by Colby Cosh
grab your goat
The hills are alive with the sound of buzkashi! A surprise
result of the war on terrorism has been an unprecedented rise in media
references to the national sport of Afghanistan, whose name translates as
"goat-grabbing." And, boy, is it a good name--a lot more descriptive than
"football," for example. For buzkashi, in essence, is a fierce form
of mounted combat in which teams compete to wrest a headless goat carcass
away from each other and ride with it to a scoring area. In
qarajai, the most advanced form of buzkashi, the
goat-carrier has to complete a circuit of a flag and return some distance
to a scoring area without relinquishing the goat.
Aside from that technicality, buzkashi rules basically do not
exist. It is not for those who have a phobia about being trampled to
death. The photo shows a U.S. Marine learning the rudiments of
buzkashi, and apparently having some success. We are assured that
only the best, most experienced riders ever get a sniff of the goat, so he
is either a natural on horseback, or the Afghans are patronizing him a
little. (It could be the latter, but never underestimate the
Seeing buzkashi in the newspaper took this writer back to his
school days, when the "Social Studies" commissars showed footage of the
game as a more or less random example of "weird things other cultures do."
It was somewhere between the Aztec version of basketball and the Eskimo
decathlon; memory fails on the exact details. One supposes the intent was
to inspire respect and awe, but, as usual, the actual response was
disgust. Yet it is only yesterday that our "football" was played with a
recognizable mammalian bladder; the Afghans probably think it would be
grotesque not to leave the goat intact. The Duke of Wellington assured us
that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, where
they play the frankly psychotic "Wall Game." Perhaps it is not such a
stretch to believe that the Afghan War of '01 was won by the goat-grabbers
of Ghazni Stadium.
of a brain drain
Alert reader Bob Black of Edmonton spotted some mathematical errors in
the last instalment of Up Front and sent us a "gotcha" message by e-mail.
The errors were contained in a quote from the Vancouver Sun, which
called 126,000 departing Canadians "0.1 per cent of the population" (!)
and described an increase from 110,000 self-exiles in the prior five-year
period as a "30% gain." For those keeping score at home, that is two
mistakes in 12 words. As Mr. Black points out, we ought to have
double-checked the Sun's numbers, especially before praising the
quoted piece as "direct and factual." Doh! If you find an error in Up
Front, don't be shy: write to the section editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
and give him heck. Gently.
Every year since 1976, a committee of English professors at Lake
Superior State University has issued a List of Words Banished from the
Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness. The annual
exercise has succeeded in winning fame for the small school in Sault Ste.
Marie, Michigan; but, alas, noxious verbal tics cannot be ridiculed out of
existence so easily. Only the Muse of History can anesthetize monsters
like "macho" and "détente," which appeared on the original 1976 list. A
sampling from the 2002 edition, with our comments:
DISENFRANCHISE A malapropism (it should probably be "disfranchise")
which will not let go. A favourite of the Left, which will say--for
example--that voters too cretinous to mark a ballot correctly have been
FAITH-BASED The Right is not without weasel words either. When you seek
public funding, it is much less antagonizing to say you have a "faith"
rather than a "religion."
BIPARTISANSHIP Invoked by American politicians when they want their
opponents to roll over and agree to their demands.
SYNERGY Persists in business bafflegab, despite widespread ridicule. A
Greek word literally meaning, and pointlessly substituted for, "working
INFOMERCIAL Cleverly suggests that if a paid advertisement is very
long, it acquires a mystical property of becoming "informative."
CAR-JACKING A policeman asks what was wrong with the older term, "Armed
ATHLETICISM A monstrosity used by sportscasters to describe basketball
players who can jump high or baseball players who can run fast. Often in
company with "tremendous," as in "Derek Jeter showed tremendous
athleticism there, Bob." Let those of us who live by the word show
tremendous restrainticism in using such locutions.
St. John's Edmonton Report sheds the spotlight on the
subterranean activities of the newly formed Edmonton Area Computer
Hobbyists' Club. It seems ordinary citizens can now, for only about
$1,000, buy a computer "chip," "not much larger than a soda cracker," to
do automated "thinking" much like that done by the massive mainframes at
the University of Alberta. The Report is at a loss to explain the
usefulness of computer hobbyism, but notes that the new club already has
40 members. "The field is full of terms and equipment both unfamiliar and
intriguing to the layman," says club founder Rick Jamieson (below). "This
is an easy way to learn, and it's the only way most people will ever be
able to own a computer."
My name is
Ralph and I'm...
Albertans were kept entertained throughout the holiday season by the
fallout from Ralph Klein's drunken exploits of December 11. That
afternoon, the premier won a harness race for charity, injuring his back
so badly that he had to go to the emergency room later in the week. But he
was feeling no pain by day's end, when he visited an Edmonton homeless
shelter, had a loud argument with some residents, left $70 behind (on the
floor, by some accounts) and fled into the night. Later, when the news
broke, Premier Klein tearfully announced plans to battle an admitted
Whatever your stance on alcohol, do notice that the premier visits real
homeless people, not the imaginary ones favoured by Prime Minister Jean
Chretien. Tut-tutting reporters and Opposition politicians failed to
mention something that is clear from early reports of the fracas: Ralph
didn't start it. He was talking to the residents about their lives when
one man woke up from the floor, made a beeline for him and started ranting
about government policy. There is no evidence at all that the premier came
there intending to tell people to get jobs or to vote Tory. He came to
visit the down-and-outers, who have always been his people, and to see how
they were doing.
"He talks to people you and I would not want to talk to," his old
friend Henry Mah told the Edmonton Journal's Ric Dolphin. Will
sobriety change this most notably Christian trait of Ralph Klein? Only
time will tell.
iron is hot
Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien (profiled in last issue's cover story) may wish
to visit the on-line aucton site eBay for a look at a Peterborough, Ont.,
seller's remarkable piece of Tolkienalia, now on sale. The item is a
letter postmarked July 28, 1955, and addressed to a "Mrs. Dixey" of Cape
Town, South Africa. In the letter, which is written on Tolkien's personal
stationery, the author expresses the hope that Mrs. Dixey will enjoy the
forthcoming Book III of The Lord of the Rings.
"I do not suppose I will write any more about hobbits, but the success
of Lord Of The Rings has been quite as surprising to the publishers
as to me (possibly more so) that it seems likely now that they will wish
to publish the legend of the First and Second Ages (written first but
refused)." The rejected material in question, of course, was published as
The Silmarillion. Tolkien admits rather reluctantly to his
correspondent that he is a native of South Africa. "I...belong really to
the N. West of the Old World," he says, "...[but] I suppose that even in
'The Shire' they had heard some tales of the far south."
Grown-up LOTR freaks with high disposable incomes may wish to
get in on the bidding for this letter, which starts at $3,500. The price
is a bit high--even for handwriting as handsome as Tolkien's--but the
seller, whoever he is, stands to profit mightily from his keen sense of
University of Toronto announced December 14 that Preston Manning, former
leader of the former Reform Party, will become a "distinguished visitor"
of the school and maintain a residence at Massey College. "He's got what I
would call a pan-Canadian agenda," said U of T political scientist Norman
Wiseman approvingly of Mr. Manning. Will university life give the
ex-leader the free time to renew his annual Sisyphean assault on the
French language, in the name of "pan-Canadianism"? Probably not; Mr.
Manning has already accepted similar positions with the Canada West
Foundation, the Fraser Institute and the University of Calgary. The
Canadian Press reports that he plans to split his time between Calgary and
Ontario. We hope there will be no unseemly air-rage incidents between Mr.
Manning and fellow "pan-Canadian" Joe Clark.
servants in British Columbia celebrated the holiday season under a cloud
of fear as they awaited "Announcement Day," expected to come on or around
January 16. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell's first round of civil-service
cuts is expected to lop off about 12,000 taxpayer-funded jobs. The
ministry has prepared an airtight plan for the day--security measures will
be taken to prevent theft or destruction of property, "survivors" will
receive counselling and the distraught will be offered rides home from
work. In short, an explosion of recrimination and violence is anticipated.
Sounds tailor-made for "reality TV"! Is it too late to sell the broadcast
rights and apply the money to the provincial deficit? In all fairness,
though, we would want to let the miners and forest workers who have lived
through 10 years' worth of "Announcement Days" watch for free.
Argentina lost two presidents--Fernando de la Rua and Adolfo Rodriguez
Saa, who both retired--within 10 days, as the country remained in the grip
of rioting and financial panic. The Argentinian chaos is of some
significance to Canada, as it followed a 10-year period during which the
Argentinian monetary system was "dollarized"--that is, it used the
American dollar as the basis for the national currency. Dollarization is
often floated as a cure for Canadian economic ills, and it is now up to
proponents of this position to explain why dollarization did not save
Argentina. It would seem that having a solid unit of account will not make
you prosperous, ipso facto, if your other economic policies remain stupid
beyond belief. Hard news for those hoping for, and urging, a place for
Canada in the comforting shadow of the Federal Reserve.
Anglican and United Church in Invermere, B.C., is discussing the fate of
its most precious artifact. Christ Church Trinity owns and curates a
fabulously rare second-edition King James Bible dating to 1613, but can
only put it on public view once or twice a year because of its fragility,
the Vancouver Sun reported January 2. Some parishioners want the
church to hold on to the Bible as a legacy for future generations, but
many want it sold and the money invested in "outreach" programs like food
banks and scholarships. Up Front wishes to go on record with a prediction:
somehow, sometime, the money from the sale of this Bible will end up in
the hands of residential school "survivors."
wondered what brilliant idea the Liberals would promote after gun
registration got underway, wonder no more. On December 28 Transport Canada
issued a "discussion paper" in which the ministry mooted requiring
carmakers to put "anti-suicide screens" on the tailpipes of all
automobiles sold here. Around 300 Canadians take their own lives every
year by means of carbon monoxide. Officials say the cost of hidden vents
to prevent attaching a rubber hose to the exhaust would amount to just $4
per car (and we all know how reliable those government cost projections
can be). There is no word yet on whether the supporters of Robert Latimer
are organizing a march on Ottawa to protest the idea, but it is surely
only a matter of time.