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Je me souviens... what, exactly? Laurent Moss has a bilingual entry about a widely misinterpreted verbal heirloom of 19th-century Quebec liberalism. (Francophones can skip directly to Jacques Rouillard's monograph.) -9:09 pm, June 29
ColbyCosh.com assignment desk

The 100th anniversary of Archibald "Moonlight" Graham's single major-league at-bat has been the occasion for a spate of articles commemorating the Shoeless Joe/Field of Dreams character and real-life small-town doctor. For the most part, they're the same articles that came out when Field of Dreams opened in 1989. I've adored Shoeless Joe since I first read it at 16; its author, W.P. Kinsella, is (by virtue of other books) the Homeric voice of my part of the world. I was positively annihilated to learn, in 1989, that basically everything in the book about "Moonlight" Graham was real, in the brute vernacular sense of the word. But there's a passage in the Star-Tribune's newest piece that tops even that.

On a hot Friday afternoon in the mid-1970s, several years before the book came out, a 1930s-era rumble-seat Ford pulled up in front of the Chisholm Free Press.
The men who got out introduced themselves to Ponikvar as W.P. Kinsella and J.D. Salinger, whom she immediately recognized as the reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye. They wanted help finding Doc Graham.
They seemed stunned to learn that he'd been dead for a decade.
They hung around for three days, Ponikvar recalled, filling notebooks with anecdotes, discovering that far from fading into embittered nothingness in Chisholm, Graham blossomed into greatness.

In the book Shoeless Joe, the "Terence Mann" character played by James Earl Jones in the movie is "J.D. Salinger", a reclusive author with the same biography as J.D. Salinger. Apparently, the local story is that Kinsella really had Salinger in tow when he came to Chisholm, Minn. In 1989, Kinsella denied ever having met Salinger. But Veda Ponikvar remembers otherwise--and she seems to have a pretty good memory for an 85-year-old woman.

It's been 16 years: does anyone want to phone Kinsella and find out whether he's still sticking to his story? (Having interviewed WPK once, I gave it a shot, but the number I have for him is disconnected, and probably has been for years. þ: BTF.)

- 8:19 pm, June 29 (link)


Geldof v. eBay: some of you have already read this column from last week, but it's still timely, it's still lively, and it's now disappeared from the National Post website. Moreover, eBay's anniversary (and the almost-simultaneous tenth birthday of Amazon.com) have attracted surprisingly little comment so far.

This week, the auction website eBay is observing its tenth birthday at its international headquarters in San Jose, California. As part of the celebration, employees have been given a collectible baseball jersey with "EBAY" and the number 95 on the back. I know this, of course, because someone's got one for sale on eBay. It's a steal at US$32.

This is a recursive little example of what eBay is about: things going from people who don't want them to people who do. Sounds simple, but in a decade, the company--founded on a lark by American coder Pierre Omidyar, and turbocharged by Montreal's Jeff Skoll--has transformed the way we see the world. Millions of people who think Friedrich Hayek is Salma's dad have learned first-hand about the behaviour and the signalling function of prices. Like a coal-miner's lamp, eBay has cast light on hidden wealth in the unlikeliest corners. It turns out there's money in everything from old cereal boxes to eight-track tapes to chunks of scenery torn from classic movie sets.

And, as if by magic, middle- and working-class people have been made free to engage in entrepreneurship without grovelling before a loan officer. Last year the company estimated that 430,000 people worldwide were earning a living on eBay transactions. Think about that: nearly half a million souls liberated from the time-clock, the boss, and the carbon-belching daily commute. On these grounds alone, eBay may have done as much for human dignity as any motive force in history. The company's unorganized, unsalaried "employee" base has become one of the planet's greatest clusters of labour. Citigroup, which has components dating back to 1812 and is said by Forbes to be the world's largest company, boasts a mere 300,000 employees.

Of course, another way of phrasing all this would be to say that eBay has sashayed rudely through our lives, slapping price tags on absolutely everything--and offering us absolutely everything, too, for a price. Genuine human skull, male: US$106. Signed Brian Mulroney photo: US$10. Medevac-ready Bo-105 utility helicopter: US$350,000. For those who persist in Christendom's traditional mistrust of commerce, it's impossible to envision a fouler Satan.

Last week, Sir Bob Geldof--the former B-grade rocker who transformed his own conscience into an industry with eBay-like deftness--learned that lottery participants who had won tickets to his upcoming Live 8 global superconcert were reselling them on eBay. He called for an international boycott of the site, describing it as an "electronic pimp." It's darned puzzling that a man who claims to possess the cure for global poverty was bushwhacked by the most basic reflexes of economic law. Geldof kicked off Live 8 by randomly distributing concert tickets that might have generated a fantastic amount of cash. Having missed his chance to capture the wealth of pop-music punters for the relief of the developing world, he watched as ticket-holders, given a valuable thing for free, proceeded to try snagging that value for themselves.

All eBay does is bring sellers and buyers together; one might as well denounce the Yellow Pages or the classified ads. But the net's speed and reach caught Geldof unawares, and perhaps he felt he'd been made a fool of. So he lashed out. Well, buying and selling on eBay might reasonably be compared to "pimping", but so might your job or mine. Or, for that matter, Geldof's. His project, after all, is expected to supply quite the aphrodisiac to the flaccid global record industry.

There is an ironic lesson here. Geldof's original anti-poverty festival, 1985's Live Aid, was an impulsive response to an emergency. It was designed to fill crates with food and get them to the Ethiopian hungry, fast. And while it may have done so--there is some doubt about even this much--it didn't fix Ethiopia. It was followed by a redoubling of the civil war there, and the temporary influx of food delayed imperative reforms to the country's subsistance farms. In the West, compassion fatigue set in rapidly.

In the meantime, millions of people have clued in: it's about trade, not aid. Live 8, unlike its predecessor, has been greeted with some skepticism and hostility in the Third World. Geldof's partner organizations plead for "debt relief"--i.e., handouts to governments, taking the form of renewed access to cheap World Bank loans--but they sneer at "free trade", preferring the undefined, undefinable, intellectually infantile phrase "trade justice." An awful lot of developing-world leaders and economists aren't buying this tripe anymore. More and more, they just want access on equal terms to the world's markets, especially in agriculture. They're seeking the old liberal dream of fair, unhindered global commerce. And it so happens that eBay is the profoundest possible symbol--the godlike electric incarnation--of this dream.

Which means, I'd say, that the joke's on St. Bob. Did I mention there's a very handsome signed photo of him available on eBay for just 99 pence? (June 21, 2005)

Jacob Weisberg, no ranting right-winger, has a superb summary (and, basically, endorsement) of the new foreign-aid cynicism at Slate.com. For more on the legacy of the original Live Aid concert, see David Rieff's piece in the Prospect.

- 5:53 pm, June 29 (link)


Big balls

Sheesh. It turns out there has been a fair amount of in-print speculation on the order of the 2005 NHL draft--somehow, my careless Googling and database searching missed a couple of mid-May stories (and some later ones) on the subject. I feel a bit silly for having gone out and done actual reporting on the subject, but there you are. The details seem to have changed a bit in the last six weeks, anyway, and the power of the Internet did an unusually poor job of correcting my misconceptions.

According to Oilers vice-president Allan Watt, to whom I spoke on Tuesday, the current plan is to commence with a weighted lottery involving 58 ping-pong balls. Each team starts with one ball; teams that missed the playoffs in '03-'04 get another ball; and teams that missed out in '02-'03 have another one added. The 30 teams will draft in the first round according to the order in which their balls emerge; in the second round, they'll draft in the reverse order, meaning that whoever gets Sidney Crosby (the certain #1) won't have another pick until #60.

(This reverse-ordering of the second round mitigates the effect of chance here, but not much. Talent drops off steeply after the top pick--especially when the top pick is somebody like Crosby--and the difference in value between a #60 pick and a #31 pick is not so large by comparison. The system, I'd say, leaves everybody later than #5 in the ordering about equally well off, with the #30 team still worst off overall.)

The May print stories had the advantage for non-playoff teams possibly going back three years or four, but Watt says the plan is now for two, and he doesn't believe that will change between now and the conclusion of collective bargaining. Here's how the balls would be sorted under the proposed system.

Tampa Bay	1
Boston		1
Philadelphia	1
Toronto		1
Ottawa		1
New Jersey	1
NY Islanders	1
Detroit		1
Vancouver	1
Colorado	1
Dallas		1
St. Louis	1
Montreal	2
Washington	2
San Jose	2
Calgary		2
Nashville	2
Edmonton	2
Minnesota	2
Anaheim		2
Buffalo		3
Atlanta		3
Carolina	3
Florida		3
NY Rangers	3
Pittsburgh	3
Los Angeles	3
Phoenix		3
Columbus	3
Chicago		3

The advantages of this scheme can be seen right away. It's an ostensively sound medium between giving everybody an equal shot and simply repeating the 2004 lottery. (The normal lottery procedure is so complicated that its details are rarely reported: the Hockey Rodent, unsurprisingly, has a decent attempt at a summary.) Calgary, which missed the playoffs in 2003 and won the West in 2004, will have the same chance at the #1 pick as Washington, which already received a #1 pick in 2004. Consistently strong performers like Ottawa and Detroit won't have their hopes completely dashed, and could still emerge with a high draft position. It is probably not a coincidence that struggling teams in large markets--New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago--get a notable leg up under this specific system. But off the top of my head, I'd say the biggest individual loser here would be the Islanders--they've been only marginally superior to the Sabres in the last two seasons, but because they happened to edge them out of a playoff spot twice, their weight has been reduced to one-third. (This phenomenon should perhaps be understood as Billy Smith's karma in action.)

- 4:41 am, June 29 (link)


Sign of the times?

Through stochastic surfing I discover that the FAA's standing order governing air traffic controllers was updated in February to accommodate a new wrinkle--the threat of rocket attack from the perimeter of a domestic airport.

Do not withhold landing clearance. To the extent possible, issue information on MANPADS threats, confirmed attacks, or post-event activities in time for it to be useful to the pilot. The pilot or parent company will determine the pilot's actions.

...[SAMPLE PHRASEOLOGY:]

"Attention Eastern Four Seventeen, MANPADS alert. Exercise extreme caution. MANPADS threat reported by TSA, LaGuardia vicinity. Say intentions."

"Attention all aircraft, MANPADS alert. Exercise extreme caution. MANPADS post-event activity observed by tower south of airport at two-one-zero-zero Zulu."

"Post-event activity"--imagine hearing that one when you're on the glide path to LAX. MANPADS might sound like something you'd buy to treat a locker-room fungus, but it stands for man-portable air defence systems.

- 5:49 pm, June 28 (link)


Cruise control: What does the world's most famous actor have against Ritalin, anyway? My 1,400-word column in today's Post looks at how and why Tom Cruise is coming out of the (Scientology) closet. One thing's for sure: anyone who calls Matt Lauer glib and ignorant can't be entirely off his rocker. Check the piece out at NationalPost.com: it's on the free side of the subscriber wall.

[UPDATE, 12:55 pm: Relatively advanced Scientolographers should check out Douglas LeBlanc's post at GetReligion.org.]

- 8:27 am, June 28 (link)


Lennon on Live 8

A timely excerpt from David Sheff's September 1980 Playboy interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Sheff Just to finish your favorite subject [the Beatles], what about the suggestion that the four of you put aside your personal feelings and regroup to give a mammoth concert for charity, some sort of giant benefit?

Lennon I don't want to have anything to do with benefits. I have been benefited to death.

Sheff Why?

Lennon Because they're always rip-offs. I haven't performed for personal gain since 1966, when the Beatles last performed. Every concert since then, Yoko and I did for specific charities, except for a Toronto thing that was a rock-'n'-roll revival. Every one of them was a mess or a rip-off. So now we give money to who we want. You've heard of tithing?

Sheff That's when you give away a fixed percentage of your income.

Lennon Right. I am just going to do it privately. I am not going to get locked into that business of saving the world on stage. The show is always a mess and the artist always comes off badly.

Sheff What about the Bangladesh concert, in which George and other people such as Dylan performed?

Lennon Bangladesh was caca.

Sheff You mean because of all the questions that were raised about where the money went?

Lennon Yeah, right. I can't even talk about it, because it's still a problem. You'll have to check with Mother [Yoko], because she knows the ins and outs of it, I don't. But it's all a rip-off. So forget about it. All of you who are reading this, don't bother sending me all that garbage about, "Just come and save the Indians, come and save the blacks, come and save the war veterans," Anybody I want to save will be helped through our tithing, which is ten percent of whatever we earn.

Sheff But that doesn't compare with what one promoter, Sid Bernstein, said you could raise by giving a world-wide televised concert - playing separately, as individuals, or together, as the Beatles. He estimated you could raise over $200,000,000 in one day.

Lennon That was a commercial for Sid Bernstein written with Jewish schmaltz and showbiz and tears, dropping on one knee. It was Al Jolson. OK. So I don't buy that. OK.

Sheff But the fact is, $200,000,000 to a poverty-stricken country in South America...

Lennon Where do people get off saying the Beatles should give $200,000,000 to South America? You know, America has poured billions into places like that. It doesn't mean a damn thing. After they've eaten that meal, then what? It lasts for only a day. After the $200,000,000 is gone, then what? It goes round and round in circles. You can pour money in forever. After Peru, then Harlem, then Britain. There is no one concert. We would have to dedicate the rest of our lives to one world concert tour, and I'm not ready for it. Not in this lifetime, anyway.

- 8:10 am, June 27 (link)


When your number's up

One of the favourite analytical tools promoted by the evidence-based medicine community is a thing called the "Number Needed to Treat" (NNT). It's an intuitive way of doing just what it sounds like--stating clinical-trial results as the expected number of patients you need to apply a therapy to before you help one. NNTs are kind of nerve-shattering for a civilian: when we're prescribed medication we're accustomed to thinking that the Number Needed to Treat is generally close to, if not equal to, 1. There are, in fact, few instances where this is so. Highly specific antibiotics have NNTs close to 1 for the infections they target. For a good analgesic, the NNT for complete pain relief might be between 2 and 4. For prophylactic measures like vaccines or statins, only one in 10 or 20 patients might benefit--which, depending on how you think about preventive medicine, might still be a good performance. All this is by way of introducing a cool little table of real-world NNTs from the University of Toronto's Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine.

(NNTs are particularly useful conceptual devices for science journalists: one could, for example, re-jig the numbers from the A-HEFT study to get an idea of what BiDil, Nitromed's controversial pill for black heart-failure patients, is capable of. The rate of all-cause death was 10.2% in the placebo group and 6.2% among those receiving BiDil; that suggests that one life will be saved for every 25 patients given the drug. Given the sample size, the true number [within 95% confidence limits] might be as low as 14 or as high as 145. And closing off A-HEFT early--thus sealing off the clinical endpoint at an advantageous moment for the drug's reputation--introduces some bias. But that's whole 'nother story.)

- 5:50 am, June 27 (link)


Is nine-tenths of politics just showing up?

The Globe subhed:

Conservative leader chooses Hockey Hall of Fame over Gay Pride parade

A more accurate rendering:

Conservative leader decides not to submit to ritual humiliation

In a show of non-partisanship, I will point out that the news stories concerning the Prime Minister's late arrival in flood-ravaged southern Alberta were motivated by the same sort of preposterous, imaginary expectation.

- 4:48 am, June 27 (link)


Lies, damned lies, and the Toronto Star op-ed page: I've just got the copyright back on last Friday's Post piece about cancer statistics. I've been looking forward to the chance to present it with charts and links, and there has been a reply from the protagonist of the column. (The charts come from "Canadian Cancer Statistics 2005", and have had pointers added--without otherwise being tampered with--in the versions seen here.) Here, then, is the hyperlinked, updated, annotated edition of the column.

The other day, I spotted the most revolting piece of junk science I have ever seen in a Canadian newspaper. This is not a claim I make lightly: none of our newspapers are guiltless when it comes to fumbling statistics, misinterpreting results, or falling for hype. But with Mitchell Anderson's Monday piece about cancer, the Toronto Star has transcended humbler achievements along this line, and reached the doorstep of the B.S. Hall of Fame.

Mr. Anderson's piece is entitled "What's causing cancer?" And well he might ask, for cancer is his trade: the biography line on his column describes him as "a board member of the Labour Environmental Alliance Society, a Vancouver-based charity that educates the public on cancer prevention." Cancer, Anderson says, is now expected to strike one in 2.2 Canadian men and one in 2.6 Canadian women during their lives. "Some would suggest we are simply an aging population and cancer is a disease of the old," he adds. "Not true. Recent statistics show that the net incidence rate of cancer has increased 25% for males and 20% for females from 1974 to 2005 -- after correcting for the effects of aging."

It's a shocking stat -- one he believes is attributable to a wide array of pernicious man-made chemicals pervading our environment. "A trip to your local supermarket," he writes, "reveals a small sample of these hidden poisons." In everything from plastic food containers (bisphenol A!) to fire retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers!), Mr. Anderson sees the stealthy shadow of cancer.

But is it really true that Canadians are contracting cancer more often now than they did in 1974?

To find out, I turned to the acknowledged authority on the subject -- the 2005 edition of the Canadian Cancer Statistics book produced annually by the Canadian Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute of Canada, Statscan, and the federal Public Health Agency. The document has an entire chapter, with tables and charts, devoted to "Trends in Incidence and Mortality." And therein one soon finds the smoking gun. The reported age-standardized incidence rate (ASIR) of all cancers was 371.9 per 100,000 men in 1976; the estimate for 2005 is 448.2. That's an increase of slightly more than 20%. For women, the ASIR has grown from 294.9 to 354.5 -- again, an increase of 20%.

But before you start throwing out all the synthetic material in your house, there are other things you need to know. Anderson somehow neglected to mention that these observed cancer rates grew rapidly during the 1970s, and have been flat since about 1981.

And the change observed in the 1970s was almost entirely an artifact of better cancer reporting. It says so right at the start of "Trends in Incidence and Mortality". "Note also that the rapid increase in incidence rates throughout the 1970s ... largely reflects improved registration of new cases in several provincial registries during this period. Registration levels... have generally stabilized since 1981 because of increasing consistency of cancer reporting procedures across Canada." Strangely enough, the actual observed rates of cancer have stabilized too. If there ever was a "cancer epidemic" in this country, it ended a quarter-century ago. Keep that in mind before you ransack your home for "chemical culprits."

Before 1981, the individual provinces were still trying to harmonize cancer-tracking procedures amongst hospital boards, and Ontario hadn't joined the national cancer-reporting system at all. The Star's expert chose not to tell you that, nor did he note that the ASIRs include smoking-related lung cancers -- which were still rising sharply in the 1970s, and didn't peak until 1984. When you take these things into account, the news about most major cancers over the last 30 years has been nothing but good. In fact, better diagnostic procedures have sometimes produced sharp temporary increases in observed cancer rates: The incidence of prostate cancer "went up" in Canada by almost 50% from 1989 to 1993, solely because of the rapid introduction of new prostate-specific antigen tests. Breast-cancer rates among older women increased gradually from 1975 to 1992, probably owing partly to the increased awareness and use of mammograms.

It would perhaps be forgivable for an ordinary science reporter to look at the charts in "Canadian Cancer Statistics" and to write a sensationalistic sentence about cancer increasing by one-fifth in Canada over three decades. But coming from a supposed authority, the wild claim can only be construed as a deliberate, unethical obfuscation -- one designed to support a demented screed against the consumer society. Which may have something to do with why it reached the pages of the Star without setting off anyone's alarm bells. (June 17, 2005)

There were other things wrong with Anderson's column. Particularly hilarious is his statement that "the World Health Organization estimates that fully 25 per cent of cancers worldwide are caused by occupational and environmental factors other than smoking." This brief sentence manages to conflate occupational cancers with environmental ones, conflate Canadian cancer etiology with that of Ukrainian coal miners and Chinese chemical-factory workers, and overlook more widely accepted estimates of the rates of preventable cancers in the West (scroll down to the bottom for numbers from the UK's Richard Doll, who is generally considered the go-to guy for this information). It also raises a question: if the WHO felt it important to subtract smoking-related cancers in generating an estimate of occupational and environmental cancers, why didn't Anderson feel it important to deduct those same cancers from the Canadian numbers?

Asked another way, how stupid does he think you are? His response to my column, printed in the letters section of Monday's National Post, provides a convenient answer.

Re: Using Cancer Stats To Attack Consumerism, Colby Cosh, June 17.
Colby Cosh seems to be fairly unperturbed about an overall increase of 20% in the age-corrected incidence of cancer since the 1970s. Perhaps he should consider that age-standardized incident rates for prostate cancer have increased 95% since 1976. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma rates are up 97% for men and 93% for women over the same period. As far as the demonstrated health impacts of common chemicals such as bisphenol-A, he is doing battle with Yale School of Medicine, not me.
Mitchell Anderson, Labour Environmental Alliance Society, Vancouver. (June 20, 2005)

I stand amazed at being accused of being "unperturbed" about a pure statistical artifact--one identified specifically as such by every relevant Canadian authority on cancer. And apparently he missed my explanation of prostate cancer as an example of transitory increases in incident rates being a good thing. (If you look at mortality rates for prostate cancer rather than just the incident rates--something I doubt Mr. Anderson would want you to do--you'll see this quite clearly; in a mere decade or so, the age-standardized death rates for the disease have fallen off by at least ten percent.)

By now, the reader should have his bullshit radar calibrated finely enough to recognize the unconscionable manner in which the Labour Environmental Alliance Society marches to war with statistics. When Anderson mentions non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the first question in your mind should be: is there some reason the incidence would have risen, or would appear to have risen, since 1976?

Here's a hint, if you need one: Is there some widespread infectious disease, unknown to medicine in 1976, which has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma as a common diagnostic sign?

When you're through giggling at the man who thinks you have never heard of AIDS, it should be pointed out that Anderson's reference to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma--a subject that he barely touched on in his original column--actually contains the undigested kernel of a half-decent point. NHL actually is increasing with discouraging rapidity throughout the Western world, and we don't really have a good idea why. By failing to mention AIDS, Anderson has deliberately exaggerated the size of the potential environmental effect; that should be recognizable as par for the course. There is also an open question about statistical effects: as the German Cancer Research Centre points out,

Assessing the mortality from malignant neoplasms of lymphoid tissue is made difficult by uncertainties in the diagnostic classification of lymphomas, with classification criteria undergoing several revisions in recent decades, and by the fact that mortality rates are coded based on an ICD system that has not kept pace with advances in the diagnosis of lymphoid neoplasias since the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, histologic subgroups have repeatedly been moved about within the ICD rubrics, leading to abrupt changes in mortality figures.

But such changes alone, even combined with AIDS-related lymphoma, cannot account on their own for the rising Western incidence of NHL. And if Anderson had written only about NHL, rather than trying to terrify us about "cancer" generally, he could have introduced a salient issue in a responsible manner. Unfortunately, if he were interested in doing things responsibly, he would have to admit that scientists pursuing the secrets of NHL are following all sorts of paths--the environment is one strong suspect, but so are sunlight, diet, and infection. It is particularly important to note that last item: the Helicobacter pylori miracle has changed medicine's outlook on all intractable disorders, reminding us that infectious pathogens can be exceedingly tricky and, on Darwinian grounds, should always be kept in mind during the quest for causation. In any event, there is no warrant to adopt a pervasive fear of synthetic chemicals, any more than there is to wall yourself up in your basement and avoid contact with other human beings.

When I suggest to people that environmentalism should be regarded essentially as a religion, I sometimes meet with a raised eyebrow. But I know of no other conclusion one can reach when one examines an article of popular environmental literature and finds such an openly grotesque attitude toward the use of language. What we have here is a coterie believing itself to be in possession of final, indisputable truth; the facts can be rearranged freely in the name of making converts. It is the Church's "lie officious" reappearing in history, as it does so often. The effort to play on the emotions--and there is no more emotional topic in Western life than cancer--is so poorly disguised; the contemptuous attitude toward reason is so transparent. I believe this has become more widely known, and pieces like Mr. Anderson's are now commonly regarded by newspaper readers as mere static. And no one thinks there is any harm in having it about, right up until the moment we completely lose the ability to communicate candidly with one another, or to persuade by any means but sheer amplitude.

[UPDATE, 2:30 pm: Say, where would anyone get the nutty idea that there might be an infectious component to particular cancers of the lymphatic system? Glad you asked! A reader--hematopathologist Jason Ford of the UBC Faculty of Medicine and the Children's and Women's Health Centre of B.C.--notes some facts I overlooked. (I overlooked them because I didn't know them. Funny how often that happens.)

I noted your juxtaposition of Helicobacter pylori and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and it wasn't clear to me whether this was accidental. As you may know, H. pylori is directly implicated in at least one lymphoma (namely lymphoma of mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue [MALT] type, a.k.a. MALT lymphoma or MALToma). Interestingly, early stages of this "cancer" are treated with antibiotics, while later stages require chemotherapy.

As far as I know the only non-Hodgkin lymphoma specifically linked to H. pylori is the MALT type... but for all we know there may be other infections that lead to other types of NHL. Of course, there are the well-known associations between Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) and various lymphomas, including the types of NHL most commonly seen in AIDS patients (e.g. Burkitt's lymphoma); not to mention Kaposi sarcoma, herpes virus (Human Herpes Virus 8, HHV-8), and body-cavity lymphoma in AIDS...

Yeah, but c'mon, doc. It makes for a way cooler story if we're all getting cancer from nail polish and laundry detergent, right?]

- 7:29 am, June 24 (link)


Don't miss the action in this thread at 2 Blowhards, where the menfolk are talking about Mrs. Robinson. -2:01 am, June 24
I meant to link to this Flit entry about officer deaths in Iraq; it's probably more interesting than anything you'll read in the newspaper this week... -2:00 am, June 24
A Fallacious friend

A reader forwards Tunku Varadarajan's interview with Oriana Fallaci from today's Wall Street Journal. A major theme of the piece is Fallaci's admiration for the pope, a rather counterintuitive thing to find in an Italian atheist who, if not an actual soixante-huitard New Leftist, always shared something of the same dizzy, iconoclastic spirit (and sneaking fondness for cruel men).

...it is "Ratzinger" (as she insists on calling the pope) who is her soulmate. John Paul II--"Wojtyla"--was a "warrior, who did more to end the Soviet Union than even America," but she will not forgive him for his "weakness toward the Islamic world. Why, why was he so weak?"

The scant hopes that she has for the West she rests on his successor. As a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI wrote frequently on the European (and the Western) condition. Last year, he wrote an essay titled "If Europe Hates Itself," from which Ms. Fallaci reads this to me: "The West reveals... a hatred of itself, which is strange and can only be considered pathological; the West... no longer loves itself; in its own history, it now sees only what is deplorable and destructive, while it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure."

"Ecco!" she says. A man after her own heart. "Ecco!"

Alas, I fear Ms. Fallaci is in for some disappointment when she reaches the end of Ratzinger's essay, in which he endorses the legal punishment of those who publicly disrespect other religions.

I do not want to enter into the complex discussions of recent years, but to focus on only one aspect that is fundamental for all cultures: respect for what the other holds sacred, and in particular respect for the sacred in the highest sense, for God, something that we can legitimately suppose to find even in one who is not disposed to believe in God. Wherever this respect is denied, something essential in a society is lost. In our present-day society, thank God, whoever dishonours the faith of Israel, its image of God or its great personalities, is fined. Whoever scorns the Koran and the basic convictions of Islam is fined, too.

By implication, the Holy Father thanks God--or Allah--for the very vilipendio law under which Fallaci is currently being harried by a publicity-hungry prosecutor and a demented, Oriana-obsessed Muslim. With soulmates like these, who needs enemies?

- 1:56 pm, June 23 (link)


CrosbyWatch

When we last checked in with the NHL, Edmonton Oiler fans were savouring the fantasy of possibly having a shot at Sidney Crosby in the cryogenically frozen 2005 draft. Sadly, though, it's more likely that the franchise will not even get to keep 2003 draft choice and Crosby linemate Marc-Antoine Pouliot, its most promising pick in ages. As John Buccigross reported on June 15, player-agency hyperpower IMG has carried through on a long-standing threat and asked NHL teams to officially turn loose the unsigned players from the 2003 and 2004 drafts, including Pouliot.

The league has taken the position that the clock is ticking on the contracts of veteran players, so it would have a hard time arguing that '03 and '04 draftees have not lapsed into free agency, or, if young enough, become draft-eligible again. Instead it's probably going to argue that the issue has to be decided under the new collective bargaining agreement, which could--if both sides agree--easily make an arbitrary distinction between unsigned draftees and veterans. (Two clocks running at different rates! It's straight out of Einstein!) But that not only makes the ongoing CBA negotiation much more complex than it was a year ago; it raises the possibility of a massive post-CBA lawsuit by IMG on behalf of the unsigned draftees.

Which, in turn, leaves the immediate post-lockout environment even more uncertain and chaotic for GMs. Already they will have to absorb the implications of the new salary cap and put a price on the heads of dozens of outstanding veteran free agents, including Pavol Demitra, Nikolai Khabibulin, Markus Naslund, and Sergei Gonchar. (And that doesn't even count high-paid players who may have existing contracts bought out in the rush to comply with the cap.) If the NHL were to say "no" to IMG, the GMs would also have to deal with unsigned draftees without knowing their eventual legal status. (How much do you spend on Rookie X when there is a chance he might be snatched away by a judge ten weeks later?) And if the league were to cooperate, the teams would have to integrate the players thrown back into the draft with their existing rankings of 2005-eligibles--rankings that were already harder to compile than usual, because nobody knew (or knows) their 2005 draft position. The crisis will certainly separate the men from the boys when it comes to NHL management.

But there has been no word at all on the subject of immediate interest to CrosbyWatch--namely, the principles on which the 2005 draft should be and will be ordered. If the league has done any thinking or talking beyond the most preliminary stages, no one has mentioned it. Central Scouting still hasn't updated its January rankings of the prospects, but International Scouting Services has prodded the horseflesh and is courageously publishing its 2005 draft guide only a month late.

- 2:12 am, June 23 (link)


Now that's brand loyalty

This Food Marketing Institute list of the 50 most commonly shoplifted items doesn't contain a lot of surprises if you've read or even thought about the economics and pathology of retail theft. Infant formula remains chasteningly popular, as do vaguely "embarrassing" items, particularly those for women (such as pregnancy tests and vaginal-infection remedies). Preparation H remains a hot commodity. Oil of Olay makes a heartbreaking appearance further down the list. And anything which is both easily concealed and typically overpriced at a convenience store will disappear fast; most corner shops in my hometown now keep batteries behind the counter, and considering how much they charge for them, it's no wonder.

What is surprising is that the list is dominated by analgesics, particularly name-brand ibuprofen and acetaminophen. The generic alternatives to these drugs are priced like candy; there is no earthly need for anyone to be buying, or stealing, anything with "Advil" or "Tylenol" written on the box. Maybe there's something I'm missing here, but it seems like this is the ultimate tribute to Big Pharma marketing practices; people would rather steal the name brand than switch to the affordable, chemically identical generic. Pretty amazing. (þ: BoingBoing)

[UPDATE, 11:59 am: Reader Ryan Cousineau was paying close attention and writes:

It should be pointed out that they are attempting to measure "organized" retail theft here ("ORT") which is apparently shoplifting for money. So the real lesson is that these are the goods which have excessively high margins to go with their high demand, or to put it another way, this is the measure of the kinds of things that small businessmen like to steal from other stores. Cruel, yes, but this form of shoplifting seems to be focused on goods that a retailer most wants a wholesale-price discount on. If cigarettes aren't 1, 2, and 3 on that list, I'm sure it's only because (like Gilette Mach 3 blades), they're perpetually behind the counter and effectively immune to mere shoplifting. From that perspective, Advil is a great product to steal, for all the reasons you gave: expensive, but well-advertised, yet still on open shelves.]

- 12:23 am, June 23 (link)


When hipsters attack

The Star's Ben Rayner is quick off the mark today with a critique of the Canadian lineup for Live 8. It's all very well, writes Rayner, to make sure senescent plonkers like Gordon Lightfoot and Randy Bachman make appearances.

...[But] young(-ish) Canadians Sam Roberts, A Simple Plan and Tegan & Sara... will, no doubt, wind up playing three-song sets with fellow sacrificial tokens the African Guitar Summit and DobaCaracol featuring Kna'an to an indifferent crowd beneath the full might of the early-afternoon sun... Fast-rising Montreal indie-rock outfit The Arcade Fire, Halifax rapper Buck 65, expat Toronto resident Leslie Feist and local kids made good Broken Social Scene and Death From Above 1979... would also shake up the musical mix...

What, Rayner couldn't find room on the bill for The Schmendricks, Joe Shoegaze, Trilby & Svengali, or the Oshawa-based Clam Conspiracy? (That's the full name of the group: "the Oshawa-based Clam Conspiracy".) Has this guy even heard of Nun Slice, the Dub Lumberjacks, Poison Igloo, Kramer Vs. Kramer Vs. Kramer, D'Arcy McGee Stigmata, Casserole, or Tutsi Roll feat. Machete Man? And you call yourself a music critic, he said scornfully from atop a throne made out of unmarked cassette tapes...

- 3:12 pm, June 22 (link)


In today's Issues & Ideas section of the National Post: my column ruminating on 10 years of eBay and Sir Bob Geldof's shouting match with the Internet retailer from last week. Click here to read the whole thing at NationalPost.com.

- 9:23 am, June 21 (link)


Their only friend... is chaos

I was watching episodes of Upright Citizens Brigade on the weekend... it may not have been the funniest sketch show since SCTV, but it was somehow the purest, and it's probably the show that's most closely in tune, bar none, with my own vicious sophomoric sensibilities.

It amazes me--to take one instance--that we are still going around in circles about Andres Serrano's Piss Christ. (Someone should probably point out to Jim Henley--who tendentiously argues that the artwork is no mere exercise in antibourgeoiserie--that that title is deliberately provocative, and was chosen by Serrano in lieu of potential alternatives like "Illuminated Passion #4".) But no one talks about the UCB's slashing season-two episode that concluded with a roomful of dumbfounded, tearful Christians venerating a "fecal Jesus". This wasn't a video installation in some cruddy art gallery, mind you--this ran on American television. The show even got picked up for another season. It's almost an insult to the Uprights that they didn't get murdered after "Spaghetti Jesus".

But, then again, it probably says something about the hidden imperatives of American culture that Matt Besser created a lot more trouble with his Comedy Central series Crossballs. Say what you like about the saviour, but don't make light of the commentariat!

- 9:29 am, June 20 (link)


Seven other things you can't say in Canada (with apologies to Margaret Wente)

  • If Terry Fox had finished his run, nobody would now give the smallest, pebbliest crap about him. Steve Fonyo did the same thing against the same odds, and is forgotten.
  • Gordie Howe is vastly overrated as a hockey player.
  • René Lévesque had at least 25 IQ points on Pierre Trudeau, was a finer human being, won most of their arguments, and will be remembered for longer, and with more fondness, whether Quebec stays or goes.
  • It's completely, utterly inconsistent to heap extravagant encomiums on Henry Morgentaler while being opposed to private medicine with every fibre of one's being.
  • It's also completely inconsistent for feminists to stand on their individual classical-liberal right to total personal inviolability--when it comes to abortion--and to proclaim an illiberal doctrine of collective, identitarian rights in every other sphere of human activity.
  • Our aboriginal peoples are far worse off in every respect than Indians in the United States. Being chased, hunted, ethnic-cleansed, cheated, and slaughtered for 300 years was better for Indians in the U.S., in the long run, than being made wards of the state was for Canada's.
  • Mordecai Richler's novels: if you've read one, you've read 'em all.

    [N.B.: Like the items on Wente's list, these seven things have, no doubt, been said in Canada. But not very often, and certainly not too loudly. The Shotgunners have some other good candidates.]

    - 4:18 am, June 20 (link)


    It's 2005, and Bob Geldof is still a prat

    From the Live 8 website:

    2005 offers a unique opportunity for everyone to come together and ask the G8 to make poverty history. LIVE 8 is one event of many around the world supporting the aims of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. The global symbol of the campaign is a white band.

    Gosh, I'd rather gotten the impression that the global symbol of the campaign was loads of white bands--Coldplay, U2, Pink Floyd, Travis, Bon Jovi, the Stereophonics... Rather too many white bands for Damon Albarn's taste, apparently.

    - 9:44 am, June 18 (link)


    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

    British and Australian newspapers are milking the death of John Lennon's supposed "Lucy" for all it's worth today:

    When the Beatles released Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, it was popularly assumed to be a barely concealed reference to LSD.
    John Lennon denied a drugs link, claiming the true inspiration was a young girl called Lucy who appeared in a painting by his then four-year-old son, Julian.

    Even the normally reliable Snopes.com is still claiming that the "LSD" thing was just a wacky alphabetic coincidence. Lennon's actual story was always that, yes, it was a psychedelic song influenced by torrential use of hallucinogens, but the drawing was a real inspiration for it. Paul McCartney has long since debunked the over-the-top urban counterlegend, describing the coding in the title of "Lucy" as "pretty obvious."

    Snopes' Barbara Mikkelsen--again displaying uncharacteristic gullibility--reproduces the "original drawing" of Lucy, which might depict practically anything (a multicoloured robot surrounded by Stars of David?). There can be small doubt that Lennon senior, still in his idealistic period when he started propagating his cover story, wanted Beatles fans to believe that strange coincidences were the noumenal voice of the Universe and that children were born, Wordsworth-fashion, with allegorical and mystical ways of seeing of the sort that drugs supposedly allow us to recapture. In any event, the cute backstory of "Lucy in the Sky" is a typical piece of '60s nonsense that we're long overdue to let go of. (Honestly, it's precisely stuff like this that promotes unjust hatred of the Beatles.)

    - 10:02 am, June 17 (link)


    "Now more than ever": Lorne Gunter catches the Liberals acknowledging their true heritage at long last. -8:31 am, June 17
    "...the most revolting piece of junk science I have ever seen in a Canadian newspaper." In Friday's National Post, I name the guilty parties in a literally incredible act of irresponsible, over-the-top fearmongering. Pick it up and flip to "Issues & Ideas" to find out the sordid details.

    - 8:23 am, June 17 (link)


    All Angus, all the time: Joey deV. spots the hidden link between Back in Black and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. -8:30 pm, June 16
    WARNING: Item contains Star Wars spoiler

    The very interesting garment at left is available for US$950 on eBay. If $950 seems like it's a little steep for a dress, that's probably because you lack the necessary context: it's actually a good-quality tailor-made copy of a dress worn by Natalie Portman in Revenge of the Sith.

    And, in fact, it's not just any old dress--it's the pre-Raphaelite frock the Senator/Queen/First-Lady-of-the-Sith wears in her open casket during the funeral cortège sequence.

    Creeped out yet? I've been sitting here in the still summer heat for many long minutes, trying to imagine who would pay 9½ logs for this dress in particular.

    Category One: young women who expect to be dead quite soon, and who desire to be interred in Star Wars memorabilia.

    Category Two: men who, for some reason, want someone else to pretend to be the corpse of Natalie Portman.

    I don't know which concept troubles me more, but I'm sure hoping I can come up with a Category Three by the end of the day...

    - 2:25 pm, June 16 (link)


    Alberta bound

    Wednesday's Washington Post featured a timely primer on Alberta's tar sands and a portrait of their capital, Fort McMurray. Closer to home, Steve Maich of Maclean's has a good column on the (long-term?) political consequences. (Though it does bother me when someone skates over Albertans' reaction to the National Energy Program with a word like "resentment". Yeah, we "resented" seeing our chief industry deliberately driven out of the country. We're an awfully sensitive bunch.)

    If you're one of those who has no hope of deriving personal benefit from $55 oil--remember, it's good for Mother Earth!--you may be comforted by Chinese economist Andy Xie's contention that (a) there is actually an oil bubble and (b) it is about to pop.

    - 12:14 pm, June 16 (link)


    Time for a roundup of recent National Post columns. Here's the featurette from Saturday, June 4 about Nazi nukes.

    In December, 1944, the Office of Strategic Services -- the wartime precursor to the CIA -- sent a spy to Switzerland to hear a lecture by the most distinguished physicist in Nazi Germany, Werner Heisenberg. The spy was Moe Berg, a longtime catcher in baseball's major leagues who just happened to possess the education, language skills and raw nerve to pass as a technically accomplished European innocent. Berg's instructions were to figure out whether Heisenberg had the know-how to oversee the construction of an atomic weapon. If Berg's conclusion was a "yes", he had instructions to kill Heisenberg on the spot.

    In the end, Berg spent some time with the physicist and decided not to pull the trigger. Ever since that strange visit, the idea of Adolf Hitler armed with atomic weapons has been confined largely to speculative fiction and nightmares.

    But this spring, a rogue historian revived that terrible image. Rainer Karlsch, an author from Berlin, is not just convinced that the Nazis were close to The Bomb: he actually thinks they tested three atomic weapons in 1944 and 1945. He made his controversial case in a book, Hitlers Bombe, published in March. And on June 1 he published an intriguing piece of evidence from Russian archives, uncovered after the deadline for his book had passed. It is a diagram, apparently produced in postwar debriefings, depicting a hypothetical Nazi fission weapon that would have incorporated plutonium.

    Our picture of the Nazi regime's understanding of atomic weapons has not changed much since Heisenberg and other captured German physicists were rounded up in Britain, allowed to mingle freely, and bugged to see how they would react to the news of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their initial confusion showed that they had not perceived the full possibilities of mass-energy equivalence. But Karlsch thinks that a team of physicists working under Heisenberg's rival, Kurt Diebner, may have implemented an inefficient, low-yield design resembling today's "tactical" battlefield nukes.

    There is general agreement that Karlsch, in mining unexamined Soviet and East German archives for nuggets of new information, has vastly overplayed his hand. He has shown that the head of Nazi weapons research, Erich Schumann, was musing about fission and spitballing possibilities for an A-bomb during the war. But while Schumann said that his thoughts never amounted to anything practical, Karlsch speculates -- using evidence turned up in the files of the East German secret police -- that Schumann's work was passed to Diebner and implemented under SS supervision (without Heisenberg's knowledge).

    Karlsch also introduces some weird late-war eyewitness reports of weapons tests, proposing that the Germans were actually detonating atomic devices on the Baltic island of Rugen and in the eastern province of Thuringia. One prisoner writes of seeing "a great flash -- fire, many instantly killed, [blasted] away from the earth, simply no longer there -- many with severe burns, blinded." A Thuringian resident, Clare Werner, wrote of seeing something "as bright as hundreds of bolts of lightning, red on the inside and yellow on the outside, so bright you could've read the newspaper." A "powerful wind" passed over, and she later suffered "nosebleeds and headaches." The next day a local excavator was asked to help the SS cremate hundreds of scalded corpses, and reported similar symptoms.

    Such accounts make one's hair stand on end. But it is hard to know what to make of them. Clare Werner's testimony and symptoms, for instance, are consistent only with a high-yield, Manhattan Project-style nuke. German officials have tested the sites identified by Karlsch, and have found no positive evidence of nuclear testing. Karlsch, lacking documentary evidence for Schumann's model, basically had to invent one, and there is disagreement on whether it would really work.

    As for the new diagram of a plutonium-based weapon, its lack of visible provenance is troubling. It appears in a short unsigned account of German wartime atomic research, and Karlsch has separately established from patent documents filed as early as 1941 that German physicists were interested in "element 94." But the word "plutonium" appears in the new diagram, so it must have been made after that term had ceased to be an American state secret. It may not be news that some German physicist was able to doodle a superweapon after Robert Oppenheimer and friends had done the heavy lifting.

    In his June 1 article for Physics World (written with American historian Mark Walker), Karlsch admits that much remains unclear. "What is important," he says, "is the revelation that a small group of scientists working in the last desperate months of the war were trying to [make atomic weapons practical]." But there is another point here, too. Karlsch's work is a reminder that the Nazi state -- despite driving Jewish physicists out of the country and conducting a general bonfire of intellectuals -- still had brainpower to devote to atomic research at a hitherto unsuspected level of intensity, as well as to the other more familiar "revenge weapons" of the war's ebb.

    People have never stopped bickering about the morality of Allied co-operation with the Soviet Union against Hitler; last month, when U.S. President Bush made a speech regretting the outcome of the 1945 Yalta Conference, the old arguments were trotted out again in the press for the thousandth time. One would have to be a dyed-in-the-wool ignoramus not to regret that Eastern Europe's interests weren't represented more credibly against Stalin. But Nazi Germany's technical capabilities are relevant to the deep question of how strongly our leaders ought to have thrown in with Soviet Russia.

    Before the war, Germany was the worldwide heart of the hard sciences and engineering. And well into the war, it was producing better, more advanced equipment than the Allies on many fronts: better tanks, better optics, functioning long-range rocketry, experimental jet engines. (The Canadians in Europe never ceased to envy Fritz's adaptable, deadly 88-mm guns, to regret the superior standards of German tank manufacture, or to confiscate elegant Luger and Walther sidearms whenever possible.) So we have to step carefully before judging Churchill and Roosevelt's deference to a dependent Communist enemy that was far less capable in industry and research. Some are tempted to think that the Allies should have backed off, letting the German and Soviet monsters bloody one another. But what if we had backed off long enough for Rainer Karlsch's faded diagram to become an awful reality?

    You can read Karlsch and Walker's Physics World article introducing--and, as far as possible, explaining--the mysterious nuclear diagram.

    My June 9 column about the Chaoulli case was superseded by events almost the second it hit the streets. But it may serve as an interesting historical curiosity in its own right, and it reminds us that an unsustainable pressure was placed on single-payer medicare as soon as the principle of judicial revision was conceded in the first place.

    Right about the time you're reading this, the Supreme Court will be issuing its ruling on the joint complaint of Jacques Chaoulli, physician, and Georges Zeliotis, patient, against the governments of Quebec and Canada.

    The Chaoulli decision is the most eagerly awaited piece of jurisprudence in the court's hands, and the justices have taken an awfully long time with it: It will come out exactly one year and one day after oral arguments. That long wait has compounded the tension that always exists when the inscrutable court tries to balance individual and collective rights. I am willing to bet that the court will agree with Quebec's lesser tribunals in rejecting the pair's attack on monopoly medicare. But I wouldn't be willing to bet an arm and a leg on it. Or even a hip.

    Win or lose, Chaoulli and Zeliotis have altered Canada's endless debate over medicare for good. In arguing for their right to make a doctor-patient arrangement outside Quebec's medicare system, and their right to have a private insurer join in the arrangement, the pair is turning the premises of medicare against medicare itself.

    They say that when an ill person is stranded on a long waiting list, with no alternative access to care short of fleeing the country, his rights to life and security of the person have been violated. Isn't this precisely the same argument we've heard medicare supporters make in situations where health budgets have been reined in, or hospitals closed? After 10 years of hearing socialists accuse cost-conscious health planners of mass murder, one can hardly balk at Chaoulli and Zeliotis's relatively restrained plea.

    Medicare, we have been told a zillion times, is a social contract between the government and the people. The Romanow Report, for instance, uses the term explicitly -- and proposes that the terms of the "contract" should be toughened to set specific quality and timeliness targets. In the end, however, Roy Romanow pulled back from the metaphor: The targets, his report says, should "reflect the consensus of Canadians as affirmed by their governments, not ... the establishment of new rights that would be subject to legal interpretation and ultimately decided by the courts rather than by Canadians themselves."

    Clearly Mr. Romanow saw, and was concerned about, the dangers of Chaoulli-type litigation. But his hedging turns the "contract" concept into nonsense. If only one party can enforce a contract, it isn't a contract. All Chaoulli and Zeliotis have done was to take the claims of the medicare state seriously, and to test them.

    As economist Stanley Hartt and constitutional expert Patrick Monahan wrote in a 2002 C.D. Howe commentary on the case, "Governments cannot tell Canadians that they are required to obtain medically necessary services exclusively through the public health care system and then deny them access to those services on a timely basis when they are ill." The Supreme Court has already conceded, many times over, that the policy decisions of provincial health-care plans are subject to Charter review. So even if Chaoulli and Zeliotis lose on the facts, it is unlikely that they will be the last to essay a challenge of this sort. This raises a discouraging prospect of litigation for provinces that don't have enforceable, justiciable benchmarks for health-care quality and access -- and the last time I looked, that was all 10.

    Judicial independence already guarantees that Romanow's requirement of non-justiciability is a non-starter. But even if they had teeth, "patient's bill of rights" might be a cure worse than the disease: Ironclad standards of care would make lawsuits easier when the benchmarks were missed, they would make the benchmarks themselves a potential subject of legal action, and, if they were the least bit imperfect, they would create unhealthy distortions in medicare budgeting. Anyway, it is not as though anyone can assert, by means of some magic utilitarian calculus, what a universally "acceptable" wait time for knee or heart surgery might be.

    All this to say, the logic of medicare itself leads one to Chaoulli's position: that providers and patients must be permitted to go outside the system. I suspect the provinces see the writing on the wall. Already, they rely on American private health care as a relief valve: Quebec sends patients to New England when medicare backlogs become egregious, and Ontario shuffles them off to Buffalo. They do this because health ministers know they can be sued for making patients wait (not to mention voted out of office). That southward flow of tax money will only get worse -- unless we relent, and let Canadian doctors capture some of it in Canada.

    All in all, that seems like the simplest, most humane solution. In its original conception, medicare was meant to be a safety net, not a cage. We've watched it become steadily more authoritarian and inflexible over the years. The Chaoulli case might be its breaking point.

    N.B.: this column has the distinction of being a recent co-winner of Norman Spector's "Idiocy of the Day" award.

    - 2:51 am, June 16 (link)


    Death to the institutional voice! Death to the unsigned editorial! Smart Slate liberal Timothy Noah takes the first step towards the deep philosophy of the sacred byline. -6:49 pm, June 15
    Playing chicken with history

    About six months ago I started to get a truly brutal hankering for a digital SLR--a camera that can take a nice light-gulping pro-grade lens. The shots I was getting with my digital happy-snap and trying to scrub the noise from were making me yearn for the good old days of my youth, when everything was done with moving parts and you could choose a forgiving aperture setting or even swap lenses. I learned pretty quickly, though, that even used first-generation digital SLRs like the original Rebel were still squatting outside my price range and mocking me. The Times now brings welcome news that the body of the new Nikon D50 will sell for US$750--still way outside my price range, but certainly enough to drive down the prices on the first- and second-gen equipment.

    I still find it unbearably frustrating to play at this game we call Waiting Out Moore's Law (and the analogous power-laws for memory storage, et cetera). Were there instances of this in 1920, do you suppose?--would people see fancy appliances selling for $350 in the Sears catalogue and think to themselves "Well, it'll be $200 used next year--would be nice to have it now, but might as well wait out Ford's Law"?

    - 6:24 pm, June 15 (link)


    (Stephen) Harper's Index?

    MRI units per million residents for various OECD countries, 2003:

    Japan		35.3
    Iceland		17.3
    Switzerland	14.2
    Austria		13.5
    Finland		12.8
    Italy		11.6
    Luxembourg	11.1
    Denmark		9.1
    South Korea	9
    USA		8.6
    Sweden		7.9
    Spain		7.3
    Belgium		6.6
    Germany		6
    UK		5.2
    CANADA		4.5
    Portugal	3.9
    Australia	3.7
    New Zealand	3.7
    Turkey		3
    France		2.8
    Hungary		2.6
    Czech Rep.	2.4
    Greece		2.3
    Slovakia	2
    Poland		1
    Mexico		0.2
    

    These are brand-new figures from the OECD, via the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The overall OECD average is 7.6 MRIs per million.

    - 2:50 am, June 15 (link)


    The Ambler remembers Scott Young as more than Neil's father, and gives away the best money-making idea I've heard all year... -1:07 am, June 15
    Australian jihad: Sound man Eric Florack weighs in on the great AC/DC debate. -1:01 am, June 15
    Speed kills

    The Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team's remarkable Baitcar.com website is intended to promote a serious message about auto theft (it's bad!). It is not--despite the editors' obvious glee at the stupidity of teenage auto thieves--designed to be humorous. So it would probably be bad if you started laughing when the crank-fueled star of "Oncoming"--in between trying to fire a handgun and speeding through red lights at 140+ km/h--turns on the CD player and listens to a few bars of the Barenaked Ladies' "If I Had a Million Dollars".

    Of course, if you did laugh, you'd probably still get depressed at the end when you found out that Mr. Oncoming--who wrecked four cars and endangered dozens of lives during his armed, high-speed, drug-impaired escape--was sentenced to all of four years in prison. Bienvenue à Canada! (Note also that the cops themselves sneer at the idea that auto theft might be a mere "property crime"; heaven forbid they should break a sweat over such trivialities.)

    - 4:00 pm, June 14 (link)


    A thousand revolutions per minute

    Yesterday, Pierre Bourque reported that Nicky Eaton, the retail-wreckage heiress, had held a top-secret confab to organize support for a Conservative leadership coup by Jim Flaherty. The Globe followed up the allegation and got unusually powerful, flat denials from Flaherty himself, and from Tony Clement, who was supposed to have attended. In the Globe, all of this is buried behind a few hundred words of unsourced grumbling from party "organizers" and the headline "Tory insiders upset with party leadership." The Globe take appears to be that the existence of the rumours themselves is the news here, and not that the rumours are--as Gloria Galloway discovered when she checked--entirely invented (though not necessarily by Bourque).

    Let this be a lesson to all you aspiring newspaper editors out there: there's absolutely nothing stopping you from using a reporter's finding of A as supporting evidence for not-A. It's merely a matter of emphasis!

    - 3:36 pm, June 14 (link)


    A list...

    ...of ten women who are older right now than Anne Bancroft was when The Graduate premiered in New York (December 21, 1967):

    Jennifer Aniston
    Christy Turlington
    Debra Messing
    Catherine Bell
    Lucy Liu
    Olivia Williams
    Jill Hennessy
    Parker Posey
    Naomi Watts
    Chastity Bono

    - 4:32 pm, June 12 (link)


    Mad cow USA

    Canadian cattlemen are watching with dread and hope this morning as the Americans do follow-up tests on a possible BSE case confirmed Friday.

    Officials from the Agriculture Department said Saturday that a series of tests would be carried out on the cow's brain tissue at a department laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and at an internationally known facility in Weybridge, Britain, to determine if the animal is infected with mad cow disease, clinically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The tests could take up to two weeks, Reuters reported a department spokesman saying.

    So far, the department has revealed few details about the origin of the cow. A spokesman said Friday that the animal was first tested in November, and that initial results were inconclusive. Another test was applied, and results were negative.

    The New York Times reports flatly that "Confirmation that the animal had mad cow would make it more difficult for [U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike] Johanns to reopen the border to live cattle from Canada, which he has said is a top priority."

    The United States closed the border after mad cow disease was discovered in a Canadian cow in May 2003. Two additional cases were confirmed in Canada last year. Mr. Johanns tried to reopen the border in March to cattle younger than 30 months old. But Mr. Bullard's group won an injunction from Judge Richard F. Cebull of Federal District Court to keep it closed. A hearing on the injunction is scheduled for July 13 in federal appeals court in San Francisco, and a July 27 trial is set for Judge Cebull's courtroom in Billings, Mont.

    But it's not nearly as simple as reporter Alexei Barrionuevo makes it out to be. A mad cow of purely American origins would, in the eyes of any reasonable analyst, make it easier to open the border. According to the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the USDA specifically said on Friday that "there was no indication [the new cow] had been imported." As an Alberta Beef Producers spokesman says in Sunday morning's Calgary Herald, "A positive test might encourage a resumption of [U.S.-Canada] live cattle trade, since the two countries would have the same disease status." Overseas markets are already treating Canada and the U.S. as a single market, and those markets were closed to American cattle when an Alberta-born cow in the U.S. was discovered to have BSE in January.

    As the Times says, the USDA has been satisfied with new Canadian testing requirements, and was preparing to open the border when the exported Alberta cow was caught in January. An American ranching group called R-CALF succeeded in obtaining a bogus injunction against the USDA move at that time. In truth, the case discovered in January was actually good news, because--like other recently discovered cases--the cow had eaten material milled and purchased before the existence of new regulations banning the incorporation of animal proteins into cattle feed. Both countries' scientific agencies believe and admit that more cattle with BSE, in small numbers, can be expected to be found on both sides of the border. But as long as all the positives are associated with old feed, or were themselves born before the new regulations, the positives merely confirm that the regulations, combined with more intensive testing of downed animals, are probably working.

    Unfortunately, it is hard to get a judge to understand this (mad cows are good news? Durrr?), and the border remains closed--a measure that confines American border-state processing capacity to American cattle, but does nothing to persuade BSE-free countries to admit those cattle. R-CALF is merely playing dog-in-the-manger, and taking advantage of a judge's scientific illiteracy, to keep the upper hand on American meat packers and consumers. Even though both countries are essentially in the same boat, R-CALF's delay tactics--which are predicated on the supposed possibility of damage to the U.S. beef industry--are actually persuading marginal Canadian producers to sell out and kill healthy cattle.

    It's small wonder that, as the Herald reports today, "some Alberta cattlemen [expressed] little sympathy for the U.S. yesterday." Most Canadians realize, though, that the USDA has been taking free trade seriously--if a bit tardily--and that it would be bad for both countries if mad cow in the U.S. herd became a cause célèbre amongst American environmentalists, vegetarians, and food-fear specialists. To date, North American beef has never caused a single confirmed case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (the brain disorder that can be caused by eating BSE-infected beef). And that's a statement we can make with high confidence, because scientists have found North American CJD cases that were traceable to the British outbreak of the late '90s.

    - 3:23 am, June 12 (link)


    A study in contrasts

    My entry on AC/DC created a fascinating collision in my Inbox. Some of you may have already read the rejoinder on Billy Beck's website.

    I have to wonder whether it's a generational thing that causes Colby Cosh to say "Angus is the most electric of electric guitarists" I find it right to say that Angus Young was, by the early '80s, holding a standard in decline. I can credit him for that... [but] maybe one had to be there when Buck Dharma & Co. threw down "Cities on Flame (With Rock And Roll)" (1971), like I was. ...God bless [AC/DC] for everything they've earned. They never made one dime off of me.

    Bill followed up with a private e-mail asking whether I play the guitar; he is right in thinking I don't, though I do share his abiding love of Blue Oyster Cult. Secret Treaties is one of my half-dozen desert-island discs, and I'm sure I'd suffer serious cravings for Agents of Fortune. And there is certainly a generational difference between someone who was born in 1971 and someone who was listening to the radio that year. Back in Black arrived as a hammerblow in a world where punk had come apart--a world dominated by synth noodling, skinny ties, and the last gasps of disco. The early BOC records may have produced a similar effect in the post-Beatles universe, especially considering the marvelous scratch-built literary mythos that pervades the records. ("Screw Frodo Baggins: we'll write about the Illuminati, WW2 fighter pilots, and college kids buying drugs in Mexico.")

    That said, 21 million people have bought Back in Black, and they're still buying it. Most of these buyers couldn't tell you, given BIB and Tyranny and Mutation, which one was recorded first. So clearly there's something else going on. Billy flirts dangerously with a standard of musical judgment that privileges the player over the intelligent non-playing listener, and ultimately I can't endorse that. Even if I did, it so happens that his e-mail was preceded slightly by one from my old friend Jason Medwid, who has been playing guitar for--what?--about thirty years? Long enough for him to have a vote, anyway, even if I don't get one.

    Read your blog entry on AC/DC. There is a chick-flick part on Back In Black--"You Shook Me All Night Long". It's their "Closer To The Heart"--the band's one song the girls like. DJs at junior high dances would always take a request for AC/DC to mean "You Shook Me All Night Long". I would clearly write "If You Want Blood, You've Got It" on that frickin' piece of paper, "You Shook Me" would come on, the girls would hoot and I'd fume...

    You're dead right about Angus being the most electric of electric guitarists. I even remembering reading Brian Johnson being exasperated at people slagging Angus as a guitarist saying that he couldn't do what he did on an acoustic guitar. But not even a word for Malcolm? ...They're a "twin-guitar attack" where you can actually tell whose part is whose. Imagine doing that with Tipton/Downing or Hetfield/Hammett (ignoring the solos, of course). I realized only in the last few years what a big influence he was on how I play guitar.

    I think the meme about AC/DC doing the same album over and over is true--but of the Brian Johnson era, not the Bon Scott era. The Bon Scott albums are far more individual and the songs more interesting. After Back in Black, they haven't done songs approaching Scott songs like "Problem Child", "Rock'n'Roll Damnation", "Riff Raff", "Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be", "Down Payment Blues", etc., etc. And I think If You Want Blood, You've Got It is the great unsung '70s live album. It's one of my favorite albums by anyone and it's definitely the one to give someone who wants to know "what's so great about AC/DC".

    I got into AC/DC with Back In Black. The weird thing is that the album was so huge, Atlantic decided to issue the Australian album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, which was 4 years old by that time, in North America. I'm pretty sure it went platinum too. Can you think of any other instances like this? What's even stranger is that, even now, there are STILL Australian AC/DC albums that have never been issued here. (The first North American album, High Voltage, is a collection of songs taken from these albums).

    So, not to sound like a "Yes sucked ever since Steve Howe joined" guy, but the Brian Johnson stuff is pretty dispensible, I think. I'll take Powerage or Let There Be Rock over any Johnson album, including Back In Black.

    On a related note, Australian entertainment-industry magazine BRW recently rated the top-earning Aussie entertainers for 2004. AC/DC--largely idle in '04--came in fourth, behind Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and chart-toppers The Wiggles.

    Did he say "the Wiggles"? Yeah, the Wiggles.

    [UPDATE, June 15: Eric Florack responds.]

    - 9:24 pm, June 11 (link)


    All in the family

    Aaron Haspel has paused, mercifully, in his Rodia-esque attempt to construct a unified theory of ethics grounded in physics. I'm rather enjoying the "alpha" stuff, and the most recent bit resides in the relatively familiar terrain of information theory. Haspel is struggling mightily to keep the whole project comprehensible, and so far it's mostly been within my range of maths--to wit,

    once you start in with the sigma,
    the whole thing becomes an enigma.

    But I'm more interested in what Aaron has to say about the late Anne Bancroft:

    She triumphed as Annie Sullivan and equally, in a completely different way, as Mrs. Robinson, in a dated and overrated movie that lives only when she is on screen (excepting Buck Henry's nifty turn as the hotel desk clerk). She also managed to stay married to Mel Brooks for forty years and keep her mouth shut in public. A working definition of adulthood is the day you watch The Graduate and not only find Anne Bancroft more alluring than Katharine Ross but wonder how you could have ever thought otherwise.

    A clever little obiter dictum, that. It might be a bit hard on Katharine Ross, one of those brittle, floral '60s "natural beauties" whose charms would seem somewhat empty in retrospect anyway. (Lord, what a pain in the ass she was in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.) The fact is, Miss Robinson only had eight years' advantage on "Mom", and when you're Italian you can certainly afford to give away a touchdown and a two-point convert to a WASP. The greatness of Bancroft's performance is that, at 35, she managed to heat up the screen and be convincing as a disappointed 42-year-old lurching out of control.

    There can't be many of these performances, can there? Mrs. Robinson is a role that permanently defines a human type: you can never again go to a barroom full of Chanel-slathered cougars without that Simon & Garfunkel tune jittering through your skull. I can only think of a handful of other bits of acting that come close--Mrs. Robinson is right in there with Alfie, Fredo, and Tracy Flick, and might be the greatest of the bunch.

    - 9:22 pm, June 11 (link)


    We salute you

    From the Billboard Radio Monitor, we learn that AC/DC's "Back in Black" has been certified henicosatuple platinum.

    [AC/DC's] Back in Black is now tied on the all-time list with Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & II, which reached 21 million in 2000. The leader of the list remains Eagles/Their Greatest Hits (Asylum), last certified in 2002 at 28 million. In second is Michael Jackson's Thriller (Epic), which reached 27 million in an April RIAA accounting, followed by Pink Floyd's The Wall (23 million/1999; Capitol) and Led Zeppelin IV (22 million/1999; Atlantic).

    Back in Black doesn't sit very comfortably beside Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. But it permits us to observe that between Angus Young and Billy Joel, it's Billy who ended up as a corpulent half-sane burnout.

    The other records in the top six have all received extravagant encomiums over the years, and it cannot be denied that they have entered a realm beyond criticism. We'd all like to line the Eagles up against the wall and shoot them, I suppose, but we've probably all had a guilty moment of quiet rapture on the interstate when we'd had too little sleep and "Take It Easy" came on the radio. It's time to recognize that Back in Black has transcended its genre and time. Metal's niche in the pantheon is occupied.

    In some ways AC/DC is a strange choice for this mission. Compared to the hard-rock acts that preceded and followed, they are impossibly limited. Hell, they're limited compared to pretty much anything; For Those About to Rock, the follow-up to Back in Black, is unchallengeable as the most embarrassing act of self-imitation in the history of art. AC/DC are incapable--consciously incapable--of grandeur, rudimentary cleverness, or fine feeling.

    The other day I was at a bar when Zep's "Going to California" came on the jukebox. The women at the table lapsed into vaguely post-eructive grins, and I discovered something new about Zoso's genius: it has chick-flick parts. All the other records in the top six do, in spades. No AC/DC record has chick-flick parts. A band that produces artifacts like "Given the Dog a Bone" should probably be getting two platinum awards for every million units moved.

    So what is the secret to Back in Black's success through five or six generations of spotty-faced headbangers? For every woman turned off by all the screaming and kerranging, there's another male fan won over by the record's sheer end-to-end relentlessness. It's the Platonic form of heavy metal--animist guitar-worship, unmoored from '70s irony, Tolkienish tom-bombadillo-foolery, phony artistic aspirations, and contempt for the audience. It's no coincidence that AC/DC's star began to rise right around the time the members of Kiss released four solo albums simultaneously. The name of one fanzine says it all: "No Nonsense".

    From the earliest days of guitar distortion, hard-rock convention had insisted on dynamic and sonic variation over the course of an LP. Even slabs of thunder and magma like Black Sabbath's Sabotage take the odd acoustic breather. But AC/DC had not outlasted punk without learning a few lessons (particularly from the Ramones). And when Bon Scott died, they didn't emerge from the studio with the rough edges rubbed off. They'd been sharpened. The band plunged the flagstaff deep into clay of the fresh grave, somehow located the only man alive with an even more ravaged and raw singing voice than Scott's, and got even louder.

    Angus Young's signature guitar sound--recognizable instantly on any record made over a quarter of a century--confirms the maxim that the medium is the message. Not for nothing is the group called AC/DC (and addicted to puns about "high voltage"): Angus is the most electric of electric guitarists. But the real credit for Back in Black's phenomenal, permanent commercial success should probably go to producer Mutt Lange. Comparing any other hard-rock record of the era to BIB is like comparing Tang to fresh-squeezed O.J. And I say this as someone who, on the whole, would prefer a glass of Tang. Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest were all producing superior music at around this time, but on a purely engineering level it all sounds slightly clotted and uncertain next to Back in Black.

    [UPDATE, June 11: The experts weigh in.]

    - 10:07 pm, June 9 (link)


    I'm on the front page of this morning's National Post with a prospectus of the Supreme Court's Chaoulli decision. Awkwardly, my whole argument was that the lawsuit itself would be a turning point in the history of medicare, even if Chaoulli and Zeliotis lost. The Court has already cast its lot with the view that health policy is judicially reviewable on Charter grounds--and on those grounds, Chaoulli's arguments were indisputable in principle.

    Medicare, we have been told a zillion times, is a social contract between the government and the people. The Romanow Report, for instance, uses the term explicitly--and proposes that the terms of the "contract" should be toughened to set specific quality and timeliness targets. In the end, however, Roy Romanow pulled back from the metaphor: the targets, his report says, should "reflect the consensus of Canadians as affirmed by their governments, not... the establishment of new rights that would be subject to legal interpretation and ultimately decided by the courts rather than by Canadians themselves."

    Clearly Mr. Romanow saw, and was concerned about, the dangers of Chaoulli-type litigation. But his hedging turns the "contract" concept into nonsense. If only one party can enforce a contract, it isn't a contract. All Chaoulli and Zeliotis have done was to take the claims of the medicare state seriously, and to test them.

    As economist Stanley Hartt and constitutional expert Patrick Monahan wrote in a 2002 C.D. Howe commentary on the case, "Governments cannot tell Canadians that they are required to obtain medically necessary services exclusively through the public health care system and then deny them access to those services on a timely basis when they are ill."

    Astonishingly, the Supreme Court found in the plaintiffs' favour this morning,
    opening the door for the immediate abandonment of the myth of "single-tier" medicine in Canada. Perhaps I shouldn't call attention to this, but the two justices with Alberta ties, McLachlin and Major, combined with Bastarache and Deschamps to win a showdown on a temporarily shorthanded seven-man bench. Deschamps weighed in solo [decision text]:

    The evidence shows that, in the case of certain surgical procedures, the delays that are the necessary result of waiting lists increase the patientís risk of mortality or the risk that his or her injuries will become irreparable. The evidence also shows that many patients on non-urgent waiting lists are in pain and cannot fully enjoy any real quality of life. The right to life and to personal inviolability is therefore affected by the waiting times...

    Preservation of the public plan is a pressing and substantial objective, but there is no proportionality between the measure adopted to attain the objective and the objective itself. While an absolute prohibition on private insurance does have a rational connection with the objective of preserving the public plan, the Attorney General of Quebec has not demonstrated that this measure meets the minimal impairment test. It cannot be concluded from the evidence concerning the Quebec plan or the plans of the other provinces of Canada, or from the evolution of the systems of various OECD countries, that an absolute prohibition on private insurance is necessary to protect the integrity of the public plan. There are a wide range of measures that are less drastic and also less intrusive in relation to the protected rights.

    Deschamps, finding that the waiting lists violated the Quebec Charter of Rights, did not bother proceeding to an analysis under the federal charter. The other three justices in the majority did so, and found that the security-of-the-person provisions in s.7 of the Charter were also violated.

    In order not to be arbitrary, a limit on life, liberty or security of the person requires not only a theoretical connection between the limit and the legislative goal, but a real connection on the facts. The task of the courts, on s. 7 issues as on others, is to evaluate the issue in the light, not just of common sense or theory, but of the evidence. Here, the evidence on the experience of other western democracies with public health care systems that permit access to private health care refutes the governmentís theory that a prohibition on private health insurance is connected to maintaining quality public health care. It does not appear that private participation leads to the eventual demise of public health care.

    It goes without saying that this is the most earth-shattering moment in Canadian jurisprudence since the Morgentaler ruling of January 28, 1988. The self-appointed custodians of single-tier care are all but panicking in the streets like wounded elephants. Reader G.F. calls to my attention this instant classic from the Canadian Federation of Nurses' Unions:

    "The ruling of the Supreme Court today should not encourage those who hope that adding private insurance will fix health care in Canada," said the president of Canadaís largest organization of nurses, Linda Silas, RN. The Court ruled that "the prohibition on obtaining private health insurance is not constitutional where the public system fails to deliver reasonable services." "The Courtís ruling applies to Quebec, but it has implications for Canada. Those who would profit from sickness, discomfort and disease will move now to create private for-profit facilities."

    Asks our correspondent, "What business does she think she's in again?"

    The Globe and Mail's Terry Weber indulges in a little whistling past the graveyard with his breaking piece on the decision. He writes that "the country's highest court said the Quebec prohibition contravenes Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms" but that "[the] panel was... split 3-3 on whether that prohibition violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, suggesting that the broader implications of the ruling for Canada may be more muted at least in the immediate future." But the individual right of "inviolability" in the Quebec Charter is practically, if not formally, identical to the "security of the person" right in the federal one. If anything, the latter would seem to include the former. There can't be any serious doubt about what Deschamps would have said if she had been obliged to either adopt or reject McLachlin, Major, and Bastarache's federal-Charter analysis. There's no warrant that I can see for using this technicality to downplay the impact of the ruling; any total provincial ban on private insurance provision for publicly insured services must now fall to the slightest puff of air from a litigant.

    [UPDATE, 4:38 pm: It occurs to me that some of you who didn't follow the case while it was still sub judice may not know that Dr. Chaoulli argued this case personally before the Supreme Court. It's got to be one of the greatest David-v.-Goliath stories in the annals of Commonwealth law: with help from a few lawyers and private clinics, he took on and beat five attorneys-general, ten senators, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the complete Choir Invisible of received opinion. This New York Times piece from a fortnight ago has a chuckle at the doc's expense, pointing out that he "flunk[ed] out of a Montreal law school a few years ago, after he incessantly challenged professors in the classroom and in exams with his novel legal interpretations." Who's laughing now, bitches?]

    - 1:57 pm, June 9 (link)


    A symmetry that summarizes post-liberal post-democracy about as well as anything I could make up

    The government of British Columbia is taking tobacco companies to court to recoup the health-care costs they supposedly "impose" on the treasury.

    Meanwhile, the downtown streets of B.C.'s greatest city are streaming with human feces and urine whose stench cannot be escaped.

    - 12:45 am, June 9 (link)


    It's only a northern song

    Wacko Jacko bought the bulk of the Beatles publishing catalogue in 1985 for $48 million. According to Reuters, that asset is now worth $500 million. But the wire story fails to answer the question you're probably asking. By my reckoning, those numbers represent a 9.2% real annual return on investment. The figures may be higher: Jackson added more songs to the ATV catalogue before the merger with Sony, at his own expense, but also took $110M-plus in cash as part of the deal.

    [UPDATE, 12:59 pm: Reader Mark Doncov notes that my ROI calculation overlooks something obvious: the publishing income Jackson has been receiving all along from his music holdings. Everybody face towards Edmonton and say "Duh."]

    In other words, you should be as crazy as this guy. Many of the great pop/rock artists of the '60s got screwed out of massive fortunes because they failed to realize that their songs were their bread and butter. Jackson practically seems to have been born knowing this. (The $500 million figure doesn't count the value of his own songs, incidentally.) People laughed at the way he took cash on the barrel for his deal with Sony and spent it building 50-foot statues of himself in a number of European cities. Fair enough: but how many intellectual-property owners did Jackson pull the same trick on when he was buying up the heritage of postwar pop?

    The Lennon-McCartney numbers are estimated to represent two-thirds of the value of Jackson's music holdings. But there's a whole lot there beyond the Beatles gold. Here's a fun list of 25 other hits Michael Jackson owns half of, along with the artist most closely associated.

    "'65 Love Affair", Paul Davis
    "Alone Again, Naturally", Gilbert O'Sullivan
    "Bad Case of Lovin' You", Robert Palmer
    "Blue Bayou", Roy Orbison or Linda Ronstadt depending on your age
    "Burning Love", Elvis Presley
    "Clones (We're All)", Alice Cooper
    "Crazy", Patsy Cline
    "(I Just) Died In Your Arms", Cutting Crew
    "Don't Fear the Reaper", Blue Oyster Cult
    "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It", Will Smith
    "Here Comes the Night", Them
    "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", Pat Benatar
    "Hush", Deep Purple
    "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", Hank Williams Sr.
    "Let It Ride", Bachman-Turner Overdrive
    "Long Tall Sally", Little Richard
    "Positively 4th Street", Bob Dylan
    "Radar Love", Golden Earring
    "Stop Your Sobbing", The Pretenders
    "Sometimes When We Touch", Dan Hill
    "Son of a Preacher Man", Dusty Springfield
    "Suspicious Minds", Elvis Presley (though for my money you can't top the Fine Young Cannibals cover)
    "Sweetest Taboo", Sade
    "Wonderwall", Oasis
    "You Really Got Me", The Kinks

    This is a mere sampling from the Sony-ATV website; at least ten more equally impressive lists could be compiled. Window-shop now before the fire sale starts.

    - 9:09 am, June 8 (link)


    Bagatelle

    The Washington Post has an interesting report on France's double-digit-or-thereabouts unemployment--a local lesion, so to speak, whose metastasis now threatens the whole European Union project. So everyone seems to agree, anyway: I would have thought the movement towards European integration, which has been going like Secretariat's faster brother for my entire life, was overdue for a breather. But there you have it--France sneezes, Europe catches a cold.

    Anne Dumas reveals that the French are studying an array of policy solutions to tackle the ol' chômage. They include intensified government support for basic research, large-scale government industrial programs, and better government advice and lending for small businesses. Hey, guys, let us know when you finally get desperate enough to trying getting the hell out of the way.

    I kid France, but I can understand the impulse behind the tinkering. Ms. Dumas brings up a salient statistic:

    According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), taxes here make up 48 percent of the cost to businesses of paying the average production worker. Among OECD nations, only Germany and Belgium impose higher payroll-related taxes. In the United States, taxes on the average production worker account for only 29 percent of labor costs. For a fraction of the amount paid to unemployed workers, who receive 54 percent of their previous pay for up to two years, the French government could provide incentives for employers by easing taxes on new hires.

    The interesting thing is that other countries are discouraging employment almost as vigorously--and failing at it. The OECD uses a thingy called the "tax wedge" to measure the cost of hiring an employee. The "wedge" is calculated by figuring out what the Average-Production Worker and his Mean Old Boss kick into the tax kitty, and then subtracting what the worker gets back in benefits for his trouble. France's tax wedge is large (47.4%, which roughly matches Dumas's figure), but not grotesquely so. Finland, Italy, and Belgium impose burdens of nearly equal size, and Sweden's are larger across the board according to the chart I found. But none of these countries has quite the same unemployment problem France does.

    The Italian and Belgian cases are illusions, I suspect: those countries will have merely forestalled social problems by running up horror-movie levels of public debt. But this isn't true of Finland and Sweden, which enjoy lower debt levels than France. And remember, benefits are subtracted from the tax wedge, so this isn't about the relative lavishness of France's social safety net for workers. As one of Dumas's sources proposes, it may be a plain matter of culture: the stigma Protestant countries attach to unemployment is unknown in France, and private enterprise is widely regarded there with inherent suspicion. This could perhaps be shrugged off if France didn't have to compete with new low-wage EU partners that possess fairly well-educated work forces, but... [insert Gallic shrug].

    - 1:00 am, June 8 (link)


    Memo to the Ambler: when Richard Hell says "I'm as nihilist as the next guy," it's not a "thought for the day," but an "understatement for the ages," innit? Who exactly is the "next guy" here--Dylan Klebold? Don't people draw Richard Hell to convey the concept "nihilist" when they play Pictionary? Isn't this like Paul Lynde describing himself as "somewhat camp"? -11:37 pm, June 7
    Planes, trains, and automobiles

    From today's Globe:

    Sources said that at the airport last Saturday, Mr. Grewal proceeded to the gate, which meant that he and his package were screened through security. He went to the first class lounge called the Maple Leaf lounge. Sources say [Gurmant Grewal] inquired there whether any politicians were on the Ottawa flight who could take his package to the nation's capital. Again, he was told this was a violation of security.

    Some time later, however, he left the lounge and the security area, and according to sources, he was muttering that he had needed someone to carry the package because he had missed a courier deadline. At least one security report, according to a source, says that he was able to "locate a male passenger who agreed to accept the material."

    Jumpin' jesus! Is it just me, or do we need to start showing Midnight Express in the schools?

    Grewal denies that the whole incident took place, and while the reporting here is unusually dependent on those nasty unidentified sources (bad! Bad!), I'm afraid I share Don Hauka's general opinion of Grewal's trustworthiness. I also regard taking "stress leave" in the middle of a public controversy one started oneself as ipso facto evidence of guilt. None of which changes the irrefutable significance of those famous tapes for a moment.

    - 6:16 pm, June 7 (link)


    The grass is always greener...

    Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything--and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.

    The good news for Americans is that these words were written by Clarence Thomas, who will be on the Supreme Court for many years to come. The bad news? They appear in a dissent to a disgustingly immoral majority decision. The Volokh Conspiracy and SCOTUSblog have churned out hecto-reams of brilliant analysis of the Raich ruling already. And Howard Bashman will be tracking the fallout.

    So, a related question: isn't there even one law professor in Canada with a little free time, a modicum of vanity, and a knowledge of Movable Type? Of course, the ability to communicate in plain English would be another requirement for doing Volokh-style analysis. I'm discouraged that no one here seems to think such a website would be a worthwhile enterprise; it is because our best legal minds don't think the public has any interest in significant decisions and emerging issues in the law, or because they don't think it's entitled to participate in the discussion?

    There are, I should add, some interesting narrow-focused Canadian law sites: check out RobHyndman.com, Gelsing.ca, or the labour-law blog of BLG partner Michael Fitzgibbon. And of course Michael Geist is out there fighting hard to preserve the public domain in intellectual property.

    - 1:12 am, June 7 (link)


    Blue diamond special: Here's my column from May 31's National Post. The subject-matter is American, but I dare say penis politics are of near-universal interest.

    Let's get the sniggering out of the way at once, shall we? Viagra is an awfully hard subject to think about clearly. (Go on, then -- get it out of your system. This column isn't particularly funny.)

    On May 23, the controller of New York state announced that 198 registered sex offenders in New York classified as "level three" risks had been receiving taxpayer-funded Viagra, or other erection-inducing drugs, under the federal Medicaid program. If you're wondering what "level three" means -- well, let's just say there is no level four. Officials in other states cross-checked sex-offender databases with Medicaid's files, and found that 800 of the worst U.S. sex criminals were receiving the little blue pill at the public expense. In some cases, the "patients" had reoffended after receiving the medication.

    The legislative machinery of the federal government and several states has thus been mobilized to prevent sex offenders from receiving erectile-dysfunction medicine, at least for free. A (much-ignored) Clinton administration policy requiring states to pay for Viagra under Medicaid may be done away with altogether. So far, there has been no echo of the debate in Canada. We have a national sex-offender registry, and there is probably no reason in principle that it could not be checked against the databases of provincial drug programs for low-income individuals. But one has the feeling that it would be considered churlish, in liberal Canada, to do this.

    After all, it might be natural to feel squeamish or outraged that sex offenders have been getting tax-subsidized Viagra -- but another possible response is to feel indignation that the heavy tread of politics might be felt in the domain of medicine. Already, this view has been expressed in the United States: in Monday's Chicago Tribune, sex therapist Laura Berman writes that while she doesn't "think every sex offender deserves Viagra," she does believe that "healthy sexual encounters are actually a key part of a sex offender's successful recovery," and that only a sex offender's doctor can be trusted to determine whether he is a good candidate for the drug.

    In this, I have no doubt that Dr. Berman speaks for the sexology industry. But she raises the question of whether prescribing tax-funded Viagra to a sex offender isn't perhaps a matter of medicine intruding on politics -- on basic questions of social order -- rather than the other way around. The idea that Viagra might enable or encourage rape will be dismissed by old-fashioned feminists who believe that sex crimes have nothing to do with sex. But this is itself a political belief, not a medical one -- and it's a crazy political belief, at that. Can any woman say honestly that she wouldn't care whether a potential rapist had just popped an invigorating dose of Cialis? (There are toxicologists, one might note, who suspect that aggression may be an occasional side-effect of erectile-dysfunction drugs.)

    Trusting doctors to equip sex offenders for sex means placing an awful lot of trust in those doctors; the political problem arguably goes much deeper than the removal or retention of a subsidy, and the debate may not stop there. For better or worse, registered offenders dwell in a state halfway between incarceration and freedom. Leaving the management of their sex lives entirely to physicians means subordinating the law to the view of the offender as patient, and it means accepting -- as a legal premise -- the view that the absence of penile erection is a condition precisely analogous to a broken leg or cirrhosis of the liver. In Norway in 2002, physicians working at a national maximum-security prison created a scandal when they were found to have given convicts Viagra for use inside the facility. The idea was to make conjugal visits go more smoothly -- but, alas, one offender took the drug shortly before raping his 12-year-old son in a visiting area.

    It was all the same to the Norwegian doctors, who insisted even after this horrifying disclosure that it is not a physician's place to ask what a broken organ will be used for once it is healed. This is a non-negotiable principle of medical ethics, and an important accomplishment of Western civilization. The question is whether Viagra and its analogues qualify as "healing." More and more of what physicians do, from chemical personality modification to anti-smoking jihads, seems to relate more to the perfectibility of the species and its social life than to treating illness. And the more doctors act like politicians, the more they'll be implicated in the unpleasant questions that arise -- and the less universal public trust they will enjoy.

    I think the Tribune column referenced above has vanished into the paper's paid archives, but here is another related piece.

    - 12:48 am, June 7 (link)


    Prairie fire

    There was a time when I felt pretty sure I knew of all the really high-quality English-language weblogs in the whole world. Give or take a few delusions of omniscience, that didn't last long. I used to have a pretty good grip on the continent, but that slid away in due time. Until six months ago I could have sworn to you that I had at least seen all the worthwhile sites in Canada. These days I can't even keep track of all the important pages in Alberta. Fortunately we now have AlbertaBlogs.com to do the heavy lifting. Check out the first "official" roundup of recent Alberta weblog postings.

    - 12:33 am, June 7 (link)


    A flash in the pan

    Harold Cardinal died on Friday, and while he did not exactly die forgotten, the thin, miserable, obscurantist stuff of his obituaries conveys little of his importance to the history of Canada. The Edmonton Journal, practically his hometown daily, calls him a "respected aboriginal leader" and cites a long and irrelevant list of degrees and offices. "Respected aboriginal leaders" are awfully commonplace, but there was only one Harold Cardinal. I was pretty startled to see his death reported as the fourth or fifth item on the ten o'clock news. At one time it would have been cause for general rejoicing amongst Canada's political class; but as Cardinal's increasingly absurd résumé shows, he allowed himself to be co-opted, and receded into the comforts of administrative life.

    Cardinal's time as the undisputed central figure amongst Canada's Indians lasted for a mere matter of months--say, from early 1968 to early 1970--but it was the moment when everything changed. As a young man of barely twenty, Cardinal--energized by humiliating experiences in white public schools--began to appear on Alberta rostrums as an articulate spokesman who had studied the language and tactics of radical movements in the United States. It was a time when organizations for the advancement of Canadians aboriginals were still full of white do-gooders; when he took over the Alberta Indian Association in 1968, he sparked controversy by dismissing a white-dominated advisory committee and asking non-Indians to leave the room during meetings. He was not afraid to use the most extreme terms to describe the federal Indian Affairs bureaucracy, nor did he shrink from threatening social chaos. He was among the first Canadians to make common use of the phrase "cultural genocide", and was certainly the first to master the late-sixties art of "mau-mauing".

    Students of the time will find young Indians in other provinces gradually catching on to Cardinal's act, imitating his radicalism and rage. His 1969 book The Unjust Society, still in print, is a classic of the time--essentially a laborious, preposterous attempt to conflate assimilation (the pivot of the Indian policy of every Canadian government from Laurier to Trudeau) with extermination. But it continues to influence Indian leadership today.

    Permit me to defer to an account of Cardinal's rise I wrote a few years ago:

    [In 1968,] Cardinal appointed full-time organizers to drum up support for his new IAA on the reserves. He unabashedly declared "war" on the Indian Affairs Branch, calling it a "monstrosity" which had "proven itself incapable a thousand times over." And with another Indian Act review underway on Parliament Hill, he organized a barrage of letters and phone calls that convinced the federal government to suspend the process for three months. In a matter of weeks Cardinal had become the de facto spokesman for Canada's Indians, and he was not afraid to speak harsh words from his bully pulpit. "The present policy of Indian Affairs towards assimilating Indians or making them nice little brown white men," he said, "is doomed to failure."

    At Cardinal's insistence, Indian bands began to hire lawyers and to brush up on the law themselves. This was ostensibly to prepare for the upcoming Indian Act changes, but it had the effect of laying the groundwork for an explosion of land and financial claims in the 1970s. Indians considered that they had gotten a raw deal from the government and, perhaps, from the Canadian people; presciently, Cardinal saw the courts as an emergent third force in Canadian political life. Not all Indians liked the new approach: the Calgary Herald wrote of one two-day conference that ended with an exasperated delegate asking "Can we now have the right to go home?" But the reporter got it right when she wrote that while "Some of the old Indians dozed at times...the young ones were vigilant."

    Across the country, and most intensely in Alberta, Indian youths took up the battle cry. By mid-1969 editorialists were writing, without irony, of an "Indian uprising." "Red Power," some called it. The messages and concerns were diverse, but almost always it was the young who voiced them. ...When Alberta entered the new federal medicare plan in July, Cardinal tried to organize a boycott, arguing that Indians were already entitled to medical care under the treaties and should not have to re-register to exercise their rights.

    Cardinal continually called in speeches and interviews for the expansion of Indian Affairs to be halted. But as the year of the "uprising" ground onward, it became clear that he did not foresee an immediate end to Indian reliance on government funding. What he wanted to do was to destroy Indian Affairs and set up an all-Indian structure in its place--one equipped, furthermore, to rewrite the Indian Act to suit itself. ...The suspension of hearings on the Indian Act had become indefinite with the federal election call, and Cardinal had high hopes for the incoming Liberal government, and for the man Pierre Trudeau tapped for the refurbished portfolio of Minister for Indian Affairs and Northern Development--Jean Chretien. In December 1968, Cardinal had thrown down a gauntlet to the recently-appointed Chretien, asking him to begin taking steps to abolish his own department. If Chretien could not do that, Indian activists reasoned, he must be a mere "figurehead" like the ministers before him.

    Incredibly--unforeseeably--Chretien picked up that gauntlet. On June 24, 1969, the minister released a White Paper proposing that the government do exactly as Cardinal asked, and on a timetable beyond his wildest dreams. He would move towards to abolition of his own department, wiping it out of existence completely in just five years. But there was a catch: in exchange for freedom from burdensome bureaucracy and the removal of their status as wards of the state, Indians would also lose their special privileges; for starters, they would have to begin paying income tax. Canada's Indians--by now numbering 237,490-- would receive welfare, health care, and other services through the same channels as other Canadians. Provinces would be reimbursed for the extra new expenses. Remaining schools on reserves would be shut. Programs for Indian business would be taken over by the ministry of regional economic development. The Indian Act would be repealed. Indian bands would be given full control of their reserve lands, and 5,500 civil servants would be laid off.

    Over 48 tense hours, Canadians waited to see how Indian leaders--and particularly Cardinal--would react. At first, he was cautious and skeptical:

    He expressed doubt that the timetable could really be met: "Even if all the Indians in Canada suddenly disappeared, it would take Indian Affairs 200 years to phase out operation." He expressed hopes that he would not lose the chance of creating an all-Indian bureaucracy in place of the old one: "A concentration of funds...must be turned over to Indian organizations for human-physical development to insure that, at the end of five years, we don't face a situation comparable to some developing countries where the people were not ready to take over after colonial rule ended." And he insisted that "equality" did not exactly mean, well, equality... "We are 'Canadian citizens plus'...Canadian citizens will have to accept and recognize that we are full citizens but also possess special rights."

    But for once, Cardinal was behind the curve; while he was dithering, other Indian leaders had absorbed the full meaning of the Chretien White Paper and were denouncing an individualism-driven policy that would have sabotaged the existing Indian power structure forever. Within hours Cardinal was telegraphing Chretien, accusing him of "reviving the old American [scheme] of [ethnic] termination." Soon he had produced the contorted Unjust Society, 150 pages of froth-flecked denunciation intended to discredit the precise step--the dismantling of Canada's federal aboriginal bureaucracy--that his own fiery rhetoric had led the government to contemplate. (Curiously, this monument to racial grievance is almost entirely silent about residential schools, which later revisionism has transformed into monuments of physical and sexual torture.)

    The Liberals quickly withdrew the White Paper, though only in part because Indian spokesmen were against it; the real problem was that the destruction of Indian Affairs would have meant placing massive, unquantifiable new strains on provincial budgets for welfare and human development. Cardinal's book made a tremendous splash, but while everybody politely refrained from pointing out how awkward his about-face had been, from that time onward he more or less vanished from the view of the general public. Within a few years he was actually a salaried employee of Indian Affairs (which perhaps encapsulates the ultimate fate of '60s radicals of every stripe), and by the 1990s he was running as a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada (leader: Rt. Hon. J. Chretien).

    I don't think it is too much to say metaphorically that the real Harold Cardinal died in 1969, when he missed his chance to be the guiding spirit of a really radical transformation in the legal arrangements between Canada and its Indians. But for better or worse, he certainly has a legacy. Without Cardinal there may have been no Oka standoff, no Elijah Harper, and no Delgamuukw decision. Wherever Canadian Indians fly their own homemade national flags or barricade a logging road, the spirit of Harold Cardinal will be there.

    - 6:45 am, June 6 (link)


    Greater than Proust? Michel Houellebecq venerates H.P. Lovecraft, a writer long considered all but indefensible, in Saturday's Guardian. -6:24 am, June 6
    Virus

    Have you seen the book poll that's floating around? Before Damian Penny tagged me on Tuesday, it had been quietly annoying me. Now that I've been dragged into it, I realize why: it kind of shows odd signs of having been drafted by someone who treats books as a slightly exotic luxury. Number of books I own defies an easy answer, though since I learned the heartbreaking art of culling paperbacks before my last move, it's probably no more than 600. Last book I bought implies that I buy them one at a time; forced to identify the last one I picked out on my most recent trip, I would have to single out Ladislas Farago's Last Days of Patton. Last book I read points to a confusing presumption that I go through books one at a time. The last book I finished would have been August 1914, "Knot One" of Solzhenitsyn's Red Wheel.

    If I hadn't been tagged, I never would have noticed the curious "miserable deaths of generals" theme there. (August 1914 might easily have been entitled The Last Days of Samsonov; its central character is the gray-haired Cossack hetman who drifted into a trap at Tannenberg, was encircled by von Francois and Mackensen, and shot himself in his head as the remain of a Russian army corps tried to claw its way out.)

    Five books that mean a lot to me: We ought to count the Bill James Baseball Abstracts serials as one here, I suppose, as well as the Collected Letters, Essays, and Journalism of Orwell. So I'll throw in The Virtue of Selfishness, the second edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage, and Peter Brimelow's Patriot Game.

    - 6:23 am, June 6 (link)


    I'm a bit late with the heads-up, but I have a column in Saturday's National Post about Rainer Karlsch's controversial discoveries concerning the Nazi nuclear program. Karlsch's suggestion that the SS tested three atomic weapons in 1944 and 1945 should be taken with a few million grains of salt. But he has revealed new avenues of research in a field that has spent fifty years obsessing over Werner Heisenberg and--perhaps--unwisely neglecting the deep reserves of physics talent the Nazi state possessed despite its best efforts to ruin German science. On June 1 Karlsch and Union College's Mark Walker published an interesting update on their research.

    - 11:50 pm, June 4 (link)


    By unusually intense popular demand, here's the text of my May 19 National Post column on Islam.

    On May 6, Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan held a press conference and waxed indignant about an unsourced Newsweek report that American guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. That moment of demagogy reached the ears of the Afghans and touched off that country's worst post-Taliban rioting; 17 people were killed, more than 100 were injured, and Western relief agencies were targeted for vandalism and violence. Demonstrations have since taken place in Gaza, Hebron, Jakarta and Yemen, and Pakistani opposition parties are proceeding with a "global day of protest" on May 27. Newsweek retracted its story Monday, but the damage has been done.

    And it is probably not yet complete. A cleric from the wilder parts of northern Afghanistan told a Reuters correspondent Monday that Newsweek had backed down "because of American pressure. Even an ordinary illiterate peasant understands this, and won't accept it." Retraction or no retraction, the Koran-flushing incident has already entered the treasury of Muslim folklore, along with the tales of Arab blood in Passover recipes. And when it comes to folklore, truth and falsehood are featherweights in the balance.

    Some will see in this a tale of typical "mainstream media" perfidy. For my part, I was trained (mostly by Marxist professors) to regard riots as a diagnostic sign -- as history's fist smashing through the veneer of politics. The Muslim outrage of the past fortnight could not be reproduced in the bosom of any other religion; as Western Christians politely ignore the contemporary destruction of heritage churches by Kosovar Muslims in Europe, public outrage flashes across the Earth's face thanks to the imagined mistreatment of a single copy of the Koran. Can any thinking person still be prepared to entertain learned assurances that Islam is just another course in the buffet of great world religions?

    The Koran, as a text, occupies a unique place in Islam -- a place rivalled, perhaps, only by that of the Torah in kabbalistic forms of Orthodox Judaism. All remotely orthodox Muslims regard the Koran as having been recited by God, and as being inerrant in its received form. It is seen as a sufficient and complete guide to ethical conduct. The vast majority of the world's Muslims regard the Koran as having existed eternally, along with God. It is considered the divine stylistic model for all literature in Arabic; believers, even those otherwise lacking Arabic, are urged to commit it to memory; translations into other languages are regarded, at best, as theological lèse-majesté; and historical criticism of the text anywhere in the Muslim world is generally forbidden.

    It hardly needs adding that mistreatment of a written Koran is punishable by death in most of the Muslim world. The Koran is probably best understood by non-Muslims not as mere scripture, but as an extension or property of the Muslim god. Indeed, it bears much the same relation to Allah that the Son does to the Father in trinitarian Christianity. But the Christian saying "God is not mocked" turns out to be non-transferrable.

    We hear -- we have heard again in the wake of the riots -- pious wishes that the Muslims would hurry up and have their "Protestant Reformation" already. And some have hopes for a replay of the 17th-century Enlightenment in the Muslim world. But Islam's essential doctrines leave no wiggle room for a review of scripture in the Muslim universe -- a review that would necessarily emphasize the Koran's status as a created, imperfect human document. To hope for a redemptive separation of church and state within Islam is to overlook that the Koran, unlike other holy books, prescribes a precise political schema for society. And those waiting on the emergence of a Muslim Voltaire -- for the appearance of some witty, piety-smashing philosopher amidst a faith that has uniformly imposed the death penalty for apostasy -- can expect to wait forever.

    To some degree, all religions are designed to thwart temptations to unbelief and slow institutional suicide. In the Darwinian contest of ideas, these are the very religions that endure. But Islam's self-defence mechanisms are by far the most efficient ever designed. It is simple, egalitarian and ironclad. It has no church or priesthood -- only the unalterable word of the Almighty, delivered intact just once and for all time. If you were starting a religion with the goal of making it change-resistant and eternal, you would build it thus.

    To regard Islam as ripe for taming, and to regard displays like the present rioting as idiosyncratic manifestations of extremism, is to underestimate Islam -- even, perhaps, to disrespect it a little. The faith is either true, or it is an intractable problem for the global order. There's no third choice.

    Readers should also note Tyler Cowen's take. "Rarely is it explained..."

    - 10:49 am, June 2 (link)


    Sittin' in a nest of bad men

    The book finally closed on Watergate for good yesterday when Deep Throat, that mass of wisps who has haunted Washington for three decades, was blown aside to reveal the tortured, dying figure of Mark Felt. The Atlantic is observing the occasion by reprinting a fantastic piece written in 1992 by James Mann, today a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Mann's "institutional analysis" of Deep Throat fingered Felt as the leading candidate (while hedging bets carefully), but that's nothing special in the Throatian literature. Mann's most stunning achievement was to diagnose Deep Throat without reaching any firm conclusion regarding his identity. The guy just sailed right by the question that was obsessing the rest of the world, and hit a much bigger nail smack on the head.

    Unlike, say, the Justice Department or the State Department, the FBI did not get a new leader with each new President. This tradition was suddenly thrown into question with Hoover's death. Officials at the Bureau believed that Hoover's successor would be appointed from within their ranks. W. Mark Felt, the FBI's deputy associate director, the No. 3 man in Hoover's hierarchy, wrote in a 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid:

    It did not cross my mind that the President would appoint an outsider to replace Hoover. Had I known this, I would not have been hopeful about the future. There were many trained executives in the FBI who could have effectively handled the job of Director. My own record was good and I allowed myself to think I had an excellent chance.

    ...Hoover's death presented the Nixon Administration with a long-sought opportunity to gain political control of the FBI. Traumatized by Hoover's death, and anxious to preserve the Bureau's traditions, the FBI's leadership resented and resisted the Administration's efforts. By coincidence, the Watergate break-in occurred on June 17, less than seven weeks after Hoover's death and Gray's appointment. The FBI took charge of the federal investigation at the same time that the Administration was trying to limit its scope.

    Therein lies the origin of Deep Throat.

    Now, honestly, can you read that last sentence without shouting "Bullseye"? The Felt family is trying to spin their patriarch's leaks to Bob Woodward as acts of civil courage--which, surely, they were. But it has been noted that Felt did not shy away from ordering "Watergates of his own" later in his career. Clearly--and this is more or less apparent from Woodward's portrayal of his "friend" in All the President's Men--Felt was not actuated by an especially refined democratic conscience. He was simply a good G-Man trying to neuter the Nixon Administration menace. David von Drehle's Wednesday morning story for the Post emphasizes in its second sentence--and how many of learned this sort of newspaper Kremlinology from President's Men itself?--that the FBI was "battling for its independence" at the time of the Watergate investigation.

    Yesterday's disclosure will be Woodstein's last great hurrah before their funerals. But, ironically, it reminds us, and stridently, that Nixon was going down even if the pair had never been born. Even under the naïve assumption that news coverage was the sine qua non of the whole process, Felt would have found someone to leak to even if he hadn't had a friendly ear at the Post. James Mann can perhaps take credit for being the first to cast Richard Nixon in a genuinely new historical light--as the last son-of-a-bitch to be struck down, and from beyond the grave at that, by J. Edgar Hoover.

    - 1:04 am, June 1 (link)