Les Miserables Los Angeles

Some people don’t believe me when I tell them that a black man in Los Angeles has just been sentenced to 25 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread.

I don’t have a lot to say about something like this. Some things, like gun control, are quite debatable, though I still think the debate is one-sided, in terms of logic. But putting a homeless man in jail for 25 years for stealing a loaf of bread is beyond all logic and sanity and reasonableness. It will cost the State of California at least $1 million to keep this “threat” to society locked up. From a strictly economic point of view, how many of California’s politicians would have been willing to chip in $2.50 to buy the man a loaf of bread and save the taxpayer a million bucks?

How many of the legislators who voted for the “three strikes and you’re out” law go around pontificating about the decline of moral values in our society? What is a “moral” value? Locking up an indigent man because our society cares so damn little about the poor that we tolerate extreme poverty in our midst while squandering billions of dollars on new military toys for men who award themselves medals every time they fart in the direction of the enemy?

Only two states (California is one, I don’t know the other) apply the “three strikes and you’re out” law to non-violent crimes. Tom Hayden is trying to change the law in California but they say he doesn’t have the 2/3 votes he needs to do it.

If I were a cop in California and I was called in to arrest somebody for stealing a loaf of bread, I’d pay the shopkeeper the two bucks myself and turn the guy loose.

The Last Refuge of These Scoundrels

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has just approved a proposal to pass a constitutional amendment which would make it a crime to “desecrate” an American flag. The vote was 11-7. Who are the patriots? Who are the scoundrels?

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What is a flag? It’s a piece of cloth. That’s all. There is nothing sacred about a piece of cloth. Who is harmed by the “desecration” of a flag? No one. What utility does it serve to attribute such magical power to a symbol that the law must protect it from those who do not subscribe to it’s mystical power? None whatsoever. Unless you believe that it is a good thing when men are stirred by symbols to incomprehensible feelings of loyalty and devotion and are, then therefore susceptible to manipulation by evil men and scoundrels.

So the purpose of this law would be to protect the dainty affectations of scoundrels, who, as we all know, take refuge in patriotism. In other words, the purpose of this law is essentially religious. The flag is the bible, the cross, the alter of nationalism.

Nationalism is a religion. It’s values cannot coexist harmoniously with the values of any other mainstream religion. Nationalism demands of us greed, selfishness, and brutality. It demands that we place our interests first. It demands that we worship our ancestors who fought in wars. It demands uniforms and parades and brass bands and cemeteries and monuments and medals and solemn oaths and hymns and eyes teared over with myopic miasmic melodrama– crocodile tears– and myth and lies and “saints”. We always say that these “saints” sacrificed their lives for our noble cause. We act as if our armies are not equipped to kill and destroy, but to preserve life, even at the expense of their own lives.

We ask, are you willing to die for your country– as if this is a good idea– instead of the honest question: are you willing to kill for your country?

I know why militarists and nationalists love the flag. Because they are idiots. Anyone who has examined the history of western civilizations over the past 500 years cannot have missed the fact that nationalism is responsible for more carnage and evil than any other single factor. From Napoleon to Hitler to Stalin, humans have done more evil to each other in the name of nation and state than they ever did in the name of any other religion.

“Without a strong value system, our children cannot distinguish good from bad or right from wrong,” says Orrin Hatch, one of the Lewinsky conspirators, who may have a point here, but one that has nothing to do with flags.

The simple question is, what values is Orrin talking about?

Most of us agree that selflessness and the love of justice are good values. So is compassion, mercy, and toleration. Hatch’s logic is hypocritical: the exact purpose of a flag is to arouse patriotic fervor in the service of selfish nationalist impulses. A flag is used to stir patriotic feelings, and patriotic feelings are used to persuade men to join armies, where they are taught to act with aggression and strength, to obey orders without question, to kill for no reason known to themselves. In other words, to over-ride good values and replace them with bad values.

A constitutional amendment banning “desecration” of any national symbol is nothing less than an intrusion of the state into religion. If Orrin and the other Senators want to bow down and worship the flag, they are welcome to do so, in their own cathedrals, on their own time. Keep the government out of it.

The Festive Charlton Heston

In a letter, the N.R.A. president, actor Charlton Heston, said the group was canceling a gun show along with all other “festive ceremonies normally associated with our annual gathering.” The group was nevertheless going to hold its annual members meeting at the city’s convention center. From the New York Times, April 21, 1999

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“Festive ceremonies normally associated with our annual gathering”?????

This is Moses speaking. Moses also asserted that the massacre at Littleton, Colorado shows that every school should have armed guards. Governor of Minnesota and Wrestler Jesse Ventura agreed: “Had there been someone who was armed, in this particular situation, in my opinion, it may have stabilized.” But what does “stabilized” mean to a man who used to run around in tight underpants and throw chairs at people in masks?

Well, why stop at permitting concealed handguns? I think they should be obligatory. Just imagine: you’re at school. A couple of kids come in wearing black trench-coats with furtive expressions on their faces. You gonna wait to see what happens? Hell, no. Case closed. Incident ended. No more anxiety for all those parents sending their kids off to school in the morning– they can trust that everyone is well protected!

Wouldn’t you feel better knowing that your teenage daughter was at school, surrounded by a bunch of illiterate metal morons carrying concealed handguns?

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Think of how convenient that concealed hand-gun might be as well, next time you meet up with those hooligans from that rival football team across town, or that dorky teacher that failed you in Consumer Ed!

Charlton Moses Heston, interrupting his prayer breakfast (I kid you not) also said this: “If there had been even one armed guard in the school, he could have saved a lot of lives and perhaps ended the whole thing instantly.”

Errr…. according to the New York Times, Neil Gardner, of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s department, was in the school at the time, and was quite armed. In fact, sounds like he took a few shots and then cleared out as quickly as possible.

And I’m ashamed about the prayer breakfast bit. Deeply ashamed. Deeply, deeply, deeply. Everyone reading this should know that many, many Christians abhor violence and guns, and don’t consider a gun show to be a “festive” occasion, regardless of whether or not it opens with a prayer breakfast.

School Killers

I can’t think of any sensible thing to say when two students dressed in black trench coats bundle themselves up with explosive devices and guns and set out to achieve their 15 minutes of fame by killing as many of their classmates as they can. We think the world is a pressure-cooker out there in the Stock Exchange and the Bank Towers and the Emergency Wards– it’s a pressure-cooker out here too, in our vacuous suburbs, with our mall-rat status-rated designer running shoes and gilded suburban off-road super-trucks and Hollywood heroic bionic mega-metal men with laser guided killer stilettos whipping the forces of darkness without concept, idea, abstraction, or reflection, and our moral barometric Wall-Street pressure pages of translucent stock quotes: all on a race to achieve, obtain, impress and express, communicate and digitate in the soft blue glow of television on the sideboard at dinner with whatever molecules of your nuclear family are available tonight.

So a couple of boys in their color-drained coats mull over their failures and fantasies. Those girls with the curled blonde hair, up so early to remake their faces… those studs in the Tommy Hilfiger sweats reaping their squeals and nuzzling nipples with their slam-dunks and hail marys… those geeks in the turbo pascal class hacking their uncles pims and measuring their dicks for Harvardized condoms… those fay artistes craving exclusivity through obscurantism… those achievers with the part-time jobs and daddy’s RAV on the weekends and drinking parties and future flatulent frat freaks… those fundies with their pre-school bible studies and Samaritan smiles… the fat girls leaning with desperation… those skinny girls colluding behind their compressed lips… and you just can’t get the grease off your face or the smell off your fingers or lose that dull inviscerating impression that your life is going to end in one long interminable trailer park whimper. And so you trade it all in for your 15 minutes of fame, and you’re going to be bigger than fucking Charles Whitman or Richard Speck and you’re going to know it, for who’d have thought a few hours— hours and hours — who’d have thought it’d take the police that long to find you in this gleaming chromium diaphragm of literate washfulness, here, here in the library, with the brains of your class-mates splattered around you, here among the books of which you never finished a one without thinking it was small or irrelevant, here below the sirens, and the helicopters, and the cameras, and CNN With A NEW SPECIAL LOGO AND MUSIC just for you, my sweet, now that your immortality has bled down the wires and who’d have thought it would take them four hours to find out your blood wasn’t even hot enough to face down your own killers?

And I’m curious as hell about those last moments– not even alone, like Whitman in his tower– Charles, of course, not Walt– not even alone, as if there was something you could say to each other, like Jesus, we really showed them, didn’t we– and you wouldn’t probably even be quite so obvious as to say you have their attention now, would you? What were your last words to each other? Where have they gone? Where are they now? Where are the blondes and the geeks and the jocks and the brains and those oh-so-ephemeral have everything to die for most-popular and likely to succeed barbies and kens, who formerly, obliviously, oh so vacantly, surrounded us—- yes, they noticed.

“Our Whole School Year is Ruined”

“…our whole school year is ruined.” — student Casey Brackley

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I’m never sure what goes through the mind of Charlton Heston at a moment like this.

Charlton Heston is the president of the National Rifle Association. It is the stated aim of the NRA to prevent the slightest legal restriction from being imposed upon the ownership of almost any type of gun. I’m not exaggerating.

A naïve person might think that the NRA doesn’t know where to “draw the line”. The NRA doesn’t think automatic or semi-automatic assault rifles should be outlawed. It doesn’t think you should have to wait a day or two when you apply to get a handgun. It doesn’t think you should be held responsible if you leave a loaded gun sitting around somewhere and a child picks it up and accidentally kills another child. It is quite comfortable with the fact that you can get 30 years in prison for possession of five ounces of marijuana, but not even one day, if you happen to shoot someone who walks up your driveway one evening to ask directions, or if you happen to shoot your own daughter because she decided to hide in a closet and scare you when you came home late one evening. (Yes, both really happened.)

The NRA has a very strong presence in Colorado. Right at this very moment, the Colorado State Legislature is considering a law that would make it legal to carry a concealed handgun. Charlton Heston’s boys—I am not kidding – are already arguing that if only a teacher had had a concealed handgun, he could have put a stop the carnage immediately.

If a manufacturer made a product that was so defective that it caused injury or death, the lawyers would descend like flies and there would be billions of dollars in lawsuits. I’ve never understood why the parents of children who are killed by other children using guns that were stored carelessly or not at all don’t sue.

In the past several years, two children were killed in Pearl, Mississippi, five in Jonesboro, Arkansas, three in Moses Lake, Washington, two in Springfield, Oregon, and three in West Paducah, Kentucky. In almost all cases, they were killed by young males using weapons easily obtained from careless relatives or friends. I have not heard of a single lawsuit launched against the owners of the guns.

The law requires seatbelts in cars, pets on leashes, and litter in bags. For some bizarre reason, Americans have chosen to award special status to the gun. If you dropped it in a park, you could not be charged with littering. If you made the trigger so sensitive that a fart would set it off, you could not be subject to a safety inspection. If you sold it to a half-witted naked dwarf with a noose around his neck, you could not be held liable for anything.

I am also baffled by the police. Whenever a cop is killed in the line of duty, there is a massive funeral, with tributes to the courage, selflessness, determination, and virtue of the slain officers. But the 911 call from Columbine High School came at 11:30. Police arrived within minutes but did not enter the building until 12:30. They proceeded slowly, checking every knapsack and desk for bombs, and did not reach the library, where they found the bodies of the two killers, until 4:00 p.m. Clearly, some of the wounded teenagers died between 11:30 and 4:00 p.m. I don’t understand why they were left lying there, mortally wounded, while the police “secured” the perimeter.

Well, I do understand. The police were operating on the basis of conventional military strategy: you secure the area, quadrant by quadrant, before proceeding to the primary objective. That’s why they were in no hurry to stop the shooting. That’s why the students fleeing the building were practically arrested.

I don’t get it. Where was the courage and determination? There were hundreds of police surrounding the building, including agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Firearms, Tobacco, and Alcohol, yet two children with guns held a school of 1800 hostage. Were they thinking Waco?

When students were able to leave the building, the suddenly powerful and courageous police made them hold their hands up and chased them into a corner or lined them up against a wall so they could be frisked. Did they really think that the killers would try to escape with a gaggle of terrorized cheerleaders? It looked like Attica on television. It bothered me a lot. Some kids dress up in black and come into your school with guns and start shooting the place up. You think you’ve escaped, but then men dressed in black with guns make you put your hands on your heads and line up against a wall. Who decided that this procedure was suitable?

CNN, right after showing us the results of the carnage in Colorado, showed us some of the carnage in Kosovo. It left an indelible impression: man is a killer.

So, Charlton Heston, where are you now? How come you aren’t on CNN telling us that this is all the result of rock music or feminism or homosexual rights or declining morals or communist infiltration, and that guns have nothing to do with it?

Charlton would probably tell us that if only some of the victims had been armed…

And if you could ignore the past and the future and concentrate purely on the moment the two boys appeared in the cafeteria with their weapons and their empty grimaces, you might have a point. And then you would come to your senses and ask yourself if we are better off with everyone having a gun, or with no one having a gun.

How extreme is the NRA? They make it easy for us liberals. We don’t even have to argue that guns should be banned, to get the NRA upset. All we have to do is argue that guns should come with a child-proof lock, like aspirin containers, and that guns should be electronically disabled until the owner has entered his very own personal identification number. The NRA become apoplectic at the very suggestion!

Charlton Heston once played Moses, in the movie “The Ten Commandments”, one of the worst of the big-budget spectacles Hollywood liked to foist on us in the 1950’s and early 60’s. “The Ten Commandments” bore little resemblance to the real story in Genesis, just as the NRA’s vision of reality bears little resemblance to anything but a Hollywood spectacle.

Charlton Heston can shrug. It was just an unfortunate incident. I don’t think God shrugs.


Wouldn’t it be great if everybody had a gun
Wouldn’t it be great if everybody had a gun
Nobody’d ever get shot
‘Cause everybody’d have a gun
Wouldn’t it be great if everybody had a gun”

– The Arrogant Worms

Garbage Compaqter

My first experience with a Compaq computer must have been about ten years ago. A social service agency in Chatham had been persuaded, by MicroAge, to buy one Compaq’s “Deskpro” models. It had run pretty well for them for a couple of years, but when we needed to upgrade the memory for some new applications we wanted to run– surprise! You couldn’t just go to the computer store and buy a couple of off the shelf SIMMS. Oh no– you had to buy Compaq’s own proprietary memory modules. I’ll give you one guess as to which cost more. A lot more.

The Compaq representative tried to tell me that Compaq’s memory was more than twice as expensive because it was “better quality”. Leaving aside the question of whether or not any sane customer would be willing to pay $575 instead of $150 for memory that might be 1 nanosecond faster on a 386 computer, you have to ask yourself what Compaq really thinks of their customers.

That was the last time I recommended Compaq computers to anybody in a long time. I would guess that in the seven or eight years since I became aware of Compaq’s nasty tendency to booby-trap their hardware with proprietary devices (they even sometimes soldered memory onto the motherboard) my recommendations have been the deciding factor in about $200,000.00 of computer purchases. Maybe Compaq doesn’t care about the business they lost. They did pretty well anyway– until this year–, meaning that you can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time.

Don’t ask me why, but I recently recommended the Compaq notebook computer, an Armada 1700, to a few people. Lapse in judgment? I thought maybe Compaq had changed. Most of the computer press had given the Armada 1700 favourable reviews and I didn’t have time to review every detail, so I made a snap decision.

Surprise! Compaqs now come with built-in WINmodems. You know what a WINmodem is? Well, in the old days, a modem was a device that translated analog signals from a telephone line into digital information that was then forwarded to your CPU for processing. Well, the WINmodem offloads that translation function onto the CPU itself. This has a couple of wonderful effects. First of all, it adds work to your CPU, slowing down your computer. Secondly, it is proprietary to Windows– you can’t access this modem with Linux because Linux programmers aren’t stupid.

The real effect of WINmodems is to increase Microsoft’s death-grip on your desktop, and to add profits to the modem industry by making it cheaper for them to change models (they only have to rewrite the software: they don’t actually have to manufacturer new chips anymore).

Isn’t this a GREAT idea? No wonder Compaq embraced it!

There is nothing on the advertising or system information that comes with the Compaq notebook that tells you that you are getting a WINmodem. You have been suckered.

I called Compaq about a week after I received a Presario 1920 with this problem. I explained that I had been tricked: I had expected a real modem. I wanted to return my Presario for a similar model with a real modem. The technical support guy, who was polite at all times, said that Compaq did not make any notebook computers that did not have a WINmodem. Fine, I said, I’ll take my money back and go shopping for a brand (like Sony) that does have a real modem.

Unfortunately, Compaq said– in polite, but firm language: SUCKER! WE ALREADY HAVE YOUR MONEY! Even though the computer was less than 2 weeks old, there was no way that Compaq was going to take it back.

I said to the technical support guy something to this effect: A week ago you told me (figuratively) that this was such a wonderful, valuable, noble notebook computer that was worth every penny of what you were asking for it. In only one week, is it now so worthless that even Compaq doesn’t want it? There was a long silence on the other end of the line.

There are a couple of other reasons to dislike Compaq Notebooks:

Compaq has their own version of Windows and makes dire threats of evil consequences if you dare to install any other.

Compaq loads the notebook with tons of advertising and software for AOL, GENIE, MSN, and other on-line services. This is YOUR hard drive we’re talking about.

Compaq advertises a 6.4 GIG hard drive, but 1.5 GIG is taken up with something called “System Save”. Apparently, you can delete it if you want to, but, once again, you get dire warnings about potential problems.

Compaq’s installation CD over-writes everything on the hard drive. So, let’s say your Windows 98 gets buggered up somehow. Normally, you could try reinstalling it over your current system. If that fails, you can delete the Windows directory and try reinstalling again. Either way, you get to keep your precious data and configuration files. But Compaq’s install disk OVER-WRITES everything on your hard drive!

Here’s the biggest idiocy of all: due to overwhelming consumer demand, Compaq has decided to do away with the OFF switch. I kid you not. Compaq is so sure that Windows 98 is going to work just great that they have left it up to Bill Gates’ malevolent mishmash of mushy modules to shut your computer off.

How fool-proof is this? Within three hours, my Presario would no longer shut off. I called technical support. They said to hold the button down for four seconds. No dice. They said try again. Try again. Try again. Finally, he put me on hold and went off seeking advanced expertise. The advanced expert advised me to unplug the thing and pull out the battery. Brilliant! This approach has the advantage of possibly corrupting your systems files, requiring a re-install of Compaq’s proprietary Windows and the destruction of all of your data.

Finally, after about six or seven hours of use, my Compaq Presario 1920 began to lock up while running Word for Windows. Again, I am not kidding. A brand new 300 Mz. Pentium notebook computer with 64 MB of RAM locked up within six hours of use. And before it locked up, it began to thrash and hesitate: I would be typing away and the keyboard would be locked out while the CPU ran off to lala land. When it locked up, not even ctrl-alt-delete could revive it. Dead meat. Lost work. Thank you, Compaq. Thank you Microsoft.

Labatts Blues

Monkey See…

The Labatt’s Brewing Company of Canada recently ran an ad in which the two male characters were cleaning out their garages. One of them took an old “Yield” sign to the road for disposal; the other took an old “Stop” sign. Apparently, the two men had “grown up” and put youthful indiscretions behind them, including, presumably, the theft of traffic signs.

Now that they were grown up, they could be suckered into drinking Carlsberg Beer by stupid tv ads.

Well, why not? If a tv ad can persuade you to commit a criminal act–as every two-bit pundit in the wake of the Colorado shootings believes– it can probably sell you some beer too.

Six viewers of the Labatt’s Carlsberg ad were so alarmed by this implied endorsement of theft that they contacted Advertising Standards Canada and complained. As a result, Labatt’s pulled the ad. Six viewers. Six.

In another Labatt’s ad last year, a woman changes her clothes in a taxi. When she arrives at her destination, the driver flips the meter over– indicating that he was not going to charge her for the trip. Someone complained about this ad too, and Labatt’s, ever the responsible corporate citizen, edited the ad. In the new version, the the driver does not cancel the fare.

Notice, they did not change the part about the woman undressing in the back seat of a taxi (red light, anyone?). They merely removed the implication that the taxi driver had rewarded her for the peep show.

Am I alone here in thinking this is a little bizarre? Right after this or any other ad is shown, regular tv programming resumes, with it’s usual cornucopia of murder, rape, arson, drug abuse, and assault. “Trainspotting” ran recently, showing all of the above. If Advertising Standards Canada is trying to say that people may emulate the behaviour of people they see on TV, what about regular tv programming?

And why has nobody complained about car ads that show drivers speeding down the highway, obviously in excess of the speed limit? Why are they allowed to brag about the power of their engines? What’s the point of that power? You’re trying persuade someone to buy your car because it goes fast? Why? Are there cars on the road that can’t reach the speed limit?

What about the ads that imply that teenagers can become popular by smearing chemicals on their faces? What about that guy who likes getting hit on the face with a puck? What about those Nike ads that endorse a ruthless attitude towards sports?

Pull them all, I say.

Blue Jays 1999

Look out Yankees!
The Ripken Curse Continues
Ask Not for Whom the Belle Tolls.

The best division in baseball right now is the American League East, and the best team in the American League East is the New York Yankees. In fact, a lot of baseball writers have already wrapped up the championship and handed it to the pinstripers.

Not so fast. Will the Yankees repeat?

Well, they look pretty solid. But the Yankees last year didn’t really have a single player who was as good as Sosa, McGuire, Griffey, or Roger Clemens. (This year, they have Roger Clemens.) So why did they win so many games? Almost every player in their line-up had a great year. Paul O’Neill, David Wells, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez…. That’s what happened to Minnesota in ’91, and the Blue Jays in ’93. They had a bunch of players that simply had a great year at the same time.

The Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 on talent. That was different. They had the best players and these players played the way they were expected to. They deserved to win. But in 1993, the Blue Jays—a completely different team (minus Gruber, Key, Henke, Winfield, Morris; plus Molitor, Henderson, Sprague, Fernandez)—won because a lot of their players had career years. Philadelphia was in the World Series that year for largely the same reason. Atlanta lost to Philadelphia in the playoffs because the best talent does not always win.

The bottom line: you win in baseball when you have enough talented players having good years to beat the other team’s talented players having good or so-so years. Without the raw talent on the bench, all the grit and determination in the world is not going to take you anywhere.

Injuries are not as critical as reporters would have you believe. The difference between the best first baseman in the league (Mark McGuire) and an average first baseman is not the difference between 70 homeruns and no homeruns. It’s the difference between 70 homeruns and 40 homeruns. Over an entire season, that is ¼ homerun a game. How many games are decided by one or less runs? How many of those games would have ended differently had Mark McGuire been at first base instead of John Olerud? Not as many as you might think. That’s why St. Louis didn’t even make the playoffs. Mark McGuire alone isn’t going to get you there. I’m not saying he isn’t effective– I’m just saying that he can’t do it alone.

I’m not sure the Yankees are going to be as fortunate this year as they were last year. The Yankees have three or four great players this year: Clemens, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Ramiro Mendoza. Then they have a string of superior players, including Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neil, Livan Hernandez, and Chuck Knoblauch. Well, yeah, the truth is, that’s a pretty impressive line-up. Cone and Hernandez can pitch, but Cone is 34 now and not as strong as he used to be. Pettite can pitch, but is he healthy? Jorge Posado is young and strong—how good will he be in September?

Well it’s early. They’ve picked up where they left off. They will play pretty well at times this season. But I’m not sure that, over the stretch of 162 games, this line-up is quite as durable as many people think it is. Most people never noticed it, but the Yankees were not the best team in baseball, or even in the American League, over the last two months of the 98 season: the Blue Jays were. And the Blue Jays whipped the Yankees in September.

I don’t expect Boston to continue their string of early success. After all, they are Boston. After Martinez, the pitching is pretty thin, and with the injury to Noamar Garciaparra and the absence of Mo Vaughn, they’re going to finish no better than third. More likely they’ll finish fourth. [this was written before Boston lost 4 straight].

Baltimore chose to spend big bucks on free agents, but, as usual, spent the money on players who were well-known for having had great years in the past. The trick is to spend that kind of money on players who are about to have great years, like Chris Carpenter, or Vladimir Guerrero. Baltimore will finish fourth.

This is why Montreal often does much better than expected: their scouts and coaches are good at identifying players who are going to command big salaries because they play well. That is why Baltimore is so BAD. Their coaches and scouts are really good at identifying players who have already had their best years, and, therefore, are in decline. In fact, they have an icon of a role-model right there on 3rd base: Cal Ripken, the most vastly over-rated player in the league.

Can you believe that the Dodgers signed 34-year-old Kevin Brown for 7 years for $85 million? Is this some kind of joke? Brown won’t be around for five years, let alone seven. Let’s say Brown, like almost every other pitcher in the history of the game, begins to lose his effectiveness in three years. What are you going to do? How are the Dodgers going to be able to pay replacement talent when they’re on the hook for $10 million a year for a pitcher who can’t play?

The Blue Jays have the pitching and offence to threaten even the Yankees, provided that one or two players like Jose Cruz and Alex Gonzalez have breakthrough years. I think it was a mistake to let Canseco go and then bring in Geronimo Berroa. I thought Canseco had reached a new stage in his career where he might avoid stupid injuries and provide a productive bat from the DH spot. I don’t like Canseco’s strikeout ratio but he will probably hit another 40 homeruns this year, and that is enormous offense, and who needs Geronimo Berroa? Still, the Blue Jays have Delgado, Greene, and Stewart, and Fletcher is a solid catcher. Tony Fernandez proved last September that he is still one of the best clutch hitters in the game, and Alex Gonzalez may be one of the two or three best defensive shortstops in the league. When your fifth starter leads the league in ERA and you have to put a guy who had a no-hitter going into the 9th inning last fall (Roy Halladay) into the bullpen, you’ve got a chance to scare a few people.

When the Yankees play Minnesota, you have about $80 million in talent playing about $8 million. There is no way that baseball is going to remain competitive with this kind of system, unless we get more owners like Marge Schott and Peter D’Angelos. But most owners are smarter than they used to be. George Steinbrenner used to squander all his money on players like Joe Girardi and Jesse Barfield. Lately, he squanders his money on players like Chuck Knoblauch and Bernie Williams instead. Why should the fans in Minnesota continue to pay $30-$50 to come out and watch their team get pummeled by athletes that make ten times as much as their players do? What chance do they have?

A word about Cal Ripken. I said many years ago that Baltimore will never win a championship as long as Cal Ripken is on that team. It was not so much that he was a bad player (though he was vastly over-rated) as it was that the entire culture of the Baltimore Orioles baseball club, with fawning owner Peter D’Angelos, centred on THE STREAK rather than THE WORLD SERIES. The focus of the team was Ripken’s achievements, not Baltimore’s. So what does Baltimore do in the off-season? They sign Albert Belle and Will Clark! They let Roberto Alomar, one of the two or three most valuable all-round players in the game, slip away to Cleveland (which is 8-1 or something as we speak).

I also find Ripken rather phony anyway. He goes around acting modest and self-effacing, while he sucks up to all the media attention like a leech. How much do you want to bet that when he retires he’s going to get one of these grand tours of all the major league cities? For classy exits, see Wayne Gretzky. “Hello? Sunday’s my last game. Nice seeing you.”

If the Blue Jays are in contention come August, look for them to trade a prospect or two for a DH or, possibly, a closer. I’m not convinced by Person yet. I liked Escobar there more. Look for Atlanta to try to talk Montreal out of Urbina. They’d be stupid not to try.

The Clampetts are Here

Oil Man

Who owns oil? Oil comes from living material in marshlands and swamps that has been squeezed deep into the earth for millions of years. Some of this material becomes coal. Some of it becomes oil.

So who owns it? The oil companies find this oil, buy some land on top of it, and then suck it dry, like giant mechanical vampires. But oil does not exist in a straight vertical column. It is spread out way down there. It spreads under land that does not belong to oil companies. But our governments have agreed to allow oil companies to suck the oil out from wherever they want, as long as they have the “rights” to a surface area nearby. It is sort of “finders keepers”.

Capitalists think this is great. They think that since the oil company had the initiative and risk-taking bravado to go out there and find the oil, that they should have the right to sell it. What they are really selling is millions of years of organic and geological processes. All of these took place before we walked upon this earth. They belong to everyone, including future generations, and they should be treated more that way. The next time the oil companies holler about “deregulation”, think about that.

In the poor half of the world, corrupt politicians and generals sell their nations’ lifeblood to the West for a mere pittance. We consume most of it and fill the earth with our pollution. We are destroying the ozone. Oil tankers run aground destroying wild-life habitats. Our cities are so infested with automobiles that rush hour now extends from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm.

The Americans are also thinking a lot about water lately. They will need a lot of it in the coming century. There are thousands of golf-courses in California alone. Where is it going to come from? Hey, there’s a bunch of big lakes up here! Let’s just stick a nozzle in one end and pipe it all down to Arizona! You Canadians don’t need to worry: we’ll only take the water that’s on our side.

Ontario Hydro Tarts

Ontario Hydro Tarts Up

I don’t know about you, but I have to work for my wages. I actually have to show up at an office and do something useful. It is very clear to me that if I don’t produce anything of value to my employer, I will be fired.

On the other hand, there is Paul Rhodes. Paul Rhodes is a consultant to Ontario Hydro. Ontario Hydro was worried that people might think that just because hydro costs have increased every year since time immemorial, and just because our nuclear power plants break down occasionally, people might think that Ontario Hydro doesn’t care about the environment.

Well, what’s the solution? Ontario Hydro could actually care about the environment. Ontario Hydro could develop some internal policies about preventing damage to the environment. They could allocate a few million dollars to a department responsible for ensuring compliance with environmental protection laws. They could even work on new ways of running cables that would be less disruptive to the migratory habits of the creatures the live in the forests of Ontario.

But, hey, consultants don’t get big bucks for stating the obvious!

Or, they could just spend a few million dollars on an advertising campaign.

“If Ontario Hydro is to successfully present a more proactive positioning on environmental protection it should be prepared to commit adequate resources to a paid media/advertising campaign.” Wow! That’s what Paul Rhodes recommended. Gee. How did Ontario Hydro manage find a great thinker like Paul Rhodes? Well, it turns out that Paul Rhodes is a friend of Ontario Premier Mike Harris.

Paul Rhodes was paid $255,000 for a 10-page report. The report recommended that Ontario Hydro spend more money on advertising to convince the public that they care about the environment.

I wish I had a job like that. I wish Mike Harris would be my friend. Mike Harris wants to cut taxes and save the Ontario taxpayer lots of money. Here I am, Mike: I would have been quite willing to work for a mere $100,000, to create a report of the same breath-taking simplicity, elegance, and intelligence. Here it is: spend more money on advertising. Done. You can pay me now. Not only did I give you good advice, but I saved you the trouble of reading through the entire 10 pages of Paul Rhodes’ report.