Tuesday, August 31, 2004

failure-likelihood-increasing

I may never be ahead of Paul Wells again:
Like his Ontario colleague Dalton McGuinty, Calvert watched with incredulity as Paul Martin campaigned in June on a promise to meet-for-as-long-as-it-takes-to-fix-health-care-for-a-generation. “I used to be health minister here. These things don’t get fixed for a generation.” He thinks long-as-it-takes, fix-for-a-generation talk is inherently stakes-rasing, stress-inducing, tension-enhancing, failure-likelihood-increasing.

I think I've generally been fairly accepting of the fact that I am wrong on occasion, so I also have no shame bragging when I'm right 2+ months ahead of the game. I'm glad Wells will be there to bring us the non-news that comes out of these latest meetings - there's few better to call a spade a shovel, to borrow a recycle expression of an old relative of mine.

So what else is going on, on the ol' inerweb tonight:

  • Jaeger reminds us again that choice in education is a good thing, and that it's still confusing that teachers (professionals!) are uninterested.
  • SD "Fisks" the latest Buzz Hargrove column - by merely repeating a couple of quotes which are so ridiculous as to undermine his credibility entirely. ("There is no fairer system for the filling of available jobs than the recognition of a worker's seniority" - YGBSM).
  • Ray at PolSpy relates how David Suzuki is "surprised at the number of Albertans concerned about the environment". Well, I suppose you would be surprised, if you never examined any data whatsoever about what we do to protect it, or never considered the notion that "people don't usually need to be told to not defile their own property".
  • Jardine is seeking name suggestions for libertarian pit bulls (be sure to scroll down for the tale of the Hammer & Sickle shirt)
  • I miss Bob
  • Not on my Links, but you really ought to check out Bruce Ralston now that he's back, especially if you're a serious Belmont Club reader. I immediately confess that my soft spot for him is not necessarily because of his politics, however, but for the Kent Brockman title of his election day post.
  • And Cosh informs us that one of his colleagues is in jail - his last sentence is, howyousay, "awkwardly hopeful"? No matter, I'm sure it will be resolved before you read this.
Later -

Are elections perverted by money?

Thanks for the feedback on the question of "Is there too much money in politics?" Keep it coming, please. I would first like to correct an obvious error I made, pointed out by Jass, regarding how the Supreme Court might have ruled if the appellant and respondent had been reversed. I stated that they were deferring to Parliament's way of defining electoral fairness. That is incorrect.

From the text of the dissent comes this: "Common sense dictates that promoting electoral fairness is a pressing and substantial objective in our liberal democracy, even in the absence of evidence that past elections have been unfair." There is no reason to believe that if it was Democracy Watch asserting this objective (and their interpretation of it), in defiance of Parliament, that the ruling would have been any different.

But back to the money = speech issue. Consider the following two statements:
1) Money is speech, and restricting the former necessarily means restricting the latter
2) The more money you have, the more of a voice you have

Jass believes these are two statements of the same principle. I do not believe that is the case. When money and thus speech are restricted, you are denying people or groups the ability to say their piece in the manner they so choose. The second statement equates the quantity of speech to its quality or effectiveness. As I said in the original post, this relationship is not linear, or even mathematical.

More money means the ability to reframe, rework, and repeat your message. It does not assure effectiveness - but just because there's no linear correlation is not in itself a reason to restrict my fundamental freedom to speak in the manner (or frequency) I see fit. I don't think that's splitting hairs, either - some might disagree.

Greg (and the Monger, kind of) brings up the 1988 Free Trade election as an example of the need for spending restrictions. Which is interesting, because I was going to bring it up as an example of why such restrictions are a terrible idea.

I have a decent recollection of that election campaign. I was 15, and did a project on it for Social Studies 10 (summarizing platforms, visual aids, etc.). Three months previous, I had never heard of Mel Hurtig, Maude Barlow, or Bob Whyte, but I got a quick and comprehensive introduction to them thanks to the free-trade debate. I won't claim to recall who had more and better ads, but I certainly recall that there were a lot of TV/radio spots and full-page newspaper ads from all sorts of groups on both sides of the issue. The Business Council on National Issues, Concerned Citizens Coalition, the Canadian Auto Workers, etc. etc. - even the most barely curious voter would have had absolutely no trouble getting information and opinion on free trade from a cavalcade of sources.

Of course, this could not happen in 2004. The Canadian Auto Workers would have to donate to the NDP or Liberals (what? major restrictions as well? Oh), or rely on friendly media to attend to them and pass on their message unchallenged. I simply cannot fathom why this is fairer or more democratic.

Again, I ask, where is the evidence that the '88 election was swayed by the quantity of advertising by big business? Why would it have been pressing and substantial to limit both their speech and that of the unions, in the name of fairness?

I guess that brings me to my last point, regarding the media. The second sentence in the Charter says that Canadians have the freedom of the press and other media of communication. It makes no mention of "impartial", or "balanced", or even "wise" for that matter. So I fail to see why on earth the proprietors and employees of newspapers and broadcasters should be afforded freedoms that ordinary citizens are not, simply by virtue of their scale. Is there a "fairness" difference between Andrew Coyne endorsing the Conservatives on the front page of the National Post, and me buying an ad in the same space saying the same thing?

Most of us, including the Supreme Court, have not addressed this blatant contradiction, presumably because we see large media as relatively unbiased and benign (or at least, close enough). But many would dispute this notion, and regardless, why should a claim of impartiality garner an organization special rights?

If I wanted to flaunt the intent but not the letter of the Elections Act spending restrictions, I'd produce a nice, glossy magazine lambasting the Liberals and mail one free to every house in Canada. Maybe it would only be 4 pages long. Maybe it would bear a striking resemblance to a advertising flyer. But if it had, in small print on the back, "The Aldini Times, news & editorials, published by Jerry Aldini", would I not be bulletproof?

Speech restrictions are both immoral and unenforceable, though chilling, which is maybe the point.

I may have more - again, keep the feedback coming.

So Menelaus says to Pericles...

Mark Spector, National Post page B1 ("Choking Games"), Monday, August 30:

Maybe that is why Olympians like van Koeverden, Muenzer or Kyle Shewfelt win gold medals - because the pressures and expectations that emanate from them and their immediate circle are manageable, while those who bear the extra weight of national hopes are perhaps overburdened. One might ask why the same does not apply in the United States or China, though.

I'm slightly interested in hearing, and contributing to, the national discussion on if and how Canada should win more medals. I sincerely hope though, that it will not be based at all on premises which are both anecdotally and statistically false, such as Spector's last sentence in the paragraph above.

For starters, Canada won 12 medals. Sports Illustrated, as always, ran a complete breakdown of medal predictions before the Olympics. Compiler Brian Cazeneuve talks to at least two experts in each sport prior to publishing. It's about as dispassionate a prior assessment as you could hope for (i.e. he's got bigger things to worry about than discounting Canadian prospects based on a "choke factor"). Guess how many medals they predicted for Canada? Fourteen. 4 gold, 8 silver, 2 bronze. As for the United States, let's see:

Gail Devers, Allen Johnson, Men's 4x100m relay (track), Women's 4X100m relay (track), Men's 4x100m relay (swimming), Rulon Gardner, Brendan Hansen, James Carter, John Godina, Tom Pappas, Marion Jones, Andy Roddick, Venus Williams, Holdren & Metzger, and the Men's basketball team. That's a pretty long, and yet incomplete, list of underperforming U.S. athletes. And yet, wow! They won about as many total medals as predicted as well.

Winning an Olympic medal is, hmmm, what's the word I'm searching for here, oh yes, there it is - hard. That's part of what makes it interesting. Some athletes exceed expectations, even their own, and that necessarily comes at the expense of other athletes. It's competition. There are ways that our national teams can attempt to ensure their athletes peak at the right time, but it involves having the teams selected earlier. In the case of a sport like swimming, that might mean that swimmers who have made massive improvements in the months preceding the Olympics still don't get to go. Then all we'd hear about is leaving some of our best athletes at home because of the inflexibility of the Canadian Olympic Committee. I believe the cliche that applies here is, "Pick your poison."

A few other thoughts here:

- I've been trying to clarify in my own mind over the past two weeks why it is that I love the Olympics. I think it's mostly the combination of the gifts and the will of the athletes. Scott Feschuk put it pretty well: "You realize there are a lot of fit people out there. They have willpower, determination and are so much better than you." Gymnastics is popular, I would venture, thanks to the stunned fascination inherent in watching someone doing a backflip on a 4-inch beam, or hold the Iron Cross on the rings.

- I think it's a joyful moment when a Canadian wins a medal not because of national pride per se (a feeling that Canada as a nation has accomplished something), but because of the feeling that the medallist has something in common with you. Most of us are impressed when someone from our high school accomplishes something important, and I don't believe that school pride really enters into it. Canadians in the Olympics is comparable.

- It'll be a shame if the new efforts to increase our medal totals make the pursuit of elite athletics more like a government job. I think it diminishes it, somehow. The present reality that our top athletes regularly retire to do other things is to our credit, as far as I'm concerned. I find the glut of Russian athletes (for example) in their 3rd, 4th, and 5th Olympics to actually be a little sad. It's like they don't have anything to move onto, which unfortunately for them, they don't.

- Finally, congratulations to Greece for their fine hosting and performances. But they got to enter athletes and teams in every last event, and you're telling me there was no room anywhere for Alki Stereopolis?

Toast that kaiser!

Monday, August 30, 2004

I can't let this go! Someone help!

(Updated)

More on freedom of election speech (previous moon-barks here, here, and here).

What if we were running a high school debate, and to be argued was this: Be it resolved that there is too much money in politics.

I obviously take the NO side to this debate, mostly on principle. And while I'm happy on occasion to stand on principle, I would prefer to have principle backed up by the preponderance of evidence.

So back to the debate question: if I were forced to argue the affirmative, what supporting materials would I use? After considerable thought, I can't come up with a single remotely provable assertion to support the resolution. Even a strict reading of Harper v. Canada indicates that were it not for the Supreme Court's alleged belief in "deference to Parliament" (i.e. if there were no restrictions, and someone sued to have them enacted), the ruling would have been 9-0 for Harper.

As such, I seek help. Whether out of ideological conviction or playful contrariness, I ask for submissions of any or all of the following:
  • Statistical or other data showing a cause-effect relationship between a party or issue's funding and number of votes received
  • Any example of an election result that was "bought" with paid speech (and preferably, if you also deem it as "unfair", but I don't want to make this too tough)
  • Any personal or other anecdotal evidence of someone changing their vote because of paid speech, and where you would characterize this as "unfair"
  • Any example of a person, organization, or corporation who chose to spend money on election speech, where the government would have been wise and fair to prohibit this choice

Anyone? I make assurances that I will try to evaluate any submissions without prejudice. The only argument I dismiss preemptively is, "that's money we could be spending on health care", and variations thereof. I could also spend my beer & gum money on noble and charitable causes, and I will not debate that, at least not today.

UPDATE 420PM: I don't care if it's an essay, or just a link.

I am also willing to entertain arguments on simple principle, regardless of supporting evidence, with the important caveat that it must not contain as a central premise that other people are dumber than you.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Get the SCC a WaPo subscription!

(Updated for coherence, August 28 1155PM):

In news totally unsurprising to anyone who has not suffered a major head trauma, election spending restrictions are having massive unintended consequences, and not just in Canada: the U.S. is having their own problems arising from attempting to regulate political speech.

With apologies to Colby Cosh, the Washington Post's George Will is punditry's leader in exploding the myths surrounding campaign finance reform and regulated political speech. He rightly and frequently notes that money is speech, and restricting the former necessarily restricts the latter. (Fortunately, the correlation is not linear, or mathematical at all.)

With new McCain-Feingold restrictions on how candidates are allowed to raise and spend money, people with an interest in influencing the outcome of November's elections are simply bypassing the candidates and advertising on their own. Result: spending on electioneering continues to increase (apparently the people want to be heard, or something), but the candidates have even less control over the message.

But I'll gloss over the overall absurdity of restricting the most important kind of speech we have, and direct you to Will's column from last Sunday, introducing us to an unintended and absurd consequence of the USA's latest set of regulations. That is: a chain of Wisconsin car dealerships may have to suspend advertising for the 30 days prior to November 2nd, because the chain is named after its founder, now Republican senatorial candidate Russ Darrow.

...Jay Heck, director of the Wisconsin operations of Common Cause, the national advocacy organization for enlarged government regulation of political advocacy, says: "Why should (Darrow) have an unfair advantage and be able to pay to have his name out there with corporate money, where his opponents have to use regulated, disclosed money?''

Ah, fairness. Every argument for campaign spending restrictions is based on one of two premises: we should strive for "fairness" (but don't let it cross your mind that there might be more than one model of fairness out there), or that we need to address the perception that "money has too much influence in elections". Here's a rule of thumb for you: any law that seeks primarily to address a "perception" of anything is intrinsically horseshit.

Anyway, read the whole column and shake your head. (And pause to note that, by Mr. Heck's logic, a Tim Horton "Jr." could exact financial revenge on those who bought out his father's legacy for pennies on the dollar by running for Canadian office).

I also invite you to ponder the following question. It was posed in print to John Kerry as part of a long list, but really this kind of illogic prevails across the political spectrum:

You and other supporters of increased government regulation of political spending say this does not abridge freedom of speech. What does most of your spending pay for?


Friday, August 27, 2004

The Wonders Have Ceased

Sometimes I feel like I'm yelling in a forest (which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description for a weblog with maybe 50 readers a day).

I've tried a few times, over the past two weeks, to get the Olympics some love; ignore the "phony one-worldism", etcetera. The athletes (mostly) and the competitions (mostly) are worthy of our interest and admiration. And then Sheila Copps comes out today with her weekly column, ostensibly a paean to the Olympics, and manages to articulate all the biggest reasons why people hate them. To wit:

"Can it be that this is about equalizing the playing field for the world? Can it be that this is about everyone having the right to dream, the right to be the best? Can it be that this is the one time that the world becomes truly equal?"

"To see a man run is to see a man free. Free from bullets, AIDS, poverty. And in the original Olympics, he didn't even need a pair of shoes."

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I believe Frank refers to as "DRIVEL".

What makes it doubly frustrating is that the explicit thesis of her column is that "..the pull of the Games continues to transcend petty politics." And, "The Games are about what is right, what is bold, what is inspirational."

I could hardly agree more. So why-oh-why does so much of the column veer off into characterizing the Olympics as some sort of HeadStart program for the underprivileged?

Maybe it's not so bad - I'm rereading, and I like the stories of Daniel Igali and Ted Nolan. And I readily admit that I have a tough time reading her without hearing the echoes of 20 years of her BS as an MP. But the drivel above is still drivel. As is this:

"They are a time to suspend our differences, of language, of culture, of religion.."

That's what I would say if I was angling for a job at the IOC, but not if I was trying to characterize the Olympics with even the barest modicum of accuracy.

But what really anguished me about today's effort was Ms. Copps' resurrection of this old canard:

"Remember how Ben Johnson was a proud son of Canada when he won gold at Seoul and became a 'Jamaican immigrant' when his medal was revoked?"

No. I remember, when he won a bronze in L.A. in '84, it was no secret he immigrated from Jamaica. Neither was it concealed or stepped around when he won Worlds in '87. I don't recall a single journalist calling extra attention to his birthplace after he was busted for steroids. Of course, I was just a 15-year-old Olympics freak who read every article I could get my eyes on, but that was before Gore invented this Interweb dealy.

Obviously, someone did, or was using the wrong tone of voice mentioning the same facts any Ben fan already knew well, and Ms. Copps is still using it to wag her finger at all Canadians for our latent racism. Sorry, no sale. And stop it, please - it's not right.

The men's marathon is on Sunday at 9AM MDT. Highly recommended viewing - between the history of the event and its winners, and the sheer will required to win, it's always a highlight of every Olympics. This time, considering they are using most of the route from the 1896 Games, and finishing up in the 108-year-old Olympic Stadium, it should be even moreso.

And then skip the Closing Ceremonies - or at least mute the speeches.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Updates

I've added a few links:

- Kevin Jaeger at Trudeaupia, because he's deliberately trying to create dissonance in our society, and I think there's a place for that.

- Shannon Davis at Shenanigans, for rocking my world earlier today

- And Myrick at Myrick, because not only has he linked to the Blogger Navbar Drinking Game, he's running up the score on himself.

That reminds me, I just found this and this. I'd better buy SuperCans on the way home.

He's still got it - sometimes

Maybe I'm not quite ready to give up on Ralph yet. Not as long as he sticks with this line of thinking:
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein has also added to the tension by announcing he will only the attend the opening day of the first ministers meetings.
Mr. Klein was quoted Wednesday as saying “there's no bloody votes down there” and said he'd rather honour a speaking commitment in Lethbridge, Alta.

Do not for a second think I'm being sarcastic. It is totally appropriate for him to say his piece, and then come home. The televised meetings are going to be a fooferaw, and no amount of spending data will convince most people east of Moose Jaw that he's not a Medicare-hating neocon. Why stick around to be a punching bag? (Or effigy.)

USA! USA! USA!

(Updated, natch) (and again)

Notwithstanding my previous post, the paid media really is good for something - in certain instances, articulating your own thoughts better than you did yourself. I'm not positive he's right, but Jason Whitlock is definitely justified in raising the issue of race here.

As promised, I did lay down a sawbuck on Duncan, Iverson, et al before the medal round. Even money. They may not win, but those odds are fantastic considering they started at -400, and especially now that they made it through the quarterfinal. I do, however, fervently hope they're not counting on shooting over 50% from 3 again in order to advance.

I put my other $10 on Alexandre Despatie to win the 10m platform, at +200. Come on, lucky Chinese bellyflop!!

UPDATE (AUG 27 - 10PM): I don't regret the wager in the slightest. My other non-regret is not watching the game. Judging by the few highlights I saw, I think I would have been tempted to try and have the officials hear me from here. Duncan is absolutely my favourite player, and Iverson is in my Top 10, and a couple of the calls I saw against them were, ummm, "weak".

Anyway, Despatie is going to make my money back for me and more. Right buddy?

And quickly back to basketball, I like Larry Brown, but I'm positive that his legacy regarding this team, in the history books, and rightfully so, will be: He only played LeBron less than 3 minutes in the game they lost?

UPDATE (AUG 28 - 445PM): Ouch. Anyone have any hot tips on the marathon? I'm bleeding here!

Branches

This totally gobsmacked me.

Former comments-lurker at Coyne's blog SD started up her own blog a couple of weeks ago. Armed with "internet access and the ability to read", she checked up on Justice Minister Irwin Cotler's claims, unopposed by any major media I've seen, that constitutional change would be required to have Parliament confirm Supreme Court justices.

Now it's not surprising that a Liberal Cabinet minister is misleading the public about anything. But it is surprising to me that, constitutionally speaking, Canada does not have a judicial branch of government. I knew that the "executive" and "legislative" branches were functionally one and the same, but really:

The Supreme Court of Canada is a creature of Parliament, no different than the freaking CBC.

I find that jarring, something like finding out you're adopted. It doesn't make any difference to your day-to-day life, but it throws your perceptions out of whack.

Go see Shannon's post, and check her sources for yourself. (I didn't! This post may be deleted later!)

UPDATE (450PM): See more detail from SD in the Comments.

Dear International Olympic Committee:

You're making things really tough on me.

Much like I love Canada, but, errr, dislike the Canadian government, I still love the Olympics despite your best efforts to alienate me.

So, a judoka from Iran, who also bears the Iranian flag during the Opening Ceremonies, takes the athlete's oath: "In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams."

He then declines to compete against an Israeli, because he doesn't recognize the Zionist entity. He is warmly and enthusiastically supported by his government. But to make it official, instead of not showing up, he weighs in eleven pounds overweight.

You decline to take the Irananian ambassador to Greece's word for it that the forfeit was political, and shrug it off as "medical reasons", because here, HERE, is something that demands swift and decisive action, so as not to politicize the Olympics!

"The arrogance is unbelievable. To use the Olympic name like this, without permission ... it's just incredible," said an International Olympic Committee member, declining to be named.

Simmer...downnow. And perhaps, give some thought to the meaning of the word "arrogance". And perhaps, even, think way, way back to less than two years ago to when Iraq was banned from the Olympics because of Uday Hussein (and the reporting of SI's Don Yaeger). If there exists some credit to be apportioned for the fact that this is no longer the case, who would you suggest is entitled to be so arrogant as to claim some of it? Hint: not you guys.

Get a damn grip, and better yet, keep quiet for the next 4 days.

Signed,

A guy who has no particular interest in spending his limited time sticking up for the most powerful man in the world, but who definitely has a case of SBHFS

M*A*S*H* Vets For Truth

Damn, I wish I had thought of this. (Via Knoxville)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Non-university English

Mark Steyn on Noam Chomsky (scroll down to Democrats Down a Hole, link will rot eventually):
Ask about the "silent genocide" he said was going on in Afghanistan in October 2001 and Noam replies, "That is an interesting fabrication." He doesn't deny that he used the words "Looks like what's happening is some sort of silent genocide"; he simply denies that the words mean what they appear to mean to anyone whose first language is non-university English.

Colby Cosh reacts to Liberal MP Sam Bulte's take on Continental missile defence:
"Personally I think that you'll find a lot of consensus among women my age, who are mothers and parliamentarians, that we're not interested in missile defence. All this weaponization of space, the reality is Mr. Bush has not said he's going to rule it out. ...I think we should be proactive, the same way we were in Iraq." - Ms. Bulte
Leaving aside the "weaponization of space" canard (and the horseshit about "mothers"), what strikes one here is the surprising redefinition of the word "proactive" as a synonym for "passive".

I understand this is not an original observation, but it ought to be articulated into a Law: If an argument is so nuanced that it requires that a common English word mean the exact opposite of what a dictionary says it means, then the argument shall reasonably be presumed to have no merit. Until I find out from someone that I inadvertently plagiarized it, I'm calling it Aldini's Disqualification Principle.

There are easily dozens of examples of this phenomenon in contemporary political discourse. Lobbying is equated by the Parliament of Canada to public advocacy. Democracy is redefined to mean "representative of gender and racial composition". The Jaggi Singh-types refer to poverty as violence, yet throwing bottles at cops is peaceful.

My old technical writing professor, Michael Jordan (seriously!), would be horrified. If you have a point to make, then damn well make it! Don't shroud it in a bunch of gobbledy-gook in an attempt to make it more palatable.

Restricting non-party, non-media speech during elections may be commendable (it's not), but argue that, don't call it lobbying when it is no such bloody thing. If more women and minorities in our legislatures is desirable, fine, but don't jury-rig the electoral process and call it a step forward for democracy. If there are injustices being committed toward the poor, let's hear about it, but don't call it violence: for one thing, it diminishes the suffering of those who are victims of actual violence, the kind a 5th-grader can identify.

And not least of all, these obfuscations deter ordinary intelligent people from getting involved as a citizen. Who wants to engage in a debate on the issues, when it's not even clear that the English language is common ground?

Let's talk about your awareness...

I don't have much to add to Bob and Paul on the dog's breakfast that is the new "vetting" process for Supreme Court justices. I did want to note, however, a strange line in the CP story describing the process and the two nominees (hat tip Warren!). The fourth paragraph:

"[Justice Minister Irwin] Cotler will field questions from a panel of MPs and legal experts about each candidate's intellect, racial awareness, integrity and other attributes."

Is this really what's going to be happening today? The three "attributes" cited in this story - is that why we want to vet SCC judges? "What were Ms. Charron's grades in law school? Is she aware of the concept of race, and that Canada is populated by several of them? Is it true that she regularly cheated at dodgeball in junior high?"

The third line of questioning, as I understand it, is to be avoided so as not to Americanize our courts (AAAAAAHHH!). The first is ridiculous. And the only conceivable purpose of the second is to determine whether the nominee is willing to accord specific Canadians unique treatment under the law based on their race. I suppose this is a valuable line of questioning; my problem is that undoubtedly the majority of the panel is looking for a qualified Yes.

But really, it's all ridiculous. The only topic of relevance when examining SCC nominees should be: in what esteem do the nominees hold the various Sections and rights in the Charter, and what history and intentions do they have when two Sections or two enumerated rights come into conflict with one another. How important is freedom of speech in the broader context of the Charter? How about freedom of religion? Are there instances where a right not explicit in the Charter should outweigh one that is? These are questions that SCC nominees should be answering, and they should be answering them personally, because I don't care how smart Cotler is, he is not able to characterize their judicial sensibilities as well as they are themselves.

Point taken from the ubiquitous Mr. McClelland that this is indeed only a "trial program". I wouldn't be surprised at all to see that one of the future changes is that nominees insist on speaking for themselves. (I would be even less surprised to see the process canned wholesale - the problems inherent in this process will provide the government a nifty excuse to nix it.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Does Sir Mix-a-Lot like booty?

From the "Yes, That Is A Rhetorical Question!" file comes the header of Murray Campbell's column today: "Will the Liberals consult us to death?"

He's referring to the Ontario Liberals, but he might as well be talking about the federal Liberals, or for that matter the Alberta PCs.

I like the idea of governments actively soliciting input from the citizenry, but these interminable consultations have become ubiquitous in Canadian governments. They principally serve to:

A) Obscure the fact that the government was elected unprepared to govern, and/or
B) Provide butt-coverage for a policy, or lack of policy, that might be remotely unpopular

I've been harping about transparency and accountability since I started this blog, and I'm sick of our elected representatives passing off their responsibilities, whether literally or as a matter of perception. I'm actually reconsidering my CRTC position, and thinking that maybe MPs should be the ones who decide who gets on the air: at least then we all know who to look to when we're unhappy with the situation.

A note: this post's title is cribbed directly from NewsRadio, Episode 40, which was absolutely my 1997 Laugh of the Year.

The Chuk - coming in strong!

(Updated)

And we're back, after 3 days in bed. That' s what happens when you're playing the Blogger Navbar Drinking Game, and you come across too many blogs like these ones.

Anyway, how about that Edmontchuk Olympic team! Last night Angela Whyte ran a personal best in the 100m hurdles to qualify for today's final, then this morning, Lori-Ann Muenzer comes back from down 1-0 and beats the world champion 2-1 in the semifinals of the cycling sprint. She will race for the gold tomorrow, and is guaranteed at least a silver medal.

In non-Canadian news, if you get a chance to watch any decathlon, I highly recommend it. The leader through 7 events, Dmitriy Karpov, looks very little like a track & field athlete. Not skinny enough to be a distance runner, not nearly ripped enough to be a sprinter or thrower. His grace and technique are non-existent relative to his top competitors.

All he's done is go out and beat the tar out of everyone in three straight events. Have you ever had one of those friends who's good at everything right away? For example, you get hooked on squash, then one day you need someone to fill in as your opponent, so you ask this friend.

"I dunno, I've never played before."
"Don't worry about it, it'll be fun, I'll take it easy on you."

So you start playing, go out to a 5-1 lead, then he gets the hang of it and beats you 15-11 in the first game and 15-4 in the second game.

These friends are both infuriating and rather awesome at the same time. That's what Dmitriy Karpov reminds me of. If he gets caught by Seberle today, and it prompts him to improve his fundamentals, he will be untouchable for years to come.

Now excuse me while I go watch our baseball team beat the godless commies!

UPDATE (410PM): For a godless commie, Cuba's left fielder has a nice glove.

And it appears I jinxed Dmitriy Karpov. I did not, I note, say anything about Perdita Felicien this morning.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Sheila Copps - libertarian?

Credit where credit is due: today's National Post column (subscriber only) by Nobody's Baby is by far her best effort to date. Though it is ostensibly another defense of old chum Andre Ouellet, it is actually a sensible (if not exactly brilliant) dissection of the both the phony sanctimony of the PMO and the perils of government in business.

So, from the Will Wonders Never Cease Department - the concluding sentence of her column is: "What really matters is that business and politics don't mix."

I urge her to complete this thought next week and recommend the privatization of Canada Post and the other crown corporations. Reading her, I can't believe she has reached some alternative conclusion. Surely she is not so naive (or brazen) to say that government should be involved in these businesses, but that somehow politics should be made to disappear. I suppose it's possible she believes that this conflict exists, but it's something we should all just acknowledge and live with, since government ownership and control over Canada Post et al is a fundamental aspect of our national identity. Let's hope not.

Kudos Ms. Copps. I don't care which point you were trying to make; the one I reached is less government involvement in business, and it's well-argued by your column.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Blogger Navbar Drinking Game

Jerry-come-lately Blogger(TM) Aldini presents the Blogger Navbar Drinking Game!
*Based on a concept by Jardine, Draft 1A, no rights reserved.

As of Monday, August 16th, all non-modified blogspot blogs have a new navigation bar at the top, and the right-most button is "Next Blog". It appears that clicking it sends you to a random new blogspot blog, and reminds you that, despite what you generally surf, most blogs are not at all like yours. This game is to promote (a) broadening bloggers' horizons thusly, and most likely (b) irresponsible drinking. Enjoy!

--------------------
If the new blog is:

* In a foreign language: take 1 drink
* Clearly either very pro- or very anti-Bush: take 1 drink
* Self-described as "libertarian": take 1 drink, roll eyes

* When there are multiple qualifications: take 1 bonus drink

* Named after a family: take 1 drink
* Also displays pictures of the kids being cute: stab yourself in the eye with mouse, take 3 drinks to ease the pain

* Written by a professional computer geek: take 1 drink
* About computer geek stuff: take another drink
* Who's complaining about work: take another drink, shake head at apparent contradiction

* Linking to Instapundit: take 1 drink
* Calls their links "Faves": take another drink, try to keep it down

* Bad spelling and grammar, even in header: take 1 drink
* Can't finish a sentence without five slammers: take another drink

* Blatantly artsy-fartsy: take 1 drink. And stop reading! Are you trying to get a headache!
* Completely creepy or inexplicable: take 2 drinks and a 5-minute break
* Title or header is a terrible play-on-words: take 1 drink
* Header is completely unsupported (nay, disproven!) by the content: take 1 drink when you've stopped laughing

If it's actually about drinking: finish your drink & start another
--------------------

That seems like a good first draft. A note: every link in this post was found with the Next Blog button, or my referral logs from same. Speaking of referral logs, any of you links who end up back here - it's all in good fun! No offense! No one reads this blog anyway!

Comments and suggestions are strongly welcomed.

Brazilian Porn = Chug

I heartily endorse Jardine's idea that there needs to be a drinking game invented for the "Next Blog" button on the navbar above. Suggestions are sought.

The Aldini Awards (Olympic ad category)

Yes, every Olympics we get a new set of TV ads, mostly from the large companies with sponsorship ties to the Canadian team. Some are good, some are bad, some are good but become nearly unbearable by repetition. Herewith, a summary:

Best In Class (tie): Bell Globemedia's "Pause Live TV" and "Instant Update" ads. The first shows boxers in the ring playing cards, a fencer reading a book, and a gymnast reading a book sitting on the high bar. When Joe Couch Potato gets to his TV, they all get up and start competing. I find the weightlifter, passing the time by flirting with a female judge, to be particularly funny.

The second shows a guy going through his normal day and encounter Olympic athletes in full competion gear at every turn (opens the shower door and finds two synchro swimmers, complete with hair in buns and nose plugs, holding their hands up in the air). The kicker is at the end, when he turns on his bedside lamp and finds a freaking kayaker on the bed, blank-faced. Both of these are still making me chuckle, one week in.

Okay, That's Enough: The Royal Bank's "First Olympic Sponsors" ad, a homage to the CRB Heritage Minutes, telling the story of their sponsorship of the 1948 Olympic hockey team. I liked it the first couple of times (there are 30- and 60-second versions), but I get it now. No mas, por favor. The only "highlight" of this ad is the RCAF officer on the phone with the Royal Bank exec: "So can the Royal Bank pay for the travel?"

The guy responds slyly, "I think we can help." I can't escape the feeling that they cut off the rest of the answer, "And someday, I may ask a favour of you guys." Also, we all know that Canadian productions are very careful to be culturally sensitive - even when it doesn't really suit the story, there needs to be persyns of colour, etc. Not a problem here! This bank exec put the white in bread. Balding, white hair, nice suit. In his big office, and from the tone of his voice, he looks like he should be surrounded by actual bags of money. The cigar was no doubt stricken from the scene for the good of the children.

Forgettable: Petro-Canada on their sponsorship of Canadian athletes since 1988. I mean it when I say forgettable - I have no recollection of the content of the ad. (Ads?)

Don't Insult My Intelligence: Air Canada's spots on "Embracing Change". Here we have a diver who belly-flops, then joins some synchronized swimmers in their routine. A second ad has a gymnast breakdancing through her floor exercise when her music gets all scratchy-like. I think there's more. Two problems here:

1) They are no doubt intended to be funny, but are not. (Is there a worse kind of ad that doesn't involve someone screaming their toll-free number six times in 20 seconds?)

2) I can only assume they are intended to imply that Air Canada is rolling with the punches, thinking outside the box, etc. etc.. The reasonable reaction to this, I believe, is YGBSM.

Regrettably (if only in regards to this post), I have only peasant-vision this summer, so I haven't seen any TSN, NBC, MSNBC, Bravo, USA, et al, each no doubt with their own bunch of ads, covering the same range of entertainment value. If I forgot any good Canadian ones, please let me know.

"They caught a crab!"

I'm glad this "rowing parlance" was explained, or we would all be left to think that the South African men's pair had come down with the least serious STD of all time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

All love here

Nuts to Adam "I hate the Olympics" Radwanski and all the rest of them. There's been lots to like so far:

*Congratulations Mike Brown. He broke the Canadian record in the 200m breaststroke three times in two days, finishing sixth in the finals.

*Martin & Dumont - tres bien. Allez!

*Steve Rushin at SI.com notes that Dutch swimmer Pieter van den Hoogenband's name is a lot more fun when sung, to the tune of Camptown Races, no less.

*The city-centre setting for the cycling road races was spectacular.

*Mark Tewksbury has been somewhat of a revelation as a CBC broadcaster - I've found him very informative, with a bare minimum of cliches. 2nd day of competition, Steve "Thanks For Doing This" Armitage asks him how the strong winds were going to affect the swimmers. I fully expected something like, "well, they'll have to work a little harder, but they just have to keep their focus" - or some other true-ish yet totally uninteresting comment. Instead, he says, "I can think of 4 definite things:
- it's harder to move and control your arms when they're out of the water
- there will be a lot of dust which may affect the swimmers' vision or breathing
- it blows the over-pool flags around, making it tougher for backstrokers to gauge their distance from the wall
- it may well blow debris (papers etc.) from the stands around, creating an unpredictable situation"
My God, I think that qualifies as insight! Hopefully Steve & Byron will be retired before Beijing, and Tewksbury and Elliot Friedman become the new pool team.

*Our baseball team has a guy named Stubby, and he's damn good. Now that's a baseball nickname!

More to come over the next 10 days. You got to, acc-entu-ate the positive, and so on.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Now THAT is a stump speech

"Two Bicycles". From Doug Kern at TechCentralStation - actual problems and actual solutions, not made-up ones.

Thanks to the Instantman. (Please help and click; he needs my traffic.)

Paul Wells is a prick...

...and you gotta love it. This snippet from yesterday made me howl:

"Jacques Parizeau is excited again and has written some more on the subject. His letter, published in today's La Presse, is reprinted on this sovereignist website. Readers with a working knowledge of French will want to read it in its entirety; those who work in the Prime Minister's Office can probably get it translated."

Ah, for dispassionate but vicious pokes at Equipe Martin, there's no one better.

In the rest of the Inkless world, Wells is making a compelling (moreso by the day) argument that low tuition fees, as a general guiding principle of higher education, is socially unjust, not to mention crippling to the quality of education. He's even using math! (Do they glare at you in the Press Club for doing that, Paul?)

I haven't read enough background material to back him up staunchly. I'm skittish about the idea of making "the rich" pay much, much more for post-secondary education, mainly because whenever the government decides who can afford a service and who cannot, the income threshold always seems to be mighty low. (My family is Single Income Two Kids, and Alberta makes me pay the same health care tax, er, premium, as millionaire DINKS.)

However, I'm not surprised that he's hearing only a small minority calling for frozen or zero tuition. When I was at Queen's in the early 90s, the students' union (and many others) actually withdrew from the Canadian Federation of Students because their political goals were so unsupportable and unfocused. Besides zero tuition, I believe the CFS's other high horse was getting all the Pepsi machines off Canadian campuses because Pepsi had investments in Myanmar. Or some critical student issue like that.

When even campus groups are willing to consider alternate funding models, you're probably onto something. Keep on, Wells.

Shameful liars, Part 4

Charles Adler's Winnipeg Sun column today is entitled "Health care debate or lobotomy?" Great characterization. Watching Global News last night, it certainly appears to me that the "debate" is now flat-out farce, played straight-faced by the actors.

First the premier of Canada's largest province steps up and says that the solution to our health care problems is a federal pharmacare program. I must have missed all those times before this past "Council of the Federation" meeting where a premier said, "If only the feds paid for medicines, we wouldn't be in this mess."

Then the federal health minister steps up to say, no, we don't want to do that, we want to reduce waiting times, even though there is no existing or planned legislation allowing the feds to manage provincial health systems towards this goal.

For their part (this was at their conference), the Canadian Medical Association released a basically useless poll, then interpreted the results to their wrong questions in exactly the wrong way.

Patel said citizens are fed up with political wrangling between Ottawa and the provinces over how much money each should contribute to health care and who should control spending. "Canadians have indicated that all levels of government must not only fund the health-care system appropriately, but must work together," said Patel, a family physician from Gimli, Man.

I have said this before: there is zero hope for government accountability on health care until the two levels of government each define their own responsibilities, and the line between them. That kind of "working together", I could get behind.

I had a hockey coach in 2nd-year bantam who taught that the key principle of teamwork was taking care of your own responsibilities. If you're killing a penalty, and it's your job to cover the left point man, don't bail when your defenceman gets caught out of position, because then the whole thing falls apart. The defenceman knows he's out of position (so does the coach), and he has to be accountable - and bust ass to recover. Listen to any coach's interview after a big team win (any sport): "All our guys really did their jobs well tonight."

It's infuriating that our politicians engage in this type of buck-passing, misrepresentation, and outright bullshit, and then bemoan that others are "cynics". Listen up boys - everyone knows you're full of it on health care. Some haven't put their finger on why yet, but everyone knows it. And there is a golden political opportunity for the first one who comes clean.

And now back to the Olympics.

Another reason to watch the Olympics?

Mike Richards on The FAN 960 (Calgary) this morning:

"So tomorrow, a GREAT LOOKING pitching matchup in women's softball, between Lauren Bay of Canada and Jennie Finch of the United States.

"God, I hope they kiss."

Monday, August 16, 2004

Buy low, sell high

The USA Men's Olympic basketball team is taking an absolute thrashing right now in the media - well-deserved after their de facto no-show against Puerto Rico yesterday. But the doomsaying and schadenfreude are way, way over the top.

The U.S. still has the best players in the tournament. They don't have as many outside shooters as they should, but once they sack-up on D, they are going to be very, very tough to beat. If you could say one thing about Lebron, Carmelo, and Dwyane (besides "talented"), it would be that they are fast learners, and despite the hype, have consistently outperformed high expectations.

I can't believe I'm saying this out loud, but players in North American pro sports leagues don't get enough respect. I promise you that Joe Blow who prefers high school sports "because the kids try harder" doesn't have the foggiest clue of how much effort successful American pro athletes put forth, or the level of dedication required to be great at the highest level.

The betting line is presently -175, inching ever closer to even money. If you want to look like a genius next Sunday, drop a bit of money on the USA to win gold. (If they lose another prelim game and the line drops again, drop some more on them).

Don't pile on with the pundits. At best, you'll be one of those "heh heh I knew they'd screw the pooch" types. If you're still not convinced, don't forget this alleged disaster for a favoured Olympic team in an opening game.

Ode to The Olympics

"I loathe the modern Olympics for the phony one-worldism, the stinking corruption, and the maintenance of the fraud that these athletes are 'amateurs'". - Mark Steyn in Olympic Memories

I don't find occasion to disagree with my fellow Canuck very often, but he is way off the mark here. I'm citing him simply as the most visible (at least to readers here) example of some pretty rampant cynicism about the Olympics. It frustrates and saddens me; my reaction to all of it is, "Where is this really coming from?" The answer seems to be, well, not from the athletes or the competition.

The phony one-worldism objection is way misdirected. Yes, Kofi Annan's ad is blatantly stupid and exactly backwards. (When the athletes are in the starting blocks, they are all from one nation? Is there a single human who actually holds this opinion?). It is certainly reason to hold the UN and the IOC in lower esteem (if that's possible), but not the Olympics per se. And in fact, it is nice that young people from all over the world can get together, and appreciate that, as individuals and citizens of the world, they have a lot in common. Your average Canadian guy who qualifies for the Olympics will make a few friends from countries he knew nothing about, learn a few new things, and shag a nice Czech or Danish girl if he's lucky. What on earth is the downside of this?

Next, the Olympics no longer maintains the "amateur" fraud. Each sport's federation determines eligibility, but to my knowledge, it is now only figure skating where "professionals" are prohibited from competing. The only vestige of the old amateurs-only policy is that Olympic winners are not paid prize money by the IOC. If athletes are willing to compete for less tangible rewards, I don't see why any of us have much to complain about.

Finally, the "stinking corruption" is undeniable, but mainly exists outside the fields of play, in the host bidding process, etc. I don't see why, when I was watching the Salt Lake City Olympics, I should have cared how much Utah tax money was wasted, or which African leader's kid got their college tuition paid.

With few (but unfortunately notable) exceptions, Olympic athletes compete out of personal desire and national pride (in that order). When I am watching swimming, for example, Steyn's objections are the furthest thing from my mind. These are athletes who love to train and compete; the greatest hope for most of them is that they will be able to do so without holding a second job.

I want to close this by relating what is probably my favourite Olympic moment. Many of you have heard of Beckie Scott. She won a bronze medal in cross-country skiing for Canada in Salt Lake, then eventually got upgraded to gold as the two faster finishers were disqualified for blood doping.

A couple of days before her big race, the CBC did their obligatory short bio-documentary on Beckie. She talked about how disappointed she was after the 1998 Nagano games, and that she had a "fish-or-cut-bait" moment. 41st place was not acceptable - it was time to retire or get serious. She decided that she would entirely rededicate herself to maximizing her performance.

She moved to Oregon to train. She planned a strict training regimen, then followed it exactly. Furthermore, she said that every decision she made was in accordance with the answer to her internal question, "Will this make me a better skier?"

Beckie, you want some cake for dessert? "No thanks."
Beckie, we're going out for some drinks at 9, you wanna come? "If we can go at 7, I'll come out for a while and drink club soda."
Beckie, the movie's only half over, where are you going? "I'm training in the morning, don't want to be tired."

She did this for 3 straight years. In her Olympic race, she was neck-and-neck for 3rd place sprinting towards the finish line. She dug down as far as she could, and hit the finish line ahead of 4th place finisher by the length of her boot.

Four years of self-denial, pain, homesickness, and self-doubt - she fought through it all, and her reward was that she won a medal in a 7.5km race by less than a foot. It was absolutely one of the most uplifiting and inspiring things I have ever witnessed. If you can just shrug a story like this off, or think it is somehow marred by IOC politics, then you must have a heart of stone.

If you don't like the IOC, write a letter, preferably after August 29. But until then, have a seat on the couch and appreciate the Olympic competition and athletes for what they are - earnest, and well-insulated from all the other bullshit.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Where's John Crosbie when you need him?

(Updated at bottom)

Tequila Sheila has an amateurish column in today's Post defending the CRTC (subscriber only; I caught it in the dead-tree version). To be fair, one of her central points is that we do not want politicians making licensing decisions based on the political flavour of the month, which is 100% correct. However, most of the column is snippets like this:

"In French, CHOI is pronounced choix, which means 'choices' [thanks Sheila!], and it was clear that the 50,000 people who demonstrated in Quebec City last month and the 5,000 who made it to Ottawa this week were demonstrating their belief in choice."
"But do they really believe that freedom of choice includes radio meant to insult, denigrate, or demean?"

Um, yes. I sincerely hope that the aim of the protesters is not to have Liza Frulla issue some kind of diktat specifically relating to CHOI; the aim should be to have the government rewrite the CRTC's mandate to limit the kinds of judgement on content they can presently make. "Insult, denigrate, and demean" are not the same as libel. Promoting "racial and linguistic divisions" is not comparable to inciting violence. These are very subjective standards! I generally dislike "slippery slope" arguments, but when we allow government bodies to make these types of judgements, we are proceeding down the hill.

I'm no Bob Tarantino, but a few more comments on Ms. Copps column:
- Was the editor on vacation? She could have used a little help. This is the concluding paragraph:
"Before we all jump on the bandwagon, demanding that politicians decide who gets a license and who gets kicked off, just remember: There was an information system like that once. It was called Pravda."
Chills, no? No? You're right - I will charitably describe it as inelegant.
- Until I see photos, I decline to believe that Liza Frulla "is literally between a rock and a hard place."
- Al-Jazeera has not "become a household world in the Middle East". (Seriously, where the hell was the editor?)
- "Howard Stern Howard Stern Howard Stern" is not a reasonable way to address objections that the CRTC has gone too far in regulating content.
- It is blatantly disingenuous to claim that the CRTC is "not political".
- A Martha Stewart quote? Seriously?
- And finally (editor's fault again), the column header is "The CRTC is right to silence CHOI", an argument Ms. Copps does not make explicitly in the column (or arguably, even implicitly).

There is lots of room for discussion of "public ownership" of the airwaves, a suitable mandate for the CRTC, and more. But the wrong that needs to be righted, right now, is this:

The government has created a body (arms length doesn't matter) which is charged with regulating "offensive" or "demeaning" speech. Regardless of the purpose, or the public good they are aiming to serve, it is totally inappropriate and wrong for the government or one of its organs to be in this position, especially outside the realm of Charter protection.

UPDATE (1245PM): I should have added that what makes it doubly wrong is that the CRTC noted explicitly that the accuracy of the controversial comments broadcast on CHOI was not relevant to their ruling. Sorry, but it's tough to accept the legitimacy of any quasi-judicial body for whom truth is not an acceptable defense.

I was also pondering Nobody's Baby a bit more. Ms. Copps is unarguably thick-skinned (I can't think of any 20-year MPs who aren't). I wonder, if Sheila's own funbags were the topic of discussion on CHOI, and not Weather Girl Whatsername, if she would be railing against radio meant to "insult, denigrate, or demean." I sincerely doubt it, and she would probably be amused at the suggestion that she should.

But, I don't even know if the CRTC objected to the boobies discussion on the subject's behalf, or on the behalf of listeners who ought to be spared such discussion. I suppose it doesn't matter. Whatever, I'm rambling...

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Breathless Dar Update!

So it appears that Dar should have read the Municipal Government Act before she submitted her resignation effective September 10. Apparently, it provides that all such resignations are effective immediately. Mayor Tarleck (regrettably, his first name is Bob, not Herb) says this will "save taxpayers money because the city will not have to continue paying her a salary".

I'm all for saving money, but FYI, Lethbridge aldermen receive in the neighbourhood of $13k per year. In other words, the city will save about a grand.

I think they should use the money for a Mr. Robinson party (I'm so glad) for city staff and the other aldermen who have had to deal with this situation for the past year+. Cocoa Puffs and a wide variety of nuts will be served! Drinks are a loonie!

Wait a second - when did I get so mean? Sean must be affecting me.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Onion does it again

"According to a recent study, recreational use of Viagra is on the rise among younger men who don't suffer from impotence. What do you think?"

Also check out the cover story on John Kerry's "One-Point Plan For A Better America". Nice balance from last week's "CIA Asks Bush To Discontinue Blog".

You may now resume ignoring Lethbridge

So Dar quit. Ah, well, it was fun while it lasted. We won't be treated to the suspense of seeing where she finishes in October's muni election. After her sentencing on September 10, you'll never hear her name again (unless you see someone stumbling around your wood pile - that may not be Lois Lane!).

As such, Lethbridge will fade into the background, unmentioned and unnoticed until something else insane or tragic happens. That's fine. But since we're on the topic:

It's a pretty nice place. There's nothing much to see here, but there's lots nearby. Very socially conservative on average, but probably not as economically conservative as you might guess. (Translation: it's like most places, where everybody wants the government to stay out of business's way, until their own business needs help).

The local government (now short one alderman!) is mercifully quiet on most issues that are not in their own scope of governance (no debates on war with Iraq, becoming a nuclear-free zone, improving our hospitals, etc.). They've never had a serious cash crunch (that's good), so they've never had to critically examine how they do business (that's bad).

That's not to say they're wasteful; however they have a hand in everything. The city owns and operates every arena in town, including the concessions. They own the curling rink. They own a golf course. They do their own parks, roads, and infrastructure maintenance. Basically, they are a lot bigger than they need to be, and the prime beneficiary of this is CUPE and their members.

It's like Toronto! Except fewer people complain about tax hikes (!), our streets aren't covered in garbage, and there's no Sue Ann Levy devoting 3 columns a week to making the mayor's life hell.

And we get to my biggest complaint about this fine city: the local fishwrap. What not to like?

1) They consistently fail at reporting local insight. For interesting information (anything besides press conferences) during the Dar saga, you had to read Valerie Fortney in the Calgary Herald. They essentially function as a marketing and communications organ for City Hall and community groups.

2) Their editorials are generally mind-numbingly boring and squishy, except when they are blatantly stupid. Their take on the Auditor General uncovering total incompetence in our air and border security was titled, "War On Terror Can Go Too Far". Why is the money we are devoting to security not accomplishing what it's supposed to? According to the Lethbridge Herald: "There is a fine line to be walked between taking security precautions and obsessing with 'the evil ones', to borrow George W. Bush's term for terrorists."
I hope you are as confused reading that last paragraph as I was reading the editorial. Appropriately, it ran immediately adjacent to the comic strip "Non-Sequitur".

3) The remainder of the comment pages is a farce. They run two regular syndicated columnists on Sundays - Gwynne Dyer and David Suzuki. The page is headed: A Forum For All Viewpoints. Bwahahahaha! The most conservative columnist they ever run is Chantal Hebert. Talk about knowing your readers!

OK, I know, none of you care. I'm done now.



Monday, August 09, 2004

In praise of a bored dilettante nerd

Unfortunate news from last week - Colby Cosh has announced that his semi-weekly National Post column is being cut back to weekly. I've already stated I'm a fan (scroll to last paragraph of linked post); my considered opinion is that there is no other commentator out there who is as adept at organizing and articulating a point, even if I do have to frequently consult a thesaurus. And for a self-described "bored dilettante nerd amidst a house full of pizza boxes", he's pretty damn observant.

Since he hasn't married rich, nor does he have a profitable side business (nutri-ceuticals, anyone?), he has indicated this situation may force him to change "employers" entirely. It would be a shame if that meant he ended up reviewing books for an American publication; Canadian readers would suffer from the loss of his screeds on our politics and courts.

As such, I hope that those of you who agree with me will take a few minutes out of your day to share your opinion with the National Post's editor. Likewise, a recommendation to the editor of the Globe & Mail might also prove beneficial.

I'm not trying to embarass the guy - I don't recommend ranting like you're trying to save some crappy sci-fi TV program that's already been cancelled three times. Just a simple letter that you enjoy reading Mr. Cosh's work, and the more the better. If you are a newstand grazer like myself, you ought to also identify what impact this business will have on your decision to lay down a loonie from time-to-time.

All that said, if you are unconvinced that Cosh is a unique talent, I present the Top 10 Turns-of-Phrase from Colby Cosh, all within the last several months.

10. On the high floor for Liberal polling numbers: "...even if Paul Martin were caught on camera humping roadkill Tom Green-fashion, it's unlikely the party's poll numbers would drop below 38% or so."

9. On his own importance as a political commentator (paging Mr. Roget!): "The psephological professionals, who to a man earn more than I do for my onanistic belletrism..."

8. On Malcolm Azania's provincial electoral prospects: "Amidst the more concentrated campus idiocy of the smaller provincial riding, Malcolm would probably win."

7. On the Supreme Court upholding the Elections Act: "Five other judges -- our best and brightest -- subscribed to this wad of fiat in apparent contentment." Also, "dusty shred of bumf" is nice.

6. On the Green Party's promise to "create opportunities for more outdoor physical activities": "Am I the only one who suspects this means, 'If we ever win, you'll have to walk to work'?"

5. On returning officers and scrutineers: "...they have not learned, and will not learn, the priggish imperiousness of the cop or the civil servant. And who would say they perform their duties less well?"

4. On his political leanings as a 17-year-old: "I didn't yet have a coalesced political world view, beyond being opposed to blatantly stupid things."

3. On Joe Clark and Paul Martin: "Clark performed some reluctant anilingus on Martin Thursday, which allowed the Star to openly refer to rampant rumours that Joe Who is Senate-bound."

2. On the Supremes' Elections Act ruling, again: "Seems odd to me, but I never went to law school or suffered a major head trauma."

1. On NDP MP Libby Davies (no emphasis required): "That's a New Democrat for you--sexism's all right as long as I perpetrate it, and against males. If somebody called Women's Libby a "girl" (or, say, a "plank-thick twat") on the floor of the House, you know her head would explode."

That last one's a bad example, I suppose: not much chance you'll ever see that expression printed in the Post, even if he's contributing five times a week.

Other examples are welcomed in the Comments.

UPDATE (215PM): I would like to add this honourable mention - it nearly caused me to pull the apocryphal cliche of "spitting coffee all over the keyboard".

On bloggers' roadtrips: "... unlike most webloggers I can't really afford some sort of schmancy wireless-equipped laptop that would allow me to post second-by-second from the road. (Now I'm in a bar! Now I'm on the observation deck of the CN Tower! Now I'm shooting smack down by the Don River!)"

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Or maybe a convenience store

If you think it ought to be easy to solve the NHL/NHLPA contract dispute, I invite you to consider this articulate summary of the problem, submitted by wise reader H. Jarms:

----------
...sports business is predicated on three fairly antagonistic goals: (1) to beat the existing competition; (2) while at the same time preserving that competition, and (3) to make a profit. No competition = no league, No profit = no league. More than that, the goal is not only to beat enough of the existing competition to ensure that the company survives and makes a profit, but it is to beat all of the existing competition while at the same time preserving that competition. In this respect the relationships between (A) consumers and products and (B) between owners and the market are very different in the sports world and the non-sports world.
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Indeed. Regarding (A), he notes that he's a Cheerios fan, and says: "Do I care if Cheerios is the #1, #5, or #25 best selling cereal in Canada? Nope, my only concern is that they make enough profit to ensure that their big yellow box is still on the shelf when I go to the supermarket." Pro sports teams don't have that luxury - their success at beating the competition is major determinant of their value (ah, the Leafs - so often the exception that proves the rule).

Part (B) is addressed a bit today at Babbling Brooks. Damian posits: "sports teams require competition. If I'm a grocery store, I'm trying to drive the grocer down the street out of business. If I'm the Edmonton Oilers, I'm certainly not trying to drive the Calgary Flames out...OK, that's a bad example."

You are right and you are wrong, sir. The Oilers obviously need other teams to play; plus, as a business, they benefit from a perception of a competitive league. The other side of the coin is, if you're a grocery store (hey, can I be a liquor store?), you don't need to drive the grocer down the street out of business. He can do 5 times as much business as you, every day for 10 years, and you may still be a very rich and happy man. Your value has no direct intrinsic relationship to how you perform relative to the competition (see: Cheerios) - not so with an NHL team.

Also, revenue sharing is no cure-all, nor is it something that can act as a de facto salary cap. Since you asked, Damian, too much revenue sharing leads to the Tragedy of the Commons. NFL revenue sharing works well for them, because so much of it is from national TV rights. If you start pooling everyone's ticket revenue, and then splitting it back 30 ways, the system collapses (every owner drops the ticket prices in their own building to $1.75 - why should they push their own fans for more bucks, when they only keep 3% of it).

Anyway, I could have stood to be a little more clear Thursday. I'm behind the players in the sense that their present rhetoric is less distasteful to me than that of the owners. However, as a fan (or as someone trying to answer the question How Do You Save the NHL), I heartily agree that the status quo is unsustainable. If the owners spoke more frankly, like they had a problem which requires a solution and they were welcoming input, I'd probably be foursquare behind them.

Just in case Mario Lemieux is reading, the problem is this: Pittsburgh cannot compete with Philadelphia, because Philly has more people with more money. Philly can jack ticket prices higher, and have a lousier team, before their ticket sales suffer. If you accept that this creates an uneven playing field (on average), what is an appropriate way to address it?

Thursday, August 05, 2004

"Who's that goat-legged fellow, Smithers? I like the cut of his jib."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is spinning like crazy, trying to gain popular support for a hardline stance against the players' union in ongoing contract negotiations (I decline to refer to NHL players as "labour"). No, he's not Satan, but he's certainly got a problem.

The whole back and forth reminds me a lot of the frequently aforementioned federal-provincial health negotiations, in the sense that both sides refuse to be candid about what the actual problem is. The difference, of course, is that management-union negotiations are supposed to be like that, and if I don't like the result, I can choose to stop paying.

I may get into more detail about this another day, but basically, I'm behind the players. No one has ever put a gun to an owner's head forcing him to sign a contract. Owners can even walk away from an arbitrator's decision. And the stated goal Bettman is pursuing, "cost certainty", is unlikely to draw much sympathy from people who run businesses in the non-sports world, i.e. the people who buy luxury boxes and advertise on the boards.

All the owners really have going for them is this alleged popular consensus that "these pro athletes make too much damn money". I've certainly heard lots of people speak these words, but the idea that fans do or will stay away in droves on principle, because of "greedy, high-priced players" is ba-loney. The dollar figures in and of themselves mean nothing. The day I hear someone say they're not going to the new Julia Roberts movie because she's getting paid too much, maybe I'll change my mind, but at present, unh-uh.

At the same time, I really think it's incumbent on the NHLPA to address the issue of the business as a whole. The NHL is presently pricing its fans out of the arenas; at least 20 of the 30 teams can only fill their buildings when their team is having serious success. Back to Julia Roberts - no one truly cares what she earns for acting, but when movie tickets are $14 each, more people stay home! If the NHLPA doesn't collaborate with the owners to allow ticket prices to come back down a bit, changes will happen jerkily instead - teams will fold, there will be less money out there for the players, and jobs will be lost.

In other words, in response to the NHLPA's demand for a "free market", I would say, be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Warren Kinsella's B-musings

(updated at the bottom)

First of all, I heartily enjoyed Warren Kinsella taking the piss out of Team Martin in the first six months of this year. I think also, because he was challenging the Liberal Party from within, I even half-convinced myself that he was an intelligent, moderate, voice of reason, hanging onto a few principles in a political world that adopts and discards them as convenient.

But as time goes by - no. He's still the guy who pimped for Jean Chretien for the better part of 10 years. And like most, his deeply held principles seem to extend exactly as far as his people's interests. It bothered me a bit when he tossed off this line on July 27th:

"From Klein, or Harris, or one of those other Medicare-hating neo-cons, complaints about the systematic underfunding of health care were easily dismissed (and usually rightly so) as grubby partisanship dressed up in the finery of high principle."

That's an eyebrow-raiser - to sniff at grubby partisanship in the same breath as tagging two elected officials with a couple of unsubstantiable epithets. Then yesterday (August 3rd), he refers to terror warnings as "horseshit", and lets go this line:

"In politics, fear works. I regret that, I deplore that, but them's the facts, folks."

Very rich. I guess the whole 2000 election campaign, based on creating fear that the Canadian Alliance would destroy Medicare and produce two-tier health care, was run over Mr. Kinsella's objections.

But what really gets me is this, and I hope I am choosing my words sufficiently carefully.

Mr. Kinsella's father died in June. He also has four young children, so not only has he had to deal with the death of the man he describes as his hero, but also explain it to his kids, and help them deal with it. What a heart-wrenching and emotionally exhausting experience. He has posted little accounts of various conversations with his kids since that underline this. If I am ever in the same situation, I hope I can get through it with as much control and calm, and be a similarly reassuring presence to my own kids. In short, I admire him as a father.

So I wonder if, during the course of explaining to his little ones about heaven, he felt any pangs of shame. He appeared on Canada AM in the 2000 election campaign with a Barney the Dinosaur doll, claiming that Stockwell Day believes that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as humans. It was for a cheap and cruel laugh at the expense of not only Mr. Day, but anyone who believes in God the Creator.

No believer would begrudge Mr. Kinsella invoking heaven to soothe his children, regardless of what his personal beliefs are. In fact, he has said that many of them called or wrote with their sympathies. So I guess I find it sad that Mr. Kinsella holds believers in such low regard in return. Until the day he apologizes for Barney, what other impression can I reasonably be expected to have? The one post on his website that addresses it (May 4th) is flippant more than anything.

I'm not particularly religious, but you won't find me laughing at people who are. Well, except maybe those people in the bunk beds with the Nikes.

UPDATE (Aug. 5 930AM): Check out Damian Brooks' excellent new weblog for more on why the comments of Warren Kinsella (and Lawrence Martin in today's Globe) regarding the terror alerts should not be taken seriously.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Sport of Kings

And I don't mean Queen's! Queen's! Queen's! as the cheer at my alma mater goes.

Much of the blame for horse racing's slide into obscurity is correctly attributed to massive increases in both entertainment options and legal gambling options. But Andrew Beyer writes today in the Washington Post (free registration required, I think) about the sport's other frustratingly unique problem - essentially, that potential is more valuable than performance.

Imagine that if any time your favorite NBA team had a player break through with a great season (even a rookie), he was immediately traded for draft picks. And if any of those draft picks turn out to be any good, they're immediately traded for more draft picks. And to top it off, when the breakthrough player is traded, he is actually retired out of the league, meaning that all NBA competition was between players who have not actually performed to a high level.

The two consequences of this would certainly be:
A) The NBA would hemorrhage popularity as a league, because the level of competition is poorer than it could or should be; and
B) There would be far reduced interest in "teams" because their great players are promptly retired, so the league also forsakes the fans it could have gained via its teams.
Basically, the only NBA fans would be people who really love the game of basketball - and this is exactly what has happened to horse racing.

I'm not interested in waxing romantic about horse racing, although I highly recommend a sunny afternoon at the track as a great use of your leisure time. I do find it fascinating, though, that it appears the internal market economics of horse racing function to reduce the total size of its market. Are there other free internal markets that act this way?

Attention Jerry Kelly

And other PGA Tour wusses: you may want to consider taking next week off to "spend more time with your family".

Gary Van Sickle has a tantalizing piece at SI.com on just how difficult Whistling Straits is going to be August 12-15 for the PGA Championship. A sample:

"...it's a shambled mess of fescue-covered cones and ridges and furry-edged strips of mini-bunkers that even a mountain goat would have trouble traversing thanks to old railroad cars that Dye buried (they were cheaper and easier than hauling a commensurate amount of dirt)."

Not to mention 1400 bunkers. Bet against Ernie Els at your peril.

Monday, August 02, 2004

The tide has turned

Hold on to those memories of the recent federal election - it appears that never again will an election be fought where all the parties defend the Medicare status quo (the so-called "single tier"). At the very least, the notion that we must outlaw private facilities wishing to operate entirely outside the government-funded system is drawing its final breaths.

Truths are being spoken, and the genie is escaping the bottle. Here's John Ibbotson in the Globe on Friday:

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Yesterday, Mr. Klein raised a question virtually no politician in Canada ever dares broach: Why, he asked reporters rhetorically, are you free to piss away money at a casino, but you can't use it to get your mother the hip replacement she so desperately needs?
Such questions are intolerable, because they expose the underlying totalitarianism of the public health-care system. Mr. Klein will need to stifle himself; that sort of loose talk could wreck the necessary compromise.

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Ibbotson is a pure (cruel?) realist. He rarely deals in right and wrong - it's always about political implications (can X happen, not should X happen). So when he throws away a phrase like "underlying totalitarianism", it's not to sneak some of his ideology into the mix - it's because a hard reality exists that no intelligent commenter can dispute on the facts.

This same topic was broached last month, and Mr. Klein's rhetorical question will continue to be asked in all manner of venues - from government press conferences to friends around a campfire. Thankfully, this means that one of these days, someone is going to have to answer it.