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Parental advisory: explicit lyrics.

Burden of proof

No doubt you've seen the unbelievable video taken outside the Van Nuys courthouse earlier today. TV crews were awaiting Robert Blake's emergence from his murder hearing when, behind them, a 60-year-old man walked up to a lawyer and started shooting him in the torso with a handgun. The pair did a little dance--captured in the footage--as the lawyer (who survived) tried to hide behind a tree. Eventually the gunman calmly walked away as the lawyer staggered into the street pleading for help. Video cameras followed the shooter, who was tackled by an off-duty policeman.

What's interesting about the accounts of the incident (see also the one linked above) is that William Strier, the man who was videotaped shooting the lawyer, walking away, and being arrested, is described as a "suspect". "Police found two revolvers on the suspect." Hey, editors! I understand that the presumption of innocence is important, even as a social principle. (Strictly speaking, it's only the criminal courts who owe anybody a presumption of innocence, but it's not a bad epistemological rule for the rest of us to observe when someone is accused of a crime.) But come on--there's got to be a better word for this situation than "suspect". Is Strier really only "suspected" here? Maybe we could agree to call him "the guy who fucking shot that other guy in front of a shitload of video cameras" instead of a "suspect"? Would that work?

- 11:44 pm, October 31 (link)

Business is growing

It's Friday, so there's another column from me in this morning's Post. It's about marijuana grow-ops in suburban homes, which are an expanding cottage industry in Canada, particularly in British Columbia (much of the Lower Mainland being one enormous suburb awash in hemp). Large suburban houses with big garages and good ventilation are ideal locations for hidden pot factories, and that has helped spread inner-city crime to rich neighbourhoods. And when crime does that, it becomes a political issue, as opposed to a regrettable but intractable social problem.

- 3:59 am, October 31 (link)

The wine-dark sea

Newspapers around the world were quick this morning to lavish attention on horrifying images of dolphin slaughter in Japan taken by a Canadian photographer working for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. This image--

--was by far the worst of the lot, showing what the Mirror calls a "SEA OF BLOOD". Or, if you like, the Glaswegian Daily Record's "BLOOD RED SEA". The disgusting red colour was mentioned in the lede of a Newsday story, and the photographer highlighted it in an interview with the Toronto Star.

"They really did represent very well what we'd seen with our own eyes that day. I just experienced the same shock all over again" looking at the processed photos, [Brooke McDonald] said.

"And that colour is 100 per cent accurate and true," McDonald said. "It was just as horrifying as it looks. It truly is the same most unnatural colour I have ever seen. It was one of the most deep crimson reds I had ever seen--and to realize that it came from a living organic being was shocking."

Gosh, it wouldn't have occurred to me to doubt the accuracy of the image. But now that Brooke mentions it, I'd like to call your attention to a curious anomaly on the Sea Shepherd Society's page of photos from Taiji. Go back here and see the photos snapped by Ms. McDonald. That "scenic cove painted red" picture really stands out, doesn't it? Especially in contrast with the one to its lower left, in which the water appears to be a much duller reddish-brown colour.

Is there a difference between the "red cove" picture and the one to its lower left? Glad you asked! The less striking photo is encoded as a 24-bit RGB-colour .jpg file. If you look at the histogram of the red, green, or blue channels in that image, you see a continuous curve containing millions of different colours. The "red cove" picture is an 8-bit paletted .gif, encoded in a format containing only 255 different colours. The colours in the image are, as a result, more uniform than they would have been in 24-bit format... and while it may be impolite to mention it, a 255-colour palette is easy to alter so as to produce a desired colour effect without manual manipulation of an image. Not that anybody would dream of doing such a thing.

{UPDATE, 12:29 am, October 31:'s Taiji page has been down for something like ten hours now. ...10:50 am: It's back up now.]

- 4:16 pm, October 30 (link)

Aw, piss

The interconnectedness of a globalized world economy is awesome! Literally, I mean: it inspires wonder, but also, occasionally, dread. Last year a gold-standard study of hormone-replacement therapy for postmenopausal women found that the intended benefits were accompanied by potentially serious health consequences. In a nutshell, HRT helps reduce the sexual effects of menopause and can slow bone loss in older women, but (as heretofore prescribed) it seems to come with an elevated risk of heart trouble, stroke, and breast cancer. The added risk is not huge, and might well be a reasonable burden for some; doctors are now engaged in the difficult work of trying to educate ever-increasing numbers of older women about the bargain that seems to be involved in taking HRT.

In the meantime, drug giant Wyeth is taking a bit of a beating as sales of the leading HRT pill Premarin decline rapidly. I reported on the setback for HRT last year without remembering that its effects would--literally--strike home. If "Premarin" sounds like a typical meaningless drug name, that's because you may not have heard where the active ingredients come from. To wit: PREgnant MARe's urINe. They've tried other sources, but after six decades they haven't come up with anything to beat the price and the product quality, the pure estrogeny goodness, of pee from chevaux enceintes.

For Western Canada, this unusual economic stream (cough, cough) has been a longstanding source of cold cash. Premarin was developed in 1941 by a Canadian company, Ayerst, McKenna and Harrison. That's the same "Ayerst" that appeared briefly in the name of the merged Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, which still operates the old processing plant for the urine near Brandon, Man. And that's why the urine ranchers--mostly breeders of quarter horses--are concentrated on the Canadian Prairies and in the adjoining U.S. states.

Long story short: those egghead scientists with their control groups and scatter plots and whatnot have inadvertently caused sudden heartbreak on the northern plains. Wyeth is severing ties to about a third of its 400 Canadian PMU ranches, and the others will be asked to scale back production. A steep decline in the price of horseflesh is anticipated, and--as Ian Bell reports for the Western Producer--many horses which have nothing to do with PMU production may be sent to slaughter this winter to save on feed.

- 3:59 am, October 30 (link)

And do you know why they call me the Count? Because I love to... burn down churches

Annals of metal: there's fresh news about Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes, the legendary Norwegian death-metaller who stabbed bandmate and leading DM scenester Euronymous to death in 1993. Grishnackh left prison on a day pass Saturday and failed to return. He stole a car from a family on a weekend outing and was tracked down Monday. Aftenposten now says he was quite heavily armed when caught.

Norwegians are now wondering why the country's most notorious criminal was being housed in an "open prison". Had the Count shown signs of reforming under the various emollients applied by Norway's soft penal regime? As a Satanist would say, like hell he did. Prison interviews with Vikernes have revealed him to be a lucid young man, admirably accepting of his fate but in no way remorseful about his murder of Euronymous. (He does seem to have a fairly strong case for cold-blooded, pre-emptive self-defence.) Ample time for reflection has, alas, done nothing but allow him to develop his boyhood Satanism into an Odinist doctrine of racial purity. That, and make a few records on the cheap--apparently he relies heavily on synthesizers and sings about "driving the Christians back to the Middle East". In Old Norse.

- 4:49 pm, October 29 (link)

Strategy 101? That'd be a junior-level course, surely?

The leaders of the Bloc Quebecois, the Canadian Alliance, and the Progressive Conservatives have put their name to an op-ed calling for Jean Chretien to step down immediately as prime minister. Paul Wells has a take on the remonstrance that I find a little puzzling:

Here's an op-ed article by three of Canada's four opposition leaders begging--pleading--for Paul Martin to become prime minister as soon as possible. It's for the good of Canada that Paul Martin take over immediately, write three guys who expect to run against him in the next election.

Only one leader didn't sign the article. Only one leader argues that Paul Martin represents a decline in quality of leadership from Jean Chretien. Only one leader thinks it is more important to prepare for a fight with the next Liberal leader than to settle scores with Chretien, who can no longer do any harm to any political party in the land.

In short, only one opposition leader has the sense God gave a goat. That leader is Jack Layton.

This is a curious characterization-by-negation of the argument put forward by Duceppe, Harper, and Mackay. The triumvirs don't say they want Martin put in place because he would be an improvement on Chretien, but because Martin is already exercising supreme power without being accountable to the Commons. I don't understand why the article is described as "settling scores with Chretien" when its main target cannot be less than obvious:

Already weakened by the internal Liberal war Paul Martin has been waging for years against Jean Chretien, the machinery of government is beginning to falter. Through his increasing backdoor influence, Paul Martin continues to undermine the authority of the prime minister.
...Paul Martin hides from Parliament, preferring instead to issue occasional trial balloons.
...Martin, if he truly were a leader, [...] would show up in the House in person, to state clearly his opposition to Jean Chretien's legislative agenda, rather than playing his external power games to defy his old master.
...Martin is already acting as prime minister. This motion calls upon him to stop playing games, and assume his new duties immediately after his acclamation as Liberal leader. Only then, when democracy is restored, will Paul Martin be held accountable.

Is the point clear enough? They're unhappy with Paul Martin! As a strategy unto itself, the op-ed seems to me to be a win-win attack. The three leaders' plea for responsible government will certainly go ignored, in which case it will give Canadians something to brood on while the schizoid "legacy" period is prolonged. The Liberal caucus's delay in replacing the leader has caused a crisis in Canadian government, and while I am generally foursquare in favour of crisis in Canadian government, I can see how it is in the interests of the opposition parties to make the situation more widely known. And if by some miracle the op-ed were to persuade Chretien to step down, it would have thereby served the purpose of flushing Paul Martin out of the Phantom Zone in which he doesn't have to make any policy commitments or take the omnipresent risk of committing a political "gaffe".

This seems to me to be a possible interpretation, anyway. And, moreover, I'm willing to admit that Jack Layton probably did the right thing, for his party, by declining to sign and separating himself from the pack. As far as I can see, there is a clear, ostensive logic to everybody's actions here--possibly wrong, but certainly not absurd.

- 2:38 am, October 28 (link)

Rightist deviationism on Mars

From Andrea Markey of the inimitable (capitalism's the disease, they're the homeopathic cure) we learn the horrifying news that science journalist Bob McDonald is in league with the masters of destruction.

Beloved CBC personality and award-winning science correspondent, Bob McDonald, is at the centre of a growing controversy in New Brunswick that is leaving many fans "wonderstruck."

The host of CBC's popular radio program, Quirks and Quarks, and the star of over 100 educational videos aimed at children and young adults, McDonald will appear at a military, governmental and industrial trade conference in Fredericton on Monday. He is scheduled to address a gala dinner at the eighth annual Aerospace, Defence and Security TExpo (ADS-TExpo 2003), a series of military development sessions for Atlantic Canada designed to promote military contracts in the region.

Critics of "death science" are expressing concern about McDonald's appearance, considering his influence among Canadian youth.

I don't think it's really fair to criticize the way a fellow looks... oh, I guess they mean his "appearance" at the death science thingy. Um, well, does the fact that McDonald's addressing a defence-industry conference make him a bad person and/or a bad teacher?

"As educators it is our responsibility to be aware of what is being disseminated and who is disseminating it," said Carol Scott, a Raging Granny in her third decade of teaching in the public school system. "As educators we cannot know everything, but we are life-long learners and have to be able to exercise our conscience."

Teachers, eh? You just know she drops that "life-long learners" thing into every sentence she utters. I would love to be able to tell you that McDonald's response to her was "Hey, lady, I did exercise my conscience. It told me that the high-tech weaponry that has your Raging Granny control-top in a knot protects our civilization, including scientific activity and broadcasting institutions." But... he's a CBC employee.

When contacted by Rabble, McDonald stressed that he is very concerned that the public will view his speaking engagement as an endorsement of the conference and of defence technology, but insisted that he will not cancel his appearance.

"It is my own fault for not looking more closely at what the conference is about," he said.

They blinded me with science! Doot--doot--doooot! OK, I shouldn't make fun. What have I done lately to promote economic development in New Brunswick, or, for that matter, science education anywhere? Bob McDonald's influence on Canada has no doubt been as wholly positive as anyone's. And now, unfortunately, he has to deal with a bunch of cranky old NDP disarmament diehards. It would be easy for him to shrug off the controversy, except that the entire audience of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation consists of cranky old NDP disarmament diehards. Good luck, Bob.

Bonus Raging Granny quote: "We would not expect to see a science journalist like David Suzuki lending his name to a conference of biotech corporations." That's funny--I wouldn't expect the pagan communist TV host who has the same name to lend it to such a conference, either.

[UPDATE, October 28: And neither would Bruce Rolston.]

- 10:36 pm, October 27 (link)

What's so bad about kicking Toronto, anyway

My Monday National Post column, about a "hateful" video game that is being expurgated just for li'l ol' Canada, is on the Web. As a bonus, Lorne Gunter also waxes psephological about the CA/PC merger in the Post's pages.

Also on your surfing agenda for today: a new look for the American Spectator website.

- 7:17 am, October 27 (link)

There's a coup in my soup

Most of you have probably already noticed the new feature on Mark Steyn's website, "Ask A Washed-Up Canadian"--"an occasional series in which, in the absence of a column in his native land, Mark answers your questions on developments in the deranged Dominion." One correspondent urges Steyn to whip up excitement over the merger of the "right-wing parties". Alas, Steyn is far too perceptive to be more than ambivalent about the merger.

The Liberal vote expresses itself consistently from coast to coast; the anti-Liberal vote expresses, alas, the rich diversity and many cultures of this land. If one were attempting to form a principled opposition from these various groups, it could be argued that the Alliance and the Bloc have more in common, if only as a marriage of convenience, in the sense that both are committed to strong regional autonomy. Combining the Alliance, which is what passes for red meat in Canadian politics, and the Progressive Conservatives, who are for the most part the None Of The Above vote, is a trickier business. I cannot deny that I would have preferred for the Alliance to wait another election cycle or two until the Tories had drowned in their debts. Killing off the PCs would have given the Alliance more credibility than giving them a deal.

I'm willing to bet, though, that he is enjoying the discomfiture of the Orchardites as much as I am. The PCs persuaded the Alliance to concede every possible principle in the merger, but they couldn't quite persuade them to commit mass suicide in order to thin out the ranks. Now the PCs are begging Alliance members to "play fair" and not take out Tory memberships in order to sway the party's final merger vote.

Marjaleena Repo, an Orchard supporter, [...] branded the proposed union a "hostile takeover" of the historic Conservative party by the Alliance.
"That is why I have called this whole manoeuvre, this whole process, a coup d'état," she said.

And after all, how dare the Alliance organize a coup d'état that will interfere with David Orchard's coup d'état? We were here first! It's not faaaair!

- 8:38 pm, October 26 (link)

Saving private Bryan

Score another one for the National Citizens Coalition in its unceasing battle against restrictions on free expression during elections (a subject I touched on in a National Post column last week). On the evening of the 2000 federal vote, Coquitlam, B.C.'s Paul Bryan violated a new proviso in Canada's election law by posting returns from Eastern Canada on his website before the polls had closed in the West. Bryan's legal defence was assisted by the NCC. A judge of the B.C. Supreme Court has now ruled that the law was an unreasonable restriction on freedom of speech. The reasons for judgment should appear here soon. And you might want to bookmark Bryan's site for use on a particular day in 2004...

- 2:05 pm, October 24 (link)

Wheels within wheels

More on Tim Horton's: reader Shawn Goldwater tipped me off to a taste test held by the Montreal Gazette in May (and written up by Julian Armstrong) when Krispy Kreme opened its first store there. Three Montreal pastry chefs rated Horton's donuts last by a mile, trying their best to be judicious.

The Tim Horton's entries were judged particularly dry, but no one wanted to use the word 'stale'. "Maybe we could have some coffee--this one was hard to swallow," [Michael] Rae said of his chocolate-glazed sample. "This is something Michael Jordan could slam dunk," he said.

The response from the company? "Donuts? Who cares about donuts?"

Tim Horton's [spokesman] Patty Jameson said coffee represents 50 per cent of her chain's business and that one out of every two bagels sold in Canada is from a Tim Horton's. [Even in Montreal?? -ed.] The chain has what she calls "a huge lunch business" in soup, sandwiches and other dishes like chili.

Is this the same Patty Jameson that accidentally made herself a legend of publicist Stalinism when quizzed last week about the changes at Tim Horton's? From the Thursday Calgary Herald piece:

Until Wednesday, Patti Jameson, vice-president of corporate communications, would only say the company is conducting tests. "I am the official spokesperson, and until I confirm or deny anything, it simply doesn't exist," she said Tuesday.

By Wednesday, after learning of [Ron] Joyce's comments, Bill Moir, executive vice-president of marketing, said Tim's wasn't trying to keep secrets from its customers, just from the competition. Joyce said, regardless, the customers deserve to know what's happening.

Shawn Goldwater concludes "I thought then that Tim's was making a big mistake in losing sight of their core business. And I'm more convinced of that now." He must have read a particularly persuasive newspaper column on the subject!

- 12:09 pm, October 24 (link)

Sharper than a serpent's tooth

Well, I rummaged through the morning papers for some word on how the Edmonton Trappers can possibly be sold to Texas when there are 15 years left on their lease at Telus Field, the beautiful state-of-the-art ballpark we taxpayers built for the team in 1995. The answer, apparently, is that the city is simply not going to enforce the lease.

Yes, you read that right! Understand this: the Trappers are being sold, and for about a 130% profit, by the community ownership of the Edmonton Eskimos, who purchased the team from Peter Pocklington years ago. The Trappers are popular in Edmonton, but not popular like a century-old CFL team that draws 40,000 fans a game is popular. City council can't fight the Eskimos and win, as Mayor Bill Smith tacitly admits to the Sun's Terry Jones:

The Eskimos have offered a part of the surplus to the city to maybe put an artificial surface in Clarke Stadium or to further enhance Commonwealth Stadium. We have a lease arrangement. But it would have burned up a lot of legal fees and the Eskimos are a community-owned team.

In short: the ballpark is already bought and paid for. It may be a little embarrassing for it to moulder largely unused, but the city can't afford to queer the sale by hurting the Eskimos' competitiveness. (Only Nixon could go to China; only a sports team can screw sports fans!) In return for a short-term payoff, which the current members of city council will be permitted to spend in a highly visible way, the city will forgo the future revenue from the lease, which can only politically benefit a bunch of councillors who are now in junior high school.

I'm not all that busted up about losing Triple-A baseball in Edmonton, actually, but I've got a punch in the nose saved up for the next person who tells me the government needs to get involved in certain business enterprises because it offers "a long-term corrective" to the "short-term, bottom-line thinking" of companies who "don't look past the next business cycle" (etc., etc., ad naus.)

- 9:40 am, October 24 (link)

The Intercontinental Donut Co.

My Friday morning Post column about the Tim Horton's frozen-dough fiasco is on the Web. The Calgary Herald broke the persistent rumours open earlier this week in an interview with Horton's co-founder Ron Joyce. (Sometimes, urban legends turn out to be true!) The Post's Chris Wattie has filed a fresh-baked Friday morning story with reaction from competitors.

[UPDATE, 12:13 pm: A reader has pointed out an older newspaper item of interest.]

- 9:06 am, October 24 (link)

It's the sport that urinates in your mouth!

I got to liking baseball again for a couple weeks there, so naturally the local Triple-A team announces it's leaving town.

CBC SPORTS ONLINE - The Edmonton Trappers are heading south.
The Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos, which bought the triple-A baseball team in 1999, have sold the Trappers to Round Rock Baseball Inc. for $10.4 million US. The Trappers will play out the 2004 Pacific Coast League season in Edmonton before moving to Texas. They become the third western Canadian triple-A club to head south for financial reasons in recent years. The PCL's Vancouver Canadians moved to Sacramento, Calif., after winning the 1999 triple-A World Series, and the Calgary Cannons went to Albuquerque, N.M., following their 2002 season. The Ottawa Lynx of the International League is now the sole Canadian Triple-A club.

I trust the Eskimos know what they're doing, snapping up US$10M just as the American dollar is at its lowest ebb. I probably don't need to tell you that the city built the Trappers a remarkable new ballpark in 1995, or that the team enjoyed consistently excellent fan support. Perhaps the morning papers will explain how the Texas investors intend to pry the team loose from its lease with the city, which runs through the futuretastic year 2019?

[UPDATE: October 24: Friday morning fallout.]

- 7:10 pm, October 23 (link)

So busy, I'm sure you understand

Lovers of "individual initiative and personal responsibility" will be glad to hear that the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy (hold the apostrophe, please), former owner of the Report magazine, has found the money for a provincewide radio campaign and some policy reports urging Alberta to opt out of the Canada Pension Plan.

What's that you say? You were under the impression that the Citizens Centre had some unfinished business with its former employees? Something to do with firing the entire staff of the Report without notice? And not (yet) paying out the statutory severance which is supposedly required in lieu of said notice? And not (yet) giving the ex-employees their holiday pay? Well, I don't know anything about all that, never having received a single scrap of correspondence from the Citizens Centre since I was kicked to the curb. I spoke with a Citizens Centre employee (perhaps its only surviving employee) in July or thereabouts and was told that arrangements were being made to compensate the people who were fired at the end of May; that I'd get a letter about the matter; and that Citizens Centre chairman Link Byfield would be in touch by phone. Can he have misplaced my number? Has it been lost in the exciting tumult of "Canada's newest and fastest growing, citizens-based public-interest movement" [sic]?

- 7:29 am, October 23 (link)

The standard kilogram of Parliament

Another note on an abstruse point of Canadian politics: it turns out that the timetable for federal electoral redistricting is a little more fluid than I mentioned in this entry. The new map, with seven new ridings in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario, was originally supposed to come into force on August 25 of next year. A bill now at third reading in the Commons would move the date up to April 1, presumably so Paul Martin can fight a spring election under more favourable conditions in Quebec. That is the belief of the Bloc Quebecois, anyway, which argues that the government is in an unseemly hurry to transfer power from rural Quebec to the cities. MP Mario Laframboise makes one puzzling statement in criticizing the bill:

The number of ridings will change. There will be 308 ridings instead of 301. That is the reality. There will be seven new ridings. Strangely enough, none in Quebec.

Strangely? Under the constitution, Quebec always has 75 seats! It's had 75, no more, no less, since 1867; everyone else's representation is adjusted so as to give them a fair share in proportion to Quebec's axiomatic 75. It would far, far stranger if Quebec were to lose or gain seats after a post-censal redistricting, surely? [NOTE, November 17: Quebec's representation actually dipped briefly below 75 under old electoral law, I'm told, in the '70s; affairs were quickly rearranged to prevent a recurrence. Under current law it cannot lose seats.]

- 6:41 am, October 23 (link)


Meryl Yourish is mystified about my statement that "Anti-Semitism is no longer remotely acceptable in polite North American society, and is a capital offence for someone who has a media career." I don't think we are really in disagreement, despite her theatrical indignation. I should have thought it was obvious that in referring to "polite society" I did not mean to include, and could not accurately have included, small campus cabals of greasy, deluded, ignorant leftist thugs. Nor can the term be stretched to cover obstreperous, seething Muslims whose conspiracy theories give them an all-encompassing excuse for their creed's own economic and cultural failings.

I shouldn't have claimed to speak for the United States, any more than Meryl should presume to lecture me on the state of Canadian society. Anti-Semitism in Canada is not some sort of all-pervasive aerosol poison in the social environment. Yet Canada does, as Meryl points out, have a serious anti-Semitism problem, no less serious for being socially localized. The problem is not hard to understand. Campus Marxism, thrown into crisis by its increasing irrelevancy, has made a devil's bargain with Muslim immigrants raised on weird fantasies about the Jews and Israel. The result has been the creation of a hermetically sealed cult that rejects the West while living in its precincts (and off its bounty), planning and executing various outrages against it. This cult is dangerous, and should be resisted and extirpated by whatever means are consonant with a free society--and the Eastern universities who have failed to do their part cannot be criticized strongly enough. But the grudge-wielding Marxist/Muslim coalition has no power and no political and social influence in mainstream Canadian life. Canadian institutions generally do what they can to ensure that this remains so.

I suspect I'm simply lucky to live in Alberta, where I have lived for 32 years without personally hearing more than a sentence or two of conversation that suggests disapproval or hatred of Jews as such. Probably I really do live in a "parallel universe" of relative civility. I won't attempt to defend our odious prime minister, whose failure to chide Mahathir Mohamad is merely one more expression of "soft power" doctrine in foreign policy, just like the government's hesitation to complain when Canadians are killed or tortured in Muslim countries. Chretien's "silence" is not, in itself, anti-Semitism; it is a manifestation of cowardice which may serve to assist the cause of anti-Semitism, which is different, if still deplorable. The thing to understand, Meryl, is that Canada is not an anti-Semitic country. It is a chickenshit country. Please get it right.

- 5:18 pm, October 22 (link)

Counting the low-hanging grapes

A few weeks ago--when merger of Canada's "right-wing" parties was still just a twinkle in Preston Manning's eye--I undertook to crunch the 2000 election numbers to get a sense of how well such a merger might work. A brief report of the results is probably now in order; I had hoped to get a Post column out of them, and I still might, but I think my editor prefers to indulge my vituperative side and let my inner Excel nerd stay... well, internalized.

The 2000 election was fought in an environment of 301 seats; the next one might not be (it will be 308 if the dissolution of Parliament takes place after August 25*), but we'll hold that 301-seat universe constant for the purposes of discussion and concede that the 78 seats currently held by the Alliance and the Tories will remain in the fold. We're really interested in the 172 seats the Liberals won in 2000. They have to win 151 of those to form another majority government. Q: How many of those seats would the merged AllianceTories take away, if everybody were to vote the same way again and former PC and CA supporters all vote for their merger candidate?

The answer appears to be--no, not "42", Mr. Hitchhiker's Guide Smartarse, but 35. That's enough to deprive the Liberals of a majority, but not enough to allow the merged Conservatives to form a government. (Even with the unlikely support of the Bloc Quebecois, they'd fall just short.) In 35 seats in the 301-seat universe, the combined CA/PC vote total is greater than that of a 2000 Liberal winner. 25 of those are in Ontario, two each in New Brunswick and B.C., and one each in Yukon, Saskatchewan, P.E.I., Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and Alberta.

Who are the vulnerable Liberals? Here are a few of the better-known ones, with their 2000 vote totals and the combined total of the CA and PCs.

Anne McLellan       44%     49%
Ralph Goodale      41.2%   41.3%
Lawrence MacAulay   48%     49%
Herb Dhaliwal      42.7%   43.9%
Marlene Catterall   43%     48%
Gar Knutson         41%     51%

Now you know why Ralph Goodale was the one Liberal cabinet minister who urged his party to respond quickly to the changed conditions; two-fifths of the vote might not be enough for him to be returned anymore. Other Liberals like Lyle Vanclief and Hedy Fry might be placed in a "too close for comfort" category; they have a lead over the combined rightist opposition, but a small one. Considering his position in the cabinet, John Manley has a surprisingly small advantage in his riding (51%-40%). This suggests, touchingly, that Manley resists making the traditional grandiose Liberal show of buying off his home voters. (Agenda, 2 pm: cut ribbon at new Zoroastrian Heritage Interpretive Facility. 3 pm: cut ribbon at new Rainbow Drop-In Centre for Two-Spirit Youth. 4 pm: cut ribbon at new Canadian Veterans of the Spanish Antifascist Conflict Memorial Hockey Arena.)

The idea of the merger reducing the Liberals to minority status is a thrilling one at first, but when you consider the imagined prospect of the New Democrats as parliamentary kingmakers, it's almost a relief to discern the real message of the numbers--that, in our first-past-the-post system, things could break either way very easily. The Liberals could be stuck twenty seats short of a majority if the merger somehow attracts purple Grits (rouge avec un soupçon de bleu), or could shoot twenty seats ahead if the Martin juggernaut hoovers up a relatively small number of disaffected Tories. If the Liberals can tempt just one in five former Tories in every riding to vote Liberal instead of for the merged party, they will get back 14 of the lost seats--leaving them at 151 exactly, out of the old 301. I daresay this 20% swing is already a well-known rule of thumb at Liberal headquarters; it will guide their planning and polling for the presumptive 2004 election.

*Of the seven new seats whose addition is necessitated by the 2001 census, three go to Ontario and two each to Alberta and B.C. As far as the parties are concerned, this is probably a saw-off. Martin can wait until autumn to have the vote, if he is afraid of the optics of declaring a spring war against unprepared opponents.

- 2:51 am, October 22 (link)


I decided tonight, with William Gibson going on hiatus and others moving around, that it was time to update the list of Top Ten Popular Weblogs in Canada. The original list and some notes on methodology are here. The new Top Ten, with old rankings (where applicable) in brackets:

1 Winds of Change (1)
2 Ongoing (Tim Bray) (8)
3 Seb's Open Research (4)
4 William Gibson (2)
5 How to Save the World
6 (6)
7 (3)
8 Mezzoblue
9 Wood's Lot (7)
10 Daimnation! (9)

Something there for everyone. The techie blogs seem to be rallying for some reason--perhaps the more literary or personal ones are just a passing fancy. As before, if you think you might qualify for this list (which includes weblogs ordinarily written in Canada by citizens of whatever country, but not ones by Canadians outside Canada) drop me a line.

- 3:57 am, October 21 (link)

Life imitates Tap

Annals of metal: Ronnie James Dio apparently severed his thumb while gardening last month, but got to hospital in time to have it reattached. Er, to his hand, presumably.

- 5:09 pm, October 20 (link)

Love and hate

If you read only one other Western view of the PC/CA merger, Mike Sugimoto's would be an excellent choice.

- 4:45 pm, October 20 (link)

Not for the squeamish

Edmonton weblogger Sam Mikes and his wife are expecting a child any minute now. In what can only be considered a display of fantastic psychic sympathy, Sam chose the eve of the occasion to pass a kidney stone, thus coming as close as a man can to experiencing the pain of parturition. Oh, go ahead and laugh, but not before you see Sam's pictures of the rock.

- 10:45 pm, October 19 (link)


One thing I never got around to noting, but which I suppose is obvious, is that the Easterbrook affair (discussed at patience-trying length below) will redouble or requadruple the pressure for magazine and newspaper weblogs to be subjected to politicized, stiff-necked, time-consuming editorial oversight. The Tuesday Morning Quarterback may be the furthest thing from an anti-Semite, but there are a lot of webloggers with day jobs who may find themselves cursing him quietly three months from now. Of course, the affair isn't a bad argument that some people do need an editor: cf. Jonathan Alter's personal view of the fiasco in the letters section at Romenesko.

If journalistic traditionalists are wondering whether there can be any conceivable benefit to opening up a cyber-annex, consider an amusing event now transpiring at the Billings Gazette's City Lights. A week or so ago, Gazette weblogger Ed Kemmick did a short entry about the panhandling problem in Billings. In the comments thread someone mentioned an idea pitched by former city council candidate Eric Coobs: "Arrest the panhandlers, slap them in jail, and put them out cleaning the streets. After a week, give them the option of a bus ticket to San Diego, or another week in jail."

On the thread, a frequent City Lights commenter, the anonymous "Ghost Dog", rejoins that "I would write this off as more sophomoric drivel from Eric, but, then again, maybe it's the result of having his brains scrambled [in a motorcycle accident] at 17th and Grand on Election Day 1982..." Then, Mr. Coobs himself appears. "Ghost Dog - your memory of that day is better than mine, I'll bet! I remember hitting my brakes, then waking up in an ambulance!" "Ghost Dog"'s reply:

Of course my memory is better. I'm the schmuck that saved your life.

Amazingly, he goes on to establish pretty convincingly that this is really the case. A classic local news story has thus fallen right into the Gazette's lap, thanks to its weblog--assuming that Ed can persuade "Ghost Dog" to come out from behind his nickname.

- 10:26 pm, October 19 (link)

In country

The Tumbleweed has finally started weblogging from Vietnam, where she is translating Commie press releases into English serving as sub-editor on a State newspaper. Hi there, T. Sorry I haven't written; I will soon.

- 4:36 am, October 19 (link)

Black Easter

Gregg Easterbrook has been... would it be quite right to say "fired" from Firing may involve cleaning out your desk and being escorted out the door by security, but they don't normally set fire to the desk and bury the ashes along with your personnel records. ESPN has removed Easterbrook's old football columns from its site and effaced him from its list of contributing columnists. Easterbrook's offence was a weblog entry about Kill Bill that was regarded, by some, as resonating with unpleasant historical stereotypes about Jews. He has apologized for any harm or offence caused. ESPN's rapid, overwhelming reaction is suspected to have been lent a certain impetus by Disney's ownership both of ESPN and of Miramax, which made Kill Bill.

The whole thing is quite the festival of ignobility. Weblogger Roger L. Simon called the original Easterbrook post "racist garbage", which helped call attention to its questionable tonal aspects. After speaking to Easterbrook and learning that he'd helped end (at least temporarily) his career as a football columnist, Simon says "I don't think anybody who attacked Easterbrook wanted to see him fired". Well, gee, Roger, if you shot him, would you be surprised to see a new hole suddenly appear in his head? Anti-Semitism is no longer remotely acceptable in polite North American society, and is a capital offence for someone who has a media career. And this is as it should be. But since we don't have a litmus test for Jew-hatred, or a useful concept of due process that is applicable to inquiries into it, and since we don't expect people who are hostile to Jews to be up-front about it, such an accusation ought to be made in the expectation that it will, at the very least, cause pain and embarrassment. I imagine it has already dawned on Easterbrook that ten times as many people will now recognize him not as "the author of A Moment on the Earth" or "an award-winning science and public-policy journalist", but as "that anti-Semite guy from ESPN".

I don't want to lay a big pile of blame at Roger's feet, if there is blame to be assigned. He has apologized, and has accepted Easterbrook's own apology. We won't hear apologies from the people who launched a second torrent of bile at Easterbrook for pointing out--how dare he?--that he regularly worships with a joint Jewish-Christian religious congregation. And I hope, without expecting much, that the normally estimable Virginia Postrel will recognize that her vicious kick at the flattened Easterbrook reflects poorly on her. I've noticed myself that anti-capitalism and anti-Semitism go together historically, and I don't think the fact is remotely without significance, but imputing the connection to a thoughtful present-day liberal moderate like Easterbrook only makes Ms. Postrel look like a fanatic. Will it be suspected, by extension, that all libertarians think all liberals are closet Nazis? To put it bluntly, I think she's talking shit. She endorses this point, made by a correspondent:

[Easterbrook] is not an anti-Semite, but an anti-capitalist. His attack was not on Jews per se, but on Jews who seek profit producing products he doesn't like. This is consistent with other Easterbrook targets, such as "antisocial" SUV owners, and the National Football League (he doesn't like the league's choice of DirecTV as a broadcasting partner.)

One could agree with both those positions without being "anti-capitalist" in the slightest. Plenty of libertarians are revolted by SUVs, and there is nothing illibertarian about finding them "anti-social", or about disapproving of anti-social things without wishing to ban them. (It might be unDynamist to do so, but that's a different issue, I hope.) As for Easterbrook's oft-expressed hatred of DirecTV, the man was always careful to make the point--though I can't prove this now, thanks to ESPN's act of self-vandalism--that the NFL had received a tremendous unearned benefit from public coffers through the construction of the stadiums in which it plays, and might reasonably expect to have its broadcast practices regulated for the benefit of the fans in return. There is nothing "anti-capitalist" about being opposed to welfare-without-strings for the rich, surely.

For Pete's sake. You know, I told myself defending Easterbrook wasn't really worth the hassle, but here I am, doing it. I'll admit I experienced brief flashes of karmic warmth, recalling the Tuesday Morning Quarterback's continual (and occasionally ill-informed) griping about "offensive" sports-team names. One of the commenters on Roger Simon's site said "Live by the PC sword, die by the PC sword", and that may be slightly germane. That Easterbrook ought to have known better than to stray near the electric fence is more so; talking about Jews "worshipping money"? Ay caramba; if that doesn't activate a warning light somewhere on your dashboard, you'd better check your circuit breakers. And he did piss all over his Disney bosses, who haven't, after all, said he was fired for anti-Semitism. And he was wrong about movie violence, and wrong about Quentin Tarantino, too (there's an awful lot of the latter going around just now).

But, in general, I'm not sure it's healthy to have a principle that we are, even in uniquely sensitive cases, going to insist upon the least generous interpretation of someone's public comments. Who amongst us will survive that sort of scrutiny for long? I suspect, having followed his work, that Easterbrook was really thinking, when he wrote what he wrote, of the Jews' special place in our history and our civilization; of the Jewish tradition of moral law and the pursuit of justice, and of the infinite debt owed to Jewry and Jewish thinkers by the West. He felt that Michael Eisner and Harvey Weinstein were letting down the ethnic side by bankrolling what he regards as violent crapola. This placed him in the position of appearing to propose a different standard of behaviour for Jews--an unexpected consequence, I think, of pursuing benign but mistaken opinions to a logical conclusion. Can I say that Jews are wrong to react personally with a "Hey, fuck you, buddy"? No: and I'm not even in any position to. (I am only a Christopher Hitchens Jew--someone who was gleeful, fairly late in life, upon learning that he had previously undisclosed Jewish ancestry.) Will I aver that it is unwise for Jews to guard their interests in this way? That's probably not for me to say either. Do I hope that, in the future, we will have advanced to a point at which people who make Easterbrook's sort of mistake--if only when they are of Easterbrook's calibre--get the benefit of at least a smidgen of doubt, a speck of generosity? I certainly do. If anybody thinks I'm completely out to lunch on this one, do let me know.

[UPDATE, Oct. 23: Well, at least one person thought I was out to lunch.]

- 3:17 am, October 19 (link)

Lies and the lying liars who don't even know when they're lying

Maybe I need to start a recurring Unityballs feature on this site: if so, first honours would go to CBC drivelist Larry Zolf. Tell me, if the fox knows many things, and the hedgehog knows one big thing, what kind of animal knows only one thing which happens to be mistaken? Zolf never tires of trotting out a bizarre canard about the racist roots of modern Canadian conservatism:

Social Credit and [Ernest C.] Manning came to power with evangelist William Aberhart in 1935, having defeated the United Farmers of Alberta premier J.E. Brownlee, who had been implicated in a seduction of one of his secretaries. Brownlee was, in the Social Credit view, the typical urban sinner. In E.C. Manning's world view, there was moral purity on the Social Credit side and immorality on the other side. E.C. Manning also believed in Social Credit and the international Jewish bankers' conspiracy.

Well, they do say you can't libel the dead, but you can certainly smear them up real good. E.C. Manning, "believer" in the international Jewish bankers' conspiracy, drove the anti-Semitic Douglasites out of Social Credit's upper ranks after the Second World War and received an award from B'nai Brith for promoting tolerance in the party and the province. He also spent the later years of his life as--wait for it--a bank director. Q: if E.C. Manning was such a horrible man, what should we make of the man who ordered his appointment (as an Independent) to the Senate? That'd be Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, for those of you scoring at home. Don't mention it to Larry--he'd have a myocardial infarction.

Punching holes in Zolf's actual prognostications will be a simple finger-exercise for the reader. My favourite is his claim that favouring capital punishment is not a "mainstream view" in Canada. Ring up any Canadian sociologist or pollster and see what they say about it. They'll tell you that public support for capital punishment stood at around 70% when it was outlawed, and remained so rock steady for decades afterward that it is a famously unique and eccentric example of a political opinion apparently mimicking physical law. I'd be surprised if capital punishment has ever attracted less than 55% support in a major national poll in which the question was put neutrally. But then, to the Larry Zolfs of the world, positions supported by the majority of the populace aren't necessarily "mainstream" ones.

I can't resist pointing out one more howler:

Martin will let Canadian fears of the new Conservative Party, the Canadian Republican Party, frighten moderate voters into his ranks. He learned a lesson from the McGuinty Liberals who inherited the moderate Ontario votes, which feared Ernie Eves and his far right Republican North agenda.

Would those be the same ferocious boreal Republicans who won two Ontario elections and then chose Eves as a more moderate replacement for Mike Harris? Or am I the senile one here?

- 6:41 am, October 17 (link)

Goodbye to all that

The leaders of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance concluded their same-sex political marriage on Thursday with handshakes, grins, and a certain amount of violence done in passing to the English language. Tory leader Peter Mackay said he had "fulfilled" his agreement with protectionism agitator David Orchard not to proceed toward a merger with the CA. The CA's Stephen Harper, elected leader in order to build the party further as an independent force, reassured Alliance supporters that merger was the plan all along. The two men talked of merging the "assets" of the two parties; is the multi-million-dollar debt of the PCs, now to be covered through cross-subsidization by donations made in good faith to the CA, meant to be counted as an "asset"? (Yes, there will be a separate fund to retire that debt, but money donated to that fund will not be available for campaigning, so surely the war chest is denied the cash all the same.)

Most people in both parties now believe that stopping the Liberals is so important that any other consideration--Solzhenitsyn's injunction to live not by lies, for one, and the principle that Western votes should count as much as Eastern ones, for another--may be set aside. Westerners may have no one to blame but themselves for taking the view that Harper was the party's Indispensable Man. Since he won't be leader of the merged party, and apparently had no selfish desire to try his hand in a national election, he could well afford to concede to the Conservatives on every major point: the name of the party, the method of electing a leader for it, and even its basic political orientation. I don't know of any member of the press who has taken notice yet of one particular guiding principle in the merger agreement, though I can assure you that many thousands of Western voters already have. The new Conservative Party is committed to seeking

A balance between fiscal accountability, progressive social policy and individual rights and responsibilities.

Fancy that! They took the "Progressivity" out of the Progressive Conservative name and installed it under the hood instead. I'm pretty progressive myself on social policy, but I never asked to have my views implemented by means of a swindle.

I can foresee that my attitude to the new party will be very different from my feeling for the old. Like most Westerners, I identified emotionally with Reform. I remember the climate in 1987, when the Western Assembly was convened (by means, let us recall, of the old Alberta Report magazine blowing its shofar). There was genuine doubt as to what would emerge from the Assembly; the essential idea of the conference was to test the depth of separatist sentiment in the West. It was, and is, deeper than anyone will confess frankly. Albertans, at least, still believe that separatism would be practical, and may be desirable, but has the disadvantage of being irreversible. So it was decided that the East would be offered a last chance to vote for a party in the Western spirit, a party committed to small, transparent government, free enterprise, and procedural reform.

The usual response of Eastern voters, politicians, and writers over the next 16 years was to either demonize the resulting movement or denounce it as a puerile schism. Many were eventually worn down. With time, more would have been. Threats from big corporate donors to "withhold money" if no merger occurred could only hurt the Conservatives, who were carrying a huge debt load, and help the Canadian Alliance, which has always been supported mostly by small individual donors. But Westerners are now being told by the leaders they created that there is no more time. The experiment, a success by any perceptible benchmark, has failed and must be abandoned. It's your choice whether to believe it; it is strictly a matter of idle historical interest now. As for me, I feel a certain bracing cleanliness; I am a professional commentator who has been liberated from the last vestigial tugs of instinctual loyalty, the last hints of temptation to obfuscation in the name of advancing a party preference. It is perhaps useful to be confirmed in one's necessary faith that all politicians, without exception, are savage and false sons of bitches down to the very soles of their shoes.

- 2:34 am, October 17 (link)


Stu Hart, the legendary Calgarian wrestling promoter and father of Bret and Owen Hart, has died at the age of 88. He was probably the second most influential figure in his species of working-class "sports entertainment". Generations of Albertans grew up watching the amateurish but incomparable televised theatrics he pioneered. Canadian Press's obituary merely scratches the surface of his extraordinary, difficult life and of his huge extended family. His death is a sad postscript to an era long closed.

- 1:39 am, October 17 (link)

Game over

Marlins-Yankees in the Series? Are you kidding me? Is there ever going to be a year I don't have to decide which team makes me want to vomit less in the Fall Classic? Actually, the choice isn't too hard: it's the Evil Empire versus real-deal evil in the form of Jeffrey Loria, the slug in human form who dealt about 40 of the last 41 death blows to major league baseball in Montreal. The question is whether I can even bear to watch. Putrid. I'll be cheering for an earthquake or terrorists.

I spent the day working on a Post column; watch for that tomorrow morning. More weblogging later tonight.

- 10:37 pm, October 16 (link)

Behind the magic 8-ball

I haven't paused to gloat yet that I was pretty early in noticing that Russia has been slow in signing the Kyoto Protocol and that, owing to extreme ambivalence within its bureaucracy and the office of the President of the Federation, it may not. Pravda has a new piece on the debate inside Russia. Readers of the late Report magazine may remember that I was on this story well before July--as early as March, if I recall right. But I have two good reasons for not gloating. One is that the global environmental community is still applying honey to Russia, and has not yet switched to vinegar; an application of diplomatic leverage in the right place may yet induce the desired effect. The other is that to promote my prescience about Russia--which, in the accurate working out of its details, has rather surprised me--would distort the record slightly. I did once predict in print (May 2002) that Canada would never ratify Kyoto, so I'm batting no better than .500.

The latter forecast was actually quite defensible at the time. Canada's eco-diplomacy over Kyoto was then focused on obtaining special breaks for Canada on account of its close geographic and economic ties to the massive non-signatory to the south. Canadian officials were demanding credits for exports of "clean energy" (mostly in the form of natural gas and hydro) to the U.S.; normally the final user would be entitled to claim greenhouse gas reductions resulting from these, if any resulted at all, but Jean Chretien's government felt we might as well receive some notional carbon points, since the U.S. was not going to be part of the Kyoto system anyway. There was also some trouble about accounting for the carbon uptake of Canada's forests--Chretien, again, wanted points for, basically, having an extremely large country with oodles of trees. These arguments were merely a clumsy cover for the real problem, i.e., that Canada's competitiveness with the United States would suffer significantly from signing the accord while the Americans stayed out.

But the European masterminds of Kyoto had no intention of rewriting the document to suit Canada. The talks were hopelessly bogged down and the relevant officials were suggesting obliquely that Canada might have to remain outside the Kyoto framework. Then the Paul Martin faction in the Liberal Party (which is to say, the party itself) perpetrated its slow-motion ouster of the Prime Minister, giving him months to oversee an erumpent Roman orgy of legislative "legacies". Kyoto was perhaps the most significant of these, and was power-slammed through Parliament despite prior promises to the provinces that "further consultation" would take place first. When it became clear to Chretien that he would not be leading the party into any more elections, he took the understandable view that the future interests of Canada mattered less to him than did his standing with the global elite amongst which he will spend his political dotage.

If I'd known that the Liberal backbench was going to grow a spine--or, what was much worse for the country, half a spine--I'd never have bet against Kyoto's success here. But Kyoto did pass, and moreover will probably be regarded as having moral force here even if it never becomes international law.

- 4:02 am, October 15 (link)

Aghajari to Zarafshan

I don't know if I posted about this, but I spent some time a while back looking around for an online version of the old pronunciation guide for BBC broadcasters. Alas, one can't quite tell if the BBC still does have a Pronunciation Unit per se, and if they produce such a guide, it must be jealously guarded. But an interesting alternative resource, one I've never seen linked to, is the Voice of America pronunciation guide to personal names from the news and recent history. There's some help here if you need to utter a semi-respectable English version of "Aung San Suu Kyi". A daily "short list" highlights names of recent interest.

- 12:37 pm, October 14 (link)

Own goal

Q: if jokingly calling someone an extraterrestrial kitten eater can lose you an Ontario election, how much trouble is the Saskatchewan NDP in?

SASKATOON - Saskatchewan's New Democrats have come under fire for e-mailing a cartoon depicting the leader of the Saskatchewan Party as a Nazi-like guard loading NDP sympathizers onto a boxcar. The cartoon, sent to dozens of NDP members, comes in the second week of an election campaign. Voters will go to the polls Nov. 5.

Nazi-like? Ah, sweet CBC, you can always be counted on to do your heroic best to minimize the excesses of the left. Like failing to mention that the cartoon was not, by any means, swapped amongst mere "NDP members":

[Saskatchewan Party campaign chair Harry] Meyers, who is Jewish, said the email exchange shows a concerted effort to develop and circulate the cartoon and refutes Carlo Binda's assertion that he drew the cartoon to "be shared with a close circle of friends."

"His 'close circle of friends' just happens to be the highest ranking officials in this NDP government, and not one of them stood up and said--'this is wrong,'" Meyers said. "The NDP only acted after they got caught, and their actions haven't gone anywhere near far enough."

The email exchange shows Ed Tchorzewski encouraging people to draw cartoons about Elwin Hermanson, followed by a suggestion by an NDP ministerial assistant that the cartoon show Hermanson tattooing numbers onto people's forearms. The cartoon was ultimately distributed to virtually all of the NDP's senior political staff and several senior civil servants, including the Deputy Minister of Learning and the Manager of Strategic Communications for the Department of Justice.

Naturally this will be blown up into a controversy over "negative campaigning", which is scarcely the issue. The issue is that the senior bureaucratic hierarchy of Saskatchewan believes that the Sask Party, which won the popular vote in the previous election, is a gang of Nazis. This suggests, if it wasn't already obvious, that Saskatchewan is being run by imbeciles; that it will be impossible for the Saskatchewan Party to get a fair break from its own civil service without a good many firings; and that the socialist left in Canada, or at least in its traditional Canadian home, continues to labour under the dangerous delusion that its enemies stand for cruelty, murder, and authoritarianism. (No doubt they reflect on this with considerable satisfaction during their vacations on the beaches of Cuba.) It also suggests that the conceptual spread of Godwin's Law from the back alleys of the Internet to the awareness of the general public is much to be desired.

- 9:43 am, October 14 (link)

Don't step on the fat guy

My favourite soundbite from the kerfuffle over Saturday's Zimmer vs. Martinez showdown in Boston:

Winning pitcher Roger Clemens brought some levity to the incident.
"Andy (Pettitte) and I went over there and I saw this bald head on the ground," Clemens said. "We weren't sure if it was Zim or Boomer."
"Boomer" is David Wells, who will pitch against Boston's John Burkett in Game 4 on Sunday night.

Clemens' reference to a "bald head on the ground" makes it sound as if Martinez had succeeded in twisting Zimmer's head right off, which might have been even more amusing. Pedro was, of course, perfectly entitled to defend himself against the charging Zimmer (who is 72). I'd have a little more trouble sticking up for his brushback of Karim Garcia. A salient point, not much observed, is that Pedro threw behind Garcia, which is a much more serious breach of ethics than standard-issue chin music. A certain amount of controlled violence is to be expected in a Red Sox-Yankees game (or any other contest in a league where pitchers don't go to bat), but Martinez is guilty of taking it to a new, dangerous level.

- 7:33 am, October 13 (link)

A tryp to phan

Hope you didn't miss me too much--this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving so I went to chilly, bitumen-scented Ft. McMurray to visit my parents and eat turkey. (Driving directions: start north from Edmonton and, basically, keep going until you run out of road.) I could have added to the site from up there, but my mother's browser font was just too preposterous for me to be able to stand viewing the results of my editing, and if I'd set it to Verdana or something without changing it back before I left, I'd probably have had to make another trip just to show her how to readjust her settings. Then again, if I got another couple of homecooked meals out of the bargain, it might be worth it. But I brought some leftovers back with me and I'll be tucking into those if I ever again have room for a full meal after this weekend's gorging.

- 5:48 am, October 13 (link)

Two cheers for democracy... er, make that one

Am I the only one who suspects the Schwartzman Effect was probably caused, at least partly, by the whole-language philosophy of reading education? Under whole language and its postmodern disguises, this is exactly the sort of error--perfectly baffling to anyone taught to read according to more traditional techniques--of which one might expect to find a great deal in a large population. You do meet the odd adult, now, who persists in decrypting the first three or four letters of a word phonetically and guessing at the rest, as he's been trained to do. This works well enough for those among the miseducated who possess the intellectual gumption to have mapped the language crudely without a phonic compass. It works so well, in fact, that a person taught to read through whole language may be almost indistinguishable in reading skills from a full-fledged member of the human species. Until you catch him in some bizarre error like confusing a "carrot" with a "carriage" on the fly.

Since whole language makes such a big deal of context, a text environment like, ooohhh, say, a ballot full of proper names would leave a reader mutilated by 20th-century public education almost helpless to tell a Schwartzman apart from a Schwarzenegger.

- 7:16 am, October 10 (link)

Class warfare, classy Wellsfare

I almost missed this important reminder from "Ikram Saeed". A must-must-raeed for Canadians. I should also mention that Paul Wells' Maclean's weblog has now found a permanent URL, and an unusually clever title.

- 3:16 am, October 10 (link)

The show he never gave

My habit on a column day is to pitch two ideas, if possible, no matter what. (But, n.b.: the rule does not apply if I only have one idea. Or none.) Sometimes I'm much keener on one of the possibilities, and I press for it; sometimes, like on Thursday morning, I'm indifferent, and my great and good editor makes the choice without the necessity for wheedling. If you want my thoughts on the important Hitzig v. Canada decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal, you will probably have to snag a National Post on Friday. The one I didn't write...

...was about the fatuity of complaints about "not enough women on the ballot", or "not enough women winners", in Canadian elections. So far, in 2003's curious flurry of provincial elections, this complaint has been made in every one without fail. A brief digest of comment:

ST. JOHN'S [Newfoundland]--The Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women is disappointed the three main political parties haven't done more to attract female candidates in this election. About 24 women are running, but only the NDP hasn't named all its candidates. Council president Joyce Hancock says women in the province need more representation in politics and decision-making. She says a lot has to be done to break old attitudes.
"So you have the usual barriers, whether it's the old boys' network that exists in political parties, or the lack of some proactive stance on saying, 'no, we're going to run women in seats where there is a strong possibility where women will be elected.' " -CBC, Oct. 4

It took 212 years for a woman to be elected to the Nova Scotia legislature. How many years will it be before women comprise more than 12 per cent of our MLAs?
Following yesterday's swearing-in-in ceremony, six of Nova Scotia's 52 MLAs are women. This ties the record, set in 1997 and 1998, and would perhaps thrill Gladys Porter--our first woman MLA. A Conservative, she won election from Kentville in 1960, and served until her death in 1967.
But it shouldn't thrill us. Out of 52, only six are women--it's a measly number. All three parties need to do a better job of searching for and encouraging women candidates. -David Swick, Halifax Daily News, Sept. 5

TORONTO--Female legislators from all three of Ontario's political parties expressed disappointment Thursday following the release of statistics showing that only about one-quarter of all the candidates nominated for the upcoming provincial election are women. "At this rate it will take more than 100 years to reach equality and it's just not good enough," NDP deputy leader Marilyn Churley said. "Women are not putting their names forward and one of the reasons is that politics is not an attractive option for women these days. It's down and dirty and a really difficult lifestyle." -In Brief, Vancouver Sun, July 25

Kudos to the Guardian for its recent treatment of electoral reform--particularly, the recognition given to women's limited presence in political office. Saturday's editorial referenced the low percentage of women that make up Prince Edward Island's legislature (29 per cent).
Readers may also consider how Parliament elects even fewer women. In that forum, they make up 20 per cent of MPs holding office.
...The trouble is, political parties have shied away from running women candidates in ridings where they hold strong popular support. Instead, women are often recruited to run in ridings where the vote is much less secure for the party. Why? Because in our first-past-the-post system, the only votes that count are those on the 'winning' side. As a result, women who campaign win fewer seats.
There are other social and economic reasons why women do not enter the political arena--but I am prepared to wager that these have a lot to do with the limitations imposed by party structures and policies, the voting system itself, and the political culture that has grown up around first-past-the-post elections. -Andrea Simpson, The Guardian [Charlottetown], Aug. 8

If I ran 20 more of these by you, and I sure bloody hell probably could, what common intellectual threads would you extract from the complaints? I believe the premises would be these:

· It is desirable that half of political candidates, or more, should be female.

· It is desirable that half, or more, of the winners should be female.

· Slow progress toward this ideal state of gender equality is not acceptable. Immediate arrival would be best.

· Progress toward the ideal state should be actively hastened by political parties, which have a responsibility to actively "recruit" [ignorant, passive?] women into electoral politics.

· Women cannot be expected to challenge for hard-to-win nominations or seats; they should be given a greater share of easier ones, in order that we should migrate faster toward the ideal state.

· Our failure to attain the ideal state is the fault of men, is very probably the result of an inadvertent patriarchal conspiracy, and has nothing to do with any natural, social, or biological characteristic of women.

The first two of these premises are, essentially, the unfounded but attractive beliefs of a civil religion. So is the latter part of the sixth one. No. 3 is simply a manifestation of the eternal revolutionary spirit of the Left, and nos. 4 and 5, in my view, are positively demeaning to women. But even granting that there may be something to any or all of them, what irritates me most about all the gender lobbying is the tacit premise--that politics is an especially high, worthy, and distinctive calling within civilization.

Look: men don't complain all that much that women dominate the fields of nursing and teaching, and women certainly don't complain that men dominate trash collection and heavy-equipment operation. It's the glory jobs that get fought over, and none gets fought over with the tenacity of electoral politics. If a Martian came to Earth and observed this squabbling, he would conclude that competing in elections and governing was not just another job, like fixing toilets, but that it was the highest vocation our species was capable of imagining. That's not a controversial claim, of course, but it ought to be. In the twentieth century, the "mission creep" of government in Western societies became permanent and ecumenical; we don't even cite the idea of "cradle-to-grave socialism" anymore, because it now exists in almost every industrialized country. Government's job is to do everything, and it's because we have no defined concept of what the job of a politician is. Objecting that providing orthopedic shoes to transgendered youth is not the government's job now makes you an instant radical. One hundred years ago the opposite would have been the case.

Restoring government to its proper size and humility, or at least bringing some kind of basic order and decency back to it, can only begin when the masses rediscover the twin notions that politics is a job, like plumbing, and that politicians are not gods--or goddesses. If that happened, it might occur to us that maybe, like other jobs, politics is a job that men are best at, or a job that women mostly just don't want to do.

That is my own suspicion. What I notice looking around Canada is that women tend to start late in electoral politics. The wunderkinds--your Jason Kenney, Peter Mackay types--are almost all male. An astonishing statistic: in the current House of Commons, 63 of 300 sitting members, just over one in five, are women. But of the 19 members under the age of 40, only one (Caroline St.-Hilaire, BQ-Longueuil) is female. Don't you think it's extraordinary that female participation seems to be lowest in the generations that have been drilled most intensively in the principles of "gender equity"? Where are the young female MPs who have been told all their lives that they can do anything they set their minds to, and who have grown up in a Canada that once had a female Prime Minister (albeit a forgettable one)?

The self-evident explanations certainly have some force. Politics requires a certain fanatical self-confidence that comes easier if you have testosterone (ask Arnold!) or a time-toughened skin. Women may prefer to raise children before taking a job that involves living away from home. But I believe the most important factor is that women don't become political nerds in the first place. I know, in my bones, that most of the young male MPs in the House of Commons took to politics in their youth the way some of us took to baseball statistics or hobbits. They found in politics (normally, in the filthy cloister of student politics, or in Debate Club) a welcoming culture with its own norms, and an acceptable form of non-contact sport which prizes verbal dexterity above brute strength. They've spent hours messing with electoral spreadsheets, mastering Bourinot, and reading biographies of Prime Ministers. Think of the images of male-male hero-worship that inform our political lore: a spotty-faced young Bill Clinton shaking hands with JFK, or John Diefenbaker selling a newspaper to Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The pervasive notion of politics as a priesthood only makes the geek culture of politics all the more seductive, as do the opportunities for--cough, cough--social contact which might not otherwise be available.

Winning elections is a technique, techniques breed technocracies, and technocracies are going to be male-dominated until that bright morning the sexes merge into a sea of formless androids who reproduce by parthogenesis. But let me put it another way--no woman is stupid or deranged enough to think that the country desperately needs her, in particular, to be in the House of Commons. (Well, maybe Sheila Copps.) When women want to change the world, they go out and do it without asking for anyone's vote or seeking ego gratification; they volunteer, they join activist groups, they work in the community. You look at the organizations doing "politics" on the street level, and you'll usually find that women are doing 80% of the work. I don't mean to put women on a Victorian pedestal here; most of what do-gooders want to do to change the world is unnecessary or harmful. But I do think that the vacuous electoral game holds no charms for most women. We can hold the door to the legislature open for them, and I think we do, but there will always be more men eager to crowd through that churchy, carefully carved portal.

- 2:35 am, October 10 (link)

Good as gold

Speaking of economics, how about this strange event--a labour union's hired economist demanding less purchasing power for the working class! Before the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, no less:

CAW Economist Jim Stanford will warn a Senate committee today of dire economic consequences if the Canadian dollar is maintained at current levels, or rises even further. ...Stanford argues that the weaker levels of the dollar during the late 1990s were central to the strong expansion of Canadian manufacturing employment during that time. Canadian manufacturers have created 450,000 jobs since 1995, while U.S. manufacturing has shed 2.7 million jobs. Higher Canadian interest rates, however, have driven the Canada-U.S. differential in interest rates to their highest levels in eight years, and explain most of this year's unprecedented run-up in the dollar.

"There is a misconception that a stronger currency means a stronger economy," said Stanford. "But in Canada's case, the exact opposite tends to be true. If the dollar is sustained at current levels or higher, Canada's economy will inevitably start to contract," he said.

At least, the part of Canada's economy that Jim Stanford is paid to give a damn about. There is a tail-chasing quality to his argument, don't you think? First he tells us helpfully that higher Canadian interest rates make Canadian interest rates higher with respect to the U.S. dollar... yes, thank you, Jim... and then says that these rates "explain most of this year's unprecedented run-up in the dollar", which amounts to saying that making money more expensive makes money more expensive. Somebody get this man a Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel!

The first thing to observe, of course, is that the American dollar is being consciously weakened against the overall field of foreign currencies, so the spike in our dollar is really not our doing. Nonetheless, it presents a policy challenge. The real situation, as far as an amateur like myself can discern, is that the Canadian dollar was allowed to plummet for years in order to disguise the effects of stagnating industrial productivity amongst export industries here. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, one must suspect that it also prolonged the stagnation. It's funny how often the number thirty crops up when you inquire into the subject: over 30 years, our manufacturers have become about 30% less unit-productive than the Americans, our currency is (or was) down about 30%, and in totally unrelated news, our standard of living now appears to be about 30% lower. That's the situation very roughly, anyway. Perhaps I notice this mathematical convergence only because I'm about 30 years old, and have never known a Canadian economy that was competitive with the U.S.'s.

In essence, Canadian governments have--in the past--slowed the restructuring of Canada's economy under the pressures of free trade by letting the dollar sag. This keeps people employed in the southern Ontario cities which benefit visibly and consciously from a weak dollar, and vote loyal Liberal in federal elections. And certainly holding unemployment in check is a surpassingly important policy goal--but it has been reached, in this case, at no small expense to those of us who receive paycheques in Canadian dollars and don't rely on a strong export trade--directly--for our jobs. (Consider the effects of the low dollar on Canadian sports teams, and multiply by ten thousand firms, large and small.) Now, thanks to the U.S. Federal Reserve, the traditional losers have been made glorious winners for a few months.

And why not? We are supposed to have a "floating" exchange rate, not a sliding one. Canadians had probably just about gotten to the historic point, earlier this year, of losing faith in the Canadian dollar altogether. If policymakers take the view that every spike in the Canadian dollar supposed to be bad for the "Canadian economy", we had better switch our bank accounts to U.S. dollars sooner rather than later, and start demanding to be paid in them. But if this view were really true, it would be simple--trivial, in fact--to drive the dollar down to 50 U.S. cents, or 40, or 20. It remains to be seen whether the temporary revolt against nature which has brought the Canbuck up to 75 cents (unbelievable!) will be allowed to continue.

- 8:35 am, October 9 (link)

Public service announcement

Economist William Watson, writing in this morning's National Post:

Oh, dear. Another year of waiting by the phone only to have the Nobel Committee call two other economists... [still,] hope remains. The only problem now is coming up with a Nobel-sized idea or two. Mind you, some people think there shouldn't be a Nobel Prize for economics.

Fortunately for them, there isn't a Nobel Prize for economics! The Nobel Foundation permits the prize which goes by that inaccurate name to be handed out during Nobel Week, but that shouldn't fool anybody. All together now: it's the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The Foundation, embarrassed at having allowed the economics profession to stick a toe into its sacred precincts, is quite firm on this: "The Economics Prize is not a Nobel Prize". And its winners are not, whatever they may say, Nobel laureates--though the nominating committee for the S.R.P.E.S.M.A.N. has generally done a superb job of choosing prizewinners, and arguably a better one than the actual Nobel committees.

- 6:05 am, October 9 (link)

Tyger, tyger

As the saying goes, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at Roy Horn getting mauled by his white tiger Montecore. Doesn't necessarily mean one doesn't wish for Roy to recover, but come on now. The people I really feel for are the 267 employees of the show who have been told to get on their bike while Roy recuperates. And the indefinite suspension of the Siegfried & Roy show is going to have big, big ripple effects on the hotel and the city, even beyond the sudden burst of unemployment. Someone said, after Roy was taken to hospital, that "Siegfried and Roy are Vegas." Las Vegas will survive without them, but as legal gambling becomes ubiquitous and more professionalized in other locales, the city's health will require that hotel owners bring in more marquee acts for long residencies.

And they've got to be couple-friendly ones, which Celine Dion isn't. Perhaps the impresarios there should be looking into attracting dino-rockers of the Kiss or Aerosmith sort--solid, showy, aging acts with a long string of hits--to permanent Vegas tenancies. Maybe the Rolling Stones could be the new Rat Pack.

Siegfried insists that the S&R show will go on, but you can't help wondering whether Roy's subtle tactical slip with Montecore had something to do with his 59 years. By definition, Roy is to blame for what happened to him, as he'll tell you if he wakes up. While animal trainers have been quick to offer the most charitable view of the incident--Roy heroically interposed himself between tiger and audience after the animal got out of his control--the fact is that working with dangerous beasts takes stamina and attention to detail of a sort usually only found in professional athletes, who don't normally work right up until they're near pension age. If Roy recovers, expect S&R to return for a low-key extended farewell--one with younger on-stage partners being groomed to take up their role of glittery, good-taste-defying Vegas supremacy.

- 5:22 am, October 9 (link)

Israel Rex

Izzy Asper, the overlord of CanWest Global Communications, has died at the age of 71. I don't know about you, but I find myself thinking not of his power plays, his politics, or even his philanthropy, as such, but of his stubbornness about remaining connected to the civic life and development of Winnipeg. He may have bled Liberal red, but his passion about his hometown was conservative in the deep sense. His insistence on running a national news chain from the West (pshaw!), in a city in which it didn't even own a paper (feh!), was widely derided as quixotic, and found few defenders even amongst those who might have been expected to endorse a tipping of the balance of power away from Toronto. My town, and my side of the endless war between Liberals and anti-Liberals, don't have anyone quite like Asper to fight for them: too bad for us.

- 3:02 am, October 8 (link)


The other night I shaved off my beard. I was tempted to describe this as a Richie Tenenbaum/Travis Bickle moment, especially since I did it at about 3 a.m. in a stupor of boredom, but it wasn't, really; it's just that (a) every time I shave the Imp of the Perverse tempts me for a moment to do away with the beard, (b) I hadn't seen what I look like without it for something like seven or eight years, and (c) I still haven't rehabilitated the social life I was mostly forced to mothball during the summer of penury, so it seemed like a last chance to make such a sartorial experiment in relative privacy.

It may be the last time I do it, too--it's much too jarring to hide behind a beard for much of your 20s and then suddenly discover that you have, basically, arrived in mid-life as a dough-visaged newspaper belletrist. It was no surprise to be reacquainted with a weakish chin, but I didn't expect to find that, sans mustache, my upper lip is now a simian horror. The effect is distressingly oafish, like seeing Ralph Kramden in the mirror. Since I shaved I've been obsessively counting hours and watching the character slowly return to my face. Yes, yes, of course--the esthetic, semiotic and psychological implications of a beard are painfully transparent to everyone. But the beard itself isn't--that's the important thing.

- 1:35 am, October 8 (link)

The shock of the new

After last night's nailbiter--though with these playoffs, who has any nails left?--Matt Welch has snapped out of it and is now pulling for a Cubs-Red Sox World Series.

There will be much gnashing of the teeth in Beaneville [Oakland] for the next umpteen months, with all the stat nerds burbling on about "small sample sizes," and "my shit don't work in the playoffs," yadda yadda. Here's the deal: The A's lost because they ran the bases like eight-year-old retards.

Which is true enough, and on the list of people who must be blamed, Billy Beane is pretty far down--well behind, for instance, Ken Macha, who is supposed to get the talent he's given by Beane into some kind of shape for the playoffs.

You hear a lot, even from the relatively well-informed, that the playoffs are a "crapshoot". It's true, but only partly true; one of Bill James' lesser-known works is the so-called World Series Prediction System, a set of empirically-derived weighed indicators which can allow one to predict the outcome of a playoff series 70% of the time. (I don't know for a certain fact that the WSPS still works after 20 years, actually, but it went 5-for-7 last postseason, which is right in line with expectations.) 70% isn't all that great, but it's certainly a lot better than the 50% you'd get going by chance.

I've been fiddling with the WSPS: it's only 2-for-4 so far (it favoured the downed Giants and A's in the division-series round). I'll spare you the gory details of the system. To understand the baseball playoffs, you don't really need 'em. The basic lessons are ones you could absorb from watching a few years of postseason baseball for yourself.

1. The most important single factor, speaking statistically, is frontline pitching. Of the indicators in the WSPS, the one weighted the heaviest may be slightly surprising: it's staff shutouts. But it's not so surprising when you realize that shutouts are just a statistical proxy for durable, grade-A frontline pitching. Cubs hurlers threw 14 shutouts to the Braves' 7 this year, and that was proved significant--especially when you consider that the Cubs play half their games in Wrigley, with its accessible fences. The Red Sox's victory over the A's was a definite upset from this standpoint (they trailed 14-6 in shutouts), but everybody knows that the Sox have a good rotation; they play in a tough park for pitchers, and the A's are in one of baseball's two best. (In figuring the WSPS the Sox would get a bonus on the hitting side, because there are no park factors in the calculation.)

2. The team with the more recent postseason experience has a moderate advantage in a playoff series.

3. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, "Speed is good"--"speed" being shorthand for good baserunning, and not basestealing (which has no net effect on playoff outcomes). It's more important in the playoffs, which are a low-scoring environment overall. Triples appear in the equation with the sign pretty strongly positive; in fact, an advantage in triples is slightly more important than an advantage in home runs, ceteris paribus! Doubles, on the other hand, appear in the system with their sign reversed; the team which has hit fewer doubles wins more than half the time. The purely empirical nature of the WSPS doesn't allow us to account for this in principle, but what I think it means is that the two factors, taken together, represent an advantage for a team that is stretching a lot of doubles into triples. It may also mean that a team in a doubles-friendly park gets hooked on them and has more trouble adapting its offence to away games. (Is this the real explanation for the Curse of the Bambino?)

Triples may be an overlooked indicator of smart baserunning, generally. Stolen-base totals don't mean much without the percentage, and yet the percentage may reflect the manager's passion for the tactic more than anything. Triples seem relatively "pure": the park factor for them is minimal (though not absent), as is the managerial influence. So take a quick look at triples!

4. Defence becomes a little more important in the playoffs, as anyone who's been watching these ones might suspect. There are moderate empirical advantages for a team with fewer errors and more double plays. Important and obvious note: the Yankees are vulnerable here! Their paltry team DP total should finally put paid, one would think, to rumours of Derek Jeter's defensive omnipotence (though he's certainly very creative and exciting, and his pivot man isn't all one could wish for).

5. The obvious stuff counts too. Having a low staff ERA is important--although it must, of course, be compared to the league average because of the DH difference, which adds a quarter-run to AL ERAs. Having a better won-loss record counts, if it's much better; a five-game difference can be ignored, but a 12-game difference shouldn't be. Head-to-head records count pretty heavily. Home runs certainly do count.

6. Two "obvious" things that don't count--batting average and overall runs-scored totals. Team runs are a very small positive factor; batting average is, like doubles, actually a moderate negative. Pitching in the postseason is like a minefield full of Hall of Famers, all waiting to explode on you with a damn two-hitter. You can't, as a rule, string together singles and "productive outs" against this field and hope to win (with apologies to the 2002 Angels, who were really good at it); you have to take every spare base you can get, be supremely alert, and not give the other guy any outs you can help, at all.

The playoffs, I believe strictly personally, bring forward the importance of shrewd managing, too. Generally they enhance the value of the "little things" which are overrated by almost all sportswriters during the regular season. Over 162 games, how well you go first-to-third on a single may be, God knows, 5% as important as the number of walks you draw; but until recently the former was all anybody wrote about, because it's easy to wax poetic about it, and appear clever by talking about something that's not in the box score. But in the playoffs, going first-to-third gains something of the outsized relevance it's professed to have during the season. There are some statheads who can... not... stand that the "inferior" team sometimes wins a five- or seven-game series. But the playoffs simply introduce a slightly different standard of "superiority", and there's nothing wrong with that. It's a whole new ballgame. And with your permission, I'm off to watch one.

- 5:56 pm, October 7 (link)

Tough guy

Britain's Channel 4 is being roasted for conducting a not-quite-live broadcast of a Russian roulette game Saturday. It's a world publicity triumph for "psychological illusionist" (and portrait painter) Derren Brown, who has taken the traditional art of mentalism to a new level in the UK by explaining his tricks--or some of the principles behind some of them, anyway; he's clearly more of a pure prestidigitator than he lets on to the punters--and then wowing audiences anyway. In a slightly hokier sort of way, he's in the skeptical-conjuring tradition of The Amazing Randi and Penn & Teller (and is one of Teller's favourite current performers).

On the Channel 4 broadcast, which had to be filmed in a secret location outside the UK, a handpicked volunteer inserted a live round into one numbered chamber of a revolver without saying which one he'd picked. Brown asked the man a few questions, supposedly gauging his reactions, and squeezed off four shots before declaring that the round was in the fifth chamber--which it was. I do not believe that even a "psychological illusionist" as gifted as Brown would leave such a trick up to his mentalist abilities; I suspect it was a traditional magic trick. Brown's best psychological insight was in gauging that the new environment of "reality television" would make the stunt terrifyingly credible. He's surely made life a little harder for his pathetic rival David Blaine, who is currently imprisoned in a transparent box for some reason having nothing evident to do with magic or the performing arts.

- 10:23 pm, October 5 (link)

We are seven

I spent the last couple of nights watching and thinking on Seven Samurai, a work of art that must intimidate just about every creative person who sees it. A lot of people who discuss Seven Samurai get distracted awful quick: they offer ill-considered apologies for its populist, audience-winning qualities--easy to overestimate, considering the number of times it has been remade for Western audiences in disguise--or serve up bull about the historical setting of the movie, which is important as far as "It was a period of anarchy", and not one bit further. Farmers vs. bandits: this is pretty elemental, cross-cultural stuff. I wonder, do the people looking for a message about Japan in Seven Samurai think Antony and Cleopatra is about Egypt?

It is almost as if, more than fifty years after the sensation created by Rashomon, Western writers still believe Kurosawa was some sort of genius naïf who somehow just sprouted like a plant in the soil of postwar Japan. Seven Samurai is an awfully knowing film, isn't it, coming from someone who was supposedly mirroring his culture passively and regurgitating simple lessons from badly-translated Westerns? Is there a screenwriter alive who wouldn't have been proud to devise the wonderful, subtle misdirection involved in the plotting of Rikichi's character? Rikichi is the farmer who first gets the idea to hire samurai and fight against the bandits. From the first minute of the picture it's obvious that something's gnawing at him; everybody in the village has suffered, but Rikichi's rage is special. Kurosawa and his fellow screenwriters drop hints in our path, broad enough so that we're satisfied we know what's behind Rikichi's agony. "They tear infants from the womb," he splutters about the bandits. One of the samurai finds women's clothing in a sack in his house, enraging him. Ah, we surmise, the bandits have killed his wife. And so we are very carefully prepared for a devastating Act III surprise. An easy thing to forget if you've watched the movie a lot, and a nice thing to rediscover.

The most indelible impression is left by Mifune, naturally. It is said that he never, to the end of his life, tired of performing scenes from the movie for fans. Mifune possessed (probably because of his upbringing outside Japan and his lack of formal thespian training) a bestial quality that always erupts right through the cultivated subtlety of his fellow Japanese actors. Another thing I started to notice in this viewing of Seven Samurai was the myriad of ways in which Mifune's/Kikuchiyo's animalistic, literally wild nature is emphasized. Talk about the role of one's life! Mifune plays up this character-theme interstitially, by means of constant bellowing, cackling, and scratching; but notice at how many points is it echoed and promulgated in the screenplay. Consider the scene where the six real samurai watch Mifune from a high cliff as he undresses beside a pool below a waterfall, wades in, crouches, disappears underwater, and emerges triumphantly with a fish--just as if he were a bear. Immediately after, he ambushes the samurai whimsically in the forest--again, like a bear, or perhaps an ape. Or walk backward to the preceding scenes, in which Mifune keeps accosting Takashi Shimura, like a hound seeking a pack leader, and finding himself utterly inarticulate, screwing up his face comically--unable to come out and make the relatively simple request for discipleship with which the boy samurai Katsushiro, obviously brought up with a confident feeling for warrior directness encompassed within polite forms, has no trouble.

Let it be remembered, however, that this wild creature's particular brand of heroism stands in elegant counterpoint to that of Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi), the affectless master swordsman, the paragon of efficiency and perfection who could be described metaphorically as a machine if his fencing were not so beautiful, so floral. Miyaguchi's performance is almost as memorable as Mifune's, or it would be if he were as recognizable to Western audiences. The seven-ness of the samurai is a red herring, in a sense: these two, I think, are the true thing. Do you notice that Kikuchiyo makes his most terrible error when trying to imitate Kyuzo's action in seizing one of the bandits' guns? And that one dies revenging the other? It's rather amusing that the nonpareil movie of male camaraderie, of sweat and leather and violence, has a heart made from the stuff of philosophy...

- 8:12 am, October 5 (link)


We have now arrived at a moment where teaching facts, the mainstay of testing, is rendered redundant by Google. Certainly until you get to upper-level university there is no reason why you need to actually "know" anything. You can and should look it up on the net. What education should be about is acquiring skills. The problem is that testing skills is a barren activity. You can teach skills and you can practice them; but testing reading or writing or arithmetical skills implies that there is some sort of objective standard to be met.

It is impossible to characterize Jay Currie's response to my entry about testing in schools politely, unless he means the whole thing as a horrifying joke. (Punch line: he's raising children!) And I'd just as soon be polite to Jay, so--full stop.

- 1:57 am, October 3 (link)

The Pope really must be ill... least I assume that's what Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz means to signal when he makes this weird statement about rumours of the Holy Father's condition:

Asked about the state of the Pope's health, Dziwisz referred to comments this week attributed by a German magazine to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that John Paul was "in a bad way" and that the faithful should pray for him.

"Cardinal Ratzinger was crying yesterday, explaining that he never gave an interview but merely answered someone he met on the street, saying, 'If the Pope is sick, pray for him,'" Dziwisz said.

"Many journalists who in the past have written about the Pope's health are already in heaven," Dziwisz added.

I'm no expert on the Vatican, but the idea of Cardinal Ratzinger, the lion of Catholic orthodoxy, blubbing like a baby because he was misquoted in a magazine--well it makes me sick with laughter. But then again, so does the idea of a journalist going to heaven. C'mon, Monsignor Eyechart, who the fuck are you kidding?

- 12:37 am, October 3 (link)

Thrown for a loss

My favourite spin on the "scandals" plaguing Rush Limbaugh was's headline:

Mac user Rush Limbaugh caught up in dual controversies

In other news, the health of hardcore Linux devotee Pope John Paul II is said to be failing!

I fear I'm coming late to this morning's festival of news, having spent all night working on my Friday Post column (on fine newsstands everywhere tomorrow!). NRO's Corner has made some good points about Limbaugh's firing from ESPN, perhaps the best being that Limbaugh's black broadcast colleague Michael Irvin acknowledged on-air that Limbaugh "had a point" about the perception of Donovan McNabb.

Already a more muted objection to Limbaugh's comment is replacing the deeply offensive, but apparently successful, off-with-his-head shrieking from America's Al Sharptons. By bringing up race on a sports program, the argument goes, Limbaugh was stirring up unnecessary unpleasantness in a realm, that of sports, in which race relations are relatively serene. (Cf. Robert A. George and Gregg Easterbrook.) But remember, Limbaugh wasn't saying that black QBs are overrated by fellow players or by front offices. He was talking about the media. By and large, the sporting media are not remotely colour-blind, even if sports are: in fact, sportswriters and broadcasters normally evince a sensibility that would have seemed corny and old-fashioned by the time of The Defiant Ones. There are still armies of patronizing white sportswriters who insist on seizing upon the slightest detail of hardship in a black athlete's life like it was a crumb of manna. There are still throngs of liberals who would chew your head clean off for broaching certain racial issues of genuine importance, like the possibility of innate genetic differences between black and white athletes. There are still cliché-mongers to whom any black former athlete over 75 instantly and inevitably radiates "dignity". There are still asinine racial drum-thumpers like ESPN's Ralph Wiley, trying to sound like Stanley Crouch and making half as much sense.

Rush could, you know, have been trying to make the point that the sports media have not caught up with colour-blind athletes and a colour-blind American public. I don't have any particular opinion about Donovan McNabb, but Rush would certainly be right about that much.

[UPDATE, 9:41 pm: Add David Crisp to the list of people who want to extend the political truce observed in sport to the sports media. I'm sympathetic to the idea that political considerations should be excluded from some parts of life, but like I say, we tolerate a certain species of racial politics on our sports pages already, and if we're going to do that then Limbaugh is entitled to some slack. Crisp was cited by Ed Kemmick of the Billing Gazette's weblog, who had some very kind words for me recently, is good, and will be added to the blogroll as soon as I can figure out a category to describe "weblogs of newspapers and magazines".]

[UPDATE, October 3: Allen Barra, one of the best working sportswriters in the United States (and certainly no frothing conservative), says Rush was right--right about Donovan McNabb, and more importantly, right about the sporting press.

McNabb has represented something special to all of us since he started his first game in the NFL, and we all know what that is.

Limbaugh is being excoriated for making race an issue in the NFL. This is hypocrisy. I don't know of a football writer who didn't regard the dearth of black NFL quarterbacks as one of the most important issues in the late '80s and early '90s. (The topic really caught fire after 1988, when Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl.)

So far, no black quarterback has been able to dominate a league in which the majority of the players are black. To pretend that many of us didn't want McNabb to be the best quarterback in the NFL because he's black is absurd. To say that we shouldn't root for a quarterback to win because he's black is every bit as nonsensical as to say that we shouldn't have rooted for Jackie Robinson to succeed because he was black. ...Consequently, it is equally absurd to say that the sports media haven't overrated Donovan McNabb because he's black.

Which raises another point about Limbaugh's comments--he didn't suggest directly that it was wrong for people to overrate McNabb. All right, that may be a tad disingenuous. Note to readers: I hope I won't be suspected of lengthening this entry because I have an unhealthy concern with race. What I have is an unhealthy concern with the issue of how media careers can be destroyed in an instant...]

- 11:08 am, October 2 (link)

The plop heard 'round the world

All I can say is, if you don't start following the Red Sox-A's American League semifinal after tonight's game, you are an insane idiot. Hey, you were already under suspicion: what were you doing that was more important than seeing Pedro Martinez square off against Tim Hudson? The answer had better be "getting married" or "burying my twin brother" or somethin'.

Just to spoil the ending for those who committed the game to TiVo, Ramon Hernandez, beefy A's catcher, was batting against Derek Lowe (yes, that Derek Lowe) in the bottom of the 12th with the bases loaded and two out and he made about a million people poo their pants by dropping down a golden-delicious bunt. A two-out BUNT, by a CATCHER. He didn't even draw a throw: the sitcom logic of "It's so crazy it just might work" actually pays off in baseball sometimes, you see. (Think what people would be saying, though, if he'd been thrown out.) I am reminded, once again, of the great truth first baseman Will Clark expressed upon retirement: "Every day I see some shit I've never seen before in this game." People have been playing baseball for something like 150 years, and bunting for well over 100, but I think this may stand, even though it's just the ALDS, as the most famous bunt in history. Are there any other candidates?

It might have been one of the hundred or so greatest games, too. It would be a shame if we forgot about Erubiel Durazo's nerve-wracking eleven-pitch battle with the game's greatest active hurler in Oakland's half of the 7th. A flagging Pedro was clinging to a one-run lead, and had two out with runners on first and second. Pedro got up 1-2 on Durazo, who until recently was The Boy Nobody Wanted; the aging, punchless Mark Grace had, like a heretical bishop, usurped Durazo's rightful place at first base for the Diamondbacks, and the slugger was forced to wait it out in the desert à la St. Athanasius until his liberation at the hands of Billy Beane's A's (and the saving doctrine of the DH). In fighting back against Pedro, Durazo displayed the adamantine character adversity creates, plucking out the strikes from the balls ever so carefully like an Italian grandmother shopping for tomatoes. Foul, foul, ball two; foul, foul, ball three; foul, ball four. Durazo had filled the bases and run Pedro's pitch count into four digits, and it was no less amazing for having come to naught. (And it was a categorical refutation of the boors who assert that walk-heavy baseball can't be full of tension.)

And there are five or six other amazing things one could point to. How often, for example, are you going to see the league batting champion batting seventh, as he (Bill Mueller) did tonight for the Sox? How often are you going to see a moment of Jeter-esque defensive inspiration like the one that ended a Boston rally at the top of the 12th? Eric Chavez at third dove to backhand a hard grounder from Gabe Kapler and somehow made an instantaneous three-part calculation: (a) there's a force on at third and (b) I've got no play at first against the fairly speedy Kapler, so (c) I'd better try to touch third base before Manny Ramirez, cruising with Manny-istical aplomb from second, can. So the play ended, unusually, with the fielder sliding desperately to touch a base in time (and succeeding, just).

I'm gonna cheer Boston on as far as they'll go, because they've got Bill James, whose legend would be definitively established by the cosmic perversity of a Sox World Championship. (Welch is cheering against them because they've got Bill James, whom he'd rather see back working for the fans, and because the Red Sox Nation is a pernicious Fifth Column in his local baseball environment--which is fair enough; it's the same deal here with the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.) That said, I'll harbour no ill will at all for the A's if they advance. I still like the Sox's chances, and I think they're probably a better team right now than any of their AL rivals; I guess it all comes down to whether Tim Wakefield's knuckler is working, a thing no man (not even Wakefield) can truly foretell.

I'd love for the Cubs to get through on the NL side, but the back end of their lineup's too crummy: Sammy Sosa plus Eric Karros, it turns out, equals just about zero offensively. I scored the Cubs game today and I just should have drawn a tiny little tableau of a botched abortion beside Karros's name. In his first three plate appearances, he (1) struck out with the bags loaded, (2) hit into an inning-ending double play with two men on, and (3) squirted one back to the pitcher for the third out, again with two men on. Later he got a single and scored the tying run, but big whoop. Sammy went two-for-two with two walks today and never touched home plate, mostly because Eric Karros is a big sack of road apples.

The Braves should be able to handle anybody on the NL side, and my guess has to be that they'll play the Sox-A's survivor in the World Series. It would be nonsensical to get more specific than that, because of these crazy short division series. If you held a gun to my head I'd have to take to A's over the Braves in the big show. Please don't do that, though.

- 3:22 am, October 2 (link)