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Parental advisory: explicit lyrics.

Speaks for itself

Oh dear. The second act of Peter Arnett's American life appears to have drawn to a close--another "misjudgment", don't you know. Arnett gave an interview--and a few friendly tips--to Iraqi state television after a press conference yesterday. According to the AP account:

Arnett said it is clear that within the United States there is growing opposition to the war and a growing challenge to President Bush about the war's conduct.

"Our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States," he said. "It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments."

And, of course, it also helps if you commit war crimes which intensify those civilian casualties. In case you didn't follow the first link in this entry, NBC has already cut ties with Arnett--having got what it wanted out of him and reached the saturation point on breathless descriptions of bombs, fires, and ack-ack in Baghdad. NBC had made a brief attempt to stand up for Arnett, holding out for--what? Twelve hours?--but even he isn't defending his behaviour anymore.

"His impromptu interview with Iraqi TV was done as a professional courtesy and was similar to other interviews he has done with media outlets from around the world," NBC News spokeswoman Allison Gollust said. "His remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more. His outstanding reporting on the war speaks for itself."

The "analytical" bit I can almost swallow--if Arnett wasn't exactly confining himself to plain fact, he was saying what a lot of people believe, anyway--but "professional courtesy"? In what bizarro world does the electronic media of the free world owe professional courtesy to the propaganda ministries of dictatorships? Remember, this is an NBC News spokesperson saying this. The "media bias" hunters are going to dine out on this one for a long time.

Me, I thought all electronic reporters had a "What would Edward R. Murrow do?" chip implanted in their heads. Would Ed, under any conceivable circumstances, have made a "misjudgment" like this?

- 7:22 am, March 31 (link)

Oh lord, please don't let us be misunderstood

Bellyache from Ramesh Ponnuru in the Corner:

[Garry] Wills's essay ends with Mark Twain's much-quoted--overquoted, actually; I'm surprised Wills did not seek to avoid the cliché--"War Prayer." "O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells. us to turn them out roofless with their little children..." If we were going to war only for material gain, or were motivated by bloodlust, the critique would be apt.

Not to defend Garry Wills for even a moment, but is it America's intentions that count above all else?

Mark Twain composed "War Prayer"--which is at least as much a stab at religious hypocrisy as it is a comment on foreign policy--after the U.S.'s first period of active imperialism, during which it sent troops to put down the Chinese Boxers and annexed Cuba, the Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Canal Zone, and a partridge in a pear tree. Was the piece irrelevant then, too?--after all, there was no shortage of pious pretexts for all these adventures. Or is Ponnuru admitting that U.S. foreign policy at the turn of the century was, indeed, motivated by bloodlust and/or material gain? My own non-expert answer would be "a bit of both", and I believe that would be the expert answer as well, but we've seen the epistemological problems that arguing about motives involves us in with respect to the current war. In the end the justness of a war is, must be, decided by its effects. If good motives excuse evil actions, then few evil actions, if any, cannot thereby find some excuse.

- 7:11 pm, March 30 (link)

Modest proposal

Andrew Sullivan says that antiwar commentators have switched to calling the fight in Iraq a "quicksand", presumably because they got burned predicting that Afghanistan would be a "quagmire". A quick scan of the dictionary shows that there may be a distinct shortage of nouns beginning with 'Q' available for future conflicts. However, "quiche" is still available, and, with a little imagination, is definitely serviceable. "The commitment of American troops to [Whateverstan] threatens to become an undercooked quiche which will leave American morale and prestige mired in a goopy, distasteful mess. Already we are coated in the flavourless eggs of Islamic hostility; the charcoaly bacon of world opposition; the limp, unchewable spinach of guerrilla warfare. Mr. President, have you forgotten that real men don't eat you-know-what?" Yes, I do think Maureen Dowd would like that last bit.

- 1:49 pm, March 30 (link)

Green eyeshade

Concerning the NHL playoffs: I know I said I wasn't afraid of Dallas, but having spent the evening staring at statistics--I'm now afraid of Dallas. Take a look at the top teams in the Western Conference, i.e., the serious part of the NHL:

           Pts  GF  GA  Gm
Dallas     105 238 168  79
Detroit    104 253 192  78
Vancouver  103 260 200  79

What you notice is that the teams are about equal in the standings--but probably shouldn't be. Dallas has scored 70 more goals than it's allowed. Detroit is "only" 61 ahead, Vancouver 60. It's only luck that those other two clubs aren't a little further behind: the extra nine or ten goals should leave Dallas two full wins clear of both, especially since it's involved in lower-scoring games. Moreover, if Turco had been healthy all the way through the season, as he is now--remembering that he was replaced by dilapidated sofa Ron Tugnutt--they'd have been another two or three games clear of everybody. And, on a side note, Detroit's not going to have quite as many power-play opportunities in the playoffs; they won't be able to fill their boots that way, as they have over the season.

I suppose I'm only saying what's obvious when I note that Dallas and Ottawa are the most balanced teams, front to back, in the league. So sue me: I have to stare at an Excel spreadsheet to figure out the obvious. And Ottawa--speaking as someone who loves to watch the Sens play--can't be taken seriously as the equal of the strong Western clubs, because its record is only a smidgen better despite much weaker opposition.

That's not to say I'm not still afraid of Vancouver. Fine: the key to competing with Vancouver is easy--shut down Naslund and Bertuzzi. All you have to do is go do it. My point about Dallas is, they're really as strong as Detroit was last year. I don't think we're in a situation where we have a bunch of clubs who all have equal chances of winning the Stanley Cup. If I were going to make book it would look a bit like this:

Dallas      3 to 1
St. Louis   19 to 2
Colorado    9 to 1
Vancouver   9 to 1
Detroit     13 to 1
Ottawa      16 to 1
Anaheim     33 to 1
Minnesota   40 to 1
New Jersey  43 to 1
Edmonton    44 to 1
Philly      46 to 1
Toronto     49 to 1
Boston      59 to 1
Islanders   80 to 1
Washington  90 to 1
Tampa       100 to 1
Rangers     get serious

Or at least that's about how they'd clump together; I'm not making any offers for bets here just yet. (That would be illegal, right?) To get the real story, first we have to find out the seedings, and then I break out my other spreadsheet...

- 3:16 am, March 30 (link)


In Canadian news: could SARS monkey-wrench the NHL playoffs? Two Buffalo Sabres have been temporarily quarantined after one visited a relative who now has signs of the illness. Of course the Sabres aren't going to make the playoffs; but all northeastern clubs, and particularly Toronto, must be making inquiries right now, perhaps introducing new travel rules. Let be the first to name-check Bad Joe Hall.

Meanwhile, Iraq has introduced suicide bombing to the war equation, because civilians just didn't have it tough enough as things stood before. The Iraqi vice-president's claims (hey, anybody seen Saddam lately?) that this will become a standard tactic should be regarded, for the moment, as bluster. Where will the bombers come from? It's a lot harder to ask people to blow themselves up for political reasons than it is to bewitch them with religion. Especially if they're not citizens of your own country:

Iraqi dissidents and Arab media have claimed that Saddam Hussein has opened a training camp for Arab volunteers willing to carry out suicide bombings against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Of course, some crazies from neighbouring Islamist countries may be perfectly willing to take one for the secular/socialist team, in their hunger to kill Americans. It should suffice to warn such foreigners that their bodies may be needed on their own soil one of these years. Remember, fellas--however much you might regret it, you do have only one life to throw away.

- 9:12 pm, March 29 (link)

Commanded by the general

John Allemang surveys the warblog scene for the Saturday Globe. He saves Flit for the back of the story and makes this depressing admission:

No newspaper editor or TV producer would ever allow Mr. Rolston's work near a general reader or viewer, for fear of taxing or boring them.

I rather think that if I saw work as probing and informed as Bruce's in a newspaper, I'd die of sheer astonishment. It's true that many people would react to a Flit-on-dead-tree by saying "Oh gawd, here's something I don't get at all: next page, please." But by pitching everything to that animal of the imagination, the "general reader", newspapers risk becoming a homogenous, watery, flavourless gruel for the feeble. And some of them, of course, go well beyond merely risking it. (I'm not trashing Allemang here for telling the simple truth, or the Globe, which is a good newspaper.)

Inevitably when newspapers consider the "general reader" they end up envisioning him as--what else?--a newspaperman who happens to do some other job. And so we get sheaves of material that is of no real interest to anyone but media professionals and their friends. An exclusionary concern with the "general reader" ends up being, in practice, nothing but the privileging of a particular specialist frame of reference. Of course, most newspapers do this explicitly now: Allemang's mention of the "general reader" is actually a rather charming anachronism in a demographics-obsessed age. (Link via a tip from Weisblott.)

- 7:40 pm, March 29 (link)

Thinking out loud

Headline: Irishman Suggests British Imperialism Not Necessarily All Bad. I dropped a stinkbomb in the comment thread at that link (which leads to a Gene Healy entry) after writing and scrapping about a thousand words on the subject of "Empire". Let me see if I can reconstitute them in shortened form.

Reasonable Canadians of a minarchist temperament must, I think, remember our own implication in an Empire fondly, since that Empire delivered rule of law, prosperity, and freedom, all things we feel the want of now in many respects. Until about 1970, well after Empire had become Commonwealth, the Dominion delivered these things on a scale completely commensurate with what Americans enjoyed under its republican arrangements. In some respects life in Canada has been happier: we have had, for example, no analogue to the U.S. Civil War. (Yet.)

For us, "Empire" was very much as Niall Ferguson describes it. Even before the conqueror race became an ethnic majority, proto-Canada was a largely voluntary union of nations (the French-Canadian with the British) on unequal but acceptable terms. The French in Canada were conquered militarily in 1760, but quickly came to see that the British intended to rule not by force of arms, but by being kinder and less kleptocratic that the bastards they replaced. After Old France went mad in 1792--the habitants knew nothing of the philosophes, and did not want to know anything of them--the loyalty of the subject people to the Crown was assured for more than a century. (It should be remembered that the religious and civil liberties extended to Quebec were a pretext for the American revolution, whose northward forays were driven off with the approval of a grateful people.) Moreover, Britain established empire in the Subcontinent by a not dissimilar process, and fouled up only through the ruling class's failure to treat Indian subjects with the dignity accorded unthinkingly to the British and French subjects in Canada.

So "Empire" is never going to be a dirty word, exactly, Up Here. I will not attempt a blanket defence of the idea of empire, particularly American empire. I will note that it may seem harsh to impose the rule of law abroad by means of the bayonet and/or other sharpies, shooties, and blasties; but, as a technical matter, that's actually how we preserve it within a country, no?

- 5:43 am, March 29 (link)

Where have we seen this before?

Gosh, looks like one of those American bombs strayed off course and hit a packed marketplace of no military significance. That's some damned bad luck, eh?

Like fun it is. I can't be 100% certain, but I'm willing to bet that the Iraqis got tired of the embarrassing lack of civilian deaths from American air and cruise attacks on Baghdad and decided to create a few of their own. This might be hard to believe, I know, if we didn't have handfuls of reports of Iraqi troops attacking their own civilians elsewhere in the country; but, as it happens, killing your own people to impress foreign reporters is a familiar element in the Muslim playbook--the Bosnians used it to great effect in 1994, rallying world opinion against the Serbs by lobbing a couple of mortar rounds into the Markale marketplace at Sarajevo.

American commanders are trying not to insist on their own innocence too loudly; there's no time to properly investigate what happened, and it would be embarrassing to bring up the note-perfect '94 precedent, which worked like pixie dust on the Clinton administration. And who knows, maybe the marketplace strike this time was a coalition screwup of some kind. But my guess is that it wasn't. Does anyone honestly think Saddam would hesitate to send a few women and children to Allah if he thought it would buy him sympathy on the "Arab street", as it surely will?

[UPDATE, March 29: Kaus is on the case, with links:

I'm still skeptical about the Iraqi claims that two U.S. missiles have now struck crowded marketplaces and killed dozens. Why do these errant missiles always fall in crowded marketplaces and kill dozens?]

- 11:22 pm, March 28 (link)


But of course! Reader John Thacker has found and delivered the key to one of the mysteries of the NHL draft described below. Four balls chosen from 14 form 24,024 permutations (this is a distinction that had utterly slipped my mind) when the order of drawing is taken into account, as I assumed it would be. But if order doesn't matter, you do in fact get (24,024)/(4!) = 1,001 combinations of balls. We surmise, therefore, that if balls nos. 1, 2, 3, and then 4 are drawn on Lottery Day, that will have the same effect as drawing 4, 3, 2, then 1.

As a bonus, John speculates usefully about why you'd use the league's weird "1,001 minus one" method to generate a random element in a set of a thousand:

I have no idea why they prefer to draw four balls without replacement, ignoring order, rather than drawing one ball out of ten three times, paying attention to order. Perhaps it has to do with the normal design of lottery machines? It presumably would take longer to reload the machine twice than to simply wait for three more balls to be expelled.

This is probably right: it makes sense that, at some point prior to the drawing, the accounting firm in charge would physically seal the machines. Drawing with replacement would add a potential avenue for illicit manipulation of the ceremony, and might make the drawings probabilistically dependent on each other unless you waited a few minutes for the balls to mix.

- 10:24 pm, March 28 (link)

...and two more

Why, just the other day I was saying that the Kitimat Northern Sentinel is the finest news organ on the planet.

Can anybody help me make sense of the NHL's account of its own damn draft lottery? I understand everything up until they start talking about balls:

Fourteen balls, numbered 1-14, will be placed in a lottery machine and four will be expelled, forming a series of numbers. A probability chart, created by Bortz & Company, divides the possible combinations among the 14 participating clubs.

Right, I'm with you so far...

The four-digit series that results from the expulsion of the balls will be compared to the probability chart to determine the team to which that combination has been assigned.

Four-digit series? Did they not just say the balls were numbered from one to 14? Is 14 a digit on Planet Hockey?

The current percentage chance of being selected in the Draft Drawing is as follows, based on team finish... [list follows] ...There are 1,001 numerical combinations possible, and one combination has been eliminated to make the odds equitable. If the eliminated series of balls is drawn, a 0.1% probability, the drawing will be re-held immediately.

This is where I get thoroughly lost. There are 24,024 (14!/10!) possible combinations of four balls drawn from a set of 14 without replacement, not 1,001. Of course, if you want to turn 24,024 combinations into 1,001, you have only to divide them into groups of 24. And then if you want to turn the 1,001 combinations into 1,000 (we'll leave aside the question of why or how the latter number is more "equitable"), you can agree to redo the drawing if a specific one of the 1,001 combos turns up. But why the hell would you do all that? Isn't it easier to generate 1,000 combinations by, say, drawing a ball from among ten, putting it back, and doing that twice more? What... the... hell?

[UPDATE, 10:28 pm: Help arrives.]

- 7:46 pm, March 28 (link)

Two unrelateds

Suddenly I'm getting hits from the Google/Open Directory list of personal "libertarianism" pages. Many familiar names on there. Chillingly, it's sorted in order of PageRank. That's right, folks, it's the naked lunch. There's no concealing your place in the hierarchy, no ignoring it.

A friend is going to the Manet/Velázquez comparative exhibition at the Met in NYC tomorrow. I'm jealous to the point of exasperation, but even peons in far Rupert's Land can enjoy this Flash presentation of the works and artists on display. Assuming that "enjoying a Flash presentation" isn't an oxymoron.

- 6:54 pm, March 28 (link)

Looks like another sleepless night

Want to boycott French products? Rangel, M.D., tells you what you'll be missing. In the pill department, the doc mentions the allergy remedy Allegra but overlooks Sanofi-Synthelabo's Ambien, the napalm of sleeping pills. So if you're a Francophobic insomniac, not only can you not take Ambien, but you can't switch over to Wild Turkey, either.

- 11:16 am, March 28 (link)

Coalition of the confusing

A lot of Canadians right now are asking hey, is Canada at war with Iraq or not? Hey, what part of "Yesno" don't you people understand? It's very simple: Canada is not supporting the invasion of Iraq, it's merely sending troops and ships to act in logistical support of the invasion of Iraq. We're participating in the war effort without cooperating in it, or vice versa, if you prefer, but definitely not both. If these are distinctions you don't understand, then maybe you're just not very Canadian.

- 1:12 am, March 28 (link)

Once a colony...

It would be just plain wrong not to reprint Jim Treacher's comment on my "geography-shy American public" wisecrack:

The hell with you Canadians. You and the rest of Europe!

It's funny 'cause it's true (psychologically)!

- 6:58 pm, March 27 (link)

The Observer observeth

Instantman has turned up some tentative reporting on an al-Qaeda presence in Iraq and is throwing it onto the table with a crow of triumph. Those interested in this hitherto missing link may want to read a story that broke March 16 but, perhaps owing to the media tizzy over approaching war, doesn't seem to have attracted nearly as much notice as it might have.

An alleged terrorist accused of helping the 11 September conspirators was invited to a party by the Iraqi ambassador to Spain under his al-Qaeda nom de guerre, according to documents seized by Spanish investigators. Yusuf Galan, who was photographed being trained at a camp run by Osama bin Laden, is now in jail, awaiting trial in Madrid. The indictment against him, drawn up by investigating judge Baltasar Garzon, claims he was 'directly involved with the preparation and carrying out of the attacks ... by the suicide pilots on 11 September'.

Evidence of Galan's links with Iraqi government officials came to light only recently, as investigators pored through more than 40,000 pages of documents seized in raids at the homes of Galan and seven alleged co-conspirators. The Spanish authorities have supplied copies to lawyers in America, and this week the documents will form part of a dossier to be filed in a federal court in Washington, claiming damages of approximately $100 billion on behalf of more than 2,500 11 September victims.

...The evidence... includes a new affirmation by the Czech government that Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 plotters, met an Iraqi intelligence officer, Ibrahim al-Ani, in Prague in April 2001. Some US officials have suggested this meeting did not happen. But in a signed statement dated 24 February, 2003, Hynek Kmonicek, the Czech ambassador to the UN, says his government 'can confirm that during the stay of Mohamed Atta ... there was contact with Mr al-Ani, who was on 22 April, 2001 expelled from the Czech Republic on the basis of activities not compatible with his diplomatic status [the usual euphemism for spying]'. Garzon's indictment says Galan was part of a cell which organized bank robberies on behalf of al-Qaeda, and which had supported the group around Atta financially and logistically.

Personally, I'm still skeptical; this is the same showboating Judge Garzón who wanted to lock up General Pinochet. Nonetheless it's significant that the Czech government is sticking by its story on that Atta visit to Prague.

- 5:50 pm, March 27 (link)

Of course, a lot of things make me do that

I can already tell this brand-new weblog is going to be OK because (a) I'm on the blogroll and (b) the last sentence of this entry on Martin Amis made me go "Zing!" out loud.

- 5:28 pm, March 27 (link)

Open the bomb bay doors, Hal

Touché, Mr. Beato, to be sure; a very palpable hit. But for my money the best recent moment of Little Green Football screwiness was Charles Johnson's demand that a computer algorithm feel "shame" for being insufficiently pro-American.

[UPDATE, 1:45 pm: Charles responds in an update of the original entry.

Colby Cosh slams LGF, but doesn't know how Google News works. Please note: the Google news service is NOT generated by a random crawl of the internet. News sources are selected and approved by Google. That means that a human being actually looked at and found nothing objectionable enough about the content to exclude it.

Yes, the news sources are human-selected, but the original complaint was about the ordering of results: 'The first result for this Google search is an article titled "Muslims of Iraq greet the Crusaders with bullets not flowers," from a full-out jihadi web site, possibly linked to Al Qaeda, called I know there are human beings picking Google's news sources--but I didn't know they had a policy of giving equal time to murderous infidel haters.' It's not a policy, it's an algorithm. Of course, Google News could entirely exclude an apparently genuine, if lunatic, Islamist newsmagazine from its crawl on political grounds--but that's a pretty screwy idea too, and with all respect, a dangerous one for the Great Khan of the LGF Horde to advocate.]

- 11:02 am, March 27 (link)

I want one

Check out Grant D. Smith's dreamlike, stylistically eclectic paintings of old-time baseball stars. Grant's locked in on that whole "outsider" thing:

The subject of this painting is Satchel Paige. Half of his body is hollow, which represents the respect and dignity denied to him merely because of his skin pigment. A minimalist rectangle protrudes from the missing section of his body. The actual 3-D sculptural aspect forces the viewer to take notice of the minimal form initially, and to create the remainder of the image in their mind. In the center of this image is a small reflective piece of metal. The blurred reflection goes back to the viewer, asking them to question themselves rather then being a product of Social Learning Theory.

Whatever. Normally I don't approve of the trend of mixing one's paints with some signifying substance and then telling the viewer about it (see, that's the stupid part), but acrylic mixed with crushed rocks, barbed wire, and tar may be just the right medium for a painting of Ty Cobb. (Via Mudville Magazine, via Baseball Primer's Clutch Hits.)

- 2:45 am, March 27 (link)

But Dave Barry still thinks Depleted Uranium would make a great band name

Ronald Bailey surveys the depleted-uranium controversy for Reason Online. Quick summary: depleted uranium--it's depleted! But it's a heavy metal, so if you ate, like, a whole depleted-uranium pie, it could maybe hurt you. So, don't do that.

- 1:51 am, March 27 (link)

Ol' Blood and Guts

It takes all kinds to make a Canadian Alliance caucus: just as though the party's members had been handpicked by a divine intelligence, the Commons ranks of Canada's right-wing party contain one (1) sanctimonious hypocrite and one (1) loony pacifist.

All right--there are some things I like about Keith Martin, you know, and on the whole I'm glad he's an Alliance MP. But I feel no compunction in attacking his disgusting "I'm a member of Medicins Sans Frontières and you're not" attitude. The tacit premise is that none of the people who support the war have any idea what they're supporting. Which is actually a much sleazier, less respectable argument than that ventured by those who come right out and accuse the war party of Satanic bloodthirst.

"Having seen the real blood and guts of what happens to innocent civilians who pay the price in every conflict, it makes me a little more wary to use the military option," said Martin, whose riding includes Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt. [And, ladies--he's single! -ed.]

"The Iraqi people are not the ones that should be paying the price of the excesses of their leadership."

Martin supports United Nations-sanctioned weapons inspections as a way to contain Saddam Hussein. He also said he would back an allied effort to "take out" the Iraqi dictator.

You can practically hear Dr. Martin cracking apart like a wishbone here: he deplores war, he really does, but on the other hand, if we just had UN support--hey, slaughter the bastards! Praise the lord 'n' pass the ammo! Herewith with see an Alliance member willing to get behind the tranzi goal of making the UN Secretary-General a secular pope, with powers of excommunication and plenary indulgence. If that's consistent with being "conservative" or "right-wing", then I'm a bonobo; but Easterners who fear the Alliance don't want to hear that the party is anything but a nest of hatemongering madmen. God help them if they accidentally find out that CA MP Reed Elley is an outright pacifist:

While [Martin and Elley] said their constituents have indicated strong opposition to the war, Elley said his vote was based primarily on personal conviction.

"I have taken a pro-pacifist position over my lifetime because of my faith position and generally it would have been incongruent for me to vote in favour of that motion," Elley said.

"I recognize other Christians have other positions on it."

No inconsistency here, just silliness. Which offends you more will vary according to taste. No other Alliance MPs defected from the party in its motion that Canada join the "coalition of the willing", which means that no Alliance MPs whatsoever believe that (a) pre-emptive war without UN permission is sometimes justified, but (b) not this time. It's a shame, really, because this may actually be the right position--Christian pacifism, for example, definitely is not--and we've got a distinct shortage of well-informed persons elucidating it.

- 1:29 am, March 27 (link)

People get ready

The Gretzky statue's "defacing" turned out to be a good omen. The Oilers beat the Coyotes (managing partner: Mr. W. Gretzky) 4-3 tonight, mathematically securing a playoff spot and eliminating said Coyotes. Kevin Lowe, the GM whose trading-deadline moves had fans and sportswriters preparing torches and hanging ropes, has been vindicated by a playoff run that saw the team methodically whip every single opponent it needed to beat.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to give a special shout-out to the American hockey writers who dumped on the Oilers in the pre-season. Some of you even looked at the rosters and thought they were going to finish behind the Flames because all you could see was the name "Jarome Iginla". I realize that, even assuming basic competence on your part, paid pundits have to keep tabs on the whole league and can't follow a club as closely as a fan does. So I can't come right out and say I hope a bus backs over your balls... or anything like that.

I'm feeling much less hostile to the Cory Cross detractors who wrote in a couple weeks ago. OK, I sort of see what you guys are talking about. Cross even cost us a goal tonight when he forgot there was a power play on and flopped like a sea bass to block a shot, leaving the Coyotes to cycle the puck freely. But he's not an AHL defenceman: he shoots the puck well and he doesn't play as timidly as was reputed (it occurs to me that this accusation is sometimes made of guys with undisclosed injuries).

So the Oilers are playoff-bound after a year of early golf: the only issue now is the seeding. Fans are reportedly eager for an Oilers-Vancouver first-round series, which would probably require the Oilers to climb out of eighth. This is, I think, madness. I say so for three reasons: (1) the Canucks are, for my money, the favourite to win the conference. (2) Our goalie, Tommy Salo, is Markus Naslund's personal little bitch. (3) Why the hell do we want Canadian teams whaling on each other in the first round? I'm not afraid of Dallas, but I'm afraid of Vancouver: in my nightmares Todd Bertuzzi smashes downtown Edmonton like Godzilla, knocking over buildings and crushing cars like pop cans, and when I wake up screaming I realize that in the dream Bertuzzi was lifesize. Nooooo! Nnnooooo!

All right: the Canucks have been jaking it a little lately, but Marc Crawford, loathsome genius that he is, will have them ready and motivated/terrorized for the playoffs. The dream match-up, for me, is Oilers-Blues. Lord, I'm not a praying man, but if you can set us up with St. Louis in the first round and have the Canucks disposed of, I will owe you big time. You could put Vancouver up against Minnesota: Manny Fernandez would be an excellent instrument of Thy Will, and with that name he's got to be a good Catholic boy, right?

- 10:51 pm, March 26 (link)

Death to the imperialistic monsters of hockey

Memo to Globe subeditor: I don't think hanging a cardboard sign on something counts as "defacing" it--the verb connotes actual damage.

A sign reading "U$ Lackey" was hung Tuesday on a statue of Wayne Gretzky in protest of the hockey star's recent comments supporting U.S. President George W. Bush in the war against Iraq.

Employees of Skyreach Centre quickly removed the cardboard insult from the statue at the entrance to the arena, the home of Gretzky's former team, the Edmonton Oilers.

Gretzky invited this abuse by saying, if I may paraphrase, that President Bush was a fine fellow who was no doubt doing the best thing for his country, just as Prime Minister Chretien was no doubt doing the best thing for Canada, and why can't we all just get along. It wasn't the statement of a "lackey"--it was the statement of a mild-mannered guy who for obvious reasons (among them his staggering philanthropic obligations) is pathologically avoidant of politics. Anyway, who uses the word "lackey" anymore? It's funny how these supposedly well-meaning, no-Stalinists-here antiwar types trot out the embarrassing communist argot when the shooting starts. What, no room on the cardboard for "running-dog" or "gangsterism"?

I joke, but it's not very funny that ignorant people who may be motivated by honest antiwar sentiment will happily march alongside old communists (or new) but would pee their pants at the sight of some dried-up old Nazi sympathizer from the Ukraine. "Lackey" is as clear a signifier of political sentiment, to the historically informed, as would be the phrases "Zionist conspiracy" or "eternal Jew". I continue to be amazed, every day, that Lenin's "useful idiots" have outlived his actual political philosophy.

- 8:02 pm, March 26 (link)

The home front

Sometimes I actually feel bad that people don't criticize me more; it's unnerving for me to follow a half-dozen links out of my referrer log and find all the linkers saying "Go read what Colby has to say, it's great." I worry that I'm not getting enough help brushing up half-formed ideas, and that some of my deliberate needling is missed by its targets. There's a certain lack of friction in my neighbourhood of the blogosophere. Well, at least Andrea Harris is providing some. She thinks calling the American public "geography-shy" is unfair.

I wasn't directly suggesting that Canadians are any better (though I believe, based on personal experience, that Europeans far outstrip us both). I was merely emphasizing that the American public is the one the TV networks' insultingly pisspoor maps are aimed at. But the maps themselves can be taken as an implicit indictment of the American geographical imagination, if you have other reasons to suspect its impoverishment (did these news editors not go to American schools and universities?). I certainly don't hear many Americans complaining about them, and Andrea doesn't address the issue, except to drag in Mapquest as a rhetorical counterweight of questionable heft. Maybe--and I mean this sincerely--the media's failure to provide a half-decent map of a freaking war zone says nothing about anybody but the media. At any rate you may consider Canadians included in "Americans" for the purposes of my verbal jab.

- 2:38 pm, March 26 (link)

New toys, old rules

In these days of high-tech laser-guided microchip foofaraw, it's nice to see that some old lessons of military history are useful to the befogged civilian. The top one right now: watch the bridges. River crossings are just as important in 2003 as they were in Caesar's time, or for that matter a thousand years before Caesar. The speed of the coalition forces has forced the Iraqis to seek a suicidal head-to-head battle in the area north of Najaf, where the allies seem to have got--and then maybe lost--a second Euphrates crossing nice and close to Baghdad. Any blown bridges can be replaced with some effort by U.S. engineers, but the Iraqis are going to put pressure on any crossing point for as long as humanly possible, because if the allies can swap armour back and forth uncontested on the doorstep of Baghdad, the difficulty of defending the city gains a whole order of magnitude. In an earlier analysis, John Keegan stressed the importance of the allies' successful capture of a hard crossing further south, at Nasiriyah. The interesting question for the future historian is how exactly that happened: why weren't the bridges blown? Did the Day One "kill shot" against national command-and-control leave the local commander paralyzed--unable to make a decision which, after all, you can only make once? Or were special forces involved? Or both?

[UPDATE, March 27: David Janes, playing at his clan's historic role of defence analysis, speculates.]

- 1:30 pm, March 26 (link)

Noblesse oblige

Quite by accident I stumble across an upsetting story in the Times of London about the fate of Apsley House, the London residence of the 1st Duke of Wellington and his successors. The pile itself was deeded to the nation in 1947 by the 7th Duke, no doubt as as a way of evading crippling Labourite taxes. This is all very well, as later descendants have continued to live in rented private apartments inside the home: and well might the government let them, for the family still owns the objets d'art which give an otherwise rather cold and imposing building its character. But of late the Wellingtons have become unhappy with the longtime management of the house by the Victoria and Albert Museum. As Dalya Alberge writes:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport agreed to give control of the museum to another organisation. Initially, only the Wellington Museum Trust, whose members include Lady Antonia Douro, wife of the present duke's heir, was expected to apply. But English Heritage made a bid. The Art Newspaper will reveal next month [ssshhh! -ed.] that the Government plans to hand control to English Heritage--initially, it is believed, under a five-year contract. It says: "Although the (Culture Department) wishes to keep the Duke of Wellington on side, it would be awkward not to grant the contract to a public body with a long record of caring for historical properties."

But how much more "awkward" will it be if the family carries through on its implied threat and denudes the Waterloo Gallery?

- 3:05 am, March 26 (link)

That did not just happen

Oh man, what? Scott McConnell, executive editor of The American Conservative, is in Vice magazine? In a debate with Bill McGowan, moderated by a drunk guy named "Throatie"? Again, clearly, I'm dreaming this and I'll wake up and neither the interview nor this weblog entry will actually exist. (Or, at least, when I read the article the second time, "Throatie" won't have won the debate.)

- 10:49 pm, March 25 (link)

Alone on a familiar path

Fun: The Straight Dope teaches an ill-informed American that, no, Charles Lindbergh was not the first aviator to cross the Atlantic--merely the first to cross solo, and the first to go directly from the U.S. to Europe nonstop if you don't count zeppelins. Even if you already knew that, you may learn a thing or two from the article.

The fame Lindbergh earned from his flight surprised him more than anyone. The level of adulation is hard for us to imagine today. In New York, about four million people (including out-of-towners) lined the parade route, equivalent to about 60% of the city's population. An estimated 25% of the entire U.S. population came out to see him on his 82-stop tour of the country after his return, with hundreds of thousands on hand in most cities. Within a few months, there was more film footage of him in existence than of any other human being, ever.

- 9:32 pm, March 25 (link)

The Reason why

(One allusive headline deserves another, I figure.) Tim Cavanaugh is wondering over at Hit & Run what the hell the Turks are doing, or thinking of doing, in northern Iraq.

Are there any plausible explanations for Turkey's schizophrenia over the last month? If their purpose is to prevent a Kurdish state, wouldn't the best bet have been to allow the Americans to open a northern front? If that's still the goal now, wouldn't the smart move still be to let the U.S. sort it out? Do they have reason to believe the U.S. is going to want to break up Iraq (which I'd doubt)? Are they just looking to grab a little oil while the gettin's good? These aren't rhetorical questions; I'm interested in hearing comments. Does Turkey have any goal here, other than to make American diplomacy look competent by comparison?

As a last resort, we could always try believing what the Turks themselves have said. Strip away the bullshit about humanitarianism and Iraqi territorial integrity, which is strictly for EU consumption, and you're left with one very good reason for the Turks to consider sending troops into northern Iraq:

[Turkish Justice Minister Cemil] Cicek said, "[...]517,000 people took shelter in Turkey during the First Gulf War. Therefore, Turkey doesn't want to experience the same trouble in its territory again. We want to ensure the security of people there and take measures against such developments beyond our borders if such a development is to take place. This is one of the reasons for our existence there."

This was known by the whole world, Cicek stated. But, he said, some countries or people sometimes distorted the issue. Cicek said, "But our intention is very open and we are trying to express this to every country which is concerned with this issue."

Noting that the second reason of Turkey's volition to exist in the region stemmed from the very serious acts of terrorism happened in the region due to authority vacuum after the First Gulf War, Cicek said that Turkey had lost more than thirty thousand people in those terrorist acts that happened due to authority vacuum in that region.

"We don't want to suffer any negative development again due to terrorism in this region, and we want to take necessary measures against it this very moment."

Cicek actually seems to be lowballing the death toll from Kurdish terrorism, which adds up to a dozen or so World Trade Centers, all told. Kurdish terrorist activity has been quiet since Abdullah Ocalan was arrested--but of course it was relatively quiet before Gulf War I, too.

So the question is, why don't the Turks trust the U.S. to guarantee peace and prosecute the "war on terror" in postwar Kurdistan? I suppose that answers itself. The U.S. didn't trust the UN to guarantee the safety of its interests with respect to Iraq--there's no reason that Turkey should trust the U.S. to guarantee Turkey's, especially seeing as they tried their best to save the Saddam regime, their collaborator in suppressing Kurdish irridentism. Talk of Turkish "rejection" of American financial largesse misses the point utterly. The Turks are, at a guess, haunted by perfectly valid fears of the Americans in northern Iraq leaving a legacy of (1) population displacement, (2) training and regimentation, and (3) armaments and explosives. They propose to invade Iraq for much the same reasons that the U.S. has, only the reasons, on the whole, seem much stronger.

Their diplomacy may seem incompetent or haphazard. But you can afford mistakes when you're playing a strong hand. Is the United States prepared to shoot and bombard Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq while trying to crush Baghdad with the other hand? In the name of what principle, exactly, would they do this?

- 4:09 am, March 25 (link)

RTFM, or Reading That Flitmap

Reader John Dougan sends this guide to the NATO symbology Bruce Rolston is using on his map of the Iraqi campaign. I feel like I have to add that I'd figured some of this out on my own, as most of you probably have--but only some of it.

Rectangular boxes are friendly ground units, diamonds are enemy ground units.

Inside the box, 2 diagonal lines in the form of an X indicate infantry. The oval represents mechanized/armoured forces (looks like a track). The oval by itself is an armoured unit. A single diagonal line is cavalry. Anchor is a Marine Unit, wavy line (inverted W) at the bottom is airborne (looks a bit like a parachute). A dot in the center is artillery (none on the map).

These symbols can be combined; the oval combined with the X is mechanized infantry.

Above each symbol is a marking indicating the size of unit: Bruce seems to be also scaling the symbols. One dot on top is a squad, 2 a section, 3 a platoon/detachment. One vertical line on top is a Company/Battery/Troop, 2 is Battalion/Squadron, 3 is Regiment/Group. One X on top is Brigade, 2 is Division, 3 is Corps, 4 is Army.

The numbers to the left and right indicate the unit designation. The number to the left is the unit's unique designation, if there is a number to the right it is the parent unit's designation.

So for instance, at the top left of the map we see a blue rectangle with an X through it, an oval in it, a 3 to the left and 2 X's on top. That would be the US 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division. The brown diamond above it is the Iraqi Medina Armoured Division. On the lower left of the map, near the Iranian border, there is a blue rectangle with an X and an anchor in it, a single X above, and a 3 to the left and a 1 to the right. That would be the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Marine Division.

John concludes on the horror-inducing note that "It gets much more complicated than this." He offers links to a site devoted to the symbols and a recent U.S. field manual; I can't read that last one because of local Acrobat problems, but you're directed to "page 4-1, or in a linear count, page 234." I think the brief guide above is as much as we'll need to follow the play.

As to abbreviations, "Med", as mentioned, is the Medina (2nd) Armoured Division, "Bag" is presumably the Baghdad (5th) Motorized Infantry Division, and "Neb" the Nebuchadnezzar (6th) Motorized. These are all Republican Guard units which were wiped out to one degree or another in Gulf War I (because of their relative stubbornness) and later re-formed. Readers should bear in mind that the night-and-day distinction often drawn between the "elite" Republican Guard and the Iraqi regulars has probably been overemphasized in recent years, seeing as it makes a nice little amulet of expertise for media commentators to finger ostentatiously.

[UPDATE, 12:59 pm: Hooray! Bruce has added a map key! Now the best online map of the unfolding war is even better.]

- 3:38 am, March 25 (link)

Iraq my brains

War notes:

· I haven't heard anyone make this prayer yet: dear God, please send us one person who can make a decent goddamn military map. Official news sources give us arty, detail-light maps festooned with meaningless arrows, giving the famously geography-shy American public absolutely no more than it can bear. Some of the network maps don't even show the Tigris and the Euphrates, which are what you might call slightly important battlefield features. Bruce Rolston is doing yeoman, professional work, which at the moment shows the theatre resolving itself nicely (or not so nicely, since the Iraqis seem to have gotten their act together and opposed the allies' Euphrates crossing) into a front anchored on Najaf and Basra. But I know everyone, or every layman, will join me in wishing Bruce would take an hour or so to create a guide to what his symbols and abbreviations mean. Haven't you ever heard that old saying--"print the legend"? [UPDATE, 3:30 am: An informed reader has pitched in with some assistance.] [FURTHER UPDATE, March 26: And there are complaints about the reference to geography-shyness!]

· This photo of Iraqi soldiers celebrating with the downed Apache reminds me of an old CFL anecdote--no, I'm serious! When receiver Waddell Smith came to play for the Eskimos, he was one of the first players in Canada to introduce the modern, boogieing style of end-zone celebration. One day an older pass-catcher took him aside and supposedly said "Yo, Waddell, when you get to the end zone act like you've been there before, all right?"

Similarly, if Iraqi troops weren't posing with their trophy like drunken frat boys visiting the World's Largest Ball of Twine, one might get the idea they were confident fighters who actually expected to have more success as the war goes on. What's the opposite of "propaganda"?

· I've been using the BBC very heavily as a source of war info because their free video feed is the best on offer. Until quite recently I thought complaints about BBC bias were mostly just subliminal American responses to British accents--though it would be hard to account for Andrew Sullivan's hostility on this theory alone, I suppose. But Sullivan surely has reasons to hate the BBC of which American reason knows nothing: one can only imagine the stew of undeclared interests which fortifies every seething paragraph.

The subtle BBC outrages on objectivity have been multiplying, however. Even as I type this, the Beeb has two clergymen and a wrathful "Islamic studies" professor on a breakfast program debating the questions "Is this a moral war? Is it being conducted morally?" The clergymen are actually pretty good, which is to say they're not kneejerk pacifist imbeciles; but of course the debate is revolving like a gassy little satellite around the tired old questions of international legality (were all the necessary forms filled out in triplicate?), and we're hearing nothing about false Iraqi troop surrenders, Iraqi positioning of military units in residential neighbourhoods, or Iraqi fedayeen changing out of military uniforms and mingling with the public.

As Sullivan has been chronicling, BBC commentators have been reporting, as news, a wholly imagined, imminent antiwar backlash amongst the American public. Even leaving aside the element of the fantastic here, it's notable that the BBC seems to anticipate no such backlash among the British public with respect to British casualties.

- 2:01 am, March 25 (link)

"Multi" can mean "two"

A quick one before I go join my parents for dinner. An American reader bellyaches to Mark Steyn:

It seems to me very striking that of the four great English-speaking nations only Canada has opted out of the alliance to topple Saddam. There was a time when we could think of a great Anglo-American commonality. Canada appears to have decided to go in a different direction. I think this decision will have an adverse effect on Canada's future. Perhaps this is a result of Canada's decision to become a multi-cultural country.

As a passionate detractor of the present government, may I remind my American readers that Canada was a bicultural country from the word Allez? Canada couldn't have sent troops to Iraq if it wanted to, as it happens, but let us remember that we have a large French-speaking minority to placate, and that this minority has always taken a dim view of foreign adventurism. There's an election going on in Quebec right now and the separatist government is slouching towards a renewed sovereignty effort. The vote totals on April 14 will decide whether they have a serious mandate or not. Under the circumstances, no Liberal would have been particularly eager to hand the Parti Quebecois a fresh campaign weapon. Prime Minister Chretien's half-hearted efforts to act as a go-between for the Anglosphere and the Franco-German bloc provided a convenient excuse for not taking a strong position on the war. All right: it's cowardice, and from where I sit, it's somewhat contemptible. But that's easy for me to say--I don't hold with the continued survival of a united Canada as a political axiom. If I were a Liberal Prime Minister, it's hard for me to say what else I could have done.

Does multiculturalism enter into the Liberal run-and-hide strategy too? Of course it does: Muslim immigrants are a major and ever-growing Liberal constituency, one of their levers of power. But the issues weren't much different more than a century ago, when Canada was not yet the "mosaic" it is now. No one thinks badly of Sir Wilfrid Laurier anymore just because the Boer War presented him with the same problems.

- 6:02 pm, March 24 (link)

Keeping score

This morning's National Post, in a story led off by the impromptu war debate between Hockey Night in Canada's Ron MacLean and Don Cherry, has a useful, unbylined roundup of the ongoing anthem battle in NHL rinks.

While fans at the Bell Centre in Montreal cheered "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the Canadiens' win over the Carolina Hurricanes yesterday, "O Canada" drew steady booing in Sunrise, Fla., before the Ottawa Senators' victory over the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers released a statement in which they expressed "regrets that a number of fans behaved disrespectfully during the playing of the Canadian anthem."

The applause in Montreal was a reversal from the booing that greeted the U.S. anthem before Thursday's game against the New York Islanders. The fans' actions were reported on newscasts across North America with other manifestations of anti-war sentiment around the world.

Fans at the Air Canada Centre yesterday cheered when both the Canadian and U.S. anthems were performed before the Toronto Raptors' home game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The was also the case when fans attending the Maple Leafs' 3-2 overtime win over the Sabres at the ACC cheered during the U.S. anthem.

"There was a standing ovation here [Toronto] tonight. I don't think that's going to make CNN," Mr. Cherry said.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was also greeted warmly in Edmonton before the Oilers beat the Washington Capitals, and in Calgary before the Flames' draw with the Nashville Predators.

As Charles Prevost-Linton began to sing the U.S. anthem in Montreal, one or two fans who tried to boo were quickly hushed by those around them.

Many fans sang along and there was enthusiastic cheering when Mr. Prevost-Linton finished.

For those counting at home, the U.S. national anthem has now been cheered lustily in every Canadian NHL city. I was raised to believe it was inappropriate to cheer a national anthem, incidentally, let alone boo one. And, hey, Florida Panthers fans--I know you had been antagonized here, but where do you think all those hockey players come from exactly?--Guam?? You're going to boo the Canadian anthem and then turn around and cheer for Roberto Luongo, Jay Bouwmeester, Peter Worrell, Stephane Matteau...? Let's hope none of these guys remember this little display of nationalistic one-upmanship when they become free agents, eh?

- 6:03 am, March 24 (link)

Bursting an old bubble

Albert (Chief) Bender is in the [Baseball] Hall of Fame, but his brother achieved an even higher honor. In Edmonton, Alberta, on September 25, 1911, he died on the mound during the course of a game.

These words from Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract (the original 1985 edition, not the new one) have always haunted me a bit. From re-reading the book in bits and pieces over the years, I've damn near memorized the thing. But there is no analogue in local Edmonton lore to this summary account of John Bender's death, and a pitcher dying on the mound is something you might expect to hear talked of, even 92 years later. The bigger problem is this: I walked through those 1911 Alberta newspapers as part of a job I had a long time ago, and I'd have remembered something like that. But I never set aside a day to go to the library and check the tale.

Long story short: it's no longer necessary to go to the library. The Alberta government has digitized and placed online an extensive collection of early Alberta newspapers. This is an extraordinary little project with no analogue that I know of, or at least no free analogue. I've been meaning to scour the collection for the real story of John Bender's demise, and tonight I finally did it.

You can view the relevant page from the Sept. 25, 1911 evening Edmonton Bulletin, but the file is enormous and unwieldy. Here's the text.


Death came suddenly and without warning this morning to J.C. Bender, a professional baseball player, who was with the Edmonton team the latter part of the season just closed. The well known and popular athlete had just entered Lewis Bros. Cafe at 627 First street and was on the point of ordering breakfast when he dropped dead at 9.15. He expired without saying a word. A physician was hastily summoned but he could not render any assistance. The remains were removed to Connolly & McKinley's undertaking establishment. An inquest will probably not be necessary, as death was clearly due to natural causes.

Deacon White, who had known Bender for a number of years, immediately wired Chief Bender, the famous Indian pitcher on the Philadelphia Athletics, a brother of the deceased. Unto a late hour this afternoon no word had been received from Chief Bender. The funeral arrangements will be held in abeyance pending instructions from relatives.

Bender joined the Edmonton team at Calgary last month and played right field. He arrived here August 27th, when he registered at the Pendennis Hotel. He continued to make that hostelry his headquarters until a few days ago.

A good fielder and batter, Bender had gradually become a prime favorite with the fans in many parts of the United States and Canada. Deacon White first met him in Duluth, Minnesota, nine years ago, when he was with the Northern league, and has kept close tab on his work ever since. More recently Bender developed a bad case of heart disease, and this was the cause of his sudden taking off.

Bender's home was in Charleston, South Carolina, where it is understood his wife still resides. He was about 30 years of age.

And when you stop to think about it, September 25 is a little late in the year to be playing low-level pro ball, at least this close to the Arctic Circle. The "Deacon" White in the story, incidentally, is not the famous big-league catcher James L. White, but William White, a sort of nicknamesake. This "Deacon" was a beloved local who managed Edmonton ballclubs and also played Canadian football (then still called rugby) for the Eskimos.

You won't have missed the subtext in the Bulletin story, I suppose: the estranged wife, the knockabout career, the sudden death that induces naught but a shrug. This was, we may take it, a man who lived flat out--and fell down dead at 30. Elsewhere in the page on "Bender and Brother" James tells us that John "seems to have been a little moody. While with the Columbia team in the South Atlantic League in 1908, John had some harsh words with his manager, Win Clark, and eventually pulled a knife on him. And used it. For this he was suspended from baseball for more than two years, being allowed to join the Western Canada League in 1911." In the days before the National Commission, it seems possible that Bender joined the Edmonton club simply because word of the Clark incident hadn't percolated so far north. If J.C. Bender was formally suspended from baseball, Deke White may not have known it. I say this because obituaries and accounts of death in newspapers were extremely frank and, by our standards, lurid in 1911. (Suicides, for example, were reported in gruesome detail, with absolutely uncontrolled speculation as to the causes of the deceased's state of mind.) If the locals had known the facts about Bender's troubles--assuming that part of James' account is correct--those troubles surely would have made the pages of the Bulletin on the occasion of the man's demise. At any rate, Bender didn't die on the mound, but on the floor of a greasy spoon.

The Chief--a distinguished, learned man, quite a contrast to his shiv-wielding brother--eventually wired back to Deacon White. In the September 29 Bulletin this brief notice appeared:

The remains of J.C. Bender, the ball player, who died suddenly Monday morning, will be shipped from the undertaking parlors of Connolly and McKinley, on the C.P.R. train leaving Strathcona [now south Edmonton -ed.] this evening. Word had been received from relatives of the deceased that they desired to have interment take place in Charleston, South Carolina, where he resided. The body will be shipped by way of Winnipeg and Chicago.

And now you know the rest of the story.

- 4:38 am, March 24 (link)

The yuk factor

The thing about the increasing surgicalization of warfare, of course, is that the antiwar crowd is going to go on greeting it with denial forever and a day. John Perry Barlow (rightly) carries great weight here in cyberspace as co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but he doesn't appear to have the slightest idea what the "depleted" in "depleted uranium" means (not that he's alone in this), and writes ruefully:

I know that the only truly powerful country on the planet is continuing to manufacture the perilous, conscience-stunting myth that technology can make war relatively safe. Indeed, we are so delusional on this subject that we believe that bombing the shit out of the Iraqis is a humanitarian act.

However delusional we are, we can, I think, sometimes consider bombing humane without calling it humanitarian. To deny that war really is "relatively" safe in 2003, compared to 1953, is not an argument: it is a psychological symptom, a cremasteric hippie spasm. Barlow doesn't want bombing to get "better", which is, deep down, cruel--excusable cruelty, perhaps, but cruelty no less than that of the knuckle-dragging "let God sort 'em out" crowd. It may still be, in part, a "myth" that aerial bombing can be as tidy and pinpoint as whatever straw man is being imagined here makes it out to be. My question is, what if the myth is true--and how will you decide when it is true if you are blind to the orders of magnitude in improvement which have already taken place?

And, more to the point, what becomes of this boohoo style of antiwar rhetoric when the myth does come true? There is a whole class of objectors to war which founds its moral arguments, essentially, on photographs of injured and dead people. Such objections are about as serious as those of pro-lifers who fever-dream of mountains of dead "babies", of genetic modification opponents who envision "Frankenfoods" growing talons in the vegetable crisper, or of people who still consider organ transplants to be a case of "playing God". Xeni Jardin calls Barlow a "cognitive dissident". Can this perhaps mean that he is a dissident from cognition...?

- 2:42 am, March 24 (link)

"This is the worst"

Public service announcement: The Ambler has returned from hard drive hell.

- 1:43 am, March 24 (link)

Apollo rampant

Will Saletan is on to something in Slate--broadly speaking, that changes in war technology also change the moral calculus of war. If we've reached the stage where a war against a repressive regime can be conducted surgically, with civilian casualties, let's say, one-hundredth what they would have been fifty years ago, that seriously and actually lowers the bar for the justification of a pre-emptive war. The idea that the outcome of a war must be somehow better than not going to war is a component in any rational scheme of war-ethics; in this respect we are all utilitarians. And, in fact, it's this spirit of utilitarianism, impossible to exorcise entirely, that's tipped a lot of people who would ordinarily have been antiwar on principle in favour of this attack. Aside from a few overheated nut cases who have been conjuring "another Dresden" out of the footage from Baghdad, most everyone understands that a majority of Iraqis welcome this war, and that they'll be better off for it, on the whole. The soldiers who will have been killed won't get a vote, but neither do Saddam's torture victims and desaparecidos, nor the dead infants in the regions he's chosen to starve out under the sanctions. Somehow the calculus must be performed.

I believe the calculus speaks strongly in favour of this war, but that the government of the United States is obliged to consider first the effects on the United States: and whether this government has done so is unclear. All governments are mean, cruel things, but a government that has ceased to have the care of its own citizens as its primary responsibility is thereby much more monstrous. The new surgical warfare creates the problem that war will inevitably become much more common unless some good wars can be resisted, on the sole and sufficient ground that permanent war is bad for those who make it. That war is now more "safe", and concentrates its destructive effects on the deserving, does not change the fact that war is the health of the State. And we see depressing signs of America slowly turning into a barracks: we see the Oscar ceremony, America's great secular festival, adopting a self-conscious cheerlessness, with movie stars staying home and the traditional red-carpet ceremony curtailed, because having Dionysiac fun is "wrong in wartime" and no one wants to "send the wrong message"--the wrong message being, apparently, that non-military values still have a place in public life. We saw the same effect in those stories filed from spring break festivities on southern beaches: all those abundant-bodied, sponge-brained bottle-blondes suddenly didn't know whether flashing their tits and drinking flaming Sambuca were quite right with Our Boys killing tanks and digging latrines thousands of miles away. On some level, the very stupidest people in America had inhaled the Spartan atmosphere. I'm afraid I must be candid about my callousness and say that this sort of thing upsets me more than any number of dead Iraqi conscripts.

- 3:12 pm, March 23 (link)

The veteran

Reader Chris Evans writes to stick up for Peter Arnett (re this entry). Basically Chris asks "He's the most experienced war correspondent in the world--why wouldn't NBC use him?"

He has been reporting from conflict zones for over four decades, pretty much continuously, and has taken his lumps for it (the specific example I can cite is being severely beaten by RVN security forces during the Buddhist uprisings in Viet Nam, but there are probably others). [If I recall correctly,] he'd been sent to 27 separate conflicts prior to the Gulf War. You can't find that kind of experience just anywhere. When Peter Arnett says the bombing is beyond anything he's seen before, it means something.

Arnett comes with baggage and bias, but he's still someone deserving of respect in his field.

The problem I have is that it's exactly this respect Arnett was trading on when he put his name to the Tailwind piece. When the reporting on Tailwind came under fire, he didn't defend the story, and he doesn't defend it now. What he calls an "error" was allowing his credibility to be used to prop up a bogus news feature reported, badly, by others. So what do we do here--say "Well, he made a morally wrong use of that credibility, but he's still got the credibility"? Maybe that's an ethically tenable line: I don't know. Certainly his current job with NBC is more in the line of colour commentary than true reporting: as in Gulf War I, he's someone who can be trusted not to go hide in the bathtub when the bombs start falling.

- 1:45 am, March 23 (link)

Best Western

An early heads-up for the NHL playoffs: I've been reacquainting myself with my various playoff tools and spreadsheets, and I notice in passing that the Eastern Conference, as of this evening, is 124-131-36-25 as a whole against Western Conference teams. If you count overtime losses as losses, that makes the East 124-156-36 vs. the West--and, necessarily, the West 156-124-36 vs. the East. Hockey writers are too allergic to number-crunching, on the whole, to point this out. The disparity, as I recall, was even more pronounced last year. I'm hearing a lot of commentators describe Ottawa as "the number one team in the NHL" because they have the highest point total. When schedule strength is taken into account, they're not close, and that's reflected in their less-than-stellar 11-9-1 (no OT losses) mark against the West as a whole. They've been fattening up on a conference loaded with weak sisters.

Unfortunately the West only sends one team to the Stanley Cup final, so the disparity between conferences doesn't enter into playoff handicapping until the end. Any powerhouse in the West must be considered an overwhelming favorite in the final, whomever they face there. But they have to survive in a bracket that is pretty good top-to-bottom.

- 1:20 am, March 23 (link)

Linkin' logs

Two or three of you should appreciate the news that there is a physical quantum of area in our wacky universe.

- 10:31 pm, March 22 (link)

Enemy within?

It's just after 9 p.m. Eastern and news outlets are reporting that something has gone quite wrong in Kuwait. MSNBC reports tersely that "ten U.S. soldiers were wounded when the 101st Airborne Division's camp came under grenade and small arms attack"--and not much else. CNN has pushed the story forward a little further: "Intruders lobbed a hand grenade and fired small arms into a command tent of the U.S. Army's front-line 101st Airborne Division early Sunday, wounding 13 people, six seriously, military spokesmen said. The incident targeting top officers gathered in the Tactical Operations Center of the legendary division's 1st Brigade was first reported by Time magazine correspondent Jim Lacey, who is accompanying the unit." For some reason CBC was very quick with the kicker--which is spreading now even as I type this; NBC has now picked it up--that an American soldier is being questioned in the attack.

- 7:14 pm, March 22 (link)

Only in America, and possibly conquered territories thereof

1998: Pulitzer-winning journalist Peter Arnett comperes a detailed CNN report about the U.S. army using sarin against Vietnam War defectors in Laos in 1970. The American military establishment rises on hind legs and lets out a deafening bellow of rage. The story's main source turns out to be a former psychiatric patient with a taste for nosestretchers, and to have written an entire book on "Operation Tailwind" without so much as mentioning sarin. Things fall apart quickly: the producers who actually built the story are sacked, and Arnett, who offers the ignoble "I was just reading the copy they handed me" defence, is secreted in the wings until his contract can be quietly dropped.

2003: Arnett turns out to have been playing a long game with exquisite skill! While the American public looks for alternatives to CNN's uninspiring coverage, the network has serious trouble keeping its reporters in Baghdad. But Arnett's in town and you couldn't dislodge him with a bunker-buster. Armed with a credential from National Geographic, and the foreign credibility that comes from having committed career suicide battling the military-industrial complex, Arnett sneaks back onto network television. The media star of Gulf War I is back for an unexpected return engagement.

[A]fter [Arnett] was hired by National Geographic to do documentaries in the region he knew so well, NBC News President Neal Shapiro saw an opportunity. "It's a perfect match of being an intrepid war reporter with a place that he knew," he said. "We won't burn him out, but you'll be seeing him a lot."
As for Tailwind, Shapiro said it was "a mistake, and he paid a big price for it."
Arnett said he is no longer bitter toward CNN for his firing. He said he always believed that experience would eventually lead to another major platform for his reporting.
"Only in America do you have comeback stories," he said. "I was very fortunate that in my CNN career I was very close to the Baghdad story and I was very close to the Afghanistan story. My credentials as a journalist went beyond the error of being involved in Tailwind."
But Alex S. Jones, head of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, said Arnett's bid for redemption comes with great risk.
"He's putting himself in great danger to win back journalistic respectability," said Jones. "He's got a lot of guts. This is the kind of bold gesture of derring-do that I would expect of him. He's making a calculated risk that he'll survive."

My suspicion is that Arnett has more to worry about from the Marines, whenever they get into town, than he does from watching the big fireworks display out his hotel window.

[UPDATE, March 23: A reader responds.]

- 1:06 pm, March 22 (link)


There's not enough ridicule in Canadian politics, you know. In its proper place, ridicule is a sign of health: it polarizes, clarifies, stimulates the circulation with a slap. Something is very wrong when a politician feels confident in trying a Claude Rains strategy like the one being pursued by Quebec premier Bernard Landry.

Parti Québécois leader Bernard Landry says new TV advertisements for Mario Dumont's Action démocratique du Québec are "horrifying" and must be pulled. The ads, launched yesterday on French-language TV networks, are marked by a funereal tone and paint the ADQ as the province's saviour.

A bell tolls as white letters on a black screen summarize the ADQ's take on the state of life in Quebec. "Fifty per cent of our salaries taxed," one ad reads. "Millions of public funds wasted every year. Billions of our pension funds squandered." Then a clock can be heard ticking, and the question "What are we waiting for?" appears on the screen. Finally, the ADQ logo appears.

"Creating ads of this nature is an uncivic act," Landry said. "As a citizen, I am scandalized." [Emphasis mine]

As negative advertising goes, the ADQ ad appears to display what any American would call a light touch. So what is the "scandalizing" element? Why, that anyone dares oppose Landry and the PQ, of course. The proper response to Landry's outrage is ridicule; the big baby shouldn't be able to go anywhere in Quebec without deluged with pacifiers. Unfortunately you can't ridicule any emotion nowadays, even one as patently insincere as this. We have quasi-formalized outlets for ridicule--Marg Delahunty, occasional surprise pieings--but these are non-partisan and have the intensity of a pillow fight in a geriatric ward.

The sad part is that Landry's display of outrage will work with some undecided voters--those who believe that opposition politicians (no, the word "opposition" hasn't been excised from our constitution yet) should confine themselves to "positive" statements about their vision for the country. I think such people must be basically afraid of confronting the contradictions in their own expectations of politics. They don't want to believe that any political goal might have to be sacrificed in the pursuit of some other: none of their hopes must be "negated", or they'll be offended. Quebeckers, in particular, seem to be strong believers in having it all--national self-determination and a strong economy and a sturdy social safety net and foreign investment and economic interventionism and a safe haven for the French language and influence in federal politics and national self-determination... order the whole menu! You won't get fat!

And, indeed, deficit financing and transfers from the two remaining "have" provinces allow the game to continue quite merrily. More even than most, Quebec elections are auctions in which party leaders attempt to outbid each other, using the people's money, for the people's love. So the thunderous shock of Mario Dumont's apparent conversion to Anglo-Saxon neoliberalism did not go unnoticed in English Canada. When the ADQ seemed to be breaking into an outright lead in the polls, the old parties turned, lupinely, on Dumont--"uncivic", the word Landry is quoted as using supra, is painfully obvious code for "right-wing, Anglo, un-Quebec". The funny thing is, the ADQ platform--expanded private healthcare, school choice, decentralized economic development, tax cuts, daycare vouchers--would get a politician assassinated by kamikaze soccer moms almost anywhere in English Canada.

It may be good strategy to run very far to the right when you're working against two parties in a place so culturally self-conscious, so leery of imitating neighbours. And with personality counting for as much as it seems to in Quebec, it is impossible to imagine Dumont not being premier eventually. The ADQ's at 20% in the latest poll, well off its campaign peak but well ahead of its 1998 figure of 12%. Prediction: it will draw way, way more than 20% of the vote on April 14.

- 3:37 am, March 22 (link)

Blast from the past

Why pursue a meticulous, slow Basra-first strategy instead of a new Market Garden? I find my mind stretching its greasy tendrils back to last September, when a U.S. three-star general playing Saddam in a high-level war game was reported to have achieved his own version of "shock and awe" (sorry, couldn't resist):

Van Riper had at his disposal a computer-generated flotilla of small boats and planes, many of them civilian, which he kept buzzing around the virtual Persian Gulf in circles as the game was about to get under way. As the US fleet entered the Gulf, Van Riper gave a signal--not in a radio transmission that might have been intercepted, but in a coded message broadcast from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer. The seemingly harmless pleasure craft and propeller planes suddenly turned deadly, ramming into Blue boats and airfields along the Gulf in scores of al-Qaida-style suicide attacks. Meanwhile, Chinese Silkworm-type cruise missiles fired from some of the small boats sank the US fleet's only aircraft carrier and two marine helicopter carriers. The tactics were reminiscent of the al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole in Yemen two years ago, but the Blue fleet did not seem prepared. Sixteen ships were sunk altogether, along with thousands of marines. If it had really happened, it would have been the worst naval disaster since Pearl Harbor.

Van Riper threw a public tantrum because the boats were re-floated, the marines revived from Davy Jones' Locker, and the game continued. "Nothing was learned from this," Lt.-Gen. Van Riper bitched to the Guardian. Yet it looks to this rank amateur like the allied forces in the real war have been particularly careful to shut Saddam's doorway to the sea before attempting any ambitious ground movements. Maybe some learnin' was learned after all?

[UPDATE, 11:51 am: Or not. Tommy Franks now seems content to leave Basra surrounded.]

- 12:51 am, March 22 (link)

New media just ain't their bagh, dad

Speaking of "shock and awe" [waits for groans to subside], it appears from the footage we're seeing from Baghdad that the original meaning of the phrase is the relevant one. The Iraqis, contrary to the antiwar spin, were never supposed to be shocked and awed because their city was being turned into a second Dresden. They were supposed to be shocked and awed at the precision of American weapons, above all. If Baghdad does not survive the war mostly intact (minus a few unlamented monuments to the cult of Saddam) it probably won't be the fault of the invader. (As always, I speak as no particular friend to imperialism.)

Why has CNN shut down the weblog of its own correspondent in northern Iraq, Kevin Sites? I blame Matt Welch, who was surgically ripping CNN a new poo-chute yesterday. He scared them off the whole blogosphere thing! Frankly, not much is practically lost in the silencing of Sites, who was well away from the front lines, harmlessly uploading the occasional amusing photo. If this is war reportage, then I'm Jimmy Breslin. But it's the symbolism that counts here: was CNN really afraid of such profoundly innocuous self-competition? What the hell, "editors"? Is this really the hill you want to sacrifice the cutting-edge, wired-up part of your audience on? Don't you know how quickly people like Glenn Reynolds can propagate a meme? Why don't you just come out and offer a prize for the rudest alternative interpretation of the CNN acronym? (I got the Sites news via Ken Layne.)

- 8:33 pm, March 21 (link)

Health hazard

A "Shock and Awe" drinking game is a very funny idea, Howard Owens, but aren't you worried about getting fired when entire frat houses start turning up dead of alcohol poisoning? If I'd been throwing back shots of Wild Turkey every, let's say, four times I heard the term used today, I'd have lasted maybe 90 minutes before I was adding entertaining new patterns to my rug. This is the kind of thing that gets a paid weblogger sacked! (Or so I assume--there are only about five of you.)

- 7:26 pm, March 21 (link)

Rather unfortunate

RESULT! Phone prankster and American folk hero "Captain Janks" got on CBS to add a Baba Booey shout-out to the war coverage. Make sure you scroll down and catch the comment from "Tom B":

Even better is that the info he supplied in his call to set up his moment on the air was reported both by Rather and on a CBS screen scroll for the next hour, until Janks himself called CBS back and told them they should retract the bogus info, namely that the 3rd Infantry had just been deployed into southern Iraq. Janks felt bad that they were going with the story, even though their source had proceeded to yell "Baba Booey, you idiot" at Rather as soon as he made it to the air.

Remember, it's important to get your news from those reliable old-media sources during wartime, folks. No details of the prank yet at the official Janks website.

- 5:04 pm, March 21 (link)

Killing BoJo's mojo

Boris Johnson, editor of the Spectator of London, gives a behind-the-scenes view of the insane--and I use the word advisedly--world of the New York Times:

I had said something to the effect that you don't make international law by giving new squash courts to the President of Guinea. This now read "the President of Chile". Come again? I said. Qué?

"Uh, Boris," said Tobin, "it's just easier in principle if we don't say anything deprecatory about a black African country, and since Guinea and Chile are both members of the UN Security Council, and since it doesn't affect your point, we would like to say Chile."

Liberal media? What liberal media? This is far, far from being the most over-the-top example Johnson cites. It's probably just as well that Mark Steyn turned down the invitation to fill the pro-war space they ended up giving to Boris. And incidentally Johnson's piece should help clear up such enduring mysteries of humour as "why there's no successful liberal talk-radio" or "why there's no P.J. O'Rourke of the Left". No human with a comic instinct would swap out "Guinea" for "Chile" (which is a relatively wealthy country well capable of lavishly equipping its own squash players). You can't make jokes with a little sensitivity commissar inside your head policing your every utterance.

- 2:10 pm, March 21 (link)

Colonel Mustard in the conservatory

This one's for Dave Stevens--hey, Dave, remember the other day you were joking about how French's mustard was going to have to change its name? They've decided to stand and fight instead.

Recently there has been some confusion as to the origin of French's mustard. For the record, French's would like to say, there is nothing more American than French's mustard.

There follows a side-splitting list of French's all-American credentials: the product adds flavour, we learn to our dumbfoundment, to "American favorites including hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, chicken nuggets and pretzels." And never forget that "French's mustard is the official mustard at Yankee Stadium." That's right, folks: Yankee Stadium. Lord only knows what manner of brown, reeking concoction they spread on their fetus-kebabs at Gallic soccer stadiums.

French's is obviously a fine American brand that represents American ideals, so I wouldn't want to spoil the fun by pointing out that the United States is a massive net importer of mustard--most of it from a highly doubtful friend. That's right: when you're eating mustard, you're eating Canadianism. That's the yellow of cowardice, amigo. (Press release link via Ana Marie Cox.)

- 1:26 am, March 21 (link)

Things we can't even say

Dr. Weevil delivers on the pedantry promise. I am thrilled to receive instruction in Latin, my prior education in which did not carry me as far as the "perfect imperative" (which seems very far, judging from the absence of this construction from otherwise voluminous textbooks). That's probably just as well, because the idea of the perfect imperative has flung my brain into a vortex of temporal absurdity. Perfect imperative...? A verbal mode used in making commands to have already completed an action? Was this a syntactic expression of the difficult Roman personality?

- 9:34 pm, March 20 (link)

The dog that didn't bark

Terrific little Q&A with Roger Ebert in the Mar. 20 Chicago magazine (warning: judging by the URL, that link may point to a different column after a few days). Here's a quote whose implications you might have missed:

I was the first film critic to win [the Pulitzer Prize], and no film critic has won since then. But it is overdue. There are many great film critics in America. They keep giving it to architectural critics, music critics, book critics. It just seems like they don't ever want to give it to a movie critic again. And the New York Times has a great new generation of critics--Elvis Mitchell, Tony Scott, Stephen Holden. You've got Ken Turan out of the L.A. Times. You have terrific people here in Chicago, including Michael Wilmington and Mark Caro at the Tribune. It's time for somebody else to win.

Jeez, that's like six Pulitzer candidates off the top of Ebert's head--how do you suppose his little TV buddy from the Sun-Times feels about not being one of them? Maybe Roger's trying to re-create that groovy on-air tension he had with Siskel...

- 9:09 pm, March 20 (link)

We interrupt regularly unscheduled programming

The Ambler phones to report that his hard drive has apparently packed it in and his site will not update for the immediate future. He may be back sooner, but don't expect to see him before Saturday.

Actually, while we're at it I have a couple other neglected PSAs... Jay Currie has started a site for Canadian Friends of America which contains news and resources for combating kneejerk anti-Americanism here at home. A capital idea!

Also I've been asked to tell my many Winnipeg readers that an Objectivist study group ("Objectivist" as in the philosophy of the novelist Ayn Rand) is starting in that city. Interested persons should get in touch with Mitch Troop to get the details.

- 2:57 pm, March 20 (link)

Nuclear, biological, chimerical

I couldn't sleep because I was thinking about nuclear weapons. Man, that brings back the old days, doesn't it? I was maybe 13 the last time that happened! Actually I was pretty relaxed about nukes, as a member of Generation X (that phrase is so passé now that it's actually permissible to use it, I figure); I was as bothersomely pro-disarmament as any kid raised in a Canadian indoctrination mill, but I don't think many of my classmates had that pants-wetting nocturnal fear of being bombed that you sometimes hear about. We got The Day After in adolescence and they even showed us the impossibly grim Threads in high school (just up the road, mind you, from a major air base that was no doubt earmarked for a megaton or two). But none of it sunk in as a practical possibility, perhaps because these were urban nightmares. Yeah... the cities are kind of screwed if the balloon goes up, aren't they? It'll be bogus if MuchMusic goes off the air.

We've got a lot of people awful worried that the "nuclear taboo" has fallen apart. But any society that has lived through the introduction of contraceptives should know that taboos don't survive the reason for having the taboos. Before Soviet Communism fell, it was taken for granted that the use of a nuclear weapon anywhere would be the occasion, in short order, for a full-out exchange between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.; the taboo went hand in hand with the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. That situation simply doesn't exist anymore. The survival of the species isn't at stake in any one leader or general's decisions, so of course the taboo has relaxed. Why is there indignation about this? Wasn't the enslavement of half of Europe an awfully large price to pay for having a "nuclear taboo"? Every time somebody expresses this coded nostalgia for a second superpower, it's a little "screw you, buddy" whispered in the ears of several million Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Romanians... and Russians themselves.

MAD, mutually assured destruction, has been supplanted by a little package called NBC--not the Will & Grace one, but the one that freely conflates nuclear weapons with biological and chemical ones. We may have burdened the nuclear taboo beyond its potential carrying capacity by trying to equate biological and chemical weapons with atomic ones. Nukes became taboo only after their first use, and since we are trying to establish a new taboo, people are going to be tempted to test the limits of that, too: the new, explicit doctrine that biological or chemical attacks can be answered with nuclear detonation may well have to be asserted in practice (perhaps in the war now underway) if it is to find a firm foundation. The first time you fail to assert it, it's gone, as a rule of international conduct. You'll have missed your chance forever.

How did we arrive at this new rule? I don't rightly know. It's a nice rule if it works, but maybe it's not as controversial as it should be. The U.S. government has made this N=B=C business an explicit foreign-policy doctrine, and other powers, like France, seem to take it for granted as well. Every time someone uses this acronym "NBC" (unless they're talking about watching Friends), the rule is quietly strengthened in advance of a first, decisive test.

Since the Catholic Church tried to ban the crossbow, there have often been weapons considered somehow too evil for civilized warfare; they usually came into wide use before long. Nuclear attack actually seems like a proportionate response to the deliberate incubation and release of a biological plague, since nukes are now less of a threat to humankind than, say, smallpox. It's the "C" in "NBC" I wonder about. Is dying from sarin exposure so much worse than getting incinerated by a JDAM? No one honestly has any idea whether nerve agents are now practical on the battlefield, tactically or economically. The chemical part of the taboo is merely a revival of a rule that was upheld, for most of the last century, by its utter needlessness. And in a sense it's an exercise in hegemony, though not rendered wrong for only that reason. If the third world could design a military "taboo" don't you think it would outlaw the battlefield use of GPS systems and laser-guided weapons? You always want to ban what you don't have (or won't use), and the other guy does have (or might use).

An unrelated note on the unfolding war's media shock troops: I notice that former Edmonton CBC anchor Dana Lewis is in Kuwait reporting for NBC. An attempt, perhaps, to recapture that old magic? The original Scud Stud, Arthur Kent, was also an Alberta CBC guy promoted to the big leagues. Best of luck to Dana, but unless there's been some major plastic surgery going on in the '90s, he doesn't quite have Kent's rakish good looks.

- 6:40 am, March 20 (link)

Le roi est mort

This isn't the sort of thing us Tom Waits characters are supposed to know, Ken Layne, but wine snobs with any kind of backbone abandoned the French a long time ago. I scarcely touch the stuff, preferring nature's own terpenes, but I've absorbed the message from the fancy magazines I use to engorge my class consciousness: the French wine industry is so shot through with hype and indolence that finding the best French plonk, which is still the world's best at its best, is a full-time job. People with serious cellars have a lot of other places to go for cheaper stuff of a steadier quality. Auberon Waugh had a wine column in the Spectator in his last years and could hardly be persuaded to recommend a French wine on a bet: he raved constantly about the Chilean product. There may have been a political subtext there (pinot noir or pinot chet, monsieur?), but honestly I always felt that the old gent--despite his passionate candidature for the Dog Lovers' Party--took his wine more seriously than his politics.

- 1:14 am, March 20 (link)

Weird science

No one's on oath in their newspaper quotes, but get a load of these claims (which I've numbered) from a Canadian political scientist interviewed for CanWest News:

"All the evidence suggests, yes, the nuclear taboo has broken down. We are getting closer and closer to first use--quite possibly by the U.S., which would be tragic [1]," said Douglas Ross, a professor of political science at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

Ross, who lectures on international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, said the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. would open the field for anyone to use them.

"It would be a huge, horrific mistake. It would be a strategic blunder. Nuclear weapons are a deterrent, which means you never use them first.[2]

"American first-use of a mini-nuke would only cause terrorists to redouble their efforts to get nuclear weapons and to use them themselves.[3]"

Political science, ladies and gentlemen--political science. Claim #1 seems to be that a use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. would be particularly tragic--compared, say, to a use of nuclear weapons against the U.S.? Claim #2 is that making the use of nukes conceivable reduces their potential to act as a deterrent, which is certainly an idiosyncratic view of the concept of "deterrent". If they cannot, in principle, be used, what on earth can they be expected to deter? As for claim #3--that terrorists are currently expending less than every possible effort to purchase or use nuclear weapons--well, I can only tail off into a baffled ellipsis...

- 12:27 am, March 20 (link)

Accidental tourist

I rewatched Terry Gilliam's Brazil, with its script cowritten by Tom Stoppard. I've always felt that Brazil closely resembles what George Orwell's 1984 would have looked like if Orwell's friend Evelyn Waugh had written it instead. Stoppard has said that Waugh is one of his three favorite writers, along with Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Babington Macaulay. (Waugh, Nabokov, and Stoppard would be near the top of my list of favorite writers, along with Heinlein, Wodehouse, Chandler, and Wolfe, with TBM in the second tier.) I wonder what Colby Cosh or The Ambler would say about this speculation.

The bait here comes from the ever-engrossing sideblog of Steve Sailer. I'm no expert on Waugh (or anything else really) and it's been a long time since I watched Brazil. But Gilliam is a intuitive artist who calls much on his own subconscious--the mask worn by Sam's torturer in Brazil, for example, is one Gilliam had a memory of seeing as a child. Gilliam is, after the fashion of the painter Francis Bacon, a surrealistic cultivator of brilliant tonal accidents. Waugh achieved a very precise control over his instrument, a control to which someone like Gilliam would never dream of aspiring.

Yet there is much that is Waughian in Brazil--perhaps the hand of Stoppard is responsible. It starts with the very first dialogue in the screenplay, with a Deputy Minister using sports metaphors to talk, basically, about state torture.

HELPMANN Bad sportsmanship. A ruthless minority of people seems to have forgotten certain good old fashioned virtues. They just can't stand seeing the other fellow win. If these people would just play the game, instead of standing on the touch line heckling -

INTERVIEWER In fact, killing people -

HELPMANN - In fact, killing people - they'd get a lot more out of life.

- 8:46 pm, March 19 (link)

Just another gang

E-town cops side with the criminal!--this and so much more in your Wednesday Edmonton Sun:

Police chose to pursue a case against an Edmonton shopkeeper and not to charge the smash-and-grab thieves he's alleged to have fired on because they considered the gun complaint the "more serious event," says a cop spokesman.
"A person should be entitled to protect his property, sure," said Edmonton Police Service spokesman Wes Bellmore. "But we can't have every shopkeeper in town packing a gun. A bullet can travel for a mile, and it doesn't think about where it's going.
"You have shopkeepers (using guns) to protect their stock, and sooner or later an innocent person could get shot in the head."
Last week, police announced they would not be pursuing charges against a suspect in relation to the March 9 break-and-enter at Audio 5.1, an electronics store at 103 Street and 63 Avenue.
Instead, cops plan to turn the suspect around to provide evidence in the case of Shand King, the store's owner. King faces four criminal charges in connection with shots fired inside the store during the break-in.
About 25 minutes after the break-in, a man suffering from a gunshot wound was taken to hospital. Police said they were not able to conclusively link his injury to the case.
"In order to gain a concrete lead in the (shooting) case, a decision was made at the command level not to charge (the wounded man) with the break-in," said police spokesman Annette Bidniak.
Bellmore admitted the decision to focus the investigation on the shooting will be controversial.
"Certainly there's been a visceral reaction already," he said, referring to recent media coverage. "But when it's a tradeoff between pursuing a shooting and a B&E, our priority is the firearms activity."

Your reporter, incidentally, is the excellent Doug Beazley. I am too enraged to comment--except to say that the next time an Edmonton city cop dies or is injured on duty, I'm going to bake myself a big fucking cake. Chocolate.

- 4:13 pm, March 19 (link)

American memory

Kathryn Jean Lopez's idea of a "neat idea":

From a reader: "Don't forget to tell readers and subscribers (although that should be redundant) that they can do something right now to support our friends. Virtually every nation in the coalition has embassy websites. It only takes a few seconds to dash off a note of thanks to our allies. It may seem a small thing, but it feels good, and it can only help give positive reinforcement. And it's the right thing to do." [Editor's note: In wartime, Americans have often been inspired to channel the enduring wisdom of Wilford Brimley.]

Indeed, what greater gift could there be than the temporary gratitude of the United States? Why, a full year after Canadian cities accepted aircraft diverted from American skies on 9/11--placing civilians in jeopardy and, in some cases, boarding stranded passengers in private homes--NRO's own Jonah Goldberg showed quite marked restraint in calling for the invasion of Canada and the destruction of major national landmarks. I criticized him at the time, but secretly I was thrilled that he proposed knocking down the CN Tower, which is, after all, not normally occupied by anyone but tourists. He showed no hostility whatever toward, say, our beautiful neo-Gothic Parliament or the imposing Château Frontenac.

Canada is sidelined in the current fight, partly because our gormless prime minister reflexively went into "honest broker" mode a few weeks ago when such brokerage was superfluous, and partly because Canadian troops are tied up with near-term commitments to Afghanistan--a place where, I am informed, there has been some recent small unpleasantness. But active coalition members can look forward to years of sweet, sweet lovin' from the NRO crew.

- 9:42 pm, March 18 (link)

The yellow, tennis-ball-sized emperor has no clothes

You guys know that Frito-Lay could just... manufacture a much bigger Cheeto if they wanted to, right?


- 9:23 pm, March 18 (link)

This is just between you, me, and the CNN audience

U.S. special forces and CIA agents have already entered Iraq and are scouting potential targets, gathering intelligence and preparing the battlefield for a U.S. invasion that would likely be code-named Operation Iraqi Freedom, military sources told NBC News on Tuesday.

Thus spake MSNBC. This is really stretching that verb "to code-name", don't you think? Traditional military "code names" like "Operation Overlord" or "Manhattan Project" were, y'know, codes: they didn't refer directly to what was being described, and nobody outside the establishment learned of them until much later. Nowadays, apparently, reporters are given the "code name" before the whole thing comes off.

The correct terminology here is obviously not "code name", for Christ's sake, but "brand". "Operation Iraqi Freedom" is a brand name for TV news producers: it is therefore the opposite of a code. Somewhere, around about now or a little sooner, Gen. Franks will have chosen one of a half-dozen or so master invasion strategies, and that will have the code name on it, and he'll be instructing his underlings to proceed with Hot Dog or Spit Valve or whatever. So can we keep that straight?

- 7:44 pm, March 18 (link)

Proper nouns

My eyes really rolled when I read the MSNBC teaser "Oscar winners told to shorten speeches." This makes me angrier every year, because the media never shows any sign of remembering that it printed the same story the last 15 Marches in a row, and I don't really see that "long speeches" are a problem, since the speeches are the reason we tune in to the broadcast. That said, Gil Cates finally seems to have hit on a good idea: focus on eliminating laundry lists of Barrys and Harveys and Michaels instead of being such a fanatic about the clock.

This year, Cates hopes to enforce two rules. No. 1: "If you pull out a piece of paper and start to read a list of names, you're done." Additional names, he added, can be posted on an Oscar Web site. No. 2: "Even if you don't pull out piece of paper, you get to name five names. ...You start on a sixth name, you're done again."

Nobody in Hollywood except that nutjob Mel Gibson has more than five children anyway, right? (Any such person forced to forgo naming some of their children could be played off the stage to the theme from Sophie's Choice.) I still don't know why they're so eager to curb the speeches when they could be moving some of the who-gives-a-shit categories over to Technical Awards Day. But at least Cates is now trying a solution that serves the viewer a little better.

- 5:49 pm, March 18 (link)

The medium is the message

The "Nigerian" 419 scam. "My name is Zemmy Savimbi and I am approaching you as a wise, honest, and good businessman or woman of renown..." It cannot possibly ever work any longer; it can't work as long as we are all getting ten such letters an hour. Even my landlady, who visited recently and asked "Is that a computer?" when she saw my computer, would see through the thing the first time she checked her e-mail, if you set it up for her. Yet, contrary to expectations, the incidence of the scam continues to grow. It's growing so fast than some informed persons believe it may actually submerge the internet, as financial Ponzi schemes have sometimes dragged entire nation-states into the abyss. (These people must be judged somewhat hysterical, because obviously the United States will start firing cruise missiles at the countries of origin long before this happens, and attempted wire fraud--or, hell, ownership of a computer--will immediately become punishable by being fed to hyenas.)

Why does it grow? Because the basis of the scam is magical thinking about business. The scam is being perpetuated by an apparently enormous population which believes that creating wealth in this world is a simple matter of enchanting some rich person into parting with a sufficiently large sum of their money--that profit is, at root, an incantatory exercise, a secret, possessed by few, for conjuring distant gods. A, then B. The medicine man dances, the rain comes.

Any country in which this belief is widespread can never be prosperous, or can never retain prosperity, anyway. You may fancy the "Protestant work ethic" to be just as superstitious, but you must admit that its moral effects aren't quite as exsanguinative. No society is so free of magical thinking that it can afford to feel too self-satisfied about this nth sign of the social mania which remains nearly universal in Africa. From the ancient Confucians, who thought that the success of stable, orderly dynastic regimes could be reproduced by imitating their costumes and music, to the present-day college-educated antiwar protestors, who believe that peace is brought about by enough people screaming "peace" loudly enough, magical thinking dies hard. It is, as Carl Sagan observed not long before leaving it, a demon-haunted world.

- 12:14 am, March 18 (link)

My three sons

Uncle Junior's so busy playing Battleship that he's really let the weblog go to seed. The big MartinWatch clock is still running and is at 38 days. A friendly link on his site asks us "What is a blog?" Well, Paul, for starters, a "blog" is frequently updated. And it often has a personal element, so I'm sure any time now we'll be getting an entry headlined "I can't believe they're making me give the boats to these little bastards before I die."

More active weblogger Warren Kinsella called Martin's move the "right decision" (March 11 entry), which must be taken as an inerrant signal that it benefits only the Liberal Party in the long run. Martin was hitherto criticized for having brief personal chats about the steamship business with the "blinded" pal who was supposed to be running the show. If Martin is the classic absentee father of politics, giving CSL to his sons may well establish the ethically appropriate distance between himself and the enterprise. More likely, there will be a lot of coded conversations about the "family silverware" over din-dins. This whole kerfuffle is just a way for a guy to bank unearned political credit for retiring from business at a tactically suitable moment: hasn't anybody noticed he turns 65 later this year?

- 9:32 pm, March 17 (link)

Resistance is futile

Gun rights historian and scholar Clayton Cramer has joined the Volokh Conspiracy as HTML colour #FFCC00 (Gold). Only 16,777,204 colours left available, fellas, better slow down your recruiting. Cramer admits to being a fourth cousin of Jane Fonda. Love to be at that family reunion. [UPDATE, March 30: Cramer's "tone" proved wrong for the Conspiracy and he was dropped a few days ago.]

In hockey news, the Oilers have beaten the Predators 5-3 in Music City, all but sealing up that last Western Conference playoff spot. I can relax now until the second week of April. Mysteriously, I don't hear anybody calling me a genius! On March 7, with the Oilers struggling, I pointed out that calling Ales Hemsky anything but the Oilers' number-one prospect was a mistake, in view of his youth and his blossoming offensive play. Ten days later the Oilers have a pretty solid playoff perch--and the single biggest reason may be young Hemsky. Come to think of it, I was wrong--he's no prospect at all, he's a player. Can I get a witness?

- 8:38 pm, March 17 (link)

Alea jacta est

Listening to the Bush speech just now, I was impressed by the president's careful message to the Iraqi people. Bush is clumsily and self-consciously using the presidential magic that Reagan wielded more subtly when he called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and the words were carried to poets and liberals in the darkest cells of the Warsaw Pact. I still hold the dream of Washingtonian isolationism in my heart, but asking a president to not send that message is a lot to ask--not of the presidents, but of the hearers. The troops are already massed around Iraq: the dark bargain is complete. I don't hold a big grudge against the French for serving French interests, but if they really believe that the legalist idea of collective security is worth fighting for, there's still (checks watch) 47 hours for them to land paratroopers in Baghdad. I guess I'm a bit disappointed that Bush didn't say that. They're gonna call you a cowboy anyway, W, you might as well let out a few lung-clearing yahoos.

- 7:03 pm, March 17 (link)

Irish, Irish everywhere

Gene Healy celebrates the feast of St. Patrick with a link to some typically self-abasing Irish observations. A happy St. P.'s to all "hibernolibertarians": I suggest storming the local post office to celebrate. On Sunday morning CBC radio's Michael Enright was entertaining some weepy, peat-infused "Irish storyteller" straight out of Central Casting: my family left Ireland 1,008 years ago and even I was embarrassed. The outrageous part was that halfway through the interview, after retailing a solid half-hour of warmed-over blarney (no doubt at union scale), the walking stereotype started railing against the image of Paddy as the eternal scrappy drunk in a flat cap. Enright had already made a joke about the guy's water glass actually containing water, so I was a bit worried that the state broadcaster's favourite honeyed mid-Atlantic voice was going to get a wee poke in the beezer. Mostly I just wanted to have a go at Finnegan O'Doggerel myself though. "Oh, no, we Irish aren't drunks. Not at 11 a.m. anyway. Most days." Come off it, dude: people like the Irish. That's why you're on the damn radio. The drunkenness wouldn't even be worth noting if you lot could hold down more than four pints without breaking chairs over each other.

Which reminds me: the Ambler, pugnacious Erse spirit of Canadian paleoconservatism, is back and in fighting trim. There is even the tantalizing prospect of new recurring features. Don't keep us in suspense too long, KMG.

- 5:46 pm, March 17 (link)

The Matrix Misinterpreted

The Washington Post--I'm only seeing the story reprinted in this morning's Ottawa Citizen--is reporting that writings taken from the prison cell of Lee Malvo, the junior partner in the alleged Beltway sniper team, reveal a garbled fixation on the movie The Matrix.

"Free Your Mind! The Body Will Follow!" the writings say, along with, "You are a slave to the Matrix 'control'," all references to the 1999 science fiction film starring Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. The film theorized that the world in 1999 was actually a computer simulation created by an evil artificial intelligence 200 years in the future. One page refers to Mr. Fishburne's time-travelling character, Morpheus, telling Mr. Reeves' character: "Free first your mind, trust me! The body will follow!"
Sources familiar with Mr. Malvo's six-hour interview with Fairfax police on Nov. 7 said he referred to The Matrix and the theories it espouses several times.

"The theories it espouses"? Gawd. Much as some might like to take The Matrix as a serious metaphysical text, it is in fact not even a particularly serious piece of science fiction. I mean, crap, get this kid some Samuel R. Delany already. In light of the WaPo revelations, I can't be the first to wonder out loud whether a change in the title of the sequel--The Matrix Reloaded--might not be in the offing. Sensitivity and whatnot, you know.

- 6:17 am, March 17 (link)

A proverb deconstructed

If I wait for a proper occasion to use this, I'll forget... I was messing around with one of my favourite websites the other day,, the dictionary of Chinese characters and culture. Don't go fool around with that unless you have a whole day to spare--it is amazing. Want to look up the Chinese character for an English word? You can do that. Want to see the etymology of the ideogram? You can do that. Want to hear an audio file of how the word is pronounced in, say, Cantonese dialect? Yeah, you can do that. Want to see an animated GIF of the character being drawn? Uh-huh. And there's scads of links to supplementary material too--surnames, poetry, the whole ball of wax.

It occurred to me, anyway, that I could use to check up that old saying about the word in Chinese for "crisis" being the same as the word for "opportunity". You heard that one, right? Well, it's apparently not very true. says you need two words in Chinese to say "crisis", to wit:

Reading left to right, that's "wéi ji" in Mandarin. "Ji", as advertised, is the word for "opportunity"... or generally "chance" as in "potential occasion". But saying that "wéi ji" = "ji" is like trying to wear a spacesuit (or a lawsuit!) to a fancy restaurant. As it happens, "wéi" means "danger". Far from signifying a sort of cultural blind optimism, "wéi ji", crisis, just means that there's a chance of danger. Duh. I guess the Chinese really can tell the difference between a crisis and an opportunity. (Please, no G.W. Bush jokes.)

[UPDATE: Edmonton's own Sam Mikes wins the prize for finding out that Cecil Adams was all over this bitch, plus I don't have the weird little Slug Signorino illustrations. Thanks for ruining the fun, Sam "Have You Heard Of Google?" Mikes.]

- 1:57 am, March 17 (link)

The chimes of Big Ben

Just got back from a matinee of Shanghai Knights. Is there any point in me telling you what I thought? It does what it says on the box; I had a great time. Two complaints only: (1) the repeated homages to past bits of Jackie Chan business could be viewed by the cynical as recycling, rather than a warm-fuzzy "Best Of", and (2) I do wish we could resist the temptation to pack Victorian London with celebrity cameos. Oh look, it's Jack the Ripper; oh look, it's Arthur Conan Doyle; etc., etc. Congratulations, Hollywood jackasses, you've managed to annoy the well-informed and peddle a bunch of rot to the ignorant.

- 7:28 pm, March 16 (link)

Always a bridesmaid

Via Bourque: get that Ottawa Sun story on David Orchard's PC leadership campaign quick, before it rots! Kathleen Harris reports:

With seven candidates in the race, some in other leadership camps say the "Orchard scare" is being hyped up by the MacKay team to bolster its support.

Is that so, now? In the more or less two-man race in '98 against Joe Clark, Orchard rang up some pretty impressive vote totals. He finished with 59% in B.C., 48% in Saskatchewan, 20% in Clark's home province of Alberta, 21% in Ontario. Do you suppose all those voters have just died of scurvy in the intervening five years? Will they be seduced to another campaign by one of those other hypercharismatic candidates?

No, I think in a five-man race the extra voters Orchard can bring to the party will count fairly heavily. MacKay is still the horse to bet on, but I'll be a bit surprised if Orchard finishes lower than second. (And MacKay will keep the Tories exactly where the Canadian Alliance wants them, in its more lucid moments--irrelevant but not dead.)

- 1:27 pm, March 16 (link)

I promise not to kill you

Went to see Cronenberg's Spider last night with out-of-town chums who consume artfilm voraciously when visiting Edmonton gives them the chance. (Where they live, I think Shakespeare in Love is just now hitting the drive-in.) So, you know, when I get the call from them, it's basically, Here we go, time to go sit through another agonizingly paced 100-minute meditation on the nature of insanity. OK, I'm just teasing. There is much to like about Spider, the main thing being a mad central character who isn't given cutesy audience-pleasing characteristics. Folks, Ralph Fiennes doesn't play one of those crazy people who discovers a passionate gift for music or a mystic power to heal other wounded souls. He's basically a mumbling, filthy cretin who has nothing that could be described as a personality. I know nobody expects anything life-affirming from Cronenberg at this stage of the game, but you need to take this warning seriously.

I expect most Canadians are, like me, fundamentally suspicious of our compatriot Cronenberg, a director of intellectually penetrating schlock who surfed to European acclaim on auteur theory. He always had Ideas: being successful with critics was simply a matter of dropping the entertainment part. Spider has been singled out as a new step in his oeuvre, and while I've avoided Cronenberg like hepatitis C since Dead Ringers, I suspect this is true. He's attained that Zen state, that Ozu condition, of having purged himself of even the desire to entertain. The result, of course, is, perversely, somewhat entertaining. You the viewer have to meet him halfway and relinquish your capacity for anticipation. Everything unfolds in its own time and nothing is ever quite what you think. In a weird way, Spider shares a tone, a subject matter, and a fanatically studied dingy Britishness with another Canadian art movie, Felicia's Journey. Egoyan's movie had the insurmountable advantage of source material written by William "Where the Fuck's My Nobel Prize Already?" Trevor. But Cronenberg's is somehow purer, more intense. Like vinegar rather than wine. It has nothing to recommend itself as a beverage, but it has its place in the kitchen all the same. Spider is recommended only to strong devotees of the unsparing, the unrelenting, the coldly brutal. Or!--perhaps to those with a particular interest in schizophrenia, of which Fiennes provides what must be one of the most accurate, carefully observed portraits in any medium.

And I guess I can't not mention Miranda Richardson. She's so goddamn great, I don't know how anybody else ever wins an Oscar, even men. What if they just gave her all the Oscars one year? They could melt all the others down and just give her one really huge one, that would just about do the trick.

- 6:03 am, March 16 (link)

A hobby with spinoffs

The Edmonton Journal has officially entered the Subfusc Print Stories About Weblogging Sweepstakes. What's that?--you wanted the "URLs" of the sites they mention? URL, is that like an interweb thingy? You'll have to use Gurgle or whatever the hell it's called...

- 5:32 am, March 16 (link)

There's an update to the Wells-Crosbie entry. -12:52 am, March 16
Puff the magic dragon

Sarah Kelly had to choose between quitting smoking and fitting into a fabulous new dress. Hmmm... now which do you suppose won the argument...?

- 6:53 pm, March 15 (link)

Écrasez l'infâme

Via The Null Device: the Christian Science Monitor goes way beyond Freedom Fries. (Or, as I'm now calling them, frites de liberté.)

- 6:13 pm, March 15 (link)

What if?

While taking a cab to the office this afternoon I was suddenly gifted with a dark, random premonition in a single phrase: survivable "suicide bombing". The shaping of explosive charges is a fairly sophisticated art, but not so sophisticated that you won't see people blowing themselves up at your friendly neighbourhood monster truck show. I suspect it would take one engineer with the right training to teach the Palestinians (or anyone else) how to construct a rig that could fill a bistro full of shrapnel--but give the bomber a 50-50 chance of being able to escape, relatively unharmed, in the confusion. If suicide bombing wasn't "suicide bombing" anymore, it might change the economics of jihad recruitment in some pretty disconcerting ways. Informed comment on this speculation should be directed to the usual address.

- 5:13 pm, March 15 (link)

The story behind the story

Word arrives that the Canadian Judicial Council has settled a silly battle between the twin political legends of Newfoundland.

The Canadian Judicial Council has dismissed a complaint against the chief justice of the Newfoundland Appeal Court.

The council was investigating a complaint by former [Conservative] federal Justice Minister John Crosbie against former [Liberal] Newfoundland premier, now Chief Justice Clyde Wells.

Crosbie complained that Wells went too far in writing a letter to The Globe and Mail trying to clarify a ruling by a panel of judges.

The issue goes back to a ruling written by Justice William Marshall on an appeal he heard along with two other judges. The other two judges at first concurred, but then had second thoughts over a portion of the ruling on the role of the courts and the legislature.

That prompted Chief Justice Wells to write the letter to the newspaper to make it clear, that on this issue, Justice Marshall did not speak for them.

This CBC story's lack of context makes it a classic of electronic journalism. The Marshall ruling concerned a broken salary promise made by the Newfoundland legislature to a large public-sector labour union there; the government had agreed to make retroactive "pay equity" handouts to workers deemed to have been underpaid by the arcane formulae of that particular legal pseudoscience. Soon after making the promise, Newfoundland ran into debt trouble and had to implement some program-spending cuts; the equity payback went straight out the window on a vote of the legislative assembly. So the union had sued. Justice Marshall issued a massive judgment ruminating at length on the relations between the judiciary and the legislative branch; he said, in particular, that Canadian courts are now in danger of usurping the constitutional primacy of elected legislators, and that they should overturn legislative decisions only under the most extraordinary circumstances, instead of six times before breakfast every day. In short, said Justice Marshall, complaints about "judicial activism" are somewhat justified; we, the judges, need to clean up our act and respect Canadian traditions. The really relevant technical part of the ruling--which went against the union--was a matter of a few paragraphs; the rest was a sort of personal manifesto on the Constitution, and a damned fascinating one.

The Globe's Kirk Makin somehow heard about or saw the ruling and grasped its significance, and since he was about the only newspaper reporter in the country to do so, he must be given enormous credit. Unfortunately--whether because he failed to read closely enough, or because he received some kind of faulty version of the ruling--his Globe article on the Marshall ruling failed to note that the two other judges on the appeal panel only concurred with the technical reasons for the ruling, and specifically excluded themselves from signing off on the rest of Marshall's meandering judgment. In short, Makin had run across a real rebellion against the current judicial passion for writing and rewriting laws. But it was a rebellion by one guy, not three.

Under the circumstances, it's hard to know what else Chief Justice Wells could have done. Kirk Makin had wrongly attributed Marshall's personal and highly idiosyncratic views to two other judges who pretty clearly wanted nothing to do with them. What harm could there be in writing a brief letter to the Globe explaining the overlooked intricacy? To this day I don't understand why John Crosbie filled his pants over that letter--or, rather, I do know, but I don't understand why he's not ridiculed for pursuing an old political vendetta in the inappropriate venue of the Canadian Judicial Council. Unless I've missed something here the man should really be rather ashamed of himself, not that he has any known capacity for shame.

[UPDATE, March 16: Reader Steve Austin wrote in to go over some points I may not have made clear enough. First of all I should re-emphasize that Makin, an excellent reporter, may have seen an early or truncated version of the ruling and reported on that basis. Indeed, it seems quite likely. Secondly, the narrow concurrences by the two other judges were neutral on the more expansive parts of Marshall's ruling; we have no way of knowing what they really think. But they didn't sign onto it, and if you read the whole thing--an exercise I can recommend only to hardcore law freaks--it's pretty easy to see why: Marshall not only criticizes "judicial activism" but invents a whole new foundational doctrine for "reading in" which attempts to curb current practice yet remain consonant with post-Charter Supreme Court jurisprudence. I mean, the guy, for whatever reason, really took flight: he used a fairly straightforward case as the occasion to redefine the whole role of the judge in our constitution. In the case of Judge Steele, he concurred in writing with one paragraph within a ruling that ran, as I recall, to more than nine hundred of them. I can't think I'm wrong to suggest that the other two judges wanted to distance themselves from the "manifesto" parts of Marshall's ruling. Nonetheless, you must take it as a strong supposition formed from circumstantial evidence.]

- 11:48 am, March 15 (link)

This entry is not for the squeamish

Hi there. Sorry about the long delay in returning to the saddle, but I had a weird day yesterday. To be unnecessarily candid, I had a sore buttock and couldn't really sit here and type. Procrastinating writers, and there is absolutely no other kind, often find themselves having to pull long stretches at a keyboard, with terrible long-term results for the bum; haemorrhoids are among the less revolting of the consequences. Me, I've been fairly lucky over the years--no arse-grapes here, knock wood--but I finally went and sprained or bruised something over on the left side there, so I tried to spend as much of the day as possible laying off of the offended musculature. Then, to make matters stranger, I was using a heating pad on it, which at first induced a sort of not-unpleasant vertigo; the buttock seemed to approve. But somehow the heating pad threw off my body's internal thermostat completely, and when the time came to relinquish it I found myself shivering uncontrollably and screaming curses in a house whose real temperature was and is a more-than-comfortable 23°C. I spent the rest of the day tossing and turning, having feverish two-hour naps and switching between lying under supra-heavy covers and running an electric fan to cool myself down. Anyone who saw me would certainly have declared me completely insane.

Today things seem much improved all round, so you're bound to hear from me even though I do have a few errands to run and people to see.

- 11:23 am, March 15 (link)

Get the lead out

The Speaker of the House of Commons is revealed in today's National Post to be an insane idiot:

In March, 1998, Gilbert Pinney, an armoured car driver, wrote to [Peter] Milliken suggesting that the new Firearms Act was based on faulty statistics and should be reconsidered. Mr. Milliken, MP for Kingston responded less then two weeks later on "Deputy Speaker" letterhead.

"I am shocked at your foolish letter," responded Mr. Milliken, who was elected Speaker in 2001. "After the recent shootings in the United States by these young children and their schoolmates, I am surprised that anyone with half a brain would write suggesting we loosen our gun control laws. The American experience gives sound reason for us to legislate much tougher controls to lessen the chances of such a tragedy. Only the pig-headed would oppose such a move."

The letter prompted an April, 1998, reply from John Gayder, an officer with the Niagara Parks Police force, who told Mr. Milliken his friend Mr. Pinney is neither pig-headed or half-brained.

"As a currently serving police officer, I share [Mr. Pinney's] concern about spending such a large amount of scarce law enforcement resources on such questionable undertakings as Bill C-68," Mr. Gayder wrote.

Mr. Milliken again responded quickly: "I think the approach that you and Mr. Pinney are urging is responsible for thousands of deaths in this country. I would happily pass legislation banning people from having guns were I given the opportunity to vote for such legislation." [Emphasis mine]

Damian Penny, a gun-control moderate, has some excellent points to make about Milliken's frothing rudeness (Blogspot permalinks aren't working at the moment). He is silent on what I see as an equally important aspect: that a high-ranking Liberal is on record as favouring total firearms confiscation from civilians. Some C-68 opponents pointed out when the registry was introduced that it was at least a hypothetical prelude to mass confiscation. This was deemed to be paranoia. Now I think we can at least refer to it as appropriate paranoia.

- 8:47 am, March 14 (link)

Present at the creation

I don't suppose I can let Deborah Grey's prospective retirement from politics pass without comment. She made the announcement on the 14th anniversary of the by-election which made her the original Reform Party MP. That by-election took place in the since-dismantled riding of Beaver River, which included my hometown. I was six weeks too young to cast a vote. By-elections are a wonderful thing for which the American political system seems to have no exact equivalent; they often herald sea-changes in the political order, and the one in March '89 certainly did. In a system whose checks and balances have fallen apart, they are a last outlet for untrammelled, unpredictable democratic excitement.

What may be hard for people to understand now is that the 36-year-old Grey was absolutely not on the radar as a personality. She had not yet become the fearsome Harley-riding matriarch we are now familiar with; she ran a low-key campaign, and her name was understood to be on the ballot as a convenient synonym for "None of the Above". Only friends and relatives voted for Deb Grey per se; what you would have heard in the hotel diners in rural Alberta was "Let's not vote for the same old sons of bitches this time."

The odd thing was that she turned into the best communicator, and perhaps the most distinctive elected figure, in the history of the party. CBC radio interrupted my sleep this morning with the claim that "Preston Manning was her mentor." Maybe this is true in an ideological sense, but the real nature of their relationship was that she was the human face of Reform that Manning couldn't provide. At political meetings she'd whip the crowd into a frenzy with ten-minute introductions of Manning; he'd come out to a burst of crazed applause and then throw cold water on everything with that Parkinsonian-schoolmaster voice of his. That's not to say that Manning was a bad political orator, at least by modern standards; people really listened to what he had to say, and you usually came away feeling like you'd heard important truths. But thrilling, he was not. It's worth wondering what Reform might have accomplished, electorally, if Preston had stepped down in favour of Grey.

Her reputation for "wit" is often overstated, but she had what passes for wit amongst politicians nowadays, which means she could read a joke as if it were a joke. There's not a human being now in the House of Commons who is capable of spontaneous humour, unless it's by accident (our prime minister, for one, is a master of self-parody). When the Reform Party took Preston Manning's "Canadian Alliance" prescription but fired him as the family doctor, Grey was suddenly transformed into a bitter, vindictive Medea. She was so consumed with rage that she had no idea how her defection to the Conservatives--her contempt for the democratic judgment of the party membership--would play with her constituents. She says she's quitting to spend more time with her husband. Funny how she wants to spend more time with her husband immediately after a redistricting that is taking away her seat. She'd have to have the party leadership behind her to get room on the bus in the next election, and, funny thing--traitors usually don't have their transfers honoured. So farewell then, Deb Grey: you took a business matter personally, and that's not permitted in politics any more than it is in the Mafia.

- 7:30 am, March 14 (link)

CBC's Edmonton AM has some photos of the fire mentioned below, although they've been shrunk to the point of near-uninterpretability. -7:04 am, March 14
Breaking news

A correspondent who just got home from work downtown is reporting that about a half-block of Whyte Avenue--the only street in our town with historic character, or indeed any other kind--is on fire right now. The Albert's on the corner of Whyte and Calgary Trail North is going up in flames along with the businesses in that row to the north, including the Plaid Giraffe and Carol's Quality Sweets. Establishments further to the east are said to be OK for the moment.

At 1:30 a.m. CHED radio is reporting that the Albert's--which has been on that corner since 1959--is just plain gone, and the fire runs right back to the alley. The north-south row's still burning but it's said, "unofficially", to be under control. No word of injuries, though a bunch of firemen who ran into Albert's narrowly escaped having the roof fall in on them, and the animals in the pet store on the top floor could not be rescued. Employees and firemen are milling about drinking hot cider.

[UPDATE, 12:04 pm: Here's the Edmonton Journal's account.]

- 1:33 am, March 14 (link)

Always think twice about political ideas containing the word 'somehow'

Well, la de da! Somebody finally got the goods on St. Ralph Nader--and as a bonus, the investigator is Radley Balko from my very own blogroll. I found out about the piece from Mickey Kaus, and while we're talking about Kaus, I have a question about this recent entry:

Show of Feet? Reader M.B. has an idea for finessing the Iraq situation that's probably won't work, but seems worth presenting anyway: Somehow establish U.N. protected zones within Iraq--starting perhaps in Shiite border towns or Kurdish areas, but also (the hard part, I guess) in some Sunni areas. Let Iraqi citizens vote with their feet about where they'd prefer to live. If Saddam tries to interfere with the ensuing mass migration, you have a Rwanda-style situation justifying intervention to protect them. ... 8:09 P.M.

Er, wait--so the "idea worth presenting" is "Let's incite Saddam to commit genocide"? Do I have that quite right? Of course, we know UN partition brought decades of peace to Palestine, so maybe it's worth considering...

- 1:03 am, March 14 (link)

Not Smart

Jonah Goldberg says that rescued kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart's father rubs him the wrong way somehow. I haven't seen Ed Smart on TV yet, but can someone explain to me why this family kept hiring crazed drifters to do their yardwork? As I recall, an earlier suspect in the case was another mentally ill homeless guy with a history of drug problems who'd hung around the Smart manse, like the now-in-custody "Emmanuel". It's all very well to help the indigent, but these people had adolescent daughters. What kind of person lacks such basic instincts to protect their family? Was Ed just too cheap to pay a nice neighbour kid to mow the yard? Can't people recognize a thousand-yard stare when they see one?

- 5:47 pm, March 13 (link)

Alexander the great

Canadian military journalist Scott Taylor, in Iraq to file copy for Sun Media, has been ejected from the country for allegedly being a Mossad spy.

In an interview with CTV News on Thursday, Taylor said he considered himself fortunate to have survived his latest encounter with the Iraqi secret service.

"I've met them before, I've had courtesy calls in the past but always very friendly," he said. "This was very different and certainly very unnerving for me. At this particular moment, given the pre-war paranoia and fear going on inside Iraq, the secret service is very much on the verge of losing their grip. It was very lucky for me to have been allowed to leave."

The Iraqi agents asked Taylor how he obtained his visa. Taylor, who has made 12 visits to Iraq in the past three years, admitted he had called an Iraqi government contact to help obtain a visa because the regular process appeared to be stalled. The Iraqi official had called the Iraqi embassy in Ottawa to grant Taylor a formal invitation to the country.

Taylor said upon hearing his story, the agents revealed they had been the ones to stall his visa application, and accused him of working for Mossad. They told him the allegation was based on a "remark" from another journalist. They advised him to leave the country as "quickly and quietly as possible."

Q: If Scott Taylor is a Mossad agent, what does that mean for documentary filmmaker Sacha Trudeau, son of the late Canadian prime minister? The Toronto Star's March 11 story on Sacha, written by Mitch Potter, would now seem to have placed him in jeopardy of being expelled from Iraq--or worse:

Trudeau's preparations include extensive briefings from Canadian military affairs analyst Scott Taylor, who has been to Iraq 11 times as a journalist and, separately, as an international observer.

Perhaps Sacha's defence will be that he's much too stupid to be in the pay of Israel. His short interview with the Star's Mitch Potter offered the highest fatuity-to-column-inches ratio seen in many a day. Sample quotes: "I am here to storytell, in the largest sense." "I'm putting together multiple decision-trees for multiple contingencies to be here as safely as possible." And my personal favourite: "I felt, almost for spiritual reasons, that I had to be here. And to stay here to the end, to bear witness." Jeez, sounds like Sacha really did grow up with that Christ complex. You will recall he was the second Trudeau brat in a row to be born on Christmas Day: a famous Quebecois editorial cartoon of the time showed P.E.T. standing in the snow with the swaddled infant and addressing God with the words (freely translated) "Looks like the score is 2 to 1!"

- 4:57 pm, March 13 (link)

A diplomat, not a janitor

Rick Hiebert asks some questions about the game of Diplomacy:

Perhaps Colby and Kevin can answer a question for it possible to win at Diplomacy if you never negotiate or talk to any other player and try to play completely on your own? What's happened when someone has tried it in a game you have played? Did everyone gang up on that player?

The essential nature of the game is that you can't win without help, yet no one wants to help the winner. That--plus the free-for-all nature of the diplomacy rounds--is what gives Diplomacy its psychological intensity. If you were singularly lucky--that is, if you were simply ignored by your neighbours in the early rounds--you could survive for a while without engaging in any off-board diplomacy. But why would your opponents ignore you, eh? Dave Stevens tried the "no talking" approach in his first game. Having learned his lesson, he is now one of our more ardent diplomats.

- 11:25 am, March 13 (link)

Spiny Norman

Time for a short weblogging break--the last bit of work for the fortnight is going OK, thanks for asking. The New York Review of Books has reprinted an address on American empire by Norman Mailer. I find it--leaving aside minor qualms--informed, far-sighted, and of course well-written. It's full of trenchant observations. What I don't quite get, having read the thing, is why exactly Mailer is against war in Iraq. His pessimism about the future course of America is much like my own--predicated, it seems, on the conviction that there is no longer any alternative to American frightfulness. long as terrorism continues, so will its subtext, and there is the horror to its nth power. What made deterrence possible in the cold war was not only that there was everything to lose for both sides, but also the inability of either side to be certain they could count on any human being to turn the apocalyptic switch. In that sense, no final plan could be counted on. How could either of the superpowers be certain that the wholly reliable human selected to push the button would actually prove reliable enough to destroy the other half of the world? A dark cloud might come over him at the last moment. He could fall to the ground before he could do the deed.

But this does not apply to a terrorist. If he is ready to kill himself, he can also be ready to destroy the world. The wars we have known until this era could, no matter how horrible, offer at least the knowledge that they would come to an end. Terrorism, however, is not interested in negotiation. Rather, it would insist on no termination short of victory. Since the terrorist cannot triumph, he cannot cease being a terrorist. They are a true enemy, far more basic, indeed, than third-world countries with nuclear capability who invariably appear on the scene prepared to live with deterrence and its in-built outcome--agreements after years or decades of passive confrontation and hard bargaining.

This is very elegantly stated, but it seems to ratify President Bush's style of bargaining with Iraq, which is very hard indeed. And how it fits in with Mailer's venomous indictment of the "neocon mentality", I do not remotely understand. It's not clear how bringing the troops home from the borders of Iraq would guarantee American liberal democracy, since it's not going to placate the common enemies of mankind. As Mailer himself points out, the American move toward permanent war can only be slowed in the event of a long period without further attacks on American soil. There seems to be no prospect of such a period, unless we have all vastly overestimated the legions of suicidal America-haters--a possibility I do not entirely discount.

Maybe we are all becoming "neocons" now. Neocons, or supine pacifists. Mailer concludes by inviting Americans to "suffer, even perish" for the old America. Tattoo a target on your back and go about your business. I suppose there is a certain brutal, admirable honesty in Mailer's choice to frame the alternative to "neoconservatism" so unappetizingly.

- 3:59 am, March 13 (link)


I should apologize for the light posting, and warn readers that it may continue for the next little while. Two reasons: I'm on deadline, and I'm feeling a bit sick. I'm not sure that the sick feeling is entirely physical, but for some reason I've just been kind of headachy, sore, cold-sweaty, and droopy the last 24 hours. My cigarettes are making me vaguely nauseous and I've been plagued by weird, traumatizing dreams about childhood tormentors. I need to get in the saddle and churn out major amounts of copy before tomorrow morning, but I'd like nothing better than to curl up with a heating pad and some tea. I'll try to freshen up the weblog as much as possible though.

- 6:27 pm, March 12 (link)

O Danny Boys

So this is the very next e-mail I get after posting the previous entry:

While I am not trying to ruin your day, reader Dan Boyd is right about Cross. (I'm writing from Toronto, where Cross peaked as the #6 guy.) In fact, I don't think there's much I can add to what he said. All I can do is copy and paste his comments and add "Yep", "Right", and "Exactly".

I do remember one night he scored a goal, which brought a smile to my face, not only 'cuz he scored but because it reminded me of a line in a baseball movie where one teammate says about another (words to the effect of): "There must be a mistake, he's hitting the ball".

This letter comes from Daniel Clark, so all you Dans out there with the Scottish last names can just stick a sock in it already. I don't want another "Cory Cross sucks" letter from Daniel Menzies or Daniel MacDonald. You win, all right?

There are three other things worth mentioning about yesterday's trades before I declare the subject closed for the nonce; I'm sure I'm burning readers faster than Columbia vomiting astronauts here. One is that the deals may allow the team to re-sign Todd Marchant; that would be a good thing, and there is certainly a positive expectation in Edmonton now that it will happen. One is that some New York fans seem pretty bitter about losing throw-in Raffi Torres, although the morning Sun, in a multi-page savaging of GM Lowe, seemed to feel he was basically spare change. And the third is that Brad Isbister stepped off the plane and had a very strong game for the Oilers last night in a 5-2 victory against the Flames. Granted, there are mildly butch female figure skaters in Canada who wouldn't embarrass themselves against the 2002-03 Flames, but a win's a win; none of the other players involved in the day's trades suited up for the game.

- 6:17 pm, March 12 (link)

Making Oilers fans very Cross

Reader Dan Boyd sends this e-mail about hockey in an effort to ruin my day. Mission accomplished, Dan!

Normally I agree with most of what you say, but I thought I might be able to give you some insight with your Oilers recent acquisition, Cory Cross. I have been a long-suffering Tampa Bay Lightning fan (yes, we actually exist), and let me tell you, Cross is not a good acquisition. Admittedly, I know little of Edmonton's defensive corps, but if he is anything higher than 7th on your depth chart you are in serious trouble.

In Tampa, he was our #1 defenseman. This of course was after our lone playoff appearance, and during the period in which we fielded the worst team in the history of pro hockey, and possibly pro sports (L.A. Clippers, Cincinnati Bengals close but no cigar). When we traded him to Toronto (for Modin) he quickly worked his way into healthy scratch territory, and Toronto was heard to be lamenting their lack of a defensive defenseman and sniper (bwahahahaha). If Cross couldn't make a bad Toronto defensive team, and was just traded from an also dismal defensive team in New York, I would by no means call him a good acquisition.

He is a big man who plays small and slow, and is purported to be a positional defenseman, but doesn't play well positionally; finally, he is a defensive defenseman who isn't that good at defense. I think he got the label defensive defenseman because he is even worse in the offensive zone. What keeps him in the NHL then? God only knows, or perhaps the Devil. I think his size makes GMs think he can be a physical presence, but sadly, that is just not the case.

I'm not writing this out of malice or anything of the sort, I just pity Edmonton fans, as they will now have to suffer through their own Cory Cross era. An era that I, along with the dozens of other Tampa fans, will long remember.

I have to note in Cory's defence that he has been plus-13 this year on a pretty crummy Rangers team... Cross is 32 and defencemen mature later than forwards. He's coming home (he's from Lloydminster) to play for his childhood team, which is in a fight for playoff life; with all due respect to the Bolts, he's bound to be more motivated than he was skating in front of a few thousand half-dozing snowbirds. I'd make him a provisional #5 on the depth chart, I suppose; I think Lowe probably felt Niinimaa was somewhat superannuated (in dollar terms) by the emergence of Steve Staios as Chelios Jr. and the rapid improvement of Alexei Semenov, who now owns the league's hardest slapshot. Eric Brewer is always just a few weeks away from becoming the supertalent he's been hyped as, but his game's still not wound very tight; after 315 league games he still seems to have rookie jitters sometimes. But this is still a B-grade defensive six-pack, even without Niinimaa.

- 11:35 am, March 12 (link)

From NRO to CC.C

Something you might have missed in Rod Dreher's otherwise very good and necessary NRO column sticking up for France:

If more of our troops die trying to fight Saddam in the sandstorms that have now begun in the desert, it will be partly France's fault for causing these delays.

Beware, warhawks! This could emerge as your own version of the "brutal Afghan winter".

On the Michael Fumento front, a leading critic of Ritalin overprescription has responded to his TNR piece (scroll down to "Overdose").

The Fumento link comes from NRO's Corner, where Stanley Kurtz says America is on the horns of a dilemma:

Our military is too small. Don't want a draft? Alright, then we're going to have to pay (big time) for a larger all-volunteer army.

I doubt I am the first to make the obvious three-word rejoinder: American. Foreign. Legion. Maybe Kurtz is plunged too deep in the miasma of France-hatred to have thought of it. (Or maybe he just doesn't know how empires work?) Let me make a prediction I won't live long enough to take credit or blame for: in the year 2100 the fighting strength of the United States armed forces will be more than one-half foreign. U.S. citizenship will be the big prize for serving Caesar for a ten- or twenty-year stretch--although to make the prize as valuable as possible, the country will probably have to cut back on its other immigration commitments. Remember, you read it here first.

- 10:29 pm, March 11 (link)

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh

For Oscar season, The Smoking Gun is highlighting the grand jury deposition that led to Roman Polanski's long exile from the United States. Q: How do you know the girl's too young? A: When she tells the jury you "performed cuddliness" on her.

- 5:35 pm, March 11 (link)

Lowe blow?

The Edmonton Oilers have gutted themselves like a trout at the trading deadline. Aside from Ryan Smyth and Mike Comrie, who as talented hometown boys are basically like family to Edmontonians, Janne Niinimaa and Anson Carter are pretty much my favourite Oilers. Were pretty much my favourite Oilers. Owing to his excessive workload--26 minutes a night--Janne has been plagued by distracting injuries this year. Down the stretch in '01-'02 he had an argument to be classed among the greatest Oiler defencemen; I'd watch with mouth agape as he defused crisis after crisis in the Edmonton end. As for Carter, obviously he's a streaky player, but he's on pace for 30 goals in an uneven year. The discontent many fans felt with A.C. was simply unwarranted.

Leaving aside what we gave up, Cross is a good acquisition, but Brad Isbister is a hell of a small return for Niinimaa, and Radek Dvorak's career is in a death spiral. If Craig MacTavish couldn't rehabilitate a talent like Jiri Dopita's, there's no reasonable expectation he'll be able to do it for Dvorak. I place enough trust in GM Kevin Lowe that I wouldn't want to make a final, categorical judgment on the trades, but when the team's fighting for a playoff spot it's no time to be making salary dumps. If these moves don't work--if the Oilers, now seeded eighth in the conference, miss the playoffs--Lowe will have to take his punishment like a man.

- 2:43 pm, March 11 (link)

Cartoon enemies

Here's an amusing alternate account of the weekend Diplomacy game I was in. (I gave a short summary earlier.) As a consequence of Raymond Thériault's off-the-board diplomacy, it is much too flattering to myself. "Vampire Napoleon" indeed.

- 1:08 pm, March 11 (link)

Waste of space?

(Via Gene Healy) It's very rare, perhaps unprecedented, for Cecil Adams to give an inadequate answer to a Straight Dope question. I think his March 7 rant on "Why are we in space?" is the first column he's ever written that has really made me pull a face. He covers four points in the available column-inches:

· The oft-reputed earthbound technical spinoffs from the space program, like Teflon, are mostly urban legends or pure hype.
· The scientific benefits of working in microgravity have, themselves, proven rather microscopic over time. Zero-G just doesn't seem to have many interesting effects on simple biological or chemical systems--not ones that make near-earth space travel worth the cost, anyway.
· Extrasolar colonization is impossible in principle.
· The space program may be "cool", but that's a subjective judgment, one the voter must work out for himself--taking into account these other points about the lack of technical or economic benefit from space.

The first two points are true, but the third, for starters, overlooks (well, actually, dismisses) the possibility of terraforming other bodies within the solar system. Taken as a whole, the four points leave some rather glaring lacunae. With the Chinese at least pretending to have a lunar program underway, does it make sense to just ignore the military potential of space? Isn't there kind of a large communications and meteorology infrastructure already sitting up there? Isn't it just possible that however inhospitable other planets and satellites remain, there may be resources to extract from them if we can bring down the cost of space travel?

Yes, I realize it's unthinkable that NASA, being a government agency, would ever act to bring down the cost of space travel. That's why Jerry Pournelle, for one, recommends that the agency stick to very advanced space R&D and let private business pay its own way for the near-term stuff. Pournelle also points out the essential foolishness of giving up on space for good, whether or not you believe the government has any role in it:

Suppose in 1920 the Congress had tried to form an intelligent estimate of the economic potential of airline travel; in particular the number of tickets that might be sold. One probable route would be New York City to Los Angeles, California. They might look at the number of people taking that trip by train. They'd then factor in the ease of travel by air as opposed to trains, and try to guess at a number. If they felt very bold they might decide that as many as 500 a week would take the trip. Then they could be extravagant and multiply that by two, to get 1,000 a week. They might even go mad and estimate ten thousand a week.

They'd never come close to the actual numbers on any reasonable or even sane set of assumptions, and even if they went mad and guessed the right numbers, no one would believe them, and they'd still not have a handle on the second-order effects: the industries that are only made possible by rapid travel capabilities.

It's the same way with space. When space access gets down to the price of first-class airline travel, it's nearly impossible to estimate the volume of business.

- 12:00 pm, March 11 (link)

The great game

Charles Mandel must have filed copy in the direction of 100 editors or so in his prolific freelance career; even yours truly is among them. I'll never understand how these freelance guys get by without simply flopping down dead. I think part of the secret is "not wasting assloads of time on a weblog", however. Nowadays Charles earns his meat and drink as Canadian correspondent for Wired News. His latest piece is a classic "Be careful what you say in e-mail" tale. The victim, delightfully, is the David Suzuki Foundation, Canuckistan's leading self-appointed arbiters of eco-morality. It couldn't happen to a nicer death cult.

- 9:17 pm, March 10 (link)

Let's get wet

Bruce Tognazzini highly recommends the thrills and spills of Florida Swamp Buggy Racing.

- 7:34 pm, March 10 (link)

It's all about oil

Shock-horror Iraq revelation from MSNBC today:

Iraqi workers have been digging trenches all around Baghdad. Some intelligence sources believe that Saddam will order them filled with oil and set afire. The picture is almost medieval, a "wall of flame" around the besieged citadel. Saddam hopes to dull America's technological edge: a thick pall of oily smoke would interfere with the laser guidance system used on some American bombs.

Does this officially mean that weblogs are now an "intelligence source"? Salam Pax had a first-hand report on the trenches eight days ago. And they're already being filled.

- 1:35 pm, March 10 (link)

Spanish meltdown

The annual Linares chess supertournament has concluded with world champion Vladimir Kramnik [not Kasparov, as I previously reported here] and Hungarian Peter Leko finishing in a tie for first place. There was an amusing scene on the final day when Teimour Radjabov, who turns 16 on March 12, was voted the tournament brilliancy prize for his win against world number one Garry Kasparov--Kasparov's first loss under classical time controls in something like two years, and his first Linares loss in six. The Kasparov-Radjabov game wasn't by any means deserving of a brilliancy prize per se; Kasparov bungled a winning position and the kid just happened to handle it very coolly. The vote was obviously a mere gesture on behalf of an upcoming player, a sort of "Well done" message. Mig Greengard (March 10 entry) argues convincingly that the award was inappropriate.

But no one expected Kasparov to do what he did--which was to rush the stage, interrupt the award ceremony, and direct an apoplectic tirade at the assembled journalists. "This is the worst insult you have ever done to me in my life!" the Beast from Baku bellowed. "It is an insult to me and to chess! You consider yourselves chess journalists? If you think this was the most beautiful game of Linares, you are doing a great deal of damage to chess with your reports and articles." The Week In Chess has a report on the incident with links to firsthand accounts. (Thanks to Adam for the tip.)

- 1:12 pm, March 10 (link)


Alberta has finished its undefeated humiliation of the field at the Brier, beating Nova Scotia in the final 8-4 yesterday. After a week of mediocre shotmaking, Nova Scotia (which hadn't sent a team to the final in 52 years) brought its best game to the playoffs. "Hey, these guys curl like they're Westerners!" (And no wonder, since skip Mark Dacey is from Saskatchewan...) Home ice ought to have been a huge, huge advantage for them--decisive, really--but both rinks had perfect weight and line, and so it became a chess match. And Ferbey and Nedohin were always two shots ahead of the opposition in that respect. It was absolutely first-class curling--the houses were never so full when I was a wee lad.

The worlds begin Apr. 5 in Winnipeg. Here's a photo of your 2003 U.S. champions, the Pete Fenson rink hailing from Bemidji, MN.

- 12:08 pm, March 10 (link)

X-ray vision

Robert X. Cringely--if "X." was my middle initial I probably couldn't resist citing it at every turn either--has a superb new column on the crisis in advertising.

This is the first of probably two columns about the crisis in advertising. Maybe you didn't know there is an advertising crisis, but there is. We are suffering right now not just a recession, but an advertising DEPRESSION, and that depression is based solely on the growing realization of major advertisers that what used to work isn't working any more. And while this may not matter to you or me, it eventually will come to matter as our activities that are financed by advertising are forced to change or to go away completely. Magazines and newspapers, television, and the Internet are being greatly affected, with the result that each is likely to get more expensive IF they survive at all.

Oh, it matters to me all right; it's arguably a major reason my income's been on the skids. And new babies are being born every day with a near-innate gift for tuning out advertising. I suspect that the way out of the crisis will have to involve a moral self-examination by that industry. Most of their art consists of lies, irrelevancies, and misdirections; things started to go sour the first time they paid somebody who'd never eaten Wheaties to say how good they are. Advertisers have consciously destroyed the social trust in mass media that they rely on. They do all kinds of evil or at least questionably acceptable things without a second thought--the popular technique of name-branded firms creating fake, ancient-looking film footage of their "founder" spouting platitudes, for example, is just incredibly sinister, yet never questioned. Any agency man worth his salt probably has a rationale involving the phrase "creative re-enactment" at the ready, but a lie is a lie. Somehow they have to put their heads together and quit pulling crap like that. If you haven't already, you'll see admen talking about "sustainable advertising" soon.

Hey, I didn't say it was going to be easy--that's why they call it a "crisis". Cringely talks about spam as a case study; read, as the saying goes, the whole thing.

- 11:32 am, March 10 (link)

Olé Django

Ian's been checking out gypsy jazz down in Oakland. Enemies of "globalization" should take an antacid before reading; no doubt they regard Django Reinhardt, who won a whole nation over to an American musical form and style, as a cultural quisling and desecrator. It makes you wonder what the word "culture" might mean to such a person. Oddly enough, I was watching Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown on Friday night, perhaps during the very same hours Ian was grooving to Bireli. Sean Penn, as you probably know, plays a cruel, dimwitted, thieving jazz-guitar genius haunted by Django, his one clear superior as a player. The whole thing is characteristically witty, with Ken Burns-style drop-in interviews featuring real jazzer historians like Nat Hentoff. It's a bit strange for a Woody movie to revolve so tightly around one actorly performance. It's not one of his major pieces, but then it's been at least ten years since we got a signature, heavyweight Woody movie.

- 5:58 pm, March 9 (link)

Oh no! He's writing about his pastimes again

Hi there. Apologies for the slight disappearance, but I goofed off all afternoon yesterday and then found myself racing to get to a scheduled Diplomacy game at Kevin Steel's place. During the last game, I had eschewed even a light social level of alcohol consumption, and this had made the other diplomats nervous and hostile about my relative clear-headedness, so this time I made sure to very visibly serve myself booze by the bucketload. This worked out rather well, except for the late turn in which I got so distracted by some side issue that I failed to write more than about 20% of the orders for my forces. Did this ever happen to Ulysses S. Grant?

Anyway, I was France in a full seven-hander, with England pursuing an anti-Russian strategy, the Channel demilitarized successfully for close to a decade, Germany pursuing Ostpolitik, and Italy being played by a newcomer to the game. Despite the favourable conditions, Austria-Hungary, played by Raymond Thériault, had the most units at the close of play. This didn't strike me as downright amazing at the time, but in the cold light of morning I find it impossible to account for. It takes deft diplomacy to grow Austria by any means other than servility and extreme patience.

Austin at Dry Cold responds to my pleas of relative Eskimo innocence with respect to the Canadian Football League's salary cap. As far as I know, no one in the league, which is to say no one in a position to know, has contested Hugh Campbell's public statements about the cap. Since I got the figure wrong last time by working from memory, here's the version presented by Terry Jones in the Feb. 27 Edmonton Sun:

"We were over the salary cap by about $50,000," said CEO Hugh Campbell at the annual meeting.
"All teams were probably over the cap. But we're a community-owned team and we have to report where we are. It's like horseshoes. Close is good enough."
He said they were Doug Petersen over the salary cap.
"We didn't put him on the nine-game injury list. We knew it would be a miracle that he would be able to come back and play, but we didn't want to take that hope away from him," said Campbell of his injured defensive lineman.
If they'd put him on the list, that portion of his salary wouldn't have counted against the salary cap.
"One team went way over the cap and it wasn't the Edmonton Eskimos," he said, refusing to publicly finger the team believed to be the Toronto Argos.

Austin points to Dan Barnes' take in the Journal, and while Barnes is wisely skeptical of the numbers, he says unambiguously that "From the outside, much of it is guesswork, so we have to take Campbell at his word." Perhaps more important, though, is that every team in the league was over the cap--including the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the team Austin is trying to portray as the victim in all this. While the Esks' budget has been scrutinized by their hometown papers, the Riders seem to have been subject to no such analysis whatever; the Leader-Post and the Star-Phoenix just parrot GM Roy Shivers' poormouthing and the claim that the team "tries" to abide by the cap--"try", in this context, obviously meaning "fail". Moreover, I have trouble accepting Austin's implication that the Riders don't engage in quiet cap-busting by means of barter and side deals. So the complaint seems to be that the Riders are hurt most by behaviour everybody in the league, including the Riders, engages in.

How, or why, would you single out the Esks as particular offenders in this situation? Is their crime having high revenues? I'll point out that the Eskimos have never, to my knowledge, handed a free agent the kind of showoffy deal Kent Austin got from the Riders in 1991. For years the Esks have quietly moulded starting QBs out of exceedingly raw material and shipped them to nearly every other club in the CFL; compared to anyone else in the West, their record of importing ready-made high-priced talent is quite modest. I'll grant that they've gotten a little greedier lately, signing guys like Elfrid Payton and John Avery.

Maybe the Eskimos really are the Darth Vader of the league; there's a strong subjective element to this discussion. Austin's right that the league needs a team in Saskatchewan--it wouldn't be the CFL without one. I have no problem with the introduction of a tougher, enforceable cap. When Austin's finished picking on the Eskimos he might observe that the northern Alberta market is smaller than everybody else's except for Hamilton and Saskatchewan--and Hamilton and Saskatchewan don't have to compete with the NHL for the season-ticket dollar.

- 11:24 am, March 9 (link)

In the key of Asia Minor

Sometimes you find democracy in the strangest places. Here's the latest entry from Van-blogger Jay Currie:

A Turkish General who gets democracy

"If we had expressed our views, it would have amounted to pressuring the parliament for the approval of the resolution. It wouldn't have been democratic," Ozkok said.

While the Turkish Army is pre-positioning in Northern Iraq, its commander in chief offers a very forthright defence of the proper role of an Army in a democracy.

There is plenty of hope in the Muslim world if there are lots more men like General Ozkok.

Minor problemo #1: the very article Jay links to suggests that Gen. Ozkok's fondness for democracy springs from pure, cold political calculation: "Some analysts say the military expected the resolution to pass and wanted the [Justice and Democracy P]arty, which has Islamic roots and is unpopular with the staunchly secular military, to alone bear the political costs of going against public opinion." At last count, that's a public opinion that was more than four to one against allowing Turkish soil to be used as a staging area for a war against Iraq.

Minor problemo #2: It's not as though Gen. Ozkok has no track record of interfering with parliamentary government. Only eight weeks ago he was reaming out the Justice and Democracy Party for making tentative gestures toward religious freedom for hardcore Turkish Muslims.

Minor problemo #3: If Turkey suddenly got true democracy there is little doubt what would happen--presto! Instant beachhead for hyper-Muslim lunacy in Europe. The Turks elected an Islamist government in 1997 and it was promptly leaned on, to the point of what you might call crushing, by the military, which guards the secular tradition of Kemal Atatürk. If not for constant interventions by the military--ranging from warnings through clenched teeth to all-out coups d'etat--parliamentary government in Turkey would have committed suicide long ago. In the long run it seems inevitable that Atatürk's work will be undone. The Turk military is increasingly busy policing itself for Islamist sentiment, and one day, who knows how far away, we shall surely witness a reprise of that old popular drama, "Colonels vs. Generals."

In a sense, the current Turkish constitution is like Cuba's and North Korea's: it's an anachronistic, rusty survivor from among the 20th century's modernist, Utopian political experiments. I'm sure I'm not making anyone particularly comfortable by pointing this out, because Turkey is one of our "friends" only insofar as it remains illiberal and militarian, insofar as the Atatürk cult is prolonged past its natural life. We--we Westerners--have a real live interest in keeping that play I mentioned from opening for as long as possible. Now, me, I've never considered democracy to be an axiom or an end in itself. As a practical matter it may be the best way to run an established, morally homogenous polity; but I'll give up the right to vote in a quarter-trice if the alternative is to give up my right to listen to music on the radio, play chess, or fly a kite. If it takes an army to protect my most basic liberties, I'm comfortable with that, irrespective of what the rabble thinks. Would majoritarian democracy, free of army constraints, be the best thing for Turkey? Don't ask me: I'm not a Turk. I don't think there's much question about whether it would be good for Europe (no) or for international order generally (nope).

- 3:28 am, March 8 (link)

Do they really have the bin Laden brats?

Connecting the Dots: A Playlet by Colby Cosh.

Act I:

PAKISTAN We've captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the number three man in al-Qaeda.

U.S. GOVERNMENT This is great! This rocks! We're rounding the bastards up! U-S-A! U-S-A!

PUNDITARIAT Uh... wouldn't it have been better to keep the arrest secret while the U.S. used the data gathered from Mohammed's effects?

[pregnant silence]


Act II:

PAKISTAN We've captured two of Osama's sons.

U.S. GOVERNMENT Ssshhh! Sssssshhhhh! No you didn't! No you didn't!


- 10:25 pm, March 7 (link)


A certain Mr. M. Steyn writes to point out that Lulu was already a big star by the time of her Eurovision victory in 1969. "She'd [already] had a string of British hits, including 'Shout', and a U.S. #1, 'To Sir With Love'." I'll forgo the "But that was before I was born" defence, which is easily answered by the "All the more reason to double-check, surely?" counter-gambit.

It occurred to me after I posted the Eurovision entry that Lulu once made a wordless guest appearance on Monty Python's Flying Circus (it was at the tail end of an episode, as I recall--she was on the elaborate set of a talk show, for a few seconds, with Michael Palin's "It's" Man and Ringo Starr). It's funny how times have changed, isn't it? When Terry Jones was on Python he was willing to help craft anti-French bits that were pretty venomous, even by the vertiginous standards of traditional British francophilia. Nowadays Jonesy won't hear a word against the frogs.

- 8:52 pm, March 7 (link)

Who put the bomp

Since I mentioned the Eurovision Song Contest earlier, here's a link to the official site, and another to a good fan site, where you can follow the news of the final qualifiers from the 26 competing nations (now including the Ukraine!). The Germans, French, and Irish will select their representatives this weekend. Ireland is, unsurprisingly, a traditional Eurovision powerhouse, winning four of five times between 1992 and 1996. The competition set Lulu on the road to fame (1969) and provided brief pop afterlives for Bucks Fizz (1981) and Katrina & The Waves (1997), but it is best known for launching the careers of 1974 winners ABBA and 1988 champion Celine Dion, who was allowed to participate on behalf of Switzerland--sort of like those mercenary yachtsmen, I guess, who just won the America's Cup for the landlocked country. (N.B.: if Switzerland wants to keep her, it can have her. In fact, I insist. Consider it a gesture towards Helvetico-Canadian amity.) [UPDATE, 8:55 p.m.: Don't miss the correction relevant to this paragraph.]

The ESC is one of those things a North American had best not pretend to understand. As an early Trojan horse of European unity, it would be a terrific subject for a long magazine piece written by an American or a Canadian. You could interview Haldor Lægreid, for example:

Haldor Lægreid was the last Norwegian participant in the Eurovision Song Contest. Because of him, Norway was relegated for the first time in the contest's history and had to wait until this year to participate again. In an interview with the leading tabloid paper VG today, Haldor reveals that the bad result and the comments which followed it, made him mentally ill.

Haldor talks about the days, weeks and months after his Eurovision participation in Copenhagen: "At that time I felt miserable. I was immensely sad, disappointed and scared. Not afraid of people, I've never experienced anything negatively in relation to people. But I was still uncertain. It was very difficult to face for me. I felt somewhat sorry for myself. Felt I had let myself down. Family and friends meant very much at that time."

Like other forms of inter-European cooperation, the ESC is known for producing flights of translingual, transcultural nonsense: past winners include "Diggi-Loo, Diggi-Ley", "A Ba Ni Bi", "Ding Dinge Dong", "Boom Bang-a-Bang", and of course the immortal "La La La". Even the proto-ABBA tried the goofy-onomatopoeia approach, failing to qualify with "Ring Ring" before successfully deploying the tactical nuke of "Waterloo" in 1974. Of course, you're probably aware of this if you're a Monty Python fan--their occasional references to the ESC are one of the main ways in which the contest has impinged itself on the consciousness of North Americans. Bing fiddle tiddle tiddle BONG!

- 6:17 pm, March 7 (link)

End over end?

Distinguished space journalist James Oberg reveals his working hypothesis for the mechanics of the Columbia breakup in this USENET thread (via Robot Wisdom).

- 1:23 pm, March 7 (link)

Invoicing the world

Every day [President Bush] asks us to ignore more and more troubling facts, and every day it seems more and more that Mr. Bush has mustered not a coalition of the willing, but rather, as one wag put it, "a coalition of the billing." It is very disturbing that so many of our "allies" have to be bribed or bludgeoned into joining this war.

That's Thomas Friedman in the March 5 New York Times, and in the tradition of pack journalism his talking point has been taken up by people who merely wish they were Thomas Friedman. But why, exactly, is it "disturbing" that various forms of U.S. foreign aid are being used as hostages in the coalition-building effort? Isn't this one of the traditional central rationales for foreign aid--that it will help make friends of the poorer countries and enhance the donor's "influence" and "prestige"? Maybe the moral component in stronger in American political discussions, but in Canada foreign aid is explicitly defended as an enhancer of our "soft power". If handouts to dictatorships and basket-cases abroad are going to be judged on their practical effects rather than on their ability to create foreign-policy "friendships", most will, I'm afraid, fail disastrously.

The world outside the U.S. is currently plagued by the delusion that collective security and soft pacifism go together like ham and eggs. Those protest marchers in the streets, the ones who want the UN to be allowed to "finish" its infinite process of inspecting and cajoling--well, we know they wouldn't seriously favour any war, ever, and they take it as a given, as people did during the disarmament years in the '30s, that having collective security means never fighting. In fact, the real premise of collective security is that, in the end, you will fight those who defy the rules. Similarly, it seems to me that a necessary concomitant of fostering international friendship through foreign aid is that the aid can be withdrawn if people don't act friendly. Thomas Friedman is shocked, shocked that there is to be a quid pro quo for the endless outflow of dollars from American taxpayers and businesses. Is he an infant? This transcends naïveté and borders on illogic.

- 12:23 pm, March 7 (link)

Various kinds of ice

Some sports notes: Saskatchewan Roughriders fan Austin at Dry Cold is bellyaching about CFL teams busting the salary cap. "Teams will cheat if they have the resources to do so (Edmonton, Montreal) or those that think a more competitive team will be worth it to them in the form of increased revenues (Edmonton, Toronto, and perhaps B.C.)," he writes. Tiny point of order: the Edmonton Sun quoted Coach Higgins to the effect the Eskimos were over the salary cap by some trivial five-figure amount--don't remember it exactly, but it started with a "1". This came after the winter meetings, when everybody had to show everyone else their ledgers, and since no one has contradicted Higgins on his statement, I think it's fair to say that Austin is laying a bum rap on the Esks here. I can understand it--hell, even I thought they had to be well over the cap. With their injury problems this past year--the DEs alone would have filled a city bus--they could have been forgiven for going over the cap by hundreds of thousands; but since bellyaching stubblejumpers are rarely in a forgiving mood, it's relevant that the team broke the cap by only a nugatory amount. And, anyway, there's no serious prospect of Regina losing CFL football. It's the only thing keeping anyone in Saskatchewan. If you want to blame somebody for the difficulty of attracting talent to the city, blame NDP voters. [UPDATE, March 9: I've since returned to this issue with more care.]

And there's a new Oilers weblog! Unfortunately the permalinks aren't working at the moment. I agree with the angry reaction to the Sun trade rumours: Anson Carter isn't the problem with this team, and whatever the problem is, I know Isbister and Scatchard aren't the solutions. I think it's a mistake to put Rita ahead of Ales Hemsky on the prospect list though. Rita has a more multi-dimensional game, and a young player like that can develop in any direction, but Hemsky's two years younger and we've already seen him shred a few veteran defences into bumwad. As much as anything--and I know I'm going against the continual orthodox pleas for Size Up Front--I tend to feel this club could use a freewheeling, improvisational European skater that keeps opponents off balance. Maybe I'm just nostalgic for old-time Oiler hockey.

In the curling news you're all so hungry for, Alberta has finished the Brier round-robin 11-0, as God intended. Playoffs commence Friday.

- 2:14 am, March 7 (link)

My fellow Americans...

Trust Tim Cavanaugh to ask out loud what a lot of people must be wondering--I am, anyway. What was the purpose of that Bush press conference tonight? Er, thanks for directing our attention to the fact that there might be a war, Mr. President.

There were rumours swirling earlier in the day--Bourque had a link to the Jerusalem Post, now rotted--that Bush was holding the conference to announce the capture of Osama bin Laden. Is it possible the intelligence agencies told Bush "We think we've got the Big Man--book some airtime"? And that they then discovered they'd just been stalking a really tall falafel pedlar, and Bush was left with his pants around his ankles? Just askin'.

- 10:34 pm, March 6 (link)

What's a month between friends

There's been a certain amount of popular demand for me to resume the TorranceWatch at 20 days and counting, but even I have my limits. You can lead a lazy, self-conscious horse to water, but you can't make her drink, even by means of repeated duckings. No, I think it's time for a Paul MartinWatch instead. The National Saviour's last weblog entry is dated February 7. Not only that, but its subject matter is the Romanow Report--remember the Romanow Report? That was about industrial emissions or footwear or something, right?

Anyway, let's put Uncle Junior on the clock--make it 27 days. Maybe he'll oblige us with an entry on the occasion of his formal entry into the Liberal leadership contest.

- 7:26 pm, March 6 (link)

Winds of war

Bjørn Stærk offers a preview of what is sure to be the best sideshow to Gulf War II--the Letto-Norgic Eurovisionkampf of '03. Place your bets!

In domestic news, here's the National Post's story on the violence against Jews and Canadian Alliance voters--the former seem to have been singled out especially--on the York University campus.

- 2:19 pm, March 6 (link)

Emmy and Volodya

Are you feeling literary? I have two excellent recent weblog entries about literature for you. There's Aaron Haspel's deconstruction of those em-dashes in Emily Dickinson's poetry, and Kevin Steel's rambling apologia for the adult pleasures of Vladimir Nabokov. Take your pick.

- 3:57 am, March 6 (link)

The Leafs stink, but damn

I was hoping to provide you with a photo of the Toronto Maple Leafs' Darcy Tucker (the pride of Castor, Alta.) fighting pretty much the entire bench of the Ottawa Senators the other night. This is the best I can do. As long as he's wearing a Leafs uniform, I am obliged to despise Darcy Tucker, sort of--and his suspension leaves him skateless for an upcoming Leafs-Oilers contest, thank Christ. But there are continual rumours that a trade will one day reunite Tucker, who pretty much plays hockey the way Wolverine would, with his beloved Edmonton Oilers. Darcy and I have something significant in common: namely, the blackest day of our lives, April 30, 1986 (scroll down to find Darcy's name for the details). I've been planning a big weblog entry on the Steve Smith Game, and honestly I can't remember if I ever got around to it or not. It may still be too painful to talk about--it's only been 17 years.

- 3:49 am, March 6 (link)

A murderer comes in handy

Friedrich von Blowhard, anticipating an item in the edition of my print column that's just reaching mailboxes now, has a discussion of humankind's most improbable benefactor. Oddly enough, we appear to have two entirely different sources for the information that Stalin was assassinated by his own Eichmann, Lavrenti P. Beria. (If you promise to keep quiet about it, you can go read mine before your copy of Citizens Centre Report arrives.)

- 3:18 am, March 6 (link)

Relatives in low places?

The last living Canadian to fight in Canada's greatest battle has died. Charles Reaper evaded his namesake for 103 years.

- 2:40 am, March 6 (link)

We didn't start the fire

Do you know what's really funny about the demonization of the Canadian Alliance? There aren't that many more Liberal voters in this country than Alliance ones--it was 5.3 million to 3.3 million in the 2000 election. More than a million of the latter were in Ontario. The Alliance, when it came down to people marking real ballots, drew twice the support of any third party. And yet stuff like this is still possible in parts of Canada that ostensibly claim to be civilized:

Several York University students and members of the school's Canadian Alliance campus association were physically assaulted by anti-war demonstrators while presiding over a club recruitment booth. Protestors from the demonstration upturned the club's tables, threw club president Yaakov Roth over a table, and attempted to set the club's flags on fire before stealing them.

Perhaps you've heard of Samuel Francis's characterization of the two major parties in the U.S.--the Stupid Party (Republicans) and the Evil Party (Democrats)? Alliance deputy leader Grant Hill appears determined to capture the Stupid Party mantle for his lot, and the honorific (happy, Flit?) of "Dr. Supra-Stupid" for himself:

"National leadership is needed to stop the type of hateful action that took place at York University today. The Prime Minister condoned last week's hateful comments by Toronto-area Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish by neglecting to reprimand her. Excusing hate-filled words often leads to the types of violent outbursts seen today," concluded Hill.

Now, as you may have noticed, I hold no brief for Carolyn Parrish, but it would be dignifying Hill's gormlessness to describe as "tenuous" this connection between her "bastards" comment--which was about Americans, not about the Canadian Alliance--and the attack at York University. Of course, both involved "hate", so you can see how an off-the-cuff comment is pretty much the same thing as assault and arson...

[Hey, it's the Mickey Kaus-style fake editor voice breaking in here for a moment. I have a question. -ed. Fire away. Isn't it kind of dangerous for a man like Hill, who is on record as calling homosexuality an "unhealthy lifestyle choice" akin to smoking, to blur the distinction between constitutionally protected speech and violence? -ed. Damn, fake editor, that's a good question! I'd say it's not only dangerous, it's also disingenuous, cynical, and--again--stupid! I agree. -ed. Then it's settled!]

- 2:04 am, March 6 (link)

More on the backlash

Another reader reports by e-mail on the rapid souring of American-Canadian friendship.

I'm Canadian (from Edmonton, actually) and I live in NYC. I work in financial services, and let me tell you that a lot of American companies are rethinking their investments in Canada. Many are already shifting funds over to places like Ireland, Mexico, Spain, and China. A lot of tourists who have been planning on going to Canada are canceling their trips. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I don't see this trend subsiding if gaffes like Parrish's continue. It certainly doesn't bode well for Canada's economic future.

On a personal note, I am sick and tired of having to defend the country over moronic comments by the Liberals. Contrary to what we may believe up there, Canadian media [are] widely available down here and a lot of Americans watch. They've heard the anti-American comments in the past and have known how Canadians think of them, but just took it in stride. The insults have gotten worse and now Americans are taking action.

I left Canada because I didn't like the direction the country was going. Sure, things are bad here in the U.S. too, but at least people know it and they try to do something about it. In Canada, the Liberals have put their full resources to deny that problems even exist. Dissent is not tolerated and even chastised. It's not going to help matters any; only make things worse. No wonder why nothing ever gets done up there. Canada was such a wonderful place ten years ago. Chretien and his bastard Liberal government have ruined things.

Americans do not hate Canada, but they are disappointed about the "moral superiority" Canadians wield and the arrogant and ignorant statements by public officials. Not even the French are this bad. Americans seem to be able to gauge why they are hated by Muslims and some other groups, but they just can't figure why Canadians feel this way. And truthfully, neither can I. What have Americans done to us that was so evil, and evokes such evil emotions out of a generally peaceful and tolerant group of people? How can this "tolerance" promote such intolerance? I don't like what I'm seeing in a place that used to be "home". Sadly, I think the worst is yet to come...

Well, that's the benefit of living under Liberal government, don't you know--as bad as things are, they're better than they will be. In a crazy kinda way, that's comforting!

- 5:20 pm, March 5 (link)

Boycott in utero?

Canada's two most powerful business lobby groups are protesting anti-American grandstanding by Canadian politicians. I've never seen much evidence that these organizations are paid the slightest attention by the Liberal government, but it's good that they're speaking up. My inbox this morning contains anecdotal evidence that people like Carolyn Parrish are starting to cost us real money. A correspondent writes:

My family owns a chain of furniture stores in the Twin Cities area--hell, we're virtually Canadians ourselves here in Minneapolis. One of the stores is almost completely given over to a single line made in Quebec (the other stores also carry a lot of Canadian furniture, and have for over 20 years). Yesterday a customer asked me where one of the dressers was made, and when I said "Canada" the customer frowned and asked for something else--I sold her something MADE IN CHINA instead! For 20 years, in Minneapolis all you had to do was say "Canada" (or "Norway") and the sale was made. No more...

OK, maybe this customer was a nutcase, it wouldn't surprise me. But in the last four weeks, I've received a number of phone calls from Canadian vendors and retailers asking me if they heard anti-Canadian sentiment in my stores (anti-Canadianism, the capitalism of fools?) and until yesterday I thought it was absurd. Now, though, I may have to bring in more American- and Chinese-made goods.

If our trade links with the U.S. survived Pierre Trudeau, they can certainly survive the occasional prattish comment from a present-day backbencher. But look who's hurt by comments like Carolyn Parrish's. It's not the Incos or the Quebecors; it's small manufacturers of Canadian-branded luxury goods for export, in this case, and also tourism-dependent businesses inside Canada, who must be seething right now. Little people living on little margins. But hey, at least she got on Mike Bullard, right?

- 11:57 am, March 5 (link)


I regret to announce, and also regret being about the last one to announce, that Jeremy Lott has left Citizens Centre Report. He offers a tactful valediction at his site, and the claim of "creative differences" may be taken as accurate, since absolutely nobody at the magazine questions Jeremy's talent or work habits for one second. He jumped, wasn't pushed: perhaps the Canadian potatoes were just a bit too small. Heaven knows I find them lacking in a certain caloric heft sometimes. My co-workers offer farewells to J-Lo which savour curiously of the kind of thing you'd write about a cousin who'd just been blown to smithereens by a shell in Flanders. Kevin Steel is practically prostrate; Rick Hiebert takes the blow manfully; and, somewhere, Kevin Grace is under heavy sedation. This collective tribute speaks to the remarkable influence of a fellow who was in the ranks for a mere matter of months and was resident in another country for most of that time. His ultimate success in journalism is as nearly certain as any such thing can be.

Speaking of the Ambler, he has thoughts on Russian literature pursuant to an earlier entry here, and has posted a poem that is both good, and in English.

- 2:31 am, March 5 (link)

Around the horn

Seen and heard: science writer Gary Taubes, a proponent of the Atkins Diet, goes ballistic over a Michael Fumento drive-by in Reason Online and demands that the magazine/website publish an eye-glazing 9,400-word rebuttal. Reason very sportingly agrees, though reportedly under threat of a lawsuit (a threat which was probably unnecessary and certainly contrary to the traditions of journalism). David Appell's backgrounder on the dispute has links to the relevant material.

Matt Welch has been super-busy on his weblog all of a sudden. Amusingly, my Albertan compatriot Bill Thorsell took after him in Monday's Globe. Truly, Matt is now an honourary Canadian, complete with the 'u' in "honourary". (Welch describes Thorsell as the director of the Royal Ontario Museum, which he is, but the relevant credential is Thorsell's long career in journalism and former editorship of the Globe.) The bone of contention is Welch's NatPost piece beating the drum for a new breed of weekly tabloids. The demographics just aren't there to make the new papers a going concern, says Thorsell. Thorsell seems to think the news business model whereby you lose money on each new subscriber, devised by the owners of the Daily Herald in the '30s, has become a law of nature. He could be right, but surely any critique of the "new tabloids" propounded from a Toronto pulpit should at least mention the Metro, which is voraciously consuming everyone else's lunch in that market, or so I am given to understand. Thorsell gloms onto Welch's criticisms of "elitism", but I think he talks past him, perhaps because the word "elitism" isn't the best vehicle for making that particular point.

Mr. Welch and his ilk decry the attendant shift "from populism to elitism"--but then go on to celebrate the success of subway tabs aimed at the young. Are the young not an elite as much as the middle-aged?

How about that--our Matty officially belongs to an "ilk" now. I agree that any good new newspaper is going to find, and must serve, a readership that is "elite" in some respect; anyone still reading a newspaper every day is frankly a member of an "elite", ipso facto, in the electronically mediated age. But Thorsell's nitpicking overlooks Matt's central contention, to wit, that there may just possibly be room for a sort of newspaper which doesn't have to serve only golf-obsessed suburbanite BMW-driving professionals. Old gray monopoly newspapers really are doing a bad job of speaking to the young, and by "young" I mean people under about 45. If they don't start doing a better job of creating the next generation of affluent, devoted readers, someone is going to come along and upend them.

Welch also has an entry on the Baseball Prospectus website's move to a pay model. More power to the Prospectus, but they're stickhandling the transition atrociously, I think. They hope to carry loyal readers from the free site to the new unfree edition, but the move seemed to take place at the same time as a wholesale hire of new, unfamiliar staff. They're asking us to trust that we'll be shelling out for the same product, or one equally good, even though the names on the (imaginary) masthead have changed. That strikes this reader as a potentially raw deal, even leaving the aside the basic difficulty involved in telling your readers "Well, we're tired of having to hold down day jobs, so we want you to pay for this research and commentary now." They may be undervaluing how important it was to us, in the old days of the Prospectus, that they were addressing us as equals and potential peer-reviewers. Sabermetrics is an approach, not a body of data; it's a tough sell. I do strongly recommend their print volume, and will probably be buying it myself as an indispensable guide to the season ahead.

- 1:55 am, March 5 (link)

I! Am! Un-Canadian!

Susan Riley of the Ottawa Citizen says (March 3) that Carolyn Parrish's "bastards" comment was lamentable--but not as lamentable as some domestic criticisms of Canadian policy:

Meanwhile, the same week, Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper described Canada, in a slighting tone, as a "minor military power" in the eyes of Washington. He is right, but his weary disgust was redolent of what might be called a narrative of anti-Canadianism within the Alliance party. Harper himself once famously accused Canada of aspiring to be a "second-rate socialist country."

His foreign affairs critic, Stockwell Day, along with Calgary MP Jason Kenney, frequently compare Canada unfavourably to the U.S.: Our economic policy is inferior, our military is a joke, our foreign policy is incoherent, our gun laws are an affront to individual rights and so on. Some days you wonder why they don't emigrate.

Not that every criticism of Liberal policy is anti-Canadian--Joe Clark is also harshly critical of the government, but without the cultural insecurity manifest in the Alliance's eagerness to be just like the big guys. And, in some respects--environmental regulation, affordable housing--the U.S. does do better.

Got that? Admiring relatively successful U.S. government planning is not anti-Canadian, but don't you dare say anything about our declining standard of living, our preposterous failure to equip a professional military, our "soft power" foreign-policy doctrine, or our expensive, useless gun registry. It's not even necessary for Susan Riley to defend any of these things (how do you defend poverty and stupidity?): it suffices for her to state the eternal central Canadian doctrine--"Canada: love the Liberals or leave it."

Well, Quebec doesn't support the federal Liberals, and neither does Western Canada. Would Canadian federalists like to explain how comments like Riley's are anything less than an open invitation to secede? Canadian unity has its back broken anew every day by people like Riley, and yet for thirty years of such days they've pretended to be mystified about the matter. If Stephen Harper quit Parliament and advocated Alberta leaving Confederation, she'd be the first to call him a traitor; yet that is just what she is tacitly (barely tacitly) recommending. I wonder if the editors who underwrite careers like hers know what they are slowly accomplishing.

- 9:58 pm, March 4 (link)

Happy wanderers?

Baseball news you may have missed: the Montreal/San Juan Expos are having their best opening-day ticket sales in ten years. There appears to be a universal assumption that the two-city arrangement is only temporary; Commissioner Selig is on record as wanting it "resolved" as if it were a problem. Obviously it creates a certain amount of logistical difficulty, and is slightly hard on the players, but the experiment should be given a fair chance before major league baseball is taken away from Montreal or Puerto Rico. I'm excited about the model: as I've said before, I expect to be rooting for the Edmonton/Calgary Oilers in twenty years' time. And while my emotional connection to the team has been badly mangled, this could be a pretty acceptable version of the Expos; I don't see them losing a hundred games or anything.

Also, Jim Bouton is writing a new book about his efforts to renovate a historic ballpark in Pittsfield, MA.

He said the Wahconah Park situation was reflective of a nationwide "epidemic" of team owners attempting to coerce communities into building new ballparks. It is an epidemic, he said, that is trickling down from the Major League to the minor league level.

"The building of new stadiums is the world's most costly hostage crisis," he said. "An owner says, 'Build the stadium, or we'll move.' And it gets even crazier as you move down baseball's minor league ladder."

Bouton tells the Berkshire Eagle that his taxpayer-friendly plans were thwarted by a "conspiracy" including, er, the editors of the Berkshire Eagle.

- 12:25 pm, March 4 (link)

Peaceable kingdom

Well, Warren Buffett seems pretty grumpy about the economy. But, hell, you'd be grumpy too if you lost $5 billion over the last calendar year. He probably can't afford that Hammacher-Schlemmer satellite-mounted death ray he had his eye on.

Tim Blair suggests that now is a Golden Age for Canadian tourists abroad, especially if they're looking for a broad, hyuk hyuk. But, alas, the truth is that Canadians are only cool until the tanned, bibulous Australian surfer-boys swoop in. Then it's all over.

- 11:26 am, March 4 (link)

They'd have outrighted a lefty

Libel alert! Mike Shropshire reminisces about the drunken good old days of baseball spring training in Slate:

I learned about the little drinking cliques that exist among those involved with professional baseball. The managers and coaches drank scotch. The position players drank vodka or CC and Seven. The pitchers favored a concoction of everclear, 151 rum, and coffin polish. One hurler was probably ordering doubles the night when he went berserk and kicked in half the doors in the hotel. He spent the remainder of spring training living beneath the Atlantic Avenue pier, hiding from the law. Management was impressed. He would eventually pitch a perfect game.

Shropshire was covering the Rangers in 1973, and few men have thrown perfect games, so it's pretty clear who he is talking about. Of course, truth is an absolute defence.

- 5:29 pm, March 3 (link)

She needs to disappear

Deep down, almost everybody thinks they could be a writer if they had nothing else better to do. This is antagonizing to actual writers--but how much worse must it be for children's book authors? Madonna now fancies herself a children's authoress, apparently. MTV makes much of the "Oooh, Madonna's so racy and now she's writing for kiddies" angle. Fauugghhhh. Am I the only one who sometimes suspects that Madonna's a big phony when it comes to sex? "Oh, she's so groundbreaking and saucy." Whatever--me, I'm not convinced she's the kind of chick who'd let anything bigger than a thermometer up her ass. Have a close look at the Sex book or Body of Evidence or "Justify My Love" sometime: all Madonna's versions of the sex act, whether directly implied or metaphorical, have been completely self-conscious and preposterous--so laden with props and play-acting and absurd facial expressions that one could easily suspect her of being a virgin with a hyperactive imagination, were it not for abundant evidence to the contrary. Madonna's had plenty of sex (a friend reading a bio said she "lost count of the abortions after the first half-dozen"), but it's been a very long time, surely, since she enjoyed it. If you saw someone taking a plate of French fries and putting ketchup, barbecue sauce, bacon, cheese, tomatoes, salmon, hollandaise, licorice, and a baked Alaska on top of them, would you conclude that they really, really liked French fries? You... would... not.

- 3:54 pm, March 3 (link)

For services rendered

Headline: weblogger experiments with new revenue model. Of course, a high-end, luxury-class commentator like myself could never dream of submitting to anything so tawdry as an auction. If you have to ask, etc.

- 12:29 am, March 3 (link)

Peanut butter, II: stickier and stickier

Texan Andrew Loomis e-mails to say (re p.b.):

My dour experiences as a waitron (yes, that's what management called us) compel me to mention that management is often responsible for miserly portions, and that the server often gets shit for being generous.

But I wasn't there. ...Furthermore, a stereotype circulating down here is that Canadians are crappy tippers, and you've proved that wrong. So smack away!

To deal with the first point first--it's obviously true, and it makes it all the harder for a timid customer to say anything to the waitperson. If management has imposed a policy of "one atto-smidgen of peanut butter for every customer unless they raise a fuss," clearly they intend to put the burden of the stinginess on their employees. By complaining, you as the customer become complicit in the disgusting labour practice. One could write a letter to the manager about it, but then how does one account for one's failure to simply ask for more peanut butter? As you see, the whole situation is impossibly Larry David in its social implications.

As to Canadians being crappy tippers, it's probably true. Duh, we're poorer than Americans--of course we tip badly. I personally am the opposite of a crappy tipper, not out of any virtue whatsoever but because--again--the whole question is fraught with neurosis for me. I think generally it is a good thing to be the kind of customer a waitress is not unglad to see. So I usually try to go a bit above 15%, which is probably already high by local standards, and then I end up kvetching and kvelling to myself and rounding upward three times and shaking out my wallet on the table and running away.

- 11:41 pm, March 2 (link)

Is there any other kind

Search-engine hit of the day: Quebec +disorganized +nudity. I have no idea what that's about but I'm strongly in favour of it.

I'm watching the new Doctor Zhivago mini. I have zero familiarity with the book or the legendary film. This adaptation is well-cast, as far as an ignoramus can judge (obviously you want a luminous Lara and a frank-faced, intelligent Zhivago), and magnificently staged, sounding all the right semiotic notes from eyeglasses to curtains; it is a gorgeous nullity. I wonder whether the problem isn't the source material, which isn't spoken of much anymore as a Great Book. Andrew Davies, the current Colossus of the costumer mini, is the adapter. It is very curious indeed that the actress playing Tonya is named "Lara".

Maybe the problem is that you need a novel's space (or more--cf. Solzhenitsyn's Red Wheel) to depict a revolution without being totally absurd. Otherwise it's--hey! They're kissing! Uh oh, some people are stealing bread! Look out--cuirassiers! Oh, that's nice, they're kissing again. Etc., etc.

- 9:50 pm, March 2 (link)


It is going largely undiscussed in the North American media, but a remarkable German news item has renewed the ethical debate over police use of torture in Europe. I caught an amazing discussion last night on the World Radio Network via CBC Overnight; the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has the details. The scenario could have been tailor-made by an ethicist to create controversy: a kidnapper had threatened to kill an 11-year-old boy, the police took the kidnapper into custody 90 hours after the child was abducted, and the kidnapper refused to say where the child was being held. Frankfurt deputy police chief Wolfgang Daschner, who was morally certain he had the right man, chose to inform the suspect that a medical "specialist" was en route to the prison to torture him. The kidnapper then revealed that Jakob von Metzler had been killed immediately after being captured on his way home from school.

Daschner has found many defenders, despite natural misgivings within Germany and without. The consensus is sensible: all agree that the law cannot approve of torture under any circumstances, but once in a hundred lifetimes a law officer may really find himself with no option. The best way to safeguard civility is probably to punish torturers after the fact irrespective of their justification--to punish them with regret and, if appropriate, even salutations. This, the Germans are preparing to do to Daschner, and he will accept his punishment, it seems, without losing a night's sleep over his actions.

- 8:00 pm, March 2 (link)

The peanut butter solution

Who are these waitresses who bring a single half-ounce packet to your table when you ask for peanut butter to go with your toast? Seriously, what planet of malnourished alien idiots breeds these people? A half-ounce! I've got four pieces of toast here, lady! I can't even remember what arcane social contract prevents me from slapping the shit out of these people! Is a jury going to convict me? They'd be on my side, lining up to give the offending waitron more shots to the face. Of course, I could just ask for more peanut butter. "Hey, not to sound like Oliver Twist or anything, but could I have a full ounce of peanut butter? I'll need enough food energy to make it to the door, if it's all the same to you." I do that sometimes, but I'm a Canadian--I have real misgivings about calling attention to shitty behaviour, even when I'm the victim. I can't even bring myself to tip less than 15%. I think if you pulled this shit on an American there'd be blood on the walls. This is maybe the largest difference between our cultures--even little old grandmas from Arizona display a Joe Pesci side when they get imperfect customer service. I'm sure I've got a couple hundred American readers sitting there going "Jeez, just go ahead and ream out the waitress! Did you get neutered in an industrial accident or something? You're paying the bill, you're the boss." Sorry, that's just not the way it works here. I don't know why. We rely on divine providence to make trouble for assholes and incompetents.

[UPDATE, 9:24 pm: Andrea Harris asks "Please, sir, may I have another?"]

[UPDATE, 11:46 pm: there is even more on this endlessly diverting topic, you lucky people.]

- 5:13 pm, March 2 (link)

And there's more on the bombing of Cologne, too. -10:23 am, March 2
There's a small update to the NASA post from earlier this evening. -12:11 am, March 2
April no longer cruelest month

Here's the Edmonton Oiler record since their 5-4 win in Toronto Feb. 11 (18 days ago, if you're counting, and I am):

Feb. 13: Senators 2, Oilers 0
Feb. 15: The Oilers snap Jose Theodore out of a God-awful slump, going down 3-0 before getting back two late goals to make it 3-2
Feb. 18: Mario breaks their back in OT: Penguins 4, Oilers 3
Feb. 20: Red Wings 6, Oilers 2
Feb. 22: Oilers go up 2-1 against the Canucks, lose 3-2
Feb. 23: Oilers are up 3-1 on the Thrashers with six minutes left: final score, 3-3
Feb. 25: Avalanche 4, Oilers 2
Feb. 27: Blues 4, Oilers 1

And tonight, of course, the Oilers got up three-zip on the Blue Jackets--and ended with a 3-3 tie. Nine games, no wins, and a farrago of blown leads--they scored first against St. Louis, for example, and spent the rest of the night trying to figure out rookie goaltender Curtis Sanford. (How many times have the Oilers been whipped by a no-name rookie goalie this year? A half-dozen?)

The team is still playoff-seeded, a game ahead of Nashville, proving that God takes pity on the gutless. The injury bug, which has swarmed unrelentingly around the club for weeks, provides some excuse. All the same, the phrase "rock bottom" is heard very frequently in Edmonton right now.

- 12:00 am, March 2 (link)

Don't shoot, he's non-commissioned

Couture corner: Bruce "Flit" Rolston reviews the Canadian Forces' new combat uniforms. Perhaps I should say "Sergeant Rolston", but those chevrons really are hard to make out...

- 10:30 pm, March 1 (link)

Flexible strategies

Oh my god, did I really spend like 14 hours in bed today? Maybe I should get my blood checked for carbon monoxide, with all the furnace tinkering that's been happening lately. Sean O'Keefe's indignant denials that "nothing could have been done [in] orbit" to save the space shuttle Columbia have been hovering around since I was briefly awake for lunch, and having slept on them, I am now officially irritated. Here's the lede by Warren Leary of the New York Times:

If NASA had known that the Columbia was in trouble during its mission, the space agency would have devoted all its resources to finding a way to save the crew, Sean O'Keefe, the NASA administrator, said Friday.

O'Keefe, speaking to reporters at an agency briefing, said he emphatically rejected the idea that nothing could have been done to save the shuttle or its crew if NASA officials had known of the troubles.

"I fundamentally, absolutely reject the proposition that there was nothing that could have been done on orbit," he said. "There is positively nothing that would have been spared to try to find out what to do to avoid catastrophe."

OK, Sean, you reject the proposition that nothing could have been done. But what are your grounds for rejecting it? The shuttle program has existed for nearly three decades, and after all that time, you don't yet know what might be done to bring home crewmen in an orbiter with a compromised thermal envelope? You were prepared to "devote all your resources" to coming up with something--after a problem appeared?

I'm afraid this is not very confidence-inspiring. The left wing of the orbiter was known to be particularly vulnerable, as we saw from the e-mail transcripts of NASA contractors' and engineers' mid-mission spitballing. The heat tiles have always been precariously affixed to the craft, and they've posed a known problem since the first mission. The fact that no concrete plan exists for bringing crew home from a marooned shuttle suggests precisely what O'Keefe is hotly denying.

[Associate administrator for spaceflight William] Readdy said if an emergency had been declared for Columbia, NASA engineers and contractors would have examined options like alternative descent patterns for the shuttle to reduce stress on suspect areas and other ways to save the crew. "I'm sure we would have exercised those options to see what worked," he said.

Alternative descent patterns, huh? Were they going to bring the shuttle home upside-down? Find some kind of hole in the Earth's atmosphere? If this is a joke on the public, it's in pretty poor taste.

[UPDATE, March 2: Bay Area bluegrass blogger Ian, who is an engineer when he's not dinking around with mandolins, recommends Alan Boyle's careful contextualization of those overhyped, yet significant, mid-mission discussions about the shuttle breaking apart on re-entry. Boyle is clearly right about the tenor of the e-mails, but some of the news coverage has been misleading. "Some of the messages that look like dire warnings, upon closer inspection, actually were meant to refer to scenarios so outlandish that no one should take them seriously. Unfortunately, the most outlandish 'what-if' came horribly true."]

- 8:39 pm, March 1 (link)


I almost missed the fascinating exercise from the Guardian (February 19) in which distinguished historians of the right and left are asked what historical parallels, if any, are appropriate to cite vis-à-vis Iraq. It is very much worth reading--and the big historiographical lessons are very much worth absorbing.

Big Lesson One: historians are, by training, correctly skeptical of historical analogies--and cannot resist making them. Richard Evans says all such parallels are specious, and then talks about how the psychology of the American regime is similar to that of Britain and France in 1956. Whoopsie. Michael Burleigh: "Historical analogies are rarely useful, though..." followed by a historical analogy (a particularly strong one). Norman Davies: "I belong to the school that doesn't put much trust in historical precedents... None the less..."

Nonetheless, indeed. The trap of historical training is that you start out being lectured on the doctrine that history doesn't repeat itself--and you end by seeing familiar patterns in every line of the morning newspaper. And why not? Are we to blind ourselves to these patterns as a matter of orthodoxy? I find myself respecting the historians in this colloquium who dispense with the "God forbid I should make a historical analogy" prelude. The wonderful Simon Schama is the most strenuous, here, about rejecting historical parallels; but he does offer foreign-policy prescriptions, and clearly he's not relying solely on some fund of scholasticist first principles to formulate them. "Anyone could fight this war; it will be easy to win," Simon says. Are we to believe he has reached this judgment without using historical data, without calling upon and sorting out human experience of warfare, in any way? You're as guilty as the rest of them, Prof. Schama; you just aren't explicit about your "parallels" and "analogies".

Big Lesson Two is less subtle: it's that historical analogies can't help create consensus on present-day political action, no matter how deftly you wield them. Being reasonably well-informed can help you filter out obviously weak arguments which themselves rely on analogies (see example immediately below this entry). But is there even one thing the historians in the Guardian, all of them highly respectable, agree upon? They all reject the "lessons of Munich" trope, but that's awfully easy, isn't it? Munich is now more often referenced subliminally, as a sort of German-accented fog sprayed over the lay public, than stated baldly. And, anyway, we don't have all that much experience to draw on from the era of collective security; we are in no position to deliberately forget Munich, even if the rhetorical shillelagh badly needs a rest and a coat of varnish.

- 3:42 am, March 1 (link)