uniform advice of economists, national politicians, wise heads, and, frankly, most anyone with common sense or knowledge of the constitution. It's the one time Alberta politics--normally the driest of spectacles--has attracted something like worldwide notice.

The Social Credit fan Ezra Pound, hearing the news, dashed off excited letters to friends from Italy. In California, a young Robert A. Heinlein was stirred to write his first novel about the glorious Socred future. From California, Upton Sinclair scolded Albertans for having rejected conventional socialism in favour of economic illiteracy. A Boston newspaper printed the legendary headline "ALBERTA GOES CRAZY".
You can read the whole column in Sunday morning's Herald. The piece is introduced as "...eighth in a series of centennial essays by celebrated Albertans...". Can I just ask who's doing the celebrating and why I wasn't invited?

Elsewhere--i.e., in the forthcoming issue of the Western Standard--I have what I think is a pretty good column about Pierluigi Collina, the world's most famous sporting arbiter. Which reminds me that I was going to reprint my column from last month about the Central Red Army football club...

Unless the absence of NHL hockey has driven you into the arms of European soccer--and you might be surprised how many people this description fits--you won't have heard about CSKA Moscow's victory in the UEFA Cup final on May 18. But you should know about it. Why? In part, because of the absence of NHL hockey.

CSKA's 3-1 victory over Sporting Lisbon represented stirring defiance of the odds. Before last month, no Russian team had ever won a European club title of any kind. In February, the club's president, Yevgeny Giner, and his right-hand man, nephew Vadim, were ambushed by gunmen in their jeep on a Moscow street. Vadim received a serious chest wound in the resulting shootout. But both men survived to see their club through to the final match--which just happened to be scheduled for Sporting's home park in Lisbon. Almost the entire game was played in CSKA's half of the pitch; CSKA took just one corner-kick compared to Sporting's 15. But the Portuguese side's organization could not overcome the samba-style ingenuity of CSKA's hired Brazilian guns Dudu, Daniel Carvalho, and the colourful striker Vagner Love. (Born Vagner Silva da Souza, the forward earned his nickname in Brazil for--how to put this tastefully?--well, let's just say he defied his junior team's rules against having female visitors in the hotel.)

For those who know their footie history--or even their hockey history--these are strange names to find on a CSKA roster. Founded in 1923, CSKA was the sporting organization of the old Red Army, and is still part-owned by the Russian Defence Ministry. For nearly 70 years, it was the banner under which the representatives of the Soviet menace marched. Supermen like basketball's Sergei Belov and hockey's Vladislav Tretiak held army ranks and took army pay, living and training in barracks. Their lone goal: asserting socialism's supremacy over capitalism in the sublimated but symbolically pivotal cold-warfare of sport.

But today the imprimatur of the Centralny Sportivny Klub Armiya has become largely the plaything of multimillionaires. The Giners are wealthy associates of Roman Abramovich, the controversial oligarch who has steered Chelsea to dominance of the English Premier League. That relationship has made Russian fans jumpy about the prospect of a fire sale of CSKA players to Chelsea. But the UEFA victory may boost the Giners' credibility and allow the Russian league to retain some of its brightest domestic talents. Shortly after the Lisbon match, Sibneft--the mighty oil and gas firm Abramovich controls--announced that it was boosting CSKA's sponsorship deal to make it the largest in the history of Russian soccer.

From a Western vantage point, it is still hard to know which Russian oil fortunes are likely to survive mob violence and adventurous prosecutors to become stable, multigenerational legacies. But the Russians' position of power in European soccer is now established, and seems likely to endure. As Russian firms seek tax advantages and look to the construction of a civil society, other legendary Russian soccer franchises have found corporate parents: Dynamo has Yukos in its corner, and Spartak has Lukoil. Young Russian players have had a decade and a half to play alongside and learn from Latin soccer innovators, and corporate money continues to flow into the sport.

The cause of Russian soccer is booming just as other European countries reach the limits of payroll growth, so the UEFA title, everyone agrees, is only the beginning. And the process will not be confined to soccer. Russia has already joined Spain and Italy among the pro basketball centres of Europe. Kazan's hockey club, backed by Tatarstan oil giant Tatneft, played this year with a budget estimated at between $50 million and $65 million. This enabled the club to sign five NHL All-Stars and six other NHLers in the lockout-driven buyer's market for labour. And Abramovich himself, whose net worth in dollars is measured at over $10 billion, owns the Avangard team in Omsk.

This means that the NHL is no longer operating in a vacuum. There's competition in eastern Europe now--competition with the cash to take back east European superstars, and even to steal our own young talents from under our noses. The short-sighted, crabby NHL fans who want the players put in their "place" by the owners had better just hope that place doesn't end up being Moscow.

- 5:00 am, July 10 (link)

The apes of God

Memorial University physicist John Lewis kindly added to the intelligent-design dialogue this morning; I think his is a common method of bisecting the Gordian knot of science and religion, though it's rarely so well expressed.

I really don't agree that the idea of evolution is inimical to religious belief. When I first heard about it, at age 10 or thereabouts, I thought, "Wow! How awfully clever of God to have come up with that!". The randomness of the process of evolution disturbs some fundamentalists, those, really, of little faith; but what is random to them would not be random to God, who, standing in a sense outside of time, would know the outcomes of the process of evolution in the same thought in which He envisioned it. Evolution IS intelligent design.

The problem, I guess, is that it won't really do to cram together the concepts of randomness and design. Prof. Lewis is conceding here that the God-endowed universe, the one in which we supposedly live, is truly indistinguishable from one sans God. It's an intellectually honest approach, but implicitly it also concedes to the atheist that he's quite right, on the natural evidence, to go on as an atheist. If God could not be bothered to sign his handiwork, should the devotion of his creatures be rightly expected? All he's given us to get by on in this world is our pitiable reason.

Geoff McInnes sent along an interesting and relevant book review from First Things. It closes with an interesting observation from Cardinal Newman:

Design teaches me power, skill, and goodness [meaning here, cleverness in craftsmanship], not sanctity, not mercy, not a future judgment, which three are of the essence of religion. ...I believe in design because I believe in God, not in a God because I see design.

- 5:21 pm, July 8 (link)

Google as deity

They say that a quantitative change, at a significant enough scale, can become a qualitative change. Ever since I adopted Gmail a few months ago, I've been telling people that it was much better at filtering out spam than competitors like Hotmail. This just isn't true, I now realize. I get as much spam in my Inbox as I ever did, if not more. The difference is that Gmail's interface is so fast to load that killing spam in any quantity is no longer a chore. Thanks to the Notifier I see spam as soon as it arrives--and I can dispose of it reflexively, without even really thinking about it. It's an automatic, instantaneous gesture. Hotmail, by contrast, loads slowly and isn't even bright enough to take me automatically to the most recent end of my message queue. Indeed, when I kill a stray spam in Hotmail--back when I still used to bother doing that--the program yoinks me back to Page One of my Inbox, which still contains leftover messages about Amy Fisher and the Charlottetown Accord.

So, spam is basically over: thanks, Google. Gmail's login page, as it happens, contains a ticker showing the user the growth of the storage space in his account in real time. (2374.703891 megabytes and counting!) Which raises the possibility of another pivotal quantitative change: file-sharing through e-mail. The Canadian government has recently adopted the courant international approach and introduced legislation requiring ISPs to, basically, spy on user traffic on behalf of copyright holders. Doesn't it seem possible, in light of this approach, that high-capacity e-mail, combined with encryption, might become an attractive front-end for the sharing of copyrighted material? What's an ISP going to do--send out warning notices to a bunch of people trading files with names like snrkftzqwyjibo.avi?

- 4:59 pm, July 8 (link)

Somebody's got to say it

The world is rightly impressed by the stoic resolve of Londoners in the face of yesterday's transport bombings. So it should be. But let's remember that Londoners spent 25 years living with the threat of terrorism sponsored by Americans. This might, I suppose, be borne in mind by those who are now looking for ritual acts of apology from the worldwide "Muslim community". Surely old Paddy who used to pass the hat 'round the South Boston pub is first in line?

I'll be honest: I take attacks on London personally in a way I cannot when New York and Madrid are targeted. It's one thing for them to kill innocent people, and another thing--not necessarily worse, but distinct--when they set off bus bombs next to the facade of Charles Dickens' house. (Or blow up the old Baltic Exchange.) London is the second home of everyone who thinks in English--and this emphatically includes Americans; the Boston Tea Party was the most characteristically English act in human history. It certainly includes the Irish, whether they care to admit it or not. Unless we are much misled about the facts, the sound we heard yesterday was Mecca--that capital of ignorance and superstition that forbids the tread of the infidel--sending an impotent message to its free, expansive, ever-living opposite.

- 2:52 pm, July 8 (link)

Memo to WaPo book reviewer Dennis Drabelle: the accepted term is "Moose Javians". All you had to do was ask. -1:06 pm, July 8
The ascent of man: two letters inspired by this entry

An old engineering joke: three engineers are talking to a friend from a seminary (as this is told at UBC, the friend is at VST--the Vancouver School of Theology, which is on the UBC campus). The seminarian remarks that God's magnificence is reflected in the design of the human body. The electrical engineer readily agrees, and asserts that God is in fact and electrical engineer--who else would have designed the wonderful information systems, the nerves and spinal cord, the brain, and so on. A mechanical engineer says that, no, the design of the shoulder joint is proof that God is a mechanical engineer--the joint has 360-degree articulation, and although fragile, is capable of great strength. The civil engineer quietly comments that God is unquestionably a civil engineer, and says no more. The others challenge him on this assertion, and he replies "Who else would put the waste disposal in the middle of the recreation centre just to save on the plumbing?" -Dean Cardno

I'm a pastor in Southern Alberta, and because I am surrounded by hurting people, broken marriages, addictions, I guess have little time for battling the evolution-creation debate. It does not seem to make people behave better, regardless of which side is taken. Your entry did bring me up short though, as I personally am committed to making the story of (1) God making the world good, and (2) it being broken at the Fall (and subsequently, (3) God redeeming it through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit) as the ruling story of my life. It seems to me a very good story, explains much of what I experience, and has been a good guide for the sort of decisions I should make in how I carry out my vocation. All I'm saying is that I don't think it can be tossed aside as easily as you did in your blog. Besides, even if you reject the Bible's "mythology" (a term I use to not say anything about its truth or falsehood, but rather to denote a set of stories which explain how the world works), are you not left with the same problem? Science can explain why the optic nerve might be in the wrong spot (randomness), but reaches desperately when trying to explain the miracle of sight. So it seems to me we're all trying to answer the same question: How can the world be so full of wonders, yet have so many troubles? -Kris Peters

[If I can be excused for giving Darwin the last word, here's an excellent website discussing what we know, and don't know, about that "miracle of sight" business. -ed.]

[UPDATE, 5:35 pm: More here.]

- 5:29 am, July 8 (link)

"Move over Eugene Levy, there’s a new older nerd in town!" The torch passes to David Cross. -5:36 pm, July 7
Hard act to follow: could David Lee Roth be Howard Stern's replacement at Infinity Broadcasting? FMQB says the rumours are flying. -4:21 pm, July 7
Mailbag--gibbet division

The following note appeared in my Inbox shortly after my Tuesday column on Karla Homolka was published. It's a response to a tangential statement in the column. Normally I have a rule against publishing responses to print columns on my site with the sender's identifying information, but I'm making an exception for Eldon Janzen of Surrey, B.C. He's a special guy.

Mr. Cosh's statement, "I'm a believer in capital punishment" stamps him as one with a primordial mentality more cold-blooded than that of Homolka or Bernardo. Those two monsters didn't act under the guise of legality or society's approbation.

I could read this letter a thousand times and still go "Wow." I mean, WOW.

- 3:21 am, July 7 (link)

Prolegomena to an alphabetic history of American capitalism

Reporter Michael Riordan pointed out recently that one consequence of the imminent parricide of AT&T will be the winking-out of its famous NYSE ticker symbol, T. Needless to say, I love this sort of thing. A quick Google search turned up a February CNN Money story about the tribulations of the firms that have the once-prized single-letter ticker marques. Can it have been 14 years ago that U.S. Steel thought changing the name of the company to match the ticker symbol was a good idea?

I'm amused to learn that the NYSE is still holding I and M open for Intel and Microsoft. In a way, the example may suggest why the single-letter ticker symbol is losing its cachet amidst hard times for blue-chips and widespread middle-class stock ownership. INTC and MSFT are already widely recognized brand appendages; by the time Intel and Microsoft are willing to give them up, the shares presumably won't even be worth selling anymore.

- 2:43 am, July 7 (link)

Broken Holmes: The Harvard Law Review article linked to here is really amazing (and, incidentally, contains a fascinating long footnote about the way the Canadian constitution handles treaties). The part in which author Nick Rosenkranz rummages through Farrand's Records of the U.S. constitutional debates... well, it's to legal scholarship what the Cruyff turn is to soccer. Jaw-dropping. -7:30 pm, July 6
Decisive arguments against the existence of God, cont'd.

Not long after I finished writing about the destruction by fire of Edmonton's oldest and finest newsstand, an equally horrible calamity struck the city: the Perogy House on 118th St. burned to the ground. The fire happened June 6, but I only happened to pass by on Sunday and see the effects. Unlike the Hub Cigar holocaust, the Perogy House fire destroyed the building outright (and wiped out a nice little art-supply store next door that I've also patronized); it's now nothing but a mass of blackened timbers and scorched masonry.

The restaurant was the best place to get Ukrainian food in Edmonton, which is to say, quite possibly the best place to get Ukrainian food anywhere in the universe. Overall, it was my favourite place to eat when I wanted to eat a lot. It's said that John Candy used to refuel at the Perogy House when SCTV was being shot here (the settings for some of the "Street Beef" segments are recognizably nearby). A daughter of the owners, Kim Choma, has attained general notoriety as one of the suitoresses in the most recent season of "The Bachelor"; she was cavorting in a swimsuit on the cover of the Edmonton Journal the very day her parents' place burned down.

As a modest recompense, Royal Pizza has now opened a branch in the same Inglewood neighbourhood. I can confirm, as of about a half-hour ago, that the pies there follow the same beloved model purveyed at the original Royal Pizza in Old Strathcona: crunchy crust + just enough mozzarella to stop the heart of a medium-sized dog. When you're in the mood for that sort of thing, there's no substitute. But I'm normally more of a sauce fetishist when it comes to pizza, and it would take a great deal of merely good Italian grub to answer for the value of one pristine little Perogy House sauerkraut-filled perogy. My home city becomes less hospitable, it seems, with each passing month. (I hardly need point out the new city-wide smoking ban, introduced on Canada Day just in case anyone who still preferred freedom to its opposite had been tempted to celebrate.)

[UPDATE, July 7: Vue Weekly's Christopher Thrall sends along his (accurate) review of the Perogy House, published a mere four days before the restaurant was destroyed.]

- 5:24 pm, July 6 (link)

Welcome to the monkey house

Last week psychology professor David Barash took to the L.A. Times op-ed page to answer the question intelligent design can't answer: what's so damned intelligent about it, anyway?

It is simply deplorable that the prostate gland is so close to the urinary system that (the common) enlargement of the former impinges awkwardly on the latter. In addition, as human testicles descended — both in evolution and in embryology — the vas deferens (which carries sperm) became looped around the ureter (which carries urine from kidneys to bladder), resulting in an altogether illogical arrangement that would never have occurred if, like a minimally competent designer, natural selection could have anticipated the situation.

There's much more that the supposed designer botched: ill-constructed knee joints that wear out, a lower back that's prone to pain, an inverted exit of the optic nerve via the retina, resulting in a blind spot. And what about the theological implications of all this? If God is the designer, and we are created in his image, does that mean he has back problems too?

Much of the poor design Barash cites--our spines, our knees, our lamentably hand-like feet--provides evidence, at least in the eyes of anyone who's visited a zoo, that we are primates who learned to walk upright only recently. And in truth most intelligent-design advocates would admit as much; their strongest arguments are made on the micro level of DNA, cellular structures, and enzyme function. But once you've conceded our proximate origins in the trees, you've given half the game to Darwin, including most everything that has implications for religion and ethics. Christian tradition accounts for certain physiological crudities of the human form--particularly the badly-planned location of the birth canal--on the grounds of the Fall. This, of course, is called eating your cake and having it too. The Christian will try to persuade you that the dazzling beauty and order of the cosmos is the signature of a perfect, loving Designer. Retort by pointing out the scar of his recent appendectomy, and he'll tell you--in a self-blinding burst of amnesia--that this only confirms how badly Adam messed up.

- 10:47 am, July 6 (link)

Why, yes, one does in fact get a certain amount of e-mail when one writes about Karla Homolka, as I did for this morning's National Post on the occasion of her release from prison. I'm afraid it's behind the subscriber wall, but if you feel like flying into a good Canadian rage, the first paragraph will probably do it. The murderess's Newsworld interview full of crocodile tears can be viewed online, as can the Correctional Service's brusque press release explaining carefully how the concept of jail works.

- 1:12 pm, July 5 (link)

In the country of the blind

I got a bit of a surprise when idly surfing Google Maps today: the site's low-resolution coverage of Edmonton has been replaced by hi-res imagery, but only for half of the city. A different colour algorithm has also been introduced, so that the North Saskatchewan River switches from deep blue to gray as it passes 88th Street:

Looks a bit like an industrial accident. This image of Commonwealth Stadium shows the difference between the two resolutions: where before the function of the entire complex was barely recognizable, you can now--but only on the west side--make out the yard-line markers, the upper-deck entrances, and the individual standards on the lighting array.

At the highest zoom setting you can identify the makes of individual aircraft at the City Centre Airport, home of July 17's Grand Prix of Edmonton.

[UPDATE, 11:01 pm: Reader Robb Ferguson notes that half of Calgary is also "lost in lo-res hell"--but down there it's the west half, instead of the east, that looks like a pizza. Check out this neat little surprise from the McCall Lake golf club, south of Calgary's international airport.]

- 9:04 pm, July 4 (link)

Live 8 observation

Paul McCartney caught a lot of comedic flak for grandfatherliness when he performed at the Super Bowl halftime in February. But after seeing The Who and Pink Floyd stumble their way around the Hyde Park stage, was anyone else shocked at how young Macca seemed? Wattles aside, he doesn't look or sound much different from the McCartney of 1980. He's now outlived a wife and at least three bandmates; John Lennon has been dead for a quarter of a century--a period that was apparently none too kind to the exsanguinated Roger Waters or the donnishly decrepit Pete Townshend. In the mid-70s, when asked about Syd Barrett, David Gilmour would say that he had gravitated to Cambridge and become nothing more than a "fat, bald old man." God does enjoy his little jests.

- 5:34 pm, July 2 (link)

"I was surprised by the sound he got out of that cheese." A surrealistic Flickr set starring Holland's only known weapon of mass destruction, Han Bennink. -4:45 pm, July 2