This is nothing new.

Most agree that advertisers and political agenda holders will try to mislead us with statistics and emphasis. Indeed, the statement “You can use statistics to prove anything” has been around for a long time to capture our general frustration with the misuse of facts and figures. I think it should be noted, though, that numbers, themselves, are innocent. They are mere quantififactions of mini-factoids, and so in reality, they cannot prove anything you want—but, with clever emphasis (or non-scientific collecting of them), they can be used to imply flawed conclusions.

For instance, a reporter who is assigned to do a story that demonstrates the (alleged) substandard play of the local sports team will take the team’s following list of results—


—and, from one side of their mouth, say that the team is playing so poorly that it has only won two of its last ten games. But if the same scribe is asked by their editor to demonstrate that the team has fared well, then he or she will happily note, from the other side of their mouth, that the team has impressively only lost two of its last ten games.

In reality, when tabulated without emphasis, the statistics are perfectly clear that the team has fared exactly evenly (2 wins, 2 losses, 6 ties) in their last 10 games. The numbers did nothing wrong! The blame should be squared at the interpreter of those stats who cruelly abused their earnest willingness to help and emphasized only the part that seemed on the surface to support their conclusion.

Thus, in defence of statistics—which, when compiled scientifically, are innocent figures, who just want to depict their environment as accurately as possible—I have collected over the past few weeks some examples of emphasis gone wrong:

(A) “The 53 year-old grandfather of two”:

In a recent feel-good story, a reporter was trying to emphasize the impressiveness of a man’s swim across some great distance—especially since he was older than the average practitioner of such an activity. Apparently, the man’s 53 years on their own didn’t sound old enough, so the journalist referred to him as a “53 year-old grandfather of two.” My understanding, though, is that there is no evidence to indicate that 53 year-old grandfathers of two are any older than 53 year-old grandfathers of one, who in turn have not been shown to be any older than 53 year-olds, in general.

(B) “We’ll cover the tax on your purchase”:

It seems on the surface here that retailers are simply trying to capitalize on their customers’ general tax resentment, and so are saying:

“I’m on your side: I’m going to cancel out the tax.”

But, in fact, if they had simply given a discount equivalent to the tax rate, they would have saved the customer more money:

If, for instance, an item cost $100 and the tax rate was 10%, then—before the discount—the total price of the purchase would have been $110. But the noble anti-tax warrior is covering that total tax of $10, so the consumer only pays $100. In contrast, if the company had simply given a 10% discount on the purchase, the pre-tax price would have been $90, which—taxed at 10%—would be $99 total.

Not a remarkable distinction in such a small purchase, but when I recently overheard a car company boasting that they would cover the tax for their beloved consumer, their tax-hating friendship seemed particularly expensive (on a $15,000 car, the distinction between “covering a 10% tax” and “giving a 10% discount” would be $150, i.e. $1500 savings vs. $1650).

(C) “Three-time boxing champion”:

In most sports, to be a three-time champion means that you have three times gone into a championship tournament and won. So the more-time champion you are, the better. In the boxing world, however, the “times” are calculated differently because, in that world, you stay the champion until someone defeats you. So, when you first win, you’re a one-time champion. If you lose your belt and regain it, then you become a two-time champion. Thus, someone who never loses their championship will end their career as a one-time champ, while someone who loses it twice and regains it twice is a three-time champion. This is still impressive, but—unlike in other sports—being a three-time champion is not necessarily better than being a two-time champion.

Nevertheless, when advertising the appearance of a champion boxer, promoters will universally capitalize on the phrase “3-time champion” as though it means the same superior result as it would in other sports.

(D) “The lowest/highest paid X in the country”:

Politicians enjoy defending or criticizing social facts in their own jurisdiction by comparing them to adjacent neighbourhoods. For instance, to prove that BC’s rate of X is too high or low, they’ll say, “BC has the third most/least X in the country” (as compared with the other nine Canadian provinces).

Such a factoid presumes two things:

(1) that there is a significant difference between the highest and lowest, and

(2) that if X is the most, it must, by definition, be too high, and if it is the lowest, it must be too low.

In fact, it may be that, even though Canada, let’s say, gives the most per capita of any country in North America to fighting curable diseases in Africa, a moral philosopher still has the right to argue that we should be giving more. Meanwhile, even though a certain population may be the worst paid in their profession in the country, that doesn’t necessarily mean that, ethically, they’re underpaid. Maybe Canada as a whole pays a lot for that profession, and so even the tenth-rated province may still pay pretty well. Similarly, Shakespeare’s “worst” play isn’t necessarily bad. It may still be better than most of us could write.

(E) “50% percent more”:

Anytime someone compares an increase only by percentage, it’s likely that they realize the numbers on their own aren’t impressive enough to compel us. If, for instance, the Canucks are penalized six times compared to with the rival team’s four times in a hockey game, the difference doesn’t sound particularly significant. So our beloved GM Mike Gillis would prefer to say:

We were penalized 50% more times than the opposition!

Wow, that sounds like a lot!

Percentage comparisons, I’m sure, can be useful, but when they’re used without the numbers to justify them, I can’t help wondering what the presenter of them is trying to hide.

(F) “People who do X, tend to…”:

I recently heard an advert on TV for multi-grain cereals stating that those who eat multi-grain foods tend to weigh less. Clearly, the cereal seller is hoping that we will notice this correlation and assume causation:

“It must be the multi-grains that are causing those people to weigh less, so, if I eat them, there’ll be less of me, too!”

In fact, of course, it may simply be that the person who eats multi-grains tends to care about their health, and so tends to do other things for their health as well—such as exercising more often—which in turn may be the actual cause of their leanness.

Obviously, this correlation vs. causation distinction—as with all of my examples—is no great epiphany. We all know that advertisers, politicians, and interest groups manipulate the numbers for their greater good. Moreover, numbers, themselves, will rarely be perfect representations given that the collectors of statistics can so easily over-focus on particular groups or ask leading questions. But at least the statistics’ governing body—the scientific method—aims in good faith to cull such errors in collection. In contrast, the quoting, referencing and emphasizing of particular statistics without considering their context and complexity seems to be occurring without a police officer.

So, for the sake of promoting the integrity of statistics, in general, I think it’s worth pointing out these deceptions whenever we see them so that the well collected and well-defined facts can stand out as the sincere creatures that they are.


SETHBLOGS UPDATE: Against my better preference, I must admit that this 2011 Sethblogs’ reaction to the Vancouver riots (in response to my Vancouver Canucks losing the Stanley Cup) was grounded much more in my biased suspicions than in evidence. SethBlogs argued in the post that the behaviour of anarchistic hockey players may have assisted in spawning the anarchistic behaviours of rioters. After all, I grew up assuming that violent video games and movies promoted violence amongst youth, so why wouldn’t bad on-ice behaviours in turn provoke bad fan behaviours?

Sadly, I’m now led to understand that scientific research does not substantiate a causal relationship between violent video games/movies and societal violence. In my meagre defence, sports may be distinct from those fictional productions because athletes are real people, and so young viewers may see them as role models, and so may be more likely to be tempted to model themselves after such elite public figures. However, I now recognize that my confidence in such a possibility was biased by my dislike for the bad behaviours of certain hockey players, which provoked me to infer a link where there may not be one.

As one of the commenters on the post brilliantly put it, maybe the bad behaviour “is something the hockey players symbolize, perhaps rather than causing.”

Nevertheless, I’m not deleting the post (A) because it’s a rare historical artifact of me being wrong ;), and (B) because I still agree with both my mocking of poor hockey player behaviour and poor hockey fan behaviour (I’m just no longer so confident that there’s a link between them).

SethBlogs, April 2021

Now that it’s been nearly a month since Vancouver hosted the Stanley Cup Final with a riot for dessert, I think it’s time I finally let everyone know why the mayhem happened. Well, truth be acknowledged, I did share this opinion with more than one newspaper op-ed department, but none saw fit to publish it (I like to think that’s because I hit a nerve of Canadian truth that was too dangerous to print on their pages, but you have my permission to consider other reasons). Luckily, I have an “in” with the SethBlogs op-ed department.

In the week since the Vancouver riots, the consensus seems to be that a compilation of insidious factors (anarchists mixed with alcohol-infused crowds, along with insufficient police numbers) made Vancouver the perfect target for this storm. Few seem willing to consider the possibility that the hockey, itself, may have aided the proliferation of rage.

The civilized majority of us, of course, did not riot, and so—like a collective parent—have been left shame-faced as we tell the international community:

“This isn’t who we are!”

Hundreds of locals came downtown the day after the mayhem to help clean up. Wooden walls—put in place of the smashed windows of brutalized businesses—look like children’s casts covered with notes from people expressing post-riot depression.

Phrases such as “This wasn’t us” and “This isn’t hockey” provoke passersby to smile, but what makes us so confident that hockey violence didn’t contribute to the riot mentality?

During the playoffs, fans of all ages seemed to cheer every Canuck whether they played with sportsmanship or not. I was in the downtown crowd that watched the infamous between-play-scrum in which Alex Burrows appeared to bite his opponent. Many fans applauded the would-be cannibal like a hero. I suspect the anarchists were cheering, too.

Pleas for vandal accountability, meanwhile, dominate Vancouver radio. Concerned citizens set up websites for witnesses to post their pictures for others to “tag” with names of villains. A 17-year-old boy “turned himself in” after evidence of him assaulting a Louis Vuitton store was published. His tears of regret reminded me of the sorrow that Todd Bertuzzi expressed after his infamous on-ice neck-breaking attack of hated rival, Steve Moore.

This notion that consequences beget responsibility could be right, but we may have difficulty explaining to our misguided youth why there aren’t always similar consequences for their favourite hockey players’ misdeeds.

Many blame the youths’ action on a sense of entitlement, which they apparently acquired from a lack of disciplined parenting. Indeed, it’s difficult to refute that kids who grow up in luxury sometimes expect so much for themselves that they’re willing to trample on the very civilization that has pampered them merely to secure some bonus stimulation. But is entitlement worse in Vancouver than in non-riotous North American cities that have also suffered the indignity of defeat?

Throughout the playoffs, various on-ice “rats”—as they’re affectionately dubbed by announcers—have attempted to agitate and intimidate their opponents with assorted cheap shots. Only in hockey are such characters lauded as “key ingredients” to winning. No other popular North American sport celebrates its athletes for physically antagonizing each other between plays and outside the rules of the game.

Given that such wild behaviour is sanctioned by the hockey culture, should we be surprised—after the intense competition of game 7—that passionate young Canucks enthusiasts, spurred on by increased testosterone and alcohol, might feel justified in bullying Bruins’ fans?

Mayor Robertson says the riot was a carefully crafted collection of chaos courtesy of anarchists, who brought Molotov cocktails to the event. Once they lit the match, the alcohol-soaked crowd provided the fuel that rapidly fostered a mob mentality. Robertson may be right that the riot was premeditated by a small group of chaos seekers, but the instigators were only so successful because they exploited the tools available to them, one of which was the ready-aggression of young people—which perhaps was ramped up and normalized by two months of watching angry competition.

In most cultures, young people are a combustible substance. Vancouver probably doesn’t have a greater percentage of hooligans than other cities, so—as we rightly question the parenting skills and security levels that could have contained our youths’ unearned rage—we might also ponder the sort of role models we are placing on a pedestal in front of them. The Canuck players have said they are disappointed in the actions of these “false” fans: maybe they should ask themselves why their own names are on the backs of the jerseys of the criminals.


As my Vancouver Canucks plot to win their first Stanley Cup tonight (or break our hearts trying), I am reminded of the Canucks who have reached for the Cup before them.

Dave Babych, who monitored the Canucks’ defensive zone from 1991-1998, recently said that, although he has never seen fit to touch the Cup in the past (since he never won it), if this year’s Canucks acquire the prize, he will likely ask to get his picture with Stanley, because, after all, he is a Canuck.

I find this to be Canuck-soul-warming. In 1994, I watched my childhood heroes come within a goal of tying for the Stanley Cup as they instead lost to the New York Messiers’ three to two goals by Trevor Linden (1988-1998, 2001-2008). Since then, songs of “What might have been?” have played in my hockey psyche, as I’m sure they did for the 1982 Canuck fans who watched our team—led by Stan Smyl (1978-1991) and King Richard Brodeur (1980-1988)—get trounced in the Finals by the New York Islanders.

So, if 2011’s edition wins our first ever championship, does that vindicate those teams that came close before?

Simplistically speaking, a hockey team evolves like a person. Even though every year, the cells that comprise us change, there seems to be a consistent consciousness that flows through the beast. Many of the current Canucks, for instance, played with Trevor Linden, who battled along side Stan Smyl, who played with star defenceman Dennis Kearns (1971-1981), who, like Smyl, spent his entire NHL career with the team, including two with the Canucks’ first ever draft pick, Dale Tallon (1970-1973). And that’s just one eligible line. Any player you can think of—I like to recall my first favourite, Tony Tanti (1982-1990)—fits within this great series of overlaps.

The six degrees of separation between every Canuck player does my Canuck heart good as I imagine that retiring leaders from teams gone by probably passed along wisdom to the new stars. Indeed, if the Sedins are able to share a Cup of Stanley tonight, I suspect they will recall Markus Naslund’s (1996-2008) tutelage, who will surely remember something Cliff Ronning (1990-1996) said to him the season that they overlapped for 8 games, and so on.

This is all nice and Canuck-warming, but I want something more: I’m looking for proof that the heroes of the past have contributed to the DNA of today’s edition. After much internet-searching, I believe I have found the master gene that runs through our Canucks.

His name is Pat Quinn.

In 1970, Pat Quinn was an original Canuck player—he and his famous elbows participated in 133 games before moving to Atlanta to work on his plan for Vancouver. In 1987, Quinn emerged from his Pat-cave to become the Canucks’ President and General Manager (bringing along his sidekick, Brian Burke, to be the Director of Hockey Operations). In 1998, Quinn drafted our hero Trevor Linden, who—along with a magnificent career with the team—would later beget Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe in a 1998 trade with the New York Islanders. McCabe (along with a draft pick) would then beget a Sedin, when 1999 GM Brian Burke—who had 2nd overall pick in the draft, traded for the 3rd overall pick—so that he could select both Daniel and Henrik Sedin at the same time. Meanwhile, the other half of the Linden deal, Bertuzzi (after some excellent work and occasional brutality with the club) eventually begat Roberto Luongo in a 2006 trade by Burke’s best friend and replacement, Dave Nonis.

In short, without Canuck original Pat Quinn’s master planning, the team would have only 50% of a Sedin pair and 0% of a Luongo (and we’ve all seen what happens when Luongo doesn’t show up for a game). So, yes! If the Canucks win tonight, fans of the team from 1970-2011 will be vindicated. It may have taken some genetic counseling to get the combination, but this group would not exist without those who played before them.

Go all Canucks, go!


As we gather around our televisions to witness the Vancouver Canucks vs. the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, we will hear—with increasing frequency—about the beauty and honour that the referees could bestow on the game if only they would “let the players play!” I couldn’t agree nor disagree more.

By “letting them play,” Canada’s leading alpha human and CBC commentator, Don Cherry—amongst many other hockey aggression protectors—means that the NHL referees should, as much as possible, keep their whistles out of the games and not call so many penalties. To his way of thinking, such red tape disrupts the players’ ability to decide the contests via their own grit and determination.

Cherry apparently sees hockey as a test of heart and aggression, so that—when one player “illegally” fouls another in the joyful pursuit of that great good—the referee should most of the time ignore the infraction so as not to stunt the beauty of the battle.

After all, if a player crosses a line in the rules while seeking his gritty dream, and we punish him for it with a sanction that could hurt his team, then we will force the player to pull back his heart-felt play to avoid further reducing his team’s chances. To the hockey-is-war fan, such restrictions are obscene: the referees’ egos, they claim, are ruining game!

But what about the skill of the game? Some of us come to hockey broadcasts because—along with impressive physical confrontations—we love exquisite stick handling demonstrations and deft passing plays, but every time a grunt athlete illegally obstructs one of our athletic Einsteins, he limits the skill players’ ability to play their game.

Since the early 1990s, when Gretzky and Lemieux roamed the rinks and the goals flowed like Cherry wine, NHL scoring has reduced significantly. In fact, by 2005, the game had become a little dull to many viewers, which provoked the NHL to set up a competition committee to investigate ways to allow the skill players more room to demonstrate their talent.

For instance, one of the many resulting rules is that players in the defensive zone can no longer throw the puck over the sideline glass to stop the play: if they do so—intentionally or not—they will leave their team shorthanded for two minutes. Don Cherry is a leading critic of this rule.

“The players don’t mean to do it,” he has ranted many times.

Instead, he argues, such players are simply trying to get the puck out of danger by banking it high off the side wall, but sometimes they accidentally shoot it too high, and so it goes out of play.

This argument implies, first of all, that the players would never purposely throw the puck out of the play because it would be unsporting. Has Cherry met the NHL mentality?

This is a league made of goalies who are applauded if they can “accidentally” knock their own nets off their moorings so as to stop the play if they think they’re about to be scored on. (“Nice veteran move,” commentators will then cheer, as though winning is an intrinsic good regardless of the rules broken to achieve it). Indeed, in a sport that salutes the motto, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” of course players would intentionally throw the puck out of play in order to save a goal! They’d tackle their opponent every time they touched the puck if they thought they could get away with it.

Second, now that the league penalizes playing for knocking the puck out of play while on defence, Cherry’s surely right that they’re not doing in on purpose (anymore), but that doesn’t make it an unworthy interjection of rules. Instead, we now have a situation where such players either don’t have sufficient skill to get the puck away from danger without sending it out of play, or the offensive team is doing such an excellent job of pressuring them, that they don’t have time to make a stronger play. Sounds good to me. I don’t see a problem with penalizing a player for unintentionally going out of bounds in their failed attempt to complete a high-risk play. Similarly, I’m sure tennis players don’t mean to hit the net: and yet, when they do, the judge will not let them play through the error because they intended a better shot. Walking the tight rope between a high-skill play and a penalized one requires great skill at great risk. If you don’t have it in you to complete, then don’t try for it.

(In Cherry’s version of the hockey universe, players who lack the skill to keep the puck in play would be rewarded with a reprieve from danger that the higher-skilled players would not receive, and thus sometimes ironically would acquire better results for lesser execution.)

The NHL rules are not perfect (personally, I would like more skill-protecting regulations in place), but the league has improved conditions in recent years for skill players. Whereas previously a defensive player could often get away with holding onto an offensive player’s stick, there is now a specific penalty called “holding the stick” that has, to my hockey eye, reduced the ridiculous behaviour.

(Can you imagine a baseball catcher, upon realizing his opponent is about to have a good swing at a home run, simply reaching out and holding the offensive weapon?) To the Cherry crowd, such penalty calls are petty:

“C’mon, just let them play!”

Well, what about the high-skill player who’s trying to create some offence? What’s wrong with letting him play by penalizing those who use illegal methods to stop him?

Officially, the NHL tells us that referees are told that—if they see a penalty—they are supposed to call it regardless of the effect it will have on the game, but, as these playoff games become increasingly significant, the on-ice umpires cannot escape the pressure to stay out of deciding the outcomes of the matches. Thus, when games go into overtime, infractions that would have been called in the early part of the game, seem to be called less often.

This hands-off approach pleases the Cherry-minded who will accuse those refs, who don’t follow the unofficial “Let them play” rule, of tampering with the players’ ability to decide the game for themselves. Their argument implies that gritty—by-any-means-necessary—players are more worthy of determining the results than skill players. But why not give skill a chance, too? Why not let those who possess such talent be unencumbered by the rule-evading specialists?

If we call the penalties according to the line that the league has determined fairly balances skill and grit, then players can by all means decide the outcome within those limits. And let the skill players play.

P.S. Go Canucks, Go!


Once upon a time in history, citizens were presented with soothsayers whose duty it was to predict the results of athletic events. Some say that the prognosticators were so pure in their perceptions that they did not need to know anything about the subject matter of their postulations. Even more impressive, it has been speculated that the predictors weren’t aware that they were making predictions! Apparently, you see, these Nostradamus impersonators were populated by animals, such as monkeys, elephants and octopi, who were provided references to competing groups so that they could, somehow in their behaviour, indicate the more likely victor.

I’m hoping I’ve tricked you into imagining that I’m referring to an ancient time where animals were sometimes elevated to the status of deities who could apparently see all. In fact, the omniscient creatures that I refer to have existed in our recent history on our televisions, where various broadcasters have competed to provide us with the most endearing animal pundit.

Most recently, I witnessed a local-to-me television station employing a divine critter of their own to anticipate the results of my Vancouver Canucks. Is this continuing ritual meant to be merely adorable, or, in those cases where the animal “selections” prove accurate, are we also supposed to be intrigued as well? When Paul the Octopus selected food from the logo of the team that would win particular football/soccer matches eight out of eight times during the 2010 World Cup, some seemed genuinely amazed and apparently wondered if the animal actually had some extra sensory understanding of the sport.

(I have no idea whether any of these animal surveys are conducted scientifically, but let us assume that there was no accidental or intentional biasing of the subject: it won’t affect the ire of this rant.)

If it’s true that some people believe that the only reason the sea creature could have chosen his food so consistently with the results of the matches is because he was powered by some greater force or perception, I think it’s worth pointing out that—when it comes to chance—every unlikely possibility is obligated to come true now and then. “Improbable,” that is, simply means that something is less likely than all the other options combined: it doesn’t mean that it can only happen with the assistance of magic. If, for instance, you flip a coin twice in a row, the chance of getting heads both times is 25%. Thus it “probably” won’t happen, but it certainly might. In fact, it is one of only four possibilities for what could happen:

(A) Two heads in a row
(B) First heads, then tails
(C) First tails, then heads
(D) Two tails in a row

Each of these combinations has exactly a 25% chance of happening, so each possibility is, in fact, improbable, and yet we know that 100% of the times that we successfully flip a coin two times in a row one of these improbabilities will come true. Thus the improbable is to be expected (we just don’t know which improbable is going to occur).

Similarly, each individual who buys a ticket has a tiny chance of winning the lottery, and yet, with every draw, it is likely that someone will come up big. That doesn’t demonstrate that the winning ticket holder was psychic: it simply means that, if you throw a ball into a crowd, it’s probably going to land in someone’s hand even though every person in there had a small chance of getting it.

When it comes to individual animal predictors, then, it is not actually surprising that they are sometimes “right” many times in a row. The law of probability demands it! (25% of the time in the case of two coin flips, 12.5% in the case of three flips, and 0.39% for eight guesses.) Paul feeding “accurately” eights times in a row is to be expected occasionally. After all, every possible combination of eight coin flips had an equal 0.39% chance, and yet one of them had to come true: and Paul’s 1 in 256 prediction had just as good a shot as any other.

It may still seem surprising that Paul would win the lottery right while the cameras were watching him, but how much failed animal predictor footage was thrown away before Paul’s accuracy was brought to the public’s attention?

Sometimes, the coin-flip combination you guess for will be the one that comes up, but once again, that doesn’t make you, nor any confused animal, a psychic. It just means that you and chance were in the same place at the same time. My bet is that, on average, when any of us make predictions that have a 1/256 chance of coming true, we’re probably right approximately every 256th time, so don’t be surprised when your wild guess does come true.

Perhaps, most people aren’t actually impressed when the animal nudges their nose at the right prediction, but are instead pleased to see a cute creature on stage, and so are happy to play along with the prediction game that justifies the non-human appearance. Fair enough, but in that case, instead of imposing psychic behaviours on our animal neighbours maybe the broadcasters could spend the time studying the creatures’ natural behaviours and tendencies.

Unless you genuinely believe there is something more than the standard workings of chance contained in an animal-logo-nudging exhibition, I submit the display provides us with no nutritional content other than the animals’ natural charisma. The spectacle is not even original any more! So, instead of spending animals’ rare time on screen forced to pretend that they care about our sports, maybe we could let them teach us about their genuine interests.

I look forward to the day that the sports announcer says:

“We were going to take this time to show you the basketball game predictions of Humphrey the Hippo, but we realized that we could let you flip your own coins at home, and so—in lieu of such artificially constructed animal behaviour—we would now like to spend one genuine minute with this Hippopotamus and Dr. Henrietta the Hippo Scientist.”

Go Canucks, Go!


A Twitter version of myself recently commented:

“Plenty of room for temporary Canuck fans on the bandwagon. You’re not obligated to watch the whole marathon to cheer on the final sprint!”

I couldn’t agree with me more! As my Vancouver Canucks attempt to exorcise their Chicago Blackhawks‘ demons tonight, some longtime Van Can fans will bristle and even insult those short-term cheerleaders who only come out for big games. I do not understand this resentment. Hockey is entertainment, and so, as far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to take part in as much or as little of it as you like.

(Admittedly, I can be caught teasing those newbies who try to sound like hockey pundits and make hockey proclamations that are beyond their comprehension level, but that’s a whole other snobbery.)

Similarly, I don’t resent those of us who only watch Olympic sports every four years. It may be tough on those athletes that they don’t get daily cheering, but, sorry: this is entertainment. I’ll watch when I find it entertaining, and I happen to only find cross country skiing to be intriguing when Olympic medals are on the line.

I may also watch a movie sequel without “supporting” the original, or view Harry Potter without reading the book. I don’t have a problem with me doing that, and neither should Canuck loyalists resent occasional supporters. Not only are they not hurting anybody in the process, but their fresh enthusiasm adds excitement to the hockey battle for the rest of us. In fact, it seems to me if they were there all year long, the playoffs wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

However! If the Canucks lose tonight, I will have to aim my disappointment somewhere, and so I’ll have no choice but to join in the mocking of those clamouring for the bandwagon exit.

In reward for you reading (or at least glancing) to the end of this post, I offer you in the video below the result of the game in blog post. 

Spoiler Alert: I likely wouln’t be sharing it if it didn’t go our Canuckly way.


Sadly, those in charge of directing sports broadcasts seem to be more interested in the arts than sports. (Perhaps sports’ fans only recourse is to send our athletes in to direct their operas.)


I: EMPTY NET WORK (you are here)

As the hockey playoff season toys with addicted viewers such as myself, I am reminded of a tragic flaw possessed by certain hockey broadcast directors. Often, the best moments of a game are brought to us by its final minute—in particular when one team has a precarious one-goal lead over the other. On such an occasion, the team that is behind will trade in their goaltender for an offensive player. My concern, then, is with NHL broadcasters, who—in such a crucial moment—insist on cutting our view away from the frantic play so that we can witness the vacating goalie on his journey to the players’ bench.

Given the frequency of one-goal games that yield this scenario during an NHL season, you would think that somewhere between 99 and 99.9% of NHL fans would understand and believe the play-by-play commentators when they tell us: “The Canucks’ goalie has left his net for an extra attacker.” Nevertheless, the broadcast director—who apparently hates to see a relevant image go to waste—often invades our viewing of the excitement so that we can verify that the announcer isn’t lying to us:

“Yup, I see the goaltender is, as described, skating to the payers’ bench.”

For the skeptical, hearing impaired, or otherwise confused fan, I wonder if 2011 broadcast technology might allow a wee “picture in picture” to show the detail of the goalie leaving his cage? Yeah, I think that might to do it. But, if not, personally I think it’s worth allowing the estimated* .1 to 1% who are confused to ask their fellow viewers for assistance.

*Note: these statistics are based on a double blind guess by this author.

Perhaps broadcast directors have trouble making this obvious decision because they fancy themselves to be artists instead of documentarians. It’s the standard blunder: when the author of any tale gets too caught up in the artistic tricks of his or her craft then they can easily lose perspective on the actual tale they’re depicting.

The same infliction sometimes overcomes sports broadcasters who put together “plays of the week” as they are overcome by an urge to smother the footage with special effects. As a sports fan, I find these various digital treats make it difficult to follow the plays that I’ve come to watch.

The only solution I can think of to this problem is for a boycott. I suggest we all turn off our TVs when broadcasters ruin our view with unnecessary closeups. Yeah, that’ll show ‘em!

For more on this topic, see THE ARTFUL SPORTSCASTER sequel coming to Sethblogs December 2011.


I: EMPTY NET WORK (you were just here)

UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LAZY JOURNALISM II: Extra Sensory Perceptions (Of Emotion)

Journalism is vital to a free society; so, too, is criticism of the media. And yet SethBlogs doesn’t see as much oversight of the media’s methods as there is for other vital societal resources. SethBlogs suspects that this oversight oversight provokes a lazy complacency among our favourite journalistic representatives.








I’ve been criticized, in my non-blogging life, for ranting at journalists who attribute particular emotions to people they cover. Consider the following fictional coverage of Jane Newsmaker’s comments on Barry Badguy’s criminal sentencing:

JANE NEWSMAKER: I’m disgusted that Barry Badguy didn’t get more time in jail.

JOHN REPORTER: Newsmaker was angry that Badguy didn’t get more time in jail.

SETHBLOGS: What?! How does Reporter know whether Newsmaker was genuinely angry or not?

CRITIC OF SETHBLOGS: Well, Newsmaker looks pretty angry.

SETHBLOGS: Yes, but it’s perfectly conceivable that Newsmaker’s not actually emotionally involved in the case, but is presenting so for a political purpose.

CRITIC OF SETHBLOGS: No, from a reporter’s perspective, it’s reasonable to describe an angry-looking person as angry.

I have been baffled more than once to find that smart people are not always convinced by my perfectly logical rant on this point, so I was delighted to hear from CBC radio, yesterday, proof in an example.

As you probably know, there is speculation (based on an apparently leaked draft of a report by Canadian Auditor General, Sheila Fraser) that the Conservative government of Canada have been up to some inappropriate financial dealings:

MICHAEL IGNATIEFF: The Conservatives have been spraying money around like drunken sailors in Tony Clement’s riding…

CBC COMMENTATOR: Ignatieff was clearly shocked [by the controversy].

Shocked?! I have no idea whether or not the leader of the Canadian Liberal party is indeed startled by the controversial happenings in Tony Clement’s Huntsville riding, but I can see plenty of reason why it would benefit him to be perceived as shocked. After all, to be seen as a leader with integrity is a highly coveted position in a political campaign and so—if one politician is caught in a controversy—it looks good on their rivals to be so far above the alleged misconduct that they are dismayed by it.

In support of that very point, the possible Conservative villain Clement, himself, accused his critics of using the controversy to score unearned political points. He claims that the final report by the Auditor General will exonerate him, but he says because his rivals know that Sheila Fraser won’t reveal those details until after the election, his enemies are merely feigning rage about what she’ll eventually say.

I hope Clement is wrong about the Liberals’ intentions, but his counter-criticism is now part of this political dispute. For the CBC reporter to state outrightly that Ignatieff “was shocked” is to take a position on the debate. It is to suggest that, in fact, Ignatieff is speaking from his heart on this issue. I’m not saying that he’s not, but a reporter should not make a claim in any direction on what is motivating any political leader. Leave the opinion-making to editorialists (and bloggers, of course :)).

I doubt the CBC journalist made this inappropriate psychological claim with any intention to bias his audience. Instead, I think he is merely guilty of lazy journalism probably as a result of the common trend amongst reporters to describe their subjects with the emotions they perceive in them. It is simple and effective to characterize someone who is yelling as “angry,” since it seems so clear that they are piping mad. And what’s the harm? some would argue. In many cases, such attributing of emotion to newsmakers appears innocuous. For instance, when a widower responds to his wife’s death, it seems so right to note that he is grieving.

Nevertheless, the fact is reporters never know with certainty what any newsmaker is thinking and in turn they do not know whether or not a person may be presenting an emotion (that they don’t actually have) for a political purpose. For instance:

WIDOWER: I loved my wife dearly. I will spend the rest of my life trying to track down her killer.

REPORTER: The football star was devastated by his wife’s death.

Unfortunately, the possible truth of the matter is that the widower was,the killer. Once this fact is suspected, the lazy reporter will have a lot of explaining to do:

SETHBLOGS: What made you so sure the athlete was devastated? Did you really just take his word for it?

To avoid such an embarrassing fate, my suggestion is simply that reporters stick to the facts:

CORRECTED REPORTER: The teary-eyed football star vowed to find his wife’s killer.

In that case, if it turns out that the widower is the killer, the reporter would no longer need to recant his testimony because everything he said was true (there was indeed tears in the famous athlete’s eyes and he did promise to find the killer). All that journalists need to do is make a habit of always reporting only what they can verify about their newsmakers and they’ll never have to worry about accidentally making outrageously false claims.









Journalism is vital to a free society; so too is criticism of the media. And yet SethBlogs doesn’t see as much oversight of the media’s methods as there are for other vital societal resources. SethBlogs suspects that this oversight oversight provokes lazy complacency among our favourite journalistic representatives.








In honour of International Women’s Day, CBC Radio sent a journalist straight into the heart of capitalism to find out how women are doing. The small survey provoked an eloquent, but, I would say, somewhat unsubstantial response. Nevertheless, instead of taking the women he interviewed seriously enough to critically question them, the reporter cheered on his three key witnesses as though they had courageously unearthed the soul of male chauvinism in our society. It was a puff piece of the worst kind because, to my mind, it lacked respect for the people it seemed to want to celebrate.

Thus, in belated honour of International Women’s Day, I would like to point out what I perceive to be a significant impediment to genuine feminism in Canada: most Canadian media refuse to grant the Canadian feminists the right to be questioned.

In the CBC report, our concerned and sensitive “journalist” travelled to Toronto’s Bay Street, where he apparently intended to acquire an insightful look at the plight of career women in the great metropolis by interviewing three female employees of capitalism. From their diverse stations in the economy, he received three stories of woe that he could only listen to with compassion.

(1) The first presenter, a lawyer, explained that she had lost her opportunity to make partner in her firm because she wasn’t willing to sacrifice her family life in order to work the relentless hours required. She therefore hoped in future that the lawyering world would desist in holding back those who wanted to succeed professionally and raise a family at the same time.

Now it would seem to me that a good journalist would question this argument. Does our heroine’s unfortunate circumstance have anything do with the mistreatment of women, or might it simply be a matter of pragmatism on the part of the law firm? In their highly competitive world, perhaps legal firms promote the people who put in the most work hours, regardless of what such over-working does to their personal lives. If it happens to be that more men than women are willing to let their home lives suffer, then—their bosses might say–so be it. Would they be wrong?

Such a promote-the-workaholics system may be harmful to the health of our society, and so may be worth looking into, but it would be logistically daunting—and perhaps ethically questionable—to force firms to restrict their employees’ efforts. This doesn’t mean that it is not a cause that should be pursued if the alternative is dire, but, by not asking his subject specifically what she would have her company—or society—do differently, and instead essentially saying, “You go girl!”, the reporter condescendingly cheers for women, but does nothing to further the discussion that could conceivably have influence on their actual circumstances.

(2) We next met a newly-acquired member of the Bay Street economy whose complaint—if it was one—was simply that so far she found it difficult working in a world where she was outnumbered by men. She said nothing in the piece about any patriarchal bias from the majority; apparently, simply the presence of more of one type of person than another should be sufficient to garner our sympathies for the outnumbered. Perhaps it should, but I would think a journalist would ask the minority representative for details of why the imperfect ratio troubled her.

Personally, I think the complaint deserves significant criticism: everyone is in the minority in some way or another in their life and, unless in that capacity you are experiencing actual bigotry, what’s the problem? (I’m not saying there isn’t a problem, but I would like to know what it is if it’s going to be used as an argument for change.) The reporter apparently felt the answer was self-evident and so did not see any need to ask his honoured victim a follow-up question. In doing so, he neglected his journalistic responsibility.

By not respecting the Bay Street critic with the same investigation he would impose on, let’s say, a male nurse who might complain about being outnumbered in his profession by women, the reporter cost us either a worthwhile justification for the dissatisfaction (which I—previously not sensitive to this difficulty—could have learned from), or perhaps he might have found evidence that he was, in fact, dealing with an unreasonable claim. In either case, to ask tough questions is to give the speaker the same consideration the reporter would any other interviewee: it would show that he sees her as responsible for (perhaps even capable of) defending her own argument.

But, when we laud any group’s claims as righteous no matter what, we avoid investigating their nuances. Surely, sometimes, being an objective journalist means we will find that a complaint is invalid (much, perhaps, to our chagrin), but sometimes it means we will find precisely why it is valid, which in turn may give us a better idea of what can be done about it.

(3) Finally, the interviewer approached what I found to be the most interesting commentator, a food court business owner. She explained that she was exhausted from playing the role of both full-time entrepreneur and leader of her family life. In the latter, she said she was lucky because she had a wonderful and supportive husband; nevertheless, her dream was to live in a world that assumed an equal domestic balance between the sexes.

This startled me that a husband could be described as wonderful and supportive, and yet not apparently willing to take on 50% of total chores in a dual-income family. Given again the reporter didn’t seem to ask any probing questions, we’ll just have to assume that the business owner was including in her math all work done by both members of the couple, including not only the traditionally female tasks, but also the traditionally male duties, and so I was intrigued by the discrepancy in her final count. While such an imbalance does not readily demonstrate sexism in her business world, it may indeed indicate that discrepracncies in work done at home makes professional work more fatiguing for women in general, and thus more difficult to succeed in.

I find this to be an intriguing complaint with no obvious solution, and so I would have been interested to hear if our third heroine had any suggestions for dealing with it. In some heterosexual teams, of course, it may be that the couple is content with the man taking on more of the paid work, while the women does more of the home work. But for those women and men who would rather the opposite, it may be difficult to find a teammate who matches their preferences. We can’t really legislate responsibilities within marriages, I wouldn’t think. Committed relationships are replete with personalities of various flavours, so maybe, as individuals, we simply have to take responsibility for our own needs and weed out out candidates until we find someone with the values/qualities we want. This is a disatisfying answer, I’m sure. Perhaps the alleged unwillingness of men in general to share in 50% of household chores is so prevalent that heterosexual women are left with little choice if they want to be in a relationship.

Or perhaps there is no problem at all, and our speaker was simply under-valuing the contributions of her husband.

I’m not sure what the answer is to these questions, but I would have been very interested to hear what the contributors had to say about them.

Instead, the reporter once again treated the feminist complaint as infallible, and so not worthy of investigation. In this paradigm, women are not diverse collections of traits just like men, capable sometimes of brilliance and occasionally of the opposite; instead, they are compressed into one category wherein all of their opinions are beautiful, by definition. That, to my thinking, is a good way to impede moral progress. As with any project, if the planner is never subjected to the cruelty of scrutiny, their results will suffer.








THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS I: I May Agree With What You Say, But I’ll Fight To The Death Your Right To Say It.

“A person who only knows their own side of an argument knows little of that.”

—SethBlogs paraphrasing social psychologist and Heterodox Academy co-founder, Jonathan Haidt, paraphrasing philosopher and free speech defender, John Stuart Mill.





I’m no Christy Clark apologist, but the recent criticism of her involvement in the anti-bullying campaign seems silly to me.

As a high-ranking member of the BC Liberal party, Christy Clark used to be the British Columbia Minister of Education where, I understand, she wasn’t always best friends with the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). She eventually left government and became a CKNW radio talk show host where, I noticed for myself, she continued to criticize the BCTF (she claimed blasphemously that they sometimes put their own needs ahead of the young ones they were teaching).

Along the way, she heard the story of some kids in Nova Scotia, who had started a “pink shirt” campaign, wherein they asked everyone in school to wear pink to symbolize their opposition to bullying. Clark grabbed the idea (without, as far as I know, claiming it was her own) and started a pink shirt campaign on CKNW, which was immediately successful. Premier Gordon Campbell (Clark’s former boss) joined in and set aside a day for anti-bullying in BC. This all seemed like a pretty noble effort to me, but wait…

When Premier Campbell resigned from office, Ms. Clark left CKNW to rejoin the BC Liberal party to see if she could become the new leader. The pink shirt day continues on CKNW (in fact, Michael Campbell, the premier’s brother, hosted the anti-bullying program today).

Naturally, as the former CKNW leader of the pink shirt campaign, Christy Clark is still associated with the operation (and indeed promotes pink shirt day on her website), but yesterday, to my surprise, I heard complaints from the BCTF, which seemed to suggest that Christy Clark is an opportunist, who has taken someone else’s good idea and used it for herself.

Said BCTF President, Susan Lambert, “I think Christy Clark capitalized on the idea that wasn’t hers… appropriated the idea for her own purposes, and has made bullying the generic term… something that people are aware of, and that’s good.”

Hmm, now I won’t deny that, for political purposes, the prospective Liberal leader may not object if people looked on her as the originator of this hard-to-disagree-with movement, but, in all the time I listened to her talk about pink shirt day on the radio, I never heard her claim to have invented the idea. In fact, I recall her giving credit to the kids in Nova Scotia.

If the complaint is simply that Clark has promoted someone else’s brainchild, I didn’t realized that one should only significantly support a cause if you started it, yourself. As far as I can tell, Christy Clark took a good idea and helped make it bigger. Is that bad? I suddenly find myself imaging someone starting a crime-reduction campaign only to be told, “Wait a minute! I’m pretty sure this has been done before.”

And I’m not sure exactly how Lambert thinks Clark has used the anti-bullying “for her own purposes” (perhaps she thinks Christy was simply trying to get a bully boss off her back?): all the rhetoric that I’ve witnessed from Ms. Clark has been aimed at schoolyard bullies.

The tragic thing for Lambert is that one’s enemies will sometimes do or say things that we support (or want to be seen supporting) ourselves. I think it’s okay in those cases to say, “Yup, I agree with my rival on that one.” It makes you seem genuinely focussed on ideas instead of who they came from.

As they say in British politics, “play the ball, not the [person].”