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Parental advisory: explicit lyrics.

Pencilled out

It's official: Ron MacLean (discussed below) is out the door at "Hockey Night in Canada". Hey, maybe they'll hire Dave Hodge to replace him!

- 9:04 pm, September 30 (link)

Why we fight?

Bourque links this morning to a Canadian Press story about the readiness of Canadian soldiers to fight in Iraq.

"There's no doubt in my mind if the second battle in this campaign against terrorism arises -- as I'm sure it will somewhere, sometime -- that we will have troops standing shoulder to shoulder saying goodbye to their families and lining up to do it," Lt.-Col. Pat Stogran, who led Canada's 850-member battalion for six months in Afghanistan, said in an interview.

"The strange irony is if it's really routine, humdrum like Bosnia or an exercise, the troops aren't interested in it," he said. But in the Afghanistan campaign "there was a perceived risk, an element of danger ... and troops were crawling over themselves ... to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida."

I don't wish to mock the colonel, whose troops acquitted themselves well in Afghanistan. But I'm flabbergasted to hear he thinks it strange that soldiers prefer fighting to social engineering. Is the officer hierarchy really so out of touch with its men? Ahhh, the question answers itself.

The welfare state tends, eternally, to turn every public institution into a welfare agency. This is a problem for those who don't want to work for welfare agencies. Young men and women join the army in good faith, expecting to be able to use hard-won fighting skills. What they learn, serving their turn as "peacekeepers", is that they are expected to live up to the part of the contract which says "You will enter into harm's way when we ask you to," and there is no reciprocal obligation upon the state to guarantee that the soldiers will be allowed to defend themselves, or do their jobs, or that they will be used to promote any policy end other than "enhancing Canada's prestige abroad." (Translation: "enhancing the prestige of Liberal Canadian politicians abroad.")

The lives of our soldiers in Yugoslavia did not, in fact, lack for any "element of danger". This is poorly understood by most civilians. I don't know what the colonel's excuse is for perpetuating the idea. He seems to be saying that soldiers like danger for its own sake.

- 4:10 pm, September 30 (link)

Morning after

I suppose I should also say something about spending Saturday night at the bar with the Tumbleweed and her better half or significant other or whatever the hell these crazy kids call it. She wrote on Sunday (permalinks don't work, of course):

I've been sporting one hell of a hangover all day. I spent the day alternating between loafing and clutching my stomach. My guts have been muttering, we've got a score to settle. Now the headache has set in. Last night was a good one.

Sure, you had a rough day, lady, but at least you didn't have to oversee the decline of an empire.

It's a relief that I wasn't the only one who ended up in a wretched condition, anyway. I did the sensible thing and barfed when I got home, although I suppose technically "the sensible thing" involves actually hitting the bowl of the toilet.

What I can remember of the evening was terrific. Oh my God, I don't remember settling the bill... holy shitting Jesus, I hope I didn't stick Mr. and Mrs. Tumbleweed with the check. Oh fuck. If we just ran out on it and stiffed the waitress, that's no problem at all. But I drank so much that if the Weeds paid for it, they won't be able to eat for the next week. Oh, this is horrible. My soul is gnawing at me. I'm an idiot!

Anyway, what can I tell you. When journalists get together the result is always reams of shop talk, and if I tried to relate any of it to you, you'd be sickened by our collective self-involvement. The Tumbleweed is as charming as ever, and the boyfriend is an intelligent, genteel guy who's travelled all over hell's half-acre. CANDOUR ALERT: when she told me he was coming along, I got that clammy feeling like, you know, "Jesus... what if he's a dickhead?" There's no telling: excellent women just sometimes end up dating total dickheads, and it fucking ruins everything. "Man, I'd sure like to go to the funny-car races with Sally this weekend, but she'll probably want to bring TOM along. Cuh, what a pain in the ass. Sorry, can't be fucking bothered." You end up just striking these girls out of your social calendar, consigning them to their private hell of witless, filthy offspring and late-night treks to women's shelters. But the Tumbleweed made a good choice; she's still socially viable. I'm pretty relieved. Get well soon, T.

- 2:00 am, September 30 (link)


Oh dear. I don't suppose I can avoid discussing the outcome of tonight's Diplomacy game, can I?

It was a five-hander with Report production coordinator Dave Stevens, its webmaster Kevin Steel, CTF Alberta director John Carpay, and a Czech-born postal worker named John Novotny, to whom I have no known way to link but who seems very nice. They drew France, Turkey, England, and Russia respectively.

This left me with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Normally one is perfectly happy to play Austria in a five-hander, with open invasion routes to neutral Germany and Italy. Par-TAY! But on this day everything turned to shit immediately. First of all, the two Johns are chums and were able to weld into an unbreakable alliance instantly. Question: if Russia doesn't have to worry about its backdoor in Scandinavia because it trusts England, whom does it go after?

It goes after Turkey, the sick man of Europe. And here's the second thing that went wrong: Turkey was sicker than usual. Not fully realizing that Russia was a rookie player, the Sublime Porte made an extremely haphazard offer to demilitarize the Black Sea. I believe the text was "Let's do the, you know, the thing, OK?" Russia didn't understand and was shrewd enough not to pretend to. Result: Russia was able to pin down Turkey with a single unopposed Black Sea fleet and send hordes of smelly Tsarist footsoldiers straight down my throat.

England finished off France in about five years--the president of the Republic, Dave, couldn't write an order correctly to save his life on this night--and had grown into a gargantuan sea power, making matters far worse. Russia, animated by a mysterious and abiding hatred of the Hapsburgs, ignored the increasing power imbalance and continued its frenzied campaign to turn Budapest and Vienna into brick dust and kindling. No amount of backpedalling, pleading, or gesticulation could convince the Tsar to lay off and guard his northern frontiers. (Diplomacy my ASS.) When England finally began to undertake daring sea adventures in the region of Norway and Denmark, Russia had no way to respond. Soon British admirals were having high tea in St. Petersburg.

When the proceedings finally closed (after Fall 1910), England was quite close to the game's victory condition, and Turkey, Austria, and Russia had welded into a terribly distasteful sauve-qui-peut coalition. The final rounds suggested that England could have been stopped, with close cooperation and accurate play, and that would have made the game anybody's to win--even mine. We shall never know: the events herein related took ten hours and everyone had had a bellyful of Diplomacy. For most of the game I was caught in a typically frustrating Austrian condition of having to oscillate between four and five units and file long sequences of automatic defensive moves. It was the least fun it is possible to have in a game of Diplomacy, which means that it was still quite a lot of fun.

- 1:23 am, September 30 (link)

From dipsomania to Diplomacy

Through sheer foolishness, I seem to have arranged my weekend such that Saturday night's drinking segues directly into a Sunday afternoon game of Diplomacy.

What is Diplomacy, you ask? Here is one good answer. When Diplomacy is mentioned people who have seen it invariably go "Oh, isn't that like Risk?" Well, it's a board game played on a map, and you do move armies about on it, but Diplomacy is Risk for adults. There are no dice in Diplomacy, and the element of chance is vanishingly small. Unlike other adult board games, though (ALIEN PANZER DUEL FIVE: ROBERT E. LEE'S ZOMBIE ARMADA), it can be learned without recourse to a folio of rules with the mass to disable a moose. Lying, psychological manipulation, intimidation, and blackmail are all permitted; in fact there is nothing in the spirit of the rules, particularly, which would suggest that threats of real violence are not allowed.

The essence of the game, in which each player represents a great European power in the year 1901, is that you can't win solely through your own effort. Meaning that you must, in principle, swindle somebody into helping you to victory. It is a mere marketing convenience that the game is played on a map of Europe, but you do get scenarios which are frightening in their similarity to real history, and others which are amusingly counterfactual--Turkish navies sailing triumphantly up the Thames, that sort of thing.

Unfortunately success today seems improbable, as I am hung over, and as the winner of the previous game I might as well be wearing a "HUMAN TARGET" T-shirt to the festivities. (For the Dip fans out there, I was playing France in a five-hander--which isn't exactly as hard as solving a Rubik's Cube in zero-g, to say the least.) Even though I succeeded with a mere modicum of betrayal and no lying that I can remember, I expect to be treated the way Napoleon was in his latter days: as an Enemy of Mankind.

- 12:13 pm, September 29 (link)

MacLean's magazine

It's usually pretty funny when a celebrity ups the ante in a contract negotiation by taking his story to the newspapers. But Hockey Night in Canada is serious business. Host Ron MacLean, it seems, has been betrayed by CBC bean-counters and is phoning every number in his Rolodex. You can read the Globe's version or the Star's.

(For foreign readers, here's a USA Today column on the indispensability of HNIC. Imagine a sports show with roughly twice the cultural importance of Monday Night Football.)

MacLean emerged from Albertan obscurity in 1986 and inside of a decade had bagged one of the most important weekly jobs in Canadian television, maybe the most important. This doesn't happen often, and with good reason. Television broadcasting is a craft yoked to a genetic lottery. There are some people with the wit and knowledge to perform well on TV; and there are plenty of people who are, basically, presentable enough to have hosting duties; and there are some people who are calm and organized enough to do it. But on the big Venn diagram, those circles don't have a terribly large intersection, and there are still many pitfalls which can drop you out of the running (a taste for drink, say, or an abiding love of some more meaningful vocation). Television works best when producers relent on one aspect or the other, but the medium seems to have gotten less courageous with time: Howard Cosell wouldn't be allowed near a studio today.

Ron MacLean is very much beloved, I think, of Canadian hockey fans. We think of him in his main duty, which is to provide a foil for Don Cherry on "Coach's Corner". But the really great thing about MacLean is that he has ideas of his own--he's no punching bag. Most of the time, when he's sitting next to Cherry or an interview subject, he looks harmless like a chipmunk. But sometimes you get that MacLean moment where a sudden look of impatience or annoyance or pure suppressed outrage crosses his face, and before you know it, holy shit, the chipmunk is kicking that guy's ass. During the playoffs MacLean did an interview with the president of the league, Gary Bettman... MacLean, who has the unique and crucial job qualification of being an expert amateur hockey referee, had just spent about a week continually savaging the league's confusing, ever-changing instructions to its in-game officials. One wondered beforehand if it was going to come up between the two of them. MacLean got right in Bettman's face with it on the first question, and within seconds these guys were literally yelling at each other on the air. Sports television never gets this compelling. On its own merits it was great TV, and for Canadians, who worry chronically that changes meant to "market the game" to ignorant Americans are going to interfere with the integrity of hockey, it was transcendent.

The people who could possibly replace MacLean are mostly windbags or blow-dried phonies. (I think Kelly Hrudey's terrific, but it's hard to imagine him coping with Cherry.) Yet you can't really blame the CBC for taking a tough line in negotiations; they are managing a tax-funded budget, a public trust. It's a real problem in any commercial hierarchy, trying to hold on to a talented employee who shot directly to the best job on offer. As the Globe notes, the only possible non-monetary bone the network could throw MacLean would be to let him take over the prime-time chair on the Olympics broadcast--but pushing Brian Williams out of that job is as unthinkable as "Coach's Corner" without MacLean. It seems to have become a biennial tradition for Americans living near the border to switch off the U.S. networks in disgust and flip to the Williams-manned CBC coverage.

- 6:16 am, September 28 (link)

Twisted metal

I don't know if I've mentioned that I live on Auto Accident Alley here in Edmonton. A fairly major four-lane highway runs north-south past my door, and the crossing street gets a great deal of traffic. However, the shoulders of the intersection are crowded with parked cars, and there's no left-turning lane where the big road meets it. So at least once a week I hear the inimitable crump of two cars kissing, just a few yards from where I'm sitting. In fact, that particular noise just awakened me at 4 a.m. Relatively new cars, from the sound--there was very little of the bright iron overtone you get from older ones.

This is not to say I wouldn't be familiar with the sound anyway, even if I didn't live at a bad intersection. I grew up out in the country, so I always had to do a lot of driving or riding in cars to socialize or shop; even after we moved to the city, we lived in a remote suburb. Edmonton is fantastically spread out, even by the standards of a city of the plain. The corporate limits cover at least a thousand square miles.

Under these circumstances, car crashes become familiar almost to the point of tedium. Once, when I was 22 or so, my mother was telling me how "unlucky" my aunt was because she'd been in four auto accidents. Nonplussed, I did a quick count. "Well, gee, mom," I said, "I've been in seven myself." The number's gone up by one or two since then. An ambulance has only been necessary for two of these, fortunately, and the worst injury I've suffered was a sharpish blow to the head that made my right ear bleed.

Most of these accidents were not my fault--in fact, I wasn't behind the wheel for the majority of them. But a couple of them were, and I've had enough near-misses to realize that I was once a pretty bad driver, and I'm probably still not terribly good. Few people will admit to such a thing. I'm fairly aggressive behind the wheel, but that's the not the problem; I'm much more dangerous, in fact, when I'm tooling along absent-mindedly with no particular place to be.

It's been a long time since I caused any especial havoc on the road, and just at the moment I am not driving at all; encouraged by insurers, and by a justice system to which I owe various administrative fees, I decided to mothball my wheels in an effort to live more cheaply. I've heard arguments from time to time, even from people otherwise well-disposed to the free market, in favour of "no-fault" auto insurance systems like those existing on either side of Alberta (in B.C. and Saskatchewan). As a worse-than-average driver, however, I am convinced that market pricing of auto insurance is a good thing. At my most haphazard, my insurance rates were over $3,800 (Canadian) a year. This was more than I was paying in rent at the time, but it was more or less fair--just as it's more or less fair now that, as an older and wiser man with a clean recent abstract, I should pay closer to $800/yr. There's no right to insurance at any particular price. However strongly we may all wish to drive, there are some people who just shouldn't be on the road, and we cannot, in principle, do a better job of identifying them and discouraging them than by means of a competitive actuarial market.

- 4:34 am, September 28 (link)

Home brew only

Sorry about the site being down earlier. I called my web host and they said there'd been an electrical problem in their building, so they had to shut everything down and reboot. My official review of Tera-Byte, if anyone's interested, is that they're by no means perfect, but they're nearly so, plus they're friendly and they answer support inquiries around the clock. If they screw you, you'll be able to talk to a person about it.

The Two Blowhards compare me to Andrew Sullivan "in terms of sheer volume". Excellent! But remember, is created entirely without artificial steroidal or hormonal assistance. I'm really feeling the locker-room pressure to switch from Wild Turkey to Androgel, though. If you ever see me on a hotel balcony raising my fists to the sky and shouting "I AM A GOLDEN GOD!", you'll know I've crossed over.

See, there you go--I already feel bad about poking fun at Sullivan; it puts you on the side of the creeps who think he's a trivial poseur, or a fascist, plus it's not like he's at the head of an army of party-line followers. What strikes you about his weblog is the touching nakedness of it, and the occasional hissy fit or tortured, self-interested argument goes along with that. As an artist he's creating a valuable portrait of intellectual work and lifestyle. The medium is the message.

- 5:39 pm, September 27 (link)

Hail to the King

A friend points out most helpfully that Florence King, the greatest living American, took on the Pledge of Allegiance issue in late July.

If you danced to the Pledge, "under God" would make you miss a step.

- 2:34 am, September 27 (link)

Not to be taken internally

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN TIRESOME BLOGOSPHERE BACKSCRATCHING. I broke 20,000 hits since August 1 sometime today. Thanks and an Ozzy Osbourne "We love you" to everybody. Especially Instapundit, who has to be responsible for about half of those hits. For a graphical, and also comical, view of Instapower's sheer magnitude, take a look at this chart of my daily hits. Can you guess which day I got the thunderbolt? No, it's not a trick question.

Anyway, if you look at the most recent Instantman link to me, you'll see that Glenn actually spotted the entry via Jim Henley's weblog, so I owe Jim a big vote of thanks--he's been pouring on the traffic, himself, like Tabasco on jambalaya, too. I heartily endorse his piss-take of the bafflingly esteemed Greil Marcus.

Don't you think, reading Greil Marcus, that he decided when he was about five that he had a personal mission to exsanguinate the joy out of rock music by means of adjectives? He's been eighty times more destructive, by means of pretension and general bogosity, than any jowly Southron senator who ever drawled a fatwa against the Devil's Music. I personally don't give a rat's pecker for the music of Warren Zevon, but for "ah-wooo!" alone he deserves better than Marcus's half-assed cascade of verbal tinsel.

Anyway, to take the backscratching to its final stopping point, Henley found out about my site from Kelly Torrance, who apparently urged it on him at some Washington social function. (I knew I'd picked the right advance agent.) So, oddly, Instantman's 2,800 or so hits came my way thanks to someone whose own brand-new site probably hasn't had a fifth of that traffic in total. INTERWEB = WEIRD.

- 1:31 am, September 27 (link)

It out-Herods Herod

In case you were wondering what kind of newsroom we run here: our "production coordinator" (translation: guy who knows his way around a Mac) is, as I write this, in a nearby office assembling a surf-rock version of "King Herod's Song" from Jesus Christ Superstar.

So you are the Christ, you're the great Jesus Christ!
Prove to me that you're divine! Change my water into wine!

He's not doing it for Jesus especially--he did the same vaguely rapelike surf-rock thing to one of the numbers from American Graffiti a while back. I think it would be more accurate to say that his religion is surf rock that it would be to say that his religion is Christianity. Sometimes, when the magazine needs a filler ad, we drop in a one-column pitch for his record company. He is the robo-human relations coordinator for The Capacitors.

If you are not awfully impressed that digital technology allows a Canadian magazine designer to use his spare time to run a record label selling Italian surf rock, then I feel sorry for you.

[UPDATE, 6:38 a.m., September 28: Actually it turns out Dave is adapting "Pilate and Christ", not "King Herod's Song", which kind of ruins my headline, doesn't it? Bastard.]

- 12:38 am, September 27 (link)


You remember Steve Martin jumping up and down in The Jerk, shouting "The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!"? I'm like that with post-censal population estimates, man.

You'll notice that Alberta has over 3.1 million people and Saskatchewan about one million. On the eve of the Great Depression, after the wave of immigration that peopled the prairies, Saskatchewan had a much, much larger population than Alberta. Saskatchewan, not Alberta, was the future of Canada. But in the 1930s and '40s, Alberta and Saskatchewan chose diametrically opposite paths. Saskatchewan adopted socialism, taking the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (today's New Democratic Party) as its ugly bride. Alberta elected a weird, millenarian-evangelical, quasi-fascist monetary cult called Social Credit, but the party purged itself in fairly short order and became a model of dry, managerial-state conservatism.

This mysterious divergence changed Canadian history. The origins of both the CCF and Social Credit were Protestant evangelical; Tommy Douglas, the patron saint of Canadian socialism, was a Baptist minister. Social Credit came to power because its first leader, William Aberhart, was the most popular radio speaker in the West: he hosted the "Back to the Bible Hour". The second Socred premier, E.C. Manning, ran the province for more than 25 years--and hosted the "Back to the Bible Hour" on Sundays throughout his whole administration.

So what the hell happened? By the 1960s, Saskatchewan was Confederation's laboratory and spiritual home for socialism; next door, E.C. Manning was easily socialism's loudest critic within Canada. How did two radical movements with similar goals and similar religious origins essentially transmute into opposites?

I don't know. And that's not a casual "I don't know"--it's a baffled, despairing "I don't know". As a historian and researcher, I've studied this stuff, but I've never been able to find a convincing reason for the Great Schism between the provinces. Yet this question is not academic to me: my parents were both born and raised in Saskatchewan, and yet here we all are in Alberta. Saskatchewan, once Alberta's bigger, more vibrant elder brother, systematically self-depopulated: I'm the child of two of the refugees. And moreover, I have "Albertan" attitudes about policy and economics--yet my Saskatchewan grandmother kept a picture of Tommy Douglas on her wall, in the place many homes reserve for Christ or the Queen.

Of course, oil was discovered in Alberta in 1947, and that has hastened the westward exodus. This counts--but the few holdouts in Saskatchewan offer it as a global explanation, and that won't wash. Saskatchewan has potash, and has, or had, uranium; but those industries just never turned into the business incubators that oil and gas did here. More importantly, the policy split happened before any of these resources began to be exploited seriously.

Anyway, I take it as read that Saskatchewan emptied out into Alberta because Alberta chose, or at any rate got, good government, and Saskatchewan didn't. The great mystery, to me, is why. What butterfly wingflap determined the prairies' centre of gravity?

- 12:43 pm, September 26 (link)

Potshots, continued

Sam Mikes has answered back on marijuana. What a pleasant, intelligent fellow he seems. I'm basically a professional polemicist, and even so it's a real effort for me to write in a tone 10% as calm and respectful as he does. Not that I usually bother.

The one point I'll address, since we're reaching the limits of anyone else's possible interest in this particular argument, is this:

These are some of the conservative objections. Perhaps they sound shallow, but it's the conservative's job to stand around saying "No! No! No! Don't do that!" to social change, even if the justification turns out to just be "We fear change."

Now, I'm not a conservative, and I'm not entirely sure, to be honest, that more than three or four people in the whole of Canada would both merit and desire the label. But I will point out that one "conservative" view would be that we have had a regime of permanent revolution in Canada since about the First World War. The conservative generally wishes undo as much of this work as possible; it's all a question of what particular year you want to turn the clock back to.

As I pointed out in my original entry on the subject, laws against opiates and cannabis are the work of the progressive-liberal regime. Self-medication was wholly acceptable to 19th-century people, though this is partly because there was often no alternative. Any true, hardcore conservative would be happy to return us to the world of mail-order laudanum. (And, in fact, the return to such a world is happening, and is inevitable.)

I should stop here, but what the hell... the original justifications for these laws were essentially that the proscribed drugs were instruments of what was then called "white slavery." They were objectionable handmaidens of the "lesser races". Portraits of razor-wielding "Negroes" and sinister "Chinamen" were painstakingly painted, and the public was then of a mind to believe them. I know this because I've done loads of primary-source research on that period; nobody that I know of has written in detail about the gobsmacking ignorance which provided the impetus for these changes (or contemporary ones like Social Credit, disarmament conferences, Prohibition, etc., etc.). There is no doubt in my mind that the First World War lowered the mean IQ of the public in Western countries by a good 20 points. Next time you're in a library, compare newspaper stories and advertisements from 1925 to those from 1910. What I've just said should be obvious to you within 15 minutes.

Somehow the pretexts for the laws changed many times in the intervening years--but the laws themselves never changed. How can people not realize how weird that is? There's always something--some shred of research, some pulled-out-of-somebody's-ass argument--that prevents us from just making the stuff legal. 20 years from now, I'm sure, the drug warriors will have rock-solid evidence that marijuana promotes tooth decay and causes vertigo amongst the lunar colonists. At some point, you have to say "Shut up already: your story changes every generation. We're tired of hearing it."

My personal acquaintance with marijuana, in case you're wondering, is extremely slender. The person depicted in the top right corner of this page may appear to be a substance-befuddled roué, but I honestly wouldn't know where to get a baggie of grass if I wanted one.

- 3:58 am, September 26 (link)

Angels in (North) America

Finally, someone has a not entirely positive comment about my angel piece. This is almost a relief, to be honest. Lott thinks it's funny that I'd spend time thinking seriously about religion, in its comparative and cultural aspects. Personally, I think the fact that he finds it funny is even funnier.

- 2:48 am, September 26 (link)

9, 10, 11...63

VANCOUVER (CP) - The Canadian Criminal Code aided and abetted the murders of 11 women who disappeared from the Downtown Eastside, says the member of Parliament for the area. Libby Davies said Wednesday the criminalization of drug addiction and the sex trade marginalized the women and put them at risk.

It's 11 just at the moment, of course: the total number of hookers known missing in Vancouver is 63, and forensics experts are painstakingly combing Robert Pickton's pig farm for ground-up remains.

Libby Davies is a New Democrat Member of Parliament, and you all know how I feel about New Democrats. But in this case, Davies is unarguably right and has something important to say to us. It is not reasonable to think that drugs and sex for pay would come entirely aboveground just because they were legalized; nonetheless, it is true by definition that people lose the protection of the law when they are outlawed for victimless crimes. When hookers go missing from a legal brothel in Nevada, they're missed, if only they're business assets on a balance sheet. Action would be taken long before some hog farmer did away with 63 of them.

Davies cites "discrimination", but the CP story isn't clear on what kind of discrimination she means. If she wants to turn mass murder into a gender issue, well, we'll part company. To say it was about class would be closer to the truth: if you set out to kill 63 woman lawyers, the whole country would be in lockdown before you got ten percent of the way.

There's a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue here: some women certainly go into the sex trade partly because it is a way for them to live outside the law. We're always going to have people who just don't want to get a diploma or file income tax returns. But the more onerous the reciprocal interaction between the law and society, the greater is the temptation to leap between the binary categories of "within the law" and "outside the law". This is what Western countries learned when they experimented with Prohibition: people do not conform to the law because the law is a holy and terrible God to which their souls are eternally bent. Conformity to the law, like anything else, is a package of incentives: if the perceived benefits outweigh the costs, people will change sides. If enough people change sides, the law's monopoly on violence is threatened, and when that happens, what you have is a state of low-level civil war.

In fact, all societies are continually in a state of low-level civil war. The law competes, capitalist-fashion, with its alternative, anarchy and the rule of open force. To the degree to which law mimics the rule of force--that is, to the degree to which the law becomes oppressive, subjective, and unequal in application--it loses its social advantage and discredits itself.

The demimonde in Vancouver is now large enough to accommodate some rather ravenous appetites. This is a very serious indictment of the other "half" in which most of us, mostly, dwell.

- 2:08 am, September 26 (link)

Reporting on the reporting about the Report

Those engrossed in the continuing travails of the Report will not want to miss Brian Hutchinson's typically excellent view of the chaos from today's National Post. The one inaccuracy, I think, is where Hutch says that "debts began to mount" in the 1990s. In my time, the magazine has been run, day to day, out of its operating revenues: it had no line of credit and no hope of getting one anywhere. It spent some of the cash infusion provided by the investors, John Scrymgeour and Don Graves, but that's not "debt" per se. They were the majority owners of the asset, and while they expected (and, to some extent, got) a return on their investment, this wasn't in any real sense interest-bearing indebtedness to them. The magazine was, until yesterday morning, theirs: it makes no sense to say that the "magazine owed them money" any more than it makes sense for you to say "my car owes me money."

And let it be said that Messrs. Scrymgeour and Graves are getting out of the quagmire with two fairly strong assets: the future revenue from the history book series, and, unless I'm mistaken, the building in which the magazine and the book are produced. There are, no doubt, quirks and quibbles I'm unaware of in this situation. I am speculating when I say this, but the present value of the books and the building, put together, should be greater than any amount S&G ever kicked in. If this is inaccurate, I invite those with a clearer view of the situation to correct me.

(And I don't wish to demean their contributions or their patience by any means--merely to remind readers that S&G are whip-smart businessmen, not saps. If either of them should ever happen to read this, I want them to know I am profoundly grateful for their help to the magazine. Not only did they keep it alive, but they were absolute models of non-interference with the editorial process.)

If you'd rather read something out of the pages of the Report, try Link Byfield's latest column. It's his answer to Ottawa's flirtation with the Kyoto Protocol--"Please, God, send us back Gabriel Dumont". Don't know who Gabriel Dumont is? There's some background here which sells him short: Dumont was not just an "able" commander, but one whose name belongs in our military history alongside Brock and Currie. But you should really read George Woodcock's biography Gabriel Dumont to get the full effect.

(And while I'm on this thread, Woodcock himself is an underappreciated Canadian figure, a close friend of George Orwell whose book Anarchism is probably the finest general historical textbook on that subject.)

- 5:48 pm, September 25 (link)

NL, not ND

A reader from Manitoba writes to complain (mildly) that the new orange colour of the sidebar at left reminds him, unpleasantly, of the New Democratic Party (that's Canada's moribund democratic socialist movement, which has never come close to winning a federal election but has often governed individual provinces, invariably to their chagrin). I had no idea the colour would have such a connotation, because the federal NDP is invisible in Alberta and the provincial ones wisely use different motifs from their national cousins.

If anyone's fooled into thinking this is a Canadian socialist website, they won't be fooled for long. I associate different things with colour orange--it makes me think of Holland, a country I've never visited and have no ethnic ties to, but one I admire to a quite absurd degree. Its polders are a symbol of the triumph of ingenuity over nature; it was Europe's school par excellence of peaceable bourgeois resplendence; it gave to the world Vermeer and Rembrandt and Breughel and van Dyck, among others, which would be an astonishing legacy to civilization for even the largest country. In 1688, when Britain had need of a citizen king to cement a new order of parliamentary democracy and individual liberty, Holland supplied one. Orange is the signifying colour of England's Protestant Settlement, and while I'm no Orangeman, the ultimate value of that event to European civilization cannot possibly be overstated; its ripple effects run through the French Revolution and the Second World War and continue today.

A thorough account of the Dutch genius, historical and contemporary, would keep you and I here all day. I hope one may suggest that nations have personalities without being thought racist. The Dutch personality is, in many respects, overwhelmingly attractive. If I couldn't be me, I'd be very content to be Dutch.

- 4:33 pm, September 25 (link)

Irresponsible dilettantish religious speculation: it works!

Thanks to Instantman, my recent entry on angels in popular culture has become possibly the most popular thing I've written in my entire life. You guys know I'm an atheist, right? I couldn't believe how many Christians were glad to read my offhand remarks. It's very kind of you all to not simply write in to say, "This stuff's none of your beeswax, you unscrubbed heathen imbecile."

Supreme pride of place goes to Kathy Shaidle, as always: her brief comment is meant to be positive, I think. Maybe. Incidentally, K.S., Christopher Hitchens did testify in the canonization casus of Mother Teresa, and was deeply impressed by the seriousness, nay, deference with which he was treated. Although it would take antipersonnel rockets to stop them from canonizing her, truth be told.

Peter Frank, a fellow editor, had this to say:

You hit the nail on the head.
The problem is that most of us in the Christian subculture are so starved for what we feel are positive portrayals in the broader society we live in that we don't even whimper when someone does something that makes Christianity look nice instead of gay bashing/woman hating/weird.

Working at a publication with a conservative mandate, I could hardly miss that particular nail, Peter. You are much too kind. Faisal Jawdat (gotta be Lutheran, am I right?) adds a datum:

it's worth noting that angels as originally described were not people with a couple feather wings and a halo, they were seriously scary. Multiple faces. Big scary swords.

Which reminds me... this gives me a chance to recommend Patrick Farley's whimsical (but not disrepectful!) take on angels and other celestial beings in the remarkable Japanime-inspired online comic Apocamon. There is lots to enjoy at Farley's site. I particularly recommend his classic The Guy I Almost Was.

David Paglia writes, with considerably more authority than I:

As an ex-Catholic (and therefore having recieved a bigger dose of Christian religious mythology as a kid than most), [Touched by an Angel] has always reminded me of something that a practicing Satanist might produce for the purposes of black propaganda. I never found anything redeeming in that show and only the great love (and greater fear) I bear for my lovely Significant Other could keep the screams of, "But angels don't have free will! She can't do that!" and, "Since when are angels allowed to commit mortal sins?!" bottled up.
The thing that really broke it loose was this one episode... if my scarred memory serves, it was Christmas and this kid was depressed because his dad had committed suicide with a shotgun out in the horse barn or some damn fool thing. Whatsername goes to soothe the kid's grief by bringing his dad's ghost back for a visit.
Man, I broke. Stood up and started yelling, "HI, SON! Don't be depressed! I love you, even though i'm down here in Hell for having committed the mortal sin of suicide! And this nice angel was kind enough to show you my eternal suffering! So cheer up already..."
Of course, the best comment on things angelic came from the movie, "The Prophesy" (Christopher Walken as an angel gone bad: you must see this one!):
"Have you ever noticed that, in the Bible, angels are never shown healing people or getting cats out of trees? Whenever you see an angel, it's always smiting something..."

Well, smiting's damn addictive. Incidentally, David is extremely startled that someone else has read The Five Fingers. I'm telling you, man, there's a whole cult around this book. One of the work buddies who recommended it was a hardcore Maoist; I think the book must have confirmed all his most paranoid suspicions about the Nixon administration, or something. There's one scene, near the end, where Rivers and Master Sergeant Prather accidentally crawl into an ambush (complete with snipers in overhanging tree branches), and have to remain immobile while they figure a way out of it. Prather, the super-stoic Sandhurst-type Englishman, starts shifting his eyes back and forth wildly and sticking his tongue out. Rivers, the narrator, thinks he's gone bananas, but then he realizes Prather is trying to point out enemies with his tongue. For a while there, tongue-pointing became a running gag in the office.

- 3:40 am, September 25 (link)

Nine innings of inside baseball

What a strange day. I am sorry I couldn't write until now. I will tell you all about it, but I think I must start with my brief visit to the office at about 3 p.m., when I sat at my desk and noticed that my hit counter here had gone from about 16,500 to over 19,000. Shurely shome mishtake? I clicked on the counter to access the details of my stats, but Sitemeter was down with a 500 error.

Now I have a new standard in visions of Hell. If you are excessively bad in this life, you are sent to a level of black Dis in which your website counter is ticking over like a crooked taxicab meter and you can't access the fucking referrer logs. Naturally, a quick check of Instapundit solved the mystery. (They say a watched pot never boils, and similarly, Instapundit traffic is far more likely to flow your way on a day when you're tied up with deadly serious business matters, and cannot update your site.)

So where was I all day? Well, for those who care, we were working on a radical restructuring of the Report magazine, for which I work. It is Canada's only serious and semi-esteemed conservative publication (or should that be esteemed and semi-serious?). The news was formally announced tonight at a packed reception in a rebuilt airplane hangar. Perhaps a brief explanation is in order: the magazine has existed for 29 years and has been profitable, on its own hook, for about four of those. It hasn't had too much luck expanding outside its home base of Alberta. It has gone bankrupt, and had to raise money from new investors, five or six times over. These investors have generally turned into unwitting contributors in fairly short order. At times the magazine has been propped up by side projects--once it was saved by a postal strike, during which it ran its own (highly lucrative) crosstown Emergency Postal Service out of employees' cars. More recently, we spun off a highly successful Alberta history book series (described briefly on my "about me" page) whose profits have cancelled out the magazine's losses. But the series is ending, and the current majority owners do not want to throw more money after the losing proposition at the company's core.

No magazine with 43,000 subscribers paying $80 or so a year should be a losing proposition, you may say, but net ad sales have dwindled from nearly a million dollars per annum ten years ago to a figure scraping uncomfortably close to $100,000 now. For the magazine, that is the difference between happiness and tragedy, and the men at the top are convinced that we're never going to get back to a million a year, mainly because of anti-conservative prejudice by national advertisers (although things suck right now for ad sellers generally, it must be said).

The proposed answer, enacted officially this morning, is to place the magazine under the control of a non-profit foundation. Since most if not all American conservative magazines have backing from trusts and foundations, this seems like a reasonable move. The move to a foundation may mean substantial changes in the style, look, and mandate of the magazine. It may go from a fortnightly to a monthly, but our publisher has promised to move heaven and earth to avoid layoffs. (I believe he is in earnest, because he is well known to hate laying people off the way the Taliban hate Barbie dolls.) For the editorial working stiff, there is a possible upside, as other activities are being mooted for the foundation: a radio show is one idea, a legal defence fund for the fundamental Charter freedoms is another. If we can find donors, the magazine may transform into a multi-theatre conservative fighting machine, a bit less strident and a bit more influential than its current incarnation.

If we can't find donors, of course, your beloved correspondent will have to go on the dole. But I'm versatile and educated, and I work pretty cheap, so right now I am what is called "guardedly optimistic". Many conservatives and libertarians in the U.S. seem to live adequately recompensed lives of writing and study with the help of non-profit foundations. I have no objection to doing this myself. In fact, if you'd like a fellowship named after you and you have the cash to back it up, get in touch with me. "Colby J. Cosh is the Hermert Buglebuster Fellow in Invective at the So-and-So Foundation in Edmonton, Alberta." This, I think, could be arranged!

I am often told by people that they don't agree with everything in the magazine, but they are glad it exists and that its ornery, saurian Western viewpoint is represented in Canada. (I don't agree with everything in the magazine either.) This is the sentiment, expressed in the form of large cheques, upon which we are counting.

Quite a lot of journos and conservative quasi-celebs were on hand tonight: Ezra Levant, Sean McKinsley, Jason Kenney, Ric Dolphin, Danielle Smith. I got to meet some of the magazine's staunch letter-writers, people who would have weblogs, probably, if they were twenty years younger. I met some guys who went to school with my dad back in Saskatchewan. And I received some very nice compliments--one gentleman, a veteran journalist in his own right, came up to me and said "I wanted to say hello to the funniest man alive!" Sadly, I missed my cue to say "Holy shinola, is Don Rickles here??"

- 2:10 am, September 25 (link)

Let's face the music and dance

[Warning: I typed the following without my contact lenses in. Orthography may at times diverge from standard English. Apologies.]

I can't promise anything will appear in this space Tuesday: the magazine's annual face-to-face meeting of its far-flung staff is tomorrow morning, and a fundraising dinner is taking place in the evening. All your Report favourites will be there. I'll be the drunk angry one.

And so, before bed, we turn to the nagging issue of Sam Mikes' ever-multiplying rebuttals. The first one is about healthcare. What I originally said was that user fees are worth trying in Canada's single-payer medicare system. Sam disagrees.

First of all, Sam cites the additional costs involved with accepting user fees. I do not believe these costs need to be great. Why? Because I don't actually care about the money. They can set fire to it on a damn hibachi if that will be cheaper than collecting it, securing it, and accounting for it. The fee is not a fee for revenue: the function of the fee is to associate some price with usage of the system.

Secondly, Sam says this:

[A]ny user fee will have the effect of discouraging use of the system--which is all to the good when the system is being abused by hypochondriacs, idiots, or the incompetent. But if we're aiming to control costs by providing cheap preventive services to avoid expensive emergency services, user fees are not the way to go.

That's great, but who, in what fantasy universe, is offering "cheap preventive services to avoid expensive emergency services"? This is a strange idea indeed of how Canadian medicare works. And of course, "prevention" is the most overhyped concept in the known universe anyway: ask the middle-aged women who were told that hormone replacement does a body good, or the smokers who've been popping Zyban (actually, this one isn't in the papers yet, but I've been given a heads-up on some stuff that's crawling through peer review). The amount of legitimate demand for emergency services that can be eliminated by means of specifically medical interventions is small. Unless someone's hiding a pill for head trauma up their sleeve.

Sam's third point:

[A]lthough we can use the market, and the prices it assigns, to estimate the value of most services, the market is distorted by the infinite demand for life-saving health services. We can't price emergency health care like we price avocados: "You're going to die if I don't do this -- how much is it worth to you?"

This is (a) frequently heard, (b) wrong, and (b) irrelevant to this discussion. It's wrong, because we do price food and drinking water and clothing, all of which you will, in fact, die soon enough without. In a free market, different qualities of emergency care would be available at different prices, as different qualities of food and other essentials are available. And there'd be a free level of care, as food and shelter are available for free in every known industrial society. It is an ignorant fantasy to think that anyone would be left without basic care, though it might be very basic indeed, in a society without subsidized healthcare. (Are people really so silly that they never stop to think why so many hospitals have names of Roman Catholic significance?)

But that doesn't really matter and you may freely ignore it. It is a political fact that fluid market pricing for emergency healthcare won't be tolerated in Canada, and it's not what I suggested, so why even bring it up? The knee is mysteriously jerking here in response to a tap on the elbow.

Finally, Sam leaves off on this strange note:

[T]he value that government health care provides to the public is the privilege of not stepping over dying indigents as we walk the public sidewalks. In this regard, the public health systems of the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. all succeed.

Which is true; I don't know of any public health system that doesn't "succeed", by this measure. Some of them, as it happens, have user fees. The worker's paradise, Sweden, has them: are the dead stacked like cordwood on the streets of Stockholm? Not that I'm aware of.

If you've read this far, bravo. We will dispense with Sam's second rebuttal more quickly. I wrote in favour of the immediate legalization of marijuana, and Sam replied, agreeing with some things and disputing others.

I can hardly believe he wrote this, but here it is:

Unlike alcohol, though, marijuana cannot be made in every house or shed from locally available materials (sugar, water, yeast). It's pretty easy to make beer -- I do it every couple of weeks. (With work eating my brain the last two weeks, I let myself run out of beer. Probably brewing later today.) It's pretty easy to set up a still and make the hard stuff -- I've done it in chem lab. Alcohol prohibition failed for these pragmatic reasons, in addition to failing the "it's my body" ideological test.

Do I need to reply? Sam, you need three things to grow pot: (1) seeds, (2) dirt, (3) water. Dirt and water, I daresay, are locally available materials. The seeds can be ordered legally through the mail, even now. It embarrasses me to declare this fact, but a lot of people are growing weed in their homes. A LOT. A REALLY HUGE NUMBER. FUCKING SIZEABLE, SIR. Yeah, there's some lore involved in turning the houseplant into product, but it doesn't explode if you get the chemistry wrong.

Sam then tumbles into weirder territory: he makes the claim that second-hand pot smoke is dangerous ("serious health hazards") and that a casual "contact high" from "walking past a couple of stoners on Whyte [Avenue]" can render you utterly unable to drive. Why am I starting to suspect that, like all known pot opponents, Sam is trying to make policy about something with which he is entirely unfamiliar?

Sam is, in fact, right that residual controls on pot use would be socially desirable. (We've been scaring people shitless about cannabis for 80 years; you don't undo that kind of work in a day.) I see no necessity to restrict it entirely to "private enclosed spaces among consenting adults", because I'm a strong believer in the bush-party tradition of my native northern Alberta. But in cities, a "private enclosed yadda yadda" policy is fine by me. It would work; in compassion clubs and Amsterdam pot bars, it does work.

It's not enough to say "you're worried about slippery slopes", because that is a universal argument against any conceivable public policy change whatsoever. I'm afraid that statement has the cognitive status of a fart, but most of the rest was very good and thoughtful. On that note, goodnight to all.

- 4:46 am, September 24 (link)

Seven into five

Here's a riveting true story of blogosphere cooperation. Except my "help" amounted to little more than telling Janis that a band as kooky as the one she described to me was probably from Quebec. Score one for, though, most definitely.

I'm re-reading The Five Fingers, a curious cult classic amongst trashy war books. Back when the magazine had a sizable number of editorial employees all in the same place, I had an informal rule that I had to read any book which was recommended by two of my colleagues. Sometimes I'd be disappointed (as with Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion), sometimes I'd be astonished (William Burroughs' Junky). The weirdest book to emerge from the general discussion was certainly The Five Fingers, which is not especially hard to find.

The book was written by "Gayle Rivers", the pseudonym of a soldier/writer whose name has some currency in counterterrorist circles, and a journalist named James Hudson. Nowhere does it say that the events in the book actually happened: however, Rivers' "about the author" section says curtly that he was "the youngest on the team, but second in command." And the front cover of my edition, with a frisson of ambiguity, says that "If it's fiction it's harrowing, if it's fact it's terrifying."

Well, that's another way of saying it's fiction. But the premise is clever. In the book, which begins in April 1969, seven elite special-forces soldiers--a Korean, two Kiwis, a Brit, three Americans--are assembled at a base in Vietnam. They begin training for a top-secret mission that's not explained to them; for some weeks, they size each other up, speculate on why the hell they've been brought together. One day they're led under guard to a briefing room, where they're addressed by--kerbango! None other than Gen. William Westmoreland! It turns out that Communist Asia is getting its act together, trying to coordinate a dual southward push in Korea and Vietnam, to be conducted under an "umbrella of Chinese nuclear missiles." The plan is to be finalized at a secret conference, and our heroes are being ordered to assassinate the attendees--including Lin Biao (!) and Gen. Nguyen van Giap (!).

But to do it, they have to walk all the way from Thailand to the conference site.

Which is in China.

From there on out, the book is a brusque but joyous Benzedrine-fuelled roller-coaster of ambushes and flesh wounds. The seven members of the Five Fingers team stomp through Laos, leaving armies of dead in their wake. Male bonding occurs. There is a betrayal. The ending is ambiguous, startlingly so for a cheapo battle paperback. And one is by no means cheated of that sine qua non of war books: lurid microscopic detail.

He wore a flak jacket which he used to support a wooden rocket platform that fit across his back. The rockets were Jackson's handiwork. He had loaded them himself with shale wrapped in a light chain; every fourth link in the chain had been weakened with a saw. I had watched Jackson test his rockets on the range. They were devastating. When they went off, the chains whirred like razor blades.

Hey, the Hemingway plod got popular because it fucking works. The Five Fingers--weird, compelling, and perhaps overdue for recognition.

- 9:18 pm, September 23 (link)

Mani and Michael Landon

I was talking about religion with Mike Byfield last week and he noted, in passing, that in the Bible, when angels appear to human beings, the first thing they say is "Be not afraid." Angels, we may surmise, are beings of such power that when they announce themselves to humans the mind instinctively reels in terror.

I was thinking about this just now... these TV shows about angels, where a kindly Michael Landon or Della Reese helps families and small businessmen with their problems, must be extremely antagonizing to orthodox Christians, no? If angels are amongst us, presumably they are here to serve God's purposes. As you may have noticed, God's supposed "purposes" strongly resemble the operation of blind chance; at any rate, they are not always benign, within the context of human life. If God wants your child to die of SIDS, he'll make it happen. If he wants you to be a quadriplegic, don't think you can dodge it. If he wants a monsoon to kill a million people in Bangladesh, this will be arranged--perhaps by Della Reese or Michael Landon?

No, Della and Michael aren't that kind of angel: they're the kind who help retarded kids raise money at bake sales. And presumably it's some other angel's job to shatter the kid's chromosomes in the first place. I dimly recall that Touched by an Angel has flirted with this theme, actually--but a truly Christian presentation would try to actively convince the viewer that the "bad" angel's purposes, which are the Lord's will, are every bit as much to be applauded and cheered for as the "good" angel's. How about a whole spinoff devoted to the bad guys? Mutilated by an Angel. Decapitated by an Angel.

Not going to happen, I guess. We are often told that America is the most Christian society left in the world, but for how many people is it a trivial Christianity--a thinly disguised cult of whimpering zombie niceness? A lot, I suspect, or the Christian clergy wouldn't stand for televised Manichaean nonsense trafficking under its brand name.

- 1:26 pm, September 23 (link)

Go now

Some months ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, an Alberta expatriate now living in Toronto, and he told me something along these lines: "People here in T.O. support the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol because they are massively ignorant. They actually think it's got something to do with the abominable air pollution here. So they figure 'Kyoto? Great idea, clean things up a little. It's about time those bastards did something.'"

I fear I did not entirely believe him, even after I saw the infamous CROP poll. Because if you were stupid enough to believe that Kyoto had anything to do with air pollution, could you simultaneously be cynical enough to believe that the answer was to crush the economy of Alberta--a place where there is no air pollution issue?

Alas. In today's Globe and Mail (link will be good for seven days) Hugh Winsor endorses the theory without even blinking.

Like it or not, the global warming issue is linked in the minds of most Canadians to clean air and pollution. Technically, they may not be the same phenomenon, but it is all pollution.

Incredibly, this isn't even the most cynical theory on offer. Lawrence Garvin at Fresh Hell has found at least one public figure who openly supports Kyoto because what hurts Alberta has to be good, by definition, for Ontario cities. The speaker is John Barber [of the Globe, not the Federation of Canadian Municipalities--thanks to my colleague Rick Hiebert for the correction]:

Once again the hewers of wheat and drawers of oil are coming to town to tell us what's good for us.
Previously, they've come during elections, urging us to support political parties founded on the promise to repress our interests in favour of theirs.
This time they want us to rise up against ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that couldn't be more attractive if it were written specifically to boost the competitive advantage of Southern Ontario.
Do they think we're stupid?

No, actually I think Albertans are stupid: why else are we still in Confederation? In Liberal Canada there are all of two provinces which are net contributors to the union: one of them, Ontario, gets permanent political dominance in exchange for its acquiescence. Our own reward can be seen above: we're the hewers of wheat (hewers??) and drawers of oil who should know their place. Like the literal scapegoat of old we're a "source of pollution."

We should have gone a long time ago. The Constitution allows for it, and Albertans in fact favour it. If our chickenshit domestic political leaders didn't think it would limit their career opportunities, they'd be doing the right thing and saying "Screw you forever" to a country that tolerates us because it needs somebody to steal from.

- 9:04 am, September 23 (link)

Best ten-yard reception ever

You read a lot about "last-minute heroics" in accounts of football games. In Edmonton, the phrase now has a slightly different meaning. Top that, Adam Vinatieri.

- 10:05 pm, September 22 (link)

I [heart] Hate

Here's an afternoon's worth of new business.

First of all, Peter Bagge rules and you should follow every single stinking link on this page. Some of you will remember Bagge from the last days of the late great Suck; some of you will have seen his new work in Reason; some of you will remember all the way back to his alternative comic Hate. It's been a wondrous journey from snot jokes (good ones!) to sophisticated cultural commentary.

Incidentally, it was former Reason intern Jeremy Lott who reminded me of Bagge's current gig. What's the meaning of this cryptic utterance about "hoseheads" on his blog? I have my theories, but qualified informants have sworn me to secrecy.

When you write about marijuana, the mail's guaranteed to roll in. Steven Jens offers one possible "conservative argument" against marijuana legalization:

I asked an anti-decriminalisation conservative once whether he supported alcohol prohibition, and if not, what the distinction was. His answer was that alcohol is (and was, immediately before the US prohibited it) a part of the general culture, whereas marijuana is not. I don't really buy that, but it's certainly a conservative argument.

Granted--it's a thin conservative argument, but a conservative argument for all that. (When time travel is invented, these "conservatives" will be pretty appalled by their first visit to Mount Vernon. Or perhaps they'll come prepared, with flamethrowers.) The learned Thomas Fleming made this point to me once, in a non-political context. He was making the case for a double social standard, not a double political one. In the social context, the case is excellent. Fleming despises libertarianism, so I shouldn't speculate, but it wouldn't surprise me if he took the view that legal marijuana would serve as a useful "opiate" for social groups otherwise prone to violence.

Speaking of admirable, hyperintelligent conservatives who are largely sui generis, Steve Sailer writes a brief note on the same subject:

The final word on marijuana, from Jackie Brown.

Samuel L. Jackson comes home to find Bridget Fonda smoking dope while watching TV:

Ordell Robbie: That shit'll rob you of your ambitions.
Melanie: Not if your ambition is to get high and watch TV.

When among Canadians, such lines are normally my cue to chant "U-S-A! U-S-A!" in mocking fashion. Although I've kind of been softpedalling the whole "mocking chant" thing since you-know-what-date.

Finally, American-living-in-Edmonton Sam Mikes has a rebuttal to my thoughts on pot. And, er, also a rebuttal to my thoughts on Canadian healthcare. Jesus, Sam, isn't there another goddamn pinata you can go whack? Hit me all you like, I don't shit candy. Most likely I'll deal with Sam's (serious and well-crafted) arguments tomorrow, after a few more people are caught up with the weekend activity.

Oh, and many thanks to Matt Welch for providing some traffic today. Important technical note: I never called anybody no damn jackass! All I meant by that comment was, nobody's buying a brand new Benz on cheques from NewsForChange. If my mental picture of genteel bohemian poverty is all wrong, I don't know how I'll bear it.

- 7:15 pm, September 22 (link)

Sorry: out of stock amusing search engine referral of the day:

iranian penis enlargers

Surrender or die, Kazakh porn barons! You cannot compete with the Iranian penis enlarger magnate!

- 2:10 pm, September 22 (link)

Western made

I actually found the article on dialect mentioned below when I was looking for an online copy of Lorne Gunter's Sunday column in the Journal. Well, it's not online, but if you take the Journal, or can find it, his excellent defence of Eric Fischl's infamous sculpture is on page A10.

Tumbling Woman is such a powerful piece it should be displayed in a gallery, where patrons may choose to enter and view it, or not.
However, those who have said the piece is "sick," "shameful," and "bad art," are wrong. Tumbling Woman is staggering and impressive, which is a surprise, since its creator, Eric Fischl, has so often in the past produced puerile and adolescent shock-art...
This sculpture is the last moment of Tumbling Woman's wholeness, the final second of her humanity. At this point she still has life, a millisecond later -- brutally and barbarously -- she will not. Yes, there is something repulsive about being there in that moment. Yet, there is also something heart-wrenching, just as there is something enraging about recalling who and what made her jump in the first place.

Elsewhere, Mark Morris is surprised that a right-wing heathen like myself would link to him. But, Mark, you linked to me first! Shouldn't that be equally mystifying?

In fact, there are plenty of Christians in my sidebar (which just changed colours for fall, thank all of you for NOT NOTICING). I didn't plan it this way, but that's what happens when your day job involves working with Christians like Kathy Shaidle and Jeremy Lott; they learn about your website first. And because they are Christians, their better instincts can be manipulated to get site traffic! AHAHAHA!

Seriously, though... there is such a cause as Western Civilization, and the sense in which I'm a "conservative" is the sense in which I'm united with the defenders of that project. Historically, the West is a Christian cause, a Christian entity. The geographic and theological West (one might almost say "Europe and the Faith", after Belloc) were decoupled at the Enlightenment, and most Christians, whether they'll admit it or not, followed the liberal track most of the way; so we've arrived at the same place, they and I. And it doesn't much matter, for the purposes of politics, whether your orientation is toward Jerusalem or Athens. As a practical matter, my Christian employers and colleagues have been able to agree with me on our priorities in the fight for the West at least as much as they agree with one another. So why shouldn't I return the favour?

It does not make good sense for an atheist to regard all religions as being equal. As pure sets of propositions, they are all equal, more or less, but Christianity has the virtue of holding in check certain impulses which threaten the West when they are given free rein. (Honest Christians should recognize themselves in the funhouse mirror, certainly, when they study classical Communism and Islam.) As a historical matter, Christianity did provide the cultural bedrock for the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. It was Christendom, not anyplace else, from whence emerged Darwin and Voltaire and Mencken... this isn't a coincidence, even if Christians did and do despise Darwin, Voltaire, and Mencken.

- 1:55 pm, September 22 (link)

Digging in the dirt

Want to hear what I sound like? Too bad; I don't have a working microphone attached to this computer. But you could get the effect, according to a dialect coach interviewed in the Edmonton Journal, by locating a typical baritone and having him do an hour or so of yardwork.

To do an Edmontonian--to get the sound of the land--he pretends to shovel dirt. What comes out is a bigger voice and slower-developing speech. The stereotypical speech of the farm.
"One of the things you always heard in farming communities was a particular kind of terseness: 'Gonna rain. Sure is. Yep. How's the tractor? OK.'"

Thank God--the tractor's OK! Professor Ley also deals with the infamous Canadian Raising--the oddity of tongue position whose most notable effect is to make us sound like we're saying "aboot". Those familiar with Canadians are baffled that we can't hear the Canadian Raising in our voices, but it's true: for us, it's almost impossible to detect. People have insisted to me, for as long as I can remember, that whatever anybody else may do, they don't say "aboot", goddammit.

But we do, sort of. The vowel isn't actually an "oo" sound--if anything, it may be closer to "aboat". I know there's something there, though, because I've caught myself saying it. And to attentive non-Canadians, it's blatant. A friend from Pakistan once told me, "You know who else 'sounds like' you? That guy on CNN, Jonathan Mann." She didn't know beforehand, and neither did I, that Mann was a Montrealer who attended York University. To her the Canadianness is obvious like a clown nose.

If I'm careful, I can pick out a Canadian accent, but I can't do it by listening for the Raising; I have to go by rhythm, basically listening to see if the person sounds "familiar" and stresses the same words I would. Norm MacDonald was probably my best-ever catch.

- 12:52 pm, September 22 (link)

Stirring the pot

I'm sure other conservative magazines are as schizoid as ours is about marijuana. At least, I assume that's the case. Well, heck, you've got your conservative argument that it is not the state's place to tell people what they may or may not ingest; and on the other hand, you've got your conservative argument that... er... I don't know, pot is bad or something. Was it invented by Satan, is that the idea? Little help here?

In fact, conservatives who support drug laws are unwittingly prolonging the aftereffects of a racist moral panic fostered in the 1920s by feminist, eugenist progressives. Funny old world. National Review took a pro-legalization position very early on in its history, and I understand this to also be the formal position of The Report, which has run cover stories in favour of legalization. I believe the sole holdout on the staff is Terry O'Neill, whose most recent response to legalization advocates is now online.

Terry, whom of course I like and respect, gets his panties in a bunch very entertainingly on this issue. He seems to enjoy pretending that those who disagree with him about pot are all hysterical, howling hippies munching roots in the wilderness; meanwhile, his co-workers are sitting at their desks reading his column and going "Jeez Louise, is he on about this again?" It's a very personal crusade against personal responsibility. Look closely at the core of his argument against medical marijuana:

I, for one, am against medical use of the drug, on the grounds its benefits are unproved, its dangers considerable and its use represents an incremental victory for those wanting the drug decriminalized and eventually legalized...

Did you catch that? Those who want medical marijuana legalized are just using the issue as an "incremental" way to get the drug for themselves, the selfish jerks*. But those who oppose it--why they're acting solely on rational, scientific grounds; they couldn't possibly be actuated by personal, visceral hatred of the stuff. Of course, even if we didn't know that Terry was crusading against marijuana long before the "medical" issue arose, this stance of sweet reason might just be slightly undercut by the last sentence of his column, where he allows an interviewee to compare legalization advocates to the Nazis. First they legalized weed, and then they came for the Jews...we were all too stoned to do anything but giggle, man...

Terry offers brief abstracts of three studies that "show" the negative effects of marijuana. The first one, which shows that early adolescent pot use is "associated" with all kinds of bad things, is quite laughable. Hey, kids whose parents can't keep them from using drugs at age 12 are more likely to be violent and have multiple sex partners? Whoa, stop press! The second study was stepped all over in an editorial that ran alongside it in JAMA; since Terry wants you to "learn the facts" he won't mind if you go have a read.

The third one I haven't seen--it sounds like they're trying to revive the old idea of "cannabis psychosis", which can't be rejected out of hand. There are some rare, but persuasive, case reports of psychotic reactions to extremely heavy marijuana use. There are also thousands of instances, every damn year, of psychotic behaviour directly attributable to alcohol; indeed, I'm sure you've seen some yourself, down at the pub.

And herein lies the fundamental dishonesty of a column like Terry's: no mention of the A word. If you accepted everything that was ever said half-credibly about the "dangers" of marijuana, what you'd still have is a drug that is fantastically benign compared to the one we all have in our homes, the one we freely use socially, the one we've devoted buildings to on every corner. How can the double standard be justified? It appears the answer is "By ignoring it completely."

Unfortunately, throwing thousands of people in jail has negative--"not positive or neutral"--effects on their lives, on their families, on policing, on the corrections system, and on civil liberties. But if it prevents just one bad trip, it's worth it, right?

*The selfish jerks include Richard Brookhiser, senior editor of National Review. For him, the "incremental victory" was against testicular cancer.

- 4:28 am, September 22 (link)


Steve Schroer writes to say "Maybe Richard Ames meant to suggest that you LOOK LIKE Garrison Keillor. That would be even harder to take, wouldn't it?" Aw, nobody can touch me tonight, my man, because I put on a hat too soon after I got out of the shower and now I have a perfect Dave Murray From Iron Maiden hairdo (circa Killers). I was looking at myself with the Dave Murray hair and I thought "There's only been four or five times in my life where I could have just set foot out of the house and started a trend, and this is one of them. I have the fashion fate of Western Civilization in my hands this very minute." Then I let the moment slip away because I didn't feel up to shaving, and what has Western Civilization done for me lately?

In fact, isn't it time those black New Wave of British Heavy Metal concert shirts with the white sleeves came back into style? You're goddamn right it is.

Speaking of style, check out The White Stripes at the MTV Video Awards. I'm not even bisexual but I can't decide which of them is more adorable. What are they even doing at the MTV Awards? These guys are so cool, the Nobel Foundation dinner would be slumming for them. The King of Sweden would be all, "I bought De Stijl on vinyl, ya know" and Meg would be all, like, "WhatEVer." Yeah.

- 10:19 pm, September 21 (link)

Protectionism rears its ugly head

David Janes wants Canadians to lobby the National Post to hire James Lileks. What's that you say? What do Canadian journalists think of David's Worthwhile Canadian Initiative to hand lucrative column acreage over to foreigners? Unprintable, my good man, unprintable.

Of course, the Post picks up stuff from Matt Welch, but that's different: freelancing knows no borders, and Matt is someone you can imagine missing meals if he doesn't get cheques on the side. Lileks, on the other hand, has a day job and a sideline in books. Lord knows we all want the Gnat to go to a good college, but can't we get Norway or Switzerland or somebody to give this subsidy?

- 7:45 pm, September 21 (link)

Casual cruelty

Yikes! Kelly Torrance has a weblog devoted to "literature, music, film, and the visual arts." Too bad I hate all that stuff! Literature's for creeps and nerds, man! And I only like two kinds of music: AC and DC. [At this juncture, the writer did himself an injury trying to mimic Brian Johnson's singing voice, and was forced to retire from the keyboard temporarily.]

Even though her weblog has all of two entries at the moment, Kelly is already attending Washington-area blogmeetings, and so thanks to her promotional activity on my behalf I have great new readers like Jim Henley. Jim gives me a very nice review but inadvertently says something quite cruel:

Colby Cosh is funny, Canadian and about as libertarian as can be expected up there.

Yes, you know, I'd love to push my political philosophy that last mile, but--I'm Canadian! There are some things they won't let me think. In truth, Jim knows perfectly well, or should know, that I'm not really "Canadian", but Albertan. Which is a very different thing.

- 2:42 pm, September 21 (link)


I figured the promise I made of "new content" yesterday was absolutely certain not to be violated. What could happen? I had no plans at all. I turns out that when I have no plans at all, and I've put in about forty straight hours of work with no sleep, what I do is fall into a coma for most of the day. I was awake there for a while, but I ended up spending the time chatting with people and feeling guilty about my site visitors. Not guilty enough to keep me from nodding out like a smackhead, though.

Let me clear up a little more correspondence. Richard Ames, whose letter about ATMs I reprinted yesterday, turns out to have his own weblog. An excellent one! And I say this even though he compares me to Garrison Keillor, which I'd consider a capital offence coming from most people. My old buddy Jefferson N. Glapski, perhaps the last living human being who doesn't have his own weblog, argues that "automated teller machine" is in fact more descriptive than "bank machine";

since said ATM replicates a much greater portion of what the teller does (minus the blowjobs, of course) as opposed to what a bank does.

He's failed to see that my objection was to the acronym, which disguises its information content. John Costello notes that New Englanders, like Canadians, use the term "bank machines". Fun fact: in alphabetical lists of surnames, "Cosgrave" and "Costello" are the most common neighbours of "Cosh".

Greg at The Daily Stone, which may or may not have changed its name to "Mr. Helpful", says my line about "the terrorists have already won" was a cheap shot. Correct! He also says:

Because I am just a poor, uneducated, drunken bastard, your reference to Eugene Delacroix went roaring right past me. Thanks to the almighty Internet, I was able to quench my doing so I found this description of Delacroix's work to be quite interesting:
"Maurice Sérullaz expands on this: "Delacroix perceived that, under the impetus of Rubens, a new epoch of art had opened up, an era of synthesis and equilibrium. On the one hand, there was the power, abundance, fiery dynamism, realism - and a certain penchant for Baroque eloquence and even effect. On the other, there was a nobility of conception and style. the paradigmatic harmony, sobriety and austerity of the Classical masters. Thus Delacroix discovered himself through Rubens. In Rubens, his own errors found their vindication. They had been severely criticised by his contemporaries, especially in his large decorative compositions; but, as in Rubens, they are the work of a genius at once rational and impulsive, inventive and objective, visionary and realist."
Or maybe, just maybe, the poor son of a bitch was a sadist who loved to portray countless scenes of horror and

I believe that poor, uneducated, drunken bastards enjoy the sovereign right of occasionally flinging comments like this at us poor, educated, drunken bastards, so I'll leave Greg with the last word. I would not wish to drown out the voice with which Delacroix speaks for himself.

- 5:18 am, September 21 (link)


Time to get some "bloggish" transactions out of the way. Sorry posting's been so light, by the way, but I had a work week where everything possible went wrong. I'm not going to bore you with the details. Yes, I realize sites like this are predicated on boring you with details, but since we're rummaging through the mailbag anyway, there is no sense overegging the pudding.

Richard Ames of Pittburgh writes in with this rebuttal to my praise of ATMs. By the way, why can't you Americans just call them "bank machines"--do you have to use the most cryptic and undescriptive term possible, or what?

Colby: You sound like a GE spokesman (yes, they were all men then) pitching the latest gadget--the ATM. But every cloud has its lightning. How about folks who never seem to have any money on them because they know an ATM is always around that corner? ("Lunch? Sure. But can we stop at the ATM machine first?") In the old days, that person would have actually had to plan something for a change ("I must remember to stop at the bank today before it closes"), or else suffer the embarrassing consequences. This type of everyday personal organization and attention to detail bred discipline and instilled character.

You ask: "I wonder what the pure economic impact [of the ATM] is in dollar terms." Well, for starters, the banks have done very well (thank you) with these monsters. It used to be that the teller, a real flesh and blood person who was always concerned about the depositor's financial well-being, would check your account balance before dolling out the greenbacks (U.S. of course). The ATM, in contrast, will give most folks an advance if they've got nothin' going in the account and then proceed to deduct an additional NSF fee from an already negative balance. And the worst part is that no one knows these debits are going on, including the customer until he get's his statement at months end (will he even look at it?). The ATM's primary drawback is the absolute lack of immediate negative consequences that directly correspond to negative monetary behaviors, like withdrawing $50 three separate times in three different locations on the same day because you were "a bit short" that day. There's no feedback until later, at the end of the month, and then it's too late and it doesn't hurt as much. The "pure economic impact" is alarmingly negative in this respect. Young folks are particularly vulnerable to this quick cash scheme, and as an attorney in western Pennsylvania who has represented numerous bankruptcy clients, I can personally attest to these cards' evil ways in fostering too much reliance and too many withdrawals. Betty Lou, the teller at your local bank, would never have condoned it! She would have shamed you into reality. "Back again, huh?"; or "You must have got a promotion!"; or "Looks like all the little lines in this account book are full already and it's not even the 15th." So, Colby, perhaps a more balanced approach to the ATM's alleged wonderfulness is due.

As for my ATM card? I never leave home without it.

Some good points here, but I'm all for replacing snotty, prying humans with impersonal, efficient robots. As for the "old days" when one's lunch partner would have had to plan ahead and carry adequate cash, Richard's view is of course a pleasant fiction: what really would have happened was that the organized types ended up buying a lot more lunches for disorganized comrades. And isn't "instills character" just a synonym for "wastes a lot of fucking time"? Still, let's by all means limit our huzzahs: two cheers for bank machines!

A new reader has some further thoughts:

I was just reading your weblog & I got a huge kick out of your comments about the ATM because the damn thing ate my card twice in the last couple of months. The first time was back a couple of months ago ON A FRIDAY after bank hours. The machine ate my card. Just as I stuck my card in the machine, the screen went black & then the message popped "Out of service." I was stuck for the weekend without one until I could go to the bank on Monday & get a new one. Thank god your father had his little stash of money in [location of stash deleted].

Yes, you guessed it, it's my mother. Dammit, which one of you gave her the URL? I guess my dad's rampant technophobia came in handy on that particular occasion. He's still a bit suspicious of things like bank machines and microwave ovens. If there's ever a nuclear war and all the computers and electronics are destroyed, he's going to be the king of the Wasteland Formerly Known As North America inside of about a month.

Sasha Castel has a new URL and a new site design: update your bookmarks. And I've been terribly remiss in not mentioning Ilana Mercer's site earlier (warning: ferocious paleo-libertarian at work). Greg over at The Daily Stone has a rebuttal to my comments on the "Tumbling Woman" sculpture, sort of: the whole controversy seems to have stripped his gears a little bit, and I have no rejoinder to something that's essentially indecipherable. He seems to think the sculptor, Fischl, was trying to deliberately antagonize the public. Apparently if artists try to commingle horror with beauty, the terrorists have already won--which, I suppose, means we were screwed as soon as Eugene Delacroix put the finishing touches on The Death of Sardanapalus.

More actual content here tomorrow, I promise. I need to get some sleep.

- 3:21 am, September 20 (link)

White parmesan

Insanity is more common than you think, you know. You probably see fifty people every day, without even knowing it, who are just completely batshit. If you eat in restaurants alone a lot, you start to notice this stuff, and you dread the possibility that you might end up as one of those people. My local diner has a whole host of loopy characters. But today (Thursday) I was in line at Subway behind a guy--ordinary-looking fellow, dressed rather well--who was chatting away to his frowsy girlfriend and getting ready to order a sandwich. He was regaling her with details about how he was going to order the sweet onion sauce or something, which seemed kind of banal but scarcely out of the ordinary.

Then this guy started to build his sandwich and things got a little weird. The "sandwich artist" asks him what kind of cheese he wants, right? At the better-stocked Subways around here, you've got three choices: white "cheddar", an orange "cheddar" which tastes more or less the same, and Swiss. But when this guy, who's been talking like some kind of Subway frequent flyer, is asked for his cheese choice, he goes:

"White parmesan."

Now, parmesan is of course not normally served in slices, because the fumes would probably make you faint. The server bravely recoups from the unexpected request and says "Sorry, sir, all we have is white cheddar, orange cheddar, and Swiss."

"White... parmesan," he says, with a sudden hint of suppressed anger. Uh oh. The server repeats the options, and the guy, suddenly on the defensive because his cognitive deficit's been revealed, just asks for "white."

Somehow, through gesticulations and strangled noises, he ended up getting the ordinary white cheddar, I think. From then on in the sandwich manufacture process, he concluded every answer with an exaggerated "Sir", which seemed odd, seeing as the server was female. After securing his sandwich, the guy walked directly out of the Subway and left his "girlfriend" standing there with a confused expression--at which point I realized they'd been total strangers: he'd simply decided to engage her in some funky crazy-person chat. To see him, you'd never have thought he was anything but a thoroughly well-organized computer programmer or bike courier. What a struggle he must go through, just leaving the house to get a damn sandwich, knowing his damaged social mechanism is likely to let him down in some telling way. I wasn't very hungry anymore after I thought about it some.

- 2:32 am, September 20 (link)

Warning: contains nudity

The Tumbleweed thinks I should invest in a Cat Mantis. Shockingly, this is actually an appealing idea. My cat's pretty affectionate, so things usually get to the point where I just sort of hang my arm off the couch or the bed and scratch feebly while he runs back and forth under it. "Zzzz... yes, yes, good kitty, whatever... zzzz...." Where are these aloof, snotty, emotionally self-sufficient cats I keep hearing about, anyway? I suspect some of these cats are owned by people who don't actually like cats, and who cluelessly interact with them as if they were dogs. "Oh, well, Frisky doesn't do the dishes or retrieve sticks, he must not love us."

Bourque points us to the Dallas Stars' new crack squad of ten handpicked "Ice Girls", who will helpfully remove slush from the surface of play during commercials. IMPORTANT NOTE: The Dallas Stars "Ice Girls" have important duties and are not to be considered mere melon-chested fantasy objects. They will NOT be incorporating Zamboni slush in 9½ Weeks-type displays of half-naked lesbian pleasuring.

This is me at about 10 p.m. this evening: "Oh, look, there's apparently one sculptor in the world who is prepared to pick up where Rodin left off and do meaningful representational art. [pause] Oh, look, they had to cover it up because of an unspecified number of complaints." Nice to see some things haven't changed since September 11. The literalism expressed by the opponents of the statue speaks volumes: there appears to be some confusion as to why the falling woman is nude, along with a wholly unjustified (judging from online photos) assumption that she is meant to be depicted at the point of impact. I can only say "Sheesh."

- 12:07 pm, September 19 (link)

Don't make them kill you

For those, outside or inside Canada, looking for primers on Canada's political system, Bill Stanbury's series now getting underway in the Hill Times will make terrific, enlightening reading. I've interviewed Prof. Stanbury and found him to be just a real sharp guy. Some academics make for dreadful interviews because they'll let their deep-grooved thought patterns take over the conversation: Stanbury isn't one of those. He listens to your question and gives a relevant, informed answer. Oh God, send us twenty more like him. Anyway, here's a brief illustrative quote, thought-provoking in itself:

When he or she is at the head of a majority government, the PM is effectively an elected king for up to five years. The Prime Minister in Britain, who has less power than his Canadian counterpart, has been described as a "constitutional dictator."
Indeed, the PM in Canada wields far more power than any king under a constitutional monarchy and as much as many kings could wield when the divine right of kings prevailed. Recall the trouble that divine right monarchs had in raising money to engage in wars, civil and international. The PM can lay on the whips and get Parliament to impose whatever level of taxes he or she wants. The PM can have the war financed by the time-honoured methods of increasing the public debt or debauching the currency. Richard III, Henry VIII, or even William the Conqueror would probably have been highly jealous.

Having praised Stanbury, there's a big "but" coming. (I'm famous for my big but, hyuk hyuk.) We in Canada have just learned that the dictatorial power of a prime minister is, in part, a very convincing illusion, one which can be stripped away by the exercise of the democratic will. Jean Chretien's power as prime minister rested on one thing: his ability to command a majority in the House of Commons. He exercised his power heedlessly, so much so that many of his caucus members felt that their seats were threatened and that remaining under his command was suicide. Under these conditions, a sitting PM can and will be replaced. It is purely a question of whether his members have the courage and the cat-herding ability to act in their own interests.

(I pause to observe that a PM is much easier to unseat than an American president, who need not relinquish executive power until he is tried and impeached by Congress. We are told that the American system is uniquely one of "checks and balances"--yet our system, though it unites the legislative and the de facto executive in one man, makes it much easier to get rid of the real person in charge. No one has to prove misconduct to a courtroom-type evidentiary standard: a PM can be ousted, quite simply, anytime his caucus is feeling a tad dyspeptic.)

So Stanbury's dire warning is a bit ill-timed (I feel bad that events obviously got ahead of him), yet not false in any essential. The problem we have is not a problem with our institutions: it is basically a problem with the men we've sent to them, who have, over the years, allowed the Prime Minister to amass so much power that they can't keep him in check without becoming veritable Brutuses. But the check still exists: they will, as we've just seen, become Brutuses when there is no other choice.

The next Prime Minister would be wise to voluntarily return some power to caucus, cabinet, and committees. It is in his own interest that his underlings be able to resist him without killing him politically. The next PM is very likely to be Paul Martin, who has in fact talked of a "democratic deficit" and a need for restoring the authority of parliamentarians. Is this what he has in mind? Perhaps.

- 4:08 am, September 18 (link)

It's a gas, gas, gas

Over on MeFi, RobbieFal asks this rhetorical question:

In our P.C. society, could America accept a show with such a weird almost-offensive story like Hogan's Heroes, or would it be run off the air in weeks?

I think the answer's obvious, isn't it? We can't even contemplate a "reality" remake of The Beverly Hillbillies without somebody getting upset.

Even in its time, Hogan's Heroes was deemed in questionable taste. I direct your attention to the 1967 Mad magazine parody, "Hokum's Heroes". The post-Elder, post-Kurtzman years of Mad are not much appreciated when they receive any attention at all, but this Larry Siegel piece is superb, devastating satire.

- 3:39 am, September 18 (link)

By request

"So are you gonna go to sleep?"


"I gotta update the website one more time before I turn in, I've hardly touched it all day."

"You should write something about how Mike is a jerk."


"Yeah, definitely."

"Jeez, be careful what you wish for. You don't really want me to do that."

"Why not?"

"Because what if he sees it?"

"He's not gonna see it. He's NDP, remember? Besides, how's he gonna know you're talking about him?"

"Well, if I include the thing about the beads, he might figure it out."

"Are you kidding? Even if you used his name, he couldn't possibly be sure it was him."

Well, OK. This site is designed as a conduit for news and interesting facts, so here it is: this guy named Mike is a real big jerk. He is, I am told, a ghastly, lisping, leftist hippie from British Columbia who's practicing law in Toronto. It must disturb British Columbians, I think, to know there are living caricatures of them roaming the country. The guy burns through about a cubic metre of pot a week and actually wears mules (!) and love beads with his business suit. Like many lefties, he is, paradoxically, a total shit when it comes to parting with money, shafting his fellow citizens on cab fare. He also makes clumsy, unwelcome passes at other girls right before the eyes of his gorgeous, intelligent Eurasian fiancée.

If you are acquainted with Mike, avoid him. If you are friends with Mike, correct the situation. If you are dating him, dump him. You may think "How do I know he's talking about that Mike?", but it doesn't really matter--if your Mike fits the above description, you need to get rid. In fact, this is true even if your Mike is named Steve, Carlos, Mujibur, or anything else. This has been a public service announcement from

- 2:52 am, September 18 (link)

Cutting off one's beard to spite one's face

I don't really think there's much chance Fidel Castro is responsible for the West Nile outbreaks in North America. Would this make sense--to propagate a disease that is fatal mostly to the infirm and elderly, as a way of lashing out at the Great Satan? It could be some sort of experiment on the part of Cuban biotechnicians, of course, but if so, it's a great deal dumber than those old CIA attempts to make Fidel's beard fall out. Facts: diseases don't stop at borders. West Nile is starting to kill Canadians. Does Castro want to alienate Canada, the best friend he has left in the world? I should think not.

If the Cubans are ever implicated in the spread of West Nile, of course, we'll look awfully stupid for propping up Castro's regime, even to those who don't already consider us monumentally stupid for doing so.

- 5:43 pm, September 17 (link)

Stranger than known

Virgin Atlantic is reporting that it will have to refit recently-installed diaper-changing tables because couples have been using them for... uh... well, let's say they've been trying to make babies, not change babies. (It's easy to see how customers might get confused!)

This whole Mile High Club thing... have you noticed it's not an actual club? There are no meetings, there's no club executive or membership card. There isn't even a secret handshake. Or... wait, I guess if there was, it'd be a secret, wouldn't it?

Obviously if the Mile High Club could get its shit together, it could do some proper lobbying, just like other interest groups. Spokesmen for the Mile High Club reacted strongly today to Virgin Atlantic Airways' claim that skyborne lovers had destroyed diaper-changing tables on board the airline's Airbus A340-600 jumbo jets. "Respect for property has always been the number one policy of the Club," said the society's international vice-president of business relations, Mal Delair. The fall congress of the Mile High Club will vote on whether to retain Virgin on the official list of five-star "preferred airlines for getting your freak on".

- 9:47 pm, September 16 (link)

Free gift

I've hit some of you with this before, but have you considered how amazing bank machines (American viewers: read "ATMs") are? Maybe other people have had different experiences from my own, but I figured I've used bank machines somewhere between three thousand and five thousand times. Often I've found machines labelled out of order; occasionally I've had machines run out of money, and send me on my way with my bank account untouched; but never have I had one debit the wrong sum to my account or give me an amount other than what I had asked for. I've never had one mangle my card, or refuse to give it back, or fail to recognize the customer information on my card. Obviously they conk out, but I've never had one conk out while I was using it. Yet they were a novelty 15 years ago and unknown 20 years ago. And do you remember what it was like trying to organize your life around the infamous "bankers' hours"? Bank machines are a piece of consumer technology we take totally and entirely for granted, but in a short time they've changed all our lives for the better. I wonder what the pure economic impact is in dollar terms. Would it be too much to say that bank machines save us 5-10 hours a year of standing in line apiece? What's the value of that time at minimum wage...? Gotta be an eleven-digit amount in the United States, every year.

- 5:58 pm, September 16 (link)

Gravitating towards the market

The clock radio this morning tried to urge me awake with a local talk-show discussion on medicare reform. Some doctor, a supporter of the Cuban-style status quo, was on the air talking about the obvious solution to shortages, overcrowding, and assembly-line care. His solution, basically, starts with "M" and rhymes with "funny". It's an interesting idea of "reform", don't you think? His answer to unlimited annual cost increases is to keep paying the bills with a smile, I guess.

The problem isn't really that that's a bad idea (although it is), the problem is that that's not reform. Buying more MRI machines and hiring more doctors isn't "reform". Unlimited demand for limited healthcare resources is, itself, the problem. You don't make the limited resources any more limited buy going out and buying more of them. Eight is not any closer to infinity than six, get it?

So these people can, and ought to be, ignored: they have no answers for us, nothing to contribute. Oh, but Dr. Smarts had other ideas, too. They represent the flip side of the "more money" approach: for example, he wants to get primary-care doctors out of the front lines of care, and turn the whole country into one of those student health clinics where you fill out a questionnaire (does your problem involve massive vomiting of blood? Y/N), a nurse sees you first, and she decides whether you need an appointment with a physician or whether you just need to be sent away with some happy pills.

This, or something like it, wouldn't be so intolerable either, but it's the same kind of futility: it amounts to slightly worse, cheaper care, and that's not "reform" either. Perhaps we're prepared to accept it, but it ain't reform. All the "plans" put forward by the Roy Romanows and Don Mazankowskis are essentially clever combinations of "more money" and "worse care". Mazankowski had a long list of ideas for "reforming" Alberta medicare, and precisely two have been adopted--higher cigarette taxes and higher healthcare premiums. How is that reform?

The problem with medicare is stupefyingly simple: unlimited demand, limited resources. Let's chant it together. Unlimited demand, limited resources. Anyone with a drunken hobo's understanding of economics can tell you that when you make a good free, it will be used to the limit of its availability, and eventually it will have to be rationed. Any analysis of "medicare's problems" that doesn't mention this in bold letters in the first paragraph is somebody's flatulent fantasy. (Incidentally, this is also the magical formula underlying such brain-twisters as food-bank shortages and crowded homeless shelters.)

What is needed for true medicare reform is a way to circumscribe demand--to limit the compass of socialism within the system. We're trying to ration healthcare right now without the price signals that help us allocate resources when it comes to other, no less vital industries like groceries and shoe manufacture. That's not going to work--but people won't stand for outright market pricing of (non-pharmaceutical) healthcare goods, either. The best we can do is move in that direction somehow, and try to stop the growth of the behemoth.

I know of only two ideas that would help and that might be halfway politically acceptable. One, and a very good place to start, would be to start moving user fees back into the system. I don't mean a user fee that actually covers any costs: I just mean one that adds some kind of incentive not to use the system. If we introduced a nationwide $20 flat fee to see a doctor, would that represent some sort of incredible, unreasonable hardship? Would the Dominion fall to its knees? You want to see a doctor, you can see one--but go to the bank machine, or panhandle for 40 minutes, and bring a $20. Simple as that. Maybe it wouldn't help anything: we don't have very good hard data on the degree of stress placed on the system by hypochondriacs, lonely seniors, and confused drunks. But that's precisely the point--we don't have any good way of ascertaining that, or of reading people's minds to see if they're using the system "appropriately". Prices are how we find out. In the rest of the economy, prices are the means of allocating resources efficiently. Let's put a simple, fair, artificially low price on seeing a doctor, and at least see what we learn. And no, we're not exempting anybody from the fee: sorry, this isn't about the redistribution of wealth.

The other idea that might help us move toward sanity would be to declare what I think of as a historical halt on publicly-funded medicare. This involves a premier calling a press conference and saying something like this: "When medicare was introduced in Canada, medicine was, by our current standards, a fairly crude art. We didn't have magnetic resonance imaging or mammograms or titanium joint replacement; doctors weren't asked to be the gatekeepers for a dizzying array of lifestyle drugs like Propecia or Viagra. The level of care that people expected for their tax money was modest. It's now much more comprehensive, and it's only going to get more so, with gene therapies and stem cells and the like coming onstream.

"As you all must suspect in your hearts, we can't afford it. We can't afford to give unlimited access to everything that is invented, somewhere, by somebody. So we're stopping. We don't wish to turn back the clock: you've come to expect a certain level of free care, and we're going to continue providing that level. Forever. Any specific medical service or technology which exists on this date will continue to be publicly-funded in perpetuity, or until you decide it's not important for us to pay for it anymore.

"But anything which doesn't yet exist, you will have to arrange to pay for yourself. We invite doctors to create private centres of excellence to introduce new medical technologies and therapies to the public; we're not going to provide those technologies at the taxpayers' expense in public hospitals, but patients occupying space in public hospitals are welcome to arrange for adjunct advanced care."

The armies of the private insurers would not be far behind such an announcement, I trust. Emergency care could easily be exempted from this halt, if the practical problems of demanding payment for this-heart-injection-but-not-that one seem too great (as indeed they do). And the same kind of halt could be applied to drug plans for welfare recipients. You would have to decide what the meaning of "exist" is, of course: do we want to go on funding therapies which now exist only in embryonic, experimental form? Possibly: it doesn't really matter where you draw the line, as long as you draw one. And we'd have to define what "new" means, too: if you find some modest, simple way to improve an X-ray machine, is that a "new" technology? Will we fund new models of existing equipment, or not? Again, it doesn't really matter where (or even how) you draw the line, as long as you draw one.

It seems to me a "halt" would have great advantages, even if it was difficult to implement. It introduces private insurance into the system, but it introduces it at the point where it is the most tolerable, even for the hardest-core socialist. It guarantees to everyone, forever, the precise quality of care we all expect now. It puts the system on a clear basis that the public can understand: though the ministerial and bureaucratic decision-making will always be cloaked in mystery, the basic principle will be known to all. And the halt protects the system from the shock of monumental new medical discoveries--say, a way to let people live to the age of 150. It would make the accounting of public healthcare costs easier, too: it would instantly filter out the rising costs of new technology and allow us to make decisions with one fewer variable in the models.

- about 11 a.m., September 16 (link)

Last call

I'll try to keep this short, but I think this photo--on display at Glenn Cornick's website--is always good for a laugh. It's the "what might have been" lineup of Jethro Tull, with Ian and the original rhythm section playing alongside a rented guitarist, brought in to help the band mime convincingly for the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus movie (suppressed for quality reasons until the late '90s). Recognize the stoop, the black clothing, the mustache, the missing digits? Yes, it's our old friend Tony Iommi, later to become the spiral architect of Black Sabbath's thunderous sound. Most amusingly disorienting.

Alex Whitlock has been talking to inanimate objects again. Please don't tell his mother.

In July, I was spitballing with Steve Sailer about the things I'd learned from playing the Hollywood Stock Exchange. I can't find the e-mail, but I remember telling him something to the effect that movies made for a black audience are easy to handicap, box-office wise, because they are far more likely to break out and become big hits when they present black people in a positive light as ordinary human beings--enterprising, hopeful, diverse, wanting the same things we all want. Sounds kind of obvious, doesn't it? Yet everyone seems surprised at the jet-fuelled opening weekend of Barbershop. Hell, even I'm surprised. 21 million bucks? WOW. I guess Ice Cube should smile more often.

The small-market, contraction-worthy Twins snapped up the AL Central title tonight. Holy cow, that's sweet. I have a confession to make. I saw Kyle Lohse pitch here last year (the Edmonton Trappers are the Twins' Triple-A affiliate) and I swear to god I thought he'd never make it as a big-league pitcher. He was throwing strikes, but they were batting-practice strikes, and the Cannons were having their way with him like he was a mail-order bride. He got the W tonight against the Indians: I was never more happy to be mistaken.

- 12:09 am, September 16 (link)

The apotheosis of Shalhoub

Possibly one of the single happiest events this year is what's happened to Tony Shalhoub, the great character actor. As many of you know, a few years back ABC bought a series called "Monk", about a genius detective who suffers from a debilitating obsessive-compulsive disorder. They couldn't find the right guy to play Adrian Monk, so they let the series go to the USA Cable Network... which hired Shalhoub and soon had basic cable's biggest hit. ABC has since taken the unprecedented step of buying the already-aired episodes of "Monk" and rerunning them on the main network. I guess that makes "Monk" the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot of TV. (I guess it also means that "suspicious" and "hateful" Americans don't seem to mind embracing a quite obvious Arab-American in a big starring role.)

The emerging structure of TV commerce is really fascinating. I don't know if you know this, but here in Canada a weird thing has happened with The Sopranos. It's a huge hit here, of course. But the first-run episodes--season four's just getting underway, if I've figured this right--are available only on digital cable, which you have to buy a box and pay through the nose for. The season three episodes are available to basic cable subscribers, and CTV recently started airing season two on its broadcast network. Follow that? We've jury-rigged a system whereby you can see real old episodes for free, stale ones for next to nothing, and scorchingly new ones for an arm and a leg. I'm told a surprising number of people are opting for the "arm and leg" option. On top of all this, of course, you can buy seasons one, two, and three on DVD.

Canadian networks have always operated like this, letting U.S. networks do the R&D, so to speak, and cherry-picking the shows that are big hits (like South Park or The Osbournes). I think, long-term, this is the role the U.S. networks may find themselves in too--let the cable networks find the great shows and then swoop in with the big money and the big audiences. I suspect that "Monk" will be only the first of its kind.

- 12:35 pm, September 15 (link)

Feeling rather Cross

Disheartening news emerges from the camp of Mr. Show's David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, who have wrapped filming on a Ronnie Dobbs movie that's apparently never going to see the light of day. (For those who haven't made the wise investment in the Mr. Show season one and two DVDs, the Ronnie Dobbs character [played by Cross] is a good ol' boy who finds unexpected fame when a TV producer notices his repeated appearances on reality cop shows.)

Cross and Odenkirk took the studio cut of the movie around to some film festivals and got good notices. But New Line decided to leave it in the can--at which point the director, under Cross and Odenkirk's guidance, prepared a second cut which, in their opinion, was superior. This "supercut" was greeted with such annihilating indifference that David and Bob have addressed a personal message to fans.

If any situation called for an act of euthanasia, this is it. Both Bob and I agree that all in all, the movie is not that great. While it definitely has some very funny moments, the current cut of the movie that is out there being screened and traded on the internet, just isn't that good. There are very specific notes for a different cut (that Troy Miller, the director is enthusiastic about) ready to be input, which we all feel would make the movie, tighter, funnier, and generally more enjoyable all around. And I truly believe that the drama around New Line's decision to not release it (which Bob and I have unfortunately contributed far to much too) has only served to heighten expectations to a level that the current cut of movie cannot live up to.

So, please everybody, let's put our petty differences behind us for once, and let us all band together for a common good. Please stop wanting to see the movie, asking about it, or online chatting about it. Perhaps the sooner we put this national nightmare behind us, the sooner Bob and I can get working on our next project[...] Let's kill Run Ronnie Run once and for all.

I guess I'm not really helping, huh. Sorry guys.

- 12:08 pm, September 15 (link)

May we see your M.U. card please

If you didn't have enough reasons to be contemptuous of the Barenaked Ladies, here's a huge one. CBC's unnamed reporter didn't ask the wealthy crooning kneedip fucks if they pay taxes in Canada (of course). But then, the question answers itself, doesn't it? Hecklers, start your engines.

If I had a million dollars
I'd buy yer luuuuv...

Where's anyone going to get a million dollars if it's taxed at 90%+ after the first $80K? I bet their fucking accountant doesn't vote NDP, that's for sure.

- 11:20 am, September 15 (link)

Spreading the love

If you have a moment to spare this fine Sunday and you're of a curious disposition, there's some good stuff on the Report Web site. This, as you may have heard, is the Canadian conservative magazine I work for. Or should I just say that it's the Canadian conservative magazine? Its basic mandate is to promote Christianity, the traditional family, and liberty: in the old days, the fourth pillar, promoting the role of the West in Confederation, was more important than any of these, and it's still important, but the magazine is notionally national now. In fact, the magazine's Western mandate was what grew it in the first place, and it's what keeps people--a quarter million of 'em or so--reading now.

Anyway, my site is slightly more popular than the magazine's now--but I wouldn't dream of arguing that there's any commercial significance in the fact. The magazine's site is very good: for instance, there's Link Byfield's column about the drought on the prairies. He's rather too pessimistic, I think: the "old way of life" may have changed some, with quads replacing horses down on the farm, but it's still distinct and it's more sustainable and comfortable than ever. This is an exciting, frightening time for Canada's rural world. Is some of the romance gone? Yeah, it is, but with satellite TV and the Internet, the boredom's gone out the window along with it. Farmers are experimenting with new crops, new business models, new tools: that's making farming more attractive, not less, for young people of talent and imagination. And that's what's necessary to save the farm lifestyle. When Link says that these same young people "never knew the sounds and smells of a cow camp on a dewy morning", I can only add that they're probably glad of it. But his column is a nice, sympathetic slice of life--Link is perennially underappreciated as a writer.

Paul Bunner's most recent column contains some incredible revelations about the constitutional repatriation process--Canadians absolutely should not miss it. Americans, meanwhile, might want to read Mike Byfield's article about the future of Alberta's oil industry, which has ramifications for U.S. energy security. And Ian Hunter, biographer, law professor, and pundit, has some excellent points about the death of marriage in the West here.

Also, for those of you who've noticed that a lot of the links in my "Greatest Hits" section are busted at the moment, there's some stale but still interesting stuff of mine in an experimental format here. It's in PDF form, but do go have a look--the guy who assembled it is experimenting with revenue models and I told him I'd steer some traffic his way. My interview with the world video-game grand champion, among other things, is in there. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.

- 10:20 am, September 15 (link)

The world's worst job

SRINAGAR, India (AP) - Gunmen ambushed the well-guarded campaign convoy of the Kashmir tourism minister on Sunday, killing two of her guards and wounding three more, police said.

Jesus, like the job of tourism minister of Kashmir isn't difficult enough? How hard is it to crank out pamphlets for this place? When I read this, I flashed on the brainstorming session for the Kashmir tourism authority.

Kashmir: A Place Worth Killing For
Kashmir Is For Lovers (of Senseless Artillery Duels)
Kashmir - You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Live Here, But... Oh Wait, Yes You Do
Kashmir - You Loved the Song, Now See the Hellhole
When Reality TV Just Isn't Real Enough, Come to Beautiful, Bitterly Contested Kashmir

- 8:57 am, September 15 (link)

Continuing our moon theme

As we discussed before, Rush has, with time, become cool, in accordance with the near-universal law that everything which lasts sufficiently long becomes hip. One exception, I believe, is Jethro Tull: people still pull faces at the mention of Ian Anderson & Co. This, I can understand: the music's very dear to me, and there was a time when it was very popular, but if you're not lucky enough to have approached the corpus with a congenial imagination when you were too young to know any better, there's no expecting you to realize that Tull had twenty or thirty songs absolutely as good as anybody's.

But if you were inclined to have a taste, I'd be in a good position to march you past the overrated (yet very good!) Aqualung and the much-derided Thick as a Brick. In my last burst of record-buying before an indefinite austerity period, I treated myself to the CD remaster of 1970's Benefit, one of the great underappreciated artifacts of a very good time in music. No out-of-control prog excess here! No claghorns! No feigned grandeur! Just an absolutely killer English band, exactly halfway through the house-move from the English folk revival to prog and 'eavy metal.

The record features the best Tull lineup, then just beginning to taste transatlantic rock success. It's anchored by John Evan's lovely crystalline piano, then just added to the mix, and by the guitar playing of Martin Barre, who could play eloquent solos and chunky fuzzbox rhythm with equal ease. By turns delicate and snarling, it contains possibly the only rock song about the Apollo 11 landing. This is music anybody could like, surely?

- 7:28 pm, September 14 (link)

The last temptation of Uncle Sam

Jerry Pournelle has been on fire this week at his weblog, The View. Jerry is much concerned with America's transition from Republic to Empire, and so he ought to be. And while he doesn't like it one bit, he believes that if the transition is going to be made, it had best be done right, which is to say, competently and honestly.

This is, increasingly, my own position. Not everything about empires is bad, and this one, I think, will be better than most. If Americans wanted to stand up for the Old Republic, they'd have done it years ago. The hour is awfully late for such a project now, and there is no Brutus in sight.

Anyway, you can't have an empire without frightfulness, and you can't have an empire--in the long term--without client states. Pournelle's Friday thoughts on Iraq are especially strong in this regard. The right rulers sociologically and historically for these Near Eastern countries are kings. The U.S. had a chance to reestablish the Afghan monarchy and pissed it away, for no better reason than an unthinking republican preference which is now no better, or more meaningful, than a superstition. Instead the plan seems to be "While we wait for them to finally kill Hamid Karzai, let's see which of the 14 or so vice-presidents can convince enough warlords to get behind him." That country will certainly end up with a Napoleon instead of a Louis XIV. Which will make it no different from its neighbours, admittedly.

And, contrary to the hopes of Instapundit et al., no American administration is going to hand Iraq back to a junior branch of the Hashemites, either. Which is a pity, and the prejudice behind it is, in fact, subtly antagonizing to those of us who live under monarchies. On no single subject is American thinking so thoroughly addled.

The Romans, who had an exceptionalist credo like America's, learned pretty quickly that they could be hypocrites, and impose non-republican forms of government upon client states. Of course, this was not healthy for their own republic in the long run: but the only alternative was to retreat from imperial responsibilities, and that doesn't seem to have occurred to them for a single moment. It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone in present-day America, either, except for a few diehards like Jerry. But note carefully that he is not opposed to a pre-emptive war against Saddam. And neither am I: this die was cast long ago.

- 6:20 pm, September 14 (link)

The lighter (fluid) side of politics

From the late-breaking WaPo story on Janet Reno's quest for a recount in the Florida Democratic primary:

Against the backdrop of the 2000 presidential election, [Reno counsel Alan] Greer said a second rejection by the commission, made up entirely of Republicans, would cause a "firestorm."

I think we have a winner in the Least Appropriate Metaphor Sweepstakes for 2002. (Note, if you like, that the Post quotes Greer halfway down in the story but saves the crux of the GOP response--hey hosehead, it's a Democratic primary--until the bitter end.)

- 5:02 am, September 14 (link)

Look who's talking

Lawrence Garvin, AWOL these many moons, is alive and well, apparently. He says Chretien has reduced the Liberals "to claiming 'gibberish' as their defence." Hasn't that always been the strong card in their hand? "The Prime Minister's remarks were misinterpreted. As soon as we discover what language he was speaking, we'll explain what he meant."

- 2:39 am, September 14 (link)

The sincerest form of fantasy

Peter Worthington is possibly--let's say probably--the greatest, most distinguished living Canadian journalist. Here's his fine column on Jean Chretien's 9-11 comments. Not only is it worth reading for its own sake, especially by Americans, but check out this quote:

What's distressing about Chretien's assertions about the causes of terrorism is that they are wrong, wrong, wrong.

Now look at the headline of my weblog entry on the same subject. The sad part is, I can't take this as evidence he's actually reading. But how nice to think so for a moment.

- 8:38 pm, September 13 (link)

The shape of a pear

Flit is on the friendly-fire case like white on rice. If you haven't made an effort to read the expanded radio transcript of the communications between the two U.S. planes, you might want to have a look.

We must take it as read that Maj. "Psycho" Schmidt did not really intend to slaughter Canadians, but his actions appear to be as inexcusable as they could possibly be without him actually forming that intention. He spotted the Canadian activity (which was small-arms fire on a ground target, utterly harmless to him) and asked for permission to unload. His commander said "Let's just make sure it's not friendly." The AWACS surveying the scene told the pilots to hold off dropping bombs on anything and asked for more details on the supposed surface-to-air fire. The commander was still looking around, trying to figure out what Schmidt was shooting at--and then came Schmidt's "bombs away". The AWACS' next order--"Disengage, friendlies Kandahar"--came ten seconds after the bomb impact.

Bruce seems to wish to implicate Schmidt's use of small amounts of amphetamines, before the mission, in the disaster. But the U.S. armed forces use these drugs because they've done a lot of testing of their effects on behaviour and judgment, and they're confident--rightly so, I think--that a few greenies aren't going to make anyone lose their shit. Whether you'd want to give them to a fellow who's already acquired the nickname "Psycho" is another matter. Reading these transcripts, I feel utterly at a loss to understand what happened. I trust that the United States military--for its own sake, not for ours--will make a thorough effort to come to grips with the incident. There's no desire in me to attempt to assign blame--war is chaotic and unfortunate, and involves death, and if these guys were simply to be let off, I could live with that, as a Canadian. But something went really, really pear-shaped here, for reasons not yet clear.

- 8:06 pm, September 13 (link)

But you look nothing like Haley Joel Osment

Mark Morris says that only one stranger has linked to his website so far. Well, goddammit, let's just make that two. Check me out, everybody! I'm "paying it forward!"

Mark's having trouble with his cat.

He bites too much. You can only pet him for a few seconds before he starts getting a wild look in his eyes and then starts biting your hand.

Young cats are all like this--perpetually overstimulated by the world of the senses--and of course it's not hostility, just inappropriate play. I've never had any trouble teaching a cat the meaning of "NO", but perhaps I've been lucky. I regret to say it comes down to connecting the verbal order with a fairly sharp whack on the hindquarters. Cats learn fast: it's not necessary to keep conditioning them in this way for weeks. They get the picture real quick. "Kitty ritalin" might work, I suppose, but you'll find giving a cat a pill to be approximately two hundred and fifty thousand times as traumatic--for you and him--as a rap on the rump.

Also, avoid rubbing or touching your cat's stomach. That's a soft area he has an instinct to protect, so he interprets that as picking a fight. When he's older and less crazy, he'll be a little calmer about letting you go there, though I'd still consider it a faux pas.

- 11:30 am, September 13 (link)

Giants in those days

O thou good Kent, how shall I live and work,
To match thy goodness? My life will be too short,
And every measure fail me.

- King Lear

His words are Bonds['], his oaths are oracles,
His love sincere, his thoughts immaculate,
His tears pure messengers sent from his heart,
His heart as far from fraud as heaven from earth.

- The Two Gentlemen of Verona

- 10:42 am, September 13 (link)

Why create when you can borrow?

I clicked through the links on my left-hand sidebar for the best of the Web, so you don't have to (but you should)!

· Instapundit has a sharp little letter from an anonymous Canadian talking about Chretien's abhorrent 9/11 gumflap. Incidentally, David Collenette should not get a free pass in all this--he expressed open regret, in the same set of interviews, over the collapse of the Soviet Union. It's taken away an important "check" on American power, you know. That's "check", not be confused with "Czech", or with any of the other Soviet-subjugated peoples who should be sending nasty letters to La Collenette's office right now.

· Clay Waters, whose Blogger permalinks are busted (of course), notes that Bill Moyers' helped observe September 11 by holding a contest encouraging readers to send in "examples of crass nationalism". They call it "Flag-Waving Watch". Hyuk, hyuk! What incorrigible zanies! Far too many people are attacking Moyers these days without referring to him as "drunk driver Bill Moyers". I'm serious about this: if drunk driving doesn't merit a social sanction of this sort, what does? Every time the name is mentioned, it should be in the form "drunk driver Bill Moyers". As in: "Guess who turned up on PBS last night? None other than drunk driver Bill Moyers!" Everybody got that?

· Matt Welch's Google translation of his wife is, as promised, curiously affecting. And the rest of that page is hilarious, as machine translation usually is, although I notice that the Googlator actually does quite a bang-up job of conveying the gist. But wait a minute... why is Matt translating his wife's page? Doesn't he know French? [right eyebrow rises 1/8"]

· Jorn Barger has a superb little observation about Web design. I find it hard to agree with the hyper-minimalist, "content-centered" style he advocates, but I fully endorse his reasons for advocating it. And he's been saying for years now that XML is DOA: how long, exactly, do we have to wait for the New Jerusalem before we decide he's right?

· Clerihew of the day:

Tim Blair,
cruel but fair

· Sasha Castel has spotted an astonishing story out of Chicago. Her permalinks are busted too (Blogger: It's Free, But It Doesn't Work) so you'll have to scroll down to the entry starting "Should orchestras have racial quotas?" Quick summary: black American musicians once demanded, and got, a widespread system of blind auditions for orchestral jobs. Now the blind auditions are being attacked on behalf of... black musicians, who remain underrepresented in some American orchestras. Even briefer summary: once again, equality of opportunity is being discarded in favour of equality of outcome.

Jeez, I didn't realize my link list had gotten so out of hand. I hardly got halfway down! I'll resume the show at a more suitable time...

- 2:34 am, September 13 (link)

At the Tobes of Geddy

Aaron Haspel reacts to the latest Rush news. Man, talk about making the perfect the enemy of the good. Anyway, I am happy to report that Chris Spillios's set list is in error, and that, in fact, we received a reasonably complete version of the saga, and the land of the Overworld was saved, no doubt for at least the 500th time. We now return you to regularly scheduled programming.

- 10:31 pm, September 12 (link)

Wrong, wrong, wrong

I guess you've all heard the deep thoughts Jean Chretien had to share with us on the September 11 anniversary. He said that September 11, for him, is specifically a time not to mourn, nor to contemplate foreign-policy steps against tyranny, nor to consider the benefits of our relationship with the United States. No no no. It's a time to think thoughts like this:

...I do think the Western world is getting too rich in relation to the poor world and necessarily, you know, we're looked upon as being arrogant, self-satisfied, greedy and with no limits.

I believe the traditional punchline here is "What do you mean we, kemosabe?" This seems pretty simple to me, Jean: you're a millionaire, you nasty cocksucker. If you feel too rich, give your money away. Let's see you live on my salary for a while, then we can have a nice chat about how greedy and arrogant we both are.

In truth, any honest accounting would show that the "poor world", even as poor as it is, owes a staggering net debt to the "rich world". The "rich world" is a buffet of ideas, ranging from electricity to Elvis and from aviation to aspirin. Any place or group even slightly evolved beyond the slime of subsistence has sampled generously, and gratis. It's only partly our fault so many of them opted for a heaping side order of Marxism.

But I don't expect most people to agree with such a simplistic, hard-headed view. The real point is, it's just plain factually wrong to connect September 11 to poverty of any kind. I know you all know this: I know you all know that Osama is a multimillionaire, that the hijackers nearly all came from Saudi Arabia, that Mohammed Atta was the university-educated son of an affluent lawyer just like Jean. But why doesn't Chretien know it? Once again the so-called left is asleep at the switch, when they're not actively working to fling it in the other direction. Rick Salutin, Naomi Klein, all you guys--how can you sit there and let this rich bastard lecture the working class of this country on its blood guilt?

The same question, of course, could be asked of many American commentators. But we're all so busy playing identity politics that we've lost the appetite for good old-fashioned class warfare.

- 6:50 pm, September 12 (link)

Lacuna sunrise

I have to apologize for accidentally deleting the post where I explained I was going to the concert. (It was originally located between this one and that one.) It's confusing now, I know, but I overwrote the wrong index file so you're out of luck until I get back to the office. Which isn't going to happen today, because my stomach feels and acts like I got worked over by a skinhead. [UPDATE, Sept. 13: The missing post has been restored.]

Now this is some weird and mostly inappropriate dating advice for women, presented as part of some back-and-forth with Dawn Olsen. Are there really guys who look for a photo of a girl's mother to size up her marriageability?

The fella you just brought into your apartment is combing every surface for a picture of her to see how you'll turn out after 3 kids and 30 years of marriage.

Is it just me, or is the unspoken assumption here on the guy's part that he is still going to be da bomb when he's 55-plus, and the wife goddamn well better keep up? Are there heterosexual men who are really this vain and preoccupied? (I'm sorely tempted to answer "No.") It's not like us guys aren't shallow enough in the present tense.

"Yeah, man, she's a dead ringer for Jessica Alba, but I caught a look at her grandma and now I'm screening her calls."

"Been there, dude."

- 5:06 pm, September 12 (link)

Nigel on parade

It's time for the ultimate ploy for hits--cat photos! Judging by the frequency with which he is mentioned in your e-mails to me, you guys seem to have concluded that my emotional life revolves around my cat, when it would be closer to the truth to say that he is just a mysterious blur who occasionally flies past, stirring up loose papers and scaring the hell out of me. Basically, it is like having a cannon fired at you five or six times a day, and it doesn't always miss, either. But there are extant photos of the animal in repose--here, here, and here. And, believe it or not, this one has not been digitally altered in any way.

- 7:02 am, September 12 (link)


All right, I wasn't planning to trot out the "my September 11" thing, but I figure my time zone is underrepresented in the collective reminiscing. The story's pretty simple, really. I was asleep when it all started. A friend of mine, with slightly more normal nocturnal habits than my own, rang me with a crazy story about people steering jumbo jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They'd knocked down the towers, she said. Well, as soon as I turned on the TV I could see she was out of her mind, because there they were--quite plainly scarred and flaming, but erect. "What are you talking about?" I kept saying. "I'm looking right at them, they haven't fallen down."

It was hour-old video footage. The network had neglected to identify it as such--leaving me utterly unprepared for the sudden gray blossoming of the first tower. Well, you all know how that felt. The photo here says it all. That's the face of a man trying to swallow a whole lot of history in one bite. Trying to search for reasons the terrible things this person was telling him might not be true.

As for the rest of the day, I don't suppose my own experience was much different from yours, if you weren't in NYC. I remember the now-forgotten rumours reported as fact on the television: a fifth plane said to be down in Colorado, a car bomb outside the State Department. I remember the gnawing uncertainty ("God, what next?") and the strange euphoria ("Nothing else important is happening anywhere: the whole world is watching the same thing"), and the nausea, and, truth be told, some highly inappropriate jokes. Everybody you talked to that day had their own ideas, their own sources.

And I remember being glad that they were diverting the international flights to Canada. The crisis has come and we're not being dicks about it. Thank God. Some Americans have forgotten that we took on the inbound planes, any of which might have been, in effect, a cruise missile. Every large city took them, including mine. Lord knows our political masters have done their best to undo that small, but not entirely inconsiderable, act of civic courage, not to speak of the ones that followed in places like Gander, where people opened their homes. But I hope it won't be forgotten: in it, the true spirit of Canada revealed itself for a moment, radiating through the posturing and preening of a government most of us didn't vote for and don't want. Do believe that.

- 4:47 pm, September 11 (link)

Forbidden planets

OK, hold everything. I like to keep up with astronomy news, but somehow I totally missed the thing about Moon 2. Shouldn't this have been front-page stuff? "EARTH HAS SECOND MOON. Songwriters Excited But Can't Find Rhymes For 'Cruithne'."

Anyway, there's now a Moon 3. Great, we haven't even landed a man on Moon 2 yet. The rogue minor planets are increasing in number faster than we can subjugate them. Forget Saddam! This is the real issue!

- 3:09 pm, September 11 (link)

"2112" in 2002/Reader mail

Nobody's written to deprecate my sojourn to the Rush show last night, which is nice. I guess when Pavement name-checked Geddy Lee on Brighten the Corners it sealed the credibility of that most splendid of Canadian institutions. I'd have reacted badly right now if anyone had poked fun. The tribe had waited a long time--nearly 12 years--to be brought back together at the old Coliseum, a building whose crumbling splendor is suffused with the musk of two thousand hockey games and about a million reefers. You just wanted to hug the old metalheads, still displaying their mullets with the defiant pride of a Cavalier. And the young, college-age fans, our own dorky, poignant heirs. Aw, it was a great night.

And a great show, not incidentally--a crashing, compelling historic justification of the power trio. Rush concerts have often lacked for a certain spontaneity, but this time out the band isn't locked in a death grip with click-tracks and sequencers. (When Alex and Geddy sat down for an acoustic-guitar duet of "Resist"--well, it was a perfectly natural action, you might think, but for old Rush fans there were about five seconds of "Whoa--what are they doing? Have they gone nuts?") This is a groovy, loose, magisterial Rush at the top of its form. Geddy's infamous voice, believe it or not, has completed its long historic climb from liability to asset. And Neil, the wounded, solemn griot of Rush, hasn't lost a step: yes, drum solos are easy to mock, but this one had the emotional punch of Ted Williams' last home run. The visual effects were by far the most astonishing in my concertgoing experience. Fans can consult the eye-popping set list here. Yes, they really did do "By-Tor and the Snow Dog".

Let's just turn to the mailbag... Richard Ames of Pittsburgh writes to share fond memories of listening to Rush back in the Moving Pictures era. Apparently he used some sort of crude device involving a vinyl disk and a diamond-studded needle. Unfortunately, Richard commits prog-rock lèse-majesté by asking if they did "Onward". Richard, blow the dust off your old records, buddy--"Onward" is a Yes song!

Floyd McWilliams, who has renamed his weblog, wonders aloud:

I could have weird thoughts about that plaque all day. Like, "Penis, balls, tits, but no vagina? Do these Earth creatures do it the Greek way?"
It's too bad the plaque wasn't launched a few years later, because then the world could have sent its best representatives -- Rush! Yes, Geddy, Alex and Neil line-drawn naked for the betterment of all mankind.
I'd better stop now.

Yeah, I'll say you'd better. I'm all weirded out now.

- 5:44 am, September 11 (link)

Almighty voice

I have too many linkers to thank for today's avalanche of hits (although the attention of Instantman is always especially welcome). In just a few short hours your correspondent will be going to take in Rush at Skyreach Centre. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect. The lads really lost the plot for a few years there, then they were more or less idle for a few more after Neil Peart's family died. I've only had time to listen to the new record once. It's loud, and it damn well should be. I'm still young enough to be extremely impatient with Music to Sip Merlot To. Or, for that matter, Music To (x) To, where 'x' is any action other than banging your head, shaking your ass, stamping your feet, or weeping bitter tears.

Do people even still do the thing where you get a new album and you sit and listen to it with your friends? Or does that idea seem as obsolete as a Victrola?

- 4:01 pm, September 10 (link)

Get me rewrite

Via Robot Wisdom: check out Edward Tufte's proposed redesign of the famous "Road Map For Alien Conquistadors" plaque that left earth aboard Pioneer 10. Very amusing, Mr. Tufte, but how to you propose to retrieve the plaque? Design me a way to do that, smart guy.

Has anybody noticed how sexist the Pioneer 10 plaque is? "Hey, I'll welcome the damn aliens--I'm in charge of this here species. You just stand there, bitch." The female line drawing was probably just happy to get a break from her day job in the pages of The Joy of Sex. You have no idea how exhausting it is to perform the double reverse spearfish 24/7/365.

- 11:02 am, September 10 (link)

Brought to you by the letter '3'

AP is reporting that Janet Reno compared herself to Harry S Truman last night as her campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Florida wound down. Damn, you know, if you look close there really is a resemblance...

I really dig that word "gubernatorial", by the way. Somehow, when they got together to make an adjective out of "governor", a 'b' slipped in there. I bet they were high that day. "No... no, dude, "governorial" just doesn't sound cool. [bong hit] I think, like, a letter 'b' would really give it that extra oomph." Ever since that time, baked people have gotten a kick out of Dan Rather having to say "guber" with a straight face.

- 10:27 am, September 10 (link)

Enemy of the noun

The owner of the aforementioned secret weblog avers, in response to my goading, that she is out of beta now and ready to be seen. She insisted, though, that I describe her site with a suitable, well-chosen adjective. That's before she started talking poisonous nonsense about voting Liberal at the next election, so my tentative plans to use "charming" or even "captivating" are out the window. I'm now thinking maybe "vapid", "treacherous", or perhaps "poxy".

While I search for le mot juste you can go have a look.

- 1:37 am, September 10 (link)

American made

Woozy centenarian Helen Thomas wrote a syndicated column about changes in America since Sept. 11. NRO's Jonah Goldberg didn't like it much. I put fingers to keyboard to point out this mild solecism, to which Jonah was moved by the Reverend Mother's citation of Winston Churchill:

...does it strike anyone as funny that she quotes a British Prime Minister to talk about what America has always stood for? I mean if a Brit talked about what Britain always stood for and quoted, say, FDR[,] wouldn't that strike your ear as a bit weird.

Does it strike anyone as funny that Jonah Goldberg is unaware that Winston Churchill had a mother from Brooklyn, a grandfather who edited the New York Times, and a great-grandfather who fought alongside Washington at Valley Forge? (Details here.) Of course, he wasn't actually a U.S. citizen or anything. Nor was he one of the most distinguished chroniclers and interpreters of the American republic's history [that's enough hypertext sarcasm! -Ed.]

- 1:13 am, September 10 (link)

Uncivilization in decline

Is it just me, or are the Nigerian spammers getting kind of indolent and brusque? I can remember a time, understand, when the fax machine was the preferred medium for the old "I am the unrecognized natural child of the deposed God-Emperor Mbubu" con game. There was always a long introduction, polite to the point of servility, and riddled with nuggets from history (warning: nuggets may not contain actual history). Now it's like these guys are just going through the motions--we never cared, but now they don't either! "I AM LEOPOLD MOVUTU! YOU SEND MONEY NOW!" Who out there is going "Hey, this seems legit!" Come on, put on a show for me. Sing for your supper. You're t-h-i-s far away from my PIN number.

- 7:17 pm, September 9 (link)

Loose ends

I've got an editorial meeting in a couple hours, so let's get some business old and new out of the way.

· Mike at Cold Fury sends me a Montgomery Burns-esque "Eeexcellent". Mike swears really well. He wants to know why journalism schools turn out "socialist muttonheads" in such large numbers. The short answer is that most intelligent people instinctively recognize J-school as a waste of their time. The rudiments of journalistic ethics can be inscribed on a single sheet of 8.5" × 11" paper, if you use both sides. Interviewing skills can only be learned on the job. And if you haven't got the rudiments of English prose when you arrive at college, you're never going to get 'em. So what's J-school? Four years of hanging out with people who all agree with each other.

· Sam Mikes has a rebuttal to my most recent comments on the constitutionality of Congressional chaplains. (Sam is an American citizen living in Edmonton, Canada.) He says:

The atheist has the right to free exercise of his lack of religion. He does not have the right to object to anyone else's practice of religion. Nor even to require that government money not be spent on obtaining religious services for government employees -- any more than I, a Catholic, can demand the expulsion of Protestants from the chaplaincy.

Sentence one is OK; sentence two is absolutely OK; but I missed the leap to sentence three. The First Amendment says that Congress may not prohibit the free exercise of religion. The argument seems to go, "Therefore, Congress is positively required to provide chaplains for religious Congressmen at the public expense." Is that what the free exercise of religion means? Is my freedom inhibited because my place of work doesn't allow me to have--much less pay for--a shaman at my elbow?

I should say not. The "free exercise" clause isn't what the argument's about at all: the argument's about that part that says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." This doesn't say merely that Congress shall not establish a religion for the United States: as I read it, it says there will be no law which even touches on the matter of establishment. That's a pretty high standard. The courts have generally, and appropriately, taken a broad view of the meaning of "establishment."

The question becomes whether selecting, paying, honouring, and quartering chaplains of Congress's choosing, within Congress, smacks of "establishment." Any historically informed reader may answer this for himself, as he pleases. I am not an expert on this subject, particularly, nor am I an American. (I am generally quite comfortable living in a country which has no formal principle of church-state separation whatever.) And I will reiterate that the chaplains should stay; I just think the best course of action would have been to agree to pretend that their duties are not primarily or essentially religious. With guys like Michael Newdow around, it may too late for that, but the fault's not his.

· Courtesy of Fark:

SANTA ANA - The 20-year-old defendant told the judge that marijuana made him a better basketball player.

"Oh, yeah?" replied Judge Marc Kelly, peering down at Alvaro Alvarez, charged with pot possession. "I'm a 42-year-old man. I don't think you can take me on."

No, it's not a sitcom--it's the daily newspaper! I wouldn't dream of ruining the ending for you, but let's just say it's a shame this kid didn't think to Google the judge before he agreed to go one-on-one with him.

- 7:46 am, September 9 (link)

The blind assassins

Understand this: you should ignore pretty much everything you read about polls "supporting" Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Why? Because two-thirds of Canadians are as ignorant as a newborn of what the Kyoto Protocol even is, let alone what effects it will have on our economy.

A new Canada-wide poll indicates most Canadians have no idea what the Kyoto Protocol is about, like it less as they learn more about it and favour a Made-in-Canada solution.
The poll, conducted from August 30 to September 2 by CROP, Environics partner in Quebec, for the Quebec Business Centre on the Environment (Centre Patronal de l'Environnement du Québec --CPEQ) and the Quebec Chamber of Commerce (Chambre de Commerce du Québec), showed that, while most Canadians say they support the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, nearly two thirds (61%) have no idea what it is about, and half of Canadians have never even heard of it.
When asked, "Have you ever heard of the Kyoto Protocol?" 51% said they were not aware of it.

Check out the full press release, and note that support for signing the protocol went down when our foolish compatriots were told that the U.S. hasn't signed and won't sign. It went down, again, when they were told that the protocol will handicap economic growth in Canada. It went down, again, when they were told that American capital might withdraw across the border because of it.

I think CROP should have continued with this line. The survey respondents should have been told that "developing nations" haven't signed the accord and won't be asked to. They should have been told that Japan hasn't signed it, and they should have been told that Australia, with typical good sense, told the daft shites who wrote the thing to go piss up a rope. Maybe they should have been told that my job is at stake, or better still, my 57-year-old father's job.

Or maybe we could just circumvent all that and ask the real question. "If signing the Kyoto Protocol would mean that you will lose your job, would you still support it?"

That's what "support" for Kyoto should imply, but it's a poll nobody's ever going to have the guts to take.

- 5:06 am, September 9 (link)

I give up

All right, I've been convinced. Susanna Cornett needed help to find the page anchors in my HTML, help which led directly to ridicule of my Neanderthalism (see her comments). Andrea Harris solved the fiendish puzzle herself, but her joy at solving it was, if anything, more discouraging than the ridicule.

I didn't want to add permalinks because (a) it's something extra for me to do when I post something and (b) I figured people who had Web pages could find anchors in HTML (honestly not suspecting the severe flaw in the premise that "having a web page" involves "knowing HTML") and (c) I was by no means sure anybody would want to link to anything at all on this nasty homemade site and (d) the chance of a breakdown in a machine--or a hunk of code--goes up exponentially with the number of moving, interacting parts. (a) and (d) are the most important of these reasons.

Also, the links cannot be truly "perma" because there's no hulking MySQL monster belching smoke behind this site. They shall have to be semipermalinks: they will point directly to the post for 8-12 days and indirectly to it, via an intermediate link in the "Recently Truncated" section at bottom, for 40-50 more.

So, as a token of my affection, welcome to now with semipermalinks.

- 3:09 am, September 9 (link)

Behind the blackboard

Re: 9/11 commemoration


The package you've put together for the Wednesday morning assembly at Frampton Central looks v. good. All here at the directorate agree that it meets our expert panel's directives to be POSITIVE and INSPIRING. Just a very few tiny changes necessary to get the INCLUSIVE part over the hump--hope it's not too late to incorporate these.

(1) Excellent job on dealing w/ the v. sensitive issue of the origin of the "hijackers", but pls. refer to them as "unlicensed amateur pilots" per 5.B.ii of the panel report! Yours was the only presentation in the district not to mention Islam *once*, except of course for the conclutatory poem, "'Islam' is How My Arab Brother Says 'Love'". Superintendent v. pleased!

(2) We advise a slight restatement of your chosen theme for the assembly, "Remembering an Unfortunate Event". The word "unfortunate" may have the unintended effect of disenfranchising the unique postcolonial emotional experiences of those students who may actually have felt approval and/or pleasure 9/11 last. As you are aware (please consult 1.A.ii of the panel report), de-privileging these reactions is a form of cultural violence. Better theme choices may include:
· Remembering an Important Event
· Remembering a Memorable Event
· Let's Remember Together--Whatever Our Colour and Orientation!
Bowell Jr. High is going with "Coping With Healing, Nurturing Our Remembering." You might want to use that!

(3) Your concerns about the orphaned students' responses to the "Hey, Friend, It's Not OK To Hate" guest lecture are noted. Unfortunately, legal did not think it likely that we could obtain a court order allowing for the pre-emptive sedation of the bereaved students. (Freddie just about hit the roof when we asked!) However, you will be allowed to have a board-selected physician on standby. He has been encouraged to be VERY pro-active in identifying signs of communicable disease in the bereaved individuals. (Wink, wink!)

BTW, the planned meet-and-greet with supporters of Palestinian independence has been cleared by the expert panel. We've notified Nabil and Maher that fire codes will not allow for the burning of an Israeli flag inside the gymnasium proper. Will let you know what kind of work-around we eventually decide on--we've placed a deposit with a company that stages laser-light shows, so keep your fingers crossed! Lunch Friday?

-- Hal

- 5:12 am, September 8 (link)

Mush, you huskies

The vivacious Sasha Castel was kind enough to write this on Tuesday:

Best blog lead of the day, courtesy of Colby Cosh:

Just came back from watching the traditional Labour Day football game between the Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders....

This almost makes me want to read about football.

Do you know what's really amusing about this? It took me, like, five minutes to figure out what was funny about a football team called the "Eskimos". (Or maybe it's the weird spelling of "labour", I still don't know for sure.)

This goes back to what I was saying last month about envying and admiring the Australians. They have their own domestic football game, which they follow fanatically, largely ignoring the NFL, without taking the trouble to soul-search about it. But Canadian football, even in Canada, is merely the weird-looking sister of the American game. I hardly know anybody who has a discernible emotional investment in it: I guess we think it would be like getting worked up over rookie-league baseball or something.

But, hell, somebody's going to the games. On Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium the Eskimos (yeah, go ahead, laugh) played a league game in front of 61,481 people. That's more people than attended the New England-Oakland division championship last year.

- 3:42 am, September 8 (link)

The dilemma of the dormant domain

Tim Blair wonders why Mark Steyn's website is still a just a "coming soon" sign hovering in a void after many long months. Good question.

I believe the unused URL was purchased shortly after Steyn's late-2001 strike against the Southam newspapers. The background: on October 15, the Ottawa Citizen ran a column by Warren Kinsella, a Liberal operator and author who fancies himself the James Carville of Canada (which is true if you excuse his less abundant flair and worse ethics). The column led off with a factually inaccurate, wild-eyed hundred-word attack on Steyn whose details I won't exhume here: suffice to say that Kinsella (a) misquoted a prior Steyn column on 9/11 and (b) accused Steyn of trashing Canadians "from his perch in New Hampshire". Steyn does have a perch in New Hampshire, but he is a Canadian citizen and resident who wrote the offending column while in Canada.

The Citizen is owned and run by the same company that publishes the National Post, which is the home of Steyn's Canadian column. Steyn's column disappeared from the Post immediately after Kinsella's bilious rant. The Citizen ran a correction, written by Kinsella, on October 22; it didn't exactly cover the waterfront, defamation-wise. Steyn's sit-down strike continued.

It is a very, very bad thing for the Post to be without Steyn, who must, I think, be considered its star columnist nonpareil. Kinsella disappeared from the pages of the Citizen completely, not to return until August 22 of this year (and then only for a one-off on the Prime Minister's resignation). And if you don't think silks were being soiled up and down the Southam chain, consider this extraordinary note published by the Citizen on November 22:

The Ottawa Citizen and Southam News wish to apologize for our apology to Mark Steyn, published Oct. 22. In correcting the incorrect statements about Mr. Steyn published Oct. 15, we incorrectly published the incorrect correction. We accept and regret that our original regrets were unacceptable and we apologize to Mr. Steyn for any distress caused by our previous apology.

On November 29, Steyn returned to the pages of the Post.

The domain was purchased in the next month or so, as best I can tell. The great man may simply have had plans to establish a pro forma online presence that haven't yet been fulfilled. But if you like, you can conjecture that there's more going on here. Steyn is a good friend of the founder of the Post, Conrad Black, who sold the paper and abandoned the country last year after the Liberal government very crudely and wrongly interfered with Tony Blair's plans to grant him a British peerage. (To give Mr. Black his correct title, he is now Lord Black of Crossharbour.) The new owners of the paper are staunch Liberal supporters, and while Steyn has what I believe to be enormous subscriber-pulling power with the Post, the new bosses will never be entirely happy cutting him paycheques. Meanwhile, at the time, Steyn's other North American outlet, the American Spectator, was in utter disarray. So he may have been using the threat of starting an Andrew Sullivan-style site for leverage, or simply as another possible platform.

For the moment it's a bolt-hole he doesn't need. So, in conclusion, Tim, I wouldn't hold my breath for Steyn Online to actually go online anytime soon. But I've been wrong before, once or twice.

- 3:26 pm, September 7 (link)

Festival of fun

A late-night grab-bag.

Attention Floyd McWilliams: never heard of you before yesterday, when you showed up in my referrer logs. But as war commentary goes, this is a 500-foot home run.

Flit is a defiantly independent and really pretty superb Canadian weblog. Yeah, the guy's out to lunch twenty percent of the time: what do you want? He's den Beste North, with predictable northern failings (and perhaps even den Bestial ones), but the more the merrier.

Has anyone been following this controversy about the Kissinger op-ed? Kaus and Marshall have taken the internecine NYT slugfest to the Beltway for an undercard. "Hey, you misinterpreted Kissinger's op-ed!" "No, man, you misinterpreted it!" "He wants to go to war! He wants to take out Saddam!" "Screw that! He's on Powell's side!" Hey, fellas, why don't you stop beating hell out of each other and point out that Kissinger should have written in English in the first place if he didn't want to be misinterpreted? We're all victims here!

- 4:15 am, September 7 (link)


Jeez, guys, I spend like one day going out for lunch, watching videos and shopping for DVDs, pretending to be a human, and suddenly it's like "No! No hits for you! We wouldn't touch your website with a Leper Touching Device, pal! We want new! We want fresh! We want you to be more like Glenn Reynolds! INSTA-pundit, get it? Maybe you should change your name to INSTA-Colby Cosh, just to remind yourself not to go away for a whole day and have fun and get some sunlight so you don't die of vitamin deficiency or turn into some Count of Monte Cristo-like wraith.

I guess in this big, crazy wired world, it's not good enough for human beings to be 50% robot and 50% monkey! All robot, all the time! That's the slogan! I am your cold, mechanical info-bot slave!

For the love of God, Montresor...!

Actually, I'd have happily "blogged" from the various locations I visited, but you know eventually some chucklehead would come along and ask what I was up to and I'd have to say "Oh, just bloggin', dude." And then I'd hate myself even more than I hate those diaper commercials that pretend to market the diapers directly to the baby. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who has her own weblog (which remains tippy top secret until she grows a backbone and allows its URL to be revealed to the world--it's very cool, trust me, she's just a big chicken), and we got to talking shop, and every time I needed a verb to describe the act of updating a weblog, there'd be this pause in the conversation while I looked for a way to make myself physically die.

I'm sorry I came along too late to prevent us from being stuck with this word "blog". If you held a contest ten years ago to form the ugliest possible random concatenation of phonetic units, "blog" would have walked off with the Palme d'Or and the plaudits of a grateful universe. I feel like a transsexual Liberal-voting urophile just performing an activity that can be described by the verb "blog."

And don't get me started on all these books that are coming out about "blogging." Oh my holy Jesus do those make me livid. Everybody seemed to be having a pretty good time discovering new writers and learning things, and then a bunch of glassy-eyed do-gooders with dollar signs in their eyeballs had to go write books about ways to use "blogging" to Build Communities and Foment Positive Change and Generate Revenue Streams. These people know perfectly well that they're the moral equivalent of somebody jumping up and down on a big pile of Christmas presents. With cleats. Could this thing have been non-"meta" for, say, another six months? Could we have gone on doing it without some Up With People refugee encouraging us to Take It To The Next Level? Can at least one cultural phenomenon exist for a little while without being vivisected and/or commodified?

I feel certain someone more eloquent than me has already made the complaint.

- 3:04 am, September 7 (link)


Time for an early morning news roundup! I got a full night of ordinary, restful human sleep and I'm on fire!

· OK, so Hillary is dressing like a suffragette. Maybe this is because she wants to honour America's past--or maybe it's just a good way to ward off Ted Kennedy (see second photo). "Watch those hands, Senator, or I'll go New England Transcendentalist on your ass."

· What the hell was Mrs. Netanyahu thinking? Sometimes, you know, a person in a politician's camp will say something that needs apologizing for--a little slip of the tongue, an idea inappropriately framed. But why even bother apologizing for saying "This country can burn"? "Yeah, you know, I was pretty offended when I heard what she said, but apparently she meant 'This country can burn' in the nicest possible way." C'mon! Just pack your bags, lady! "This is my home and like everyone else I have no other home," she said in her attempted apology. Well, you'd best start looking for one.

· Canada is still reeling over the Senate committee report which recommends decriminalizing marijuana. However, this prescient article, published a year ago, made it clear what the Nolin Committee was going to say. All they've done is put what every well-informed person knows in a big three-ring binder.

Stephen Harper, you are officially on strike one with me now, pal. Presented with the committee's key finding--namely, an overwhelming scientific consensus that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol--Harper muttered something about not wanting his kids to smoke up. Oh, so that's why all those people are in jail: because Steve Harper can't be bothered to parent. Now I get it!

Incidentally, for those of you out East who couldn't swallow Stockwell Day's "social conservatism", note that he favoured decriminalization. But then, everybody who's used pot favours decriminalization, and I get the vague impression Stock must have spent about five years of his life constantly stoned. I'm not saying it was a mistake to swap Day for Harper, but I'd like an explanation of why I shouldn't just vote Conservative next time if the Alliance isn't going to get the government out of our lives. That's what you guys are there for, OK? Get the picture or get the hell out.

· The U.S. Senate has voted in favour of arming airline pilots. Two months ago I'd have applauded, but then I read the first convincing argument I've seen against armed pilots. It's from security expert Bruce Schneier. Consider this a Must-Read Alert®.

- 7:16 am, September 6 (link)

2,000 years of comic relief

Lot of talk going around about ugly churches these days. Churches are vulnerable to modernist excess because, well, they're not machine shops or supermarkets: almost any sort of space will do for the building's main function, and demand for a particular church's service is highly, highly inelastic. The only thing harder to change than your church, I daresay, is your favourite ball team. Judging by the numbers, it's apparently much easier to drop a tiresome spouse than to change churches. People aren't going to stop coming just because they were herded from a staid old building into an aggressively hideous one.

So when you approach an architect with nothing in the specs but the liturgical manual and the number of parishioners you get through the doors at Easter, well, that's catnip to these guys. I expect they just absolutely live to have a bishop come through the door.

I myself have kind of a sneaking fondness for ugly new churches. Edmonton's a city with almost no pre-1900 buildings. The "old" churches here are themselves pretty hideous. And even when they're not, they've usually been tampered with: I can't go near St. Joseph's Basilica downtown these days without collaring the nearest person and raging about the horrible staircase that's just been added. It has the name of the church engraved on it in big Cooper-ish letters: I've searched the Bible in vain for any mention of Christ saying "It pays to advertise!", but there you go. (This photo taken after Wayne Gretzky's wedding shows the building in its undefiled state.)

Anyway, this is a working-class town with unadventurous architecture. Most of the building goes on during boomlets, which don't produce good or great buildings. The favoured builders are well-connected locals. So the occasional crazy-ass, holy-shit-what-were-they-thinking church provides much-needed relief to the eye.

- 9:46 pm, September 5 (link)


Steven E. Ehrbar writes in with a quarrel over a tangential assertion in my posting about Michael Newdow.

If Congressional chaplains are an establishment of religion, then why aren't military chaplains? It's not an establishment case. If these people were being paid to preach to the public, it would be. If they were being given an enoulment without corresponding duties, again, it would be. Being paid to minister to government employees (elected, civil service, or soldiers), even if that ministry is religious in nature, isn't establishment of religion, it's government consumption of religious services.

(Non-religious or other-religious government employees do have standing to demand equivalent services, otherwise it does constitute establishment by preference, but the general public does not. Thus the Army sets aside facilities for Wiccan services and the like.)

Anyway, given that the same Congress that passed the First Amendment also had and approved appropriations for congressional chaplains, it's pretty hard to argue that they intended to ban such chaplains with the amendment.

These are good points. My question is, what good does the "equivalent services" stipulation do somebody who isn't religious? A non-religious person can't demand an equivalent service--for him, there's no equivalent. If the argument is that chaplains are providing a counselling service whose sectarian nature is non-essential, then let's be open about it: let's come out and put it that way, as a means of deferring to the church-state separation principle. This was basically my suggestion. But if the chaplains are providing a specifically and essentially religious service, then there is no way not to have it constitute establishment by preference.

If only Catholic priests were allowed be Congressional chaplains, would anyone argue that that was not an establishment, just because any old heathen was welcome to go up and ask the priest for advice? "We're not discriminating: the Roman Catholic sacraments are available to everyone equally!"

As to the analogy between Congress and the military... well, that's a subtle thing. I see a difference between ensuring that soldiers have access to religious services because they're risking death, and Congress giving somebody quarters in the legislature, letting him go on C-SPAN, etc., in order that they don't have to leave their offices for religious advice. There does seem, to me, to be a question of the state giving dignity or preferment to religion once you get involved in picking Congressional chaplains. But I grant that this is a question of point of view: I needn't have been so categorical about saying that Newdow is right.

Mr. Ehrbar's last point brings us into the question of the right approach to take when continuous, standing practice conflicts with the principles in the documents. I believe the Lincoln view on this has outlasted the Douglas one, for better or worse.

- 11:16 am, September 5 (link)

Spreading the love

I'm in a near-mortal deadline pickle, so I have just a minute (not even a minute, really) to thank Steve Sailer for recommending my site. As the most active of what John O'Sullivan called the Evolutionary Conservatives, he is inexhaustibly interesting and courageous. I'm still taking Mickey Kaus's side on the whole "homeland" thing, though. Unless you're Montenegrin, landscape-based definitions of nationhood are a cop-out: ask any Canadian. They're a pale liberal substitute for what makes a real nation in the absence of ethnic unity: namely, a sense of participation in a distinctive historical project. We Canadians abandoned the old idea of our country in favour of "Hey, look! Mountains!". Don't repeat our mistake.

Speaking of human biodiversity, readers may also enjoy Al Barger's weblog, where a dialogue with martyred Palestinian-American comedian Ray Hanania is ongoing. Jackie Mason couldn't have written a gag this funny, really. His manager gets Mason outlawed from civilized society after discriminating against Hanania, presumably on the grounds that all Palestinians are violence-lovers who want to destroy Israel. So naturally the unfortunate victim turns out to be, um, a violence-lover who wants to destroy Israel.

I do have a question, though--I'm not sure if anyone's raised it yet. Not wishing to make any trouble, isn't "Hanania" actually a Jewish name? I suppose there are a lot of generally Semitic names that can go both ways...

- 3:41 am, September 5 (link)

A world in twelve words

Quick political quiz. Who said the following: "The whole duty of government is to prevent crime and preserve contracts"?

(a) Ayn Rand
(b) Ludwig von Mises
(c) Murray Rothbard
(d) H.L. Mencken
(e) F.A. Hayek

The answer, of course, is "none of the above". In the 20th century, we would have expected these words to come from the mouth of no one any more influential than a mere economist or philosopher. In the 19th century, they were spoken by a Prime Minister of Great Britain, Lord Melbourne. Melbourne was by no means elected on the broad popular basis that is now necessary to lead a Western democracy, of course, but his minarchist ideals of government were not considered half-crazy or criminal: he represented the more populist party of the dominant two in his time. Although large parts of the blogosphere will applaud such a libertarian credo, a serious political candidate who said such a thing would be fitted for a strait-jacket now, and I'm damned if I know how we're the better for it.

I ran across this quote in a re-reading of Lytton Strachey's Queen Victoria, which I cracked open for a story that subscribers to the Report will probably be able to spot in an upcoming issue. Strachey is not much discussed now. For God's sake, why? He is surely the one authentic Bloomsbury genius. Perhaps a case can be made for E.M. Forster, but I'm afraid his non-fiction writings have convinced me he was a deliquescent booby--and don't get me started on Keynes, who is to economics as phrenology is to medicine, or Virginia Woolf, who was possibly one of the single worst human beings ever to draw breath. These latter two are undergraduate staples while Strachey languishes unread, and I fear we're going to appear rather stupid for it in the far distant future. It doesn't appear likely that Strachey's homosexuality can be the problem, reputation-wise.

All right: he wasn't terribly prolific. But if you've given the world a book as good as Eminent Victorians, why should it be necessary to shore it up with a long sequence of mediocre ones? And if it is influence you're looking for, I'm afraid The General Theory of Money and Interest is already running a rather poor second to Eminent Victorians. Strachey's stamp is visible upon every modern biographer from Kitty Kelley to Paul Johnson. In life, no friend parted from Strachey entirely unseduced; in his afterlife, no reader does.

- 8:53 pm, September 4 (link)

Ass vs. ass

Like most atheists I am slightly irritated by the antics of Michael Newdow, the California doctor and lawyer (what, he was never an Indian chief?) who sued to have the words "under God" stricken from the United States' Pledge of Allegiance. He is the guy that, as an atheist, you hope you don't turn out like. But I fear the reaction to Newdow's latest legal frivolity is much worse than the minor nuisance itself.

If I may be permitted a few extraterritorial comments: on the merits, Newdow is totally right. Having chaplains of a few privileged religions live at the public expense is an "establishment of religion", or the phrase means nothing. The correct answer to the problem, probably, is hypocrisy: there could not really be any objection to a group of state-funded Congressional "spiritual counsellors", or whatever you want to call 'em, who just happened to all wear collars and have divinity degrees. Congress would do well, if it is serious about church-state separation, to take steps to observe proper constitutional form. Yeah, it's semantics, but semantics aren't a synonym for "stuff that doesn't count", contrary to popular opinion.

Instead, what does Trent Lott, the Minority Leader of the Senate, have to say?

The Capitol is the people's house, and I believe the overwhelming majority of Americans who send their senators and members of Congress to Washington to represent them, are comforted by the fact that our chaplains lead us in seeking guidance from a superior power, as we are called upon to make decisions. We should not look upon this as a frivolous case but as another attack on religious liberty.

Religious liberty? Uh... that's not exactly something you want to trivialize, Trent. Whose religious "liberty," exactly, is at stake in this dispute? What Newdow is questioning is a privilege accorded to religious Congressmen and Senators. It is a service which the American public, in its infinite wisdom, has chosen to make available to him. As Newdow correctly points out, if Lott really feels the need to have a chit-chat with El Goddo, he could conceivably walk down the damn block and find himself a church. This matter has nothing whatsoever to do with anybody's "liberty". For a Senator to say otherwise in a case like this is exactly analogous to saying that his "liberty" depends on having a working water fountain in the hallway or a secretary whose bosom is a C-cup or greater.

For village atheists to annoy the government with their punctiliousness is not entirely a good thing, but it's probably inevitable. For the Minority Leader of the Senate to sling around a sacred phrase like "religious liberty" like a hash-house cook fixing scrambled eggs, on the other hand, is deadly serious. Someday you may have real need of appeals to religious liberty, Senator Lott. Don't be the boy who cried God.

- 9:10 am, September 4 (link)

Onions and lemons

Well, it's finally happened: satire has become impossible. In times past, this brand-new Onion article entitled "U.S. Fast-Food Chains Agree To Voluntary Cheese Limits" would have at least 2-3 weeks of life in the marketplace before reality provided something of equal or superior comedic value. Instead, the Onion was actually beaten to the punch by this Washington Post story about McDonald's voluntary adopting limits on the fat in its french fries. Sources say the pre-emptive retirement of the SatireWire guy mere days ago may have been prompted by the increasing tendency for life to imitate art before the art is even created.

- 5:29 am, September 4 (link)

Cargo cult

It's hard to imagine that people tittered, back in 2002, when 'N'Sync singer Lance Bass was replaced by a humble cargo container aboard a Russian space mission. How little we suspected what would happen next. At first the cargo container's international media appearances were conducted in the spirit of a joke--a harmless postmodern raillery, if you will. The cargo container was photographed at Stringfellow's in the company of Guy Ritchie and Bjork. It did a cameo in "Men In Black 3". It released an "album" entitled "I've Got 250 Metric Tons Of Luv 4 U, Girl". By the time the record went octuple platinum, and the cargo container was recording a duet with Christina Aguilera, no one remembered anymore what was so funny in the first place.

And then [cue ominous music] the downward slide began. No one paid much attention when the cargo container was booked into a remote repair shop in the Poconos to be treated for "metal exhaustion." Rumours of hepatitis C and cocaine abuse were quickly squelched by the container's publicists. The dark second album, "U Can't Contain This... Bitch" was swiftly passed over by critics, in a spirit of charity. But when the cargo container was caught trying to board the
Marchen Maersk with four hundred pounds of marijuana and a loaded .45-calibre handgun, the press frenzy began.

Tonight, on Behind the Music... the rise and fall of America's most unlikely celebrity.

- 6:06 pm, September 3 (link)

Balancing act

Hello to the flood of Timblairites. I think Tim's kind words were actuated by the previous post, so scroll down if you like. However, I would like to stop and make sure everyone understands the truly annihilating irony of the John Ralston Saul talk he cites.

It is no coincidence that Saul, whose wife is the appointed Governor-General of Canada and who is deferred to as co-head of state, has to go abroad to get away with complaining about the desperate state of democracy (!) and, inter alia, trashing the British Empire (!). I mean, I do hope that if he tried to serve this warm Chomskian broth here, he'd be met by a shower of rotten eggs battering against his morning coat: no other response seems adequate. Australians will fully understand the import of his argument that Wal-Mart is oligarchic when they reflect that His Excellency (title is non-sarcastic) is physically enthroned here in his native land.

Of course, I'm no republican--someone's got to sit on the throne and His Excellency's posterior is no doubt every bit as powdered and smoochable as mine. But his grasp of history makes me grab my head and go "Oh dear, oh dear." He starts off trashing free trade, for example, and within seconds, literally, is saying this:

And yet you look at the history of the British empire and you discover that the whole core idea of the British empire was you move in and start trading and then when you're not getting what you want in trade you go in and beat the hell out of them. It's trade which led to the construction of the British and the French and the German, and the Italian empires.

In school, even in Canadian public school, we were taught very carefully to distinguish between mercantilism (whose basic premise is not badly summed up in His Excellency's first sentence) and free trade, for which liberal politicians had to struggle valiantly, specifically against imperialist policies and politicians. Free trade and mercantilism are historical opposites. In the parlance of modern "liberals" His Excellency is engaged in what's known as "blaming the victim." How can he possibly accuse others of being "simplistic" after putting forth a grotesque historical caricature like this?

Blair trusts you to spot the many other weaknesses in His Excellency's arguments, and so will I: those are just the things I wanted to underline. Our unelected rulers must be kept honest.

- 12:40 pm, September 3 (link)

If I had a hammer

Tim Blair points out that Greenpeace has designated Canada, Australia, and the U.S. members of a very exclusive club (and I for one couldn't be more flattered):

Greenpeace spokeman Remi Parmentier says Australia's environmental policies are appalling. "If you ask me who are the worst in this conference, I would put first with the United States, Australia and Canada--I am afraid. I'm not talking of Australian citizens, don't get me wrong, but they're really really represented by people who do not give a damn about the involvement. We call them the filthy three."

Little-remembered even among folk music fans, the Filthy Three were seminal figures on the Greenwich Village scene from 1958 onward. Noted for their persistent refusal to bathe and their contention that guitar tunings were a "tool of the Man", the Three attained cult status as a proto-punk, throat-singing alternative to the more clean-cut, pacifistic artists who dominated folk. Armed with songs like "Death to All Cars" and "Rape Mamie Eisenhower", they seemed poised for wider fame on the eve of the 1960 Newport Festival when their Australian-born baritone, Murphy O'Jimmy, was found dead of multiple vitamin deficiency in his upstate yurt. Sales of their sole album "Mother Nature's Way", whose liner notes advocated an all-tuber diet, suffered as a consequence.
- Excerpt from Bob Whitehead's Ein Folk, Ein Ochs, Ein Seeger (1977)

- 11:29 pm, September 2 (link)


Matt Johnston has asked me to get the word out about the launch of the "Alberta Alliance", a new provincial political party. "Although the Alberta Alliance is not officially the provincial wing of the Canadian Alliance, we share the same philosophy: to provide a common sense alternative to the establishment parties. The Alberta Alliance is built on solid principles, like fiscal responsibility, social responsibility, democratic reform and standing up for Alberta within Canada."

The folks behind the new party have two public information meetings scheduled: one is in Calgary on Wednesday, September 4, and the other is in Edmonton on the following day. If you're interested, go see the elephant for yourself: times and locations of the meetings are here. I'm passing the information along strictly as a courtesy, but the general idea of keeping the increasingly dazed Klein Tories honest is one I endorse thoroughly.

- 11:29 pm, September 2 (link)

Consider this

Oh, Jesus. Here we go again. Ipsos-Reid thrills us all to the eyeballs with a new poll showing that, in the words of the press release, "Just Under Half (44%) of Canadians Say They Would Consider Voting For A United CA/PC Party."

Do polling firms even consider that they are causing considerable damage to their credibility by loading up polling questions with ill-considered weasel words? Maybe you can spot the one I'm talking about.

How much sense does it make to ask voters if they would "consider" voting for a party that doesn't exist, has no platform (owing to its non-existence), and could have any conceivable leader from Deng Xiaoping to the Littlest Hobo? I'm sure there are a lot of people who would "consider" voting for a united party if it advocated the public burning of seditious literature, or nationalizing the greeting-card industry, or melting the polar ice cap to provide us all with tasty beverages. So what???

The real news here is that the headline of the presser should have read like this:

"Well Over Half (56%) of Canadians Say They Are Unlikely To Consider Voting For A United CA/PC Party, Even In Their Dreams."

Kind of puts a different spin on "uniting the right", doesn't it? As in: what would be the bloody point?

- 5:50 pm, September 2 (link)

Slouching towards the Grey Cup

Just came back from watching the traditional Labour Day football game between the Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders. As usual the Eskimos tried their hardest to give it away. One point up with three minutes left, the Esks are getting ready to punt from close to midfield, leaving Calgary nailed down close to their own end zone. Except Sean Fleming, the punter, despite having plenty of time, sees something he doesn't like and decides to tuck the ball under and run with it. He gets zero. Disaster. Calgary's close to field goal range with the clock running. We're screwed: the Calgary crowd is going bananas. Except...'s no play. Calgary, for about the fourth time in two weeks, had too many men on the field. Which, now that I think of it, may have justified what looked like atrocious judgment on Fleming's part. First down, Edmonton.

Just in case anybody thought it was over, Esk QB Ricky Ray proceeded to throw an interception on a horribly ill-judged screen pass. I can't really trash Ray, who as you may remember is the number two passer on the Esks depth chart. At least I think he's still number two, in theory. The number one, Jason Maas, has recovered from nagging injuries but seems pretty content to be the highest-paid field-goal snapholder in the league. And what a show Ray put on today. His play fakes come right out of the textbook, he's good at drawing those illegal-procedure calls, and he throws off his back foot better than most guys do with their feet square. (He has to, because the Eskimos' OL play sucks so bad.) He's got the resume of Kurt Warner (he worked as a potato-chip salesman at one point last year) and he's doing a very nice impression of him for us right now. Still, he made the wrong choice at the wrong time in the fourth quarter.

And he promptly had his ass saved, thanks to the Calgary QB, Marcus Crandell, who made a much much worse error on the first Stampeder play from scrimmage. With the Esks in zone coverage Crandell didn't seem to know just where to put the ball. Opting for the worst of all possible worlds, he made a blind throw over the head of the Esks' tall middle linebacker A.J. Gass, and it ended up in the hands of DB Singor Mobley, who ran it back for the major. Final score 28-20. The Esks go to 8-2 with the win, but they're certainly the worst 8-2 club I've seen.

- 5:17 pm, September 2 (link)

Ball of confusion

I was looking at the front page of the Drudge Report and for some reason I began to think about how the headlines would appear to somebody who had just travelled time from, say, 1970. A lot of them, I think, would strike him as coming straight from the "some things never change" department. 200 DEAD OR MISSING AFTER KOREAN TYPHOON. 'MIRACLE' REMEDY THAT MAY HAVE HELPED THE POPE. ARABS URGED TO UNITE AGAINST USA. For our traveller, there would be ominous questions:


("West Nile"? Blood supply? That doesn't sound very good") and bits of happy news:


"Oh, they finally let him out of prison, did they...?" He'd wonder what "MTV" was and how exactly there could be such a thing as a "shoe bomber." But some of the headlines would, I am afraid, simply baffle him:


A disconcerting future, this, where scientists squabble over the dangers of ecstasy. And what to make of this?



- 1:05 pm, September 2 (link)

Ready, aim, splash

My friend and colleague Lorne Gunter, the Edmonton Journal columnist, is part of TechCentralStation's dogpile on the Johannesburg enviro-summit today. The thing about shooting fish in a barrel is that it's actually a lot of fun to watch! Over in Report land, Kevin Michael Grace goes after bigger game (namely, a Pope) in the newest savage installment of his "Eclectica" column.

- 9:48 am, September 2 (link)

Slo-mo Monday

The ever-useful Bourque links to an Erin Anderssen thumbsucker in the Globe about whether Canadians want a young prime minister, and if so how much.

I hadn't thought much about it before, but I haven't noticed that it makes much difference. Old ones, young ones, they all pass a few deeply crappy laws on their way out the door, don't they? As an outgoing PM, either you'll die before you really have to live through the effects, or you can slink off to L.A. and escape that way. Give Brian Mulroney credit: he may make an ass of himself when he pipes up to criticize his successors and defend his own record, but he's living and working here. (I'm sure he's not foolish enough to hang about for medical treatment, though.) Will we see much of Paul Martin after he gets done doing his worst, do you think? We all know he's a man with deep, unshakeable roots in Windsor. Er, and in Montreal. And of course in Bermuda...

The truly desirable thing would be to have a middle-class prime minister, whatever his age, who had worked outside of politics. At the moment, sadly, that's not on offer from any party.

- 8:56 am, September 2 (link)


The Oakland A's won their 18th straight game today. Correction: the small-market, can't-compete-with-the-big-boys Oakland A's won their 18th straight game today. Nobody talks about it much, but the A's are the second-favourite team of a clique of baseball fans across North America, fans influenced by Bill James' annual Baseball Abstract and associated literature of the '70s, '80s, and '90s.

James and the other researchers brought the spirit of science into the game in a way that had been done only tentatively before, although their controversial findings confirmed things that successful men inside the game (Branch Rickey, Earl Weaver) had already found and acted on. It was the spirit, rather than the specific findings, which counted, but a short list of the now-famous challenges to the traditional understanding would include:

· Since some batters walk 20 times a year and others walk 120, a walk is not something the pitcher just "gives" the batter. Strike-zone control is a batters' tool, like hitting home runs. It is an important tool. All in all, it is more important to know a hitter's on-base percentage than his batting average.

· Walks and hitting for power are important enough that there can be .280 hitters who are useless on offence, and .220 hitters who are helpful.

· Pitchers' won-lost records in a single season don't tell you much: they are heavily influenced by run support and dumb luck.

· If you know what a player hit in the minor leagues, you can predict with very good accuracy what he will hit in the majors. The minor leagues are not a "different" game. They play the same game, slightly less well.

· Batter's strikeouts, in the mass, do not normally hurt a team much. "Productive outs" which move runners are, on the whole, not very much better than strikeouts.

· Small differences in a developing player's age make a big difference. A 24-year-old player with a certain stat line can be expected to have a much shorter career than a 22-year-old with the same stat line.

· Strikeouts are an overwhelmingly important indicator of eventual success--far more important than ERA--for a young pitcher. (This, oddly, is true even though strikeout totals don't mean much for batters.)

There are other things which James et al. found when they took the trouble to look. The process of looking earned the clumsy name of "sabermetrics" (this word was the "blog", the hideous cultic neologism, of its day), after SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. James' own list of important sabermetric principles is here, and a long explanation of the field is here. Very basic advances in the understanding of the game are still being made, and themselves put under the microscope, mostly by amateurs.

Amateurs. It's an important word here, because the body of thought we're talking about was created by people outside the game. Bill James' books contained a certain amount of stuff like coefficients of correlation and Pearson product-moments; they became runaway bestsellers anyway, but they were about as welcome to old-time baseball men, and to a certain element of fandom, as a fart in an elevator. James, being rude enough to say he was sure about things which were self-evident from the data, probably didn't help matters.

So for years there's been this tug-of-war, in bars and on the Internet and sports radio, between the sabermetric view of the game and the non-sabermetric view. Until recently there weren't any sportswriters who had read the Abstracts, so you'd have clueless fans absorbing their information from slightly less clueless reporters who, in turn, had absorbed their information from players and managers who did know a lot about the game, but didn't know what they didn't know. And on the other side you had the "stathead" guys who would be beating their brains against the wall, because they had read both the newspapers and the informed outsider analyses. Arrogance versus ignorance, basically, and ignorance had the whip hand.

Oakland A's GM Billy Beane was the first "stathead" to jump over the wall. He got the A's top job in 1997 and started doing the things the "statheads" had been urging: drumming plate discipline into young players, emphasizing the replaceability of ordinary players and refusing to overpay for "proven veterans", limiting the workload of young pitchers, giving breaks to guys with good minor-league track records like Frank Menechino. A lot of this stuff is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom--on-base percentages are turning up on TV, managers are putting young guys on pitch counts--but it's amazing how often it wasn't done until Beane came along. He was the first true believer inside the game, the stathead messiah.

If he'd bombed out, people could easily have said "Well, look at what all your fancy theories have accomplished. Har har har har." Instead, look at the win totals:

1997   65
1998   74
1999   87
2000   91
2001  102

And today the A's sit with the best record in the AL, on pace for another 102-win season. Considering that they've just plain stopped losing games, they may well go higher. Given that all this improvement has taken place on the back of one of baseball's lowest payrolls, and given that disaster was widely predicted when Jason Giambi walked out the door after the 2001 season, we have here an unanswerable argument for "statheadism"--as unanswerable as a car trip from East Berlin to West in 1972 was for free-market capitalism.

A lot of people are going to be pulling for Beane's Athletics in the playoffs this year (now that we know there'll be playoffs). Sheer intelligence can only get you so far, and the Darth Vader-esque Yankees, who are actually run almost as well as the A's, stand athwart the final historical triumph of Team Stathead. And did I mention that Giambi, the most terrifying offensive force in the league, has joined the Dark Side?

Now this is why I like sports: a season's like a novel whose ending you can't guess because it hasn't been written yet. What can beat that?

- 3:13 am, September 2 (link)

New business

Scrappy Irish-American goat rancher Kieran Lyons had some nice things to say about this site and I almost missed them in the latest Instapundit deluge. Particularly good is his roundup (roundup, geddit? OK, I don't know if you round up goats) of recent perfidy and incompetence by U.S. federal law enforcement. Not that anyone really needs a refresher, but it's nice to have everything bundled in one place like that.

It's funny how things have changed... not so long ago at all, J. Edgar Hoover was still a widely admired American public figure. These three-letter agencies have squandered so much natural public goodwill. Where's their constituency now? Everyone hates and fears 'em. The first national candidate to advance a serious reform of the Bloody Alphabet Soup will earn big points with the electorate. President Bush's answer to their failings was to add Homeland Security to the mix: I've never believed that Bush was an idiot, but he was sure playing one on TV that day.

Prediction: within ten years, Homeland Security will be known as "HLS". It fits on a Kevlar vest!

Bene Diction has his final choice in the Canadian historical-endurance sweepstakes.

Let's assume borders, countries and all we know in our current personal history is gone in 250 years. Let's assume there will be a man made or natural disaster that wipes out our urban landscape. Digging around or building on the ruins, time after time, descendants or new immigrants will find remnants of Timmy's. Our place to meet friends. Our place to unwind, argue, chat, debate. Tim Hortons is the Canadian commons moving into the 21st century, more than malls, more than churches, more than public parks and pubic buildings. Our long house. Our campfire. I think the sheer numbers of them will help descendants understand that.

Somebody's been drinking too much Tim's coffee! This sort of archaeological interest isn't quite what I was talking about either, but it's an interesting point--assuming the company doesn't, say, go broke from CEO jiggery-pokery next month or something. If literature is fragile, how much more so is a corporate brand?

- 12:53 am, September 2 (link)

In the matter of Mathers v. Hall

Look, someone's got to say it: Eminem has gone too far. Moby is a man who, certifiably, cannot defend himself sufficiently to keep from being hospitalized by a cat. I understand why people in Moby's musical neck of the woods feel belligerent towards the guy: he's made one scrillion dollars selling slick records to giganto-conglomero-earth despoilers who pad the Eames chairs in their corporate boardrooms with the crushed and powdered skulls of Nigerian and Sudanese dissidents. Fine: if you're some vegan turntablist trying to live off one $100 gig a week, take a swing at Moby. I'll hold him down for you, not that it would be necessary.

But Eminem? Why does Shady need to feel threatened by this guy? Have I been living in a parallel solar system, or does Eminem sell just as many records as Moby while being universally hailed as a genius to boot? Isn't Eminem going after Moby sort of like Frank Sinatra putting out a contract on Guy Lombardo?

It can't be that there are a lot of people saying to themselves "Mmm... I only have the budget for one CD this year, and while normally Eminem's verbal whirlwind of scatological misanthropy would get my vote, I just can't resist those soulful Mobian dance grooves."

Maybe it's that Eminem realizes Americans love him precisely because he picks on the defenceless (in an essentially harmless and arguably cathartic way). You can only kick the crap out of women and gays for so long: eventually you have to move on to the feeblest little nancy boy you can locate.

- 5:45 am, September 1 (link)

Tower of song

Iranian weblogger "Steppenwolf" (sorry, permalinks are still shot) says that the new pop idol in his country is none other than Leonard Cohen. Congratulations Len. When a poet makes it in the land of Ferdowsi, Omar Khayyam, and Rumi, he's really made it.

- 2:08 am, September 1 (link)