Author Archive | Samuel Kirz

Please Ignore Andrew Unger’s Handwringing: He’s Wrong and You’re Right to Feel Bad About Boston

The following is a response to Andrew Unger’s essay, A Prayer for Boston (and Everyone Else).

On Wednesday, Andrew Unger wrote an article pointing out that the tragedies in Somalia and Iraq didn’t receive the same level of grief as the one in Boston. This kind of moralizing is, of course, nonsense.

Mr. Unger fails to mention that the people in Mogadishu weren’t tweeting about the tragedy in Boston, either. They were busy dealing with a tragedy of their own.

Mr. Unger goes on to write that North Americans would “probably have changed the channel” if the media had covered the 34 deaths in Mogadishu. This is true. I would have changed the channel because there happened to be a concurrent terrorist attack in North America and I live in North America. Canada is closer to Boston than it is to Somalia, and for that reason a tragedy in Boston is important to me. I know people who live in Boston and my father has run the Boston Marathon. Unlike Mr. Unger, I acknowledge that a hierarchy of lives exists. If you do not, I invite you to participate in a thought experiment: If you could only save one life, would you save your mother or a hobo?

If Mr. Unger were actually interested in the plight of people in Mogadishu, it should be evident in his articles. I invite you to check his Author Archive and determine for yourself what is important to him. The one consistent theme that I can find in Mr. Unger’s writing is the presence of Mr. Unger. His essay about Boston is no different. Using a tragedy to write about oneself is the behaviour of a solipsist.

UPDATE: Andrew Unger responds to this response here.

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Why Canadians Don’t Trust Ottawa

This article is for the political cynics.

In 2006, Ipsos Reid released a poll titled, “When It Comes To Professions, Whom Do We Trust?” The second least trustworthy profession in the nation was something called a “National Politician.” This should not be news to a political cynic, but it does beg the question: Why don’t Canadians trust politicians?

The easy answer is: Politicians get caught lying, and evidence of dishonesty is a good reason to deem someone untrustworthy. The problem with this answer is that lots of people get caught lying. NHL coaches lie about player injuries nearly every time they’re asked about player injuries, yet coaches are still held in relatively high regard. If it isn’t the lying, why are Canadian politicians so widely distrusted?

Is it possible that the people who chose to go to Ottawa were untrustworthy before they entered politics?

To test this theory, I researched the pre-political profession of every Member of Parliament. Then I compared those jobs with the Ipsos Reid polling data. Unfortunately, the poll only asked Canadians to rate the trustworthiness of 30 professions, and our MPs had held 96 different jobs before entering politics. However, there were 146 Members of Parliament whose pre-political employment was covered by the poll. Here are the findings: Continue Reading →

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Would the Raptors Try Harder if Paid More Per Win?

I like to watch basketball and I live in Canada, so the Toronto Raptors are on my television a lot. This is just an observation: sometimes it seems like the players aren’t giving their best effort.

It’s understandable. An 82-game regular season is grueling, and I’m sure that a game between the Raptors and Wizards in January is just as meaningless to the players as it is to the fans. It gets even worse later in the season, too. Due to the structure of the NBA draft lottery, there’s an incentive for bad teams to lose games down the stretch: The worse your record, the better your pick. Unfortunately, tanking games isn’t exclusively about draft picks. Anyone with the foggiest memory of Vince Carter’s final season in Toronto will vouch for the fact that some players will quit on their teams for no reason at all.

The clearest evidence that players don’t give their best effort during the regular season is the very existence of playoff basketball.  It looks like a different sport. So, how can we incentivize bad teams to play their regular season games with the same intensity and effort as they would a playoff game? The answer, as usual, is money. I believe one simple change to player contracts would vastly improve the product on the court.

Currently, all contracts in the NBA are guaranteed. But what would happen if 90% of a contract’s value was guaranteed and the remaining 10% was left up for grabs? If you divide a player’s salary by 82, you get the amount he makes per game. Let’s call that a game cheque. I suggest that 10% of each player’s game cheque should be dependent on the outcome of the game. The team that wins should get the full value of their game cheque, plus they should get 10% of the losing team’s game cheque. In essence, teams would be playing one another for the chance to steal each other’s money. To add a bit of drama, I recommend that the money be paid in cash at the end of each game, and neatly stacked in a pile on the scorer’s table throughout the contest for all to see.

The NBA salary cap is $58.044 million per team and there are 82 regular season games, so any team that spends to the cap will pay its players approximately $700,000 per game. If the NBA were to adopt the system I recommend, $70,000 (per team) would be on the line each night. It may not seem like a lot of money when you consider that all these players are multi-millionaires already, that win or lose they get to keep 90% of their cheques and that the winning team must split the purse twelve ways, but money won is so much sweeter than money earned. And money lost would be especially irritating for men endowed with the pride, ego and confidence of professional athletes. Can you imagine how mad LeBron James would get at Mario Chalmers for chucking the ball into the stands if Mr. James had money on the line? Continue Reading →

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What Legal Weed in Washington Means to a B.C. Drug Dealer

Marijuana is legal in the great state of Washington. To find out how this new law will impact the pot industry in British Columbia, I spoke with a person whose livelihood is dependent on the drug trade — namely, a drug dealer. The drug dealer will remain anonymous for reasons too obvious to enumerate.

Samuel Kirz: Some speculate that the marijuana business contributes approximately $6 billion to the economy of British Columbia annually, and that B.C. produces 40% of all marijuana consumed in Canada. Are these numbers accurate?

Drug Dealer: I don’t think that there’s a person in the government, or on my side of things, who could accurately estimate the amount of money pot generates. Forty percent of domestic production? Maybe. Nobody knows. I do know that the second largest hydroponic weed-producing province is Ontario, and it’s not even close to the scale that we have here.

How much marijuana crosses the border from B.C. into Washington each year?

Well, the vast majority of pot that goes into Washington doesn’t stay in Washington. We jump it across the border and take it to a warehouse and sell it. Then, the U.S. purchaser moves the dope to wherever he can get the most money for it. A lot goes to the East Coast. People in Washington smoke weed that’s grown in Northern California. Incidentally, more B.C. bud ends up in California than Washington. Cali is such a huge market that the growers down there can’t keep up with the demand. Remember: they have medical weed dispensaries in California and it’s not hard to get a prescription.

How will Washington’s new law impact your marijuana export business?

Washington might become a larger shipment point because the new laws will allow for the legal possession and transport of some amount of pot. The law will also educate the consumer and make the market more discerning. The pot smoker in Washington will be able to choose the highest quality product. He’ll know what he’s buying. That might result in more B.C. bud staying in the state instead of passing through. I don’t know. But the law’s impact on the overall export market will be negligible. Our weed gets shipped wherever the B.C. bud brand carries the most cache because that’s where we get the highest dollar for it. These days, that means the East Coast of the United States. Continue Reading →

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The Great Ontario Gambling Blunder of 1995

From late ’94 to early ’95, much like now, the NHL was mired in a work stoppage. This was a problem for Pro-Line, the sports gambling arm of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. To make up for the revenue lost on NHL wagers, Pro-Line added English Premier League soccer to their book. It was a mistake.

On January 2, 1995, a gambler placed a famous phone call from a Toronto pub called The Feathers. With no hockey to bet on, this gambler decided to try his luck at English soccer, so he phoned his brother who lived in Manchester. When he asked for advice on the day’s matches, the brother not only told him which team would win each game, but also the final score. The gambler was confused about why his brother was so confident in his selections. “Because, those games ended 40 minutes ago,” the brother told him.
Continue Reading →

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The Ultimate ‘NHL 13′ Xbox Experiment

The NHL may be mired in a work stoppage, but people in Canada still want to talk about hockey, so here’s a potential topic of discussion: If each province had its own all-star team comprised solely of homegrown players, and those teams played against one another in an inter-Provincial Hockey Championship, which province would win?

To answer this question, I used the database at quanthockey.com to research the birth province for every active Canadian player in the NHL. Once I had that information, I assembled seven all-star teams: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and one for Atlantic Canada (click each team for their roster). To make this experiment more interesting, I also assembled two all-star teams from the United States: one comprised of players born in the American Midwest, and another from the American Northeast.

Next, I used EA Sports’ NHL 13 to create an avatar version of each team. Since nine is an imperfect number of teams for a tournament, I copied the structure of the Swiss National League A, which features twelve teams in a 50-game regular season, then selects the top eight for the playoffs. The playoff format is best of seven. Acting as doormats, I added three unlucky Swiss teams into the league to fill out the schedule.

With this structure in place, I simulated fifty seasons. Here are the results: Continue Reading →

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‘Chimo’: The Lost Canadian Toast

In 1967 — Canada’s centennial — Lester B. Pearson was prime minister. His friends called him Mike, because his flying instructor in World War I decided that Lester was insufficiently bellicose.

Mike was a politician who got things done. In 1966, universal health care was made law by Mike’s Liberals and, one year earlier, they introduced the Maple Leaf as our country’s flag.

One of Mike’s lesser known accomplishments was the invention of a Canadian toast. In a half-baked attempt to make Canada cool during our country’s centennial, Mike asked our country’s leading authors, historians and linguists to create a national greeting that would encapsulate the Canadian spirit. After what we can assume was one-minute’s thought, they picked an Inuit word that means, “I’m friendly.” So, if you happen to be Canadian and drinking an alcoholic beverage while reading this, please raise your glass and say, Chimo, because Chimo isn’t just American prison slang for child molester; it’s the official Canadian toast.

I spoke with a small number of people who were of drinking age in 1967, and they told me that it was fashionable to say Chimo for about three months after the word’s introduction. Then, Chimo disappeared. One might assume that Chimo lost its cool because Canadians rightly decided that the government should not be in the business of telling drunks how to address one another.
Continue Reading →

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