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Parental advisory: explicit lyrics.

The best game you can name

Amusing search-engine referral of the day: colby is great. Agreed!

The Oilers just beat Colorado 1-0 on Hockey Night in Canada. Chronic underachiever Dan Cleary got the goal, then joined Scott Russell after the broadcast to say how much the team likes to hang out after games and "shoot the shit". Hockey players, eh?

Incidentally, what happened to the insurmountable difficulties Canadian teams were supposed to be facing in today's NHL? Only one Canadian team certifiably stinks right now, and as I predicted before the season it's the Calgary Flames. Boy, what's sweeter than that? Having the Flames in the toilet and being right about it: priceless. Anyway, leaving them aside, Vancouver won its franchise-record tenth straight tonight and the Oilers have seven or eight wins in their own last ten. Ottawa and Montreal are both above .500, and Montreal is gonna be a lot better than that if Jose Theodore can reassemble his immense talent, as he should be able to (the question being how long it'll take).

Toronto's right behind, and they've got the players to get above .500, to say the least. I do think it was dumb to put the team in Eddie Billion-Dollar Belfour's hands: he's 37 and he looks washed up to me. (To me, if you're going to count on an aging goalie, you want to choose one whose success is founded on super conditioning rather than emotional intensity.) But he was the Player of the Week a little while ago, and anyway it's impossible for me to be objective about a child-molesting syphilitic Nazi pimp like Belfour. (And besides, grabbing Belfour left them no worse off than keeping Curtis Joseph would have. CuJo was a deity in this town, possibly the most talented Oilers goalie ever, but he's definitely showing dents.)

Basically, I see five of the six Canadian teams as basically OK and four of them as mortal locks for the playoffs. The sick part is that the really good ones, Vancouver and Edmonton, are in the Western Conference, which looks almost as dominant this year as it was in 2001-02. You put either of those teams in the East and they're instant favourites to make the finals, give or take Boston. In the West their playoff status will be in doubt until distressingly late in the year.

Under the circumstances, I'd like to be able to make the case for doing away with conferences entirely and just taking the 16 best teams into the NHL playoffs. But this would create crippling travel budgets all around--more so for Edmonton, stuck as it is up near the Arctic Circle--and, anyway, I find this sort of A-therefore-B reasoning, so very common amongst sportswriters, to be incredibly tiresome. Not that hockey writers have even particularly noticed A in this case, mind you: you get the occasional comment on the West's superiority, but as big a factor as it is in the standings and the playoff races, it should be discussed a lot more.

A classic example of the sheer doltishness of the A-therefore-B approach is on display in the NHL right now. Last year the writers said, with practically one voice, "Boy, offensive totals are way down in the league and a lot of our top scorers are just being annihilated by all the clutching and grabbing in the neutral zone. This is bad for the game--the fans love offence and creativity and we're just not seeing much of that anymore. This is a boring, despicable brand of hockey. There's got to be a league directive about cracking down on obstruction."

I heard this everywhere all throughout 2000 and 2001, and the league listened. In the off-season Andy van Hellemond put out a directive: we're not going to allow defenders to obstruct anyone who's not carrying the puck anymore. That stuff is over. AVH held seminars, sent memos, talked to GMs and coaches--generally made the rule change in a totally exemplary way, with (at first) unanimous support.

So now what's the big story of '02-'03, according to the hockey writers? Of course: whose idea was this insane crackdown on obstruction? The same media vox dei that was complaining about low scoring totals and the fettering of flashy players is now bitching, bitching, bitching about constant stoppages in play, overstuffed penalty boxes, the disappearance of 5-on-5 hockey, and an outbreak of diving designed to attract the new penalties the refs were carefully instructed to call.

Well, the hockey I've seen so far this year is a little better. There is more freedom in the neutral zone. And all this other stuff, all the power plays and diving, was a perfectly foreseeable consequence of the new officiating directives. So anybody who complains now had better be prepared to prove to me that he was arguing against a massive tide of opinion, in 2000 and 2001, that neutral-zone snorefests were the good and natural state of the game.

- 11:33 pm, November 30 (link)

In other Report weblogs, issue 4

Ah, well, we're starting to separate the men from the boys, aren't we. A scan of the clutch of Report sites shows five days since Kevin Steel's last update and a solid week for Jeremy Lott, who can claim partial mitigation on grounds of American Thanksgiving. Former staffer Kelly Torrance is in the States too, but she's at ten days and counting; turkey doesn't make anybody that sleepy. Come out and play, guys!

Among the nervier candidates in the game of weblog Survivor, we have The Ambler, Likud voter manqué and AirMiles collector, who is updating frequently. And Rick Hiebert's miscellany is improving, with a mini-catalogue of Canadian memories. Personally I feel the haunting Hinterland Who's Who theme should be piped into public buildings to lower the blood pressure and soothe frazzled nerves.

But. The truly apocalyptic news on this front, dear readers, is at Dave Stevens' place. For years, years, this man has berated me for considering the Macintosh a vaguely jokey, infantile machine, the computing equivalent of a Bose speaker set. Well, guess what. He recently bought an XP box at a discount and set it up in his office, almost on a lark. And guess what happened then.

I have come to realize that Windows XP is a pretty damn fine operating system. I am actually enjoying the use of it. It is easily modifiable with a fairly large selection of custom themes available. It runs efficiently. It only seems to freeze up when I try to run certain older games (which could happen to any system). It opens up most software packages lightning fast. It surfs the internet very smoothly. It has a number of utilities built in to the system that one would normally have to get from third party developers. I love the right mouse button and the third mouse button/roller even more. And, the clincher... it has run almost any game that I have thrown at it, regardless of how old or new that game was.

These are not things Dave says lightly (and don't worry, he gets around to describing the ridiculous problems he has with his beloved G4). The entry is entitled "Sacrilege!", for starters. Other sample quotes: "It's KILLING ME [to say all this]"; "If I were part of any Macintosh user group, I would probably be dead by now for what I have just admitted"; "I don't think anyone but another dedicated Macintosh user could understand how unnerving this all is".

Cult deprogramming is never easy, Dave. Welcome to the ranks of free men.

[UPDATE, December 1: Andrea Harris comments.]

- 4:11 am, November 30 (link)

Frye-ing in Hell?

Book links! Alex Good's page steered me to this Guardian Q&A with Booker Prize winner Yann Martel. I think I actually like this Martel guy. He wins me over when he mentions that he couldn't finish The Satanic Verses, although he might have been a little more intrepid in his phrasing: nobody on Earth finished The Satanic Verses.

Good's Book News page is incredible right now. Practically everything on there is interesting. The Giller Prize seems to have been given to a book universally acknowledged to be unreadable. Was the title The Polished Hoe chosen as a very dry joke? Are you kidding me with that?

The crushingly excellent Philip Marchand has a mesmerizing column about the poisonous rivalry between Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye, University of Toronto colleagues who were possibly the two great figures of Canadian letters in the 20th century. McLuhan, a conservative Catholic, despised Frye because he thought he was dabbling in dark occultic forces and perhaps messing about with Freemasonry. Marchand writes:

The feeling was: Oh that McLuhan, what a character.
Funny thing, however. In recent years, with the publication of Frye's diaries and his notebooks, it is becoming clear that McLuhan was on to something. Frye--if not a witness to secret rites at Casa Loma, or part of a network of Masonic conspirators to thwart Roman Catholics in general, and Marshall McLuhan in particular--was deeply attracted to what can only be called the occult.
Marchand has discovered a new and major source for Frye's thinking in Colin Still, a hitherto undistinguished flake who believed The Tempest was a disguised representation of some sort of pagan initiation rite. This is a neat bit of detective work. Paging D. Dutton and K. Shaidle...

- 3:36 am, November 30 (link)

The ingrate

Tim Blair has an amusing quip from a Sydney Morning Herald letter-writer: "If Canada had oil to speak of," she writes, the U.S. "would have gone to war" over Francie Ducros's "moron" comment. Canada is of course the number one exporter of oil and natural gas to the United States, as longtime readers are aware. When I see the tanks roll past I'll be sure to let you all know.

I also learn from Tim that Mark Steyn's website is now a going concern. Steyn admirers, which will be nearly all of you, take note. I expect Mark's Mailbox to be particularly enjoyable.

Steven Jens writes to ask:

Are [Americans] really most of your traffic? I assumed there were several of us, but assumed that most of your readers were Canadian.

Several?? Jeez, thanks for the vote of confidence, Steve. I get about 500 visitors on a typical weekday, thanks very much, and as best I can determine, at least half are Americans. So when the southern Thanksgiving rolls around, it seems I'm destined to suffer a readership exodus without even the consolation of leftover turkey. Thankful? I got your thanks right here, pal.

- 11:25 pm, November 29 (link)

Caviar and meths

Thanks to all the education webloggers who've been linking to me. I didn't start keeping a list from my referrer logs early on, so I'm in no position to reciprocate in anything like a fair way. Erin O'Connor, Brian Micklethwait, and Michael Peach are the ones I recall. I'm sure I'm skipping people. There is a whole subnetwork of folks out there who are interested in exploring educational alternatives and trying to think the thing through. For obvious reasons, the orthodox media doesn't handle this kind of development very well unless there's some political fight it can use as a peg: union vs. school board, school board vs. ministry, what have you.

The "Wal-Mart of meth labs", a cabbie tells me, is located right close to my office. What, no free samples for your neighbours, fellas? Serves you right getting busted then.

The second-highest law officer in Alberta has been accused of witness tampering in her soldier son's court-martial. Heather Forsyth is a articulate, ambitious woman who is probably one of the saner influences on our Legislative Assembly. That said, this quote infuriates me:

"It's before the courts, and I'm not prepared to make any more comments," Forsyth said. "I would hope... that the media respect our privacy. It's been a very difficult time for our family."
Dear Heather: when the solicitor-general is accused of witness tampering it is not a private matter. Shall I repeat that, or does the bold type help drill this into your noodle? Your cheeseball plea (a) has zero chance of doing anything to slacken the pace of the journalistic pack and (b) is incredibly offensive to the intelligence of the public. Even if you're as innocent as a fetus in this matter, it's still offensive. So shove a sock in it. You were mostly left in peace when your son went on trial, but now that there is a credible accusation of absolutely staggering seriousness, questions are going to be asked. If you don't like it, instructions on how to quit your job now and return to private life are available on request. Best of British luck to you.

- 7:48 pm, November 29 (link)

Sheesh, did he really ask that?

Geitner Simmons asks idly if Canada really has its own group of people vilifed as "rednecks". Boy, this is a disconcerting question, even coming from an American. Any Canadian can tell you immediately what province Canada's rednecks live in. The word may actually be more common in this country than it is in the U.S.; there is at least some kind of cultural stigma attached to hatred of the American South, but very little, in Canada, attached to hatred of the blue-eyed sheiks.

Of course, this use of the word "redneck" is really slightly inappropriate, since it's their affluence Albertans are resented for, not their poverty. Here's an entire two-part radio documentary commissioned by the national broadcaster on Canada's rednecks.

- 5:20 pm, November 29 (link)


I find that when I'm wrung dry after finishing my copy, I start having knee-jerk reactions to everything. "GUILTY IN MURDER, ITALY EX-PM PLEADS FOR JUSTICE," goes the headline at Bourque's place. Justice? Isn't justice sort of the last thing you want if you're a convicted murderer?... I thought "mercy" was the usual menu order at a time like that. And Slate asks "Will Computers Replace Michael Kinsley?" Hey, didn't this already happen? Set the dipswitches to "coy" and "technocratic".

The TorStar reports that John McCallum, the Canadian defence minister who can't tell his Vimy Ridge from his Vichy regime, was barred from an Air Canada flight for drunkenness earlier this month. Man, where do they find these guys? He says, prefacing his remarks with "I believe in being honest", that he had a "few glasses of wine" before attempting to board. This is what politicians always say in these situations. It's always a "few glasses of wine" because beefy middle-aged politicians, as we know, never down a fifth of Scotch in the evenings.

You know what, John? You're a large man; you're not some 100-pound teenaged girl who just had her first sip of Zima. Lots of people have "a few glasses of wine" before boarding a plane; indeed, some consider it essential. They don't get barred by the damn flight attendant. Especially if they're a high-ranking minister of the federal cabinet. I'm going to assume that by "a few" glasses of wine you mean no fewer than 12. Also I'm going to assume that "glasses" means quart jars and "wine" means Wild Turkey, neat.

Can you believe they picked Henry Kissinger to lead the commission investigating the failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks? I guess we all knew young Bush had a predilection for these old-school Nixon Administration guys, but... Kissinger? Dude, Mr. President, sir, please reassure me that you're not back on the nose whisky; this is like something "Saturday Night Live" would invent to make fun of you, OK? Where the heck was Karl Rove when somebody drunker than John McCallum suggested this?

I mean, every politician does a few gonzo, out-to-lunch things like this, but it makes me wonder why journalists are so prostrate in awe of "spin doctors". If real doctors made mistakes like this, we'd still be getting our surgery done by barbers. What scares me is the possibility that Henry got the job because he knows about some horrible Paul Krassneresque incident in W's past. "George... George... make me chairman of ze commission or I go to ze Times with ze story about ze crystal meth and ze botched abortion..." Is there a better explanation? To be fair to Bush, he probably did it because the Rumsfeld appointment has worked out so well. Rumsfeld's having this amazing late-life renaissance as the Gary Cooper of Republican bastardy (and I mean "bastardy" here in a sense which Rummy would totally understand, respect, and accept). I keep expecting to wake up one day and hear that Rumsfeld bedded Britney Spears on national television or something. People love that guy!

Speaking of real doctors, a friend sends along a link to a recent episode of BBC's "Horizon" featuring one of the great underappreciated Canadians, the conjuror, skeptic and Macarthur "genius grant" recipient James Randi. The show was an experimental test of homeopathy, one in which Randi's foundation stood to lose a million-dollar prize if the effects of the popular pseudoscience could be reproducibly confirmed. I won't spoil the ending for you.

- 2:24 am, November 29 (link)

Non sequitur

Hi there. I'm more or less back now, it took me a little longer to get finished than I thought it would. I figure American Thanksgiving is about the best day to ignore the weblog anyway--with everyone in transit back to Podunk, it's a web traffic abattoir. I haven't been at this long enough to know if it'll rebound tomorrow or if everyone will be in a turkey coma. Ohohohoho...tryptophan.

Did you know that the U.S. Army Field Manual on Civil Disturbances is online? Chapter 10 on riot batons contains some good pictures of hippies getting their comeuppance from the man. TAKE THAT, LONGHAIR! Oh, that's gotta hurt.

- 11:57 pm, November 28 (link)

If you can read this...

Before I head home and try to squeeze out the last, incapacitating chunk of my fortnightly copy, a thanks for traffic to Joanne Jacobs, who runs the most essential and readable of all education weblogs. She recommended my half-formed verbal meander on the subject of schools, which suggests strongly that she must read pretty much everything that's out there on the subject. As we already knew.

There's something I left out before when I was talking about home schooling... I had occasion to read a home-schooled student's essay homework one time, a few years back. A couple short written pieces by a young person, aged 11 or 12, as I recall.

What struck me about the homework was this: it was a little bit weird. You could tell that the kid had been indoctrinated with very firm ideas about history and culture, ideas that were just slightly skewed in exactly the way professional educators worry about. This student wasn't some kind of budding Nazi maniac by any means; things were just a little more straightforward, less temperate, than you come to expect from student writing. Not so careful or wimpy.

But the other thing that struck you was that the kid had incredible control of and access to facts. His style of argumentation was more cogent than the average newspaper columnist's, and his prose was ticking along at a very high level, a level that would just knock you out in a public-schooled 16-year-old. For all the occasional solecisms and mild prejudices, this kid had absolutely been given a double helping of the essential tools of thought. By now he's probably about ready to enter university, and he's going to be exposed to ideas which are very different from those instilled by his parents. And I believe based on what I saw that he'll be superbly equipped to sort truth from falsehood and criticize the views he's been given. There was certainly nothing special about his parents, either: they were just super motivated, they got their kid reading early, and they got him using a library. You do that, and you really can't go too far wrong in raising a child, barring some other obvious mistakes (like letting it die of rickets or something).

We can't keep talking about literacy, because I will absolutely flip out and write 15,000 words about it here, and I don't have time. It makes me angry that there is any controversy whatsoever about the subject. But some of that may be prejudice created by my own experiences. And I'm not a parent, so I should probably just shut up about it.

But. Let me say this much. There are only 26 letters in the Roman alphabet. I am very, very, very skeptical of the idea that there are tons and tons of people who can learn to drive a car, make change, and play the piano, but have a mystical "disability" which prevents them from being able to learn and interpret 26 letters in various combinations.

- 9:24 pm, November 27 (link)

Pushing the definition of "Celebrity"

(Warning: extremely Canadian content.) Hey, did you guys know that the Bob Crane sex movie features a scene on the set of Bruno Gerussi's "Celebrity Cooks"? Remember that show? Every day Gerussi and some D-list guest like Richard Deacon would get piss drunk and whip up a ratatouille or some damn thing. Apparently the movie recreates an episode of "Celebrity Cooks" where Bob Crane appeared and started uncontrollably, almost spastically making lewd comments about a woman in the studio audience. Sounds like a typical episode, all right.

It's an interesting casting challenge--whom do you get to portray Gerussi, the magnificent, windburned Graeco-Canadian studmuffin? It turns out John Kapelos--remember the janitor in The Breakfast Club? Of course you do--fits the bill on both ethnic and citizenship grounds. Carl the Janitor is Canadian! That's so cool! And how awesome is it to get to play Bruno Gerussi in a movie?

- 2:03 pm, November 27 (link)


Generally, my life has been mercifully short of computing disappointments and nuisances. I've had good luck with computers--compared to some, or even most--and twenty years of using them has given me a broad, dimbulby sense of how far you can push things with 'em. But in the past week, just the past week, I've unwittingly (a) downloaded a new version of MSN Messenger that seems to have fewer features than its predecessor AND has forgotten the various places in which I'd stored shortcuts to the old version; (b) downloaded a new "web client", whatever that is, for Adobe Acrobat Reader, which seems to make it, uh, not work anymore; and (c) tried to buy the ad off a friend's Blogspot site, only to learn that, for some reason, Pyra can process Paypal payments from Blogspot members but cannot process them from non-members.

Ah, well, you get what you pay for, especially when it's free.

- 9:58 am, November 27 (link)

Close-up of a train wreck

Primary sources dept.: there's been a lot of talk about reclusive, demented chess champion Bobby Fischer since Rene Chun's account of his mental breakdown hit the Atlantic Monthly website. Perhaps it won't do to mention it, but Bobby has his own presence on the WWW. I don't know whether Fischer maintains the page himself, but the page is in a Japanese domain, and if it's not him, then it's got to be a clone. The language and obsessions are latter-day Bobby to the hideous life. (Who else would have the I-Mode mobile address ""?)

Having been warned that Bobby's page contains really scathing anti-semitism and audio files of his infamous radio interviews, you may or may not choose to see for yourself and even send him a message. A lot of the stuff there won't make sense unless you read the Atlantic piece, or you've been following this slo-mo horror story for twenty years along with the rest of the world's chess fans.

- 9:52 pm, November 26 (link)

Two notes

A couple of administrivial matters. First of all, I finally cracked the top 500 on the Myelin Ecosystem Most-Linked List. As I write, I'm at #498, but we'll see how long that lasts; some of my inbound links are transitory hits from main pages. I may have dropped off by the time you go look at the chart.

Second, some of you may have noticed that I have disappeared from the list of Report magazine webloggers here. Don't panic about that: it was mutually agreed, and does not indicate nor foreshadow a change in my employment status.

- 7:54 pm, November 26 (link)

Teachers to tutors?

Alas for the Volokh Conspiracy: the more readers and contributors it gains, the less scrupulous people are about attributing the individual entries to their correct author. Let's try to get these things right, fellow webmasters. This, for example, was written by Stuart Banner:

WHAT WERE THOSE PEOPLE THINKING? It wasn't so long ago that people owned other people as slaves, women couldn't vote, and so on. We all have a list of past practices that seem appalling today. A century or two from now, our descendants will likely think the same about us. Some of the things we do will seem shockingly inhumane. Our great-great-grandchildren will scratch their heads and wonder "What were those people thinking?" But which of our practices are the ones they'll criticize? Eating animals? Psychiatry? Religion?

Well, I've been entertaining an idea about this, actually... maybe you'll think I'm crazy, but my candidate is "schools".

Not just public schools--all schools, or at least all schools that are run on the education-factory model, with 20-plus students per class being taught according to cookie-cutter curricula. Does it ever strike you that the way we teach our children is impractical, antiquated, and, viewed a certain way, sort of shocking?

Turning a child into a citizen is the most important social duty a parent has, qua parent. You would think we'd regard it as something you can't possibly put enough effort into: yet who does the bulk of this work, and how is it done? It's done by a claque of haggard, ill-taught flunkies whose ranks are, thank god, leavened with a few passionate talents. We have no systematic way of telling the good teachers from the bad ones, and most of us don't spend much time doing even casual personal research on the people in charge. (IMPORTANT NOTE: I don't have children.) The teaching profession as a whole loves fads, but is actively hostile to scientific method and valid testing. We hand our kids over to sit in their rows all day--usually in grim industrial buildings--and hope they'll be kept off the streets for a while.

Given these conditions, we may actually be doing a relatively good job of teaching our children. But why are the conditions a given? Why do we debate the ideal class size without challenging the model itself?

When we hear of someone home-schooling their children, we recoil in instinctual horror at the thought of inbred, socially maladjusted kids learning weird and possibly dangerous ideas. But the early evidence from an exploding home-schooling movement is that home-schooled children do very well indeed. They seem to be hugely overrepresented among winners of debate competitions, science fairs, geography bees, and the like. Top American universities fight with each other to get these kids. It seems clear to me that home-schooling is the best choice for most children, under ideal circumstances, if only because it puts the responsibility for that education in the same place where the interest exists. A schoolteacher gets paid whether or not your particular child learns to read. If you're a literate parent you're not going to let that kind of thing slide.

That's a big if; many or most parents probably want a better education for their child than they can provide personally. At any rate, with the economy in its current shape (and I mean "shape" in a value-neutral sense), home schooling won't be practical for a lot of families. But we can, surely, afford private tutors?

See, this is the comical thing: tutors, as opposed to teachers, are doing more and more of the heavy lifting of a failing educational system. We've got these Kumon outfits, these Sylvan Learning Centres and the like, that are teaching math and reading to whole generations of children who are apparently coming out of public schools with no clue how to multiply five and seven. I notice, too, an increasingly lucrative trade in private tutoring for high-school students. I went to high school in the late '80s, and no one I knew was seeing a tutor or was employed as one. By 1995 I had friends who were basically earning a living on these kids. It's just standard now, it seems, for parents to send their kids to high school during the day and then pay someone to actually teach them, on the side.

And when your realize all that, the question becomes "What's the point of the school?" As far as I can tell, the answer is basically that it's already bought and paid for with your tax money.

When government provides a service in a centralized manner, bottom-line efficiency (as opposed to performance) is always going to win an argument against the needs of the client. In the public schools, the existence of powerful teachers' unions creates a third competing interest, diverting funds away from actual education and into the pockets of teachers. The old axiom of schooling is that it's too important a function not to be public, but now surely people are starting to realize that the converse is true: it's too important a function to be public. And, in fact, it's too important a function to be left to a large, impersonal corporation, either. It seems to me you should know your child's teacher at least as well as you know its pediatrician.

The model I see emerging, eventually, is decentralized schooling. Parents should be allowed to withhold tax money from factory schools. They come with expensive appurtenances that can be dispensed with utterly: administrators, sports equipment, lawyers, curriculum directors. If you were designing an education method from scratch you'd never dream of having hundreds of kids in one giant building like a workhouse or a Panopticon prison, would you? You'd probably get together with ten or twelve of your neighbours, people who have kids roughly your child's age, and you'd hire one person to handle their education. Think of the background checks you could do on your candidates, the multi-tier interview process you could organize. Worried about paying the salary of a tutor? Well, I don't know about where you live, but my provincial government spends about $5,000 a year educating a child, according to a back-of-envelope calculation. That's not an unreasonable amount, but if you were given that money and allowed to spend it as you please, do you think you could do better?

That's more or less what I see happening... increasingly radical forms of "school choice", the creation of a free market for tutor labour, innovative community arrangements. Flatter educational structures without all the paperwork. An outflow of schoolwork from the factories to--well, I don't know; it seems to me, just for starters, that there are a whole lot of old people rattling around big houses who would almost be willing to pay to have the place full of children during the day. Or you could simply let a parent with a large house host the class, and allow their child to join for free. A finished basement would be more than large enough, really, for the kind of classes I'm imagining.

Of course, there are tons of niceties to all this. Children with demonstrable special needs would need more funding. Departmental testing, if you chose to keep it, would be expensive and complicated. There would be some absolutely catastrophic failures--as there are now; but no one ever defends a monopoly on the grounds that a competitive market makes mistakes, too, and that's what we have in jurisdictions without serious school choice: a monopoly. That's really why this whole setup seems historically bizarre to me. The early 20th-century voters whose governments created modern centralized schooling--these were the same people who would run amok in the streets at the mention of a "coal trust" or a "wheat trust" or what have you. They were suspicious of monopolies literally to the point of social psychosis--and yet, when it came to education, they thought monopoly was a great idea. (And, for the time, it probably was.)

I'm not convinced we don't need schools, for some reason or other I haven't accounted for. But they seem to me, very vaguely, like an anomaly. They seem like something that we, as a society, just haven't thought through all the way. I see no sign of the school choice, educational accountability, and home schooling movements going away: they're certainly not going to do any such thing. And they're putting pressure, lots of pressure, on an old way of doing things that has obvious, glaring, massive, inherent problems. The historian in me says that this is a recipe for long-term change, but the historian in me also says that you can't guess at the direction of that change. I'm confident, though, that "schools" or whatever replaces them will look very different in 2100, and that people are certain to ask, of us, "What were those people thinking?"

- 12:21 am, November 26 (link)

Second-hand Wisdom

I don't have much for you but I'm always happy to pass on the best of Robot Wisdom. Simon Callow's Guardian review of a new Sir Alec Guinness biography contains some good luvvie anecdotes and tries to pin down Guinness's elusive, understated genius. Guinness looks better every year--he had an ageless style which makes Olivier look rather vulgar (as does one of Callow's anecdotes). Olivier's rep is already rather dented, isn't it? Am I the only one who finds his Hamlet superficial and thinks his Henry V not remotely a patch on Branagh's?

The Guardian also has a preview of Scorsese's much-delayed Gangs of New York, which I've been waiting for eagerly, since it presumably means that the Herbert Asbury book that inspired it will be reissued. Adam Gopnik wrote about Asbury in the New Yorker, what, two years ago? Three? Scorsese's movie has had about five different release dates since then, but we're promised it's coming out on Christmas Day.

[UPDATE, November 26: Aaron Haspel writes to say that there is a "Now a Major Motion Picture" version of the book in paperback. Huzzah and hullabaloo!]

- 7:48 pm, November 25 (link)

Side trip

Well, the weblog explosion at the Report magazine has predictably led to nothing but bitterness and recrimination. Yes, Kevin Steel and Dave Stevens are actually arguing about the government pork. Guys, what's really upsetting you? This can't be about surplus MREs.

Dave drops this bomb in his entry:

I don't have a sophisticated palate, obviously, or I wouldn't be ordering salad from Wendy's.

I don't want to add fuel to the fire here, but those Wendy's salads are actually pretty damn good. If you have to order fast food and you're not in the mood to scarf down something that tastes like reconstituted lard, or you're just looking to fend off beri-beri, Wendy's salads are the way to go. Now, me, I like the taco salad: even though the quality control on Wendy's chili is not going to take any gold medals (nor bronze ones, nor even one of those demeaning "participation certificates" they used to make sure every kid got in school), I find the ritual of combining the separate ingredients soothing. Ahh yes, I've got the salsa, the chips, the vegetables... I can combine them any way I like. Look at me, I'm practically Emeril here! BAM!

But the real winner is the Mandarin Chicken Salad, which comes with a packet of almonds and a pretty credible sesame-oil dressing. It's too good to be fast food. I almost feel shame eating that stuff at my desk. My Calvinist ancestors are, somewhere, united in disapproval. They know that my abominable eating habits deserve to be punished by the accretion of a great fist of monoglycerides around my heart. "Aye, boy, we're watching ye. To sin without penalty is to sin twice." Most of the time I'm real good at ignoring those guys, but they get loud about the salad. They all have long white beards and cruel, thin spectacles and they carry knives on their persons, even in the afterlife.

- 2:30 am, November 25 (link)

Can I be Franc?

Do you suppose they schedule the Grey Cup for late November just to deliberately add to the abyssal Beckettian horror of the holidays? That's what I'm wondering right now. A lost league final is like a microcosm of life's furious, futile striving--I mean, Beckett only wishes he could make you feel this way. "Hey, you know that ball team you bled for all year? They lost the big game and now the whole season means nothing. Way to have hopes and dreams, idiot."

Incidentally, the Sunday Ottawa Citizen has the Christological angle on the ossuary of "James, the brother of Jesus". Hey, didn't I read about that a month ago on somebody's weblog?

The Grey Cup game was nearly mired in controversy when it was learned mid-week that the singer selected to perform "O Canada" could only perform it in one of Canada's official languages. The Edmonton Journal has the goods on the happy resolution. The anthem was performed in both languages on Der Tag, but all the same, the usual bellyachers were heard from.

Claude Michaud, a third-generation Albertan of French heritage, called the incident a black eye for Edmonton. "In Alberta we are still behind the times," said the Legal-area farmer. Like other callers, he said organizers failed to understand the need to be gracious hosts when a team and fans from Montreal visit here.

I cordially invite Mr. Michaud to go stick his face in a baler. "In Alberta we are still behind the times," indeed. If you want to accuse the Grey Cup organizers of being short-sighted or politically inept, do that: you'll be right! But don't talk to me about "the times". Like it or not, the dream of a Canada where everyone is totally bilingual has been an expensive, antagonizing failure with abominable implications for national unity and the civil service. Bilingualism is not the future; it is not Utopia. It is at best an annoying but necessary political accommodation. It is never going to create a Canada where everybody spews French and English with equal ease; at best it can only create a bilingual elite, and that is exactly what it has done, whether or not it was the real intention.

I'm not saying, here, that the existence of a bilingual elite is a bad thing, but can we drop the Marxian fantasy at long last? Can we stop pretending we are progressing inevitably toward a double-tongued New Jerusalem? I mean, Mr. Michaud knows that Quebec has done seven hundred times as much to impede and discredit bilingualism as Alberta. He knows this, but he bashes his own province in print anyway. It suits him, serves his interest, to have us feel bad about not speaking French as readily as we ride a bike. He should be ashamed to treat his fellow Albertans this way. He could have told the Journal "I'm glad the committee has decided to be a good host, and make this gesture on behalf of the enduring and civilized dream of a bilingual Canada." Instead, what does he say? Basically, "Fucking Albertans--they'll never change." So angry, still, after three generations? Does he even know he's allowed to leave Alberta if he likes?

- 11:23 pm, November 24 (link)

I'm Miss World, somebody kill me

One of the Agenda Bender's secret identities writes with a selection of best bits, if that's the term, from the Miss World riot coverage. He (if that's the term) particularly recommends's on-scene backgrounder.

- 8:21 pm, November 24 (link)

Grey skies

Aaaahhhhh. What? For this I waited six years for the Eskimos to get back to the Grey Cup? I've got no link to the game story yet but they ended on the wrong side of a 25-16 score. That score's a little misleading: it was 18-10 Als with a minute left and the Esks got the major on a little rainbow into blown coverage on Ed Hervey. They missed the two-point convert and Jermaine Copeland ran back the onside kick for an irrelevant TD. So it was actually a classic game. I hate those most of all.

Oh, look, they're giving the Outstanding Player trophy to Anthony Calvillo. He missed 11 consecutive throws in the second quarter, does that sound like an outstanding player to you?

I was right about the cold and the turf: it held the Eskimos back. Avery was too hurt to run; I think he finished with a negative total in rushing yards. Ray couldn't hit anybody in the first half, and Coach Higgins was real slow to pull Avery and replace him with Troy Mills, a veteran import-for-hire who set the game on fire as soon as he came in. Higgins is going to be second-guessed to death for that. He's also going to get scrutinized for going for it on third-and-10 at the Als 40 with six minutes to go, but that, for me, is the right call in that situation, eight points down. You need the major score, go get it. Having good field position isn't going to put you on the right side of the scoreboard with 360 seconds to go.

Ahhhhh, it was a mess. A crude, sloppy battle of gimpy offences, questionable reffing, and wondrous defence on both sides. The sick truth is that the Eskimos win this game if it's held in any other stadium in the league. An embittering thought. The only plus right now is that there won't be a riot outside my front door. Nothing to do but enjoy the silence, I suppose.

- 7:44 pm, November 24 (link)

On the doorstep, 2

...I really should be eating instead of weblogging, I guess; I haven't had a bite all damn day. Fortunately I'm going to the Savoy, did I tell you about that place? Last time I was there I asked to see a dinner menu and I was practically bowled over by the pretentiousness of it--it's one of those bars where you don't order fries, no no no no, you order pommes frites. The dish that really stood out for me was the duck tacos. Yes, I think we've found the outer limits of culinary fusion absurdity, folks: duck tacos. We're going to take the richest, most difficult-to-prepare game bird known to mankind... and stick it in a taco. We're just that nuts.

But, having poked my fun at the Savoy's menu, I have to give you the punchline: I scanned the menu and picked out the tiropita, described therein as "goat cheese in phyllo pastry", and lo and behold--it was the tastiest meal I've eaten in 2002. By a mile. It was hot and salty with a tomato-spinach-herb mush all over it that was good enough to be a separate dish...I was having these girlish little grunting foodgasms as I ate. So if you're in Edmonton you could give that a try (warning: not cheap). I'll probably order two of 'em tonight. Or maybe I'll just say to the waiter, "Look, keep 'em coming until you see me fall asleep, right?"

Anyway, I've almost gotta run. I may be back later tonight, but don't expect much from me on Grey Cup Sunday. It looks as though my original plan to go buy a scalped ticket to the game is going to be impractical; I'd hope to be able to get away with something in the $100-$120 range but it sounds like I'd be looking at $150 for any kind of a seat. So I'll be here at home, watching in agonized silence.

I'm not optimistic. It'll be near-freezing for the game, but the personnel turnover in the CFL is so fast that that's not necessarily an advantage for the home club. Sometimes the cold weather hurts the Eskimos (e.g., the 1977 "Staples Game"), sometimes it helps them (e.g., the sweet 1993 Western Final; I still remember with satisfaction the sight of Calgary's quarterback--you may have heard of him, guy named Doug Flutie--frantically trying to warm his frozen little American piggies on the sideline). This time, I think it's bound to hurt them. Montreal's quarterback, Anthony Calvillo, has experience playing football in Canada in November. Edmonton's quarterback, rookie Ricky Ray (say that five times fast), doesn't.

On the other hand, rookies sometimes do counterintuitively well in Grey Cup games: Rick Cassata won in '73, and while J.C. Watts didn't win in '81, he certainly outperformed Warren Moon, and that was just ten months after Watts was the star in the Orange Bowl.

The basic problem is that the guy who won us the Western Final, John Avery, is hurt. How hurt he is exactly, nobody wants to tell us, but the Eskimos activated a spare import RB yesterday, so that doesn't look good. Granted, the Alouettes' star rusher, Lawrence Phillips, is a scratch too. But if neither side can establish a running game in the cold, it's got to be an aerial battle, and while the Esks have a better receiving corps on paper, Calvillo frightens me. He's a terrific quartz (attention: Canadian schoolboy lingo!) with a score to settle. Incidentally, if any American scouts are reading this, Calvillo should be playing in the States: take our QB, please! I'm not saying he's a guy who should obviously be starting in the NFL, like Warren Moon was, but I think he could definitely have a nice little Neil O'Donnell-type career if anyone wanted to take a flyer on him. I don't see any other passers in the CFL who are at that level yet.

Anyway, I'm rambling and I gotta go. See you later...

- 7:30 pm, November 23 (link)

On the doorstep, 1

I guess I have time for one composite entry before I go to the bar. Of most immediate relevance is Damian Penny's response to the point I made earlier, which is that when Muslims start rioting in a majority-Muslim country on instructions from Muslim leaders, pulling people out of cars and demanding that they recite the Koran or face the bloody consequences, it is odd to wait a couple of days until the oft-slaughtered minority Christians fight back and then say "See? Both religions are equally prone to violence." The observation may be true (though I've argued ad nauseam that it isn't), but the occasion for it is, I think, quite inappropriate.

I do wish I'd kept the link, but I saw one news report on the violence which said the Muslim rioters were chanting "Down with beauty". Whether you suspect we're fighting a whole religion or just one perverted manifestation of it, this clarifies what's at stake, anyway. Hang on, let me post this and I'll continue in another entry...

- 6:45 pm, November 23 (link)

Eyes only

Uh... OK, I don't have access to my e-mail account, and the private forum I'd normally post this on is having one of its standard late-night gas attacks, so I'm going to post an insider-interest item here. You guys (they'll know who they are) should check out the Nov. 20 L.A. Times profile of Mike Fleiss. Luke Ford also has some background--that's where I got the link from. Luke doesn't have in-page links, though, so you'll have to scroll down and keep your eyes peeled.

Hell, the rest of you may be interested in that stuff too. In fact, if you have a popular web site you may have talked to Fleiss... he's a hustling TV producer who, as Luke notes, "proved adept [in the '90s] at canvassing the country for videotape, cold-calling and trolling the Internet for footage to license". Now, as producer of The Bachelor, he's suddenly one of the biggest stars in TV production. Man, who saw this coming? His name is on a lot of those Fox Network shows everyone makes fun of--"World's Most Whimsical Arsons", "When Dingoes Go Rabid", that kind of thing. He appears to have split with his old shock-TV buddies and is now a single-handed hurricane force of cultural nihilism. ALL HAIL FLEISS! (And yes, he is related, distantly, to Heidi.)

- 5:44 am, November 23 (link)

Vox populi, vox ani

Everyone's thrilled that the "left rail" is back on Poynter Online's layout (here's a link to Romenesko's Media News, the Poynter feature generally worth reading). Poynter, a site mostly full of tools for journalists who are tools (the navel-gazing kind), underwent a controversial redesign that I rather like. I suspect the dropping of the beloved left rail was a deliberate tactic--a complaint magnet, if you will. You'd be foolhardy to go through a massive redesign without sneakily giving folks one obvious thing to bitch about. People don't like change, so if you must fart around with a layout that works (N.B.: YOU DON'T ACTUALLY NEED TO, DUMMY), then leave yourself one thing you can and should back down on. That way, the busybodies who think your page is a public utility can feel they've accomplished something when you give in to Popular Demand.

- 11:53 pm, November 22 (link)

"Joining" by attacking

All Religions Are Created Equal Dept.: Damian Penny's latest post on the Miss World riots, which have now, after 100-plus deaths, forced the transfer of the pageant from Nigeria to London, quotes a letter from Rabbi Michael Bernstein of Longmeadow, California:

I read your blog regularly and am most often in agreement with your take on how endemic the problem of Islamic extremist fascism is. However, the Nigerian situation also illustrates one of your other (sometimes less appreciated claims): the [Muslim] religion is not itself the problem and other religions are not by their nature immune from abuses. In Nigeria the riots seem to have been joined by Christian youth.

Er... that's certainly an interesting way to characterize the situation. Apparently if you rise up against Muslim rioters who are protesting an anti-Muslim newspaper editorial by killing Christians, that means you've "joined" the rioting. Here is how the Independent describes the scene:

Groups of Muslims and Christian youths armed with stones, sticks and guns fought pitched battles and destroyed churches and mosques, in a wave of bloodletting. The streets of Kaduna were littered with burnt-out cars and tyres, and witnesses counted dozens of bodies on the streets. The Red Cross put the death toll at 105 yesterday morning but witnesses spoke of many more killings yesterday. Despite a 24-hour military curfew, the fighting spread from Muslim to Christian districts as Christian mobs retaliated for previous attacks.

I hold no brief for mob behaviour, but these riots originally started the minute the mosques let out after Friday prayers. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between "retaliation" and self-defence. Rabbi Bernstein is peddling the sort of moral equivalence Damian Penny has spent the past year correctly denouncing when it's applied to the Palestinian-Israeli mess. Yet in this context it becomes, in Damian's words, an "important point." I respectfully disagree. At the very least this is a clueless, self-serving characterization of a complicated situation. There is no big mystery about who started this mess (Nigeria's Muslims), when it started (with the offending editorial), and why (because if you make jokes at the Prophet's expense in a Muslim country, cities burn).

[UPDATE, November 23: More here with a link to Damian's reply.]

- 6:22 pm, November 22 (link)

In Other Report Weblogs, issue 3

The Ambler locates the worst metaphor ever! Rick Hiebert remembers the Fog Bowl! Dave Stevens is on the cutting edge of forklift safety! Kevin Steel is eating surplus government pork!

You won't want to miss that last link. Actually... Steely just dropped some of the government pork on my desk. "Here's your free sample," he said, laughing. I'll review it when I work up the courage to eat it. It's a foil pouch inside a plain brown box whose exterior reads


Intimidating, and possibly trichino-tastic, but I'll try anything once!

- 5:11 pm, November 22 (link)

27 on... 11

Let's stipulate for a moment that Wayne Gretzky was not the greatest player ever to step on the ice. Can we at least agree that the '80s Oilers had two of history's five best players on the roster? Perhaps this too would be controversial, but Mark Messier is helping his case at 41 with an unbelievable comeback year. Tonight his 10th goal in 22 games got the Rangers out of the Meadowlands with a point. (Funny, I thought the league was supposed to have breezed by the lame-o's from the "diluted" '80s...)

The Calgary Herald's George Johnson has a touching paean to Messier over at And I'll add this observation: yes, Gretzky is The Great One, but if you polled the fans to find the best-loved Oiler who ever pulled on the jersey, it would be absolutely no contest.

- 2:59 am, November 22 (link)

For Canada's sake, don't let him do it

Al Gore has flip-flopped and now supports a single-payer national health care system like Canada's.

Kaus reported this earlier in the week but I've just now gotten to wondering... how exactly is the U.S. going to adopt a single-payer national health care system "like Canada's"? The United States is missing an essential component of the Canadian system--namely, a large neighbour to the south with a working economy and a market-based health system.

Where do nine-tenths of all technical innovations in medicine come from? The United States. When rich people and politicians in Canada get sick, do they stay home and wait in line in Canada? No indeed: they go to the United States. When working- and middle-class oldsters in Canada can no longer stand the pain of waiting for hip or knee surgery, do they start thumbing through Final Exit? No (or at least I hope not): they dip into their savings and go to the United States. When Canadian health authorities close to the border can't find an expert surgeon to do a rare emergency procedure, or they just plain run out of acute-care beds (ain't rationing daffy?), where do they turn? To the United States.

U.S. health care serves as safety net and relief valve to Canadian health care. So tell me, Bizarro-President Gore, what country is going to prop you up when you Sovietize American hospitals? Mexico? Hong Kong? Japan?

- 1:30 am, November 22 (link)

Some things are worse than stupidity

So somebody very high up in Jean Chretien's PMO thinks George W. Bush is a moron. Let me repeat that with the appropriate emphasis: somebody very high up in Jean Chretien's PMO thinks George W. Bush is a moron. Pause. Blink. Blink. This is a bit like being confronted on the subway by an aggressive subnormal who's off his meds, n'est-ce pas? "You're stoopid. Hey. You over there. You're really stoopid. Huh huh huh."

Americans probably shouldn't get too upset about this, considering that about 10-20% of the American public and a good 40% of its commentariat seem to agree with whoever said Bush was a moron. Nonetheless it's one of those little embarrassments that goes along with being Canadian. What interests me is that the whole kerfuffle arose over defence policy, of all things. Senior Liberal officials accuse Bush of being a moron while themselves deliberately acting as if the Canadian public is stupid--i.e., trying to convince us, against the universal testimony of soldiers, military experts, and a Liberal-led Senate committee, that our armed forces are appropriately funded, well-equipped, suffering no morale crisis, and ready to fight anywhere, anytime.

Me, I'd rather be--or vote for--a moron than a liar.

- 12:21 am, November 22 (link)

Free speech, tra-la-la

Andrew Sullivan writes today:

Wellesley, after much trauma, is going to invite anti-Semitic poet, Amiri Baraka, to speak there as well. (The compromise at Wellesley: Baraka won't be getting an honorarium.) Here's a suggestion: why don't the Ivy League colleges pool their resources and organize a special conference entirely for Jew-haters and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists? All in the cause of free speech, you understand.

I won't try to parse that particular sarky reference to free speech, but I do have two points to make, since I've been lucky enough to have on-the-ground humint about this chapter in the Travels of Amiri.

The first is that a black student group asked various departments at Wellesley to underwrite Baraka's honorarium and was, rather courageously I thought, turned down. Since Baraka is therefore visiting Wellesley on his own dime, and on the dimes of students who willingly raised money to have him come out, where's the element of "compromise"? The university has acted in full accord with the principle that it won't pay to bring demented racists to campus to hector the students, and it has acted in full accord with the principle of free speech. How's that a compromise? Funding a visit and allowing a visit are two separate things.

The second, and more important point, is this: Andrew left some relevant information out. Namely, that he spoke on the Wellesley campus twice last week, with academic sponsorship. I think this is all to the good, but doesn't it fall into the category of interests one might want to declare when discussing who's invited, or not invited, to Wellesley?

- 10:09 pm, November 21 (link)

High horse

Alexandra at Out of Lascaux hadn't heard of Edgar Leeteg. Blowhard Michael seemingly hadn't heard of Leeteg either. Can it be that neither of them takes Juxtapoz, Robert Williams' magazine of lowbrow art, pop art, kitsch, contemporary surrealistic painting, posters, graffiti, tatts, SF book covers, and outsider art? Say it ain't so!

- 8:53 pm, November 21 (link)


D.C. Pierson writes to say he met Palahniuk at a signing--the story's pretty funny, especially the part where Palahniuk sees he has a sign-language interpreter and starts getting her to translate dirty words.

D.C. says, and I thought the advice worth sharing, that "pretty much all his other books are like [Lullaby], to one degree or another. I love the man to pieces, but he's a bit formulaic. It's not nearly as crappy a formula as say, John Irving, but it's there... If you read only one other Palahniuk book, make it Survivor."

I have to note that I didn't actually use the word "formulaic". Hell, come to that, Jane Austen was "formulaic". The Aristotelian unities are a "formula", sonnet form's a "formula". I'm never going to use that word as a pejorative.

- 6:48 pm, November 21 (link)

He would have loved JonBenet

From our Islam Means Peace Dept., the idea to hold the Miss World Pageant in Nigeria is looking just super-bright right now. A Nigerian newspaper editorialist made a little joke the other day after some mullah asked rhetorically how Muhammad would have reacted to a beauty pageant (or "disguisting parade of nudity", as it's known in the Abode of Peace). "He probably would have picked out a wife," the unnamed leader-writer answered, this ensuring himself a place in the annals of satire.

[UPDATE, November 27: Of course, this should read "herself", and Miss Isioma Daniel is correctly described as a fashion reporter. Glad I'm not the only one who blew that.]

Despite a frantic apology from the editorial board, the newspaper's offices were razed. Now bombs are going off at airports and 50 people have been "stabbed, burned, or bludgeoned to death" in rioting.

That oughta teach non-Muslims to crack wise about the Prophet. Everybody knows the girls in the Miss World pageant are all way too old for him anyway.

- 5:53 pm, November 21 (link)

Loyalty test

I left you hanging for a day or so there, didn't I? Maybe you thought I'd gone and shot up the West Edmonton Mall in a Palahniuk-induced anti-consumer rage. No way, man, I gotta wait a couple weeks until the Christmas shopping is at its peak. That place gets damn full--you could start a second Hillsborough with the right firecrackers, which would be far more Palahniuk-esque than actually shooting anybody.

Truth be told, I had real work to do, and the traffic was really sagging yesterday so I was also kind of curious to find the bottom of my market. My stats are publicly accessible; have you ever noticed that most weblogs' are not? Lot of cowards out there. I guess the Web is all about freedom of information, except when it comes to the dirty little secret of how unpopular you are! Hah! Anyway, there should be more entries tonight.

- 4:53 pm, November 21 (link)

The Hieronymus Bosch of Oregon

Hey, I read Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby a couple days ago. This is the first Palahniuk I have read. I am not going to give you a review, but a series of bulleted points.

· All the characters basically talk in the same casually apocalyptic way Brad Pitt does in Fight Club. Wounded, vengeful, vandalistic. Basically Palahniuk really seems to enjoy imagining the slow, sickening demise of civilization, and thinks either that everyone else does, too, or that there's no point in even trying to create a character who thinks in a different way from oneself. He could be right either way. We all have those "humanity is a cancer" moments, no? Me, I have a lot of them, so I liked the book.

· The jacket promises that Palahniuk "reinvents the supernatural thriller for our times." Well, I guess Stephen King can just go to heck then. Stephen King could actually have written this book in a particularly inspired moment. "Carl Streator" and "Helen Hoover Boyle" even sound like names he'd come up with for characters.

· The book begins with a useful but unoriginal conceit: a mysterious poem that, when recited, kills the hearer. This mutates quickly into a useless and unoriginal conceit: after a while the protagonist memorizes the poem and can kill anyone merely by thinking about them, by sort of flexing his brain in their direction. Bet you've never heard that one before. (It's a Gen X Scanners!) A lame way, this, to go about reinventing the supernatural thriller. Reinventing the wheel is more like it.

· The ending is kind of exciting and satisfying, and Palahniuk does have a gift for the gruesome, as we all know. A movie of this book would reach the same audience as Fight Club, if it was done equally well.

· A friend of mine was saying the other day that she read a few of John Irving's books and realized pretty quickly that she hadn't needed to go to the trouble. Once you read The World According to Garp, she figures, there's really no need to read the rest. I strongly suspect Palahniuk is more or less like this--someone with a sensibility so unique and incandescent that it's the fact it exists that's special, and there are equal and indistinguishable helpings of it in all his books. But I'll give one of the others a try if a review copy happens to cross my desk, which is what happened this time. Oh, that reminds me, thanks for the book, J-Lo.

- 6:31 pm, November 20 (link)

A close Shavian?

Interesting little review of a new Max Beerbohm biography here, at the Weekly Standard. I'm afraid I must object to the subhed--everybody knows that P.G. Wodehouse is the world's greatest minor writer. And this made me laugh:

He [biographer N. John Hall] recognizes that Beerbohm tended to underrate Shaw--he had a real antipathy to geniuses, whom he thought "generally asinine"--and to overrate Lytton Strachey.

I think Beerbohm can be forgiven for being brave enough to underrate G.B.S. when he was the barmy, bearded little tiki of the whole intellectual world. Shaw's reputation has been contracting into a black hole since his death, and still has not reached an appropriately modest size. It is even more unlikely that one could seriously overrate Lytton Strachey; I am in fact tempted to disbelieve outright in the possibility.

- 5:30 pm, November 20 (link)

Get thee behind me, Affleck

Aw, man, Ben Affleck is People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive"? I swear one of these years I'm gonna walk off with that thing. Actually, I was far more jealous last year when Ben also defeated me in People's "Drunkest Man Alive" competition.

I still remember when People started naming Sexiest Men Alive--this was back in the dark time, when Gabe Kaplan and Elliot Gould would have been leading candidates. I always find it amusing when the media arrogates privileges like this to itself. "Congrats, Ben, you're the Sexiest Man Alive!" Oh yeah? Did you use science to calculate that? Did you really analyze every male adult now alive to ensure that nobody in Chandigarh or Arkhangelsk is sexier than Ben Affleck? No, a bunch of magazine editors got together and just made this crap up. Unfortunately, I am a magazine editor and I know exactly how smart people like me are. You are BUSTED, People!

Really what's interesting is the oh-so-American treatment of "sexiness" as if it were a scalar quantity, like how fast you can run the 40-yard dash. No one raises the question "Sexy... to whom?" There are probably constituencies of women who think John C. Reilly is the Sexiest Man Alive. At the very least, there should be a Sexiest Man Alive To Gay Guys issue, shouldn't there?

- 4:22 pm, November 20 (link)

Somebody assassinate this guy already

Yeah, all right, I supposed you've all heard about Michael Jackson's latest stunt: dangling his son from the fourth floor of the Adlon Hotel in Berlin. This late-breaking New York Daily News piece has the most recent details. There's just so much here to be creeped out about--every re-reading of the story turns up something new.

Laughing like a loon, Jackson clutched the wriggling tot with his right hand while struggling with his left to adjust a white towel hiding the baby's face.

I can almost imagine a kind of mean, thoughtless dad dangling his kid over a fourth-floor balcony--while holding him very tight with both arms. Here, you've got the guy awkwardly cradling the kid in one arm while "struggling" to keep his face hidden in a towel with the other. Apparently not letting the child die was just behind keeping its face covered, as a priority. In a way, the towel's more fucked-up than the dangling. What's the deal there, Mike--you want to show your kid to the crowd, but not show your kid to the crowd?

This is a guy whose logical apparatus has failed at the most basic level. There's a lot of talk about Michael's repeated facial surgeries, but you can understand those as an extreme manifestation of the same vanity and insecurity we all share. And the alleged homosexual pedophilia--well, Michael's got daddy issues and lost-childhood issues. I'm not giving him a pass by any means, but I can understand that business too. I can't really understand displaying your child to a screaming mob with his face muffled. As for the dangling, protecting your child is reptile-brain stuff. It's supposed to be in your DNA. How far gone to you have to be to act this weird, this contrary to healthy human intuitions? It's actually a whole new level for Michael; he's gone from megalomaniac kiddy-diddling creep to malicious alien retard.

But the weirdness isn't confined to Michael: reporters William Boston and Corky Siemaszko tell us that

Jackson's stunt left observers on the ground and others who watched on TV aghast...

Now you're aghast? There were two hundred people there to hang around outside Michael's balcony to scream their love at him. I am fucking gobsmacked that there are still two hundred people in the whole world who weren't already repelled by the crumbling anti-social has-been. Are these the "German nihilists" we saw in The Big Lebowski? Why would anyone who thought Michael's behaviour up till now has been OK be horrified by some triviality like dangling a child over a balcony?

I'll just mention one more laugh line in an article full of them--this is from the statement released after the incident:

"I made a terrible mistake," Jackson said. "I got caught up in the excitement of the moment. I would never intentionally endanger the lives of my children." just did endanger the life of one of your children. We saw it. If you didn't do it intentionally, can you maybe tell us what planet is giving you your instructions?

- 3:57 am, November 20 (link)

OK, I have a couple of public service announcements to make about the Grey Cup. This entry's very skippable.

First of all, concerning Canadian football on U.S. TV. I had a surly e-mail from our Bermuda correspondent, tax exile and Penn State fan Jefferson N. Glapski. He is upset because he's going to be golfing or some damn thing on the weekend and he doesn't want me to mention any Grey Cup results until the Thursday after the game, which is when he'll finally get to see it down there. For the sake of my other readers, I have told him to suck rocks. But Jefferson, ever gracious in the face of a brushoff, helpfully mentions that a hawk-eyed American viewer can find CFL action on TV.

The CFL is occasionally shown on DirecTV on Channel 613, Fox Sports World, when they aren't showing that soccer crap. The big problem is that it conflicts with college football [on Saturday].

As Gregg Easterbrook has pointed out, only a fraction of U.S. homes have the pristine southeast view required to pick up DirecTV. If you have a local AmericaOne affiliate you may be able to catch Sunday's Grey Cup, and JNG conjectures that a delayed telecast may also be available for the snowbirds on Florida's Sunshine Network. George Steinbrenner's YES Network (which, alas, is devoted to the Yankees rather than the progressive rock combo) is running the game on Monday.

Man, nobody cares about all that. What a pisser that the CFL is too low-rent for even ESPN2. It's the second-strongest football league in the world, you fuckers! Is Title IX forcing you to run pre-season women's college basketball instead??

All right, on to the more important announcement. The CBC is running classic Grey Cup games late at night all week. Right now I'm watching the very cool '73 game featuring Ottawa and the old Ray Jauch Eskimos. (Walrus mustaches! Guys playing offence and defence! This rocks!) Tomorrow night is the 1981 Grey Cup featuring the same teams.

Oh you bet I'll be taping that one. Eskimos QB was Warren Moon, maybe you've heard of him. Ottawa's rookie QB was future U.S. Rep. Julius Caesar "J.C." Watts, maybe you've heard of him too: he won the car as Outstanding Player that day. I thought I'd written about the '81 game somewhere on the site, but it seems not. Details of that game are available on this page about Watts, who left Canadian football with the admiration of the whole country. That Eskimos team is maybe the greatest ever fielded in Canada (it went 14-1-1) and its comeback from 20-1 at the half in the Grey Cup was... well, I was ten and I remember every detail. And they're replaying it tomorrow so I can tape it, in the future! Thank you CBC!

- 2:18 am, November 20 (link)


In Other Report Weblogs, The Ambler has an entertainingly lacerating piece about Vancouver politics and Kevin Steel dot org has been busy with the National Question and "hitchhikers". He didn't post on it, but Rick Hiebert of Rick's Miscellany thinks my readers will be interested in this current Times of London story about the fate of some art that barely survived the Second World War--namely the Mantegna frescoes of the Ovetari Chapel in Padua, which have been left in the condition of a half-completed jigsaw puzzle. I know those are important paintings. If you imagine a Muybridge-style film of the great leap from the symbolic medieval imagination to the seeing-style of the Renaissance, the Mantegna bible scenes are where the feet have just pushed off and the body of Western art has maximum kinetic energy.

This Ann Coulter column on the future of the Democrats is hilarious. (Link via Kaus, who calls it "clarifyingly vicious". Ah, now there's a fellow who is qualified to perform marriages between adverbs and adjectives.)

- 10:48 pm, November 19 (link)

And don't forget snowmobile racing

Did it ever occur to you that three of the four major North American pro sports are Canadian? I'm sure some cultural-cringing commentator has pointed this out, but ice hockey developed somewhere in Canada (Kingston, or Montreal, or possibly Windsor, N.S.), basketball was invented by a Canadian, and "football" in the United States meant what we now call soccer--unlikely as that sounds--until a gang of Canadians came to Harvard and showed the ivy-stained snoots that picking up the ball and tackling people was kind of fun.

No wonder Americans are forever devising stuff like Slamball and American Gladiators. The unconscious humiliation may even explain the otherwise puzzling need to film Rollerball twice over. Keep at it, guys, one of these weird bastardizations will catch on eventually.

- 9:44 pm, November 19 (link)

Nice shirt

Yesterday I was catching up with some of the recent stuff from Jed Purdy, the enfant terrible who wrote that book decrying pervasive irony in popular culture. I believe it was called Every Time You Sneer, God Kills a Kitten. Purdy's been writing for The American Prospect, which reminds you how courageous his message really was. Advocating deliberate irony-impairment makes it hard for a magazine like TAP to hire you without attracting even more ridicule than it does already. But Purdy wrote what he thought and damned the career consequences.

And you know, it's not like he wasn't right. A friend of mine used to point out, and this was maybe ten years ago, that you can scarcely say to somebody anymore "Hey, man, that's a nice shirt." You're likely to have a fight on your hands. To say something positive about almost anything, you have to adopt a sort of oratio obliqua. "I don't want to come off as some sort of guy who wears pajamas with the feet in them here, but Belle and Sebastian really are a lot of fun." So, yeah, Purdy was right to identify some sort of drift towards a default nihilism in our style of discourse. I don't know that he succeeded in proving that it wasn't just a symptom of something else. David Foster Wallace said it all first, anyway, and much more credibly.

Purdy's dissection of libertarianism in TAP, apparently dating from 1997, is disappointing. There's exactly one key phrase about libertarianism--the rest is more or less dispensable, despite the title of the article being "The Libertarian Conceit". Libertarian dogma, he says, rests on "a persistent, willful obtuseness to the reality of economic coercion." That's his core objection: everything else is just a restatement of that one idea. And considering Purdy's reputation as a miracle-working autodidact, it's pretty old news.

Repunctuated slightly, I can almost accept his formulation of the libertarian ideal: we are "wilfully obtuse" to the "reality" of "'economic coercion.'" An extra set of scare quotes, you see, is needed in that last case. The truly obtuse person is one who ignores distinctions which do exist, and are relevant: and simply by mashing the words "economic coercion" together, that is what Purdy's doing. He's accusing libertarians of pretending to see a crucial difference between economic power and political power. That way he's spared the trouble of specifying the distinction himself, saying whether he thinks it's real.

I must plead guilty to having been soaked in libertarianism as a naive young man, but now I've been in the working world, the real world, for a good ten years. Nothing I've learned since has convinced me, even in a dim shorthand sort of way, that a boss is the same thing as a cop. Do I worry about losing my job? Fuck, only round the clock 365 days a year. But that doesn't indicate to me that the genuine power my boss has over me is the same as the power a cop has over me. If I get sacked I'll have to find another job. If I get cracked on the head with a copper's nightstick... well, now, what's the analogue, exactly? Do I go get another head?

Laissez-faire capitalism may generate transitory monopolies by accident, or so the theory goes; I've sure never seen one in real life that wasn't propped up by the government power whose levers Jed likes to fondle. (I don't hold, with Schumpeter, that capitalism tends inherently toward monopoly, and I don't think many people do nowadays.) But government is a monopoly by nature and definition, a monopoly of legally applied force. The libertarian insight, or perhaps the right word is "conceit", is that it makes no goddamn sense to spend energy, or very much energy, fretting over self-correcting monopolies on economic power in the marketplace. Government is an eternal monopoly on true coercion. For this reason, a hundred actively evil CEOs are less dangerous than one well-meaning government.

But I'm only telling you what you've heard before. Most people understand the difference between trade and force: you'd have to be obtuse not to.

- 2:44 pm, November 19 (link)

Turn, turn, turn

It's easy to indict the race of women on a charge of spasmodic, terrifying irrationality, and most of the ones I know would plead guilty, anyway; but men have their own equally bizarre forms of absurd, spontaneous, and inexplicable behaviour. I refer, of course, to my not-yet-gentrified neighbours in Edmonton's north end, whose domestic melées are an endless source of late-night entertainment. Fortunately I keep the same weird hours they do. So tell me, have you ever heard a guy going on like this?

Hey, hey, come on, where ya goin'? Come on, you don't have to leave, I was just havin' a little fun. Come on, you bitch! You fucker! YOU FUCKING WHORE! Go ahead, leave, you cunt! Get the fuck out of my life! Aw... wait, just stop for a second. Come on, don't just walk away like that. You know I love you, baby. You CUNT! I know you're only leaving so you can go suck Gord's cock, you HOLE. You ugly, slimy scum trash! Hey! Hey, why are you leaving? Please come back. I promise not to do it again. Why won't you LISTEN to me? Please just stop walking away. Aw, fine, you LOUSY BITCH. I hope you fall off the curb and a car runs over your FAT ASS, you discount slut! ...Hey, I love you! I love youuuu!

When a drunk prole with a Y chromosome gets into this mode, he can do ten or eleven 180° turns inside three minutes. No doubt every man's been this confused at least once, although hopefully without the implied threat of violence that always seems to go along with it in my neighbourhood. And as surely as the men seem programmed to keep flipping the switch from virulent loathing to anguished pleading, the women seem programmed to eventually stop walking away. They never do make it as far as Gord's place.

- 9:31 pm, November 18 (link)

From the blogroll

Here's some stuff I've enjoyed lately. Mike Sugimoto talks about going under the knife as a doctor (scroll down to "That Sucked..."):

The first words out of my mouth in post-anesthetic recovery were "what was the blood loss?" The second sentence was, "What are my vitals?"

...and has great stuff on home defibrillators and hospital architecture. I really like that site. Popular fave Dave Stevens has been busy after laying low during the Report's production cycle. Kathy Shaidle has an interesting piece on the Arian heresy for Dummies. Charles Hammond has been very prolific lately and is getting more material about China on his weblog, so if that interests you, do have a look in. China's important!

Weisblott with one S and two T's has issued one of his fun pop-cult blogbursts, but if you're feeling in the mood for something more serious, check out Aaron Haspel's top five poems. They wouldn't be my own choices, but any friend of Yvor Winters is a friend of mine, and of poetry's cause.

- 9:08 pm, November 18 (link)

"...If I stay it will be double"

(Link via Instapundit--you know how to get there) Extraordinary. UPI's James Bennett writes about secessionism in Western Canada and gets it almost exactly right. I think he understands us better than--well, than Eastern voters do.

There is an interesting disconnect, or discordance, which is not often commented upon by anyone (but me). Here in Alberta, there is no serious separatist movement. All the credible political and private figures who might lead one are staked to the current system. There are certain lines they won't cross for fear of ruining their ambitions in the political afterlife (the Senate, the foreign service, royal commissions and touring government panels, etc.) or the Eastern-dominated business world. Grassroots separatist parties have floundered over the presence of single-issue kooks and the difficulty of working out exactly what they want--what the bargaining position should be, what kind of separatism they wish to pursue, which provinces should be in or out of the tent, whether we should be a republic or join the Union.

Despite the lack of a serious instrument for the expression of separatist values, separatist sentiment is virtually universal amongst people born and raised in Alberta. The class of federal-government beneficiaries here is small. Most Albertans are vaguely aware that Confederation, for us, is a huge financial ripoff, with outgoing net government transfers amounting to thousands of dollars a head every year. It is a mystery to us exactly what we get for our federal taxes nowadays. Sit down and try to work it out sometime if you're an Albertan, remembering that health, welfare, and education are provincially funded and administered. What, are they spending the money on our elite, powerfully equipped armed forces?

Asked outright "Stay or go?", most Albertans (real Albertans, not people who came over from Montreal at age 16) will tell you "Go", privately. It's not just the rural loonies, either: as a rule, the more you know about trying to run a business, the more likely you are to answer "Go". I have a lot of trouble making Easterners understand this. If any well-known leader decides to step up and give a voice to Alberta separatism, they will learn. And fast.

Incidentally, yes, Alberta politicians do tend to call it "Ki-ota". I find this a bit embarrassing, but there is an old political rule governing the situation. Even Churchill, who cared very much for niceties of language, deliberately pronounced "Nazi" incorrectly ("the narzee menace") in radio broadcasts until the English people caught up to him.

- 4:34 pm, November 18 (link)

Football is a worrying thing

I should lay off the sports--you'll get more than your fill, no doubt, as Grey Cup Week proceeds in Edmonton--but this is a special entry for Jim Henley, who says he misses watching the Canadian Football League on American TV. I bet the CFL is a lot of fun to watch if you don't care about it. If you do--well, watching your team blow a 26-point lead is a harsh education.

Anyway, I thought I'd expand, for Jim's benefit, on the Blue Bombers' second major score of the game. It was the kind of scene you don't forget, the kind the CFL supplies in overabundance.

The Bombers were down 32-6, as you'll recall, and they spent much of the third quarter moving it to 32-13, needing four downs to punch the ball in from three yards out. (The Esks made a great stand on third-and-three but a bullshit pass-interference call gave the Bombers fresh wheels.) So, the fourth quarter starts. The teams change ends.

I'm on my couch with the cat. "This is great," I'm thinking. "We're up by 19. Even in the CFL they don't blow leads like this. They must be just sick in Winnipeg. All week, all I heard was how the Winnipeg defence was unstoppable and the Eskimos were a 'troubled' team. I think this is one of the best three-hour stretches of my whole life, right here."

While I'm entertaining these thoughts, the Eskimos run a couple of plays, get nothing. Our veteran placekicker, Sean Fleming, a local boy, squares to punt. Roger Reinson, the long snapper, been around forever, fires the ball back.

Over... Fleming's... head.

"Not a problem," I'm telling myself. "Not a problem. He just has to fall on the ball. Fall on the ball, Sean. You know how to fall, don't you?"

But the bad snap has skittered back another ten yards, back to the Eskimo 20 or so. Sean Fleming is a smart man, a full-time placekicker, had several NFL tryouts where he absolutely demolished the incumbent and got released anyway. He's probably practiced this situation, what, a hundred times. And later, I was able to reconstruct his thoughts at this moment, which were:

"OK, the ball's sitting there, twenty yards behind the line of scrimmage. If I fall on the ball, that's where it's spotted, and that's where Winnipeg starts from. Whereas if I kick it through my own end zone, they get it at the existing line of scrimmage. Twenty yards further from the end zone for them.

"And I'm a kicker, right? This is my job. I can kick this ball through the end zone. It's thirty yards, a kid could do it."

Tooph! He kicks a low frozen rope, hard, in the direction of the Eskimos' end zone. The ball turns end-over-end, rotating the wrong way: it catches the grass (the real grass of Commonwealth Stadium, the league's only natural surface), bounces high. Poit, poit, poit. It's a moist day; the field is soft, muddy; everybody's jersey is caked with filth. Poit. The ball settles in the middle of the Eskimos' end zone. Its journey is over. It has by no means travelled as far as one might have wished.

And there's a moment of curious serenity here, where 35,000 fans are holding their breath and the air is still and soggy and the camera is focused on nothing but a patch of green with a little brown egg lying in the centre of the frame, as if regarded lovingly by its mother hen. And then you see the Winnipeg jerseys bursting in from camera left, looking, to my eyes, very much like Attila's Huns must have from the Seven Hills of Rome. One of the Huns falls on the ball. I hear play-by-play man Chris Cuthbert, who is a total Edmonton homer but hides it fairly well, screaming That's a touchdown! That's a touchdown! No shit it's a touchdown you cocksucker. The score is 32-19 with the extra point still to come, and my stomach begins to churn.

Yeah, we won by three points, but it's the stuff like that you remember.

- 5:07 am, November 18 (link)

A place of safety

(Link via Out of Lascaux) No matter what kind of government the English have, there are some things they all seem to instinctively agree upon (though I suppose this is only striking to me because I don't live in a traditional nation-state). It's amazing, isn't it, that some British government or other hasn't gotten around to giving in on the whole Elgin Marbles issue? A single memorandum would set the wheels in motion, but the Greeks have always been turned aside more or less politely, as they were earlier this week.

My own position is that objects of overwhelming cultural importance are relatively safe in that little corner of northwest Europe, safe in a way they are perhaps nowhere else in the world. Arrogant it may be, but I believe the interests of Hellenic heritage are best served by having the Marbles in England. If injured national sensitivities are the only consideration of relevance, then by all means, take the treasures of European civilization and plop them on the pointy end of the Balkan Peninsula. I believe, however, that taking the very long view--as we are obliged to when considering the fate of items dating to Classical times--this would be folly.

England has been bombed, of course, and may be bombed again, like anyplace else. I once started a study of the objets d'art destroyed in the Second World War--it's one of those things that's in my trunk, perhaps waiting to be turned into an article when I grow up. Or perhaps waiting for me to be able to tackle the subject without being driven into a frenzy of misery. I became interested after taking the standard art-history lecture on Courbet's Stone-Breakers, the object of a slightly silly 19th-century cult, but an amazing picture, a pivot point of art history. It no longer exists: it was destroyed by bombs in its native France. And yet this is merely the tip of the iceberg. The lost Van Goghs alone stagger the imagination in a way mere battle-death statistics cannot: one burnt in the flames of Yokohama, one just lost somehow in Holzdorf, one wiped out along with the rest of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Berlin (whose destruction is a serious obstacle to our appreciation of Caravaggio, for one). An entire Rubens altarpiece was turned to ash in Berlin; the best oil portrait of Beethoven, by Waldmuller, destroyed when our planes blasted the offices of Brietkopf und Hartel in Leipzig; and, sickening irony, Leutze's original Washington Crossing the Delaware, that familiar set-piece of human liberty and republican values, caught in the annihilation of the city of Bremen.

The one that stings me personally is Vigée-Lebrun's painting of the Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna. It's here, in black and white, which is the only way you can enjoy it now: like these others it was at the wrong place (the Herzogliches Museum in Gotha) at the wrong time. I would not care to defend the proposition that Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun was a really major artist, and, as it happens, we still have her paintings coming out our ears. But at her best she was quite a recorder of the human personality, almost--almost--the equal of her contemporary Houdon. Her self-portraits have the no doubt wholly intentional effect of making you fall in love with her; and so, childishly, even disgustingly, it is the insult to her I think of when I think of the bombs falling.

- 11:24 pm, November 17 (link)

Nineteenth nervous breakdown

I hate Canadian football. Did I mention that when I was talking about the conference final? I hate Canadian football. Hate it. I'm not going to be able to stand shit like this when I'm 40.

My many Winnipeg readers will want to skip the rest of this entry.

Great game today, through three quarters. John Avery, the 190-pound Eskimo running back with Katarina Witt's ankles, put on perhaps the greatest display of dominance I've seen in a CFL playoff game. He piled up 140-some yards rushing, which doesn't sound too too impressive until you realize he pulled a hamstring a couple minutes into the second half. He was carving up the Blue Bombers like Jack the Ripper rearranging a prossie. He put the game away single-handed. With two minutes left in the third quarter, it was 32-6 Eskies' favour. Everything was working right: the offensive line play was the best of the year, the defence had Winnipeg QB Khari Jones practically crying like a child. It was over.

Naturally, it ended 33-30--Esks' favour--and the game was in doubt until the clock ran out. (Devotees of the grotesque can consult the scoring summary.) I hate the CFL so much. Am I destined never to enjoy myself watching a football game? We won, and I still feel like vomiting.

[UPDATE, November 18: Hey, football fans! There's more fun and horrifying detail here. Viewer discretion is advised.]

- 5:04 pm, November 17 (link)

Land of myth and legend

The Ambler's latest observes that litigious Liberal Party heavy Warren Kinsella has confessed his authorship of Party Favours, the 1997 Canadian knock-off of Primary Colors. The author of Party Favours was identified on the spine as "Jean Doe", which, I conclude from a brief perusal of a friend's review copy, was pretty much the cleverest thing about it. Certainly I wasn't going to buy the book; with the author remaining anonymous, who knew whence one's hard-earned dollars might be destined? Why, they might even be finding their way into the pockets of Warren Kinsella.

No one cares any longer about Party Favours, but I observe that the beleaguered Chretien figure in the book was a "Franco-Albertan from Bon Accord". Well, someone's research wasn't very good: I happen to have a passing acquaintance with the place and I can tell you the name only looks French. There are Franco-Albertans galore in nearby towns like Rivière Qui Barre, Villeneuve, Legal, Morinville. The charmingly eccentric name of my hometown, however, was a coded signal given by Robert the Bruce to the townsfolk of Aberdeen in 1308, whereupon they took the local English garrison by stealth and slaughtered the lot. This is what is known as Kicking Ass in Scottish Politics. Anyway, Bon Accord was always an English town with a leavening of Germans and Ukrainians. I was speaking bad scholastic French myself long before I ever heard a real French accent on the street.

(I use the term "street" here in a very loose fashion. Here's a picture of Bon Accord circa 1984. I used to play on those grain elevators, which are long since destroyed. Look close, maybe you'll spot me! My childhood homes were about fifty yards on either side of the picture frame, give or take.)

The Mike Jenkinson review of Party Favours linked to above says "No offence to the good folks in Bon Accord, but Alberta just doesn't have that much political clout in the Liberal party." This is impossible to contradict, and yet let us take a moment to rewind to March 19, 1996, and the introduction of the newest member of the appointed Canadian Senate: Hon. Nicholas William Taylor, of Bon Accord, Alberta.

Such talent from one tiny town! A fictional Prime Minister, a real Senator, and the Crown Prince of Canadian weblogging! The memory of Sen. Taylor's induction has particular poignance just now, since he was put out to pasture last week. In Canada, at age 75, Senators are restored to their native clay, to be replaced by virile, indomitable 70-year-olds.

My short tribute to the senator "from Bon Accord" (his home is a good long drive north, actually, and I don't remember seeing him in Ducky's Tavern very often) appears in an upcoming issue of the Report. The endlessly affable Sen. Taylor is a comfortably wealthy oilman who willingly took on the worst job in the universe: leading the Alberta Liberals during the Trudeau years. (Although there are few Franco-Albertans in Bon Accord per se, the nearby ones--whose mother tongue makes them uniquely eligible for federal bilingualism largesse--helped him actually win a seat a few times.) Shoveling elephant shit in the circus would have been easier, and possibly more sanitary. But Nick was always chipper, quick with a quip, and unbelievably candid in interviews.

With him in the provincial Assembly, the Liberals always had at least one big advantage over the Conservatives: the numbers might have been against them, but they had one handsome, witty specimen of self-made manhood to stand up and rail against a wall of corpulent, sleepy feed-store gasbags. He'd have been premier by now if he'd torn up his Liberal Party card and turned his coat inside-out when Ralph Klein did. He'd have torn Ralph to bits in an intra-party fight--there'd have been nothing left. But he took a separate path, and rocky as it was, it did inevitably end in the Senate, where, just for once, Nick got to sit with the gasbags. I expect he thinks it was worth it.

And, just in case you thought you were going to get away without a mention of the Kyoto Protocol, here's an excerpt from a Friday Calgary Herald story, not on the Web, which may be of interest to Eastern readers:

A departing Alberta Liberal senator says opponents of the Kyoto accord never mention the fact that, if there is a loss of jobs in Canada from the environmental deal, it will be suffered by immigrants -- not "blue-eyed" Canadians.
Senator Nick Taylor, who reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 on Sunday, said the rate of immigration in the country will simply have to be adjusted downward if Kyoto opponents are correct in their predictions that 300,000 to 400,000 jobs will not be created in the next 10 years because of the accord.
"Little blue-eyed Canadian boy is not going to be unemployed by Kyoto. Who may not be employed is his grandchild, or the immigration rate will have to be adapted to the jobs we are creating, as time goes on, which we do now," said the outspoken senator.

Nick further goes on to disclose that, in his opinion, the Canadian Alliance doesn't dare make the necessary connection between Kyoto and slamming the door on immigration. He doesn't say much about his fellow Liberals, who would seem to have a lot more to lose in this regard. The harsh, off-the-cuff speech I quote above is what I mean when I call Nick "candid"--but there's candour and then there's candour, you understand. The Hon. One seems to have waited until he was halfway out the door to share this little economic tidbit about Kyoto with us. In fact, he's been toeing the party line on Kyoto for some years now: proponents of the accord have often held him up as an oilman who "gets it."

Looks like he gets it all right--cover your ass, then spill the beans when you retire. Hey, I like Nick Taylor, but I didn't say he wasn't a politician.

- 2:27 am, November 17 (link)

But Fontainebleau's rather nice this time of year

Oh dear. Charles Tupper Jr. seems to have suffered a meltdown. He has been able to locate the e-mail I sent him about Howe vs. Gretzky, although it's been passed through an editorial mangler so that separate comments on a separate issue are interspersed with the relevant subject matter. He accuses me of racism for considering Gale Sayers a marginally more valuable football player than Jim Brown (??), compares me to Marc Herold, and describes me as a "fat-ass Fontainebleau" (does he mean the town? The chateau? Little help here?).

Is Charles deliberately trying to mimic the frenzied, wildly flailing nature of a (bad) NHL fight? One hopes so.

- 11:41 pm, November 16 (link)

Hämmer down

I'm still trying to clear out my Hotmail Inbox... apologies to those who have gotten late replies or none at all. This site now generates about five e-mails a day, so if I have to work hard for three days straight, suddenly I'm 15 or so behind. All correspondence is appreciated, whether or not it is answered. If you meant for me to laugh or learn something, I almost certainly did, because most of you have much to offer. If you meant for me to stop talking like such a scatterbrained shithead, you're possibly wasting your time--but I do like critical letters, even cruel ones.

One missive, of which I always meant to pass along the content, came from Yellowknife reader Thomas Wunderlin, who read my entry on H.R. Giger and sent this link to a series of ornamental handguns manufactured by the Swiss firm Hämmerli. The P210 "Necropolis", at lower left on that page, was designed by Giger.

"A true first-person shooter!" Mr. Wunderlin adds. I can't top that.

- 10:25 pm, November 16 (link)

Abscess in Camelot

Drudge links to a bizarre New York Times story (registration probably required, I dunno) containing, yet again, still more shocking revelations about John F. Kennedy's health. I didn't think this kind of thing was still possible, did you? After we heard about the Addison's disease, the cortisone shots... I just cannot keep up with all the stuff that is mentioned in this article:

[N]ewly disclosed medical files covering the last eight years of Kennedy's life, including X-rays and prescription records, show that he took painkillers, antianxiety agents, stimulants and sleeping pills, as well as hormones to keep him alive, with extra doses in times of stress.

...By the time of the missile crisis, Kennedy was taking antispasmodics to control colitis; antibiotics for a urinary tract infection; and increased amounts of hydrocortisone and testosterone [!], along with salt tablets, to control his adrenal insufficiency and boost his energy.

...The records show that Kennedy variously took codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; meprobamate and librium for anxiety; barbiturates for sleep; thyroid hormone; and injections of a blood derivative, gamma globulin, presumably to combat infections.

That's one hell of a lot of drug interactions to keep track of. I haven't even quoted the bits about chronic severe diarrhea, weeping abscesses in his spine, malaria...

The lust of American women for Kennedy men is of course legendary--it rose to the level of a running gag in Seinfeld, although I don't expect we'll be seeing those episodes rebroadcast too often in syndication. Any woman who still dreams of marrying a Kennedy should read the Times piece and realize that doing so would be the genetic equivalent of moving next to an open-pit sulfur mine. Just don't go there, girls!

- 10:12 pm, November 16 (link)

Western union

You're right: I have been writing about sports too much lately. I have absolutely been writing about sports too much. Sports are not as important to my life as you would think from reading this site. I probably couldn't name a single member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays starting rotation. I have trouble remembering if, when they put another NFL team in Cleveland, that one moved somewhere else too, later on, or if it's still there. My estimate of the number of teams in the NHL varies by about four, either way. I'm getting old: it's harder every year to tell Alex Gonzalez apart from the other Alex Gonzalez, and to remember which, if either, is still in the big leagues. Or maybe there never really were two of them at all.

Incidentally, I am always going to regard basketball as faintly ridiculous. I mean, I know intellectually it's no sillier than any of these other sports, and if it floats your boat, god bless you. I enjoyed the hell out of the NBA finals, myself, but I think it's incumbent upon a Canadian of my age to maintain a certain distance. Part respectful, part scornful.

The Canadian Football League Western Final takes place a few blocks from my house tomorrow. The CFL is composed of nine teams in two divisions. In each division--to simplify matters--when the regular season ends, the third-place team visits the second-place team's home field. On Sunday, while the first-place team looks on, idle, they play. The winner then travels to the home of the first-place team to play for the division championship the next Sunday. Usually, in the West, that game takes place here, in Edmonton.

This year, the league final, the Grey Cup, is also scheduled to happen here, next weekend. In the old days they used to switch the Grey Cup between Toronto and Vancouver every year. One year Toronto, the next Vancouver. Since the game always takes place on that icy calendrical perch overlooking the start of December, you couldn't hold it in the open-air stadiums in places like Regina or Winnipeg or Edmonton. So the conventional wisdom went, anyway. In the '80s the league went nuts and started holding Grey Cups everywhere. I think there was one in Inuvik one year. They made a conscious decision, I guess, not to care about the weather.

"Yes," they said, "it's often very cold in Edmonton in late November. Players could--let's be candid about this--die. A hypothermia-demented fullback who played his college ball at Florida State could, one of these Novembers, be heard mumbling something in the huddle and then just sort of wander off into the ice fog like Captain Oates. The next day, they find him in the parking lot in a fetal position under an abandoned F150. But since nobody in Vancouver or Toronto really cares about Canadian football--a game we have done our best to destroy with bad business decisions--let us hold the Grey Cup in places where people do care, like Regina and Winnipeg and Edmonton."

And so the Grey Cup was, casually, given to the people for the first time, freed from its endless shuttling between slightly warmer metropolises. Grey Cups on the Prairies create scenes that would give Hunter S. Thompson pause. It's the same beer-gardens-full-of-beef-and-hookers chaos as a Super Bowl weekend, I suppose, but everybody's wearing parkas: until you get within three feet you can't tell the hookers apart from the TV sound men or the ticket scalpers or the middle-aged guys who drove All The Way From Fox Creek to see the game. You could end up making a drunken pass at your own grandma if you're not careful.

Anyway, if the Eskimos win the Western Final, they'll get to play in the Grey Cup at home: an unprecedented thing, and keep in mind the team has existed since 1925. In fact, no prairie team has yet played in a Grey Cup game at home. People are talking of a "curse". I think the "curse" is that the team with the chance to host the Grey Cup goes crazy bringing in new American talent, runs the table during the season, and then craps out in the cold weather because of the new southern imports and the two-week layoff. But that's just a guess.

The Western Final has its own special mystique here in Edmonton. Because the Eskimos have never made a hometown Grey Cup, the conference final is the last game we get to see them play. The city isn't full of boozy tourists: it's mostly just us, gathering our collective will in grim Anglo-Saxon and Eastern European silence. The West is normally the stronger division by far, so often the winner of the Western Final is the strong favourite in the Grey Cup. The Eskimos are Expected, capital-E, to make it to the Western Final every year, although, alas, they are no longer much expected to win it. They've lost, what, five of the damn things in a row. Last year the Eskies got the bye and the home-field and proceeded to embarrass the city as badly as I've seen a team do, losing 34-16 and turning over the ball twelve times. Twelve turnovers. I assure you the figure is as ridiculous as it would appear in American football.

I am trying to keep my hopes for the 2002 event minimal. Our coach, Tom "Ned Flanders" Higgins (yes, that is his real nickname), was faced with a severe QB controversy all year and simply decided not to settle it. If Guy A looks weak after one quarter, Guy B trots in to call signals. Which is fine, actually--both guys are sensational, easily two of the four best QBs in the league these days. (They make a fascinating study in contrasts, Messrs. A and B do: Jason Maas is an intense skater-punk-looking kid with a Brett Favre arm and a shaved head, and Ricky Ray is an easy-going, sideburn-wearing Southerner who sells Fritos in the off-season and does a mean Elvis.) More worrisome is that the team cut one of its speed backs after the last regular-season game, leaving us with just one guy to run the ball--John Avery, a terrific open-field improviser who's been averaging two or three fumbles a game lately. Yikes. The sub-zero weather's not gonna help that. Having turked the other featured rusher because of various intolerable locker-room shenanigans (no Randy Mosses in this league, baby), Higgins--get this!--plans to start a spare offensive lineman at half for blocking purposes. It could be pure genius! I hope so. I'm sitting here wondering how it happened that my team has to try shit like this, this late in the year.

But talent-wise, our opponents--the Winnipeg Blue Bombers--don't match up. So for once I'm hoping for the weather to warm up for the game. My life is marked out in Western Finals; far more than my birthday, it is the signpost that tells me I'm another year older. So it's sort of a melancholy, reflective occasion even when the Eskimos win. Not that I really remember what that's like anymore. Goddamn, guys... please just seal the deal this one time...

- 5:43 pm, November 16 (link)

Please don't ostrichsize me

Marc Weisblott (one S, two T's... one S, two T's...) has about 30,000 words of stuff over on his patch about his recent trip to L.A. and hanging out with... shit, pretty much everybody. I made a list of a dozen noteworthy American websites a few months back, and I think he met the maintainers of... what, five? Six of them? He went to Eugene Volokh's house with Luke Ford and met Mickey Kaus... that's just crazy, that shouldn't even be possible--this is a distributed international medium, right? Weisblott seems to have blundered into the Web version of one of those old Hollywood parties where Jimmy Stewart is thumbwrestling with Clark Gable and Henry Fonda is the referee.

Unfortunately, amidst the lively reportage, Weisblott pauses to tear a strip off Vice magazine. (Sorry, no permalinks. Actually, he's got page anchors in the source code, but they're empty for some reason.) Damn, what? See, I'm at a disadvantage because I started liking Vice before I paid any kind of attention and found out those guys were Canadian, so I never got the memo about how I was supposed to give them rimjobs because they were Canadian, nor the one about how I was supposed to despise them as flash-in-the-pan sellout assholes because they were Canadian (and moved south, like you would if you owned any kind of a growing business). I just like the Do's and Don'ts! They crack me up! I hope that doesn't make me a bad person.

Oh, and Brian Sterling? If you're reading this, apology accepted, bro.

[UPDATE, November 16: Weisblott--for it is he--writes to correct my fuzzy-headed impression that Luke Ford went with him to Casa Volokh after Weisblott begged off attending the Jewish Singles Event. In fact, they parted ways: Luke went to the meat market, Weisblott crashed the Volokh party. Er, attended! Attended was the verb I wanted there. Yeah. 1S2T adds that he did meet Sara Riemensnyder at the Volokh thing. I trust this will set the record of Blog History in suitable order.]

- 2:30 am, November 16 (link)


Yes, Flash is the AIDS of the Internet, but I did enjoy Strindberg & Helium. (Via Aaron Haspel.)

- 1:29 am, November 16 (link)

An info-bite

Sasha Castel, whose weblog has become infested with a mysterious gang of ne'er-do-wells, reports on an effort to airlift makeup to the women of Afghanistan. Orwell observed during the Second World War that the female impulse to wear makeup is so powerful--despite the universal hostility of religious fanatics to "face-painting"--that even in His Majesty's women's prisons, wayward girls were said to scrape the red dye off Royal Mail bags for cosmetic use.

- 11:41 pm, November 15 (link)

In Other Report Weblogs, issue 1

Kevin Grace has Weltschmerz--in the original German! Kevin Steel reveals his poetry to the world--and some of it's actually pretty good! Jeremy Lott is backing and filling about being a nasty drunk--and has very definite ideas about how a party should be run!

- 11:11 pm, November 15 (link)

One man's opinion

I almost missed the hiring of 67-year-old Felipe Alou to run the National League champion Giants. BP's Michael Wolverton comments here.

Alou is probably the right kind of manager to run what GM Brian Sabean calls an "interesting, diverse group." (Translation: they hate each other.) In the mid-'90s, when the Expos were successful under Alou, he got the best out of young pitchers and made tactical innovations. Later in his tenure, he was phoning it in, doing things like leaving Javy Vazquez in for 130 pitches to protect a five-run lead. Arrivals like Peter Bergeron and Milton Bradley kept flatlining on his watch, and while I guess he must get credit for not destroying Vladimir Guerrero, do you see many signs of careful instruction and discipline in Vladdy's game? Not to insult Vlad--it is, in fact, a testimony to his skills--but he's a guy who succeeds despite not really knowing where the strike zone is, or how to run the bases.

Do I blame Felipe, entirely, for phoning it in after management gave up on him? Not really. Do I think there's a chance he'll pull his head out of his butt now that he's with an instant contender, in his old stomping grounds of SF? Definitely. Would I hire a pensioner to run a fine-tuned baseball machine like the Giants? Not on your life. Michael Wolverton thinks it's a good, safe hire; I think it's the kind of hire you make if you're too afraid of losing to go find a winner.

- 9:38 pm, November 15 (link)

"Your ass is mine"

Would it be too unkind to say that this is perfectly unsurprising? Principal Rooney's pursuit of Ferris always did seem a little intense to be explained away by the explicit plot of the movie...

- Around 3:00 pm, November 15 (link)

Section two, parley-voo

Canada's own Cory Doctorow poses this puzzler:

Canada's Federal Immigration Minister is calling for a national debate on the merits of a Canadian national ID card. Why is it that Canada always seems to adopt the worst of US policy, instead of picking up on the good ole First Amendment?

Technically, the rule is that "Canada" (meaning Canadian governments) will reject American public policy when it limits the domestic size or reach of the state and endorse it when it aggrandizes the state. If anyone knows of an exception, they are invited to send it along.

To see how the rule operates, observe Canada's adoption of a Charter of Rights (1982) in imitation of the old, esteemed Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution. We, in fact, have a formal equivalent to the First Amendment. I am a bore on this subject, but section 2 of the Charter--the supreme law of the land--reads thus:

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.

Pretty clear language, isn't it? These are fundamental freedoms, presumably meaning that all the others rely on them--that they are somehow antecedent, or logically prior. This is, explicitly, the most important part of our basic law.

But the law of history that borrowed American innovations can only grow the Canadian State is powerful--so powerful that the enumerated s.2 freedoms have never taken a more savage beating in peacetime than they have in the twenty years since they were inscribed in the written part of the Constitution. Our campuses are a War of All Against All where speech codes silence dissent and satire, and mobs physically attack Jews and pro-lifers with impunity. Our newspapers and magazines live in constant fear of some nitwit getting hold of a Human Rights Commission and dragging them into exhausting, costly legal fights over the permissibility of speech. "Hate literature", political pamphlets, and written erotica are confiscated and vetted at the national border. Printers are fined for turning down orders which violate their conscience (exquisitely violating (a), (b), and (d) in one shot). And the Web... well, perhaps when I'm tired of this site I'll perform the instructional exercise of writing a paragraph that could get it shut down forever. Not by my provider, but by government order. (If the imams ever clue in to what they could do to Damian Penny, he'll be thanking his lucky stars for that expensive legal education. What was your grade in admin law, buddy?)

There is no excuse for Canadian judges to hold any view but that the "fundamental freedoms" are absolute and primary: s.2 of the Charter isn't a perfect "First Amendment", but how much more clearly does the judiciary need to have the rule drilled into its skull? Nonetheless, the courts have been slow and inconsistent in administering redress. Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin has shown in past decisions that she gets it--that the word "fundamental" must have an operative meaning, or none at all. She appears, however, to remain in a slender minority.

- 1:16 am, November 15 (link)

I got your Mr. Hockey right here!

I've accidentally gotten implicated in another sports argument over at the Puck Hog website, where some statistical flummery (borrowed from a Calgarian, natch) was used in an effort to "prove" that Gordie Howe was a greater offensive player--not just a greater player overall, a greater player on offense specifically--than Wayne Gretzky.

I'm not going to go into the details here: Puck Hog's fun to read and I know Charles Tupper will post the stuff I've sent him over there. I'm afraid having to argue that Gretzky was the greatest ever just embarrasses me. It comes perilously close to being an embarrassment to our species itself.

I mean, look, "So-and-So was better than Gretzky" is one of those things you say to prove you're a real hep hockey fan with knowledge of the Eleusinian mysteries of the game. This isn't about me being an Oilers fan who bleeds blue and orange; we get the same guys in Edmonton. They'll argue any goddamn thing but the obvious, just to show off. "Well, you know, Charlie Huddy was really more important to that team than Gretzky, and here's why, etc., etc."

Sometimes, just sometimes, the conventional wisdom is right. This is one of those cases. Gretzky was the best. He. Was. The. Best.

And by the way, if you need to argue for someone else, at least argue for Bobby Orr; he's the only guy who changed the game nearly as much as 99 did. Not to knock Gordie excessively, but don't give me some fuckin' guy who won four rings over 25 years in a goddamn six-team league with no Europeans in it.

[UPDATE, November 16: Charles Tupper Jr. responds, sort of, although he appears to have tragically misplaced the second e-mail I sent him on the subject and invited him to post at Puck Hog. Since I trusted him to share it with his readers in that more appropriate forum, I didn't save a copy myself. More fool me. Rick Charlton also has an even-handed comment.]

[UPDATE, November 16: The second e-mail has appeared. Further updates, as needed, at this entry.]

- 7:15 pm, November 14 (link)

I've created a monster

Apologies for my extended absence... I probably shouldn't mention it, since I seem to have mostly gotten away with it scot-free, but I got into five or six hours' worth of deadline trouble back there earlier today. My computer passed summary editorial judgment on some of the work I completed late last night, deleting a file without trace, and it had to be done over. Combine that with overeager napping and general malaise (remember General Malaise? Took a German shell in the face on the Marne, he did), and frankly I'm fortunate to have Thursday night free. And Friday morning for that matter.

The number of Report-related weblogs keeps rising. I shall have to introduce some sort of "In other Report weblogs" feature, but at the moment I don't know what to call it. The newest one belongs to the infinitely affable, gadget-obsessed Dave Stevens. Every entry concludes with Dave's familiar, triumphant cry of "Done!" Some entries, particularly this one, make me suspect that Dave is just doing the weblog thing as a way to make fun of the rest of us. You can't always be sure with that guy, because he's so inhumanly benevolent and even-tempered that you have to think he's sneering at you, on the inside.

So here is your brief field guide to the weblogs of Report employees:

Owner: Colby Cosh, senior editor
Description: Pedantic, petulant

Site: Jeremiads
Owner: Jeremy Lott, production coordinator
Description: Spare, punditry-oriented

Site: The Ambler
Owner: Kevin Michael Grace, senior editor
Description: Erudite, cryptic

Owner: Kevin Steel, art director and webmaster
Description: Bohemian, impressionistic

Site: Rick's Miscellany
Owner: Rick Hiebert, contributor
Description: Informative, brusque

Site: Not the Janitor
Owner: Dave Stevens, graphic designer
Description: Quite a lot like conversing with Dave Stevens

Also worthy of note are the sites of former contributors Kathy Shaidle (quirky, almost giggly at times, but trenchant) and Kelly Torrance (highbrow, antiseptic, updates infrequently). If I've missed anyone, let me know.

- 6:47 pm, November 14 (link)

Now they're all saying it

Headline: Area Man's Instinct For The Zeitgeist Confirmed By Well-Aimed Parody.

On the other hand, I'm not sure being two weeks ahead of Mad magazine is exactly the strongest hipster credential...

- 4:41 am, November 14 (link)

The conspiracy revealed

Your MeFi unintentional-laugh line of the day:

Did the election of Bush create an environment that would allow a violent misogynist like Eminem to become famous?

Oh my god! So that's why they're called RAPublicans!

- 12:52 am, November 14 (link)

The virtue of shellfishness

Here's a real interesting story about how the Newfoundland government is actually pursuing a "value-subtracted" approach to its shellfish industry, and how one small town has been affected by the resulting obstinacy. St. Anthony is preparing to deliver a big screw-you to the rest of the province by imposing a tariff on shellfish landed in its harbour.

The people of St. Anthony are the latest victims of dirigiste fisheries policy that has stalled any rationalization of the Newfoundland fishing industry. When the province under the former minister handed out new shellfish processing licenses he argued that the plants should be closer to the stocks. In decades past so many fish plant licenses were issued that almost every small rural community had its own plant. At one point there were over 200 licensed fish plants in the province. Often the plants were nothing more than plywood shacks that operated for a few months in the summer [no doubt just long enough to allow the locals to qualify for unemployment insurance - ed.] and closed in the winter. With a steady flow of money available from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), and its predecessors, any politician with a modicum of political clout secured a fish plant for their communities.

Since the start of the 1992 moratorium, the easy money for fish plants has dried up, but the province still allocates fish processing licenses species by species to individual plants, and has insisted that all fish landed in the province be processed before it is exported. Often fishermen are forced to land shrimp at ports for cooking and peeling that diminishes the value of their catch. The crab that is landed is cooked and shucked of its shell, but after processing the crab is worth less, not more. [Emphasis mine]

Canadians may consider Peter Fenwick's full article a contribution to their mental "What's really wrong with those crazy Newfies?" file. Foreigners can enjoy it as an elegant example of the profound economic insanity of Canada.

- 12:28 am, November 14 (link)

Mr. Metro?

I see the Drudge Report has broken a billion page views in the last year. Billion with a "b"--boy, that's not humbling at all, is it. Meanwhile 500-hit-per-day warbloggers are discussing their impact on the U.S. elections. I'm afraid even mega-weblogs like Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan must be deemed relative flyweights for the moment.

In a strange way, the more traffic Drudge's site gets, the more of a nonsense is made of his own past hyperbole about starting a journalistic revolution. The Drudge Report is a singular phenomenon with no serious imitators so far. It's related to other media entities: his rise bears similarities to the advent of right-wing talk radio, and top webloggers like Reynolds do fulfill a vaguely similar function, although I think we read them for very different reasons. But on the whole, it can be said that nothing quite like Drudge's individualistic but nutritious site exists on remotely the same order of magnitude.

He's practically part of the establishment now, is our Matt. Mostly he accomplished it through luck, persistence, and tireless self-promotion. With his fedora and his K-Mart Blue Light Special "breaking stories", he obviously likes to think of himself as a reporter, a throwback to the days of Weegee and Winchell and Murrow. Probably, in his heart, he knows what he really is--a great desker and paste-up guy.

He has stuck to the same simple, dumb, familiar layout when even Yahoo! abandoned theirs. That this is the correct method of growing a site's readership is obvious to me, but apparently not to anyone else but Drudge. And admit it: don't you wish your daily paper was as interesting as the Drudge front page is most days? This guy, this one geeky amateur, was apparently born with a huge innate gift for knowing what people want to read. Tell me, what American newspaper's collective staff shares it in such abundance? Maybe the guys who do the various Metro editions have something of a clue. Could Drudge's true influence be felt most palpably on the subway?

[UPDATE, 10:08 pm: Amy Langfield remembers the "who cares about Matt Drudge?" days here. Emmanuelle Richard identifies some héritiers de Drudge and links to an interview. Links via Matt Welch.]

- 1:41 pm, November 13 (link)

27 on 40

Kevin Grace makes a pointed reference to Walter Payton and gesticulates feebly in my direction. In his cryptic style, he fails to explain to his readers that in a recent conversation, I was asked who I thought the greatest running back of all time was. I answered Gale Sayers. Grace and Gregg Easterbrook argue for Walter Payton.

Now, Gregg Easterbrook is very well-informed about American football, whereas my knowledge of the southern game would not fill an egg cup. On the other hand, William Goldman has seen everybody from Bronko friggin' Nagurski to Christian Okoye run the ball, and he'd undoubtedly pick Sayers. Still, I hope to plead that I am not really in any serious disagreement with anybody here. Obviously this discrepancy is partly a question of equivocal meanings of "greatest". Sayers played just 68 league games. If longevity is bound up with "greatness" then he cannot hope to qualify. On the other hand, if you had suggested after Payton's first 68 league games that he was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, you'd have been laughed at. Sayers, by contrast, breezed in without dispute.

And that, in fact, would be the first leg of my amateur argument for Sayers. He was so great that he was ruined after four and a half seasons and they still let him in the Hall of Fame. Who, in any pro sport, can claim this? Baseball's Hall of Fame will not let anyone in unless they've played ten.

Citing Payton's raw totals as evidence of superior "greatness" to Sayers' amounts to saying "Sayers got hurt, Payton didn't." OK, true. So 90% of greatness is just showing up? Maybe. I think we mean more than that by the term. Payton finished as pro football's rushing yardage leader. He was also pro football's rushing attempts leader. Lots of guys would have racked up 16,000 yards from scrimmage if you handed them the ball 3,800 times and they could take the punishment. Jim Brown, while we're talking RBs, probably would have been up around 20,000.

Here's the core of Easterbrook's case for Sweetness:

Payton is both the Bears' all-time rusher and all-time receiver, and for good measure the best option-back ever, throwing eight TD passes. He was the best blocker of the elite RBs. He played tirelessly, never complained during the Chicago lean years, and was rewarded by the football gods with a ring.

The football gods didn't like Sayers much, I guess: they dismantled his knee, gave his roomie terminal cancer. On the other hand, Payton got a pretty raw deal too. A capricious bunch, those football gods: but no one on Earth ever seriously questioned Gale Sayers' character.

Payton is the Bears' all-time rusher, at 4.4 yards a carry; Sayers is 22 inches ahead (5.0), even counting his crippled years, but... well, he got hurt. Payton is the Bears' all-time receiver. He had 15 receiving TDs in 13 seasons; Gale had six his rookie year but... well, he got hurt. Payton is "the best option back ever"; well, Sayers might be second on that list, might be higher. As Goldman discussed in Wait Till Next Year, after Sayers threw a left-handed 25-yard touchdown strike in his rookie year, he was thenceforth able to freeze defenses rock-solid with the merest threatening cock of the wrist.

And Payton was "the best blocker of the elite running backs." That's important, definitely, but Sayers has an unmentioned credential to rival it: he is deemed, by consensus, the greatest kick returner who ever lived. Do we count that when discussing his skill as a running back? Well, it's just another way of saying he was the best open-field runner of all time. That's the basic argument, really; it's what all this talk comes down to. And no one really disagrees, because nobody's close to Sayers in that aspect of the game.

My espousal of Sayers as the greatest running back was off the top of my head, and is based on what I've seen, what we've all seen--the footage that appears to be playing at normal speed, but with the one guy, No. 40, sped up. As a non-expert I conclude what I've been told often: that Sayers struck more terror into his opponents than any other offensive player. If I'm a coach and I want one guy for one game, that describes the guy I want.

Yeah, so he played four and a half years. For much of that time he was universally considered the best in the league. Was this ever true of Payton--before he died, that is? When he broke in, the talk was still all O.J. all the time. Later on I always heard more about Tony Dorsett, and then you had John Riggins, Marcus Allen, Dickerson... there was no uniform agreement among informed observers, as I recall, that you'd take Payton ahead of any of these guys. Until Payton was dead and they weren't. Enjoy your beverage in football Asgard, Sweetness.

- 1:26 AM, November 13 (link)

Make mine moth-eaten

The indispensable Damian Penny has more thoughts about bookstore bias. (Permalink's busted. Just scroll down Daimnation until you see my name.) He agrees with Rolf Penner that there is a weird absence of right-wing literature on Canadian shelves. Correspondence on this issue will be welcomed, although the proprietor of prefers to stick to used bookstores. These are always left-wing in temperament, but they live on such low margins that they'll take, and sell, anything which isn't physically crumbling. (Incidentally, if you live in Edmonton, you're missing out if you've never climbed the stairs and checked out the Alhambra on Whyte Ave.)

- 6:17 pm, November 12 (link)

Schlatter of the innocent

Last week in "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" Gregg Easterbrook wondered aloud if David Kelley's freshly-axed "Girls Club" had been network television's shortest-lived show. The great man is brought up short in today's column. By consensus, the shortest-lived show in network history was NBC's "Turn-On", whose sole airing came February 5, 1969. Other shows have, like "Turn-On", been cancelled after a single episode. But "Turn-On" gains bonus points because some affiliates dropped the feed halfway through the first episode.

Easterbrook uncharacteristically provides an inadequate link, pointing to "Turn-On"'s entry in the IMDB. As a reader service we direct fellow lovers of the obscure to a more in-depth article about this extraordinary artifact.

"Turn-On" was probably not the worst show in TV history. In retrospect, George Schlatter's worst sin appears to have been overestimating the neural adaptability of the audience. The network was deluged with complaints that edits were taking place as close together as two seconds, which would seem glacial in a present-day music video.

NBC's mistake was giving Schlatter total creative control after the success of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In". "Laugh-In" was the sort of phenomenon that could only work once. Schlatter was a vaudeville-influenced hack who lucked into a kind of odd harmonic convergence with the psychedelic sensibility. Anybody who's seen Hellzapoppin or tried to follow Groucho's non sequiturs can see the similarity. At that point in time, Schlatter was really so retro he temporarily appeared to be cool. He overplayed his hand, reached for the weirdest Friars Club material he could find ("Rape is friendlier than arson"???), and came up with a creative disaster that followed him around for the rest of his career. Sort of a late-'60s equivalent of Ted Danson in blackface.

- 5:33 pm, November 12 (link)

Clearly Canadian

Is it just me, or is Canada getting a lot rowdier than it was in my youth? At the CFL West Semifinal in Winnipeg Sunday, a Blue Bombers fan raced onto the field and attacked B.C. Lions DB Eric Carter. This from Sun Media's account by Jim Bender, who could not have avoided a journalism career with a name like that:

[Carter] not only defended himself but got his own licks in. With help from Lion linebacker Carl Kidd, who started kicking the dimwitted male after he was knocked down.
"I was just standing there and something told me to look around and a fan just came and charged me," Carter said. "I didn't know if he had anything in his hand or what. I was just trying to defend myself because, when I was standing on the sidelines, they were throwing bottles at me. I got a security guy and gave the bottle to him and told them they were throwing bottles at me.
"I don't know where he came from. I just turned around and saw him and tried to defend myself and just started swinging at him. That was my first instinct."
Kidd made no apologies for his actions.
"One thing about it, man, Winnipeg's fans are the worst," he spat. "I think that's ridiculous that they let that stuff get out of hand like that. There were five people who came out on the field and we've got to protect ourselves as human beings. And bottles and everything. We have to protect ourselves because you never know what they've got in their pockets.
"They were throwing bottles at us, snowballs with stuff in them. But that's the kind of class they've got. This is the worst place to come to play. They need to correct this because a guy could've gotten hurt pretty bad. Luckily, he didn't get hurt worse than what he did."

Snowballs (but not bottles) are pretty standard at CFL games--it's an occupational hazard of playing football in Canada in November. One of the highlights of my childhood was a West Final at Commonwealth Stadium, '84 or '85... we had fine seats on the east side, right behind the bench on about the 25-yard-line, and with the Eskimos running away with the game, the fans back toward the top of the lower deck started heaving snowballs at the B.C. Lions bench. Most didn't make it that far, of course, and began to land on us, so the fans closer to the field staged an artillery counterattack. To make matters even more chaotic, fans in the upper deck were leaning over and dropping bombloads of snow on everybody. Eight, ten thousand people racing around, screaming, and pelting one another against the backdrop of the snowbound void. In the klieg lights one might have thought of Apollinaire's "comets" of the Western Front... Que c'est beau, ces fusées qui illuminent la nuit...

But this was harmless fun, you understand, spiced with perhaps the mild risk of someone losing an eye. To return to the scene of Sunday's nastier chaos:

The fan was escorted off the field by Winnipeg Enterprises Corp. security and was charged yesterday with disorderly conduct. But when more fans stormed the field, more fighting broke out - including bouts between players and even a Lion assistant coach. And the officials called the game with seven ticks on the clock.
"I've never seen anything like it in my life," said Bombers head coach Dave Ritchie. "They were killing that kid. They don't belong out there.
"All hell broke loose. And a couple of our players got kicked by a couple of their players."

But the real reason I relate this story is the brief, heartwarming note of healthful populist violence at the end:

After the players left the field, some fans then tried to knock down the CBC-TV tent just beyond the south end zone.

The CBC tent. Part of me wishes I could have been there for that.

- 3:18 pm, November 12 (link)

The Reader's Digest version

Christopher Hitchens is in Slate calling for the abolition of the phrase "armchair generals." His argument against it takes up about 900 words. Since writers are paid by the word, he chose not to, but he could have done it in eight: "armchair generals" is just another term for "citizens".

- 11:50 am, November 12 (link)

What were they thinking

Today's MeFi links to a 1999 press release you might have missed.

Carlstadt, NJ, April 26, 1999 -- The official color of the millennium is Cerulean Blue PANTONE 15-4020 TC, the color of the sky on a serene, crystal clear day, says Pantone, Inc., the world's leading authority on color and color trends.
Lifestyle movements suggest that consumers will be seeking inner peace and spiritual fulfillment in the new millennium. This is a paradoxical time in which we are heading toward an uncertain, yet exciting, future, and also looking back, trying to hold onto the security of the past. In this stressful, high-tech era, we will be searching for solace and Cerulean Blue produces the perfect calming effect.

This is terrific news. I thought they were really asking for trouble with their previous announcement:

Carlstadt, NJ, March 3, 1899 -- The official color of the approaching Twentieth Century A.D. is Indian Red PANTONE 1807 CV, the colour of blood running through a city street, Pantone Inc. announced today.
"We've had a run of good luck, but we expect things to go to hell pretty soon now," said a Pantone spokesman. "Choosing a color to replace the industrial black of soot and wrought iron was not easy. We considered the phosphorescent glow of the massive incendiary bombs which will soon devastate Europe, and there was a strong case for the grayish, sallow hue of a bayoneted peasant. But in the end Pantone 1807 spoke for itself--and for the years to come. Plus, it's great for barns."

- 11:18 am, November 12 (link)

The secret of victory?

Hey, look, Rick Hiebert has a weblog! I have a feeling this one may be the most useful of the whole lot. Rick writes for Report magazine (he is the fifth staffer, now, to join the ranks of webloggers--you know me, and the others are here, here, and here) and scans the world's newspapers for items of potential interest to us. We don't come close to using them all, so consider him your personal clip service.

Jeremy Lott adds "For the record, my blog is the oldest [of the five]." Just to add to the record, my site is the best of the five. Hey, as long as we're writing the record, right...?

I find this piece in the online McSweeney's oddly poignant and perhaps a little instructive about the U.S. election just completed.

A recent poll found that sixty percent of Americans feel that [President] Bush is too comfy with the oligarchy and less than half approve of his handling of the economy. Six out of ten Americans believe that the Iraq Gambit is pushing the country "down the wrong track." And yet Bush's personal approval rating loiters in the seventy percent range. We do not care about the other stuff. We like him. Even I sort of like him, and I hate him.

Emphasis mine. Why do I sense that this feeling is not uncommon?

- 2:33 am, November 12 (link)

Tog gets lucky

Talking of tornadoes, puzzle designer and usability guru Bruce Tognazzini has a note on his site about surviving yesterday's. He and his wife were staying in Cherokee County, Alabama. In a motorhome. The twister came straight for them, lifted up, passed over, and splashed down again. If he was a cat he'd have used up his nine lives and about six more to boot.

- 6:11 pm, November 11 (link)

Random notes

Comic-relief search engine hit of the day: The +book +Why +Men +Love +Bitches. (You mean there's an alternative? Ahaw haw.)

Derek Lowe's weblog is really the kind of thing there should be more of. In case you haven't noticed, many of the top-notch weblogs are by people who are accustomed to the discipline of writing, and who are long past suffering from stage fright: academics and journalists. Unfortunately we are already overabundantly supplied with the voices of academics and journalists. We need more guys--plumbers, florists, truck drivers, whomever--who take pleasure in talking to laymen about their work. Lowe is a medicinal chemist. Recent posts discuss reagents he refuses to handle, cholesterolocentrism, and how Bill James can help you run your business. Lowe also took, by far, the most accurate early stab at identifying the content of the gas the Russians pumped into the Chechen-held theatre. He basically nailed it out of the gate while the major newspapers were wandering around in a daze.

Someone has apparently decided that the U.S. is behind on its annual tornado quota and a big last-minute push is needed before the season ends. Multiple tornadoes converging on a town? Yeah, that's fairly sick, that's a little excessive.

If you can ignore the annual six-month deep freeze, Alberta has much of paradise about it; natural disasters mostly don't happen here. No volcanoes, no hurricanes, no earthquakes. We don't even have rats. But, alas, we do have tornadoes. Everyone but me seems to have a story about the 1987 twister that killed 27 people. We were camping up north while it was busy prying the gym roof off my high school. I was reading a book in my dad's truck, waiting out the heavy rains of the storm's north edge, when I flicked on the radio and heard the reports of death and destruction. For a long time--minutes--I thought "Some sort of War of the Worlds-type exercise, surely?"

Let's take a peek at the mailbag. Rolf Penner, motivated by my earlier mention of Naomi Klein, writes:

Last night while waiting for a movie I took a wander around a large Winnipeg bookstore (McNally Robinson's). I thought it quite interesting that the books that I was most interested in taking a look at weren't available. Namely Ann Coulter's Slander and David Horowitz's Radical Son. But I couldn't stop bumping into books written by Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Michael Moore in a number of different areas of the store.
It looks to me like there's some bias in the bookstore, but you would think that a bookstore would want to sell as many books and types of books as possible. I don't know, maybe there is no market for right wing American books in Canada, but somehow I doubt it.

Does anyone know, incidentally, why I have so many Winnipeg readers? Half my mail comes from that town. The only site-specific mail I've ever gotten from a stranger in Edmonton was from Sam Mikes, who incidentally is back blogging (go say hi, he's had a rough month). I don't get any mail from Calgary, hardly any from Vancouver--it's all Winnipeg, all the time.

Anyway, getting back to the bookstore thing. Partly it's a Canadian-content issue; Michael Moore's book contains like a whole chapter on Canada, and Naomi Klein is a native, although you'd never know it if she didn't take the trouble to attack us de temps en temps. But in the important respect, I think the question answers itself. As a right-winger, you're not going to stop patronizing McNally's just because they carry a wide selection of nonsense. Lefties are, famously and proudly, more sensitive. They aren't afraid to raise a stink if a store carries a book they don't like. Putting a display pyramid of Slander out front in the shop would invite more trouble than some $10-an-hour managerial schlub wishes to invite. The boycott and the tantrum are favoured tools in the box of the Left; they nestle in the drawer next to the human-rights panel and the "hate literature" section of the Criminal Code.

[UPDATE, November 12: Click here for more on bookstores.]

- 3:52 pm, November 11 (link)

Own goal

Canada is, quite simply, not a serious country anymore. It has internalized the assumptions of U.N.-ology: not just anti-Americanism but also the belief that Western nations don't need military might. As a consequence, they are simply unarmed. If al-Qaeda launched a September 11-style attack from Canadian soil, we would have only two choices: ask Canada to take charge, or take charge ourselves. The predictable--and necessary--U.S. action would spark outrage. We certainly don't need the burden of turning "the world's longest undefended border" into one of the world's longest defended ones. And that's why a little invasion is precisely what Canada needs. In the past, Canada has responded to real threats with courage and conviction (some say more Canadians went south to enlist for war in Vietnam than Americans went north to dodge it). If the U.S. were to launch a quick raid, blow up some symbolic but unoccupied structure--Toronto's CN Tower, or an empty hockey stadium--Canada would rearm overnight.

That's an excerpt from Jonah Goldberg's already-notorious NR cover story on Canada. I still haven't picked up the issue myself, and frankly I don't know that I want to reward that kind of obvious play for northern newsstand sales.

The idea here appears to be to go Pat Buchanan one better. In calling Canada "Soviet Canuckistan", "Mad Pat" (as he was referred to in my local tabloid) was showing a keen sympathetic understanding: it's the kind of phrase many of us would use ourselves, in our bitterer moments. But if Pat is mad, what then is an active proponent of cross-border cultural vandalism? What's the word for "Way, way more than mad"? (Hopefully the destruction of the CN Tower will wait until the U.S. has finished invading the continent of Africa and putting it to rights, as Jonah also favours.)

And will Jonah be on the front cover of our tabloid newspapers? Somehow I imagine not. When Pat threw out the "Soviet Canuckistan" thing, a Canadian Press shrewdie Googled the phrase and found some tenuous connection to a rabid Holocaust denier. "Oho--the true face of paleoconservatism revealed!" Meanwhile Jonah's heart's desire for a little friendly fire is likely to be overlooked by the newspapers, and to the degree it isn't, it can only serve to undermine the cause of domestic conservatism. Personal memo to Mr. Goldberg: thanks for your "help" in dispelling anti-American sentiments in Canada. Those of us who work round the clock trying to bring this about really appreciate it.

Jonah came through Canada in the summer, and I wonder if he learned anything that surprised him; his visit seems to have become a mere pretext for writing what he already "knows" about the country. I should really read his entire piece before I say so, but I think that's pathetic. More pathetic still is his attempt to reach back into history for evidence of Canada's "courage and conviction". We're going to be judged on our participation, or lack thereof, in the Vietnam War? Golly, I'm afraid we'll necessarily come up a little short if that's the standard. I for one will have trouble mustering any civic shame about it, though. If Jonah had lingered in Canada until today, he might have used the occasion to learn about our record in other wars--bloodier ones with much higher stakes.

- 11:31 am, November 11 (link)

Where's your messiah now

The Jeremy Lott party appears to have ended in high comedy after my departure, with J-Lo blowing a gasket at a mutual friend. Though I can't really endorse the weblogging-as-revenge procedure, I must admit I share the orthodox Christian's frustrations--from the other side--about those who consider Christ an ordinary man who was a "great moral teacher."

I hasten to add that this is because much of Christ's moral teaching is simply lame. After twenty busy centuries of theology, we have devised elaborate ways of pretending that the man did not plainly say things like "Resist not evil", or that we should be as carefree as the lilies of the field, or that lust is morally equivalent to outright adultery.

It is to the credit of Christianity that Christ is so unrecognizable in it. There have been many artistic deconstructions of the Lord down through the years. Many, notoriously, have tried to strip away his sanctity--but they have always been careful to leave us with a romantic kind of Che Guevara figure, wholly admirable though not actually the Son of God. The consummate modern portrayal of Christ is not yet: it will be the one that dares reveal his evasiveness, his cynicism, his combative, egotistical side, his streak of charlatanry, the palpable love he had for fencing with the rabbis. It will be a true human Jesus without any lingering odour of incense.

- 3:00 am, November 11 (link)

I said see ya l8r boi

I must say this Insta-linked item about Larry Clark running riot at the Charlotte Street Hotel is pretty funny.

Maverick director Larry Clark beat up the distributor for his movie Ken Park after the jerk declared that America deserved to get attacked on 9/11. Clark, who helmed Kids and Bully, delivered a brutal beat-down to Hamish McAlpine after the screwy Scotsman started spewing anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments during dinner at London's posh Charlotte Street Hotel Thursday night.
An enraged Clark, 59, punched McAlpine several times in the face--breaking his nose--choked him, then overturned the dinner table on the bloodied big mouth.

It's not the violence that amuses me. It's the thought of warblog readers cluelessly arranging field trips to Ken Park to watch Larry Clark's girlfriend get gangbanged onscreen. Yo, dudes, it's all right--she only looks 15. This Vice magazine article about the movie, and the 100%-American auteur who made it, should give them a little foretaste of what's in store.

If Ken Park ever finds American distribution, it's going to create completely new categories of controversy. The ratings board may know what to do with a semi-erect penis, but how the fuck are they going to cope with father-son blowjobs?

Cinematic casuistry recoils at the magnitude of the task before it.

- 10:11 pm, November 10 (link)

On Wellstone-y ground

Well, I've got the "late rising" thing down cold, that's for sure. I feel quite ready to take on the world, thanks to massive pre-emptive hydration. Bourque has a headline today reading "Chretien's son beats rap." No, it's not the rapist!--it's the older boy, Hubert. You may remember him as the studious-looking blond in the family pictures.

When his name was called, Chretien indicated he wanted to plead guilty to the charge. But after a recess and a meeting with Crown prosecutor Harry Clarke, the charge was withdrawn.
"It was a minor infraction under the Canadian Small Vessel regulation," Clarke told Ontario Court Justice Charles Anderson. "It has been diverted by way of a $200 charitable donation to Canadian Aid to Children of Chernobyl."
As a result, no facts were read into the public record.

Everybody wins! The Chernobyl kiddies get an extra helping of iodine with their porridge, and the Canadian public is protected from potentially disquieting details of Hubie's collision with a buoy in the St. Lawrence.

Drudge points to a Time report on Democratic private polls showing that making an anti-war Eucharist of Paul Wellstone's cold body hurt the Dems nationally as well as in Minnesota. I didn't comment at the time, but I didn't think it was terribly inappropriate to make a rousing celebration out of a memorial service, necessarily. I mean... that's one valid cultural tradition, you know? It felt like the kind of thing Tammany Hall would have organized in 1910. The family seemed to be into it.

That said, while not necessarily bad form with respect to mores, the impromptu rally was obviously a big tactical error. Tom Harkin's instincts really failed him when he rolled up his shirtsleeves like that. With all the national Democrat hierophants in the house, you got the feeling you were seeing the true face of the party. Wellstone's death gave them the excuse to show their true selves. And did you like what you saw? Did it make America more comfortable to see "moderate" Dem pols embracing a man they had always tried to marginalize in life? At the very least it left them open to a strong suspicion of really disgusting cynicism, the kind we try to ignore in politicians.

Maybe you're one of those people who was really pulling for the Democrats to keep the Senate and take back the House. Fine: but do you honestly think it's a matter of such overwhelming import? These guys were behaving like the first salvos had been fired at Fort Sumter or something. In their hearts, they really believe that Paul Wellstone was a saint and the Republicans are the devil. How can you turn around after a display like that and say you support the President and you want to work for America's interests in a bipartisan manner, even if it means war? Look, we saw you guys, OK? Apparently we get a little Scotch into you and suddenly you turn into Eugene V. Debs. I mean, what the hell?

So it's no surprise to me that the independent voters ran the other way. And I don't know how the Democrats are going to get them back for quite some time.

- 2:45 p, November 10 (link)

You're my best friend! I'll fight you! Etc.

Good news! I have more than made up for my pusillanimous early retirement Friday night. Far from being unable to "risk mass libations," I was on record-setting form tonight, consuming 13 double rye-and-cokes and one last single for the road. (That's 27 units; my old record is 25, as far as I have ever been able to count.) I address you now under the influence of this man-killing amount of ethanol. According to this calculator I should now have a blood alcohol level of roughly 0.22. The legal limit for driving in Canada is 0.08. Ah, but I didn't say I'd driven anywhere, now did I? My mother raised no fools. I wisely chose to take a taxicab, not that I have a choice nowadays.

As I often do when I have a foreign cab driver, I asked him about his ethnic origins: he turned out to be a Sikh from India, one who charmingly concealed his uncuttable hair within a baseball cap instead of a turban. Drunkenness is rewarded with candour, and he disclosed that he thought, as I'm sure most Sikhs do, that the assassination of Indira Gandhi was a pretty good joke. "She thought she could trust her bodyguard... ha ha ha ha ha ha." Well, she was pretty foolish in that regard, poor woman. Makes one think dark thoughts about the U.S. Secret Service... I think I'd rather turn in than go there, though. I have nothing on the calendar for Sunday, so expect me to rise late and weblog a fair amount.

- 2:55 am, November 10 (link)

Écrasez les Canadiens

Jonah Goldberg of NRO more or less has Canada's number: you can go watch him shoot salmon in a barrel here. I do object to the suggestion that callers to CBC talk-radio programs represent some sort of national opinion consensus. In fact, I kind of object to the hypothesis that anybody listens to those shows. I'd have to tune in to CBC talk-radio programs to find out, now wouldn't I?

The most popular call-in shows in Canada are all right-wing programs. Listening to an hour of CBC and concluding that you've been exposed to typical Canadian thought is like ascribing the sentiments of Lord Haw-Haw to the British upper classes. Out West here, Dave Rutherford is the guy who gets them talking around the water cooler; the CBC, by contrast, gets mentioned about as often as the Tamil-language programming on the multiethnic station. Former Social Credit cabinet minister Rafe Mair is influential in B.C. Peter Weissbach, a libertarian-leaning host who's now grinding it out in the Pacific Northwest somewhere, was practically a rock star in Edmonton during his time here. (His secret weapon was his producer, Kevin "The Ambler" Grace.) These guys aren't where Rush Limbaugh is on the spectrum (which is just as well), but they're what we've got. You won't find them at the CBC.

Canadians have plenty to be embarrassed about, sure. But what's the deal with this?

In the intellectual and political sphere, Canada is one giant university quad. On college campuses, tiny grievances are accorded tectonic significance and the most microscopic slights become metaphysical offenses. Passion is more persuasive than reason and facts take a backseat to self-esteem.

In other news, wasn't it about thirty seconds ago that Goldberg was welcoming his dear friend David Frum to the pages of National Review? Where exactly does Jonah think Frum is, er, from, anyway? Is David going to get shown the door when they find out his mother was a beloved CBC personality? As The Ambler pointed out to me recently, if Canadian intellectuals are untrustworthy, the neocons will have to punt Frum and Charles Krauthammer from their ranks, and they might want to take a good hard look at George F. Will, who taught at Canada's largest university for three years.

- 3:06 pm, November 9 (link)

I do like the No Logo logo, though

I try to keep up with Naomi Klein's activities occasionally; I like to monitor my own generation of writers and journalists, see if there's anyone who needs killin' 'cause they're better than me. Speaking of socialists, you'd think a swanky journalist who has her own publicist would have a hard time building a cult of personality amongst them, wouldn't you? When the revolution comes and the bullets start flying, I've got a father with thirty years in the union. I don't think Naomi has that kind of protection. (I'm practically certain her publicist doesn't.)

This paragraph in a recent posting to by Canada's Pasionara jumped out at me:

This case is just the latest example of Canada's ongoing "harmonization" of immigration policy with the United States. The Canadian government is so anxious to prove to the Bush administration that it can be trusted with the keys to our shared continent, that it is now sacrificing our ability to provide safe haven for people who are fleeing war, famine, or persecution in countries that the United States has deemed unfriendly. Of course, no country wants to help or harbour terrorists. But this driftnet approach to refugee policy--think of it as "community profiling"--is both undemocratic and cruel.

My thought was, "Jeez Louise, they're still doing it." "It" being the century-old socialist habit of describing everything they don't like as "undemocratic". Klein is complaining about a change in immigration policy that is allowing Algerian refugee claimants in Canada to be sent packing to their sanguinary homeland. This may indeed be cruel, or even wrong, bad, evil, nasty, thoughtless, and dastardly. But what's it got to do with democracy?

Well, OK: we weren't polled at any time on the specific question whether Algerians should be allowed into Canada in unlimited numbers and under any conditions. Canadian immigration policy--like every other public policy--is set without that kind of direct reference to the people. What do you suppose our immigration policy would look like if we were asked about it? (Hint.) Do you suppose Naomi would approve of the result? Or would that be the baaaaad kind of democracy?

There's no chance she'd be consistent about that, any more than she is about our changed policy on Algerian refugees; she's supposed to favour the exercise of national sovereignty in the face of free trade, which includes labour mobility as one of its sub-principles. But then the left isn't super strong on that whole "principle" thing. Miss Klein, although not an avowed "nationalist" as far as I know, is reminiscent of an earlier generation of gadflies who deemed themselves Canadian nationalists--when it came to things like cultural subsidies for authors. But let Canada choose to buck the leftist line on disarmament, or distance itself from the UN in the smallest respect, and you found the "nationalists" had become One-Worlders of the purest stripe. So it goes.

- 4:07 am, November 9 (link)


Idle boasting, I perceive, is quickly punished by the Gods; I turned up at the Steel/Lott event, only to be felled by a headache whose persistence is extremely mystifying. When a star of pain formed on the right side of my head I figured "Hell, I'll take a few aspirins, knock this sucker flat on its ass." That usually works. This time it barely made a dent--maybe reduced the corona of the ungodly thing a little. So I slunk home, unable to contribute to the festival atmosphere and unwilling to risk mass libations. The weekend of frenzied socializing is NOT off to an auspicious start.

- 12:00 am, November 9 (link)

Orange alert

This is one of those "Blogging will be light for the next few days" alerts that the cool webmasters sometimes put up on their sites. Don't you hate those? Yeah, just rub it in that you're having more fun than I am. Matt Welch is, I think, just about the leading exponent of the genre.

Anyway, after last night's flurry of posting I had nothing left for today, and tonight I'm going to the bricks-and-mortar version of (KevinSteel.home?) for a knees-up. We are going to play video games and scream like mandrills in estrus and, more importantly, teach Jeremy Lott how to drink like a Canadian. (Memo to Jeremy's Baptist family: just kidding!)

It's cold here, not yet inhumanly cold but certainly unpleasantly cold; and there are two fresh inches of snow on the ground, signalling that we can no longer make excuses for autumn. Autumn has done the annual thing where it says "I'm going to whip round to the 7-11 for a deck of smokes" and never comes back. And then you get the ugliest stepdad EVER, a U.S. Marine who can bench-press 350 and whose history is marbled with enough unresolved personal issues to power the Space Shuttle. Your ass isn't safe until late March.

Anyway, you may hear from me later tonight, or not until Sunday. No promises, but please check in. The traffic figures have been touchingly high lately. Rest assured, any affection you may feel for your correspondent is returned tenfold.

- 6:55 pm, November 8 (link)

The world we have lost

I'm turning in after watching the 1997 Scottish/Canadian movie Regeneration, based on Pat Barker's novel about the poet Siegfried Sassoon and his psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers. Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh for some enforced convalescence after writing a "declaration of wilful defiance" and quitting the fight shortly after Arras.

Rivers knew Sassoon was perfectly well but regarded it as his job to convince Sassoon to go back to the front. He succeeded in this, which will be a surprise to a present-day sensibility. In the movie (and doubtless in real life) Rivers appeals to Sassoon's sense of noblesse oblige, arguing that his men would rather be well and solicitously led than to have him behind the lines making a futile protest on their behalf. There is almost nothing simplistic or reflexive in this movie, which is astonishing. Rivers, a believer in the justice of the war, is made out to be neither a fool or a monster. Indeed he is rather given the better of the argument. (No doubt being played by Jonathan Pryce is an advantage.)

Sassoon's Declaration, I discover, is really rather an extraordinary thing--an act of conscientious objection that contains no stupidity or frivolity.

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.
I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation... I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

He might have been justified in protesting the conduct of the war by that point; certainly history would think him so. But he protested as a soldier, with soldierly ideals in mind.

While watching the first part of the movie it didn't even occur to me that the "Captain Graves" character, who kept apologizing to Sassoon for having him hospitalized as an alternative to a court-martial, was in fact Robert Graves. Wilfred Owen, who was at Craiglockhart with Sassoon, is also in the movie. This Sassoon biography tells the whole story. It is striking to read about the men of letters Sassoon came in contact with. Leave aside his close personal friends and fellow combatants, Owen and Graves; in a short period in 1919, he made the acquaintance of T.E. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, John Galsworthy, and Walter de la Mare.

How long would it take you or I to meet a set of individuals of that stature by simply bopping around the literary scene more or less randomly? I almost fear one lifetime is no longer enough.

- 2:54 am, November 8 (link)

A cranky Canuck

Almost forgot about this--I make a guest appearance at the 2 Blowhards' crib here, discussing the curious unpredictability of none other than yourself, Dear Reader.

Blowhard Friedrich also brings up the surprising (to him) statistical unhappiness of Canadians here. Which intersects conceptually with the "bleak Scandinavianness" I mentioned two entries ago. Hey, what do you expect? You cross East German architecture with a Finnish climate, you're going to churn out some pretty pissy humans. On December 21, at my latitude, there are roughly six and a half hours between sunrise and sunset. Think about that for a moment.

I'll be honest with you: when I first saw a picture of the new Westin in New York City, I thought to myself, "Canadians would never, ever put up a building like that. And if you did put up a building like that in a Canadian city, it would feel phony." The Westin's bad qualities, if bad they are, are a sign of cultural confidence.

Left to our own devices we are more likely to erect things like--ugh--this. Yes, exactly: it's an iceberg sodomizing a Victorian brewery. What could be more Canadian than that.

Oh, and by the by, Friedrich, the Canadian dollar's not worth 67 cents U.S. It closed today at 64.

- 10:45 pm, November 7 (link)

We've been here before

Damn, that Jim Henley's a good guy. (Remember the Barry Bonds Principle? Jim links to me and says good things about my site, therefore he is a prince among men.) My gift to Henley's readers is the name "Mark Essex", which I've been waiting, so far in vain, to hear mentioned in the sniper coverage. That's probably only owing to my inattention. The more we hear about John Allan Muhammad, the more I think of Essex. Don't know the name? I'm sure someone must have mentioned him, but there's a brief account of his 1973 shooting spree here with links. The chapter on Essex in Elliot Leyton's Hunting Humans is essential reading.

- 9:50 pm, November 7 (link)

A dissenting vote

The Frum Diary--hey, wasn't that Hunter S. Thompson's unpublished first novel? Nope, it's National Review Online's attempt to rival Andrew Sullivan with an in-house one-man weblog written by a neocon with equal pulling power. At least that's my take. We Are All Bloggers Now, it seems. Maybe Clay Waters had a point about "professionalization" after all.

Nearly all Canadians who aren't fatuous liberals (all 14 of us) appreciate Frum or some level or other. He's a gifted writer, and how can you not like a guy who says, "You know, Canada really should have developed its own nuclear weapons"? He's the movement conservative who returns from the mountain (that is, from Washington) occasionally to try to instill us with the jazzy, go-get-the-bastards spirit of the American Right. I for one appreciate the effort, but on the other hand, I'm not sure it's quite us, either. I suspect on quasi-Burkean grounds that it might be a good thing that Canadian right-wingers have a sort of bleak, Scandinavian, pessimistic streak in them, I dunno. It might also be a problem... I think Frum would say so.

To take a case in point, I was having dinner at Ted Byfield's in 1997 with a group of more-or-less young conservatives, politically aware guys if not necessarily politically active ones. One thing that's fun about Ted is that he likes to organize conversations around some question he's been mulling over. The question on this night was "What do you think the political situation is going to be in Canada in 2010? Will Canada still exist? Who will be in power? Etc., etc." The other guys gave, kind of half-heartedly, optimistic answers--"I think the Reform Party will be in the midst of a second consecutive majority government," that kind of thing. (Remember when there was a Reform Party?) When it got round to me I said, "Canada will still exist--because the Liberals will do anything, not excluding vote fraud and declaring martial law, to keep it from breaking up. And we'll still have a Liberal government in 2010." Everybody sort of nodded, realizing that this at least sounded like the truth. I've never really had a moment since where I thought it wasn't right.

Anyway, that's not Frum--if he thought that the Liberals were going to be in charge, doing the same old crap, for the next n years, he'd be the last person to tell you. He's got that American neocon optimism going for him. Probably we need both kinds of people to keep us collectively sane--guys like Frum, and grim bastards like me.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah. So, David Frum is terrific but I think National Review is making a totally inexplicable, almost embarrassing error in putting him in Florence King's spot on the back page. Jonah Goldberg makes the announcement here (at the bottom of the column). Frum is basically the temperamental opposite of Florence King, and like most of us, he's about, what, 10% as funny? Why put him in there? My understanding was that they were going to give John Derbyshire a spin, and he's much, much better suited to fill that particular pair of shoes--not because of their size (although they're the biggest in American journalism) but because of their shape; Derb has a dark side, a mean streak. I'm sorry, this just makes no sense to me. No disrespect intended to an illustrious compatriot (one with whom I share several mutual friends), but it seems like a bad fit, and it's a bit antagonizing after the heartbreak of Miss King's departure. Comments on the choice are welcome at the usual address. I could, as always, be way wrong about this.

Also, I'd like someone to tell me why the hell Florence King had to retire from the column. Some kind of female trouble? Did she call Rich Lowry a nasty name? What the hell happened? I know plenty of people who are eager for a straight answer.

- 9:22 pm, November 7 (link)

Redneck with more books than me?

Hey, wow. "Redneck with Books" Evan McElravy has a must-read contribution to the back-and-forth from a few days ago about historical parallels between Islam and Christianity.

About the obstacles against a major change in Islamic culture any time soon, Colby is largely right, but taking up Damian, and many others', parallel with the Reformation obscures the issue.

I believe he's right on both counts (ha ha). The core of Evan's argument is this:

In fact, if you think of the current Islamic fundamentalist movement as a reaction against the various, mostly unfortunate, secularizing trends in Muslim society--Kamal and the Young Turks, Nasser's socialist Arab Nationalism, the Ba'athists, the Shah, etc.--you begin to face the disturbing possibility that what we may be seeing now is in fact the Islamic reformation. [Emphasis in the original.]

It's a thought I've kicked around without ever picking the damn thing up--it was particularly hard not to think along these lines, for example, when the Talibs blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan. I remember thinking, "You know who would have done this? Luther, or Calvin, or Knox." Evan's essay is quite the petit tour de force. (Thanks to J-Lo for spotting it.)

- 7:44 pm, November 7 (link)

Do you have a moment?

Here is a list of things people in Alberta need to realize before they call the Report with a "story idea".

· The magazine owes a heavy allegiance to its large reader base in Alberta, developed during the long years when we were Alberta Report. We never forget this, and it is reflected in every issue of the magazine. That said, we are a national magazine now. We have readers in every province and we deal with national issues. Your neighbour's inconsiderate treatment of your expensive fencing is probably not a national issue, or the pretext for discussing one. Same with the terrible, but wholly undocumented and completely inexplicable, situation involving the mayor of your town of 900 souls. Ask yourself: do people in Prince Rupert or Kenora want to hear about it? Do people in Edmonton even want to hear about it?

· On a related note, if you can't explain it to me in less than 3,000 words, I probably can't explain it to the reader within that length either.

· Furthermore, we are gradually losing our hard-news focus and moving toward stories of long-term social and political import. In practice this means we are less interested in events which have a merely absurd or calamitous aspect. Precious column space cannot be given to something crazy your cow did, unless it is very, very crazy and unbovine indeed.

· If a story is "too hot" for your local daily to handle, or "they" don't want to print it, this may in fact be because your "story" has no verifiable content or is not at all interesting. Or, that you are a known maniac. This isn't a universal rule: sometimes we are interested in hearing about events the local press won't report. But the event must be credible, documented, and of wide interest. All three. We can't just skip one, or two, or all of them.

· The healthcare system is often callous and incompetent. We know this. Unfortunately, not every instance of this is reportable. In particular, intubation is often an ugly, hit-or-miss thing, and people with terminal illnesses often suffer unsightly fluid build-ups during radical medical interventions. I say, with regret and respect, that this does not mean "they killed your George". Again, there are exceptions: sometimes they do kill George, or cut off the wrong leg, or what have you. If you can document it, maybe we have room for the story, but please consult item #3 above.

· If you're calling to report a problem with the Workers' Compensation Board, do realize that we get about five of those calls a week. All such callers try very hard to sound extra feeble, and to convince us that there is no possible way they can be expected to ever do any job for the rest of their lives, whatever the "crooked" doctors may say. Well, sorry, the WCB isn't some kind of lottery you win when your back goes out. It's a part of the social safety net which is administered damn toughly. I for one am glad of this. The amount of evidence of malfeasance I would have to see before reporting a story like that is inconceivable--probably well beyond your imaginings, damaged as they are by your occupational injury. Significant coughs delivered into the microphone of the telephone device are not "evidence".

· Custody cases: these are tough ones. Running a close second behind victims of the WCB, in terms of sheer volume of calls, are dads who have been screwed over in a custody fight by a dubious claim of abuse or similar angry-mommy shenanigans. The amount of outrage that exists is, itself, an important story. But your own custody fight is probably not. You can make undocumented allegations over the phone that we can never, ever print without hard proof--you know this, right? Magazines and newspapers are targets for a thing called a defamation lawsuit. Much of the time, mistreated divorced dads are asking a reporter or editor to make a judgment on the caller's character. "I never abused my kid!" How do I know that? "My cousin will tell you I'd never do anything like that!" Not to sound cruel, but so what?

And, incidentally, it's a super bad idea to call me up and say "My wife says I abused the kid--boy, I'd like to beat her senseless and burn her face with cigarettes for saying shit like that..."

Again, there are exceptions, cases where the main custodial parent has behaved so outrageously, and it is so well-documented that she did so (m.c.p. = "she" 85% of the time), that we can do the story. Examine your tale of woe and your pile of documents carefully before you make that phone call. You'll save us some time, and mostly likely you'll do yourself a service: do you really want the details of your fucked marriage in print? Does it reflect well on you that you married a psychotic harpy who is now making your life miserable?

Thanks for reading, and I'm sorry if I've offended anybody. These sentiments are not the official policy of the Report magazine, nor should they be construed as the opinion of any other employee but myself.

- 6:40 pm, November 7 (link)

Why, Tim, why?

For those continuously enraptured by the tale of the Calgary Flames streaker (I'm still getting search engine hits), the Canadian Press has the goods on him this morning. I never dreamed they'd ever identify the guy--newspapers seem not to want to encourage such behaviour. But they apparently couldn't resist reporting that his name was Tim Hurlbut. He comes from Provost, AB, and his mother is very upset.

- 11:06 am, November 7 (link)

The ex-politician

Somebody was complaining to me earlier tonight that the weblog's not funny enough, that I've been in the midst of some kind of multi-day grouchfest. Writing all serious about TOPICS and stuff. Yeah, well, don't you know there's a war on, lady? At least that's what everybody keeps saying. And the U.S. parted that guy's hair with a cruise missile the other day, so it must be true.

Just as I feel that the historical transition from "counterrevolution" to "anti-terrorism" is an onomastic error, I feel the further shift from "anti-terrorism" to "the war on terror" is sort of weird. Terror is fear, and FDR offered us "freedom from fear", but is that practical? The thing I fear most, the thing that terrifies me, is that the federal government is going to destroy the Alberta oilpatch, again, and the Americans aren't lifting one damn finger to stop them. Please recalibrate your cruise missiles, President Bush! We sat still, here in Alberta, while you tested the goddamn things directly over our heads. I was a child! I was traumatized by the, y'know, the big scary airplane thingie! You owe me a couple shots. I'll send you the coordinates, you do the rest.

I'm still vaguely happy about the U.S. elections. Yeah, Bush is a cornpone shambles, but the phrase "President Gore" is still echoing in my head. Everybody down there is milling about in befuddlement over the fact that the Republicans did better than the polls showed over most of the campaign. It was another test of my conviction that there are systemic biases against the right wing in ordinary voter polling. Hypothesis confirmed. There appear to be a small but consistent number of voters, in every Western country, who take a left line with pollsters and then vote their interests on the actual ballot.

Should this be surprising? Given the rise of bogus "push-polling" ("Would you change your vote if you knew Candidate X raped his children repeatedly...?") and other forms of quasi-psephological horsefudge, people have less and less incentive to be truthful with these strangers who interrupt our meals. We tell 'em what they want to hear, and nobody wants to hear that you're a callous right-winger who would take the folic-acid money away from Berber crack babies. But, at every election, it's the same old song. "Hey, Bob Dole did better than expected!" "Hey, Jean Marie Le Pen did better than expected!" "Hey, the Reform Party did better than expected!" "Hey, the Reform Party did better than expected...again!" Figure it out, pollsters. People are going to connect the dots on these repeated "late surges" after a while.

Now, me, I add an implicit 4-6% to any midterm polling figure given for a party of the right, anywhere. I know political scientists have studied this exact subject, too, and they agree with me (SMART MOVE, FELLAS), and I may even have a reference written down. On a piece of toilet paper, that is. One serving as a bookmark in a lurid Spanish novel. Which I left on the subway. Five years ago.

Speaking of the election, did it occur to anyone that Walter Mondale might not have wanted to win? The guy did absolutely yeoman service in the Spanish-American War, I think he's earned a rest. I bet on Election Day he didn't even get out of the Vice-Presidential La-Z-Boy. "Aaahh, who am I gonna vote for--myself? Even I know better than to vote for Walter Mondale." If you asked either of my grandpas to get out and vote when they were 74 years old--well, they were dead by that time, I think, but if they'd been alive they'd have cut a noisy, bacon-flavoured fart right square at your head.

I know a lot of seniors get politically active as a way of filling the days. They read voter's guides and watch The Editors on PBS because, dammit, they have a stake in the immediate future too! But you know what? If you haven't formulated a set of pretty sturdy, reliable political convictions but the time you're 74, screw you. Even granting our aged a prolonged misspent youth, that's still forty years for them to make up their minds on the whole "Which party do I vote for automatically?" thing. Old people don't do voter research, they fly-fish! Our nations' bird feeders and park benches are being neglected even as we speak.

- 2:22 am, November 7 (link)

The altar of the experts

More appalling news on the Kyoto front: the University of Alberta has refused to co-host a "forum on climate change" with the federal government after the Environment Minister insisted on hand-picking pro-Kyoto panelists. I was never prouder to be a U of A alumnus.

The aforelinked Calgary Herald story mentions

a group of more than 60 scientists who wrote a letter to Alberta Premier Ralph Klein recently, attacking the provincial government for questioning the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to global warming, and espousing a view that Kyoto targets can be reached.

Lorne Gunter already broke down this group of "more than 60" scientists in the Edmonton Journal. Actually, the figure he gave was 56, but never mind that. He noted:

Nearly half the letter's signatories are biologists, not climate scientists at all. Three are federal government forest scientists, seven are geographers, one a mathematician and three are renewable resource experts, whose discipline may be just a tad biased against fossil fuels. Only 10 are earth scientists. Of the total, at least nine also have strong links to environmental lobbies such as Ecotrust, Friends of the Environment, Global Forest Watch and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Of course, belonging to an environmental lobby doesn't invalidate what you have to say about public policy. OK, OK, I know--it does, basically, but for the purposes of the argument let's concede that it doesn't. The real point is that these same lobbies are the ones who want to exclude from the debate (a) the petroleum industry, (b) scientists or economists who have taken money from the petroleum industry, and (c) anyone who is vaguely sympathetic to the petroleum industry. By the tough standard they routinely uphold, they should exclude themselves as well.

Not going to happen. Their expertise is the real expertise, you see, and the expertise of someone like Bjorn Lomborg just doesn't rise to the necessary standard. I find it amusing that the green crowd would add a mathematician to a list like that, in a clear effort to build up the numbers ("Ooooh, more than 60"), then turn around and say that a statistician like Lomborg has no right to critique the use of statistics in populist environmental literature.

Take a look again at the original Herald story. The federal government wants Mike Percy, an economist who opposes Kyoto, off the panel, at least by implication. It is happy to put David Schindler, an environmental scientist who favours Kyoto, on the panel.

I've interviewed Mike Percy and David Schindler in the past, been friends with their students, followed their work. Percy, to be perfectly candid, doesn't have the international profile and prestige of a David Schindler. Schindler is probably the most distinguished living scientist in the province of Alberta. I believe this reputation is probably quite justified. The opinion that he is an amazing human being is practically universal, and my own brief interaction with him did absolutely nothing to dispel it. (But you know how journalists judge this stuff: on the Barry Bonds principle. "He was courteous, friendly, fast in responding, explained things clearly. Obviously a saint.")

You remember in the late '80s how everyone was worried about the increasing levels of phosphates in lakes, and how a bunch of policy changes were introduced, and all the detergent brands started switching around? That was, basically, Schindler--our knowledge of what phosphates were doing was founded on his work and his publicity activities. When he talks about eutrophication, you listen, because he is basically The Eutrophication Guy. When he talks about organophosphates, you sit up straight in your chair. The guy knows his lakes as well as anyone alive.

And when he talks about global climate... well, you listen then too, because you know he's not somebody who believes in circumscribing his intellectual activity. He's got a wide range of interests--and biases too, being human. He keeps up with the climate research (publishing papers about the potential effects of climate change on boreal forests), and he has an understanding of scientific method. But in the end, he's a lake guy and a tree guy, one whose great work has been done out in the woods, a long way from a computer lab. You'd be crazy if you didn't assess his credibility at a slightly lower level when he stops talking about lakes.

And so why isn't Mike Percy entitled to participate in the discussion with David Schindler? Yeah, fine, he's no Schindler, but he sat on the editorial board of Forest Science. He's far enough from being a provincial government stooge that he sat in the Legislative Assembly across from it, with the Liberal bloc. And, what, like economics have nothing to do with this public-policy question? Like there are no international trade issues arising from the fact that the U.S. isn't going to ratify the accord? Like economic development isn't relevant here? Are we going to make this decision based solely on limnologic thermoclines?

If we want to talk about climate change, let's get some climate scientists in here! I find it suspicious--given the large number of climate scientists I've interviewed and read who are not in favour of Kyoto--that the federal government has to sell this policy using people who aren't climate scientists. The dead-cert attendees, the guys who are sure to be on the panel, are Schindler and Mark Jaccard. Schindler's not a climate scientist, and Jaccard's an economist (but, y'know, one of the good ones). Will the climate guys be attending? (The makeup of the panel was supposed to be announced on the 6th, and was not.) Can we get someone in here whose full-time job is to keep up with the research and work with the models? If not... well, OK then: Mike Byfield from the Report has written three long, research-intensive cover stories in the last three months on Kyoto and climate change. Where's his invitation? Is a Ph.D. in a tangentially related field the specific passport to participation in this process?

If it comes down to asking us to treat certain professors as though they were priests and judges, Alberta's going to keep saying "Get stuffed" to this bullshit.

- 12:56 am, November 7 (link)

Fox on the run

The Agenda Bender crew caught FoxNews anchor Shepard Smith in a boo-boo Monday night. (Hang on...they watch FoxNews?) I swear to God, earlier this year Peter Mansbridge came back from a commercial one night and promptly announced a "cunt in the bank rate" on CBC's The National. But aside from a slight flushing of the dome there was no discernable acknowledgment of the slip. And, after all, it's quite possibly what he meant to say. If any CBC employees have a record or memory of this happening I'd appreciate hearing from them.

- 11:50 pm, November 6 (link)

You better read this whole thing before you do any clicking.

Remember that Mr. Show sketch about "Old Lady, Gay Guy, Japanese Man, and Biker: The Four Voices Within"? At least three of the four voices want you to visit SALTYT (Supermodels Are Lonelier Than You Think), the leading source of fashion news online. In weblog form.

WARNING: SITE CONTAINS NUDITY. And also some pretty intense pantomimed fellatio, like, right at the very top, so DON'T click on the link if you're at work and the Human Resouces squad is squeamish about blowjobs. OK, I realize this warning is way too far down the entry and some of you have probably lost your jobs already. Don't complain to me! I didn't invent political correctness and stuff!

- 9:18 pm, November 6 (link)

Live in fear, Blue Jays

Sorry for the lack of updates today--I got up early to pound out a freelance thing and then spent Real Business Hours getting my work for the Report properly underway.

I'd still be neglecting you if it weren't for the holy-crap news that the Boston Red Sox have hired author Bill James as their Senior Advisor, Baseball Operations. James Fraser at Baseball Primer sums up my reaction:

NO WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Further Primer discussion and dissection can be found here. My question: can the Commissioner's chair be far behind...?

- 3:10 pm, November 6 (link)

Load of botox

Frank Bardacke compares America to Rome in today's CounterPunch. Brief excerpt:

Empires are known not only for the extent of their military power, and the wealth they extract from their subjects, but also for their domestic degeneracy. It seems that those who enjoy a disproportionate amount of the world's goods can not help but become corrupt. Rome's vomiting rooms fit perfectly with hunger on the Iberian Peninsula.

Ooh, très clev. Only one small problem: the Romans didn't really have vomiting rooms.

The theme of Mr. Bardacke's piece is that the widespread cosmetic use of Botox in the U.S. is a sign of American decadence. I wouldn't dream of disagreeing, but viewed in a different light, the transformation of a dread poison to a drug that can help women look younger, and eliminate the pain, morbidity, and mortality of facelift surgeries, is also a sign of magnificent American benevolence.

Or it would be... if the Americans had invented Botox. I had the pleasure recently of interviewing the charming Canadian doctor who developed the cosmetic use of botulinum. The result is one of my better recent articles: you can read it here.

- 10:20 pm, November 5 (link)

You can't kill rock and rollll

Kathy Shaidle links to a distressing Associated Press story in which Sharon Osbourne waffles about the impact their MTV series is having on the family.

Sharon [told ABC] Ozzy has begun drinking again in response to her cancer.
"We agreed to do the show and so the cameras are here all the time," she said. "So it's a little bit invasive right now and we have no privacy. You know when you're sick, you want to be on your own? I can't throw up on my own and Ozzy can't get drunk on his own."

After Sharon gave ABC these quotes, the president of MTV rang her up, and within hours she released a statement saying the family intends to deliver on the full tranche of remaining episodes, crisis or no crisis. She even said, "I love my MTV." Sharon Osbourne as Stepford Wife! I'm wondering how terrifying the president of MTV has to be to win a screaming match with the daughter of Don Arden, who seems to have inherited the better part of his ferocity and brutality. (The self-described "Al Capone of British music management", Arden once had two heavies dangle Robert Stigwood out a fourth-story window to stop him from shoplifting the Small Faces from his talent stable.) Of course, the woman does have cancer, perhaps it's buffed some of the rough edges off.

You may recall that there is a third Osbourne child who refused to have anything to do with the MTV series right from the start. Interesting that no one seems to mention her. She must be feeling slightly smug right about now, with Dad back on the grape and Mumsy publicly regretting the whole thing.

- 9:54 pm, November 5 (link)

The other shoe drops

It's blog-o-mania! (NOTE: use of word "blog" in this context is wholly ironic.) Report Web editor and contributor Kevin Steel's site is now up. No, I am not repeating the earlier announcement: this is Kevin Steel, not Kevin Michael Grace. I would offer a brief field guide to telling the Kevins apart, but having given them both an initial spurt of traffic, I now urge you to conflate and shun their worthless bunged-up sites in favour of my own super-professional one.

However, I doubt you'll do that. Kevin Steel introduces himself here. He is splendidly creative and should have an excellent site.

Hey, is it just me, or are the Republicans kicking ass in the midterm elections tonight? I can't follow all the states and I'm forced to get national coverage from NPR, but the math looks good for a Senate takeover. Chambliss looks home and dry in the Georgia race, that's a gain; Jean Carnahan is behind in Missouri, that'll be a Republican gain if it holds up; Sununu looks safe in New Hampshire. No results from Minnesota yet but it sounds like the debate went about as bad for Mondale as it could have. On the whole, the NPR interviewees and panelists sound kind of stunned at the lack of an "Enron factor". Hooray for the Stupid Party!

- 8:14 pm, November 5 (link)

Good work, boys, now finish the job

Parliament today offered the stunning spectacle of Liberal backbenchers growing a collective spine and forcing the government to allow a free vote on secret ballots for committee chairs. It passed 174-87. The result will be to take considerable power away from the Prime Minister's Office and to allow for the growth of non-partisan interest blocs within the Commons. And that's good for Canada, which has suffered from an unnaturally centralized form of the Westminster parliamentary model--one very often called, by critics of all stripes, an "elected dictatorship". Perhaps Chretien will be Canada's last elected dictator.

Thirty years ago Trudeau called the Liberal backbenchers "nobodies". They've finally done something to show they aren't, and they deserve enormous credit for it, even if they did wait for what is, practically speaking, an interregnum. (During Chretien's second term the Liberals had a majority of seven or thereabouts; it would have been easy to force a change like this--easy, but apparently not safe enough.) Now if they can just stop this Kyoto Protocol nonsense...

I had an interesting conversation with the cab driver who drove me home from work last night--interesting because he is one of perhaps a few dozen people in Alberta who thinks ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is possibly a good idea. He wasn't an idiot: clearly he was a smart, well-informed guy who had the one overwhelmingly idiotic idea. I had twenty minutes to try and make the anti-Kyoto case in a way he could accept. This was a challenging exercise, because you can't take the "junk science" tack with a person like that: if you haven't done the reading, you can't be convinced that the scientific consensus which is often claimed to exist really doesn't. That's something you have to go discover on your own.

First I tried to convince him of the extreme length of the logical chain he proposes to tie himself up with. As I see it, to believe that it makes sense for Canada to ratify Kyoto, you have to accept all of the following propositions:

· 1. The earth is getting warmer.

· 2. This warming is significant and will continue, all things remaining more or less equal.

· 3. The warming is, for the world, more bad than it is good. (Or, as a possible alternative, the warming is good for the world, but bad for Canada, and therefore we should act in our own interests. Or: the warming is bad for the world but good for Canada, so we have some kind of responsibility to take steps to harm ourselves and benefit the rest of the world.)

· 4. There is a significant human element in the causes of this warming.

· 5. Greenhouse gases constitute the most important part of this human element.

· 6. The modest greenhouse-emissions reductions proposed in the Protocol will have a noticeable positive effect on climate change.

· 7. There will be no unexpected effects from, say, economic changes which will counteract the aforementioned positive effect. (If the economic harm from Kyoto somehow delays the eventual adoption of cleaner technologies, passing it would be stupid.)

· 8. Assuming that ratifying Kyoto is a good idea for all these reasons, it is ethically proper for our federal government to implement, on our behalf, an economically damaging plan which has been rejected by Australia, Japan, and the United States and which hasn't been imposed at all upon India and China.

· 9. Assuming that ratifying Kyoto is a good idea for all these reasons, imposing the plan on the parts of Canada which have high greenhouse emissions (because they are the economically productive parts of Confederation) (a) is ethically acceptable, (b) is being done in a politically appropriate way, and (c) will not harm the economy of the country, as a whole, too badly for the plan to be tenable.

· 10. Assuming that these reasons are all good and that it is proper to take on the proposed degree of economic self-harm, there is no alternative way of spending the same (or less) money which would yield more benefit in reducing emissions.

To favour the ratification of the protocol, you have to accept all ten of these propositions as a group. Any significant level of doubt on even one of them makes a nonsense of the Protocol. And, as it happens, some of the propositions are extremely vulnerable. Concerning (2), I have yet to hear a convincing claim that the warming we are supposedly faced with (if you trust a bunch of computer models which can't yet be made to fit recent empirical climate data) is significant when measured against geological-scale climate fluctuations. Proposition (5) has already been abandoned outright by some important climate scientists: James Hansen at the Goddard Institute, who had a big role in convincing American politicians that global warming was a serious issue, has taken the focus completely off greenhouse gases in his own work and is now worried about airborne particulates. Proposition (6) is pretty much just plain wrong, and everybody knows it: the idea seems to be that we'll go ahead with Kyoto anyway and pre-socialize the economy in order to introduce more rigorous emissions limits later. Proposition (7) is something you must believe as an article of religious faith: no one can say with certainty that it is true.

And then there's proposition (10): there's nothing more sensible we can do, for the same amount of self-imposed harm, to combat climate change or limit greenhouse emissions. The Alberta government has looked at this chain of Kyoto Truths and decided to fight a rearguard action almost entirely on the ground of number 10. We have, they say, a better plan for saving the world.

I, personally, am not convinced the world much needs saving. But, as I told the cabbie, even conceding propositions one through nine, I think the Alberta government is unarguably, absolutely right about #10. Science minister Lorne Taylor wants to make a heavy financial investment in research on areas where qualified scientists suspect it may be possible to attack emissions: given five or ten years' work, we can find ways to make coal burn cleaner, or trap CO2 emissions from oilfield activity. If we succeed in this research project, the techniques created can be distributed to the whole world gratis. We, in Canada, can help everybody limit their emissions by spending a little bit of money, by freely accepting a little bit of economic harm. Instead, the federal government prefers to inflict that harm in an openly phony show of global goodwill. It would rather put people out of work than put people to work reconciling human industrial activity with the putative needs of the Earth's climate.

For heaven's sake, why? The only answer I can come up with is, because it makes the federal government more powerful--at the expense of a region it doesn't give a crap about--and because it will make the Liberal lice in the foreign service and at the UN look good among their drinking buddies. They're taking the most destructive, dumb, statist approach to this problem--assuming it's a problem--that you could possibly choose.

And environmentalists are behind them almost uniformly, with the exception of their personal anti-Christ, Bjorn Lomborg. This doesn't exactly dispel my conviction that most of the people who "care about the environment" are just commies in new clothing.

- 3:11 pm, November 5 (link)

"Mordant sophisticate or troubled loner?"

Just when you thought the whole Net was pretty much folding up shop, along comes something new. I see from my referrer logs that Kevin Michael Grace's The Ambler is ready for prime time.

He does a better job of introducing himself than I can. I am obliged by our long friendship to recommend his site strongly, but it is a duty that weighs very light. You will find, if he proves reasonably assiduous about his weblogging, that he and I share many of the same influences. He is already name-checking Kuehnelt-Leddihn, for example, whereas I just rob K-L blind without acknowledging the debt. But I am a classical liberal (the term Kuehnelt-Leddihn actually used of himself, incidentally, as I recall) first and a conservative only incidentally; with Kevin it is the other way round. If you feel that this site contains too much Athens and not enough Jerusalem, you may consider changing your primary allegiance in the coming weeks from to The Ambler. That's the fun part, though: you don't really have to choose.

Coming soon, or so I am told: another weblog from a Report staffer. Watch this space for news.

- 3:23 am, November 5 (link)

Laugh class is hard has joined SatireWire in the dustbin of Internet history. David Steinlicht's is back from a three-month nap, though.

Free laughs are increasingly hard to come by, because being funny is hard if you're not being paid for it. Even being halfway funny, on schedule, is kind of hard. Jesse Reklaw's Slow Wave is generally good for a chuckle. And the punishment for not reading Achewood is... INCREDIBLE DEATH

- 2:26 am, November 5 (link)

Poet's heart, politician's hide

Roy Hattersley has written a neat little hymn of pride to Shakespeare in the Guardian. Notice how a British political lifer moves much more easily in the sea of culture than a comparable American or Canadian figure ever would.

The title was won four centuries ago and has been retained ever since by the man who makes Britain in general, and England in particular, different from the rest of the world. Whatever our other failures and failings, we remain special and superior because we have William Shakespeare...

Shakespeare would walk away with the title if he were no more than the greatest poet and dramatist the world has ever known. But that is only the beginning of his claim to be England's Englishman. What he wrote defines what we are. England made him but he, in turn, helped to make the England of our imagination. On the day after British troops were evacuated from Dunkirk, the pupils of my primary school all chanted in unison: "Come the four corners of the world in arms and we shall shock them."

It is embarrassing that even schoolchildren should be so gauche as to "chant" Shakespeare, but one takes his point. When a German or a Swede reads Shakespeare, he is eavesdropping on a conversation. When a British person does it, he is participating in one.

- 2:00 am, November 5 (link)

Enough with the putrefying donkeys already

Theodore Dalrymple is in this morning's NatPost discussing the Turner Prize nominees.

They remind me, indeed, of the time in my childhood when I discovered that there were rude words, which I delighted to use to prove that I was older and more mature than I was. This is a stage of development that the British art establishment has not outgrown.

I haven't either, but I agree that present-day British art is a crateload of evil nonsense. Of course, I'm only 31. The art world has had a lot longer than that to mature beyond pure vulgarity.

- 8:14 pm, November 4 (link)

Good lord

Oh, man, WHAT? This is some sick shit. I was just checking out Clay Waters' site and I find he's hung out the "gone fishing indefinitely" sign. Not only that, but with true sadism he throws that little spitball in there, at the end of the entry, which is going to make anything I say about his weblog sound forced and insincere. Is this guy history's hugest bastard or what?

Well, as a matter of fact, I do like Clay's site and I visited it often and why the hell is he going to stop updating it, I want to know. The "increasing professionalization" of the blogosphere is no excuse--I've never been published in The American Enterprise, for God's sake. Most days, around here, I feel about as "professional" as a street corner preacher trying to spread the word about airplane chemtrails and the homunculus in my microwave oven.

What an astonishing fiasco. Please come back soon, Clay, and make your "hiatus" one of those bogus attention-seeking ones like David Janes'. (Failing that, keep coming across with the barmaid pics...those rule.)

- 6:45 pm, November 4 (link)

Battle of the Dougs

There needs to be a word for the kind of remorse you get when you've left something too long and it becomes impossible to fix because the pressure has been building so much in the meantime. You know, like when you're supposed to phone somebody, and you miss it by a few days and then you figure you should make a long call, which means you have to have something to talk about, so you rack your brains for a while and eventually say "To hell with it" and before you know it it's been two weeks and you no longer know if your call will even be welcome... cleaning up your house sort of works the same way. The longer you leave it, the bigger the job becomes and the less inclined you are to do it. I learn to my horror that this is how a website works too. Why isn't there a word for this intensifying remorse/inertia?

J-Lo just gave me his review copy of Doug Coupland's Souvenir of Canada, a book of still-life photographs and essays about Canadian politics and culture. This very good novelist has seemingly decided that being a visual artist is probably an easier way to earn your daily pancake than writing. Everything Coupland's ever done has smacked vaguely of con artistry (perhaps he was Dave Eggers before the fact) and you want to grab him by the lapels and shake him a little and say "You are talented! You don't need to keep putting out seventy-page books full of yearbook photos and TV test patterns! Just tell us a story! Some of us liked Microserfs!" With all the multimedia stuff, it's like he specifically wants to be inchoately famous without having to develop a craft. Perhaps he will end up as a game show host (this may be the secret fantasy of every talented person born after 1965, I don't know).

Here is an excerpt from Souvenir of Canada:

An Austrian TV journalist was in Vancouver doing a piece last year, and I was there to help out. He said to me, "I hear that everyone in Canada is named Doug." I said, "Ha ha ha, that's just a media myth." And then the hired three-man crew arrived, and they were all named Doug...

It didn't even occur to me at first that this story might not be credible. When you go to school in Canada guys named "Doug" soon get initials permanently grafted onto their ubiquitous Christian name... "Doug C. says the new science teacher's a homo." "Did you see Doug B.'s Brett Callighen poster?" In fact, thinking back, I remember that the classic afterschool fight of my school years was between two guys both named Doug. This didn't seem weird at the time. Doug kicked the shit out of Doug pretty good; actual blood was drawn. I am troubled by the suspicion that people were rooting for the victorious Doug because, even though he was the kind of guy who'd push you in the ditch or blast a loogie onto your coat for kicks, the other Doug was Indian (Red Indian, I mean, not East Indian) and therefore fair game. This is part of growing up Canadian, just like all the Dougs are.

- 5:38 pm, November 4 (link)

Tradition and the individual talent

Screenshots from the ATI-leaked Doom III demo are available here and here, though the links may not last; Slashdot's item about the leak is here.

As usual H.R. Giger has a lot to answer for. Someday, someone will make a first-person horror shooter that doesn't rely heavily on his work in one way or another. Or will they? There are only so many ways to freak you out visually, and if anyone has waded further into the artistic tradition of the macabre than Giger, I don't know who. Giger really impresses you with his smooth command of art history once you've gotten past the Gigerkeit of it all: he's quoting Fuseli, Brancusi, Riemenschneider, you name it, but a Giger piece is always a Giger. Unfortunately, a lot of other people's work is a Giger too.

Fun guy, Giger. In 1975, he was using his longtime girlfriend as the model for a painting of a temple prostitute when she, most inconsiderately, shot herself. Giger's response? "The painting was completed 2 days after Liīs death, and I substituted a gun in lieu of a birdīs head near the forehead of the figure at the right side of the throne." For just $421 you too can own the painting--in skateboard form.

Big Apple Gigerites take note: there is a very special reward available for the recovery of a table stolen from the defunct Giger Room at the Limelight nightclub in New York City.

- 1:19 am, November 4 (link)

The rain and the air

Right. It's long past time, I think, to talk about something that is not Koranic or Koran-related. I didn't get much done today--after a night of bar-hopping I was, as is typical, kind of clammy, trembly, and emotionally fragile. Hangovers, for me, rarely include serious headaches, but they do generally include being alternately irascible and morose. I was talking on the phone to a friend and she started playing an MP3 of Nick Drake's "Fruit Tree". I felt like saying "Oh, please turn that off, I can't bear to hear it in this state. I'll fall apart." But I held up through "Fruit Tree" and "Pink Moon" too, which is extraordinary even for a sober man, really.

Last night was as much fun as an orangutan drag race though. I hung out with She Who Must Not Be Linked, and I think we visited...four bars? Five? We started in a place so hip they were actually playing free jazz over the loudspeaker (BREEEEP! BRAWWWKKK! KRRAAANG!!) but we later passed through the city's most notorious barfly-invested dive as well. You've never seen so many fortysomething bottle blondes draped over welders and swaying back and forth to "Stormy Monday Blues".

So today I stayed in, tried to move about as little as possible, chatted on the phone, and fielded technical questions from at least two colleagues who are starting weblogs. When the sites are ready to be unveiled, you shall hear about them here. Young Jeremy Lott already has a site and he has some amusing recent entries about his journey through the nightmare realm of magazine production.

I insist on adding that my deadline-keeping was hardly at all "creative" this past week; I missed with my last piece by about 90 minutes at most. I'm practically a goddamn saint, as I see it.

While we were working without food or sleep to put out a magazine, our editor-in-chief was in Lethbridge battling the aforementioned wheat-marketing monopoly. He gave quite the inflammatory speech. Normally he is a conversational, low-key public speaker so it's interesting to see him go all Churchillian on us.

- 10:36 pm, November 3 (link)

No future for you? (Mailbag, part three)

I'm up and stumbling around now. Let me just dispense with one more mailbag item, this from Tim Hartin:

You ask: "Can Saudi Arabia be correctly described as a poor country where the people have few opportunities?"
Absolutely yes. Per capita income in Saudi Arabia is declining, unemployment is sky-high, the country is in an economic death spiral concealed only by the economic fever of their oil industry. This industry produces very little opportunity for most Saudis, and the revenue is captured almost entirely by the kleptocratic House of Saud. Take away the oil, which was given to them by God, or Allah, or whoever, and developed by Americans, and Saudi Arabia starts to look, economically, a lot like Eritrea. The fact that [bin Laden] comes from the tiny minority of wealthy families does not negate these facts.

I suppose you can argue the oil money out of existence if you try hard enough: it's true that the "economic fever" of the oil industry conceals bad underlying economic conditions, and it's true that if you "take away the oil" the Saudis would be living like rats. But does it truly produce no opportunities? Within the Saudi economy, Saudi citizens are heavily favoured for technical and other employment by the "Saudisation" programs; they enjoy educational opportunities that would stun most Europeans; they pay no personal income tax and the religious corporate tax, as I recall, is 2.5 cents on the dollar. I like to think I could make something of myself in an environment like that, whether or not I happened to be pulling down actual cheques from the state oil company.

"No opportunity" means, presumably, that if you get off your ass and study or work, you still won't get ahead. The Saudi situation, as I understand it, is that the Saudis are simply shockingly indolent. This has yielded an income distribution with a wide flat part, lots of foreign workers who actually have something to contribute, and a few super-rich families.

We may choose to pretend that the Saudis are not wealthy in absolute terms, but relative to other Muslim countries that could export religious fanaticism and provide revolutionary shock troops, they're still the best off. They're rich compared to Bangladesh and Pakistan, certainly. When Iran went apeshit it didn't lack for wealth either, relative to the Muslim world: it was a heavily Westernized society with a large middle class. But then there's a lot of (necessarily anecdotal) stuff I could throw out here, from the engineers and teachers of the whip-wielding Taliban to the Palestinian suicide bombers who come from families above the local average in affluence.

There's a can of worms I could pry open here, and maybe I'll talk about it more later, but I want to say I think it's a mistake to consider "terrorism" as an extreme form of ordinary crime. The thing we are dealing with is revolution. Endlessly talking about "terrorism" forces us to concentrate, irrelevantly, on the method. George Bush has been compared to Metternich, and that's more or less right on the mark in terms of identifying his role; the problem of states fighting "nonstate actors" is not really historically new, and the people who say so ought to know better. Our true business, one with a long and instructive history, is counterrevolution.

And--to make a last point--if you look at it in those terms is it no longer mystifying (to anyone but Christopher Hitchens) that the Left has trouble extricating itself from "terrorist" violence which otherwise seems so contrary to its humanistic and egalitarian principles. The Left's first principle is sucking up to revolutionaries--duhhhh, that's why they call it the Left. What the hell did you expect it to do?

- 3:14 pm, November 3 (link)

Mailbag, part two

Here's the other mailbag item I was going to share with you, this time without too much comment. It's from Lloyd Robertson, though not, I surmise, the Lloyd Robertson. There are some interesting observations scattered about here.

Some time ago I e-mailed a former teacher of mine who converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after I studied with him. I asked something like this: doesn't the Church have to choose between a pre-liberal condition which bears a strong resemblance to rule by mullahs, and a liberal condition in which toleration comes after, and partly conceals, indifference? He said something like this: the Church has not been tempted by the rule of mullahs since at least Augustine, and it can flourish alongside a liberal state as long as it doesn't accept that those outside the Church can tell the Church what to do. If there is a wall of separation, its position and nature is not determined by the state alone.

You draw a contrast between Christianity and Islam. I'll attempt a paraphrase: Christianity has a long tradition of accepting different points of view, reasoned argument, even (with Aquinas and other) some kind of marriage with Greek philosophy. Christians are taught that the truth shall set them free, so they don't necessarily accept that there is a real tension or opposition between faith and reason. Scripture is a document to be interpreted and worked on, rather than a weapon as the Koran seems to be for Muslims.

I would agree that during the Salman Rushdie episode, and more recent ones, there has been a striking contrast. Rushdie was supposed to be killed for blasphemy; blasphemy in books is old hat for Christians. Of course there are protests at the depictions of Christ in movies, but debates about whether Biblical miracles actually happened go back for centuries. The relationship between faith and Greek philosophy is especially interesting. The great Islamic empire produced and in a way protected some great philosophic scholars, who knew the Greeks well. It has often been said it was the Muslims who kept the Greek books in existence until "the West" was able to appreciate them. But as I understand it, philosophic writers in the Muslim world were always forced to conceal their meanings--Leo Strauss uses them as the ultimate example of great and profound writing that was carried out under persecution. Only in the West has there been something close to open avowals that there is a true Revelation from God, and at the same time, open and radical questioning of any such claims. To paraphrase Strauss again; it is at least a major part of the definition of "the West" that it keeps alive, incorporates, and keeps in tension, apparently contradictory views of the whole of life: Bible vs. philosophic skepticism; ancients vs. moderns; liberal individualism vs. various universal and secular faiths, etc.

I've gone on too long, but I still think the combination of Christianity and liberalism works only when there is a fundamental indifference to the truth of revelation. This seems strange with the great example of the U.S. before us, but Americans are always talking about choosing for themselves the specific church that is right for them. There is a never-ending proliferation of sects--not because people are going to make war to spread the truth, but because they want to pick and choose until they get what they want. This is somehow the opposite of saying: we will follow a specific revelation humbly and to the best of our abilities. Tocqueville says many wonderful and subtle things on this subject, but I believe one thought is: Americans want to do well in this life, so they don't see why they shouldn't do well in the next life as well.

How close is pre-liberal Christianity, or Christianity that can consistently oppose liberal materialism, to rule by the mullahs? Anne Roche Muggeridge, in her book The Gates of Hell, said: "A conservative Catholic feels more sympathy with the world view of ardent Moslem leader Colonel Qaddafi than with that of Marxist-oriented theologian Gregory Baum" (p. 23). I'm pretty sure she says something similar in her more recent book, The Desolate City, but I have been unable to find it quickly.

The "attempted paraphrase" in paragraph two overstates my position somewhat, but the Koran is certainly a "given" for Islam in a way the Bible is not for Christians; that much, I did mean to say. The Bible, the work of many men rather than one, is the product of a traceable historical argument carried out over many centuries; rival texts in many languages contend in the religious marketplace. It's just not analogous to the Koran in any way.

- 5:00 am, November 3 (link)

Mailbag, part one

Time to plunge into the mailbag for some readers' thoughts on Christianity and Islam.

Roger Sweeny writes:

I think both Christianity and Islam have the potential to be peaceful or violent.
Jesus himself says, "I bring not peace but a sword." (Ah, but now we say that's just metaphorical.) He says, "I come to pit father against son, etc." (Again, only metaphor.)
Jesus never has temporal power to put people to the sword. But I recall numerous times when he comes into a town and the people reject him and he "casts them into the lake of fire."

[Well, yes, but he didn't literally cast them into a lake of fire, see. -ed.]

All that is explained away nowadays. God is a nice indulgent father figure, or maybe parental figure (so unlike, say, the God of Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," only 250 years old).
I think the potential exists for the violence and intolerance of Muhammed to be explained away, too.
The problem, as I see it, is not so much on the supply side as it is on the demand side. People in wealthy countries with lots of opportunities want an indulgent, peaceful religion. People in poor countries with few opportunites don't.
It is a tragic irony that to the extent that they embrace an intolerant and incompetent religion, they will stay poor and without much opportunity.

Nothing too ironic about that, I should think. In fact it seems quite just. Incidentally, the Muslims think the idea of God as a literal parent is blasphemous and disgusting. I don't really know whether that extends to the metaphor or not.

At the tail end of his letter Roger presents a classic, liberal-style "vicious cycle" argument. I'm not saying he's a liberal: his letter gives no clue, and as a regular reader of my site he must be supposed, on statistical grounds alone, not to be. But note the familiar structure: we are rich, therefore we have liberalized religion, by which means we remain rich; they are poor, therefore they have illiberal religion, by which means they remain poor.

I consider all such arguments to be suspicious on their face, but this one is overturned by the painful fact that the factory par excellence of sanguinary Wahhabist Islam is Saudi Arabia. Can Saudi Arabia be correctly described as a poor country where the people have few opportunities? What, did Osama bin Laden not get enough of a chance in life?

Sorry, I've heard far too much about the "connection between poverty and violence." Not to be overly cruel or anything, but a bunch of Saudi hijackers crashed four jet planes into that one and turned it into smoking rubble.

My Hotmail account has just folded up for some reason so there will be a delay in mailbag-rummaging. More later as Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, allows...

- 2:32 pm, November 2 (link)

A bitter pot of I don't know what

I don't watch much of Letterman anymore, but when I do I'm mostly reminded of how underappreciated Paul Shaffer is. I thought Paul got off the best line in the whole Warren Zevon tribute when Dave and Warren were trying to work out the order of the set list and Paul piped up "Why should we do what he wants to do?" Cracked me up.

Thanks to moments like that and to Zevon's marvelous attitude, the whole episode went off beautifully. Zevon reminds us to "enjoy every sandwich", and I think that's a terrific credo, but then, I wonder what he thinks when he gets a bad sandwich. Like, "Oh my God, I've got maybe a hundred days left, couple hundred, and I'm sitting here wasting my time with this really lousy tuna on rye?"

In his essay "True Stories of Bitches" David Mamet recalled one time when he was with his sister in a deli eating a mediocre pastrami sandwich, sitting there and getting increasingly agitated about how it must have been settling in his arteries and locking onto his heart like a Sidewinder missile, complaining ever more vocally, and finally his sister piped up and said "Listen, this food gave six million Jews the strength to resist Hitler." He was done complaining for the day. He said it was an important lesson in the difference between mere talent and genius.

- 12:07 pm, November 2 (link)

Primary colours

I used to have this idea floating around in my head for a magazine called something like What They Really Said that would be full of nothing but primary documents of current relevance... policy statements, press releases, full transcripts of interviews, all the things you see summarized in the newspaper but that they never actually give you in full. Of course I first had this idea before the World Wide Web got big... nowadays you don't have to sit there and just be spoon-fed.

Anyway, with all the controversy over Pat Buchanan's Canada-bashing I figured I'd direct you to the source. Here's the full transcript of Thursday's "Buchanan and Press" on MSNBC. Pat starts in on us about one-third of the way down the page.

My own thought is mostly this: what a lame thing to get exercised about. The supposedly offending statements come from a little bit of no-thought repartée that's just typical of these Crossfire-inspired shows... you've got about twenty seconds to hit the other guy and there's no actual dialogue, just showing off. Pat's just showing off, and so for that matter is Bill Press, who probably has much the better of the argument about the Canadian citizen who got railroaded to Syria by the U.S. border cops, but pauses carefully to stress that the guy is a "professor or doctor". What, if he were a machinist or a cab driver it'd be OK to strand him in Damascus? All righty then. (It's too bad for detainee Maher Arar, incidentally, because he's not actually a "professor or doctor" in any sense of either word. He's a telecommunications engineer with a master's degree.)

- 2:25 am, November 2 (link)

It's all about guns

Damian Penny writes:

Look, I don't think guns should be completely banned, in Canada, the U.S. or anywhere else. I don't believe gun control is a panacea which will stop violence and murder. But the stats are right there, in black and white: there are 65 million handguns in the United States, compared with 1 million in Canada (which has about a tenth of the population, so the per-capita handgun ownership rate is much lower - despite Michael Moore's protestations to the contrary). Whatever cultural differences may exist between the two nations, it's much, much easier to get your hands on a gun in the United States. Anyone out there want to tell me how that doesn't contribute to America's higher murder rate?

Always glad to help. The answer is that if you account for one obvious cultural difference--the larger black population in the United States--the United States of America's murder rate is pretty much the same as ours, despite the huge disparity in handgun ownership. Black Americans are 13% of the U.S. population and commit over half of America's homicides.

Follow that last link and you'll see that, according to the FBI at least, the non-black U.S. population of 244 million committed 5,447 murders in 2001. (That's not counting the statistical outlier of Sept. 11, of course.) The Canadian government doesn't break down its figures by race, but the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics' 2000 figures show 542 homicides in Canada--a typical figure--amongst about 28 million Canadians. Our murder rate for the whole populace is 87% of the rate amongst U.S. non-blacks. If you were to try and establish a non-black Canadian murder rate by removing the negligible number of Canadian blacks from the numerator and the denominator, the resulting rate would certainly be lower than 87%, but not by more than a couple of points.

Of course, if you're determined not to believe "cultural differences" count for anything, none of this is relevant. Still, the stats are right there in (cough, cough) black and white. To me it looks very much as if factor A, the difference in ethnic makeup, massively outweighs factor B, the difference in gun policy. Damian's not wrong to bring up factor B, but doesn't mention factor A at all. I thought someone ought to.

- 5:12 pm, November 2 (link)

Lose the fat

"Michael" of the 2 Blowhards asks the question, "How do you manage your media diet?"

My old roommate used to pay the cable bill at our house, and when he moved out, I decided to let them disconnect me because I didn't have the cash to keep up with it. I've never had it reinstalled. I found, to my extreme surprise, that not watching cable TV actually made me smarter. I was having to put in some effort and deal with different perspectives to get the daily news. I was spending free time with books and magazines instead of MuchMusic. I was using dead spots in the day to mull things over and observe my surroundings. There was all this exercise my brain hadn't done in ages and the effect was really kind of profound. It was almost physical, like a drug. Or like kicking a drug.

It's a terrible cliché to take the view that there is something insidious about television. I don't rule out the possibility that my experience was basically a delusion or an overreaction, either. So I don't go around proselytizing about it, but I would encourage anyone to experiment with limiting his TV consumption radically. For a long while there I almost never turned the thing on, except to watch the very occasional videotape. I've returned to television out of a weird kind of cultural remorse, but I plan my viewing well in advance, and I still don't have cable. I don't, under any circumstances, "surf" the dial.

- 2:46 pm, November 1 (link)


(Link from MeFi) Check out this page devoted to Googie architecture. Only very slender traces of Googie remain where I live--a font here, a stylized rocket ship there. But have the creators of this Googie site noticed that the ubiquitous Golden Arches nod silently in the direction of Googie wherever they are seen?

- 2:21 pm, September 13 (link)

"If it's no' Scottish, it's crap!"

Tina Brown's latest column in the Times is kind of interesting, even if it is Tina Brown (a good editor who made the mistake of starting to believe her own press, but rarely of much interest as a writer). She's dealing with the fact that Britain can't seem to produce great leading men anymore, at a time when there's a new one every month or so turning up from the Antipodes.

Joseph Fiennes vanished after Shakespeare in Love (which is strange unless you agree with Gore Vidal that he played the bard like a Puerto Rican florist)...

Joe's problem is a certain lack of presence: recall how Christopher Eccleston blew him off the screen in Elizabeth. It's not done to agree with Gore Vidal these days, I know, but his judgment in matters like this is impeccable. In Fiennes' hands, our provincial, balding, bibulous Shakespeare became a tortured pretty boy begging for a nameless something with his eyes. I don't think any actor who'd be considered for the role would have the courage to give us Shakespeare as he really must have been. Shakespeare wasn't an especially dashing man, or he'd have left more of an impression upon contemporary consciousness, and I can't imagine he spent much time idly yearning for things or whining about being blocked. He was an outsider, a class-haunted genius, as brutally practical as a gibbet. Of course Shakespeare in Love was a fantasia, but if you're going to give us a Shakespeare who would fit in at Gstaad or San Tropez, you might well go all the way and cast Rupert Everett in the lead instead of wasting him as Kit Marlowe.

Note, too, Tina's outro to the piece:

On Sundays we often go to an obscure English café downtown called Tea and Sympathy, where authentically scruffy Brits are hunched over flowery china tea pots on very small tables, their plates loaded with jam tarts and egg and cucumber finger sandwiches edged with whiskery parsley. Sometimes puzzled American cultural commentators will stumble in and misunderstand it as an exercise in shabby chic. In fact, it's Narnia, the fantasy of vanished Britain.

I won't go into detail, but one thing worth understanding about Canada is that entire parts of it are still living in this Marmite Narnia. Our attachment to socialized medicine, I sometimes think, is the political equivalent of Tina's comforting jam tart. And how do you think Mike Myers got that way? Austin Powers is a joke, or was at one time, but deep down Myers is very serious, almost to the point of pathology, about being more British than the British themselves are anymore.

- 1:53 am, November 1 (link)

Single desk, double trouble

There will be more entries after I sit down and put some serious thought into my Christmas list, as ordered by my mother... I crashed at the office (shamefacedly avoiding the trick-or-treaters I hadn't made provisions for at the house) for one of those post-deadline "short naps" that ends with you being awakened about seven hours later...

Americans may, in the meantime, be interested to learn that Canada is jailing 13 farmers for symbolically breaking the Canadian Wheat Board's legal monopoly on the Western wheat and barley export trade. American farmers aren't very big fans of the massive "single-desk" government marketer, as you might expect, and (some) Prairie farmers north of the border are understandably furious that the CWB's monopoly exists only in the Prairie provinces. They're not convinced that Big Agri-Brother does a better job of reading the market than they could do for themselves. Why the differential export policy? Because our politically progressive Western forebears demanded, and got, the "protection" of a monopoly marketer nearly 60 years ago, and our Eastern masters will decide in their sweet time when the payback is sufficient. Be careful what you wish for from the government: your grandkids won't be able to get rid of it.

- 12:38 am, November 1 (link)