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ARCHIVES for NOVEMBER 2003
Why the long face?
My review of Gregg Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox is finally live and loud at the the website of that mighty organ The American Spectator.
Sympathy for the devil
My Friday Post column is on the Web. It's a doomed attempt to defuse some of the eye-rolling horror that takes place now in Canada when some old fart says something ill-advised about gays. It is probably a rather strained effort to be contrarian, and it could have used more humour, but my frustration at forty-year-old people pretending that they've never talked to a batty older person in their fucking lives is absolutely genuine. It's pegged to the Larry Spencer brouhaha, so if you haven't been keeping up you'll need some background before you read. My old AR colleague Mark Milke wrote a piece from a different angle than ran parallel to mine this morning.
Peter Mackay inadvertently confirmed yesterday how insane our approach to these little dustups is: "I'm shocked, frankly, that a person would have those thoughts, let alone express them in such a fashion," he said. Q: is Peter Mackay a retard? He's shocked that anyone could contemplate proscribing homosexuality by law, despite having been born in a country where it was illegal. He's shocked that an old man confused by the rapid acceptance of gay sex would be attracted to nutty explanations for it, or that anyone would believe homosexuality is inculcated by nurture rather than nature, which was a near-universal belief until about last week. Sorry, I call bullshit. This is not a case of being "shocked": this is a case of a country, and a political class, having arrived at a certain moral position and trying to secure it by pretending that things were always this way. It's a Year Zero mentality that ought to embarrass anyone going by the Conservative label.
I absolutely subscribe to the idea that the State has no place in the bedrooms of the nation--certainly much more strongly than Mackay does--which just makes me suspicious of people who supposedly agree with me, yet act surprised when they hear of some old guy who grumbles out loud that buggery should be criminalized. If you believe in the separation of church and sex, why not, y'know, defend it, instead of acting like those who disagree need their kneecaps shot off?
There's certainly an argument that a political party must establish its orthodox beliefs by means of action, which makes Scott Brison's view of the situation superficially attractive:
Statements like [Spencer's] have the potential to stigmatize the new party, so it's important that we denounce those statements strongly... the cost of including people like Mr. Spencer is to exclude the majority of Canadians who value both economic liberty and personal liberty.
This is rhetoric well designed to warm my heart, but is Brison really prepared to let economic liberty and personal liberty weigh equal in the scales? Does he really imagine that anyone will be excluded from the merged conservative caucus for his economic philosophy? We won't hold our breath. Red Tory crackpots will be welcomed, if they choose to join a party that is to their "right" on the economic power of the state, and to live with the contradiction. Similarly, I don't see why the odd Larry Spencer shouldn't be welcomed, if he chooses to remain in a party that has already decided, by its choice of leaders, to abandon the hardcore theocratic agenda favoured by a minority of its membership. It is rather hard-hearted of Scott Brison to make Larry Spencer's presence in the new conservative caucus a deal-breaker when Spencer said specifically that Brison was a "great guy" with "great ideas" whom he'd be happy to share a bench with. Why give an aging homophobe (N.B.: I'm not very fond of that word, but it does seem to fit in this case) the occasion to gnash his teeth at the Punica fide of a gay colleague?
Small World Dept.: Sherwood Park, Alberta's Tony Twist, a goon who played for the Nordiques and the Blues, is set to skate into U.S. Supreme Court history along with William Marbury and Ernesto Miranda. Some years back, Twist's fellow Albertan, the comic-book magnate (and Edmonton Oilers part-owner) Todd McFarlane, created a character for the Spawn books nicknamed "Tony Twist". It was meant as a tribute, but if Twist is to be believed, it's caused him nothing but heartbreak. "Twist... claims the character, a violent mob enforcer, hurt his image and cost him endorsements." Sure it did, Tony.
Twist sued for defamation in the state of Missouri and won a $24.5M judgment against McFarlane, later overturned on appeal. Now this intra-Canuck squabble is headed for the Supreme Court south of the border--and McFarlane's free-speech argument is being assisted by none other than Volokh Co-Conspirators Eugene Volokh and Erik Jaffe. They're acting in the name of some amici curiae you might have heard of, including Michael Crichton, Larry David, Harry Shearer, and Elmore Leonard. Their brief is readable online.
I'm almost too weirded out by this bizarre collision of entities to comment on the actual substance of the case, but I will note that Volokh et al. appear to be contending against a hint of uninformed prejudice against comic books as a literary form. "...the Missouri Supreme Court tried to distinguish speech made 'with the intent to obtain a commercial advantage'--speech that is "predominantly a ploy to sell comic books'--from 'artistic or literary expression.'" It seems we haven't moved very far from the bad old days when Congressional threats forced comic creators to adopt a hygienic "code" of content only recently abandoned. Spawn isn't anything but crapola, as far as I'm concerned--I have to confess this even though its profits are part of my hockey team's lifeblood--but you can guess how I would feel, as a free-speech extremist, about having legal force given to a purely esthetic judgment. That is to say, about like Volokh and Jaffe (and Larry David and Harry Shearer) do, with bright double underlining. Let's hope they lay the law down like Link Gaetz back in the day. This might be a good spot to plug the just and holy cause of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
Janet's journey: from pinup to stage mom
I've been getting a lot of Google hits for Paulina Gretzky's name since she performed "I Will Remember You" at the Heritage Classic on the weekend. There was something a little strange about that part of the event. On the CBC broadcast, Ron Maclean was interviewing Wayne Gretzky and Guy Lafleur before the alumni game and then announced, as they were going to commercial, that Paulina's performance was coming up. If you paid close attention you could see Wayne suddenly become glassy-eyed with horror, his smile an icy rictus. Well, this oughta be interesting, I thought to myself.
Later, while Paulina was on stage, they cut to Wayne and Janet: the starlet wife was weeping copiously while the hockey husband looked alternately nervous and bored. It was quite the little domestic drama. Sandra Sperounes takes it to a new level in Wednesday's Edmonton Journal.
Two weeks before the Heritage Classic, Wayne had second thoughts, [Oilers broadcasting director Don] Metz said.Metz provides an unintentionally hilarious account of the audio assistance Paulina was given for her performance. She didn't lip-sync, exactly, he tells Sperounes. All right, true, her live vocals were "mixed" with a pre-recorded vocal track, just in case. But "Paulina sang. She sang her heart out. You could see the veins pop in her neck and her breath."
The unanswered question is, did we hear her sing? Only her engineer knows for sure! For the rest of us, the answer is merely a near certainty. I wasn't aware of any veins popping, but at several points Paulina took the microphone completely away from her face while the note she was singing somehow sustained itself on the audio track. Maybe that's just how the Gretzky magic manifests itself in the second generation, though.
"Airy waving" vs. "breeziness": the winds of war
Colby's second argument is a popular one around Ottawa because it sounds so clever you hardly notice how idiotic it is. "If newspapers don't focus on Parliament as closely as they did in the past, well, duh; these are the days of an omnipotent PMO and an activist Supreme Court--Parliament is less important."
This research project actually sounds pretty appetizing (sounds, I say)--but even if we grant that my original point was stoopid, we're still stuck wondering whether newspapers have actually gotten less nutritious of late. Partly I have a real difference with Wells insofar as I consider what he calls "gossip and scandal" to be necessary and healthy. (If it occupies more column-inches, is that because of the demand for scandal, or the supply thereof?) But partly I just have trouble imagining what he expects. Does the story smackdab on the front of today's Post count as solid reporting about the federal bureaucracy, for example, or is it merely a superficial confirming case for the diagnosis of malnutrition?
My own problem is that I'm not sure how to confirm what Wells says, and I don't have much luck when I try. Coverage of the federal gun registry has, for instance, remained fairly exemplary even by a Wellsian nuts-and-bolts standard--but that might just be because lazy journalists are simply following an easy path marked out for them by a rabid Opposition, as opposed to depmin lunch partners. When I look at American newspapers, I do become rather of a mind to think "[Canadian] newspapers are [still] fine" by comparison. But let me add this: when X sees a pattern and Y doesn't, your agreement with Y (in this case, me) should certainly be provisional. In fact, Y's agreement with Y should be provisional.
My Monday Post column about McJobs is now online. Sorry about the leering-Mike-Bullard banner ad; I don't have control over that stuff. It's probably no worse than what you have to live with here, anyway.
The Ray in the Beret?
Not that I necessarily want to pile onto a movie that's already been critically execrated, but am I the only one who is troubled by the fact that Mike Myers' Cat in the Hat doesn't look anything like a cat? And that, in fact, his face bears kind of an unsettling resemblance to the nightmarish underbelly of a manta?
Magazine writer says newspapers stink: film at eleven
Paul Wells has issued a long, anguished fatwa against lazy parliamentary journalism over on his Maclean's weblog. He has a good specific indictment about the hecatombs of ink and energy expended on futile games like trying to guess the exact date of Prime Minister Chretien's resignation. Past that, he is on extremely slippery ground. His argument that newspapers ignore policy won't really survive the perusal of a single issue of the Globe or the Post, as far as I'm concerned; his piece should not be read without one close to hand. His self-interested claim that the Post was so much better when he was there has now grown too noxious though incessant repetition to be tolerated, even if true, and sits uneasily alongside a self-conscious attempt to clamber up to a moral summit of media criticism. There is perhaps something to his complaint that not enough attention is paid to the nuts and bolts of legislation and administration; but he dismisses inquiries into the ethics and conduct of our parliamentarians with a frankly disgraceful breeziness. "Forget those trips aboard Irving jets--Africa needs debt relief!"
And there's another point: if newspapers don't focus on Parliament as closely as they did in the past, well, duh; these are the days of an omnipotent PMO and an activist Supreme Court--Parliament is less important (and the identity and hidden activity of the Prime Minister more important) than it was in 1920 or 1950 or 1980. Some would argue that government as a whole is less important in a time of such rapid technological and social change; Wells wants reporters to spend more time expense-account lunching with civil servants, but maybe they should be reporting on the Internet or on biotechnology instead--and maybe, at that, they already are. There's a lot more going on here than Wells' cranky screed will allow for, but he certainly means well, makes a couple of killer points, and is always owed a fair hearing by conscientious Canadians.
[UPDATE, November 27: The debate continues supra.]
Two helpings of geekfood
The National Football League has co-opted one of its fiercest critics: the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column (now complete with horrendous new logo!) has migrated officially to NFL.com. Thanks to Rick Hiebert for the heads-up. In related news, my review of The Progress Paradox, the new book by TMQ's alter ego Gregg Easterbrook, is set to appear on the Web next week: stay tuned.
A note about the previous entry: comics titan Dirk "!Journalista¡" Deppey writes in to note that Fred Carter and Jack Chick have actually been the only two artists in the Chick stable. Chick's style has changed so much over the years, I thought there were more. The mention of Dirk gives me a chance to point you to a nifty Comics Journal article about two pinup artists embroiled in an ugly intellectual-property duel. N.B.: the accompanying illustration is not safe for perusal in a prudish office setting, though honestly it wouldn't bring a blush to the cheek of a maiden aunt.
Items in search of a heading
I somehow lacked the vis viva to turn any of these items into a separate entry during the day, so I'm going to assemble them into a "random notes" dumpster:
· I watched Remember the Titans last night. As you probably recall, it's the story of the first integrated high-school football team in the history of Alexandria, Va. Seasoned with heavy doses of Hollywood B.S., natch, but the spine of the tale seems to be legit: the team was assembled under enormous pressure after the local district merged black and white schools, but the players struck a blow against interracial hostility by running off an undefeated season and a state championship. The neat twist--of which very little is actually made by the movie, unless you count a whole lot of grimacing by porcine Southron caricatures--is that a black man, Herman Boone, was given the head coach job, as an affirmative-action gesture, in favour of a local white legend, Bill Yoast, who chose to serve as his assistant. The movie's best stuff is the way it shows how Boone and Yoast get trapped in the situation. Yoast wants to skip town rather than accept a demotion, but he stays to keep his white players from boycotting the team and ruining their chances at college. Boone really doesn't want to take a job that Yoast has more than earned, but he can't go against the black townsfolk, who have played a high-stakes political pressure game to get Boone into the job. This intiguing dynamic is spoiled by being torqued up into melodrama: "If that there nigra loses one game, he's out!" The gnarled ol' lynching tree is almost visible, just off-camera. There's really not much to say about a movie like this: it's meant as self-congratulatory manna for Americans, but the taste, for a foreigner, is simply bland. (A Canadian watching this movie finds himself saying things like "Yeah, they found out that a football team with both black and white players would be way better than a segregated one. Congratulations, geniuses.")
One other interesting thread in the movie is that the black Boone is an unrelenting taskmaster in the Bear Bryant mould, while the white Yoast is the kindly father figure. I wonder if this was the true state of affairs. I don't know if it's a fair generalization, but when you imagine the classic martinet football coach, you think of a scary-looking white guy with a buzzcut and steely gray eyes. Do we have trouble imagining a black man as a super-rigorous paternal sadist, or are black coaches reluctant to behave that way because the models for the role are hideous alcoholic crackers, or am I just ignoring a bunch of counterexamples? The black coaches in the CFL are certifiably older-brother types rather than Great Santini figures, but so are most of the white coaches, because who's going to sit still for being screamed at when he's only making $45,000 a year? (Don Matthews has ten championship rings: he can get away with some screaming, no doubt.)
Anyway, Denzel is great as a black Bear, and if the character isn't real, then it was a neat idea to invent him. (The Expos minor leaguer Terrmel Sledge, who is going to do some long-awaited tearing up of the National League next year, told me this summer that Titans was his favourite movie.) Denzel's always great, even when the material is leaden. I was thinking about his performance in Virtuosity, one of the worst pieces of crap I ever saw in a theatre: he plays an unjustly jailed and de-badged futurecop fighting a virtual-reality serial killer (Russell Crowe). This is a movie with a lame screenplay, a lame title ("virtuosity"? Do they know what that word means?), a lame premise... it's just bottomlessly lame, although Crowe has the good sense to overact and lean on the "entertainment" button. But what really happens when you watch Virtuosity is that Denzel forces you into this sick, almost epileptic cycle of flickering back and forth between loathing the movie and actually sympathizing with his character. "Man, this is such a ridiculous turd of a... aw, poor Lieutenant Barnes! He's the one who's really trapped in a virtual reality! [suppressed sniffle]" The net result within the viewer's bosom is a species of profound self-loathing that Todd Solondz or Neil LaBute couldn't inspire on the best day of their lives.
· High Weirdness Dept.: fans of Jack Chick's oft-parodied evangelical cartoon tracts--a perennial Halloween and bus-station favourite--may be interested to know that Chick's video The Light of the World is now available. It's a "heart-tugging invitation to trust Christ"! And, knowing Chick, an equally powerful invitation to mistrust Roman Catholics, Muslims, unbelievers, the Virgin Mary, purveyors of popular music, etc., etc.
Those who've studied the Chick oeuvre noticed long ago that many of the tracts have been illustrated by a cartoonist of genuine technical talent, one who leaves the other Chick artists well in the shade. Chick has only recently disclosed and publicized the name of the Guy On His Staff Who Can Draw--Pomona, California's Fred Carter. The Light of the World is basically a video cartoon consisting of dozens of Carter's paintings completed over a period of years, making it a monument of American folk art as well as an ironic conversation piece.
· Underlawyered dept.: did anybody on the Globe and Mail desk take a second look at this passage from Naomi Klein's antiglobalist gripe-o'-the-day?
Last week, [George H.W.] Bush's two sons joined forces to try to usher in that new world by holding the FTAA negotiations in friendly Florida. This is the state that Governor Jeb Bush vowed to "deliver" to his brother during the 2000 presidential elections, even if that meant keeping many African-Americans from exercising their right to vote.
I'm not complaining here about the kneejerk characterization of the 2000 election as an elaborate scheme to befuddle swing-state black voters into staying home--though, now that you mention it, a surer symbol of the racially patronizing quality of antiglobalist discourse would be hard to invent. What I wanted to point out was that the syntactic structure of the comment should have been tightened up: if the word "even" is construed as being conjuncted with "vowed", which seems like the most natural reading, then Klein is literally saying that Jeb Bush vowed openly to deprive black Floridians of the franchise. Of course, he may have done so: I don't keep up with the labyrinthine, conspiracist AlternaNews which undoubtedly constitutes Naomi's daily breakfast.
· From the O.C.: the Economist has a piece about the Eton Wall Game written by an unbylined survivor. He notes that a ten-point goal was scored in a junior Wall Game a few weeks ago, though the St. Andrew's Day classic's 94-year goalless streak has not yet been broken. This news will be meaningless to 110% of you, but do read the story.
Also, am I the only one who didn't know that T.N. Wright, the distinguished English theologian, was made Anglican Bishop of Durham in July? A conservative scholar of international renown as bishop of an important diocese?--what is this, 1875? Wright is best known for his multi-decade effort to reinsert the epistles of St. Paul into their proper historical and political context. From a stance of meticulous orthodoxy, he has presented a pretty radical challenge to--well, almost everybody: theo-liberal Anglicans, Calvinists, evangelicals, Catholics, you name it. He thinks a lot of the words in the New Testament don't mean what Christians think they mean, that St. Paul was much less of a political quietist with respect to the Roman regime than a superficial reading of the epistles shows, and that altogether too much attention is paid to heaven. No, he's not just screwing around about that last bit.
I bang on about this a lot, especially when I talk about the resurrection and the future and about the fact that the Bible doesn't say very much about going to heaven after you die. It does say a great deal about the resurrection and the coming together of the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation and Romans and I Corinthians, etc.). So I tell people, "Look, we shouldn't be thinking about what heaven is going to be like in the way we do." I was up in a plane the other day and two old ladies were looking out the window at fluffy clouds and one said to the other, "Do you think that's what heaven is going to be like?" I was actually reading the New Testament and I hoped they wouldn't notice that I was a clergyman and ask me, "Is that what heaven is going to be like?" The question of what the immediate post-death state will be is not the really interesting one. The really interesting one is the bodily resurrection. This is a point I'm going to make, which is an analogy to the point about justification. I have given addresses on that and I've had people come up to me afterwards and say, "I really enjoyed your talk about heaven." And I say, "I didn't give a talk about heaven. It was a talk about why heaven is not terribly important." They say to me, "Well you know what I mean." And I say, "No I don't. You haven't heard what I mean." And people come back from hearing teaching on the resurrection and the body and someone inevitably says, "Will there be sex in heaven?" I say, "Do you mean in the resurrection body?" "Yeah, I guess that's what I mean." This language about heaven is so strong in our culture that we just flick back to a default mode.
Wright has been named by the Archbishop of Canterbury to a commission that will study the implications of the gay-ordination crisis in the Canadian and American branches of the C of E.
Was that Clan Ranald or Clown Ronald?
My Friday Post column previewing the Heritage Classic is online. Tomorrow morning's is about Ronald McDonald's efforts to rewrite the dictionary.
CTV has a decent capsule account of both Heritage Classic games. The Oilers won the alumni match 2-0; the Canadiens won the game that counted in the standings, 4-3. The attendance, 57,167, is an NHL record that probably cannot be broken.
I can't describe--without completely embarrassing myself--how I felt at seeing the old-time Oilers brought together for a last game. The ragged play had nothing to do with the real meaning of the event, but I let myself hope, before it started, that we would see just one perfect moment in which our youth was restored, one coin retrieved intact and shining from the hoard of memory. The Oilers people already know where I'm going with this... Gretzky looked twice his age, Messier was visibly outclassed by a bunch of guys who aren't on NHL rosters anymore, Semenko wasn't really allowed to beat the hell out of Chris Nilan, Dave Hunter bore a shocking resemblance to the Michelin Man, and one could go on; I was ecstatic to see them all in the old uniforms on the same rink anyway. But Grant Fuhr was the one who really came through.
About halfway through the first 15-minute period, Habs alumnus Stephane Richer, who I would have thought was still in the league someplace, got clear down the right wing and tried to go top-corner, glove side, on Fuhr. From 1981 to about 1989, don't do that, stupid would have been Rule #1 for NHL wingers. If there has ever been a faster glove hand than Fuhr's, it must have been used to stop baseballs rather than pucks. I suppose Richer figured that the intervening years had transformed Fuhr from Hall of Fame goalie to domesticated scratch golfer--oldfatslow. But like some watchful animal mistaken for a hibernating one, Fuhr's glove exploded out and stopped the puck's flight, perching there in the iron-cold. Somewhere, you could almost have sworn, lightning flashed.
My Paul Harvey moment
The continuing warfare within the corporate structure of Hollinger Inc. and Hollinger International led me to satisfy myself today about a question long nagging at me--why the heck are Conrad Black's newspaper companies called "Hollinger"? I knew there had to be a story there, but I didn't know that these massive media enterprises are named after a lucky barber who won a coin toss.
In 1909 the newly completed Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway was attracting young men and big money to the fringe of the Canadian Shield in a quest for mineral wealth. Gold was discovered in the wilderness north of Porcupine Lake, bringing prospectors and dreamers to what is now the city of Timmins. One of the less likely searchers was a barber named Benny Hollinger, who teamed up with a prospector named Alex Gillies to comb the region for opportunities that better-organized enterprises had missed. According to the official story,
[t]hey investigated an abandoned test pit near Pearl Lake where three years earlier Reuben D'Aigle had lost heart and given up. Gillies' report of the find shows just how unlucky D'Aigle had been: "...Benny was pulling moss off the rocks a few feet away, when suddenly he let a roar out of him and threw his hat to me. At first I thought that he was crazy but when I came over to where he was it was not hard to find the reason. The quartz where he had taken off the moss looked as though someone had dripped a candle along it, but instead of wax it was gold."
Benny Hollinger, still remembered as a founding father of Timmins, quickly turned his $145 grubstake into a world-record sale price of $1 million for his claims. But he soon lost his fortune, and died young. In the fullness of time, Hollinger Mines Ltd. was acquired by the Argus Corp., the planet-sized conglomerate that Black swung an amazing leveraged deal to take over in 1978. Hiving off most of the Argus businesses to concentrate on newspapering, Black, perhaps influenced by the romance of gold or the historic image of a forgotten chancer, gave his newspaper company the name of the old mining firm.
Just say no to (inexpensive) drugs?
Bourque linked today to EthicalPharmacy.com, a Manitoba website claiming to be "the voice of professional pharmacists concerned about international Internet pharmacy." They don't mean that spammer offering to sell you Vioxx, although their efforts might more usefully be pooled against that menace. They mean legitimate Canadian pharmacy businesses, and those in other countries, who are undercutting the American pharmaceutical market from without by filling American prescriptions through mail-order. It is worth noting when a "voice" claiming to be ethical engages in abominably dishonest argumentative techniques, so you might (particularly if you're an American who is paying U.S. prices for prescription drugs) have a look at the site's list of "problems with Internet pharmacy", to wit:
· International Internet Pharmacy may increase risks to patients;
Let's walk through these issues one at a time. Risks to patients: Since EthicalPharmacy.com is addressing a Canadian audience, it refrains from making the scaremongering argument sometimes heard on the U.S. side of the debate that a drug reimported from Country X may be less safe in se than the same drug bought over an American counter. It makes a different scaremongering argument: that a drug purchased from Country X breaks the so-called "chain of care" between you and your local pharmacist.
A prescription is required from a doctor who has examined you. And your medicine is dispensed by another health professional, your pharmacist, who is responsible for counseling you. This involves asking questions about your condition, other prescription, non-prescription or herbal therapies you might be taking, any side effects you might experience, and many other considerations. The regulatory system for prescription drugs has been established by law to protect the health of patients. International internet pharmacies each have their own system for verifying prescriptions and distributing them by mail. But what you do not get with international internet pharmacy is the care the law says you must have for your protection.
The law doesn't say any such thing, of course (to skip ahead to item two); otherwise it would be illegal for American patients to reimport drugs originally shipped to foreign countries. Which, despite the suggestion here, it isn't: as the site confesses while describing the trade as "illegal", importing drugs from abroad for your own use is legal as long as the drugs themselves are legal. After all, there wouldn't be a problem with drug reimportation if the trade were illegal: the U.S. government could simply start locking up old people who buy drugs from abroad. As far as "ethics" go, nobody considers that there is anything unethical about shopping around within your home country for the best price on drugs; it's absurd to pretend that the law requires a "chain of care" between a patient and a single pharmacist. A child knows this isn't so. Why, then, should it be unethical to shop for the same drugs in Canada, or Mexico, or some other country? And, by the way, why it is presumed that "counselling" about side-effects and drug interactions can't take place by e-mail?
In truth, this item constitutes a rather embarrassing admission that pharmacy regulation has been established by law to protect the financial health of drugstores and drug manufacturers. The internet is putting new pressures on the system, yet it's politically dangerous for governments to act against any of the players in the new marketplace. The Canadian government cannot require Canadian pharmacists to check the passports of their customers, nor ban mail-order; it knows, or ought to, that the internet is simply allowing pharmacists all over Canada to participate in a trade which drugstores along the border have engaged in for decades. The U.S. government doesn't want to bust penny-pinching old people with chronic medical conditions, and the drug companies really have no one to blame but themselves for exporting large amounts of patented drugs at low cost.
Harm to the Canadian system: EthicalPharmacy.com contends that American consumers of reimported drugs are responsible for an exodus away from polite pharmacy practice in Canada.
In the province of Manitoba, where most of the Canadian internet pharmacies are based, we are facing a serious shortage of pharmacists in our communities and hospitals. Already some 15% of Manitoba's pharmacists have left community and hospital pharmacies to work with internet companies serving the U.S. The reason is the profits available to international internet pharmacies. By buying less expensive drugs in Canada, then selling them at a much higher price in the U.S., international internet pharmacies can make huge profits. This allows them to offer much larger salaries to Canadian pharmacists than those pharmacists could make caring for Canadian patients. As a result, Canadian community and hospital pharmacies cannot afford to compete in the hiring of pharmacists. Today, the shortage of pharmacists in Manitoba communities is straining the ability of community pharmacies to ensure that each patient receives the proper care. And, perhaps more worrying, many pharmacists are leaving Manitoba's public hospital pharmacies to work for internet companies.
This strains credulity, rather, though it may be EthicalPharmacy.com's strongest point. Internet drug sales are hardly a labour-intensive business. They leave licensed pharmacists plenty of time to pick up lucrative work in drugstores and hospital pharmacies. Still, the labour market for pharmacists is doubtless a little stiff, seeing as the amount of training involved is so large: only with time will the number of B.Pharm. holders catch up with the fantastic amounts of money open to enterprising pill-rollers. It should be noted, however, that internet pharmacies are only one competitor with retail stores and hospitals. Home care is attracting more visiting pharmacist-consultants every year; do we blame those consumers for the labour shortage they help create? Drug companies themselves spend more and more money on marketing to doctors, hiring trained pharmacists away from hospitals and retail stories to pimp for new brands; do we blame them for the labour shortage? It is astonishing that anyone would dare suggest to America's ill that they have an ethical obligation to pay domestic prices for drugs, higher prices than Canadian customers do, in order to preserve the health of Canada's unresponsive public-subsidized medicare system.
And why is this part of the message even directed at the American public? If EthicalPharmacy.com is a "voice of professional pharmacists", wouldn't it make sense for them to address professional pharmacists, citing ethical norms of the profession that supposedly prohibit engaging in the export of drugs to the country of origin? Perhaps there's a reason they don't. Despite some purely political noises of disapproval by professional associations, no Canadian jurisdiction has made selling American drugs to Americans a violation of the actual rules of practice. There is no reason they should, if those rules of practice are to be based on the interests of the patient--whatever country he lives in--rather than those of the guild. Or, rather, certain members of the guild who failed to board the gravy train.
Disruption of Canadian drug supplies: this is merely the same argument as the preceding, focusing on the drugs themselves rather than the hours worked by Canadian pharmacists. Only it's a little bit stupider, because the supply of prescription drugs in Canada is determined solely by what drug companies--mostly in the United States--are willing to sell in Canada at Canadian prices. Again, it is unclear why purchasers should be blamed for seeking the lowest price in a global market where different prices are on offer. And since the drugs provided to the Canadian market are presumably profitable (how else did they find their way up here? Did they swim?), the drug companies--without regulatory moves to protect their high American markups--are ultimately not going to cut off the Canadian supply, however large the demand upon it grows.
Let's be candid about what we're talking about here: a thriving Canadian business which is permitted to exist, somewhat arbitrarily, by multinational pharmaceutical companies. Canadian regulators may eventually summon up the courage, if that's the word, to squash it. Mexican regulators probably won't; Latin American ones most certainly won't. So the question is whether Canada will be permitted to retain its share of the drug-arbitrage business, for as long as it exists.
It will be interesting if the Canadian government, or the regulatory bodies of the pharmacy business in Canada, eventually decide to take a business opportunity away from Canadian pharmacists for the purpose of making drug shopping a tiny bit harder for American consumers. A New War of Drugs of this sort would have effects analogous to the original, driving the trade "underground". The last countries to take steps against their own importers of prescription drugs into the United States will probably be the ones with the poorest pharmacy and business regulation overall, ones more likely to create an actual danger of fraud or adulteration for value-seeking American patients. Yet the spokesmen for "ethics" make pious noises about the risks to American patients posed by members of their own profession in their own country. Pardon my retching.
Postmodern life is rubbish
An urgent note about a passage from my Heritage Classic piece (the Classic, incidentally, is also the subject of my Friday morning Post column):
Yesterday six inches of snow fell here. If the same thing is happening on Saturday, the league game between the current Oilers and Canadiens cannot go off (in which case it will be held Sunday at the Oilers' usual venue, Skyreach Centre).
Rnnttt! The building formerly known as the Northlands Coliseum is also, as of tonight, the building formerly known as Skyreach Centre. A little surprise was waiting for me after I filed my column and switched on the radio broadcast of tonight's Oilers game:
The Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club and Edmonton-based Katz Group Inc., Canada's largest pharmacy retailer, today announced a 10-year sponsorship and marketing agreement under which Katz Group will own the naming rights to the Oilers' home arena and serve as exclusive health care partner. The centrepiece of this agreement is Rexall Place, formerly known as Skyreach Centre. Rexall Place is the home of the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club and other exciting sports and entertainment events, including the 2004 Bank of Montreal Canadian Figure Skating Championships, the 2004 Juno Awards and the 2004 Canadian Country Music Week. The changeover to Rexall Place will begin immediately, as the Edmonton Oilers continue their 25th Anniversary season in the National Hockey League.
To be honest, I was just getting used to calling the building Skyreach. "Rexall Place" should become comfortable on the tongue right about the time this deal is expiring. I shouldn't, and won't, lament the substitution of one phony name for another. It's amusing to see a "centre" become a mere "place", but obviously the one thing they couldn't rename the building was what it is--a "coliseum"--because that might encourage people to revert to the Northlands appellation. Skyreach, a renter of mid-sized cranes and manlift equipment, was a slightly embarrassing sponsor for the home of a major pro sports team. The Katz Group, the Edmonton-based company that probably owns your corner pharmacy if you're a Canadian, is much larger and better positioned to mint coin from arena naming rights. It's a nice gesture, too, for a private company whose existence most Edmontonians aren't aware of. (You thought all Alberta's wealth came from oil? Keeping scarfing that Lipitor, tubbo!)
The only thing that weirds one out is this: there are only three Rexall-branded drugstores in the city of Edmonton. The Katz Group's Medicine Shoppe and IDA storefronts are a great deal more common here. One takes the naming-rights purchase as a clear neon-bright sign that that is about to change. I just feel sorry for the Oilers' radio play-by-play team, who must continually throw to commercial from "Rexall Place" without explaining where the hell they are, and what's going on, every five minutes. (Memo to Morley Scott: "Katz" is pronounced with a long 'a', like Phoebe Cates. You're welcome.)
The golden child
If you didn't know that Michael Jackson and his siblings had been abused as children, the anal-retentive, perfectionist quality of Jacko's public defences of his behaviour would convince you instantly. When he dangles his own child off a balcony in front of horrified fans, does he say "Hey, I thought it would be cute. I screwed up. Sorry, everybody"? No, he says "I would never endanger my child", which he just did, like, thirty seconds before he said that. Similarly, recall how he played the race card against Tommy Mottola after years of self-mutilation designed to erode the African features from his own face. It's like Michael tries to find the least plausible thing to say in any crisis. There's a special quality of insistent denial there that your parents basically have to beat or sodomize into you.
Compare Jermaine Jackson, who affects the King Fahd look these days and is thus arguably the most normal member of the Jackson family, appearance-wise. In this group, looking like Bill Cosby doing a guest shot on Touched By A Prophet makes you the level-headed one. ("LaToya! No snakes at the dinner table! You been told, dammit!") What would be a helpful thing for Jermaine to say as his kid brother is booked on child molestation charges? I'm thinking something like this: "Michael's a very special person, as you all know. He's a little strange, and sometimes he does things we don't understand. It's my firm belief, however, that however confusing his behaviour, he would never harm, manipulate, or coerce a child."
Instead, IslamiCosby gives us this:
My brother is not eccentric.
Er... ah... maybe he just doesn't know what that word means.
Somewhere up there, Bill Veeck just became a hockey fan
I've been trying to lay off the sports chatter--it really makes the traffic auger in, I think--but the Heritage Classic scheduled for Saturday demands some attention. With each passing day, the plan to hold the National Hockey League's first-ever outdoor game in the 60,000-seat Commonwealth Stadium looks more and more like one of those marketing coups that comes along once in a century. The team has had--wrap your head around this--almost a million requests for tickets. Every serious hockey town in the world will be watching to see how the thing comes off. Mark Messier has agreed to suit up in an Oiler uniform for the Megastars alumni game preceding the real one, even though he is an active member of the New York Rangers. He will join Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, and pretty much every other significant member of the five-Cup Oiler squads in the exhibition. And that's not even to mention the Canadiens greats like Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt who will be squaring off on the other side. (The Habs just added Claude Lemieux to counter Messier. A thirty-minute old-fart game just turned into a damn chess match.)
The game will be worth at least $5 million, at a modest estimate, to a cash-strapped Oilers franchise... if it happens. The whole thing is "weather permitting", imparting an aura of unbearable drama to the event and raising the possibility of a hard financial and promotional letdown. Fair or not, the future of a great marketing idea for the NHL depends on Mother Nature's cooperation this weekend. Yesterday six inches of snow fell here. If the same thing is happening on Saturday, the league game between the current Oilers and Canadiens cannot go off (in which case it will be held Sunday at the Oilers' usual venue, Skyreach Centre). So, too, in the unlikely event it is too warm. Right now the Saturday forecast is for plenty of sun and a high of -11°C, which would be just about perfect.
I could go on about the subplots that have worked the city into an unprecedented state of insanity: Dick Irvin calling the alumni game for the CBC, the possibility of Gretzky's daughter singing between the two games, the Oilers signing 1,000-assist-club member Adam Oates on Monday, several generations of hockey men converging on the city and giving interviews... Even as the Leafs try to figure out if they can fit a hockey game into the SkyDome, Toronto fans are incensed, says the Winnipeg Sun, about the mockery being made of the game by the Oilers.
In Toronto, the radio stations appear to have decided the Heritage Classic is an embarrassment to hockey, a cash grab, a blow to the integrity of hockey.If this is a true account of what is being broadcast on sports talk radio in Toronto... well, one must be charitable: sports talk radio is never exactly the intellectual highlight of anybody's day. Still--what cheesy objections. The Oilers' ticket prices for the event are scarcely any higher than ordinary passes at, say, Air Canada Centre for a Leafs game. Considering that the price gets you in to see Wayne Gretzky skating in an Oilers uniform for the first time in 14 years--a spectacle an entire generation of fans has missed out on--and considering that people have been phoning in from South America and Europe to find out whom they have to blow to get a ticket, the $135 face value of the best seat can hardly be deemed exorbitant. If there's an outrage here, it's that prices were set so low, with many seats simply assigned to politicians and such. Oilers season-ticket holders were rightly given first claim on the ducats, but the last 7,500 were distributed by means of a random drawing. For the good of the team, and in the interests of getting the tickets into the hands of people who valued them most, they probably should have been auctioned off. (The going rate on eBay is apparently over $300; the difference between the market price and the face value might have been used to buy the Oilers another goddamn centre...)
As to the Messier matter, that is surely a private issue which has been worked out to the mutual satisfaction of #11 and the New York Rangers. It cannot possibly be a matter of concern to Torontonians. I'll admit there is a hazy theoretical concern about a player donning the uniform of another franchise while still active, but (1) it's an exhibition game, (2) he's insured, (3) he won't miss a Rangers game unless he gets hurt, (4) the Rangers fans these days probably wouldn't care all that much if he did, (5) there's no sense trying to deny or obfuscate Messier's history with the Oilers, (6) he's from Edmonton, (7) current Rangers coach Glen Sather has already arranged to come over and coach the Oilers alumni, causing nary a peep from anybody, (8) there is no real distinction between being an "alumnus" of one team and a current warrior for another, (9) it would be unkind to deny Messier a chance to participate just because he's been unusually durable, and (10)--I don't even need a (10); if you get up to (10) in a list of reasons why an idea is lame, unnecessarily vindictive, and obviously motivated by envy, you were done a long time ago.
As to the question whether an outdoor game should count in the standings, the experiment has been tried in the NCAA and the World Championships with success. News flash for the naysayers: it was originally an outdoor game, this "hockey" you claim to be defending. If we're going to take points away from games played on a crappy ice surface, we'll have to take Stanley Cups away from a few American teams. ("Less than pristine" would be an absurdly euphemistic description of the ice in any building south of the Mason-Dixon line.)
The real objection to the Classic, if there is one, is that since the league subsidizes "small-market" teams, the risk from a total financial fiasco falls partly on the Oilers' competitors. The answer, I think, is simple and effective: the Oilers are still assuming the lion's share of the risk here in the name of an experiment that might ultimately benefit its competitors, and the league as a whole. Edmonton has taken on the costs of a difficult logistical and financial learning process. The real problem, perhaps, is that the experiment may not be reproducible in other cities on meteorological grounds: you're never going to have an outdoor game in Dallas or Vancouver, and it might not even be practically possible in Toronto, where you can't, perhaps, be guaranteed a freezing bloody cold day at any given time of year. At the same time, the stakes will be lower for future events; other cities won't suffer quite the anguish Edmonton will if the Saturday game has to be moved inside. Whether the Classic succeeds or fails, it was certainly worth trying once.
Can't use that 'too sick to go to the bank' excuse anymore
Will Paypal.com soon be undone by its own success as major financial institutions start competing with it for a market they should have 0WNZ0Red in the first place? I don't know what the situation is in the United States, but all of the major Canadian banks--who led the way in adopting ATMs lo those many years ago--are now permitting interbank e-mail money transfers. Last month the sluggard Royal Bank, my own main financial institution, finally introduced the technology. This is greatly to the satisfaction of my mother, who was taking the piss out of me for months because she was able to send money electronically through the slightly more up-tempo Scotiabank; to make a deposit to one of her accounts, I had to take a bus or cab to a bricks-and-mortar branch, whereas my sister could do it from her Web browser. (If I'd mailed a cheque it would have required about the same amount of work, plus I'd need to buy a stamp.)
Among Canada's Big Six banks, CIBC, Scotiabank, BMO, and TD adopted and inaugurated a system of e-mail funds transfers jointly in June 2002. The RBC now appears to have signed up with the same umbrella system. Only the National, which is tiny compared to the other five, remains on the sidelines.
Twilight of the odd
[Michael Jackson's] accuser is a 12-year-old boy who says the pop star lured him to his Neverland Ranch and plied him with wine before abusing him, according to several reports. Those details point to a brave cancer survivor who was befriended by Jackson while he was ill--and who has spoken to a therapist, a lawyer and police about the singer.
Hey Michael! The Make-a-Wish Foundation isn't designed to help you get your fondest wish! Mmm, cancer boy... so dependent and pliable.
Oddly enough, if you wanted to just make a wild guess, you might want to bet that the tabs' beloved "Wacko Jacko" is technically innocent of "lewd and lascivious behaviour". It's impossible to second-guess the thinking of a man from the planet Quuxph, but what we know about his psyche suggests that, as he's admitted, he may well use his wealth and fame to abuse children for the purposes of non-sexual physical gratification. When it's put that way, you can see it doesn't matter much. Someone suspected of pedophilia who finds bedding down with minors literally irresistible is saying "Screw you" to law, custom, and decency. Let him ply his conspiracy theories ("These characters always seem to surface with a dreadful allegation just as another project, an album, a video, is being released") all the way to Hotel Chomo.
But can we consider setting aside a room for the parents of this child, who let the world's most notorious child abuser monopolize the company of their ill son? It sounds like they certainly got a much-better-than-market rate for allowing a mutant sociopath to commit a little frottage, lascivious or not.
Thoughts on Lord Black
Preliminary full disclosure: Conrad Black is temporarily still, I think, a director of and relatively major shareholder (through Hollinger International) in CanWest Global Communications, owners of the National Post. I refer to him as "Lord Black" only out of anti-Liberal stubbornness, monarchist sentiment, and pedantry.
Deconstructing his offence: there are two sets of problems that Hollinger's investigative committee found here. They are disclosure issues, and unauthorized payments to Hollinger higher-ups. The $32 million figure being batted around is a sum of apples and oranges, in this sense. If I've decoded correctly, the apples are $16.6 million in "non-competition fees" paid to Hollinger by buyers of some of the company's small U.S. newspapers. Minority shareholders and the Securities and Exchange Commission weren't told about these fees; in effect they were off the books, and there's no evidence they were approved by the Hollinger board or its audit committee. The oranges: $15.6 million in personal payments on the same deals, mostly split between to Lord Black and his right-hand man David Radler. These payments were disclosed to the SEC--that's an important point--so the minority shareholders knew about them. It's now turned out somehow, though, that the board, which is meant to actually act on the concerns of such shareholders, did not approve these personal payouts.
So, in English, what did Black do wrong? In the first case, $17M came to Hollinger as part of a newspaper sale, but the sum went unreported. That's a transparency problem--not a problem of a stolen asset, but a concealed one whose later pilfering might hypothetically have been facilitated. In the second case, Black (and Radler) worked out a nice little bonus for themselves, paid voluntarily by the buyer in the deal, and the board wasn't given, or didn't take, the proper chance to call bullshit. Again, it's not a matter of theft--I see I'm visibly trying to pre-empt claims that Black is an outright crook, so remember that the SEC hasn't looked into this stuff yet--but a matter of corporate structure failing to work as it's supposed to. Small shareholders like the combative Tweedy Browne, whose corp-gov puritanism can only be called a breath of fresh air in the present climate, were morally entitled to have the Hollinger board dot the I's and cross the T's. Clearly that didn't happen with respect to the relevant dealings.
The overall verdict against Black must be one of unacceptable carelessness and arrogance. For distantly-placed students of Blackian psychology, this can't really be surprising. (It's funny--no?--how all these admirers of Napoleon seem to forget just how the little fellow ended up.) Black clearly had the view--reasonable in all but technical respects, though those are important--that an investor in Hollinger International was an investor in Conrad Black. If you regard investors in your publicly-traded company as having placed their trust, essentially, in you as a person, then naturally you are going to regard any kind of limits on your activity as quarrelsome interruptions. If Hollinger stock hadn't fared so pisspoorly over the last year, would Tweedy Browne really have been so outraged about the governance issues the company had? What in the name of Jesus Crikey did they think they were buying into? Any adult Canadian who reads the newspaper could have told them that Conrad Black, for better or worse, isn't a man to be held in check by a board he no doubt mostly chose himself. Not to be crude about it (translation: I'm about to be crude about it), but the plaintiffs here seem much like the woman who pleads sexual assault because the gentleman didn't pull out upon request.
So I have a bit of sympathy for Black here. I'll go so far as to say that this may be the rarest sort of news event--one that actually warrants the use of the word "tragedy". Today was the bloody fifth act, in which the larger-than-life protagonist receives the foreseeable yet cathartic comeuppance resulting from a fatal character flaw. At the same time, if you don't want to comply with the tedious regulations involved in running a public company, the magnificently simple solution is not to get involved in running a public company. Black cannot seek to blame others for his ouster. To imagine he will is, I think, to underestimate him.
Black is so hated, so hated on the Canadian left. The Birkenstockers will celebrate, perhaps, until they notice that his Hollinger shares went up 18% today. Humiliation should always be so lucrative. Doubtless Black enjoys the perennial hatred almost as much as he'll enjoy the extra cash. It's still funny that the same people who fawn disgustingly over an interminable roster of "successful" Canadian mediocrities could never find a kind word for one of the most renowned Canadian businessmen to tread the earth since Black's old mirror-image, Lord Beaverbrook. All right, Black's a conservative. So is Stompin' Tom Connors, but no one hesitates to uphold him as a National Treasure; we like our conservatives poor and corny, I guess.
If it's authenticity we seek, well, I can only repeat things that have been written a million times about the man. No one ever accused him of having his occasional essais ghostwritten; no one could, because Black's prose is not susceptible to confusion with any other human's. He does his own heavy lifting when he has some crazed idea he want to plump for. No one ever accused Black of not taking a genuine interest in his newspapers, of failing to keep an eye out for talent, or of not creating jobs for journalists. He ran his publishing enterprises with a tolerance that would be praised to the Oort cloud if he were a liberal. He always let local dailies retain their distinctive political character--the Edmonton Journal, if anything, leaned even further left in this government-and-university town after Hollinger took over Southam--and when some local rim jockey printed something he disagreed with, he wouldn't issue a barrage of pink slips, but simply took pen in hand to reply, confident in his ability to win an equal contest of ideas.
All these characteristics seem to be precisely the things that enrage Black's enemies most. They mock his forays into op-eddery, as though it would be better if he simply established a party line for his papers by fiat. They decry his occasional exercise of the right of reply, as though it would be better if he merely sacked those of opposite political leanings. They denounce his continued patronage of politically incorrect writers as though they wanted press barons to police newsrooms with unbending, antiseptic fanaticism. If he had a mind to do so, where do they think he'd start?
As I say, though, this is all familiar stuff, and doesn't excuse the corporate shenanigans. The amounts of money involved are, to Black, trivial; the potential end of a remarkable career clearly means more to him, or he'd have surrendered to the Hollinger minority investors months ago. It is hard to imagine him descending into mere desuetude. More likely he'll take a while to let the heat die and then buy himself another miserable little paper or magazine someplace. Above all he seems to have a great lust to be numbered amongst those who buy their ink by the barrel.
Grey Cup postscript: evangelical Protestants from the American South, we know, are overrepresented in all forms of North American football. When you win the NFL championship, you're presented with a pyramid-type thingy, and all you can really do is sort of wave it around and look like a goof. But the ultimate prize in Canada is a silver cup which gets filled instantly with a wicked alcoholic beverage called "champagne". Drinking from it seems socially de rigueur. How do Baptists and similarly inclined teetotallers respond to the ethical challenge? On the evidence of yesterday's celebration, God looks the other way when you win the Grey Cup (and so he should--it's almost as old as he is). Print reports profess that Tom Higgins had his first-ever taste of champers yesterday, and Edmonton Sun scribe Gerry Prince reported before the game that "non-drinker Terry Vaughn" willingly drank from the Cup in 1998. Presumably Vaughn repeated the exercise yesterday.
Of course, I wouldn't presume to guess at the Lord's opinion of the well-appointed downtown-Edmonton sports bar that Vaughn owns. (And after all, refraining from alcohol consumption may just be a good business decision for a bar owner.)
Coles Notes Dept.: if you read my Monday Post column and you want more background on the productivity effects of a soggy currency, you can check out the Centre for the Study of Living Standards' International Productivity Monitor. The article I refer to in the piece is the one by Rao, Tang, and Wang. They are careful to note that, although they are Canadian government economists, they're not stating formal policy, but writing in a private capacity. (Maybe they're angling for promotion under an economically literate Prime Minister?...)
For those without a Post subscription, the Monday column is not on the Web yet, but you can catch up with Friday's.
Those who rise and shine in the Eastern time zone have already heard about Conrad Black's sudden forced resignation as CEO of Hollinger International. Bourque has a shedload of links and Google News will maintain a raging torrent of fresh material.
Whisky in the jar (iced tea, actually)
Je te plumerai la tête
I have the game plan and it's going to work, absolutely for sure. I can't wait. - Montreal Alouettes QB Anthony Calvillo, FridayHow sad that Mr. Calvillo has all winter to chew that one over. No disrespect to A.C. intended: it wasn't his fault. It turned out that his head coach, the corpulent 12-stepper-on-his-0th-step Don Matthews, also had a game plan. It involved--and, ladies and germs, all Canada is going to spend the next week trying to dissect this one--the inexplicable last-minute benching of both the Alouette starting cornerbacks in favour of two sashimi-raw rookies. Result: a 34-22 Edmonton Grey Cup victory that was never in real serious doubt. I don't know if you watched the game, but there's a kid on the Als roster named D.J. Johnson who got burned more times today than a narcoleptic short-order cook in a year of hamburgers. If Johnson isn't already huffing a crack pipe for all it's worth and more, he's a stronger man than I. Matthews has ruined this guy's life.
That's the kind of hard bastard Matthews is, and he has 10 Grey Cup rings as a result of his hardness. But there isn't a man in this country who wouldn't rather raise his son to be like the opposing coach who got his first ring at Matthews' expense today, Tom "Ned Flanders" Higgins. The tar-and-feathers party was out for Higgins after the Eskimos' 3-3 start this year, and I'll admit that at times I was thinking of taking an X-acto knife to my own duvet just in case some help was needed. But I'm pleased to say I never crossed the line. Matthews was the man who, while still in Edmonton, kept insisting that Nealon Greene, who runs nice but can't really throw a spiral, was a CFL quarterback. Higgins not only stepped in to replace Matthews when he suffered a total physical and mental breakdown and wouldn't own up; he also hustled Greene out of town and ultimately replaced him with the new idol of all Canada--and possibly a soon-to-be NFL star--24-year-old Ricky Ray.
Higgins' postgame interview was a model of deportment in triumph. The first question the CBC sideline guy threw at him was "What does this Grey Cup mean to you": Higgins crossed him up brilliantly with a moment of Buster Keaton-worthy deadpan, looking him right in the eyes, saying "Nothing!" and letting the TV audience twist for a good four seconds before giving the stock answer. The exit question was "Tom, you stayed down on the sideline when your players went up on the platform to accept the Grey Cup. Why?" "It wasn't necessary," Higgins said firmly. "This is about them." Wasn't necessary. Imagine--two years of pretty steady abuse and jokes about his non-psychotic, uncoachlich demeanour, and the man still has that kind of feeling for his players at the moment of glory. Damn, I think we've got ourselves a skipper.
The moment most viewers will remember about this Grey Cup, frustratingly enough, will be an Alouettes offensive play--the Ben Cahoon catch in the second quarter. The Cahoon Catch. Cahoon is an interesting figure: he qualifies as a Canadian for CFL roster purposes, so as an extremely talented pass-catcher he is doubly useful, opening up space for a non-import elsewhere. (He was the league's "most outstanding Canadian" this year.) In fact, though, he's a fake Canadian: he is, if I recall right, from Orem, Utah, but just happened by some travel quirk to be born in Alberta. He was considering a bunch of lousy options after college--"I didn't even know there was an NFL Asia"--when his agent noticed that he had a Canadian birthplace and started screaming at him. "Why didn't you tell me? I can make you a star up there!" I don't get the sense Cahoon is so wild about pretending to be a Canuck, but on account of his birthplace he may be the CFL's single most valuable player. His catch today should certainly show up on highlight reels across the continent. It was, as he said after the game, the catch every kid practices leaping onto his bed at night--a fully-extended one-handed grab, in close coverage, for huge yardage, near the opposing goal line. It goes right into the Grey Cup pantheon with Tony Champion's grab in '89--anyone who saw that astonishing game knows what "the Champion Catch" signifies--and fifty years from now, when Cahoon is a rickety old gent sitting on a porch in one of the great cities of the Secessionist Mormon Republic, Canadian visitors will still occasionally be heard to say "Ben Cahoon? You're not the Ben Cahoon who--in aught-three--?"
Having conceded all that, I feel entitled to reiterate that the fucker lost today to the mighty Eskimos, yeahhh. So did Keith Stokes, the overrated kick returner who, like so many of the Als, pointlessly affects a goddamn dopey-looking black wraparound sunshade on his facemask. What are you, an extra from Timerider? It's late afternoon in Regina in November, idiot jackass: they don't even have a sun there, just a cold yellow pee-hole in the overcast. Stokes not only had the ooo, spooooky sunshade going, he was also rocking some kind of black Xena-esque braided leather sleeve getup on his arms. It might impress the biker mamas, Keith, but you sort of helped lose the game today by fumbling not one but two kicks, and I wonder whether your unwise fashion choices may not have contributed.
But it's Matthews who's going to take the heat, and I for one will be happy to add coals to the blazing pit. What I'll remember about the game are two faces: Matthews', after his team got down 14-0, exhibiting a thousand-yard stare that would shame a Marine, looking more utterly blank than is normally possible for a being whose synapses are firing, giving new meaning to the words "dead on his feet"; and Ricky Ray, celebrating maybe the last victory of a meteoric CFL career, beaming for the cameras after the win and revealing something that shocked me, and I mean shocked me almost literally, electrically--
--he wears braces on his teeth! That can't be right, you say... look closer. No, he does! Those are honest-to-god braces! Edmonton's finest passer since Warren Moon is a frigging metal-mouth! Too much! The tension breaks and you, the viewer, draw your first deep breath since 4 a.m. What a day! What a day! We beat the Als with a quarterback who wears braces! Yee-haw!
It's Grey Cup day! It is almost a shame they don't give Grey Cups ostentatious numbers like they do Super Bowls. If they did, this would be--if I've counted correctly--Grey Cup XCI. The Grey Cup has been won in the past by Queen's University, by units of the Canadian Armed Forces, and by a Baltimore expansion team that never did have a proper nickname (the papers just called them the "CFL Colts"). Like most of you I learned to care a little less about the Cup when the league went south there, literally and figuratively, in the '90s. But now the exquisite nine-team imbalance has been restored--teams are actually changing hands now instead of just folding!--and the Grey Cup has regained its power to energize the country.
I've been looking back over CFL history, which has intertwined inextricable roots with my own. Mere scores from individual playoff games can yank me backwards in time and space--does this happen for other people? Winnipeg 50, Edmonton 11 (1990 Cup)--I remember how convinced I was that the Eskimos were going to win that one, and how quickly it all went to hell. Saskatchewan 32, Edmonton 21 (1989)--the bizarre train wreck of a 16-2 team against a 9-9 conference-final opponent; Saskatchewan people can probably tell you about every minute of that one. Calgary 38, Edmonton 36 (1991): the Pee Wee Smith Western Final. I still wake up screaming "Somebody stop him!" I remember the wins, too--Jerry Kauric's delirious field goal, Doug Flutie frantically trying to warm his hands on the sideline, the Empire Strikes Back rally in '81 against J.C. Watts--but these things follow the Anna Karenina principle. All happy playoff games are alike; all unhappy ones are torturous in their own way. In the past, most of the losses have included a very heavy helping of disbelief--this fact makes a powerful impression on me as I review the record--but it's been ten years now since the Eskimos last won a Grey Cup.
Expect little weblogging today (I still have to file a Post column, hopefully before kickoff).
On the dole
I'm in the middle of reading the weird C.D. Howe Institute study on the bilateral costs and benefits of union between the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Where, by the way, did this idea even come from? I've never heard an Alsask political union proposed outside the context of Western separation, unless you count the occasional wishes expressed by my Saskatchewan relatives that Alberta would somehow invade and take over. Which isn't one of the cases explored in the study.
Anyway, I wanted to highlight one remarkable statistic which appears therein. Keeping in mind that Alberta has three times the overall population of Saskatchewan, consider this an insight into how well the NDP cares for the poor--and multiplies it:
Welfare recipients in Saskatchewan, 2002: 56,100
Sons of the soil
Somewhere in his oeuvre, Marshall McLuhan attempts to demonstrate the holistic imagination of the preliterate society by means of a not-very-credible anecdote about Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal and leader of the Boers. (Not many people remember now that, at the precise outset of the 20th century, Oom Paul was the most hated single individual in Canada by a very long stretch.) McLuhan relates that Kruger was--as President--one day confronted while napping in a tree's shade by two young, doughty Boers who were trying to divide up an inheritance of land. They explained their problem in quarrelsome bursts of Afrikaans while unfolding a huge map and preparing to occupy what might have been hours of the President's leisure time. But he solved the problem, in McLuhan's telling, without even lifting his head from his recumbent position: "You divide," he said to one son: "you choose", he said to the other, and went back to sleep.
The undoubted antiquity of the Pie Rule convinces us that the anecdote is false (and even if true, it would be irrelevant to McLuhan's purpose). But what you might wonder is how the Boer genius would have saved his nap if there had been three sons. It turns out that the literature of mathematics supplies a good answer to the basic three-person pie-division problem, one which has been generalized to the case of n pie-eaters. It might work for dividing up real property, too. You could foresee an obvious problem for the original "pie"-divider if there were some indispensable and indivisible asset attached to the land, such as a water well, but if the divider were allowed to include shared access to such indispensables as part of each parcel, the procedure might still work. I'm not Hungarian, so there might be other wrinkles I haven't thought of.
First Steve Bartman, now this
Right about when I type these words, the world's tallest building will be opening for business in Taipei. I say this with the skyscraper aficionado's caveat that there's no single "world's tallest building"--but if you had to pick one, Taipei 101 wouldn't be a bad choice. It has received a lot less attention in North America than the Petronas Towers in Malaysia did when they opened, but it is taller, and, perhaps more importantly, has seized the tallest-to-roof title held, until now, by the Sears Tower in Chicago.
The Boston Globe has the scoop on some interesting structural details of Taipei 101. SkyScraperPage.com has a comparative display of the ten tallest skyscrapers. The tallest structure on the planet is the guyed KVLY broadcasting tower at Blanchard, N.D., at least until the next real stiff wind comes along.
Every dog has its day
You watched as Meryl Streep heard A Cry in the Dark, and you couldn't stop humming tunes from the Lindy Chamberlain opera, but now--in response to a reported 41% decline in the worldwide deployment of "A dingo took moy baby!" jokes--there's going to be a TV mini.
Despite the lapse of 23 years since the mystery began, [the series'] producers--Liberty and Beyond Productions--said it was a saga worth rekindling. "It's a story that has profoundly had an impact on this nation," co-producer Tony Cavanaugh said.He's right! Which is why I'm proposing that the story should be re-told from the dingo's point of view and retitled Azaria and Me. I mean, a hundred years of shooting, trapping, and lost habitat, and people get upset over one little snack--I ask you! Where's the context? It's not about revisionism--it's about justice.
Foreigners and expats who want to follow Grey Cup week should bookmark Canada.com's Cup page. Recommended: Tim Cook's wire story about the horrifying injury Eskimos receiver Ed Hervey played through in Sunday's Western Final. Hervey dislocated his ring finger so badly that the bone popped clear through the skin, but he stayed in the game. And remember, he's a wide receiver.
"I just remember the ball hitting my finger and I knew something wasn't right because I looked down and my finger was pointed on a 90-degree angle up and to the left," Hervey recalled after practice on Wednesday. "I just went over to the bench, sat down and I didn't look at it after that."
(Not necessarily recommended: a rather sycophantic story about Alouettes head coach Don Matthews. It mentions that he was fired as Esks head coach during training camp in 2001, but doesn't mention the circumstances. Have we just stopped asking questions about the mysterious "medical problems" [glug, glug] which kept Matthews from running proper two-a-days for the Eskies, but which seemed to clear up real quick as soon as he became available to another team? Recent history and Matthews' current trim, healthy appearance suggest that Matthews abused the trust of his old friend, Edmonton GM Hugh Campbell, and of the Edmonton fans. Genius? Maybe. Asshole? You make the call.)
It is also known as "entre-profiting"
So you want to own a hotel! Well, here's your chance--the York Hotel in Grande Prairie, Alberta, is being raffled off in a bizarre essay contest with a pretty steep entry fee.
Q: What is the $3 Million Dollar Hotel Invitational?It's a "character building", they say (is this the 21st-century version of "fixer-upper"?). Since the owners of the hotel hope to attract 3,000 entries, and thus raise $3 million towards the price of what they state to be a $1.5 million property, you're probably not exactly wondering whether there's a further catch. There is one, anyway: if they fall short of the number needed to hold the drawing, your entry fee is returned "minus a handling fee of $100". Whoa, that's a handling fee? Who's handling the cheques for that kind of money--Madonna?
Watching the detectives
For those still interested, Kevin Steel and Kevin Grace have prepared a complicated dossier on the collapse of Report magazine and the tergiversations of various legal persons involved therein. Steel has scanned in an archive of documents and KMG has a narrative interpretation which is inaccurate in no respect of which I am aware.
Beware of fog
Not just for hockey fans: four pages of the worst hockey logos ever.
Salvation from Tunbridge Wells
I believe, sincerely, that we are on the verge of beating the spam problem--just in time for a bunch of ill-advised, hastily-written pieces of legislation about it to be passed, naturally. (The cavalry of statute law always arrives just as the rebellious natives are disappearing over the next ridge.) The technological solutions to spam are working.
How can we know this? Look at the spam you've been receiving lately. More and more of it is designed to beat the popular Bayesian spam filters by means of deliberate misspelling: BUYE NOHN-PRUSKRPITION VIIAGRA ONLIME TOODAY. This is a last-ditch tactic not only because the filters can be updated to counter any conceivable misspelling, but because the whole idea of spam--or so one had thought--is to sell stuff. If there's anybody left who could be fooled by a penis-enlargement ad in their Inbox, they at least have to be able to make sense of it before they reach for their credit card, no? Trying to sell a PNIUS INLURGOR makes it more difficult to Always Be Closing by at least an order of magnitude, right?
In fact, I don't think anybody is actually making money off spam, and I suspect no one has made money off of true spam for at least a year. I'm doubtful that anyone ever did: the rare media reports of millionaire spammers, or thousandaire ones, are extremely unconvincing. The current practitioners have got to be deluded Johnny-come-latelies who have shelled out big cash for "secrets of Internet sales succe$$". The signal for spam to peak and begin declining will be when we start seeing media accounts of people who have been ripped off in this way. ("I Was a Professional Spammer!") And this will allow for old-fashioned fraud prosecutions against the people who--I'm guessing--have switched from real spamming to the ever-popular marketing of bogus sales techniques.
I will also add that my Hotmail account--whose address is in a mailto link on this page and is not protected in the slightest from spambots--is now nearly perfect at dumping spam in the Bulk Mail folder. I get maybe two or three spams a day in my Inbox there, tops. An unaccoladed triumph for the Satan of Redmond.
We don't need new laws against "unsolicited commercial e-mail", the majority of which now certainly comes from offshore anyway. Mostly we need to stand back and let Thomas Bayes work his Nonconformist magic. Technical change on the Net happens faster than we expect; in fact, it happens faster even than those who expect it expect. And I'm willing to bet, though I don't really have any more information on this subject than you do, that we'll all be going "Hey--remember spam?" in 30 months or less.
I've relented and added relative column widths to the code so the page layout doesn't look quite so ghastly and so CC.com can be viewed in a smaller browser window--or with more comfort in a larger one than that to which I'm accustomed. If this busts the page for you, let me know. (My WebTV reader is going to be browned off, I suspect.)
The use of abortion as an informal eugenic method is, on the whole, a winning issue for the pro-choice side--if by "winning" you mean defeat in the overall war but victory in the battle to make people feel uneasy. As in the controversy over the dilation-and-extraction technique, it is easy to appeal to instinctive disgust by citing the truth that unhealthy fetuses are sometimes terminated only because they are unhealthy. But does the existence of parents who would prefer not to carry a severely impaired child to term constitute such a tasty argumentative morsel that it may lead pro-choice writers to overreach themselves? Dave Shiflett, normally one of the more admirable scribes at National Review, has written a contemptible piece on the issue for NRO.
The article is about a liberal friend of Shiflett's--he attends church-state separation rallies, the wacko!--who has a daughter with Down's Syndrome and who objected to a line in a CNN story about early detection of the disorder.
I offer as evidence a recent story on CNN concerning a new prenatal test that can detect the presence of Down Syndrome. CNN's website reported the primary benefit of this test is that it gives "mothers-to-be more peace of mind and more time to end a pregnancy," a position shared by on-air medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta (a.k.a. Dr. Snuff).
There is no link to the CNN story quoted, so we don't really know whether Dr. Gupta had completed the sentence with a phrase like "if they so choose", which would dispel the suggestion, pretty damned dodgy in any case, that Dr. Gupta was tacitly urging parents to terminate children with Down's. "Dr. Snuff"'s crime, apparently, was not mentioning in the interests of balance that some parents may wish to test for the syndrome only so that "assessment and care can begin prenatally". If it is realistically possible to handle a Down's pregnancy differently--and, at the very least, early detection would give parents wishing to follow through a chance to restructure their financial affairs in advance--then Dr. Gupta might be deserving of a slap on the wrist. Then again, his clinical experience may simply have suggested to him that the number of parents who want to go ahead with a Down's pregnancy is, for better or worse, infinitesimal. The key point is that it's something a doctor might reasonably say even if he were pro-life.
In any event, it's best to have clean hands if you want to administer such a wrist-slap. Shiflett is as excited as a schoolgirl that a political opponent, his buddy Ian Danielsen, is with him on this particular issue. So much so that he is capable of overlooking the weird implications of this bit:
Ian assured Dr. Snuff [in an angry letter] that he's philosophically pro-choice, especially when the mother's and fetus's lives are threatened. But that "is not generally the case with Down Syndrome..."
Er... if he's pro-choice for everybody, what difference does it make whether the mother's and fetus's lives are threatened? What does it even mean to be pro-choice especially on some condition? (And can such a distinction possibly be "philosophical"?) Does our wrathful Down's parent think that mothers should only be permitted to terminate healthy babies? Does he think it is all right for women to determine that they're not ready for the ordinary burdens of childbearing and childrearing, but not all right for them to decide that they can't handle the very great additional costs and trials of bringing up a child with Down's Syndrome? This is certainly an amusing concept of reproductive "choice". This just in: your fetus has the rights of an autonomous, inviolable human being only if its chromosomes are damaged!
Of course, if Shiflett's secret aim was to reveal the mangled logic behind a typical liberal's household philosophizing while pretending to sympathize, then I can only say "bravo". I just hope it won't be held against those of us who are consistently pro-choice.
My Monday morning Post column has made it to the Web. Tough one to summarize; it's a pre-Remembrance Day piece.
The end of the rainbow
And as if to complete a near-perfect football day: of course, what else did you expect?: the San Diego Chargers reached the end of their rope and called on Doug Flutie.
The way I imagine it is, every head coach in the NFL has a special locked drawer in his desk. Most of the time he hasn't even noticed it, but if he has, he's noticed that the wood's a slightly different colour than on the face of the other drawers. It's a little browner, looks a little older. And there's a key, but it turns out that the key is invariably in the possession of the 67-year-old assistant equipment manager, the Hispanic guy with lumbago and an 81 IQ who spends two full hours a day stacking kicking tees. At his very lowest moment the Coach will notice the drawer, intuit the location of the key (it has to be intuited; if you need it bad enough you'll know where to look), and call Alvaro over to open the drawer. Long story short, Flutie's agent's cell number is in there. There's a whole story around Flutie's agent, too--Flutie's his only client, his face is always entirely obscured by fresh white bandages, and he speaks with a French accent--but we'll skip that. The point is, that's how you get Flutie, when you need Flutie.
Now, some may have stopped believing in Doug Flutie's ability just because he played high-school ball with Don Hutson and flew Mustangs in the Pacific during the Second World War and has a wooden leg. Periodically, just like Santa, Flutie has to reassert his existence to dispel the doubters. So it transpired today. (Let me just emphasize that we are talking about the Chargers beating the Vikings, and by "beating" I mean humiliation, like a grade-seven nerd getting a snowbank facewash from a wolfpack of grade nines.) The doubters always surge back, because they are indestructible Pod People, and eventually whoever's coaching Flutie succumbs. Some hypothesize that one day, a team will place its destiny in the hands of Flutie for good and resist the temptation to replace him with some overgrown turkey who was carrying water at Weber State 15 months ago. Opinions differ.
Canadians, of course, consider that we own Flutie; he played in our league for eight years when nobody in the U.S. had the sense to snap him up. I can't stand the son of a bitch, because for as long as he was in the league, there was always one 5'10" obstacle in the path of the Lord's own Edmonton Eskimos and their mighty work. What you have to understand is that every CFL team but the Eskimos is loathsome in its own special way, and Flutie played for three of the very worst, except for possibly the other five. He played for the B.C. Lions, whom I still consider a frivolous expansion club (est. 1954) and who have no actual fans because everybody in that province prefers Mariners games or highly complicated Chinese soap operas. It is possible that there are four or five Lions "fans" in the backwoods of B.C., running nudist Mormon colonies where man-boy love is deemed a sacrament, but this remains unproven. He also played for the Toronto Argonauts, who come from Toronto and have a special quality of magnifying that city's most obscene vices, and for the Calgary Stampeders, who are actually, you could look this up, anathematized cryptically as "the Abominog" in a few obscure Gnostic scriptures dating to the second century A.D.
So Flutie will always be "fuckin' Flutie" to me--and don't get me started on his brother, or their rock band--but because he is an honorary Canadian, and because if the ability to win isn't rewarded in sports then there's no point, I take pride in his accomplishments well away from the relevant action, on the weird 100-yard field.
[UPDATE, November 11: Thanks to Garnet Fraser for correcting the date of the founding of the Leos.]
Green with envy, as usual
It's late November, and you know what that means. "It means that I have to dump Maggie May and head back to school?" I was thinking of the Grey Cup, actually. The Edmonton Eskimos beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 30-23 today in the Western Final, but don't be fooled by the score: it was 30-2 with six minutes to play (have I mentioned I hate the CFL?) and the Eskies let up some just to jerk the stubblejumping visitors around a little.
The Eskimos usually like to make the Western Final close at home (on the real living grass surface which Saskatchewan's players have been whining about endlessly, but which does so much to make Edmonton a favourite of the football gods). All the Riders needed to do to compete, as I've been saying for eons, was to supply a quarterback who can throw a spiral. Alas, they waited too long, pulling Nealon Greene for Kevin Glenn only after the Eskies had run up the score and Nealon had gone a stellar 5-for-13 with 77 yards through three quarters.
To get a mental picture of Greene, you only have to imagine Kordell Stewart with a little less nous, transplanted to a league where passing is a lot more important. Greene probably toasted his football career today, as a quarterback, anyway. It was the worst playoff performance by a passer that we are ever likely to see: he couldn't have hit the Jumbotron at ten paces. Nealon would, without doubt, be a magnificent endowment to the panoply of sport as a running back. But after he was let go by the Eskimos, the management of the Riders--which has assembled a pretty good team in other respects--somehow felt the need to entertain his Freudian fetish for having the ball snapped directly to him. I assume he will be cut in the off-season if he cannot be persuaded to take up his natural position. But then, the NDP keeps winning elections out there in Rectangle Country, so who knows what kind of basis they make these decisions on.
For 54 minutes the Eskimos played Platonically perfect defence--the second tackler was always right there on the trivial number of occasions he was necessary--and Ricky Ray drove the ball like John Elway's Frito-selling brother, as indeed he had to because the special teams sucked. They face Montreal in the Grey Cup--in Regina! Haw haw haw haw!--a week from today. Montreal is the only team in this league that frightens me. Last year, they beat the Esks pretty convincingly in the Cup game. But we've been here before. In '74 the Alouettes beat the Eskimos in the final, and lost the rematch in 1975. In '77 the Alouettes beat the Eskimos in the final, and lost the rematch in 1978. This should, of course, logically convince any sentient human being of the absolute metaphysical certainty of this year's outcome.
Man facing southeast
The Volokh Conspiracy's Jacob Levy find the ubiquitous biaxial "Political Compass" test to be "weird" but can't quite put his finger on why. Which is more perceptive, anyway, than many hundreds of you have been. The test, rather oddly for one that claims to be purely "political", combines questions designed to ferret out hidden psychological motivations with questions about explicit political philosophy. The latter are poorly designed, and the former are predicated on old research--undertaken by Hans J. Eysenck and Theodor W. Adorno, among others--which claimed to have explained the rise of European fascism by positing the existence of a particular "authoritarian personality." (Readers of Norman Dixon's cult favourite On the Psychology of Military Incompetence may recall his chapter about this theory; at least three or four books by Eysenck go into a fair amount of detail about the work.)
The transatlantic postwar research into the "authoritarian personality" has been somewhat forgotten. Partly this must be because the psychological profession is now embarrassed about having regarded right-wing authoritarianism as a pathology while paying no similar attention to the Stalinists and fellow-travellers who, at the time, were well-represented if not dominant in the arts, the universities, and magazine journalism. ("Sheila and Pete can't have an authoritarian personality--why, I have lunch with them every day at the Faculty Club!") But mostly, as far as I can tell from the accounts I've read, the number of inductive leaps involved in the enterprise would have made it ultimately untenable. Testing disclosed that anti-Semitism and other forms of race prejudice were statistically grouped with whatever passed for "economic conservatism" at the time. Inductive leap one: you had to believe that this was not merely an artifact of the historical circumstances but a permanent truth about human personality. (We've already fallen into a chasm here, I'd say.) Inductive leap two: you had to accept the statistical link between the grouped, explicitly "authoritarian" political beliefs and the personality markers the researchers found. Not a problem in itself, but you already swallowed a certain amount of statistical induction in accepting that there was a valid grouping of beliefs in the first place; the belly fills at a geometric rate when you splice together correlations like this. Inductive leap three was the somersault from xenophobic, petulant John Birch-style grumbling to outright fascism: much was made of the prospect of an American Gestapo arising, almost by accident, from the ranks of a bunch of casual, ignorant anti-intellectuals--as if Nazism hadn't appealed to the extremely learned by means of a elaborate set of counter-Bolshevik pseudoscientific and mythopoetic seductions.
Anyway, some of the questions on the Political Compass test, presumably the ones which move your score back and forth on the "authoritarian/libertarian" axis, are snipped from the multiphasic personality quizzes used back in the day to establish the existence of the "authoritarian personality". Certain apolitical assertions were found to be relatively strong predictors of supposed fascist political tendency; for instance, you are, or at one time were, more likely to be a "right-wing authoritarian" if you believe that "When you are troubled, it's better not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things". There isn't the slightest indication that the Political Compass authors have borrowed these items in anything but a totally haphazard manner, and the telltale true-false items don't seem to have been updated. At the very least they would need to be re-tested for contemporary statistical validity. Moreover, there are a bunch of conjectural ratings of notables which must be regarded as little better than halfwit fever dreams. Orwell certainly wouldn't have put Gandhi in a "libertarian" quadrant, and anybody who puts the Green Party here is in desperate need of a kick in the spleen. But maybe that's the violent, hate-saturated authoritarian in me talking...
Chi chi Rodrigweez
In a virtuoso new entry, Evan Kirchhoff tries to apply the principles of dynamics to the Chinese concept of chi. Or, if you prefer, qi. Although in my books the Pinyin system of romanization may be an even more intensely fucked intellectual horror than paying $495 to someone with a certificate from a "feng shui institute". In any case, I fear that Evan has sacrificed untold amounts of money for the sake of making an admittedly great joke. His sarcastic queries contain the kernel of a very promising business. What better place than the Bay Area to start up a storefront consultancy for scientific feng shui? East meets West! Ancient Chinese wisdom combined with modern discoveries about turbulent flow and radiation! Am I wrong, or would Californians line up around the block for this? He's probably already getting e-mails!
The uncivil war
I was really hoping today's Post column (which is about Bono's internationalist arselicking) would be on the web, but you'll have to settle for Boris Berezovsky instead.
I call on Western leaders to speak out against Mr. Putin's arbitrary and selective application of law for political purposes and what seems to be his ambition to become leader of an authoritarian state. I have asked all of Russia's political parties who believe in the constitution and civil liberties to unite, whether they are on the political left or right.
That's the theory behind election boycotts, all right. The only problem is that no such boycott has ever--to my knowledge, anyway--accomplished one damn thing. It's the ultimate in futile gestures: it never calls any additional attention to a politically suspect regime, and certainly never pursuades a thuggish head of state to rethink his course. "Oh, golly, they refuse to run against me? Have I perhaps been a trifle harsh?" It never galvanizes foreign public opinion the way it's supposed to; you have to have people thrown in prison for that.
And, indeed, Vladimir Putin's high-handed treatment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky may backfire on him. It remains to be seen how well Khodorkovsky fits the Victor Laszlo costume being tailored for him by his fellow post-communist "oligarchs". He has one major problem in this regard, as the St. Petersburg Times points out in a must-read story on how the Khodorkovsky arrest is playing amongst the zeks:
Memorial's Sergei Khokhayev, a political prisoner from 1965 to 1974, called the Yukos case a victory for bureaucrats over oligarchs, while another member of Memorial, Vyacheslav Dolinin, reminded the gathering of Khodorkovsky's long Communist past.Is this a short-sighted, possibly even stupid view of the situation? Yes. Will many, many Russians share it nonetheless? Undoubtedly.
Libel law: le vrai vice anglais
Normally a potential scandal involving Britain's Royal Family is catnip to North American news editors, but I suspect the latest from Blighty has simply left them buffaloed. They seem to be largely ignoring the complicated chess game currently being played out in the British press, and no wonder: you could have an aneurysm trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
"Did you see this? Prince Charles has denied the allegation against him."
"Allegation? What allegation is that?"
"Didn't he say?"
"Well, hasn't it been printed in the newspapers?"
"Christ, no. Do you know what British libel laws are like? A nuclear-powered testicle-crusher, that's what they're like."
"So the Prince is formally denying an allegation... which nobody's actually made. In print, anyway."
"Right. He says it's a damned lie. Whatever it is."
The prior restraint on discussing any details of the allegation remains in place, though no two of the British papers seem to agree on exactly what can be said; some of them now do not even feel safe going back over the details of the recent legal activity which has now forced Prince Charles to deny... something.
Last week, it seems, the Mail on Sunday obtained an affidavit sworn out by a former royal servant--we'll call him Mr. Falkland--who claims to have witnessed what some are openly calling "a compromising incident". All right so far with my learned friends? Another former servant, Mr. Toothpaste, went to court to obtain an injunction forbidding the Mail's use of the document. The Mail actually went along with this, since it didn't really trust Mr. Falkland and had no intention of using his unsupported testimony. It's important to note here--if you're looking for hints--that Mr. Toothpaste was acting on his own behalf, and not on behalf of the Prince. The injunction also forbade the press from naming Mr. Toothpaste. The Guardian sued to have this latter caveat overturned, and it was quashed on Thursday. The papers are joyously revealing Mr. Toothpaste's real name, Michael Fawcett, since it's the one thing they know for sure they can print about this case.
They can also now mention known facts of Fawcett's tenure in the Prince's service, as the Evening Standard does today:
His main job was to organise the Prince's social diary and entertaining--everything from overseeing the catering to sorting out the flowers--but in truth he was relied on to provide advice and assistance on a whole range of other matters. As Charles is said to have remarked once: "I can manage without just about anyone, except for Michael."The Sun, not unexpectedly, has gotten out front of the broadsheets, identifying Mr. Falkland as George Smith and describing the unspecified allegation as a "sex claim". Their Friday morning story also has the full text of the unusual denial by the Prince's private secretary. Is everybody up to speed, then? Excellent.
Rule of thumb
I know there's been some controversy in the past about the accuracy of SiteMeter web traffic reports. Sitemeter seems to be the most popular free traffic-tracking application amongst webloggers. Some people have found its figures to be off by a factor of three or more. Since I finally instructed my web host to start keeping server logs a little while ago (I'm Canadian: I don't like requesting a service even when I've paid for it), I can now report tentatively on my own findings. My host's daily count of my unique visitors--which must be considered the closest thing to a true count--seems to exceed Sitemeter's by about 30% pretty consistently. Never much more or less than that, so far.
The problem here is that results seem to vary depending on how high up on your page you have the Sitemeter graphic that records a "hit" when it is loaded. For your own web page, you would really have to duplicate this experiment for yourself; and if you could do that, you wouldn't need the Sitemeter figures anymore, now would you? Not that I'm taking down my button. My web host generates a summary report only once a day, and it's incredibly convenient to have two-click access to an hour-by-hour picture of my traffic and referrers. One wastes time so much more efficiently that way.
That board's got a nail in it
My Monday column, which I mentioned here but which hasn't appeared on the Web, was about the Canadian Wheat Board. The CWB, the federal agency which has a legislated monopoly on exporting wheat grown in the Prairie Provinces, is one of those old-fashioned Soviet elements in Canadian life--and it will, as you're about to see, stoop to defend itself. Indulge me in a small lesson in Canadian politics, which must begin with a long excerpt from my column.
EDMONTON - That rumble you hear from the West is the sound of grain trucks being fired up. On Halloween 2002, 13 ornery Alberta farmers allowed themselves to be jailed for violating the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on prairie wheat exports, having trucked small symbolic amounts of grain (in some cases, a single bushel) across the U.S. border without CWB permission. The free-market protesters refused to pay their fines and served varying amounts of time in stir for selling their own grain; some quit after a day, some lasted more than a month. A couple dozen farmers are now talking about repeating the exercise. On the first anniversary of the original group's surrender to police, they placed a conference call to the Wheat Board and demanded export licences. The board turned a deaf ear, so soon it'll be back to the border--and, eventually, back to prison.Get the picture? Ontario farmers are free to go outside their pool, Prairie farmers aren't. It's that good old asymmetrical federalism in action. My column drew a response Wednesday from Ken Ritter, chairman of the Wheat Board.
The rumble you hear from the West is not the sound of grain trucks being fired up to cross the border, but the sound of farmers heading to the ballot box in order to democratically elect their representatives on the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors.Mr. Ritter is right to point out that Ontario farmers voted to make their pool a civilized, voluntary organization. But in his appeal to a national audience which may not be familiar with the nuts and bolts of wheat marketing, he left something out: the electoral structure of the CWB is a little different from that of the OWMPB. Those "10 farmer seats" he mentions are only 10 of a total of 15 on the board. The other five directors are appointed by--guess whom?--the government of Canada.
The tilt of the CWB gives old-style single-desk marketing an excellent head start on a board majority before any farmer casts a single vote, not to mention more or less permanent control of a well-funded propaganda apparatus. Meanwhile, the OWMPB has no appointed seats--the farmers vote for all 10 directors, which is how the Ontario board was transformed into a competitive vendor. In Ontario, the farmers really did decide their own future. On the Prairies, they have a little help.
U of F
The University of Toronto's medievalist wordfolk have released the F volume of their Dictionary of Old English. It's the first new installment to emerge since 1996 and makes the dictionary complete from A through F, including words starting with Æ. Because Old English is dead, and has a relatively small vocabulary, the U of T lexicographers enjoy the advantage of being able to compile a dictionary from the complete extant corpus of the language. The DOE's skimpy website is here; you can also read Chris Wattie's story for the Post about "freedom" and other F-words.
This was not an easy decision to make. CBS does tackle controversial subjects and provide tough assessments of prominent historical figures and events, as we did with films such as "Jesus," "9-11" and "Hitler." We will continue to do so in the future.
Am I the only one who had a Foucault's Pendulum moment upon reading this and immediately imagined a really controversial TV movie entitled Jesus, 9-11, and Hitler? Combine ingredients in large bowl, add Templar mythos and essence of Meyssan to taste...
Enter the matrix
Postscript: 2003 regular-season stats are now up at BaseballReference.com. And if you're interested in sponsoring a page, that means the 2003 rookies have just flooded onto the market.
Ah, that explains the restraining order
Donald Duck, as you know, has an uncle, Scrooge, and three nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. We don't know any other details about the family, really. Like many other pop-culture families of the past, it seems to be an odd sort of clan, in which people reproduce diagonally. No one is anyone else's parent, but the world is crawling, somehow, with nephews and nieces. I remind you of all this only so you can fully appreciate the piercing irony that Uncle Scrooge is known in Norway as Oenkel Skrue.
Maybe we should send a trade mission to hell
Derek Lowe's drug-discovery weblog has an entry inspired by good old (#$%&*@#) Alberta sulfur. When it's extracted from our oil and gas, we end up with more than we know how to use. More, indeed, than anyone knows how to use. Research is underway to create new applications and markets for the yellow stuff; here's a report on the ongoing world sulfur glut.
Aaron Haspel certainly knows more about poetry than I do, and more than you do, too. But I often find myself reacting in an odd sort of agnostic way to the intellectual content of his arguments about poetry, as I would, on first reading, to the intellectual content of a poem itself. His argument that the world has got the wrong end of the stick vis-à-vis the relative poetic reputations of William Butler Yeats and T. Sturge Moore is almost too charming to be contradicted. Why shouldn't one tremulous voice be raised in defence of old Sturge, then, eh? Aaron is, for extremely good reasons, not likely to effect a revolution in our thinking here.
For instance, he would have us believe that Yeats never once wrote any poem as excellent as Moore's "Silence". Me, I only have to get as far as "carven lip" before I suspect I'm about to be presented with a handful of wooden nickels. Here, I begin to suspect, is a man who is marshalling words by means of abuse rather than command. The metrically contorted "irrevocable" in line five only increases my discomfort (iamb implant--stat!), and the line "For wound... no salve is found", which sends us frantically searching for a definite or indefinite article we must ourselves have misplaced on the way out the door, finally confirms the suspicion.
Aaron's whole work in writing about poetry is to establish, or re-establish, the primacy of meaning. With respect to Moore's "Silence", I should still say that there is a fine line between a poem that says something true, and a true thing said in such a way as to be bad poetry. But I do think it is possible to be both a great poet and a great fool; Yeats' work establishes this beyond our power to refute it by means of first principles.
To take most of Yeats's poetry seriously it is not necessary to believe in ghosts. It is, however, necessary to prefer aristocratic to democratic government, assertions to reasons, instinct to intellect, astrology to astronomy, and the mystical properties of sex to just about anything else. Even more than Blake, his poetry is preposterous because his ideas are preposterous.
It seems to me that if we can overlook the syntactical crimes of a Sturge Moore, we can certainly go some way towards stepping into Yeats' skin for the duration of one of his lyric poems. (He was, intellectually, a very silly man--perhaps the most absurd, deluded faddist in the annals of 20th-century art.) Is it necessary to permanently and categorically prefer aristocracy to democracy in order to mourn the past with Yeats for a fleeting moment? Must we object to astrological metaphors just because we happen to know he didn't really mean them as metaphors? Is there some contract I must sign asserting my belief that, yes, Lady Gregory was a 20th-century Mme. de Stäel and Antonio Mancini the equal of Raphael? Subjected to that sort of aggressive literalism, I don't suppose Moore's "Silence" would hold up very well either, even if one could grant it a modicum of technical virtue.
The big news in Alberta today was that the Conservative provincial government has joined in the national mania for state-controlled auto insurance rates. You can read CP's wire story or the CBC's coverage.
My past thoughts on the general topic of auto insurance can be found here and here. Before anyone can propose an answer to the problem of rising auto-insurance rates, someone ought to venture a credible account of why the rates are rising so fast. I feel that insurance must be market-priced--put it this way: I'm not sure what the answer is, or if there is one, but I know the Klein government's price controls aren't the right answer, because price controls never are. The furore over insurance in Alberta began in the first place not because rates were rising but because some companies were refusing to write new policies. Now that they are faced with government-mandated maximum prices, this particular problem is likely to get a lot worse. And there is evidence that mispricing risk by nationalizing insurance creates real costs in death and injury; presumably, doing so by merely grabbing the price levers of the private system will have the same effect.
Nonetheless, I have trouble sympathizing with the insurance companies. Explaining the rate rise is their job, and they haven't done it very well. (My premium went up 55% this year because of what happened on September 11, 2001? Sorry, you lose the argument: buh-bye.) Note, for example, this industry submission on the rate question made to the Alberta government: it says that rates are increasing because claims are increasing, but the authors say "We will not go into great detail about the causes...". Please do go into great detail! We'd love some!
It is asking a lot of the public to have us believe, as the personal-injury lawyers would, that their ever more aggressive marketing and their increased freedom to litigate on contingency has nothing to do with rate increases. I wouldn't want to see those things interfered with, though, as I've said before, I think limits on pain-and-suffering awards for minor soft-tissue injuries would be a fair quid pro quo for this new class of enterpreneurial lawyers to accept, since the amounts of those awards are an arbitrary artifact of the legal system. (Whenever I make this point, somebody e-mails me with a sob story about someone who lost income, or some life opportunity, in an auto accident. Or about someone who found their insurance company cruel and intractable. But those are separate issues from pain-and-suffering awards.) I suspect there may be other factors that are difficult to discuss freely, except under the cover of vague insurance-industry rhetoric about "fraud". Is there really more fraud now? Who's committing it, and how? If the insurance companies know, why don't they put a stop to it? If the industry isn't going to answer these questions, they can't expect governments like Ralph Klein's to enter into an electoral suicide pact just to protect their profits.
I just finished watching the Monday night NFL game between the Patriots and the Broncos--what you might describe as a pathetic nailbiter, although it must have looked good on the schedule before the Pats' salary-cap moves and the Broncos' bout of IQBV, the dreaded Injured Quarterback Virus. The Monday games are on broadcast TV here now, having been picked up by Craig Broadcasting's A Channel. I notice that notwithstanding all the new media developments of the last 20 years, most of the really good stuff still comes to the airwaves sooner or later, though often later. (Even without cable I have a tough choice Monday nights between football and the first season of Monk now airing at 9 p.m. on Access.)
Having Al Michaels and John Madden alone in the ABC booth really shows what a doomed experiment adding Dennis Miller to MNF was. I thought hiring Miller was a decent idea, and I enjoyed the broadcasts I saw, but using two outstanding game-callers in the booth with no third wheel is obviously the ideal system. Yes, I still want to bitch-slap Michaels every time he uses the noun "incompletion" to refer to an incomplete pass. And yeah, I know Madden sometimes forgets the last sentence he said and repeats it, or goes off on weird senile tangents. But they still put other broadcasters to shame more often than not.
Michaels says less that is downright asinine than any other play-by-play man, he usually interprets the play correctly the first time, and he knows his way around the rules. There was a good example of his alertness tonight. The Patriots were down by one point with less than three minutes to go in the game and had fourth and 10 on their own one-yard line. Plenty of play-by-play men, and even colour guys with years in the pro game, simply wouldn't have anticipated that New England might concede the safety touch rather than stick their punter with a difficult kick that couldn't have got the ball as far as midfield anyway. Michaels wasn't caught flat-footed; he made the right call before the ball was deliberately snapped over the punter's head, allowing the Pats to kick off, get the ball back in good field position, and march for the winning TD.
As for Madden--sure, he's easy to make fun of. No doubt thousands do make fun of him, and then they go chat up their buddies around the water cooler the next day about so-and-so's game-saving special-teams block, which they wouldn't have had one chance in thirty billion of spotting if Madden hadn't been there to point it out to them and order up the right iso replay. Blocking is the soul of football, yet there is exactly one colour man in the sport's TV ranks who is capable of making intelligent, useful observations about it and making you feel like he's unlocked the hidden key to the play.
You might feel that blocking goes under-analyzed because so many of the colour men are QBs or receivers, guys who may not have developed a feel for the art except as victims when it goes wrong. But putting an old warhorse in the booth doesn't always work, either. Up here the CBC uses Chris Walby, a legendary Blue Bombers offensive lineman, as a colour man. You think Walby, having spent 16 long years in the trenches, can do what Madden does? Maybe three times a year he points out something that changes your view of the previous play. Mostly he's too busy whining about obviously legitimate holding calls ("Aw, that's not holding, he just kinda had his arms on either side of the guy"), and knocking wide receivers for dropping passes, and laughing at punters when they have to make tackles, and generally adding about as much to your appreciation of the game as your drunkard boat-salesman brother-in-law.
Nobody, that's who!
OK, those are some pretty good hockey names--Bonk probably has the best one since the time of Fred Saskamoose--but leaving off Bates Battaglia is completely inexcusable. I'd cast write-in votes for Ziggy Palffy and Sandis Ozolinsh, too. Actually, my very favourite hockey name is probably Manny Fernandez, but that's only because with that monicker he is clearly a shortstop who got on the wrong bus one day. Tell me, how can people not like a sport that pits a Dvorák against a Nabokov, or a Ruutu against a Niinimaa?
Be like Mike
I almost forgot--Edmonton Sun editorialist/columnist Mike Jenkinson, a colleague from back in the Cretaceous period, is starting to update his site again after a long hiatus. He was one of the first Canadian journalists to start a personal website, and also one of the first to completely abandon a personal website. Mike writes like five columns a week for the Sun, which has always been impressive but is more so to me now that I'm writing two and practically having cardiac spasms from the effort. He's a family man, too, and over here I can barely remember to keep my cat's water dish filled. Now, granted, these are Sun columns, so once you've written the headline ("Know what I really hate? Potholes!") you're halfway home. But even so!
On a less happy note, EnterStageRight.com, the venerable Canadian conservative website that was home to a pretty good weblog, has ceased publication. Steve Martinovitch, its editor, apparently has to concentrate on finding paying work, but he says he may try bringing ESR back at a later date.
[UPDATE, 9:45 pm: as long as I'm adding links here, if you're looking for a defender of the husband's position in the Schiavo case, you probably won't beat this one. If you like babies, Sam Mikes' site just got a lot more interesting. And David Frum is leaving the Florence King spot in National Review, but the territory remains firmly in the hands of the Canadian conspiracy.]
Work and play
Jeez, if I'd wanted to be that busy, I'd have gotten a real job. I spent most of the weekend doing three things:
(1) Visiting Kevin Steel's place for as long as humanly possible. I caught up with, among many others, our friend Raymond Thériault, who has a gallery exhibition running in Calgary's Kensington district through November 8. Break out your wallets!
(2) Working on Monday's Post column, which--to continue my long-running Western Alienation's Greatest Hits series--is about the Canadian Wheat Board. In all seriousness, that column contains news of an fascinating development in Canadian agricultural marketing, as well as the latest on the protest movement against the CWB monopoly. A must-read, but then, as far as I'm concerned, they're all must-reads. I try to do that at least once before they go out the door, anyway.
(3) Wrapping a long book review, which I don't want to jinx by discussing before it turns up on the Web. When it does, you'll be the first to know. Well, maybe not you specifically.