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Notice to all those smartmouth pantywaists who, for half a decade, have been heaping abuse on this site's shabby appearance and lack of ding-dongs and cyber-spittoons: I'm transitioning to Movable Type as an experimental ennui remedy. You are invited to declare and demonstrate your illimitable expertise in stylesheets, MT templates, and design. Drop me a line at the usual address. Challenges will include giving the site a distinctive look, finding a way I can add my blogroll to the sidebar without fucking around with some teenager's third-party plugin, and adding a banner. No reward aside from reluctant gratitude is offered. -10:39 pm, May 26
Here's my Friday Post column on Shane Doan. -9:51 am, May 5
This collection of grindhouse-style posters for serious movies is an all-time artistic high point for the Something Awful forum goons. -9:49 am, May 5
Many of you have noticed already, but for those who haven't, I am on Facebook now. -9:47 am, May 5
One of my greatest pleasures as a journalist is finding stories that have been underreported in Canada for my Notebook page in the Western Standard. Two recent favourites [registration req'd] are this column busting a widespread myth about the Canadian origins of radio broadcasting and a piece about how the forgotten cruise-missile protesters of the 1980s just won an important victory long after they all cut their hair and got real jobs.
Over on the National Post's Full Comment site I've thrown in recent tidbits about a quiet sign of NATO progress in Afghanistan, the hidden connection between Bill Gates and J.K. Rowling, and a longer entry about Toyota's takeover of the world automobile market. (Favourite recent Full Comment entry not by me: Barbara Kay finds a surprising literary precedent for spree killer Cho Seung-Hui's horribly innovative strategy of blocking exits in Norris Hall.)
Be sure to watch for a new signed column from me in Friday's Post; if you enjoy my occasional forays into John Allen Paulos-meets-Malcolm Gladwell-and-they-have-a-slightly-stupider-child sci-media criticism, today's your lucky day. [UPDATE, 6:59 am: Here 'tis, free and online.]
'Gruffy and angry'
One of my first thoughts upon the disclosure of the basic details about Cho Seung-Hui was that it seemed awfully odd for an English major to go on a rampage in a building consisting mostly of engineering classes. One of my very next thoughts was that being an English major at a university with "Tech" in the name is an awfully awkward thing to be, period. And that would seem to go double for someone who did not speak any English at all in his family home and who used the language--as you can see from reading his one-act plays or looking at his "manifesto"--exactly like an inept subtitler of Chinese B-movies.
In other words, the scattered bits of infomation about the (apparently borderline-retarded) killer practically screamed out a very likely fact about him--namely, that he had taken some poor high-school grades into the English program at Tech in the hopes of transferring into engineering, or had started in engineering, made a hash of it, and clung to his varsity eligibility (in a fashion familiar to undergraduates everywhere) by migrating into English. I hesitate to add the words "...in the hopes of pleasing his family" to either of these cases, since it borders on stereotyping to assume that Cho somehow misplaced the stock script for a second-generation participant in the American Dream. But then again, if you're looking for evidence that he faced real or imagined familial pressures, you might note that in the past few days that some of his extended-family members have described his parents as too poor to seek out the mental-health assistance they (and everyone who ever so much as laid eyes on him) knew he needed. Where, then, did the money to send him to an American university come from? I think it's safe to say he wasn't the type to win a bundle of scholarships, and if he ever held a job, no one's yet come forward describing themselves as a former boss or co-worker. (Important caveat: he might easily have earned a salary working for the business his parents owned.)
At any rate, some circumstantial evidence suggesting that Cho had hopes of qualifying as an engineer has emerged this evening, courtesy of Fox News:
Why did the English major target Norris, a building dominated by engineering and foreign language classes? Chris Davids, a Virginia Tech senior who went to high school with Cho, said he remembers seeing Cho on campus a lot freshman year, and concluded that Cho, like him, started out as an engineering major.I raised more assignment-desk questions about the killing spree at Full Comment earlier this week. And readers can also catch my Friday column on Bert Brown's imminent elevation to the Senate.
In today's Post: my slightly belated but undeniably sprawling article about the hidden greatness and misleading myths of Jackie Robinson. Bonus suggestion: Keep one eye on FullComment.com for a take on events at Virginia Tech. -11:54 am, April 17
I knew if I missed that "plurisapience" bus last Monday, there wouldn't be another one around for a while. I was busy last week dictating conventional wisdom on the Liberal-Green electoral accord (ousted Green candidate Kevin Potvin is blaming my editorial for his comeuppance), bidding farewell to Kurt Vonnegut, arguing that you should be able to sell your own damn kidney to whomever you like, and (on top of all of this) writing a gigantic piece on Jackie Robinson that will have to be either implanted in the National Post with a crane sometime this week, dismembered, or binned. I am told the former is still being attempted.
Readers suggested many alternatives to "plurisapient/plurisapience", and at least one made a manful but failed effort to smuggle it into the pages of a major metropolitan newspaper.
Another good word, which plays off misunderstanding, might be massunderstanding. But that works only as a noun; I can't see an adjective coming out of it.I'll just note that any word that one cannot pronounce without breaking one's jaw has very little chance of being adopted into the language. But that didn't stop others from going down the same road.
Plethosophia? I think itís got about the same chance of being understood as "plurisapience--and it's Greek! That may give it a leg up with the all-important Christian market. Plus, I just like the phrase "plethosophical insight." Yes, better than "plurisapient insight." [...he said, as if he or anyone could possibly pronounce "plethosophical." -ed.]Alas, newreaders unbellyfeel "grous" sensewise.
While I'd agree a word is a good idea, so far this one isn't doing it for me. Seems like a word only William Buckley could love.Of course, is "sapience" is out, we can't call it the "wisdom" of crowds either, since the two words are synonyms.
The weblogger Dr. Weevil offers the strongest advice when it comes to being backed up by good taste and classical education, but his preferred suggestions are the throat-clearing "ochlosophy" on the one hand and "vulgisapient" (from L. vulgus) on the other. The suffix -sophy is now totally unsuited in English to describe a process of judgment, as opposed to a body of metaphysical quackery, and the use of vulgi- suffers from a similar defect--it is too intertwined with the notion of "vulgarity." Generally all of the recommendations herein have been chosen with plenty of attention to etymological superiority and almost none to whether they can practically embed themselves in a living Germanic language. I, therefore, win. Ha!
'Play all night!': Easter weekend YouTubeology
James Surowiecki's concept of "the wisdom of crowds" has proven so influential, pervasive, and powerful that we are clearly in need of a single word to attach to it. It's obviously not acceptable for us to go on saying that such-and-such a decision was made on a "wisdom-of-crowds basis" or that a "wisdom-of-crowds technique" was devised to address some situation. Any minute now I expect to hear "wisdom-of-crowdsish" used as an adjective. The amazing thing is that Surowiecki missed his chance to attain true immortality by coming up with a single neologism to describe his thesis. Boob.
I've put a lot of thought into this and I'm starting the bidding with noun plurisapience, adjective plurisapient. It's unused, but it sounds convincing and dignified, and gives the new reader enough information to guess more or less what it means. (It would help if Mr. Surowiecki would adopt it. Dude, that whole "boob" thing was just a little chop-busting. Mad respect.) I send greetings and love in advance to future lexicographers who find this paragraph, and assure them that my creation is, as of this date, wholly original to the best of my knowledge. Anyone who's got a better word in mind can send it to the usual address so that it can be recorded here. And mocked mercilessly.
Recently in the Western Standard: I'm still contributing to the finest conservative magazine afloat, and if you feel up to registering for its site you can check out some of my favourite recent work there, including a column about threats to the privacy of your data--and the NHL's--in U.S. courts, a piece on the latest psychologically revealing trend in mass marketing, an account of my first visit to a pro lacrosse match, and a piece busting one of the great enduring myths of Canadian history.
A parapsychology believer asked a skeptic what he thought was a terribly clever question: "How would you prove to a blind man that photography exists?" He didn't like the answer very much, apparently... -2:48 am, March 31
Extremely nerdy baseball postscript
Signed another pitcher today to occupy the 25th roster slot while Pedro is on the DL--the Bucs' Paul Maholm. I had to share these first half/second half splits from 2006 with someone:
GS W L IP ERA BB SO BAvs OBPvs SLGvs 18 3-8 102 5.10 52 66 .317 .400 .468 12 5-2 73 4.28 29 51 .263 .343 .412
Hey, I thought we were supposed to print the legend
Mythbusters dept.: the March 22 edition of the Gauntlet, the University of Calgary's student newspaper, contains a hilarious profile of Bob Boston, a 1970s phys-ed major whose class photo on the wall of the kinesiology department is rubbed so often for good luck that the external glass needs frequent replacing. According to campus myth, the ex-beardie scored 100% on every single assignment and test he took at the U of C. But Boston proved surprisingly easy to find for investigator Amanda Hu and was quick to set the record straight. His summary of his undergraduate years? "Looking at my life back then, I should be dead."
Bonus content: catch me at NP's Full Comment this morning with a link to my latest column.
A baseball prospectus
The other day I read, and suffered undisguisable jealousy at, the news that Aaron Haspel was not only in a fantasy baseball league with Geddy Lee for many years but won it six straight times. Actually the thing that really irritated me was that Aaron mentioned this only when it was too late for me to solicit fantasy advice from him. Readers may recall that 2006 was a difficult season for the Spruce Avenue Supernauts. The injuries ran the gamut from a high-ranking prospect's spring-training tussle with a sunscreen bottle to the year's two most nauseating, Theismann-esque incidents (Matsui's wrist, Nick Johnson's femur). The gods of baseball being so capricious and insolent, I can only wonder at the calibre of competition that allowed Mr. Haspel to win any league twice in a row, let alone six times.
With Opening Day around the corner, a (very) few of the readers who are still wondering why I disappeared for most of March may be interested in the details of my radical rebuilding program. The league is head-to-head, uses weekly scoring, and has 12 teams; each is allowed to protect six players each year.
On August 1, with the league's trading deadline fast approaching and the team falling ever further out of contention (it finished the season with virtually the same winning percentage as the real-world Kansas City Royals), my depth chart looked about like this:
C Victor Martinez 1B Nick Johnson 2B Jeff Kent/Luis Castillo 3B Eric Chavez/Brandon Inge SS Michael Young OF Ken Griffey Jr. Mark Kotsay [Jeremy Hermida/various waiver-wire garbage] DH Adam LaRoche SP Brandon Webb SP John Smoltz SP Mike Mussina SP A.J. Burnett SP Matt Cain SP Ian Snell RP Chris Ray RP Brad Lidge
Having all but given up on the season, I had to take a hard look at this lineup and ask myself which of these players were worth applying keeper tags to in the off-season. I had helped myself in the long run by paying high draft prices for steady players at scarce positions (Martinez and Young) but almost all the other good players seemed to fall into the "more trouble than they're worth" category. I had a potential case for keeping as many as four starting pitchers, but the mechanics of a weekly-scoring league (in which front-four starters will sometimes be benched in favour of poorer pitchers who have two rotation starts) make it inadvisable to protect even three of them in the off-season.
I took refuge in humanity's most inflexible principle of right conduct. "Buy low, sell high." Smoltz and Mussina, two old pitchers whose careers could end with any start, were earning all my short-term points. I decided to package them together as an irresistible stretch-drive acquisition and try to turn them into one ironclad '07 keeper. Ten owners greeted my overtures with audible snores and then promptly shrieked with girlish anger on August 8 when Avi Schaumburg traded me King Felix Hernandez for the pair, riding their arms to the league title. Felix looks pretty much to me like Dwight Gooden without the drug habit (knock on wood). The hidden gain from the trade is that the ten owners who were caught napping now pay a little more attention when I put offers on the table. Bitches.
The explosive move paid off somewhat in the off-season as I continued to try consolidating the keeper portion of my roster. With Johnson crippled, I had Webb, Felix, Victor, and Mike Young as plausible keeper-grade guys. After scouring the other owners' rosters, I gave away some draft value in exchange for extraneous talent, upgrading a reliever-heavy Avi in exchange for B.J. Ryan and cutting a deal with Matt Fenwick, who had somehow ended up with both Scott Rolen and Troy Glaus on the roster and was happy to unload Rolen. I was even able to patch the resulting holes in the draft a little bit by getting our resident Yankees fan to take Matsui off my hands--although in theory Godzilla should bounce back from a freak injury, you never like to see a power hitter hurt a wrist, and the stat line shows modest signs of decreasing authority at the plate. Plus, let's face it, I was kind of bitter about his injury, having counted heavily on MLB's reigning ironman to stay in the lineup and cover for Griffey.
Aside from a couple of weeks of cabin fever in which I pondered protecting Stephen Drew instead of Young (and part of me still thinks I'll regret not doing it), this gave me six keepers I could live with--
C Victor Martinez 3B Scott Rolen SS Michael Young SP Brandon Webb SP Felix Hernandez RP B.J. Ryan
In plain English: baseball's #2 catcher, top-five guys on the left side of the infield, a Cy Young winner, the most exciting young pitcher in the world who's not currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and the closer with the highest K-rate. At this point I felt like I had done all the heavy lifting I could. I wouldn't be writing about this if I didn't think I had an outside chance of making the playoffs this time. For the very nerdy, here's how my draft shook out (with overall rankings, counting the protected players as nos. 1 through 72, in parentheses):
Adam Dunn, OF (#75): My reward for finishing 10th last season, he was the third pick behind a carelessly-discarded Lance Berkman (!??!?!) and Frankie Rodriguez. Our league does take away points for strikeouts, but the walks will soak many of those up, he plays every day (that's what you said about Matsui--ed.) and in light of Ryan Howard's spring flailings he is probably the best overall bet to hit 45 homers.
I'm setting the over-under on my finish this year at 5th out of 12. The ABC is a tough league (no bass players), but now that I understand the nuances of scoring and lineup composition a little better, if I finish lower than 8th again I'll really have to reevaluate my own self-perception as an educated baseball fan. Feedback is welcome.
My blogroll was once one of the major attractions of this site, but I had allowed it to develop barnacles and become near-useless over the years. It has now been subjected to a staggeringly major upgrade, nuking the dead links and adding dozens of life-altering sites I visit every day. If you click any five links at random you are bound to find at least one or two sites that are utterly fascinating. -1:50 am, March 25
MBA final exam, ColbyCosh.com style
Our text comes from Canadian Transportation and Logistics Magazine:
Ron Carter understands the relationship between seafood and time better than most people. After all, the director of logistics at Clearwater Seafoods in Bedford, Nova Scotia oversees time-sensitive shipments of everything from lobster to clams and crabs. And with Clearwater exporting $253 million of seafood in 2005 (representing 80% of company sales), his employer obviously understands the value of logistics. Goods need to make a seamless transition from a fleet of 21 vessels, through the supply chain, and into the refrigerators found in grocery stores, restaurants and kitchens around the world.
...[Last year] border security presented a particular challenge to the company's overnight lobster shipments. Officials had suddenly banned the gel packs traditionally used to chill the seafood, after would-be terrorists were found to be designing bombs with liquids. But the Clearwater team came up with the solution...
...which you can find here. No peeking--we operate on the honour system here.
Listen, if I should happen to check out/hide out/burn out from weblogging from time to time--amazing how people react when you take a month off every five years or so--don't let that stop you from following my work in the National Post. You shouldn't have much trouble spotting traces from my purple pen amongst the unsigned editorials, and my signed column appears every Friday. Here's last week's piece, which could have been headlined "A numerate man looks at the lotto"; here's this week's, which contains the most unequivocal cash-on-the-barrel prediction that you are likely to see in any English-language newspaper this calendar year.
Here's some stuff I've read and liked but spent my sweet goddamn time sharing with you. Nyah.
Stephen Strauss had a terrific article on the CBC website about how the epidemic of repetitive-stress injury that was supposed to have swallowed our economy never happened, and how the whole business of workplace ergonomics doesn't add up to a hill of beans scientifically. One of the quarter-baked book ideas floating around in my head is a book full of healthcare-related stuff everybody knows that almost certainly isn't true and has no reproducible warrant, like "echinacea helps colds" or "stretching before exertion helps prevent injury."
I was moved by this Chinese New Year-themed pair of oral testimonies from the worst year of the Great Leap Forward. It seems any amount of suffering can be forgiven if one has a sense it is being shared.
Have you ever heard of the Republic of Ezo? Could you find it on a map?
I invite first-hand reports on how this stuff tastes.
Even I forget sometimes that Mark Steyn is an extremely, extremely outstanding literary critic.
God bless the creator of this site. What fun. The vagaries of history have left the period from 1900 to the First World War arguably more foreign to us than many earlier eras. Hey, it's not like we have any reason to be interested in a period characterized by terrorism, the hegemony of a dominant world empire, rapid change in the media environment, sensational criminal trials, adventurism and excess among a coterie of gigarich businessmen, crackpot warnings from publicity-seeking scientists, and controversies over the purity of sporting competition and the salaries of athletes.
Recently visited: a roundup for Sunday reading
The environmental movement will never forgive Bjorn Lomborg for being right, but as the Christian Science Monitor reported this week, his argument that adaptation to climate change may be more sensible that radical reversals in emissions levels is finding more and more advocates. I believe it's inevitable that environmentalists will gradually become more enthusiastic about Lomborgian adaptationism as they clue in that there's just as much money in it for them and a great deal more political potential; moreover, as the latest IPCC report showed, the steady improvement of climate models has a tendency to shrink the error bars in various measures of calamity and rule out exotic worst-case scenarios, making it harder every year to sell the public on rewinding the economy to the Stone Age. The next stage of the debate will be over whether adaptation should, in general, be allowed to happen at its own pace and guided locally or whether it should be an expensive planned global-governance project. Let me add that if you're in Canadian politics it makes all kind of sense to get ahead of this process, not behind. Or we could just keep on bickering over the Kyoto Protocol, whatevs. [Related reading: a National Post editorial on the new Virgin Earth Prize.]
It appears that Edmonton is going to be the setting for the next painfully predictable cycle of optimism and disappointment over a miracle cure for cancer. That's not to say I would be anything less than thrilled if my alma mater became the place where they finally got the son of a bitch licked, and the research is certainly worth funding. But the caution and skepticism of surgeryblogger Orac seem wisest: he's an ex-student of the Dr. Michelakis of the 1990's, Judah Folkman, so he's been there/done that/got the T-shirt.
The I-only-understood-60%-of-it-but-was-still-fascinated weblog entry of the month comes from the Freedom to Tinker weblog, whose authors have envisioned a highly plausible game-theoretic scenario on the future war between next-generation DVDs and format-crackers.
I recently spent a half-hour or so perusing some fascinating galleries that show northern Alberta and Saskatchewan in, literally, a different light than you're used to. NightPhotographer.com is the creation of Edmonton's Larrie Thomson.
I've always wondered just how ridiculous the planned obsolescence of publicly-funded sports facilities can get: last Saturday China provided the definitive answer when it blew up an 18-year-old 65,000-seat soccer stadium in Shenyang. In Edmonton, the public is being buttered up to contribute to the replacement of a hockey arena that's barely 30 years old; in Toronto the Rogers Centre, considered an engineering marvel when it opened in 1989, is now routinely discussed as though it were an obsolete embarrassment. Voters should be aware that whatever replaces these facilities is likely to be much less durable, not more so.
Boxcover and glamour photographer James diGiorgio operates the crack cocaine of weblogs at PrettyGirlShooter.blogspot.com. Where else are you going to find an entry that legitimately combines lingerie pictures of Tera Patrick* with a touching story about a successful son talking with his sick mother about his vocation for the first time?
*Individual entry rated PG-13; site rated NC-17
Porn on the bus? For perhaps the first time in recorded history, a Telus customer--yours truly--comes to the defence of the phone giant and soon-to-be network smut pedlar in today's Post. Read the column here.
I have a guest post about sports and social violence up this morning at the Post's Full Comment weblog. I'll be dropping by there every so often but I'll try to be careful to link those visits from here. Fans who have been seething for years over my lack of a commenting function will be pleased to notice that FC does in fact have one. I'd consider it a favour if you'd vent your spleen, if only in the spirit of beta-testing.
Even those few economically educated people who support minimum wage laws realize that it doesn't help very many people very much when minimum wages are increased. But there are always a few goofballs around who are willing to argue that increasing the minimum wage has a "symbolic value." Bryan Caplan has a question for them: What about the symbolic value of getting rid of it completely? -12:43 am, February 15
Appropriate and inappropriate
Thanks to everybody who wrote in to remind me I have a weblog. There's no special explanation for the two-week break, though it's true I am probably working harder right now than I have since I was an undergraduate. My recent signed columns for the Post, in case you haven't been keeping up, include one on Merck's miracle drug for cervical cancer, an attempt to correct the record about Anna Nicole Smith, and a primer on the discounting debate surrounding global warming.
If you only read one of those, you should probably make it the latter. I was hoping for more feedback than I got: the point in question is an important one that's fairly subtle, and almost certainly too difficult for any of the politicians who are promoting the Stern Review to understand. It seems to me undeniable that if you're creating an economic model and incorporating a social rate of pure time preference chosen according to an ethical first principle--i.e., according to the value you think people should place on the future--then none of the figures you arrive at have anything to do with true social costs or benefits as such. Don't you have to use some "actual" discount rate that has a basis in empirical observation to generate real figures? Stern has responded to William Nordhaus and other critics [PDF] but the response merely reiterates the argument in the original report:
The debate on discounting illustrates how important it is to understand the different ethical assumptions that drive economic modelling. ...we take the view that it is not appropriate to assume away the importance of major and irreversible impacts that will affect future generations simply because they come after us. Therefore, we use a low rate of 'pure time preference'. [Emphasis mine]
It's simply wrong, as I see it, for Stern to describe the time-preference rate his model has imposed on society as an "assumption" about the true state of affairs. He's not even making a wild guess as to the true social rate of time preference (itself an eel-slippery construct); he's simply asserting that time has a fixed inherent value. This is exactly as if someone tried to calculate the costs of climate change on the basis that snow in Edmonton, Alberta has a fixed inherent economic value of $30 per cubic-foot-day, and then batted down the immediate objections--"In what market would or could that good fetch that price?"--by saying "It is not ethically appropriate to assume away the importance of snow simply because it is in Edmonton."
He seeks them here, he seeks them there
Absolutely everything I knew about lupins before last week came from the Dennis Moore sketch. Now, suddenly, they're being touted as a potential key to the future of the Alberta agricultural economy! (It should be noted, however, that a different crop is touted as a potential key to the future of the Alberta agricultural economy about once every two weeks.) Can't wait to get my first look at a whole field full of 'em.
Trivia baffler: Which category of record album enjoyed sales growth of 23% in 2006? -10:12 pm, January 29
I wanted to write a column criticizing the Bureau of Atomic Scientists' Doomsday Clock from a design perspective, but I thought the topic was a little esoteric. Fortunately no subject is too esoteric for Anders Sandberg. -10:09 pm, January 29
Absolutely the last word on 9/11 conspiracy theories. (Someone may already have forwarded you this.) -10:07 pm, January 29
Cosh@RichardDawkins.net: The converted seem to have enjoyed the sermon, if this comment thread on Dawkins' official site is any indication. -10:05 pm, January 29
Tomorrow's news today--literally! The National Post is ramping up a new weblog, Full Comment, that will feature a mix of exclusive just-in-time content from Post contributors, pointers to outstanding stuff in other publications, and Post columns and editorials, sometimes the very day they're filed. Dubious? Check out my column about the nouveau militant atheists, filed mere hours ago and scheduled to run in Friday's Post. I just checked my watch and it turns out we're living in the 21st century.
[UPDATE: January 26: if you're showing up on Friday you'd better check out the new column here in its natural webitat. It looks like the mighty torrents of traffic from my outbound link might have done some damage to the fragile, scaffolding-festooned Full Comment page... come to think of it, I'm not sure I ever linked to last week's column on the iPhone, which you can still catch over here.]
The IEEE Spectrum says the world consumes one cubic mile of oil per year. Here's a classy infographic displaying the equivalents in other energy sources. -5:03 pm, January 25
I'm sure that at some point in the past I must have agreed to do something humiliating or biologically impossible on the day Sheila Copps actually wrote an interesting newspaper column. If you remember what it was, please keep it to yourself. -3:00 pm, January 24
Astonishing facts I didn't know yesterday dept.: the first apparatus ever to implement a gyroscope was Foucault's pendulum (the original--Foucault's Foucault's pendulum, so to speak), wherein it was used to permit the bob to complete a full 360° in a day despite being at the latitude of Paris. -11:32 am, January 24
Of course, if it ever snows in Vancouver, all bets are off
If you read any news items about the dramatic collapse of the roof at B.C. Place Stadium (now restored to its former glory, sort of), you'll have seen some mention of NDP North-Delta MLA Guy Gentner's prophetic questioning in the Legislative Assembly. Here's the tale of the tape from last May, when Gentner received a firm assurance from sports minister Olga Ilich that the roof should last "should last up to the Olympics and beyond." Ilich told Gentner that "The guaranteed life [of the roof] was 25 years, but that doesn't mean that it's going to fall apart in the 25th year." She was, of course, quite correct: the stadium doesn't turn 24 until this summer.
Aon's map of worldwide political risk levels for 2007 is the kind of thing you might find on a millionaire's office wall. (A billionaire would presumably just carry it in his head at all times.) As a bonus here's a meta-analysis of the map from Lloyd's of London. -7:34 am, January 24
Thank God! It was math's fault all along!
From the world press, 1/20/07
The prime minister impregnated his mistress and left his wife, you say? No biggie, reply blasé Czechs
Secrets of the NHL general managers, chapter five
A special tip from the Oilers' Kevin Lowe: don't be afraid to use the old "it's only his second full year in the league" trick when defending a young player who's taken a step backward. Road-tested, granddad-approved!
It would be kind of useful if weblogs could get together on a single standard for the meaning of "previous" and "next" in links between pages, and better still if webloggers would just stop using those words. On any given weblog, the "next" entry or page might be the next oldest one or the next newest: as things stand right now, you're pretty much taking a 50/50 chance when you click, and if you're reading many pages within a single site, you can end up going around in frustrating circles. What would be wrong with just using "older"/"newer" or "earlier"/"later"? Tell me Jakob Nielsen has already toasted about ten thousand people to a crisp over this.
Maybe it's not especially funny that a Chinese woman should try to put a Taoist curse on one of her colleagues by slipping a magic letter under his door. But what if it happened at the "National Yunlin University of Science and Technology"? -9:20 am, January 15
Béarla only, mate: What happens when an Irishman tries to get around in Ireland speaking nothing but the Irish language? Manchán Magan tried it. Surprisingly (or not), he seems to have gotten more abuse for his stubbornness in Dublin than he did on the Shankill Road... -9:14 am, January 15
Fire bad. Bread good.
Did Stephane Dion really tell an Edmonton audience "All these workers living too fast for the easy money in the north--itís not good for the economy"? I have an answer to this, but I'm afraid it can't be delivered until I work out exactly how to send a kick up the dirtbox with a steel-toed boot by means of TCP/IP. Then again, maybe the person I should be kicking is myself: I argued after the election that the Liberals should look seriously at Dion on the grounds of moral seriousness.
I believe, though perhaps I am wrong, that you could get 95 out of 100 Canadians to arrange the following items on a list of "things that are good for the economy" in an order different from Stephane Dion's:
The Liberal Party of Canada
But the offensiveness of Dion's comment, if it has been rendered accurately, should not be allowed to distract us from what's really going on: I suspect that what actually underlies it is a bold redefinition of the concept of "the economy."
Too often this concept is narrowly understood as equating with the inferential quantitative measures we use to get a grip on it, but "the economy" is not the gross domestic product, any more than the map is the territory. Why would Dion suggest that it is not good for the economy to have a lot of people working hard in producing an export commodity at a time when it offers very high return on investment? On the narrow view of "economy" this is good by definition. The Leader of the Opposition probably means to incorporate the psychological cohesion of the country, the welfare of the worst-off in boom areas, the integrity of the non-human environment, and God knows what else into his notion of "economy." I suppose, anyhow, that this is what he would say in his defence (though even this wouldn't account for an attack on the lifestyles and work habits of several hundred thousand people singled out for abuse because they sought productive work).
But one problem is that once you endow some word freely with a purely private meaning, you can no longer claim to be engaging in language or persuasion as such. You reduce yourself to the level of a beast who is only capable of expressing approval or disapproval--purring or growling--and the habit of bestial words tends to end in beastly deeds. The other big problem is that a man who uses subjective criteria in an impulsive way to decide what is "good for the economy" is hard to trust with the management of one.
Weekend YouTubeology: when music meets comedy
Here today, tomorrow next week: I've been miserably slow in linking to my Post column from last Friday about the future of the American infantry, but despite my pusillanimity it quickly found a large international audience thanks to Denis Dutton. The correspondence has been fascinating and I'll try to remember to post some of it on the weekend. Today's column, which appeared on the Post's editorial page proper and thus ended up limbo on the Post website, is about the sudden emergence of an anti-hysteria front in climate-science circles and (not again!) the religious nature of environmentalism.
I am not surprised to see that Andrew Potter correctly located one of the George Orwell essays that seemed to become almost creepily relevant upon Saddam Hussein's hanging. Here is the other. -6:41 pm, January 11
"God just keeps loving me so I just canít stop telling people about Jesus." Er, I suppose we shouldn't hold our breaths for that Elastica reunion, then... -2:37 am, January 11
Weird angles on slightly faded news stories dept.
The late Gerald Ford, probably the most outstanding athlete to occupy the American presidency, was a business acquaintance of Peter Pocklington, the owner of the '80s Edmonton Oilers, and spent time with the members of those teams on many occasions. When Ford died last month Daryl Reaugh recalled how travel problems related to Ford's golf tournament led to his last-ever start in net for the Oilers. The team would probably have won one or two fewer Stanley Cups if Esa Tikkanen had gotten himself ventilated by the Secret Service in 1986.
In praise of Wikipedia, part n
I hope we have finally moved beyond the unproductive phase in which Wikipedia is tested ad nauseam for accuracy against its traditional counterparts. It's done well in most of those tests, but the attention given to them is distracting. One of the really interesting things about Wikipedia is that you can turn to it--and know in advance that you can turn to it--for some kind of answer to questions that other reference books can't squeeze in. Like last week, when I found myself wondering "What's the highest unclimbed mountain?" and knew exactly where to go.
Reason #312 not to get sent to prison
From a Jan. 6 item in the Abbotsford News:
Things at the Matsqui Institution will likely be back to normal today after a five-day lockdown was sparked by the discovery of illicit home brews, cell phones and weapons. Inmates had been confined to their cells since Jan. 1 while staff conducted a thorough search of the institution, but the sweep was expected to end Friday evening, said assistant warden Randie Scott. ...The prisonersí home brew operations are relatively simple, involving the fermentation of a liquid with sugar and a growth medium such as yeast, according to Scott. The most recent batch of homemade alcohol was brewed with ketchup, but fruit and potatoes have also been used.
You know, I'm not some kind of sloppy liberal when it comes to prisons, but when you find prisoners doing stuff like this, I think maybe it's time to soften up a little and hand out a few Molsons on extra-special occasions. Clearly both the inmates and the staff deserve credit for keeping the place drug-free, because nobody on this planet would resort to drinking fermented ketchup if he had access to absolutely anything else that would alter his consciousness even slightly (including, I think, Listerine and Lysol).
Nintendo's operative background theory, and this sounded way more self-serving about 3 million units ago, is that the graphics-obsessed video gaming community is a shrinking, inbred niche surrounded by a much larger and more varied group of "people who like things that are fun". There are crazy reports of people's moms and grandparents spontaneously asserting Wii fandom that sound like something out of early 1980s advertising. Obviously it's too early to credit Nintendo with pulling off a Ludological Reformation as opposed to a Christmas toy fad, but to be on the safe side we should possibly stop complaining that the production on this Cobain fellow's records seems to be of curiously low fidelity.
To those of you who recognize the style of that paragraph, I hardly need to explain that Evan Kirchhoff is back with an overview of the Christmas console wars.
The thin blue line
Can anybody supply a remotely acceptable explanation for the way Felipe Fernandez-Armesto was treated by the Atlanta police on January 6? One hopes it will be of some general interest to newspaper editors that a best-selling historian who is 56 years old (and about as physically imposing as the Taco Bell chihuahua) was challenged on an American street by an out-of-uniform cop, knocked down when he asked to see a badge, and imprisoned with felony suspects for eight hours because he jaywalked unwittingly between two adjacent hotels.
To cleanse your palate of that foul foretaste of the future, here's a cheerier product of the Dylan Industry: the Byrds rocking out at the Playboy mansion. It is always New Year's Eve chez Hef.
The most fascinating, inexplicable, or tasteless movie titles of 2006
I haven't seen any of these, but all are apparently real and all are rated at least 6.0/10 by the users of the IMDB.
Merry Christmas: I Got You Herpes
CERTIFICATE OF DISTINCTIVE MERIT:
Not if, but when: in early 2003, when I first speculated here on the possibility of an American Foreign Legion, the idea was still exotic enough to attract a fair amount of attention and strike American readers as counterintuitive. Since then a few concrete plans have been put forward by military experts, the seriousness of U.S. politicians about enforcing an immigration policy and making citizenship meaningful has grown, the Iraq debacle has replaced the "two-war doctrine" with doubts about whether America can enforce its will in even one place at a time, and the general idea of recruiting noncitizens for the American armed forces has worked its way up the chain of command. I argue in this morning's National Post that the signs are all pointing in the same direction; the legitimate moral qualms and security concerns about a foreign legion are just not strong enough to resist historical and economic law. (The column is free for non-subscribers to view, so click away.)
He was delicious: It's not surprising that Gerald Ford should have become the longest-lived American president. His entry in the remarkable Dr. Zebra's Medical History of American Presidents is almost absurdly brief... -3:48 am, December 27
Scary thought: Sidney Crosby, the NHL's scoring leader, was eligible to play in the just-commenced World Under-20 Hockey Championships. Admit it: you would have loved to see what he could do now against a team like Germany. -3:41 am, December 27
Playing devil's advocate against St. Carl: that's the business of my latest Friday morning column for the National Post, written to observe the 10th anniversary of Carl Sagan's death. Amidst an orgy of enthusiasm for a man whose life is supposed (largely by the young) to symbolize enlightenment and skepticism, I plead for revision. If we cannot do without saints in a post-religious age, there are surely better ones we might choose. (Actual Post readers can also find a bonus cameo from me in the e-mail battle on page A18.)
Odds and sods
...a conservative politician just can't win when it comes to the environment. If he makes no new policy, he can expect his opponents to beat on him like a pinata. If he takes any step at all short of nationalizing the entire economy and ordering everyone back to subsistence farming, he'll be nitpicked to death. Instead of following conventional eco-left policy prescriptions and trying to meet unrealistic expectations that will promptly be changed if met, the Conservatives should be seeking novel, counterintuitive programs that help both the environment and the economy without expanding government.
I also wrote:
But no one possesses a convenient long list of such ideas.
Which prompted the underappreciated Peter Holle to assemble just such a list.
My question is this. DNA is being used more and more in crime prevention and in solving crime. Do you ever see a day where DNA might enter into the equation of impaired driving? Can they detect drugs or alcohol by virtue of DNA? It's something I've always wondered.
I've been sitting on this item for a while, wondering if I was overinterpreting it and whether it's a fair thing to bring up. I was raised to believe there is no such thing as a stupid question, and I suppose there are a lot of people who don't really know what the hell DNA is. But honestly, how many of them are former Crown prosecutors with two university degrees?
There's only one problem with the concept: how do you handle it when someone bravely spills the beans on his own school? Does it all cancel out?
If you need another reason to hate Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, or network sitcoms in general, have a look at this recent SuicideGirls interview with Dave Foley. Foley reveals that Aaron Sorkin accidentally blew up plans for another Kids in the Hall reunion tour when his SNL-roman-á-clef got shredded by the critics and he threw a dumpster full of money at Mark McKinney to make the show-within-a-show funnier.
Obviously not many of us are likely to get the benefit of the Kids' live woodshedding, but the more time they spend together, the more likely it is that they'll come up with another movie concept they all like. For the record, the oldest Kid, Scott Thompson, is now 47 years old--the exact age at which Graham Chapman died.
"Nobody in their right mind is for abortions." If you think you know which Canadian party leader made this inflammatory comment and others along the same lines last month, think again--and read my column in today's National Post. For more background you can check out the weblog entry by David Akin that broke the story.
I don't know how to feel about the Edmonton Eskimos signing a player named "Stamps". This has to be kind of unprecedented, doesn't it?--the New York Yankees never had a player named Joey Dodgers or Billy Red Sox or anything like that. -3:10 pm, December 14
Great moments in bureaucracy
B.C. conflict-of-interest commissioner Bert Oliver made his last appearance before the province's finance committee last week and did something that should secure his legend:
Oliver appeared before the... committee Monday to say his $316,000 budget is sufficient for next year, and theyíll likely hear from his successor by the time it runs out. "As long as members conduct themselves as they have done of late, and come and talk to the commissioner before deciding to take some unwise step, I canít see any need for spending more money in this particular field," Oliver said after his committee appearance.
Oliver is perhaps overconfident in the fine ethical sensibilities of B.C. politicians, a group that is about as good at not letting you down in the end as Steve Howe. Agencies of social control, as opposed to state watchdogs, simply never say "Things are going great--the public is really cooperating with us like a charm." Still, how often are you going to see the head of a government department or office flatly state that "We have enough money to handle our core responsibility, and therefore we don't need any more"? It's an option that's not even in the playbook: he is supposed to say "We don't have enough," "It may appear as if we have enough, but our employees are so overworked they can't remember their children's names," or "Sure, we have enough, but our job should be more broadly defined, like it is in [insert Scandinavian country]." Well done, Mr. Oliver, thou good and faithful servant.
I have a further thought on the Zune, below, that you should check out in the interest of fairness. -1:51 am, December 14
The government we deserve: I always knew there was something I didn't trust about Niklas Lidstrom... -10:58 am, December 12
"I've been playing with a Zune for a couple of weeks, and I like it. I like it a lot." You knew someone was bound to take the contrarian stance on Microsoft's new music player, but did you ever expect it to be Leander Kahney in his "Cult of Mac" column for Wired News? Here's a brief summary of Kahney's take on the details:
The Zune desktop software crashed right after installation and I had to restart... the sign-in procedure was long-winded and tedious... The catalog [of the subscription service] is smaller than the iTunes Store's... The earbuds aren't much good... Battery life isn't great. The big screen sucks juice dry a lot quicker than the latest iPods... The Wi-Fi is essentially useless. There's no one around to share songs with, and I expect it to be turned off permanently...Kahney's review is positive for pretty much one reason: he's a Mac dweeb, and the Zune actually beats the iPod on the sole criterion--design--that is relevant to Mac dweebs. He hates most everything about the performance characteristics of the device but loves its fashionable brown colour, its interface, and the "rubbery" feel of its scratch-resistant case. What's ironic is that this tells us, more clearly than any negative review could, that the Zune is for yuppies who want their technology to come in the form of slick fashion totems.
[UPDATE, December 14: A reader points out that the summary of Kahney's review is frightfully skewed--I originally had a lot more sarcasm in the entry, and having taken it out without making the cherry-picking explicit, the summary now just looks unfair. Kahney does like stuff about the Zune aside from look and feel; it's just that his praise for the design is the only bit that comes without major misgivings (and to me he seems to underplay a lot of practical problems and warning signs, almost to a risible degree, because he's so enamoured). Sorry for not being clearer.]
I guess the obituary of an 80-year-old is always going to contain some surprises
Bonus YouTubery: Trust me--this is the next big thing in viral schtick. It's already spreading. Don't worry if you don't laugh out loud at first--give it about 90 seconds. (þ: "Tybalt") -4:42 am, December 11
From the WFMU weblog, here's some Super-8 footage of the 1970 edition of Black Sabbath performing on a flatbed truck in the middle of an early version of the Folsom Street Parade in San Francisco. The quality of the film is poor and there's no sound, but any unedited document of the unified counterculture is precious--doubly so if it chronicles the moment of its capture by high capitalism, as this one does with the almost laughable ostentatiousness of its Warner Brothers logoes. "Straight" didn't mean then what it does now, kids. (And record companies weren't just accounting fictions--they had actual brands!)
Dave Spart lives!
Do Health Canada and Cancer Care Ontario hate tobacco? Of course they do. But when questions of cultural relativism enter the picture, it turns out there's tobacco, and then there's tobacco.
As for save percentage, as far as I know it has so far defied efforts to demonstrate its uselessness. Save percentages are fairly consistent for individuals from season-to-season; they peak and decline with age as one would expect; starting goalies generally have better save percentages behind the same teams than backups; and the only shot-quality analysis I have seen leaves goalies in virtually the same rank order as unadjusted save percentage. I'm convinced but not certain that it is a statistic possessing quite high validity and meaning.
It's always new to me
Some crazed genius unearthed a perfect piece of classic TV that lives comfortably within the ten-minute YouTube limit: "Seein' Double", the sitcom-within-a-sitcom parody produced for a 1990 episode of "Newhart". Here's part one and here's part two. Oh, man-crazy Smitty, 17 years later I still bust a gut over you.
Unfortunately there is not too much Bob Newhart material on YouTube, but in case anyone's gotten confused and now remembers "Newhart" your typical anodyne fish-out-of-water sitcom, this 1988 clip should jog your memory. And here's Bob giving a brief comedy masterclass for Mad TV in 2001.
No way out: In case you missed it, here's my column from last Friday's National Post. It's about Mark McGwire, it's free-as-in-beer to subscribers and heathens alike, and it belongs to the ever-growing "exasperatedly trying to refute idiotic things written in the Toronto Star" subgenre of my writing.
Attentive readers of the Post will have noticed the strains of an occasional Coshian guitar-lick in the unsigned editorial columns of the paper. For the past couple months I've been contributing to the work of the edtorial board, and since everybody seems more or less happy with the results, a Post subscription would make an outstanding gift for the Colby Cosh fan in your life. Don't lie, I know you've got one.
From the world press, 12/5/06
Japan changes its election law to allow donations from leading companies like Canon and Sony that are more than 50% foreign-held
Get out of jail free
So, uh... no one has any problem at all with Mark Tewksbury serving as compere for Paul Martin's farewell ceremonies at the federal Liberal convention? In a city whose small businesses are sitting with millions in unpaid invoices from a sports festival that Tewksbury more or less created? Nobody has any problems with the sudden crumbling of years of Tewksburian promises that the OutGames could not and would not lose money? No one's uncomfortable with the way the event successfully held a gun to the heads of the municipality and the province at the last minute and then smacked the water like Greg Louganis coming up a quarter-rotation short? Tewksbury is the star you're enlisting to help build credibility in Quebec? For a party with rather pressing trust and fiscal responsibility issues? Fun's fun, guys, but openly mocking the voters of Canada doesn't seem like such a hot idea.
Well, obviously: want to find the only Liberal in Calgary? Just look in Edmonton. -12:47 pm, December 1
And you, sir, are no Barry Goldwater
Over the years I've been fairly careful, I think, about refraining from declarations of the species "If X happens, the United States of America is doomed!" But I have to admit, the eternal allure of John McCain as a presidential candidate worries me sometimes. I guess I started to feel panicky when I got David Foster Wallace's latest book of nonfiction, Consider the Lobster, for Christmas last year. Wallace is probably my favourite writer under the age of 80, and his 10,000-plus-word piece of Rolling Stone reportage on McCain's 2004 campaign, reprinted in director's-cut form within Lobster, is just as technically dazzling as you would expect. But Wallace, who is basically a gently liberal, vaguely unitarian-ish guy, comes as near as damn all to saying that McCain's torture at the hands of the Viet Cong makes it impossible NOT to vote for him. Eventually Wallace takes a deep breath and towels off, but if the seductive capabilities of McCain's biography work so well on him, who else is going to be able to resist?
All of which is by way of saying I hope a lot of Americans read Matt Welch's definitive LAT editorial on the subject of McCain's political philosophy. Mixed metaphors aside (someone's been banging the drum to put boots on the ground?), it should be a reputation-maker for Welch.
The N word
The word "nation" used to mean something like "a group of people that share a large degree of racial and cultural homogeneity, speak a common tongue, and represent a single entity for some purpose of historical or political description." Have you noticed that the opponents of the House of Commons resolution on the nationhood of les Quebecois are arguing more or less frankly that this word "nation" now pretty much means the opposite of what it did before? On their premises, it's precisely because Quebec has one dominant ethnic group that it is so very, very dangerous to flirt with calling it a nation. But they regard it as perfectly safe, if not obligatory, to call Canada a nation. The very crux of their complaint is that their right to do so is somehow threatened by the resolution. What counts is what they want the word "nation" to mean. The actual truth about what is a nation and what's not makes absolutely no difference to their argument at all.
That's how you end up with Paul Wells saying he is "saddened that the Prime Minister of Canada has managed to get this far without feeling any need to name and celebrate a Canadian nation" even though he thinks the resolution, insofar as it stated a fact, was more or less true. Wells isn't outraged over a lie; he's having feelings about someone's else feelings. It's also how you end with bizarre, brassy mountaintop blasts like Andrew Coyne's:
To assert a national will, national objectives, a national interest, in a polyethnic, multilingual, transcontinental country, means upholding a national idea, a transcendent nationalism of ideals, against the more earthly delights of ethnic and cultural tribalism.
In other words, it means bellowing your new definition of the word "nation" as loudly as you can until the actual meaning gives way under your assault. The phrase "a transcendent nationalism of ideals" refers to nothing out there in the world, any more than would talk of "a transcendent nationalism of food" or "a transcendent nationalism of traffic signals." And just as reality is that which doesn't go away when you will it to, one's nationhood is precisely that which does not disappear when one's opinions change. North Koreans and South Koreans share very few discernible ideals, but they, being Koreans, recognizably belong to the same nation in the relevant sense of the word.
Or do they? I don't know anymore what the majority of Canada's intellectuals think they mean by "nation," though they're very clear on what it doesn't mean, and they'll set themselves on fire rather than concede that a French-Canadian might belong to any nation other than, or along with, Canada. I think I understand the true source of their anger. French Canada's claims to nationhood on genetic, historical, and cultural grounds are very strong indeed--arguably stronger than China's, for instance, and much stronger than the Ukraine's. To be an English Canadian, by contrast, is to be a stranded colonist, floating untethered on the plane of human varieties. Our ties of continuity with the past were cut in the hope that the French would cooperate and drift toward us; it is indeed terrible to contemplate the betrayal of that hope and our consequent state--so terrible, in fact, that Coyne can write that "[Quebeckers] have as much or more in common with other Canadians as they do with each other" and not even recognize that he has been driven totally round the bend by horror vacui.
I have to admit, that whole "community of communities" thing is looking better every minute. (And if we promise to be on our best behaviour, can we please have "Dominion of Canada" back?)
A chess problem
Ancient astronauts in Alberta predicted the rise of the iPod!!! View the shocking proof here. -12:13 pm, November 24
All the world's a stage
Sean McArdle, property master of the New York Shakespeare Festival, tells the story of the ultimate prop juste.
It's Morneau in America: as of today, the reigning MVPs of the NHL, NBA, and AL are all Canadian. -4:43 pm, November 21
Blow, break, burn: in today's National Post I have a column about the suddenly bleak future of Canadian wind-farm expansion. It's perhaps also worth a read by foreigners who are interested in energy issues, and as a bonus it's on the free side of the subscriber wall.
Overdue quiz answer
Nul points to the readers on this one, though Steven Jens was on the right track with a half-assed guess. On p. 534 of his Stalin book Sebag-Montefiore mentions a 1945 incident:
One evening, Beria suggested that they do some shooting in the garden. There were quails in a cage. "If we don't shoot them," said Beria, "the guards will eat them!" The leader, who was probably already drunk, staggered out and called for guns. Stalin, old, weak, and tipsy, not to mention his frail left arm, first felt "giddy" and fired his gun at the ground, only just missing Mikoyan. He then fired it in the air and managed to pepper his bodyguards, Colonels Tukov and Khrustalev, with shot. Afterwards Stalin apologized to them but blamed Beria.Fowling weapons in the hands of great historical figures have done an extraordinary amount of mischief. As SSM observes in a footnote, Napoleon is thought to have shot out one of Marshal André Masséna's eyes on a hunting expedition; he too seems to have tried to fob the blame off onto someone else. His nemesis Wellington, perhaps made irresponsible by a military career that saw him continually reconnoitring in the front without ever receiving more than a scratch, was a perpetual danger; he must have blasted hide off more servants, friends, and mistresses than one could count with two hands. Queen Victoria's son Arthur, Duke of Connaught (Governor-General of Canada, 1911-16), was named for Wellington and inherited his unhappy track record; in 1891 he shot his brother-in-law Christian of Schleswig-Holstein in the face, blinding him in one eye and damaging the other.
He's forgotten more than you'll ever know about human rights!
For those who've been wondering exactly what went wrong with Michael Ignatieff's Liberal leadership campaign, I can now provide the terrifying answer: the party obviously brought home the wrong Michael Ignatieff. The guy the Liberals wanted was the stylish, erudite human rights expert from Harvard University. But the Ignatieff now in all the papers is apparently some totally different guy who's been farming for the past few decades:
One of the things I've given emphasis to throughout the campaign, and, I think, more than any other candidate, is on the need for the Liberal Party of Canada to reach out to rural Canada, to farming Canada. I've proposed a national food strategy that would link consumers, producers, distributors and processors so that rural Canada and regional Canada feels that the Liberal Party cares about them and is engaged with them. That's one thing that I would put a lot of emphasis on.
But how do we know for sure that this agricultural wizard is a false Misha in mufti? Easy--because when The Hill Times asked him a childishly simple yes/no question about international human-rights law, he couldn't handle it.
I want to ask a few questions on human rights, because of your expertise in this area. Some American human rights organizations are pursuing in Germany a legal investigation of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for potential war crimes and human rights abuses in the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay. Do think it is appropriate that he is tried for war crimes?
If it is not for the founding director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy to comment on such a question, for whom in the entire world could it possibly be? No, sorry--it's simply not conceivable that the real Ignatieff, who has stood so firmly for intellectual courage and unambiguous language, would have ducked this one in such a cheap, cheesy manner.
27 hours and counting?!?! My readers more usually tackle a bleg, query, or brainteaser within 27 minutes. If no one can get this one by Sunday afternoon I'm revealing the answer and declaring myself the winner... -6:34 am, November 18
How you can tell your father was a great man
In a comment thread full of condolences, economist David Friedman, son of the late Milton, refers to a poignant anecdote. The story goes that once, as a young academic, he found himself in need of a statistical test that could be used to evaluate columns of data for mutual consistency. To his complete surprise, the tool he needed proved to be called "the Friedman test." On further investigation it proved to have been devised in 1937 by his own father.
Most thinkers, even ones of near-genius, would consider one such eponym to be the crowning glory of a life's achievement. Whenever that man showed up for work in the morning, people would induce awe in their friends by saying "See that guy over there? That's Friedman, as in Friedman's test." But for Milton Friedman it was a nugatory footnote.
It's also little remembered--outside of the Austrian-school circles that have occasionally used the knowledge to heckle their monetarist Trotsky--that Friedman had an essential role in developing income-tax withholding as a "temporary measure" for the U.S. government during the Second World War. Needless to say, he regretted it; it made him partly responsible for the growth of the leviathan he battled for the rest of his life. But it goes to show how impressive a man usually thought of as a public polemicist really was as a pure generator of ideas. Everyone who earns, saves, or spends a dollar without worrying that it's going to disappear six months from now owes Friedman a permanent, unrecoverable, bottomless debt of gratitude.
Since I've been stealing time from this weblog lately and putting it into books, here's a trivia question taken from one of them--Simon Sebag-Montefiore's Stalin: At The Court of the Red Tsar (a fascinating account of private life amongst the post-Bolshevik elite that suffers only from continuing lack of access to the Soviet archives that briefly opened at the start of the Yeltsin years). A no-prize goes to the first reader to write and tell me what biographical oddity Stalin shares with U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney. Use your head start well, Eastern time zone! -3:40 am, November 17
Can anyone tell me why canned chili is always so disappointing? In theory, it's the greatest idea since calculus: I love chili just as much as I love not having to wash a frying pan and a soup pot at the end of a meal. So about once a year I forget previous bad experiences and buy the stuff, generally in order to use it with buns, toast, or tortillas. It always ends up with me feeling as though I'd just consumed a helping of moist, timidly spiced cardboard. Adding my own flavourings does not improve matters, any more than sprinkling garlic salt or chopped jalapenos on cardboard would make it significantly more pleasant to the palate. I understand that canned foods are rarely convincing imitations of homemade items, but a tin of Campbell's soup or radioactive-orange Chef Boy-ar-dee pasta will at least fill you up and get you through the afternoon. It is, recognizably, food, even if it does contain enough sodium to create a hazard of spontaneous combustion. Canned chili, by contrast, actively resists being coverted to energy by the body. The gastrointestinal tract seems to ask "Are you quite sure we haven't processed this meal once already?"
There: now you have a simple two-word phrase that can be used to silence anyone who doesn't think the Toronto sports media is a little self-absorbed. I'm sure Mr. Duff is a wonderful gentleman, but to induct him into the Hockey Hall of Fame is to tempt catastrophic divine recrimination. Is there literally anybody left to enshrine from amongst the '60s cereal-box heroes of our old-fart Scarberian sportswriters and the teammates of present-day executives? The Hall is already too large by a factor of three or four, not understating the matter at all, when it comes to the Original Six years. But while the rest of us agonize over whether Dino Ciccarelli or Butch Goring might be qualified enough, the voters are busy welcoming Dick Duff into the pantheon of immortality. Cognitive dissonance? The hell you say.
In case it's not clear how ridiculous things have gotten, have a look at a typical Maple Leafs roster from the JFK-Beatles era. Quite the high-powered lineup, no? With Duff, that team featured 11 future Hall of Famers and counting. The 1927 Yankees don't have this degree of representation in the Baseball Hall of Fame--yet somehow that group of Buds conspired to finish fourth in a six-team league and expire in the first round of the playoffs. And yet, believe it or not, the big Hall issue surrounding the team is "Hey, how come they haven't put Carl Brewer in the Hall yet?"
Six months after that injustice is rectified, the first "You know, Bob Baun did score the most famous goal in hockey history..." column is scheduled to hit the press, and at that point Eddie Shack might as well get his funeral suit out of mothballs.
From the world press, 11/9/06
An Indonesian goes on trial for beheading three Christian schoolgirls as an end-of-Ramadan "gift to Muslims"
Welcome to Anglistan
You may have noticed that the blockbusting success of the Borat movie has led to an outburst of cultural learnings about the real Kazakhstan; the Central Asian crazyocracy has now found so many defenders willing to testify to its status as a counterintuitively urbane multicultural paradise that Sasha Baron-Cohen is surely eligible for a key to the city of Astana by now. (It so happens that Kazakhstan is a fairly common destination for Alberta oilpatch liaisons, making this one place in North America where the former Soviet republic wasn't really a suitable tabula rasa for SBC's satire.) Steve Sailer, for one, has joined in the fun:
The coolest thing about real Kazakhs: while lots of people hunt with falcons, Kazakhs also hunt with huge golden eagles.
Funnily enough, there is another little-known cultural backwater where hunting with golden eagles has suddenly become popular. It seems that when Tony Blair's Labour government banned fox hunting, they left the tiniest little loophole open, as Stephen Moss rose early to report for the Guardian...
There it is in the first line of the act: "A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog." Couldn't be clearer. Except there are a further five words in that sentence: "... unless his hunting is exempt." Those five words--and the list of exemptions in schedule one of the act--have been the salvation of hunting. One exemption in particular has been manna to the hunters: "Flushing a wild mammal from cover is exempt hunting if undertaken for the purpose of enabling a bird of prey to hunt the wild mammal." And so hunts have begun using packs of hounds in combination with birds of prey.
· The rise of the meta-nerd
· As the cars get expensive, the parts get cheaper
· An economist's view of God
· The death of the five-goal game
· Bertuzzi's back gives out in a new town
· Burying the Edmonton Eskimos' season
· Photos from the inaugural BoA/CiO street-hockey classic
· This Community Tolerates Prostitution
· Judge Dredd, the lost episodes
· The Oilers' new Norwegian
· YouTube: the athlete's worst nightmare
· I tell you three times--update your drivers
· An evening with Chester Brown
· Ms. tries (not hard enough) to mainstream abortion
· Swimmer's ear for a non-swimmer
· The Globe goes to the "University of Edmonton"
· Reviewing the new super-Coke
· Two views of a concert
· R.I.P., Kokudo Bunnies
· Hamsterballs: Top Gear's co-host runs off the track
· The smith and the wolf
· At last, unification for the chess championship
· YouTube: classic SCTV sketches
· Does the owner of the Isles kiss cows?
· Hooray for the Blank decision
· The exterior inner lives of Americans
· Liberal nastygrams vs. freedom of satire
· YouTube: the Who plays a neglected classic
· Reuters mangles some aerodynamics
· All out of energy: enviro-propaganda from the '70s
· The tall-famous-people quiz [Answer here]
· Liquids on an airplane: the last word
· Beware of the BUKAKE-mobile
· Fidel as Superman: Sasha Trudeau's obnoxious Star column
· Liquids on an airplane: where's the credible threat model?
· The NYT messes up a health story
· A look back at an MLB fantasy season
· The real source of the new Sabres logo
· From "degenerate artist" to Hitler's sculptor
· A child's guide to magazine detection
· The shame of St. Albert
· Hmm, funny how Castro got sick the second they found oil off Cuba's coast
· The hidden first act of a death-penalty reformer's life
· Pakistan's last Christian cricketer
· It wasn't a headbutt, it was a cabezazo
· Zidane as herald of Muslim rage?
· From red paper clip to Kipling, Sask.
· Stephen Harper: the new JFK? Really??
· The Canadian Alliance didn't die, it just went to Mexico
· The "other" Montreal
· Investigating the Roloson trade
· YouTube bytes '71: Can, Vanishing Point, Billy Preston
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