Monday, January 31, 2005

So long, neighbour

The elections in Iraq are the only story today, and rightfully so. Bravo to everyone who went to vote, especially in the areas where there was a lot of violence and intimidation. You're on your way to a culture where these words of Robert Fisk:
Many Iraqis do not know the names of the candidates, let alone their policies.

will apply to even municipal and school board elections - just like here!

Anyway, since I don't want to pick at any other issues today, I thought I'd talk about my old neighbourhood. From age 4 in 1977, to my 17th birthday in 1990, I lived in a "development" called Bearspaw Meadows just west of Calgary. It was unique kind of neighbourhood - there were 20 two-acre lots around the crescent, and the crescent was about 1km from the next house, so there was a definite little community there.

I put "development" in quote marks because I don't think there were any zoning restrictions at all - the 20 houses were each entirely different. Plus, there was no water or sewer service, just wells and septic tanks.

I realize this sounds like it could be the beginning of some kind of sob story - not in the slightest. This community was a testament to the entrepreneurial ethic of Calgary, populated by people who were, on average, pretty well off. The reason I'm bringing this up now is that old neighbours, twice this month, have been on the front page of the Calgary Herald.

First of all, the Calgary Stampeders were sold to a group of 12 businessmen led by a guy named Ted Hellard (4 houses over). More people were familiar with the names Doug Mitchell, John Forzani, and Dave Sapunjis, but as the linked story notes, there's no doubt who the driving force was. (Hellard founded Critical Mass, a web-design firm, in 1995; he's still chairman, but he sold it a couple for years ago for something like $35M. Check out their list of clients. What tech bubble was that, again?)

These guys bought the team from American Michael Feterik, who incredibly had bought it from another guy in my neighbourhood, Sig Gutsche (across the street, 1 house over).

Despite the big Stamps buy, unfortunately the bad news outweighed the good in the old neighbourhood this month, as Hugh & Helen Hincks (next door) were killed in an avalanche in Austria 2 weeks ago.

If tragedies are something you rank on a scale, I suppose this would be low (which tells me it's not right to rank tragedies on a scale). The Hincks were semi-retired, and on a skiing vacation in the Austrian Alps. The kids are adults (23, 20, & 18) and have been left with enough money to start a memorial fund for their parents. Their devastation is tough to compare to millions of people's lives ended or turned upside down by a tsunami.

But it makes me sad. You see this all the time in obituaries, but Hugh honestly was possibly the nicest guy I ever met, and Helen was close behind. They would have made a really positive difference over the next 25 years - not just to their kids, but to civilization.

Ave atque vale, Mr. & Mrs. Hincks. And Morgan, Teddy, and Daniel - my thoughts are with you.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

"Never."

Damian Brooks and James Bow are taking a look at Iraq. My foreign policy views, such as they are, are overly simplistic, not weighed against an adequate knowledge and understanding of history, and probably not firm enough to withstand an informed argument from just about any perspective. In other words, I should refrain from bringing them up, lest I prove myself to be a fool. (I assure you I am not being either sarcastic or proud here).

But in the strict context of the Iraqi elections on the Sunday the 30th, I would like to second Jaeger's "Good luck to you all". The sentiment at the top of my mind will, more than ever, be the Hanson excerpt on the banner of The Last Amazon.

On a lighter note, I plan to mark Sunday's election per this Onion STATshot, "How did we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day?":
Let freedom ring in lieu of alarm clock.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

This one's for you, Jardine

Enjoy this news story from January 13th. It's about smoking bans.

The debate over the advisability of these bans is effectively over, so this stuff is boring right? Well, probably. The reason I'm linking the piece is, because it makes scant mention of the "good or bad" question, it is basically a story about three separate governments arguing over whose job it is to tell grownups and private business what they can and can't do.

I did have to read it twice to make sure, though, as this sounded promising:
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations vice-chief Morley Watson said it should be up to native people to decide what is best for their health.

Hey, people deciding what is best for their health, hallelujah! Wait, there's more:
He said there are some bands in the province that came forward with anti-smoking bylaws before the province's rule came into effect.

Oh. I guess he didn't mean "people" in the sense of "individuals". I'll let Mr. Watson finish:
"We're fully aware of making the best decision in our own lives," Watson said. "We cannot continue to have governments come along with very paternalistic attitudes that they have shown all along."

Unless they're native governments, apparently. Bravo!

P.S. If you're looking for closure, the feds elected not to quash the White Bear bylaw, so casino patrons are free to smoke 'em if they got 'em.

P.P.S. I've added a few more SSM thoughts, which I'm pretty sure are not original, in the comments here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The pride of Shermer

From the Blogger Formerly Known As Diogenes: Who is the most important filmmaker of the past 25 years? (ÞJass)

I'd have to agree with his conclusion, if not all his reasoning - and it's always good to see someone point out that being prolific is not the enemy of being meaningful.

This gambling is a tough racket

I should start by sticking by my post from January 14th, and affirm that the AFC is still the smart money in the Super Bowl. The line opened at Patriots -7 v. Eagles, and it's leaning in the -7.5 direction, so your bet should probably be placed sooner rather than later.

It's unfortunate the way the playoffs, er, played out, though. It started so well. The Colts went down, which is good, because no one wants to bet on a spread of 10+, which is what it would have been had they made the Super Bowl.

Then the Eagles rolled handily, waxing the Vikings by 13 when it should have been 30, then dominating the Falcons in the early game Sunday. At that point, I was rubbing my hands together: "This is fantastic! If the AFC championship is ugly (and even better, if the Steelers win), the Super Bowl spread is going to be 3.5, tops!"

Alas, the Pats were superb, and they hit the Super Bowl having beaten 2 of the (other) top 3 teams in the league by a total of 31 points. So to back them now, you have to put up $260 to win $100 (straight up), or give up 7 points to take them at (almost) even money.

It's still the right call - I count 3 dominating performances by the Pats in the past month, against good teams in meaningful games. I count 2 by the Eagles this whole season (v. Packers in Dec, and v. Falcons on Sunday - yes I am discounting the wins against the utterly schizophrenic Vikings).

Moving on, in cast-iron sure-thing of the century news, today Imelda Staunton was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, along with Hilary Swank, Annette Bening, Kate Winslet, and Catalina Sandina Moreno. There are two relevant updates to my previous comments:

January 16 - Hilary Swank wins Golden Globe, Best Actress in Motion Picture, Drama (Million Dollar Baby) - uh-oh!

January 19 - Chicago disability activists protest Million Dollar Baby - well, well, well!

Any chance voters will shy away from this controversy, and instead go for a performance that Roger Ebert describes thusly:
"..if Swank doesn't win, Staunton will, despite the controversy involving her role as an abortionist [huh? - ed.]. The character is so naive and innocent, and so well-played, it draws attention away from the issue."

Also, the film critic at the World Socialist Web Site decries the "rancid individualism" of Million Dollar Baby, which may sway those Hollywood Communists I've heard so darn much about.

And lo and behold, here are the opening lines at bowmans.com - judge for yourself, but it seems to me that sextupling your money is pretty good value for anything in the neighbourhood of a mortal lock:
Hilary Swank -160
Annette Bening +175
Imelda Staunton +500
Kate Winslet +1600
Catalina Sandina Moreno +1800

Good luck!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A non-debate...for a non-audience

Colby Cosh has brought out a gigantic toolbox, and uses everything in it to defend his long-held position that legalizing SSM opens the door to further redefinitions of marriage, most obviously polygamy. Andrew Coyne takes the opposite position, with his typical intelligence and clarity. Norman Spector takes Coyne's side, and naturally, does it in that respectful, non-condescending tone for which he's become so beloved by "his" readers.

I've been putzing around the periphery of this (non-)debate, without having much to offer. I don't have the legal background or knowledge to comment on the statutes, and I haven't read enough about polygamy in practice to comment whether it's good, bad, or "bad, but should be permissible". (Sidebar - the sum total of my exposure to polygamy comes from a movie that played on A&E a few years ago at 1AM called "Child Bride of Short Creek". It starred the delightful Diane Lane, and the most famous Lethbridge native in the history of sitcoms as the patriarch.) (Gavin Crawford - you've still got a ways to go.)

So, perhaps I can apply my keen political insight to the issue (cough). On Friday, I said "I dunno" how this will play out. Here's a few thoughts.

Point the first: to borrow a phrase from Paulie Walnuts, that Spector's got some fuckin' balls. There's the not-trivial matter of deriding the sum of Colby Cosh's legal arguments without actually rebutting any of them, or even linking to his piece. (Norman Spector in the Globe & Mail: "All the class of Sheila Copps, with none of the entertainment value.") Probably worse it that the criticism centres around the writing ("..rendered into English by a translator who hadn't had a good night's sleep...").

I don't know what to say about this, except that the next time a Norman Spector column elicits an exhilarated or visceral reaction from me will be the first. He may well be the smartest man in Canada, but as writers and columnists, Cosh and Coyne are both way, way out of his league. As such, he should probably confine his criticisms to matters of substance.

Point the second: Cosh and Chris Selley both refer to this as a non-debate; I'm going to pick up on a thought I stumbled into on Friday and claim that it's also for a non-audience, at least the" legal" half of it.

Whose support of legal SSM is dependent on the answer to the question, "Will it necessarily lead to legal polygamy?" My contention is "No one's." There are certainly those who support the former and oppose the latter, but as Coyne demonstrated in his original piece on the topic, their SSM support is not at all conditional on the consequences re: polygamy. Those who are opposed to SSM are using the "threat" of SCC-mandated polygamy to bolster their position, but again, I'm not sure who it is they're trying to sway.

Point the third: what should Harper do? I've been working on this post for two days, and I've decided that I don't much care. It probably depends a bit on whether his priority is defeating SSM or winning the next election - I'm going to assume it's the latter.

I agree with Spector that Harper's in a pretty good position right now; I think the key going forward is to maintain a position that makes sense, and defend it. And if he actually wants to change anyone's mind, it's probably incumbent upon him to expand a bit on the "matter of conscience, support for the traditional family" mantra.

Step 1 should be to continue to underline that Conservative MPs will not be whipped, and can vote their conscience (or that of their constituents). I get the feeling that Paul Martin is not at all comfortable with a Liberal free vote, and will probably use all means short of the threat of expulsion to coerce backbench support for the government's position. The contrast here will probably be of benefit come election time.

Step 2 is explaining why the government should have any interest in the definition of marriage. If he's not willing to defend this, he should change tacks immediately and say that marriage should be up to churches and contract lawyers, and he wants no part of it. His recent rhetoric shows that he is, i.e. he believes that the stability and committment connoted by "marriage" is of benefit to the state. Of course, this means he has to concede that he doesn't believe that the stability and committment connoted by SSM has the same benefit. As such, he should probably say that he'd be willing to reconsider that in the future, based on the experiences of jurisdictions who have legalized SSM.

Step 3 (or Alternate Step 2) would be a non-religious defence of why this issue should be a "matter of conscience" at all. Colby Cosh and I cannot be the only two people who support people's rights to live in virtually any kind of arrangement they wish, but are unprepared to sign an affadavit stating our firm belief that a gay couple and a straight couple are exactly the same thing. I suspect Stephen Harper thinks the same way.

If he said so, would he a be a bigot, appealing to peoples' worst prejudices? I personally don't think so. But I also don't think my belief that men and women are different makes me sexist, and that's certainly a touchy subject as well.

Point the fourth: If there was a referendum tomorrow on SSM, I'd probably vote in favour. I think the notion of committment and permanence, not just connoted by, but expected or even demanded by marriage, is a good thing. Since same-sex couples will continue to exist next week and next year, regardless of what Andrew Coyne or Bishop Fred Henry thinks about it, I think the positive impact of marriage for same-sex couples outweighs any downside.

If my decision was based entirely on the virtue of "tolerance", however, I think I'd vote no with an exclamation point. I decline to reject outright what Cosh calls "the possibility of an innate biological complementarity between the sexes", and I freaking resent the complete intolerance of this thought by too many advocacy groups and newspaper editorial boards. I'm supporting SSM here - you can tolerate my reasons and the pause I have, or cram it sideways.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Cue delighted head explosion

Evan Kirchhoff's take on the prospect of legal polygamy is philosophically unsurprising, but the execution, as always, is inimitable.

From the post title - "HEATHER HAS (N, WHERE N IS A POSITIVE INTEGER) MOMMIES" - to the honestly mistaken invocation of "Warren Spector's" news survey (anyone who emails him with the correction will receive a gift certificate for a smack in the head, Love Matt), it is a laff riot.

The point, in general, is this:
But most people still recoil at polygamy, which is what makes the impending collision so delicious in at least three different ways:

I don't endorse every little argument he presents, but as for the thesis that the next several months will be wildly interesting-slash-hilarious, I'm onside 100%.

Friday, January 21, 2005

It's a Hack day (not a Wonk)

Contrary to Bob's sentiment here, I think it's far too early for Cosh, Steyn, me, or anyone else to say "I told you so" that legal SSM will lead to legal polygamy. Among other things, the legalistic arguments that there is no slippery slope are compelling. But I would like to revisit two points:

First, it says here that popular support for legal polygamy is up a few points today, entirely by virtue of the issue being in the newspaper outside the context of Bountiful or some other creepy religious compound with the stench of coercion.

Second, here is Cosh's concluding phrase from a post last month:
Again, my basic question is, if there's nothing exceptional about the conjugal relationship between a man and a woman, then what's so damn special about the number "two"?

Set aside your own answer to this question, and mine, for a moment. The interesting adjunct to this question is, "Who, precisely, is going to defend redefined marriage against further redefinitions?" One of the answers, today at least, is the Liberal government, but I think even most supporters would concede that a firm Liberal position is a contradiction in terms, and their machinations over the past 5 years on this file demonstrate that. (Out of the memory hole: in the June 2004 election campaign, Paul Martin was unwilling to say whether he personally approved or disapproved of SSM).

The answer to the adjunct, I think, in terms of a base, must be "committed gay-rights supporters". Polled support for SSM comes from this group, and from the group whose attitude could roughly be characterized as, "I am a live-and-let-live type of person. I have no problem with gays and lesbians, and I don't wish to discriminate. They want their unions to be called 'marriage'? Sure!"

The only defensible answer to Colby's question (besides "nothing") must be based on an affirmative defence of same-sex relationships as "the same" as opposite-sex ones, and "superior" to polyamorous, non-conjugal etc. relationships. And I think it's asking a lot of the live-and-let-live types to get on board with this. There's the obvious - they already decided that the traditional definition of the word "marriage" isn't dear enough to them to warrant telling others how they may appropriate it. Beyond that, some percentage of this group is already fatigued with having to affirm their tolerance of gays and lesbians in some new form every few years (live and let live is a bidirectional pact, no?).

As for the opponents of SSM, well, I think Selley is right when he says the "slippery slope" is a bad analogy - it's really more like a bell. Once marriage has been redefined, the bell is rung, and traditionalists and the religious will stop concerning themselves with what the government says about it - forget about any vocal defences of "two persons".

So how will this play out? Uh, I dunno. Harper is already on the "slippery bell" angle. I think he's being intellectually honest more than politically cagey, though - if you accumulate my "logic" in the preceding paragraphs, it says that the number of people inclined to oppose SSM on the grounds that it might lead to further redefinitions is rather small. (That said, if you consider the SSM issue to be as yet unresolved, it may be enough to tip the scale).

Two final thoughts:
1) You are free to argue that I've projected my own attitudes onto an unreasonably high percentage of Canadians - you may or may not be correct in some way.
2) I look forward to Paul Martin's ongoing impassioned defense of the fundamental human right of gays and lesbians to be married. If Paul Wells has the stones to present a juxtaposition of Martin's "very, very clear" position on SSM over the years, I think my head might explode with delight.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Now Ringo, that would be an insult

Nancy Fielding, the George Harrison of PolSpy, has been speaking for at least the majority of Canadians in a couple of recent posts about Our Sacred National Identity, a.k.a. universal health care.

She has a range of suggestions, ranging from the sensible to the obvious - or at least that's how they would be described if we hadn't spent the last 40 years being told that they are somehow blasphemous. Good points include:
  • "..like anything else in life, those with money want more, and they’re willing to pay for it. We should allow them that option."
  • "Maybe the federal government should give Alberta a wide berth. ... [See] if the public system becomes more efficient when all the monied folks go off to the private clinics."
And importantly:
  • "It's time to stop settling for the status quo."

Amen, and pass the portable ultrasound machine. Since I agree with these points entirely, and am grateful that someone who is most certainly not a right-winger is stating them openly, I'm sure she will forgive me for picking at one other statement she makes:
Critics have a point when they say that private health care companies aren’t always good at what they do: They’re not. When health care is transformed from a basic right to a deliverable service / commodity, private managers are more inclined to look at the bottom line than the face of the patient.

I think this sentiment is something that prevents even more people from openly supporting private options, so this bears repeating: Deeming a particular service to be a "basic right", or putting it entirely under the control of government, does not exempt it from the fundamental laws of economics.

Health care most certainly is a service /commodity, whether it's delivered by Ralph Klein, Ralph Fiennes, or Ralph The Dog (Go Stamps!). If demand exceeds supply, then the price has to increase to reduce demand or supply needs to be increased. If neither of these things are permitted to happen, then the supply has to be rationed.

My preference, out of these three options, is "increase supply", seeing as how the other two result in more people dying. And since government has been demonstrably unable to increase supply to meet demand, despite major effort$ in that regard, it's time to relax restrictions on private supply options in Canada.

This is by no means the sum total of arguments in favour of de-state-ifying health care, but I think it's an important one.

So anyways, The Beatles may not have existed without John and Paul, and they got most of the love, but George was just as talented.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Questions, questions

Absolutely gold stuff on some of my favourite "web-logs" today.

Bruce Gottfred: "God is a libertarian?"
Evan Kirchhoff: "Is your wireless network secretly bottlenecking your television theft?"
Chris Selley: "What the… gay marriage?"
Colby Cosh: "Who let him in?"
and Paul Wells: "Listen to the PMO?"

Hockey's answer to the Peter Principle

(Note: this whole post may be moot in hours, based on what I'm hearing on the radio, but what the hell)

Phil Esposito offers comment on the NHL contract dispute, and his two cents worth, well, isn't:
"I just do not understand what the big deal is with a salary cap," Esposito said. "I just don't understand it.

"(It's) not going to affect anybody. But it might take away the 10-11 million-dollar player – which there is no room for it anyway in the National Hockey League because the revenues just don't justify it."

Since the last time he banged home a rebound, Esposito's impact on the NHL and its teams has been entirely negative or inconsequential, so maybe I should be ranting about why anyone considers his comments "news", rather than the absence of sense in his comments.

For starters, there's the major accounting theory problem of claiming that revenues in some way dictate how they will spent. Phil, there's a line down the middle of that ledger for a reason. Even the Penguins can afford to pay one guy $11M and 22 others $300k if they so choose. The notion that total league revenues dictate the appropriate salary for the top players is arbitrary at best.

But this is mere theory! Before commenting on the effect (or lack thereof) of a salary cap on the salaries of both premium and average players, you might consider it relevant to look at the available evidence. (Like those ad wizards at the NFL I've been hearing so darn much about!).

Actually, let's start with the NBA - they have more "cost certainty" than the NHL at present. It's a soft salary cap: there are some exceptions for re-signing your own players and certain veterans. There is also no prohibition against going over the cap, but a fairly severe penalty for doing so: a dollar-for-dollar (100%) luxury tax, as well as a dollar-for-dollar deduction in the amount received for luxury tax redistributions. In short, every dollar you spend over the cap (apart from the Larry Bird, mid-level, and other specific exceptions) costs you $3. There is also a maximum player salary and contract length, which I think is intended not for cost control so much as avoiding holdouts and other disputes with the top players (i.e. keeping them on the court).

Anyway, let's see how these controls affect NBA players. Stats are courtesy of one Patricia Bender, whose site contains the level of detail generally reserved for baseball geeks. Here are 2004/05 NBA player salaries:
  • 1 players will earn $27 to 28 million
  • 0 players will earn $18 to 27 million
  • 2 players will earn $17 to 18 million
  • 1 players will earn $16 to 17 million
  • 0 players will earn $15 to 16 million
  • 18 players will earn $14 to 15 million
  • 2 players will earn $13 to 14 million
  • 12 players will earn $12 to 13 million
  • 1 players will earn $11 to 12 million
  • 5 players will earn $10 to 11 million
  • 7 players will earn $9 to 10 million
  • 8 players will earn $8 to 9 million
  • 14 players will earn $7 to 8 million
  • 18 players will earn $6 to 7 million
  • 36 players will earn $5 to 6 million
  • 39 players will earn $4 to 5 million
  • 34 players will earn $3 to 4 million
  • 41 players will earn $2 to 3 million
  • 101 players will earn $1 to 2 million
  • 128 players will earn less than $1 million

You can take these stats however you want, but what they show me is that a salary cap punishes everyone except the superstars.
- 36 players make over $12M/yr; 35 make $7M-$12M/yr
- 239 players make over $2M/yr; 228 make under $2M/yr

How about the NFL figures, where there is a hard cap? There is complications reading this data as well, thanks to how they account for signing bonuses, players who have been cut, etc., but take a look at the 2003 payroll for any team you choose.

1,2,3 players make great money. Another dozen make roughly "decent baseball money". And a solid half of every roster makes essentially the league minimum.

Again, you are free to interpret the data however you want. What it tells me is this: cap or no cap, the top players will continue to get paid well - a high proportion of available salary expenses. With a cap, the mid-level and marginal players become expendable, or rather, interchangeable.

I think it's interesting to consider the NHL contract dispute in this context. Everything I've read over the past few months is that the top players are most vehemently opposed to a hard cap, whereas the 4th-line wingers and healthy scratches are more inclined to accept one. This is understandable in the sense that, if eight teams go tits-up, they are destined for long and frustrating careers in the American Hockey League. However, I wonder if the 7th defenceman realizes that, under a cap, even if he were to raise his level of play to "solid 4th defenceman", he is unlikely to see much if any financial benefit. One thing you can say about the NHL salary structure right now is that it generally reflects the relative worth of the players - there's no gaping hole where you would expect to find the middle class.

Maybe Esposito is right - what's the big deal. But I'm inclined to see the most accurate sentence of his comments as, "I just don't understand it".

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Segue courtesy of colbycosh.com

Colby Cosh, apparently running low on hate mail, has brought up the GoRiders! and Paul McCallum again. (Hint: everything surrounding the phrase "being a rather dim lot even by the standards of Rider fans" is misdirection and filler). As a Stamps fan, the phrase "takes one to know one" comes to mind, but will be left unsaid in deference to "6, 5, 4", that being the win totals for the Stamps the past 3 seasons.

Timely, though, as I was just thinking about driveway poop! A couple of days after Mr. McCallum's neighbour received the free landscaping materials, our local afternoon sports-talk-guys were discussing it, and their leader, a Mr. Joe Sports, claimed that such a thing would never happen in Calgary. The logic supporting this claim was something like: Calgary is bigger, people care less about the CFL, are less likely to know where the kicker lives, ergo this wouldn't happen.

The beauty of making this argument is that it really is very unlikely to occur in Calgary (or Edmonton, or Regina again for that matter), and so the passage of time will probably "prove you right". The peril of this argument? To my way of thinking, that's a lot of faith to be putting in the three dumbest Stampeder fans in Calgary.

Joe Sports may well be right about the Average Stamps Fan (I would certainly hope so). He's probably even right about the Average Stamps Fan - Bitter Drunken A-Hole chapter. But it just doesn't matter - all the matters is what the 2 or 3 at the absolute end of the spectrum will do.

I was indirectly reminded of this, 2+ months after the fact, by Chris Selley at the bottom of this post. Selley has made some excellent points disputing the Cosh/Steyn position that legal SSM will lead to legal polygamy, and he's almost convinced me.

But(!), I remain puzzled as to why he would take comfort in the notion that a Charter challenge supporting polygamy will never come up (especially while he hopes the cops go into Bountiful and bust things up). I suspect he is right that most of the present proponents of polygamy (wipe spittle off screen) simply wish to keep to themselves, and would sooner curse on the Sabbath than ask the government to condone their lifestyle. But "most" or "the average" or even "an overwhelming majority" is meaningless in this context. It only takes the person at the end of the spectrum "Desire for Government Approval of My Polygamous Lifestyle", and I fail to see how Selley has identified this person and divined his intentions.

That said, read Tart Cider, it's hilarious - especially if you are acquainted with Earl McCrae.

Friday, January 14, 2005

"That's the way I roll"

Recently in the DVD player: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, starring Will Ferrell. What a frustrating hour and a half.

Usually, if there's a question nagging you while watching a movie, it's regarding a particular premise that doesn't quite seem right, or a character's motivation that's not terribly believable. But from about the 10-minute mark of Anchorman, the question bothering me was this:

Why would you take a promising idea, hire the entire Old School/Dodgeball crowd, and go to the trouble and expense of making a feature film, without having a script that makes any sense whatsoever?

I was actually reminded of an old Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode - the end credits were rolling, and when "Written By" came up, Tom Servo cracked, "This movie had writers?"

Understand where I'm coming from - I'm inclined to like this kind of movie. I loves the slapstick. Airplane! was my favourite movie for at least the entire 80s. I loved Old School. While I agree with Simmons that Dodgeball would likely be funnier baked, I enjoyed it, too. And Anchorman had some silly moments that were rather funny - like when Ron Burgundy's explanation of love morphed into a 4-man a cappella version of Afternoon Delight (possibly the most unassumingly crass song in history until More Than Words came along).

Also, the characters were relatively likeable, funny, and well-played (Paul Rudd's chain-smoking poker-faced reporter made me laugh, as did Steve Carell's presumably lobotomized weatherman - "I love lamp").

But nothing that happened in the movie made sense.
  • Competing news teams talking some trash out in the field, I get. A full-scale donnybrook between 5 rival news teams, where one anchor has his arm cut off by a sword? That's called "taking the joke too far".
  • I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but consider: you are a news director on location at a major story, and your lead anchor goes missing. Three of your other reporters are standing right next to you. In what alternate universe is your next move to pull your disgraced and dishevelled former anchor (whom you fired 3 months ago for dropping an F-bomb at your viewers) out of a dive bar to fill in?
  • Most of all, the (ostensible) thread that is supposed to hold the "plot" together through the movie is the love/hate relationship between Christina Applegate's character and Ron Burgundy. Unfortunately, the movie gives us no discernible reason to believe that she is attracted to him. None! (Well, except maybe the tent he's pitching while they're having a "serious news conversation"). I realize Christina Applegate is no Hilary Swank, but you can't blame it all on bad acting. As a result, nothing that anyone does in this movie is believable (or in many cases, even explicable).

Anyway, if I had to give Anchorman a one-word review (like they plaster across newspaper ads to give movies some extra buzz), I think it would be "DUMB!"

-----

Addendum, just for the hell of it:
Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight,
Gonna grab some afternoon delight,
My motto's always been when it's right it's right,
Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night?

Whennnnn.. everything's a little clearer in the light of daaayyy?
Annnnnnd we know the night is always gonna be there anywaaayyy?

Thinking of you's working up my appetite,
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight,
Rubbing sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite,
And the thought of loving you is getting so exciting,

Skyyy-rockets in flight - Afternoon Delight!
Hey, ey, Afternoon Delight!

It's stuck in my head - maybe I can give it away to you.

Gambling & loose ends

NFL Divisional Round this weekend; The Sports Guy, as always, has the lowdown. Two NFC teams will start to look really good, and two AFC teams will continue to look really good. As advised the other day, don't forget that the former is mostly a mirage. Someone has to win the NFC.

I did note that there is an exception to my advice (that proves the rule, no doubt!). If the Colts win impressively on the road, this week in Foxboro and next week in Pittsburgh, they're going to be favoured by about a million in the Super Bowl. In that case, take the NFC team.

In non-football related gambling news, here are the latest odds on the Golden Globe Awards. I bring this up only because I had a snippy exchange a few months ago with a better web-based commenter regarding the meaning of the phrase, "Cast-iron sure-thing of the century". Imelda Staunton, in her title role as "pre-therapeutic" abortion provider Vera Drake, is 2nd favourite in the 'Best Actress - Drama' category at 9/5. Throw in Annette Bening's performance in Sideways (heavily favoured at 1/3 in the Musical/Comedy category), and you basically have 3 contenders for Best Actress Oscar.

If you refuse to believe that The Next Karate Kid can be a multiple Oscar winner, then Imelda Staunton is certainly your best bet. Me, if it's Staunton v. Field, I'll still take The Field, thankyou very much.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

OK, You, In The Back

I previously brought up Corey Pein-Rathergate story in the Columbia Journalism Review, with the note that Powerline, at the time, had the best evisceration of the piece.

I've changed my mind, and would like to give that honour to Jim Treacher, who paraphrases the title as "You Bloggers Think You're So Great, But You're Really Not".

P.S. Treacher proves you can still be unique even off a Blogspot template. The rest of us have "Comments" - he has "This Better Be Good". From memory, previous iterations of this "joke" (no offense Jim!) are "Caller Go Ahead" and "I Have A Unique And Well-Crafted Viewpoint, By Golly!"

P.P.S. Consider the Powerline piece from todayRoadkill Diaries) as it pertains to the Thornburgh-Boccardi report and the "metaphysical certainty" standard of proof. Is it just me, or is "Prove I'm Not Queen of the Space Unicorns!" even funnier now?

"..when you have something good going, you stick with it, right?"

Back to health care tomorrow. For today, I wish to point you to this L.A. Times story (ÞNeale): Magazine Toasts Unabashed Alcoholism. I am grateful the world has Frank Rich, even if he says a few ridiculous things. This, to me though, is not one of them:
"People always say, 'If you drink, your problems will still be there in the morning,' " he said. "That's like telling a guy going to the Bahamas that in a week, he'll be right back where he started. Well, for a week, he'll be gone."

Those in the business of battling alcohol abuse find such sentiments appalling.

Well, of course they do.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Typical

(Updated, to make sense)

Damian Brooks has kindly babbled (TM) that Jerry Aldini is underrated, or rather under-visited. I appreciate the compliment very much, and would like to announce that this is unlikely to change anytime soon. I'm not against more traffic, but I don't seem to follow many of the guidelines for increasing it. I haven't joined any Brigades, Carnivals, or the like. My blogroll is rather limited, probably unfairly so. I send about one email per month pointing to a post I've written. And, I don't post that frequently, or worse, regularly.

The real kicker though, at least in my fantasy world, is that every time I write something that gets some attention, I cleverly follow it up with (A) dead air, or (B) a post or two that are of absolutely no interest to new visitors that followed a "political" link.

So, on that note, welcome to anyone new who found this site via Let It Bleed or The Roadkill Diaries. Here's what you want to do regarding gambling on Super Bowl XXXIX:

For starters, if you feel really strongly about any particular team right now, you might as well make a bet today. You'll nearly triple your money even if it's the Steelers you successfully back, who by the way were 15-1 and haven't lost in 4 months. Here's the latest lines on the eight remaining teams, from your friendly Caribbean bookie:
  • +185 Pittsburgh Steelers
  • +275 Philadelphia Eagles
  • +320 New England Patriots
  • +375 Indianapolis Colts
  • +800 Atlanta Falcons
  • +2500 New York Jets
  • +2500 Minnesota Vikings
  • +2500 St. Louis Rams

That said, here's my Two-Step Plan for making lots of money betting on the Super Bowl:
1) Wait until after the conference championship games (i.e. until we know who is playing in the game). (If this sounds obvious to you, you obviously don't gamble much.)
2) Take the AFC team to win and cover the spread.
You're welcome!

OK, maybe some brief explanation is warranted. In short, this "advice" is not intended as blinding insight, but rather as a marker in time.

We're just past a 16-game regular season right now, and rightfully, the AFC looks fantastic. Their potential Super Bowl opponents are:
- two 8-8 teams who managed to win road playoff games against weak teams
- an 11-5 team who beat one good team all year, and it was at home by one point
- and the Eagles, who clinched everything 4 weeks ago, haven't been impressive in 6 weeks, lost their final two (meaningless) games by a combined score of 58-17, and whose co-MVP is injured and uncertain to return

However, in two weeks, the NFC champion will be a hot team on a 2, 3, or 5 game winning streak. Their defense will have made some big plays, their quarterback will look very dangerous (McNabb, Vick, Bulger, Culpepper), offense clicking on all cylinders, etc. etc.. The media, and to a lesser extent the oddsmakers, will be seduced, and the line will open with the AFC team favoured by a touchdown at most.

Luckily, the NFC champion will still be one of the 4 teams noted above, whereas the AFC champion will have won a half-dozen important games this year. Remember this post, take the AFC team, lay the points, double your money, and send me a thankyou note.

There is only one potential exception I can think of to this scenario, but this post is long enough already, so I'll get to it another day. Try guessing it, if you like.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Health economics lesson #745

This guy's outrage is so cute! (ÞWho else? - It is about Tennessee.)

In short, Tennessee is gutting their public health system, which inspires some outrage, and then some counter-outrage in the linked piece. I wanted to link it because I lost count of how many items in Arbyte's post nearly made the author's head explode, yet are, shall we say, less controversial around here. Sample:
I, a resident of Oregon, am supposed to help pay for Tennessee's brave new collapsing socialist experiment? By what right? I can't seem to shake the phrase "no taxation without representation" from my mind.

Can I get a Heh?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Seductive pleasure..

Found via Instapundit before Christmas, an interesting Scientific American article entitled "Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth". After reading it, I'd say the Professor seized on one of the less compelling aspects (or rather, subcomponents) of the article - understandable given his wife's field. The piece does not dismiss out-of-hand the value of self-esteem, but it obliterates the notion that positive self-esteem is the root of all that is good.

I'm linking to it because it has the absolute greatest concluding sentence in the history of research pieces. It makes the point they want to make, and it summarizes the article to perfection:
And we have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today's children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise.


"story"

Boy, this Corey Pein fellow from the Columbia Journalism Review is being absolutely beat senseless on the blogs I travel. The best, most eloquent snicker is probably from Hindrocket at PowerLine. This dude actually emailed PowerLine pointing to his story, obviously with some pride and the belief he had parried their thrust (ahem). Wonder how he feels today?

I am reproducing the graf below, not to pile on Mr. Pein, but because it's a devastating summary of CBS' actions on the Memo Story. Behold:
I could go on, but there is little point in doing so. CBS ostensibly "worked" on the National Guard story for years. They took fake documents from a notoriously unstable source who had no first-hand knowledge of President Bush's National Guard career, and who could not account for where he got them. On their face, the documents looked nothing like authentic National Guard memos of the 1970s that were in CBS's possession, but CBS asked no questions. CBS carried out no investigation to determine whether the memos were genuine, and made a point of not talking to people who were ostensibly quoted in the memos to determine whether the documents were accurate. They put the documents before the American public in the heat of an election campaign, and closely coordinated their story with a Democratic National Committee advertising campaign which dovetailed perfectly with the fake documents, and which began the morning after their broadcast. When questioned about the documents' apparent fraudulence, they stonewalled, and Dan Rather guaranteed the American people that the documents were authentic, because they came from an unimpeachable source.

The bloggers, on the other hand, began questioning the documents within hours after they appeared; raised many logical questions about their authenticity, the vast majority of which turned out to be valid; pointed out anachronisms within the documents that proved that their contents were false; and were ultimately proved correct in their suspicion that the documents were fakes. Nearly all of which occurred, not over a period of years, which CBS had to pursue its "story," but over the space of twelve hours.

Ooof. Power Line is not one of my favorite American blogs (sometimes I get the feeling that supporting the Republican Party is more important to them than being right), but I sure appreciate why they're so popular. Hindrocket, Trunk, and Deacon can state their cases like few others.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Blogging for Typing Practice

I've had my eyes peeled for the past week for an item that could provide a decent segue into why I won't be putting up a Blogging For Tories button. Jay Jardine, sign in please. Jay notes a proposal for mandatory voting:
Cue the "principled" Conservative opposition:

Conservative MP Scott Reid panned Harb's idea.

"I used to live in Australia where voting is mandatory, and it doesn't achieve 100% compliance - they get a high rate of voter participation but it's not 100%," Reid said. "And the reason is, unless you're going to have very, very punitive fines, the cost of administering the fines is actually quite high. So, it's a lot easier to say than to execute in practise."

Got that? It's a bad idea because it lacks effectiveness.

There you have it. I accept that no party will ever represent my views as well as I would like, but this is happening way too much. The CPC is presented an opportunity to take a position on an issue which is (A) popular, (B) principled, and (C) right, and they unaccountably decline to seize it, instead taking the position that sounds like it was cooked up by a group of media liaisons.

Mr. Harper, imagine for a moment that you are a goat. Now, please divert your attention briefly from that dead patch of dirt you are currently competing over with the Liberal, NDP, and BQ goats, as well as Joe Clark. Let your gaze drift a few yards to the right. Oooh, what a lovely patch of lush, green grass that is! The stern goatherds will yell at you if you venture over there, but that's OK - the grass over there is much more nourishing, and it might even give you some extra energy to compete with the others over the dirt later!

Don at All Things Canadian posted a couple of weeks ago on a few "politically practical" policy moves the CPC could make to stake out some ground, and start to define exactly what the hell they are. I think they should start even smaller: there are a few positions they could adopt which are supported by the majority of Canadians, are generally "conservative", and are currently espoused by zero major political parties. Like, say:

1) (Stop me if you've heard this one before:) Canadians should be free to spend their own money on their own health care if they like. Don tackles the privately-provided, publicly funded issue, which we are told is less controversial "politically" than totally private parallel health care. The thing is, it's not. There is hardly a Canadian out there who would be glad that they are legally (or practically) prevented from spending there own money on their health if they got sick. Has this poll slipped completely down the memory hole? Note that it says 50% would support private health care options even if it would weaken universal health care. What if it wouldn't - what would the support be then? 80%? 90%?

2) Open up the skies. "Hi, I'm Stephen Harper - we have a big country, and we'd like as many people as possible to see as much of it as possible. We're going to stop pandering to the few thousand people employed by Air Canada in order to allow millions of Canadians the opportunity to travel around more affordably." Of course, this would cost them the votes of all those people who like higher airfares and fewer route choices.

3) Shrink the CRTC by a factor of 10. "Hi, I'm Stephen Harper. My government will continue to support the creation of Canadian programming, but will stop forcing Canadians to watch it if they don't want to. We don't do it with books, we don't do it with movies, and from now on, we're not going to do it with TV." My last two (lower-middle class) neighbourhoods were overrun with legal and illegal satellite dishes. People like choice. I can't be more clear - this policy would be a winner.

4) Just generally portray themselves as believers in slightly less intrusive government. You know, like "We don't like other people telling us what not to eat, so we figure most Canadians feel the same way." Or (and I'm sure there's a more elegant way of putting this), "We fail to see why forcing people to vote who would otherwise choose not to is a compelling objective."

Back to the original issue - I won't be putting up the Blogging for Tories button. I'm not trying to claim neutrality - I have a CPC membership, and there's probably a 90% chance I'll vote for them in the next election. But presently, I refuse to actively support them while they work so hard to appeal to some less-than-1 fraction of the people who voted for them last time. I've decided I fancy myself more of a wonk than a hack, and simply, I want the CPC to keep me and my ilk in the back of their minds, with this caution: this party was obliterated once before because we stood for nothing. It could happen again.

Endorsements

The infamous Robert/Rubert is hosting the 2004 Canadian Weblog Awards. As noted previously, I've been nominated for Best Non-Political Weblog. My Slithering Reptile status is assurance that I will finish somewhere in the single-digits, so I won't be shilling for support, but I would like to lend my own support to a few other nominees:
  • ColbyCosh.com as Best Blog. There are a lot of great Canadian blogs, but nevertheless, this is a no-brainer. Frankly, it's also the Best Non-Political Blog, but it's not nominated (scroll through it while ignoring his paid work as a columnist - it's really pretty light on politics).
  • Inkless Wells as Most Humourous Blog, narrowly ahead of Jardine. A wit like Wells ought to be acknowledged.
  • PolSpy as Best Blog Design - again, this is really no contest, they earn it on the strength of PET's middle finger alone.
  • Babbling Brooks as both Best Conservative Blog and Best New Blog. His right-winginess is principled but not reflexive, and as such, he's almost always right. (Almost.)

On the topic of the Almost (i.e. tsunami relief), I noted in the Babbler's comments that I find his stance counter-productive, but I certainly understand where he's coming from. What I find specifically irksome is the requests that don't merely ask for contributions, but presume to tell me (or whoever) what I shouldn't be spending money on, in order to redirect my resources to tsunami relief. Rex Hammock notesInstapundit) that Mark Cuban is suggesting the inauguration be cancelled and the funds redirected to relief. This is simply a road we do not want to travel down. Apart from the absurdity of the logical extension of this type of argument (let's just shut down our economy and send all our money to the Red Cross!), it's called charity, and it's virtuous precisely because it's not coerced.

Of course, if you think our society would be improved if you got the stink-eye from a fundraiser every time you walked into a 7-11 to buy something you didn't exactly need, then feel free to disagree with me.