Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ask James Anything Month: Drama on the High Seas (Thank You For Reading Ask James Anything Month)

Yes, here we are, readers dear; we've made it all the way to the very end of March, our concluding date for the cheerful little experiment we've been calling Ask James Anything Month. So let's round up the last few inquiries and then close up the ol' mailbag!

The Analyst asks:

"Are civic centre-leftists like Brian Mayes and Dan Vandal destroying themselves by joining aboard the failed Katz administration while conservatives like Paula Havixbeck are abandoning ship?"

Well -- if they were, like, left-leftists, then yes, aligning themselves with a poorly-performing right-leaning Mayor would be an ill-advised course of action.

(Describing it as a 'failed administration', however, remains premature, as it would imply that poor performance has ever resulted in anyone being voted out of Winnipeg office.)

But Mayes and Vandal are, as you'd described them, centre-leftists -- and nothing is more quintessentially centre-left than making a show of working accommodatingly with the right. So, no, I think their bases accept (or understand, or however you'd prefer to phrase it) that this is part of the game that must be played; it isn't a stellar association for either of them, but you'd be surprised how an extra five figures in the ol' pay envelope can help a man drown out his cognitive dissonance.

This question also raises the lingering ambiguity of what exactly constitutes civic 'conservatism' in this town, but I fear that is a far stickier topic than I am capable of properly tackling tonight. Another time, perhaps.

unclebob asks posits:

"Since you want to use the ship analogy - Katz is a derelict and abandoned vessel. The law of the sea says anyone can claim it for salvage and use it for what they want.I believe Vandal and others now own the Sammyboat and you should expect it to operate quite differently.
Maybe Paula saw a couple of those Wyatt and Vandal black pirate hats climbing over the side and decided the lifeboat was safer.

Oh. Well. There's an angle.

I wish I had the time to better flesh this out into a proper short story -- well, okay, no I don't, pirate-themed civic-politics fanfiction would be ludicrous even by my standards -- but, for posterity's sake, here are the quick hits:

1) Brian Mayes as the fresh-faced, most freshly-hired crew member aboard the vessel

2) Russ Wyatt filled with pomp and bravado as the newly-named Deputy Captain ("But that's not even a real--" "Quiet, new hire!" "...aye aye, sir.")

3) "Well, gee, Captain Katz, I just wanted to say, I think it's real swell you brought me onboard. I'm really looking forward to helping."
"As well ye should! Let me tell ye something, lad--I've been the Captain of this fine ship for almost a decade now, and never once has she completely sank."
"That's... that's comforting, Captain."

4) Havixbeck had been recently forced to walk the plank ("I've told ye before, boys, if we'd let 'er stay aboard she'd have mutinied anyway") after accusing the Captain's closely-trusted First Mate of suspicious activity below decks.
"But--are you sure the First Mate hadn't done anything, Captain?" Mayes asked.
"Why, of course; he's me most trusted ally!" Captain Katz puffed his chest out, holding a jacket lapel in each hand. "In fact, I ordered an investigation into the matter personally, and the First Mate found everything on the up-and-up!"
"Yes," the First Mate intoned slyly, his hands clasped together at his chest as he appeared behind the Captain. "Nothing... untoward."
Mayes stared, blankly. "But Capt--"
"Zip it, new hire," Vandal hissed quietly. Mayes straightened, falling silent.

5) "I have to ask, though, Captain--"
"Yes, what is it?"
"Did Mad Woman Havixbeck make off with any cargo?"
"What? What cargo?"
"Well--there'd been a chest, sir. Marked 'fiscal responsibility'. It was one of our most sought-after treasures, but... I haven't been able to find it anywhere."
"Oh, that?" the Captain replied. "Well, don't ye worry, lad -- we threw that overboard a long time ago!"
There was a pause, for a second; then, as one, everyone aboard laughed uproariously.
In the distance, a cannon fired.

6) "What? What's that? What's that sound?"
"We've been hit, Captain! Attackers! From the left!"
Looking in the opposite direction, Deputy Captain Wyatt noticed an equally unwelcome sight: Mad Woman Havixbeck, cutlass drawn, gesticulating wildly from atop the bow of the Black Swandel.
"Captain! Attackers from the right as well!"
"Arrr." The Captain stared into the middle distance, hands on his hips, pondering for a moment. "It's a good thing for me I don't understand metaphor."

7) "Don't worry, everyone -- I know it looks real bad now, but our Captain will fight to the last! A Captain always goes down with his ship! Right, sir?"
Captain Katz barely glanced over his shoulder, he and his First Mate loading various items of value into a life raft. The raft, for reasons that nobody had questioned or explained, had 'ARIZONA' written on the side.
"Huh?" he said absently, as he joined the First Mate in the raft. "Oh! Yeah yeah, of course. I'm totally committed to staying."
"Really?" Mayes asked, excitedly.
Captain Katz turned to look at his most recent hire for a brief moment, then shared a look with his First Mate. The two of them broke into laughter.
"Have fun, boy!" the Captain declared triumphantly, cutting the nearest rope with a flourish of his blade. The raft plunged into the waters below with a splash, the two men rowing southbound as quickly as their arms could propel them.
Save for the lapping of the waves and the distant thunder of cannons, there was silence aboard the ship.
"You know," Mayes said, to nobody in particular, "I'd wondered why that had been sitting in the loading zone this whole time."

And then, I don't know, the ship sinks? The ship probably sinks. Kind of wrote myself into a corner on that one.

So, yeah, I don't know, that's really all I'd come up with for that prompt; you can see why I tend to stick to the format I do.

And, finally:

unclebob asks:

"BTW James - on the beautiful woman question - why not make a deal with your twin brother - even if you don't have one but as long as she thinks you do."




In conclusion: thank you all for reading Ask James Anything Month! It has definitely been an interesting experiment. But, tomorrow is another month! Time marches on, I suppose.

Coming up next time on Slurpees and Murder -- I have no idea. I guess we'll see!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ask James Anything Month: Hopefully Worth the Wait

Whoof, it's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry, everyone! This March has been the most curiously busy of all the Marches I can remember -- which is, by now, getting to be quite a lot of Marches -- so my best of intentions on timely updates took something of a torpedoing.

Well, no sense in dwelling on it! Ask James Anything Month continues to roll, so let's gear up and dive back in.

cherenkov asks:

"Should I buy a motorbike or a snow blower?"

It depends on how much shovellin' area you're dealing with, I'd say, but unless your lawn falls somewhere between 'reasonable' and 'teeny' -- or unless you're really keen on shovelling, like you've worked it into your exercise regimen or something -- I'd lean towards the snow blower. A motorbike would be grand fun, I'm sure, but snowblowing season greatly outweighs motorbiking season around here, and the latter tends to drag obnoxiously into the former -- especially so in a year like the one we're having right now.

In fair weather, prepare for foul, as the saying goes. Thomas Fuller! Quotable dude, that guy.

Anonymous, 2013-03-11 03:45 asks:

"Hey James! Can you tell us... Who (or rather how) talk-bubbles were invented. Y'know, comicbooks & dialogue.
I'm a James too!

Well met, fellow James! Thank you for your question.

From looking into it, I can tell you the how, but I can't tell you the who. There are recorded, surviving uses of the speech bubble -- and its earlier incarnations of speech banderoles or speech scrolls -- dating back to the fifteenth century (!), if not earlier, and as they get closer to the present day you can see the original scroll-shaped format (which made sense in the day, back when people read from scrolls, y'know) widen out to the bubble we accept as convention today.

That said, we live in an era defined by its unparalleled technological ease and its theoretically infinite access to information, and we (can't even handle attribution now. So -- as much as I may wish it were otherwise -- it seems overwhelmingly likely that the original funnypage innovators of centuries past, the first people to say "yeah but what if we rounded it off more like this", are forever lost to time.

On a comics-related side note: I only learned, like, maybe a week ago that the scribblings and strings of symbols used to indicate-but-replace profanity in a speech bubble -- I identify them primarily with Captain Bluebeard and Q*Bert, but I'm sure you have your own defining examples as well -- have a formal technical name, 'grawlixes'. The term was coined by Mort Walker, the original creator of Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois (and those two properties share a combined universe, incidentally; I always love stuff like that), who wrote a satirical reference manual about comic illustration effects that was then used as a legitimate textbook anyway because the world works in mysterious ways.

I'm'a need to buy this for myself sometime soon, is what I am getting at. Hooray for comics!

Anonymous, 2013-03-11 11:11 asks:

"When you say "the Liberals are drifting dangerously close to Calgary Flames territory," do you mean they are dangerously close to being "Red Hot"?


. . . what


My goodness, that's... yes. That's something! That is most certainly a thing.

I'd never seen that particular video before, but it occurs to me now that each and every major hockey franchise must have at least one video like this lurking around. Right? Some terrible, wonderful, awful, amazing, probably cheesy, usually hilariously-dated promotional footage or music lurking around in their annals. (What, what's so funn--no, no, two Ns. Annals. C'mon, guys.)

So perhaps, similar to SBNation editor Jon Bois' recent bracket of March Madness predictions based on correspondingly-named warships, perhaps for this year's Playoffs (and they're coming fast!) I should try basing my annual prognostications on which franchises have the funniest promo footage behind them.

Having said that, the Flames probably aren't going to make the Playoffs this year, so it's just as well that we all watched that video now. RYEHD HAWT, RYEEEHD HAWT, RYEEEHHHD HAAAWWWT

Anonymous, 2013-03-11 11:15 asks:

"Don't you think, though, that if you had the most beautiful woman in the world draped off you, it would open all kinds of doors and opportunities for you? Tons of other beautiful women would be throwing themselves at you because if you go for it with them, it validates their lofty self-esteem. You'd likely travel the world for free, and never have to pay for a drink again. Bunch of other advantages if you really think about it.

Thanks for your replies, this has been fun!

Thank you, anonymous inquirer!

I'm not saying that I don't see the theoretical strategy behind the second of those two options in the previous post; perhaps if I were a more suave -- suaver? -- holy hell it is 'suaver' -- perhaps if I were a suaver operator and a more singleminded social climber and a less monogamous sort, then yes, using a woman to pick up other women might seem more strategically viable.

Those modifiers taken together, however -- not to put too fine a point on it -- kind of add up to some pretty serious sociopathy, and even taking those into account for the original hypothetical decision I definitely still prefer the "passionate but top-secret romance" angle of Door Number One against whatever this Neil-Gaiman-American-Gods-two-man-con bullshit is that we got going on here.

"Well--I mean, this is nice, but--what about [name of hypothetical beautiful woman in scenario]?"
"Huh? Oh! Oh, no no, it's fine."
"She's fine with you cheating on her?"
"It's not cheating, it--okay, that sounds really bad. I mean, no, it's just, it's not 'cheating' because I'm not actually allowed to sleep with her."
"I, uh--well, see, the rules of the deal--"
"The deal?"
"--were that I can't do anything with her, but I can use her to pick up women like you."
"...what the fuck."
"No, I mea--okay. I swear that sounded less predatory in my head."

Someone back me up on this -- 'suaver' doesn't even sound like a word, does it? Say it aloud. 'Suaver'. 'Suaver'! Ridiculous.

YWGer asks:

"As many of us know, there are a diverse range of comments following online articles, most notably on the websites of CBC Manitoba, the Winnipeg Free Press, and the Winnipeg Sun.

Some people are of the opinion that for an online comment to be valid, it must be mature, moderate, politically correct, and written with passable grammar and spelling. In short, online comments should be dismissed outright if they do not meet these standards and branded as that of 'crazy internet trolls.'

Other people contend that while some comments raise eyebrows given the views advocated, the people who post such opinions nonetheless represent a notable subsection of the Winnipeg and Manitoba population. In essence, to truly have a finger on the pulse of the city and province, one must recognize that these non-PC opinions are shared by many and could also give us a sense of upcoming shifts in public opinion. In short, these opinions are therefore valid and serve a useful purpose.

It seems that the former is often espoused by professional journalists & columnists (and many 'established' bloggers who play Twitter footsie with them). Whereas the latter seems to be championed by a smaller few columnists and the online commenters themselves.

James, what is your opinion on this matter?

Hmm! Hmm. All right, let me try and unpack this one for a moment or two.

I'm not entirely convinced that the quality of commentary can be expressed on a straight line like this, with "socially acceptable and well-written" at one end and "socially unacceptable and poorly-written" on the other; I think you'd need, at the very least, a quadrant graph -- X-axis for opinion palatability, Y-axis for language mechanics -- to begin fleshing out the whole picture of the online-comment universe.

Although then you'd also need separate graphs for named commenters and anonymous commenters, or at least separate colours for the data points of each, but then of course this particular approach also risks conflating subjective analysis with objective analys--aaaaaand, see, now, here I go again.

Okay. Let me start over. The problem as I see it with dividing all online comments into 'valid' and 'invalid' based on the successful ticking of four arbitrary checkboxes is that, relative subjectivity of each box aside, it turns that particular avenue of public discussion into a pass-fail approach rather than a grading approach.

Grading comments and commenters, I can roll with; take a gander at a given thread and you'll find you're able to (again, subjectively) stratify respondents into letter tiers pretty darn effectively. Comments that hit all of the criteria get an A, and comments that hit none of them get an F (or just deleted, y'know, depending), sure, but you have to allow for the inevitable existence of B, C and D comments as well.

Then -- again, subjectively -- one has to decide for oneself how each of the four criteria should be weighed. Are they equal? Is one box more important to check than another? Is a moderate with unspectacular spelling and grammar considered better than, worse than, or equal to a radical with excellent language skills? Is a poorly-argued comment that you happen to agree with considered better than, worse than, or equal to a well-argued comment that you disagree with vehemently?

Then, also -- who gets to make all of these decisions on everyone's behalf? And what steps does that person or group then have to take to properly counterbalance the editorial slant (not to say bias!) of their site? And even then, if one begins to consider how standards will differ across competing outle--aaaaaand, see, now, here I go again.

Okay. Dang. I fear this one may be a smidgen too complicated to tackle in a compilation post; I may have to come back to this idea, after the gimmicked month is over. Still, good topic, though! I'm glad you pitched that one.

Moving on!

The Analyst asks:

"Where does The Winnipeg RAG Review sit within YWGger's dichotomy? After all, it's prone to bashing racist, insane wingnuts, but does so in more in a rough edged, conversationally intolerant manner that might equally offend those with more genteel sensibilities. "

It's... it's not my dichotomy, man. I think you'd have to ask him about it yourself. (And, no, before you ask, I also can't tell you if he's a secret racist.)

And, finally:

Anonymous, 2013-03-15 12:12 asks:

"The most important question of our time: can a slurpy kill a fetus?"

research to this point remains incomplete and inconclusive regarding the potential effects of slurpy on babby

more science is needed

And, on that note -- thank you for reading this most recent installment of Ask James Anything Month! At my current output speed, we've got at least one more round of it before the month is through, so go ahead and Ask James Anything!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Ask James Anything Month: A Bumper Crop of Questions

Well, hello there! Looks like we've got quite the full slate of inquiries, so let's go ahead and jump right in. Ask James Anything Month continues!

mrchristian asks:

"Rabbits or ferrets ?"

I've got a theory, it could be bunnies.

I'm trying to think of a scenario in which I would go with ferrets here, and I'm sure they're lovely critters if you get to know them, but nope, so far I'm coming up blank.

If I were to own one of the two, I expect I'd go with a rabbit (and, me being me, I would be functionally incapable of naming it anything but "Bunnicula"), because I don't think I'd get used to that weird sideways poinging weasel movement that ferrets do. And this goes doubly so if cat ownership is factored in; I've heard anecdotal testimony from people who claimed to have successfully convinced a rabbit and a cat to coexist, but cats aren't big on sudden movements, and videos of ferrets seem to suggest that they're nothing but sudden movements, so that combination would probably end in disaster.

Now, if I'm misinterpreting the question and I were instead tasked with eating one of the two, I'd also go with rabbit in that instance. I mean, a ferret does kind of look like a naturally-occurring sausage, but whatever useable meat is in there would probably be subpar, and the primary motivation for eating one (outside of hunger and desperation, I mean) would be just to make sure that it can't try and eat you first.

So, yes. Bunnies, bunnies, it must be bunnies.

unclebob asks:

"[W]hat think you James about Paula Havixbeck? Is she such a trigger point of change or simply political debris?

And for your bonus point, why not gaze into your crystal ball and tell us if you see any political party movement that might trigger change?"

It's funny; if you'd asked me this time last year who looked to be the most noteworthy Council newcomer, I'd have said Brian Mayes -- who has proven solid and sensible, if a tad dry -- with little to no hesitation. But in that past year Havixbeck has made a late charge for that Most Noteworthy Council Newcomer title, the one that kind of doesn't exist, the award that I'm making up as a hypothetical right now.

(The rest of the field: Ross Eadie is most recognized for a profane email outburst, Thomas Steen's rare appearances in the public eye boil down to "hey fellers, heh, d'you folks remember when hockey", and Devi Sharma has been a living Kate Bush song.)

That said, Havixbeck's stock has gone up and down and every which way in that timeframe, so it's a lot harder to project her trajectory than it is for other members of Council; her current identity as an accountability champion for the little guy and a careful steward of public funds is indeed quite newfound, as just eleven months ago she was fully on board for the Mayor's $7-million waterpark grant right to the last whether Council had enough information on it or not.

Further to that point, her new one-woman-army attitude seems to have developed less from a natural evolution into the role and more from her increasingly acrimonious rebellion against the Mayor. (Not that distancing oneself from Katz has been anything of an exclusive practice, as late.) And the Mayor is known for making statements that are provably untrue -- Sam Katz could tell you that his name is Sam Katz and you'd still be better off having an auditor confirm it -- but when he characterized Havixbeck as "unpredictable" following her ouster from EPC, it was as close to plausible-sounding as anything he's said in months. (And, indeed, there've been rumblings to that effect as far back as April of last year.)

So it's hard to tell! It's hard to say for sure. We the audience can seem reasonably certain where Havixbeck stands right now -- her speech in January about being no one's yes-person and no one's tin soldier was, in professional wrestling parlance, a definitive face-turn promo -- and she'll be a distinct force to be reckoned with if she continues on her current path, but then again we've also seen the difference that a year can make. This time next year she might be arguing for a doubling of the police budget, embedded helicopters in every school, and a base on the moon. We don't know! We don't know. But it'll definitely be interesting either way, and interesting is exactly what I like to see.

As for any political party movements that might kick up some dust, I'm not terribly convinced that there are any significant status-quo shakeups a-comin'. Provincially, the Conservatives can't make the inroads into city-voter support that they need without alienating the zealots people like this within their base, and the Liberals continue to basically not exist. (A weak Liberal party directly benefits the NDP, not just in the "well, duh" polling sense but in the very real "federal Liberals endorsing provincial NDP candidates during provincial elections" sense.) Federally, meanwhile, the NDP is having the exact problems with its new Quebec MPs that most everyone predicted would happen after the last election, and the Liberals are drifting dangerously close to Calgary Flames territory -- stubbornly unwilling to begin the rebuild that they desperately need, instead sticking to the unsuccessful framework of years past and forever clinging to the hope that just one extra piece is all they need to take them to the top.


Anonymous, 2013-03-05 10:39 asks:

"Leaving former team scoring leaders aside (Hawerchuk, Selanne, etc) which former NHL Jet would be the best addition to the current Jets roster?"

Allowing for my incredibly transparent loyalty-slash-bias, and allowing for the obvious caveat that we're dealing more in archetypes than in specific player evaluations because of the inherent difficulties in comparing players between eras -- dude, OBVIOUSLY Teppo Numminen.

Goal scoring isn't really the problem with the current Jets, necessarily; goaltending, sure, but that doesn't really help us when the former-Jets were... never exactly an elite goaltending powerhouse themselves. No one's ever like "by god, what this new Jets team needs is a Rick Tabaracci!" (And y'all know I love some Bob Essensa, but man, he had some not very good years.)

As I was saying, though, about scoring -- so far the Jets have scored three goals in a game and then lost anyway four times this season, and that was within the first twenty games. Not good, guys. Not a good look! Not great.

So our current, sadsack Jets have a lot of issues, but we can cover a few of the more obvious ones -- special teams (because good lord), consistent effort (because younger teams, particularly this one, give up easily and quickly) and positional defensive play (because BYFUGLIEN WHY ARE YOU BEHIND THE OTHER TEAM'S GOAL, COVER THE P--DAMMIT ENSTROM, YOU TOO, GET BACK HERE) -- with a quietly excellent, positionally sound two-way D-man who could eat up twenty to twenty-five minutes a night and handle both PK and PP duties effectively.

Numminen! He's all we ever need on D!

H asks:

"If I saw you in person and wanted to say hello, how would you prefer I do so? I'm assuming not by shouting 'heeeeeey Winnipeg cat!'"

That would be a bit peculiar, yes. (Although not unheard of!)

But, nah, there's no real trick to it beyond the same general way to approach anybody; if you see someone in the wild who might or might not be me, something along the lines of "excuse me, are you James?" ought to work perfectly well.

And if it does indeed turn out to be me, bear with me if I seem a bit dazed for a moment or two; even to this day I've still never quite wrapped my head around the idea of people recognizing me as Guy From The Internet.

Anonymous, 2013-03-05 13:33 asks:

"Everyone speaks much too slow on Internet Pundits. Will you guys ever try to speak quicker? "

Hmm! You know, I had not considered this. This is good feedback! I can't speak for anyone else, but I could give it a shot; the difficulty, however, in my (limited and amateur) experience, is that radio may prove a difficult medium to rush.

Legibility is part of it, but not as big a part as coherence of thought; if I seem discombobulated and ungainly on the radio now, imagine what a trainwreck I'd be if I weren't also pacing myself just enough to think my statements through.

The Analyst asks:

"What are your opinions on Steve Keen's modelling of Hyman Minsky's Financial Instability Hypothesis?"

1936-37 Keynesian ruminations on investment motivation being synthesized and codified as a 1957-onward Post-Keynesian framework of capitalist unsustainability, being revived in the mid-2000s to address the influence of large banks on the world economy, and then ultimately being packaged as a Kickstarter project serve to quite thoroughly remind and convince me that I just really, really do not understand economics. Like I'm a Golden Retriever with safety goggles in a chemistry lab. No idea.

Avid S and M Reader asks:

"A classic question with no right or wrong answer...

You can have sex with the most beautiful woman in the world, but nobody other than you and her will ever be able to know about it.


You can have the most beautiful woman in the world draped off you, holding hands with you, making out with you, etc, for all to see. Everyone assumes you are having sex with her, but, you never ever can actually have sex with her.

Which scenario would you choose?

Thank you for your avidity!

The question may very well be a classic, though I must say that I've never myself encountered it before now, but -- real talk? That second scenario sounds legitimately awful. I don't even get how this is a dilemma.

Unless you're absolutely just consumed by what other people think of you -- and what kind of a way to live is that, really -- how would that second choice be anything but perpetually, tormentingly unfulfilling? A self-imposed blueball purgatory! The heck with that. Given the choice of being satisfied and letting people think I'm miserable, or being miserable and letting people think I'm satisfied -- well, as I'd said, it doesn't seem an overwhelmingly difficult decision. I never was one for the classics, I suppose.

Anonymous, 2013-03-06 10:01 asks:

"When are you going to have Woofers on Internet Pundits?"


ha ha ha ha, naw, I'm kiddin', I'm kiddin'. I don't know how well the gimmick would fly on radio, though.

tofurkey asks:

"Middle name = Hope. Is there a story behind that?"

There is, but in thinking about it I am just now realizing that I don't know enough about it to tell it properly.

Or, rather, I don't know the backstory well enough to tell it; the details and mechanics, as they were, are simple enough. My parents never married -- and it probably explains a lot about me that I was brought up second-wave feminist -- so when I was born, they gave me my mother's last name, and my father's last name became my middle name. Hope! Of all things, Hope.

As I'd said, I've known the how my whole life, but I'm just now realizing that I never properly asked about the why. I was an inquisitive little child, but I doubt I was much of a cross-examiner. I did escape the then-ubiquitous hyphenation, however, so there's that -- I went to Laura Secord for elementary, trust me, ubiquity ain't overstatin' it -- and that's not to say that I hold anything against hyphenation, necessarily, but it really is the kind of trick that you can only do once. (Imagine a Ms. John-Jacob and a Mr. Jingleheimer-Schmidt trying to sort out what to name their kid.)

In short, I suspect that this explanation is probably far more prosaic and mundane than you'd been hoping, but there it is; I inherited my mother's last name, and Hope's my middle name. (This would later prove to be a rich vein of irony for a number of reasons, but we shan't get into those now.) Never seemed odd to me, but I know that it can take a while for people to get used to it.

"Hey, is your dad named John?"
"John Howard?"
"I know. Just roll with it."

Graham asks:

"I'm playing black jack. I have 16. The dealer is showing an ace.

Do I hit?

Well, I can't speak on your behalf, but I wouldn't. (Disclaimer: I am not much of a gambler, most of my experience and knowledge -- 'expertise' would be overselling it by a very wide margin -- coming from the 1993 Super Nintendo video game Vegas Stakes.)

To cover the easy outs on the question, let's assume for the sake of the exercise that I don't have an ace and a five, that I don't have two eights I could split, and that I don't have any other players at the table whose cards I can use to make a better decision.

With a 16 there are only five of the thirteen face values -- A, 2, 3, 4, 5 -- that can improve the hand, and eight -- 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K -- that will bust the hand and kill the round, or whatever the proper language would be for it, outright. (And interestingly, now that I look at it that way, the dealer ace has the exact opposite situation; eight values that would seal the deal at 17 or better, and five values with potentially undesirable outcomes.)

So -- again, not being much of a gambler -- since a hit is almost twice as likely to kill me as it is to save me, I'd stay on the 16. There's still only about a third of a chance that the dealer turns up ace through five to bail me out, but at least my hand will be alive long enough to see if he or she does.

I'm entirely willing to be wrong on this reasoning, but that'd be my advice, as far as our hypothetical blackjack scenario goes. And during your time at the tables, if anyone asks you to buy a diamond off of them, invest in their oil-drilling business, or let them wipe a stain off your shirt, don't take them up on it. Thanks, Vegas Stakes!

And, finally:

Anonymous, 2013-03-07 14:23 asks:

"Here's a question I've had in my mind for some time: Are you my cousin's evil twin? You're both music-playing librarians with (sometimes) politically-themed blogs. Come to think of it, last time I saw him he had a beard, so maybe he's the evil twin. Maybe you're both evil, never thought of that. Or maybe I'm just misinformed about the whole beard/evil formula.

Is it just coincidence that his former band's entire discography made it into the elite Slurpees and Murder Record Club?

Well, mild hyperbole of 'elite' aside -- I worry sometimes that my longevity can be mistaken for success -- that last part narrows it down to... let me have a look here... Fast Orange, the Steinbach Bible Institute, the Folklorama Youth Choir, and the 1971 Saskatchewan Roughriders. And actually, when I put it that way, I suppose that does kind of sound like it'd be considered elite company -- but I can confirm that I am, as far as I know, not an evil doppelganger of anyone involved in those groups.

(A sidenote on Fast Orange: one of their former members had sent me a very lovely email after my blog post on them, and I didn't see it until about a month later because it got caught in my Spam filter. There is no graceful way to respond to an email upwards of thirty days after it was originally sent; I have felt guilty and awful ever since, even knowing that it happened inadvertently and automatically. The moral of my story, gentle reader, is to check your Spam folders regularly, and to check them very carefully.)

Anyway, in the interest of clearing up the slight and understandable bit of misinformation, let me just note: beards do not tip off alignment values one way or the other. Goatees are for evil twins. And I would look mad goony with a goatee, but then, I doubt I'd make much of a villain, either.

Antagonist, sure, I could pull off antagonist. But villainry, I fear, escapes me. I think I'm more around a Neutral Goo--oh, dude, we should all do our Gygax alignments! Yes! Yes. I mean, not right right now, this post is long enough as it is. But remind me to come back to that later.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Your cousin sounds like a pretty cool guy, from your description of him! Sounds like a good dude.

In conclusion: if I don't want to bog the whole process down, I should answer questions in the rotation more speedily in order to keep things rolling. So! The comments box awaits below, true believers; Ask James Anything!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Ask James Anything Month: Immigration, Seeeeecrets, and Progress Updates

Thank you so much to everyone who passed along their condolences following the death of my Grandmother this past Friday afternoon. It's been... it's been really rough, but she passed as cleanly and as painlessly as anyone could hope for given the circumstances, which I'm sure will be vastly more comforting once the rawness and immediacy of the whole thing have worn off a bit more.

All right. Deep breath. Keep it together, deep breath. Okay.

Hello and welcome back, everyone; let's see what round one of Ask James Anything Month yielded!

unclebob asks:

"If Winnipeg didn't have so much immigration, left to its own, would the city population actually be declining?

"And for the bonus question, 'What does that say about governance?'"

Hm. Not quite what I'd expected as the opener -- I'm not sure what I expected as the opener, really, to be honest -- but sure, let's roll with it.

The question could just as easily apply to any other city in the land, or indeed to the country as a whole -- counting on immigration to outpace the declining birthrate is something of a modern Canadian tradition -- but Winnipeg must also contend with the very pressing issue of competition from the bigger and/or better-run cities elsewhere in Canada. Which is basically all of them! That's pretty much every single one. These are not our glory years.

As the experiment, then, let's assume for the sake of our hypothetical scenario that the current federal government decided to treat all immigration the way that Mackenzie King treated Jews.

(The gap between his heyday and the rise of the internet was far enough that this may occasionally be forgotten, so I want to make sure we've established this as a point of order while we have the opportunity: Mackenzie King was a wretched little man, and he barely deserves the four lines of Dennis Lee poetry he got.)

People come to Winnipeg from other places, be it immigration from countries or migration from cities, for one of two reasons: 1) they already have a bunch of family and friends living here, or 2) they really, really, really need to get away from wherever they were beforehand. This scenario would pooch both of those conditions, but more particularly the former -- and as disenchanted as I may be with our current governance, I don't think there's any potential administrative makeup that could make lemonade out of our lemons if you took those two draws away.

Like, if you drew up an All-Star fantasy team of Winnipeg governance past and present -- as silly as I know that sounds ("my fantasy team is doing awful this year, ugh") -- and then handed them modern-day broke-ass Winnipeg with a smaller tax base and fewer incentives to live here? Shit, nuh-uh! They'd resign then and there, and that'd be that, and that's how that would end.

It isn't quite dire enough to suggest that Winnipeg would become ghost-town territory -- like a landlocked prairie version of some teeny abandoned Maritime village that the kids all packed up and left to find work years ago -- instantaneously, or that the whole province would be annexed by Saskatchewan and sold off for scrap within the week, but Winnipeg would definitely go hinterland (more so than usual, I mean, in the national scheme of things) sooner rather than later if the borders were to suddenly close. And there'd be an ugly but sizeable rumbling of certain white folks -- those of you who know me in person know how I enjoy pronouncing it as "WAAIIIHT folks", for the sake of distinction -- certain white folks very up in arms about the aboriginal and First Nations birthrate, rather more so than they already are now. Because people are kind of terrible, sometimes.

I'm a bit confused about the later comment's weird follow-up statement of "trying to corner James into the realization", as though I've A) ever argued against immigration or B) ever intimated that the people in charge seem to know what they're doing, but I suppose it was inevitable after the systematic purge of the Uptown Magazine archives that people would forget how I used to roll.

Hm. Alas.

Y'know what I'd like to see? I haven't encountered such a thing in the wild as yet, if it does indeed exist, but I think it'd be fascinating to read a book about the origins of Filipino immigration to Winnipeg and how those four original nurses in 1959, followed shortly by a small wave of doctors and teachers and garment workers, would go on to influence their newly-chosen home for generations to come.

I realize that phrases like "changed forever" get thrown about willy-nilly in these exaggerative times we live in, but man: imagine if those four nurses and those early professionals had instead decided to settle in, I don't know, Hamilton. God, could you imagine? Extrapolating a modern-day Winnipeg from that, in the grand sci-fi tradition, would probably be super depressing.

("More so than usual", yes, yes. Sometimes I fear I've become predictable in my old age.)

So, to answer your question: yes, eventually. And to answer your bonus question: probably nothing, which is perhaps the nicest thing I could say on their behalf.


Anonymous, 2013-03-01 14:44 asks:

"Is Uncle Bob a secret bigot?"

Well, if he were, we wouldn't know, because it'd be a secret. Right? Admitting up front that I am not a secrets expert, I am nonetheless reasonably certain that this is how secrets work.

Anonymous, 2013-03-02 10:34 said:

"How's this AMA working out for you so far, James?"

I dare say it's the best one I've ever done! Let us try to maintain that momentum, then.

Yes, readers, please feel free to hit up the comments form below; it's time to Ask James Anything!