Main Index Page
About Your Host
Send Me E-Mail
Browse the Archives
Read My Work
ARCHIVES for MAY 2003
Boy, this old-fashioned Conservative convention is actually shaping up to be kind of fun. I must be one of about ten people actually watching it out West. It isn't much noted that the Tories bucked the national trend by reverting to a delegated voting system, apparently to prevent David Orchard from rustling up enough support from outside the party to throw a scare into the real Conservatives. Not very "democratic" of them, is it?
Craig Chandler, a social-conservative self-promoter from Calgary whose participation in the PC race must be considered a bizarre form of meta-insincerity, tried to set off a "bombshell" (his term) last night by dropping out of the race in his candidates' speech and throwing his support to fellow Calgarian Jim Prentice, the "unite-the-right" candidate. Chandler is said to have had two or three delegates out of the few thousand on hand. He complained that he couldn't support Peter MacKay, the frontrunner, because MacKay has been pushing hard in the House of Commons for the new bill making sexual orientation a forbidden grounds of discrimination under the Criminal Code's hate-speech provisions. Chandler is right to be horrified by this, but he apparently said something to the effect that the bill would criminalize parts of the Holy Bible--which may be true, but is a terribly unhelpful contribution to the debate: it reduces freedom of expression to a so-con issue. (Although hardly anybody but "social conservatives" ever speaks up for free speech in this country, so perhaps they're entitled to political ownership of the cause, at that.) Prentice accepted the "gift" from Chandler with expressions of distaste, and vaguely mouthed support for the expansion of hate-crime law. Brison, who is gay, used the occasion to snipe at MacKay, pointing out that MacKay's deputy campaign chairman is batty old Elsie Wayne, who wished aloud earlier this month that gays and lesbians would "shut up" about their orientation, asked "Why are they in [pride] parades?", and called same-sex marriage "nonsense".
This creates an interesting dynamic. What we supposedly know about today's first ballot, since it's the one most of the delegates are publicly committed for, is this MacKay will be at the top (the over-under is around 40%) and that Orchard will be in second place (in the neighbourhood of 25%). Brison and Prentice are friendly, so are their camps, and they have remained in close contact throughout the convention. Their vote, about 35% of the total, will probably migrate toward one man or the other on the second ballot (or the third, at the latest), and then it'll be an open fight for whatever Orchardites remain on the floor. (Many have said they'll just go home if their candidate drops out.)
Simple enough, if what we've been told about first-ballot delegate support is correct. But will Brison drop out and go to Prentice, or will Prentice drop out and send his people to Brison? Right now Brison is expected to finish the first ballot in fourth place. But Brison, with the strong enviromentalist streak in his platform, might have an easier time of attracting Orchardite loose-fish and overtaking MacKay. And there's a third possibility: former party president Peter van Loan is suggesting on CPAC that Brison would actually throw his support to MacKay, though that seems unlikely--honestly, it stretches credulity somewhat--after he spent Thursday trashing his fellow Nova Scotian. It should be an interesting day, perhaps a long one, and I cannot see that MacKay has the thing locked up quite yet.
The streetlight-people party
Caught a couple of the Tory candidates' final speeches last night, though not as many as I would have liked. I have to confess that I got distracted by Conflict: Desert Storm. Every so often I have to cleanse my thinking apparatus with a temporary computer-game addiction. Normally I don't like squad-based shooters, but C:DS has a comforting mundanity to it. It almost qualifies as "bad in a good way". See the Iraqi, kill the Iraqi.
I did get to see David Orchard drill the point home for the nth time that his stubborn, eccentric nationalism is in the long main line of Conservative history stretching from Sir John A. as far as John Diefenbaker. Unfortunately, it sounded a discordant note at a Tory convention where everyone was gathered to celebrate the free-trading old guard: Joe Clark was the guest of honour, Brian Mulroney was allowed to show himself at the podium and advance his historical rehabilitation one tiny step further, and Peter Lougheed introduced the candidates. Lougheed revealed himself to be the sharpest man in the room, as he has been in most rooms he's visited throughout his long life. One of CPAC's reporters approached Lougheed after he concluded his remarks and asked him why he hadn't said anything about "uniting the right". "Because we're not on the right," barked the jowly old state-capitalist, conveying the unspoken concluding "dammit" in tone of voice alone. "We're Progressive Conservatives." After all these years he hasn't lost the plot for a minute: like him, the party is large, it contains multitudes--or has room for 'em, anyhow, but just try getting 'em to buy a membership.
Orchard led off his speech by saying, if I may paraphrase, that a lot of people figured he'd leave the party when Clark beat him out in the last leadership contest, but here he still was, five years later, bringing new people and different ideas into the fold. What pathos: Orchard once seemed to have a chance at taking over the Tory machine, but he is now trapped in its gears, serving solely as a means of giving form to the animating paradox at the Forward Backward Party's core. You see, we'll even let his kind in the door. There isn't even any hope that the evident dynamism of his teenybopper troopers can be made useful to the old tie-wearing tight-money cheap-labour GDP-obsessed Conservative class. The R.B. Bennett monocle just doesn't look right with a tie-dyed shirt.
Yet you wish David's Kids would win, and not just because Orchard would be entertaining in Parliament or a useful foil for the Alliance. (One of my Alliance-voting co-workers told me today "I'm an Orchard man all the way!") You wish they'd win because the commitment of other Conservatives to keeping up appearances--we're ready to run this country just as soon as the electorate comes to its senses--is actually becoming a bit frightening, a sort of political version of Miss Havisham's cobwebby wedding cake. The Kim Campbell fiasco is ten years ago now (Kim Campbell? Sorry, never heard of the fellow) but the mourning coats still get a weekly pressing. Has the Governor-General sent a note yet...? We're the party that built the CPR, you know. Man, if I hear one more Conservative talk about the CPR as though he, his own self, had been out there driving the spikes alongside the Chinese navvies, I'm going to lose control of my bowels.
Peter MacKay's was the other speech I heard, and it was short on such nonsense. Indeed, it was a rather inspiring kamikaze attack on Paul Martin ("He's got enough political baggage to sink a steamship!"--cue wild applause). The man has an ounce of oratorical instinct, which is an ounce more than most present-day politicians possess. Only his introductory music by U2 reminded you of the sinister nebulousness of his campaign platform: be careful, Peter, people are gradually copping to the fact that Bono is the Antichrist. But even this was redeemed with a graceful musical segue into psephological note-perfection: Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" (from the 1981 album Escape, as you of course already know). OK: I realize this stops just short of outright plagiarism of the Clinton-Gore campaign's much-praised use of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)". But where the choice of the Mac song risked transporting American listeners back to the days of Carter malaise, "Don't Stop Believin'" is a psychically unimpeachable selection for a Canadian Tory. By October of '81, the issue of Quebec separatism had been settled--for a while--and it had become apparent that the rudimentary counting error which brought down the Clark government had been a blessing in disguise. Reagan and Thatcher had opened up a heroic era for conservatives in the English-speaking world. All their breathless Canadian followers had to do was wait for the Liberals' lease to run out.
Of course, if anyone wishes to detect a note of desperation in the faux-prole optimism of "Don't Stop Believin'", I can't stop him. Nor can I take any responsibility for reader interpretations of the verse that goes--
Some will win, some will lose
The boy who cried "debt"?
G. Beato writes an entry urging readers to help Fantagraphics Books, the leading publisher of graphic novels and/or what used to be called "underground comics", out of a financial pickle. G. is a stickler for accuracy, so he won't mind my pointing out that when he says "Fantagraphics needs $80,000 in a month to avoid going bankrupt", he is torquing the original cry for help slightly. [UPDATE, June 2: He has since amended the text.] Fantagraphics employee Dirk Deppey refers to "possible bankruptcy" and pastes in a press release which uses the B-word not at all, except in referring to the creditor who went belly-up and left the company holding a useless note for $70,000.
This may not be of general interest, but I bring the matter up because I've acquired a lot of experience watching the fate of financially imperiled publishing enterprises. Here's the worst-case scenario actually sketched in the presser:
Over the last few weeks, we've worked to fix our in-house problems (which included, most painfully, laying off several fine and long-term employees). We have put in place a system of checks and balances by which we will watch our inventory growth scrupulously. But, we have a debt to pay down and wolves at the door. It's so severe that this month we envisaged shutting down our active publishing, seeking outside investors, or similarly odious measures. (Fantagraphics continues to be owned 100% by Messrs. Gary Groth and Kim Thompson. We'd like it to remain that way.)
Emphasis mine. Groth and Thompson specify that their business is basically profitable, but that they just have too much debt. All they need is time to turn their inventory into cash. If this is true, they presumably wouldn't have any trouble demonstrating it to a prospective investor, if that weren't such an "odious" prospect. Comics fans will, I think, be sympathetic to Groth and Thompson's desire not to go hunting for a white knight. Outside investors have a nasty habit of wanting a say in running things, and we comics consumers, by and large, like the way things are already run at Fantagraphics: they're keeping a great American art form alive single-handed. So, yes, you should round up the spare change in your couch and invest in some books--but only on the understanding that Groth and Thompson are really just asking you to help them hang onto 100% of Fantagraphics instead of 51%. That's not quite the same, and not quite as urgent, as helping them "avoid going bankrupt."
Hinterland What's What
Consider Alberta's response to the SARS epidemic in Toronto. When the feds pumped $20 million into helping Ontario tourism to recover from the outbreak, Alberta officials praised the move. Other federal SARS sweeteners--including mortgage deferrals and even special loans from the ever-helpful Business Development Bank of Canada--have been politely overlooked. TransAlta Utilities, which is based in Calgary, stubbornly insisted on going ahead with plans to hold its April 30 general meeting in Toronto. On April 24 provincial health minister Gary Mar offered Ontario access to Alberta operating-room space to take the pressure off of cramped Toronto-area hospitals and even said that Alberta public-health workers could be sent to relieve their exhausted Eastern counterparts.
The goodwill gestures were inconsistent--Alberta companies other than TransAlta have been limiting business travel to Ontario, for example--but the spirit was recognizable, anyway. Today, Alberta--whose cattle exports to the United States and other markets are under moratorium because of a single cow found to have had bovine spongiform encephalopathy--received news of its reward.
Ontario Agriculture Minister Helen Johns is looking at ways the province could prevent Prairie cattle from entering her province. Some officials in Ontario think that by keeping their province's herds free of possible mad cow contamination they might be able to export beef again to the U.S. and other world markets.Oh... uh... right, then, no help there. Can't blame them for pressing their advantage, I suppose. But surely the federal government is on our side?
Ottawa's decision not to waive the two-week waiting period for employment insurance for laid-off beef industry workers, was criticized Thursday by Saskatchewan's premier... Federal Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart, who waived the waiting period for workers affected by SARS, said enough measures are already in place to help workers affected by the mad cow situation. "There are other aspects of the employment insurance system that are there," she said during question period in the House of Commons. "They are there and working well." The discovery of mad cow in Canada last week has brought about layoffs for 1,000 pack plant and feedlot workers, among others.
That's how Canada works: we're all in this together, except when we're not.
An onomastic difficulty
Damian Penny has more on the plight of the Davis Inlet Innu.
The great Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has demonstrated how the people of the Third World can lift themselves out of poverty through the freedom to own their own property and develop it as they see fit. Canadian aboriginals need their own Hernando de Soto.
They do--though it's hard to imagine North American Indians appreciating one who happens to be named "Hernando de Soto", damn the luck.
Unauthorized future excerpt
TORONTO (May 28) - The A-list of Canadian musical superstars, including Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, and the Barenaked Ladies, will headline a Toronto-boosting concert in the wake of the city's SARS crisis. The six-hour concert on June 21 will be a one-night performance. It will be staged simultaneously at two venues--the Air Canada Centre and the SkyDome--to accommodate 70,000 people. Acts include the Tragically Hip, Swollen Members, Remy Shand, Glenn Lewis, Sum 41 and Our Lady Peace. Neil Young and Shania Twain are rumored to be some of the acts that will be added in coming weeks. "We want summer to start with a real bang, something that's going to bring a lot of rockin' and poppin' and all that," Brian Coburn, Ontario's minister of tourism, said Wednesday as he announced the show.
Well, I just got back from the concert--alive!--and I simply couldn't be more pleased with the results of all our hard work. As Minister of Tourism I never expected to find myself in the position of some sort of "rock music" impresario. (The little woman's been making a lot of Phil Spector jokes lately.) When I took this portfolio, I was told I'd be spending most of my time approving brochures and making sure the Visitor Information Centres remained sanitary. But I think the thousands of young people who turned out tonight would agree that the big show was both fab and gear.
Sure, there were a few hitches. I'm told Neil Young is very popular with the kids, but in my day the big music stars at least knew how to sing in tune!!! Honestly! And despite everyone's insistence to the contrary, I'm pretty sure the crowd was chanting "F--- Ernie Eves" during the set by those "punk" youngsters, or possibly those other ones--can't tell 'em apart, too busy laughing at the hairdos! But like I'm going to tell the premier tomorrow, there's no such thing as bad publicity. You can't even chant "F--- Dalton McGuinty"! It wouldn't scan! The kids can say what they like, as long as they vote the right way if we ever get around to holding another election.
When I introduced the Barenaked Ladies (don't worry, it's not how it sounds!), I told the crowd: "Hey, Ontario, are we gonna let a few dead Chinese folks stop us from having a real blammo, blasto, wham-o party with plenty of snappy grooves? Jeepers, no!" Because that's the kind of province this is. In the middle of an epidemic, you can pack people three to the square metre into your largest public buildings, and nobody gives it a second thought! They're too busy rockin' and poppin'! Anyway, truth be told, I was more worried about possibly catching a disease off those "punk" kids. The delightfully translucent biohazard suit Shania was wearing seemed like a good idea--even if it did lack a certain dignity--but it wouldn't have looked right for me to show the gnawing fear that is slowly corroding our bones here in this mismanaged, demented urban hellhole... God, why did I ever leave Cumberland?...
Ha ha ha! Whoa! Well, if you can't be straight with your diary, who can you be straight with? Anyway, if the Ministry of Health's projections are right, I'll be back in Cumberland this time next year, probably leading a ragtag militia's efforts to fend off waves of pestilential urban refugees and protect a diminishing food supply. Honestly, it doesn't sound all that different from when I was mayor before. And if I never have to hear those "Tragically Hip" fellows again, I'll consider it a damned fair bargain. And with that, Diary, I'm off to bed.
Hockey page special: Le Roy est mort. -2:33 am, May 29
From A to Z
A short hockey entry:
On an alphabetical list of every person who has played in the NHL, the first name is that of the Finnish centre Antti Aalto. On the same list, the last name is that of Russian defenceman Andrei Zyuzin. If Anaheim and New Jersey had arranged things a little more carefully, we could have had a Stanley Cup showdown between the league's Alpha and its Omega. Aalto, who skated for the Jokerit in Helsinki this year, is still the property of the Mighty Ducks, and Zyuzin started this year with the Devils before being traded to Minnesota.
Baseball bonus! Where were the Slate fact-checkers, if they have any, when Charles Pierce made the assertion that
[t]his weekend, [Roger Clemens] will do something that only 20-odd pitchers in the history of baseball have done, and something that may not be done again in our lifetime.
Greg Maddux of the Braves has 276 wins as I type these words, is still just 37 years old, has been preposterously durable since going to Atlanta, and scattered three hits over seven innings in his most recent start. If Mr. Pierce can keep breath in his body until about August of 2004, he--and we--will most certainly see Greg Maddux pass 300 wins.
Brian Hutchinson reveals in the Tuesday National Post that spending $152 million to uproot the Innu residents of Davis Inlet hasn't ended the ongoing drama--just changed its setting. The peg for the story is a wave of vandalism that is delaying efforts to complete the move, which Indian and Northern Affairs undertook without adequate preparation. But more important is what's behind the vandalism:
RCMP Acting Corporal John Letourneau, the most senior police officer based in [the new model town of] Natuashish, said acts of vandalism "have been pervasive and on-going" since the Mushuau Innu began their move last December from Davis Inlet, a miserable shantytown some 15 kilometres away, on Labrador's rugged eastern coast.Moving the Innu to new digs was supposed to cure this sort of thing, because, as we all know, poverty is the root cause of everything from international terrorism to plantar warts.
A modern, fully equipped town site, Natuashish was billed as a panacea for members of the Mushuau Innu band, who had to endure decades of substandard housing and neglect in their previous location.And why is there overcrowding?
"Our calculation [for new housing needs at Natuashish] was inadequate," said Ian Gray, director of INAC's secretariat for Newfoundland and Labrador. "It was based on population numbers from years ago."This mess relates indirectly to the current struggle between Canada's Indian political class and Robert Nault, the minister responsible for INAC. Nault is currently engaged in trying to push through Indian Act changes that impose financial, electoral, and administrative accountability requirements on Canada's First Nations. These changes will give the minister power to identify and remove corrupt or incompetent band chiefs and councils. Band chiefs and councils mostly seem nervous about this: go figure. The result has been a familiar litany of open threats from the Indian side and some wholly atypical hardassery from Nault's. Nault has been courageous, but in the end the debate is just the latest set of moves in an old zero-sum game: who will control the endless river of tax money that flows into the Other Canada? Fine: Nault is trying to take some authority back for INAC, which is hypothetically accountable to the ultimate source of the money (i.e., us). But as the Davis Inlet-Natushish affair is beginning to demonstrate, and will go on demonstrating if Hutchinson keeps his pen sharp, neither INAC nor Indian leadership can really be trusted to put two and two together.
I mean, where the hell do they find these people to run Indian Affairs? You start shifting an entire town from one place to another without counting the people who fucking live there?
Since Davis Inlet first came to the country's attention in 1993, reporters have been engaged busily in publicizing the woes of a squalid community without ever pointing out, if possible, that its really hellish aspects were of the residents' own making. The more Davis Inlet was used to pad Sunday newsmagazine programs on the CBC, the more were extravagant displays of crime and self-abnegation provoked therein. Finally, after airlifting the town's gas-huffing kids to substance-abuse programs hither and thither without making any headway, the federal government was forced to take the last conceivable measure short of plopping a high-yield nuclear warhead on the town. And it doesn't seem to be working out.
Admittedly, Ottawa is in the position, here, of cleaning up another government's mess. The Innu were rounded up and moved to Davis Inlet in 1967 by the government of Newfoundland--which, of course, had only their best interests at heart: "the... relocation," INAC notes with ill-concealed asperity, "was undertaken to consolidate the community in a more sheltered location with shipping access and to provide adequate housing." Newfoundland never quite lived up to its original 1967 promises to the Innu, so it's hard to begrudge them their new home (though it comes at the expense of nine provinces full of utterly innocent taxpayers), and we may even be able to overlook their inability to keep it from being destroyed as fast as it can be built. But since the 1967 move didn't really solve the Innu's social problems, why should we expect the 2003 one to do the trick? What's the next move in this chess game--shuffling them off to Corner Brook?
New on the hockey page: Marty Brodeur's doing even better than you think. -1:12 am, May 28
A recent entry has been updated. -9:31 pm, May 27
I have this tiny little text file of "Website Items"--things I never got around to writing about for one reason or another. They just kinda sit there, glowing accusingly. This is the danger, for me, of preparing "To Do" lists, even purely mental ones: I don't ever do everything on the list, and then eventually those last few things become enormous psychic obstacles, like library books you're too ashamed to return, or outstanding phone calls you need to make that would just become big, hideous, acrimonious events, if you ever sucked it up and actually made them.
Like there's this one: "[personal] meaning of Pete Townshend". There have been plenty of pegs for a piece about Townshend over the past year or so: I wrote that one down when he first came to the attention of the coppers for visiting a child-porn website, and there have been legal developments every six weeks or so since. I just never got around to writing a lead paragraph, to getting as far as I needed to to be able to pound the thing out. Townshend's genius seems to defy explanation by me. Part of the problem, perhaps the most significant part, is that what I know for sure--the first thought upon which I would try to hang any attempt to write about Townshend--is that routinely lionized icons of the British invasion, figures like John Lennon (handwritten note: "a Liverpudlian boor who grew to believe he was Jean-Paul Sartre") and Mick Jagger ("a mock pimp with the soul of an accountant"), are complex in a much less interesting and shallower way than Townshend. That the history of rock music is impoverished if the Who are allowed to slip between the cracks instead of holding their rightful place alongside the Beatles and the Stones and the Kinks. But, first of all, how do you try to raise Townshend to his proper historic level without merely dynamiting his contemporaries seriatim by means of dismissive inaccuracies? And, secondly, how do you discuss his "special complexity", after the police investigation, without simply being met with sniggers? These seemed, and still seem, like impossible challenges.
Another note that has been torturing me is this one, written in verbal-analogy format:
Science:thought::markets:social orderI wrote that down after starting awake from a deep sleep, but in that form it's not what I really meant, and I'm not sure how to specify what I did really mean, beyond saying that "markets are like science". (I think I was probably inspired on some level by Vernon Smith's comment that markets are "humanity's most significant emergent creation".)
How are markets like science? Science existed for a good long while before, at some point, science became an object of study in itself, resulting in a "revolution" within Western civilization. People became aware of the power and methodology of science more or less simultaneously. Markets, similarly, have always existed, but only recently became an object of study. Adam Smith was the Francis Bacon of markets. The Market-istic Revolution is still ongoing, and it is as important as the Scientific Revolution. There are a lot of people who still don't, and won't, get that. I believe that, at some future time, the authority or credibility of the market as a means of organizing a certain kind of social activity will be taken for granted, much as science's authority or credibility is now taken for granted by those hostile to it. Science is bogusly criticized for not being able to arrive at all possible truths--deemed useless or inferior (or challenged as a quasi-religion) because it is, at any given stage of history, incomplete or imperfect. Similarly, because there are some kinds of social ordering which the market cannot handle, it is sometimes written off (and very often as a quasi-religion) on similar grounds. We will one day--I am certain of this--feel the need to teach economics as a basic subject in schools, as we now teach science. There are lots of these analogies, and I'm sure no one is better equipped to list them than the presumably quite large number of people who are hostile to both the free market and to science.
Yeah, you see the problem. That stuff is all probably pretty obvious. What other notes did I have in this file...? "Beavis & B.". I meant to write about Mike Judge's creation after I saw the Beavis & Butt-Head Do America movie, which flags a little in Act Two but gives us about twenty minutes of pure Great Cornholio at the end to compensate. One of the interesting things about that movie was that Judge had to come to grips with his failing as the creator of a comic tandem; one of his characters was just way more interesting than the other one. Judge ran into the problem that any extra dimension he wanted to add to his characters had to be added to Beavis. I remember the episode where Beavis, out of nowhere, starts autistically reciting southern-Baptist rhetoric he'd apparently picked up in Sunday School. He's spouting Bible lingo like Jesse Jackson on Benzedrine and Butt-Head is egging him on: "Preach on, Brother Beavis!" It was a really subtle way of bringing a background element of the cartoon, its geographic setting, into the foreground; normally you could mistake the boys for imbeciles from Anytown, U.S.A. If you're Mike Judge, you can't assign that kind of random, inspired business to Butt-Head. The Butt-Head character is wrapped up in his own intellectual limitations. That's the source of his humour. Beavis has no behavioral limitations of any kind whatsoever, and creates no expectations: he's practically from outer space. As a viewer I never went five whole seconds without wondering what Beavis was going to say or do next. Moreover, in the scripts, any over-the-top action involving cruelty or malice had to be assigned to Beavis, because we are capable of forgiving him instantly (since he has no concept of causality and doesn't seem to recognize that other human beings really exist). So Beavis ends up carrying nearly all of the comic freight, and Butt-Head is there as a sort of Bob Newhart-esque reactive device--a source of plot impulse--which isn't really an ideal dynamic for a simple comic pairing. I wonder if "Beavis & Butt-Head" aren't being forgotten gradually. "King of the Hill" is certainly a more sophisticated product, but I'm still inclined to think that "B&B" is the greater work of art. I'm a sucker for the spirit of punk.
OTTAWA, May 26 (Reuters) - Canadian Finance Minister John Manley, an underdog in the campaign to become the next prime minister, said on Monday that an income surtax may be needed to inject much needed cash into the public health-care system.Manley isn't going to win anything, of course, but that's what doomed candidates are for--the launching of ugly trial balloons which may or may not be retrieved in the distant future. American readers may be puzzled that a surtax pegged to income would be described as an "insurance premium". Here in Alberta we have long since learned to live with the confusion, since we (wage-earners, that is) already pay a provincial head tax disguised as a "premium". Would we thereby be exempt from the federal "premium"? I wouldn't bet on it.
The un-bylined wire reporter who filed this story finds himself, perhaps inadvertently, serving Manley's interests by describing the proposed "premium" as being a minimum of 50 cents per day. Per day? Advertisers use this trick sometimes: Kool-Aid costs just "pennies a glass" and you can support a swollen-bellied Third World waif for "30 cents a day". But why would a reporter use marketing flummery to promote political programs? Still, that's not even our correspondent's worst sin. He writes:
Canada's health system is legislated and partly funded by the federal government, and administered by provincial governments, which also pay part of the cost.Manley seems so sweetly reasonable when it's put this way: the healthcare system is a creature of the federal government, so why shouldn't the federal government collect health surtaxes and make new demands on the provinces? Unfortunately, a small detail has been left out: the responsibility for healthcare under the Canadian Constitution is strictly provincial, not federal. The federal government does not "legislate" the system (if that even makes grammatical sense); it makes extra funds available to those provinces which agree to observe certain national principles spelled out in the Canada Health Act. The "system" created thereby can certainly be said to have been "legislated" by Ottawa, but the concrete, operating parts of the system--like, say, the hospitals--cannot. Our news-hawk friend can perhaps only be accused of equivocating, but I believe he is subliminally urging upon the reader the historically and legally false view that responsibilities are divided up in healthcare much as they are in Canada's criminal law, which provinces are obliged to administer according to the dictates of federal law (the Criminal Code). The important thing to remember is that the provinces are not bound by the Canada Health Act, as they are by the Criminal Code. The Canada Health Act binds no one but the federal power itself. Constitutionally, Ottawa could not stop a province from rejecting the federal health transfer (as Alberta has considered doing) and replacing its public hospitals with a system of Christian Science Reading Rooms, sex shops, or cunningly disguised death camps.
A little earlier, I was boning up--in preparation for this week's Clash of the Nulls in Toronto--on the various Progressive Conservative leadership candidates. I think if anything demonstrates the depth of my commitment to the work of occasionally interpreting Canada to the wide world, this must. Truth must be pursued down malodorous alleyways sometimes. You all know, I suppose, how I view the surviving Conservatives, taken as a group: they're as evil as the Liberals, only incompetent to boot--the Mafia That Couldn't Shoot Straight. No doubt some individuals are genuinely thrilled that there still exists a political party which is exactly like the Liberals, only with blue signage. (Tory allegiance, for example, may be convenient to interior decorators during certain periodic upheavals of fashion.) But generally most Conservative organizers, workers, and voters may be assumed to fall into one of two groups: (1) pathological status-hounds who consider it easier to get ahead inside an attenuated party structure, and (2) haters of everything associated with western Canada. (Or--to anticipate the objection that Joe Clark is rumoured to have at one time lived in Western Canada--anything associated credibly with the region.)
Scott Brison may, as the National Post has suggested, may be the least stupid of the serious candidates. Yet he has the large-C conservative habit of insisting that anything he favours must be small-c "conservative". On the whole, in this regard, David Orchard has a much better case, since he can argue that his aggressive economic nationalism was a cherished principle of the Conservative Party in 1904. But when have conservatives, with or without the majuscule, argued like this?
Canada, once a world leader on environmental progress, is suffering from an ecological deficit leading many from the environmental community to proclaim the last 10 years to be a "lost decade" for the Environment. Sustainability is the essence of conservatism. [Emphasis mine]
"Sustainability", I would venture, is a concept that existed only in the minds of extremely radical environmentalists as recently as 1980 and has no clearly defined meaning whatsoever. This doesn't stop Brison from telling porkies about Canadian air quality, plumping for tax breaks for ethanol-blended gasoline, and suggesting subsidies for "organic farming", so-called. The ethanol advocacy is particularly cynical; it is not yet clear that generating ethanol from agricultural products results in a net saving of carbon emissions, the effects on groundwater are still being studied, tax subsidies for ethanol have failed to convince Americans to switch in any significant numbers, and many environmentalists are convinced that U.S. government ethanol promotion is just a way to steer more dollars into the pockets of Archer Daniels Midland's shareholders.
Since there's a lot of Canadian money tied up in domestic ethanol manufacturing, and a lot more ready to flow into it if subsidies are placed on the table, this qualifies as mere porkbarreling, perhaps not too harmful (though certainly economically distorting). It isn't a basic error of logic, like that contained in Jim Prentice's education policy.
Using the tax system, we will offer to students in accredited post secondary programs tuition fees up to a maximum of $4000 annually. To minimize administration costs, we will do this by adjusting the existing system of tax credits and deductions. This will also ensure that there is no intrusion on provincial jurisdiction.
Magical thinking at its finest: one is reminded of the giant Cuban ballplayer in the movie Major League who worships at the altar of Jo-Bu in his locker. We see that workers who get post-secondary degrees earn $25,000 more a year: post-secondary hoc, ergo propter hoc. But why go through all the tax folderol? A more economical approach would be to simply print baccalaureate certificates (in French and English, to be sure) on the backs of cereal boxes, thus guaranteeing all Canadians access to the necessary totem, gratis.
And yet: we can forgive a politician who consciously advocates a dubious subsidy, or another whose syllogistic apparatus occasionally fails him. Can we forgive one who evinces a casual attitude to personal liberties? Step forward, Peter MacKay:
Consideration should be given to the development of incentives within the income tax system to reward the efforts of individual citizens who pursue healthy lifestyles.
Fifteen years ago I remember telling people that medicare was necessarily predicated on the state's ownership of our bodies, and that anyone who defended it would, in the long run, be forced to advocate overt soft slavery--"incentives", that is, for "citizens" to pursue state-approved "healthy lifestyles". Such "incentives" are already in place, of course; the friendly neighbourhood cop is too busy handing out seat-belt and motorcycle-helmet tickets to investigate property crimes, and tobacco and marijuana are in the process of changing places on the list of proscribed substances. Liberal politicians have not been hesitant to propose introducing a panoply of totalitarian controls on our "lifestyles", or, as we might prefer to say, our private conduct. But what is Peter MacKay's excuse? Somehow I am confident he would say that "good health is the essence of conservatism".
Imitate him if you dare, world-besotted traveller
Reader J. Martin delivers the astonishing news, after reading the recent entry on narcotizing academic nonsense, that the works of Richard Mitchell, the recently deceased and justly honoured "Underground Grammarian", can be found online for free and consumed without IP guilt. Anyone who knows Mitchell's name will recognize this as an opportunity for celebration.
E pluralitatebus unum
Less than two and a half years after it came to power, the Bush administration, elected by fewer than half of the voters...
That's exactly as far as I was able to get with Stanley Hoffman's feature piece in the new New York Review of Books. I just shuddered to a halt like an industrial machine with busted bearings. And, you know, I don't think I'm especially intolerant in this regard. If Hoffman had written "The Bush administration, chosen by fiat of the Supreme Court", I'd have kept reading quite happily. The decisive involvement of the judicial branch in the election really is a distinguishing historical characteristic of the current administration. But to pretend that American presidents have not been routinely elected with less than half the popular vote since John Quincy Adams... well, that's the sort of thing you can characterize as a declaration of ignorance, at best. Bill Clinton, for one, never got as much as half of the popular vote, though many sources, amusingly enough, round off the 49.24% he received in 1996 to an even 50%. (Is this the "fuzzy math" we used to hear about?) Even the most pathological Clinton-haters rarely used this fact directly to impart a stigma of illegitimacy to his presidency.
Who speaks for Canada?
The Ambler was on CBC Radio One Friday morning, continuing his Diogenes-like search for true Canadian patriotism. The transcript is now available and you can even find a link to the audio if you scroll down far enough.
Shoot me now
"Debb Hurlock is a Ph.D. Candidate in Educational Research at the University of Calgary. Her current research focuses on the pedagogic meaning of the experiences that nursing students have when encountering poetry." Now you, you lucky reader, can go look at what it takes to get a doctorate in education nowadays, thanks to the U of C journal History of Intellectual Culture. No, you won't be able to read the whole thing. Pick any paragraph at random; they all contribute the exact same amount to the overall meaning of the article. Here, I'll start you off:
Epistemology, as it is used here, is a re-conceived position that emphasizes a bringing together of knowing and being. It is a conception that draws on the meaning concile, in its etymological sense of uniting, thus proposed as a uniting of the dichotomy of epistemology and ontology (Hoad 1996). Much of hermeneutics is grounded on the premise of rehabilitation, a going back and recovering the meaning of concepts such as art, history, and prejudice (Altenbernd Johnson 2000; Gadamer 1989). Such rehabilitations are needed to see the formative roles of Wallaces poetry in nursing that it can "expand our own particular understanding" and in the process of expansion that "we also come upon a knowledge of ourselves that could be gained in no other way" (Nussbaum 1990, 252). The experience of poetry is to be taken as a "lived dimension" (Altenbernd Johnson 2000, 20). Although rehabilitation is prevalent in hermeneutics, my working out of epistemology is really a looking back in order to look forward. This is an act of "re-visioning... of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction." It is an act of looking back to understand the assumptions we live in, and until "we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves" (Rich 1979, 35).
Remember: the foregoing is a product of the University of Calgary's Graduate Division of Educational Research. That means I helped pay for it! Wheeee!
New on the hockey page: an Eastern champ is crowned. -11:41 pm, May 23
Slate is on top of the unique uniqueness of the missing Cellini salt-cellar. I could have cried "Advantage: ColbyCosh.com!" triumphantly, but I see my entry on the subject was actually pretty short. That's because my computer ate the original--jeez, that's been happening a fair amount lately. Jim Lewis writes of Cellini:
According to his Autobiography, itself one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance time period, he led an especially colorful life, full of brawls, feuds, and clandestine bouts of buggery. He confessed to three murders and was several times imprisoned... His skills were undeniable, and so was his conniving. He was, in many ways, a monstrous man--a terrible braggart, vain, egotistical, and self-serving. He was obsequious to his benefactors (among them two popes, one of the Medicis, and King Francis I of France) and savagely dismissive of his competitors.
Many of these traits--vanity, violence, perversity, braggadocio--could be ascribed to most of the major figures of the Italian renaissance, though Cellini's autobiography has made him a byword for the whole dizzying package. Not to point out the obvious, but it was a cultural period of justified confidence. Try to imagine how they felt!--Western civilization had laboured under the shadow of classical accomplishments in architecture, art, and engineering for a thousand years. In the space of about fifty, they got it all back--rediscovered everything the Greeks and Romans had known and much else besides. And they did it largely by being stubborn, venomous, ambitious, and generally horrible. A man like Alberti, for instance, simply couldn't have conducted his formal (and at times overdaring, according to Vasari) architectural experiments if he weren't convinced--as he plainly was--that he was the greatest man in one of the world's great ages: a exemplary horseman, exquisite mathematician, and fantastic athlete as well as a pretty decent architect. Hell, of course they thought they were supermen--they were. And when you're convinced that you're a superman, you're bound to behave in some pretty preposterous, Cellinian ways.
In the agora culture of the Italian cities, a craftsman like Cellini would have worked with his door wide open to a dozen men who knew his trade well and hundreds more who fancied that they did. The result was a culture that was collectively, scathingly self-critical. Its greatness was inextricably connected to boldness, acrimony, and one-upmanship. You definitely wouldn't want to have lived in it, except for the minor detail that it was human history's greatest crucible of aesthetic accomplishment. Is it worth being stabbed in a tavern if it's Caravaggio who stabs you?
[UPDATE, May 27: When the Renaissance is mentioned, the Standard Apoplectic Medievalist Response can never be far behind, and it has now been provided by David over at Cronaca. You should read it; there are good reasons the S.A.M.R. exists (and it will go on existing alongside casual reductionism like that admittedly displayed in the foregoing weblog entry). Don't, however, let yourself be convinced that there was no such thing as the Renaissance. The High Middle Ages had their own hard-won cultural accomplishments. When one says that the humans of that time lived in the "shadow" of pagan antiquity, one does not necessarily mean to paint a scene of universal darkness and ignorance, any more than one would if one said that "the people of 1974 lived in the shadow of the Cold War." But with respect to the classical world, the men of the Renaissance had damned good reasons to feel that the milieu had changed suddenly.]
Death on the hoof
Not surprisingly, [Trevor McCrea of Baldwinton, Sask.] has asked himself the barrage of questions that food-safety sleuths will inevitably throw his way in the coming days.I guess I shouldn't be puzzled that the public-relations apparatus of the corporation in this story is screwing up badly while the farmer is handling press inquiries with an almost humbling deftness. After you read Gillis's story, you know beyond all reasonable doubt that the McCreas didn't inflict BSE terror on the Prairies through neglect or conscious malfeasance. But if you're a feed buyer, Feed-Rite's Nixonian bungling already has you wondering, even though there's no indication of any wrongdoing on their part. Is it so freaking hard to put someone on the phone for thirty seconds to say "No, we don't use mammalian tissue in our protein products"? Even if it's a lie, say it!
Minor or major
Ah, piss, I couldn't sleep. I practically passed out, y'know, right around 2-ish there, but then in bed my brain started revving and I couldn't actually drop off. I think I know why this happens, too--it's because I've geared my lifestyle to having a browser window open or a book on the go all the time and my brain's not getting enough time to digest or oxidize or integrate, so when I turn off the lights and lie down it's like Flight of the Frickin' Bumblebee in there. I need to spend more time just ruminating. Not to use a decidedly chancy cud-related metaphor in the midst of these Mad Cow-haunted times or anything.
One of the things I was thinking about was music, from which I've become kind of disconnected this past year or so. My CD collection's gathering a bit of dust. I know this happens naturally to some males at around 30. Partly the weblog has displaced some of the space in the day I used to devote to it. Somewhere along the line I got out of the habit of having music in the background while writing. I don't know if it's led to improvement or not--I would wager not--but I'm more comfortable now being able to hear myself a little better as I work. Part of the problem is that I have a lot of weird quasi-ideological beliefs about music, one of which is that it's undignified or inappropriate not to give music your full attention if possible. Music is not fundamentally for background or scene-setting. I don't even like to treat music that way even when it was created for that purpose. Possibly this is because I have no musical training or ability, not even the casual immersion in participatory music that comes with a churchy upbringing (I didn't have one). So I may have an inappropriately submissive idea of what it takes to make good music. I'm too respectful of the mystery to treat it as a utilitarian appurtenance to life. This doesn't sound bad, but what ends up happening is that I expel music from my life almost completely in favour of books and surfing and this here nonsense.
I think I was reflecting on all this because Dave Stevens was listening to some Björk MP3s at the office today. That got me thinking about the old Sugarcubes records and how pissed off I still am at the snotty fans who thought Stick Around For Joy, their last record, sucked just because it was competent and tight and poppy. They had, y'know, angered the Muses of Punk or something by getting Paul Fox to produce and turning Einar's akvavit bleatings down in the mix. (John McGeoch played on that record, but apparently that doesn't cut any ice.) I thought Björk was a counterintuitive thing for Dave to be listening to, but then later I remembered that Dave has such a catholic taste in music he is practically a holy fool, a St. Francis of Assisi. The only way he could possibly surprise you would be by playing actually lousy, pretentious, spiritually demeaning music. Lots of "bad" music floats through that office door--ephemeral cutout-bin crap--but it always turns out to be really excellent bad music that deserved rescuing, like a crippled but friendly dog. Just working near his office is humiliating because you know you can never be that intrepid and un-self-conscious--yet inerrant, taste-wise--about the music you choose. You could try to mix things up the way he does, but it would just come off as forced and unpleasant.
The world would be a better place if we could all attain Daveness, which is reflected in Dave's endearing, serene personality as well as his music choices, but I prefer to believe it's a quality one is born with; that way I'm saved the effort of working to attain it. I'm too neurotically haunted by issues of geography, class, status, and what-have-you to be like Dave. I was thinking about performing an experiment: taking my CD collection, chucking it in one huge box, and picking out stuff to listen to randomly. Then maybe I'd have a pretext for writing about it here on the site. But that idea is fraught with infringements upon my self-consciousness. Let's face it, you give away a lot about your inner life, immediately, when you start talking about music. People aren't afraid to make snap judgments--hell, I'm certainly not. When I wrote about my nostalgic pilgrimage to a Rush concert a while back, Jim Henley was notably sarky about the matter--perhaps not without justification, although I was a bit surprised he hadn't got the memo that Rush have survived long enough to become semi-respectable, in accordance with the law of longevity that requires us to genuflect before anything that has been terminally unhip for twenty years. Anyway, a bit later I wrote a 1,500-word eyeglazer about Richard Thompson and suddenly, as far as Jim was concerned, I was rehabilitated--which was, if anything, more disconcerting. What kind of hellish psychic roller-coaster ride would I have to undergo if I exposed my audience to the full bandwidth of my record collection? But there would be one advantage to writing about music stochastically; the inevitable apologia for Tales From Topographic Oceans (one of the few records I've actually sat down and listened to for pleasure lately) would hopefully be followed up by something redemptive like a Yo La Tengo EP or Slanted and Enchanted.
Yeah, I know: how can you tell I've been reading Lester Bangs recently. I know Lester would probably advise me to pick the absolute awful-est turd in my whole collection and deliberately write about that first, and in as spectacularly a fuck-you, over-the-top manner as possible. But on the other hand am I maybe better off keeping music marginalized in my lifestyle...? Lester believed that listening to Albert Ayler Live in Greenwich Village made you a better human being, buffed your sharp spiritual corners a little. It is tempting on romantic grounds to think so, as opposed to the elitist alternative suspicion/superstition that the time is better invested in reading Shakespeare or Gibbon or, come to that, Lester Bangs himself. Maybe it doesn't make much difference at all: how do we interpret the datum that Lester died at the age of 33 (an integer hiding just around the corner for me now, though fortunately I don't have a twenty-year history of Romilar abuse working against me) and spent a good chunk of his final weeks grooving to Ghost in the Machine by the Police? From our standpoint, every minute Lester spent tapping his feet to "Rehumanize Yourself" instead of scribbling away is a heart-strangling thing to consider, and while I could be persuaded that for any adult to be subjected to "Rehumanize Yourself" in the first place is a tragedy (no, YOU rehumanize yourself, Sting, you horrendous Tantric prat), the logical conclusion from the premise is that Lester should have spent 18 hours a day at the typewriter and the other six sleeping. That doesn't even make sense.
When I consider my CD collection in the mass, my attitude is "Damn, I've heard most of this stuff at least once already: what's the point?" When I consider the records as individuals it's different, of course: you get insatiable cravings to hear just a few bars of the Smiths or Matthew Sweet. But then I usually just end up weblogging instead. Shrug.
But nicotine slaves are all the same
The Blog Québécois has the iron guts to dissent from the plaudits being heaped upon the coffin of comically surnamed anti-smoking crusader Barb Tarbox, who spent a short life smoking two packs a day (flat Alberta packs, mind--25 nails apiece) and was magically transformed into a "hero" when she got lung cancer and started going on TV to complain about it. She didn't stop smoking, however--and that's fair enough, since it wouldn't have done her much good at that point. Mostly she just went round to schools telling kids not to start smoking, which is largely unobjectionable. What was objectionable were the occasional side trips in the Farewell to Earth Tour in which she stamped her hollow-cheeked visage on attempts to outlaw smoking in bars and other "public" places. The force of the argument seemed to be that because she couldn't resist smoking fifty cigarettes a day (and it did her in, as surely as eating ten Big Macs a day would have), no one else should be permitted to have any. Is there a tackier way to die than trying to prevent others from re-enacting your own suicide?
I must say, I much preferred my own school's ultra-light form of anti-tobacco propaganda. Merle Travis's country tune "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" was a favourite of a guitar-plunking grade-four teacher with a rich baritone who was just as happy to leave off the math lessons for an impromptu hootenanny as we students were. I hope someone got a chance to sing the chorus to Barb before she got her ticket punched:
Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette
More than meets the eye
This is a hockey post, but it's short and of general interest... the National Hockey League has chosen its Fan of the Year from finalists selected by each of the 30 clubs. New York Islanders supporter Roger Farina was a shoo-in for the award for two reasons. One, he's a member of the U.S. Army currently stationed in Iraq. And two, he loves the Isles so much that he gave his daughters--his daughters, for God's sake--the middle names Nystrom (after Bob) and Gillies (after Clark). Between this guy and National Guardsman Optimus Prime, you gotta wonder how the United States wins any wars.
We want Gough!
You know what's a very interesting site? WhitlamDismissal.com. If you don't know the historic meaning of the phrase "Whitlam dismissal", well, follow that link and find out. The infamous Whitlam-Kerr affair may not be of much interest to people who don't live in the Commonwealth, which is about half of you... it was a 1975 constitutional crisis in Australia, one in which the Governor-General took a surprisingly (and, to some, offensively) strict view of his powers and created lasting acrimony by snap-firing a Prime Minister who couldn't push a supply bill through the Upper House. A bit like Canada's King-Byng dispute (1926), only backwards, or possibly upside-down. What's most interesting about WhitlamDismissal.com is its superb quality and comprehensiveness. It would be nice if every historical event had a site like this--if, for Canada, you could type in OctoberCrisis.com or DoubleShuffle.com and get a big e-sheaf of documents and multimedia files relating to 1970 or 1858. But, sigh, that's a world that exists only in dreams, and would require a top-down Internet that was not nearly as much to anyone's liking in other respects as the one we have. (There are several sites on the October Crisis, actually, including this one from the CBC which comes with video of Pierre Trudeau's comical fencing match with Tim Ralfe. But you have to rummage through the Burke's Peerage site to get as much as a whole, clear paragraph on the Cartier-Macdonald Double Shuffle.)
New on the hockey page: Ottawa's clutch win--through the eyes of a child? -10:46 pm, May 21
ColbyCosh.com's Assignment Desk directs your attention to Sridhar Pappu's sitdown with Jayson Blair, published in the New York Observer:
As far as the theory that Mr. Blair got away with what he did due to the fact that he was an affirmative-action hire, Mr. Blair disagreed with that. He disagreed that he was an example of someone who'd been brought aboard without earning it, coddled more than he should have been, and that this--his pack of lies-was the product.This, surely, is silver-platter material for a column about modern education. In Jayson Blair we behold the apotheosis of "self-esteem" disconnected from any kind of objective reality. He'll admit to fraud! He'll admit to drug abuse! But you'll have to tear him apart with wild dogs before you get him to admit he's "unworthy"!
Incidentally, I wonder if Blair is serious about wanting reasons for the differing reactions to his own case and to Stephen Glass's. Glass created an entire oeuvre of compelling, bizarre fantasies; no one who reads magazines assiduously failed to say "Hey, I remember that piece!" when Glass's inventions were unveiled. Not to apologize for the pestilential little rodent, but Glass's fake magazine pieces were intricate, imaginative things which required him to cover his tracks pretty carefully and, arguably, work harder than an ordinary reporter. Moreover, they revealed, at times, a certain devilish feeling for the Zeitgeist. By contrast, Blair's crimes are awfully tawdry--a few faked expense reports, a few cheesy little details whose conceptualization required maybe one-tenth of Glass's inventiveness. Blair shouldn't be allowed to make this a race issue--possibly even for his own good; if anything militates in his favour right now, it's that he wasn't nearly as gargantuan a sociopath as Glass. He was just a procrastinating cokehead. The more he tries to make of himself a "symbol" of something, the less likely he is to have a tolerable human future.
News on the march
The Sun is now reporting that Alberta's mad celebrity cow was eight years old--which is exceedingly good news, as it introduces the likelihood that the cow was of British origin. But if it was, why wasn't it examined in vivo for prions? Was a cow born in Great Britain in 1995 not considered an "at risk" animal? [UPDATE, 11:10 pm: Turns out there is no way to test a live cow for BSE; all you can do is crack open the head and see if its brain is a sponge.]
In other Alberta news destined to make waves, a Calgary anti-domestic-violence agency has been refused permission by the Television Bureau of Canada to air two harsh PSAs.
The TVB denied the HomeFront Society of Calgary approval to run the two public service announcements because they were deemed too graphic according to their Telecaster Guidelines. Given the failure to receive TVB approval, local Calgary televisions stations have decided not to run the PSAs (public service announcements).Hence the spots, which show guys going randomly ballistic on women ("You... fucking... BITCH!") in a boardroom and a restaurant. The tagline is "You wouldn't get away with it here, you shouldn't expect to get away with it at home." Ogilvy & Mather, crafters of the ads, are covering the cost of the HomeFront Society's appeal of the TVB ruling. If they succeed it getting the spots on the air, the main effect will be peals of unintended laughter (although this possibly serves to make the message more memorable, one supposes). If Saturday Night Live showed these babies, no one in the world would suspect they were in earnest. I'm still giggling at the moment when the boardroom guy scornfully flings the stapler at his colleague--nice touch, that. (There's no conceptual tie-in between these two news items, although Boardroom Guy does use the phrase "ignorant cow".)
Mad cows vs. your RRSP
Not on the Web: Edmonton Journal columnist Lorne Gunter's take on mad-cow madness. Here's an excerpt.
...The initial reaction by the media, the markets and the public will likely turn out to be far worse than the scientific reality of the event itself. Tuesday, for instance, McDonald's stock in the United States slumped five per cent on the news.MCD is actually back up 1.7% in early trading today, though other restaurant stocks are down. But even weirder is the collateral damage (-1.2%) being suffered by Inamed Corp., best known as a manufacturer of silicone breast implants:
Being cited is this line in [the company's] 10-Q [quarterly] filing [dated May 15]: "Negative publicity--whether accurate or inaccurate--about our products, based on, for example, news about breast implant litigation, new government regulation, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and/or Creutzfeldt-Jacob, or "mad cow" disease, could materially reduce market acceptance of our products and could result in product withdrawals." Hard to believe that investors would make the leap from one case of mad cow to IMDC's implant products, but these concerns do appear to be contributing to the pressure on the stock for now.
This really had me going "What the hell? Is there some connection between breast implants and BSE?" On further study it appears that Inamed's hypothetical warning was not about Inamed's breast implants per se but, rather, its "dermal fillers" for the face, whose collagen may ultimately be derived from bovine material. In Europe they've been a bit worried about the unbelieveable persistence of prions even in material that has been subjected to the chemical changes involved in a factory process. It's a hypothetical notion at best, but Inamed was rightly signalling investors that it only takes a couple of panicky jackasses and maybe one risk-illiterate news producer to make trouble. Now, for their trouble, they're suffering a totally causeless downturn in their stock. Thank god cows aren't as easy to stampede as NYSE traders...
The struggle for Daveocracy
Another weblog comes out of hibernation: Dave Stevens is ready and willing to be cloned.
For those that disagree with the whole notion of cloning, good for you. Don't have any made. I, and all future versions of I, disagree. If it came down to a vote, the singular you would lose to the future army of me.
As a bonus, the Tumbleweed is filing highly compelling travel reports from India, land o' mystery and magic.
This colicky computer just gobbled down an 1,800-word entry on mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in Alberta; I was in the middle of cutting and pasting from Notepad when the Blue Screen of Death appeared, so the text ought to have been saved to the clipboard, but do you think it was there when I rebooted and hit Ctrl-V? No... no, it wasn't.
I suppose, then, we have no choice but to "cut and paste" from the fragile human memory, which will have the virtue of discouraging me from reproducing anything not strictly on topic. Here are the points I wanted to make:
· The appearance of BSE in a Canadian herd is dumbfounding news; it was not supposed to be practically possible. Canada does not import cattle, meat, or bonemeal from any country which is not "BSE-free". On the other hand, Canada thought itself BSE-free twelve hours ago. It is also illegal to feed cattle, here, on mammalian-derived protein or bonemeal. Not only is it illegal, it's bad animal husbandry--but a lot of farmers were pretty stressed out about keeping their cows healthy at reasonable cost during last year's drought.
· There are, then, a number of possibilities for the originating vector of the disease. The longest shot is that infected soil was somehow introduced from a non-BSE-free area to the affected farm. Slightly more likely is that the sick cow was foreign-born, and some other cattle-exporting nation which thought itself "BSE-free" is about to discover that it is not. It is perhaps possible that the disease somehow got into the herd from ungulate wildlife; the disease is not deemed directly transmissible, but I'm not sure deer wastes can be ruled out entirely. The farmer could have circumvented prion-inhibiting feed practices somehow, feeding proteins or bones from rendered cattle to his herd. But perhaps the likeliest scenario is that the afflicted animal was fairly old and had, at some point, been given feed dating from before the new prion controls (introduced in 1997). BSE can take six to eight years to manifest in a cow, and this one wasn't detected at all while it was alive. It reached the slaughterhouse in poor physical condition, was set aside as unfit for consumption, and was tested for disease only a consequence. This means that officials and cattlemen's insistence that the sick animal did not get into the food chain are somewhat irrelevant--but from a consumer standpoint they're not "relevant" either, since even in the worst case your odds of contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from beef are rather infinitesimal.
· Nonetheless the discovery creates a practical problem of disease control; the affected farm is a breeding outfit and has been selling calves steadily. (Again--the disease is not directly transmissible, but if one cow got the disease, others in the herd might have.) Politically, it will almost certainly be necessary to expand the federal program of BSE testing, which examined only 600 animals last year. (Alberta alone, with a little over 40% of the national herd, has five million cows.) Only "at risk" animals are tested while alive, according to the federal agriculture ministry, but there aren't really supposed to be any "at risk" animals in Canada anymore. An investigation of the cause of BSE in this one cow may show that there are risk factors other than the ones hitherto considered. At any rate it will now be all-important to rehabilitate the reputation of Canadian livestock, as the U.S. has just introduced optional (but strongly advised) country-of-origin labelling standards for consumer beef. The new standards kick in in the autumn of 2004, if I recall my incinerated entry right. They were introduced last year as part of a mild persecution campaign against Canadian agriculture by the U.S. government. There is a good deal of "competitive" loathing and lobbying among mid-American farmers who imagine, without much factual basis, that Canadian farmers are price-supported by the state to a greater degree than they are. (I'm not suggesting, by the way, that this isn't true; it is simply a matter whose complexity defies econometrics because the forms of price support differ so strongly between the two countries. American farmers are, on the whole, more inclined to hysterically trot out bogus evidence for claims of unfair trade practices. But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean, etc., etc.) Labelling rules were supposed to be a warning shot across Canada's bow, but thanks to this mischance, they are going to hit Canadian cattlemen right between the eyes.
· You have to feel for that poor bastard up near Fairview, who might as well have been hit by a meteor for all that he could see something like this coming. He's probably sleeping badly as I write this, having spent the day on the phone with customers and neighbours. I doubt it's sunk in yet that his cows are going to have to die, down to the last gangly little calf, and be burned. Despite coming from a cattle-raising family, I know almost as little about animal husbandry as it is possible to without actually being retarded. But on the basis of my experience, and of years of occasional agriculture reporting, I know that even in the most crowded, stinky feedlot, no cattleman considers his animals mere units on a balance sheet. And that goes double for breeders. It's not possible to get rich raising cattle anymore; in a dry year like 2002 you are lucky to come out ahead at all. The stubborn buggers still in the business are there for the lifestyle, not the money. They do it because participating in the life cycle of an animal has satisfactions which come with no other business in the world.
Covetous of nothing but books
Adam Nicolson's new book on the King James Bible seems somehow to have arrived at a propitious cultural moment; it's being reviewed with riotous praise everywhere. James Wood gives it the sober imprimatur of the New Yorker, complaining only that "another fifty or so pages would have made [Nicolson's] book scholarly as well as popular." It is indeed about time, and then some, that the men behind the Authorized Version were given their due.
They were a various crowd, and Nicolson's delightful sketches bring them to life. Among them were Richard Thomson, a celebrated translator of Martial, a linguist with correspondents in Italy, France, and Germany; William Bedwell, a mathematician and Arabist; Miles Smith, who described himself as "covetous of nothing but books," and who kept no books in his library that he had not read; George Abbot, the Master of University College, Oxford, who once had a hundred and forty Oxford undergraduates arrested for not removing their hats as he entered St. Mary's Church; the dashing Sir Henry Savile, Provost of Eton, who was the first English translator of Tacitus, and who also worked for years on a vast edition of the writings of St. John Chrysostom, the fourth-century archbishop of Constantinople; and John Bois, a prodigy to rival John Stuart Mill, having written Hebrew by the time he was six and become a student at Cambridge by the age of fourteen. He told people that he had every extant Greek text on his shelves.The passage from Wood's review indirectly makes an important point about why later generations have not been able to retranslate the Bible with the overall poetic and semantic success of that great Jacobean committee. Certainly present-day translators are partly doomed to be mutilators simply because James' company got there first and, to a staggering degree, defined literary quality in English with their eventual production. But part of the problem, I suspect, is that a printed book in English can never have the special significance for us it had for these learned bibliomaniacs. King James inaugurated his project in 1604; Gutenberg had printed his Bible just a hundred and fifty years before. The English language had only just taken the shape it still has; its orthography, indeed, was still pretty slippery. (The King James Bible is roughly equidistant, historically, from Chaucer and from Samuel Johnson's dictionary.)
These men, I think--and this shows if you read the still-unsurpassed lyric poetry from the same period--were in the same position as auto designers in the 1950s and 1960s or skyscraper architects in the 1920s and '30s. They had a fully equipped aesthetic toolkit, but fantastic degrees of freedom within which to use it. Confronted with a task requiring the most careful attention to propriety and dignity, they were still at liberty to pursue flights of inspiration, to yield to extravagant impulses. And it didn't hurt that, in their historical situation, they were defining English orthodoxy as much as they were obliged to cater to it.
New on the hockey page: Ottawa finds a saviour. -9:27 pm, May 19
Greetings to the Lesterati
I was reading Lester Bangs this morning and I had a chuckle when I ran across a reference, within a book review written in 1980 (!), to Geraldo Rivera interviewing the original Dr. Nick. Lester wrote, and I'm much too lazy not to just paraphrase here, that Geraldo was obviously some form of "ringworm" and that he wasn't sure just who the parasite-afflicted host was, in particular, but he really hoped it wasn't the general viewing public. Fans of Lester will probably remember what follows this bit of prescience, which is a many-thousand-word Dexedrinish meditation on what it would be like to reach inside Elvis's corpse, extract the remains of the pills that killed him, and eat them, along with a nice gooey Eucharistic hunk of the King's intestinal matter. (Lester is best known these days, I guess, as The Cloistered Visionary Played By Philip Seymour Hoffman In Almost Famous, a cinematic roman-à-clef into which Lester was able, by virtue of being dead, to be transposed wholly uncleffed.)
Is anybody wondering how my Diplomacy game turned out this time? Thought not. I drew France in a five-hander again, and since I had ten units when we broke up the game--which made me notional co-leader--Kevin Steel will no doubt try to pre-empt any future success I might enjoy (again) by describing me as a supremely nefarious combination of Talleyrand, Machiavel, and Satan. The sad truth is that it would take pretty catastrophic play for France not to prosper in the early stages of a five-hander, assuming that one can work out a suitable non-aggression pact with England. Literary types seeking a disguised account of the acrimonious flavour and crabbed calculations involved in playing Diplomacy are invited to consult the Eschaton sequence at the tennis academy in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.
Put 'em in their place
"Sins of the Fathers" is the official theme of the sophomore English class that Kate Coe's son is taking. ...How about a Bad Seed reading list? We parents take enough abuse. Actually, Lord of the Flies is still a classic of high school reading lists. I think it's because there's no sex in the book. Murder, yes. But no sex.
Now, me, I suspect it's because there are no girls in the book. Lord of the Flies (unlike other reading-list classix like Of Mice and Men) doesn't lend itself very well to old-fashioned leftist exegesis--it's about original sin, after all. But if you were specifically searching for a work of modern literature that would impress upon your male students that they are inclined by nature towards bloodshed, delusion, and pack behaviour, and very badly need repeated tramping down by authority figures, isn't Lord of the Flies the first place you would look? At the very least, the ubiquity of Lord of the Flies on school reading lists must be regarded as a sly, self-indulgent in-joke on the part of the teaching profession.
The book is, of course, not a tract against boys as such, but an angry response to a particular Victorian tradition of popular literature which exalted "boyish" qualities of hardihood, resourcefulness, and pluck. Yet for some reason--though the tradition is dead, modern students will come to class with no consciousness of it, and teachers are careful not to provide the relevant historical context--Golding's counterblast still goes on being taught. It is, itself, rather marooned and forlorn in the 21st century. But it is convenient to other purposes than the author's.
A brief update on my whereabouts--well, my whereabouts didn't really change but I spent yesterday doing other stuff, namely reading Pale Fire, which arrived in the post, and watching Die Hard 2, which turned up on TV. Effects-filled action movies which use paintings as backdrops have suddenly become compelling curios of a more innocent moviegoing time--as distractingly, endearingly false in tone as operetta. Of course DH2 was pretty laden with ironic self-regard and cultivated preposterousness to begin with. At the end, when Bonnie Bedelia gets off the plane safely, she embraces her blood-drenched husband and wails "Why does this keep happening to us?" Any real person would recognize from the concatenation of improbabilities that her husband was a Christ figure, the tormented but essentially indestructible plaything of malign gods with odd names like "McTiernan" and "Harlin".
Anyway, today I'm supposed to be playing Diplomacy so you probably won't hear from me until much later...
The news about Canadian newspapers no longer makes any sense... firing Ken Whyte and Martin Newland from the Post, okay, sure; they had arguably outlived their usefulness if your goal wasn't to assemble an interesting paper. But now Murdoch Davis is gone? Davis has been the faithful janissary par excellence in the transition from Southam to CanWest--a guy who's been in the chain since the days of cigarettes and whisky in the newsrooms, Davis, as editorial VP, was front and centre in recent years whenever a public face had to be put on some particularly painful policy move or announcement. ("We don't think it's unreasonable to ask editorial employees to undergo twice-daily colonoscopies...") I would have expected, from what little I know of the internal workings of Southam/CanWest, that Davis was a pivotal personality within the new-model chain. He relocated from Edmonton to Winnipeg, presumably to run the centralized reporting shop there. So what the hell's going on?
Me, writing on April 22:
You really think The Matrix Reloaded is going to be as good as its own trailer? Sucker.
Don't try to hide it: I know you opening-weekend trend-followers just relived the ashen sense-memory of the taste of Wachowski feces as your mind screamed "Aaaah! Why didn't I listen to ColbyCosh.com? Aaaah!" I told you the Mighty Ducks were a bargain at the betting table, too, way back in like the first week of April. You could have had them at forty to one if you'd had more confidence in me than I did in myself. (I had actually designed a betting strategy which involved going heavy on Dallas and "throwing a few bucks away" on Anaheim as a hedge. But gambling is illegal!)
Weisblott's Chekhovian reverie about apples has me thinking about the dream I had last night, which was a reprise of a theme I've definitely dreamt about before. Turns out that after I fall asleep, I keep visiting the country around my hometown (which is where the vast majority of my dreams take place) and finding out they've turned it into a Mordor-esque hell of intensive forestry, dented yellow portaloos, and giant reeking pits of bitumen. For some reason it's always the area west of town, on the Highway 28 approach (an area, in fact, which has few trees and very little left in the way of petroleum). Detractors may take this as a sign of a bad ecological conscience, but I don't pretend to know what it means.
Where's the fire?
Here's a pathetic CBC story about the new study by Enstrom and Kabat showing that the presence of second-hand tobacco smoke ("environmental tobacco smoke", or "ETS") in the home leads to no measurable increase in mortality from commonly feared causes (coronary heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The CBC tells us:
Researchers reported Friday that the dangers of second-hand smoke may not be as great as previously thought, provoking outrage from critics who question the study's methods and funding from the tobacco industry.
Having kicked off so dramatically, the story doesn't quote or identify very many critics of Enstrom and Kabat. Just the one, actually.
"People have many sources of exposure," said cancer epidemiologist Roberta Ferrence of the University of Toronto. "Spousal smoking may be one but certainly workplace is a major source and so are homes of friends, restaurants, bars and so forth."
Enstrom and Kabat looked for ETS risk by comparing the health of never-smokers married to smokers with that of never-smokers married to non-smokers. Ferrence is making the extraordinary suggestion that the home is not the natural first place to look for ETS risk. Well, this is a study of rather awesome statistical resolving ability: it involved more than 35,000 adults. It's proven possible to check those adults' spouses' smoking habits--but if Ferrence seriously believes that we have to visit the "homes of friends" of 35,000 people to discern any ETS risk whatsoever, she might as well give up the argument. At any rate, Enstrom and Kabat specifically anticipated her complaint:
Concern has been expressed that smoking status of the spouse as of 1959 does not accurately reflect total exposure to environmental tobacco smoke because there was so much exposure to non-residential environmental tobacco smoke at that time. The 1999 questionnaire showed that the smoking status of spouses was directly related to a history of total exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
This suggests that in-home ETS exposure is not only, well, itself, but can also serve as a proxy for total other-source ETS exposure. If anything, the positive correlation between global ETS exposure and in-home exposure should magnify the effect--the one, that is, that wasn't found anyway. CBC has mischaracterized the study in a typically preposterous way, saying that "the study assumes the spouses of non-smokers weren't exposed to second-hand smoke outside the home." It assumes no such thing. The study reports just what it reports--which is that Enstrom and Kabat looked at thirty-five thousand people and found that nonsmoking spouses of smokers were just as healthy, in the notionally relevant ways, as nonsmoking spouses of nonsmokers.
Oh, but the study was funded by the tobacco industry, you say? Yes--partly. So far no newspaper reporter talking about "critics" of the study seems to have read the fine print under the study's "Funding" rubric. Let's review carefully:
The American Cancer Society initiated CPS I in 1959, conducted follow up until 1972, and has maintained the original database.
"CPS I" is the prospective cohort study of 118,084 American adults from which Enstrom and Kabat got their historical data. Enstrom and Kabat wanted to push the data forward to the end of 1998, because damage from longterm ETS exposure could easily take a very long time to manifest itself.
Extended follow-up until 1997 was conducted at the University of California at Los Angeles with initial support from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, a University of California research organisation funded by the Proposition 99 cigarette surtax.
Yes, you heard right: the study was started with public funds taken specifically from a surtax on cigarettes ($236,471, to be exact). The TRDRP seems to have thought that looking at CPS I was a great way to hunt for ETS risk: apparently other anti-tobacco "scholars" now disagree, which is convenient. When the TRDRP money ran out, a tobacco-company proxy allowed Enstrom and Kabat to finish their work:
After continuing support from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program was denied, follow-up through 1999 and data analysis were conducted at University of California at Los Angeles with support from the Center for Indoor Air Research, a 1988-99 research organisation that received funding primarily from US tobacco companies.
Like most scientific research, this study was supported by a whole array of sources. If Enstrom and Kabat had found evidence of elevated mortality from ETS, would the fact that they received money from a state anti-tobacco education and research agency discredit the work?
Both men, as I understand it, do believe there is a microscopic risk of harm from ETS; it's just way, way too small to be measured--or, for public policy purposes, to be considered at all. The result from their analysis of CPS I is simply not as controversial as the CBC and others would have you believe. If you were absolutely determined to look for measurable ETS risk, you would do it in exactly the way they have done it. Assuming you couldn't initiate a massive prospective cohort study, you would--as they did--go back and see what a previously existing study of that sort can tell us. Or do critics of the Enstrom and Kabat study have a better idea?
It's kickin' up the sand
Just got back from A Mighty Wind, the latest from the Lord Haden-Guest Thespian Collective. Yes, the wind is finally blowing every woman, child and man in far Rupert's Land. And it's better than pretty much any movie you are going to see this year, if only because it's closer to the Dogme 95-type principles I cherish ever more intensely with each passing super-duping-block-busting-FX-up-your-ass-and-into-your-brain Hollywood weekend. I suggest, if you go see it, that you prepare in advance to regard it as a straight drama with some incidental comic elements. Yes, I was a little disappointed, but that's fine; my expectations are raised this high for about one movie every five years, if that.
The L.H.-G.T.C. is in slight danger, possibly, of succumbing to self-regard. Each time out they're a little more busy Acting (capital A) and a little less busy doing gags. And what gags there are sometimes seem forced, almost injected to rescue the movie from comic flatness. (Those who have seen the movie will know immediately that I am referring to the ending, which I won't spoil for the rest of you.) And the repertory company is becoming overcrowded: they're all brilliant (who could you possibly ask to sit out the next movie?) but as individuals they get so little screen time that the whole thing feels like a 90-minute preview for the eventual DVD. Much of the best stuff in the film--and this isn't a coincidence--consists of retro footage and sight gags, like the album covers. The prepared material is overbearing and dominating the improvised material.
Yet even as I was reflecting on all this after I left the theatre, I was cackling out loud at some of the comic high points. And as an SCTV follower--nay, hero-worshipper--I cannot begrudge Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara their extraordinarily subtle and yok-free subplot. In Dave Thomas's book about SCTV, there is a poignant paragraph-long quote from Joe Flaherty in which he says he now knows that that show was it for the cast members--a pinnacle of their art which they won't ever be allowed to get back to. But Levy and O'Hara's participation in Christopher Guest's ongoing project--which is even a partial takeover; Levy has a co-writing credit on the minimalist shooting script for A Mighty Wind--has allowed them to maybe sneak back to a place close to the mountaintop by wholly different, and only tangentially comedic, methods. This is great because it's a noteworthy victory, achieved with Chris Guest's help, in SCTV's historic battle to take its deserved place in history alongside and above Saturday Night Live and its progeny. From a Canadian perspective--and particularly from an Edmonton perspective, since this is where SCTV turned grim hyperborean isolation into some of television's finest moments--SNL is just an overpraised, overcommercial, overformulaic side project by one of the guys from the Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour.
While skepticism was pulling on its boots...
The groundless "MARK STEYN FIRED" meme simply will not die. Most everyone is starting to clue in that there's been no actual announcement nor indication that he's been fired, and that the National Post is telling everyone who asks that he has not been fired. But somehow there remains a fog of doubt in the air. Here's Mark Wickens, for example:
I got a reply from Steyn's editor at the Post, Natasha Hassan. She says she's Steyn's "biggest fan" and assures me that "Mark has not been fired from the Post. He is travelling in the Mideast, London and Paris and won't be filing for most of this month." Well, that's good news, but how to account for Steyn's comments in Tim Blair's post on InstaPundit?
Why are they hard to account for? Steyn's unhappy about some of the things that are happening at the Post. What's mysterious about this? The expression of a little public pique doesn't mean he's going to leave, much less that he's been fired. You think I'm thrilled with everything that's happened at my workplace in the last six months?
Meanwhile, Ken Layne is waving a smoking gun in the air:
In an update of [an] InstaPundit post, Glenn says he received a third-party e-mail claiming Steyn had not been dropped by the National Post. Yet Steyn's page on the paper's Web site shows no actual columns, just his bio. Seems like all the other columnists have links to recent columns.
As Weisblott points out in the comments thread, the absence of recent Steyn column links is because there aren't any recent Steyn columns to link to. The paper's archive goes back 14 days and Steyn hasn't filed anything in that time. He's a star columnist who lives and works in three different countries! He takes a lot of breaks! If you're of a mind never to believe in coincidences, the Steyn "vacation" could be taken as a protest: we've seen his byline disappear before when there were apparent causes for hostility between himself and CanWest, and, to be fair, the timing for this theory works out. (The first "missing" column would have been dated Thursday, May 1, which is the day Ken Whyte's firing was announced. Cue ominous music!)
But there's one problem--Steyn doesn't appear to be filing copy for anybody at the moment. This notice is now up on his website:
Mark is traveling in Eurabia and the Middle East for the next few days, or hoping to - he spent the first three hours in gridlock in strike-choked Paris. While he is on the road, we will be posting several timely encore presentations...
Presumably this notice had not yet been posted when Damian Penny wrote that Steyn's website says "nothing at all about any vacation."
Reduce those expectations
The latest Canadian Alliance white paper on defence has goaded Bruce Rolston into sitting down (one hopes) and writing 5,600 words on the future of Canada's armed forces. Bruce's Khaki Paper consists, so far, of four parts (#1, #2, #3, #4). His basic message? We have to decide why (and if) we need an armed forces before we decide what to buy and whom to recruit. Whatever we do decide, we probably don't need an aircraft carrier.
Trading Q for D
The Seth Mnookin Newsweek column I've been on about lately was headlined "What's Race Got to Do With It?". Now we have Raines' own reply to the question: everything!
I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities. Does that mean I personally favored Jayson? Not consciously. But you have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions, gave him one chance too many by not stopping his appointment to the [Beltway] sniper team. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes.
Obviously this was the right line to take all along. Waiting an extra week to take it only served to allow defenders like Mnookin to make fools of themselves. But you can understand the cultural difficulty involved. Only at a self-professed "paper of record" would it be so difficult for the editor to say "We're going to screw up occasionally, and perhaps badly, pursuing social justice in the newsroom. We're counting on our readers to accept that." This defence reduces the sacred Times to the status of just another politicized, problematic human institution with goals having nothing whatever to do with its ostensive function. Perhaps Raines realized that nobody in the United States now seriously regards the Times as being anything else.
So this is how rumours get started... Mark Steyn cuts loose with a few snarky "general observations" about the National Post and immediately everybody is taking it for granted that Steyn has been fired. Even though the Post has been extremely careful about printing notices to the effect that Steyn has not been fired and will be returning to the paper's pages.
Obviously Steyn has misgivings about the new regime. In light of the Post's written and even oral promises that Steyn will be back, I think it's safe to say that if he doesn't come back, leaving will be his decision. Of course, even if he is sacked somewhere down the line here, he did call the new editor "not just graceless and petty but extremely insecure" on his website, so there'd be no reason--no new reason, anyway--for an ideological jihad against the Post. That kind of talk will get you fired at a lot of places. If you guys are really so hot for reasons to hate the Aspers, how about the fact that they fired Lawrence Martin, the Prime Minister's unathorized biographer and most dogged critic, a year to the day after they bought their stake in the paper?
[UPDATE, May 15: Instapundit now understands that Steyn hasn't been fired, but is still confused. His confusion is itself somewhat confusing; there was never any reason to think Steyn was fired. Saying so probably created quite enormous hassles for some poor editorial flakcatcher over at the Post today.]
Mind your Ds and Qs
Re Seth Mnookin's tirade against Liz Swasey of the Media Research Centre: late last night I was watching October Sky on TV and I returned to that entry during one of those long 2 a.m. commercial breaks. I thought to myself, "Look, in throwing up your hands about Mnookin's possible point, you aren't using language surgically enough. You're not thinking like a philosopher here, and if you're not capable of that, you probably should stop excreting 1,000 words a day onto a weblog." So I mulled things over a little more carefully while the telly attempted to sell me mattresses and orange juice. (Incidentally, there was one hilarious ad for a local spa--one of those places where a woman can pay $150 to recline in salt water for a few hours with cucumber slices on her eyelids--that offered, in large clear letters, to supply something called "indulgement". Indulgement??)
It occurred to me that if you treat both "diversity" and "quality" as separate goods--call them D and Q--then Q can be more important overall, but an increase in D more immediately desirable, if you have only a little D and lots of Q. Howell Raines may have meant only that in the Times' current circumstances, an increase in D was more important than an increase in Q. Because I was watching the movie, I didn't return to the weblog to make this point. Reader Curt Loughin has since written in with the same idea.
But Seth Mnookin is still overreacting by a factor of thousands, surely. Raines only got as far as saying "D is more important than Q"; he didn't specify that this was a circumstantial claim about only the New York Times. Mnookin wants us to assume on Raines' behalf that there is at least some hypothetical newspaper for which Raines is willing to opine "yes, they clearly have enough D and may now concentrate on colour-blind acquisition of Q." Personally, I don't believe it for a moment: "lack of diversity" is to liberals what Original Sin is to Christians. But my real question is this: since Raines said "D is more important than Q" without specifying the necessary qualifier, if we are obliged by "intellectual honesty" to immediately supply the qualifier ourselves, why isn't Liz Swasey entitled to the same consideration? Maybe what she meant to say was "Howell Raines said that D is more important than Q--as a hiring principle, for the Times, in the year 2003." Since she was speaking extempore on television, and not giving a prepared speech, surely she's entitled to extra courtesy of this sort. But did she get it from Seth Mnookin?
People say many incendiary things on television, and a lot of those things are taken seriously. But Swasey was openly laughed at; I know, because I was one of the other guests.
Thank goodness "intellectual honesty" doesn't stop us from heckling members of "right-wing attack groups", eh?
It must be springtime
Somebody, please, help me to understand what Seth Mnookin is getting at in his new column on Jayson Blair and the Times. Mnookin leads off with this trumpet blast:
Monday night on "Hardball," Liz Swasey, a mouthpiece for the benignly named Media Research Center, a right-wing attack group, smeared Howell Raines' and the New York Times' commitment to diversity. Speaking of Raines, Swasey said that in the past, "he said that diversity was more important than journalism."Mnookin describes this paraphrase of Raines' words as laughable, "incendiary", "intellectually dishonest", and a "twisting of reality". Gee--that's some pretty bad stuff! So what did Raines actually say?
What Raines actually said, speaking 2001 convention [sic] of the National Association of Black Journalists about the paper's commitment to hiring talented minorities, was "this campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse." [Emphasis mine]
.....Howell Raines did say that having a "diverse" staff was more important than having a good staff, then?
Is that not the upshot of the comment quoted herein by Mnookin? And isn't Liz Swasey's paraphrase therefore really pretty fair? How can Raines possibly be construed as not having meant that diversity is more important than good journalism? It's what he said! Mnookin apparently expects us to see something totally outrageous about Swasey's comment, and somehow--maybe it's the humidity, maybe it's the Northern Lights--I'm absolutely not seeing his point.
[UPDATE, May 14: More clarity here.]
Crazy name, crazy guy
It created a big stir last year when the Boston Red Sox hired the father of scientific baseball analysis ("sabermetrics"), Bill James, as its "senior director, baseball operations". I've been out of touch with baseball so far this season, so maybe I'm the last to notice that the Sox also hired Vörös McCracken, presumably to work with James. A few years back, McCracken, as an amateur, made the most important sabermetric discovery in a decade or more when he found that most pitchers give up more or less the same number of hits on balls put in play, which allows for defence-independent assessment of pitching quality. We know (from a writeup of Vörös's work in the New Historical Baseball Abstract) that James was impressed with this finding. He had suggested often that "much of what we call 'pitching' is actually defence" (in a context of assigning credit for performance) but had never found a practical way of making the distinction. Vörös did it by simply removing the hits from a pitcher's record--the baseball equivalent of cutting the Gordian knot.
New on the hockey page: big ice? Good idea, but... - 5:15 am, May 13
A cold and lonely lovely work of art
The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott, commenting on the theft of Cellini's famous salt-cellar, calls the frequent comparisons of the work to the Mona Lisa "hyperbolic". They are indeed, though not the way he means. Only by hyperbole can the significance of the Mona Lisa be considered comparable to that of Cellini's salt-cellar.
Leonardo himself would be baffled to learn that Mona Lisa was the world's most famous single painting in the 21st century. The familiarity it enjoys is a historical accident (arising partly from its 1911 theft from the Louvre), and scarcely can be said to spring from any intrinsic greatness in the painting itself. Popular ruminations on its "enigmatic" nature are a tacit admission of its essential vaporousness; while Leonardo's contemporaries must have been quite enchanted with his sfumato, it is, in the end, a showy stage-trick. Mona Lisa is the visual arts' version of a celebrity who is famous for being famous. The world's art heritage would not be significantly poorer for its destruction. But it most certainly is poorer for the loss of the only surviving significant work of goldsmithy by the most talented goldsmith in the long annals of human metalwork. It is hard to imagine any single artwork capable of being stolen whose disappearance was, in principle, more to be regretted. Unlike Mona Lisa, the salt-cellar is an intricate, unique, irreplaceable symbol of an entire way of life.
Move along, nothing to see here
Looks like the Conservatives have scooped up that by-election in Perth-Middlesex. Hey, is it too late to ask Joe Clark to stay on...? Since Canadian newspapers are atrocious about showing you vote swings, or indeed remembering that there has ever been any sort of balloting anywhere in the past, here are tonight's results compared with those in 2000:
PARTY 2000 2003 PC 28% 34% Lib 40% 30% CA 23% 18% NDP 7% 15% Oth 2% 3% Polls reporting: 212/215
Turnout was characteristically paltry: Conservative candidate Gary Schellenberger, who is doubtless going to be hailed as some sort of Tory Miracle Boy, pulled in 11,545 votes last time and will finish at least a thousand below that tonight. The Alliance and the Liberals will be hard-pressed to put a good face on these results, but they can credibly plead that they were obliged to play musical chairs with their candidates (and the Liberals, in the event, played especially badly, having to re-ballot for the nomination when the original winner turned out to be a member of the New Democratic Party). Schellenberger had name-recognition in the riding and presumably was able to rebuild his electoral machine fairly easily, especially since it was obvious in 2000 that the incumbent wasn't going to be able to finish his term for health reasons.
In short, any interpretation of this by-election that makes it out to be a sign of colossal Conservative resurgence should be regarded skeptically. But then I would say that, wouldn't I...
Don't quote us on that
The Calgary Herald wins today's Goofy Headline prize, hands down:
Lunar eclipse expected Thursday
"Expected"?...are they worried the Big Dragon who Comes Out to Devour the Moon might have a tummyache?
New on the hockey page: Canada number one, U.S.A. number... er... 13? -3:44 am, May 12
How to philosophize with a ham
Good and new: philosophy professor Irfan Khawaja examines the epidemiology of Muslim intellectual ridiculousness for SecularIslam.org.
Why is Muslim-American intellectual life so dismal? ...The answer, I think, has two complementary sources. There is, on the one hand, the taqlid-oriented approach to Islam we find in contemporary Islamic education, which consists in treating Islam as an object of rote imitation in the name of mindless authority-worship. On the other hand, there's the political correctness and cultural relativism we find in American universities, which tells us that "non-Western" cultures are beyond criticism by "Western" reason, an expedient that allows anyone who can claim "non-Western" status to say or do anything with impunity.
Stoned but by no means dethroned
This, I think, sums up the problem with frequent cannabis shuffles--er, cabinet shuffles in the federal government.
EDMONTON - Federal Health Minister Anne McLellan supports decriminalizing marijuana possession if the move is accompanied by a new national drug strategy of education, information and treatment.
This from David Howell in this morning's Edmonton Journal. Does McLellan know her own department already has an office of national drug strategy whose mandate includes education, information, and treatment?
Not that there's the slightest warrant in the Constitution, mind you, for the federal government to educate us, inform us, or treat us for drug addiction. You can see Anne's "reasoning" here. The federal government has the constitutional authority to criminalize or decriminalize marijuana, as it pleases. It has no such authority--zero--to conduct drug treatment or education; it's an established constitutional principle that the federal government can manage public health only insofar as it criminally prohibits "public evils". But since nobody gives a crap about the Constitution--the provincial premiers are literally paid to overlook it when it comes to matters like this--she's preparing the groundwork for expanding a program that is ultra vires the federal government in the first place. The guys who are wasting the Supreme Court's time trying to have pot read out of the Criminal Code on Charter grounds would be of much more use if they fought against federalized drug education and treatment.
Fit to print
Enter Stage Right's Steve Martinovich has completed a good long interview with Mark Steyn; it's not officially ready for public consumption, but if you're one of the few readers who swings by here on a Sunday night, you can beat the rest of the world to it by a few hours. ColbyCosh.com: adding value to your day since (late) 2002.
Does Evan Mac really think there is no underage drinking in places where the drinking age is eighteen (like Alberta)? Evan, my good man, your naîveté is really too charming.
When the drinking age is set to 18, people start imbibing socially at about 15 or 16; I imagine that if you set it to 16, they'd begin at about 13. The gap is a natural constant which must exist where a "drinking age" is enforced; older kids buy the booze and it finds its way into younger hands, whence it must be consumed furtively--you know the drill. Eighteen, as an age of majority for alcohol, has the tremendous advantage of allowing kids some time to learn the ropes before they go to college and begin what is supposed to be serious study. If you compare U.S. colleges to the ones in Alberta, I think you'll find a relative lack of alcohol-fuelled dementia in the latter. We don't have fraternity hazing deaths, fatalities at bonfire festivals, on-campus pizza places packed to the rafters with vomiting blondes, that sort of thing. Sure, college students spend a lot of time drunk, but the drinking lacks that desperate, riotous quality. You get that out of your system in high school, mostly. And that's probably advisable.
[UPDATE, 7:54 pm: E.M. replies.]
Please make a minor adjustment to your intellectual history apparatus: Friedrich Nietzsche, in all probability, did not die of syphilis.
Somebody wrote me months and months ago, after I talked a little about having one's life revolve around a Palm PDA, and asked what additional applications I had installed to keep my shit together. I neglected this letter because (a) I'm kind of an ass about my weblog-related e-mail, as many of you have discovered, and (b) I didn't have an interesting answer: with a few exceptions (like a portable spreadsheet) I use the tools that originally shipped with the m105. "Rands" from Jerkcity is clearly a guy who takes self-organization more seriously. I don't ever have 73 things going on at the same time, so I wasn't in desperate need of bells and whistles. Mostly I just need to know when birthdays are, what phone interviews and meetings I have coming up, and when there are good movies coming up on broadcast TV. I use humble Memo Pad for story ideas, crude household management, and keeping track of what copy I've filed and what I haven't. My requirements are few and are easily met.
I bet she voted for Chretien
I'm still on deadline--all right; I'm unconscionably far past deadline, put it that way--but I can't resist sharing a letter that appeared in this morning's Ottawa Citizen. Step to the mike, Betty Brightwell of Victoria:
Is our federal government really going to cozy up to the Americans on this national missile defence thing? Is Canada ready to accept missile debris falling on our heads?This is of course a variant on a theme I pointed out some months ago: missile defence is now no longer evil because it's a deranged, expensive Reaganite fantasy; it's evil because it might work. But the extraordinary logic surely isn't going to play very well with the public. Unless I am quite radically misreading Mrs. Brightwell's letter, she is suggesting that the mild irradiation of a few hectares of Canada is an unacceptable alternative to the actual detonation of a nuclear warhead in an American city. Now that's some hardcore anti-Americanism! You go, girl!
Last province in--first province out?
I cannot help thinking that matters have reached some sort of dreadful tipping point because the East Coast, more than any other region of this country, more by far than even the alienated west, is a prisoner of the preconceptions and low expectations of a lot of lazy-thinking and static leadership in this country. The bad news coming out of the East Coast is so routine that it never really demands an exceptional response. The cabinet won't be holding a full meeting in New Brunswick on the fishery any time soon. It's not a SARS-type news story. Besides, everyone down east is on some sort of support anyway. And Newfoundland, another closedown of the Newfoundland cod fishery, well, that's Newfoundland. It belongs in the category of "night follows day."Rex Murphy, ladies and gentlemen--one of about five people at the CBC I am happy to support with my tax dollars. My disorganized thoughts, from very far away, on Newfoundland's extraordinary constitutional revolt:
· The first thing to remember as this crisis continues--and it will continue; Premier Grimes' back is welded to the wall--is that Stephane Dion is undeniably right when he says "No constitutional amendment will bring the cod back." I'm afraid I can't quite overlook this, even as I wallow in the sudden federalist bloodbath. I won't insist that Newfoundland's moral case is weakened by its enormous reliance on federal largesse. Albertans are too busy enjoying this spectacle to reflect that it is one thing for Ottawa to sneer at the province that is paying half the bill for Confederation and quite another to ask the ne'er-do-well brother in the basement to go get a job. That said, Dion is right. The fish aren't coming back. Grimes is fighting for a valid principle when he demands a fishery co-managed between two levels of government, but the concrete object in view doesn't exist. You have to sympathize with Dion. When Newfoundland demands a co-managed fishery, it is hard to deliver the natural answer--"What fishery?"--without seeming a tad rude.
· More subtle is the problem presented by talk of a "disappearing way of life." Murphy, supra, indulges indirectly in this poetic sentiment (when I hear the phrase "family farm" I reach for my revolver, or I would if I had one). Another quote from Rex's commentary, which must have commanded enormous attention, following the Vancouver-Minnesota hockey game as it did:
The announcement of the closing of the cod fishery in Newfoundland was bitterly received. A lot of people down my way have made a long breakfast of hope and little else for more than a decade.
A lot of people down Rex's way have also broken camp and moved to Ft. McMurray, the frigid Alberta city that sits in a lucrative sea of bitumen to the north of your correspondent. It is home to my (non-Newfie) parents, who left Edmonton and went where the work was, in the hope (now, it seems, amply fulfilled) of providing themselves with money for a comfortable retirement. They live surrounded by the brawling, sentimental Newfies of McMurray, fellow economic sojourners who tired of "breakfasts of hope" and calculated, correctly as it turns out, that the cod weren't coming back. The Newfoundland colony in McMurray has its own shops, its own sections of the supermarket laden with stomach-churning Newfie delicacies, its own radio shows playing endless weepy Erse-style songs about the Rock, even its own TV station. I wonder how these exiles feel about watching TV and seeing the people back home (people who have survived for ten years on their remittances and tax transfers) tearing up the Canadian flag and playing the victim. At best, they're probably a little ambivalent. They have been busily engaged in preserving the Newfoundland way of life in a practical form that does not rely on an economic symbiosis with a particular piscine species; Rex Murphy's inadvertent message for them is that they might as well not have bothered.
But the Newfoundlanders who stuck it out back home will argue--and with how much justice, I am not really equipped to say--that the demise of the fishery is not the sort of "creative destruction" that is an inevitable concomitant of capitalism. They are not, although they have been paid by the rest of us to dine on their breakfasts of hope, in the absurd logical position of blacksmiths demanding subsidies after the advent of the automobile or of chandlers calling for the hanging of Thomas Edison. Liberal and Conservative federal governments, the argument goes, allowed foreign trawlers to participate in the destruction of a resource that might have been managed intelligently and profitably for the benefit of its natural owners, the people of Newfoundland. (Just as Alberta's bitumen is managed, by Alberta, for the benefit of Albertans.) Why should any Newfoundlander have had to go freeze his arse off in Ft. McMurray in the first place?
· Yet whether there is justice in the claim that Ottawa mismanaged the offshore fishery, there can be no doubting the truth of the counterfactual proposition, I am afraid, that Newfoundland governments of the past would have done as badly or much worse. (Recall that sentiment in Newfoundland was overwhelmingly opposed to the "premature" shutdown of the fishery, a decision now revealed to have been taken all too late.) If there is a Newfie with the sheer stones to disagree, I'd like to hear from him. Furthermore, introducing the idea that the military defence of the Newfoundland fishery was not strong enough involves the (hypothetical, ex post facto) advocates of provincial co-management in a bit of a logical mess, doesn't it? However elastic your view of our constitution--and there is no Canadian alive who really deserves the epithet "originalist"--military questions are federal, as a matter of basic logic. Questions of international law, and international boundaries, are federal. If these questions were integral to the economic life of the fishery, then of course Ottawa had the responsibility and the right to exercise primary control of it.
But maybe this is a blinkered, literally landlocked view; if Arabs parachuted into Northern Alberta and started building a tarsands plant fifty miles north of McMurray, I'd expect Ottawa to do something about that without nationalizing our oil as a quid pro quo. At any rate, I want Newfoundlanders to stay angry. It feels good to have an ally in the work of destroying the poisonous Trudeau doctrine that a united country requires a crushingly strong central government. I never really expected to see Newfies at the front of the skirmishing line, but you're most welcome, boyos.
On the hockey page: hooray for our stupidity. -11:12 pm, May 8
Various kinds of sucker
Hi there. I'm on deadline but I'll use my "lunch break" to check in and say hello. The Bill Bennett revelations have spawned a philosopho-statistical debate of Biblical proportions between Eugene Volokh and Brad Delong, two of the smarter bears in weblog world... the whole thing is complicated, but only slightly, by Josh Green's recent clarification that Bennett probably lost closer to $1 million than $8 million. The key question is whether we can know that Bennett lost a significant amount of money, as he claims he did not. Volokh started by suggesting, in passing, that we cannot know any such thing. This set Delong off, not that he's hard to set off.
Volokh does not write "the odds are overwhelming that Bennett's claim to have gambled heavily on slots and come out pretty close to even is completely false." Instead, he writes a standard "he said, she said sentence: "Bennett suggests that he's 'come out pretty close to even', though others doubt this..." The "others" don't just "doubt" this, they know that this is false with a probability so high as to be effectively indistinguishable from certainty.Yes, he really did say "Why oh why" and mean it. Volokh responded by saying that the factual interpretation of the original Washington Monthly/Newsweek claims is the issue, not the statistics. Did Delong back down? On the contrary, he cranked up the volume.
When the background probability of some state of affairs is overwhelmingly improbable, claims that the state of affairs actually took place need to be regarded with great skepticism, not taken at face value. To dismiss the background probabilities and turn it into a simple "he said, he said" problem about which one should be "agnostic" is a major analytical mistake.
If you only follow one link, I suggest Delong's third kick at the cat. All these Delong posts have threads packed with several dozen comments worth reading, including some relevant dissent; but I think, basically, that Delong is right and Volokh somewhat less right.
Elsewhere, as for example on the Corner passim, Bennett sympathizers have been groping for some mathematical way of explaining how Bennett could play high-stakes slot machines--for ten years--without losing a significant amount of money. The defences are often laden with "payout" percentages that don't come with a convenient explanation of whether the payouts are per-pull or over a certain period of time. Nobody should be especially impressed by an average payout of 97% or 98% per pull; as Delong argues, the central limit theorem will eat through your stake very quickly--not in ten years, surely, but in a matter of a few nights--even at those rates. Apparently some video poker machines will sometimes offer a payout of more than 100% with perfect play--but I find it rather hard to believe that these machines are labelled as such, and also that Bennett is a computer-brained perfect player of video slots. Don't ask me to swallow both propositions; I'd have an easier time passing a basketball through my digestive tract.
Look: Bill Bennett was given staggeringly huge lines of credit by the casinos for a reason. He was presumably comped by the casinos beyond your wildest imaginings, and mine, for a reason. His file was handled with kid gloves (NO CONTACT AT BUS OR RES!) for a reason. The idea that there is going to exist some theoretical slot player who comes out "close to even" because he plays big money and knows what he's doing... it's a fantasy, OK? And, at that, it's a fantasy that the casinos would like you very much to believe. It's convenient for them, since the P.R. opportunity has appeared, to employ reverse psychology by admitting that they take staggering amounts out of the pockets of ordinary punters but that they play "fair" with a certain class of elitist shrewdies. We'd all like to believe that we are at least theoretically capable of joining that class, so the argument works on us--if we don't have a suitably deep feeling of awe for the central limit theorem.
Into the green
I'm a bit vexed that Ashton Kutcher has ratted out the Bush twins for the sake of a good anecdote in Rolling Stone. Man, that's just not cool--what were you thinking? Why don't you just get a "Blabbermouth" tatt for your forehead?
"The Bushes were underage-drinking at my house," Kutcher tells interviewer Gavin Edwards. Stepping outside at one point, Kutcher recalls that "one of the Secret Service guys asked me if [the twins would] be spending the night."This anecdote could not be tailored more carefully to throw more obstacles in the path of the girls' obviously quite robust social life; it ranges from the near-subliterate (using "underage-drinking" as a verb) to the Flaubertian (you can practically hear the Secret Service guy sighing as he inquires into the possibility of the girls staying out on yet another tandem allnighter).
But then Kutcher probably didn't mean any particular harm. We have a little trouble taking twins seriously as human beings, don't we? For starters they're an uncomfortable reminder of the factory process by which we are born and, in the case of identical twins, of genetic determinism. I imagine they tend to grow up slightly screwed up, like most people who are exceptional in some respect; the complexity of the ego issues confronting them is self-evident. (FHM magazine named the Bush girls the 88th sexiest woman in the world. A nice tribute, no doubt, but--Christ, they're two separate people.) And for pretty female twins like the Bushes, the problem is compounded by the weird erotic associations with which twindom has become freighted. Not that men wouldn't fantasize about twins anyway, but racy jokes about and pictorials of twins have made the sex connection practically automatic. Maybe Kutcher's lashing out because his threesome bid got shut down.
Am I the only one who thought the episode of "Clinton & Dole" about reality TV was a real hoot? "Clinton & Dole" brims over with so much generational and historical subtext, and so much clumsy self-awareness, that I have little hesitancy in describing it as, itself, a species of reality TV. No Survivor episode ever pulsated with this kind of emotional danger. What's Bob Dole really saying when he says "For eight years you treated Hollywood like your own piggy bank. Now, how about joining me in demanding a little responsibility?" Whoa--The Great Santini Meets Maynard G. Krebs! "Clinton & Dole" is a sitcom struggling to free itself from the chrysalis of panel newstalk, but the format offers no real promise of the final consummation we all secretly half-anticipate, wherein Clinton responds to a patented Dole wisecrack about anilingus by reclining in his chair, sparking up a fattie, and saying "Don't knock it till you've tried it, Senator." The masks will not be allowed to slip too far.
In the midst of this American noh, Clinton accidentally lets slip an excellent reason to vote Republican in 2004:
As for kids and drugs, the Republican budget gives a tax cut to you and me paid for by cutting $100 million from the Safe and Drug Free School Program and the Drug Enforcement Administration...
Via Bourque: the U.S. Department of Energy has 36-tupled its estimate of Canada's "proven oil reserves" overnight. How did it happen? Simple: they finally decided to start counting the Athabasca oil sands as "proven". Since the sands have been delivering steady profits since before the first Gulf War, and petro giants like Shell and Mobil have been racing to expand capacity, this is the opposite of news to Albertans. But for those inclined to believe petroleum doomsayers, it's a reminder of how hard it is for a resource to become truly "proven", for international accounting purposes, even after researchers and oil companies have ascertained economic viability to their own satisfaction many times over. (I had some other stuff to say on the petro front, but, alas, I'm saving it for my print column...)
Whyte toast? Frum quits Post!
David Frum has left the National Post in protest over Ken Whyte's firing. His view of the events and their significance--complete with sordid detail!--is up at NRO.
More from the corpus
The exquisite Arianne Marcoux found and sent me a couple more of the points at which Orwell touched upon, or at least gestured toward, the destruction of European Jewry. "It seems to me," she says, "that Orwell was aware at a relatively early date that Nazi atrocities were being committed, even if he failed to anticipate their scale. In 1943, he wrote:"
But unfortunately the truth about atrocities is far worse than that they are lied about and made into propaganda. The truth is that they happen. ...Nor is there much doubt about the long tale of fascist outrages during the last ten years in Europe. The volume of testimony is enormous, and a respectable portion of it comes from the German press and radio. These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one's eye on. [Notice how difficult he expects this to be for his fellow Englishmen! -C.C.] They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the torturing in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads--they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late.
This comes from the article entitled "Looking Back on the Spanish War". (Orwell.ru appears to be down at the moment--I hope I haven't got them in any trouble. You can go there by the time you read this, most likely, and find the online version yourself.) Arianne also provides this paragraph from one of my favourite Orwell essays, "Reflections on Gandhi". Published only in 1949, it was, as I recall, a piece he had failed to find a buyer for when he first wrote it shortly after the war.
In relation to the late war, one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: "What about the Jews? Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?" I must say that I have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question, though I have heard plenty of evasions, usually of the "you're another" type. But it so happens that Gandhi was asked a somewhat similar question in 1938 and that his answer is on record in Mr. Lewis Fischer's Gandhi and Stalin. According to Mr. Fischer, Gandhi's view was that the Jews ought to commit collective suicide, which "would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler's violence." After the war he justified himself: the Jews had been killed anyway, and might as well have died significantly. One has the impression that this attitude staggered even so warm an admirer as Mr. Fischer.
New on the hockey page: a stunned blurt and radically changed numbers. More here soon. -11:41 pm, May 5
Luck be a lady tonight
Why Didn't I Think Of That Dept.:
Of course, [Bill] Bennett is not a cold rationalist; he believes in the personal God of traditional Christianity, a deity who takes a direct interest in human affairs. That's fair enough. What interests me is how he integrated the two cosmologies of theism and magical thinking, which would seem to contradict each other. Or did he subconsciously see them as same thing? Did he believe, for example, that slot-machine wins accrue naturally to the virtuous?
When you're done snickering, do read Evan Kirchhoff's complete entry on Virtue Man in Sin City.
A noisy sort of silence
Thomas Pynchon's new introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four is in some ways glorious: only a fellow novelist would have made the new connections Pynchon does, twigging to the fact that the appendix on Newspeak is written in the past tense and that Winston Smith was born in the same year as Orwell's adopted son. But what the heck is this?
Much has been made recently of Orwell's own attitude towards Jews, some commentators even going so far as to call it anti-Semitic. If one looks in his writing of the time for overt references to the topic, one finds relatively little.
Does one indeed? Orwell wrote a 1,400-word essay on "Anti-Semitism in Britain" in 1945. Admittedly his stated attitude was, by and large, bafflement ("I have no hard-and-fast theory about the origins of anti-Semitism... [it] should be investigated--and I will not say by antisemites, but at any rate by people who know that they are not immune to that kind of emotion"). Orwell didn't talk much about the Holocaust as such (though cf. "Revenge Is Sour", 1945), but then, neither did anyone else in Western societies generally until the Eichmann trial in 1961. Orwell was dead long before anyone would have written the word "holocaust" with a capital H. It is curious that anyone should expect him to have meditated on the unique wartime sufferings of the Jews, when the failure to appreciate the magnitude of the specifically racialist Nazi atrocities was so general for so long. It did take time, after all, for comprehensive data on the Nazi genocide(s) to be assembled; and it must be recalled that members of Orwell's generation, remembering the bizarre stories they were asked to believe of the Germans during and after the First World War, would have regarded news of ovens and gas chambers with a twitchy, instinctive skepticism. (Consider our own difficulties in acquiring reliable information about war in an age of more sophisticated mass media.) There was simply a long period of adjustment to the idea that the Nazis were guilty of most of the acts of which they were accused, and on a far grander scale than most had dared propose. [UPDATE, May 5: more here.]
You want to order how much Botox?
Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.
If Daniel Webster was right, then God Almighty is definitely trying to tell us something.
More on "B.C.E."
The top Google hit for the acronym "B.C.E.", if you ignore the ones referring to the European Central Bank, the Canadian telco formerly known as Bell Canada Enterprises, the Banco Central del Ecuador, and the Benelux Computer Exchange, is this hilarious apologia at ReligiousTolerance.org. Their translation of anno domini as "in the name of the Lord" says it all, don't you think? Correspondents to the site have pointed out that we'll have to do away with the pagan names of the weekdays and months if the principle behind "B.C.E." is enforced uniformly.
Fortunately, very few people are aware of the etymology of the days of the week and months of the year. Thus, it does not create much offense.
You see, Christians? When I say that it is Sunday, May 4, the reason you don't get angry about my dual tribute to two of the Church's great persecutor civilizations is that you are ignorant. Isn't tolerance a wonderful thing?
Un plus brilliant exploit
One non-hockey note about today's game at the Corel Centre: I can't honestly remember if I've ever heard national anthems done right before. Point one: the accompaniment was dominated by brass instruments. Point two: both anthems were played alla marcia, instead of at a Lou Rawls sort of tempo.¹ Point three: the singer was a baritone. Point four: he resisted overwrought inflection and sang the songs briskly, in rhythm. All right--I'll grant that a professional vocal trainer will be having nightmares about the singer's sudden slight enfeeblement when presented with the French words in the middle of the bilingual adaptation of "O Canada". And yes, he lisped a bit. It was still pretty damn terrific. That's right, folks: I'm telling you that Ottawa did something right that the rest of the country can learn from. And I haven't even been huffing solvents.
¹It is the goddamn law of the land, my dear anthem singers and performers, that "O Canada" is to be performed with dignity, not too slowly. Parliament, in its wisdom, clearly anticipated the widespread perversion of the anthem into an individualistic display of athletic caterwauling, yet failed to provide that violators of the official tempo marking be executed on sight. I herewith propose that a roving force of armed vigilantes be raised and funded to accomplish this important advance in our national artistic life. Of course, if it were up to me we'd be singing "The Maple Leaf Forever" or "God Save the Queen" anyway.
Good lord. Have things really come to this pass?--you can't publish a book on the history of mathematics without using "B.C.E." instead of "B.C." to describe years preceding the birth of Christ? When I was an undergraduate ten years ago, this barbarism was only just finding favour with younger professors. Political correctness is well and good, but "B.C.E." has a number of modest problems: there is no universal agreement on what it even stands for, it impedes legibility by being far too similar to its opposite "C.E.", and it seems as though it does a pretty poor job of placating non-Christians, since year one of the "common era" is still, inconveniently enough, the year of Jesus Christ's birth. Other cultures have their own perfectly serviceable calendars--has that fact escaped the arbiters of political correctness?--and therefore the supposition that the Lord's nativity ushered in some sort of common era smacks far more of cultural imperialism (nay, calendrical genocide!) than the alternative.
Probably the people who recommend and use (or, in poor Derbyshire's case, enforce) "B.C.E." are aware of this, and are simply befogged by the thrill of cultural revision: if a natural-born Jacobin can't actually change the base year of the dating system, he can at least annoy the universe and flaunt his good intentions and sensitivity. The change having been made, our Thermidoreans will unquestionably discover for themselves the objections made supra and feel the need to impose a new acronym. In the meantime, the indifferently lettered are inconvenienced, to no possible benefit. This is, quite simply, rude--a collective act of self-involved unkindness. "B.C.E." advocates are, without any possible exception, irredeemable assholes. If you happen to find one, please let him know I said so.
Postmortem on the matinee games, now available at the hockey page. -7:54 pm, May 3
Bending over backwards
Here's the mighty Steve Sailer trying too hard to be contrarian about Bill Bennett:
"Despite his personal appetites, Bennett and his organization, Empower America, oppose the extension of casino gambling in the states." I don't see anything hypocritical about that. The point of opposing legalized gambling is that many people, exactly like Bennett, have a hard time controlling their gambling weakness. Further, the notion that a propagandist for virtue indoctrination has weaknesses is hardly a reason that we don't need propagandizing for moral behavior. In fact, original sin is why we need indoctrination for good behavior.
It may be true that moral propaganda is a good thing, but are we supposed, or likely, to accept it from liars? (Particularly grouse-fat, ducally wealthy, politically powerful ones?) Saying you've played Vegas's most expensive slots for ten years and not lost any money isn't a sign of "weakness": it's a sign of a vice for which our conventional word "dishonesty" seems altogether too tepid. And I'll note that the lie--see, kids, the house doesn't always take a percentage!--is far from a harmless one for a moral "propagandist" to proclaim. As for the specific question of hypocrisy, Bennett has denied in the face of decisive evidence that he has anything resembling a "gambling weakness". Indeed his argument is that he is an adult pursuing a harmless pastime--and it's one he can afford to pursue, one supposes, on frequent trips to Las Vegas. He does not (yet) propose to abandon it himself, so what can advocating forbidding it to others be, if not hypocrisy?
[UPDATE, 10:57 pm: John T. Kennedy responds. Bennett's hypocrisy may be "beside the point" if you've defined the point as being something else entirely, but I was dealing strictly with what Steve wrote. I've defended the social utility of hypocrisy in other contexts, but surely it is a somewhat important consideration when speaking of professional moralists?]
There's a long new entry on the hockey page. Just think, the playoffs are almost half over. -3:46 am, May 3
Matt Welch is nervous about regime change at the National Post. When I wrote "nothing they've done since the Post launch has made the paper an easier product to sell," I forgot about Matt's weekly column, which is of course a counterexample. [UPDATE, May 3: OK, so it's a fortnightly column! I thought maybe it just got spiked a lot!] The nightmare scenario for those habitually employed by the paper is reimplosion. The old Financial Post, a great business tab, acquired an exoskeleton of new sections and the "National" nameplate when Conrad Black decided to make hot war on the Globe. Pretty much everyone I talk to about the media here has been forecasting a reversion to the original state of affairs for two years or more (though, with the optimism for which I'm famous, I refuse to rule out a fire sale of the full paper back to Lord Black), and nothing in David Asper's rhetoric the other day really rules that out. What does, if anything does, is that the National Post really has built a populist following the FP didn't have, and if the paper is going to be any good for "synergistic" purposes it will have to remain, at least notionally, a full-service news buffet.
When karma attacks
Today, apparently, was the Day of Puncturing the Sanctimonious... someone has used Newsweek to punch a softball-sized hole in virtue-peddling gasbag and problem gambler Bill Bennett. What's that, Mr. Bennett? Your high-stakes gambling doesn't qualify as a "problem"? Sorry--speaking only for myself, I'd say the minute you open up $200,000 lines of credit at four different casinos, you've got a problem almost by definition. And the claim that after a decade or more of heavy gambling you've "come out pretty close to even"--on slot machines--identifies you as a liar as well as a chip junkie.
At the very least, of course, Bill has a "problem" of public perception:
His customer profile at one casino lists an address that corresponds to Empower.org, the Web site of Empower America, the group Bennett cochairs. But typed across the form are the words: NO CONTACT AT RES OR BIZ!!!
Estimated time until Bennett goes into treatment and begs us all publicly for forgiveness: one week. Of course, Bennett could try to weather the storm, but obviously someone powerful is coming after him. I wouldn't bet on this being the last shot in the arsenal of whomever brown-enveloped Newsweek and the Washington Monthly. At any rate, the damage has already been done. Every evangelical Protestant who has ever contributed to Bennett's speaking fees or kicked money into Empower America is curled up in a fetal position right now, and even those who are non-religious or belong to gambling-friendly denominations must be a little sickened. I understand that Vegas casinos are "legitimate businesses" nowadays, but Bennett's never been one to elevate legal niceties over moral ones.
Slightly less satisfying, but only slightly less, is the U.S. District Court's gentle sponging of John McCain's solid wastes from the surface of the Constitution. At a guess, the District Court has been a little friendlier to McCain-Feingold than the Supreme Court will be; it only tore the bill to shreds, rather than setting it on fire and symbolically dispersing the ashes to the States in fifty tiny, ornately decorated urns. The Volokh mafia is on the case--the early response seems to be disappointment that the low court wasted its time bickering over issues of law that the Supremes will have to re-argue, and did little to provide a factual foundation for the eventual SCOTUS decision. (Main links via Drudge.)
Should have put this up this a while back--in response to my Edmonton slogans post, John Holbo asks the question "Canada: do you know what it's for?"
A shadowy Deep Throat figure from the CanWest universe observes to your correspondent that the company's newspaper wing is taking much longer than was once habitual to reimburse contractors and creditors--a pretty conventional sign of cash-flow difficulties. Perhaps yesterday's bloodbath had to come sooner than headquarters would have liked.
The story of the eye
In still yet more publishing news, Andrew Castel-Dodge-Hauptkopf von Ulm is e-selling the first in a series of three cyberpunk novels he wrote a few years back. They chronicle revolutionaries in a dystopian future European Union, or so the advance press tells me--I haven't cracked open my copy yet. The price is super low and you'll be helping him raise money for some pretty expensive and delicate eye surgery.
One for Bad Bob
In other publishing news, fans of evangelical tract magnate Jack Chick won't want to miss Robert Ito's piece about the reclusive master from Los Angeles magazine. Ito went to Chick's home but had no luck getting past the doorstep: however, his article does contain interesting detail about Fred Carter, the long-anonymous illustrator of the most technically astonishing Chick tracts. Chick has apparently spent ten years working on a movie consisting almost entirely of images of Carter's oil paintings of the Bible! (Link via BoingBoing. Don't forget to read Jack's latest, which opens with characteristically inexplicable Chickian pell-mell violence.)
Wasn't it strange that the CBC put its story on Ken Whyte's outright release from the National Post in the Arts section? I wish I could help you out with the inside baseball on that story, but all I know is that the Aspers are taking a flamethrower to the management side of the Post, and as someone who's more comfortable as an employee than a boss, I'd say it's about time they stop trying to solve their money problems by dicking around with editorial. Yes, all right: I actually have that sentiment loaded into a Microsoft Word macro. But truly, nothing they've done since the Post launch has made the paper an easier product to sell.
Kremlinologically I have to say that Whyte's apparent firing appears to be a pretty severe vote of non-confidence, since CanWest made out--what, eight weeks ago?--that he was being groomed for senior management. Is this the Peter Principle in action? I hope mentioning the classic dictum won't be taken as an insult to Whyte (though you'll hear some from certain quarters, no doubt, now that he's out of a job); everybody has a level at which they stray beyond their competence. Mine, for instance, is pretty much outside a two-foot radius around this chair. Whyte's may have been at the boardroom table amongst the featureless power brokers of what used to be called "Southam". In any event he was wrestled out of the job he was good at, or lost confidence in his ability to do it on the prescribed budget. Or both.
David Asper states that "The Post has carved out a formidable position as a great conservative newspaper that provides Canadians with a different perspective from other mainstream papers." He also states that "We are putting the Asper name behind the Post because we believe in the newspaper." There is no sign I can perceive that the Aspers' belief in the newspaper is connected to its conservativeness; Asper's ostentatious mention of the concept only makes me all the more nervous about the paper's future as a conservative (or at least classical-liberal, anti-Chretien, and pro-American) organ. Everything that has actually happened with the chain in the past year suggests that policy among the CanWest papers is henceforth going to be dictated centrally and sternly, as far as possible--and that would suggest that an MOR Liberal line is inevitable, even if the Aspers weren't a notoriously MOR Liberal family. But, hell, who knows. Perhaps their plan takes into account that editorial talents--the kind that run great papers--are overwhelmingly likely to be non-mainstream, individualistic, opinionated, and, in this country, "conservative". (Or weird in some other way...)
Did I mention there's new stuff on the hockey page? One from last night and a brand-new one. More here, too, a little later. -8:14 pm, May 1
I bet Cheney spilled the beans
I suppose everybody's noticed the bum-covering boilerplate CNN appends to all its Iraq stories: "EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk." Curiously, this notice was not left off of this morning's update on President Bush's upcoming carrier landing. Citing a "senior White House aide", CNN has revealed the make of the aircraft Bush will be piloting. It's a nice little reporting coup and they're wholly within their rights to share it with us, but can they claim it doesn't introduce an added element of risk to the president's trip, especially seeing as the departure point is also known?
The lonely battle against PowerPoint continues
At his ever-remarkable site, Edward Tufte, author of (and expert in) The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, discusses the unintentionally harmful influence of psychologist George Miller's 1956 paper "The Magical Number Seven, Plus Or Minus Two" on data presentation.
That essay reviews psychological experiments that discovered people had a hard time remembering more than about seven unrelated pieces of really dull data all at once. These studies on memorizing nonsense then led some interface designers to conclude that only seven items belong on a list or a slide, a conclusion which can be sustained only by not reading the paper. ...At Williams College in September 2000, I saw George Miller give a presentation that used an optimal number of bullet points on an optimal number of slides--zero. Just a nice straightforward talk with a long narrative structure.
That's not the really nifty part: the nifty part is Miller's own response, further down the page, which discusses how the U.S. federal government abused Miller's findings. The original "Magical Number Seven" is online, too. You would be hard pressed to find, in all the world's scientific literature, a better opening sentence than "My problem is that I have been persecuted by an integer."