Thursday, September 30, 2004

"To calm emotional volatily" - Canada.com

When you're a mere Crawly Amphibian in this vast wasteland referred to by The Accordion Guy as TEH INTARWEB, you don't get many referrals slipping by unnoticed. Without further prologue, I would like to recognize the makers of the medication Ceroquel for providing me with what is quite possibly 10% of my traffic.

You see, Google returns 5 results on Ceroquel. For reasons unknown, ceroquel.com, .org, and .net are all 404. The 4th is a newsbot link with an apparently expired source. And the 5th is me, because in my last post on the illustrious Dar Heatherington, I made mention of her not unsubstantial pharmaceutical regimen.

To the makers of Ceroquel: get one of your links up and running. There are people out there searching for information, though admittedly a small fraction of the number looking for other information.

For my part, I have changed my site description to assist this often ignored "emotionally volatile, yet computer literate" crowd.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Other People Are Not Your Property

Jay Jardine has a predictably sunny take on our newest Captain Canada, Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman. (He calls him a cock-something.) He's a little more riled up than me, but not by a lot. I can see the upside: anything that underlines or clarifies the "morality" underpinning contemporary health policy can only accelerate the inevitable, forthcoming revolt and the consequent demolition and replacement of the system.

If I were a reporter, I'd be a little more interested than CTV's Peter Murphy is in finding out what exactly Smitherman's objection is to mobile, private (For Profit!) cash-only ultrasound testing, operating entirely outside the public system.
  • "Minister, you call this firm modern-day snake oil salesmen. Are you saying that preventative ultrasound testing is bogus?"
  • "Minister, generally the government's response to misleading advertising is to require the advertiser to pull or change the ads. Was this avenue pursued with the testing firm in question?"
  • "Minister, are you assuring Ontarians that the provincial health system provides all the diagnostic ultrasounds they need? Would allowing a private company to provide similar testing negatively impact the province's ability to do so?"
  • "What do you plan to tell the family of a senior who dies next year from undiagnosed blood clots, when that family says the deceased was eager to pay $60 for a 10-minute test at the mall? Is the province accepting liability for this senior's death?"
  • "Shoppers Drug Mart provides free blood pressure readings to anyone who wants them. Is this only moral and acceptable because it's free? Are you worried about Ontarians who go to Shoppers for a free blood pressure reading, but also end up spending their money there?"
  • "Does it concern you that Shoppers Drug Mart is a private, for-profit company, which reported net earnings of $257 million in fiscal 2003, much of which was out of the wallets of sick Canadians?"
There's only so many ways to attack an indefensible position before you tucker out. It blows my mind that a government running a multi-billion dollar deficit thinks that ensuring its citizens don't spend money on their own health is a high priority.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Buy One Implant, Get 2nd Free!

Greetings from the libertarian paradise of Alberta, land of rugged individualists. For our top story, we bring you this sneer at a provincial College of Physician and Surgeons that wants to severely restrict the advertisement and pricing of plastic surgery, lest the woozy public be entranced by the spooky TV demons into getting a good deal on a boob job. And which neo-Marxist province is foisting this policy on their complicit citizens?

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta voted unanimously Friday to prohibit doctors from using discount coupons, early-bird specials, time-limited prices and contests to attract patients.

"There is a concern that there is an increasing approach being used that looks more like the sale of a commodity than a medical service," said college registrar Dr. Bob Burns.
Well, bless Dr. Burns for his candour -- he doesn't want the general public to realize that medical service is a commodity. Imagine the chaos if commodities provided by well-trained individuals were advertised like used cars! We might see lawyers on billboards, dentists offering special gimmicks, chiropractors... oh nevermind. Sometimes sarcasm is so inadequate.

Note please that this whole story relates to uninsured surgeries, and as such, strictly speaking, has nothing to do with Our Sacred National Identity a.k.a. Medicare. I don't wish to drag this point out for two more paragraphs, so I will just end with this: if you think this "policy" is actually about protecting the public, and not about protecting doctors' saintly images, then U R Dum.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Meanwhile, back at the Corral

(Updated)

Colby Cosh is musing a bit on the NHL muddle, and makes a point which is plainly true, but generally drowned out by the salary cap/luxury tax discussions.
The league has a problem controlling salaries in the long term, because, like baseball, it was unwisely counting on arbitration to help control them.
Wage arbitration, in pro sports, has the unavoidable consequence of driving salaries up. It gives the notion of a player's "market value" an assignable dollar figure, whereas the economics definition of that value is surely "the most money some team is willing to pay that player". If Glen Sather pays Player X $7M per year, then suddenly Player Y, with identical stats, has a market value of $7M per year, even if there's only one (or zero) of 30 teams willing to pay Player Y that salary. In the NHLPA rhetoric about wanting a free market, you don't hear much about this.

I personally think eliminating arbitration and greatly loosening restrictions on free agency is good solution, in conjunction with a luxury tax of whatever threshold and severity the two sides inevitably agree on. I dispute the CW that teams need to be able to hold on to their drafted players for 2/3 of their career; most people cheer for the jersey, not the players. I doubt that more player movement would have much of a negative impact on fan interest, as long as every team has a chance to hire some good players.

It really is hard to know which side to despise more in this. When you hear that the Bruins and the Blackhawks organizations are two of the real hard-liners on the owners side, it reminds you that for at least some owners, this dispute is about creating themselves a highly profitable business with virtually zero risk. On the other hand, you have Bob Goodenow saying things like this:
Actor R.H. Thomson, in the studio audience, said ticket prices are too high and wanted to know where consideration for fans comes into play. Goodenow brushed that one off by saying there is no correlation between ticket prices and players' salaries. Supply and demand determines ticket prices and not team payrolls, he said.
No correlation? I'm no economist, but I understand that demand for a product has a pretty fucking direct correlation with the quality of said product. And since his entire existence rests on the assertion that the NHL needs his PA members, and not a bunch of beer-leaguers, out there wearing the CH, Flaming C, etc. in order to be a valuable product, I'd say it's a rather bizarre position for Bob Goodenow to take.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: I got a bit carried away there, and should elaborate slightly. I should certainly concede to Mr. Goodenow that if there was no one out there willing to pay more than $5 for an NHL ticket, obviously player salaries would be nowhere near what they are today.

However, it is still terribly disingenuous of Goodenow to make this argument, as there is little evidence that he acknowledges:
(A) Supply and demand balances out at 30 different price points in the NHL
(B) Demand for the product in a given city is further diminished when the team cannot afford to hire the quality of players which would allow them to be regularly or consistently competitive (vicious circle yada yada)

Add on the fact that a given team's ability to pay, in the context of individual player contract negotiations and arbitration, is a topic somewhere between irrelevant and out-of-bounds as far as the NHLPA is concerned, and you end up with a thoroughly unsympathetic figure.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Degenerates unite

Non-news from Nova Scotia: Video Lottery Crusader Sues Government.

This reminds me once again why I think those who wish to have pot legalized (not just decriminalized) are off their gobs. Especially you casual users: do you really want to be treated by government, the health establishment, and various do-gooders like smokers and gamblers are treated? Seems to me I'd rather be viewed as a petty criminal.

Anyway, I have a straight-faced suggestion to our provincial & regional lottery corporations. It would reduce the incidence of Larry Mathwhizzes losing their homes, life savings, etc. while potentially making up the revenue from new, casual players. It would also respect the individual's right to flush their own money down the toilet as they best see fit.

Increase the payouts.

The Atlantic Lottery Corporation stipulates that VLT payouts are to be between 80% and 90%. Relative to the 96%-98% slot payouts advertised by most Vegas casinos, that is pure larceny. I don't want to get too mathy here, and the statistics are much more complicated than say, Lotto 6/49, but the difference between an 85% payout and a 97% payout is stark. It might be best illustrated by considering how many times you could lose 15% of your money before you go broke, relative to how many times you could lose 3% of your money.

It's not 85/97ths by a damn stretch. It's more like 1/5th. (Do your own math.) Basically, the guy playing the 97% machine has to be at least five times as determined to piss his life away than the guy playing the 85% machine, to get to the same point where he alienates his wife, pilfers the petty cash at work, etc.

I think a major re-work of the "Educating Problem Gamblers" material is in order as well. I'll sidestep the broader issue of anti-smoking propaganda, but the most visible aspect of it is the warning labels on cigarette packs, and they are admirably straightforward. Take a scientific fact (for argument's sake I will concede this), and plaster it on there in big, bold letters. No "Do you think you may have a smoking problem?", or "Common Signs of a smoking problem", or other wishy-washy crap. Why not transfer this concept to gambling? Next to every VLT, have a nice sign that says something like:
If You Play These Machines For a Sufficiently Long Time, It Is A Mathematical Certainty That You Will Lose All Your Money

Why not have a chart or spreadsheet posted, showing how much the average person with a $100 stake should be expected to lose over various time intervals? If you don't believe that your run-of-the-mill degenerate, wagering his welfare cheque, would have any use for a published set of detailed, standard calculations, try sitting down at a $2 blackjack table sometime (and standing on 16 against a face card).

But back to government-as-bookie: there is one and only one legislative remedy required to solve all these problems. Set the maximum payout at some solid break-even point (ensuring the costs of the machines etc. are covered). Then let individual bars set their own payouts, certified by the government and/or machine manufacturer. This appeases nearly everyone:
  • Individuals who appreciate the freedom to gamble their own money
  • The anti-gambling folks, because it will be considerably more difficult for "addicts" to lose the farm before intervention
  • Local restaurants, Future Shops, etc. who will benefit from more windfall (or non-lost) discretionary spending (some old saying about "found money" eludes me at the moment)
  • The other do-gooders, and selected economists, who argue that in the long run, money spent in other areas of the economy brings more good to governments than gambling revenues

Any negative effects would only impact on:
  • The doggedly self-destructive, who will either have to be more patient, or take up smoking crack
  • Neighbourhood pub owners, who may no longer be able to pay their overhead costs in full with their state-mandated cut from four freakin' computer slot machines.

Great, then it's settled. I look forward to seeing my first "Loosest Slots in Lethbridge" sign.

It's OK to laugh at this, right?

Spit-take of the morning - a lonely, unelaborated "headline" on the sidebar at The Onion:

Ramones Reunion Nearly Complete

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The last word on Kerry

Mark Steyn tinkles on the corpse of the Kerry campaign. It's inconceivable that I'll have anything else to say about it over the next 6 weeks. The nut graf:
If Karl Rove had labored for a decade to produce a walking parody of the contemporary Democratic Party’s remoteness, condescension, sense of entitlement, public evasiveness and tortured relationship with military matters, he couldn’t have improved on John F Kerry.

Home of the body bag

We pick up the politics discussion by directly addressing a puzzling contradiction: if centrist politicians can be virtually defined by their pandering for votes, why are they so often lousy at it? Just recently we have seen:

- The Liberal Party proposing national daycare funding, responding to the widespread and crushing pressure of approximately 15 people who write the NDP policy book

- John Kerry et al pressing the issue of W's National Guard record, despite the fact that it didn't work four years ago, and has the net effect of informing people that (A) W flew fighter jets, and (B) he looked pretty good doing it.

- Kevin Taft

I am left pondering this (again) after watching and reading about the close of nominations here for municipal elections. I think I'm safe in saying that Southern Alberta is not the only place where local office is a de facto lifetime position. Incumbent mayors and councillors are virtually never ousted; in jursidictions like mine, where party politics is actively discouraged in local matters, it's almost unheard of.

So, there was some excitement here yesterday in L.A. when Joe Mauro announced he would be challenging for the mayor's chair. Mauro has been an alderman for several years, and in the 2001 elections was selected by a remarkable 68% of voters under our slate system. He also has the reputation of being our most fiscally responsible alderman (who's your most modest stripper? - ed.).

In other words, we may have a horse race. Popular alderman, who more than two-thirds of us have previously marked a ballot for, takes on also popular nice-guy mayor. So what did Mr. Mauro, after this bombshell announcement, have to say about his motivations? From both local TV and newspaper:

"I've decided to run because, number one, people have suggested that I do," Mauro said.

There was no number two. Sure! I mean, why would you want to waste your moment as the lead story in local media by giving a single person a reason to vote for you! I'm a little behind in learning my online abbreviations, but I'm pretty sure the one I'm looking for here is WTF.

I'll keep trying...for now

As I'm sure happens to everyone who writes one of these web-based-comment dealys, sometimes you run across something that makes you want to abandon the effort entirely, and just put a handful of links on the main page, under the heading I'm Not Worthy.

When that day comes, and I have no doubt it will, Evan Kirchhoff at 101-280.com will be one of those links. His latest post reflects on the unfunded liabilities created by governments promising us whatever we want, specifically looking at the USA. In wit and searing logic (and chilling conclusion), it shames anything you would find in [insert favourite intelligent news-magazine here]. And he anticipates the argument of anyone who might quibble with exact figures:
Or maybe it's $40 trillion or $47 trillion or $60 trillion; opinions in that article vary, but it's safe to say that the number is what the accounting profession would term "well into the multiple assloads".

Please read it all. How can you resist a piece with lines like this:
Gold enthusiasts, of course, argue that the above demonstrates the inevitable failure of government-issued paper currency, and while it's true that they've predicted several dozen of the past zero U.S. dollar collapses, the goldbugs do have a point.

Also highly recommended is this post; that is, if the following statement has any appeal to you:
"...all I'm asking for is a regulatory regime that treats me like a smart mammal with opposable thumbs whose actions are largely guided by the neurological process of 'cognition', as opposed to spooky demons inside the television."


Monday, September 20, 2004

"Beer, Mr. Petersen?"

(Updated)


"It's a little early, isn't it, Woody?"

"For a beer?"

"No, for stupid questions."

From the Yes, That Is A Rhetorical Question! file comes the man Colby Cosh is describing as "former internet journalist Andrew Coyne", with a depressingly accurate assessment of the Ontario leadership vote and the state of small-c conservatism in Canada. ($ubscriber only link here.)

"The problem with universal well-regard, after all, is that one is disinclined to give it up. Who wants to go from being the toast of the town to pariah? Is Mr. Tory willing to take the kinds of risks, make the kinds of enemies, that even the mildest attempt to reign in the Leviathan state demands?"

He goes on to note that "As of today, there is not a government or opposition party, anywhere in the country, that has any serious plans to reverse its growth." Did I already use 'depressingly accurate'?

The wood of the column though, for me, is the penultimate paragraph, which comes after he lists the various half-measures and struggles pursued under the Common Sense Revolution.

After such exertions, the party decided it needed a lie-down, electing Ernie Eves as its leader. This won it praise from the Liberal press, and not much else: the party went down to a crushing defeat at the next election. What lesson did the party learn from this? That it should repeat the experiment. Hence its present choice of leader, the second straight to be endorsed by the Toronto Star.
It's still six weeks away, but if there is one lesson to be learned from the U.S. presidential election, it's got to be the total folly of choosing a leader based on his/her presumptive "electability". Will it sink in this time? Heaven forfend. Conservative (and most other) Canadians remain wedded to the notion of an "ideal candidate"; they are undeterred by the fact that these candidates keep losing to people like Jean Chretien.

UPDATE 425PM: The previous paragraph appears to have been lifted directly from Adam Radwanski (Saturday the 18th). It wasn't, but full credit to him.

I could go on. I might tomorrow.

A Fella, a straight-up Fella from the hard school

I went to Wonkette for the first time this weekend, and she had linked to this amusing tidbit from Mr. "Loud, Proud, and Well-Endowed" in the New York Daily News:
Ice-T: "I'm scared of Bush. We need a peaceful president, not someone who is entertained by war."
Now Ice-T was a big, big favourite in the Aldini house when I lived with five other guys at Queen's. Which is why my reaction to this quote is, "Man, when did he mellow out so much?"

I offer you a quote from the final track of Ice-T's 1991 album Original Gangster. The track was recorded January 15, 1991, within days (hours?) of Operation Desert Shield morphing into Desert Storm.
F**k the police,
F**k the FBI,
F**k the DEA,
F**k the CIA,
F**k Tipper Gore, Bush, and his crippled bitch.
I guess I guy gets older, and he tones down his rhetoric a bit. However, I'm going to throw the suggestion out there that if there is one American may be justified in being scared of W, it's probably the one who called his mom a crippled bitch, "on the record", and sold hundreds of thousands of copies of it.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Proof of nothing

I've noted what I think is an interesting aspect of Dan Rather's Last Stand this past 11 days, going through the blogs. There's a pretty wide variety of "crystallizing moments"; a particular angle of the forgeries that, once learned, clinched it for the blogger that the memos were as phony as a $200 bill.

Around the web: it was Staudt's retirement 18 months previous, or it was the curved apostrophes, or the ridiculously easy reproduction, or the optical (non-exact) centering, or the simply the look as a whole.

I keep coming back to a line in Evan Kirchoff's excellent piece: "...any claim of authenticity ought to grapple rather humbly with the large circumstantial problem of several hundred million personal computers capable of producing an equivalent document."

There's better single pieces of evidence proving that the memos are forged, but that is the single best reason explaining why CBS shouldn't have touched them with a 10-foot Andy Rooney eyebrow hair. And the kicker is, you don't need to see LGF's overlays to know it.

I am anxiously awaiting Scrappleface or The Onion to come out with a story: "CBS Uncovers Paper Proving Bush Paid Hooker in 1970", and show this picture:


The damning document Posted by Hello

CBS News has obtained this $100 bill from the personal file of a prostitute (now deceased) showing that she was paid money by George W. Bush in exchange for sexual favours. Republican operatives are disputing this, claiming Bush never carried anything bigger than twenties..

Obviously the changing appearance of currency over the years throws a monkeywrench into my analogy, but consider: even if you think the source of the C-Note is impeccable, your starting assumption on the "document" must be that it could have come from just about anywhere. Perhaps, if you were able to establish...

(A) Bush's fingerprints/DNA were on the bill
(B) The serial number on the bill came from a lot issued in Texas around the late '60s
(C) Bush liked to pay for things with large bills

..then and only then would you have a document that remotely and circumstantially supports the main story, that Bush paid a prostitute in 1970.

There is no defensible reason for CBS to have treated some 8.5x11" photocopies any differently. I see Kos and some others have nitpicked with LGF's re-creation, saying it's not quite as easy as Charles made it sound. They miss the larger point. The precise crudeness of the forgery is irrelevant; the problem is that, in 2004, you can do absolutely anything with a PC and a desktop publishing program. A letter-size photocopy whose provenance is at all questionable is absolutely useless as "proof" of anything.

The logical extension of this, and my point (I do have one), is this: for CBS to have done their job and stuffed the memos, they didn't have to know Thing One about 1972 typewriters; they only needed a passing familiarity with the capabilities of PCs in 2004.

(some links via Edmonton & Knoxville)

Friday, September 17, 2004

not a bad week..

A few last pre-beer notes:
  • Dan, Dan, Dan. This may be the thing that turns your peers against you, not just the VRWC and the pyjama-people (the perfesser thinks it's funny when pyjamas is spelled with a Y).
  • Pardon me, you sad little micropenis... - Heh. I think the 797s have a Hemi running the A/C.
  • And speaking of More Power (grunt, gruntgrunt)
  • This week's suicide pool pick is Da Bearss. There's absolutely no reason to believe they'll even cover the +9 @ Green Bay, so undoubtedly they'll win outright, and this game will thin out these pools across North America by about 80%
  • And if you're hungry for NFL gambling tips, check out the Sports Guy's Week 2 picks (and "system"). He thinks he can go 50 games over .500 for the season against the spread, which is properly described as rank idiocy. But he went 11-4-1 in Week 1, so I hope he does well this week and gets a little cockier before it all falls apart. (Prediction: his Week 5 column will contain the phrase, "The lesson is, as always, I'm an idiot.")
Beer! Beer! Beer! Bed! Bed! Bed!

American Gary Suter

Reader C.C. in Edmonton comments:
And any Flames fan wishing to convict Mark Messier of dirty play had better at least mention the words "Gary Suter", or be prepared to be dismissed as a five-Cup-envying whiny little bitch...

Gary Suter. On the plus side, he racked up points delivering 70-foot cross-ice 5-on-4 passes to Al MacInnis and floating 62mph wrist shots on goal for easy rebound goals for Loob and friends. On the minus side, he:
  • Caused a premature age deterioration in Wayne Gretzky's play with a cheap hit in the back
  • Helped trash his part of the Olympic Village in Nagano (allegedly!)
  • Cross-checked Paul Kariya in the head, beginning his deterioration as a superstar, and may have cost Canada the '98 hockey gold in the process
I think there's probably a special place in Hell waiting for Gary Suter, when he dies from the inevitable drunken one-car wreck in a few years. Mostly forgotten regarding Canada's medal-less performance in Nagano is that they were without, at the time, Canada's 3 best offensive players: Mario (cancer), Sakic (foot), and Kariya (cross-checked in head by Suter). The shootout lineup (Nieuwendyk-Bourque-Fleury-Lindros-Shanahan) would have been considerably more fearsome with Gretzky and those three, not to mention the odds of scoring more than 1 goal in 70 minutes against Czech, even with Dominek Hasek playing out of his head.

Unlike Messier, Suter's thuggery is and will always be the lede in his hockey obituary, and rightly so. Slightly off-topic, I called bullshit on Sheila Copps last month for recycling the old tale of Ben Johnson becoming "Jamaican-born Ben Johnson" after Seoul. This phenomenon most certainly did happen in Calgary newspapers with Gary Suter after he left town - it was like he had a new first name! See the title of this post.

But anyway, if you want to see me be a whiny little bitch, just send Messier to confront me! I ran into him (not literally, thank God) in a golf shop in the late '80s. TV fails to do this guy justice. He was wearing Dockers and a windbreaker, and he still looked like he was carved out of granite. No wonder he pounded Joel Otto into a pulp!

Oh, Joel Otto was a 6'-4", 220-pound professional athlete in his mid-twenties.

Which guy is supposed to be smarter, again?

I suppose there's still the debates to come. And a lot can happen in 6 weeks. But I think I withdraw all the advice I offered in this post; the candidate appears to be unredeemable.

Why? See Tim Blair: NEW, IMPROVED KERRY EVEN MORE INCOHERENT. The gist, taken from a Don Imus interview (Blair's emphasis):
KERRY: I mean, what you ought to be doing and what everybody in America ought to be doing today is not asking me; they ought to be asking the president, What is your plan? What's your plan, Mr. President, to stop these kids from being killed? What's your plan, Mr. President, to get the other countries in there? What's your plan to have 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the cost being carried by America?

IMUS: We're asking you because you want to be president.
The fact that a candidate for President of the United States cannot grasp this leaves me speechless.

Martin has no clothes. None.

The pithiest summation of the health care talks, courtesy of Adam Radwanski:
Honestly, this eleventh hour “deal” could have been reached over e-mail; how the PM needed three days to convince the provinces to take Ottawa’s cash will forever confound me.
And yet he still thinks Ralph was an embarrassment for not showing up.

2 + 2 = what again?

Chuck E. Fargin' Cheese

As recently as two years ago, I would never had considered that I might one day take great pleasure in reading about the daily minutiae of an anal-retentive stay-at-home father of an only child.

But, life changes, and then I came across James Lileks. I have boys, and wouldn't know the difference between a My Little Pony and a Pound Puppy, but if I mentally substitute "Hot Wheels" for every Pony reference, I end up nodding vigorously through every anecdote.

On the whole, it would be inaccurate to describe myself as a kindred spirit, but damn, is stuff like this great:
Also bought a candle that gives off the scent of firewood, and I think it says something about the rarified and idle nature of my lucky life when I say “I’m really looking forward to seeing how it smells when I light it.” But I am. And this from a guy whose apartment once smelled like a Budweiser Clydesdale lost bladder control. Well, marriage will do that to you.

This is where my life is headed, and frankly, I've made my peace.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Don't mention the war

I've never mentioned Iraq (except for the soccer team) on this site before, and I don't intend to again any time soon. There's a lot of good blogs (and newspaper columnists) out there with better information than me, and who pay closer attention than me, so I feel like I don't have much to offer on the topic.

And I don't. But I wanted to do what I could to circulate this insight by Bruce Ralston, which I think should be of major concern to those both For and Against. In particular, those of us who have assumed that Bush knows and is prepared to do what is required to win, but is staying out of the hottest spots for now, so as not to risk a lot of bloodshed in the run-up to the election (and ensure himself 4 more years to do it right).

..I love ya, tomorrow..

Greg Weston is back from his two month convalescence following (brought on by? - ed.) the federal election, and provides some backup for Paul Wells' characterization of our PM as Little Orphan Paul.
Somehow the Martinis seemed to imagine that a new federal funding deal for health care -- a commitment involving the biggest government expenditure of taxpayers' money on anything in history -- would magically be cut over supper behind the closed doors of the prime minister's dining room.

In the same fanciful dream, the federal script imagined a triumphant press conference and photo-op wrapping up the summit in time for lunch yesterday.

There for all Canadians to witness on live television, the PM and premiers would unveil The New Deal, fulfilling Martin's utterly fanciful election pledge to "fix medicare for a generation."

The first ministers would then part company with a round of self-congratulatory hugs and handshakes, no further health care meetings required for another generation.

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
It has to be asked again. Jean Chretien announced his (future) retirement in August 2002. At that point Paul Martin had nearly mathematically secured the leadership. So what oh what on earth have Martin and his staff been doing for the past 25 months? They needed some time to finish vaporizing the other leadership candidates, and there was an election in there, but cripes! How is it possible that, based on the evidence, they are still totally unprepared to govern?

Check this hilarious snippet from Wells' post-election piece in Maclean's:
Despite Martin's long years of preparation for the top job, the government's early months were chaotic. One chief of staff to a Martin minister says it took six calls to the Prime Minister's Office to get any action on a promise Martin had made in his Throne Speech. Another recalls a panicky call from the same PMO: "We need to announce something. What have you got?"

Shades of Springfield Elementary after the teacher's guides were stolen ("Does anybody know the multiplication tables!?!"). But there was an excuse. Wells again:
The basic problem, according to John Godfrey, Liberal MP for Don Valley West, was that nobody in the Martin entourage ever thought they'd actually have to govern before an election. The first Martin government was an improvised, interim affair; there'd be a more serious rethink once Martin had put the small matter of an election behind him.
Godfrey, regardless of his faith at the time, was obviously wrong, or we wouldn't be hearing Weston report things like this:
From the first day of the summit, provincial officials were quietly grumbling to reporters that it was "amateur" -- poorly planned and seemingly running on the fly.

One veteran of federal-provincial deal-making dating back to the failed Meech Lake constitutional debacle unaffectionately calls it all "Disney-on-the-Rideau -- it doesn't get any more Mickey-Mouse than this."
How bloody embarrassing. Apparently, our national leader's office can't even make basic preparations for what they characterized, on their own, as the biggest meeting they are going to have ON THEIR #1 PRIORITY. They obviously have the wrong Queen's alum as Chief of Staff. It should be this guy; I understand he's a lawyer, who also possesses at least the rudimentary organizational skills required to operate a bowling alley.

Of course, although I'm scoffing at the Liberal government for not doing anything, maybe I should be careful what I wish for.

Lemieux - le nom dit tout

(Updated with more Oiler-trashing)

A comment on the previous post calls me out on saying Lemieux is the greatest NHL player ever. I'm glad - I was half hoping I'd get a chance to elaborate. Conclusions first:

Most important hockey player ever: Wayne Gretzky
Most accomplished hockey player ever: Wayne Gretzky
Greatest hockey player ever: Mario Lemieux

Am I disrespecting Gretzky? Hell no. I attended many, many Oilers-Flames tilts in the Saddledome in the 80s, and when Gretzky took possession of the puck, it was the closest thing to "fear" I have ever experienced as a sports fan. He was a sublime player, and obviously sent me home crushed (by the game score) more often than not.

But, Mario was better. For years he had trouble shaking a "floater" rap which was very unfair. He took maybe half a season to make the transition from the QMJHL game. Past that, he may indeed have expended less energy than others away from the puck, only because he expended much more than others when he had it.

Highlight reel I'd love to see: Top 10 Mario goals on a delayed penalty. His ability to control the puck while dragging around some Gerald Diduck-type defenceman was incredible. The only comparable performance I've ever seen is by another guy who got a bad rap (at the time, anyway) for his heart: Jaromir Jagr.

1996 Playoffs - Penguins v. Capitals - game goes 4OTs, with Peter Nedved eventually scoring the winner with 45 seconds left in the 4th OT. Mario got tossed in the 2nd period for a "scrap" (trying to kick someone, as I recall). Anyway, Jagr played his ass off for 7 straight periods, on the ice at least half the time in OT. Was always, always, being obstructed by at least one Caps player. He didn't dive, he didn't give up, and he was by far the most dangerous player on the ice for most of 140 minutes.

The anecdote is off-topic, but it brings me to this: we all have certain areas of interest where, while research and discussion might be interesting, we are confident enough on the subject to observe it with our own eyes, draw our own conclusions, and Who Cares What You Or Anyone Else Thinks! For me, NHL hockey c. 1980-1996 is one of those things. Gretzky was brilliant, and the best thing that ever happened to the NHL. Lemieux was a better hockey player.

Lest anyone believe I have a whit of affection of the '80s Oilers, I will also add:
  • Every goalie in the '80s, before the debut of Patrick Roy, sucked, and Grant Fuhr was no exception. He wasn't even the best goalie on his own team most of the time. Without examining the competition too closely, I'm comfortable calling him the most overrated player in the Hall of Fame.
  • Mark Messier is absolutely the dirtiest player in NHL history who is best known for something besides his thuggery. There's a laundry list of NHL retirees with permanent back problems, post-concussion syndrome, and general pain who will back me up on this.
Oh, and Gretzky WAS a whiner.

UPDATE (5 minutes later): Looks like I could have saved myself the trouble of this post, and let Jass take care of it.

2UPDATE (320PM): The memories are flooding back. Marty McSorley, of course, reverted to form to round out his career; even in the Brashear coverage, though, I didn't hear anything about a previous incident involving the Flames. I'll let an Oiler fan tell you about it, mainly because "Koho vasectomy" probably belonged on this list.

And of course there was Carey Wilson's ruptured spleen, suffered in Game 6 of the 1986 Smythe Division Finals at the hands of, well, guess who (scroll way down). Hint: the Hockey Gods' revenge was swift.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

World's largest salt shaker awarded to Canada

I watched the final of the World Cup of Hockey last night, but found my enthusiasm lacking. The '98 & '02 Olympics, and moreso the Flames tremendous spring run, pretty much ruined it for me - I just couldn't get myself to care. However, there were still lots of smiles, raised eyebrows, and "what-the-hell-did-he-just-say?"s from my seat. A few thoughts:
  • Mario is tremendous. I really think his general privateness throughout his career has been the NHL's loss. Since his first Cup in '91 at least, there's nothing to dislike about the guy. And this is a whole other post, but I've been saying for probably 10 years that Mario Lemieux is the greatest player in NHL history. Maybe I'd feel differently if I'd seen several dozen Bobby Orr games, but Mario could simply do things on the ice that no one else can, and he frequently did it while dragging an opposing defenceman around. If you're from Edmonton, keep reading, nothing below will enrage you any further.
  • I actually found myself feeling bad for Kipper when Canada scored. Again, the Flames just ruined this tournament for me.
  • Possibly not worth repeating, but what an awful trophy. Anyone else happen to notice that when Lemieux picked it up, he seemed to be contemplating raising it over his head, but first tossed it in his hands a couple of times. (Miss Cleo Aldini mind-reads: "Yeaaahh...it's not the same.")
  • Speaking of trophies, if you had told me two years ago that Vincent Lecavalier would be the World Cup MVP, I would have been speechless, except maybe to muse that you had been huffing the same solvents as Art Williams. That thought was fleeting, though; what came next, watching Vincent skate to the centre to accept his trophy, was: "I guess it's like riding a bike." Going back to minor hockey, I'm sure he's accepted a tournament MVP award 50 times - boy did he know the drill. (OK, blank expression, posture somewhere between humble and ashamed, look at and handle the trophy like it's coated with e coli - check, check, check.)
  • Best interview -- Scott Oake: "So you've won a junior world championship, a senior world championship, an Olympic gold medal, three Stanley Cups, and now a World Cup. How would you rate your career?" Scott Niedermayer: "When you put it that way Scott, I'd say pretty goddamn successful!" (Disclaimer: not Niedermayer's actual answer.)
  • Most overused word by Team Canada in post-game interviews: special. There was no contender for runner-up.
  • No brickbats for Bob Cole from me. Although I'm still reeling a bit from the previous game, when the director went in for a close-up of Mario, and Bob says, "What a gorgeous smile." I can't even think of a joke for this.
So now we regrettably move onto the joint owner-player plan to destroy the NHL. I don't think I have much to say right now beyond what I posted here and here, except for maybe that I don't think a common concern for the league by the two parties is any cause for optimism.

Recall the soon-to-be-frequently-repeated cliche of the two kids fighting over a toy, each pulling on one end. It starts to rip, and both are saying "You're ripping it!" "No you're ripping it!"

I repeat this not to get the cliche-ball rolling, but to note that when the toy finally rips, there is a brief moment of stunned silence, and then the argument intensifies. No, I'm not overly optimistic.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

..and speaking of cynical..

The Aldini Prize for back-page commentary is hotly contested - Mark Steyn, Rick Reilly - there's a lot of talent out there. But the 2004 competition has now been closed, and the winner is Paul Wells on the strength of his latest effort in Maclean's. What an opening:
The cruellest thing to do to Paul Martin, as he meets with the premiers to talk about health care, would be to act as though his word had any meaning at all. Fortunately for Martin, few Canadians are inclined to try.

Read it all. I tend to deplore this type of piece as corrosively cynical, but I can't here, because:

(A) Wells is so bloody cheerful about it, and
(B) Every word is obviously true

And it just about makes me want to cry.

An election question:

Has a challenger ever unseated an incumbent based at all on the strength of questions about the incumbent before he held office? In the history of modern politics? I ask this question because I frankly have no comprehension of what the Kerry campaign, and those who carry their water, are doing. As Evan Kirchoff alludes to today, they seem to be blinded by the trees.

Recent poll numbers look rotten for Kerry. Previously competitive states are now effectively out of his reach. The message his campaign should be extracting from this is, what we're doing isn't working. It's time for them to accept that Bush, good or bad, is being evaluated by voters on his 4 years in office and not on his younger years when, by his own admission, he was a yahoo.

I see exactly one way for John Kerry to resuscitate his chances. A simple 3-step process:

1) Decide specifically what it is that Bush has done wrong fighting the war on terror
2) Decide specifically what is is that he would do differently that would be an improvement
3) Start selling it like hell

Running as "Not Bush", and harping on 30-year-old questions of Vietnam heroism and National Guard service have translated into 41% of likely voters. It's...Not....WORKING!

I made this same argument before the Canadian election, imploring the Conservatives to present a positive and tangible alternative. They didn't, and you see how that worked out.

Mr. Kerry: if on November 2nd, most Americans still don't have the foggiest understanding of why you want to be President, you will lose and lose big. If you can't or won't explain why, the default assumption will be that it's because, well, you think you should be, or it's owed to you. I hope that's not the case - I'm too young to surrender to that level of cynicism.

UPDATE: David Mader is slightly pithier ("I'm almost speechless").

Monday, September 13, 2004

Caption of the Year

I thought maybe Jardine's open letter was the funniest thing I had seen this week ("Listen up, you leftist pricks..."). Its conclusion is reminiscent of Clark Griswold after getting the Jelly-of-the-Month Club in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation ("Holy shit! Where's the Tylenol?")

Or maybe Evan Kirchoff on CBS' deepening hole:
Yes, we know -- the font family (or, to use CBS's made-up terminology, "typing style") is called Times because a version of it was used to print the Times of London, using rows of metal type on a printing press the size of a truck, which I'm guessing the Texas Air National Guard didn't have around the office either. But hey, printing press, typewriter, what's the difference, right? (ÞCosh)

But then I remembered this photo. David made a funny, and it was a really, really good one. Kudos, Mr. Janes.

[snarky Richard Kimble reference]

"She's innocent and we want to prove that. How we're going to do that I don't know yet." - Dave Heatherington

Dar Heatherington has been sentenced to house arrest. Our long municipal nightmare is over, blah blah. Unsettling tidbit from the sentencing hearing: current narcotics prescribed (for back pain and "gynecological problems") include Oxycontin, Remeron, Imovene, and Ceroquel (what, no fish paralyzers or Rusty Nails?).

Really though, this whole shmeel is an unbelievably sad story. Per Dawn Walton in the Globe:
The court heard that the family is already exiled within the community. Their house, van and children's school have been painted with graffiti. Mr. Heatherington has taken a demotion to relieve some stress on the job. Just two friends attended the birthday party of one of their children; six were invited.

Mrs. Aldini has seen the Heatherington family out shopping, and reports that they couldn't attract more sideways stares if they were walking through Pleasantville in blazing technicolor. Now we hear at sentencing that husband Dave may have physically prevented Dar from jumping off the High Level Bridge, which more than anything reinforces to stunned observers that the two of them are living in a melodrama which is entirely disconnected from reality.

One report I can make is that I sense Lethbridge has a newfound respect for Dar lawyer Tracy Hembroff, previously best known to fellow congenial elbow-benders (quitting time = 3PM; admirable!). Despite, or perhaps because of, her inappropriate attempts at humour, and the seeming determination of news photographers to portray her as a blonde Jabba, she gained some admiration. She obviously represented Dar vigourously, but declined to rant and roar, or try the case in the media. And for quotes like this at the debriefing, you gotta love her:

"I don't believe for a minute it has harmed the community."

Plainly true. Having dozens of homeless people sleeping in front of City Hall harms your community. Having a certifiably nutty politician, not so much. But the best was this:

"My 15 minutes — it wasn't worth it."

And there you have the the most representative-of-Lethbridge quote I've ever heard.

Suicide pool, indeed

Well, I got away with that one, by 7 seconds and about 18 inches. Rich Gannon looked pretty good. Mrs. Aldini's brother had the cliche apropos: "Raiders prevent defense worked to a tee - it prevented them from winning."

Looking ahead to this weekend, I'm not sure who the best loser pick will be. If Green Bay looks good tonight, I'll probably go with Da Bearss (sorry, Damian). Based on Week 1, the most prescient anti-CW preseason prediction goes to Bill Simmons, picking the Ravens to miss the playoffs: "..(they didn't improve; everyone else in their division did)." Either that or the MMQB saying that Cleveland would be better than everyone else seems to think (never underestimate the Stampeder karma!).

For tonight, it sounds like most of the sharp money is going to Carolina (-3.5). I would agree that Carolina was no fluke last year, but I will be laying off this game, in deference to Sports Guy Wisdom:

September 26, 2003: "Never, ever, EVER bet against Brett Favre on Monday night. One of the oldest gambling rules in the book."

Another version cited here, as well and here and here (where he ignored the rule and, of course, lost).

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Thanks

[...]

"Our neighbours have faced it alone and I am one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them kicked around. They will come out of this thing with their flag high. And when they do, they are entitled to thumb their noses at the lands that are gloating over their present troubles."

"I hope Canada is not one of these."

- Gordon Sinclair, June 5, 1973, CFRB Radio



Friday, September 10, 2004

Last in a series

My days as a National Post "newsstand grazer" are forthwith going to be reduced by 50%. Colby Cosh's grace period is over, and his regular column will be Mondays-only as of next week.

The unfortunate (really!) consequence of this is that today will likely be my last exposure to Sheila Copps' weekly meanderings. And judging by today ($ubscriber Only, natch), I may well be missing out.

The topic today is ministerial responsibility. I will spare you the fair use of half the column, and summarize a central premise: for every instance of political interference we hear about periodically, there are also policies, procedures, regulations, and conventions which act to prevent or prohibit ministerial management of the ongoing operations of Cabinet departments. And for ministers responsible for Crown corporations, that goes double. Says she:
"...notwithstanding the public (read media) disbelief to the contrary, it is perfectly logical that a minister would have set the framework for the sponsorship program and then only been involved when an internal audit pointed out serious problems in the system."
Without approving of the example she has selected (or the use of the weird double-negative), I wish to concede her this point. Fortunately, even if you don't, I think her conclusion has merit. Says she:
"...the result of various public inquiries, studies, commissions and hearings leans toward concluding that the problem is too much political involvement, not too little. Hence, the Gomery inquiry will probably lead to a whole series of recommendations to further isolate politicians from the business of government."

[paragraph I won't subject you to, as it is a defense of the merits of the sponsorship program, and has nothing to do with the central argument put forth by her piece]

"Far from removing politicians from the decisions around communication, we should understand that politicians are actually the only ones who are accountable to the people. You may not like their decisions from time to time. Heaven forbid, you may sometimes even throw the bums out. But remember, democracy may be messy but it is a darn sight better than the alternative."

Inelegant and cliche-ridden, sure. (Who am I to talk!) But she makes an important, rarely articulated, and correct point:

You can't have it both ways. You cannot ask our politicians to make our institutions more relevant, responsive, streamlined, whatever, and then insist that all these institutions be "at arms length" from meddling politicians.

And not only can you not have it both ways, but one way is right and one is wrong. The right way is to insist that our politicians be responsible for the government machine, and give them whatever leeway they need to exercise (and accept) this responsibility.

There is really no such thing as an independent, arms-length government body. At minimum, these bodies exist at the pleasure of Parliament, and are funded by the budgets approved by Parliament. And since the only voice we as citizens have in government is through the representatives we elect, why would we encourage, or even allow, the existence of barriers between our representatives and the operations of government? It amounts to muzzling ourselves.

Thinking it through, what exactly would be the problem if the CRTC was an advisory body, and final decisions were made by the Heritage Minister, or by Parliament? As I see it, it would make exactly one difference: if the citizenry didn't like the job that was being done, they could vote the person or people responsible out of office.

I certainly understand the sentiments behind the attempt to ensure that government operations are fundamentally non-political or non-partisan. But the flip side of this is, if our elected representatives are not accountable for government operations:
  • Who is?
  • Why them?
  • And what are we to do if they're doing a lousy job?

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Mathblogging!

This afternoon, in a 26-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers, the K.C. Royals got a major-league record 13 consecutive batters on base. How unlikely is that?

Well, the Royals average on-base percentage this season is .321, and .321 to the 13th power is (uh, mmm, carry the one): 0.000000384. Translated (inverted!), that means the odds of them getting 13 straight guys on base is 1 in 2,602,763.

Last year the Royals had about 6,100 plate appearances. So as I roughly calculate it, the next time they can send someone into the batter's box with the expectation that he will begin a similar 13-man streak is in about 426 years.

From another angle though, with from 10 to 30 teams in the leagues, it's hard to believe that this is the first time this has happened in 100+ years of the modern era.

That, of course, is if my math is right. I'm an engineer, not a flippin' math-whiz.

..Now go get your (deleted) shinebox

Not to be missed, if you enjoy the NFL, Goodfellas, and/or laughing: The Sports Guy's NFL Preview, Parts One and Two.

He has a pretty good number of original thoughts, which just about qualifies as thrilling in an NFL preview. To wit, look at the expert predictions at ESPN.com (Simmons excluded).
- All 16 guys pick Seattle to win the NFC West
- 15 of 16 pick the Pats in the AFC East
- 15 of 16 pick the Chiefs in the AFC West
- 9 of 16 have Pats/Colts/Ravens/Chiefs as the 4 AFC division winners

I won't say that any of these experts should be contrary just for its own sake, but this level of unanimity, picking the toughest of the 4 major sports to handicap, plainly indicates that for a bunch of full-time football watchers, not enough of them are using their own eyes and brains.

But back to Simmons, he makes a couple of trenchant points, including:
- McNabb & Owens have a few touchdown dances planned, which is awful kharma
- The Jets are a nice pick to break out
- Jeff Garcia has an unsettling resemblance to Boggs in The Shawshank Redemption
- Why is Jake Plummer highly regarded in the slightest?
- The Saints are a sucker's bet

One thing that reading Simmons' entertaining two-parter drove home to me again is: I really started this page 10 years too late. I love my life, and my job meshes into it nicely. But envisioning him in front of his laptop and home theatre system writing that piece: DAMN, does it seem like it would be fun to switch places.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Boozeblogging!

Two booze-related stories from last week have a distant connection which I hope to make within a few paragraphs. One, GlobalTV Calgary uncovered what appears on the surface to be blatant race discrimination by bouncers for at least one downtown Calgary bar. And two, Tarantino links to a Globe piece by U of Waterloo professor Mohamed Elmasry opining that Canadian campuses should ban alcohol outright.

The Global piece appears to have some legs, evidenced by the existence of follow-up stories (including reaction from Premier Ralph), and especially by the avalanche of comments at the bottom of the original piece. Just from the truncated beginnings to these comments, it's obvious that the majority range between offended and outraged.

As am I, if not surprised. I saw the piece myself, and basically I believe my lying eyes. The two gentlemen were denied entry for no apparent good reason while other men and women were granted access. Paul Vickers' explanation, after the fact, was that the bouncer believed one of the men was a known criminal from Vancouver known as Buddha; unfortunately for him, the Vancouver cops pulled a "General Pinkley" from The Dirty Dozen - "nehh-ver heard of 'im".

The reason I bring this up, though, is not for another kick at Paul Vickers and his very popular businesses. It's to warn against the government, particularly the Alberta Human Rights Commission, attempting to "fix this problem" by getting more involved. It would be dangerous, and that's exactly the appropriate word.

Bars are unique places of business, especially downtown dance bars. Face these facts, all:
  • Young people both congregate and drink to excess
  • Many young men are prone to violence and generally poor behavior under the influence
  • Many young people have extremely poor judgement, especially when drunk
  • People who are predisposed to anti-social and/or criminal behaviour seek out these congregations
The best, and only, people who are equipped to bring any kind of civility to these proceedings are the proprietors and doormen of the bars. They have to be the boss, without caveats. Once outside agents start telling bars who they have to let in, let stay, serve drinks, etc., "the house" is not the boss anymore, and it is not an exaggeration to say that chaos and violence would follow.

I'm glad that Global caught Tantra Night Club denying admission to a man because he was wearing a turban. The proper reaction to this, for anyone discriminated against and those of us sympathetic to them, is to deny Tantra and its affiliated clubs our patronage.

What does this have to do with campus bars? Well, similar to universities and their affiliated groups giving out free condoms, they acknowledge the realities of 18 to 22-year-old life, and attempt to mitigate the worst consequences.

I'll commit a logical fallacy and cite my alma mater as typical. (Virtually all campus bars resemble the following in some way.) The university holds the liquor licenses for the campus bars, and imposes some additional operation restrictions on the bars, above and beyond the province (reduced hours of operation, constant drink pricing, etc.). The bars themselves are owned by the student societies, and operate as essentially non-profit (profits are used for renovations and capital improvements). They're first-in-line = first-inside, and give no thought to the gender cross-section etc. of the patrons (if it's a sausage party, so be it). They're staffed entirely by students. If you're not a student, you need to be with one to get in. Sure, it's a whack of regulation, but I think most of us accept that in the realm of booze, it's often reasonable, and it's certainly not going away.

The net effect of the way these campus bars operate is that they are a much safer way for students to learn to get drunk than the alternative. Fights are rare, people actually get cut off (and not just for being rowdy), and your fellow student-bouncers make sure everyone is safe.

Prof. Elmasry's argument about hard-earned taxpayer money subsidizing drinking, besides sounding disingenuous, don't wash - the only "subsidy" is time spent by the U. administration maintaining the liquor license, and making sure the campus bars abide by their rules. And the rest of the Professor's piece seems to amount to "drinking is bad", which is barely even an argument.

Students of Calgary: ditch the downtown scene, and head to The Den! Or Max's!

Canada's Pat O'Brien

So Canadian national swim team Dave Johnson has been fired. As distasteful as I found the piling on during Athens 2004 by Brian Williams and seemingly every other Canadian journalist, it was an obvious and necessary move.

It's not relevant where you stand on the importance of Canada's medal count as a sign of national strength or whatever - elite coaches are judged first and last on their results. Curtis Myden provided Johnson with every Olympic medal his team ever won, and far too few of his athletes performed their best in Athens. That's just not good enough - so long!

The next, and more important step, is for the CBC to fire Steve Armitage. After 37 years, he no longer seems able to describe what is happening before his own eyes. There was lots of examples from Athens; the biggest one I noticed was the Men's 10m platform diving.

Last diver, Helm from Australia, is up. Needs mediocre marks to pass Despatie for the bronze, huge marks to pass Liang for the silver. Has an awesome dive. Armitage starts, "that will push Alexandre Despatie out of the bronze medal position." Helm's marks come up on the screen, they're very good and there's a big '2' next to the word "Rank". Helm holds up 2 fingers, breaks into a huge smile, starts hugging his coach, etc. while the crowd is going crazy. And there's Armitage's voice-over, "Jia with the gold, Liang gets the silver, and Helm wins bronze." At this point they've been showing Helm and the #2 graphic for well over 10 seconds.

Armitage, suddenly: "And Helm wins the silver!" - in the same tone of voice as if he was describing it live. People complain about Bob Cole's deterioration (Bob - the team that touched the puck when the whistle went is the one who's called for the offside or penalty, for God's sake!), but Armitage is at least as bad.

Worse still are his inane between-periods interviews at hockey games, which always conclude with, "Thanks for doing this, [Doug/Jarome/Jiri/whoever]." I get an creepy Pat O'Brien-Mary Hart-Bill Mcneal vibe, like he's much more concerned with being validated by a famous person that passing on anything of interest to the viewer.

And while the CBC is "retiring" people, it's probably time to bid farewell to Don Wittman, too.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

National Gambling League kicks off Thursday

Since there's an Alberta election coming up (probably) in November, I thought I'd recharge my political enthusiasm for a while, and spend a bit more time over the next month posting about things that matter less (or more, depending on how much money you have riding on it).

Like a hell of a lot of Canadians, I take a fairly keen interest in the NFL season. And, like most, it's mainly due to the fact that the NFL and its schedule lends itself so well to gambling in its many variations. The one-game-per-week, at a consistent time, 14-16 games per week, just works perfectly for pools and other wagering. (By the way, the biggest lie regularly told by a non-elected official? "The NFL is opposed to gambling on NFL games." - Commissioner Paul Tagliabue).

There's our provincial "lotteries". The fine folks in the Caribbean. Just about every bar, in this town at least, has a $5 weekly winner-take-all pool, where you pick the straight-up winners, and the tiebreaker is the Monday night total.

My personal favourite is the Survivor pool - loser variation. Pick exactly one team in Week 1 who you are sure will lose. If they win, you're eliminated for the season. If they lose, repeat for Week 2, but you can't ever pick your Week 1 loser again. Etcetera. Proof that gambling on sports is objectively unwise: most Survivor pools, even those with >100 entrants, are over by Week 10.

Intuitively, I find it incredible that less than 1 in 100 people can pick a single game (of their choice!) correctly, without having to cover a point spread, for 10 weeks in a row. So, I'm ready to test it myself, and you are encouraged to join in. In the comments to this post, pick one NFL Week 1 loser by 11AM Mountain Time on Sunday (Thursday's Colts-Pats game is obviously excluded).

The winner will receive a limited-edition Filet Mignon on a Flaming Sword. If I can't secure Gooey's cooperation, the winner will receive an unlimited-edition FMFS (Figurative Edition).

I'll weigh in another day with some of my general rules for NFL gambling (undoubtedly, right before I crash out of this thing in Week 1 or 2). If you need resource material in the meantime, check out one of The Sports Guy's 4,713 columns on NFL gambling, or follow the soon-to-be-expanding NFL links on the sidebar. Based on today's lines, the biggest underdog is Arizona (+11 @ Rams), followed by the New York Football Giants (+9.5 @ Eagles).

My Week 1 pick for Guaranteed, Shoe-In, Lock-of-the-Week Loser is:

The Raiderrrzzz
(@ Steelers, unless of course I change my mind before Sunday.)

Not safe on a full stomach

The Onion always has my favourite human interest stories.
Neither his dimpled appendectomy scar nor local restaurants' refusal to deliver food to his address have convinced Danvers to clothe himself.

Yep.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Manufacturing consent, indeed...

Thanks again to those offering opinions on Harper v. Canada, and on election spending restrictions in general.

Jass has a long but intelligent and well-sourced screed in the comments that does a good job of finding what I consider some common ground, namely:
  • It's reasonable for the SCC to find that citizens have a right to meaningful participation in elections, beyond voting and/or running
  • Advertising, on the whole, works
When he gets to the wood, though, I am less convinced. He says spending restrictions are reasonable: Not because hearing the same ad over and over manipulates or oppresses individuals into voting for a particular candidate, but because you never get to hear any other ads. One complaint I have not heard from our southern neighbours over the past months is anyone saying they can't get their message out because the big guys are hogging all the media. (If someone else has, please let me know).

Also on advertising, I think it requires acknowledgement that, besides "selling your product", ads are about getting your message out, i.e. informing, and that can work both ways. The pickup truck with the best gas mileage advertises this loudly, in an effort to appeal to truck buyers who place a high priority on mileage. But if I'm looking for a truck to pull a large horse trailer over hilly terrain every weekend, I don't want that, I want a big-ass gas-guzzler that will get the job done. And as such, the ads will effective dissuade me from considering this truck.

Isn't it reasonable to look at political advertising this way? Furthermore, we accept that advertising works, otherwise it wouldn't exist -- but that doesn't prove that all advertising works, nor does it mean that more advertising is always more effective. Tiny local used-car dealers often advertise, because despite the fact that the big dealers have massive TV and glossy print campaigns, they find it worthwhile for getting out their message.

If I were negotiating with Jass on a more satisfactory resolution to this issue, though, I'd probably shake hands with him on his conclusion - that the limits need to be much higher. Essentially, like most bad ideas, speech restriction is a lot more palatable when it's watered down.

In response to a couple of Greg's comments, I think it's important to note that this debate is in no way partisan. This is not a left-right issue. I would probably argue that most of our large media is a bit too locked onto Liberal-defined "Canadian values", but I have certainly heard the opposite argument from the left (wasn't Alexa McDonough musing about the need for a CBC-style government newspaper last year?). It doesn't take a wild imagination to envision a political climate where most Conservatives are happy to have everything filtered through the media, and the left are crying for a voice. (Kevin Taft? Raj Pannu?)

At any rate, it is truly strange to see the argument, coming from the left, that we should be happy with having our political debates filtered through large media.

I also invite you to consider the following. Let's say that the Ford Motor Company supports the Liberals, and wants to see them elected. They're willing to spend a million bucks. Which of the following is preferable?
  • Donate $1M to the leadership campaign of the guy who's going to be Liberal leader when the election is called
  • Donate $3k to every Liberal candidate
  • Buy an interest in some newspapers and exert some editorial control
  • Run a $1M ad election ad campaign saying "Ford supports the Liberals"
I believe that the last option is the most open, transparent, and democratic. It's also the only option that's illegal.