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From the world press, 11/6/06
Seven Ugandan students are seized by "evil spirits"--coincidentally, right in the middle of their leaving exams
Area humorist being interviewed for website casually invents new concept
I used to get worried when I'd hear the phrase "The Onion used to be so cool, but now itís lame." But you know when I heard that phrase for the first time? In 1991. That's right: 1991. Five years before the Onion was even on the internet at all... There's always a group of "fans" that get their rocks off more on disapproving of the thing they're a fan of than they do on actually liking it. (See Star Wars "fans", for example.) These are the worst kind of nerd--the self-hating nerd who tries to prove that they're not a nerd by talking about how everything else is too nerdy for them. They are, in this sense, a new form of nerd--meta-nerds. They are nerds about being nerds. They supposedly hate something so much, but are still paying enough attention to everything about it to be motivated to write long screeds against it on the internet.
A dive into the trade-pub treasure trove...
...yields a remarkable good-news bad-news story about the auto parts market from Auto Service World magazine. The good news for drivers (and bad news for parts salesmen): improvements in technology now mean that more and more of the components of your new car will rarely or never have to be replaced.
According to research recently released by Frost & Sullivan, original equipment parts are becoming too reliable, and lasting far too long. HVAC, lighting, brakes, and emissions systems were all put under the microscope in the company's study, and in most cases, it was determined that replacement rates were in decline, and some significantly so.
What's the bad news? American automakers desperate to decrease weight and improve gas mileage began to sell cars with horrible lightweight brake rotors in the 1990's. (A brief Google-ramble suggests that we're approaching a point at which rotors will have to be routinely swapped out along with brake pads.)
"From our conversations with installers, it seems as though a rotor that used to last on average three to four brake jobs is now really only lasting on average maybe one or two brake jobs," says Spivey. According to Spivey, thinner, lower-quality brake rotors are quickly becoming the norm within the auto industry, as manufacturers--particularly the domestics--look to slash costs.Almost none of those exports are destined for the original-equipment market: they're bound for your brand-new car when you show up with a wobble in your crappy rotor.
God's utility function
If you ask me, the truest comedy is that which is both funny in itself and yet produced in complete earnest. I believe this is true of economist Paul Oslington's paper elucidating a rational-choice theory of God (þ: MargRev). Using a very simple mathematical model of humankind and the deity, Oslington generates amusing explanations for traditional features of religion--why some but not all are saved, why apostasies often seem so sudden and dramatic, and why, as the diagram at left indicates, it might just be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
From the world press, 11/4/06
Australia's endangered tiger quoll, a tiny carnivorous marsupial almost wiped out by its taste for cane toads, is mounting a comeback
Shocking NHL facts dept.
Did you know that this coming Boxing Day will be the tenth anniversary of the last five-goal game by any NHL player? If that doesn't seem like a long time, let me remind you that the victim on all five of Sergei Fedorov's goals was '96 Vezina winner Jim Carey. In the ten years prior to Fedorov's big night, there had been nine such games, including three by Mario Lemieux alone...
Stick a fork in Bertuzzilla?
Congratulations go out today to the Vancouver Canucks: barring some disaster, they just won the Luongo-Bertuzzi trade by a mile. Surgeons operated on Bertuzzi today to treat a herniated disc in his back whose supposed effects have kept him out of the Florida lineup since about three weeks into his new career. Unfortunately, treating chronic back pain isn't like digging a bullet out of someone's lung; the relationship between such pain and the lesions physicians find when they go looking is often quite speculative, and the number needed to treat for discectomies (with "good" improvement as the endpoint) is around three, with the benefits disappearing quickly in randomized controlled studies. This is one of those cases, I suspect, where you hope your patient is highly motivated--and that's not necessarily a phrase any Northwest Division fan would use to describe the multimillionaire Bertuzzi after watching him float through last season. In all sincerity, I would consider the long-term outlook better at this point for the big man if he had suffered the obvious, treatable sort of trauma he inflicted on Steve Moore. Feel free to savour the irony; it's a lulu.
Crisis in the Evil Empire: a Coshery round-up
Some of my fans (I know you're out there, you're just very difficult to observe in the wild) have doubtless been waiting for a definitive statement about the death of the Edmonton Eskimos' 34-year streak of playoff appearances. In a recent column for the Western Standard [free registration req'd] I gloomily foresaw the end coming and consoled myself by using a quantitative measure to compare the Eskies' accomplishment to similar streaks in other pro sports.
The last time Edmonton missed the CFL playoff tournament, Joey Smallwood was premier of Newfoundland, Torontonians could still subscribe to the Telegram, and Paul Henderson was best known as Norm Ullman's linemate. So it's understandable that within Edmonton, the streak is perhaps the most discussed element of the Eskimos' legacy. It is considered to be the longest such streak in North American pro sport. But how impressive is it really? For most of the 34-year period, the CFL has been a nine-team (and sometimes, as now, eight-team) league in which six teams made the post-season. It could be argued that shorter streaks in leagues where it's harder to reach the playoffs might be more significant.The unsurprising conclusion: the most impressive sequence of playoff qualifications in postwar North American sport probably belongs to the '91-'05 Braves, who like the Eskimos were finally stopped cold this season.
For a specific post-mortem on the Eskimos you can check out this comment thread at the Battle of Alberta website:
The Esks would have been pretty much a .500 team with a few more bounces this season and Lord knows luck kept the streak going a couple times. To be totally honest with you, everything after that Pete Ketella [sic] fiasco has been pure gravy.Kettela, to give the poor man the dignity of a correct spelling of his surname, was a Green Bay assistant coach who was assigned the unenviable task of replacing Hugh Campbell at the helm of the defending champions in 1983. He lasted eight games, went 4-4, and was plunged down the memory hole when Jackie Parker, the greatest player in the history of the Esks franchise if not the league, signalled his willingness to take over. (Surprisingly, this actually worked out pretty well in the short term.) Kettela has since been the director of player personnel for the Arizona Rattlers and vice president of football operations for the Portland Forest Dragons. Campbell has just retired as the team's CEO, but will no doubt hang around for another 20 years as a wizened Auerbach-esque totem.
If you've gone to the trouble of registering with the Standard website you may enjoy my other recent articles about how a Calgarian suddenly became the toast of English soccer and a profile of the man behind the strange corn-maze madness that's sweeping the continent.
The controversial Anglo-American conservative John Derbyshire describes his recent steps toward total apostasy in an FAQ that I can't believe no one had the wit to entitle "Question Marks and the Mysterian." -9:21 am, November 2
Two who made an industry: from Nickle's, here's a useful little potted history of the Alberta oilsands told through the lives of its most important innovators, Karl Clark and Roger Butler. -11:18 pm, October 30
Mad dogs and Edmontonians
Good omens dept.
Apparently the Edmonton Oilers are the reigning champions of the Super Nintendo version of NHL '94 Online. In other news, you can totally play NHL '94 online now. I know people whose careers were just destroyed by those seven boldface words.
Older than the law
Here (þ: MeFi) is a remarkably information-dense 2005 interview with Judith Martin, an outstanding American comic writer who is overlooked because her medium happens to be a syndicated etiquette column. One passage reflects something I've lately been thinking about:
Both my parents were big history and archaeology buffs. We went for a vacation to Egypt and in the Cairo Museum there was a tablet that was a letter from a man to his son, a Polonius-type letter. Do this and don't do that and don't forget this and that. We started to laugh because we realized we got a very good picture of what the kid was like, as the father knew only too well.
Right now a street north of my house is undergoing the fascinating, stressful transformation from hobo to boho; pawnshops and crumbling hotels are being elbowed aside in favour of cheap condos for the Kreative Klass. A typical new feature of the neighbourhood are street signs meant to "send a message" to the truly indigenous occupants; each one reads
From the world press, 10/27/06
The US's liberation of ICANN has made an upcoming UN internet summit for dime-store fascists irrelevant. Surprise, surprise: the summit's going ahead anyway
A name you can trust
A little YouTube fun in honour of the Phoenix Coyotes, who've just changed the name of the former Glendale Arena to Jobing.com Arena:
Stochastic surfing dept.
Another scene from the murder of culture by hysterical IP law: these mordant Judge Dredd stories from the British comics magazine 2000AD will never again be seen in print. (I thought giving the pistol-wielding Michelin Man a French accent was a clever touch.)
NFL to E-Town by 2010? It's hard to imagine the players' union going along quietly with this scheme, but Toronto would obviously be a natural site for a Bills home game. Who's second in line amongst Canadian cities? Well, they say Pat Bowlen hails from a sports-crazed town that contains the country's largest football venue... -8:28 am, October 25
The Edmonton Oilers have played eight games this year, and eight times the fans have come away shaking their heads in disbelief at how good rookie centre Patrick Thoresen is. Thoresen, an undrafted player who unexpectedly made the Oilers out of rookie camp, is just the fifth Norwegian to play in the NHL, and is already pretty well the best of the bunch. Last night against the Phoenix Coyotes he picked up three assists, giving him six points and a +4 through eight games. Only a fluke Curtis Joseph save with the butt-end stopped him from adding a goal to the tally. Rarely does any first-year player out of Europe look so complete in the NHL environment: the guy passes accurately, hits hard, knows when to attack the net, forechecks and backchecks, and even fought Mike Comrie in a preseason game, an act which immediately won him about a million new northern Alberta fans.
One of the most delightful things about Thoresen's success, though, has been monitoring the response in Norway. Hockey is not a leading sport there, but the Norwegians, like all civilized peoples, know the legend of the storied Oilers. When Thoresen survived the final cut in training camp the Norwegian embassy in the United States actually issued a press release celebrating the event. It must be admitted, though, that sometimes this sort of thing can lead to amusing malapropisms: Thoresen might be good but it is unlikely that Coach MacTavish actually praised him for his excellent "tackling."
Any given Sunday
Embittered by the Eskimos' failure to make the 2006 CFL playoffs--the last time this happened, I was six months old--I decided to spend an afternoon watching a game that Edmonton absolutely couldn't lose. It was a perfect day for football.
Harvester of eyeballs
YouTube addicts have learned to enjoy fan-made highlight reels of the world's most astonishing athletes, almost to the point of taking them for granted. But the trend has a dark side, as this reel of Marc-Andre Bergeron lowlights made by a frustrated Oiler fan--and taken from just the first six games of the NHL season--demonstrates.
In defence of MAB, the "Getting Beat Wide" chapter shows him having trouble with Jarome Iginla (making him a member of a very large fraternity) and battling Joe Thornton to a draw pretty effectively. Plus, is there really anybody alive who isn't going to look like an idiot with "Yakety Sax" playing in the background?
The petadata portable
I think of myself as having a good nose for early traces of big trends. So I should mention, while disavowing any serious understanding of the hard physical structure of the Internet, that the Blackbox, Sun Microsystems' new data centre in a shipping container, raises the same set of neck hairs that Mosaic, jarred salsa, Kurt Cobain, the Drudge Report, and satellite radio did. It's probably just because it looks so cool. Bob Cringely envisioned pretty much this exact thing a year ago, and if you're a stock-picker, pay special attention to this hint: "Expect... to see a new business appear with companies renting Blackboxes."
Newspaper clarification of the day
From this morning's Edmonton Journal:
The headline on a story on A2 Monday referred to oil workers as "rig pigs." As the story explained, that term is derogatory and outdated.Ostensibly this is a simple "Oh, for fuck's sake" moment in postmodern newspapering. Yet the prissy suggestion that the term "rig pig" is "outdated" logically implies that it was at one time accurate. So when will the Journal display the courage to provide a clarification of its clarification? I think we should be told.
Well met, weary traveller
Allow me to glue a short technical note here for the benefit of some poor soul who might googling desperately for help while in the predicament I found myself in on Wednesday. In recent months I've found myself increasingly convinced, by research and experience, that added monitor space can improve the efficiency of a desk jockey and possibly even pay for itself. (When I lived with Kevin Grace I used to make fun of him for his geek-macho preoccupation with monitor size; now, and not for the first time, I find myself grudgingly accepting what he seems to have known all along.) This morning I spotted a good "instant rebate" deal on a 22-inch monitor at Staples, and I managed to get to the shop just in time to grab the last one in stock. The resolution of the new monitor is 1,680 pixels by 1,050, giving me more than twice the acreage I formerly had. I have owned Japanese cars whose hoods weren't this large.
But I began to panic when I went to readjust my monitor settings and I found that the maximum monitor size my XP box and its graphic card seemed willing to handle was 1,600×1,024. Moreover, at this close-but-no-cigar resolution, text and images on the new monitor were unacceptably rastery. It slowly dawned on me that I probably should have made sure my graphics card was capable of communicating with the new display and that I might have to go back to Staples, forfeiting at least double my savings from the monitor purchase on buying a new video card.
Fortunately, I remembered one of the principles that has been battered into my soul over decades of trying to coexist with computers: when in doubt, update your driver software. Downloading the latest driver for my oldish Nvidia GeForce card magically bumped my computer's maximum resolution to the necessary 1,680×1,050, and now the new monitor is working like a dream (literally--the thing is so visually immersive that buying it might well constitute a fatal symbolic farewell to meatspace). These, then, are the lessons: check for compatibility before you impulse-buy new hardware, and update your drivers when you're having unexplained problems. Sure, these maxims are obvious and well-known. "Back up your data" is obvious and well-known too, but who amongst us doesn't still find himself occasionally embarrassed by ill-timed software crashes?
No ordinary Guy: It turns out that Guillaume Latendresse is not only the Habitants' next great pur laine hope--he's also the first NHLer to wear the number 84 during the regular season. And according to Paul "Uni Watch" Lukas, #84 is, in turn, the league's last hitherto-unused number. -5:31 pm, October 18
Weird, improbable phenomenon whose existence I had no idea of until just now: positive lightning. -1:30 am, October 17
The artist as a witness of freedom
This evening I went to a book-signing featuring Chester Brown, the acclaimed Canadian illustrator and graphic novelist. The event was exceedingly enjoyable; the helium-voiced Brown has a way of kind of sneaking up on an audience, starting with overheads of rough layouts for his Louis Riel book and working his way through the creative process to some remarkable unpublished material, including unused New Yorker illustrations and his front cover and flaps for a forthcoming Penguin edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover. (Brown's artwork will be worth very nearly the price of that book.)
I swear this actually happened: during the question-and-answer session Brown was asked about his reaction to the controversial Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons. He started by saying that, having investigated the facts, he felt that the newspaper probably was acting in bad faith and had been trying to bait Muslims deliberately. "But I believe strongly in freedom of expression," he added, "and I'm pleased that there were other publications, like Harper's and the Western Standard, that were willing to reproduce the cartoons. That took courage."
I don't know if anyone's discussed Brown's anarcho-libertarian streak--I'm sure if I googled around I'd find that Reason had interviewed him one time or another--but here's an interview with the artist in which he catches a slacker interviewer off-guard by citing Tom Bethell's The Noblest Triumph. It also contains a bad scan of his strip "My Mom Was a Schizophrenic", which features a guest appearance by Thomas Szasz.
The cat who wore clothes
Seems like every time I try to rustle up some useful info about local dining, Google steers me to this exemplary, attractively illustrated Edmonton-based culinary weblog. Where else are you gonna find a recipe for coffee-marinated bison roast? -9:24 am, October 13
I pretty much soiled myself laughing at Phat Phree's open letter from Ethan Albright, the Redskins' long snapper and the lowest-rated player in Madden '07. Dude is pretty choked about coming so close to He Hate Me in "alertness". -9:17 am, October 13
Weblog posts I wish I'd thought of dept.: Sir Humphrey Appleby's advice for dealing with North Korea, presented by Rescorla. -9:12 am, October 13
From the world press, 10/12/06
Easy money: Malaysia goes on a crazed dam-building binge without customers, impact studies, or common sense
Kathy Najimy? I thought she was a nun
NEW YORK -- As the abortion debate rages, Ms. magazine is releasing its fall issue next week with a cover story titled ''We Had Abortions'' that lists names of thousands of women who signed a petition making that declaration. ...The signatories include Ms. founder Gloria Steinem, comedian Carol Leifer, and actresses Kathy Najimy and Amy Brenneman, but most are not famous names.
Boy, the A-list really took one for the team, didn't they? Carol Leifer (sometimes referred to as "the poor man's Elayne Boosler") must be thrilled at implicitly being referred to as a "famous name" in 2006.
I've often thought it would be a useful publicity coup for the pro-choice cause if a whole bunch of really famous women, including both high-grade celebrities and women in positions of genuine social responsibility, would come out simultaneously and own up to having had an abortion. Ms. leaves the impression it tried to get some celebs for its list and failed, thus potentially doing more harm than good.
Ostensibly no woman is proud of having had to visit the clinic (with the exception of Steinem, who would surely be far more reluctant to sign a "We Got Married to Men" petition), but then we're not supposed to be proud of rehab stints either, and you can't get Hollywood people to shut their cakeholes for two minutes about those. Outside the Ms. petition, how many female celebrities can you name that have admitted to having an abortion or been reliably reported to have had one?
The kids today...
Get this--I've been battling a brutal outer-ear infection for about four days. What a thing to be stricken with at age 35, considering that I don't even swim; I always figured my illnesses would get older as I did (acne, chlamydia, arthritis, Alzheimer's), but apparently my body has chosen to revert to childhood instead. The enraging part is that it's not even reverting to its own childhood. As a kid I never suffered the recurring otitis that seemed to nag and developmentally delay of about 20% of my classmates; in general, considering the amount of time I spent running in bare feet on unpaved roads and skipping rocks off of our town's stagnant, evil-smelling "lake", I must have had an immune system that was could have warded off Exocet missiles. Now, for no particular reason I'm aware of, I'm half-deaf and stuck scarfing aspirin, pouring Cipro and cortisone into my head, and reading about exotic complications of simple earache that involve facial paralysis and the slow transformation of the skull into Brie. Whoopee.
I wouldn't worry about it, though. It's not a big college town.
Did you know that Gerard Kennedy studied economics and political science at the "University of Edmonton"? Other newspapers tell you what you didn't know; the Toronto Star tells you things you couldn't possibly have known.
[UPDATE, 9:40 am: The Star also calls Kennedy's Manitoba hometown "Le Pas", but then again, so did the Globe... þ: Derek.]
Beverage review dept.
I spotted about a dozen bottles of the new Coke Blak in (an almost-hidden corner of) the beverage cooler at the local drugstore this afternoon and decided to put the new category-killing energy drink to the test. The packaging's certainly clever--the stuff comes in a slightly dangerous-looking shrink-wrapped glass bottle, producing a medicinal effect that should signal to unwitting buyers that they are not purchasing an ordinary soft drink. I am less impressed with the taste. It basically comes off as Coke mixed in about equal parts with coffee, with a strong caramel overtone. The elements never really come together, and there is a slight metallic savour, along with the distinctive presence of aspartame (as ever, stimulating your sweetness receptors in the distracted, perfunctory manner of a discount hooker giving a handjob). I hesitate to say that Red Bull tastes "better" (than anything, really), but at least it does produce its own irreducible sensation on the tongue, and since Coke Blak has only half Red Bull's caffeine it's hard to know what the point of the former might be unless you're a Coca-Cola shareholder.
You could do this better, and more cheaply, using your own recipe. By any chance is this "coffee" substance they speak of available in stores separately? I bet that would taste pretty good.
You'll notice that on the label the name of the product is actually spelled "Blāk" (hope that shows up correctly in your browser). Graduate students in history will wish to purchase this item so that they can pronounce its name "cook blake" as an esoteric joke.
Newsstand shoppers: I will have a signed column
Presented together, here are two rival accounts of the free concert held yesterday at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in downtown Toronto. One is by an instant-messaging correspondent, the other (in italics) is by Star critic John Terauds.
The Canadian Opera Company's new house is now officially open to all, thanks to an ambitious series of free late-afternoon concerts that will run to late June of next year. Yesterday's event marked the first in the upper-lobby amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. It was a chamber concert of 20th- and 21st-century music.
Discussions we need to start having dept.: Is Bill Simmons' wife a better columnist than her husband at this point? Sure, it's easy to look good for 200 words a week, but her unedited sidebars to his NFL previews are awfully entertaining... Did I mention she's 25-19-2 against the spread so far this year? -11:49 am, September 30
From the world press, 9/28/06
The Telegraph checks in with Beharry VC, still struggling with his wounds and sudden celebrity, while Brit mil sources say up to six more Victoria Crosses may be in the pipeline
The New Muralism (introduced here, referenced here, here, here) reaches Saudi Arabia! (þ: Kaus.) -5:44 am, September 28
I had a column in Friday's National Post about Mrs. Ralph Klein and the crystal-meth panic: don't worry if you missed it, because it's on the free side of the subscriber wall. Alberta citizens, and people who like to get a real good look while driving past the scene of a bad auto accident, can read the report of the Premier's Task Force on Crystal Meth for themselves. What stands out, aside from the contempt for the rule of law, is the lack of hard data, not to mention the way that every possible bad idea that ever emerged from a self-described democracy has been embraced without any attention to effects or scientific verification. (Do illiberal proceeds-of-crime seizures actually limit drug availability, or is their function merely to satiate the spirit of revenge? No one knows; more to the point, no one cares.) As I wrote in the column, I think the timing of the report's release says everything about how it's really been greeted in political circles.
If you're registered at the Western Standard's website, you can now view a couple of my recent columns there too. In one I look at the Second Lebanese War under the light of military history and conclude that "we are entering an extraordinary new age, one in which wartime propaganda will not only be intended for mass consumption, but actually mass-produced." In another I try to come to grips with the problem of transsexuals in women's sport. Incidentally, the next time you're near a Canadian newsstand you should thumb through the Standard and check out its brand-new top-to-toe redesign. I had no input into the work but I think they did a hell of a job, one that should win the magazine some awards if there's any justice (N.B.: there isn't).
Finally, I have a guest post at the Battle of Alberta hockey weblog that's timely, especially for Oiler fans of a statistical bent.
From the world press, 9/22/06
An Italian porno queen says her male compatriots are losing their traditional gusto and suffering from endemic "performance anxiety"
A new hare style
Randy Gregg, one of the outstanding defencemen of the '80s Edmonton Oiler dynasty, is remembered most often as one of the last professional athletes in a major pro sport to practice medicine during his career. He enjoys another lesser-known distinction: he's an alumnus of the Kokudo Bunnies, a Japanese (men's) pro hockey team. (Here's a photograph of a recent version of the Bunnies uniform.) Current Oilers assistant coach Billy Moores, former chief of the U of A Golden Bears hockey team, is also a former Bunnies head coach.
So Edmonton fans will be sad to hear that the Bunnies, long owned by the founder of the Seibu railroad empire, are no more. Major Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reports today that the franchise has been upgraded in dignity--though demoted in whimsicality--and is now known as the Seibu Prince Rabbits. The rechristened lagomorphs are two-time defending champs of the Asia League (which also features teams from China and South Korea), and they debut against the Nippon Paper Cranes on Saturday.
First Steve Irwin...
Extraordinary news arrives from England tonight, but none of the big North American news sites seem to have placed it near the top of the queue. So let me step in on behalf of those editors who aren't aware how popular BBC's Top Gear is on DVD, cable, and the Internet: it seems co-host Richard Hammond has been seriously injured in a wreck arising from an attempt to break the British land speed record. The Hamster is known to millions as a giddy travel-sized foil to his fellow presenters, the prune-faced Tory roisterer Jeremy Clarkson and the inscrutably dry James May. Under the trio the show has become perhaps history's most popular motoporn series. Former host Quentin Wilson is probably correct to describe Hammond as "irreplaceable," but from early omens it appears that a replacement may be needed: the Guardian has the celebrity patient being treated in a neurological ward. Hammond, whose ubiquity on British TV is frequently used by his TG mates as fertilizer for jokes, often gets behind the wheel for adventurous Top Gear experiments. His unscheduled excursion, however, is certain to raise questions about why such a daunting task wasn't left to the show's "tame" racing driver, the pseudonymous Stig (widely suspected to be F1 veteran Julian Bailey).
Information discovered by accident
Yesterday, while thinking about hockey, it occurred to me that new Oiler Ladislav Šmid is actually a perfect onomastic fit for a team that already has a Smith and a Smyth. The names are all cognate with the old, old proto-Germanic word for someone who shapes metal, and the same concept is at the root of familiar European names like Kowalski and Kovács; taking the Joycean logic to its natural conclusion, it would seem that the Oilers' future hiring of Ray Ferraro as an assistant coach is inevitable. (I'm guessing that Ilya Kovalchuk is part of this same family, but I'm not holding my breath for that one.) Purely by chance, I later found myself reading a Wikipedia entry about Latin and I bumped into the very fellow who came to Edmonton with Šmid:
Definite articles formerly were demonstrative pronouns or adjective; compare the fate of the Latin demonstrative adjective ille, illa, (illud), in the Romance languages, becoming French le and la, Catalan and Spanish el and la, and Italian il and la. The Portuguese articles o and a are ultimately from the same source. Sardinian went its own way here also, forming its article from ipsu(m), ipsa (su, sa); some Catalan and Occitan dialects have articles from the same source. While most of the Romance languages put the article before the noun, Romanian has its own way, by putting the article after the noun, eg. lupul ("the wolf") and omul ("the man" ó from lupum illum and homo illum).
It's hard to see how you can resist giving Joffrey Lupul a cool nickname like "The Wolf" when he was literally born with it. (Consider this my "Orbs of Power" for 2006-07.) However, I DO NOT recommend following the same nicknaming procedure in the case of fellow new Oiler Petr Sýkora.
"My main focus coming into this season is to be a better assistant," Sidney Crosby tells CP. Glad to see somebody else labouring under a long-standing delusion about what the "A" on a hockey player's left shoulder stands for. (Who exactly does Sid think he'd be "assisting", since there's to be no permanent captain?) -1:24 pm, September 19
I can see clearly now
Reader John Thacker writes:
Did I miss your post on the upcoming chess showdown between Kramnik and Topalov to unify the titles?
You missed it because I never finished it, but I did intend to direct readers' attention to the remarkable fulfillment of the 2002 Prague Agreement, which 18 months ago had been universally declared dead. Since 1993 chess has lacked a single world champion, with the traditional over-the-board succession to the title going one way and FIDE, the sport's governing body, going another. On Saturday, current FIDE champ Veselin Topalov and "classical" champion Vladimir Kramnik will begin a 12-game match in Elista, Kalmykia, to merge the rival claims at last and permit the re-establishment of an orderly, periodic structure of candidature tournaments.
It's difficult to market a sport or game without being able to promote a single world champion, and for more than a decade the schism in chess was universally lamented without any tangible progress being made on repairs. Then (to oversimplify) two things happened which cleared the way. The first took place in March 2005 when Garry Kasparov quit the game to concentrate on Russian politics. Kasparov had helped initiate the original title split when he found sponsorship for a title defence outside FIDE auspices; then in 2000 he handed over the classical championship to Kramnik, suffering perhaps the most surprising defeat in the annals of chess. After 2000, however, he remained chess's foremost figure and its most outstanding player. This gave him an anomalous amount of leverage, and complicated unification talks. In essence, anyone planning to get the classical and FIDE champions together over the board also had to get Kasparov's OK, because no playoff structure that excluded Kasparov could hope to be seen as credible. Kasparov's retirement, though lamented by every chess-lover as the loss of the game's most dynamic and creative active performer, was a breath of fresh air for chess politics.
The second event happened late in the year when senior figures in chess began looking ahead to June elections for the top offices in FIDE. The presidency has been occupied since 1995 by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is also the self-mythologizing President-for-Life of the Republic of Kalmykia. Kirsan has poured millions into chess, keeping money in the top players' pockets without quite stopping them from grumbling about the sinister figure who controls their sport. He has also messed around in tone-deaf fashion with some of the sport's traditions, awarding the FIDE world championship at glitzy knockout tournaments that featured rapid tiebreaks and drug testing. And while no one can deny the benefits to players from his largesse, he has also used his bankroll to sew up support for his presidency from backwater national federations. What happened in this election was that he faced serious, principled, united opposition for the first time; the forces of transparency and democracy, and most of the top Western players, were able to unite behind Dutch chess doyen Bessel Kok. Kok had been an original creator of the Prague Agreement, and in order to keep his presidency from becoming an even more complete joke-cum-moral catastrophe, Kirsan seems to have realized that he needed to mend fences with Kok (after using Third World support to defeat him), relent a little on FIDE's control of the supposed championship, and provide the final impetus for unification. That's how the Kramnik-Topalov match finds itself in Elista, which is, to say the least, an out-of-the-way place to be holding the world championship of any sport.
ChessBase.com is, as always, an excellent place to go for daily coverage of the title match. The storyline here is an archetypal one, with the Russian Kramnik as the patient, precise defender and the Bulgarian Topalov as the fiery, improvisational attacker. The quality of play we can expect to see from the impassive, philosophical Kramnik depends heavily on his freedom from the minor health problems that sometimes derail his game; in early photos from Elista he looks fit and is seen offering a rare smile (as opposed to his usual grudging grin). Keeping in mind that I have a poor prognosticative track record when it comes to chess, however, I would put my money on Topalov, the debonair assassin. Top took the FIDE title late last year by scoring 6.5 out of 7 points in the first round-robin against a field (Anand, Svidler, Morozevich, Leko, Kasimdzhanov, Adams, and Judit Polgar) that could have been improved only by Kramnik's presence. This may have been the most impressive display of dominance in chess since Bobby Fischer's 12-0 run against Taimanov and Larsen (1971). Moreover, Kramnik does not have draw odds here as he did against Leko in 2004, when he won the 14th game to draw the match 7-7 and keep the title (yes, the man is clutch); if this match ends 6-6, the championship will be settled with a rapid tiebreak, and in that format Topalov is undoubtedly the stronger.
Despite these considerations, however, Kramnik is currently a very slight favourite to win over at TradeSports.
Classic SCTV sketches continue to flow onto YouTube, providing viewers with a grand opportunity to get stoked for the imminent release of SCTV: The Early Years. "Betty Bain, Professional Juror" features some textbook scene-stealing from Joe Flaherty and John Candy (watch for the big fella's oddly-modified left hand in the climactic scene); "Corna-Bix" is so incandescently silly that I still find myself proclaiming "Yum-bo!" in the presence of appealing food nearly thirty years after it aired; and the early "Sammy Maudlin" episode that completes the set below is one of the strongest. If you have time, YouTube also has the complete My Factory, My Self, a never-equalled send-up of glib '70s cinema. (In at least one regard My Factory couldn't be more timely: it begins with a joke about a change of anchors at the CBS Evening News.)
From the world press, 9/13/06
Trivia quiz: name the European country whose lack of bestiality laws has made it the continent's "animal whorehouse"
Yes, but does anybody really want to know? British evidence-based medicine journal Bandolier looks at a prognostic index for all-cause mortality in seniors. -7:38 am, September 13
Time marches on dept.: Meet Liam Lidstrom, Edmonton-born son of NHL forward Willy Lidstrom. He was drafted in the late rounds of 2003 and is looking for a job in the ECHL this season. -10:37 pm, September 12
What's your favourite post from the HFBoards.com thread about Rick DiPietro's 15-year, $67.5M Islanders contract? I have to admit I cracked up when the one guy pointed out how lucky the older fans are because they won't have to live through the whole deal. But there's also this instant classic:
Did Wang kissed too many cows? How stupid is that? He signs a goalie for 15 years and the amount is garanteed? Oh god let rain brain from the sky!
One moderator finds a slender hint of upside:
I finally own a jersey of someone who won't get traded. Why am I not happier?
Has anybody else reached the point of wanting to scream themselves hoarse at the mere sight of the acronym "TIFF"? -12:21 pm, September 12
The new breed
I spent Sunday morning with BoA correspondent Andy Grabia and Jose Reyes worshipper Avi Schaumberg watching the Oilers rookies work out at the Black Gold Arena in Leduc. Watching, and photographing. (Let someone else do the damn reporting for once!) Here's the resulting Flickr fotoset as an ordinary webpage; here's the same content in compelling slideshow form. Oiler fans can find verbal coverage in this thread, along with my thoughts on the workout. Looks like hockey's back!
Owing to my travels hither and thither, I might easily have missed Friday's Supreme Court decision from Justice Fish in Blank v. Canada. It's not one of those big individual-rights cases that reverberates across society like a hammerblow, but it is rare in that it is likely to occupy the general interest of all Canadian lawyers, and (by firmly establishing the distinction between the related concepts of litigation privilege and solicitor-client privilege) it does serve the beneficial libertarian purpose of removing a wholly bogus exception to freedom-of-information law. Anonymous Canadian lawblogger Pith and Substance has background and comment.
Sympathy for the devil
Just got back from a couple of days down on the farm... I've brought back some new photos for the visually inclined.
On a related note, a reader asks if I'm related to the family of Roughrider fans recently profiled on TSN. Shockingly, his suspicions are correct: the star of the clip is my uncle Robin. Which means that, vis-à-vis my father, the notorious "Sister Saskatchewan" who stalks Taylor Field in a nun's habit is actually a sister-in-law. Despite their unwise choice of role models like Trevis Smith, we all love Rob and Lori and their kids are turning out great. I'm confident that at least some of them will eventually realize that it's the Edmonton Eskimos who stand for professionalism, dignity, and integrity in Canadian football. Conversion to a faith that's founded on victory instead of victimhood cannot be far behind.
From the world press, 9/5/06
Have we been lied to? Mandarin is often said to have nearly 900 million speakers: now a Chinese official is saying 40% of the PRC population can't speak it despite intensive education efforts
Reaugh of sunshine: hockeycasting's funniest ex-jock joins the OLN broadcast team for 06-07. Rumour is the CBC was looking at the Razor, but physicists warned at the last minute that the hiring of another ex-goalie by the Corp would cause a disastrous rip in the fabric of spacetime. Incidentally, Reaugh confirms other published accounts that have OLN shucking its past by changing its name to "Versus"... -6:58 pm, September 4
Kerckhoffs' principle in action: Cambridge professor Ross Anderson has persuaded his publisher to let him release the entire contents of his Security Engineering textbook online for free. I've been browsing fascinating chapters on the history of nuclear command-and-control and on tamper resistance in electronic systems. Did you know, for instance, that RAM content can persist without external power for "seconds to minutes" if it's cooled to below -20°C? -5:40 pm, September 4
Kneel to win: Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders discusses the use and abuse of regression analysis in a new sabermetric manifesto for football fans. -2:40 am, September 4
I've always been dialed into Canadian culture. I really dig it. I feel very at home there. It's kind of like the movie version of America to some degree, because everything is just like in the real world, or my real world, but the names are different. Everything sounds made up there. Instead of Macy's there's Roots. It feels like you're in somebody's movie, where they couldn't clear Macy's so they made up fake names for stores.
This take on Canada from Kevin Smith in an interview with Maclean's isn't unfamiliar; a lot of actors come north and experience the different shops and brands and civic features and feel as though they're on a movie set, or in some surrealistic fairyland where everything is just slightly different and skewed. This isn't a problem except insofar as it may lead some Americans to treat Canada as a joke... as they implicitly do when they wear the Maple Leaf to get by more easily overseas--a practice that is recommended often to tourists in complete earnest, that is insanely offensive, that's disgraceful from a patriotic standpoint, that (to the degree that it might even succeed) unjustly imposes on Canadians the hazards and nuisances that it is meant to deflect, and that no one in the U.S. has ever, to my knowledge, denounced or apologized for. But I digress. The opposite phenomenon for Canadians is that, when encountering familiar American venues or symbols in person for the first time, one sometimes feels plunged into a weird sort of hyperstylized reality--the "Oh, look, it's the Empire State Building" effect.
I have to admit I had some subconscious trouble dealing with Americanness when I went to Florida last year for the Western Standard Cruise. It was really my first time anywhere on the east coast proper, and my first time in the South, and as it turned out I hadn't psychologically prepared myself. So I'd run into these freakishly genial people with various flavours of southern accent--
'Ey, man, how y'all doin' this mawnin'? Y'mind if I just take a little ol' look at your bawdin' pass?
--and my first, split-second reaction would actually be rage. I'd think to myself "What the HELL? Is this guy goofing on me? What's with the put-on accent?" I kind of had to stop and remind myself: this way of speaking isn't invented. It's not just the Southern speech, which you normally only hear on television in the mouths of sitcom buffoons and which doesn't throw me for such a loop when I hear it on the phone; it's also the chatty, aggressively genteel overall approach. Which might maybe feel natural to some Canadians, ones who don't come from an introverted, cold, Protestant/East European place. All it did was vaguely antagonize and unnerve me. At first I felt most comfortable with the cabdrivers, who up here are among the most colourful and approachable people (many are Africans and Middle Easterners), but who down there seem to be mostly gruff if not outright hostile.
(In Fort Lauderdale I hailed one hack who assumed wrongly from my light luggage that I was headed somewhere other than the waterfront. It turns out his work day consists mostly of avoiding the Homeland Security hassles and lineups that you have to confront in order to drop off a cruise passenger. He had no compunctions against explaining this to me, but it was still pretty clear he was wishing he'd just stepped on the gas and flattened me like a cartoon character instead of picking me up.)
There was a related but very different effect once I got onto the boat, where the WS passengers were immediately immersed in a sea of overtanned gravel-voiced northeasterners between the ages of 50 and 80. For some reason all the Seinfeld accents (Oh my gawd, Lenny, you have to troy the smoked SAAA-m'n) just made me giggly instead of resentful. Whenever possible I'd just hang out in one of the restaurants after breakfast, listening to old Italians and Poles, folks from Philly and Boston. Everything these people say sounds like movie dialogue to me--they could be talking about shaving their corns and I'd be inhaling it like it was Chekhov. Again, it's not strictly a matter of accent but also of how outlandishly oral these people are because of the different cultural influences--it's like absolutely everything that's ever in their minds has to be communicated at once or they'll physically explode. Going to the States always makes me despair of ever writing a novel, because I discover I was born with a great disadvantage--namely, that I live in a place where people's inner lives are actually interior. It's not even fair, really: in the U.S. it just seems like you could create excellent literature with a tape recorder.
From the world press, 9/1/06
"I'm laughing, so I'm still alive": a new book reveals the hidden history of "laughter under Hitler"
On newsstands now: more me
Subscribers to the Western Standard will have noticed that my byline now appears in the magazine a little more often. In addition to my sports column, I now have a couple of pages in each issue that fans of my old Upfront notebook feature in Alberta Report will enjoy. The plan is to devote half that spread to a piece of reportage or research--like this primer on Western Canada's underreported and unprecedented summertime anthrax outbreak [reg. req'd]. The other half contains "Satellite Dish," a digest of especially significant or amusing bits of international news from the same sources I use for my patented world-press roundups.
Needless to say, the sports columns will keep coming (here's a recent one comparing the fates of Barbaro and legendary '70s mare Ruffian) and I'll still be appearing just as often in the great and good National Post (watch for a new column from me Friday morning).
From the world press, 8/30/06
A 17-year-old daughter of Aum Shinrikyo's leader bids for a new guardian in an effort to escape the Japanese death cult
Al Gore may have invented the internet, but it takes a Canadian to ruin it
In case you didn't hear, the Liberal Party of Canada--you remember them, they're the ones who gave us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms--nastygrammed satirical website HezboLiberal.com yesterday, claiming through its legal mouthpiece Guy Régimbald that a "link to the Liberal Party's website" is in potential violation of copyright law (howzat??). The Western Standard has responded by mirroring the threatened site on its own servers and sending a message of defiance to those who would use intellectual property and libel chill as tools of censorship. Decent Liberals should applaud the move--and, perhaps, check with their favourite leadership candidate whether he regards the freedoms of opinion, satire, and internet traffic as essential principles of democracy or mere obstacles to be knocked aside when the Party is criticized.
Rae days: in this morning's National Post, I ask and answer a myriad of questions about Canadian politics. Can former Ontario premier Bob Rae win the Liberal leadership? If he does, wouldn't that raise the issue of just how many different parties of the left Canada really needs? Are we headed for a system of Starbucks socialism, wherein a dwindling rump of post-Marxist true believers hems and haws over café au Layton and Elizabeth May's Green tea? Who's really better--the People's Front of Judea or the Judean People's Front? If you were Stephen Harper, do you think that the opportunity to run against Rae's record would actually induce a physical orgasm? The column is available online to subscribers; others must hie to a newsstand at once.
From the world press, 8/29/06
The Danish government says that Christiania, the legendary anarchist enclave in Copenhagen [wikipedia], must be renovated at a cost of US$43M; residents want to know why they can't do some of the work themselves
*Pinyin fans can stop e-mailing me about the spelling--in case you haven't noticed, I don't call Rome "Roma" or Moscow "Moskva" either
Accidental ad copy of the year: "My cat was enthralled by the space food. She had a great interest in those space flavors." A Chinese weblogger joins the Mile High (Diner's) Club. -11:57 pm, August 27
(My first candidate for a Great Canadian Mystery: why haven't we built a giant fucking gas chamber with room for every self-styled web designer who builds pages in Flash without any kind of in-browser audio control?)
Weekend YouTubeology: caress of steel
Then again, Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson knew a thing or two about songwriting, and "So Sad About Us" might be the first or second truly great song from a man who wrote several dozen of them. (Some room should probably be left in there for "Substitute".) The Who's early hit singles are snapshots of their time and place; "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" is more of a daring acoustic experiment than a song in the classical sense, and "My Generation" was an insincere marketing gesture that the group regrettably had to drag around for forty years. "So Sad" was one of the first indicators that Pete Townshend had the weight to muck in with Lennon & McCartney or Goffin & King. Even the solo demo, which Townshend made the very first track on his 1983 Scoop release of personal archive recordings, can't quite disabuse the listener of the suspicion that this must be some polished country-and-western standard, newly clothed in Mod battle dress.
Played by the '66 Who--at the time not only the world's best and loudest band, but also its four sharpest-dressed motherfuckers--it seems to demand the creation of a whole new descriptive concept, one that its progenitor would shortly supply.
When math bites journalists, part n
LONDON -- A British diesel-powered car has broken its own land speed record, reaching 563.648 kilometres an hour just a day after it shattered a three-decade-old record, a team spokesman confirmed... At just over nine metres long, the vehicle has a drag co-efficient of 0.174 cd -- which compares with a typical family car's drag co-efficient of about 30 cd.
How did the physics in that last sentence come to be so badly sprained? Obviously, just for starters, someone didn't realize that a genuine coefficient probably shouldn't have units, misunderstood "Cd" in a press kit, and mistranscribed the whole in a form he hoped would be semi-intelligible. But even at that, the stated values don't make much sense together. The true drag coefficient of a family car is in the approximate range of 0.3-0.4 (the theoretical maximum being 1)*, and if the writer is instead trying to state the coefficient times the cross-section, which automotive writers sometimes cite, then there should be some kind of area unit in the sentence.
[UPDATE, August 25: Reader John Mansfield, who has a Ph.D. in fluid dynamics, points out that blunt shapes can obstruct a cross-section of airflow larger than their own forward surface area, yielding a drag coefficient greater than 1.]
Wrong on so many levels
This 1975 Canadian government propaganda comic for children pretty much encapsulates everything that was wrong with its era, starting with the phrase "government propaganda comic for children." It makes me angry about the conditions of my own childhood in about eight completely distinct ways. I don't want to spoil anything about it--just go check it out.
From the world press, 8/21/06
Did you know there was a theme park in Switzerland devoted to the paleoastronaut theories of Erich von Däniken [wikipedia]? Apparently a businessman has just saved it from bankruptcy
Weekend quiz answers
Wow, lots of mail on this one. Maybe I should make this a regular feature or something? Seems like an awful lot of you are Jeopardy wannabes.
I can't say anyone improved decisively on the two main answers I had in mind. I believe the tallest adult males to become famous for reasons totally unrelated to their heights are the novelist Michael Crichton, who is 6'9", and the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who is said to have reached the same peak height. As a younger man Crichton was sometimes said to be 6'10", but the judges would have accepted either answer. Jamie Tucker wins the No-Prize for mentioning both in an e-mail almost immediately.
If you are willing to stretch the definition of "famous," you can arrive at other answers. (Steve Sailer, the go-to guy on all things related to human biodiversity, has a very full treatment on the sidebar of his website; scroll down until you spot my name.) The senior heir to the throne of Albania, Crown Prince Leka Zogu, is said to be around 7'. Godfrey Reggio, whose art-cinema classic Koyaanisqatsi was apparently intended to make cities repugnant or disturbing but succeeded only in endowing them with a certain entomological grandeur, is cited as being anywhere from 6'11" to 6'7". A few readers tried to make a specious case that Randy Johnson's 6'10" height has had little or nothing to do with him winning 277 major-league ballgames; they should find someplace else to sell that particular product line of bulldada. At 6'9", contemporary columnist Jim Pinkerton matches the height of Crichton and Galbraith and falls only a little short in degree of fame.
One notices, without much surprise, that the three surnames in that last sentence are all Scottish. I will not urge upon the reader the conclusion that Scotland has produced a distinctly superior strain of humankind; if he is not Scottish himself, no argument will suffice, and if he is, then certainly none shall be necessary.
Weekend quiz question
Who is the tallest adult male to become famous for reasons unrelated to his height?
I was inspired to ask this question around midweek, when I was watching Ricky Gervais's widely YouTubed industrial-training film for Microsoft. Gervais's writing/radio partner Stephen Merchant, who plays the straight man in the MS movie, is familiar as a foil for Gervais in interviews and DVD extras. But since they're so often filmed seated together in a two-shot, it's startling (frankly, almost blood-curdling) when Merchant actually stands up in the MS footage to reveal a height of 6'7". (Best guess for Gervais seems to be about 5'8".)
Merchant, however, is not the correct answer. What's interesting about the question, I think, is that it does define the line between the range of ordinary human variance and--for lack of a better term--true freakishness. Practically speaking, if Merchant were 7'3", he would not be earning a living as a comedy writer. All humans above a certain height who become famous tend strongly, for obvious reasons, to do so as basketball players or pro wrestlers or actors. I'll give you a while to work on it and, perhaps, improve on my answer.
The Reg asks and answers the question of the hour
...the fabled binary liquid explosive--that is, the sudden mixing of hydrogen peroxide and acetone with sulfuric acid to create a plane-killing explosion--is out of the question. Meanwhile, making TATP ahead of time carries a risk that the mission will fail due to premature detonation, although it is the only plausible approach.
From the world press, 8/17/06
Were the Dead Sea Scrolls collected by the radical Essene sect of Judaism? Conventional theory says yes, but the contrary view has found new purchase thanks to evidence that nearby Qumran was a centre for pottery
Abnormal psychology dept.
It seems damned careless to accidentally smother your kidnap victim to death literally on your way out the door of her house--but students of homicide know that we hear something like this exculpatory tale of a tragic accident from pretty much every single sex murderer in the recorded history of humankind. Even John Wayne Gacy, who had thirty-plus bodies of young male rape victims rotting away underneath his house, tried to spin elaborate explanations for how his prey, in every case, had up and died through sheer misadventure. It's a crock. It's just not that easy to kill a human being inadvertently, even a small girl. It's certainly not easy to do it on your way out of the closed doors of an utterly silent house. -this site, May 10
Woews of hatred for Toews: I have a brand-new column in this morning's National Post about the federal justice minister's proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 12 to 10.
Toews might be accused of seeking a quarrel on the furthest margins of plausibility. But when the criminal culpability of young people suddenly does become an issue, it's hard to discuss the issue with a cool head. On February 12, 1993, at a shopping mall in a Liverpool suburb, two ten-year-old boys enticed James Bulger, aged two, away from his mother. They took him on a four-kilometre ramble through Merseyside; reaching a railyard, they battered him to death with iron and stones and left him on the tracks. Both came from violent, broken homes well known to the police, and had done things an older child might have been arrested for. Would Vic Toews be willing to second-guess British justice now and state that these under-12 youngsters did not "need incarceration"? How about Liberal justice critic Sue Barnes, who (in a Tuesday press release that stung the mind with its dishonesty) vilified Toews for wanting to "lock up ten-year-olds"?
You can read the whole thing at the Post's website: it's on the free side of the subscriber wall.
Spotted in downtown Toronto, Monday afternoon
It's not the only one of its kind, either.
Brief return to the isle of supermen
Jonathan Kay has devoted a column in today's Post to Sacha Trudeau's creepazoidal love letter to the sickbed of Fidel. It's good, but in the rush to denounce something so eminently denunciable, we should not overlook its status as data. The Cuban press is now engaged in trying to persuade us that Fidel is doing fine, swapping gifts with Hugo Chavez and even sucking back a delicious smoothie or two. I would be willing to believe it, but if anyone in the free world is likely to have reliable privileged information about Fidel's prognosis, surely it is old family friend A. Trudeau? He doesn't seem to think it looks very good for el Jefe.
And I said I do, I do
Fidel is not a politician. He is more in the vein of a great adventurer or a great scientific mind... His intellect is one of the most broad and complete that can be found. He is an expert on genetics, on automobile combustion engines, on stock markets. On everything. Combined with a Herculean physique and extraordinary personal courage, this monumental intellect makes Fidel the giant that he is. He is something of a superman... Cubans remain very proud of Castro, even those who don't share his vision. They know that, among the world's many peoples, they have the most audacious and brilliant of leaders.
Communism is dead, possibly even deader than its sneering twin fascism. But the puerile, hallucinatory romance of the Dear Leader lives on--not just in the fungus-gnawed pages of forgotten propaganda manuals, but in an exclusive to your Sunday Toronto Star.
It has been a while since Western intellectuals made a habit of masturbating in public to comic-book fantasies of physically indomitable, universally erudite Communist revolutionaries. But then, an intellectual is someone who makes at least a modest effort to keep pace with the emergence of the historical record. Anyone who describes Fidel Castro as devoted to "peace" cannot be familiar with his strategic posture during the Cuban Missile Crisis; anyone who associates him with the quest for justice must not have heard about the abundantly documented "acts of repudiation" organized by the Cuban security police to terrorize peaceful dissidents in their homes; anyone who deems him a paragon of "rationality" can certainly never have imagined being thrown into a filthy jail cell with a violent rapist, or locked up and tortured in a psychiatric hospital, for such fearful crimes as "clandestine printing" or "dangerousness." Sacha Trudeau hints that Cuban friends have tried to explain life under dictatorship to him, but he reinterprets their suffering as mild psychological "suffocation"--not so much at the hands of a totalitarian state as by Fidel's personal example of "machismo and rigour." Somewhere, Alexander Solzhenitsyn is vomiting.
Bruce Rolston is, like me, trying to fathom the details of the British bomb plot from the depths of an armchair; on this issue, wherever we disagree, I can safely be presumed wrong. -5:28 pm, August 13
And while we're on the subject,
let's remember that there has been a known field test of electronically-detonated liquid explosives placed aboard an aircraft by terrorists. On December 11, 1994, Ramzi Yousef planted an experimental bomb aboard a Philippine Airlines flight from Manila to Narita and disembarked during a stopover at Cebu. Relevant facts:
1. The explosive used was nitroglycerin, which is about 1½ times more powerful by weight than TNT, and hence even more so than TATP;
Yousef had a more ambitious project for manufacturing larger bombs and concealing them inside life vests on a series of flights, but the result of the Philippine Airlines test apparently disappointed his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. KSM discarded the plan, possibly for some of the reasons spitballed in the previous entry. He liked the other idea--the one, that is, where al-Qaeda militants trained as pilots, hijacked passenger aircraft, switched off the radar transponders, and crashed the planes into landmarks and public installations.
It appears that the successors of Ramzi Yousef and KSM were prepared to go ahead with less powerful bombs, made from a less stable high explosive, than even the ones used by Yousef in a dry run. If I've got my facts straight, and the press does too, that suggests that this group is probably not too bright. And the reversion to a terror plot that was already discarded by shrewder fanatics certainly hints at some desperation in al-Qaeda ranks. But now I've talked myself into waiting for another shoe to drop.
Um, so before we abandon the whole concept of "carry-on baggage" forever...
...could somebody in authority maybe consider providing, for the benefit of us stupid cattle who fly on airplanes, an actual model of the credible threat supposedly posed to aircraft by the participants in this new "terror plot"?
This morning's press is abuzz with talk of TATP (acetone peroxide), a liquid explosive favoured by Middle Eastern bombers that is "easy to make and hard to detect." With advantages like that, surely there's some catch? Just so--TATP is easy to make, but far, far easier to blow one's limbs off with in the making. In its high-explosive form it's even less stable than nitroglycerin. And after five years' experience with the New Transport Security, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that the scenes of security officials pouring hand lotion, hair gel, and bottled water into giant waste bins apparently represent a spectacle every bit as irrational as a witch-dunking. It didn't blow up, therefore it was safe all along! Have a nice day!
TATP is popular amongst disaffected Arab nihilists because the necessary ingredients are uncontrolled and virtually uncontrollable. It's literally a matter of putting acetone and peroxide together in the presence of any of a number of catalysts (I've seen sulfuric acid mentioned). If you're willing to invest some manpower to cover the risk of accidents, it is "easy" to fabricate.
But concealing an amount large enough to bring down an airliner in flight might be another matter. If TATP has been a threat all along, why hasn't it been used to target aircraft before? Pan Am Flight 103 was brought down over Lockerbie with Semtex. Shoe bomber Richard Reid was found with TATP in his shoes, but only as a detonator for Semtex. ABC News is reporting:
The suspected terror plotters arrested in Britain had planned to conceal their liquid or gel explosives inside a modified sports beverage drink container and trigger the device with the flash from a disposable camera. ...the plotters planned to leave the top of the bottle sealed and filled with the original beverage but add a false bottom, filled with a liquid or gel explosive. The terrorists planned to dye the explosive mixture red to match the sports drink sealed in the top half of the container.
So you tell me: we're talking about maybe 200 or 300 mL of an explosive that's not under serious compression, and that isn't quite TNT-equivalent even when it's not in liquid suspension? I realize airframes are fragile because of the annoying necessity to leave the ground, and that's certainly enough TATP to cause some death and carnage in the cabin. I'm not sure it would reliably breach the skin of the aircraft, let alone guarantee that it crashed. Even assuming you didn't bump into anything on the way through the security inspection. Or attract a whole bunch of attention by carrying a bottle of Gatorade like it was a carton of sparrow's eggs. Or get the dye job not quite right.
Obviously there is much more yet to be disclosed about this thwarted plot. What I want to hear is a sensible threat model. I'm not concerned about an advance justification of the current madness going on in American and British airports. A temporary overreaction is perhaps excusable--assuming that the resources diverted to examining carry-ons haven't been taken away from security screening of checked baggage, which all our experience tells us is more dangerous to aircraft. In fact, if I were Osama bin Laden and I wanted to smuggle something dangerous onto an airplane in 2006, I think my exact first step would be to get a couple dozen movement goofballs to risk their freedom and hides on the biggest diversionary action imaginable.
[UPDATE, 12:28 pm: If half a Gatorade bottle of TATP isn't enough to bring down a plane (and that's just a conjecture on my part), there is still the question asked by a Rantburg commenter: would it be enough to blow open the sealed door of a cockpit? My guess is that the answer is "Yes"--but anybody who wants to reprise 9/11 still has the passengers to deal with... More here.]
Hezbollywood North: Until I saw Antonia Zerbisias make the case that faked news images are no big deal, I thought that a "media critic" was somebody who criticizes the media. It turns out that the full job description is "media critic... of non-journalists who are trying to figure out who they can trust." The word "media" as used here shouldn't be regarded as genitive like the "fly" in "flyswatter"; it indicates allegiance, like the "police" in "police dog." -6:16 am, August 11
NYT halves human species: film at eleven
Jane Brody has been on the health and medicine beat for the New York Times longer than I've been alive, and not just a little longer. So I doubt that the glaring solecism in a new column about migraine is her responsibility. Brody writes that "People who experience [aura] have a doubled risk of cardiovascular diseases, according to findings published last month in The Journal of the American Medical Association." But the JAMA article in question is not about "people" in general, as its title, "Migraine and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in Women," suggests.
If Brody or some editor didn't just mess up, and instead consciously inferred that the doubling of cardiovascular disease risk found in women would presumably be matched in a similar sample of men, they're on soft ground. Prior evidence suggests that the risk burden is particularly strong in (young) women. And it doesn't necessarily reflect on the Times, but it may also be worth noting that the JAMA study apparently used loose criteria in defining both migraine and aura, and that the very different cardio-risk profiles of migraineurs and non-migraineurs would make it hard to extricate enough potential confounders to generate a reliable hazard ratio.
This Week in Fakeball
Readers who saw my April Western Standard column about fantasy baseball (and other fan-as-GM games) may be wondering how I'm doing in my first-ever MLB fantasy season. Short answer: there's a reason I haven't discussed it much.
To recap the situation as it stood in April, I had just plunged into the deep end of the shark pool with 11 other players who have Alberta connections--most of them sports webloggers, almost all of them possessing more university degrees than me, and all very knowledgeable about baseball by civilian standards. It's a league with 27 roster spots that lets each GM keep six players from year to year. Our inaugural draft, managed electronically by CBS Sportsline, was like a ten-day childbirth, interspersed with heavy doses of terror, frustration, outrage, and hilarity. Team owners were in four different time zones, literally spread out coast-to-coast, and GMs with 9-to-5 jobs routinely received angry phone calls at work: "We can get ten picks out of the way if you'll drag your ass into the draft room RIGHT NOW!" I've never been involved in anything like it, and honestly I'm a little sad that future drafts will be shorter because 72 players will have keeper tags applied in advance.
WHAT I DID RIGHT ON DRAFT DAY: In a word, starting pitching. For some reason, my intellectual framework for selecting a rotation was unusually strong: the top ten 2006 starters in MLB under our scoring system include Brandon Webb (#2), Mike Mussina (#5), and John Smoltz (#9). I snagged Smoltz with the #90 pick overall, Webb with #127, and Mussina #186. This is pretty much the only thing I have to brag about, so I'm going to dine out on it for as long as possible without mentioning that my other picks included Jorge Sosa and Casey Fossum.
I also took a chance on Nick Johnson at #162, more out of sentiment than anything--I told myself before the draft that it was best to prevent irrationality by a strategy of appeasement, i.e., smuggling one former Montreal Expo onto the roster if possible. Johnson, who is 27 and will always pound the ball and work the zone when healthy, turned out to be a pretty solid choice at first base, considering that most of the other big studs had been off the board for ten rounds or more by then.
EASY DECISIONS I DIDN'T SCREW UP: Indians catcher Victor Martinez has rewarded his pick (#7 overall) adequately at a low-offence position; so has the perennially underrated Texas shortstop, Michael Young (#18). These are decisions any decent fantasy player could make in his sleep, though I probably could have let Martinez slide for another round.
HOW I BONED MYSELF: Injuries. Injuries. Oh God, have there ever been injuries.
To this hour I don't know if I didn't factor them in enough, or if I just had a howlingly bad run of piss-poor luck. Obviously I was asking for a little trouble with Jeff Kent (#42) and Ken Griffey (#66). But I was careful to find backups for both those players; remarkably, Griffey and his backup Jeremy Hermida missed the same four early-season scoring weeks with injuries, and Kent's backup, Luis Castillo, injured a foot running the bases 24 hours before Kent got drilled in the head with a fastball. Am I stupid or does God hate me? My fellow players have been too tactful to supply a convincing categorical answer.
To top everything off, I was EXTREMELY CAREFUL to make sure my outfield was anchored by a truly blue-chip iron-man who was a mortal lock to keep collecting RBIs all year in the middle of a formidable lineup. If you asked any baseball fan in April who the most durable, trustworthy run-producer in the draft was, there's a pretty good chance he would have told you "Hideki Matsui."
Well. Matsui broke his wrist chasing a foul fly on May 11, and now it's August 8 and he's still too sore to swing a bat. The sound of the bone shattering was also the death rattle for my team. The pitching staff kept me in the running through mid-July, but on Monday of every week I was running candy-asses like Mark Kotsay and Geoff Jenkins* out there to fill the Matsui hole. Last week, nine games out of playoff contention and squatting 10th in a 12-team league table, I had to throw in the towel. Mindful of 2007, I traded Mussina and Smoltz to a contender for the rights to Seattle wunderkind Felix Hernandez. Now my team sucks and the rest of the league despises me for making a deadline swap that could decide the pennant. Cue world's smallest violin.
ASSESSMENT: Most everybody else in my league has played fantasy before, and I haven't. It did take me a while to learn how to navigate some of the intricacies of the game, like finding pitchers with two starts during a scoring week and choosing matchups wisely. So while I know "real-world" baseball, and I started with higher expectations of myself than 10th place, I probably shouldn't be too disappointed. There's even time to move up in the rankings if some of my young properties have good late runs.
It is a plus that there was one very obvious strength to my 2006 team and one very obvious weakness. Pervasive mediocrity is hard to correct. My strategic planning for 2007 will be relatively simple if I can just remember what algorithm I used to snag those awesome starting pitchers in the first place. So I got that going for me, which is nice. Plus: Felix Hernandez!
CREDIBILITY WATCH: It's not as though Tyler Dellow's reputation as a philosopher of sport needed much help, but as I write this, he possesses the best record in the Alberta Baseball Confederacy. I was in a playoff fight for a while with Andy Grabia, but some visionary draft picks (including Jon Papelbon and Francisco Liriano) and wise trades sealed my fate. He is tied for 4th overall. Since I've sagged to 10th, I'll be inviting karmic retiribution by making any mention of Alex Abboud or Matt Fenwick; let's just say there's a tie for 11th.
*This reference is a little unfair from a real-baseball standpoint. Kotsay is having a fine season for a center fielder, and I've appreciated his consistency; it's just that in a 12-team fantasy league that doesn't differentiate between outfield slots, you've got a serious problem if you're putting a line-drive-hitting CF in the lineup every week. And Jenkins is worse off in a scoring system that penalizes strikeouts heavily that he is on a real field.
From the world press, 8/8/06
Viktor Yanukovych, unseated by Ukraine's Orange Revolution, has ended up on top in multiparty talks and will be PM; here's an extensive Transitions Online feature on how President Yushchenko got trapped into handing parliamentary leadership to his bitterest enemy
Prediction: Connecticut's Democratic Senate primary will be super-duper close. I'm not saying Lieberman will win; there are few things more unpalatable than a man who combines cowardice with sanctimony. But has a bet against Moveon.org ever cost anyone money? If I'd bought Lieberman at 31 I'd be feeling pretty good right now... -6:02 am, August 8
Design by Dillhole & Co.
World press special
Sign and Sight has translated a remarkable, aggressive 1979 interview of Arno Breker (1900-1991), the German artist whose reputation as "Hitler's favourite sculptor" disguises a strange destiny. In the early 1930s he was denounced by the Nazi art establishment as one of the "degenerate" moderns; yet by mid-war, with the party's "Old Bolsheviks" long since purged, he had become a Hitler favourite. He was the man contracted to design the sculptural figures for the massive heroic arch that dominated Albert Speer's plans for a cod-Grecian Berlin reinvented as "Germania."
The interview, conducted by Andre Müller, provides a compendium of intellectual refuge for the politically compromised artist; Breker defends his acceptance of the work on Speer's arch by admitting that "The monumental is my sickness," and insists that his famous "Army" and "Party" figures for the court of honour at the Reich Chancellery were only so named after the fact by Hitler. It's also full of fascinating historical nuggets (Breker says he was tricked by Speer into delaying fee payments until after the war, when taxes would come down) and pearls of esthetic theory (on contrapposto: "Look, the kind of relaxed stance we find among the Italians, it never existed among northern peoples. Christianity expunged the motif of the supporting and non-supporting leg").
From the world press, 8/3/06
Until last month, the Afghan National Army's air corps had two female pilots--but now one has died in childbirth, and the other, her sister, has left the military in protest at her medical treatment
A subtle ontological question: what is the difference between a magazine and a newspaper? We've all handled "magazines" that were on newsprint, and some are even tabloid-sized; at the same time, international newspapers seem to be gradually shrinking to the dimensions of a typical glossy magazine. Fortunately this is a question of profound relevance to the Canadian government, which keeps largely clear of the newspaper business but likes to shovel pelf through various channels to Canadian magazines. So here's how you tell the difference between a magazine and a newspaper, if you're a bureaucrat. The math couldn't be simpler.
From the world press, 8/2/06
German brewer Beck's ran clean out of lager in last month's Euro heatwave and now admits it may not be able to meet August demand
(þ: David Crawford)
So just how the hell did we end up with two gay Olympics-es, anyway? If you're asking yourself that question, head directly to my column in today's National Post, where I examine the embarrassing schism in international queer sport.
A welcome return: Aaron Haspel's God of the Machine, one of the best weblogs [full stop, no qualifier], is back after about a year in mothballs. -5:50 am, August 1
Only a city full of treacherous, greedy shitbags would "honour" a distinguished citizen by naming a public arena after him and then selling out at the first whiff of cash, just 14 years later. The Alberta city of St. Albert is much worse than that: not only is it offering a repulsive public-interest pretext for the move, but its representatives had the gall to try to hit up the "honoured" sportsmen for a counteroffer. History presents fewer clearer examples of the principle that local politics are merely a form of institutionalized shamelessness.
Wait a minute... Cuba's got oil?
It sure does, according to this AP wire story. With three little words, one can feel a sudden lurch in the bowels of American foreign policy. As bad as Fidel Castro is--and that's a quantity whose exact magnitude won't be known until he dies--he's never flown jumbo jets into any American skyscrapers. And as bad as he is, the U.S. military-industrial establishment might regard Hugo Chavez as being worse, regarded purely as a short-term geopolitical pathogen. Moreover, Castro will turn 80 two weeks from today. The United States will never turn him into a friend, but it wouldn't be surprising to see the beginnings of a low-key rapprochement starting at the cultural and intellectual level.
Did I miss anything
It's not too late to check out my Wednesday column in the National Post, which is a primer for Canadians on nickel invader Xstrata PLC and the international man of mystery who founded it, Marc Rich. It's on the free side of the subscriber wall.
The Smoking Gun, ever fond of pantsing the hysterics who enforce Canadian obscenity law at the international border, has the latest quarterly report listing banned literary and video titles. It's easy to laugh at prohibited material like Slobbery Enema Ass and Adventures in Facesitting, but it's unsettling to realize that the art police halted and frisked at least two real movies of recognized merit--the French softcore classic Bilitis, often cited for its soundtrack and cinematography, and Lars von Trier's outstanding Dogme-95 piece The Idiots. Most amusing of all: a porno compendium entitled Banned in Canada 2 is actually marked "Admissible."
Finally, here's one from the assignment desk. According to reports, recent U.S. court decisions calling the constitutionality of the three-ingredient lethal injection process into question have been heavily influenced by the testimony of Dr. Mark Heath, a Columbia University anaesthesiologist-cardiologist. Heath argues that the cocktail long used to kill American prisoners "humanely" is actually a "chemical veil" which serves mainly to disguise the potential suffering of the convict by paralyzing him. He believes that if human beings must be euthanized, we should administer a simple overdose of barbiturates without trying to mask their death throes. The copious experience of veterinarians, who kill scores of injured and ill mammals by this means every year, shows that the method is effective and carries minimal risk of adverse reaction.
Dr. Heath has been cited in dozens of articles about capital punishment this month, but I'm not sure any have mentioned the other reason he's famous. He was the "I hope I live" guy--i.e., the doctor whose ground-level footage of the first WTC tower collapse, and of exhausted firemen and civilians seeking oxygen, dominated the airwaves on the early afternoon of September 11, 2001.
From the world press, 7/20/06 (it's a bit stale, I've been on deadline)
Israeli researchers try to assess antiterror strategies by looking at the stock market's reactions
(þ: Sean Jordan)
From the world press, 7/17/06
A Japanese child murderer admits the loathsome truth behind her own daughter's "accidental fall" from a bridge
These people should not be dancing
Holy cow! A guy named Trevor Stenson has created one of my Top 5 Websites That Should Exist And That I Could Probably Build My Own Self If I Weren't So Lazy. Feast your eyes on a purposeless but wonderful catalogue of Edmonton SCTV locations. (þ: SCTVguide.ca)
Bowling for prophet
On Saturday the cricket teams of England and Pakistan completed day two of the First Test at Lord's. With the visitors facing a tough uphill climb (528 for 9), star Pakistani batsman Mohammad Yousuf abused England's bowlers to the tune of 185 not out. If you're not a cricket follower, all this will be just barely decipherable--but there's a fascinating angle to it: until last year Mohammad Yousuf was Yousuf Youhana, the lone Christian member of Pakistan's national eleven. This report from Wisden, the sport's almanac of record, explains Yousuf's conversion to Islam and provides context for the increasingly intense and public Muslim piety of Pakistani cricket.
Traditionally, Pakistan has relied on the urban nurseries of Lahore and Karachi to feed its cricket. And its cricketers were suitably urbane. Now more players emerge from smaller satellite towns, which are often more Islamic environments. Poorer literacy and awareness mean religious beliefs assume greater significance. Abdul Razzaq, from Shahedra on the outskirts of Lahore, suffered badly from dizzy spells in Australia last year: the cause remained a mystery until it was found he was on a spinach-heavy diet prescribed by a local spiritual leader.
From the world press, 7/16/06 (more to follow late tonight)
Last one to Wikipedia's a rotten egg: an infrared snapshot of a Mantegna panel will force a change in the master's accepted birthdate
One fringe benefit of the Zidane incident...
...is that I've discovered my new favourite word in any language: cabezazo. It's Spanish for "headbutt." Cabezazo! It's so much less clumsy than our term that I favour its immediate general adoption by speakers of English.
By odd coincidence, I also recently learned that, in Spanish-speaking baseball broadcasts, a home run is sometimes called un cuadrangular. I've always thought that the awkward, quotidian phrase "home run" paled in comparison to the French term familiar to me from youth, un circuit. But the etymologically implicit relationship to the circle is problematic. The Mexicans, assuming they're ultimately behind the Spanish term, seem to have found an elegant solution. Cuadrangulaaaaaar!
"Mais pourquoi? Mais pourquoi? MAIS POURQUOI?"
Just to give you a random insight into how professional opinionators think, let me tell you that since the final whistle of the World Cup final, I've been waiting for the first fellow columnist to make the daring contrarian point about Zinedine Zidane's implosion--namely, that there's a short, straight line between his headbutt of Marco Materazzi and last year's French Muslim riots. It was obvious from the start that Zizou's vicious cunting of Materazzi--I apologize for using strictly correct terminology taken from the indigenous English vernacular--would be framed as a nihilistic but proud gesture against white European racialist contempt. And just like a flaming Citroën on the Rue Hippolyte-Taine, it was what you might call embedded in a particular underclass syntax of violence. You do not learn to headbutt somebody from a book; it's a move that, if executed less than flawlessly, is more dangerous to the attacker than to the attacked. (Check the replay--Zidane instinctively has his right hand poised for a counterblow.) To display the frightening, pristine form that Zidane did, you pretty much have to grow up on the wrong side of Glasgow, or East St. Louis, or any large city in Russia--or in the Quartiers-Nord of Marseille. Looks like Le Corbusier has one more thing to answer for!
I figured the garland for yoking Zidane to the riots--which were, incidentally, the kind of thing he'd be a billion miles from even commenting upon personally, let alone endorsing--would probably go to some cheeky Weekly Standard-type conservative. But I was thrown for a loop. The winner appears to be Zahir Janmohamed, a cheeky Muslim-leftist intellectual whose piece for AltMuslim.com is remarkably well-written:
At some level, Zidane's head butt was an empowering gesture of protest and intolerance against racism. With ten minutes left in the game, Matterazi's provocation reminded Zidane that no matter how much fame, fortune, or adulation that he acquires, Zidane still confronts racism. Is it fair to blame him for being angry or fed-up?The problem with the "blind rage" hypothesis is that Zidane's blow couldn't possibly have been more carefully calculated. If he'd really wanted to harm Materazzi, he wouldn't have aimed at his sternum--he'd have pulped his nose and chicletized his front teeth. (Properly aimed--which is to say, about 10 inches north of where Zidane struck--a headbutt is probably the single most effective way of getting a large amount of blood out of a human being fast without a knife.) I suspect Zidane acted as he did because he was in the last 15 minutes of his footballing career. He knew he was basically immune to personal disciplinary sanction, wanted to teach a vastly inferior player a lesson, underestimated the problems that would be created if he got caught, and considered that he was far enough behind the play that it was overwhelmingly likely he wouldn't get caught. If this last item was part of his snap judgment, it should be noted that he was nearly correct; the referee in charge missed the headbutt and issued a red card only after a consultation with a linesman.
Now the world press is talking about taking the Golden Boot away from Zizou. But as the lone voice of Kevin Potvin points out in East Vancouver's Republic newspaper, an even more startling outcome cannot yet be ruled out. (þ: Terry O'Neill)
Further note: as a consequence of Italy's victory, my most recent Western Standard column [free with registration] has just gotten a lot more interesting.
From the world press, 7/9/06
Compelling JPost feature: did ultraorthodox haredim in Ashdod steal the corpse of a one-year-old child in the name of respect for the dead?
"Scientists do not work with purple radiance coming from the walls behind them... In the same manner, our instruments do not, regrettably, emit orange glows that light our faces up from beneath, not for the most part, and if they start doing that we generally don't bend closer so as to emphasize the thoughtful contours of our faces." Photographers take note: Derek Lowe has (rightly) lost patience with you. -4:18 am, July 9
It's official: I've discovered the most depressing eBay item ever. -10:05 pm, July 8
Lord Mayor of Kipling
No doubt you've heard about the dude who launched an ambitious project to gradually trade up from a paper clip to a house. The good news is that he has succeeded at long last. The bad news is, someone's eventually gonna have to tell him that he probably could have had an empty farmhouse in southeast Saskatchewan for the original price of the paper clip...
Those of you who found the recent Roloson item interesting will want to sup from the convoluted discussion that has resulted. It starts here, with Matt Fenwick's response and a 64-piece comment thread. When you're done there you can consult Tyler Dellow's reaction and more subsequent comments. -2:19 pm, July 8
There's something about Stevie
Anybody who doubts the effectiveness of the Prime Minister's image transformation over the last 24 months should take note of this line from Dana Milbank's WaPo pen-portrait of Harper's press conference with President Bush:
As foreigners go, Harper is the sort who would appeal even to the isolationists among us. A youthful 47, he has JFK good looks and, like Bush, wore gray suit, silvery hair, and blue shirt, tie and eyes.
Then again, maybe they're just not making JFKs like they used to.
From the world press, 7/6/06
Protopunk homecoming? Finland's legendary Leningrad Cowboys are about to play their first-ever concert in the actual former Leningrad
Great moments in design
Reader Mike Chalk asks by IM whether I notice anything familiar about the logo of Mexico's New Alliance Party (PNA), which finished way down in the tinfoil-hat echelons of the late election:
Corporate swirlies like this don't come cheap: was the CA's logo actually resold to the PNA, or merely ripped off/justifiably rescued from design oblivion? Readers with clues to a potential answer are invited to forward them to the usual address.
Speaking of Miikka Kiprusoff...
...you may have noticed that the nimble ginger-haired tormentor of the Northwest Division has "MONTREAL" emblazoned on his paddle, as do a few other NHL netminders (Biron, Toivonen, Niittymaki). Perhaps, like me, you deduced from this that the equipment in question had in fact come from Montreal.
An advertorial in the latest Hockey News reveals the truth: Montreal-brand goalie equipment is from Finland. Duh! Where else?
This "Montreal"... was founded in 1960 by Kalevi Numminen, father of NHL defenceman Teppo Numminen. ...In Europe, Montreal goalie gear including leg pads, catch gloves, blockers, chest-and-arm protectors, and pants has long been popular with elite netminders. This season, Montreal will begin marketing and selling high-end goal equipment in Canada for the North American market.
Let's hope Canadian buyers can get past that exotic Finnish brand name.
Warning: item may contain actual reporting
On July 1, the Edmonton Oilers re-signed unrestricted free-agent goaltender Dwayne Roloson to a three-year contract worth $11M. Most Edmonton fans regard this as good news, even though Roloson is hurt and is 36 years old and, boy, is that ever a lot of money. (Roloson will earn $500,000 more than Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff in 2006-07.) But the signing recalled to mind a recent observation by hockey weblogger and legalist-in-embryo Tyler Dellow.
This is an aside arising from too much time wasted in university but I wonder what the NHLPA thinks about deals like the Oilers made for Roloson, where you've got a draft pick going back to Minnesota if Roloson re-signs in Edmonton. I can't believe that they'd be very happy about it and they may well have a solid grievance. Roloson is supposed to be unrestricted free agent but he's effectively had a restraint put on that status by the deal made by the Wild and Oilers. Minnesota managed to do what the CBA otherwise prohibits and will collect compensation in certain circumstances. They had no interest in Roloson's rights following this season but somehow managed to create a compensable interest, albeit a limited one. Theoretically, this will depress the market for those players services. To take Dwayne Roloson as an example, the Oilers are presumably now willing to pay slightly less than they otherwise would have been. This affects not only Roloson's value but the value of every other goalie on the market."...[however,] if the conditional pick only went to Minnesota in the case of the Oilers signing Roloson PRIOR to him becoming a UFA," T.D. adds, "...the Wild would have traded an interest that they owned--the sole right to negotiate with Roloson during the period leading up to July 1st."
As things turned out, this last loophole proved unavailable in theory, because the Oilers signed Roloson as a UFA, after the deadline on midnight of July 1. If an NHLPA grievance concerning the trade were upheld in arbitration, one could foresee the NHL being forced to compensate Roloson, and Edmonton being allowed to keep the third-round pick they thought they had sent to Minnesota.
So this afternoon I pulled together my crayon-and-construction-paper press credentials and phoned another Tyler*--Tyler Currie of NHLPA media relations--to get the straight scoop on the language of 10.1 of the collective bargaining agreement. Currie reported back, after conferring with an NHLPA lawyer, that the clause was merely intended to extinguish the old system of league-specified compensation for teams that lost players to unrestricted free agency, not to prevent teams from seeking an extra conditional reward in a trade of a soon-to-be UFA. (On my own authority, I'll point out that this is probably why the word "compensation" is used in the relevant part of the CBA instead of "consideration.") "I can see how you might construe that sentence as applying to Roloson's situation," Currie told me, "but it doesn't." In the NHLPA's view, since the Oilers still had to outbid 29 other unencumbered teams for Roloson's services, the terms of the trade had no practical effect on Roloson's negotiating power.
That view seems reasonable, but Dellow's original position seems slightly stronger as a matter of economics. Even given that a team is the highest NHL bidder for a hockey player's services, it also still has to bid enough to prevent him from going to Europe or to dissuade him from retiring. The effect of the conditional draft pick on the value of Roloson's services to the Oilers might be all the more important in retrospect because they were the high NHL bidder; it's hard to see how they wouldn't have been rationally motivated to offer more, by the cash value of the third-round pick, in the event that the condition didn't apply. Plus, doesn't "unrestricted" mean, y'know, unrestricted?
Still, the clause in the CBA is what the parties say it is--there's no getting around that. I would have liked to win back a vanished Oilers draft pick by dint of journalistic activity, but one way or another I will certainly be curious to see what happens to that third-rounder. [þ: BoA's Matt Fenwick pointed Tyler's original entry out to me (I'd somehow missed it in the hurly-burly of the playoffs) and helped spitball the CBA issue. I should add that, according to Matt's civilian reading of the CBA, any compensation made to Roloson for a CBA violation would have come out of the players' share of league revenues--which means that everyone else in the league would have had to suffer a little bit for a "mistake" by two general managers, if there had been one.]
*'70s parents = hilarious
[UPDATE, July 8: I've installed a takeoff point for further reading and discussion.]
My mother isn't happy with this photo of Lloydminster's Canada Day fireworks; I think it falls into the "so weird it's actually kind of good" category. -8:14 am, July 5
Weekend YouTubeology II: 'Can spielt Paper House!'
The el-train sequence from The French Connection
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