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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
The US builds a high-tech antinarco base near the point where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet
Duh dept.: "official prices" and the attendant supply shortages make Cuban retail businesses a hive of corruption for the customer
A former captain of France's rugby team goes on trial for murdering his wife of 24 years
Blowhard blowback: independent retailers selling Citgo gas continue to suffer from the effects of Hugo Chavez's UN speech
Battle of the Black Sea: Ukraine PM Yanukovych is mobilizing parliament against President Yushchenko in order to seize foreign policy and keep the Russian Navy in the Crimea
Hot German trend: custom-painted wooden coffins
New EU guidelines mean that Gruyere is OK in an airplane cabin but Camembert is banned
It began in 1865 as Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik; today BASF's unique biz model has made it the king of clusterf--king its competitors
NGOs attack Starbucks, saying it's behind a move to block lucrative international trademark protection for distinct varieties of Ethiopian coffee bean
The Economist looks at Kosovo's future and sees independence followed by partition
Romano Prodi defends his "honest, centre-left" coalition and says that without stronger growth Italy will be "lost"
A top Ethiopian fighter pilot dies in a "mysterious" auto accident on a lonely country road
The Guardian of Lagos offers Nigerian women some tips on turban care

- 11:18 pm, November 6 (link)

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.
...Don't get me wrong; I got nothing against nerds. I mean, I watch "Dr. Who," man. That is hardcore nerd territory. I'm a nerd through and through. But these new meta-nerd type nerds scare the hell out of me. -Todd Hanson, head writer of the Onion

- 4:03 am, November 6 (link)

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.
Steven Spivey, an automotive industry analyst with Frost and Sullivan, says that the burden of research points to some key market areas. "Growth rates will simply not keep up, and the size of the pie will not grow fast enough for everybody," he says.

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.
More often than not, this means importing cheaper parts from low-cost countries like China. In terms of imports from that country in particular, for the automotive market as a whole, and the brake market in particular, the effect of the trend is staggering. According to recent reports from both official Chinese sources and independent study groups like Global Source, China's influence in the market is only going to become more significant in the coming years. In fact, a recent report from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce stated that 2005 automotive exports reached $8.9 billion U.S., a jump of some 23% over 2004.
While that number includes components from the entire vehicle, a more focused study put together by Global Source pegged the value of Chinese brake exports at $1.4 billion U.S. in 2005, an increase of some 30% over the previous year.

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.

- 4:07 am, November 5 (link)

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.

- 9:56 pm, November 4 (link)

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
Swept Awà: can Brazil's last nomadic tribe of aboriginals survive first contact or go on without it?
A Chinese astronaut outlines the immediate future of the PRC space program--sorry, it doesn't include women
Four decades after the world betrayed Biafra, the dream is kept alive by independence group MASSOB
The romantic scenery of Naples becomes a war zone as crank-fuelled gang conflict explodes out of the wrong side of the town
Why do leftist politicians in the West keep filling out their office staff with Tamil Tiger agents?
The fight between Malaysia's Mahathir and his handpicked successor is getting fiercer as Dr. M's megaprojects die on the vine
After ferocious initial protests, the introduction of Lettish education in Latvian schools for ethnic Russian students is proceeding quietly
Bad idea dept.: is Ghana ready for a "middle-to-left-centre" Nkrumahist party?
Mandela and Buthelezi offer surprising tributes to the late P.W. Botha, treating him on the whole a little more kindly than his successor De Klerk did
Why is the Australian state of Victoria selling fresh water to Oz's Coke-bottling company at the insane firesale price of $2.40/Ml?
Two children turn up with suspected polio cases in Kenya, where the disease had been deemed eradicated
Australia is 15 years away from adding a major nuke component to its energy production, says PM Howard
Sun Yat-Sen University approves "Happy Together", mainland China's first gay student organization
Iraq to its army ahead of the Saddam verdict: leaves are cancelled

- 4:28 pm, November 4 (link)

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...

- 2:24 pm, November 3 (link)

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.

- 2:02 pm, November 2 (link)

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.

Probably the best way of comparing playoff streaks in different leagues is to assess them by how likely they would be to happen if a team's placing in the standings was decided entirely at random every year. In a nine-team league where six teams make the cut, any given team's initial chance of getting through is 6/9, or two-thirds. For two straight years the chance would be two-thirds squared, about 44 per cent. Multiplying percentages like this yields a rough measure of difficulty that allows one to assess streaks attained under changing rules, and to compare streaks from different sports.

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.

- 9:54 am, November 2 (link)

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

He who would comprehend the soul of Canada must first get to know street hockey. This photo set [slideshow] from Saturday's Oilogosphere Classic will get you three-quarters of the way there.

- 1:45 am, October 29 (link)

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.

- 11:20 pm, October 27 (link)

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.
My parents said to me at that time, "If you want to understand a society and what they do, look at their rules. Whatever they are being told not to do, that's what they are doing, because otherwise you wouldn't have to tell them not to do it."

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


As I'm sure my readers are capable of instantly apprehending, the unintended but unmistakeable message of such a sign is:


If it didn't, after all, the hookers wouldn't be there in the first place. I shop at a drugstore on that street, and the appearance of the signs has coincided with a noticeable increase in solicitation. This will be taken as an impressive indication of the necessity for the signs, and perhaps for still more signs; none of the well-meaning boobs who put them up will ever realize that they have erected permanent advertisements at their own expense for the business they're trying to get rid of. "Whatever they are being told not to do, that's what they are doing."

- 10:08 pm, October 27 (link)

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
Is an Israeli-Jordanian water pact responsible for the slow demise of the Dead Sea?
Books, satellite dishes, internet: Iran's Ahmadinejad is leaving no medium undesecrated in his quest to suppress opposition sentiment
Meanwhile, an Argentine prosecutor has formally charged Iranian officials and Hezbollah figures with the 1994 Jewish centre bombing that killed 85
Though outlaw tiger-slayer Sansar Chand is still safely behind bars, his gang--led by the wife who smuggles the skins to market--is still on the loose
Yellow peril: Commie China opens a new front in its charm war against Taiwan, waving cash at farmers burdened with surplus bananas
Found in SA: the world's oldest fish fossil, a 360M-yr-old lamprey that looks just like its present-day brethren
Book your seats now: the first World Pesto Championship is happening in Genoa next March
Stuff you won't read about in the Chinese press: 10,000 college students battle SWAT teams in the southeast over a private-school crackdown
Car-crazy Saudis enjoy the kingdom's first-ever jet-propelled dragster show
There's still no sign of Julio Jorge Lopez, Argentina's missing dirty-war witness
"Screaming listeners, veiled women swaying in their seats..."--it's not Beatlemania, it's a performance by Hossam Sakr, the Egyptian rockstar of Sufi-style religious chant
An Australian Broadcasting Corp. cameraman goes on strike... right in the middle of a live news broadcast
Six months after her death, bureaucracy is still delaying the burial of Italian screen siren Alida Valli
Officials investigating an Australian day care find seven babies with their legs tied together with bedsheets

- 6:42 pm, October 27 (link)

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 Arena:

- 12:12 am, October 27 (link)

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.)

- 8:30 am, October 25 (link)

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
Fjord mustang

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."

- 4:29 pm, October 24 (link)

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.

- 6:20 pm, October 22 (link)

Harvester of eyeballs

Advertising spam delivered straight to your Google Desktop: a bright new idea from the Globe & Mail.

- 2:04 am, October 22 (link)

Tough crowd

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?

- 10:49 am, October 21 (link)

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."

- 1:26 am, October 21 (link)

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.

- 5:18 am, October 19 (link)

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?

- 3:40 am, October 19 (link)

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.

- 9:54 pm, October 16 (link)

The cat who wore clothes

Odin in his sweater

- 2:17 am, October 15 (link)

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
Partition appears on the horizon in Iraq as the parliament passes the first law governing the mechanics of federalization
High political office: of 50 Italian MPs tricked into taking a drug test by a TV comedy, 12 tested positive for THC and four for coke
Mere hours before the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize, the agency that awards it gets some bad news in the Norwegian budget
What fraction of U.S. drug prescriptions are for products that found their way into the PDR without ever being submitted for FDA approval? The answer may surprise you
Liberia began as a haven for Africans returning from the United States. In 2006, it's being pulled out of the doldrums by a second wave of returnees
Don't look now, but France and Germany are already squabbling over possible job cuts at a debt-wracked Airbus
Not long ago, cider was for winos and the senile: now it's the hip bevvie of the health-conscious, young, and affluent, but can the trend last?
Belgium revives the memory of Herbert Hoover's remarkable relief work; when do you suppose the U.S. will get around to doing the same?
A paper IPO makes Cheung Yan the first woman to be the richest individual in China
Analysts: Kim Jong-Il's nuke test isn't a message to the world--it's private theatre for the Koreas
Lula was supposed to win the Brazilian election in a walkover, but unfortunately, that's exactly how he campaigned--with predictable results
Will Pakistan be left with nothing but a hole in the ground when China's ten-year lease on a giant copper mine runs out?
Al-Ahram scopes Sadat 25 years after his murder, finding a flawed figure who restored Egyptian pride but plunged the country into a cultural deep freeze
Why is the American power tool industry giving the cold shoulder to the inventor of the miraculous but expensive SawStop?
Norway rejoices on word that new national hero and Edmonton Oiler Patrick Thoresen has been told what every rookie wants to hear: "go ahead and rent an apartment"
Efforts to pin down the ethnicity of Columbus still haven't borne fruit three years after DNA samples were taken
De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer warns the World Diamond Congress that industry certification of "conflict-free" rocks is leaving gaps and will come under increasing scrutiny
"Spengler" to American neocons and loony leftists: what this here clash of civilizations needs is a dose of old-fashioned German theology
Taste the happoshu: a case study in how Japanese tax policy is changing its beer culture
Argentine president Kirchner finds in NYC that despite huge economic growth, multinationals still have their backs turned five years after the big bond default
Proton, Mahathir Mohamed's pet automaker, "will collapse" unless it can find another sucker "international partner" soon
Chosun Ilbo never misses a trick with hard-hitting stories like "Singer's Hotpants Inflame Cyberspace" [youtube]

- 5:55 am, October 12 (link)

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?

- 7:10 am, October 8 (link)

The kids today...

Business-card Menger sponge
...with their iPods and their Interwebs and their Menger sponges...

- 12:30 pm, October 10 (link)


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.

- 7:40 am, October 10 (link)

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.]

- 5:50 pm, October 8 (link)

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.

- 2:10 pm, October 6 (link)

Newsstand shoppers: I will have a signed column in Saturday's National Post in Tuesday's Post, apparently... -2:10 pm, October 6
Canadian assault

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.

i told you i was going to free concert yesterday w/ mom
it's the COC's inaugural concert to kickstart the season
this fucking bldg is brand new, smack dab in downtown
they had an open house when the bldg was completed, about a month or two ago. mom went with all her friends. when they showed up, the auditorium was *locked* and they wouldn't let anyone in.
she was told that they could only enter the auditorium on a "guided tour" and those tours were full already.
and mom said, can't we just take a peek inside? she thought, what are we, vandals?
but there is def'ly interest, lots of people showed up last night
i get there and this skinny, pimply, smarmy kid all dressed in black with wire-rim glasses won't let me in
they tell me that they've reached maximum capacity already
i'm standing there w/ this old man next to me
and i say, that's fine, but my mom is inside waiting for me
she's got a seat saved next to her
Sorry, I can't let you in.
i said, but she's got a seat SAVED, which means I'm not going to be tipping you over max cap
and he says in a smarmy tone, we COUNTED the number of heads coming in, so we're at MAX CAPACITY.
and I said, we'll she's got her cell phone turned off and she's waiting for me. I need to go in and let her know.
He says: Sorry. No.

Funded through private donations, these programs ensure that the glass-walled space overlooking University Ave. is as lively as the sidewalks outside. Yesterday's hour-long premiere wasn't the first concert to be held in that space. As was the case at events held there during the Ring cycle, the setting--a feeling of being at one with the performers as well as the city beyond--was the true star.

I started raising my voice
there were people behind me, and i knew my voice would carry through the atrium
I said this is ridiculous
i've got my mother waiting inside for me, and you won't let me in to let her know I won't be meeting her. Is this how you treat your patrons?
and at this point this plain-looking middle-aged woman in a lavender sweater set comes by and puts her hand up gently to snotty kid
we'll just check with our manager to see if we can allow a few more people, she said softly
it's a safety issue, she said
and I said, frankly, if i can't stay i'm just going to go in there and take my mom OUT, and this gentlemen here can have our seats.
it's not an issue of safety for me, it's a matter of letting me the fuck in so i can get mom
and the attitude was, like, i was lying my way into a fucking free concert
like i was some kid at a nightclub going, but! my FRIENDS are in there man!!!
it was absolutely fucking ridiculous
so they finally let us in
me and this old dude
so i go in and meet mom
turns out it's not in the auditorium
the show is on like, a fucking landing in the stairway
the whole opera house has a glass front
then there's, like, this atrium bit with the stairs and then another wall separating that from the auditorium
so they've packed all these people on diff levels on these landings
and i'm at the top one with mom

Not that the musicians were anything less than stellar. They included flute player Douglas Stewart and three violinists: COC concertmaster Marie Bérard, her assistant Benjamin Bowman and Lyn Kuo. They played pieces by an international cast of composers that included Canada's Harry Somers and Clermont Pépin.

it was horrifically bad
a chick and guy come out dressed in black
there are four music stands in front of them, set about 3 feet apart, staggered
they start off at the first one
oh god
and the chick starts. hardly audible at first
she's just dragging the bow across the strings
it sounds like a dying mouse
then the dude starts in on a discordant note
two mice dying. horribly
they do that, muddling about for about 4 min
I could see the look of bewilderment on all the seniors' faces around me
one of them behind me asks her friend, When are they going to stop warming up and start playing??
halfway through the first violin piece she looked over at the CityTV cameraman and said, "I sure hope they're not FILMING this for TV!! It'll put everyone to SLEEP!!"
20 minutes of this torturous shit
when i first got there, there were all these old people, young cool-looking kids. one in particular, really good-looking kid was sitting next to me. he had shown up by himself to check this out
the second the set ended, he got up, threw his program book onto the chair and stalked out
the four stands were there to represent some kind of "continuity"
so they would finish dying at one stand
then they would pause, then walk to the next one
and start all over again
some other middle-aged dude in a MEC jacket also left. I could hear him complaining to one of the ushers: THIS IS AWFUL. he looked angry
i was pretty pissed myself, i wanted to leave. mom said, let's give the next one a try first
some solo flute piece that's supposed to be a reflection of picasso's works

The audience also got a foretaste of Swoon, a new opera by Toronto's James Rolfe (with libretto by Anna Chatterton). Sung by Virginia Hatfield, Melinda Delorme and Lawrence Wiliford, accompanied by Elizabeth Upchurch, it was a charming, witty and tantalizing taste of a full one-act production in December.

i read the program, the rest of it didn't hold any promise. in fact, the fourth piece had something to do with "pre-recorded sounds on a tape" and how the "violin initiates the gesture to the tape, with the tape responding..."
and the interplay between this pre-recorded shit and some fucking screeching. I couldn't stay. there was no fucking way
it was painfully retarded
I mean, the whole thing made me so ANGRY.
this new opera house, who is it MEANT for
the city?
the community?
and to go in there, with this nice cross-section of potentially loyal patrons
and start with this....SHIT
it smacked of elitism, don't you think?
we're the new operah haus...we shall educate the masses with this stunning atonal composition...
it was wholly unwelcoming
the whole experience was terrible

- 11:01 am, October 4 (link)

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
A teenage prank in the Altai fills a school with pepper spray and sends 65 to hospital...
...while schoolkids in Gothenburg interrupt a youth ballet by tossing stinkbombs into the orchestra pit
Jack Ma, China's rockstar dotcom billionaire, says the secret to making a fortune in technology is easy: know nothing about technology
"I want to show those scoundrels that the whole city mourns her": Florence says goodbye to the insolent, vivacious Oriana Fallaci
A TV investigation finds that a Swedish general's "very deviant" sexual tastes endangered national security by exposing him to blackmail
The paradox of Japanese baseball: Japan's complex, hierarchical idea of "teamwork" can sometimes lead to unexpected displays of rebellion and individualistic fury
Does context count? A German mail-order business goes on trial for depicting Nazi symbols on anti-Nazi badges and stickers
CSM: despite theoretical democratization at the village level, it ain't easy being the non-Communist on the ballot in local Chinese elections
In Milan, Armani learns to love self-imitation and brings back the designs that defined the 80s
As a civil-union bill hits the SA parliament, controversial politician Jacob Zuma tells a crowd that "gay marriages are a disgrace"
In Argentina, the chief witness in the trial of a "dirty war"-era general has "mysteriously" disappeared as the judge faces death threats
Mideast analyst: why is Iran ignoring its interests flagrantly when it comes to confronting the USA but protecting them carefully when it comes to Russia and the Chechens?
A fool at forty? Nigerians are better off than most Africans, but just the same they seem to enjoy a certain breezy disrespect for their nation
Economist: how protectionists are strangling the saurian flag telcos of Europe by blocking consolidation
An Italian economist sets off a national firestorm by daring to suggest that civil servants should be capable of being fired if they don't work
WW1 vet Francois Jaffre dies, leaving just five surviving poilus
When a Sony laptop battery blows up, Korean manufacturers throw a party...
...but Samsung advises you not to let your dog answer the phone if it's got a lithium-ion battery
The bizarro Lefebvre: Zambia's Archbishop Milingo [wikipedia] ordains four married bishops and is automatically excommunicated
Musharraf: the day we lost East Pakistan was the "saddest and most painful of my life"
A secret report says that some of the Madrid bombing suspects may have been trained in Afghanistan by a Moroccan terrorist group
Carlos Menem, 76, grabs his chest and collapses at an early campaign rally; supporters say it was just hypoglycemia (?)
Declaration of independence: China looks to boost its animation industry out of its cheap-labour subcontracting role for North American production

- 9:56 am, September 28 (link)

The New Muralism (introduced here, referenced here, here, here) reaches Saudi Arabia! (þ: Kaus.) -5:44 am, September 28
Coshery-in-other-venues roundup

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.

- 3:54 am, September 23 (link)

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"
Is Pakistan providing most of the fuel for the fires of civil war in Sri Lanka?
Birds of a feather: a replica of Santos-Dumont's airplane will fly alongside the Wright Brothers' Flyer in Dayton, Oh.
That Muslim tradition of tolerance: Islam becomes the official faith of Somalia and conversions and proselytization are promptly banned
U.S. immigration policy faces a test as "temporary protected status" for Liberians fleeing civil strife runs out
Some Western tech companies are making millions by selling censorship technology to oppressive Asian governments: why, asks the Asian Trib, aren't others supplying countermeasures to subvert the rising firewalls?
After six weeks of cola war, a Kerala court opens the door for the sale of Coca-Cola in the Indian state
A Saudi female historian argues that the "women's cage" within the Mecca Grand Mosque is neither safe nor theologically sound
A hospital in Ghana urges TB patients not to sell the special meals they've been given to boost their immune systems
Sony's Japanese price point for the PlayStation 3 turns out to be too high at 2× the XBox 360 and the Wii

- 6:26 am, September 22 (link)

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.

- 5:45 am, September 22 (link)

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).

- 2:13 am, September 21 (link)

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.

- 1:21 pm, September 20 (link)

"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. 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.

- 1:10 pm, September 19 (link)

Weekend YouTubeology

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.)

- 3:02 pm, September 16 (link)

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"
Fake hate-crime watch: turns out an Italian "beaten by right-wing thugs" just fell off a railway platform
The Bible code: does a Sicilian mobfather's copy of the Good Book contain encrypted secrets of his crime empire?
Meet the Sandhurst-trained, gout-plagued new king of Tonga, Taufa'ahau V
Even under terrorist attack, Turkey remains mysteriously preoccupied with its sex-doll issue
Wouter Basson, South Africa's "Dr. Death", is still getting a $6,800 monthly paycheque from the SANDF
Beirut bombshell: hard as it is to believe, it looks like Hezbollah dominated the signals-intelligence theatre in its war with Israel
So just what are these "European values" anyway? The "God debate" continues in Euroland
Swedes are considering turfing the ruling Social Democrats: with their typical lucidity, the Economist's charts explain why
Gas and electric workers strike and cut off power to a government spokesman's home in response to privatization plans for Gaz de France
The Green Vault, a European art treasury whose inventory escaped the incineration of Dresden only to languish in Communist hands, reopens to the public
Despite opposition from Spain, Gibraltarians will now be allowed to vote in EU elections
At a Lubavitcher school in the Ukraine, Jewish students get a terrific education for free--but must accept the movement's freakish dualism about Israel along with it
Meanwhile, there's a rising need within Israel for scholarships that help the apostate ultra-orthodox recover from their stunted secular education
At 76, David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers, makes a long-anticipated visit to the resting place of the German ship Magdeburg
Uruguay becomes the surprising battleground in an economic chess game between the USA and Chavez
French prez candidate Ségolene Royal loses her cool at a party rally, needlessly berating a young woman
The Eurasian Economic Community, a talk shop for Russia, Belarus, and some 'Stans, may become an OPEC for Euro natgas
As India goes bourgeois, diabetes joins AIDS and malaria on the list of major public-health concerns
Germany is about to gain its first domestically ordained rabbis since 1942
EU court: Britain can't tax Irish-based subsidiaries at higher UK rates unless the offshore entities are "wholly artificial"
Turkey's opposition leader wonders if he has to pull a Khrushchev in order to call attention to worsening religious and ethnic strife
Joachim Fest, possibly the historian who best understood Adolf Hitler, is dead at 79

- 9:15 pm, September 13 (link)

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
Schadenfreude korner

What's your favourite post from the 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?

- 12:42 pm, September 12 (link)

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!

- 8:21 pm, September 10 (link)


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.

- 8:43 am, September 10 (link)

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.

- 3:47 pm, September 9 (link)

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
Japanese Imperial Princess Kiko delivers the dynasty's first male heir in four decades and--for now--relieves the constitutional crisis
Tell us something we didn't know--Cardinal Glemp says the Soviets had priestly spies in the Vatican checking up on JP2
Germaine Greer op-ed: "The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Steve Irwin"
The imitation of Christ: an apartheid-era National Party minister washes the feet of an ANC activist he once tried to murder
Did Israeli troops in Gaza use mystery superweapons to destroy people's organs without external damage? Al-Jazeera thinks so
Saudi girls gone wild? The Kingdom's Court of Grievances prepares to issue a verdict on a racy novel about Arab girls in revolt against conservative religious norms
Aftenposten wonders whether the newly-recovered Munch masterpieces were part of a secret deal in Norway's explosive NOKAS armed-robbery trial
The nuclear taboo is crumbling in Chile as the ruling coalition, despite Bachelet's disapproval, looks for a way to break Argentina and Bolivia's energy strangehold
Oh so civilized: Rwanda bans the death penalty
Have archaeologists really discovered the Etruscan capitol described by Livy after 500 years of searching?
A retired Indian engineer gives his US$2,200 life savings to a Calcutta high school made of mud
Austrian dungeon girl Natascha is to give her first live TV interview Wednesday evening
"Cairo will never be the same without him": a monumental statue of Ramses II is moved from Egypt's capital to Giza, inspiring (what else?) anti-Zionist rumours
Allied WW2 spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Sufi princess who died in Dachau [wikipedia], receives overdue recognition in her homeland
The traditional European tontine takes on a new form amongst female entrepreneurs in Senegal
Sport of filth: it seems even Vietnamese second-division soccer isn't free of hippodroming
The Lopez Obrador crisis hits a new level as the embittered loser threatens to defy the courts and form an alternative government
Today's African separatist movement in the news comes from the Caprivi region of northeastern Namibia [wikipedia]
Western Standard take note: Princess announces plans for the first-ever Antarctic megaliner cruise
Can a bandwidth pipe stretching from South Africa to Sudan overcome the squabbling of the 23 countries it will pass through?

- 7:40 pm, September 5 (link)

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
Another country

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.

- 11:31 pm, September 3 (link)

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"
Back to the future: Greenland, whose name was accurate until the 14th century, is looking forward to a revival of agriculture and animal husbandry in the warm 21st
Boffins tell a Jo'burg conference on global security that Africa will be al-Qaeda's next playground
I'm not sure it's such a hot idea, but Czech Airlines is trying to reduce fears of terrorism by sticking passengers inside flight simulators and staging depressurizations and hijackings
Russia announces plans for a manned flight around the Moon, proving itself to be only 43 years behind in the space race
Estimated tax bill for South Korea's 2009 reacquisition of troop control along the DMZ: US$510 per person
Which European country has done the best job of integrating Muslim immigrants? You'll never believe the Pew Research Center's answer
Russia's constitution specifies church-state separation, but that's apparently not stopping regional governments from introducing new, mandatory courses on Orthodoxy in public schools
Mob rule in the Netherlands: nativist/laissez-faire MP Geert Wilders can't afford the security he needs to campaign in public, and the justice ministry won't help
Keeping up with the Gateses: Li Ka-Shing transfers $2.4B in shares to his charitable foundation
Rats, spies, storms, thieves--it's all part of camping out with Mexico's stubborn Lopezobradorista army
Argentina and Chile bicker over an Argie tourist map that undoes a 1998 agreement over a disputed cross-border icefield
Germany will contribute ships and planes to UN peacekeeping in Lebanon--but it's still too soon for German infantrymen to be sent where they might have to confront Jews
Chile joins hands with England on the banks of the Thames to celebrate the life of half-Irish, Anglo-schooled libertador Bernardo O'Higgins [wikipedia]
Embraer completes a $2.7B deal to sell 100 regional jump jets to a Chinese airline
MPs from the Faeroe Islands call for a repatriation of the Faroese diaspora
Blaming the victim: St. Petersburg authorities say that fire-code violations at the gutted Troitsky Cathedral were reported but never corrected
Does it ever seem like most of the ancient human remains found by anthropologists are murder victims?
Latin affluenza: Chilean dietary habits are taking a turn for the worse as healthy traditional items disappear from menus
SZnews has some interesting details of new Chinese anticorruption rules (much tougher than Canada's) that require CPC cadres to disclose personal biz affairs
The JPost reports that David Irving is comfortable in Austrian prison, but prosecutors are trying to lengthen his sentence
Alberta-trained TV chef and ethnic caricature Martin Yan shows off Chinese cuisine with all-American ingredients at a trade show in Shenzhen
Is a new wave of free newspapers in Denmark somehow facilitating nighttime home burglaries?

- 12:22 am, September 1 (link)

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).

- 11:49 pm, August 30 (link)

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
The dazzling, absurd panoply of African currencies may be due to collapse if supporters of an African Central Bank, now slated to be situated in Nigeria, have their way
...and it can't happen too soon for Zimbabwe, where the government has bungled the introduction of new banknotes in a manner shocking even by the standards of Mugabe's fiefdom
Caesar's wife: in the world's first political podcasting scandal, a contract to produce online video messages for German chancellor Merkel goes to a firm that has Edmund Stoiber's son-in-law on the board
Meanwhile, Merkel emerges from an interview with the Pope and calls for explicit recognition of Christianity in the EU Constitution
How Morocco deals with undocumented migrants passing through en route to Europe: dumping them in the middle of the Sahara without water
The Tamil Tigers' m.o., usefully exemplified in the Daily News of Colombo: swindle Canadians, then send the money home to terrorize civilians
Meanwhile, the Daily Star of Dacca is wondering why it can't seem to confirm Canadian Press reporting on Niko Resources Ltd.
200 families from around the world are suing SNCF, France's rail monopoly, for bundling relatives off to death camps under Vichy rule
Pakistan's scandal-plagued PM survives the second confidence vote in the National Assembly's history as the army gives up on excavating the body of Baluchi underground leader Bugti
Hardball: the Russian government, hoping to acquire or starve the only refinery in the Baltic, switches off the Transneft tap delivering oil supplies to Lithuania
The premier of Flanders remarks "ironically" in a Libération interview that francophone Belgians are too stupid to learn Flemish
Gene expression? Japanese researchers find to their surprise that some people are advantageously born with more muscles, numerically, than others
In other Japanese science news, Kyoto researchers have discovered that a species of damselfish engages in underwater agriculture, pulling "weeds" that threaten colonies of its favourite algae
Fatal FieldTurf? Authorities in Arnhem find "clouds of toxic gases" emerging from an artificial surface that uses rubber crumb
Ségo may lead the French polls, but before she runs she'll have to beat the old lions of her own Socialist party--Fabius, Strauss-Kahn, Lang, and, brow-raisingly, her own boyfriend
The Turks wonder why their "world city", Istanbul, still has a problem with rampant rabies
President Bush may not take Ahmadinejad's offer of a live uncensored TV debate seriously, but unfortunately the Arab world probably will
Princeton-bound former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer leaves the Bundestag, "locking the door" on his stormy political career
Israeli medical expert: why weren't Lebanese war casualties spread throughout Israel instead of being warehoused in Haifa's overworked main hospital?
Brave Naguib Mahfouz, a rare literature Nobelist who actually had a shred of intellectual merit, has died at 94
Chavez watch: first they came for the golf courses, and I said nothing, for I was not a golfer...
OK, who had "three months" in the pool on the actual lifespan of the ETA's "permanent ceasefire" with Spain?
Don't miss this hilarious photo of an NZ cop getting Tasered

- 5:26 am, August 30 (link)

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 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.

- 4:26 pm, August 29 (link)

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.

- 9:08 am, August 29 (link)

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
Miracle of the cerrado: in the 1960's Brazil's savannah was deemed "improper" for agriculture, but thanks to soil science it now feeds 200 million people
After four years, the International Criminal Court has produced its first indictment: in the docket is Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congolese militia leader accused of recruiting child soldiers
The city of Mantua wants regional galleries to lend Mantegna's Dead Christ and St. Sebastian for the 500th anniversary of the painter's death, but faces resistance from curators terrified of the works' fragility
Somalia's sharia courts rule on which nonreligious NGOs have a legal right to exist in the country: unsurprisingly, the answer is "None of them"
Oh shit dept.: Pakistani security forces, ordered to isolate the political boss of Baluchistan in his mountain hideaway, throw Musharraf under the bus by murdering him
Nero's House of Gold, paradoxically preserved for posterity by the opprobrium of his successors, reopens to the public after heavy reno
Australia looks at administering HPV vaccine--seen not as a liberal encouragement to sex but as a triumph of Aussie medicine--to young girls through public schools
After a year of development, the Chinese government is still awaiting the release of a state-funded (and hideously dull-sounding) video game on patriotic themes
A doctor denies a driver's license to a 79-year-old Norwegian woman after beating her at arm-wrestling
Babies havin' babies: it started as a way to protect young women from Muslim invaders, but child marriage remains a non-negotiable fact of life in rural India
Even by the standards of futile international talk shops, the Arab League--silent throughout Hezbollah's war--has to be considered a disappointment, says the Arab News
Gateway to heaven: the Antarctic ozone "hole" has stabilized and is closing, scientists say
The voice behind Chinese pop classic "I Am Ugly But Tender" plans a massive concert event in Peking*
An American counterfeiting suspect facing trial confirms that the fake $100s he distributed were "supernotes" produced in North Korea
The Mexican supreme court rules that the July 2 presidential election was fair, but loser Lopez Obrador still vows to the make the country "ungovernable"
Japan's doctors finally free up opiates for terminal cancer patients and join the wacky new trend towards actually alleviating some goddamn human suffering
Caucaz News looks into one of the Kazakh state's big internal problems--the post-Soviet rise of a radical nationalist movement among pro-Russian Cossacks
Blood brother: Barack Obama raises AIDS awareness in Kenya by taking (and presumably passing) a public HIV test
Residents of a northern Norwegian village grow annoyed with constant reindeer incursions and decide to fence off the whole place
"Keep the bastards honest": Don Chipp, founder of Australia's Democrats, dies at 81

*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

- 2:40 am, August 29 (link)

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

This is a pretty neat idea for a website. You might as well enjoy it, since you're paying for it (if you pay taxes in Canada).

(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?)

- 11:55 pm, August 27 (link)

Weekend YouTubeology: caress of steel

In 1966 1967, the technology had not yet been found that would let Pete Townshend assault a guitar without knocking it out of tune every 30 seconds; in this performance from the Marquee Club you can catch him blindly throwing desperate quarter-turns into his strings in mid-performance. Keith Moon's "sloppy drums" are sloppier than usual, and John and Roger's singing wavers in and out of the same key. They may not have rehearsed the song too intensively; A Quick One hadn't been on the shelves for more than a handful of weeks. And they're obviously playing much too loud for a room whose small size is shocking when set beside its eminence. If any of the band's Motown idols had been present, they might not have known what to make of the whole affair.

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.

- 11:53 pm, August 26 (link)

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.]

- 5:49 pm, August 24 (link)

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.

- 6:13 am, August 22 (link)

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
Test cricket explodes as Pakistan's XI threaten to walk away from a one-day series vs. England unless the skipper is cleared of ball-doctoring
Sea Story: a nephew of South Korea's president and other high officials are implicated in working behind the scenes to approve licenses for an "addictive" gambling machine
The hobbit war continues as scientists skeptical of Homo floresiensis publish their results--they say he's just a microcephalic pygmy
Undercooked Amazonian snails send 70 to hospital in Peking with parasitic meningitis
The North Korean government says "hundreds" were killed in July flooding: a Seoul NGO now says the correct figure is more like 54,700 and that famine is in the offing
Indian PM Manmohan reminds Muslims that, as a Sikh, he knows what it's like to be a member of a religious faith singled out as a terrorist hotbed
Austria's main right-wing party says that a move to give Jörg Haider's breakaway BZÖ a seat on the national electoral commission is a dirty trick
The Uzbek government proposes harsh penalties for talking about one's religion--any religion--in public
Were Indian children killed needlessly by a bum Chinese-manufactured encephalitis vaccine grown from hamster organs?
Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam, the public face of the chastened colonel's new-model Libya, bemoans the lack of a free press in the country he's heir to
Atlas clicked: in response to a court ruling that all broadcast movies have to be pre-approved by local censors, cable providers in Pune simply shut off the signal
Taiwanese public health officials fret over an epidemic of unsafe, Internet-arranged one-off sexual encounters
If Albania is ever going to become a tourist hotspot of the Balkans, someone's going to have to clean up the toxic filth left behind by communism

- 7:50 pm, August 20 (link)

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.

- 1:59 am, August 21 (link)

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.

- 7:50 am, August 19 (link)

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.
Certainly, if we can imagine a group of jihadists smuggling the necessary chemicals and equipment on board, and cooking up TATP in the lavatory, then we've passed from the realm of action blockbusters to that of situation comedy.

...We've given extraordinary credit to a collection of jihadist wannabes with an exceptionally poor grasp of the mechanics of attacking a plane, whose only hope of success would have been a pure accident. They would have had to succeed in spite of their own ignorance and incompetence, and in spite of being under police surveillance for a year.
But the Hollywood myth of binary liquid explosives now moves governments and drives public policy. We have reacted to a movie plot. Liquids are now banned in aircraft cabins (while crystalline white powders would be banned instead, if anyone in charge were serious about security). Nearly everything must now go into the hold, where adequate amounts of explosives can easily be detonated from the cabin with cell phones, which are generally not banned...

For some real terror, picture twenty guys who understand op-sec, who are patient, realistic, clever, and willing to die, and who know what can be accomplished with a modest stash of dimethylmercury.

- 12:50 pm, August 17 (link)

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
Cosh's New Muralism at work: police in Padua wall up a North African ghetto in response to open pleas for "militarization" from beleaguered neighbours
In the Kuril Islands, where Russia meets Japan, World War II has never officially ended--and now it's flared up as the Russian Coast Guard kills a Japanese fisherman
Enough self-absorbed blather about Hitler from old men, say two young German essayists in response to the Gräss scandal; we've got issues that can't be solved by means of pacifist pieties
Nickel prices hit an all-time high, raising the astonishing possibility that the mineral will be formally redefined on world markets as a precious metal
Everybody's grandpa: meet Pang Yingjian, a poor Chinese temple janitor who is raising three abandoned baby girls and found homes for three others
"A playground for proxy wars": Michael Young of the Daily Star tries to peer into the postwar future of Lebanese politics and predict Hezbollah's next move
Meanwhile, Qatar's foreign minister admits that "the [Arab] street is not with us"--"us" being moderate Arab regimes who have opposed Hezbollah
"Gofment people, make dem go find another solution": a curfew for motorcycle cabbies in Lagos causes hardship for the city's hookers
The fall of communism nearly wiped out Czech consumer brands, but now familiar names like Kofola and Jawa are becoming hip nostalgia items
Aristo Sham Ching-Tao, a 10-year-old with absolute pitch, is the new toast of the piano world after winning the Ettlingen Competition
In Italy, today's most popular names for newborn boys are Francesco, Alessandro, and Andrea; for girls it's Giulia, Martina, and Chiara
The IDF Chief of Staff is in deep doodoo for selling off a big chunk of his stock portfolio hours after the July 12 Hezbollah raid
The Pope undergoes an unprecedented battery of simultaneous interviews on German TV, admitting that John Paul's torrent of canonizations was "somewhat overwhelming" [translation: "crazy as a shithouse rat"]
Human powderkegs: in China's cities, they're mixing rural-born migrant workers, porn, and alcohol and baking up a big batch of rape
It's a battle of statistics between parties as Mexicans await a final result in their bitter presidential election
A British protectionist gesture is inadvertently helping to slow the "brain drain" of medical professionals from South Africa and Zimbabwe
A jetsetting Euro royal dies mysteriously in a Thai jail and is buried near Marbella, the Spanish resort he helped launch into the big time
Don't look for change just because the FSN iced Chechen supreme warlord Sadulayev, says an analyst: revolution in the Caucasus has its own blind logic
Eskom, the South African power monopoly, is fined US$2,200 over the accidental electrocution of a giraffe
Wal-Mart declares its first quarterly profit decline in a decade, thanks to the costs of an ill-considered entry into Germany and a humiliating withdrawal
Ladies and gentlemen, the small faces: Chinese scholars study how the human skull has changed over the last 10,000 years
Paraguayan strongman Stroessner, Latin America's second-longest-serving dictator, dies in Brazilian exile at 93
Domo arigato, Mr. Dato: Denmark becomes the latest front in the worldwide free-newspaper war
After a thousand years, the lament for King St. Stephen echoes undiminished across Hungary
Heavy rains are literally raising the dead in Guadalajara's oldest cemetery
Crying uncle: the Swiss Phonak cycling team decides to disband in the aftermath of Floyd Landis's disgrace
China's central government is still having trouble convincing its regions to stop investing in heavy industry and to help brake inflation
A building contractor doing work in Arnhem downs tools for fear of undetonated munitions from Operation Market-Garden
At least the financial implosion of Brazilian flag carrier Varig has one upside--namely, destitute stewardesses turning up in Playboy
"A nippy sensation in the pelvic region": yes, it's another Chosun Ilbo article about miniskirts

- 9:54 am, August 17 (link)

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

[John Mark] Karr confessed to the [JonBenet Ramsey] killing after his arrest Wednesday at his downtown Bangkok guesthouse by Thai and American authorities, said Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul, head of Thailand's immigration police.
He said Karr insisted his crime was not first-degree murder but that JonBenet died during a kidnapping attempt that went awry. "He said it was second-degree murder. He said it was unintentional," Suwat said.
-the Associated Press, this morning

- 9:23 am, August 17 (link)

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.

- 8:07 am, August 16 (link)

Spotted in downtown Toronto, Monday afternoon

It's not the only one of its kind, either.

- 2:45 pm, August 15 (link)

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.

- 5:25 am, August 15 (link)

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.

- 5:30 pm, August 13 (link)

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;
2. The bomb was disguised as a bottle of contact lens fluid, making its maximum volume about 360 mL;
3. The bomb was placed almost directly over the centre wing fuel tank of a 747;
4. It went off as intended;
5. It killed just one passenger and did no damage at all to the fuselage, allowing the plane to land safely.

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.

- 5:08 pm, August 11 (link)

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.]

- 10:03 am, August 11 (link)

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.

- 6:52 pm, August 9 (link)

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.

- 12:10 am, August 9 (link)

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
A former foreign minister of India and his son have been indicted for involvement in the oil-for-food scandal, but there's no evidence against the Congress Party--so far
Meanwhile, the High Court of Rajasthan rules that playing hide-the-salami is an essential component of a husband's duties, without which married life would be a "curse" to any woman
A relief distribution centre in a drought-ridden part of Kenya is beset by baboons who attack the humans and steal the food as soon as they leave the compound...
...and elsewhere in the nation, imams are trying to convince their parishioners that nothing in the Koran says you have to mutilate your daughter's genitals
Number-one fashion item not being worn in Bermuda this summer: Bermuda shorts
In Amsterdam, Europe's first free-standing clinic for the treatment of video game addiction opens--but take note: it's not yet covered by public health insurance
A union of African centre-right parties elects a new head, who says it's time the continent embraced democracy, the market, and rule of law
Israel's 3,000 Jews of Indian origin, many of whom live in rocket-blasted Haifa, say they won't give in to Hezbollah terror
In China, film censorship may be losing the fight against the irresistible force of foreign cash
Pakistan tries to turn a tiny Balochi village into an energy superport for China's millions--but can the dream overcome an anarchic hinterland and a paranoid Indian neighbour?
Oh dear: an Australian cricket broadcaster probably shouldn't have shouted "The terrorist has got another wicket!" when the RSA's Muslim star dismissed a Ceylonese batsman
Here's a fun gallery of pop-culture appropriations of the Swiss red cross...
And here are a few photos of Chinese teahouse visitors enjoying "crosstalk" (xiangsheng), a traditional form of stage comedy now undergoing a revival before live audiences [wikipedia]
As Chad officially recognizes the People's Republic of China, Taiwanese diplomats claim the split happened because the PRC had been arming border rebels to build pressure on the African nation
Pre-Ramadan shopping in Saudi Arabia means it's time for the annual reappearance of the kingdom's familiar Yemeni "human trolleys"
The quest for the median voter is on in Kazakhstan as supporters and opponents of crazycrat Nursultan Nazarbayev coalesce around two poles
Australian banana prices, recently so high that they were pulling Aussie inflation out of the central bank's comfort zone, face a welcome downturn
An expatriate Russian master is trying to save the neglected but first-class church organs of Costa Rica
US$11,000: that's the average selling price of a baby in Taiwan, according to child welfare groups--but a boy will of course cost you a little extra
Seller beware: inside the Turkish lingerie caper

- 6:04 am, August 8 (link)

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 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.

You know, I was certain for days that I'd seen the shape of that new Buffalo Sabres logo somewhere before... and then suddenly this morning my memory caught fire. Fire! FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!

- 7:20 am, August 7 (link)

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").

- 5:06 am, August 7 (link)

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
The Argie ref who ejected Zidane from the World Cup final presents the red card to his country's president, Nestor Kirchner
Every year about 100 stranded seagoers wash up on the shores of Rio--but the Brazilian armed forces are there to return the penguins to their Antarctic habitat
A Swedish wildlife park hires five Masai tour guides--and, oddly, faces consequent accusations of "afrophobia"
In Israel's topsy-turvy wartime Knesset, even Benjamin Netanyahu is backing the government--but the Arab MKs are making maximum use of parliamentary privilege
Black anchor Harry Roselmack takes over the top job in French TV
The Jakarta Post has fascinating details of old-school fighting among relocated Indonesian tribals
Restoration experts preparing the Forbidden City for the Peking Olympics walk with jaws agape through rooms untouched since 1924
"Every day 10,000 Finnish men swallow a pill to induce erection": Helsingin Sanomat asks why and finds some globally applicable answers
Patriarch Alexei of Moscow presents Putin with the sword of warrior-saint Ilya of Murom [wikipedia--don't miss]
It's a British Invasion in the picturesque Dryanovo region of central Bulgaria
One analyst thinks that a coalition partner in "moderate" Muslim Bangladesh is pursuing a Taliban strategy and maintaining arm's-length ties with al-Qaeda
A gold ring allegedly from Greece's heroic age is certified genuine by the Greek culture ministry
The Kirghiz remember the victims of their 1916 uprising against the Tsar and the terrible exodus that followed
An equation learned the hard way by a Finnish army unit: 2 shells + 1 mortar = 1 dead + 5 brutally maimed

- 3:09 am, August 3 (link)

Copps' Razor

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.

- 8:28 am, August 2 (link)

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
20 years ago, China had zero theme parks. Today, it has more than 2,000
Asahi Shimbun explains how Matsushita found and exploited a loophole in Japanese labour law in order to suppress wages at a flat-screen factory
Angry divorced dads dept.: a Dutch man paints the doors of an Amsterdam courthouse purple because it's the "colour of equality" [??]
Funso Williams, a Nigerian state governorship aspirant, is found strangled and stabbed in bed by assailants who broke in through the ceiling
Ask for it by name: China's hottest new dish is an eight-herb duck that takes two days to cook
Mexican election loser Lopez Obrador crosses the Al Gore line and calls himself "president" in TV interviews
NZ Idol drops a finalist after learning that she is pregnant--but did they know about her burglary and aggravated assault convictions?
"Jimmy, do you like gladiator movies?" Billy Joel and Bryan Adams play a joint date at the Colosseum
Mao as muse: a Chinese sculptor obsesses over the Chairman, portraying him as Buddha, a woman, and a pillow
Primary presidential elections featuring an innovative circular ballot paper kick off in Venezuela
Sure, Palestinians want Hezbollah to win its shooting war with Israel... with a major "but" attached
Danger pay: the Taliban is beating the Afghan army like a redhead stepchild in the labour market, offering three times the money to die for Allah
A creature feature called The Host smashes every known box-office record in South Korea and prepares to invade Japan
South Ossetia is the new trouble spot in Greater Russia; the populace wants to rejoin North Ossetia in the Russian Federation, but Georgia is opposed to Russian expansion
The China Daily is there as cosplay comes to the Middle Kingdom
A day without fish: health regulators may force the closure of Bergen's open-air midtown market
The musically powerful Thielemann Ring cycle suffers from "underdeveloped" production, say the critics
After judicial review, Inter Milan are your clean-handed new champions of Italian Serie A for 2005-06

(þ: David Crawford)

- 2:25 am, August 2 (link)

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.

- 5:51 am, August 1 (link)

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
Messy, eh

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.

- 1:52 am, July 31 (link)

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.

- 1:51 am, July 13 (link)

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.

- 2:49 pm, July 29 (link)

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
Return to your homes, nothing to see here: a French magistrate goes on a drunken rampage with a Masonic sword and attacks two cops
An unearthed letter reveals that Emperor Hirohito angrily ceased visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, controversial rallying point of the Japanese right, after "Class-A" war criminals were enshrined there
After an accident at an acid plant in Zambia, managers promise the locals that "all the dangerous jobs will be done by the Chinese" from now on
A prosecutor says that crime stats and shocking incidents of mass violence and rape prove that Mexican culture is misogynist
If only Canada had gun control: three Bermuda national-team cricketers dodge hot lead when an Uzi-packing gunman shoots up Toronto's Volume dance club
Conquest of L1: China plans an ambitious heliographic space project named for a mythological figure who tried to catch the sun
Ethiopia quietly invades the Somali interior, garrisoning Baidoa to keep the Islamists away from the border and undermine their prestige...
...and if you think Somalia isn't important, take a look at its position with respect to world shipping and think again
Two bikini-clad PETA protesters beset a Budapest KFC, but unfortunately Hungary is a land of "devoted carnivores"
Meanwhile, KFC faces criticism in China for depicting a vegetarian Taoist from ancient history as a fan of chicken burgers
In sport-mad South Africa, rugby and cricket try to get past the age of racial trainspotting and search for "bottom-up" ways to encourage black talent
China's human face: come for the Olympics, stay for the modern, clean, efficient death vans?
Can Taiwan's idyllic east coast survive the sudden incursion of Asia's longest highway tunnel?
Firebrand NZ foreign minister Winston Peters goes ever so slightly off his nut during a press conference in John McCain's Senate office
Meanwhile, back home, ticket sales are surprisingly slow for the All Blacks as officials admit they may have hiked prices too far
Pakistan's government wipes out 156 pirate FM stations broadcasting "religious extremism and anti-state sentiments" to the Pathans
The chairman of the Arab Monetary Fund complains that U.S. dollar depreciation is boosting inflation unnaturally in the region and applies for the job of central banker

(þ: Sean Jordan)

- 6:55 pm, July 21 (link)

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
Surrealist headline dept.: Melting cow sculpture causes controversy in Budapest
In Indonesia, a 17-year-old boy scout smashes through a presidential security cordon to plead for tuition help
Meanwhile, it seems Indonesians quietly resent their tall, fair-skinned, half-German Miss Universe representative
Faced with a higher bill for Bolivian methane, Argentina passes the peso by allowing gas stations to charge higher prices to visiting Chilean drivers
Zim watch: ZANU-PF insiders say Mugabe is abandoning a low-watt heir-apparent from his own tribe and leaning back towards a protegé previously tarred with coup d'état smears
Nothing sucks like Electrolux--or rather, shares in Electrolux AB, thanks to rising commodity prices and stiff competition from innovative rivals
35 farmers from a central Indian village, frustrated by repeated crop failures, ask the president of the republic for permission to commit mass suicide
A Chinese journalist faces criticism and praise after trying to save a drowned child on the banks of the Yellow River
YouTube has Japanese media companies scrambling to launch imitators--but how to monitor for copyright violations and "appropriateness" is still a headscratcher (doy)
France honours Alfred Dreyfus, the gunner-martyr whose ordeal "rooted" republican values, on the 100th anniversary of his rehabilitation
Can it be true? Batman is completely ignorant about condom use!

- 12:16 am, July 17 (link)

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:

- 9:32 pm, July 16 (link)

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.

- 5:35 pm, July 16 (link)

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
Can you name the world's largest freshwater fish? It's endangered, but scientists hope a new captive-breeding plan can save it
18 years after Lockerbie, the U.S. takes Libya off its terrorism-sponsor list and lifts sanctions against its air transport
Meanwhile, the Islamists who are re-establishing order in Somalia on a sharia footing have reopened Mogadishu International Airport as a show of strength
The Ivory Coast's ruling FPI agreed that a neighbour's testimony could be used to establish citizenship in a voter-ID void--but on the verge of an election it's delaying the plan and dicing with civil war
Careful what you wish for: having led Montenegro to the dream of independent statehood, the Djukanovic government now must build an electoral platform, fix unemployment, and cope with suddenly minoritized Serbs
Here's another awkwardly-placed, oil-rich sliver of African territory that's threatening to break away from its mother state
Egypt, which represents the only possible escape from war-torn Gaza, orders its government agencies and emergency services to be ready for pretty much anything
Rome, open city? Not while its taxi drivers are tying up the roads with a protest against deregulation
Disappointed Czech hockey juniors look for reasons why only eight of them were selected in the June NHL draft
The president of a Namibian business lobby shows a gift for the mot juste, stating that the country suffers from "skills anorexia"

- 4:16 pm, July 16 (link)

One fringe benefit of the Zidane incident... 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!

- 11:04 pm, July 15 (link)

"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 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?
In 1998, Zidane emerged a hero for guiding France to victory. Eight years later, Zidane again emerges as a hero, albeit for different reasons. This year Zidane did not hold the prestigious World Cup gold trophy, but then again, not all trophies are made of gold.

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.

- 1:48 am, July 13 (link)

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?
If they're having a gay pride parade in Beirut, it must be 2006
Prince Seeiso Seeiso, heir to Lesotho's throne, talks candidly about being ceremonially beaten after the birth of a son and serving as a "bucket of shit" for his subjects
Desperate Juventus, facing a tribunal-ordered relegation to Serie C of Italian football, hopes the bus will stop at Serie B
Just don't call it Scotch: frustrated by a wine glut and onerous regulation, a viticulturist in Champagne abandons the grape in favour of malt
Researchers say the iris of Nazareth, one of Israel's indigenous botanical symbols, is threatened by a new housing development
Gough Whitlam, cuddly Quixote of the Aussie left, turns 90 and sits for a pen-portrait in the Australian
If enterprise is supposed to liberalize the communist government of Vietnam, why are Buddhists, Christians, and journalists still being beaten and jailed routinely?
Japanese researchers are studying the papers of feuilletonist Lafcadio Hearn [wikipedia] to see how well he really mastered the lingo...
...and meanwhile, at 56, Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine is finally becoming fluent in Japanese thanks to a digital guru
Africa's next independent nation? The Bakassi peninsula [wikipedia, satphoto], awarded to Cameroon by the UN in 2002, wants self-determination if it can't remain Nigerian
"They say he's five hundred pounds of bottom-dwelling fury": a Japanese lake is plagued by illegal fishing upon rumours of a giant black bass in its depths
The warlord of the Tamil Tigers, a Kim-Jong-Il-style cinemaphile, makes a portentous switch in taste from Clint Eastwood to Harrison Ford
This Chosun Ilbo story about South Korea rerouting airline flights around Nork missile testing comes with an unintentionally hilarious editorial illo
Juan de Ávalos, the socialist who built a mega-mausoleum for Franco [image], dies of angina at 94
Rapture watch dept.: a plague of locusts has descended upon Tadzhikistan's tasty cotton crop, starving the ex-Soviet statelet of hard currency
Fascinating factoid from Hürriyet: Arif Mardin, the late Turco-American record producer, was a descendant of the Prophet whose sayyid family [wikipedia] was formally consecrated to intellectual success

- 5:28 am, July 9 (link)

"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...

- 2:22 pm, July 8 (link)

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.

- 7:59 pm, July 7 (link)

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
Sex selection, market correction: confronted with antiquated dowry practices in her native Mysore, a south Indian girl gets on her bike, learns Gujarati cooking, and finds a groom in Bombay
Meet Wu Yulu, an untrained Chinese farmer with a gift for making robot "sons" (and occasionally blowing stuff up)
Merkel's boner? Not only is the "German Margaret Thatcher" a coward about new reforms, she's actually undoing some of Gerhard Schroeder's neoliberal work
Fashion tip of the day: Shenzhen, with its community of traditionalist han fu hobbyists, could be the next Harajuku
The HK Standard profiles hardcore queen Melody "Mimi Miyagi" Damayo and her run for the Nevada governorship: let's all just pretend we hadn't heard of her until now
Bulgarian nurses face "psychological torture" and a death-penalty rap because a Libyan hospital needed a scapegoat for an AIDS outbreak
Somewhere in east Germany, perhaps even as you read this, Olaf Micheel is scouring the woods in quest of a juicy, fat wild boar for President Bush
A con game involving "blackened dollars" sweeps Vietnam; I suppose I hardly need to add that Nigerians are involved
Time Asia: even a papal blessing won't save Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's troubled Philippine government from the breath of scandal
Herty Lewites, the old Sandinista who broke away from the party last year to run against Ortega, dies of a heart attack on the eve of a Nicaraguan election
Tom Stoppard, biographer Sergei Kornilov, and a busload of actors visit the Bakunin estate in preparation for a Russian production of The Coast of Utopia
A winner of Malaysia's answer to American Idol sets tongues wagging by dumping his fiancee the day his father dies
Alfred Escher, the finance and transport genius who sculpted modern Switzerland, is finally getting overdue recognition (here's an article about his life from Credit Suisse, which he helped organize)
Rain followed by shine: classic recipe for a dengue outbreak in and around Kuala Lumpur
Taiwan's president wants to make his country, now ranked 156th in the world, a soccer superpower by bundling 20 talented kids off to Brazil for training
In freshly-independent Montenegro, young job-seekers learn quickly that it's not what they know, it's who they know
Extra world-news Googlejuice: Zhang Ziyi's nude-scene stand-in demands her own credit, defiantly saying "I gave my body to the audience"

- 11:51 pm, July 6 (link)

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:

My surviving neurons knit together long enough to notice a suspicious similarity with the abandoned iconography of Canada's own Reform Conservative Alliance (2000-03):

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.

- 6:17 pm, July 6 (link)

Speaking of Miikka Kiprusoff... 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.

- 11:01 pm, July 5 (link)

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.

10.1(a)(i) of the... CBA deals with Group III free agents, which is the group that Roloson will fall into as a player who is older than 31 and has 4 accrued seasons as of June 30 at the end of the 2004-05 league year. That article provides that:

Such Player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign an SPC with any Club, and any Club shall be completely free to negotiate and sign an SPC with such Player, without penalty or restriction, or being subject to any Right of First Refusal, Draft Choice Compensation or any other compensation or equalization obligation of any kind.

"...[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.]

- 10:33 pm, July 5 (link)

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!'

In Google's beta days, I used to kill hundreds of man-hours searching it for dates and seeing what would come up, as a way of random-slicing into historical sources. Now I'm doing the same thing with YouTube--this intimidating Beat Club clip turned up in a search for "1971". Just in case you're interested in stepping into the time machine with both feet, here's more nineteen-seventy-ph1n:

The el-train sequence from The French Connection
Neil Young doing "Heart of Gold" on The Old Grey Whistle Test
44 seconds of Super-8 footage from a girl's 5th birthday party
The still-unsurpassed finale of Vanishing Point (complete with Kim Carnes singing over the closing credits)
Billy Preston single-handedly trying to rescue the musical credibility of the Concert for Bangla Desh...
...and George Harrison trying to save its ethical credibility, with less success, on the Dick Cavett show
A George Best goal against the Spurs that would make the most humourless soul alive laugh aloud
Lola Joey Heatherton singing the praises of Serta mattresses
Pierre Trudeau asks a press scrum "What is the nature of your thoughts when you say 'fuddle-duddle'?"--a philosophical question that remains unanswered 35 years later

- 7:43 am, July 5 (link)

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