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Pride of Finckenstein

IP-war latest from the Canadian theatre: Federal Court Judge Konrad gets it right, refusing to allow forcible disclosure of the names behind IP addresses for the Canadian recording industry's fishing expedition against file-sharers. Apparently the prayers for Geekboy did the trick.

Von Finckenstein said that downloading a song or making files available in the shared directories does not constitute copyright infringement under the current Canadian law.
"No evidence was presented that the alleged infringers either distributed or authorized the reproduction of sound recordings," he wrote in his 28-page ruling. "They merely placed personal copies into their shared directories which were accessible by other computer users via a P2P service."
He compared the action to a photocopy machine in a library. "I cannot see a real difference between a library that places a photocopy machine in a room full of copyrighted material and a computer user that places a personal copy on a shared directory linked to a P2P service," he said.

In other words: shove your John and Jane Does up your ass--we're following the Betamax principle. And protecting the status of Internet providers as carriers of undifferentiated data rather than broadcasters with a bunch of bullshit content-monitoring responsibilities.

- 5:19 pm, March 31 (link)

Isms at the dinner table

One of Vernon, B.C.'s mysterious "wild boys" is in hospital for malnutrition after trying, it seems, to live off a strict raw-food diet. Seems like a good occasion to introduce you to my 2002 interview with Dr. Steven Bratman, a little-known American nutritionist who believes that pathological attachment to dietary theories is a rare, but real, problem in North American society. Bratman, I believe, is a genuine "they-laughed-at-Edison"-type figure whose clever contribution to the English language, orthorexia, will one day be a diagnostic commonplace. (I'm still waiting for some cultist genius to come along and "refine" or "distill" the Atkins diet to the point at which it begins to exclude foods actually necessary for life.)

- 3:51 pm, March 31 (link)

There's a taste of Cold War nostalgia on the hockey page. -11:57 pm, March 29
Trivia time!

I took at least a hundred hours of Canadian history in university and I couldn't have answered this one. I think it's a little tough even to Google it, so the first person to e-mail me the correct answer gets his name on the page. The question: name the last premier of the province of Canada before Confederation--or, stated another way, the man Sir John A. Macdonald replaced as prime minister. I had a vague idea that Macdonald succeeded himself, but it turns out he didn't.

Answer, 11:58 pm: A lot of you were befuddled by a Wikipedia entry which talks of "joint premiers" before Confederation. It's true that we normally consider the governments of the unified province of Canada to have been joint-led, with one leader from Canada West and one from Canada East. In truth, one or the other was ordinarily recognized as the formal head of government: the Macdonald-Cartier ministry was at times a Cartier-Macdonald ministry, for example, as the first ministership switched from the proto-Ontarian to the proto-Quebecker.

So some of you did mention the name of Sir Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau (pictured at left), but in your dependence on a careless Googling you failed to specify that Belleau was technically the senior member of the "Belleau-Macdonald ministry". This was dreadfully important at the time and is of unusual interest, for such an obscure fact, even now. The legislative coalition which brought about Confederation rested on the support of the Liberal editor George Brown, father of Canadian journalism. Brown would not have sat in a ministry of which John A. Macdonald was the head, so when Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché (Wikipedia spells his name wrong) died in 1865, the slightly mediocre N.-F. Belleau became titular premier, and remained so up until July 1, 1867. Upon Confederation of the provinces, Belleau was offered a Senate seat but opted instead to become the first lieutenant-governor of Quebec. The first person to write in with the unambiguously correct answer to the trivia question was Adrian Willsher of London, Ont.

- 7:31 am, March 29 (link)

In today's National Post the temptation to wax political about the potassium deaths at Foothills Medical Centre becomes too great to resist. Short précis of the column: we should be able to take our business elsewhere when something like this happens. Under a Soviet hospital system, we can't; indeed, our very instinct to do so has been stunted. Here's the archived version of last week's column reacting to the chefferie that made Stephen Harper the chef of the Conservatives.

While the dust is settling from the Conservative leadership contest, let me register disapproval at the opportunity missed on Saturday afternoon. The count of the Conservative votes would seem to have closed an astonishing period of turmoil in Canadian politics: Amidst history's rhythm, it was an ideal moment for Mr. Harper to locate the meagre Churchillian instincts in his economist's brain. Instead of the expansive, poetic speech he might have given, he raced like Secretariat through a perfunctory list of thank-yous and threats to defeat, humiliate, and disembowel Paul Martin. Feh.

This isn't buyer's remorse. As an Alberta journalist, I'm unusually well-acquainted with the merchandise, and share the media's near-unanimous opinion that it is the best on offer. I'm just saying that when you have a few precious minutes of the country's unmediated attention, you shouldn't behave like you have a train to catch. I suspect the most heartfelt moments of the closing oration, in which he spoke of how greatly he has missed his children on the campaign trail, provide a key to his rushed delivery.

Having said all that, let's consider how impressive Harper's first-ballot victory was, given the tough conditions he placed on his own candidacy in accepting the convoluted election formula contained in his merger deal with Peter MacKay, which gave equal weight to each riding notwithstanding how many party members it contained. The final numbers in the headlines will show Harper with 56% of the "vote." This is a deceptively modest measure of the strength of his victory. We haven't seen the raw vote, but he polled around 80% in the parts of the country with the most Conservatives; he must have gotten at least 60% of the actual votes cast, and may have had 70%.

So the game was rigged against him -- with his permission. He could have lost on the first ballot with a majority of real votes. When you saw Conservative nabobs on TV on Saturday saying that Mr. Harper's clear win was "a good thing for the party," they really meant, "Thank God someone didn't win just because 50 members in the Quebec wilderness had more mathematical pull than 5,000 Calgarians." It's a tad early in the history of the Second Mulroney Coalition to be putting that kind of stress on it.

The debates and by-play were pretty rough at times, thanks mostly to Tony Clement; but one doesn't see much blood on the floor. Belinda Stronach said something in her concession speech about making sure the party remained "in touch with mainstream Canadians," which was a characteristically arrogant thing for a never-elected rookie politician to say to a party older than the Dominion itself. (Not to speak of how ridiculous it was coming from someone habitually described without irony as a "socialite.") It was the chastened berserker, Mr. Clement, who recited the formula of unanimity most convincingly, and whose self-effacing humour lifted the battlefield gloom. I don't know whether he is really still friendly with Mr. Harper, but all things being equal we would certainly expect two such similar political lifers to be friends. If this pair can't get stitched up and go for a beer -- or share a front bench -- no one can.

Some have already expressed profound enstunment that the guy with the "regional baggage" showed such strength across the 10 provinces (and he won Yukon and the Western Arctic!). Hopefully, it's a bit of an emetic to those Liberals who were licking their chops about running against Mr. Firewall. The completely innocuous Alberta Agenda "firewall" is, I suppose, much like the Clarity Act; it will be deemed a despicable, disunifying idea right up until the moment the Liberals adopt it. In the meantime, regional disaffection with Ottawa is now the defining component of national identity. Where, exactly, are people supposed to be terrified of the Conservatives' decentralizing bogeyman? Newfoundland, where (re)separation from Canada is actively contemplated in the highest quarters? New Brunswick, where the oddball Confederation of Regions party finished second in an election not so long ago? Saskatchewan, where the Saskatchewan Party is the Opposition? Quebec???

Mr. Harper's 57% showing in Ontario is said to have been the biggest shock amongst the Saturday numbers. The study released last week showing strong support in Ontario for Senate reform -- that chestnut of Western alienation -- should remind us how much of Ontario is "Western" in sentiment and voting behaviour.

Mike Harris had great powers of suasion at one time, and might still have altered the outcome, but he refused to become a candidate and was mostly content to let the ebbing energies of the Common Sense Revolution be divided. No doubt it was a tough choice between Mr. Clement -- the forlorn Trotsky of Harrisism -- and Ms. Stronach, who played Eliza Doolittle perfectly right up to her "I'm throwing away the script, Professor Higgins!" moment on Friday night. Someday, someone new will combine Stronach's charm and influence with Clement's energy and policy strengths. Until then, Conservatives will just have to muddle through. (Mar. 22, 2004)

- 6:47 am, March 29 (link)

"Liberal, Tory... same old story"

For years this simple rhyme was the battle cry of Reform, the protest movement founded when the West got fed up with the Progressive Conservatives in 1987 and decided, at the Western Assembly in Vancouver, to go its own way politically. Last year the successor of the Reform Party merged with the PCs to re-form (hyuk hyuk) what is now simply called by the name it had under Macdonald, Borden, and Meighen: the Conservative Party. But is it the old "Tory" party? The press consensus is that it is. Considering that the "Progressive" element of the PC name has been dropped (it, itself, was the product of a postwar Tory re-merger with Western malcontents), these new-incarnation Conservatives may be more "Tory", in a way, than the Tories we're used to. But as Adam Daifallah discussed in the Saturday Post, this is a question fraught with tricky connotative issues.

Who gave the media permission to use the name "Tory" just because it's a conveniently short word for headlines? After all, that term was used to describe members of the old Progressive Conservative party, one half of the new amalgam that is the Conservative Party of Canada. Former federal PCs would have never allowed the new party to be called Reform or Canadian Alliance. For their part, many activists on the Alliance side of the equation abhorred the term Tory because of its close association with the once- (and for some still) dreaded Brian Mulroney. Now, some of those same people are coming to embrace the Tory moniker, not with any particular enthusiasm but because they are hearing the term being used by others, especially the press.

Harper himself was reported this week to have said he is "not crazy" about being a Tory again but that he is reconciled to accept it for lack of a better alternative.

"It's definitely 'Tory,' " insists Peter Van Loan, a past president of the federal PC party and the new party's candidate in the Ontario riding of York Simcoe. "The historical strain comes all the way from back in Britain where they're originally called Tories and they're called the Conservative party, and that is what this is the continued strain or movement of."

John Williams, the Conservative MP for St. Albert, Alberta, and the chairman of the public accounts committee, doesn't have a problem with "Tory."

"I've always been a Tory at heart," Williams said at last weekend's leadership convention in Toronto. "For a while there, I thought that their progressive side got a little bit too progressive and therefore I became a Reform party member and came through that side of the divide. Now we're back together again."

...And MP John Reynolds, the no-nonsense former Canadian Alliance House leader: "Winston Churchill was a Conservative and called a Tory. I don't mind being in his class."

This last would seem to be a decisive argument for most, though of course old Winston was also a Liberal for a good twenty years. No doubt Scott Brison and Keith Martin will have a press release about this tomorrow.

As Adam says, there is no convenient alternative in the Canadian lexicon for "Tory" as shorthand for "Conservative". Granted, this shorthand is required mostly by headline-writers, but they're the ones who are going to decide whether it's used: you can't expect them not to be selfish about it. The problem is that by equating "Conservative" with "Tory" we basically discard the useful 20th-century concept of a "Tory" as someone who is Anglophile, monarchist, elitist, ceremony-loving, truly conservative about certain institutions, and committed to property and the existing class order. The word doesn't denote the minarchist leaning that is arguably the basis of the merged Conservative party and of modern "conservatism"; indeed, until the First World War or thereabouts, it was the Liberals who, as their name suggests, were the party of liberty. Conservatives, as David Orchard would want us to remember, were protectionists and mercantilists.

Of course, what you notice when you make this observation is that there hasn't been a real Tory in Canada since the year dot. I exaggerate slightly, of course: you can find Tory streaks in certain quarters. There is a Tory flavour to the activities of Rudyard Griffiths' Dominion Institute. His Excellency John Ralston Saul has the swinish, supercilious negative features of your classic Tory, down to the seething contempt for the heresy of free trade. Peter Brimelow's The Patriot Game, perhaps the most indispensable book ever written about Canada, is arguably written from a Tory stance. Jacques Parizeau is a failed Gallic revolutionary who wears the extrinsic garment of an old Tory, and very charmingly too.

John Diefenbaker breathed the foul air of the postwar neophiliac zeitgeist permanently into the Conservative Party in the 1950s, and since his leadership the Conservative party has been permanently disconnected from Toryism. The explosion of the party in the 1980s revealed the constituent elements of the creature: the utilitarian/libertarian West went one way and opportunistic Quebecois nationalists went the other, leaving the PCs with a vanguard of so-called Red Tories (this is simply an oxymoron, of course) and an Ontario voting base of real Tory diehards who fly the Red Ensign and still have hopes of unmaking the Trudeauvian bilingual settlement. These people were simply fools to go on voting for a Progressive Conservative party in which the 'P' meant everything and the 'C' nothing; but then Toryism is a kind of studied foolishness at heart, for if it means anything it means giving up old attachments only with the greatest of reluctance.

The country is moving, slowly but perceptibly, towards an anti-Liberal classical liberalism. There is nothing very Tory about the Canadian Alliance personnel who will now form the bulk of the merged Conservative caucus, or about the platform they are likely to construct. Senate reform, which now seems to have a broad national consensus behind it, is exactly the sort of thing that a real Tory would oppose because it is novel, untested, and absurdly democratic. The Senate, he would say, is supposed to be for the best, not the most popular; that it does not fulfill its function to anything like perfection is no good reason to change that function. (Hey, you don't try to turn a toaster into a radio just because it doesn't make toast properly.) The "Tory" caucus of 2004 probably has almost as many republicans in it as the government, and I would be willing to bet, given very modest odds, that it actually has more. Shows you how far we've wandered.

- 12:27 am, March 29 (link)

Can I have the next infantilizing, unnecessary slide, please

Act of selflessness, or subtle sneer at a monopoly-dependent public? Either way, it's amusing: Microsoft has hired Daniel Radosh to make fun of a Microsoft product at regular intervals.

- 3:59 pm, March 27 (link)

Almost missed this one

New from me in the American Spectator Online (and in March's print TAS): a notice of Stet, Dammit!, Florence King's valedictory anthology of National Review columns.

- 3:03 pm, March 27 (link)

Justice for the Winslow Boy [spoiler warning]

No sooner do I write a column about "Yes, Minister" (one which has received quite a remarkable response hereabouts) than the CBC conjures up Sir Nigel Hawthorne in the Friday late movie. I will, I think, watch David Mamet's adaptation of The Winslow Boy just as often as they choose to broadcast it on television. It was, near enough, Sir Nigel's last movie: and heart-tugging as the source material is, it is the more so for watching him playing the doomed Arthur Winslow. In some ways the Mamet does not quite come up to the level of the canonical 1948 adaptation: Jeremy Northam is terrific, but nowhere near as scary as Robert Donat in the role of the dreaded trial lawyer Sir Robert Morton, and while Rebecca Pidgeon (the Mrs. Mamet of the moment) may be pleasant enough to look at, she would make an awfully leaden foil for either man. But Hawthorne is there, quietly making a decisive argument for the art of the actor.

On the page (where I first encountered Terence Rattigan's play a million years ago), it seems like there is not necessarily much to make of Arthur Winslow's role. He is a single-minded, stubborn English patriarch, a vaguely befuddled but morally unyielding old banker, and you can phone in the rest. Hawthorne succeeds so outstandingly in establishing other dimensions that you realize you'd been missing the point of the play for years. The climax occurs not when Violet, the housemaid, totters in to report that the wrongly-accused naval cadet, Ronnie, has been exonerated. It is the scene immediately previous, when Arthur and his daughter count up what they have sacrificed in pursuit of that exoneration, and express a very proper doubt whether it was all worth the trouble. It doesn't matter that the Winslow Boy gets off, you see, which is why the news is delivered almost offhand in the foyer of the Winslow home by the most tangential character amongst Rattigan's personae. Consider that nothing about the play at all, except Violet's lines, would be different if the verdict had gone the other way. And even Violet's lines wouldn't be all that different, since her account of the Admiralty's surrender in court is deliberately ambiguous (for the purposes of suspense) up until the end. With his great gift for interpretation, Mamet has found the proper tenor for that sequence: not "We've won", but "It's over now."

Rattigan's career came to be defined in retrospect by his feud with the "angry young man" generation; I find it difficult to credit that Rattigan and John Osborne took the piss so determinedly instead of embracing one another as the two mid-century English dramatists worthy of entering Valhalla with Congreve and Marlowe, but there you are, that's the way it actually turned out; history is an idiot. People who think of Mamet only as the foul-mouthed poet of American lowlifery might be surprised that he would choose to adapt one of those Rattigan "drawing-room plays" instead of, say, doing the marvelous job he'd no doubt do with Look Back in Anger. But Mamet is also, among other things, the finest American exponent of Chekhov. Don't be fooled: he uses gamblers and con men because they are convenient, because they are what he knows in particular, just as Rattigan knew gouty bankers, ne'er-do-well older sons, and pretty suffragettes. He would upbraid you for a major error if he found you considering for a moment that Glengarry Glen Ross was essentially "about" salesmen, or The Winslow Boy "about" a controversy at a naval academy.

It was, however, based on such a real event--the Archer-Shee case, which is one of those affairs that captures the attention of a nation full-time for years on end and is, within a short space, forgotten completely. (Do you honestly suppose your children will know who O.J. Simpson was?) The family of George Archer-Shee, the real cadet, really did employ England's finest trial lawyer in a half-paradoxical effort to bring a Petition of Right against the Crown

What I've noticed about the Archer-Shee case is how tempting it is to set it beside the Dreyfus affair, which took place at practically the same time (Dreyfus was rehabilitated just two years before George Archer-Shee was accused). You can learn a lot about England and France from this comparison, I think, though certainly nothing to the credit of the latter. Naturally the theft of a five-shilling postal order is a small thing next to a life sentence on Devil's Island, but that's sort of the point: the French, in time-honoured French tradition, allowed racial suspicions and state-worship to bring them to such a pitch of madness that the vast majority of Frenchmen were perfectly content to contemplate the transparently unconscionable humiliation and torture of a Jewish officer, and for a period of time that stomps the imagination flat. If you've read Dreyfus literature, you get the uneasy feeling that at one point in French history it became necessary to keep Dreyfus in hell-on-earth precisely because he was innocent. The same machineries of state and media were mobilized over the Archer-Shee case, which also had a racial/cultural element that could have proven volatile in any other European country. In fact, Archer-Shee found more defenders than he would have if he hadn't been a wee Papist. And the matter, this ostensibly trivial quarrel, was deemed a grave question of honour by everybody involved--and yet, somehow, under English skies, it was capable of being settled with much less violence and asperity.

- 3:28 am, March 27 (link)

Cue the Hockey Night theme

March Madness, Canadian Version, has left me with an ongoing website dilemma: whether to move the hockey content onto this year's playoffs page, or keep inflicting it on the general and possibly sports-loathing reader here. The first choice seems like the easy and reader-friendly one, until you consider that I don't really want to run a separate playoffs page if the Oilers don't make the postseason. For much of the last five months, this seemed like it was going to be the case, which is why the unenlightened among you had to scroll past 15,000 words about somebody named Todd Bertuzzi. So do I start something that might not even leave the gate? Would I jinx the Oilers by presumptively asserting their presence in the Stanley Cup tournament? Will the hockey gods concoct an infarction out of the blue for me? Let it come down: the 2004 hockey page is here. There's a link-packed new entry from tonight (with an unexpected guest appearance by my hero Bill James) and two older ones concerning cryptic research matters: even if the impossible happens and hockey's hottest team comes up short in its remaining four games, I'll probably still be breaking down the playoffs team-by-team and, most likely, jotting down short, embittered notes on the unfolding action. But more likely it will be a delirious chronicle of Edmonton's unprecedented, undefeated blastoff to a sixth Stanley Cup.

- 9:18 pm, March 26 (link)

It's war! Quick, let's rename Danishes "Liberty Pastries"!

There's a neat Adrian Humphreys/Chris Wattie story in today's Post about Hans Island, a disputed islet in the Kennedy Channel between Ellesmere and Greenland. Denmark is trying to establish sovereignty over the island by occasionally sending destroyers to it. Last year Danish soldiers are said to have invaded and planted the Danish flag, and Canada doesn't have much in the way of potential replies. As things stand, it can't even monitor ship traffic round-the-clock in the high Arctic. Arctic sovereignty is a favourite preoccupation of Canadian political scientists; having studied a discipline in which gunboat diplomacy, border disputes and casus belli are meat and bread, they have little else to apply their traditional tools to. And with the Northwest Passage both thawing and being claimed by the United States as an international waterway, there is genuine reason for concern. Top U of C Arctic-sov expert Rob Heubert has an online article ("The Return of the Vikings") about Hans Island, for those too chintzy to buy the Post. Read it if only to find out why your grandchildren may be firing Bofors guns in the Skagerrak circa 2050...

[UPDATE, 10:53 am: The Hans Island sidebar story isn't online, but it turns out the main piece on Arctic sovereignty is. A satellite photo of the zone of dispute is featured. Embarrassingly enough, I have to credit Flit for the link--and while we're doing that, let's not overlook this mordant tidbit from the sergeant's previous entry:

Here's the story, see? The Canadian military couldn't get any funding increase in yesterday's budget, because we still need that defence and foreign policy review that is now a decade overdue. We need to know what we're doing before we spend any more money on defence or foreign aid.
So what happened to the foreign aid budget? Oh, it went up 8 per cent.

Soft power abroad, no power at home: that's the Liberal way! Maybe we can pay Denmark off to leave the Canadian Arctic alone. How does that old saying go?--"If you keep on paying the Danegeld, maybe they'll sod off eventually"?]

- 8:37 am, March 26 (link)

Today's Post column (not surfable for free) is a paean to that unnervingly contemporary comedy classic, "Yes, Minister". Here is last week's column about the devil and the deep blue Tories.

For months now, Scott Brison and Keith Martin have not been Members of Parliament so much as human punchlines. You only need mention their names to provoke a snicker amongst their former Conservative fellows. Even the chronology is like a Shecky Greene setup -- Mr. Brison crossed the floor to the Liberals in December; Mr. Martin crossed in January; the Auditor-General's report came out in February. Rimshot! Opportunistic floor-crossing is never very popular with the voters (both men are failed leadership candidates, imparting an additional patina of petulance to their actions), but what do you call joining the enemy's camp just when he's about to get nuked? As the French saying goes, "It's worse than a crime -- it's a blunder."

Messrs. Brison and Martin might have known that the Liberals were the party of waste, corruption, and policy inanity: They had been arguing the proposition quite skilfully for years. It seems odd in retrospect that integrity should be their undoing, because they had always been fairly likeable -- two guys who "got it," or got something, anyway. You had to admire Mr. Brison's attempts to build bridges with Canadians uncomfortable about the lightspeed pace of social policy change; he was a gay politician who didn't want to be a Gay Politician, and didn't want to spit on Christian values. But then he left in a huff, denouncing the merger he had supported even as the new party was shepherding anti-gay relics like Larry Spencer and Elsie Wayne out to pasture. Keith Martin was never entirely happy among the Alliance's evangelical footwashers either, but as a lone critic of the Canada Health Act and of the universal hypocrisy about "two-tier medicare," it seemed even weirder for him to join the Liberals. He's a one-issue man who abandoned his one issue. Both now look cynical and dumb, and while a politician can get away with one of those qualities, who will vote for someone who combines them?

In any organization, the new hire always gets the crappy jobs, and Brison and Martin have been given a contract that can only embarrass them further -- lambasting their Conservative former colleagues for refusing to rule out ad hoc co-operation with the Bloc Quebecois if the Liberals can't secure a majority government. "The raison d'etre for the BQ is to tear apart the country," said Mr. Brison on Monday, pausing to borrow some hellfire imagery from the Christians: "It would be sulphuric for most Canadians to see a coalition government formed with the Bloc." Keith Martin added his voice and, judging by his own metaphor, used the same demon-haunted speechwriter: "Any Party planning to work with the Bloc ... is making a Faustian bargain, compromising the very fabric of our country."

Ah, I love the smell of brimstone in the morning ... But isn't Paul Martin the one who has made Mephistopheles -- sorry, I mean Bloc Quebecois founder Jean Lapierre -- his senior Quebec aide-de-camp? Challenged with unusual vigour by reporters who recognized mudslinging from the pigpen, Mr. Brison wisely fell back on personalities: "Paul Martin knows the difference between a separatist and a nationalist." Translation: It's all right to give infinite powers of patronage and decision-making to a separatist, as long as you can still tell the difference.

You can see what Paul Martin was thinking by co-opting the floor-crossers for this Todd Bertuzzi-style attack. An opposition party's leadership race is a good time, tactically, to reach for the sleaze bucket: In theory, a party divided can't deliver a strong response. Unfortunately, Mr. Martin waited too long, or it took him too long to teach the pair their comedy act. Stephen Harper has become the presumptive Conservative leader in the meantime, and reporters went straight to him for an answer.

And he had one. "I do not see us making a deal with the separatists, and I think Mr. Martin should rule out making a deal with the socialists," he said Thursday. "The Liberals have a history of coalescing with the NDP when in a minority position. This is a very real possibility and a dangerous prospect for Canada: the NDP is against free enterprise, against free trade and against balanced budgets." He even had the audacity to point out, correctly, that the Bloc can inflict only limited damage within Ottawa -- even inside a governing coalition -- while the New Democrats could easily force a Liberal minority to unleash economic hardship on us all.

This was not just a useful reminder that the NDP considers prosperity a disease. Ottawa and the newspapers ended up spending much of the week talking about possible configurations of a minority government -- which means talking about Liberal vulnerability. The more people believe that the Liberals may actually come up short in the next election, the less purchasing power the Liberals have with ethnic and interest-group vote-brokers who need to back a winner. Such talk may force Liberal voters-by-default in Ontario to actually think, mirabile dictu, before they mark a ballot. I wasn't a 100% fan of the Alliance-PC merger, but if it allows the right wing to finally play on offence after years of terrified turtling, it will have been a great moment. (Mar. 19, 2004)

- 8:16 am, March 26 (link)

Our little boy's grown up

Looks like the Cosh Bubble Diagram for pitchers has found a permanent Flash-enabled home on the web. Prepare to be blown away: Andy Clark has not only added mouseover capability, thus allowing for more compact representation of the "pitchers' universe", but he's connected his interface to the Lahman baseball database, meaning you can look at the Bubble Diagram for every year back to 1871. WOW.

- 11:56 pm, March 25 (link)

Saskabush: where extremism in the offence of liberty is no vice

Many of you will recognize the name of Marc Emery as that of Canada's ingenious "Prince of Pot", the Left Coast drug-war opponent and marijuana-seed retailer who has used his profits to fund Canada's Marijuana Party and promote marijuana counterculture. Lately Emery has been talking up the decriminalization policies of the national New Democratic Party, but this week he did it in the wrong place--New Democrat-controlled Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where socialism's legacy has been the most dodgy, racially questionable, and illiberal law enforcement this side of Mexico.

After a Monday-night lecture at the University of Saskatchewan, Emery went with some attendees to smoke up near the city's Vimy Memorial. The police turned up, presumably waving aside a sour fog of chemical bliss, and asked if any of the 30 people gathered at the outdoor bandshell were smoking herb. Emery quickly piped up, saying "I am Spartacus" or words to that effect. Little suspecting what was in store, he was frisked and found to be carrying a meagre quantity of pot and arrested. But instead of charging him with simple possession, Saskatoon's Finest hit Emery with the mother of all bullshit trafficking raps for having handed two free doobs to a campus sympathizer who was there at the bandshell.

Emery sent this e-mail late Thursday to supporters:

I am released from jail after 72 hours in Saskatoon lock-up and remand centre. ...It is a shame and disgrace that Saskatchewan is part of Canada, a condemnation of Canada, the province of Saskatchewan and the city of Saskatoon. The police in this province are implicated in many police scandals involving death, framing accused persons, concocting evidence, the Crown and judges are complicit in extremely punitive sentencing.

I was released on an outrageously high bail of $3,500! I am officially accused of passing two lit joints, thus I am charged with trafficking, which carries a 7 year maximum. The crown is seeking SIX MONTHS INCARCERATION on this charge, of passing two joints! I had in my possession 2.3 grams of pot.

In addition to $3,500 bail (in cash!), I cannot POSSESS MARIJUANA or HAND OUT MARIJUANA until my VERDICT, up to 3 or 4 months away! Wow! In addition, I MUST SUBMIT to any WARRANTLESS SEARCH OF MY PERSON, MY HOME!, MY CAR, at any time by any police officer. If I break these conditions, I will be remanded in custody until trial in Saskatoon. Wow!

Further, the Crown here wanted a curfew, restrictions on my ability to travel and lecture and participate in the federal election. The crown also asked that I not be in any building where marijuana smoking may be going on. These conditions were rejected by the court.

...My ankles are bruised an ugly blue from leg irons being put on them several times during the ordeal. I was conveyed back & forth each day in a stuffed, very claustrophobic and nerve wracking police van, crammed full with 12-14 prisoners.

There are many violent offenders, drug addicts and addicts to alcohol in the Saskatoon Remand Centre. I was always treated well by all other inmates, and the police or guards did not discriminate against me (any different from the systemic abuse all prisoners endure), but three days, $3,500 bail, searches on my home, person, car for the next 3 months (without warning), prohibition of any contact with marijuana, going 3 days without [edible] food, ALL FOR LIGHTING AND PASSING TWO JOINTS!

Emery has a trial date on Wednesday and intends to hold a rally at the Saskatoon courthouse.

- 10:52 pm, March 25 (link)

First Call Your Lawyer, Then Your Webmaster Dept.

Recognizing that his audience spans all across America, [Richard] Simmons averages some 300 days on tour each year. Whether it be a women's expo, a nursing home, a high school, children's hospital, a shopping mall, a corporate seminar, or sales meeting, Simmons considers himself fortunate to come face to face with hundreds of thousands of people each year. Whether it be at an airport, a hotel, a restaurant, or a parking lot, those who feel they "know" him never hesitate to approach him, usually in search of encouragement. Simmons, who lives by the words of his father, Leonard, "Richard, know no strangers", never disappoints. -From the "Bio" page at

PHOENIX (AP) -- Exercise guru Richard Simmons allegedly slapped a man who made a sarcastic remark about one of his videos, police said.
Simmons, known for his Sweatin' to the Oldies series of exercise videos set to songs from the 1950s and '60s, was cited for misdemeanour assault.
A fellow passenger recognized Simmons on Wednesday night at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport as he was waiting for a flight to Los Angeles, police said.
The man "made the off-hand comment, `Hey, everybody. It's Richard Simmons. Let's drop our bags and rock to the '50s,"' said Phoenix police Sgt. Tom Osborne. "Mr. Simmons took exception to it and walked over to the other passenger and apparently slapped him in the face."
The passenger, whose identity wasn't immediately available, wasn't injured but told police that he intended to file charges against Simmons, 55. -From the Canadian Press wire this morning

- 4:58 am, March 25 (link)

Odds and sods

Another letter on blood donation arrives, this one from my sister Carolyn:

I agree with your reader who says that the Canadian Blood Service isn't really an improvement on the Red Cross, but I take exception to his complaint about making appointments. The clinic I attend near the University is much more efficient since they started doing it. The whole process, which could take 90 minutes or more if they were crowded with donor-challenge shuttles or the like, now takes 45 minutes for me. There is also zero chance that someone can line-jump ahead of you because they give you a number according to your appointment time. You can still walk in and make a donation whenever they're open; it's just that you're not subject to long lineups that can happen.

I graciously let her handle the donation of our mutual blood, so she knows what she's talking about. On another front, I haven't worked in daily journalism for very long, but March would appear to be Money for Nothing month in the profession. The Institute for Humane Studies has given $250 to my TAS editor and former Report magazine colleague Jeremy Lott as part of the Felix Morley Journalism Competition. Fellow libertoid weblogger Julian Sanchez also walked off with $250, and another Report survivor, Mark Milke, received an honourable mention for outstanding op-ed work. (Jeez, is Mark really under 25?--was he like 12 when I was editing him, or did he just fake his birth certificate for the IHS people?) Second prize was won by a fellow Albertan I don't yet know, David Agren. I guess there are no prizes for those of us who spent our twenties heroically overcoming functional illiteracy. In other award news, my National Newspaper Award nomination was somehow given to Post colleague Jonathan Kay. I suspect Jack Palance was involved somehow. Well done all the same, J.

- 1:38 am, March 25 (link)

Voices of The Game

I have argued that the voices of NHL players and former players are not given enough deference in the debate over NHL violence, so I can't suggest you ignore Ken Dryden's panicky hand-wringing about the "danger" of hockey becoming an "extreme sport". If it were true, it would indeed be something very much to be feared.

Mark Spector, apparently welcoming the idea that liberalism and conservatism contend in sport as in politics, praised Dryden's comments as a much-needed corrective to some imagined wave of conservative rhetoric. "The liberal voices are starting to be heard, and to those who prefer old-time hockey, I say just wait for what the game will become if you let outside forces shape it, rather than changing it from within", he wrote in the Post. (Important note of interpretation: moralizing sportswriters count themselves as "within".) Perhaps I'm the only one who feels that the post-Bertuzzi outrage has been an endless liberal rantfest about a game supposedly in crisis, and that few "conservative" voices have been heard in the media on either side of the border. When this view is entertained, it's often represented by guys like Tony Twist and Dave Schultz. Now there's a fair fight for you!

Is there a nuanced insider view of the game that doesn't happen to come from a Cornell-educated lawyer like Ken Dryden? Don't hold your breath. This is a structural problem with the way Canadians train children for hockey, throwing them into serious competition at around 15 and drafting them into the pros at 18; the great majority of Canadian players tend to be intellectually unfinished at best and near-illiterate at worst (which is perhaps why Dryden's gooey maple syrup about The Game is so wildly overpraised--he has the field largely to himself). I've always thought that preparing hockey players better for a post-hockey existence, instead of basically letting them drop out of serious education in their mid-teens, would be a terrific subject for the energies of reformers in the sport: it should at least be possible for a high-end 16-year-old Canadian hockey prospect to go to college, but Ken Dryden may have been the only one, ever, who did it without having to renounce a pro career. [But see update at end of entry. -ed.] For all the phoniness of NCAA basketball and football, at least they get young athletes physically onto a campus; hockey, by contrast, continues to put teens through a Dickensian apprenticeship that a real liberal might regard objectively as something of a national disgrace. (The Graham James/Brian Shaw sexual molestation scandals were merely extreme manifestations of this system.)

Instead of worrying himself about stuff like that, Dryden frets about some guy's freak neck injury and continues to polish up the apple for an all-but-inevitable future Senate seat or viceregal post. (It's important to note that he is not a capital-L Liberal; he has been the keynote speaker at a national convention of the New Democratic Party, held a Schwarzenegger-type job under the Ontario Conservatives, and been drafted without success by the federal Liberals, but denies ever having held party membership.) For myself, the issue is not that I prefer old-time hockey, but that people like Spector who don't like the game as it's played now pretend to be unaware (to give them the benefit of the doubt) that "old-time hockey" was a million times more brutal and bloody than the product we see now. Ken Dryden was playing for Team Canada behind Bobby Clarke when he destroyed Valeri Kharlamov, and had a front-row seat for the worst excesses of the Broad Street Bullies. And now he tells us that the game is in danger of becoming "an extreme sport"? And editors and writers take it seriously? Why?

[UPDATE, March 25: Reader William Adams writes in rebuttal, pointing out that Paul Kariya was another junior star who played college hockey in the United States. Adams says:

As for disparaging Ken Dryden, it's always fun to create a criterion for who a hockey expert is, and then when someone that meets the criterion disagrees with you to say "never mind, all former NHL hockey players are either incoherent puckheads or effete Ivy League suckups." And, horror of horrors, possibly even a Liberal party suckup.

The OHL has a system of financing one year of Canadian university/college for every year a player plays in the league. Many of the players on Canadian university/college teams are on an OHL scholarship. The Peterborough OHL franchise, where I grew up, prides itself on encouraging its players to stay in school while they play.

The OHL used to not draft players until they were already 16 years old and they generally didn't start playing until they were 17 or almost 17 years old. Yes, Gretzky played in the OHL with Peterborough when he had just turned 16, for three games, but was then drafted as a 16-year-old and played with Sault Ste. Marie. But this was an exception to the general practice. Following the lead of the great western Canadian juniors, the OHL is now employing 16 year olds as they have basically eliminated the midget leagues and now draft bantam-age players.

Other than have the (insert reflexive libertarian slur) government intervene, I guess we just have to let the 'market' decide how best to exploit the hopes and dreams of a hockey mad population.

P.S. I read your blog almost daily and though I don't agree very often I usually find the quality of your rants are much better.

As I told William, I was careful to say that Dryden is entitled to a certain amount of presumptive respect because he is a former player; how people want to judge the fact that he's apparently forgotten everything that ever happened in front of him is up to them. If I was full of crap because I forgot about Kariya's college career, very well, but he and Dryden are still exceptions to the rule. I'm not even convinced it's necessarily a bad rule, because there's certainly a strong case that kids who are world-class at something should go do it; I just think liberal sensitivities have a funny form in this case.]

- 11:40 pm, March 24 (link)

Slaughter on South Figueroa

I believe intellectually that the Oilers' playoff run is probably doomed this time around... -Colby Cosh, Mar. 4
Before Monday night, the last time the Edmonton Oilers were among the top eight in the Western Conference was November 28. A disastrous December dropped them as low as 13th; when I wrote these words they had just traded for Petr Nedved and Jussi Markkanen and had crept back into 10th. They haven't lost in regulation time since. In fact, they haven't lost in regulation since the evening of February 25 in Anaheim. Their last thirteen games started with a win in Phoenix, an NHL-record string of seven overtime games (two wins, three losses, two ties--all worth at least one point), and now, after a 2-1 squeaker in Los Angeles, five straight wins in regulation. They now sit in a tie with Nashville for 7th place in the West. Nedved has nine points in his ten games with the Oilers, and Markkanen has been a game star three times in four starts.

It's the most remarkable late-season Cinderella stretch I've seen from a team that practically has a patent on them the last few years. Their most remarkable charge might have been at the end of '02, when they were almost this good, but had been stranded in an even deeper hole by Tommy Salo's pre-Olympic funk and fell short. (People have been writing that Salo "hasn't been the same" since giving up the famous fluke goal to Belarus. In truth, Salo was awful in the weeks preceding the tournament, came back from it, and was fantastic down the stretch. Defenders who point to the Belarus goal as a turning point are inadvertently denying him credit for a remarkably brave performance that year.) They beat almost everyone they needed to beat at the end of '02, but it seemed like every other playoff team went on an equally ferocious tear when they weren't playing the Oilers, and in the penultimate game they ran into a struggling Flames club that was eager to knock them out of the postseason. This year, clubs like Nashville and L.A. are struggling down the stretch, and the blue and orange are made of Kryptonite, Teflon, and whupass.

I don't know why the Oilers are particularly subject to this pattern of getting bogged down in 11th place through January and hitting the afterburner in February, but one factor is likely to be the difficulty of air travel in the post-September 11 world. Notorious road-trip parties like the ones that got this year's Oilers into the pages of the New York Post probably don't help. Sports fans in Edmonton learn to lower their expectations of transcontinental road swings pretty quickly, and on the typical NHL schedule as it's now designed, most of the longest trips happen, for the Oilers, between November and February. It's no wonder the team always seems to magically get its battery recharged over the All-Star Break.

The ordinary rigours of deep-winter life in Edmonton probably don't help; there's just a certain amount of crap you have to deal with here. My big consciousness-raising on this score was my interview last year with three members of the Edmonton Trappers, the Pacific Coast League farm team of the Montreal Expos. Here's an excerpt from a draft of that article, which was killed before I could really complete it:

Hitters may come to Edmonton thinking they're walking into a dream: short ballpark dimensions, dry air, high elevation. But Telus Field is perched practically on the edge of the North Saskatchewan river, and when the air cools during a night game, the winds can become Candlestickian. "You can hit a ball here, the same ball that flew out in batting practice," says [Val] Pascucci, "and--it just dies." The early-season cold is a problem too, he says: "You got three pairs of sleeves on and you're trying to swing a bat. You hit the ball, and your hands are ringing for the next three innings." A week's worth of games can easily be lost to April snows, and that means more brutal double-headers in high summer.

But the threesome is agreed on the worst part of playing in Edmonton, other than the travel. "It doesn't get dark!" [Randy] Knorr almost shouts. "The sun doesn't go down here until about 11, and it comes up at four!" Americans, it seems, regard midnight twilight as profoundly contrary to nature. After laborious experiment, [Terrmel] Sledge and Knorr have adopted sleeping masks as a way of guaranteeing sufficient shuteye. "I have aluminum foil and a blanket over my window," Pascucci admits rather sheepishly. Who knew that Californians would come to Edmonton and be annoyed by--of all things--the sun?

This last tidbit rather astonished me. Hockey players aren't likely to complain about the cold and the wind, but it undoubtedly does take their lungs, mucus membranes, and skin time to adapt to Edmonton's altitude and dryness. And even though Knorr was exaggerating, you have to wonder about the flip side of the long summer days--namely the ones in December and January, when sunrise and sunset get to be seven hours apart. Edmonton, being located on a floodplain at the edge of the inland prairie, is actually a fantastically sunny place if you just count the number of sunny days; we never go a month without sunshine, like you might in Vancouver or San Francisco. But, yes, in December and January the days get short, conversations become brusque, social life slows, tempers start fraying, relationships start flying apart... sports are so mood-dependent that this may very well count for something on the stat sheet. At this latitude, it certainly counts if you're counting suicides and homicides.

In any event, all six Canadian teams now hold playoff berths with less than two weeks to go in the season. If they all make it, it will be the first time every Canadian team has done so since the '80s. Out East, Toronto and Ottawa are locked in mathematically, and Buffalo can only catch Montreal by making up the maximum 14 points in seven remaining games. Calgary, and the swooning Canucks, should get through in the West, though I'm sure their fans are cultivating ulcers of their own. Everything really depends on the Oilers, who have gained control of their destiny in a four-sided fight for two slots with Nashville, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. The conference is bunched up so close behind Detroit that the Oilers could still, in principle, finish anywhere from 2nd (!) to 13th.

Whom to thank for the credibility of the Canadian teams in '03-04? I wonder if we shouldn't acknowledge the Prime Minister, Paul Martin: his caucus revolt against Jean Chretien pulled the Canadian dollar up from 65 cents to 75 just in time for the start of the season, and Canadian clubs, despite having been hedged against currency volatility, have gone on an unabashed buying spree. Mind you, with important labour negotiations on the near horizon, they haven't stopped poormouthing: Oilers president Pat Laforge was saying the other day that "the only difference now is that we have a 25-cent disadvantage instead of a 35-cent disadvantage". Pat Laforge is a fine businessman, but he's either a lousy economist or is simply engaged in fraud against fans who are uniformly puzzled on this issue, strictly because our currency happens to have the same name as the Americans'.

I can't count the number of times I've tried to explain to people that the size of the unit of account doesn't make any difference (if we used yen as legal tender, would we be at a "99-cent disavantage"?) and been told "But, but, the Canadian teams take in Canadian dollars and pay their players in American dollars." Canadian dollars are freely convertible to American dollars: the absolute ratio of their value doesn't mean anything on its own. At any one time, a Canadian dollar is worth a certain number of American dollars in exactly the same way it is worth 100 Canadian cents.¹ It's the changes in the relative values that make a difference, and then only because a team's buying and selling happen at different times. When you exchange a Canadian dollar for 100 cents, your wealth hasn't magically changed somehow. But if a cent then became worth 1/200 of a dollar by Act of Parliament, and dollar prices didn't change in the world, then you would notice a difference.

In fact, the spike in the Canadian dollar is a transitory net benefit to Canadian teams relative to American ones; it places the Canadian teams, temporarily, in a position of outright advantage (after long years of small but continual disadvantage). They all made contracts with players on the assumption that they would have to meet costs out of income denominated in a certain unit of account; that income has now risen 15% with respect to those player contracts. That's why these "disadvantaged" teams are buying up Adam Oateses, Stephane Yelles, and Calle Johanssons, and it probably has a lot to do with all six of those teams being playoff-positioned. Their real disadvantages are still there: Canadian teams still must cope with Canadian tax policies and the low real disposable incomes of Canadian fans (which are partly, but not entirely, offset by lower wages for non-player labour). At the same time, the miserable, whiny Canadian owners have the same advantage they've always had: their game is more popular here than any game is in the U.S. If you ask me, for a Canadian pro hockey team to really lose money is like a mint running a loss.

¹ It's true that exchange rates never quite agree with the true purchasing power of a currency, but that's a side issue: it's not purchasing-power parity that owners are talking about when they whinge about the "difference between the dollars".

- 5:47 am, March 23 (link)

All human life is there

The site of the National Archives blows me away pretty much every time I visit it. Latest from the Church of Perpetual Amazement: all the extant volumes of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, online. Everyone from Dollard-des-Ormeaux to Laurier. Bonus remarkable archival thing: the lushly demented diaries of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, presented in full with a search engine.

- 1:52 pm, March 22 (link)

The entry on scams 'n' scandals has been updated slightly but significantly. -3:15 am, Mar. 22
My super-special Monday morning column on the Conservative chefferie is up and readable for free at I notice that the Post stylebook apparently prefers "bogeyman" to "boogeyman" or "boogerman". Also, it looks like another attempt to smuggle my favourite Gallicism past the desk got shot down. Honestly, people, you know I'm right about this--"party leadership contest" and its variants are just too damned clumsy to tolerate anymore. Vive la chefferie! Vive la chefferie libre!

Here's the archival version of the post-Spanish-bombing column from last week. It prefigured the election result, but it doesn't look like I have too much to apologize for, unlike some commentators who--I'm with the doves on this one--did an unseemly about-face when Aznar's party lost the election and let their solidarity with the Spanish phase-change into abuse. There is (very wisely) no claim in what follows to knowledge of why the Partido Popular lost. Please note this before you send me e-mails about how I'm taking it up the bunghole from the neocon cabal.

When I saw the pictures of Friday's anti-terror demonstration from Madrid, I thought back to the title of a book written by Jose Ortega y Gasset in 1922 -- Espana Invertebrada, "Invertebrate Spain" -- and noticed how much the crowds stretched out for miles in Colon Square looked like a backbone, the backbone of a nation. Invertebrate no longer. Spain had a rough 20th century, suffering a multilayered civil war bracketed by authoritarian regimes. But no outrage in all of Spain's long years of turmoil produced a display of this scale. Violence has forced the Spanish to reassert the wish to live and work in a liberal democracy, free from the threat of symbolic mass political killing.

The left in North America is very fond of "spontaneous public demonstrations" meant to mimic these occasions. These protests are inevitably choreographed by deep-red umbrella groups; often their target is some festival of high capitalism like a World Trade Organization summit. It's planned protest, protest by the numbers -- literal numbers, no doubt, on some Trotskyite's clipboard. Every peace-minded person who ever pulled a face at Bush administration arrogance and found himself shuffling his feet alongside some soy-stuffed hippie clown with an "AMERIKKKA" sign should look hard at the pictures from Spain. That is what a spontaneous display of public sentiment looks like.

A few years ago, safety from assassination wouldn't seem like so much for an American or an Australian or a Spaniard to have asked; now these countries are no longer safe from the Islamic-fundamentalist death cult. I suppose we in Canada can congratulate ourselves on our government's willingness to preserve our tranquility by acceding -- if only through impotence -- to what is becoming discernible as blackmail. We can only hope our moment of courage in sending troops to fight the Taliban will be overlooked. Pick the right foreign policy, and the trains will reach their destination: This is the deal now. Since we lack the military wherewithal to invite further retribution, the choice has been made for us.

I had my misgivings about the American war in Iraq -- I still think something different about it every day, often based on the last intelligent thing I read about it. But what I think today is this: It's not practical to take the side of neutrality when there's a gun to your head. We do fight our battles with the United States, scrapping over percentage points on lumber tariffs and bickering with ourselves over whether we want to participate in ballistic missile defence. I can't help noticing that, as "tense" as things sometimes get between us and the southern neighbour, compressed dynamite in a backpack never enters into it. Spain was the victim on Thursday, but the intended audience was Canada -- Canada and every other country that is wavering in its determination to support a Pax Americana. To do so carries moral risks, but to acquiesce in the taking of the free world as a hostage is immorality on a much larger scale.

In Spain, opponents of conservative Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar are calling him a "war criminal" and unashamedly endowing him with responsibility for the attacks, because he stood alongside George W. Bush and Tony Blair on the issue of the Second Gulf War. The disarmamentarians and crypto-communists will argue that they don't mean to take away the guilt from those who built the bombs, even as they do just that. It's a recipe for Spain to be rendered invertebrate once again -- as spineless and feeble as Canada.

The argument for blaming Mr. Aznar, however repellent on its own merits, would seem to have been undercut still more by the letter sent to the London newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi claiming responsibility for the bombings on behalf of al-Qaeda. The artifact might not be genuine -- who knows? The bombings might yet turn out to be a Basque-separatist outrage, or something else -- but the sentiment is familiar, and the warning still chillingly relevant. The letter said that the attack "was a part of the settling of old scores with crusader Spain, America's ally in its war against Islam."

Crusader Spain: It's a clarifying phrase. It would be hard for even the most demented theorist to pin the medieval Reconquista on Mr. Aznar. But the opportunists vilify him just the same, and judging by early exit polls reaching the international press as I write this late Sunday, the tactic may have worked.

You know the same voices of appeasement would be raised here instantly if the Peace Tower were blasted to smithereens one fine morning. These terror bombings, these sparks of rage, are not just about the persistence of American nation-building in the Muslim world; they are about the ancestral guilt of Western civilization. And their perpetrators will not be placated by anything less than the suicide of Western civilization. (Mar. 15, 2004)

- 3:04 am, March 22 (link)

The great one

It's nice to see that Teachout and Haspel both agree with one of my deepest-held critical convictions. Quentin Tarantino was once quoted in a magazine piece as saying--I doubt very much I've got any of the wording wrong here--"After I've dated a girl a few times, I show her Rio Bravo, and she'd better fuckin' like it." Keaton/Chaplin is that kind of wedge issue for me. Actually, Rio Bravo kinda is too, but I could see why someone might have the wrong reaction to that movie if they were in an uncongenial frame of mind; I arbitrarily decided long ago that the whole thing was perfect, so when my limbic brain goes "Aw, gawd, Ricky Nelson and Dean Martin aren't gonna sing another song, are they?" I don't listen. It only lasts until Angie Dickinson shows up anyway.

But I don't know what a contemporary person would have to be thinking to prefer Charlie Chaplin to Buster Keaton. The General is probably the greatest silent film, period. Any 80's kid weaned on the Giorgio Moroder Metropolis knew from the start that the silent directors knew what they were doing as visual artists; but I was startled as an undergraduate by how fresh and funny a then-sixty-some-year-old movie could be. You could show it to anyone--anyone who'd watched enough movies or TV to be able to interpret montage visually--and they'd laugh. And we sure didn't study Chaplin as an auteur in that class, with good reason. Buster Keaton was a master artisan of the cinema, specifically: I think it was Dave Kehr who called him the greatest human special-effect it's ever had, along with Jackie Chan. (A felicitous comparison, that.) Chaplin was a music-hall man transplanted to the screen, satchel of dismal sight gags intact. He is lucky his name has any more currency than Sir Harry Lauder's or Marie Lloyd's.

Chaplin's critical reputation generally now seems to stand well below Keaton's, and I've read some better-informed people who believe Harold Lloyd has held up better too, which is what I strongly suspect. (The Chaplin/Keaton "dichotomy" does great disservice to poor old Harold.) One is tempted to connect the survival of the Chaplin cult to his leftism, and the Socratic miasma that settled around him after the Second World War, but in his heyday he was the most famous popular-culture figure in the universe for reasons not having much to do with politics. Obviously there were a couple of generations there that he connected with in a really meaningful, populist, and even cross-cultural way. It all seems impossibly weird now. Keaton's movies are rooted in their time as much as Chaplin's, maybe more so: a recurring theme is the struggle of 19th-century man against the Machine Age, and I'm sure there are sly references in movies like Steamboat Bill Jr. that we don't even get anymore. But Keaton's pisstakes of D.W. Griffith, to take an obvious example, are still pretty hilarious even if you haven't seen Birth of a Nation. Keaton's 19th-century man, with his vaguely Cro-Magnon tabula rasa of a face, is strangely vivid amongst the cardboard bit players; he's still us. The Little Tramp isn't us anymore: he's a cultural curio, a totem of the past. And a vaguely sickening totem, at that. Watching a Chaplin movie is like being at the house of a half-crazy grandmother where everything smells of black licorice and liver pills. You're creeped out by the temporal foreignness even though everything is recognizable, even familiar. "There were once hundreds of millions of people who liked this, and worms have long since dined on every one."

- 2:36 am, March 22 (link)

I just hope that's Fair Trade tea she's drinking

Linda McQuaig spends less time in fantasyland than many on the Canadian left, but a line in her Sunday Star column about the Conservative chefferie reminds you that at least one lobe of her brain still thinks it's 1931. Try not to be shocked into apoplexy by her "confession":

I'll confess that conservatism has never been my cup of tea; I don't like its embrace of inequality. But there's a strain of conservatism (sometimes called Red Toryism) which also includes an emphasis on the common good. In a Red Tory scenario, the rich still run things and enjoy the lion's share of the spoils, but they're expected to pay attention to the well-being of the whole community--to ensure, for instance, that those beneath them in the social order get some education, medical attention and even something to eat.

Something to eat. Every day when I pick up the newspapers or turn on the TV, I see at least one item about how obesity is a bigger health problem amongst the contemporary poor than starvation. This is true by a factor of, I don't know--a thousand? Ten thousand? Moreover, it's true of pretty much every Western industrialized country, and it's the most true of that Moloch of inequality, the United States of America. If McQuaig had said something about the need for plutocrats to hire personal trainers for the poor, she'd be on much firmer ground. Instead, we get the old caricature of capitalism from the pages of Cold War Pravda.

- 12:52 pm, March 21 (link)

It's not a banana republic, it's a banana monarchy

The "Post Mortem" humour feature in Saturday's National Post had an inadvertent rejoinder to Andrew Coyne's persistent and largely successful promotion of "Adscam" as the best name for the disappearance of $100 million into the pockets of Liberal spearcarriers in Quebec.

The Centre for Political Scandal Nomenclature has served notice on the Liberal government that it is in contravention of current scandal naming regulations.
"We've been fairly lenient with them up until now," said a CPSN spokeswoman. "But the naming of the latest scandal is the final straw."
...International regulations dictate that scandals be identified according to strict guidelines. Names may be based on geographical origin ("Watergate", "Teapot Dome"), corporate connection ("The Pacific Scandal", "The Airbus Scandal") or political connection ("Iran-Contra"). In certain cases, designation may even be based on a personal relationship ("Munsinger", "Keeler", "Lewinsky" et al.).
" 'The Sponsorship Scandal' is illegally vague," said the CPSN spokeswoman. "And 'Adscam' as a play on 'Abscam' is contrary to the spirit of the non-derivative clause." The Centre believes each scandal is unique and should be given the respect it deserves. In furtherance of that end, the Centre has proposed a few names for the latest debacle including some based on geographical origin ("Quebec Inc. Scandal"), corporate connections ("The Crown Corporations Affair") and personalities ("The Gagliano Affair").

If there were such a Centre, it would surely know better than to make such clumsy suggestions. "Adscam", being compact and euphonious, is now too pervasive to resist. What worries me, though, is the multiplying number of Liberal scandals and scandals-within-scandals. How will we, even toiling collectively around the clock as a nation, ever find names for all of them? Consider the canonical list being maintained at PoliticsWatch: there's Adscam, Fontainescam, Compuscam, GovGenscam, and Steamshipscam. Which doesn't even melt the spiky bits off the iceberg: a separate page mentions a few more civil-servant peccadillos--but what's a million here, a million there?

Ah, but don't forget about PoliticsWatch's cool new find of the week: Lumberscam! While we were all watching the Conservative chefferie, there's an intriguing new revelation that the Earnscliffe Group received an $800,000 chunk of "advocacy funding" to promote Canadian softwood lumber while former aides to Paul Martin and Pierre Pettigrew were ensconced in senior positions at the communications consultancy. Ethics guidelines on lobbying by former aides may have been bent or broken, but what's interesting here is the way money seems to have been attached by the Liberal government to an ex-staffer's coattails. Give the Forest Products Association of Canada $17 million to pay for polling, promotion, and research; send Joe Flack to Earnscliffe with an honourable discharge from public life; and like magic, watch as FPAC coincidentally earmarks some of its advocacy budget for You-Know-Who! Hey, didn't I see this on Yes, Minister?

But even this mountain of tripe misses the emerging CBC Landscam: CBC is given zillions for a new broadcast centre, decides a few years later it doesn't need the adjacent downtown-Toronto space it has been using for parking, and sells the land, "reinvesting" the money in operations without disclosing the sale price. At the very least, an appalling accounting fudge (the CBC only costs you pennies a day--if you don't count all the inputs); at most... who knows?

And Inkless Wells wouldn't want us to overlook Nominationscams Galore: a universe of dodginess unto itself! All parties suffer from suspicious dealings and rampant treachery when it comes to choosing parliamentary candidates, but the Liberals seem to be having particular trouble this time: recent eruptions range from footdragging over an acclamation in Calgary South Centre to Hedy Fry's deathgrip on Vancouver Centre to muted talk of conspiracies in Brampton-Springdale to the hilarious "winnable ridings for womyn" festival in Quebec (and the related Passion of Steven Hogue). I'm not even going to mention Sheila Copps and Tony Valeri.

Let'sScam not ForgetScam The Inaccurate, Useless, Universally Hated $2B Gun RegistryScam while we're enumerating Liberal crimes, boondoggles, and oafishness. But we all know about that one, at least out here in the boondocks. Perhaps less well appreciated is RefugeeScam, the forlorn stepchild of Liberal scandals. It has been little commented upon because the underlying conditions--to wit, the Immigration and Refugee Board being a sewer of corruption and incompetence--have been an open secret for years. On Friday the Mounties charged an ex-IRB judge with having entreated with "a well-structured criminal organization that fixed immigration appeal hearings for cash," to borrow the words of the Post's Kevin Dougherty. "The Mounties laid 278 criminal charges--ranging from fraud to passport forgery--against Mr. Bourbonnais and his alleged accomplices, all of whom are Quebecers not employed by the board." Yves Bourbonnais, the accused, is a Lucienne Robillard crony; another ex-judge, Alfonso Gagliano pal Roberto Colavecchio, has been suspended for a year but not yet charged in connection with the investigation. On Thursday the Post reported on an IRB representative's formal complaint that it has been common in the past for lower-ranking officials to write decisions for judges, contrary to the rules of the Board (and the spirit of due process).

Did we overlook Auberge-Grand-Mere, The AftermathScam? The Prime Minister finally hustled Michel Vennat out the door of the Business Development Bank of Canada after a judge found that he and fellow Chretien heavy Jean Carle had waged "political vendetta" against the former BDC president, who had fought to block refinancing of loans to the notorious inn. Or, rather, make that "ex-inn": the owner, Chretien's pal Yvon Duhaime, has been charged with arson in the wake of a mysterious fire. If Vennat's behaviour counts as a scandal (and you'd need the sensibilities of Donald Segretti not to count it as one), I suppose we also have to mention the Bedardscam that resulted in Jean Pelletier's comeuppance--though that relates back to Adscam, so maybe it doesn't count as a separate one. Mark your own scorecard accordingly.

In all the craziness everyone has forgotten about other material in the February Auditor-General's report, most notably PlaneScam, in which Bombardier received $100 million for the untendered government purchase of two Challenger jets so that--I love this part--the extra money left at the end of the fiscal year wouldn't be wasted on paying down the national debt. I'm sure I'm missing some scandals, but I need to work on my Monday column and I had to look through a whole week of newspapers and maybe a half-dozen websites to compile these. Lordy, they do keep us busy, these mischievous Liberals!

[UPDATE, March 22: A reader reminds me that I forgot about Flagscam. And, with a rare tip of the hat to the New Democrats, I'll direct your attention to the brand-new PanAmGate.]

- 5:12 am, March 21 (link)

Today's National Post column discusses the curious hazing Scott Brison and Keith Martin have had to go through since joining the Liberal Party. To prove their mettle, the turncoats were obliged to pants themselves by attacking the Conservative Party on particularly weak grounds--namely, that it has been hypothetically contemplating cooperation with the Bloc Quebecois in a hypothetical deadlocked Parliament. Maybe. (Meanwhile, Bloc founder Jean Lapierre is serving as the Liberal Prime Minister's Quebec chief.)

Here's the column from one week ago. Oh God, not more Bertuzzi! Hey, back then, there was no other story. I might modify some of the jihadi-er parts of this column if I were writing it now, after a week of endless discussion. Or then again, maybe not.

While we're all discussing the ethical and cultural nuances of Todd Bertuzzi's inexcusable ambush of Steve Moore, I thought room should be made for an apology to Don Cherry. I don't owe him one myself, since I defended him here when he tried to argue last month that making protective visors mandatory in North American pro hockey could have problematic consequences. Steve Moore wears a visor, and when Bertuzzi knocked him down face-first, Moore suffered facial cuts that produced a spreading puddle of gore. And what provoked Bertuzzi's kamikaze act of vengeance? Moore's jarring Feb. 16 hit on Markus Naslund, which caused the Swede a nasty cut and a concussion when his visor rebounded against his brow. Somewhere, Grapes is chuckling bitterly.

The universal failure to connect this week's great hockey controversy with last month's is, I think, the most revealing thing about the Bertuzzi affair. We live in a hypersensitive, self-infantilizing global village equipped with its own profitable outrage industry -- an industry calibrated to react with exquisite shrillness when we see something less than appetizing on the nightly news. When we, in short, are offended. Context is nothing: Image is everything. My children had to see a man bleed on television! -- I demand justice!

Other sports, as Cam Cole pointed out in yesterday's Post, don't feel the need for a round of public soul-searching when something untoward takes place on the field of play. When Pedro Martinez throws a 90-mile-an-hour fastball at the skull of a Yankee batter, it doesn't distract the Globe's Jeffrey Simpson from his artful ruminations on politics. When a football lineman is reduced to a whimpering slab of beef by a chop-block, or a defensive back is paralyzed making a helmet-first hit, the sports section of USA Today isn't taken over by people questioning the sport's future and the humanity of its fans. Only hockey lets itself be consumed with angst when someone blows his cool and someone else gets hurt.

I believe it's partly because hockey is a Canadian game, and Canada is a liberal country. It's no coincidence that people who don't really like the NHL crawl out of the woodwork at a time like this, implicitly claiming expertise while making hand-wringing emotional arguments utterly devoid of historical context and logic. History and logic are the liberal's twin enemies. He is too busy being outraged at what he saw the other day to consider that, within living memory, hockey was a great deal more violent than it is now. (Or that, say, society was much harder on women and minorities not so long ago than it is now.) The historically aware hockey fan knows how much progress has been made at transforming hockey into an elegant game of skill; but the liberal demands perfection now, in sport as in the world. It's a perfection the liberal considers attainable by simply writing the right rules; his naive credo transfers readily from law and politics to the microcosm of sport.

And sport demonstrates the awful stupidity of this faith in man's perfectibility. When a liberal wants to protect endangered species, what does he do? He proposes to expropriate any privately owned land on which an endangered species is found. Anyone who's aware of the new scholarly field of "law and economics" can tell him that this only creates an incentive for landowners to kill all animals on sight. Similarly, in a past spasm of lamentation over fighting in hockey, the league introduced the "instigator rule" to punish incitement to fisticuffs. The result has been that teams wait for blowouts to avenge the abuse of smaller skill players. It's no coincidence that the Canucks were behind 8-2 when Bertuzzi went nuts.

Steve Moore's broken neck is part of the price of knee-jerk rulemaking that overlooks the essential conservative insight about the proper pace of innovation in rule-bound social systems. Which has always been Don Cherry's central message about visors and everything else: that's just not how he phrases it.

So do we take this moment to counsel calm -- to reflect that changing the game to address one fluky, out-of-the-blue incident may be unwise? Like hell. Most everyone seems to want the NHL to create a new, draconian precedent for Bertuzzi's punch. But that would serve to muddle the distinction between fistic outrages and the violent use of the stick (or -- shudder -- the skates), a distinction that the instigator rule already blurs to ill effect. Try too hard to eliminate Bertuzzi-style suckerpunches, and you might just drag Ted Green-Wayne Maki stick battles back into the game.

A harsh penalty for Bertuzzi is appropriate, and it's fair to take Moore's injuries (which now seem to be no worse than the effects of a well-delivered forearm shiver in a pro football game) into account. But it would not be sensible to convince the Canucks that they should have sent some AHL slob onto the ice to break Joe Sakic's wrist with a two-hander instead. You can't make angels of hockey players and coaches. Only with the greatest care should you even set about trying to improve them. (Mar. 12, 2004)

- 2:48 am, March 19 (link)

Somewhere, a lawyer is having an orgasm

There has been a rather horrendous accident at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary: two kidney patients died when they were given potassium chloride in their dialysis solution instead of sodium chloride. There's a user-interface issue here, apparently:

Steps have now been taken to correct the procedure within the Calgary Health Region... The purchase of sodium chloride will be made from another vendor. Previously, the Region was buying both products from the same vendor. The products were in identically shaped bottles and similar packaging.

If you set out to choose two vaguely similar substances involving disparate risk for black-comedy purposes, these are the two you'd probably pick. Sodium chloride, as we all remember from our school days, is common salt. Potassium chloride--used medically in extremely small amounts to remedy potassium depletion--is the traditional chaser in the cocktail used for judicial executions.

I'm not going to try making a political point here, but Albertans ought to know that the confusion between KCl and other substances seems to have been a live issue in clinical literature and American hospital practice for 20 years or more, with warnings issued by the Institute for Safe Medical Practices, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and "60 Minutes". Oh, and "20/20". And "ER" mentioned it in one episode. And a nurse killed an elderly patient by confusing NaCl with KCl at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre in January 2002. And in January 1999, potassium chloride was mistaken for Lasix in Leamington, Ont., leading to the death of a 33-year-old quadriplegic and causing a national debate about the presence of undiluted KCl in hospital pharmacopoeias. Which led to the issue of a most informative discussion paper by the Canadian branch of the ISMP.

This is all something to keep in mind, indeed, if you hear the Calgary Health Region use the phrase "unforeseen" to describe these deaths.

- 11:56 pm, March 18 (link)

Right of reply

Those who read that whole long entry about the future of hockey and American sports should definitely check out Gene Smith's reply, which explores the state of the union in Naismith Ball at a much greater resolution than I could. Lloyd Robertson has a brief discussion of the Bertuzzi incident.

On a note about blood, I'm told by various American sources that the practice of purchasing blood in the U.S. is either severely attenuated or extinct; the correspondent I'm inclined to trust most, physicist/anthropologist/geneticist Gregory Cochran, says it's the latter. A spot price for blood would still be a good idea--for starters, it might make up for the travails of dealing with the Canadian Blood Service. Dan Chercover of Sechelt, B.C., writes:

I've been a blood donor since the '60s and watched the collection process fall apart over the years. Since responsibility passed to the current organization from the Red Cross, they've repeated every logistical faux pas that the Red Cross tried and rejected. I've written and phoned senior management over the years about their "we know best" attitude, but to no avail. Simply put, they don't understand that their system is totally dependent on the whims and goodwill of the donors; any discussion starts and ends there. I live on the Sunshine Coast, a 40-minute ferry ride from Vancouver, the only local collection site. We have a good hospital and lots of retired/semi-retired R.N.s living here (for staffing a clinic). There are around 20,000 citizens up here. Common sense says that a collection clinic operating a couple of times a week would be a viable possibility, but the shirts have decided that the cost of transporting collected blood down to their lab in Vancouver is too expensive. Fercrissake! There are ambulances travelling back and forth on virtually every ferry-run! What expense? There are air Ambulances flying back and forth daily, and they land 300 feet from the Blood Service front door!

Their "open" hours are a joke--they actually expect people to make an appointment to give blood, their reasoning being that they can then avoid long waits for the donors. What part of "volunteer" are they not clear on? I give blood on the spur of the moment when I'm close to the clinic and have the time, period. Sorry for the rant, but if you talk to other long time donors, you'll get an earful. The frontline clinic people are great, it's the overpaid management types that are creating the blood shortages.

[UPDATE, March 19: It seems the last word has not yet been spoken about blood money! Steven Ehrbar writes:

Here in El Paso, Texas, there are significant numbers of places where you can sell your plasma, albeit not your whole blood. Just drive through the poorer neighborhoods downtown, and through the display windows you can see rows of reclined chairs to sit in at Aventis Bioservices. Okay, officially they don't pay you for your plasma, they "compensate donors for their time immediately following each donation--either a check or cash is issued to donors on the spot! This is our way of saying thanks for taking the time to donate. In addition, Aventis Bio-Services often offers regular bonuses for new and repeat donors."]

- 5:30 pm, March 18 (link)

Hooray for democracy!

I suppose Paul Martin could be in earnest about redistributing power in Ottawa away from the Prime Minister's Office and, generally, rehabilitating traditional checks on ministerial power in our constitution. It was only by reviving the ancient spirit of backbench unrest and member independence that he came to power in the first place; but then again, history teaches us that men who've pursued a bloody path to power rarely want to see more blood. Already members like Maurizio Bevilacqua have had some cause to ruminate on the fate of that Arrius Aper who cleared the way for Diocletian.

Sincere or not, Martin has such a tin ear for the language of democracy that he comes off sounding insincere...

[M]ost votes in Parliament will now be free votes, which means that MPs will be able to vote more often in a manner that is consistent with the opinions of their constituents, rather than those of the Prime Minister.

In fact, Members have already had an opportunity to try out this new freedom. Following a debate in the House of Commons last month, 30 Liberal Party MPs voted against the government’s official policy on studying the missile-defence shield project. And I applauded them!

And then I patted them on the head and gave them all a cookie! He talks about "trying out" freedom of conscience like it was Crystal Pepsi, don't you think? And you can tell from his punctuation (I applauded them! No, really, I did! With my own hands!) that he thinks instituting the same three-line whip system that other Westminster democracies have is pretty goddamn radical. And by contrast with the Liberal leaders of "recent decades" he mentions (though not by name), it actually is. This only makes me all the more determined not to vote Liberal, but maybe I'm the exception.

- 4:53 pm, March 18 (link)

Two more stochastic finds

  • The risks of bad anatomical education: "He said he figured the penis was essentially a muscle...". Sheesh. No, it's not a bone, either, buddy.

  • The "new" Creem magazine doesn't feel terribly authentic, but the online archive of articles from the pages of the original Creem is the real deal. Lester Bangs' long two-parter about the post-Paranoid Black Sabbath is there, as is his history of pre-punk/revenge fantasy/Stooges review "Of Pop and Pies and Fun".

    - 11:19 am, March 18 (link)

    Mr. Klein, tear down this wall

    There's important news about the forgotten sibling of Alberta's oil and natural gas industries: the Fording Coal Trust, spurred on by a spike in the price of metallurgical-grade coal needed by the world's steelmakers, is reviving its unused Cheviot mine site near Jasper National Park. Environmentalists are up in arms, naturally (when are they not?). The Cheviot site has long been a source of irritation to the greens, who would like the whole Continental Divide made a no-go zone for human beings. Whenever Fording proposes to go ahead with mining at Cheviot, there's a blizzard of legal activity--and that has hitherto always succeeded in delaying extraction until prices dropped and it had to be abandoned.

    There are some curious claims, implicit and explicit, among the objections to the mine, which is said to threaten grizzly habitat east of the park. As always, we have the amusing idea put forward that grizzlies, who can run upwards of 30 miles an hour, cannot possibly cross a road through the bush:

    The company's current proposal is different than the one that caused considerable controversy and endured rounds of environmental hearings, said Dianne Pachal, Sierra Club of Canada's Alberta wilderness director. In fact, this proposal is worse, she said. [Of course it is. -ed.] "They will mine less coal, but the area they'll disturb will be much larger," she said. The 22-kilometre long road to transport the coal will be an impassable "wall to wildlife" because trucks will use the road every six to 15 minutes, she said.

    Not very cricket of us humans to put a Polish corridor in the sovereign Yellowstone-to-Yukon Republic of the Bears! Environmentalists don't trust the Conservative government's stewardship of bear habitat very much, even though Alberta's grizzly population has been increasing steadily since 1989, sometimes with disconcerting effects for human beings. (The grizzly is deemed neither endangered nor threatened in Canada; COSEWIC, the federal authority on biodiversity, lists it as a species of "special concern".) Yet I'm puzzled by this map and text on the official website of the "Y2Y" movement. It appears that bears don't particularly like national and provincial parks, where industrial development is forbidden completely.

    Notice that some grizzly bear habitat inside protected areas isn’t as suitable as some places outside protected areas. For example, the area just southwest of Jasper National Park is better grizzly bear habitat than most of the land protected within the national park boundaries. There are two possible explanations for this: the habitat inside the park may have fewer food sources than the habitat to the southwest, or it may have more people, roads and trails, which increases the likelihood that a grizzly bear might get killed.

    Of course, the habitat east of Jasper National Park is much worse than either the habitat inside or to the west of the park.

    Of course it is! So it sounds like it's a good thing the Cheviot mine is on the east side of the park, then, right? It would appear that Fording, for all its rapacity, isn't threatening prime grizzly bear habitat. No, we can't have that, I suppose: a park manager says in the Journal story that "There is no question that the Cheviot mine will be going in the most important and most productive grizzly bear habitat in the area." Why do I have the feeling he'd say the same thing even if the mine was located on Mars?

    - 4:33 am, March 17 (link)

    Jingo's ghost

    I was writing about hockey in a comment thread at Eric McErlain's site when I realized I was running off at the mouth and should probably bring the whole thing in-house. It also occurred to me that I haven't said anything about the Oilers' stirring, record-setting playoff run--you're all missing a great game here.

    These are the nut grafs of my comment ("nut grafs" is not usually found in plural, but two seems like a reasonable number for nuts to come packaged in):

    The biggest problem [hockey] faces in marketing itself is not violence (what, there's no "violence" in the NFL?), but the American sports media's need to show American winners and, if possible, only American winners. Ultimately the American public is behind this, or isn't very loud about demanding changes, though I notice plenty of Americans along the border refuse to watch the shallow, self-parodying patriotic pornography that is U.S. network coverage of the Olympics. Anyone who thinks violence is the problem [with hockey] needs to consider the cultural position of soccer and Formula One in American life (and the declining prominence of baseball and basketball as they internationalize). Are these "violent" activities? No, they just suffer the same burden of misconceptions in another form.

    In the very long term, by which I mean decades and decades, hockey is likely to be more American-dominated than any other major sport except football (though in the medium term the prospects for U.S. national clubs in international play look bleak). Quite honestly, hockey has spread about as far geographically as it can, and the one hockey-playing country that is the furthest from exploiting its financial and demographic resources [fully] is the U.S. So the outlook for the game, looking very far ahead, is fine. And U.S. media coverage of hockey has improved markedly in just the past ten or twenty years. (I would also make the case that the widespread distaste for fair fisticuffs is a transitory thing. Where are you gonna go to see a couple of big tough guys duke it out--a boxing match?)

    Hockey, as I've written before, still bears the marks of its Victorian origins. When Don Cherry says it's "the Canadian way" to fight face-to-face instead of suckerpunching someone, he means it's the way of Canada--and Britain, and the United States--circa 1867. It's the original Canadian way, and it has survived in hockey as in Cherry's wardrobe. Basketball was invented by a Canadian who was very markedly a product of the Victorian Age; football as Americans play it was invented at a Canadian university in Victorian times; but only hockey still carries the faint marks of its original stamp.

    Now, you might conclude from this that I think people who want fighting out of hockey are cultural vandals, little better than the Afghan crazies who blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan--and you'd be right, basically, but since I am nearly alone in this extremist opinion I am obliged to respect those who don't share it. The fact is that American fans are heavily influenced in their perception of hockey's problems by what they hear constantly from hockey-hating friends and neighbours, which is that the "violence" in hockey puts them off. As a practical matter, I would urge you all to consider that this is total bullshit: it is what someone says when he hasn't given the game a fair trial. It's no coincidence that this complaint has the same actual cognitive status as the complaints that soccer is "for sissies" and that Formula One racing is--well, who knows what people say about Formula One racing in the U.S.; most of them haven't heard of it, and frankly that's a sport with very real fan-interest problems. Yet, by some miracle, it's still the second or third most popular spectator sport in the world outside this continent...

    Just look at the record with open eyes (I'm indebted to Steve Sailer for persuading me to think seriously about this). Baseball was the most popular sport in the United States until it started attracting large numbers of Latino competitors in the 1960's and 1970's--when football, still mostly a pure American game, surpassed it. By some coincidence. (It continues to lose ground, and, if I'm right, will continue to lose ground as more Japanese players cross over, Europeans in countries like the Netherlands learn the game, and Cuban stars are finally allowed to play in the U.S. without having to build rafts.) Basketball is suffering a crisis of public confidence in the U.S., by some coincidence, as the pro game is invaded by skilled foreigners who can play with anybody. Golf, dominated by Tiger Woods, remains strong with spectators, as men's tennis, which has failed to supply a successor to Pete Sampras, suffers badly. Americans do, however, seem to enjoy women's tennis--which the Williams sisters dominate--and women's soccer--in which Americans are ranked #1 or close to it. Which auto-racing circuit emerged from the last twenty years as America's best-loved by far? By some coincidence it's the one with a gentlemen's agreement to exclude foreign competitors. By some coincidence boxing suffered a sharp decline in fan interest when Americans stopped dominating most of the weight classes.

    It's no failing of Americans that they love their own, but it's a distinct failing if that practically excludes the enjoyment of any game that is thoroughly internationalized. Still, in the very long run I do think this is a good dynamic for hockey, in its Darwinian struggle with other sports--partly because the game's international scope is unlikely to grow too much further, and partly because, from the standpoint of fan interest, Canadians may be the next-best thing to Americans. (At least Hollywood and American TV newsrooms seem to think so.) In the year 2060 the great hockey powers will probably be the same countries as now, with perhaps a couple more tacked on. The United States is undeniably one of those powers and, barring catastrophe, will remain one--which puts a pretty firm floor on American presence in and dominance of hockey. I don't see any similar theoretical floor protecting American dominance of basketball and baseball, which are already being challenged.

    I am slightly less secure in saying what follows (though not much), but I would also ask you to consider that the self-regulating ethos of Canadian-style hockey, the idea that not all disputes are appropriately settled by reference to the authorities, will protect the place of individualistic Americans and Canadians within the game, and especially the former. When two guys fight on the ice they're saying "We're not going to take our problems to the sheriff--we're going to settle them according to a shared, non-legislated code of fair play." (Sometimes, as with the famous Lights Out brawl at the World Juniors, the message of a fight is "the sheriff is an a-hole; we're taking matters into our own hands.") Why is there so little fighting in the European game? Maybe it's presumptuous to say this, but have you noticed that the Europeans are a little weaker in their grasp of the whole "personal responsibility" thing? That their societies (with exceptions) are organized to minimize the importance and the permissibility of self-defence? That when a European player feels molested on the ice (warning: Don Cherry-style generalization), his instinctive response is to take a dive, appealing to the magistrate with elaborate theatrics?

    - 1:53 am, March 17 (link)

    Shrinking their way to the pennant

    Found stochastically: an amusing History of Psychology paper by York University's Christopher D. Green entitled "Psychology Strikes Out: Coleman R. Griffith and the Chicago Cubs". Griffith, in 1938, became the first sports psychologist hired by a professional sports club in North America--and, for reasons Green explains, also the last for quite some time. (Bonus link: check out's interview with the last living man to pitch against Babe Ruth in the majors.)

    - 1:07 am, March 16 (link)


    I can't be the only one who watched Monk every week for about six months and only then discovered that Ted Levine, who plays the police chief, is the same guy who was Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Brr. He's great, but now every time I watch the show I keep expecting him to say "It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again...".

    It also took me a while to notice that Sharona (Bitty Schram) is the girl from A League of Their Own who gets told there's no crying in baseball.

    - 11:33 pm, March 15 (link)

    Tanking the Tankard

    I've written in the past about two pleasures which belong so distinctly to my part of the world that I'm always a bit surprised--despite my own fondness for them--at American reader response when I touch on them. There is fresh news about both. The long-awaited first volume of SCTV on DVD finally appears to have a firm release date in early June. The set is going to be expensive, but those of us eager to see the show in its original format without the music bowdlerized will be happy to help subsidize Shout Factory's costs. I'm not going to get too excited until I have it in my hands. At this point I have way too much invested in finally getting to see "Polynesiantown" again.

    And at the Brier final in Saskatoon yesterday, Team Alberta played its traditional role of thwarted overdog, handing the Mark Dacey rink Nova Scotia's first national championship in curling since 1951 after winning for three straight years. Through seven ends Alberta's pudgy, cranky Randy Ferbey was up 8-4, and it appeared that Dacey was the one in desperate need of the Heimlich Maneuver. But Dave Nedohin, the curling machine who throws last rocks for Ferbey, began to come apart just as Dacey (who looks like a particularly sorrowful drafting teacher) pulled himself together. Nova Scotia made a draw for a triple in the eighth, forced Alberta to take one in the ninth, and capitalized on a missed Nedohin freeze to ring up three more in the tenth. Final score, 10-9. Alberta had at least three separate chances to stop the textbook comeback, and it's probably been at least three or four years since Nedohin and Ferbey have given up a four-rock lead like that. In other words, it was the curling equivalent of a hobbled Kirk Gibson pounding his walkoff homer in the '88 Series against a godlike Dennis Eckersley. Even without the surrounding drama--Dacey is from Saskatoon and the fans were so hard on Alberta that its lead, Marcel Rocque, challenged one audibly to a fight in the ninth end--it would enter the annals of great Brier finishers, along with Al Hackner's double raise takeout in '85 (I still can't believe he made that shot) and Eugene Hritzuk's last rock dying short of the hog line in '88.

    - 8:18 am, March 15 (link)

    Monday morning's Post column is about the terror bombings in Spain: get thee to a newsstand! (Or, if you insist, read it for free here.) You can ignore the following archived version of last week's column, which escaped the CanWest suscriber-only firewall (concerning which see Jay Currie's interesting entry).

    Call it the Dark Side of the Nerd. We don't know for sure yet whether free-spending Belinda Stronach or incumbency-advantaged Stephen Harper is technically out front in the Conservative leadership contest. But after Sunday's debate in Montreal, a visitor from Saturn could have told you which candidate was bringing up the rear. "It's the rabid ferret in the middle, right? The scrappy little bastard is trying to score a knockout. Our Saturnine elections are decided by single combat, but it works just the same way."

    In the first Conservative debate two weeks ago, Tony Clement was more cautious. Before the membership-sales cutoff, he still had theoretical hopes of gathering enough new support to compete. But on March 1 the Conservative chefferie became a zero-sum game, and with remorseless logic Mr. Clement tried to transform himself from witty wonk to ruthless assassin. The effect was ... offputting.

    Some of the blows were within Queensberry rules. When Ms. Stronach began yawping yet again about the miraculous benefits of Magna's famous worker-ownership scheme, Mr. Clement performed a valuable service, trying to pin her down on Ottawa's hypothetical role in Magna-tizing corporate Canada. As he was not slow in pointing out, she ducked the question. Because of his experience as Ontario minister of health, he is also entitled to drop the odd "I've been there, I've sat in a Cabinet" on his opponents. But to say it roughly 60 times in various ways was grotesque overkill. And when Mr. Harper used his rebuttal time to refer subtly to Mr. Clement's resounding October rejection by Ontario voters, Mr. Clement's facial show of surprise -- Hey ref! Low blow! -- only made him look more desperate and unsavoury.

    The New Tony even opened the door for a minor debating coup by Ms. Stronach. Hard to believe, I know. When she was asked about potential ethical questions surrounding a Magna subsidiary located in Barbados, she gave her standard answer: I'm no longer Magna's CEO, I was never an officer of that part of Magna, and anyway, you should ask a company where its jobs are created, not where its legal address is. In rebuttal, Mr. Clement opined sneeringly that the Conservative party leader should be above criticism of the sort Paul Martin is facing for Canada Steamship Lines' offshore dealings. Ms. Stronach wheeled on him with a fervour hitherto undisplayed at the podium. "What are you criticizing [about Magna] specifically?" she demanded, to roars from her supporters.

    In reply, Mr. Clement burbled something about Magna's lobbying for reduced steel tariffs (a manufacturer wants cheaper steel, fancy that) while poor little Stelco is having such a rough time. It was a surreal moment -- Tony Clement, lifelong Conservative, playing the protectionism card against the ex-CEO of a company that greeted the Free Trade Agreement with all the warmth you would reserve for your daughter's engagement to a crack dealer.

    The pre-debate consensus was that Mr. Clement and Ms. Stronach would tag-team Mr. Harper, but Mr. Harper actually defended Ms. Stronach during that set-to, saying that the candidates should forgo internecine sniping and focus on the Liberal enemy. He said the same thing when Mr. Clement had the hideous tactlessness to mention the mistake committed in January by Mr. Harper's office, which sent out cards congratulating aboriginal Canadians (presumably labelled "Indians" in some database) on India's Republic Day. When Mr. Clement tried to make hay from an honest screwup that even the Toronto Star forgot within a few days, loud boos rose from the audience. And rightly.

    For the record, although Ms. Stronach still can't answer questions in French, she is getting better at reading prepared text in the language. Generations of unilingual politicians have promised perennially that they'll brush up their French real soon now; she appears to actually have worked on hers, which might be a first. Still, in front of a Montreal crowd, it was agonizingly apparent that she's trying to win this race on one leg. At one point she had trouble with her translation earpiece (cleverly hidden by that attractive coiffure) and had to guess at the question, saying "I'm having trouble with my hearing." That drew vague noises of disapproval, too, though perhaps the audience was merely cooing in sympathy with a bout of transient deafness. She also continues to struggle with English, calling at one point for free votes in the "House of Parliament" and tripping over some of her pre-fabricated paragraphs.

    Mr. Harper kept a low profile throughout, but this debate made clear what was apparent two weeks ago to the attentive observer -- he's the most comfortable of the three candidates in French. Indeed, he hardly spoke English all day. Ms. Stronach's French is nonexistent, and Mr. Clement's is competent, but involves heavy use of stock phrases and lots of clever switches entre des langues -- sometimes in mid-sentence -- when he spies a troublesome word ahead in the verbal pipeline. I don't know why Mr. Harper doesn't get more credit for this. I suppose one must admit the obvious -- just because you can speak French doesn't mean you'll be heard in it. (Mar. 8, 2004)

    - 2:05 am, March 15 (link)

    The red stuff

    The Medical Post has an article about Canada's blood supply which demands to be read by Canadians, especially those who still blindly trust physicians to guard both their personal interests and those of the public. Americans may wish to have a look too; in Canada we don't pay money for blood (why, that would be blood money), and any living economist could predict the result in his sleep---

    MONT ST. SAUVEUR, QUE. – Canada is fast running out of blood, and a severe shortage--possibly by 2005--will lead to a crisis in surgery cancellations and risk of patients bleeding to death, says a senior hematologist.

    But doctors could help stave off the crisis if they make minor changes to the way they practise, said Dr. Jeannie Callum, director of transfusion medicine at the Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. Dr. Callum spoke here last month at an anesthesia meeting sponsored by Sunnybrook.

    Simply bringing down the transfusion threshold by two points (20 g/L) would save the equivalent of donations from six blood donor clinics for every 100 patients that go through one intensive care unit, Dr. Jeannie Callum told the meeting.

    "A minimal alteration to our blood transfusion threshold would make a huge difference to our blood supply nationally," said Dr. Callum.

    She said the recent Transfusion Requirements in Critical Care (TRICC) trial showed a restricted strategy of maintaining hemoglobin between 70 g/L and 90 g/L, rather than striving for liberal levels of 100 g/L to 120 g/L, was actually better for most patients.

    The problem is physicians are not following either the recommendations of the TRICC trial or the Canadian guidelines, which both advocate a lower threshold.

    "If surgeons, critical care physicians and anesthesiologists followed the restricted strategy instead of the liberal strategy most follow at present, we would save 300 units of blood for every 100 patients going through an ICU," said Dr. Callum, also an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.

    "It means very little to the individual patient but the impact on the blood supply as a whole is huge--about six donor clinics per 100 patients going through every ICU in the country."

    As I read the story, Canadian physicians are placing certain demands on the blood-distribution network--recently reorganized after it killed thousands--out of pure, plain ignorance of carefully-controlled research showing that less blood is better for the overwhelming majority of patients. Moreover, the system as a whole is switching to hyper-costly "autologous" donation, whereby a patient stores his own blood well in advance of an elective or non-urgent surgery. Nowhere is creating a market for blood contemplated, yet this is, as I understand it, habitual practice in the United States. Am I wrong in thinking that this demonstrates how ethically retarded Canadians are, generally? Rather than set a price for human blood, we will adopt fixes like this:

    Erythropoietin, used to raise patients' hemoglobin levels pre-operatively so they can bleed more before they need a transfusion, is also very expensive but is increasingly becoming a standard of care in the big hospitals, [said Dr. Callum].

    "In Toronto, most anemic patients, if they are identified 28 days before surgery, are being offered erythropoietin. This costs $2,000 versus $1,000 per two units of blood. But it is the patient, or the patient's insurer, that bears the cost, rather than the ministry of health," Dr. Callum noted.

    What is the number of cases wherein the insurer is not the Ministry of Health? If it's not zero (and it's not, since the Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan is sometimes reimbursed by private insurers in motor-vehicle accidents and other similar affrays), it must be fairly close--unless, of course, Ontarians are being offered a "second tier" of access to blood supplies, which is surely unthinkable in our sacred medicare system.

    [UPDATE, March 19: More here.]

    - 1:47 am, March 15 (link)

    BertuzziWatch: the media suckerpunches continue

    It's starting to look like maybe Jeffrey Simpson will never go back to politics... he's back grinding the axe in Saturday's Globe, arguing that Steve Moore's injuries are the fault of--wait for it--the CBC! Now why didn't I think of that?

    [Don] Cherry is an industry, namely himself, and that industry depends, more than anything else, on the platform the country's public broadcaster accords him. Scrupulous about presenting opposing sides of issues, the CBC allows Mr. Cherry to rant and rave about hockey, the national sport, without anyone taking on his antediluvian views. If this were politics, or foreign policy or economics, the CBC would never get away with this kind of programming without creating a storm of protest. ...CBC should either defend its man, as some Canadians do on the grounds of "free speech," put him with someone who can express a different perspective rather than the amiable but complicit straight-man Ron MacLean, or remove Mr. Cherry from the air.

    Now, let's ask ourselves honestly: if the CBC "defended" Cherry ferociously (and the role of visors and the instigator penalty in the Bertuzzi-Moore outrage would seem to defend him well enough in themselves), would Jeffrey Simpson really be less angry with the network? No, I'm afraid I must regard this as an insincere, risible attempt to make the unreasonable appear reasonable by throwing an extra clause into the ragbag. The substantive part of Simpson's demand boils down to this: let Cherry be fired or the Fairness Doctrine applied to him.

    It would be amusing indeed if the CBC were required to be "balanced" in this way. We could give equal time after the second period of every Hockey Night in Canada game to someone who doesn't like hockey and is prepared to wax eloquent on its shortcomings. Similarly, we could require that the time given to the Olympics be matched every two years by a long miniseries about the corruption of the IOC, the bizarre origins of the Games in a quasi-fascist health cult, and the illegal training regimens favoured by certain teams, including, at one time, Canadian sprinters. We could have a rule whereby, when CBC radio plays any piece of music whatsoever, someone be given equal time to explain why it stinks, and that when the CBC promotes Canadian artists, a corresponding airspace be turned over to their specific critics, or simply to someone who wants to complain about the general mediocrity of Canadian art. Every late-night CBC movie could be matched by a savage two-hour dissection of its flaws.

    But this all seems backwards. CBC doesn't apply the Fairness Doctrine seriously in the areas where something like it might belong, such as at the news desk: it's not going to adopt it in areas where it self-evidently doesn't (as Simpson sort of admits, undercutting his idea without being convinced not to actually advance it). As far as one can tell, Don Cherry is quite likely to be the only habitual Conservative voter on the entire payroll of the network--maybe that's where we should start?

    I wasn't going to respond to Jim Kelley's recent ESPN column, which claims that goonery in hockey is a consequence of the Canadian influence on it. One of my readers responded neatly with two words: "Warren Sapp". Two more might be "Gary Suter"--taking all the incidents and players listed in Kelley's long and disquieting Internet troll, the sum of harm done to the game doesn't come to a tenth of what Suter has to sleep with at night. But, basically, there is live truth in Kelley's accusation: the question is whether it's really an accusation at all, or just a tautology. Property x of hockey is, by definition, likely to have its origins in Canadian practice and culture, because the game belongs to us. To say "Gee, I'd like hockey a lot more if we could just get the Canadianness out of it" would be ridiculous, and quadruply so for a professional NHL writer. I can't really understand exactly what Kelley is suggesting, if not that.

    On a new-media note, the stylish Billy Beck is making a go of trying to crucify hockey for not living up to his own expectations of it; it's a fascinating effort, and not entirely invalid. He despises, he says, the lack of honour in hockey. Meanwhile, every other commentator on the subject is pissing and moaning about how an "outdated honour code" was somehow responsible for what Bertuzzi did. Get your stories straight, fellas! And don't just elide the facts that Bertuzzi's action was universally acknowledged within hockey to have been dishonourable, and was met by a punishment of near-unprecedented severity.

    It's unusual for Bill to utter something as self-refuting as this:

    A lifelong baseball fan (and player for most of my youth) I have no tolerance at for the headhunter on the mound. I wouldn't have tolerated Bob Gibson, but he was a sweetheart by comparison to the culture of hockey.

    Presumably he wouldn't have tolerated Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson, Pedro Martinez, or any other pitcher who succeeded partly by keeping batters in terror of death at the plate. (Koufax was an explicit headhunter on the Gibson model; Johnson dreaded the idea of harming anybody, but everyone was frightened of him anyway.) The set includes, as part of the nature of the pro game, almost all of the great pitchers. I'm a great baseball fan--hockey is the religion I was born with, but baseball is more like a girl I decided to date--and I'm smart enough to realize that headhunting by pitchers is bound by fine rules of honour, not easy for the outsider to comprehend. I know the difference between Marion Fricano and Don Drysdale, which is exactly the sort of difference hockey's detractors aren't trained to recognize on ice. The fact remains that Bob Gibson is in baseball's Hall of Fame in large part because he was effective at threatening violent death to fellow players in a more extreme form than any hockey player. In hockey, we don't honour brutality in quite this way: we may love goons like Tiger Williams, but we don't put up statues of them and celebrate their beauty. So which sport has something to answer for? My opinion is "neither"; but Bill seems to think there is something specially repellent about hockey, and who knows, maybe he's even watched a game or two. I sure as hell know that someone who wrote this--

    Hockey is somewhat interesting in that it takes place on ice. This element presents implicit challenges, which, if they were properly met with skills that did not abide constant outright thuggery, could elevate the thing to something admirable... it has never in my life risen anywhere near the potential of its nature.

    --couldn't possibly have spent too much time watching Wayne Gretzky or Bobby Orr.

    - 1:52 pm, March 13 (link)

    BertuzziWatch: The Final Chapter?

    Just when you think you've beaten an issue to death, you get an e-mail from a former major-junior teammate of Mike Bossy who went on to play in the Eastern League! I guess this counts as more of that "passive reporting". Anyway, here's what ex-pro John Saunders has to say about the Todd Bertuzzi affair.

    I still play, still remember what it was like to play when I was a young'un. My first comment is about the freakin' self righteousness of everyone on this thing. "Oh, this is the worst thing ever in hockey... How can I let my kids watch this... These guys are supposed to be role models.... The sport is nothing but a bunch of goons." And my personal favourite: "This never used to happen in hockey."


    First off, it isn't anywhere close to the worst thing we've seen... It's probably not the worst thing we've seen this year. In fact, I'd put Weight-Sedin right up there. As to the "newness" of this type of violence--anyone remember Slapshot? I'm here to tell you that while it was blast to watch, it wasn't far off the truth. I played in the EHL the year after Paul Newman and the Hansens lit that league up. We were a violent bunch. In the space of nine months, I escaped with nothing more serious than a broken jaw, torn knee ligaments, and a shoulder dislocation that still won't allow me to raise my right arm above my head. All for $350 a week. And loving it. Hockey then was the same as it was when we didn't have ESPN and 24-hour sports radio--and the same as it is now. It was and is a violent and entertaining game, the best in the world.

    The lead-up: Moore hits Naslund. A marginally dirty shot, depending on your address. Nothing happens. Brad May declares a bounty. Crawford does Crawford. A week later Bob(by) Clarke slashes Kharlamov... er... tells Havlat he's going to eat his lunch. Or was that Hitch? Whatever. While I'm no NFL fan, do you not think that an NFL player or coach talking like that would have dropped about $20K on the spot for those comments? Does the instigator rule help or hurt here? Who knows? I do know this: most guys have no problem getting tossed from one game of an interminable season if they really feel it's necessary. If Brad May really felt strongly about Moore's hit on Naslund, he could have retaliated right away. He knew where to find him.

    The suspension. Well, he earned it. I thought it was mildly too harsh--I would have left it about one round of the playoffs, but it isn't far wrong. What bothers me is that those two pussies, Campbell and Bettman, didn't get this right because they are right. They got it right accidentally. They are so afraid of bad press in the U.S. that they decided to make an example... But catering to public opinion just sucks. Who gives a rat's ass if someone on Oprah thinks hockey is violent? It is! We revel in it! As far as I'm concerned, if southern U.S. "fans" don't want to watch those beer-swilling Canucks beat their brains out, who cares? The only U.S. cities that should have teams anyway are in Detroit, Boston, and N.Y. Chicago once upon a time...

    I've read a lot of comments about Bertuzzi being suspended until Moore can play again--what you are calling "strict liability". Let's not think that one through too closely, folks. Let's see, hypothetically I'm the GM of division rival Colorado. My fourth-line player, who makes $300K a year or so and really I can replace pretty easily; your top forward, key player. I'm thinking I'd be doing my team a disservice if I didn't buy me a doctor that indicated my guy would be hurt for a year or two. I'd make sure he's well compensated, but what the heck? Of course, there is no way any NHL GM would be that nefarious...

    Here's the thing. Guys get suckered every night in the NHL, and every other hockey league. This time, the suckerer was 245 pounds, and the suckeree was badly injured. Because of that set of circumstances, he deserves a serious penalty, and that has happened. When you break a rule, you have to take the unintended consequences with the intended. In criminal law, you commit a crime, you are responsible for the fruits of that crime. Use a gun to rob a store, and if the gun goes off, whether you meant to shoot or not, you're just as guilty. So Bertuzzi will be taking his lumps, as he should.

    But I'd love it if everyone would get off their high horses about the serious damage to the game, and to their kids' psyches, and to their respect for Todd Bertuzzi. Hockey fans are already watching the next game; the rest can go back to Regis. I went to the Canucks game last night. At about five minutes of the first, resident evil Brookbank fought foreigner Johnson (he of the Beukeboom). All eighteen thousand people in the building were standing and cheering. Coincidence? I think not.

    - 2:58 am, March 13 (link)

    Passive reporting rocks!

    It sounds like the Globe's Brian Laghi has been talking to the same "sources" who've now discovered my phone number since I broke in at the Post. (Deep Throats and other similarly-disposed creatures should feel free to contact me using the e-mail link at top left. Your anonymity will be guarded ferociously.)

    Sources also said the Harper campaign has produced an internal poll of party members that shows 57 per cent would choose the former Canadian Alliance leader.
    Supporters of Mr. Harper are quietly predicting their candidate will achieve between 45 per cent and 55 per cent of the vote on the first ballot.
    "If [Ms. Stronach] sold 20,000 only, instead of 100,000--which sort of was their goal--then yes, I think a first-ballot victory is certainly very possible," an MP supporting Mr. Harper said.
    "In fact, it's probable."

    I'm still picking up "Let's not get overconfident" vibes here at the Fortress of Solitude. Harper's internal polls show him holding about half the members in Ontario, which would be quite an organizing coup for someone running against two favourite sons. As the careful filtering of Belinda Stronach's Insta-Conservatives from Quebec revealed this week, he shouldn't have much to worry about from dirty tricks. But the first-ballot victory could still come to grief over eccentric polling times and emerging stop-Harper sentiment. Nobody's hitting the hot tub until March 21.

    - 3:47 am, March 13 (link)

    Where's the context?

    Drudge, showing uncharacteristic poor judgment, has linked to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story in which MP Libby Davies expresses the concern that the U.S. Navy cannot be trusted not to carelessly blow up Maine and scatter fallout over New Brunswick. Not kidding here. Davies actually tells the Americans "If something happens in Bangor, we're the ones upwind." So you guys be a little more careful down there! [UPDATE, March 15: I'm told the "Bangor" in question is actually the one in Washington State.]

    What angers me about this?--OK, I mean, aside from Davies making Canada look like a few arpents of idiocy by lecturing the U.S. Navy about the potential threats to important people north of the border. What angers me about it is the P-I's failure to provide background. Davies is cited only as "a member of Canada's national parliament." Maybe that's as much information about a foreign country as Americans can stomach in one article!--but to suggest anything like that would get a foreigner in trouble. Davies should be quoted as a member of Canada's miniscule socialist party, the New Democrats, who favour global disarmament. The P-I headline "Missile incident rattles Canada" has about as much connection to reality as the rings of Saturn do to my liver: a more accurate hed would be "Professional socialist yammerers don't like American missiles". Seattle newspaper readers are entitled to better than this folderol.

    - 3:25 am, March 13 (link)

    Friday's National Post column from me is about--guess what?--Todd Bertuzzi. There's some stuff in there I've been working through here on the site, but also some new thoughts too. Here's the usual replay of last week's column:

    Last week I wrote on my misgivings about Tony Clement's JumpStart 250 plan to waive taxes on wage-earners in the first $250,000 of their lifetime earnings. Since the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has just released a proposal for Canada Pension Plan reform, I figured I'd feed that through the old Selfish-o-Tron React-o-Matic. Beep ... booop ... looks like I can live with it!

    Mark Milke's paper is framed intelligently as a challenge to young and middle-aged taxpayers: Do you want your CPP premiums to stop rocketing upward in exchange for a retirement age that will gradually skid forward from 65 to 69? If your React-o-Matic is calibrated like mine, the answer is obvious. "Gee ... like I was going to be able to retire at 65 anyway? Sign me up."

    It is typical of Liberal Canada that this debate is starting so late. We are clinging to the Swedish model of cradle-to-grave social welfare when even the Swedes have begun to say, "Man, who invented this crap?" Anyone studying the pension issue fairly should reach the CTF's conclusions -- that the system is increasingly unfair to later generations, will require ever-greater contributions as people live longer, and is basically unsustainable. This isn't a matter of right-wing predators looking for ways to make old people suffer (though we all know the bastards love it). The Ponzi nature of traditional pensions is recognized as a problem of logic wherever we naked apes have mastered the sibylline sigmas of actuarial science. Even a leftist ought to see the issue clearly enough.

    As Mr. Milke observes, countries whose public pensions used to pay out at ages earlier than 65, like Japan and Italy, are tightening them up or leaning that way. New Zealand completed the transition from 60 to 65 three years ago. Britain will soon begin hiking its age-60 retirement for women, and a German government commission has recommended moving from 65 to 67 there. The U.S. moved to 67 beginning in 1983 -- which truly boggles the mind: We're 20 years behind them in this debate, even though Social Security is 30 years older in the U.S. and is much more of a sacred cow politically.

    In at least 20 countries, the problem has been addressed by making private personal retirement accounts for taxpayers mandatory, which increases the available yield on the savings and avoids shafting any particular generation. Some of these are post-Communist nations (Poland, Hungary), or politically unstable ones (Argentina, Bolivia), where the private sector is more readily trusted than the state. I've forgotten for the moment why this isn't true here.

    I don't want to blow off concerns that might be raised about adding four years to working lives: I do have a brain as well as a React-o-Matic. As a writer, I can imagine my toils breezing past 65 without interruption. They involve nothing more physically rigorous than occasional eyestrain and dangerous palpitations of rage at various politicians. More and more of the economy consists of this sort of sedentary activity, but I don't forget -- to take one example -- that my Baby Boomer father is a heavy-equipment mechanic. I suspect my worried mother would rather kill him than let him rise and shine for work on his 68th birthday.

    But, as it happens, the cagey devil has an early retirement all laid out for himself anyhow. He would want his labour union to get credit for helping him save, but he'll also admit that his taxes were far lower than mine when he was my age. The annual yield on his CPP contributions is going to work out to about 5%. Mine will earn less than half that -- around 2.3%. Over 40 years of compound interest, that's a big truckload of money taken from me to underwrite the generational bulge.

    The non-anecdotal truth is that if you're not sure what to think of conventionally defined "senior citizens" working into their late 60s, it's getting easier every year to find one and ask him -- even without the impetus of pension reform. According to a Statistics Canada report released a week ago, the number of seniors who held jobs in Canada increased nearly 20% between 1996 and 2001. The overall number of seniors climbed just 11% over those five years. We're living longer than we did when the CPP was invented -- four years longer, on average -- and we're healthier in the meantime. And employers now realize it doesn't necessarily make sense to hustle an old codger out the door clutching a gold watch. From your local fast-food place to the family farm to the multinationals and ministries that keep semi-retired "consultants" on the payroll, we live in a world of better choices and more flexible arrangements for people who don't want to leave behind the social engagement and dignity of a job.

    This is the reality: but our public pensions wastefully commemorate a world where work was presumed to wring you dry, and retirement was a fleeting break between turning 65 and cashing out after your three-score-and-ten. That world is long gone -- and refusing to change public policy when the world changes is a sure sign of insanity. (Mar. 5, 2004)

    - 3:15 am, March 12 (link)

    Fallout, continued

    Hockey Week continues here at! But it seems like Todd Bertuzzi's roundhouse to Steve Moore's head has captured the imagination of the North American public, so I'm not going to apologize. Dave Huff, quoted here, wrote again with a rebuttal to my apologia for Bertuzzi (intended to mitigate, I assure you, not exonerate):

    I was not calling for Bertuzzi to face a permanent suspension nor was I trying to equate the brawl the other night with what Bertuzzi did. If there was in place a matching rule (for lack of a better term) would Bertuzzi have even tried what he did? Would Crawford have given an order to do it (not saying that he would or anything--wink wink)?

    As for the defence that the injury was a little fluky--99 percent of the time a two-handed slash won't do much damage but every once in a fluky while it breaks someone's arm or wrist. That doesn't make it any less egregious, does it? If you choose to perform an action you should be willing to live with all the possible consequences. If those consequences are severe enough this kind of thing would disappear. I do not believe for a second that what Bertuzzi did was a heat-of-the-moment thing. That is why I make the distinction for deliberate intent to injure. Will it stop it altogether? No. Will it greatly reduce it? Yes.

    As for the brawl--it's not the last one that I'm concerned about, it's the next one, where Philly's fourth line, loaded with heavyweights drops gloves en masse while the Sens' first (and smallest, most skilled, most expensive, etc.) line is on the ice. Personally, I love a good brawl--so do most of the fans. But a brawl that is revenge for a previous game's incident? No way.

    I fully agree that the instigator penalty is a stupid rule--leading to far more chippy stickwork and incidents like this one. I wouldn't have had much problem with it if Bertuzzi had had a straight up, drop-the-gloves fight with the guy. But cheap shots like that just make me want to stop watching the game altogether.

    I won't counter in too much detail, since I shouldn't devote too much space to this sub-debate, but I'll say this: (a) The ethos of the game treats stickwork as different from bodily confrontation, and rightly so, even in a case like this. The practical penology of hockey must preserve room to treat offenders less harshly if they don't use their sticks or skates as weapons. (b) It is philosophically not easy to distinguish "intent to injure" (bad) from "intent to batter, crunch, or hurt" (part of the game), so that's a road we must go down with epistemological humility, reserving very extreme punishments for very extreme situations. Every body check arguably entails intent to injure. (c) It takes two sides to make a brawl.

    And now my personal media awards for various reactions to the Bertuzzi scandal:

    Most Inappropriate Cameo: Tony Twist, currently suing Todd McFarlane for defamation because he borrowed his name for a violent comic-book character (a mob enforcer), turned up on CNN saying that what Bertuzzi did was wrong. "What should have happened, he said, was that, instead of chasing down Moore, one of the Canucks should have laid a sharp slash across the ankle of, say, Colorado star Joe Sakic. This would send the appropriate message that if you mess with our stars, we'll get yours." Gosh, how did McFarlane ever get the idea that this guy was completely nuts?

    Swing and a Miss Award: To Jim Coyle, author of the Toronto Star thumbsucker in which the previous quote appeared (and, unless I'm mistaken, former proprietor of Dissecting Leah McLaren). Somehow, Coyle thought that quoting a homicidal idiot would make Bertuzzi look worse, when in fact it strengthens Bertuzzi's case greatly by showing that the Canucks could have taken much worse reprisals. Would Leah Herself have ever made such an obvious logical blunder? Not on the blondest day of her life. [UPDATE, 10:18 am: Weisblott, who specializes in Toronto-media trainspotting, says it's not the same Coyle. Rather spoils this paragraph...]

    Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain Award: Another gong for the Toronto Star, whose unsigned editorial attempts to misdirect the reader by noting "Wayne Gretzky called for an automatic game misconduct for fighting ...15 years ago. He was right." Don't look at this sentence too closely, Star readers! Wayne Gretzky renounced this position loudly and frequently after his own career was cut short by wear and tear; and it was notoriously hypocritical for him to have ever taken it, since he was protected during his own best years by the fistic abilities of Dave Semenko. Gretzky now believes that the best way to protect the game is to give big guys latitude to protect its stars. It was never credible for him to say otherwise. A hockey fan would have to be pretty dim not to feel that his intelligence was being insulted by the Star's deliberate obfuscation.

    I Went to a Fight and a Hockey Game Broke Out, So I Want My Money Back: A raspberry for the people of Vancouver, who have apparently just discovered that their idol Todd Bertuzzi sometimes loses his cool. The Globe has hilarious quotes from B.C. granola pinheads discovering their anti-corporate consciences ("I realize one fan is just a small part of the large machine that is Orca Bay...") and learning that Bertuzzilla has a dark side ("I cannot be a fan of a team that would have a superstar idiot such as Todd Bertuzzi") when fans in 29 other cities already knew he was all dark side. Suck it up, doob-huffing schmendricks.

    All Outrage, All the Time: If USA Today doesn't like hockey, and its sportswriters don't know anything about hockey, you'd think they'd have the common sense to shut up about hockey. You'd be wrong! Ian O'Connor has such a refined understanding of the game that he makes Wayne Gretzky out to be a spokesman for its most violent impulses (huhwha??) and warns that the league may not survive the death of a player from an ill-timed hit (looks like they've forgotten you already, Billy Masterton). The nonsensical shrieking continues unabated under the byline of Christine Brennan, a writer whose work on figure skating I admire greatly but which makes her credentials to discuss this topic possibly somewhat questionable. "Who among us would notice if, this autumn, we found ourselves surveying a sports landscape without major league hockey?" she asks. Gee, I don't know... NHL fans?

    Missed Angle Award: To absolutely every couch-coach who was saying how great and vital protective visors obviously were when Don Cherry, Canada's embodiment of evil, spouted off about them last month. Gee, that "pool of blood" that formed underneath Moore and the "deep facial cuts" he suffered when his head hit the ice face-forward couldn't have had anything to do with the visor he was wearing...? I'd be interested to know what Grapes has to say, since he has argued that visors have exactly this effect, but his informed opinion on the subject will have already been pre-empted by a mob of race-baiting phonies who won't consider for one minute that some of Moore's injuries have anything to do with last month's violence-in-hockey obsession. They certainly won't mention that Naslund's cuts from the Moore hit being avenged on Tuesday were caused by a visor. Short memories they have in this newspaper trade, eh?

    No Conflict of Interest Here Award: to Brian Murphy of the St. Louis Pioneer Press, who made a beeline for the Minnesota Wild's Willie Mitchell when he needed comment on Bertuzzi's suckerpunch. Mitchell took the strict-liability view of the matter: "If he's going to be out until the start of next season, why should the player who did it have the ability to come back before the player who was hurt?" Murphy didn't mention that Mitchell spent the second round of last year's playoffs fighting a memorable personal duel with Bertuzzi, being manhandled continually while he tried to keep Bert out of the Wild crease. Mitchell is no doubt eager to avoid a reprise, should Minnesota reach the playoffs by some miracle, but why is that news? If anyone but a sportswriter threw a quote like this into a story without the necessary context, ombudsmen would be forming an army against him.

    [UPDATE, March 12: A must-read letter from a reader can be found above.]

    - 2:33 am, March 11 (link)

    Jussi, junior. Real Jussi

    Too much hockey on It only gets worse! The public, apparently, insists that I weigh in on the Tommy Salo trade. At the start of this season I complained that the Oilers kept the wrong guy when they shuffled Jussi Markkanen out the door and kept aging Swedish-national keeper Salo. Salo stunk right out of the gate--he was the worst starter in the conference through the All-Star break--and his #1 status was clearly threatened when Alaskan Ty Conklin did well while Salo was sitting out ten days with a groin injury. Earlier this week the Oilers traded to get Markkanen back from the Rangers, who was outplaying Mike Dunham as the backup in New York. And on Tuesday, hours before the NHL's trading deadline, the Oilers swapped Salo for a U.S. college player. The whole crazy sequence of events might lead an unsuspecting observer to think I'd been hired quietly as the assistant GM. Maybe the cheque's in the mail...

    Real Oilers GM Kevin Lowe tried manfully to put the best face on the trade today, saying (I'm paraphrasing), "Tommy was here for five years; this wasn't his best season; with all due respect, we've never got past the first round of the playoffs with him in the net; we wish him the best." The Salo trade should be a moment of vindication for me, but the Oilers may not be able to climb out of the hole Tommy's half-year funk left them in. (He was already permitted to suck for about half of last year, and he went in the tank in the playoffs.) Unquestionably Lowe would have gotten more for Salo if he'd moved him while they still had Markkanen the first time; selling him into the crowded market of Deadline Day made him worth next to nil, and Colorado obtained him strictly to carry water for David Aebischer. (But will he stay in town and start for the Avs Wednesday night against Edmonton?)

    In short, the Oilers did the right thing, but only after they became the last people to realize that Salo was a has-been. They must have known the details of the "difficult personal time for Tommy" that CHED's Bryan Hall referred to cryptically tonight in discussing the trade. (What a classic bit of sportswriter repugnance. Don't you love how these guys find a way to let us know there's something they knew all along that they couldn't tell us and can't reveal the details of even now. A beautiful little fuck-you to the civilians.) But then again, Salo may have been damaged goods for the same mysterious reason. The good news is that the Oilers get Salo's $4M salary off the payroll, and their goaltending situation becomes clear: Markkanen and Conklin, who are both better than Salo now, will split the duties, with the former probably getting a bit more work. Markkanen has come through magnificently at nailing home the point I've been making for nine months, although his play with the Rangers proved it well enough. He started his first game as a reacquired Oiler on Thursday against St. Louis; he was the second star (27 saves) in a 1-1 tie. Last night he played against Calgary: another 1-1 tie (30 saves), another second star. All he needed all along was a little TLC.

    - 3:39 am, March 10 (link)

    Wait a second

    Now I'm getting e-mail that basically suggests that Bertuzzi should get the death penalty for jumping Steve Moore. Dave Huff writes:

    When will the NHL get up enough nerve to introduce some kind of match[ing] suspension for deliberate attempts to injure? How about Bertuzzi getting a one year suspension that starts once Moore returns? If Moore is out for a year--Bertuzzi is gone for two. If his career is over--so is Bertuzzi's. Sounds harsh, but if it was implemented by the league tomorrow you would see an immediate end to this kind of cheap crap. The two-handed slash would disappear overnight, as would spearing, etc. Let the league warn a team such as Vancouver--or Philly and Ottawa in their coming rematch--that they will deal with intentional goon work with multi-million dollar fines (one year suspensions without pay, etc.) and the headhunting would be gone.

    First of all, this conflates harmless and entertaining brawling, Flyers-Sens fashion, with offences like Bertuzzi's that are of an entirely different order of badness. This is exactly the kind of knee-jerk confusion that leads to inappropriate rulemaking. One lesson to take away from this incident: if Bertuzzi had been allowed to avenge Moore's run at Naslund immediately with his fists without drawing an instigator penalty, he wouldn't have had to lie in wait for a lopsided game before striking back. If the league doesn't look at its own secondary culpability here, and if fans don't think more clearly, we'll go on piling bad legislative innovation upon bad legislative innovation until hockey is as poorly run as the Canadian government.

    Second: there's no sense ending Bertuzzi's career over an injury he unquestionably inflicted but that was also a little fluky. Bert is one of the players we're going to be telling our grandkids we saw, and he didn't intend to break anyone's neck. There are many worse things he might have done--what McSorley did to Brashear was worse, of its own accord, though the injury consequences, by pure luck, weren't as bad. It's simply not true that implementing strict liability of this sort is going to end hot-headed, foolish actions, any more than the hanging of pig thieves in 18th-century England ended pig theft. Bert didn't possess the mens rea to be convicted of career murder.

    Third: I am mystified that my post about how much Bertuzzi's ambush is going to cost him, and the Canucks, should provoke anyone to complain that the monetary cost of goon work is not high enough. Just to reiterate, Bertuzzi is likely to be $7M out of pocket and the Canucks are facing a one-time financial liability on the same order of magnitude as their entire team payroll. Also, the league has already established a precedent (McSorley) for one-year unpaid suspensions. These facts didn't save Steve Moore's vertebrae. There's no catcher in the rye here, folks. Hockey players are going to suffer injuries like this unless we start castrating them all on draft day and making them wear neodymium magnets to repel body checks.

    Fourth: is it morally proper to impose an extreme penalty on Bertuzzi for an action he might have been directly ordered to take (in order to protect a teammate)? The evidence suggests he was, and that's something we might want to think about here. I realize it's redolent of "I vas only folloving orders", but nobody is proposing any career sanction against Crawford.

    - 11:31 pm, March 9 (link)

    Canadian water-cooler talk: two notes

  • If vanquished pork queen Sheila Copps keeps making paranoid public statements, I may actually start feeling sympathy for her advancing mental illness. As Inkless Wells has pointed out, the only candidate in her race to have talked openly before television cameras about cheating in the Hamilton East Liberal runoff was none other than Miss Copps. He has also pointed out that the returning officer for the vote has a strong reputation for probity and has gone toe-to-toe with Martinites in the recent past. But in that latter entry, Wells also notes that Copps believes she can read the Prime Minister's mind; and elsewhere she was claiming today that her phones had been tapped by Martinite gremlins. What will she scream about next? Martin implanted maggots in my brain stem! He imprisoned my four-dimensional supporters in the Phantom Zone! He gave me ovarian cancer over the Internet! Weasels ripped my flesh!

  • Thank goodness! It seems Todd Bertuzzi didn't actually kill Steve Moore, despite his best efforts--he only broke his neck in two places. (I've finally seen the video--whoah.) Consider the potential cost of Bert's action. The suckerpunch/tackle was at least as egregious on its own merits as the poleaxeing of Donald Brashear that earned Marty McSorley a year's suspension. The league will have to deliberate without knowing the medical effects, but with Moore's future of walking upright in doubt, I can't see the league suspending Bertuzzi for less than one full year. That, friends, would cost Bertuzzi about seven million dollars.

    And the Canucks may need every penny: Moore isn't just a hockey player, he's a rookie chosen in the second round of the draft who played collegiate hockey at Harvard. Any of you personal-injury lawyers out there afraid to take that lawsuit? If Moore's career in hockey is over, I'd guess he has an excellent pretext for a claim of ten million dollars or more in lost income against Bertuzzi and Vancouver. And hey--they'd be getting off easy. The real nightmare is that this Harvard-educated young man will come away from rehab totally disabled, and will be able to claim lost post-hockey income too. If things pan out that way, $10M will be chump change. All things considered, Bert's ambush could be very expensive for certain unfortunate insurance companies. I hope the Canucks still think they're getting good value for money with the universally-hated Marc Crawford behind the bench; I'll eat Rosie O'Donnell's thong if that sadist didn't order Bertuzzi to jump Moore.

    - 8:47 pm, March 9 (link)

    Around the horn

    Sports news: the Brier (the hallowed symbol of supermacy in Canadian curling) is on and, once again, Alberta is annihilating the field. Ho-hum. Elsewhere, star Canucks galoot Todd Bertuzzi basically killed a guy tonight--I warned you about him during last year's playoffs:

    Did they find this guy in the jungle? I've never, never seen such a physically dominant power forward. If you're not a hockey fan, think of Bertuzzi as being the NHL's Shaq: a horrifying, unstoppable man-mountain. The effect isn't so much geophysical, as in Shaq's case, as it is psychic: Bertuzzi's only 6'3", after all--there are guys who'll have three inches on him nowadays. But there are basketball players taller than Shaq, too, and they just don't seem to have the volcanic implications he does. Same with Bertuzzi. When he collides with anything, the "anything" always gives way. If he sets out to injure somebody, you get the sense it's a done deal.

    Bert was immediately suspended without pay by the league Monday night, which I've never even heard of before. Of course, I've only been watching NHL hockey for a quarter-frigging-century or so. Dino Ciccarelli was actually thrown in actual, physical jail for behaviour that didn't get him suspended immediately without pay. So I guess it was pretty bad. You never like to see the phrase "motionless in... a pool of blood" in a news story. It's not a positive indicator.

    - 1:54 am, March 9 (link)

    My column today is a Post-mortem on the Sunday Conservative debate. The campaign to crowbar the word chefferie into the English language continues! In your hearts, you know we need a single, attractive word for "leadership contest"! Here's the column from one week ago:

    Until just a few years ago, intellectual property wasn't an area of law and morals that ordinary people had to wrestle with much. You might bump into the odd "HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC" plea on a record sleeve -- funny, it never did manage to kill music, no matter how hard generations of teenagers tried -- or, if you were a college student, you might see a poster in the library warning of death and dismemberment if you abused your photocopying privileges. Creators' and publishers' rights were something you might think about once every five years, or never.

    It almost seems like a lost Eden. Computers and the Internet have changed the nature of books, music and movies for the end-user: We now see them for what they "really" are -- chunks of info-bits which can be represented by digital symbols. You can use the same symbols for sounds, images and texts; and if you copy the symbols, you have a copy of the thing. This is a revolution in human consciousness -- much like the invention of movable type, and indeed almost an adaptation of it, but on a geometrically explosive scale. When you consider how Gutenberg's discovery scrambled religion, art, philosophy and politics, ignited wars of unprecedented scale and tilted the playing field of civilizations ... it makes one a little frightened to be alive now.

    So here we are, trying to make sense of the first skirmishes. The Canadian Recording Industry Association filed a "John Doe" lawsuit in Federal Court on Feb. 10 against everyone in Canada -- literally everyone -- who is infringing on record-company music copyrights by sharing sound files over the Internet. The number of hypothetical defendants is probably well over a million, but CRIA is following the example of its American analogue, asking the court to make five Internet providers disclose the identities of 29 file-sharers now known only to the record companies by their numerical Internet addresses and aliases.

    It's a bizarre spectacle: a pack of multinational companies trying to sue Canadians they know only as "Meghan32" or "DaddyCoolLeafsFan" or "Geekboy" (to take three real examples). The motion has been adjourned until March 12, at which time Justice Konrad von Finckenstein, the former Competition Bureau commissioner, may decide whether the requested disclosure is reasonable. Even the Internet providers don't agree on whether it is. Shaw is contesting it aggressively, arguing that it would be unreasonable for a court to issue what amounts to a search warrant in a civil proceeding. But Videotron says it will be "delighted" to comply -- subscriber privacy be damned.

    Justice von Finckenstein will not be the last powerful person asked to invent a new social norm for the digital world out of whole cloth. The nature of the Net, for Canadians, hangs in the balance. You can grant, though not everyone does, that it is wrong to distribute somebody else's copyrighted material for free. But look at the questions which throng around you as soon as you advance this modest postulate. Is making sound files available for sharing on your hard drive an active offence against copyright? -- is it "distribution," or more like leaving a door open? Should Internet service providers be allowed, or even permitted, to disclose user identities at the demand of those who merely suspect their legal rights have been prejudiced? When ISPs begin co-operating with certain corporations to monitor your online activity, where will it stop?

    And what about the levy we Canadians already pay on blank media to cover the costs of home copying? It is an undecided legal question whether we are not, in fact, perfectly entitled to share media files. Never mind whether ISPs are capable of accurately disclosing the identities behind dynamic Internet Protocol addresses, or how CRIA might show that the owners of the Internet accounts in question actually did the downloading themselves.

    Suits against individual file-sharers seem to have had a psychologically impeding effect on file-sharing in the U.S. They have also created widespread, open contempt for the plaintiffs. Intellectual property has always been regarded as a form of temporary monopoly, and these companies, having found that technology has made that monopoly harder to preserve, are trying to defend their profit margins by questionable tactics. (Since when is one allowed to sue "everybody who has committed tort X" all at once?) These tactics threaten the anarchic, bottom-up nature of the Internet, whose net benefits to everyone are vast and undisputable. Hey -- even spam-clogged e-mail is better than no e-mail.

    One supposes the drama must play out, and let us pray for Geekboy in the meantime. There is no way to force the record companies to accept the message millions are sending with their behaviour -- namely, that consumers who can burn CDs for under a dollar are unlikely to pay $15 for one. CRIA is only trying to forestall the doom of members too sclerotic to find new ways to profit from music, as individual artists and small companies are already doing. Thus does the Internet humble the great and kill the immortal; and its work (said the media employee nervously) is very far from being done. (Mar. 1, 2003)

    - 11:48 am, March 8 (link)

    Nobody learns. Nobody hugs

    I bought the first season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on Saturday. Watched six or seven of the episodes and, for the first time, the original one-hour HBO special from which the series was spun off. (I also took a flyer on The Singing Detective, but I wanted to get to CYE first.) I find Larry David really interesting to look at. Is that weird? He's got a distinctive style of dress, casual yet somehow vaguely clerical and intimidating. I guess it's how you would dress if you liked muted, comfortable clothing and you came into $50-$100 million, or whatever, from a hit network series. He's frightfully tall, and there's something oddly aristocratic about his bearing. I suspect he has Cohen genes or some similarly distinguished haplotype coming out his ears.

    Like Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm seems somehow savage--an ironized, almost nihilistic chronicle of American barbarism and monomania, having about as much in common with other sitcoms as Kafka's "Hunger Artist" does with the Hardy Boys. But David's artistic choice to put himself in the show steers it toward less purely satirical territory. Seinfeld was about contemptible people--whom we liked, if we liked them, out of familiarity and because we were shown the underlying narrative logic of their outrageous actions--interacting with other contemptible people. As the show ran onward you got a more marked sense of the characters as marionettes. David's finale came as close to destroying them physically as network TV would allow. I'm confident he would have had them shot, on-screen, if he could have.

    In the world of Curb Your Enthusiasm you can't shake the suspicion that perhaps Larry David, whatever his self-deprecating protestations, regards "Larry David" as the hero of the show, a quasi-intellectual, creative-professional Christ figure adrift amidst a sea of grasping, pleading, whining nutballs. And, in fact, if you're inclined to view the show that way, the logic holds up remarkably well. Normally "Larry" is either being terrorized quite randomly, thanks to some farcical explosion of circumstances, or is getting into trouble by pursuing some item of his private and arbitrary social credo too far. I don't know if the term "comedy of manners" has ever been applied here, but that's what Curb Your Enthusiasm is; a humorous meditation about the unwritten codes governing the roadway, the dinner party, the driving range, the memorial service. I'd hate to come off as one of those prats who tries to co-opt everything for conservatism, and David's electoral politics seem to lie left of the Clintonian, but the unstated theme of every CYE episode is the longing for a world--by implication, a lost world--of clear social expectations. Perhaps without knowing it, David has crammed some of the concerns of the 19th-century novel into the small screen.

    - 1:42 am, March 8 (link)


    It's a quiet Sunday, so I rapped out a long piece on my study of the last two years' NHL playoffs (previously mentioned below). It's strictly for intense fans of number-crunching or hockey or both, which is why I tucked it away here. Plus, I really don't want anybody reading it if I might be placing a playoff bet with them.

    - 8:02 pm, March 7 (link)

    Tramp the dirt down

    Sheila Copps has lost the Hamilton East Liberal nomination to Tony Valeri. Everyone is being super careful not to "count her out"--that's the accepted phrasing in situations like this, isn't it? By God, don't count Sheila Copps out.

    Well, pardon me for adding insult to injury here, but why the hell shouldn't we count her out? In her latter years as a Minister of the Crown she was associated with bright ideas like, er, that huge federal sponsorship and advertising program that was designed to keep Quebec in Confederation--you remember the one. She's blown up so many bridges in the Liberal Party, she practically qualifies for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She was supposed to be personally indestructible in Hamilton, but she couldn't produce enough warm bodies to defeat a baked ham tonight, despite her long years as a human gravy teat for artistes and minorities. She pursued her quixotic leadership campaign to what can with unusual accuracy be called "the bitter end", refusing to throw her support behind any of the men who could credibly succeed Jean Chretien. She had been threatening, more in deed than word, to cross over to the New Democrats if she didn't get the nomination; if she is allowed to do so, it will make a mockery of her weepy last-minute reconciliation to the bosom of Liberaldom, and invite a personal kamikaze attack by Paul Martin's stormtroopers in a labour-heavy riding the NDP's probably glad Valeri won. (Of course, perhaps you think vindictiveness and rage are qualities completely alien to Mr. Martin. If so, perhaps your information is better than mine. And everyone else's.)

    And as an independent candidate, she would face basically the same task she has now failed at, with the same problems, plus an added stigma of treason and an added burden of organizational solitude. She lost a straight fight in a place where everything but the identity of the Liberal leader was working in her favour. Granted, this did mean that the odds were against her, and "straight" Liberal fights bear startling resemblances to corkscrews--but the spell has nonetheless been broken. When a local star stops being a star, what's left? Don't all say "Her remarkable charisma" at once. Being a poor loser doesn't win you many friends in politics, and she's shaping up to be one of the worst on record. No, we probably haven't seen the last of Sheila Copps, but as a mayor of Hamilton or executive director of NAC-SOW, she won't exactly be on TV every single night either.

    - 12:34 am, March 7 (link)

    My supplier is a Jewish carpenter

    Lake Buena Vista, Fla.--After former major leaguer Andy Van Slyke said that 45-year-old Brave Julio Franco must be on steroids, Franco said the only thing he's on is the power of devout faith.

    "Julio Franco is 46 years old [sic]--I've got to believe he's on it," Van Slyke told host Rick Barry on KNBR, the San Francisco Giants' flagship radio station, on Wednesday.

    Told of those comments Thursday, Franco smiled and said, "Tell Andy Van Slyke he's right--I'm on the best juice there is. I'm juiced up every day, and the name of my juice is Jesus.

    "I'm on His power, His wisdom, His understanding. Andy Van Slyke is right. But the thing he didn't mention was what kind of steroids I'm on. Next time you talk to him, tell him the steroid I'm on is Jesus of Nazareth."

    So he takes it on Sunday with the Eucharist, eh? Very smart. That's the last place they'd check! It seems a little traitorous for a Christian to drag Jesus into this BALCO mess, though--people might start wondering whether that little set-to in the Temple with the moneychangers was just a case of roid rage...

    Of course, as you may have read, Jeff Kent already tried to implicate the Jesus of Baseball in the steroid scandal the other day.

    "Babe Ruth didn't do steroids," Kent told the Houston Chronicle. "How do you know? People are saying Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth... how do you know those guys didn't do steroids? So all of a sudden you've got guys doing steroids now in the 20th century, 21st century? Come on."

    It's a thrilling idea--a desperate Babe, his power slowly running down in the '30s, travelling in haste to Switzerland in the off-season to consult secretly with Leopold S. Ruzicka. "C'mon, Doc! You've got to have something for me!"

    A lot of people have laughed at Kent, and rightly so, but few have pointed out that there are anecdotal reasons to think that the Babe may have tampered with his lumber, rather than his hormones...

    - 6:19 pm, March 5 (link)

    No Longer Manufacturing CO2 Dept.

    Former Edmonton alderman, Toronto council candidate, and world-touring environmentalist Richard "Tooker" Gomberg has recycled himself at the age of 48. He will be remembered as the first, and to date only, member of city council to have installed an active compost heap in his office.

    - 3:11 pm, March 5 (link)

    In today's Post I've written about reforming the Canada Pension Plan by increasing the age of eligibility: our life expectancy has gone up four years since the CPP was introduced, so maybe adding four years to the age-65 cutoff isn't such a bad idea. But you can read the entire column online free; and then you can check out the Taxpayers Federation's new policy paper on the subject, written by Mark Milke.

    Americans might also like to scope the controversial comments made last week by Federal Reserve chairman and earthbound deity Alan Greenspan. "Under current law, and even with the so-called normal retirement age for Social Security slated to move up to 67 over the next two decades, the ratio of the number of years that the typical worker will spend in retirement to the number of years he or she works will rise in the long term. A critical step forward would be to adjust the system so that this ratio stabilizes..."

    When you've ploughed through all that you can come back and read my Post column from last Friday, which talked about the spread of Joe Trippi's ideas to Canadian politics. Here 'tis:

    Oh, to have been invited to a house party! Struggling manfully to accept my C-list status, I learn from the Thursday morning Post that 400 Stronach supporters met the night before in 32 Canadian homes to wolf down Stilton and Merlot and to be connected by telephone to their candidate. Ms. Stronach was installed near a speakerphone and fielded questions from her supporters: One trusts she demonstrated more convincingly than she did at the weekend debate that she was, indeed, live and not Memorex. One also trusts that the partygoers had the courtesy not to ask anything in French.

    But what's this quote at the end of the piece? "Ms. Stronach ... credited the 'young people' in her campaign with coming up with the idea for the house party."

    "Young people" could mean a lot of things, but the correct translation here is almost certainly "extravagantly-paid Conservative spin doctors." The simulcast Belinda-bash is a transparent effort to reprise the house parties pioneered by the Democratic presidential campaign of former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Since Gov. Dean was shut out humiliatingly in the actual primaries, it's easy to see why Ms. Stronach declined to acknowledge the real genesis of the idea. Though it's always possible she just didn't know.

    This is an interesting moment in Canadian politics, and may be significant for the wider democratic world. Gov. Dean's campaign manager was Joe Trippi, a guy from Los Angeles who caught the political bug as a teenager watching Robert F. Kennedy at work in 1968. Mr. Trippi came on board the stagnant Dean campaign and used the power of networking -- specifically, the untapped power of the Internet -- to turn it into the most powerful fundraising engine in Democratic politics. In a matter of weeks the unknown New Englander from every West Wing fan's wet dreams was the undisputed frontrunner. A few verbal gaffes and freaky war whoops later, he met a fate almost as unkind as RFK's.

    Now there is a hot theoretical debate over whether Mr. Trippi (who was fired when things turned sour) was really a genius let down by his candidate, or whether his new campaigning techniques were a harmful distraction. The Trippi approach was to position Dean as the Democrat who "listens": the governor even changed his platform several times in mid-campaign according to the feedback from his Web portal. Mr. Trippi proved that enough people now trust the Net with their credit-card information for a candidate to be able to raise unfathomable millions online. He also tried to prove that the Net could be used as an unstoppable organizing tool -- but here the results were questionable. The throngs of motivated and connected Dean supporters who were supposed to blitz the Iowa caucuses and stake their man to an early lead never showed up.

    Belinda Stronach is also very visibly trying to be the candidate who "listens." But -- irony alert! -- the Deaniac techniques she is borrowing only show how heavily she is mortgaged to her headline-watching advisors. And while the deal Stephen Harper signed giving equal weight to ridings instead of votes in the Conservative runoff may yet be his undoing, Ms. Stronach's approach suggests more strongly than ever that her old-Tory cabal is a tone-deaf cargo cult awash in faddism.

    These people looked silly enough lining up behind a candidate who didn't know how to deliver a written speech properly. Now they are borrowing strategies from the disaster of the century in American politics. I personally believe that Joe Trippi is closer to genius than madman, but the Belinda Stronach campaign seems like the worst possible place to road-test his approach. The early verdict on the Dean campaign must surely be that it was great at raising money and awful at converting money into votes. Ms. Stronach already has more money than God. The Dean campaign was designed to turn a huge fund of grassroots energy into practical political power. Ms. Stronach is an invented candidate with no track record, creates genuine excitement only amongst men with a fetish for icy blondes, and speaks in a halting monotone that is the opposite of Gov. Dean's improvisational, impassioned bluster.

    However you interpret Trippi-ism -- as a failed idea, or as a great idea undone by a weak candidate -- there is no logical way for it to work here. If Gov. Dean was weak, then Belinda Stronach, despite discernible improvements, can only be described as halfway between "feeble" and "cadaverous." Gov. Dean attracted attention, as generations of bright Democratic party comets have done before him, with promises to "take back the White House" from overmighty moneyed interests. Ms. Stronach is an overmighty moneyed interest.

    Logic is rarely, if ever, the strong suit of professional political advisors. They are creatures of habit, folklore, and intuition, and since the public manifestly doesn't think clearly, they can't afford to. The new Conservative party certainly can't afford to be the last one to try new tactics. If ends in tears, its novel ideas can be surgically extracted for the greater Conservative good. But remember: The trick is to figure out which ones are actually worth keeping. (Feb. 27, 2004)

    - 11:54 am, March 5 (link)

    Hey ladies

    And while we're talking of charts, have a look at this scatter diagram of economic globalization vs. gender equality, as measured by the UN in 50 or so countries. Sure, it's the UN, they pull these numbers out of their butts... but are feminist opponents of globalization capable of making the case that the elegant information presented herein is untrustworthy? Without dropping dead of pure hypocrisy, I mean. Note that the United States is positioned higher on the gender-related development index than the touchy-feely Dominion. Shame, shame on us!

    I got this link from the Swedish classical-liberal Johan Norberg, who notes a new Swedish book against Islamism entitled Det är demokratin, dumbom! I'm no master of Scandinavian languages, but can he be telling us "It's the democracy, stupid"?

    - 9:47 pm, March 4 (link)

    Review and preview

    Speaking of sports, Dave at is now playing around actively with the Cosh bubble diagram (he likes it better with polygons instead of bubbles). I've got some pretty weird findings about the NHL playoffs I need to write up--there'll be a link here when I get around to it. In the meantime, let me pose this teaser: how would you feel about a Montreal-Boston conference final in the East this year?

    - 6:02 pm, March 4 (link)

    Who says you can't go home again

    Well, the Oilers called my bluff. A month after I criticized the front office for trading away hard-luck Finnish goalie Jussi Markkanen, what do they do but go out and grab Markkanen and Petr Nedved from the Rangers in exchange for a bag of sunflower seeds. Funnily enough, I believe intellectually that the Oilers' playoff run is probably doomed this time around; I might not have recommended this trade. But I'm foursquare behind the boys, and I have a soft spot for Soviet defectors like Nedved. Now I just need Jussi to make me look like a genius.

    - 8:37 am, March 4 (link)

    Anno donaldi

    If there's a good deal of ruin in a nation, there must be more yet in an established multinational food giant like McDonald's--not that there is any company like McDonald's. But as marketing ideas go, narrowing your menu to make yourself more popular seems like an unusually strong sign of no longer knowing which end is up.

    There hasn't been a slow-motion corporate disaster like this since New Coke. Consider how much of McDonald's marketing is already predicated on tacit nostalgia--feed your kids the same slop you loved! (McDonald's non-nostalgic advertising is simply self-defeating; some of it joins in the perpetual churn of therapeutic hectoring that can only drive customers away, and the rest merely insults the intellect.) This approach is a hidden preview of the endgame, a glimpse into the future at a dramatically shrunken North American McDonald's that serves Big Macs as a gustatory oddity for $10 and actually reintroduces Super-Sized fries as an ironic treat for 55-year-old Gen-Xers.

    The brand is already dead in North America, though it will flourish abroad for generations as a symbol of America. The right corporate strategy here is to turn a certain fraction of the restaurants into style-conscious "Classic McDonald's"-es and radically reinvent the supply-chain procedures in the rest so that they can serve fresh, customized food as healthy as the consumer wants it. (Gasp! Is that... a tomato I spy?) How long it will be exactly before the chain is in enough agony to grasp this nettle, I don't know.

    - 5:59 am, March 3 (link)

    Just carve "Editor, columnist, and inventor" on the tombstone

    Wow... maybe the Cosh bubble diagram for pitchers is my best crack at immortality through eponymity. The long-suffering rooters on the Red Sox Nation forums are now generating their own versions, charting the career paths of individual pitchers like Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens (and adding wrinkles like changing the dot colour when the player gets traded). Superb! While I still have some influence over my brainchild, let me suggest that manufacturers of these diagrams might like to consider getting rid of the indicator lines on the chart parallel to the X-axis, and instead add sloping lines passing through the origin and showing various K/BB ratios.

    - 10:57 pm, March 1 (link)

    Call for the Somerset Maugham suite

    The Volokh Conspiracy is trying to get to the bottom of whether the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia refuses to grant visas to Jews. There's been an intriguing, semi-related development in the chess world just this week.

    As I've mentioned a couple of times here, the chess elite is currently trying to unify the sport's world championship title, an essential element of credibility for promoting and marketing the game. Chess needs a single champion in the tradition of Karpov, Fischer, Botvinnik, Tal, and Capablanca. For the past few years there has been a traditional-style head-to-head champion (currently the Russian Vladimir Kramnik) and also several annual, separate world champions recognized by FIDE, the old but somewhat discredited governing body of chess. FIDE and the great grandmasters are basically trying to get their act together, but progress has been slow.

    A world championship semifinal has been arranged for this fall between Kramnik and Hungary's Peter Leko. FIDE is supposed to arrange its own playoff to select a combatant to face the world's strongest player, Garry Kasparov, in another semifinal. FIDE is currently run and bankrolled by the autocratic strongman of the Republic of Kalmykia, the extremely dodgy Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Ilyumzhinov has been aggressive about placing high-level chess tournaments in curious corners like Tehran and Saigon, and now he has declared his intention to bring the invitational FIDE playoff to Tripoli. The only hitch is that Libya won't admit Israeli nationals, and it is unlikely it would admit anyone with an Israeli stamp in his passport.

    This is--to understate the matter--a big problem for a Category XVIII+ chess tournament. Chessplayers are somewhat notorious for following the smell of money and suppressing conscience when necessary, but participating in the hasty rehabilitation of Colonel Gadhafi may be a bit much to swallow, whether for Jewish players or anyone else with a lingering sense of common decency. (Will British GM Mickey Adams want to bow, scrape, and smile in the longtime safe harbour of the Lockerbie suspects?) Ilyumzhinov says he hopes to smooth over the problem, but there is talk of sequestering excluded players in Malta if necessary and holding the games involving them there. This would seem to involve logistical improbabilities (non-excluded players crossing the Mediterranean overnight to their next game?), not to mention new questions about exactly what brand of crack Ilyumzhinov is smoking.

    - 10:32 pm, March 1 (link)

    I'd like to spank the Academy...

    My thoughts on the bissextile Oscar ceremony cannot be of much interest, since I hadn't followed the race and have seen hardly any of the nominated movies. I do think the telecast gets better every year. The producers have gradually been stunned into learning that the show is television and not cabaret, and they have almost completely stopped bullying the winners with obtrusive music cues--not only because winners now come prepared with short speeches, but also, I think, because it's been realized that the speeches are the memorable, important part of the show. Long gone, and little regretted, are the condescending, doltish, five-minute, Cinema-for-Dummies explanations of why exactly there is an award for Best Achievement in Editing. Now they just sort of go "Editing is pretty important: here are the nominees." Christ, thank you for figuring out that the public has been watching movies for a hundred fucking years and now understands some of the rudiments of the form.

    Like everyone else, I'd like for Billy Crystal to assume the post of permanent host, which he could have for the asking. I don't know why he has so much trouble accepting that this is the job he was born to do, and that people like him better in it more than they will Analyze This VI: Analyze Anything. No doubt it's very taxing and challenging to host the Oscars, but they come only once a year. You don't hear Santa Claus whining about his goddamn job.

    There is usually more disappointment than delight in an Oscar ceremony. I was willing to tolerate the much-deserved New Zealand Film Industry Reunion, but Michael McKean and Annette O'Toole ought to have won Best Song for "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow", a song which sends up Ian & Sylvia with unsparing accuracy and yet manages to be at least as charming as the finest productions of its target--not to speak of the pivotal narrative role it played in A Mighty Wind. Instead, the statuette was given to some piece of lugubrious orchestral frippery from the closing credits of Lord of the Rings. This crosses the line between due recognition of a daring achievement and some kind of wild elf-madness.

    And Bill Murray, who in all justice could have four or five Oscars by now, was robbed (and even slightly humiliated) in order to pay back Sean Penn for going back on foolish threats to retire from acting and chalking up a couple hundred days without having assaulted anyone. Whatta sport! I haven't even seen Lost in Translation or Mystic River, but how many of these Method-acting intensity guys is Bill Murray worth, honestly? Honestly?

    I await grimly the self-back-patting of the Canadian government, which was thanked for its support during the victory speech for Les Invasions Barbares. It is the first Canadian movie ever to win Best Foreign-Language Film, an award first presented in 1947. By all accounts Invasions is a remarkable movie, but Canadian government support of feature films may still bring to mind the old Latin saying "The mountains laboured, but delivered only a mouse."

    - 1:30 am, March 1 (link)

    In today's National Post: I talk about a most unwelcome export from the United States--privacy-eroding file-sharing lawsuits by the record industry. Here's last week's column about Tony Clement's celebrated tax plan.

    Conservative leadership candidate Tony Clement has been making waves with a campaign promise he calls JumpStart 250: He wants to make the first $250,000 of a person's lifetime earnings tax free. I can't possibly be the only 32-year-old in Canada -- the only one to have crawled painfully past the quarter-million line after a decade or so of toil and uncertainty -- to have had the reaction, "Hey, chuck you, Farley." But since I may be the only one with a newspaper column, I feel obliged to go on record.

    One must note that Mr. Clement's tax break for twentysomethings is presented amid an ambitious and attractive plan of tax cuts for everybody. He wants to gradually crank down the lowest rate to 15%, move the threshold for the middle bracket to $50,000 a year, have the top rate kick in only at $100,000 and increase RRSP contribution limits. This is radical stuff, and he thinks he can make it work while running a balanced budget and boosting health transfers and defence spending. One assumes -- or, rather, deduces -- that his vague talk of "cutting waste" in government is code for a delightful arson spree against Liberal programs. He deserves credit for being less elliptical than his opponents about tax reform.

    And I hate to criticize a guy for making daring policy proposals, or, above all, for doing something to explicitly address the brain drain. All that said, giving a special and total tax break to new wage-earners might not be the best way of addressing the generational inequities in our welfare state. Let's start by getting rid of those inequities, instead of larding the system with counter-inequities. My comfortable retirement has already been stolen and given to a public school teacher somewhere: It's unlikely that anyone can change that now. But Tony's special solicitousness about taxpayers in the bloom of their 20s adds insult to injury. He wants to dramatically downsize government, but would nonetheless shift more of the burden for what's left onto the ageing Generation X.

    A nice novelty, this, to be greeted with in one's post-prime, along with hair loss and back pain. Sure, I'm making a selfish argument here -- just as the cherry-cheeked youngsters who support the Clement plan are making a selfish argument. The difference is, only one of us is making a selfish argument for equal treatment.

    I acknowledge the Canadianistic cleverness in recasting young wage-earners as a victim group, and therefore deserving of a government preference, but everyone who pays taxes in this country is a victim, whether he be 50 or 20. Mr. Clement's proposal may be meant as a ploy to capture the loyalty of college students, who have plenty of spare time for the scut-work of campaigning and who are more likely to be radical conservatives than entitlement-rich Baby Boomers are. He is probably aware that Stephen Harper may well be given one chance to lead the party into an election, but if Mr. Harper doesn't overturn the Liberal majority, he probably won't get a second one. In the meantime, if we're stuck with five more years of Liberal cancer, Mr. Clement can spend the whole time preaching the gospel of JumpStart 250.

    Economically, it's puzzling to see a conservative smuggling a new, hidden element of progressivity into the tax system when, judging by his rhetoric, he seems more determined than anyone else to flatten it. For most people, the first $250,000 they earn is the $250,000 they earn slowest (God, I hope this proves true for me). In his Feb. 19 speech to the Confederation Club of Kitchener, Mr. Clement pointed out that "Right now the Liberals increase your taxes by almost 40% the moment you make more than $32,000." I find this sort of redistributionist hurdle pretty irritating myself, but how much more irritating is it to replace it with one based -- rather weirdly -- on prior earnings? The Liberals will surely be able to come after Prime Minister Clement in 2008 with the charge that once you've earned $250,000 altogether, he increases your taxes by a ratio that actually works out to infinity.

    As far as the long-term future of conservatism goes, JumpStart 250 would accomplish one very bad thing: It would eliminate the salutary sticker-shock young people now experience when they join the labour force. How many left-skewed hazy-headed goofballs graduate from university every year, find an entry-level job they think will provide a decent lifestyle, and have their political universe turned upside-down by the hole in that first paycheque? I'd hate to think those people will have their much-needed consciousness-raising delayed for five to 10 years.

    Really, it would only take one change to make JumpStart 250 a perfectly sound idea, and a much bolder one: We take away the tax burden from young wage-earners, and take away their vote, too. Quid pro quo.(Feb. 23, 2004)

    - 12:46 am, March 1 (link)