Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Life Imitates Simpsons Dept.

Is it possible for an 18- to 34-year-old North American to read this story and not think of Mr. Burns, Fidel Castro, and a trillion-dollar-bill?
BOSTON (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin walked off with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft's diamond-encrusted 2005 Super Bowl ring, but was it a generous gift or a very expensive international misunderstanding?

Following a meeting of American business executives and Putin at Konstantinovsky Palace near St. Petersburg on Saturday, Kraft showed the ring to Putin -- who tried it on, put it in his pocket and left, according to Russian news reports.

It wasn't clear if Kraft, whose business interests include paper and packaging companies and venture capital investments, intended that Putin keep the ring.

I can see it now:
Kraft: All we ask is preferential treatment because of my fabulous celebrity! [Kraft holds the Super Bowl ring up.]

Putin: May I see?

Kraft: Ho ho ho, see with your eyes, not with your hands!

Putin: Please, we are all amigos here!

Kraft ass't: Mr. Kraft.. I think we can trust the president of Russia..

Kraft: [hands it to Putin, and waits a couple of seconds.] Now, give it back...

Putin: Give what back?

Kraft: D'ohh...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

My Hero!

Can I tell you how much I like Jeremy Roenick?
"If people are going to sit and chastise pro athletes for being cocky - for being suck asses - they need to look at one thing and that's the deal we're going to be signing in about three weeks. Pro athletes are not cocky. Pro athletes care about the game. Everybody out there who calls us spoiled because we play a game - they can kiss my ass....I will say personally, personally, to everybody who calls us spoiled, you guys are just jealous, and screw you guys because we have tried so hard to get this game back on the ice to make it better for the fans. And if you don't realize that, don't come. We don't want you in the rink, we don't want you to watch hockey. Period."

It's been an ongoing source of confusion (and frustration) for me over the past year to know that >80% of hockey fans (and media) blame the players for the lost season. The arguments have been hashed out ad nauseam in sports media and on this blog, but there's one that bears repeating one last time:

This is not a normal labour negotiation. Even if the players "won" the negotiations hands-down, not one of them would make a single cent unless a team owner freely and willingly signed them to a contract. As it is, it appears that they will have "lose" hands-down, and be the first sports union in my memory to emerge from contract negotiations freely admitting it. As in, "We think this is a terrible deal, but it looks like it's the best we're going to get, and we want to play, so we're signing."

And when the new agreement doesn't work (for various reasons both foreseeable and not), and they are trying to negotiate the next one five years down the road, I guarantee it will again be the players under the gun to "accept the financial realities of the business", etc. etc.. Furthermore, the pundits who, like the last 10 years, spend the next 5 years lambasting Gary Bettman for his sorry management of the NHL product, will again decide that he and the owners are the ones who are guarding the best interests of the league.

It's enough to make this hockey fan sick. I'm forced to conclude that only a part of the fans' animus towards the players can be explained by misguided self-interest. The rest, I'm afraid, is borne out of envy--which is a really distasteful thing to witness on such a large scale. Roenick is right.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Nature, etc.

The Aldini family mission in the summer is to leave town as often as possible. I can't quite mentally "leave work behind" the same way as when I had a J-O-B, but it's still terrific.

Pictured below are the Aldini boys, ages Almost-5 and 14 Months. As you can plainly see, they are born campers: all they're missing is the lake- or creek-chilled beer (and please don't offer them one, as the younger will gladly accept and chug away).


The Aldini Camping All-Stars Posted by Hello

So far this year we've hit Dinosaur Provincial Park (in the Badlands) and Waterton Lakes National Park (in the Rockies near the U.S. border). Next up: Two Jack Lake, in the scenic and very popular Banff National Park.

I love summer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Licia+Corbella+plagiarism

That's the Google search that has produced one or two dozen hits to this site today. I'm getting hit because of this post from April:
Chris Selley has caught Calgary Sun editor Licia Corbella in a nasty bit of plagiarism, and notes:

I can't honestly say I'm surprised. When you spend your entire life parroting right-wing talking points you read somewhere else, sooner or later you're bound to regurgitate one verbatim.

Yep--like or dislike Ms. Corbella's columns, that is an incontrovertibly good point...
The link to Tart Cider has vanished into thin air, as have references to Selley's watchdogging I noted here and here, at minimum.

Doucheblog has the only explanation why that I can find: in the context of an apology. Go read.

********************

It would appear that Ms. Corbella has recently discovered that her reputation is being undermined on the internet, and she and her lawyers have taken some SLAPP-style action. I find this to be pretty unfortunate.

As you will have noted from her email to the Doucheblog, much of her defense for what many of us would consider plagiarism is that she is contractually permitted to use Canadian Press copy without attribution.

This is weak. As you the reader will find if you Google "definition of plagiarism", the transgression is passing off someone else's words as your own. Anecdotally, this is certainly how it was explained to me as a university student.

What bothers me with this deal is, I like Licia Corbella. I have corresponded via email (not spam-filtered, apparently!) with her in the past, and I found her to be lovely. I'm sad that she's decided to crack down on people who called what she has done "plagiarism", rather than rebut the specifics of the allegations. She ought to be offering an explanation; instead, she seems to think that the word "plagiarism" is what's damaging her reputation.

That's not the case, Ms. Corbella: what's damaging your reputation is that entire paragraphs are running under your Opinion byline that appear to have been written by someone else. CP may be cool with that; at least a handful of readers (and that's what bloggers are, basically) aren't cool with it, and a whole lot more wouldn't be either if they had any damn idea.

The fact that this causes you embarrassment is not a matter of law. You need to address this problem directly, otherwise it will only get worse. Best wishes.

I would like to shoot...

...the person who invented the metaphor of the "level playing field". If you hear a politician, businessman, or other public figure use it, I 99% guarantee that their broader point is a load of crap.

More soon, I hope.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Lee Richardson does not speak for me

As some of you may have heard, we've had quite a bit of rain here. It caused flooding just about everywhere between Edmonton and Lethbridge (separated north-south by more than 400km). Many people's homes have been destroyed (see Dust My Broom for pics of what's probably the worst area in the province); countless more have suffered property damage and/or were evacuated.

When you can't find an upside to a crisis, you can generally at least find a learning opportunity, and I believe that's the case here. In short, disaster response and management is a pretty good model for where the responsibilities of the various levels of Canadian government should lie. Usually, the federal government is concerned with things like how fast my hospital can provide me with a CT scan, and what I should be allowed to put in my kids lunch, whereas local governments address issues like what to do about nuclear weapons, and whether various pesticides are scientifically justifiable. It makes no bloody sense at all.

When a flood or other disaster happens, and plans & decisions need to be made promptly, we see local governments, or even voluntary associations in communities, manage direct action. Of course! People who are right there, and the politicians responsible directly to them, are the ones most able to prioritize and address the right needs immediately. Provincial, and less so federal, governments provide financial assistance after the fact.

Note that this division of responsibilities has nothing at all to do with the importance of the issue. Stuff like evacuations and emergency sheltering are literally a matter of life or death for some, and yet we don't see Anne McLellan elbowing the Mayor of High River aside saying, "This is serious--I'll take over from here." (Gallows humour sidebar from Mrs. Aldini's brother: "Surprising to see a flood in a place named High River". Ahem.)

I'm quite aware that the desire to have the remotest level of government provide most services is inseparable from the plausibility of believing that "someone else" is paying for it, but I wish people would look at situations like the one in Alberta now and think, "You know, maybe 'national standards' are not self-evidently superior".

P.S. This whole rant was, errr, inspired by Calgary Southeast MP Lee Richardson (CPC) in today's National Post:
"The real question is: where are the feds?" said Tory MP Lee Richardson, whose Calgary riding includes the overflowing Bow and Elbow rivers and is among the worst-hit areas.

"If this was happening in central Canada, the Prime Minister would have been there 20 minutes later."

Oh, shut up. Alberta makes a terrible victim - and that suits me just fine.

Monday, June 20, 2005

ragamuffin...rutabaga...

Greg Staples and others (Andrew, Sean, Cosh, Janes) have been discussing things you can't say in Canada, spurred by a Peggy Wente piece in Reader's Digest.

I have little to add myself, but I did perk up at #2: "Recycling is a waste of time and money". I might dispute this statement, but it's clearly a debate that would benefit from the inclusion of more (any?) science, economics, and plain-old critical thinking. To further this discussion, it's time for another installment of (dut-dut-DAH):

Classic Kirchhoff
(originally published April 28, 2004)

It's proper to begin with this pithy point supporting the affirmative:
Of course, recycling costs money, which is a rough but not entirely unreliable proxy for the fact that it also generally consumes more resources than it saves.

But lest you stand firm on that rather solid rule-of-thumb, consider this:
But recycling is an example of what my number-crunchy analysis might fail to capture. Don't get me wrong: recycling of paper and plastic (materials which are easily incinerated and derived from resources either renewable or effectively infinite) would definitely be among the 50% of state activity that would be cancelled in the Evan-utopia, but let me play devil's advocate here.

Arguably, recycling produces moral edification that cannot be reduced to stats about resources or energy. It's clear that the sorting of trash has caused us all to think of consumer goods as part of a longer narrative where the remnants persist even after we "discard" them; we've learned to at least make reflexive jokes about items whose packaging vastly outweighs the goods inside. Hence, even if there's no environmental gain in recycling our current garbage, it's not absurd to think that we might be producing much more garbage if we were less conscious of it, especially given that we're twice as wealthy as our counterparts in the early recycling era...

I grew up during the 1970s, a time when they had to run TV commercials to tell people that if you threw cans and wrappers and crap out of your car window, the crap would, in fact, just lie there by the highway wherever it landed. Apparently this was not sufficiently obvious from first principles. I don't know if this was an aesthetic failure or a widespread causal misunderstanding, but a notable attitude change has occurred since then, and I'm not sure it can be entirely separated from faith-based activities like sorting magazines and margarine tubs into colored bins. Recycling might be best defended as a secular sacrament, a communal ceremony that reinforces modes of thought which are not completely unreasonable.

I doubt you'll find a heartfelt argument for recycling that makes as much sense as that bit of devil's advocacy.

I harbour comparable sentiments about impaired driving. I think the quantity of Checkstops, and PSAs, and miscellaneous finger-wagging about driving under the influence, in this 21st century, is massively overscaled. I think it assumes everyone is a potential criminal, and it too often diverts police resources from arresting people who pose much greater threats to public safety: not just the small group of people who regularly drive erratically and extremely impaired, but regular non-driving-related criminals.

At the same time, I grew up during the 1970s, a time when they had to run TV commercials to tell people that if you were too drunk to walk and/or stay awake, you were not able to drive a car safely. Apparently this was not sufficiently obvious from first principles. Far fewer people stumble into the driver's seat in 2005 than in 1965, and I'm not sure this can be entirely separated from faith-based activities like tying red ribbons around car antennae, or modifying the standard New Year's greeting to include "Be sure to call a cab".

Friday, June 17, 2005

Still married, solvent

Whoops - I just about got through the whole day without noting that it was one year ago today that Jerry Aldini - Only The Name Is Phony was launched.

As it happens, my first post of substance from that first day related to the Supreme Court of Canada; namely, the elections gag law, upheld 6-3 in a decision written by Bastarache (there is "a danger that political advertising may manipulate or oppress the voter.").

This hasn't gotten much attention in a year, so I'll haul out the best point I made for a blogiversary special:
Thanks to a law whose purported intent was "that wealth should not be used to drown out the voices of ordinary Canadians in an election", ordinary Canadians can only be heard with the leave of multi-billion dollar media conglomerates...

Regular readers of this BL*G are advised two things: the likelihood of the author retiring is remote. The likelihood of the content focus continuing to veer wildly is near certain.

Where I conclude with a rhetorical question

Next time you roll your eyes when Jay Jardine talks about lethal force underlying everything the government does, think back to this story:
The province's civil-liberties director is condemning a three-day jail term served by a Kelowna man for not wearing a bicycle helmet

Michael Hein, 19, got out of jail Tuesday after he was arrested Saturday for riding his bike downtown without head protection. A judge sentenced him to time served and fined him $35 for breaking the city's helmet bylaw.

I realize that many Canadian adults, when polled, cannot distinguish between, "Do you think it's a good idea to wear a bike helmet?" and "Do you think there should be a law requiring people to wear bike helmets?" - which is obviously the only reason why helmet laws ever gain popular support. I wonder what the results would be if the question was, "Would you support a bike helmet law if the penalty for multiple infractions was jail time?"
Judge Wilf Klinger said he was concerned about Hein's "attitude and unwillingness to abide by this bylaw."

No comment. Worth noting also, since it's been a hot topic these days, that this story also contains the best non-economic argument for the complete privatization of health care I've seen in ages:
[Bylaw enforcement officer Kurt] Szalla argued wearing helmets saves tax revenue because the health costs of treating a head-injured cyclist can be huge. He pointed to a homeless cyclist struck by a car at Harvey Avenue and Abbott Street last year who is "still in a vegetative state."

Set aside for now whether this is actually true; Andrew Coyne has written frequently that helmet laws discourage some people from cycling at all, many do not replace this physical activity with anything else, and thus become less healthy, with all the attendant pressures on the health care system.

What we have here is a bylaw enforcement officer, pretty much the lowest incarnation of state power, justifying locking someone up for three days because of a higher moral imperative: maybe saving the public health care system some money. How far can that logic extend, I wonder?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

If you can stand it...

...I have more word count on the Charter and Chaoulli in the comments at Let It Bleed. My regards go out to Bob for engaging this topic with vigour despite not being a constitutional specialist.

I sympathize with the position he's in. I'm an engineer, but if I were asked to comment on a pulley system, I'd frankly chicken out. It's more comfortable to spit out opinions in areas where you have no education than where you have some education.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"Your'e treating us like children -- retarded children."

Great stuff on smoking bans from Balko (and Hitchens, quoted in the header), Healy, and Sanchez. The context for all the pieces is the D.C. City Council banning smoking in bars, but excepting the compromise bill they note, all of it is widely applicable.

My short take, of course, is that I'm against these bans. The biggest reason is not the property rights issue, "discussed" by Selley and Jardine in the comments here (although it would be nice if ban proponents would concede that they are compromising your property rights, and at least be explicit about the trade-off they are proposing).

My deep objection to these bans is that there is no "end of the line". I certainly can't think of a logical one. Ban proponents give every indication that no victory is ever final, i.e. cause for retirement. If smoking in bars is banned, we will merely move on to having the identical discussion about a new venue in a couple of years. And then another.

There is no medical or philosophical argument put forth in favour of smoking bans in bars that could not be applied similarly, and presumably equally successfully, to smoking just about anywhere, including in your own garage. Is there?

Man on Fire

Save this one for when you have at least 10 minutes, but go read Billy Beck, and that to which he links (especially the Carl Drega story).

I'm not trying to be coy. Here's the root topic, per Kim DuToit:
Reader (and blogger) Ron S. asks the question which lies at the heart of an armed society: “At what point do you start shooting?”

What he means, of course, is the part where tyranny has become intolerable: the soap box, letter box and ballot box have become irrelevant, and what’s left is the cartridge box.

Let me make just one thing clear, before I go any further: This is not seditious talk—contained within the very heart of the Second Amendment lies the thought that one day, government gets too big for its britches.

This a worthwhile question for anyone who ever contemplates the role of government, and more importantly, the meaning of citizenship. Forget the part quoted above about "an armed society" and the Second Amendment: what would it take for you to decline to recognize the Canadian government? What would you do about it? Just because in 2005 you can hardly imagine doing so is no reason to bury the question in the Scary Thoughts Hole. What would you advise your children?

Today Canada is one of the freest countries in the world, and these questions are certainly hypothetical. Compared to the folks linked and quoted above, I certainly have a much higher pain threshold for state-exerted power, as I know most of you do. But that's really not a good excuse to hide from the question.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Too-shay

A fellow Southern Albertan notices a bizarre sight overhead (ÞJanes):
The streets of Calgary erupted in a mass panic this morning as a giant ball of fire seems to have appeared over-night in the eastern sky.

A question for the lawyers

In P.201-203 of their Chaoulli dissent, Binnie & Lebel rejected that Quebecers "liberty" was at risk, reasoning that economic & property rights are not ennumerated in the Charter.

Is this sound? To me, the logical extension of this reasoning is that "liberty" might as well not be referenced in the Charter at all. If it only refers to the liberty to exercise rights which are ennumerated, then it's essentially redundant, i.e. meaningless.

Or put another way, what if the (say) Alberta govt. enacted a law saying you're only allowed to sleep with someone of the opposite sex to whom you're married? Could they say that they're not violating anyone's liberty, since "sexual rights" are not included in the Charter? What the hell?

Obviously there's some other precedent or Section with which the law could be overturned, but what exactly is "liberty" worth, if it's not pretty open-ended?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Tunes, man

I really don't mind these games at all; I find it interesting to learn what other people are into. Like just about everyone though, I assume most others feel the opposite, so I'm reluctant to keep the meme moving. To the task at hand:

1) How many music files are there on your computer?

None. When I'm trying to block out the world while I'm at the computer, it's NBA.com audio, or more recently, MLB.com. I bought the NBA subscription in late October, as a nod to the lack of NHL. $35 US, you get the Home & Away radio feeds for every game all year. If anyone cares, I wouldn't recommend it, but I would recommend the baseball package (only $15 US). I found it tough to get used to basketball on the radio - I think because I had trouble keeping track of the score. Baseball lends itself a lot better to background noise.

2) What was the last CD you bought?

A Bing Crosby Christmas, in December. Other than that, I don't remember the last CD I bought that wasn't a gift. At least 3 years ago.

3) What song do you have playing in iTunes?

What's iTunes?

4) What 5 songs mean a lot to you?

As you might gather from the answers above, of all the popular contemporary art forms, music just doesn't mean much to me or my life. But here's 5 Aldini favourites:
  • What's My Name, Snoop Doggy Dogg - profane in absolutely the most delightful way
  • Knee Deep, George Clinton (& the various P-Funk All-Stars, plus Digital Underground in this version) -- I just feel cool listening to the Grandmaster of Funk. This is also the last concert act I saw, and almost certainly the only concert I ever paid more than $20 for that I thought was worth every penny and more.
  • Enter Sandman, Metallica -- did I mention I was a Sci '95?
  • You Don't Know How It Feels, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers -- my favourite overall artist amongst those who have been performing most of my lifetime. U2 can suck it.
  • The Statue Got Me High, They Might Be Giants -- gives me pleasant flashbacks to the Kingston days. Anything from Flood or Apollo 13 will do, really.

Guess I need to read Anna Karenina...

...seeing as how in the recently circulated book meme, it was first in the list of 5 "Books That Mean a Lot to Me" of not only Sacamano, but also Her Excellency the Governor-General.

Chaoulli: once more, with feeling

I thought I'd take one more run at at Chaoulli v. Quebec, because despite the reams of comment in print and in the webasphere, there has been a void that I find notable. So: I categorically reject that this ruling constitutes judicial activism by any reasonable standard.

It has been broadly characterized as such because (A) the SCOC struck down a law duly passed by a legislature, and (B) the dissent contained a few words to the effect of, "Health care is a mess for legislatures to fix".

This is an extremely illiberal characterization: if you believe that this action in and of itself constitutes judicial activism, you necessarily believe that we ought to repeal the Charter. After all, what do we have it for? The Charter guarantees us certain rights and freedoms, with various exceptions, that may not be abrogated by statute. The Supreme Court is the guarantor of this at the end of the line. The simple striking down of a statute by the SCOC is not undemocratic.

The other way to argue that Chaoulli = judicial activism is to say that the majority struck down the law(s) based on rights that aren't in the Charter, or that they weighed and interpreted competing rights incorrectly to suit their political agenda. Here you can argue more plausibly; I just think you'd be wrong.

It's instructive to look at the things that all 7 Justices agreed on. Three are important:
  1. (some) people die and/or suffer on waiting lists for public health care, and this violates their right to life and security of person
  2. the legislative objective of the prohibition on private insurance is to preserve the public health care system
  3. (1.) is only a violation of s.7 if (2.) violates an established legal "principle of fundamental justice"; in this case, whether the means are "arbitrary"

Then the Justices split in answering (3.), and they did so based overwhelmingly on their interpretation of the evidence tabled at the Superior Court.

The majority found the expert testimony supporting Quebec's position to be uncompelling due to its lack of data and facts. They also found evidence from other provinces and countries did not support the notion that private prohibition was logical. In the end, they found that it was "arbitrary".

The dissenters were compelled by Quebec's expert testimony (and by the trial judge's acceptance of it), and didn't find anything in the evidence from other countries to conclude that the prohibition was "inconsistent" with the objective of a strong public system. In the end, they found that it was not "arbitrary".

Essentially, the majority found that a government statute was killing people, for no good reason, and kiboshed that policy. Correctly, they said nothing about how to fix medicare. I just don't see how that amounts to four unelected judges ramming their agenda down Canadians' throats.

UPDATE: pogge gives me even more confidence that I'm right about this:
...the Supreme Court is standing up for the individual in the face of government mismanagement and inaction. That, in part at least, is exactly what we should expect of the Supreme Court and if that's activism I'm all for it.

"I'm trying to get her attention"

As should be apparent over my time here at Jerry Aldini, I'm rather loathe to absolve people of personal responsibility for their stupid, stupid decisions.

But when I consider this case of this jackass Richard Kaczmarczyk, who is on a hunger strike to get his wife to quit smoking, I do find myself reserving a little contempt for western civilization's "public health" establishment.

I guess when the hysteria you promote about the dangers of smoking is never, ever qualified in any way, then once in a while people will react to smoking with wildly disproportionate responses (see also Godwin Like You Mean It here).

Here's my proposed solution to this spousal battle: the Missus agrees to smoke only 5 cigarettes a day, lowering her health risks considerably (why yes, in case you hadn't thought about it: cigarette smoke is like every other poison in the world, in that its lethality is proportional* to the dose!). In return, Dick agrees to have a sandwich and a Zoloft.

And in a perfect world, the health czar Michelle Mandel consults for the follow-up story concedes (without reluctance) that, besides "not smoking" being healthier than "smoking", "smoking a little" is healthier than "smoking a lot".

(*Not claiming this proportionality is linear.)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

It's been 48 hours - am I any smarter now?

Having had another day to reflect on Chaoulli, I don't think there's much I'd change about my original take, except maybe that I did oversimplify the reasons underlying (and hence the sturdiness of) the concurring opinion.

McLachlin & Major did not merely conclude that the prohibition on private insurance fails to meet the "minimum impairment" test under Oakes, but also that it fails to meet the "rational connection" test, and furthermore:
Indeed, we question whether an arbitrary provision, which by reason of its arbitrariness cannot further its stated objective, will ever meet the rational connection test under R. v. Oakes

So I got that goin' for me, which is nice(*). And a bit of triumphalism is certainly in order. The opposite ruling by the SCOC would have further entrenched the status quo, if that's even possible. I'd say the practical implications of the ruling are considerable: it would appear to me that any government seeking to restrict private health care in any way will have to provide empirical evidence that it is necessary to protect the public system, as the rhetorical arguments against a monopoly have carried the day. Also, "Who's laughing now, bitches?" is the funniest thing I read Thursday.

But on the whole, the more I think about the ruling, the more depressed I get.

I find it profoundly damaging to my dignity as a human being when I think about this: my right to look after my own body (such as it is) derives not from any enduring principles of humankind, nor from my country's constitution, but from the government's incompetence in looking after it for me.

I also find it demeaning to have it spelled out for me that my rights to liberty do not include freedom of contract, and that I certainly do not have "the right to spend my own money" -- not just in the context of health care or some other conflict with government's objectives, but period.

But, what the hey, right? btw, for a very cogent analysis of the decision supporting the dissent, see James MacDuff's work at Ahab's Whale.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Great moments in blogging Dept.

Julian Sanchez:
Growing dope in your backyard for personal consumption? Commerce. Eating a ham sandwich on your porch? Commerce. The Friday column Jacob Sullum wrote at home in his study? Definitely commerce. With the possible exception of beating women and bringing guns to school, in fact, commerce, like God, is omnipresent and (by way of empowering Congress) omnipotent. All hail commerce.

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

Nick Gillespie:
On a scale of importance of 1 to 10 (with 10 being totally important), this story of course rates a zero. You can argue that the school was clear and proper in its policy, that it told Benya ahead of time that the bolo tie wasn't right, that kids need to respect rules, that this sort of faux politically correct student insubordination is exactly why the terrorists hate us, why the Japanese will crush us economically, why jobs are being outsourced to India, why the Red Sox finally won the World Series, blah blah blah.

But I just don't think you can get away from the fact that high school administrators are the biggest bunch of jackasses in the world.

Mapmaster:
Taxes aren't quite the same thing as purchases — the non-voluntary nature is the giveaway...

Blog on, dudes.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Nothing rhymes with Chaoulli

Having respected Sacamano's #1 Rule, I'm going to take a crack at breaking down today's SCOC decision on health care. There are a couple of spots where I will defer to people with formal legal training, but I hope that by giving an effort, I may address a couple of points that may be new, or not obvious, to non-lawyers, that a genuine law-talking-guy might skip over.

My overall impression is that there's something in there to disappoint everyone.

First of all, to anyone hoping that this decision establishes a legal principle or precedent that individuals have the right to medically care for our own bodies as we see fit: sorry! From the majority opinion, P.14 (italics mine):
As I mentioned at the beginning of my reasons, no one questions the need to preserve a sound public health care system. The central question raised by the appeal is whether the prohibition is justified by the need to preserve the integrity of the public system. In this regard, when my colleagues ask whether Quebec has the power under the Constitution to discourage the establishment of a parallel health care system, I can only agree with them that it does.

And from the dissent (not rebutted in the majority opinion), P.202:
Nor do we accept that s. 7 of the Canadian Charter guarantees Dr. Chaoulli the “liberty” to deliver health care in a private context. The trial judge correctly concluded that [translation] “s. 7 of the Canadian Charter does not protect a physician’s right to practise his or her profession without restrictions in the private sector. That is a purely economic right” (p. 823). The fact that state action constrains an individual’s freedom by eliminating career choices that would otherwise be available does not in itself attract the protection of the liberty interest under s. 7. The liberty interest does not, for example, include the right to transact business whenever one wishes: R. v. Edwards Books and Art Ltd., [1986] 2 S.C.R. 713, at p. 786. Nor does it protect the right to exercise one’s chosen profession: Prostitution Reference, at p. 1179, per Lamer J.

The MDs out there can chew on the prostitution reference; I'm going to let it slide for today's purposes. Here's P.203 (also not rebutted in the majority opinion):
While we do not accept that there is a constitutional right “to spend money”, which would be a property right, ...

In general, I find the implications of this decision for "freedom", de jure at least, as very little cause for enthusiasm.

Next, there is some uncertainty surrounding the decision as it may apply to the other 9 provinces. The way I read it, I would characterize the Quebec aspect of the decision as "somewhat irrelevant". There's essentially two issues in play.

A) Deschamps, who authored the majority opinion, based it on the Quebec Charter. Since the concurring Justices based their opinion on the Canadian Charter, I think this issue is probably irrelevant.

B) Quebec's restrictions on private care are not identical to the other 9 provinces. I'll take arguments here, but I understand Deschamps to be saying that the "letter of the law" of explicit restrictions is rather moot, as both the intent and the cumulative effect of smaller restrictions constitute "real" restriction; with the possible apparent exception of Newfoundland, this would seem to apply to all other provinces as well. P.54 is most relevant:
Although there are, at first glance, no provisions that prohibit the provision of services by an individual or a legal person established for a private interest, a number of constraints are readily apparent. In addition to the restrictions relating to the remuneration of professionals, the requirement that a permit be obtained to provide hospital services creates a serious obstacle in practice. This constraint would not be problematic if the prevailing approach favoured the provision of private services. However, that is not the case. Not only are the restrictions real (Laverdière, at p. 170), but Mr. Chaoulli’s situation shows clearly that they are. Here again, the executive branch is implementing the intention of the Quebec legislature to limit the provision of private services outside the public plan. That intention is evident in the preliminary texts tabled in the National Assembly, in the debate concerning those texts and, finally, in the written submissions filed by the Attorney General of Quebec in the instant case.

Again, I'll listen to arguments here, but I think the reasonable starting assumption here is that this ruling affects all Canadians.

Those two major points addressed, here's the gist of the ruling as I see it:
  • All the justices agree that, based on the present condition of the system, a prohibition of private medical insurance constitutes a violation of the right to life and security of person (although the dissenters insist on qualifying it as a violation for some people, their italics).
  • All the justices agree that the government is permitted to run a monopoly health system if they do it well enough.
  • Getting through all the broader and peripheral arguments, we run into our old friend Oakes, and we find this one sentence from P.156:
On the evidence here and for the reasons discussed above, the prohibition goes further than necessary to protect the public system: it is not minimally impairing.

4-3. Four justices believe that the "2nd tier" prohibition goes beyond what is necessary to protect the public system, and is thusly an unreasonable violation of Canadian's right to security of person. Three justices disagree, arguing that the impairment is reasonable, based on the government's objectives and the evidence as they see it. There you go, pretty much. A few other observations:

-- You will read some analysis, based on news reports or summaries, that the dissenting justices were "deferring to the legislatures", and furthermore that conservatives ought to be conflicted (Bob makes that point here). Take that with a large grain of salt, please. Sure, the dissenting justices start with this (P.161):
We are unable to agree with our four colleagues who would allow the appeal that such a debate can or should be resolved as a matter of law by judges. We find that, on the legal issues raised, the appeal should be dismissed.

But then they repeatedly, page after page, make political arguments. They further argue in P.214 that the Court owes the trial judge deference to her findings of fact and evaluation of expert testimony. Fair enough, but then they go on in P.242 to state this:
We therefore agree with the trial judge and the Quebec Court of Appeal that the appellants failed to make out a case of “arbitrariness” on the evidence. Indeed the evidence proves the contrary. We now propose to review briefly some of the evidence supporting the findings of the trial judge.

I'll defer to the lawbloggers here, but isn't this the judicial version of trying to have your cake and eat it, too? Either the evidentiary findings of the trial judge should be deferred to, or they should be re-examined - which is it? Seriously though: I can't believe someone could read the entire dissent and conclude that the Justices are attempting to "stay out of the way".

-- Rightwingers looking for something concretely positive in this ruling have this sentence from the concurring opinion, P.152:
When we look to the evidence rather than to assumptions, the connection between prohibiting private insurance and maintaining quality public health care vanishes.

Will politicians take note? Also read Deschamps in P.62-66; she stomps the standard pro-monopoly arguments into the ground.

-- It's appropriate that Colby Cosh, in his analysis, calls this "the most earth-shattering moment in Canadian jurisprudence since the Morgentaler ruling of January 28, 1988", because the majority opinion refers to that ruling frequently, and the dissenters object like hell. See P.43 and 118-121 for the majority opinion; P.259-264 for the dissent (under the sub-head, "The Morgentaler Case Is Not Applicable"(!)).

I look forward to reading other analyses. Please drop a comment if you object to any of my observations or conclusions.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Classic Kirchhoff Dept.

Snooping around Alberta Blogs, and following some nested links, I came upon this piece, which I can say with some confidence is the best thing I've ever read on the internet.

I linked to it once before, months ago, but quality like this is worth revisiting. Go read.
Attention, abortion lobby (which by the way includes me): since you apparently have the only successful American political franchise for the idea that adult humans own their own bodies, you may just possibly have a dog in this fight. Or perhaps I should go back and reread key feminist literature for the part where it says that this deed of ownership extends to the boundaries of the uterus, but grubbier organs like my colon are merely on lease from Uncle Sam.

Unfortunate Anniversary Dept.

Yesterday marked one calendar year since the last NHL game was played.

You should all consider yourselves lucky that I started this blog after that; you would have been subjected to frequent unhinged rantings about the Flames.

I happened to start playing hockey just outside of Calgary, at age 7, the year the Flames came to town. My Dad shared some season's tickets (until about 1999), so I got to go to games regularly at the old Corral, then the Olympic Saddledome, then the [insert name of soon-to-be bankrupt company here] Saddledome.

In September '03 I was offended that the Flames were listed as 85-1 to win the Stanley Cup (only Columbus was longer odds at 100-1), so I put down $10. It wasn't until after they beat Detroit that I really realized that my joy at a Flames Cup win would be complemented by $850, tax-free.

I was lucky enough to attend the Western Conference clincher against San Jose in the nosebleeds. Have I ever had a greater night? (My wedding reception was fun, but the best answer to this question is probably, "Not yet", and I'm pretty sure Mrs. Aldini would understand).

I actually used AutoCAD 3D to figure out if Gelinas' no-goal in Game 6 against the Lightning (that looked on TV like it was over the line, and would have won the Cup) was likely in or not. (The verdict: the refs probably made the right call).

It was a terrifically fun two months. So jeez - do I ever find it depressing to read about Tampa Bay and Calgary in last year's finals, and then be reminded that we haven't had the NHL for a year so that we can have a better system for Canadian and small-market American teams. Ugh.

Neighbourhood Watch dept.

I've been thinking for a while about a blog to add to the Mandatory Reading section in the sidebar, bringing it up to an even 10. The search is over - welcome to Sacamano at No Hugs And No Learning. Since it looks like he's running a "real blog", I'm happy to vault him straight up to the top level.

I am in fact privy to Sacamano's true identity - he is an old friend - and he should have lots of interesting things to say, as he has some really unique experiences.

The Seinfeld gimmick looks pretty promising, based on his very first post on the book tag meme. (Although I don't expect "No Learning" to actually be applicable to his meanderings; he's been a comments-lurker at this blog and many others, under a variety of handles, and has an admirably open mind).

Today he takes a characteristically non-hysterical look at performance-enhancing drugs in sport. I hope to take on this same topic soon; for now, let me just say that an absence of hysteria is the crucial first step towards making any sense of policy in this area.

I should also mention that I'm finally joining something - Alberta Blogs. I've been reluctant to do this kind of thing in the past (e.g. Red Ensign, Blogging Tories), because I have that semi-rational feeling that I want my takes to be judged on their merits, and not against the backdrop of a set of assumptions. Being on an Alberta Blogs list does no such thing, since I do live here, and it's noted at the top of my page - anyone who wants to assume I'm an Alberta crank already has ample reason to do so...

On top of that, my lowly status in the Ecosystem bruises my ego, and this is an obvious and immediate way to crank that up, maybe rising to the level of something with fur, rather than wings - or scales.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Laughing, lots of laughing

A. The London Fog says it well:
You can always look to Liberal communications firm CTV for creative headlines:

O'Brien's move triggers fears of election call

I love crap like this. You know if you asked the headline writer if s/he had considered, "O'Brien's move rekindles hope for early election", the writer would laugh ("Why would I write such a biased headline?" etc.). It's "right-wing think-tank" media syndrome. Actually, the other comparison these days is the NHL contract dispute: my local sports talk guys refer to Al Strachan & Larry Brooks as writers "on the players' side" all the time; have never once referred to a single writer as being "on the owners' side"; and then they claim they're "mad at everybody" and are neutral, i.e. above it all.

2. I think I've said this before, but the blogger with the best comments is Jim Treacher. This post is killer (I love the thought that someone has mentioned "Queen of the Space Unicorns" to Dan Rather's face).

D. Is there a sports fan in North America with internet access who wouldn't want to read this book? (ÞCosby Sweater)

Due respect to the Ecosystem, but as I understand traffic, Sports Guy is to Instapundit as Instapundit is to Jerry Aldini. It's also his first book, and it's on his favourite topic; if 2-3% of his Page 2 readers want to "pay him back" by buying his book, he's got a massive bestseller on his hands (hey, then maybe Rick Reilly can start taking shots at him!).

Monday, June 06, 2005

Huh?

I have no problem with "inclusive language". If people who, say, don't have the use of their legs want their condition referred to as "physically challenged" instead of disabled, or crippled, or whatever, I'm honestly happy to cooperate.

I do have a problem, though, when I read an article implying I should care about the public policy implications of some difficult condition, and because they exclusively use a new (to me) term, I can't figure out exactly what the hell it is they're talking about.

The Agitator is sad

Further to my previous comments, there is another reason why I no longer have any enthusiasm for getting the CPC elected. Most enthusiasm I ever had previously was based on the assumption that it was the best (or only) step towards smaller, more focused government - or at the very least a reduction in the government's growth rate.

Based on results below the 49th, that assumption is, and perhaps always was, false. To wit:
  1. Americans are generally more supportive/receptive to limited government rhetoric than Canadians.
  2. Republicans have controlled Congress for most of the past 10+ years, and the White House for the past 4+ years.
Despite this, the U.S. federal government is bigger and more intrusive than ever. Right-wingers are stuck either makinig excuses (e.g. Powerline), or barking at the moon, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

For a great example of the latter, see John Cole at Balloon Juice. Get a load of this list, in a post titled "So Much For What We Stand For":
Federalism- nope, don't need it.

Limited Government- nah- useless.

Fiscal Responsibility- forget it- outdated.

Tradition?- Whatever, loserboy.

Fair play?- For credit card companies, not for you.

State's rights- a quaint idea.

Separation of Church and State- Fuhgeddaboutit!

Limiting entitlement programs- nonsense!

Compassionate conservatism- meaningless buzzwords.

[...]

I expect that pretty soon the shills for the administration will be reading Dick Gephardt's old 'fair trade' speeches for justification for this. Exactly what does this party of mine believe in, really? I guess it can be summed up as this:

Money talks, and our bullshit walks.

Go to Cole's post for hyperlinks to all his examples. As for me, I can't think of one good reason why the CPC wouldn't be even worse.

I bring this up today because of the Supreme Court of the United States' affirmation that the federal government is allowed to prohibit people from growing small amounts of marijuana
  • in their own homes
  • for their own use
  • in accordance with their state laws
as a legitimate regulation of interstate commerce. For lots of details and angst-ridden analysis, go to Radley Balko's blog and just keep scrolling. Here's Clarence Thomas summing things up in his dissent:
If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything--and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.

It's the feel-good story of the summer! Pricks.

UPDATE: David BernsteinInstapundit):
...the Republican Congress is vying with the Democratic Congresses of the 1930's and 1960's as the biggest supporter of increased federal power in American history.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Finally, some good news...

Summer to be a hot one, says Weather Office - CTV.ca

Of course, this forecast is riddled with caveats. If only all civil servants could be as frank as Environment Canada's David Jones:
"I'm not trying to embarrass my organization at all, but you as a consumer of this information need to know that our skill at predicting precipitation over a long-range period is extremely low.

"In fact, honestly, we can't add much value to the forecast on precipitation."

Try to imagine substituting the word 'precipitation' here with 'compliance', or 'spending'.

sports, sports, sports, sports

Who's the frontrunner for 2005/06 NBA MVP? This is one of those questions where I think the correct answer is, "Who cares? I just want to watch it play out!"

The smart money is probably Lebron; he came in 6th this year, and has shown no signs that he's ready to stop improving. Tim Duncan is still my favourite player, and if you discount age (i.e. years remaining in career), I don't think you trade him straight up for anyone right now. Dwyane Wade is phenomenal.

But if he wants it, I think the guy to beat has got to be Amare Stoudemire. What a fantastic, fantastic basketball player, and he's only got 3 years in. (The Sports Guy has already anointed him the greatest roller off the pick-and-roll in NBA history). 42 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks last night, but it wasn't enough. I've got to get satellite so I can sign up for the Full Court package next season.

And speaking of The Sports Guy, he had an absolutely classic mailbag yesterday, highlighted by this:
Q: Did you injure anything jumping on Danica Patrick's bandwagon this weekend? – Jerry T., Roanoke, Va.

SG: I wrenched my neck a little but that was about it. Actually, my dad and stepmom were in town this weekend, and since my stepmom is a raging feminist, every time they showed the inside of Patrick's car, I muted the volume on the TV and pretended I was Patrick talking to her pit crew: "Look, I told you, I'm going as fast as I can! I can't drive when you're talking to me!!! Stop telling me how to drive!!! I'm going to pull over and get out right now, I swear to God!" That was more fun than the actual race.

(Come on, somebody has to make these jokes.)

The last letter in the bag was golden, too:
Q: Quick Vegas/Celebrity Story – My buddy Ralph and I are playing craps at the Hard Rock last weekend at the table next to Elizabeth Shue. Every time we rolled a pass we were screaming out "Ali, with an I!" After about 20 minutes, she looks over at my friend Ralph and says "Hey ... that joke. It's really not workin for ya." Ralph pauses, looks her right in the eye, and says "I really like your car Mrs. Larusso!"
– JT, Holmdel, N.J.

SG: Yup ... these are my readers.

I'm sure it's possible to wear out Karate Kid references, but if he hasn't by now, it'll probably never happen.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Desert Island Reading

Kate and Damian have tagged me. Excellent! This should give you all some real insight as to the inspiration for a lot of my deep political thinking.

Number of books I own: 200-ish. Well over half are sports-related, mostly biographies. My grandpa died in 1990; he was a big collector (accumulator?) of these types of books, and I was fortunate enough as a 16-year-old to come into possession of his sports library. (Some of it I could never "read", per se, but it's kind of incredible - I have a book called "How To Sprint" edited by Archie Hahn).

Last book I bought: Seabiscuit - Laura Hillenbrand. Anyone who has only seen the movie is really missing out.

Last book I read: Bud, Sweat, & Tees - Alan Shipnuck. He set out to write the tale of an unknown rookie on the PGA Tour; he picked Rich Beem, who went out and made the story go a little differently by winning one of his first tournaments. Good golf book, but I wouldn't call it great. A Good Walk Spoiled is still a better choice for giving you a really good impression of life on the Tour.

5 books that mean a lot to me: Very tough question, principally because I read much, much less than I once did. Here's five that I can think of now, I reserve the right to change my mind.

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl. The first real book I read by myself, as I recall. There's probably other Roald Dahl books I came to love more, but I'm really looking forward to introducing this one to my boys (and hoping Tim Burton doesn't cock it up this summer).

2. The Odyssey - Homer. I can think of precisely one book written more than 50 years ago that I really like, and this is it.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee. My favourite classic novel, although I'm a sucker for the setting, so I really couldn't tell you if it's objectively a fine work.

4. The Mad Men of Hockey - Trent Frayne. Awesome old-time hockey primer. The story about Eddie Shore's travails trying to get to a game in Montreal (which makes this [ahem, this] look like a carriage ride in Central Park) is probably the best sports anecdote I've ever read.

5. You Could Look It Up: The Life of Casey Stengel - Maury Allen. This is merely one of the many sports biographies I'm fond of, but it's certainly one of the best. Stengel was a very interesting fellow, and as a bonus, following his playing and managing careers takes you through the heart of 50 years of baseball history.

Who are five others whose answers to these questions I'd be interested in? How about Selley, Myrick, Nancy, Harlem Spanish, and my old friend Bob Sacamano -- maybe this will prompt him to post something. All those tagged should rest assured that my feelings will not be hurt in the slightest if you duck this meme.