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Brawl in the hall! The closing ceremonies of the 36th Chess Olympiad turn insane when a Georgian grandmaster rushes the stage and is savagely beaten by a half-dozen Spanish cops. [UPDATE, Nov. 2: Nice shiner, dude.] -4:47 am, October 31
TGI Phony! Cockeyed.com summons forces from across the USA to prank the living carbs out of the "Atkinz" diet industry. -11:51 pm, October 30
East or west?

Eric Margolis has a column today about Sunday's national elections in what I'm afraid I will go to my grave calling the Ukraine. Russian president Putin has mobilized the country's ethnic Russian minority, its newly Russified media, and perhaps other more sinister forces on behalf of candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who can be relied on to perpetuate the regime of Leonid Kuchma and keep the Ukraine firmly in Russia's orbit. Amusingly, Russian journalist Vladimir Posner, whom '80s kids will remember as a stylish apologist for communism on the "Donahue" show, seems to have become a full-time whore for the interests of Greater Russia. You should follow that link: at the other end you'll find an impressive essay by Russian reporter Valery Panyushkin, who movingly expresses his Solzhenitsite kleinrussisch hopes for pro-democratic challenger Viktor Yushchenko.

If a miracle happens despite all the Russian propaganda and Viktor Yushchenko becomes the president of Ukraine, I, being a Russian citizen, will gain nothing from that victory, nothing but a clear conscience.

If I happen to be in Ukraine, all right, I will stand in queue at customs. In Kiev or Lvov, I will somehow manage to explain to a waiter in a cafe what I want in Ukrainian. I will be a bit confused with hryvnias, but a few hours later I will get used to the foreign currency. I may even put up with the Ukrainiansí nationalist arrogance and rather indelicate reminders about how my country used to meddle in the affairs of their country.

I am ready to put up with that as long as I donít feel like an invader.

- 12:07 pm, October 30 (link)


Ghost valuable player

Today, in the Canadian Junior Football League's Canadian Bowl championship game at Commonwealth Stadium, the hometown Edmonton Huskies will play host to the Okanagan Sun of Kelowna, B.C. Last night, Okanagan running back Jeff Halvorson was named the league's outstanding offensive player of 2004. But Halvorson isn't on the roster today. On September 1 he died on the Sun's home field of an apparent blood clot at the end of a practice. What's most remarkable about the posthumous award is that it's not just a sentimental gesture. Through the six games he played in before his death, Halvorson rang up a startling 17 touchdowns and 899 rushing yards. The Sun finished the year 10-0, making them what you'd call decided favourites against the historically mediocre 5-3 Huskies.

[UPDATE, 8:07 pm: However, the Hollywood ending doesn't always pan out.]

- 8:47 am, October 30 (link)


Michael Moore's #1 fan

Speaking of bin Laden, have you noticed that it has been a long time since we have seen hide or hair of him? There has not even been an audio tape, which he could have made easily on a portable tape recorder in any of the many caves in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden's No. 2 two guy has been doing the talking ó which may mean that the No. 2 guy is now really the No. 1 guy, if bin Laden is no longer alive. We don't know. It may be years before we know.

Or it might be a few hours! I hate to pick on Thomas Sowell, a genius who had the monumental bad luck to include these words in a column for this morning's Washington Times. Someday I expect I'll get kneecapped that badly by events myself: I'm not looking forward to it.

There can be little doubt now that Osama bin Laden, who mentions John Kerry in his latest video and is looking fairly healthy, is still alive. And whether or not the tape is meant to hurt Bush's re-election chances, it will, I think, do so by allowing Bush's opponents to make the uncontradicted, unmitigated claim that American military action failed to kill OBL. It also embarrasses--much worse than it does Sowell--the conspiracist Democratic Underground types who have been assuring us that the Bush administration had bin Laden under lock and key all along.

The really sick joke here is that OBL--who interrupts his diatribe for a supremely clumsy joke about "My Pet Goat"--shows clear indications of having watched Fahrenheit 911. I'd always heard it was pretty easy to get pirated DVDs in the Middle East.

- 4:36 pm, October 29 (link)


By their works

Any of you pro-lifers out there feeling uneasy about your "It's not as though fetal tissue grafts are really medically promising" arguments yet? Just thought I'd ask--I know that, considering your crowd relies so heavily on "moral intuition", your memory doesn't seem to stretch back as far as the time when your predecessors were denouncing heart transplants. But maybe you'll get lucky, and Elisabeth Bryant will go blind again, right? (þ: Rescorla)

- 5:05 am, October 29 (link)


Headscratchers

The theme today is "Great writers--right even when they're wrong!" On Monday, muso/journo Ken Layne reviewed Eminem's new single and video, "Mosh". I read his take a little carelessly and then watched the video; then I went back and noticed he'd reacted exactly the same way I did to the music.

At first, I thought it didn't have the hook. The thing about Eminem is that he always brings this crazily melodic backbone -- played by real musicians, and allegedly actually composed by Eminem. But it's got the hook. It's just dark, a sort of turntable/Wagnerian military march, all doom.

This is just right: you start out being disappointed, perhaps for the first time, in Eminem's instincts--but by the end you're knocked flat on your ass as always. Alas, though, Layne goes off the rails in the very next sentence:

This might just be the best Fark You song since "Street Fighting Man," although the latter was ultimately a copout. "What can a po' boy do? 'Cept sing for a rock 'n roll band?")

It's impressive that someone who so notoriously morphs into Jagger's vocal Doppelgänger behind the mike possesses enough detachment to question the testicular authenticity of "Street Fighting Man". (What did they rumble with at the London School of Economics--Marchant calculators?) But I have to point out that "Mosh" dwindles into a second-rate "Rock the Vote" ad in its last third, and reveals its own menace to be nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek game. It doesn't help much that Mr. Mathers tends to interpret contemporary American politics as a conspiracy to shut him up (though he is much like Lennon, in at least that regard). He might as well have sung "What can a po' boy do 'cept cast a ballot for Kerry-Edwards?" And where did this stuff about "moshing through a desert storm" come from? Did Eddie Vedder donate a box of old lyrics to Goodwill?

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Web, Gene Healy makes a magnificent short case for not voting for George W. Bush next week.

...[W]hat I can't understand is why any small-government type, libertarian or conservative, would cross the street to cast a ballot for George W. Bush. The man knowingly and wilfully violated his oath of office by signing McCain-Feingold, a bill he acknowledged to be unconstitutional. And not just unconstitutional in the jaywalking sense, like a routine overstretch of the commerce power--unconstitutional in the sense that it strikes at core political speech: as Justice Scalia put it, the right of the people to criticize the government. The man saddled young American workers with the largest expansion of the Great Society since its inception, in the form of the prescription drug giveaway. His administration suppressed evidence about the bill's true costs. Worse, they weren't even competent enough to get political credit for selling us out; polls show that the ungrateful codgers are pissed off about how confusing the discount card is.

This case hits very close to the bone with me: it reminded me how angry I had been (on behalf of Americans) at Bush's frivolous handling of McCain-Feingold, and how revolted I was that the elderly so rapidly became perceived as the victims of the intergenerational swindle that was the drug plan. "They gave away our grandchildren's salaries to the pharmaceutical companies!--it was supposed to go into our pockets, dammit!"

But then Healy goes here:

But finally, for me it all boils down to this: You don't get to B.S. your way into a war that kills over 1,000 American soldiers, over 10,000 Iraqi civilians, and counting, a war that, if anything, has weakened American security. You don't get to do that without firing anyone or admitting the slightest error in judgment--and get rewarded. For God's sake, is there no point at which you say, "that's enough"?

I can't disagree with this categorically: what bugs me is its place in Healy's ordering of the issues, and the ordering used by other antiwar libertarians. Bush had the consent of the Congress to make his ill-advised war, if ill-advised it was. There were no bright moral lines crossed in the prosecution of the Iraq war, since Saddam was demonstrably an international aggressor. It was a bungled technical issue--one of great importance, to be sure. But unless you are prepared to adopt a position of complete, no-boots-on-foreign-soil isolationism--unless you are prepared to denounce the Afghan war against the Taliban, and the first Gulf War as well as the second--I can't see how you can say that the war was more decisive morally than an outright, more-or-less-admitted failure to uphold the oath of office.

Making war (or refusing to do it) on the basis of uncertain information is something that a chief executive is, I think, widely expected to do; it is a lot to ask that he always get it 100% right in every respect. It is also a lot to ask, in the wake of an event like 9/11, that a president not err on the side of belligerence. (Are we sure we'd even want to ask?) If there was ever an American foreign war that was probably worth risking on the basis of limited information, it was this one. There was a prewar consensus in the international intelligence community that Saddam was seeking weapons of mass destruction, and his own military leadership was under that impression. No one, we are constantly being told by the antiwar left and right, thinks Saddam should now be returned to power. No one argues that the deaths of a thousand American soldiers have produced no benefit whatsoever; the issue, and it's still scarcely settled, is whether there has been some benefit to the American people. (And the jury will remain out on that one until we see what happens in Iran, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, and elsewhere.) If human-rights violations abroad are not a sufficient reason for Americans to go marching overseas--and they aren't: I speak as one who opposed the NATO bombing of Serbia--then I don't see why they shouldn't be allowed to break a tie.

Having accepted all this, you can still say that the war was a mistake--plenty of people said so well in advance--but I don't see how you can say it's a "mistake" on the order of signing a bill you acknowledge to be unconstitutional, or of introducing a huge new federal spending program that no economically literate advisor would support on the grounds advanced for it. As bad as it is to commit errors and then refuse to apologize for them--and we'll accept that the Iraq war was such a thing, for the sake of argument--surely it's worse to do things you ought to have known with certainty to be wrong in the first place. In a time of geopolitical chaos, foreign policy can be treated as if it's more cut-and-dried or black-and-white than questions about proper domestic policies. Call me a loathsome Kissingerite, but it's always seemed to me to be the other way around.

Mybe it's just silly to tell a person that his reasons for not voting for someone seem to be in the wrong order of logical priority. The problem is that making the election a pure referendum on the war ignores Kerry's own lousy record on core civil liberties, his elastic liberal view of the Second Amendment, his disgusting moral failure on affirmative action, and his sneering at free trade, among several dozen other matters. Of course, there's the gridlock argument--why not vote for the most statist Democratic candidate since McGovern, since we have a Republican House and Senate anyway? "The Supreme Court" is one possible answer: gridlock isn't going to keep the next president from getting to determine the character of the Court for the next couple of decades, and most Americans may underestimate just how much an extremist liberal judiciary can do. (Unless they've lived in Canada!) As bad as Bush has been on domestic policy, he still seems much likelier to come up with sound originalist judicial appointees than John Kerry, to say the least, and he'll probably do a lot better than Ronald Reagan. I don't have a vote, and I'm not going to tell any American how to vote, but let's hope people don't cast a ballot they'll feel great about six weeks from now and ashamed of in the year 2015.

- 3:08 am, October 29 (link)


Très difficile

The Chicago Reader--always, one assumes, looking for ways to take the mickey out of the rival metro dailies--has a column attacking Mark Steyn for spreading crazy nonsense about the Clostridium difficile epidemic in Quebec. It's the natural state of affairs now, one supposes, that the most ardent defenders of Canadian medicare can all be found in the United States. Steyn had written in the Sun-Times:

After much stonewalling, the Province of Quebec's Health Department announced this week that in the last year some 600 Quebecers had died from C. difficile, a bacterium acquired in hospital. In other words, if, say, Bill Clinton had gone for his heart bypass to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, he would have had the surgery, woken up the next day swimming in diarrhea and then died. It's a bacterium caused by inattention to hygiene -- by unionized, unsackable cleaners who don't clean properly; by harassed overstretched hospital staff who don't bother washing their hands as often as they should. So 600 people have been killed by the filthy squalor of disease-ridden government hospitals.

The Reader found a freelancer whose mother had contracted diarrhea in the U.S. from C. difficile (jackpot!) and who was willing to attack Steyn for daring to raise questions about the relative quality of Canadian medical care. Michael Miner tracked down U of T infectious-disease expert John Marshall and read Steyn's column to him:

"That's absolute hogwash!" he declared before I'd finished. "Canadian medical standards are on average every bit as high as American medical standards. It has nothing to do with the structures of the health-care system."

Dr. Marshall must be congratulated on reflexively defending the honour of his country and profession. But almost everyone else who is qualified to hold an opinion does seem to believe that Quebec's C. difficile problem is related to "the structures of the health-care system". As I write these words, CTV News is carefully explaining the structural roots of the C. difficile outbreak.

Public health experts are warning that the fight against a deadly outbreak of C. difficile is being slowed by a lack of private hospital rooms, resources and even hand-washing training.

A panel of infectious-disease specialists released recommendations Thursday on how to curb the spread of the illness. They urged frequent hand-washing, isolation of patients, prudent use of antibiotics, and sanitization training. But they also pointed out that the province may have to spend tens of millions of dollars to implement the recommendations. And they noted that aging and inadequate hospitals may have to be replaced.

Note carefully: two representatives of the province's microbiological association told CTV more or less exactly what Steyn did about "harassed overstretched hospital staff."

Dr. Louise Poirier, also of the microbiologists' association, pointed out many hospitals were not built with an eye to containing infectious diseases. She said sinks in some facilities are located far from patients' rooms, creating problems for staff who must keep their hands clean.

"It's not that easy if you are a nurse and you have six patients," said Poirier. "You take your gloves off and you go far away, find a sink, wash your hands, go back, put on another gown. You do that sometimes 20 times in an afternoon."

This announcement is not exactly an October surprise. The Clostridium difficile-Associated Diarrhea Clinical Study Investigators Group, formed when concerns were first raised in Quebec, has already raised some of the same questions about structural factors in the province's hospitals.

In many institutions, housekeeping staff has been reduced while nursing workloads have increased. C. difficile is particularly difficult to eradicate from surfaces and equipment. Compliance with hand hygiene has been shown to decrease as workloads increase. Decreased compliance with isolation protocols along with the increased environmental spore burden could have a synergistic effect in promoting C. difficile cross-infection.

The current facilities in many hospitals are antiquated and contain few single or isolation rooms. Wards and emergency departments have become more crowded, and bed turnover is rapid. This makes containment of C. difficile exceedingly difficult, especially among patients with fecal incontinence. Sharing of toilet facilities between patients in multi-bed rooms is still occurring.

...Why have we not been able to break the cycle of transmission? Several obstacles hamper control measures. In an outbreak situation, spore burdens are high and require increasing intensity of environmental disinfection. In most hospitals, the housekeeping staff was already working at full capacity before the outbreak. Overburdened health care workers have had difficulty coping with the increased numbers of patients in isolation. Inadequate numbers of single rooms with dedicated bathroom facilities also facilitate transmission.

It's still possible that Dr. Marshall is correct when he proposes that American hospitals are, taken in toto, just as beleaguered when it comes to infection control. American patients are not captives of a state-run monopoly in this regard--they can shop around--but the Reader's Michael Miner finds this cold comfort: "My mother was too sick to be told that the cheery convalescent home she'd been brought to wanted to kick her out because she wasn't convalescing and therefore Medicare was about to stop paying the bills. To keep her where she was, we children promised to pay for her care out of our own pockets." She developed an overabundance of C. difficile all the same, though Miner is suspiciously careful not to say she died from the infection.

Given the array of medical opinion supporting Steyn's facts, if not his polemic interpretation of them, the American reader will have to decide how much weight to give Miner's one mournful anecdote. Unfortunately, the Reader, in its eagerness to kick a right-wing columnist in the head, didn't bother to give all the relevant evidence--or, indeed, any of it. (þ: Neale)

- 6:35 pm, October 28 (link)


269-269

You know where this is all headed, don't you? From now until Tuesday I'm going to have weird nightmares about Rehnquist standing there, his tracheotomy tube wobbling tumescently in the breeze, while Jon Stewart recites the Oath of Office...

- 5:28 am, October 28 (link)


Red letter

Speaking of age and baseball, do you realize that Babe Ruth would be 109 years old? A little younger than Fred Hale. It's about time he took a break, the fat son of a bitch.

The biggest winner tonight may perhaps be a struggling writer from Maine named Stephen King, who has spent this season following his beloved Red Sox for a book he's planning. It's nice when a little-known talent gets a lucky break, isn't it? When the Sox got behind 3-0 to the Yankees, I thought to myself, "Jeez, it looks like they're not going to write a happy ending for the old fearmonger." Shows what I know. In this preposterous 2004, the man is perfectly matched with the moment. Many years ago someone bought me an anthology containing King's nonfiction piece "Head Down", an account of how his early-blooming son Owen led the Bangor West All-Stars to the Maine state Little League championship in 1989. (Owen has occasionally been seen sitting next to King this postseason at Fenway, a thin, ragged carbon copy of the old man.) Bangor West's march to the title was as full of improbabilities and thrills as the Gang of Idiots' has been. That piece, probably one of his least-read published works, has the same screw-you-into-your-seat quality as King's fiction, or his good fiction, anyway. The Sox book, I promise you, will be splendid.

There are other candidates for "biggest winner". Curt Schilling goes tonight from probable Hall of Famer to first-ballot lock and, more importantly, a place in the main floor of the pantheon--the Ben Hogan, Willis Reed, Bobby Baun spot, right smack under the rotunda. He scoops a $2 million contractual bonus for the Series win, to boot. And my hero Bill James, who became a Sox "senior advisor" last year, is now being mentioned openly in connection with the writer's wing of the Hall of Fame. Doddering media figures who once had nothing of buckets of bile for seamheads are now trying not to break their hips genuflecting. I hope we'll soon have a long nonfiction piece from James about these events, to stand alongside King's. His 1986 "History of Being a Kansas City Baseball Fan", written to celebrate and chronicle a World Series triumph that ended a region's long history of heartbreak, is the shining literary model of a genre that is about to get a whole lot bigger.

No one can doubt the identity of the big loser tonight. It's Anthony LaRussa Jr., manager of the Cardinals, who may want to pull that law degree out of mothballs rather than face the imminent second-guessing. In nine years as Cardinal chieftain, LaRussa has now taken the team to the postseason five times. This is the first time he's won so much as a pennant to show for it. His postseason won-loss record is a healthy 24-23 in games, and 5-5 in series... but the statistic you're going to see a lot of is 0-8: that's his record in his last eight World Series games (dating back to Oakland's 1990 sweep by Cincinnati). I have already seen headlines on the Web stating that "LaRussa teams can't turn the corner". It's cruel, because random variance plays such an enormous part in this game, but it's a pervasive form of cruelty from which LaRussa, who holds the curious double reputation of intellectual and old-school Baseball Man, has been exempt for years. He didn't do anything wrong that specifiably cost the Cardinals a game, but he is about to be mistreated terribly by former admirers trying to beat a deadline. "He won one Series--and he had help from an earthquake." See if the pricks don't write that.

And it's true that over four brutal games, LaRussa's tactics looked not so much stupid as quaint. He may be the last manager who would lead off a speedy waterbug--to use Earl Weaver's scornful term--like Tony Womack (career on-base percentage: .319). His championing of a defensively outstanding catcher without punch, Mike Matheny, seems plain pointless after one of the worst collective pitching performances in Series lore. (Did Matheny look like he was having much luck "handling" the young staff? Do pitch-blocking skills matter much when balls are flying out of the stadium like carrier pigeons?) LaRussa came to the Series with a bench full of pinch-runner types and role-players, apparently unaware that he was going to have to find a DH at some point. Tonight he sent visibly struggling starter Jason Marquis to the plate with one out in the third after falling behind three runs. Most managers probably would have done that, rather than look for extra runs and trust the ball to a dubious long reliever. LaRussa, of course, did much to impose those bottom-of-the-barrel "workhorses" on the game by changing the canonical usage of the closer. But what you noticed was that Marquis, a pitcher, was probably the best hitter available anyway.

The whole display just had an overmatched-aging-prizefighter feel to it. The Cards never once held a lead during the Series, and LaRussa just kept trying to bunt his way out of the hole. The one maxim Bill James may have repeated most often is that "You can't oppose power with a run-at-a-time offence: you'll get beat." Tonight it was James' own employers who pounded that law into LaRussa's skull, even though the real problem was that the power-heavy parts of LaRussa's offence just failed to turn up. Still, LaRussa could have brought an extra slugger to the party--Memphis and Portland and Sacramento and Japan are full of klutzy studs--but he doesn't like having people who can't play defence on his bench. So let him wear the rotten eggs. Bill Simmons has written hilariously about the disbelieving frozen posture LaRussa adopts when something goes unexpectedly against him on the field; he stands perfectly immobile, staring only a little harder out of the dugout as if time might conveniently unspool and rescue him if he just... stays... still. We've seen the LaRussa Stare a few times in this Series. Tonight, though, he was unable to fool himself: when Trot Nixon hit the double to score the second and third runs, nobody in the English-speaking world had any trouble reading the Anglo-Saxon monosyllable on his lips, or imagining the bitter taste, as he turned away.

As a happy bonus to the Red Sox victory, Sox minor-league hitting instructor Orv Franchuk, whom I once had the pleasure of interviewing, is now the first Albertan ever to become eligible for a World Series ring. Like Bill James, Franchuk was an outsider who found the door to the inside open one day when the A's, parent club of the Edmonton Trappers, needed a hitting instructor and had no solid candidates. The man from Wandering River is responsible for a personal multi-year project the world calls "Mark Bellhorn". Franchuk saved Bellhorn's career in the Oakland system, keeping him focused and mechanically sound in AAA ball as the organization jerked him up and down like a whore with a train to catch. Now they both wear the red stockings, and they can both call themselves champs.

[UPDATE, 6:48 am: Thanks to Mike Chalk for catching a silly subtraction error in the opening paragraph. Babe Ruth was born in 1895; naturally I had made him 95 years old for a few hours there.]

[UPDATE, 4:29 pm: The discussion continues at Hit & Run, where I point out (in the comment thread) that Bill James helped facilitate the arrival of Boston's bloody-socked messiah. Reader G.F. observes that I should have called Franchuk the first native Albertan to win a ring. Wes Covington, a left-handed slugger for the '57 Braves, moved to Edmonton after his baseball career ended (not wanting to be a "baseball bum" in a big-league city) and has lived here ever since.]

- 12:11 am, October 28 (link)


Sox drawer

Bill Buckner, living about as far away from Boston as you can get without dwelling under a foreign flag, is hoping "slightly" for a release from purgatory. I can't believe the Red Sox organization wouldn't fly him out for the victory parade; he sounds bitter, but he should attend, and enjoy it. Meanwhile, Fred Hale, the aptly-named oldest living man on Earth, is hoping for a Sox win. The Maine native, whose daughter used to sell lobster to Ted Williams, was 28 when Boston last won it all in 1918.

There are still a fair number of fellows old enough to have seen Babe Ruth play, but this guy remembers him as a pitcher. Incidentally, it's often overlooked that Ruth not only played for the Red Sox in the 1918 World Series but would arguably have been the Series MVP if such a concept had existed then. Ruth threw a six-hit shutout at the Cubs in Game One and helped himself to a 3-2 win in Game Four by hitting a two-run triple. It being the deadball era, those two RBIs made him the overall Red Sox leader in the category for the whole Series. Ruth logged a remarkable 94-46 record in his mound career (let's see Barry Bonds do that). I'm sure someone has already written an alternate-universe short story in which the Babe is discouraged from becoming an outfielder, and lives to a ripe old age--having been saved from his most self-brutalizing lifestyle excesses--as a respected, if scarcely godlike, 300-game winner.

Supercentenarians like Fred Hale, incidentally, are tracked at the website of the Gerontology Research Group, which has become "the de facto standard that other experts turn to when authenticating facts regarding this admittedly-specialized field of human demography." The heart of the site is the continually-updated Table E ranking the world's seniorest seniors. Fred sits seventh overall.

[UPDATE, Oct. 28: Reader Tom Hall of Brookline, N.H., writes with this observation: "Mr. Hale is turning 114 on December 1, which means he was born in 1890. The Red Sox did not exist (nor the American League) until 1901. He can't be a 'lifelong' fan since he predates the Red Sox by almost 11 years." Think about that--the guy was 11 when the American League was founded. Thanks to Mr. Hall for catching the error.]

- 2:56 am, October 27 (link)


I've got a column about the disquieting case of Sheik Younus Kathrada in Tuesday morning's Post. Kathrada, a Vancouver Muslim leader, was recently revealed to have described Jews as "monkeys and swine" destined for eschatological genocide. Here's last week's column about Cort Gallup; update follows the text.

John Jay was underappreciated as American founding fathers go. He was the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and a co-author of the Federalist Papers -- a great man in a place and time very fertile with great men. Is it possible, though, that his most enduring contribution to humankind has been the 1794 treaty between Great Britain and the United States that bears his name?

In the history of international relations, the Jay Treaty is a somewhat obscure document. It provided for the withdrawal of British troops from what we now consider U.S. soil, and created the arbitration system that would be used to determine our southern border's final form. The agreement seemed destined for a short life. In just 18 years, the new republic and the colonies were burning each other's cities and seeking a fresh revision of the North American map. Yet Jay's ill-fated treaty has not been forgotten by 21st century Canadian Indians, who continue to crusade for its "implementation," even though they appear in it almost as an afterthought.

Thus, the invocation of Jay's Treaty in Hawaii, which Jay himself might never have heard of. Cort Gallup, a former Calgary TV personality and speed-skier who now works as a newspaper editor in Maui, is trying to run as a Democrat for Hawaii's state house in the November election. His eligibility has been challenged in court and before the Maui County Clerk by the Republicans, who claim he is not a citizen of the United States.

And the Calgary-born Gallup isn't, in the usual sense. He argues, however, that the Jay Treaty gives all aboriginal descendants -- those living in Canada the United States alike -- full rights of citizenship on both sides of the border.

In fact, the treaty makes no actual mention of extending citizenship to Indians, referring only to their right to pass back and forth across the border without paying customs duties on their personal effects or other goods not gathered into "bales or other large packages." The idea here was to protect the fur trade, and in fact the treaty grants the European citizens of the two countries the same right of cross-border transit, which is a logical problem for those who see it as creating or ratifying a particular aboriginal privilege of dual citizenship.

In the 1990s, there was a long legal battle (Mitchell v. Canada) over whether the Mohawks of Southern Ontario and New York could invoke the 1794 treaty to claim a limited present-day right to traverse the border duty-free with non-commercial goods. The Supreme Court of Canada eventually found that such a right would be incompatible with Canadian sovereignty. One might expect the security-conscious Americans to feel the same way, but in fact they have traditionally taken a much broader view of the treaty, confessing what it arguably implies: that the border is an invention of the white man and hence should not be used to impede Indian mobility.

U.S. immigration law contains a provision preserving the document's supposed spirit, allowing Canadian citizens of "50 per centum" Indian blood to enter and attain "lawful permanent residence" in the United states without a green card. Last year, U.S. military recruiters were even caught by the Liberal government sniffing around for manpower in Ontario Mohawk communities. When the Pentagon was asked to account for the diplomatically dodgy expedition, it cited its highly convenient "impression" of the Jay Treaty. (The U.S. military, always a popular career choice among Canadian Indians, is said to have been enlisting increasing numbers of non-citizens since 9/11.)

It's only natural for Gallup to conclude that if Canadian Indians can stop Iraqi bullets for Uncle Sam, they can also go to work in his state governments. On the other hand, his Cree ancestors lived on uncolonized Hudson's Bay Co. property, rather than British colonial territory, in 1794. And if he is determined to stand on the treaty as a signifier of ancient aboriginal privileges -- well, Hawaii is damned hard to reach from Southern Alberta in a canoe.

Gallup won an initial technical battle earlier this month when the Hawaii Supreme Court refused to grant an expedited hearing to his Republican opponents. But the Maui County Clerk ruled on Friday that he has not proven that he is a U.S. citizen. As things stand, he cannot vote in November, let alone stand for office. He has 10 days to appeal to the county Board of Registration. (October 18, 2004)

Gallup's appeal hadn't yet been filed at last report, but his representatives are still saying he intends to go ahead. Whatever happens, according to Hawaii's Office of Elections, his name will remain on the ballot as the Democratic candidate. If he cannot convince the board of his eligibility to run, and he then wins the vote, the relevant seat in the state house will remain vacant. While we're waiting for that to shake out, you can read the text of Jay's Treaty.

- 4:54 am, October 26 (link)


'How normal people turn into fake bastards'

Dr. David Thorpe's loyal readers write in to Something Awful with horrifyingly effective tips on how to become a fake music snob.

An alternative to "Hitching Your Wagon": pick an artist or band almost universally critically panned and praise them. For example, Grand Funk Railroad. Not only will the other person be totally blindsided by what seems like such an obviously bad band, but then you can counter with how nobody understands what Grand Funk Railroad were trying to do but you.

Original article here; full Thorpeography here.

- 4:43 am, October 26 (link)


White city

Edmonton bars report that they're starting to suffer from the effects of the NHL lockout. Sure--it's unlucky for them. But isn't it possible that Edmontonians, deprived of their usual winter diversion, will turn to new pursuits? Perhaps even now, in homes across this city, people are turning to forgotten pleasures of the hand and mind. Maybe people who "never had the time" are suddenly learning to paint or play chess! Play a musical instrument! Probe the gustatory secrets of oenology! Rediscover the simple pleasures of free, spirited conversation!

Or maybe we're just shut up in our houses, glaring out at the snow through beer-curtained eyes. Yeah... that's remotely possible, I suppose. Winter here appeals to the (decidedly narrow) ascetic side of my temperament, but right now this place is pretty Dantean--empty, forlorn, and still, all sound half-absorbed by the snow. On the days when there's no cloud, the sunlight hits the street with a blinding chemical whiteness that makes you wonder if God is screwing around with Photoshop filters. Most days, the sun is obscured by a gray-pink gauze that leaves you uncertain what planet you're on. Heroin has never been a popular drug here: we all already know what it's like to be dead. Although it's too soon to be certain, we seem to be socked in for good, and mid-October is unpleasantly early for that to happen, even here. The median date of the first permanent snowfall in Edmonton in recent decades has been November 11. (I actually worked this out--it took me about an hour of sorting through climate records. I could argue that this is the sort of thing you do when there's no NHL in October, but I'm a dork for all seasons.)

- 3:24 am, October 26 (link)


In cold blood

In 1971, the year I was born in Edmonton, the CFL's Eskimos went 6-10 on the year and missed the playoffs. They haven't been out of the postseason since. Normally the Eskies are a lock for about 12 wins; they got in with an 8-8 record in 1983 after a dismal start, and were saved from humiliation when they went 6-12 in 1999 because the league had dropped to eight clubs (six of which qualified) and Saskatchewan was even worse. In 2001, the West Division was fortunately so brutal that the team went 9-9 and actually finished first. The Streak has now become its own separate tradition in Edmonton, and keeping it alive gets a little harder every year. The West is now back to the traditional five teams and three qualifiers. There are no perpetual weak sisters in the league anymore. When I was a kid, fans outside Ottawa and Regina could always count on some help getting into the postseason. Today everybody in the CFL seems to have responsible, accountable ownership and half-decent coaching.

This year, coming off a Grey Cup victory, the Eskimos were sitting at 8-9 with one game to go and could have faced elimination with a bye next weekend if the Blue Bombers had come into Commonwealth Stadium yesterday and beaten them for a shot at third place. Even the World Series takes a back seat to the possibility of the Eskimos missing the playoffs. I had conversations that began with "So are they going to get in, or what?" I was pessimistic, because the weather was below freezing Sunday morning and the Esks have the league's weakest backfield. If starting QB Jason Maas couldn't overcome the cold, there was no practical Plan B. But in the event, as sometimes happens, the frozen turf proved tougher on the secondaries. In a closely-matched offensive battle, Maas went 26-for-34, throwing for two majors and running for two more. And even that performance--which made him the second Eskimo quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a season (the first being a gentleman named Warren Moon)--almost wasn't enough. With the Esks holding a 30-27 lead and seven minutes to go, nth-string defensive lineman Jabari Issa blocked a punt to seal the win. Final score, 40-34, and the Eskimos clinch a spot in the Western Semi-Final. For the moment, even if the baseball world is upside-down, the universe of Canadian football remains comfortingly upright.

- 5:41 am, October 25 (link)


You've come a long way, bladey

IBM has announced an exciting plan to bring the price of superthin, swappable blade servers [what's a blade server?] within range of small-to-medium-sized businesses. Costs just got a lot lower for experimental media and broadband businesses, among many others. It's a good time to stop and reflect, for those of us who remember when the Internet depended on fridge-sized mainframes. Despite an early awareness of Moore's Law, I never considered until recently that the server would become a trivially replaceable component of the network in much the way that the chip once was vis-à-vis the computer. But that's where we're headed. We are, as I have occasion to observe so often, living in the freaking future.

- 2:11 pm, October 24 (link)


Over/under

A little overrated: the Bush-Cheney campaign's "Wolves" TV spot. This ad has become quite celebrated in some quarters. Maybe I'm just missing some key Northern European racial engram, but I can go either way--either "Yikes," or "Aww--nice doggies." In my defence, they do seem awfully well-trained--more like they're running towards someone holding supper than towards someone who is supper. Reagan's "Bear" ad was better, not primarily because of an amusing animal metaphor but because of its remarkable use of the unstated. "President Reagan: Prepared for Peace." Doesn't it seem to you that that sentence is missing a back end? It doesn't take a student of the classics (Si vis pacem...) to decode the real message.

A little underrated: Team America: World Police, which I watched Saturday night. Has any critic yet gotten the real joke here?--namely, that the puppets in the Jerry Bruckheimer sendup are mostly much better and more subtle than the real actors in an actual Bruckheimer/Bay/Emmerich movie. Sure, Parker and Stone's "Supercrappynation" is played for cheap laughs, but--as in an old copy of National Lampoon or an SCTV episode--the cheap laughs see-saw back and forth with startling craftsmanship to create what can only be described as a remarkable comic species of suspense. You never know whether Team America will hit you high or low. (Though "low" is, granted, probably the smart bet.) Don't assume the movie has been ruined for you just because you've already heard 90% of the jokes.

- 3:12 am, October 24 (link)


You can take the girl out of the Liberals...

Did anybody else catch the inadvertently revealing comment Sheila Copps made while roasting Stephen Harper for his Belgianism in Friday's Post?

Harper knows his best shot to keep his job is to form the government before the Conservatives decide they need to replace him. So perhaps he is positioning himself to cut a deal with the separatists so that when the Liberals flounder, he will be able to step in and convince the Governor-General to give him a chance to form a coalition government without the inconvenience of an election. The Liberals, after all, are now without a majority and are dependent on other parties to retain power. In their first week in the House, they were 20 minutes away from an election in a game of chicken that only parliamentarians understood.

What one notices here is that apparently only parliamentarians understand what happens when no party has half the seats in a House of Commons. (News flash: in such a scenario, the government is dependent on other parties for the confidence of the House! Wouldyoubelieveit???) On further inspection, however, one wonders whether the writer understands it herself, since the highlighted sentence contradicts the one two sentences before it. But then again, I'm no parliamentarian. Hell, me trying that job would be as preposterous as Sheila trying to write a newspaper column, right?

- 10:05 pm, October 22 (link)


Jaw jaw

Another election (Alberta's, that is), another invitation to CBC-1's Wild Rose Forum, heard throughout the province on AM radio (and worldwide on teh intarnets). I'll be gnawing the lipids with host Don Hill and fellow guest Mark Lisac of the Edmonton Journal between 1:00 and 2:00 Mountain time. Ralph Klein's fleshy physiognomy can be seen smiling beatifically from brand-new billboards in Edmonton and Calgary this morning: we should see a writ on Monday.

- 10:53 am, October 22 (link)


And while we're on the subject:

Steve Sailer has finally assembled the evidence and, more importantly, the correct interpretive materials to make sense of what's publicly known about John Kerry and George Bush's IQs. His finding? You guessed it--the Republican dummy is the smart one.

There are a lot of yesbuts here. On a cognitive test given to Navy officer candidates in 1966, Kerry was the median performer: 50% of co-applicants beat him. According to Sailer's psychometrician pals, this would leave him in the neighbourhood of 120 on an IQ scale with the usual standard deviation of 15. Bush scored at the 67th percentile on the cognitive components of a similar Air Force test, and had a SAT score (1206) that also points to a higher IQ. "This isn't an apples to apples comparison," notes Sailer (on his own page he calls it "oranges to tangerines") "so you can't say that Bush would have done better than Kerry on the same test. But this doesn't provide any evidence in support of the common assumption that Kerry has a much higher IQ." Kerry's most noticeable habit as a speaker, Sailer notes, is swaddling his ideas in a bubble-wrap of endless, tic-like subordinate clauses, tautologies, and other semantic nulls. It's a typical tactic for a person of normal wits trying to get ahead a world of clever dicks. And, really, when you consider how far Kerry's gotten with so little--an ability to sweet-talk rich women, a tenuous connection to the Forbes family, a distinctly second-rate law degree, and a few months' target practice on some guys in pyjamas--you have to be impressed with the man.

- 11:12 pm, October 21 (link)


Misadventures in bilingualism dept.

The last thing John Kerry wants during this election is to go reminding Americans that he speaks French. But does his tactical shyness also serve to conceal his francophone ineptitude from those few American voters still capable of admiring a cultural connection to Old Europe? Emmanuelle Richard finally heard him utter a sentence in her mother tongue, and the results--

...on dirait qu'il a une patate dans la bouche...

--were reportedly rather humorous. Although I suppose it could be pointed out that his opponent sometimes uses English much the same way. (Canadians should also check out Ms. Richard's take on the affaire fifi in Quebec.)

- 4:28 pm, October 21 (link)


Keep telling yourself it's just a game

How absurd--how absurdly great--was this Red Sox comeback from 3-0 down to the Yankees? How over-the-top was it? Even in The Natural, my friends, they didn't dare have the doctors inventing a new surgical procedure on the fly and testing it on a cadaver before using it to get Roy Hobbs back in the game. I mean, imagine if the screenwriters had tried to spitball that one. You know... Roy did start out as a pitcher. Instead of having him just open the old wound up when he hits the big walkoff homer, why don't we have him come in and work a few innings from the mound? We can have him, y'know, spurting gore freely all over the pitching rubber before the game even starts.

Yeah--I think we found out which team wanted it more. The outcome is tough on New York Yankee fans, but they are perhaps the only baseball fans whose sporting lives aren't full of bitterness much of the time. When the rest of us compare notes about how hard-done-by we are--as an Expos fan, you'd think I'd have the best poker hand in that game, but supporters of roughly 28 teams have tried to compete with me over the years--they get to tilt back the La-Z-Boy. So when the time came for the ultimate slice of excrement-flavoured birthday cake to be served, after a century-plus of big-league ball, there was no other plate you could really want it to end up on. 26 world championships in baseball, and one all-time undisputed title in the art of choking. Seems more than fair.

Tonight the subjects of the Evil Empire are all grinning imperishably. Whatever happens for the rest of our lives, we'll always have 2004--complete with Damon and Ortiz, Schilling's Reservoir Dogs stroll to the bullpen with Wakefield and Lowe in Game Five, Jeter's fridge-like defence and .200 batting average, and, of course, the Slap Heard 'Round The World--one of the funniest acts ever perpetrated on a ballfield by a man not encased in a large fuzzy animal costume. I pity anyone who was too cool and mature to enjoy it, I really do.

And yet, without doubt, one is slightly haunted by images less easy to relish--images that time will blur, however often this series is relived on TV; you can only watch it once with the complete context around you like a blanket. Will we remember the mess at Mariano Rivera's pool, and how he came straight from the airport to suit up for Game One? Or how Theo Epstein fought tears of relief at the end while Brian Cashman stood in the owner's skybox with the precise facial expression of a man who had just buried several children? Or--and this is the one I expect to see in nightmares, Yankee-hater or no--the wraithlike gaze of a pale, helpless, hollow-cheeked Jason Giambi?

[UPDATE, 4:33 pm: Billy "Boom-Boom" Beck has more.]

[UPDATE, 10:24 pm: Time for Bill Simmons to speak up. "Honestly? I keep waiting for them to announce that there's a Game 8."]

- 3:31 am, October 21 (link)


To calculate the coefficient of restitution of a person, he considered throwing footballs at his wife, 'but she wouldn't go for that.' A physicist looks at Franco Harris's 1972 "Immaculate Reception". (þ: Henley) -2:48 am, October 19
Vote early, vote often

In your heart, you know we have to get Don Cherry elected as The Greatest Canadian. Very well--we are all fond of Terry Fox and Sir John A. Macdonald, but voting for them accomplishes nothing except self-congratulation. Ain't Canada great? Gosh! But a victory for Don Cherry, on the network that benefits from his presence while visibly itching to fire him, would send a useful message. It would annoy everyone worth annoying in this country.

And it's not like he has no real credentials. He reached the top of the totem pole in hockey, our most sacred profession; he reinvented himself in a completely new job when his life seemed to be essentially over the age of 56; and he built a pediatric hospice in memory of the faithful wife who followed him through 53 house-moves and three careers. Above all he stands up for moral qualities lying neglected in a dusty corner of our civilization: courage, honour, patriotism, and squeezing more out of your talent than the Good Lord put into it.

This needs to happen. If necessary, you are allowed to lie to arty friends about which Don Cherry they're voting for. The other one would make a pretty awesome Greatest Canadian too.

[UPDATE, 11:08 am: Stimulus? Response! Professional liberal sourpuss Garth Woolsey doesn't want you to vote for Don Cherry. Isn't this reason enough?]

- 2:25 am, October 19 (link)


"This is madness!": Inkless Wells pleads for constitutional sanity. This column--Wells' best since joining Maclean's--rings some of the same notes that Steyn did in his recent Western Standard column, "Government Health Care Is For Sissies". -1:35 am, October 19
The giant wins the pennant

The 14th and final game of the world chess championship match took place this morning in Brissago. With challenger Peter Leko leading 7-6, reigning champ Vladimir Kramnik needed an outright win with the White pieces to keep the title--which the champion normally retains in case of a tie, just as in boxing. A desperate Kramnik had subjected Leko to increasingly strenuous attacks, culminating in a ferocious display with Black in Game 13 that required a miraculous save by Leko on move 44. (Exactly three brains in the world, including the computer programs that routinely thump super-GMs, seem to have spotted 44.Rb7; the two contestants, and Internet spectator Garry Kasparov.)

Game 14 began in the unpromising Caro-Kann opening, but in an astonishing turn of events Kramnik was able to concede material in exchange for a mating attack. There's no GM analysis yet but it looks as though Leko was just too anxious to get pieces off the board. He resigned on move 41, facing mate in two. The Week in Chess reports that Kramnik stood up and received a thunderous ovation as the surviving champion. Leko will receive a well-deserved 50% of the prize fund for taking the champ to 7-7, but it's Kramnik who will get to defend the apostolic succession against the winner of FIDE's January showdown in Dubai. Which is to say, against Kasparov, the #1-rated Prince of Darkness.

Mig Greengard put the Kramnik miracle in perspective this morning before it even happened:

...if Kramnik beats Leko in the final game to tie the match and retain his title, Brissago becomes an instant classic. He'll have done what only Emanuel Lasker (1910) and Garry Kasparov (1987) have done: win the final game to change the result of a world championship match... Alekhine, Bronstein, Smyslov, and Korchnoi had the chance and couldn't do it. In 1984 Karpov had 21 games to knock out Kasparov and failed.

- 11:47 pm, October 18 (link)


Stuck in 1794: I have a column in Monday's National Post about the weird persistence of Jay's Treaty, a document that tied up the loose ends from the Revolutionary War just in time for them to come unravelled again. Alberta-born Cort Gallup is trying to use the treaty, as other Canadian Indians have, to claim U.S. citizenship and run for the Hawaii state house next month.

Fun fact not included in the Post piece: "Cort" is apparently short for "Cortez". Kind of a counterintuitive handle for a crusader for aboriginal rights, wouldn't you say?

- 3:19 am, October 18 (link)


Graffiti dept.

I've been carrying on an exchange with that world-famous San Franciscan Steve Schwenk--potential employers take note!--in a comment thread over at Silflay Hraka. Now's a good time to read it, as it seems to have reached a peremptory finale.

- 12:10 am, October 18 (link)


Stochastic links

Possibly of no particular interest to Canadians: Pitchfork Media tackles an eternal brainteaser--who owns Manitoba? (þ: Usounds)

The oldest continuously surviving trademark in the United States belongs to one of my favourite foodstuffs, and has a war-profiteering past. All is revealed in a recent Straight Dope staff report.

- 11:46 pm, October 17 (link)


Sure, you knew Derek Jeter was good--but if you saw the score in tonight's American League Championship Series contest, you're probably asking yourself how the hell he managed to score a converted touchdown in a baseball game...

- 12:10 am, October 17 (link)


Unfortunately, my freelance fees are also bathed in those "Canadian cheap-o-rays"

Expat genius Evan Kirchhoff looks at economics, presidential-candidate-style.

- 12:04 am, October 17 (link)


Here's last week's column from the National Post about SpaceShipOne. I've left in some stuff that didn't survive editing, and I'll tack some further thoughts onto the end.

As I write these words [on Monday, Oct. 4], the strange-looking machine called SpaceShipOne has just come back to the Mojave Desert after reaching an altitude of 100 km for the second time in five days. Barring some bizarre mischance--under the rules governing aeronautics records, pilot Brian Binnie must survive for the next 24 hours to be deemed to have returned "safely"--the craft designed by Scaled Composites Ltd. of Mojave will be awarded the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private-funded manned space travel. Teams from around the world, including Canada, have been beaten to the ribbon by aeronautics innovator Burt Rutan and his team's multibillionaire main sponsor, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen.

It's too soon to tell how significant this slightly wacky, Jules Verne-esque race will turn out to have been. As Tom Spears pointed out yesterday in these pages, suborbital flights like those encouraged by the X Prize's terms are pretty easy cheese compared to orbiting the earth. And if you want to make the case that yesterday's flight was just a matter of overrich Californians publicizing an absurd hobby, you can go further. The second X-Prize qualifying flight barely scraped past the altitudes attained by NASA's X-15 rocket plane in 1963. None of those pilots are remembered as "astronauts", except for the ones (like Neil Armstrong) who later joined the space program proper. In most respects, SpaceShipOne is just a knockoff of the X-15, using the same ascent trajectory and the same trick of being carried aloft by a conventional aircraft before making a rocket-powered blastoff. So it's the proof of a concept already proved, and forty years ago at that.

The difference now is that the kicks provided by suborbital spaceflight will now be available, in principle, to the civilian. SpaceShipOne itself will probably break even in the end, between the prize money and the revenue from books and videos. Sir Richard Branson has announced plans to buy five of the planes, slap the Virgin logo on them, and fly tourists beyond the atmosphere. Such a roller-coaster ride is always going to be pricey, but Branson, a master of hype, can probably make a go of it until the first time something breaks with fatal consequences.

It's hard to envision applications beyond tourism, however, for this sort of aviation. People very much smarter than me consider NASA's X program to have been a relatively smart spaceflight technology, unjustly abandoned when hands were needed on the elephantine Apollo program. That may be, but physics is a harsh mistress. Any rocket-powered craft that can go into orbit, and do the valuable work possible there, is bound to resemble either the failed space shuttle or the unglamorous unmanned boosters that still do our extraterrestrial grunt work. Some form of nuclear boost might be possible, but in our prudence, or cowardice, we are decades away from being able to contemplate the necessary experiments.

It just takes a hell of a lot of fuel to break free from the planet, however you slice it. SpaceShipOne has reached only a tenth of Earth's escape velocity, and the energy needed to reach a particular speed varies with the square of that speed, leaving us 1% of the way to orbit. Our journey to the stars will forever be chained to the heavy tombstone of Newton and the crabwise progress of materials science. But hope dies hard, and after all, 100 kilometres is a start. However slow our species' star-trek, it can only go faster if those Space Age kids grown up to be plutocrats continue to take charge. NASA wasn't getting the job done, and seems quite pleased at the emergence of a parallel private space business.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the X Prize moment is that it revives a bounty-based model of science funding that withered somewhat with the postwar growth of the military-industrial complex. The really cool proof of concept here isn't winged flight into space. It's the prize itself, which leveraged the spontaneous-ordering magic of cash to unite deep pockets, giant brains, and brave pilots. On this and other fronts like the Clay Mathematics Prize, it seems to be gradually dawning or re-dawning on the holders of great private fortunes that simply creating a prize for a meaningful scientific or technological task may be the optimum way to nudge the human race forward. Which is, incidentally, a very powerful argument that society should be arranged so as to permit and preserve such fortunes. (October 6, 2004)

If I'd had more than 750 words to make my point, this piece would seem a little less cranky. I originally had plans to put in a paragraph about Rutan's elegant "shuttlecock" re-entry system, which is one brilliant new concept that SpaceShipOne can take credit for introducing to aviation. It may one day find applications other than in suborbital flights for tourists.

That much, I can imagine in principle. I've criticized other people often enough for arguing from a failure of imagination, and that's essentially what I'm doing when I pose questions about the utility of high-altitude suborbital spaceflight--except as a very preliminary stepping-stone to orbital flight. The fact is, though, that the Russians have already introduced a form of orbital tourism, though one implicitly subsidized by the commercial and military applications and heritage of their space program. If the question is "What kind of system will be the first to put men into orbit on a commercial basis"--the three obvious options being some sort of spaceplane, traditional rocket boost, and non-rocket technology--it seems to me we may be trying too hard to avoid #2 because it is the non-sexy answer.

I do hope research will continue on front #3. Physicists who saw the column have told me that nuclear (and magnetic) technologies are much closer to being ready for prime time than is usually suspected.

- 3:40 pm, October 15 (link)


Adverse event

I have two people who tell me what to think about pharmaceuticals. The Star's David Olive is not one of them, although he's very smart, and I could endorse his column on the twilight of the COX-2 inhibitors if it weren't for all the static about the need for price controls. The argument seems to be that the U.S. government needs to limit the outrageous prices of patented drugs that, er, don't work any better than existing ones and may generate bad side-effects. All things considered, doesn't it now seem that Americans benefitted from not having state-facilitated access to Vioxx for the last few years? If you're going to make the point that most mega-market drugs still under patent are overhyped and undertested, how can you then pivot around and insist that they be made available more freely by fiat?

I'm probably missing something. Anyway, the two people who tell me what to think about pharmaceuticals are Derek Lowe, who now believes that Pfizer is pfucked, and an old friend who has become a disconcertingly respected figure in the world of evidence-based medicine. In his case, I can report that he has been making the Marge Simpson Noise in connection with the coxibs since we were both grad students. The person he trusts to tell him what to think is the stern, skeptical B.C. drug reviewer Jim Wright, who is going to come out of this whole thing looking like frickin' Nostradamus. There do, indeed, seem to have been a lot of Nostradami outside the ranks of Merck Frosst.

- 5:47 am, October 14 (link)


The cryptic King Ralph

Confusing words from the premier of Alberta, speaking in Edmonton yesterday (through the medium of Wednesday morning's Calgary Herald):

[Ralph] Klein said Tuesday he expects the election to take place on Nov. 22 or 29. Should the Edmonton Eskimos make the Grey Cup final, he said, the vote would be held on Nov. 29, so as not to interfere with celebrations in Alberta's capital city. "You want to make sure people are in good shape to vote," said Klein.

Klein's concern for heavy imbibers--to whose number he once belonged--is certainly touching. Unfortunately, it doesn't make a lick of sense. The last possible day on which the premier could decide between these two dates would be Monday, October 25. That's when the Lieutenant-Governor would have to issue writs for a November 22 vote; an Alberta election has to last at least 28 days. But the Western Division final won't be held until November 14: before that date, we have no way of knowing whether the Eskimos will be in the Grey Cup. October 25 falls before the end of the CFL's regular season, and since it's pretty clear that the Eskies will have to play in the Western Semi-Final Nov. 7 one way or another, we'll have no more information relevant to the date of the election then than now.

Or am I missing something? Did the Herald mangle the premier's words, or did the desk--its morale and energy sapped, perhaps, by the Calgary Stampeders' 3-12 record--merely fail to notice how utterly confusing they were?

If the premier is worried about a disastrous November 22 turnout following an Eskimos Grey Cup victory on the 21st (amen!), why doesn't he just settle on the safe November 29 date now? Or maybe the question is this: why are we even discussing a late November election? There are no crises or policy proposals which would seem to require the immediate consultation of the people, and even a November 22 vote would be awfully late in the year--two weeks later than any Alberta election ever held. The risk of a snowbound electorate on December's cusp is very high. Is that the whole point?

- 7:51 am, October 13 (link)


Gee, all I said was that I hope his children die violently

There's been a great deal of piling on Daniel Okrent's latest column as "public editor" of the New York Times. Okrent, buried under what is no doubt an avalanche of mostly unfounded accusations of bias, has reached the inevitable Ombudsmoment where he forgets that he is being paid to represent the readers to the paper rather than the other way around. I feel that some of the critiques of the column are misguided, but the lesson here is that the fixed term of office should probably be even shorter for the next public editor. Reader-compassion fatigue just sets in too fast. (And as conscientious a job as Okrent has tried to do, the next public editor should probably not be a lifelong Democrat.)

I cannot but approve, however, of Okrent's use of the "ink by the barrel" principle in the last paragraph:

When a reporter receives an e-mail message that says, "I hope your kid gets his head blown off in a Republican war," a limit has been passed.
That's what a coward named Steve Schwenk, from San Francisco, wrote to national political correspondent Adam Nagourney several days ago because Nagourney wrote something Schwenk considered (if such a person is capable of consideration) pro-Bush. Some women reporters regularly receive sexual insults and threats. As nasty as critics on the right can get (plenty nasty), the left seems to be winning the vileness derby this year. Maybe the bloggers who encourage their readers to send this sort of thing to The Times might want to ask them instead to say it in public. I don't think they'd dare.

It never ceases to amaze me when people send missives to newspapers and magazines and then are surprised when their words end up in print. We know Mr. Schwenk was taken aback, because he said so in a comment thread at Jeff Jarvis's weblog late last night.

...the humiliation I now have to experience in responding to the repeated inquiries about whether that was really me will go on for weeks. Did I mention that I am looking for a job? ...I all but pleaded with them not to [print] it, that it would really harm me and was an unfair response to a private e-mail. Okrent's assistant hung up on me and Nagourney laughed me off, like it was his right to harm me since he works at the NYT and thinks he's a star.

Leftists, eh? You get the feeling that if this guy got hit by a bus, he'd spend his dying breath railing against the preposterous temerity of the laws of physics... Schwenk also pops up in the public editor's own forum, espousing a familiar theory: "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never harm you. Now, me, on the other hand...". (þ: Ailes)

[UPDATE, October 18: Lots more fun here.]

- 5:15 am, October 12 (link)


Life is strange:

would you have believed ten years ago than an obituary for Christopher Reeve would contain absolutely no mention of the word "Superman" in its text?

[UPDATE, 4:22 pm: You can stop writing in now... I'm not a complete idiot, you know. The original version of the wire story, which was a great deal shorter, contained no "Superman" references. Judging from the mail you've sent me, they were originally worked in at the back end and gradually smuggled forward.]

- 2:45 am, October 11 (link)


Voting with their feet

I tried to follow Virginia Postrel's link to a paper about the equalization of school finance in Texas, but something else in Prof. Caroline Hoxby's trove of economics literature distracted me: namely, an astonishing adaptation of ranking methods used in chess to determine undergraduates' revealed preferences amongst U.S. colleges and universities. You might take a peek--the math isn't too heavy, although it helps if you know what an "ELO rating" is.

We construct examples of national and regional rankings, using hand-collected data on 3,240 high-achieving students. Our statistical model extends models used for ranking players in tournaments, such as chess or tennis. When a student makes his matriculation decision among colleges that have admitted him, he chooses which college "wins" in head-to-head competition. The model exploits the information contained in thousands of these wins and losses. Our method produces a ranking that would be difficult for a college to manipulate. In contrast, it is easy to manipulate the matriculation rate and the admission rate, which are the common measures of preference that receive substantial weight in highly publicized college rating systems. If our ranking were used in place of these measures, the pressure on colleges to practice strategic admissions would be relieved.

The important words here are "revealed preference": a method like this one shows what schools have superior reputations based on the real-world behaviour of a sample of students. Alas, it would probably be no help to Maclean's in its eternal quest to drain the arbitrariness from its influential ranking schema for Canadian colleges. Geography is a very large consideration for Canadian undergrads, as Hoxby et al. explicitly assume it is not for the elite American students and universities in their trial model. You could get around this, but it would require you to sort the schools regionally, do the (computationally sticky) figuring within each region, and then do it again for competing pairs of schools from neighbouring regions. It's so much easier to pick some easily-surveyed performance categories, assign weights to them off the top of your head, and print the damn thing...

- 8:36 am, October 8 (link)


Around the horn

Jeremy Lott has been very busy lately; he has links to a few new pieces at his own site and has also joined the staff of GetReligion.org. I'm still scrawling on the walls occasionally in the baseball threads at Casa Welch. If you're living the same home-office-intellectual-couch-potato lifestyle as me, and you're keeping up with the MLB division series, you might check out the #baseball_primer IRC channel during the games. You will of course have to show evidence of a 1200 or better on the Sabermetric Aptitude Test. Which of the following is the empirically correct "Pythagorean" exponent in the context of baseball?...

Dirk Deppey has very kindly sent over Web links to selections from the Comics Journal's new all-Cerebus issue. Here's my contribution, written, it seems, at the very height of my prose's recent rococo phase. More forceful and interesting is R.S. Stephen's methodical dismantling of Dave Sim's notorious essay "Tangent" (readable here).

- 5:44 am, October 8 (link)


Fire on board

They went to see the world championship, and stumbled across an actual chess match... In this morning's game 8 of 14 at Brissago, with the match tied at 3½ apiece, the Russian champion Vladimir Kramnik allowed Hungarian challenger Peter Leko to play a favourite line and sprung some home cooking, bringing the game to a prefabricated position that looked better for Kramnik's white pieces. It was just the sort of thorough preparation that (a) won Kramnik the world title from Garry Kasparov in the first place and (b) is sometimes said to be strangling the life out of classical chess. But no one told Leko that players aren't allowed to think over the board anymore: he came up with a spectacular tactical refutation that had pieces flying off the board. Now Kramnik has six games to get the point back, and prevent Leko from becoming the first non-"Russian" champ, so to speak, since Bobby Fischer. (UPDATE, 4:59 am: Malcolm Pein, dean of English-language chess journalists, has a postmortem.)

- 1:16 am, October 8 (link)


King of new media

Howard Stern: killer app for satellite radio. You know, it might be possible to feel sorry for the terrestrial radio business here; it has been trapped by the fiction, recently revived as an obsolete but powerful cause, that the airwaves are public property by divine fiat. U.S. radio certainly did a good job at pioneering political talk as soon as the Fairness Doctrine was formally killed. But it is hard to believe in radio's underlying respect for novelty, individuality, experimentation, or free speech. I don't have any trouble understanding the Stern cult, even though I think Stern's show is much cleverer as a concept than it is actually enjoyable to listen to. Sirius, the satellite provider that's hiring him, is visibly freaked out that such an asset is available at such a price. "All we need is for Howard to bring in a small fraction of his weekly audience for this agreement to pay for itself." Free money, lying by the roadside--there's a surprising amount of it in this world.

- 3:18 pm, October 6 (link)


Four-seam crystal ball

I've buried my MLB playoff picks (like treasure!) in a comment thread over at Matt Welch's site. On an Excel tear, I spent much of the weekend reinventing the long-forgotten wheel that was Bill James' World Series Prediction system--never much more than a toy, but we do now have 20 more years' worth of playoff results to consult. Thanks to the expanded format, that means 89 more series outcomes to go with the 118 James had available in 1984.

Not that too much has changed. The counting statistic that correlates most strongly with playoff success, for example, is still team shutouts--a "useless" stat that, come playoff time, can be used as a thumbnail proxy for first-class, mature frontline pitching. Almost as important, and almost as disregarded generally, are team errors, fewer being better. Since division play was introduced, the team with more shutouts in the regular season is 79-63 in the postseason, and the team with fewer errors is 80-62. These are big edges, almost as big as you'd get from knowing won-loss records. The brute facts about shutout numbers tend, for me, to cast doubt on Brian Gunn's "Who Needs Bob Gibson" argument. Shutouts alone are a better predictor of playoff success than, say, regular-season runs scored and runs allowed combined. If top-to-bottom quality in the rotation could substitute for the disproportionate power of elite starters, we wouldn't expect to reach such a result.

In general, the figures from postseason contests suggest that the day off between the regular season and the start of the division series is a good time to set aside some of the sabermetric orthodoxies. The shutout and error numbers seem to point to a "pitching-'n'-defence" formula that wouldn't work over a 162-game schedule. In the postseason, doubles totals correlate negatively with winning, while triples totals correlate positively with it--more so statistically, in fact, than home runs. This might point to a relative increase in the value of aggressive baserunning relative to raw power. That, I think, is what ex-ballplayers would argue, even though most might not know a spreadsheet from a beaver-shoot.

- 10:18 am, October 5 (link)


Here's last week's Post column about Air Canada and WestJet. Part of it is given over to rebuttal of this column by CAW economist Jim Stanford, so you might consider giving him equal time. I also have to plead mea culpa on a textual issue concerning this column. In the original version I wrote that WestJet was accused of surreptitiously lifting Air Canada "data on seat sales". By "seat sales" I meant "the selling of seats"--passenger loads on different routes and whatnot. An Air Canada pilot wrote me to complain that the phrasing made it sound like WestJet had allegedly poached information that merely concerned special fare offers. I've fixed the mistake here, and I'm sorry if anyone was misled into underestimating the value of what WestJet is said to have taken without permission (though by means I'd still consider to be pretty kosher, ethically).

Be sure to check out Tuesday's Post for my semi-informed thoughts about SpaceShipOne, the Ansari X Prize, and the dead hand of Newton. [UPDATE, Oct. 5: Huh. Wednesday, maybe, then.]

EDMONTON - The Calgary-based discount airline WestJet made its first foray into the United States last week, ferrying 120 beaming Canucks clad in Mickey Mouse ears from Calgary to Los Angeles. I almost called it the "beloved Calgary-based discount airline," but that's not quite right. People heap praise on WestJet -- the families on the first L.A. flight seem to have booked tickets as much for the ride as anything -- but there's a certain set to the jaw, a certain undertone of bloody-mindedness, that is perceptible when they do it. Are they really praising WestJet, or are they perhaps just revelling in the slow-motion comeuppance of Air Canada?

Either way, the goodwill toward the Western upstart still lingers. It's stronger amongst Albertans, though not exclusive to us. When I rode Air Canada to Toronto earlier this month and took WestJet back, I got the distinct feeling I was being eyeballed suspiciously by locals who heard of my travel plans. Was I 50% traitor?

The truth is, all things being equal, I'd probably pay a little more to be relieved of the slightly oppressive comedy stylings of the WestJet flight crews, and, as a morbid connoisseur of aviation accidents, to fly Airbus rather than Boeing. But all things were not equal in my controlled experiment. Air Canada jumped the gun during boarding and left passengers loitering in the jetway for what seemed like hours. In 10 years' time my knees won't be able to tolerate such foolishness. Big Red served one of its Play-Doh-and-roughage inflight meals for free, whereas WestJet was selling excellent sandwiches for cash on the barrel. Even as a consumer-cum-hostage, I'll take good food over free food every time.

I was plunked down near fussing infants on both flights (of course); the Air Canada stews clucked with helpless sympathy, but the chief attendant on the WestJet flight borrowed the child from its grateful mom and used some weird magic -- possibly transdermal heroin? -- to quiet it instantly. I'd have given that woman a kidney right then if she'd asked.

Air Canada, of course, still has fans. Two weeks ago Jim Stanford, an economist for the Canadian Auto Workers, found a perfect occasion to chortle over the temporary misfortunes of non-unionized WestJet in a CAW newsletter. The airline had just finished second in KPMG's annual CEO poll of Canada's most respected corporations. Stanford professed confusion at this, pointing to WestJet's lower profit margins for 2004: WestJet, of course, has never failed to turn a quarterly profit and is reinvesting in route expansion, while Air Canada is swaddled in bankruptcy protection. He accused WestJet, whose employee participation in ownership would plaster a smile on a bust of Marx, of perpetuating "income distribution practices [from] the Industrial Revolution." And he professed mock-indignation over the airline's "corporate espionage" dispute with Air Canada.

That stab was especially priceless, I thought. The lawsuit has put a small dent in WestJet employees' stock options, though the effect is hard to separate from those of high fuel prices and failed experiments on some Eastern routes. If you're determined, you can spin the espionage case as a matter of the little guy suffering from mismanagement at the top. But remember, WestJet is accused of using a former Air Canada employee's password to access and compile private Air Canada data on passenger loads. This may not have been cricket, but I suppose WestJet employee-shareholders would rather see errors made out of hypercompetitiveness rather than carelessness.

And if anyone should be embarrassed here, surely it's the goofballs that haven't learned the rudiments of network security? Air Canada emphasizes stridently that its site was hit a quarter of a million times, possibly by means of data-harvesting software, while the barn door was open. They think this will make WestJet look evil, instead of themselves stupid. In the meantime, they have admitted to hiring private investigators to retrieve and reconstruct shredded documents from the trash of WestJet cofounder Mark Hill, which seems at least as questionable and espionage-y as eyeballing a competitor's intranet when you've happened upon a password.

Stanford did get one thing right: He pointed out that WestJet is "squeezed" on both sides as Air Canada regroups and new regional airlines copy its Southwest-inspired methods. For him, the incessant churn of brands in the aviation business is a morality play depicting the myopic cruelties of capitalism. Perhaps, but even if WestJet folded up tomorrow, the changes it has brought to Canadian travel would remain intact among the new minnow airlines. The middle-class traveller can only, I think, be grateful. (October 4, 2004)

- 1:38 pm, October 4 (link)


The 'your life stinks' issue

It's time for the annual despair elicited by the Maclean's list of the top 100 employers in Canada. "Occasional days off to go skiing"... "Head office has billiard tables"... "Downtown office building houses a brewery". If you'd taken control of your life soon enough, you too could have ended up in a place like this. Of course, as a freelancer, I shouldn't complain. In fact, it's arguable that my employer--number of Canadian employees: 1--should go on this list. Notable perks: Boss has very casual attitude toward workplace dress. Office doubles as nap room. Company's inevitable doom probably not immediate.

Robert Cringely, in the Pulpit at PBS.org, has a profile of another Canadian company, or, rather, a Canadian guy who appears to have set up a cutting-edge "cable provider", without the cable, in his home.

- 5:30 pm, October 3 (link)


"A hamster for Maris, a gorilla for Ichiro": Bill James visits The Hardball Times with some surprising theoretical findings about Ichiro's hit record. -9:10 pm, October 2
World chess championship surprise: Leko, down 2½-1½, throws a curveball with White (1.d4). Kramnik fumbles an endgame and loses the exchange: match tied. -7:20 pm, October 2
Ganbatte kudasai

The temptation to make Ichiro a symbol for his native country is overpowering sometimes; he looks so foreign out there at the plate, with his knock-kneed stance, his non-level swing, his uncanny break towards first, and his strange pre-swing rite of using his bat as a crosshair, as if calibrating himself with respect to the geometry of the playing field. But after tonight he belongs to the world, or that part of it which cares about baseball. In Japan Ichiro is regarded as an individualistic, "American" figure. Few American players can have been as stubborn in resisting interference with their batting style as Ichiro was during his first difficult years in Japanese pro ball. And he had to defy the norms again when he crossed the Pacific with seven Japanese batting titles in tow. The first time erstwhile Mariner manager Lou Piniella saw Ichiro hit, he was suddenly filled with knee-quaking panic that he might have to cut the player Seattle had spent $19 million acquiring. Later he grudgingly conceded--as if Ichiro's success weren't enough of an argument for itself--that Ichiro's style bore a certain resemblance to Ralph Garr's. Gee, how many 260-hit seasons did Garr ring up?

I wonder if Ichiro thinks that the ceremony surrounding tonight's capture of the single-season hit record isn't a very funny sort of Americanism. Long ago I remember reading of a Japanese visitor to the United States being shocked that the living relatives of George Washington, who might have been the American imperial family, enjoyed no special status in the republic and lived anonymously amongst their neighbours. Yet the game tonight was interrupted for a display of nothing less than unvarnished ancestor-worship, as Ichiro exchanged salutes with the daughter and other descendants of George Sisler. I do not disapprove of this one bit, but I am not sure it would have occurred to anybody in, say, the baseball of 1940. Somehow the republican sport par excellence has constantly absorbed ornaments of royalism, whose very premise is that accomplishments can be reified as heirlooms. We hear talk of Ichiro joining the "immortals", and echoes of Cyrus the Great stir. We hear Ichiro called the Hit King, and we are vaguely aware that someone else was once known by that name before bad advisors and a brief palace revolt led to his overthrow. Ichiro came to Seattle, U.S.A. and found in American baseball a world of hierarchy, ritual, deference, dominance, splendour, custom, and oppressively omnipresent history. It was, all in all, an awfully short journey.

Baseball killed my team, and I haven't yet settled on a new favourite, not finally; I'm not sure I ever will. I find myself watching the playoff races in fragmented fashion, pulling for the A's over here, the Red Sox over there, cheering on the Expos' former contraction partner in Minnesota, hoping like everyone else for calamity to befall the Yankees. I'm pretty sure who my favourite player is, though. How can you not pull for the slender, solemn Ichiro, who got 258 hits in a season and did it with one bat? As much as I am rooted in the sabermetric generation whose taste for homers and walks has helped remodel the game--though not as much as Creatine and postmodern bandbox parks have--my sympathy for the dissenter and the eccentric run much deeper. Ichiro is so far removed from the baseball era to which he seems to belong, he might as well be wearing spats on his cleats.

At the postgame press conference tonight he gave, through his translator, a brief, mildly defiant manifesto for his way of doing business. I was especially interested to see him profess continuing confusion with the English concept, largely untranslatable into other languages, of having "fun" on the field. "Does it mean smiling or laughing? Making a joke of things?" We native speakers know what a coach means when he says "have fun out there", and that they all say it incessantly, but how would you break that concept into components so you could define it for a foreigner? The antonym of "fun" is usually "seriousness", and you can tell from Ichiro's comments that this antithesis is the only way he has to get a handle on this ubiquitous, infuriating, aethereal substance, "fun". How do you explain that "having fun" in the context of a craft doesn't necessarily mean not going about it "seriously"? I doubt it would even occur to most major-league managers or coaches that there's a linguistic impasse there.

What was most impressive about the press conference were Ichiro's thoughts on the foundations of athletics. Knowing your body and its limits, he said, are more important than expanding either. Power flows from balance, not overwhelming size. (His bat is not a good argument for this; his throws from right field are.) He noted that he wants to demonstrate to young players that you don't have to "get big" to be great. We didn't need a second translator to figure out what he really meant. It was a sudden, sharp poke in a couple hundred eyes. But in fairness to the game and its burly Lumpenproletariat, any coach who advised a young left-handed player with 11.1-second times in the hundred-yard dash to "get big" would be run out of baseball, even in this sunset of steroids. The Mariners correctly deduced--or benefited blindly from the truth--that Ichiro's skills would translate well wherever the bases were 90 feet apart. His hit record affirms that baseball has wisely resisted the genetic specialization so prominent in other sports, and retained a tactical diversity that makes of every game and at-bat a philosophical as well as physical contest. Ichiro has made a very convincing case, in a short time, operating from a lonely, archaic position.

One must nod to Vancouver's Tyee for spotting an underappreciated angle to the Hit King Ichiro story. Amidst the welcome revival of George Sisler's image, the man in second place on the single-season hit list, Lefty O'Doul, has mostly been forgotten. As it happens, O'Doul is a 2002 inductee into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and played a crucial role in the historical developments of which Ichiro is the apotheosis. (He has even been called the "Father of Japanese Baseball", though I'm not sure anyone ever said it in Japanese.) I'll let the Tyee's Tom Hawthorn explain the details.

- 2:05 am, October 2 (link)