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Hey Canadian reporters!
Whatever happened to the old saying "Don't pick a fight with people who buy their ink by the barrel"? There's a puerile legal trend afoot that is making the work of informing the public harder for no good reason. I'd like to hear a few more people yelp about it. Let's roll the tape on Exhibit A, a CBC News story from Sunday morning:
An Edmonton man has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of a 13-month-old toddler. The boy died Saturday morning after being taken to hospital in critical condition earlier in the week, police said. ...Homicide detectives have charged a 44-year-old man. Police said the name of the accused and victim cannot be released under Alberta's Child and Youth Family Enhancement Act.
It's being widely reported this morning that the accused is protected by the ACYFEA because he is the dead child's legal guardian. The ACYFEA states that
126.2(1) No person shall publish any information serving to identify a child who has come to the Minister’s or a director’s attention under this Act or any information serving to identify the guardian of the child.
There is a list of exemptions to this fairly new policy. But dead children aren't exempt. And so, in the case of Baby X, newspapers and broadcasters are forbidden on pain of a $10,000 fine from publishing (a) the name of a deceased person and (b) the name (no matter how obtained) of his accused murderer, an adult who will eventually receive a public trial.
We have a long legal tradition of protecting the dignity of corpses against the most egregious violations, but this is a question of public moral order and of emotional reassurance for us, the future dead. It's not about the present personal rights of the now-dead. The old principle--still visible in the implementation of defamation law, though under constant threat even there--was that the dead have no rights that we are bound to respect. Even supposing they do, how can it be in the public interest to let living persons be murdered and buried in anonymity?
Maybe it's no big deal whether Baby X is named in the newspaper. But I'll give you another real-life example: the RCMP still cannot disclose the criminal or arrest record of the man who shot four Mounties dead earlier this year. Even though James Roszko committed suicide at the scene of his mass murder, his "privacy rights" are protected under federal law. RCMP media relations told me this personally--and not without detectable frustration--when I was researching my National Post column on the slaughter. Roszko's long tapestry of violence had to be reconstructed by individual reporters from old newspaper accounts and interviews with Mayerthorpe residents.
After the murders, there was (and is) a staggeringly large public interest in having the complete facts of Roszko's past known. The correct interpretation of the attack depended heavily on understanding whether Roszko was just a pot grower who kept to himself, or the long-recognized outlaw terror of a small agricultural town. But this counts for nothing. Somehow, the privacy of the dead has been suddenly elevated, perhaps by accident, to a sacred principle of the law. Coupled with the anarchic abuse of catch-all publication bans by judges, this trend is serious and objectionable, if only as a sign of the times. Our freedom to report is being subjected to unprecedented limits just as the people are acquiring the power of the press, and our means of exercising criminal justice are being stolen, piece by piece, from the public square where they belong.
Grey Cup aftermath
Edmonton Eskimos 38, Montreal Alouettes 35 (OT). Let me be the first to say it: the question is not whether this was the greatest Grey Cup game ever--the question is whether it was the greatest football game ever, period. A hundred strange subplots. One coach opposing the team that made him a legend and broke his heart, the other scheming against the franchise he venerated as a child. A starting QB confronting the loathing of his own city and shooting out the lights to win the MVP. Eight lead changes. A do-or-die two-point convert. At least two shit-or-bust field goals. A 96-yard kickoff return. Grown men catatonic and screaming and crying. 60,000 forlorn fans with no hometown attachments surging one way and the other with each change of possession.
I can't provide a complete account for fear of reliving several minor coronaries, and the morning papers don't come close. Let me describe just one moment that is already being lost amidst the perfunctory description.
The situation: Edmonton leads by three in OT, but Montreal has the ball on the Eskimos 35 with first-and-ten and has the opportunity (under CFL rules) to move the ball until there's a turnover. If they get a TD they win the game. No clock. Dead simple.
Sending out the field goal unit for the safe tie (and another pair of possessions, one per team) is perhaps not out of the question under the pillowy roof of B.C. Place. But Alouettes QB Anthony Calvillo comes in, takes the snap from centre, drops back, and launches a short pass.
Esks tackle Jabari Issa has reached up to block the pass, and in an eyeblink it rebounds off his forearms right into Calvillo's chest. At this moment, Calvillo--olive-skinned, bright-eyed, an odds-on Hall-of-Famer--is magnificent. He takes no discernible time to recover, reload, and find receiver Kerry Watkins alone in the end zone. Standing alone, mind you, facing Calvillo from more than a hundred feet away. Not one Eskimo defender is in sight. Calvillo unleashes the game-winning pass on a perfect parabolic arc. Hideous magic. In front of the TV I am dying. A black vignette is forming at the edges of my vision.
And then a red flag interposes.
Did you, dear reader, exercise the skills we all honed in a hundred childhood "You Make The Call" commercials? Calvillo's throw is the second forward pass on the play. A wholly, unquestionably, one-thousand-percent illegal forward pass. In the time it takes the ball to reach Watkins' breadbasket (and thump insensible to the turf), Calvillo has gone from demigod to braying ass. And I am no longer dying, not at all (who spoke of dying?): I am snapping puzzle pieces together like some idiot savant in the grip of divine inspiration. The ten-yard penalty will move the ball back to the 45; the "easy" field goal to tie the game is suddenly a 52-yard proposition.
The ball flew and the flag flew and the magnetic poles reversed and the sun rose in the West, and on the next play an Eskimos substitute lineman (whose name I'd never heard before) sacked Calvillo for another 11 yards, and it was all over. Shouting definitely included.
[UPDATE, 7:27 am: So many things to remember about this game--Edmonton radio is bristling with tiny mementoes. How about the play late in the fourth when the Als were in the hurry-up, marching toward the tying field goal, and 15 or so Eskimo defenders were on the field clumbering into one another? Big A.J. Gass, in a moment of career-making middle-linebacker inspiration, realizes that the Alouettes are going to get either a ten-yard penalty or a crucial free play against a confused defence corps. And so without waiting for the snap he just explodes into the Montreal backfield. No free play, and the offside costs just five yards. Great heads-up play (though it looked like high-octane insanity at first). And that was only like the 15th most interesting thing that happened during the game.
Plus there's a lot of talk about this little postgame incident (thanks to reader Matt Bazkur for checking in):
Did my eyes deceive me or did Governor General Michaelle Jean think that the cup was being awarded to her? There she stood basking in the glow of glorious entitlement, holding the trophy aloft, a picture perfect "look at me, look at me" smile on her face, only to have it all burst when one of the champions reached over the top from behind to snatch his team’s reward.And who was the brilliantly insolent Eskimo who rescued the Cup from the clutches of Canada's vicereine? None other than A.J. Gass. Nice try, sister, but the Cup stays out West.]
Smart guy. Shame about the paper trail
Michael Ignatieff's campaign to become the Saviour of His Country--or at least his party--has quietly begun. Many expect the soft-spoken author to lend a touch of class and rigour to Canadian politics; I think it's more likely that he will be obliged, alas, to embrace its grimiest tendencies. And supporters and detractors alike anticipate some difficulty reconciling Ignatieff's support for "liberal imperialism" with the practical ideology of the Liberal Party.
But what if Ignatieff never even passes the learners' exam? In their efforts to steer the Iraq hawk away from Muslim-controlled ridings in the GTA, the Liberals appear to have dropped Iggy into a Polish- and Ukrainian-heavy scene in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Cue the killer quote from the great man's 1993 book Blood and Belonging!
Glumly [in preparation for a visit to the Ukraine], I prepare myself for what I fear may be in store: city-dwelling intellectual lyricizing about peasant roots they have long since left behind; Party apparatchiks conjuring up retrospective indignation at the Soviet suppression of things Ukrainian; fanatics trying to convince themselves that independence will solve all economic problems; and a few old fascists telling me that with a name like mine--Russian, isn't it?--I don't belong here.It's a contemplative, moving, almost astonishingly honest passage. Exactly the kind of thing that will get you killed in Canadian politics! Many students of European history--not all of them necessarily in the thrall of russophilia--have a little trouble "taking Ukraine seriously" as a nation-state. Ignatieff admits that his view is influenced by his personal background, and suggests subtly that the influence is not entirely worthy. If I were a Ukrainian I can't imagine taking offence--but, as it happens, real Ukrainians are exceedingly sensitive to the suggestion that their homeland is a construct of the hyperactive 19th-century nationalist imagination. And Poles aren't always such big fans of self-confessed "Great Russians" either.
This is likely to present a particular problem in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, where the Liberal riding executive was "subjected to a hostile takeover" by Ukrainianists in late 2004. Of course, the Prime Minister has more than enough power to bend a fractious constituency to his will. And why wouldn't he do so for the one man mentioned most often as a possible successor?
Today: the 93rd Grey Cup game
My Edmonton Eskimos are squaring off against the Montreal Alouettes at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver. Kickoff is 6 p.m. Eastern time. This is what you would call the canonical matchup for the league final: Edmonton and Montreal played three legendary Grey Cup games in the mid-1950s, met on the last day five times in the 1970s, and are now facing off for the third time in four years. In fact, each team has been the losing rival in the majority of the other's championship titles: the Als have been the victims in seven of the Esks' 12 Grey Cup victories, and three of their five wins have come at Edmonton's expense.
The basic storyline, for those just joining us: what we have here are two outstanding franchises that came back from wobbly regular seasons to reach the big game. Montreal is now entrenched as the Eastern analogue of Edmonton as a CFL capital. In the past decade Canadian football has become a surprisingly francophone business, with French names filling Canadian roster slots across the country and Quebec becoming the spiritual home of the collegiate game. During the regular season, the Als went 10-8 and finished second in the East. They have the league's best and steadiest offence--an excellent year by QB Anthony Calvillo was generally overlooked--but their defence was plain bad against the run and took big chances against the pass (the secondary snagged a league-leading 27 INTs but gave up 35 TD passes).
The big-spending Eskimos (11-7, third in the West) have had the league's best defence in all phases throughout the year, but laboured under a quarterbacking controversy and a failure to develop a rushing attack. With about six weeks left, the front office completed a trade with Hamilton for power back Troy Davis; the ground game promptly came to life, but the Hamilton-bound "future consideration" in the trade is thought to be backup QB and local favourite Jason Maas, who was called upon to spark up the Esks offence in both the conference semifinal and the final, and was brilliant both times. (American college fans will remember Maas as Akili Smith's backup at Oregon.)
What to watch for: on the Edmonton side, starting QB Ricky Ray, a technically quirky passer formerly prized for clutch performance, will be playing under the shadow of Maas's cannon arm. Ray had a record-breaking season statistically as a passer, but came up continually flat in the red zone and led the league in interceptions. His place under centre will be reviewed at the half. (Here's an excellent--and, for an Esk fan, heartbreaking--Reuters photo of Ray and Maas strolling the field yesterday.)
The story for the Als is Eric Lapointe, a Canadian who gets the start at tailback thanks to an injury to import starter Robert Edwards. The latter decision may just be a characteristic piece of flakiness from Als coach Don Matthews, the geriatric pisstank who handed the 2003 Grey Cup to Edmonton by pulling his starting cornerbacks in favour of rookies on the eve of the game. Lapointe steamrollered the Argos last week, but today he'll be asked to produce against the CFL's best run defence of the 21st century. At the least he'll have to block monsters like Joe Montford. (The deciding factor could be the presence or absence of Esks QB-slayer Rashad Jeanty, who says he is ready to return to the lineup after a month off.)
Both teams have exciting kick returners--the Als' quicksilver midget Ezra Landry and the Esks' explosive Tony Tompkins--who could tilt the outcome. Alouette rookie kicker Damon Duval, a soccer guy who led the league in scoring, will be under scrutiny early on in his first Grey Cup. As of this morning, Edmonton is favoured by 1 to 1½ points in Las Vegas; the line has been twitching back and forth all week. A TradeSports bet on Edmonton--paying off at $100--costs $57 right now.
I'm not buying at that price, but then again I never thought these Eskimos would get past the conference semifinal. Grey Cup day is always a time of perverse suffering for me when the Eskimos are in the game. It's when I do all my aging, two or three years at a time.
ColbyCosh.com: where viewpoints interface!
Looks like Canada.com, CanWest's developmentally disabled web portal (remember "web portals"?), has been torn up and rebuilt with a new index page. I see no sense in remarking on the look; we've all learned, I think, that the hopes once harboured for "web design" as an art were bizarrely exaggerated, and that any change whatsoever in a page's look will be (1) universally disliked at first and (2) eventually accepted and ignored.
But what's with the new slogan? "Canada.com: Where Perspectives Connect."
Where perspectives... connect?
[Knots brow trying to come up with any corresponding mental image whatsoever]
No, seriously, I give up. Perspectives (points in 3-space?) connecting with each other? Where do you go to school to learn how to snap abstractions together heedlessly like a toddler playing with Legos?
Hey, you know what's a really good site to visit if you want to see some perspectives connect? Canada.com! No, for serious, man!
Proof of concept
Here's a Saturday morning digest of intriguing stories from the world's English-language press. Why am I posting this? We'll discuss that later--for now, just have a sniff. You'll never get through it all, so I've arranged the links in rough order of interest and import according to my own taste. Some links will rot fast.
AUSTRALIA: Interrogating poverty: Oz study finds minimum-wage earners live in households "all the way up the income scale"
Tomorrow's news: giant winepress seen in sky
Ha'aretz reported earlier this month that an Israeli effort to reconstitute the Sanhedrin in its original form has still found little purchase with the public. It is, however, attracting support from unexpected quarters--an admission that deserves international notice when it comes from Israel's media voice of the secular left. Call it another source of mild squirminess for those of us who want civil society placed on nonreligious foundations, but who realize that such a project requires vigilance, bargaining, and hope in the face of an unfriendly historical record.
Cinema: notes on Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
1 I was watching this movie Saturday night at my friend Jason's place. Early in the broadcast he noted that throughout the St. Anger record, the snare drum is tuned so that it produces an unusually bright "ping" or "ting" every time it's struck. When Lars Ulrich is playing a lot of snare hits very quickly, which is often, it creates a persistent, high, almost insectile overtone. Having pointed this out, I have now made it impossible for you to watch the movie or listen to the album without wanting to gut Bob Rock like a flounder.
2 Some Kind of Monster is possibly history's most remarkable and penetrating Rorshach test for exactly how much grief you are willing to tolerate from your co-workers. Imagine you're in a very lucrative partnership enterprise with a talented gentleman--we'll call him James H. In the middle of a project that's already overdue, James disappears to check into rehab at a secret location. He is gone for nearly a year, and communicates with you only through certain co-workers, in apologetic, prissy little notes. There are no phone calls, no visits. When he returns he tells you that he can only work for four hours a day. How many of us would still be with him this far? How many would still be with him after he pushed his luck further, and declared that he would tolerate no work being done by the others--even to the point of reviewing and analyzing what has already been done during the shortened workday--after his four hours ended?
3 I didn't buy St. Anger; Metallica lost me around the time they changed the name of their fan organization from "the Metal Militia" to "the Metallica Club". Still, I think this would be a pretty good group if they'd agree to stop playing everything at the same 65-beat-per-minute lumbering plod. Who wants to listen to a whole album of songs played at the same tempo? Twice in the movie the band plays early versions of St. Anger for certifiable geriatrics. One is their kooky manager Cliff Bernstein; the other is Lars Ulrich's very strange and very European dad, Torben. Both times you can see the old guys' eyes glaze over around the third song. (Bernstein's boredom, exaggerated by means of slick editing, is one of the comic highlights of the movie.) These are two of Metallica's biggest supporters, and evidently men whose pop memories stretch back to skiffle, but you get the feeling they would rise from their couches in bowel-releasing relief if somebody accidentally put on a tape of "Dyers' Eve".
4 And how about that Rob Trujillo? "Some Kind of Monster" turns into a metal reality show quite late in the movie when the band begins auditioning bass players to replace Jason Newsted. Second-stringers like Twiggy Ramirez blunder through the slower material; Trujillo, formerly known as "that guy from Suicidal Tendencies", displays his sheer bottle by asking to start the audition with the lickety-split "Battery" and flies through it without using a pick. The other Metallicanos discuss his brilliance without ever stumbling on the unspoken truth: "Hey, this guy plays just like we used to when we were good!" Then they give him an advance of one million dollars so he can drag their asses around on tour for a few years, until some other group member has to go take his inner child on a sightseeing tour.
Tastes like chicken, boxes like Ali: the Australians are looking for a way to
Word reaches my inbox of an explosively important new Canadian website, mediadoctor.ca. Headed up by drug policy researcher and critic Alan Cassels, Media Doctor Canada intends to do for (and to) Canadian news sources what its successful Australian forebear has accomplished down under--namely, to monitor, rate and improve news-page and network coverage of new medical treatments. If you're a health-care reporter who is not intimately examining his own work habits upon hearing this news, wake up and smell the coffee. A few banal but necessary tips for surviving the Media Doctor's scrutiny:
Having said all that, it looks like Cassels & co. intend to be thoroughly brutal with the underpaid hacks who do medical reporting for the mass media; they're yanking fistfuls of stars away from articles I might have waved through as an editor. So now we're all on notice, which is exactly the idea. (And the self-appointed media monitors would want me to direct you to this list of the major supporters of IMPACS, the registered charity that underwrites their work.)
ID, without the I: Derek Lowe shows how a medicinal chemist views the Great Chain of Being. Complete with long, sloppy comment thread. -1:29 am, November 21
Caviare to the general: I think I can now die in peace--my Friday column about abortion in the National Post was practically designed to offend everyone, and seems to have succeeded in doing so. It's on the free side of the subscriber wall.
I am one of the ten people in the world who noticed that Robert Sean Leonard was curled up on the couch with the 1987 Bill James Baseball Abstract in the closing montage of tonight's House, M.D. My reaction wasn't even hey, it's the Abstract!; it was hey, it's the '87! Strange to see an old friend turn up on television like that. I doubt you'd see many doctors reading Bill James in the real world, and more's the pity...
Guns, butter, or barbed wire
Maybe I should write a book (and quickly, before Thomas Friedman does it)... India is now building a security fence on its border with Bangladesh, joining other powers in the New Muralism movement I trendspotted last month. (þ: Fulford @ VDare)
DAMN, YOUR WINTERS [all-caps expletive deleted]. This from a Maritimer born and bred. I don't know how you can take those winters. I'd rather have the Halifax "120 days of slush" program.
I was surprised to get such a strong reaction. For starters, my oldest friend moved to Halifax for a few years right around the time the big odometer ticked over to 2000 A.D., and I don't know if it was just bad luck or what, but at a time when Edmonton winters were relatively mild, he seemed to have to cope with a ridiculous number of extreme snow events owing to the North Atlantic. This was made more difficult because he had to reckon with an antiquated, frankly comic oil-based system of home heating (I think whaling may have been involved), and with massive and universal civic confusion about how best to deal with snow on roads and sidewalks. I suspect this is why Craig is freaking out about the open secret that it is snowy in Edmonton in November; he imagines senior citizens and unschooled children trapped in draughty hundred-year-old houses that don't have BTUs flowing automatically out of a tap downstairs.
(Side note: a constant source of mirth to my migrant friend, who has since returned to Alberta, was the visible difficulty that natural-gas companies have in marketing to Atlantic customers. Apparently they have to spend an inordinate amount of time placating superstitious fears of spontaneous explosion in places where everyone's named MacDonald and no one's ever travelled west of Fredericton. I guess coal miners and methane don't mix well, even after a couple of generations on the surface.)
Anyway, people in Edmonton talk a lot about the onset of snow, but on its own it's not something that bothers us overmuch. We live in one of the most car-dependent cities on the planet, and driving is much easier when it's ten below and the snow is crunchy than it is when the temperature is wobbling around zero and you're never sure whether freezing rain or black ice will be on the menu. Blowing, fresh snow can be a terrible hazard at night, particularly on the highways, but the conventional blanket of fresh, well-behaved snow troubles nobody. From a pedestrian standpoint it is also a little easier to get around when surfaces aren't undergoing several state changes every week.
I think everybody here agrees, after they get a little experience dressing for the weather, that a calm, sunny December day with sharp sub-zero temperatures is really much nicer than, say, a plus-two day with a driving half-sleet. In winter and summer alike, Alberta gets more sun than any other province; it's rare for us to have a steady week of cold combined with unrelenting gray overcast. The beautifying effects of an urban snowfall are well known, and even an Edmontonian never quite loses his sentimental feeling for it. Those who dwell by the sea (or the Great Lakes) can never know one of life's grandest sensory pleasures--that achingly cold, preternaturally still prairie day when ice in the upper atmosphere smiths the sun into a perfect Giotto sphere of nuclear gold, the snow absorbs the reverberating din of civilization, and the vapour from buildings is rising perfectly straight into the sky, making an endless array of baroque ivory-gray columns.
It's not November and December that are difficult by any means; it's January and February, when the short days really start to play havoc with your brain and your skin and your vitamins and your hormones, and the weather really gets too cold to be borne for even a minute, and it feels like you can't quite escape from the marrow-leaching chill even under a duvet, and your neighbours and co-workers start to become pallid, snarly, and alcoholic. But let no one say that there are no compensations.
At last, ColbyCosh.com delivers something useful...
...at least if you live in Edmonton; otherwise it may at best be an amusing bit of original research. This chart depicts cumulative probability estimates of the date of the first permanent snow in Edmonton based on Environment Canada data from 1971-2004. "Permanent" here just means snow that falls and stays put, without melting away, until spring. I'd like to have gone back further, but 1970 seems to represent the approximate beginning of the current "era" of climate, and it does take a little effort to find the date on which the ground is covered for good for any given year. (The records only show whether there was snow on the ground on any given morning; you have to keep ploughing forward to make sure there wasn't a late melt-off, and even then some incidents of mid-day melting may have been missed). The median date of winter-long snow-cover is Remembrance Day, which is probably a little later than most Edmontonians would have guessed--I suspect most of us think of Halloween as the break-even point.
I hope the chart doesn't require any more explanation than this, but feel free to write with questions if it's confusing. The two years in the study period for which snow was absent on Christmas, or still destined to melt, were 2002 (Dec. 29) and 1997 (when the first permanent snow actually arrived on New Year's Day 1998).
In the comments to this entry at Covered In Oil, there's a slightly nasty joke about how twitchy and vacillating Edmonton Oilers fans have been lately, especially during the recent five-game losing streak. We can all laugh about it now, but people were turning positively feral for a little while there. You had the sense that most of the callers on the sportstalk shows were gently cradling fresh-greased firearms, uncertain whether to use them on themselves or the team's front-office personnel. I was in a bar to witness the low point of the streak, a 7-1 loss to Colorado. The mood in the bar had me mentally mapping the exits and trying to devise some stylish Kurt Russell response to sudden collective savagery. Whyte Avenue is a little violent and hysterical anyway on an ordinary evening, and has been known to suffer inexplicable riots; the game provided what any hockey fan would regard as a fairly solid pretext for a delirious tarantella of drunken chaos.
I wonder if it's a coincidence that the real war on the Battle of Alberta weblog has involved Flames-loving host Matt sitting back, smirking, and pretending to hover loftily above his own team's struggles while the Oiler fans who comprise the majority of the site's readership rend their flesh like teenage goths. Calgary hasn't been discernibly better than the Oilers this year, and its fans were habituated to much higher expectations in the pre-season. The team was even tipped to win the Stanley Cup by the thinly-educated guessers at Sports Illustrated. Since I only get to hear my own city's talk radio, I have no idea whether the Zen calm Matt attempts to project is widely shared, or whether our southern twin is as full of whimpering neurotics as Edmonton is. My instinctive suspicion is that the Flames' ticketholders are mostly bedwetting corporate lawyers who grew up resenting jocks and never quite cottoning to Peter Puck's explanation of the offside rule. Too busy to give a maiden aunt's crap about hockey: that's Calgary. Don't you know it's hard work transforming a worldwide energy crisis into a giant pyramid of cocaine and fifty-dollar beefsteaks?
It would probably be wisest for Edmontonians facing the strenuous tides of a long season to hold fast to the sweater-hem of Chris Pronger. For as long as he remains healthy, no one need fear paying the price of a ticket or a PPV broadcast, for at the very least you will be able to say one day that you saw Pronger. He is a player unique even in the garlanded annals of Oilerdom; since 1995 or so, only Curtis Joseph has provided an equally unadulterated pleasure to the local hockey aesthete. We were warned by some at the time of the trade that Pronger was a half-crippled thug, long past his prime and never equal to his reputation. In truth, he remains that rare athlete who tilts the secret geography of the playing surface and irradiates it with an aura of overwhelming command. I find it astonishing that St. Louis did not do better in the playoffs for simply having had him around. In fact, I'm actually offended on behalf of Blues fans. You had this guy in his prime and you pissed it away? What the hell?
The Oilers, even in the worst times, have always been a fun team to watch--and this is widely recognized in other NHL cities, where Edmonton has remained an attendance draw well out of proportion to the team's quality. But it is a relief to root for someone who isn't (a) learning the game with agonizing slowness or (b) heroically overcoming limited talent. Eric Brewer, who was sent southeast in exchange for Pronger, was the archetypal fin-de-siècle Oiler. He was aged 26 when he departed in a flurry of press clippings about his inestimable promise--a promise that only grew in perceived size with every year in which the actual evidence failed to materialize. He is currently -12 in St. Louis despite being paired with the more-than-adequate Bryce Salvador. More tellingly, he has accrued 35 penalty minutes trying to contain enemy forwards in the "new NHL". Pronger's current total (eight minutes in all, earned while playing 28 minutes a night) qualifies him--without one hint of exaggeration or sarcasm--as history's unlikeliest candidate for the Lady Byng Trophy.
But urging good cheer is pointless. The Edmonton Oiler fan has been chosen for a special role in the dramaturgy of the National Hockey League. It is a role which fits him well. He is the modern analogue of the Russian serf--the man so preposterously incapable of resisting his own mistreatment at the hands of blackmailing capitalists and money-engorged players that a pan-global hockey revolution had to be concocted for his sake. Little can he guess what the wind will blow to the doorstep of his frost-laced lair; his instinct tells him that it cannot be anything too good. In a fog of superstitious inarticulacy, he awaits the hammerblow of history.
Nothing against the Accordion Guy, but his headline "Pillow Fight in Dundas Square This Sunday" suddenly made me loathe my own generation. Flash mobs, cuddle parties, neo-burlesque, robot pets, emo, speed dating, network gaming tournaments, live-action remakes of cartoons... I suppose if you'd really been on the ball, you could have figured out in advance what would pass for a culture amongst a bunch of grown-up latchkey kids, couldn't you?
The heights and the depths of ESPN.com
Is there another site in the universe, I ask you, that delivers such greatness and such appalling awfulness in equal measure? You never do know what you'll get when you click on an ESPN link--it might be the last depraved rantings of some exquisite genius like Hunter S. Thompson, or the most ghastly flatus imaginable from some podunk beat writer.
Bill Simmons' Week 10 column on Terrell Owens, for example, may just be the single most brilliant thing Simmons has ever written. In the column Simmons consciously takes on an overwhelming mass of conventional wisdom and explodes it effortlessly, humiliating an entire universe of sports talking-heads in the process. How is it that a retired player was allowed to waltz into the training room and engage in a fistfight--a fistfight!!!--with one of the Philadelphia Eagles' starters? And why is Simmons pretty much the first person to ask this?
But then you flick over to Patrick Hruby's column on the notorious nude (women's) curling calendar.
...there's no novelty to naked curlers, nothing to lift the sport from the late-night netherworld of professional arm wrestling and John Basedow infomercials. More to the point, there's nothing to earn [designer Ana] Arce and company anything beyond a passing mention on "PTI"... The attention marketplace has never been more overcrowded.
Remember, you're reading these words thanks to a front-page link on ESPN.com, the most popular sports website in the universe, and one which has probably never before devoted as much space to curling as Hruby gives it in this one column. It's literally a self-refuting argument! Lamentably, "a passing mention on 'PTI'" is basically enough to double the Q-rating of the sport in the United States instantaneously. It's precisely because the attention marketplace is so crowded that the calendar is such a counterintuitive masterstroke (please, no snickers). And, of course, it's simply stupid to assert that the sport dwells in a "netherworld" amidst a bunch of bogus or dodgy activities; Hruby has outright slandered those few who know curling in the U.S., pretty much the entire population of Canada, and, hell, anyone else who passionately follows a minority sport. But in any event the entire premise of Hruby's column appears to be that he's personally growing bored of female nudity and that he thinks it would spice up his life if there were a little less of it about. So it's not an argument so much as a midlife crisis in verbal form.
Well, as a columnist I can recognize the characteristic stink of a phoned-in deadline-beater. And, as I say, you never do know what you'll get with ESPN.com; Hruby's previous column debunking the popular myths of the NBA was terrific.
Bonus link: oh, yeah, did I mention that they just hired Chuck Klosterman?
Tenth planet news: it still doesn't have a name, but it does have a moon. -10:39 am, November 10
New Muralism update
Burning with indignation
Antonia Zerbisias has her guns pointed in the wrong direction in an early-morning weblog entry on the perfidy of American garrisons in Iraq:
The Internet is burning up with stories about chemical weapons--white phosphorus and Napalm--used by American forces on civilians last year in the attack on Fallujah.
Consider this a sort of science (or history) quiz: within the first 15 words of Zerb's entry, you should be shaking your head and/or spluttering with astonishment. To be sure, the antiwar left has never worried much about the implications of extending P.O.W. protections to combatants who don't wear uniforms and aren't members of the army of some particular state. Why, then, shouldn't it go on to transform "chemical weapons" into a phrase meant to include any weapon that is made from a chemical? This would cover literally everything in the universe, right down to a two-by-four with a nail through it.
But of course, that's not what the phrase "chemical weapons" has been used to mean, by anyone, for the past 120 years. The existing international accords define them as weapons that destroy human beings through their toxic effects. Phosphorus and napalm are for setting things on fire, and, like it or not, setting things on fire has always been pretty kosher in warfare. The U.S. government has tried to point this out, and has been greeted with baffled handwaving by people who can't tell phosphorus from phosgene. (That last link even quotes a definition of chemical weapons as toxics--and continues to stupidly press home the point it has just refuted, under the apparent misapprehension that Iraqis caught in the line of fire are somehow overdosing on white phosphorus.) Say it with me: if an American's using it, there's no such thing as a conventional weapon!
It's official: nothing is sacred
...the poppy is a trademark of the Legion and anyone who wants to use it has to apply. Otherwise it would be all over the place. There are numeorus [sic] examples where it has been used for sales and other purposes. As it is not in the public domain and because it is a registered trademark of the Legion the organization is taking every step it can to protect it (and I do mean every step). All this can be avoided in the future if you ask to use it on your site and you get the proper approval. Sorry, I know your heart and many others are in the right place. Unfortunately we have to protect this image or lose its use as a symbol of Remembrance. -Bob Butt, Director of Communications for the Canadian Legion, writing to Pierre BourqueThis week, Bourque has made the unpleasant discovery that the red poppy traditionally worn in early November is no longer a popular symbol of respect for the veteran, but a brand that somehow became the aggressively defended intellectual property of the Canadian Legion. (As far as I know, the Legion has never objected to the politicians who don the poppy increasingly early, every year, for what can safely be described as "other purposes".)
The Legion's legal pestering of Bourque enrages me, in the same way and for the same reasons as it would if some private organization tried to trademark the image of the Christ child. I never thought I was helping to remove a piece of our cultural heritage from the public domain by buying Remembrance Day poppies. And I am certainly surprised to learn that "Remembrance" itself has become anyone's formal property. I won't pay for or wear one ever again. And neither should you.
[UPDATE, 6:59 pm: After a couple thousand visits and an appearance on CJAD Montreal opposite Mr. Butt, I've received a grand total of zero negative letters about this entry. One correspondent did credit me with "brass balls"--but I thought rather the same thing of Butt when he pointed out on-air that Canada's poppy policy was originally inherited from the Royal British Legion. What, you may ask, is the British Legion's policy regarding unauthorized use of the poppy on individual websites? They actively encourage it. Bob's friends and neighbours are invited to let us know whether he clangs when he walks.]
The math is easy:
It is tempting for a columnist to look at the trouble in France and to try to make hay from it--but whose position does the widespread Muslim rioting in the poor suburbs support? It is an obvious embarrassment for the old kleptocratist President of the Republic, Chirac, and for his pet, Prime Minister Villepin; yet, as has been observed, it may be a worse embarrassment still for Chirac's maverick rival, Interior Minister Sarkozy. North American conservatives are tempted to regard the unrest as payback for France's lax immigration policies and softness in the Clash of Civilizations; but France has undeniably been more aggressive than the Anglo-Saxon countries in asserting a unitary national culture. (As the Ottawa Citizen's Dan Gardner pointed out to me not long ago, the French regard multiculturalism as just another one of our stupid innovations.) The riots are likely to be a headache for Europeans who want Turkey admitted to the European Union as a grown-up equal--yet the image of a French Muslim community adrift on the fringe of the metropolis, and denied the same opportunities that ethnic Europeans enjoy, is likely to provide a tempting metaphor for advocates of Turkish admission. The left (including Chirac) will follow up the riots by proposing measures for the amelioration of the condition of France's Muslims; no one, I suppose, will argue that the right answer would be to deliberately worsen it. But this will, like it or not, be a matter of acceding to blackmail. The creation of comfortable jobs for politically astute Muslim thugs will create a precedent for more rioting, and worse, not too far in the future--and not only in France.
Probably Barbara Amiel is right: the longtime tension between the French state and the Islamicized banlieues is merely a symptom, and treating it without addressing the underlying disorder is only likely to worsen matters. The question, then, is the nature of that underlying disorder--including whether it is curable. But even here there is room for disagreement. Did France invite trouble for itself by basing its immigration policy on the blood guilt arising from its Algerian adventures, or by means of the original colonialism, or by trying to protect an ideal, essential France from the blowback of its own crimes? The whole chain of events can be regarded as just one more instantiation of the long post-Columbian tragedy. Act One: white man blunders across a new world. Act Two: white man tries honestly to alleviate the condition of his poorer, more ignorant brother by means of trade and missionary activity, but finds himself increasingly harassed by Great Power rivals and implicated in the domestic concerns of what are rapidly becoming subjects. Act Three: white man abandons his colonial partners to their fate (and is blamed for callousness) or fights a rearguard action to preserve the empire (and is blamed for the inevitable death and torture). Act Four: white man tries to make amends by imposing an ethic of race equality at home and opening his borders and his institutions to his former victims. Every part of this drama proceeds logically from the one before, and at no time do any of the players behave according to totally dishonourable motives. But who knows how to arrange for something other than the seemingly inevitable Act Five?
That is why the conflagration in Paris is so troubling, if one weren't troubled solely for the sake of Paris herself. But it is easy to be too horrified here. Even by the worst accounts, France's Islamic rioters are less well-armed and inflicting less destruction than American blacks did in U.S. cities in the late 1960s--riots which themselves overlay the memory of much worse public disorder. (Score one for Euro gun culture: the French rioters haven't yet been able to do any worse to the police than to ambush them and plink away at them with pellet guns.) The parallel here seems obvious, and if it has any relevance, we are not presented with a simple matter of social unrest proceeding from a failure to integrate new immigrants, or from the presence of a foreign and violent faith. It's a question of warehousing members of a particular ethnic group in horrible, unsightly, cheaply-made housing projects. Theodore Dalrymple wrote the received text on Muslim alienation in suburban France more than three years ago: of him it can truly be said that he saw the Seine foaming with much blood.
Where does the increase in crime come from? The geographical answer: from the public housing projects that encircle and increasingly besiege every French city or town of any size, Paris especially. In these housing projects lives an immigrant population numbering several million, from North and West Africa mostly, along with their French-born descendants and a smattering of the least successful members of the French working class. From these projects, the excellence of the French public transport system ensures that the most fashionable arrondissements are within easy reach of the most inveterate thief and vandal.
I remember the mental image I formed when I read these words: as if submerged in a dream, I envisioned a Gallic Pruitt-Igoe--the classic public-housing disaster in its familiar shape, but fashioned with all the severity, fastidiousness, and stultifying bureaucratic sensibility of Corbu's own land. I nearly leapt from my chair when I saw the AFP wire photo at left yesterday. Here, truly, a picture is worth a thousand words, or even ten thousand.
The French rioting may be understood as the predictable legacy of those deformed 20th-century twins, modernism and the welfare state. The good news is that the cure--as American cities are gradually discovering--is as simple as reversing the policies in question (or at least modifying them to strip power from urban planners) and applying a little dynamite. But in the meantime, there is plenty of opportunity for these 20th-century problems to serve as the kernel for a genuine 21st-century European jihad.
You cannot be Sirius
Q: What curly-haired, tiny-penised broadcasting genius is ostentatiously absent from the announcement of Sirius Canada's satellite-radio channel lineup? Yeah, OK--Stern's show treaded water in the Toronto market, supposedly (while competing with cross-border Stern affiliates). So that means Sirius's Canadian storefront can't devote even 1% of its bandwidth to the biggest star in its medium?
I'm sure Canadian radio retailers who have been supporting Sirius are just thrilled to contemplate all the Christmastime satellite-receiver business that will now be driven into the gray market south of the border. And special thanks to the CRTC for helping things out by means of their preposterous claim to regulatory jurisdiction over satellite radio, not to mention their whimsical experiments in regulating terrestrial-radio content.
Hello nurse: normally I never link to stuff like this, but then again that could be why I enjoy a steady C-minus web traffic, so you might want to check out Sports Illustrated's gallery of cheerleader Halloween costumes from Week 8. If, y'know, you're interested in that sort of thing. -9:09 pm, November 2
A gun to the head
From the CBC this morning:
The leader of the New Democrats says he's asked [Prime Minister Paul] Martin to consider adopting a number of measures put forward by his party--such as the ethics reform package, protection for pensions and the environment and a renewed commitment to public health care--before making a decision.
It's the same old Jack Layton position: give the NDP what it wants on key issues, and we'll continue to prop up the minority government. And Stephen Harper is taking up the same old Stephen Harper position, insisting in the teeth of the numbers that the government should fall now--and, in the process, ostentatiously refusing to play Layton's "game." The goal appears to be establishing in the mind of the voter that the NDP's conditional support for the Liberals means that a vote for the NDP is a vote for the Liberals.
The first observation to make here is that it simply isn't so. I hold to the mesmerizingly contrarian view that a vote for the NDP is a vote for the NDP. Since the war, the New Democrats have been spectacularly successful in carrying out their long-term socialist program through the medium of the Liberal Party. Granted, the means of production remain largely un-nationalized in Canada--but a pretty sizable fraction of them remain in the hands of monopolists beholden to the state and protected from foreign competition. That makes a nice first approximation, and in the meantime the state has gradually taken over health, education, marriage, child-rearing, the welfare of the aged, and the conduct of small business--in short, daily life. Leaving aside Layton's own squishy non-commitment to "socialism", why would he abandon a tactic that has always lost election battles for the NDP, and won ideological wars?
The second (closely related) observation is that there is not now much point in trying to strip votes from the New Democrats by conflating them with the Liberals. The New Democrats would have been long since dead and buried if this logic were at all convincing to NDP supporters.
I suspect that at the 2004 polls Jack Layton (and Ed Broadbent) merely brought the New Democrats back to their natural level in the popular vote. About one-sixth of us, I think, are simply New Democrat by nature--old hippies floating in internal exile, overgrown red-diaper babies, identitarians of various flavours, Gaia-worshipping vegans, and, above all, workers for whom The Union represents the sum of their aspirations and the totality of their intelligible thought. These people, and especially those in the latter category, may stay home if they're asked to vote for some insincere schoolmarmish warhorse like Alexa McDonough. Give them a grinning, attractive regular-guy who speaks in complete sentences and they'll turn out.
Barring the "Third Way" species of self-reinvention that the party continues to resist, it is hard for me to see the New Democrats ever getting 20% of the vote in a Canadian election again. (I bet publicly against the NDP getting 20% in '04, at a time when people were whispering "Official Opposition", and it was the one thing I got right about the outcome.) But until the party gets rid of Jack Layton it should continue to draw the maximum vote possible. It's a Kuhnian process. Mortality should cause the NDP vote ceiling to sink slowly, but then again there are new fools being born every day.
The third observation is that, on the premise that a party leader cares most about the ideas for which his party stands, no position other than Layton's is remotely practical. When it comes to the morality of the Liberals, elected House members have to live with the Canadian public's most recent judgment. I don't think the Gomery report, largely a stylish exercise in collating known facts, will change the underlying public perception much. Sure, my own belief is that the Liberal Party of Canada is a cult dedicated to the solipsistic proposition that it is the literal ostensive definition of Canada, and to the corollary that the rest of us are "Canadian" only insofar as we serve the party's interests by endorsing the party's vision of history, progress, and the constitutional order. If this were more broadly recognized, more people would turn against the Liberals. At some level this perhaps is what the electorate recognizes when it "grows tired of Liberal government" every few decades. Obviously Stephen Harper must work to accelerate this fatigue process, even if he never sees a personal reward for the effort.
In the meantime I don't think anyone would hold it against him for too long if he, like Layton, were to present the Liberals with a list of ideological policy demands. But maybe that's the real question: do today's Conservatives actually have a wish list? (One, I mean, beyond No Queer Weddings In My Backyard?) Harper, after all, ran tacitly for the Canadian Alliance leadership as the man who was willing to treat the party as a vehicle for ideas rather than as a professionalized cabal of jobhunters hoping to win an elaborate game of Red Vs. Blue. It seemed like a good idea to some of us at the time. But the scent of ultimate power convinced Harper to accept the values of a press corps capable of comprehending and covering politics only as a spectator sport.
Oh, and about that small Gomery matter...
...be sure to look for my reaction in tomorrow morning's National Post. Are we quite sure the judge knows the precise meaning of that word "exonerated"?
[Update, Nov. 2: My column is now on newsstands, and it is one of Norman Spector's "Columns I Wish I'd Written" for the day. Not such an easy honour to glean, unless you are named "Jim Travers" or "Chantal Hébert". Spector's page has a long excerpt from the column for those of you who can't afford the four bits for a Post.
If I can be allowed a digression, isn't there something dreadfully compelling about Spector's "CIWIW" feature and its analogues, "The Column I'm Glad I Didn't Write" and "Idiocy of the Day"? If you're a columnist who's also a sports fan, you can't help interpreting appearances on these pages as wins and losses. I don't even think it matters much how highly you regard Spector, though I have considerable respect for him; the won-loss metaphor would be irresistible (and the "losses" traumatizing) even if Joe Illiterate were making the choices. At the moment I think my record is 3-1 or thereabouts, which makes me, what, a serviceable spot reliever?
Yes, it sounds idiotic, but pretty much every semi-notable columnist who reads this page is nodding in agreement right now...]
Eats waves and leaves
My apologies for remaining so scarce over the weekend. I fell ill Friday afternoon and spent the weekend racked with fever and comically agonizing headaches, but with none of the respiratory or digestive symptoms that usually come with late-autumn flu. It required 24 hours a day to tend to my male self-pity and to alternate between desperately trying to get warm and frantically trying to cool off.
I spent a lot of time listening to sports radio, which is what I do when I'm immobile under a mountain of blankets and not thinking too clearly anyway. There's this Levitra ad they keep playing--have you heard this thing? I have trouble making sense of its slender audio, but I gather the premise is that some middle-aged guy is shambling out onto the porch with a newspaper when he sees his wife or his girlfriend (perhaps a neighbour?) gesturing sensuously to him from an upstairs window. You hear him racing off to get some, and then the traditional verbless voiceover: "Levitra: because life should be spontaneous."
Um, so, do I have this straight? They're now using "spontaneity" to sell planned, chemically-induced erections?