Entries from April 2008

» Paul Watson: Hero or terrorist?
» One cool bookstore, the Chinese intelligentsia, best comedy ever
» Bidini: China's concrete welcome mat
» Nepal: shining future or end of the path?
» Instant cities, France fights to save the semi-colon, Obama big in Gaza

Entries from March 2008

» Poor Mexican emos, news on a shirt, one angry author, what's the Eiffel Tower wearing?
» High heat on Iran
» The world's most powerful blogs, Starbucks gets caught stealing from the tip jar, Look out! Cyclists!
» Shopping cart races, that's a lot of home-grown terror, turning urine into fertilizer
» The Dalai Lama on Tibet protests
» From the frying pan into the fire
» Torture and hypocrisy
» International Women's Day: Afghanistan
» The TED conference, can a billionaire be 'exploited,' Cambodian oldies

Entries from February 2008

» Algonquin leader faces six months in Ontario jail
» North America's pollution problems, Ottawa's copyright slip-up, Don't mess with Texas students
» New China's catch-22
» Moving environmentalism forward
» Oceans in rough shape, schools for social justice, the copyright battle over Harry Potter, looking back at Wired
» 12 Years of Revolution in Nepal
» Segregation or inclusion?
» Guerilla tree planting, mocking Ahmadinejad, inadvertantly funny headline and Goo goo ga joob
» Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten
» 4th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week
» From pages of a magazine to the jailhouse: Gay men in Senegal
» Weekend links: Bikes can do anything, chopstick accessories, Mom, where do blog posts go?

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Previous Entries

» Everyone in unions
» Grading the columnists
» more STV fun
» Top Five Lists
» One Voter's Experience With STV
» On this day in history...
» In Which Our Hero Discovers His Elbow...
» notwithstanding
» THIS is a great gift!
» Colorstrology
» Rebel Sell goes viral
» Take it to a motel, guys
» How are we doing?
» In praise of idleness
» Nader vs Moore
» Cycles of Empire
» Do you Chris, take Pat...
» Same sex? Any sex will do.
» Do you Pat, take Chris...
» Oh, Ben. Just go away

December 30, 2004

symols of ignorance

Posted by andrew at 01:16 PM ET | Comments (13)

In a story reported on the CBC website today, N&L premier Danny Williams has allowed the Maple Leaf to fly outside provincial courthouses, after judges expressed concerns about impartiality. According to the N&L justice minister: "We discussed it and the premier agreed that it would be inappropriate not to have the Canadian flag fly from free-standing courts."

That the flags came down at all is outrageous. But the rationale for putting them back up at the courts only underlines the idiocy of taking them down in the first place: The Maple Leaf is not the flag of the Liberal Party of Canada, nor is it even the flag of federal government. At worst this is a partisan dispute between two levels of government; it is certainly not a dispute between the people of Canada and the people of Newfoundland, seeing as how all citizens of Newfoundland are also citizens of Canada. That is why the reason they should be flying outside the courts is the exact same reason why they should never have been taken down in the first place: The Canadian flag is a free-standing symbol, not a partisan instrument.

Williams doesn't get it, or maybe he does. Either way, he just looks like an ignorant clown.

Meanwhile, Williams is still refusing to consider returning to the negotiating table. But what were they negotiating about? In a negotiation, two parties stake out positions, then gradually soften and make concessions as they work toward an agreement. What is Williams offering? To put the flags back on their poles?

This has been a Robert Bourassa memorial blogpost.

Update: Oh, and all that negative publicity Williams is getting? From guys like me? Apparently, it's because I'm a stooge of the federalist propaganda machine.

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Shaken up

Posted by mason at 01:11 AM ET | Comments (7)

In a way I’m surprised there hasn’t been more to say about the tsunami on this forum. Working as a copy editor at a Toronto daily newspaper, I’ve been exposed to far too many images of death, chaos and catastrophe from Asia this week. Too many photographs of human tragedy are seared into my brain. The tales of rescue and narrow escape are somewhat heartening, but the sheer volume of victims contradicts any feel-good human triumph stories. The disaster is unspeakable, and leaves me with an empty feeling in my stomach if I think about it too much. This is why I’m also not surprised there hasn’t been more said about it on the This blog.

A tragedy like this messes with a person’s head. I’ve had crazy thoughts about cancelling my planned trip to BC this coming week and seeing if I can fly to Asia to help with the relief effort instead. The urge to do something to help is overwhelming, and donating whatever small amount of money I can afford doesn’t seem to be enough.

At the same time I’m resigned to feeling as though life is a total crapshoot. No matter how hard you try, there is no way to ensure your safety, or the safety of your loved ones. The conclusion I’m left with? Life is short. Make the most of it. I’m trying not to get too philosophical, but it’s tough when something so humbling occurs. Be well, readers, and make ‘05 a good year.

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December 27, 2004

Help the Red Cross help the Tsunami victims

Posted by andrew at 04:15 PM ET | Comments (1)

This is unimaginably awful. Canada has pledged one million dollars, which is too little. We can do better. The CBC has links to make donations to UNICEF and the Red Cross.

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December 25, 2004

Christmas message from the Queen

Posted by andrew at 11:31 PM ET | Comments (1)

I trust everyone put down the turkey or stopped messing with their new iPod today to listen to Lizzie give her annual message to the Commonwealth.


Well, it sounded ok on the people's radio today, and the Guardian called it "a dramatic plea for religious tolerance". But give it a read -- it is more like a desperate plea for a new speechwriter. Check out in particular the ridiculous invented anecdote about some supposed visitor to London who marvelled at the diversity while riding the tube.

Maybe it reads better in the German.

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December 23, 2004

la federalisme rentable

Posted by andrew at 02:52 PM ET | Comments (6)

Robert Bourrassa once coined a term that defines everything that is wrong with the way this federation "functions." He called it "la federalisme rentable," which is usually translated as "profitable federalism." But the french version is better, because the word "rent" captures the extractionary, illegitimate, and cynical aspect of what is going on. For economists, "rent seeking" is the practice of cutting yourself a bigger slice of the cake rather than making the cake bigger. Classic examples of rent-seeking include extortion, protection rackets, cartels, and regulatory policies that generally benefit the lobbyists at the expense of taxpayers or consumers or some other rivals. Unlike profit, which is consistent with growing more wealth for everyone, rent-seeking activities impose large deadweight costs on an economy.

The Canadian federation is essentially made up of rent-seekers, people who are happy to use the country as a mechanism for extracting a larger share of the pie, but who don't really contribute much toward making the pie any larger, or even any sweeter, for the rest of us. Bombardier is a classic rent-seeking company, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of others. Other rent-seekers include entire industries (e.g. dairy production), provinces (Quebec), and regions (the Atlantic provinces). The current idiocy going on between Newfoundland and the Federal government only proves the point. Today, "Newfoundland and Labrador's premier ordered the removal of all Canadian flags from provincial government buildings Thursday in retaliation for an offer from the federal government on offshore royalties he calls a 'slap in the face.'"

Ignore the question of who is right and who is wrong, and just think about what this means for a second. For Danny Williams (and the majority of callers to Newfoundland talk shows who agree with his actions), Canada is literally nothing more than a fiscal arrangement between two governments. On this view, the maple leaf is not a symbol of allegiance, solidarity, or even partial identity. It is not a sign of a committment to a broader project, nor an indication of goodwill and fellowfeeling for other Canadians. The Canadian flag represents one thing, and one thing only: A willingness to keep receiving cheques. If those cheques are not deemed big enough, down come the flags.

Canadians have spent the better part of the past century casting about for an identity. We should put Robert Bourassa on our money. He nailed us.

Update -- more Federalisme Rentable, thanks to Inkless wells. Such a wonderful country we live in. Merry Christmas everyone.

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Everyone in unions

Posted by andrew at 02:13 PM ET | Comments (0)

(Thanks to JC for the tip)

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Montreal-- He hasn't even joined a picket line yet, but Canada's most famous snowman already has a nickname: Comrade Carnaval.

The Bonhomme Carnaval, roly-poly symbol of joie de vivre and wintertime fun at the Quebec Winter Carnival, seems to have some more proletarian worries on his mind these days. Maybe it's the sub-zero weather, the screaming kids and drunken out-of-towners. Maybe it's the grind of being perpetually cheery.

Whatever -- Bonhomme wants to join a union.

A local of the Federation des travailleurs du Quebec (FTQ), the province's largest labour union central, has filed a certification request to unionize the handful of people who personify Bonhomme, as well as his cadre of escorts.

"This is not a joke," said Hermann Dallaire of Local 503 of the United Food and Commercial Workers in Quebec City. "All salaried employees in Quebec have the right to be covered by the Quebec Labour Code."

The FTQ's union drive is not as quixotic as might appear. The same union local recently celebrated a labour victory by unionizing employees at the retailing giant Wal-Mart in Jonquiere, the first to do so in North America. Still, organizing mascots would drive the province's labour movement into virgin territory. As it stands, Quebec has the highest rate of union membership in Canada: 41 per cent of its workers belong to a union, compared with a national average of 32 per cent.

But is the Bonhomme having a meltdown? Neither the union nor carnival management would discuss his working conditions, saying it would ruin the "magic" of the Bonhomme character. "He's like Santa Claus," Mr. Dallaire said.

Still, those in the know say that despite the permanent grin on his face, Bonhomme's life is less than jovial. Noel Moisan, a Bonhomme in the 1950s and 1960s, said his reliance on a cane today may stem from the years he spent in a 7-foot-tall padded costume with a gigantic fibreglass head.

"I used to lose 15 pounds each winter," Mr. Moisan, 86, recalled from his home in Quebec City yesterday. He said Bonhomme, premier symbol of the world's largest winter carnival, deserves a share of its riches; last year's carnival brought $22-million in economic spinoffs to Quebec City.

"This is the 21st century and it's normal to have a union," Mr. Moisan said. "We're dealing with people who are out to make a buck, so Bonhomme should get decent pay."

Some years have been tough on the Bonhomme, too. Although generally a figure of affection, he comes in for periodic ridicule. One year, after being savaged by some Quebec humorists, he was pelted with snowballs at the carnival parade.

"It's hard work. The Bonhomme has to be on his feet early in the morning and late at night. These are 15-hour days, easily," said Jean Provencher, a Quebec City historian and author of a book on the history of the Carnaval de Quebec. "You have to show good humour, availability, infinite politeness and constant joy. It's not a sinecure."

He said the snowman outfit has been made lighter in recent years "but a guy still comes out of it exhausted."

"The carnival isn't interested in having an unhappy Bonhomme, because an unhappy Bonhomme is like a depressed Santa Claus at a shopping mall. You'd might as well tell him to go home," Mr. Provencher said.

Bonhomme Carnaval has been on the job in his red stocking cap and traditional red sash for 50 years. A Quebec City tourism official came up with the idea of a snowman mascot -- an obvious choice for one of the most snowbound cities in the world -- in the traditional Quebec garb of the coureurs de bois. A legend, and a succession of mascot jobs, were born.

Bonhomme Carnaval has a gruelling schedule, putting in 1,000 public appearances in January and February. There are occasional perks during the non-winter months -- promotional tours to New York or Paris, for example -- but the work is largely seasonal. It's not known if the snowman turns to pogey the rest of the year; the carnival's official version is that he flies off for the North Pole.

Management at the Quebec City winter carnival, which promotes itself as the biggest carnival after Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, declined to discuss the union drive.

"We're evaluating the situation," said Roxanne St-Pierre of the Carnaval de Quebec. She noted that carnival employees who build the parade floats are already unionized, "so we're not against the idea at all."

This season's Quebec Winter Carnival runs from Jan. 28 to Feb. 13.

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December 22, 2004

Grading the columnists

Posted by andrew at 11:12 AM ET | Comments (12)

In yesterday's National Post, columnist Don Martin handed out grades to members of the Federal Cabinet. Anne MacLellan got the only A, Judy Sgro got the only F (what about Liza?) and a bunch of Cs all around. In the spirit of the season, let's grade the columnists. Here are mine, feel free to dispute or add others.

Chantal Hebert:A+
She's easily the best political writer in the country right now, in French and English

Paul Wells: A
Gives people a reason to buy Macleans. Has one of the few must-read political blogs in Canada. Points deducted for being a jazz freak.

Andrew Coyne: B+
Consistently the smartest writer on constitutional issues. He immediately pegged the health accord as Meech by stealth; it took the rest of the country weeks to catch up. Has too many weird moments though, especially his inexplicable support for Bush.

Margaret Wente: B+
Mostly I hate her, but I have to read her. Is bent on skewering Martin the way she skewered Crouton at the end, which is nice.

John Ibbitson: B
For a guy who hates the federal government, he manages an objectivity toward -- and even sympathy for -- Ottawa. Remarkably unsentimental writer; he's worked out a lot better than I thought he would.

Richard Gwynn: B-
Once my favourite columnist, he's become very inconsistent. Is still good on federal issues.

Don Martin: C+
Was once one of my favourite columnists at the Post, but he seems in a bit of a rut. Maybe it is because his main object of study, Ralph Klein, is spinning his wheels.

John Ivison: C-
Hasn't really put a stamp on his writing. Tends to whine.

Jeffrey Simpson: D
Wakey wakey Jeffrey! His recent column on the supreme court's same-sex reference was clearly written before the decision had been released. The fact that he was too lazy to change it reflects the sad fact that the man who once owned "the most valuable real estate in Canadian newspapers" has become a complete hack.

Barbara Kay: F
Has replaced Liz Nickson as the Post's insane right-wing woman. Blinded by ideology.

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December 21, 2004

more STV fun

Posted by andrew at 11:03 AM ET | Comments (0)

Anyone interested in a quick primer on voting systems can do better than to read this two part article. It's a decent enough survey of various voting systems, but is unfortunately working with an implied theory of representation that he never makes explicit, and which is at the very least problematic.

So why read it? For the pictures, of course. It is totally bizarre. The article is about BC picking a new voting system, and the author has chosen to illustrate it with paintings from a children's story about fur trapping on Hudson's Bay. Last I checked, the Bay was a good 1000 klicks from BC.

"Vous savez que ces deux nations sont en guerre pour quelques arpents de neige vers le Canada, et qu'elles depensent pour cette belle guerre beaucoup plus que tout le Canada ne vaut."

Voltaire -- Candide

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Top Five Lists

Posted by joyceb at 10:39 AM ET | Comments (8)

Isn't it time for top fives and things?

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December 20, 2004

One Voter's Experience With STV

Posted by mason at 01:34 PM ET | Comments (3)

At a party recently, I had an enlightening conversation with an acquaintance from Ireland about that country’s Single Transferable Vote electoral system, a system very similar to the one British Columbians will be deciding whether to adopt in a referendum next spring.

The Irish guy was effusive about the system, and said he couldn’t imagine electing governments the way we do in Canada, where such a high percentage of votes are effectively not counted.

A few of the strengths of STV that he described contradict the case against the system. First, it’s much more democratic: every vote counts, whether or not the first choice on a voter’s ballot is elected, because each voting district elects more than one representative.

Second, it forces co-operation and negotiation among elected officials, since coalitions are often the result of a more representative process, instead of massive, unaccountable majorities such as the one currently presiding over BC. True, the system may be less stable in the short term, but as voters grow accustomed to it, the benefits of a system that allows real debate in the Legislature will be recognized.

Anyway, something to chew on. Despite being a more complex system, I feel STV would give British Columbians a more representative and, yes, a more effective system of government which would go a long way toward addressing voter apathy. And if successful there, it’s a model that may fit elsewhere in Canada.

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December 17, 2004

On this day in history...

Posted by joyceb at 11:19 AM ET | Comments (0)

On this day in history, the most significant thing happened...the inaugural flight at Kitty Hawk by the Wright Brothers. The plane, a gasoline-powered propellor number, stayed in the air 12 seconds and travelled 120 feet. That was 1903.

The History channel has a cool feature where you can see what happened on YOUR birthday. Check it out.

Of note, others who share my birthday include Humphrey Davy who discovered laughing gas, actress Milla Jovovitch and publishing czar Bob Guccione.

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December 16, 2004

In Which Our Hero Discovers His Elbow...

Posted by andrew at 02:01 PM ET | Comments (5)

This is pretty rich:

Prime Minister Paul Martin slammed Stephen Harper over the gay marriage issue Thursday, accusing his rival of political cowardice.

I'm feeling Xmasy. I will ship a free copy of the Rebel Sell (Americans get Nation of Rebels) to the first person to list ten acts of cowardice by The Headwaiter since 1993. In fact, I'll even get things started by giving you the first one:

1. When he became Prime Minister, The Headwaiter got scared that the Supreme Court was going to come back with their reference on gay marriage before he had a chance to call an election. Too chicken to deal with the issue during an election campaign, he promptly tacked another question on to the reference, ensuring that the Court would be occupied for another few months. That's the question the Supremes decided not to answer, in the closest thing to a "screw you, Paul" you're going to get from our highest court.

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Posted by andrew at 10:11 AM ET | Comments (10)

Rely on Canadians to turn a simple clause in their constitution into a political no-fly zone. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains the following section:

33. (1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.

Also known as the 'notwithstanding' clause, this section allows Parliament or a provincial legislature to override certain of the democratic or legal rights enumerated in the Charter. It was introduced at the insistence of some of the premiers, but against the wishes of Pierre Trudeau. While many observers assumed that it would be used fairly regularly by Parliament as a way of overturning the decisions of the courts, it is coming close to falling into disuse at the Federal level. In fact, the sole function of the clause is to serve as a political shorthand for demonizing your political opponent. That was the essence of the macho posturing by Irwin Cotler last week, when he dared Stephen Harper to tell Canadians whether or not he would invoke the notwithstanding clause to uphold the traditional definition of marriage.

Let's back up a bit.

In a Parliamentary system, one of the main constitutional functions of the House of Commons is to defend the rights of the people against the government. That is what responsible government means: There is a government, comprised of members of the legislature to which it can be held to account. In the face of a depredatious government, the Commons can hold up legislation, withhold supply (starve it of funds) or, in the extreme, bring it down through a vote of nonconfidence. It is a powerful mechanism, and it has served Canadians extremely well for over 150 years. We are some of the most free people in the world.

Our system rests on the British doctrine of the supremacy of Parliament. That is, in London Parliament can pass, repeal and alter any of the country's laws, and there is no court that can declare any of it unconstitutional. The only court that matters is the court of the Commons, and ultimately of the people in elections. When Canada adopted the Charter, we introduced an uncertain element into Parliamentary democracy; it wasn't clear how to square the 300-year-old doctrine of supremacy with the new idea that the Supreme Court, not the Commons, would now be in charge of defending the constitution against the government. This is the core of the idea, oft-repeated by Jeffrey Simpson, that we have moved from a Parliamentary to a Constitutional democracy.

One of the main arguments in favour of the notwithstanding clause was that it protects the supremacy of Parliament. That is, it keeps the final check on political power in Canada in the hands of elected representatives, not unelected jurists. So how did we get to a situation where the very thought that the government would invoke s.33 is seen as politically dangerous? There are three reasons, one sociological, one nationalistic, one legal.

1. Canadians simply don't trust politicians very much. The fact that judges are unelected is actually seen as working in their favour, making them more trustworthy, not less.

2. In our fractious, fragmented, decentralized federation, the Charter is seen as one of the few pan-Canadian institutions. The Charter defines what it means to be a Canadian, whether you live in Corner Brook, Shawinigan, Moose Jaw, or Whitehorse. Trudeau played this point very skillfully; he accused his opponents of wanting to create a set of 'patchwork' rights across the country.

3. The legal argument is a bit more complicated. Begin by noting that the Charter, in fact our whole constitution, is an act of Parliament. Parliament made it, and Parliament can unmake it. The supremacy of Parliament is upheld in the very notion of a constitution that can be amended only through an act of Parliament. But this raises the further question: If nothing is truly beyond the reach of government, then why have a constitution -- why have a schedule of rights -- at all? There are two main schools of thought.

The first is the 'self-binding' theory of rights. Basically, a legislature says to itself: We love democracy, but we recognize that it can be dangerous. We, the majority, are afraid that sometime in the future, we might be tempted to pass laws that, at this moment, we see would be unjust to individuals or minorities. So, like Odysseus binding himself to the mast to get past the sirens, we will put certain laws beyond the reach of mere legislation. We'll call these extra-special laws 'constitutional rights'; in order to change them, we'll have to take extra-ordinary measures that will make us think long and hard before acting to override these rights. In Canada, Andrew Coyne is the best popular proponent of this view of the Charter.

The second is the 'limited government' theory of rights. Derived from the work of Immanuel Kant, the point of a constitution is to spell out the metaphysical limits of government. That is, given certain assumptions about the conditions for the possibility of humans being able to exercise their capacities as rational, autonomous agents, what must government not be allowed to do? For a Kantian, the Charter simply spells out the limits of liberal government. Rights are outside the reach of the majority not for the prudential reasons of Odysseus, but as a condition for there being any just government at all.

So now we are in a position to understand the heart of the debate over the notwithstanding clause. What we have is a conflict between liberalism (and a theory of limited government and individual rights) and democracy (a theory of popular rule). We are so used to talking about Canada as a 'liberal democracy' that we don't realize that, more often than not, the two halves of the description are in conflict. Pierre Trudeau was a liberal first, a democrat second. Stephen Harper -- at least in his populist moments -- is a democrat first, a liberal second.

These are issues over which reasonable men and women of good faith can disagree. I still haven't figured out where I stand on this issue, because my cold rational Kantian instincts conflict with my passionate love for Parliamentary democracy. Reason over passion, said Trudeau. In my ideal world, Parliament would do the right thing, and decide, in a free vote, to uphold the rights of gays to marry.

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December 15, 2004

THIS is a great gift!

Posted by joyceb at 03:41 PM ET | Comments (0)

Those of you with last-minute gift syndrome with smart progressive friends and family on the list should consider the awesome This Magazine gift offer: Buy two subscriptions for $24.99 and get one FREE! You can order online or call 1-877-999-8447.

Because I'm feeling extra especially generous this week (cuz it's my birthday week) I'm creating a special blog coupon online too. Blurkers can order a one-year sub for only $19.99 -- a savings of $5. Hell, while I'm at it, I'll take $5 off our super-fantastic t-shirts too.

Click here to order a subscription and here to order the t-shirt. Type "blurker" in the coupon area and it will deduct $5 from your order. Gift orders of three susbcriptions (three for the price of two) we'll confirm the final cost ($49.98) by email.

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Posted by joyceb at 11:35 AM ET | Comments (0)

The folks at Pantone host this cool thing, colorstrology, that matches beautiful colours to every day of the year.


I am purple sage.

Thanks to Cary for this one.

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Rebel Sell goes viral

Posted by joyceb at 09:31 AM ET | Comments (5)

So I had been noticing a lot of traffic again to the Rebel Sell article, including lots of "send to a friend" this week, and wondered what was going on (yeah, I'm the wizard behind the curtain, deleting all those bot comments and checking the stats on traffic -- *geek*). So it turns out the article was the top post over at the very cool Metafilter.com.

You can read the post, and the interesting discussion thread here:


It's also bookmarked here at del.icio.us.

Now I won't feel so bad this year when Santa skips my house.

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December 14, 2004

Take it to a motel, guys

Posted by andrew at 05:16 PM ET | Comments (2)

George Michael slams Elton John

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How are we doing?

Posted by joyceb at 10:06 AM ET | Comments (0)

This Magazine is doing a reader survey over here, and I encourage our blog and online audience to either take it (takes about 5 minutes) or post a comment here about how you think we're doing. We're interested in all sorts of things, the print mag, the online version, and the blog.

The reader survey is geared towards the print version of the magazine, but we're interested in who is reading us online too. Actually we're pretty pleased with how things are going here -- we think the site looks pretty hot. But what do you think? Are there things you'd like to see online that we aren't doing? A This Magazine t-shirt to the best suggestion (to be judged by a certified This Magazine Star Chamber).


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In praise of idleness

Posted by andrew at 09:34 AM ET | Comments (1)

I'm taking a media holiday for the next few weeks. No papers in particular, and as little internet as possible. Blogging will be occasional and seasonal. To get things started:

First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.

That's Bertrand Russell, in a classic essay. Here's the rest of it.

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December 13, 2004

Nader vs Moore

Posted by annette at 11:56 AM ET | Comments (3)

Ralph Nader takes on Michael Moore in an open letter posted on his website last week. Nader blasts Moore for supporting Kerry in the election, and even accuses him of losing his moxy since winning an Oscar. Although I don't agree with everything Nader writes in this letter (I don't really blame Moore for endorsing the lesser of two evils), this is a highly entertaining read nonetheless. Fight, fight, fight!

Thanks to my buddy Edward King for bringing this letter to my attention.

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Cycles of Empire

Posted by andrew at 09:47 AM ET | Comments (1)

Read a great book over the weekend. One chapter had these two passages:

The British ruling classes have acted as if their only hope of continuing power was to put their fate into the hands of the American empire. The process is epitomized in the career of Tony Blair. High rhetoric about partnership among the English-speaking peoples has been used about this process. It cannot, however, cover the fact that Great Britain's chief status in the world today is to do useful jobs for its masters and to be paid for doing so by the support of the pound and the freedom to provide entertainers and entertainment for the empire as a whole. The American empire may be having its difficulties with France and Germany, but it does not have them with Great Britain.

A few paragraphs later:

Many liberals who do not find the events in Iraq easy to stomach sometimes talk as if what were happening there were some kind of accident -- if only that Texan had not got into the White House, etc. etc. Such a way of thinking is worthy only of journalists. Let us suppose that the American ruling class comes to see more clearly what a tactical error it has made in Iraq and allows the war to tail off. It still governs the most powerful empire in the history of the world. It may learn to carry out its policies (e.g. in South America) more effectively and without such open brutalities. But it will have to have its Iraqs if the occasions demand, and we will have to be part of them.

Good stuff, no? Some of you may be surprised to find that the book was

Technology and Empire, by George Grant (1969). I made two changes to the passages above -- substituting Iraq for Vietnam, and Blair for Churchill.

There is a tendency -- in particular among leftists -- to see what is going on right now in the world as an American aberration, as a case of some dumb Texan being controlled by forces of evil that are making the US a complete outlier. If only Kerry had won, the West (and Iraq) would be saved.

George Grant (and Canadian intellectuals in general) were talking about America as an empire long before it became fashionable to do so in Europe and among journalists. Grant saw that the basic patterns of this empire, and how the rest of us would react, were conditioned by structures that go far deeper than presidential personalities or even party politics.

George Grant wrote a short book called Time as History. His fellow tory Harold Innis wrote an article called "A Plea for Time." Both argued that one of the great dangers in our society was that our media have a "spatial bias", meaning they enabled the conquering of territory, while encouraging a temporal forgetfulness that hides from us the true patterns of history.

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December 10, 2004

Do you Chris, take Pat...

Posted by andrew at 10:06 AM ET | Comments (9)

Couple of questions:

1. Just where, in all the great writings of Christendom, does it say that marriage is the union of a man and a woman? Is it in the bible? Did the Pope ever Bull about it? Did Luther? Brigham Young? Tommy Douglas?

2. Apart from practicalities (one is provincial, one is federal), what is the difference between a "civil union" and a "marriage"? Can anyone with legal training out there please advise -- the papers don't seem interested in explaining this to Canadians.

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Same sex? Any sex will do.

Posted by john_d at 10:04 AM ET | Comments (10)

So here we go, into Parliamentary vote wonderland. Someone at the PMO has obviously done the math and decided there is a solid majority in the house for the same sex marriage bill, but it will be very interesting to watch each individual MP make up their mind (except for the cabinet, who are required to vote in favour).

There will be the “individual conscience” types who believe they communicated their personal beliefs to the voters and therefore have a mandate to vote their own opinion – step up Belinda Stronach and take a bow. The cynic in me sees you differentiating yourself from Harper and his Alliance allegiances in advance of another leadership vote down the road, but I don’t really believe that’s your motivation. Well, not your ONLY motivation. Full points for recognizing a civil rights issue and for stepping back from your party on this one. I’m sure it helps you that you are from a GTA riding, hotbed of homosexual unions.

And then there will be the “I’d really like to vote for it, but my constituents don’t want me to” folks. It’s a safe argument, but weak. Do you have a mind of your own? Are you just a proxy?

Speaking of hotbeds, nice work from the Globe and Mail this morning, taking a page from Penthouse magazine circa 1981 for their photo accompanying the same sex story. It’s good to see the national paper putting the emphasis where it belongs – hot, girl on girl action.

Photo: Aaron Harris/CP

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Do you Pat, take Chris...

Posted by andrew at 09:36 AM ET | Comments (2)

Here's a link to the Supreme Court's reference on same-sex marriage.

Much palaver today about it, the emerging consensus seems to be that, as a decision, it was well-crafted, facing up to the Court's responsibility to defend the Constitution while avoiding forcing the government's hand. (Though Jeffrey Simpson disagrees -- he cut-and-pasted the same column he runs every time the court rules on the Charter. He must have the phrase "we live in a Charter democracy now, not a Parliamentary one" tied to a hotkey.)

The best piece I've seen so far is in the Post, by one Roland De Vries, Presbyterian minister and McGill PhD candidate. He argues that, once gay marriage becomes federal law, he'll have to turn in his badge as a solemnizer of wedding vows. He has this wonderful argument:

"If the new definition prevails, Christian ministers will no longer be able, in good conscience, to officiate at weddings in conjunction with the state, for they would be doing so under a definition to which they cannot adhere... I cannot, and will not, accede to such a hypocritical practice."

The background to his argument is the claim that the solemnization of marriage is one of the last vestiges of the inextricable joining of Church and State in "that 1700-year-old reality called Christendom"

After spending two millennia watching Christendom degenerate from a great perfectionist civilization into just one other conception of the good life among thousands, the minister has decided that here, on gay marriage, is where, like Luther, he must stand his ground.

So, it's ok for the 1700 year old Church to give up on the Inquisition, on burning witches, on excommunicating heretics (LIKE PRESBYTERIANS), on preventing divorce, on preventing abortion, on preventing oral sex, on denying the orbit of the planets around the sun, on denying Darwin and Galileo and Bruno and all the rest of it. No, no point in trying to stand on principle there. BUT NO WAY SHALL GAYS BE MARRIED.

Nice church you've got there, brother De Vries.

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December 09, 2004

Oh, Ben. Just go away

Posted by andrew at 12:10 PM ET | Comments (2)

Everyone's dirty, says Ben Johnson.

Beckie Scott's not dirty. No. Way.

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computer help wanted

Posted by andrew at 11:16 AM ET | Comments (12)

Greetings all. I've spent the better part of the last two days with my new computer from Big Computer Company, trying to strip all the nagware and change all the settings from something other than "infantilising."

But, it isn't like I'm a computer genius or anything, so I need some help. Is there any relatively easy way of transferring all the stuff I want from my old computer to my new computer, without having to shuttle it all onto and off of my USB key. That is, is there any way to do something like the following:

1. Hook up the two computers with a cable
2. Press button that says "copy hard drive on computer A to computer B"

I'd settle for getting all my folders and files over, plus stuff like Outlook contacts lists and such. If you can help, please send me a private email to andrew.potter@utoronto.ca. Please don't send me emails telling me to get a life and stick Linux on -- that's my xmas project.

Feel free to discuss the great annoyance of buying a new computer here.


UPDATE, seconds later: My xmas project is to put linux on my computer, not to get a life.

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December 08, 2004

Holy Hannah!

Posted by mason at 12:38 AM ET | Comments (1)

Did anyone see the Jon Stewart interview with Paul O’Neill, former Treasury Secretary in the Bush administration? The man was such a straight shooter! How did that ever get on television? I’m going to Google him right now.

UPDATE: Further to Mr. O’Neill (for a man of this virtue certainly deserves take an honourific on his name), have a look at this. This story was done almost 12 months ago. How the hell did that fly under the radar? Or did I just completely fall asleep? And why didn’t it come up during the election?

These are the questions my friends!

(Sorry for being vague, but have a look at the article...)

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December 07, 2004

Canada's cold refuge

Posted by john_d at 10:05 AM ET | Comments (16)

All sorts of fascinating potential fallout from the Jeremy Hinzman refugee claim, currently being decided upon by the Immigration and Refugee Board. To begin, the board has rather abruptly decided it will hear no arguments based on the logic that the US invasion of Iraq was illegal. I’d like to hear the reasoning behind that decision.

I did a bit of reading yesterday that suggested Vietnam draft dodgers did not generally apply as refugees, but rather applied for permanent resident status in Canada through standard means. Of course, a very famous guidebook for draft dodgers was published by Toronto’s House of Anansi press (probably still one of their greatest selling titles of all time). Check out some info on it here:

Manual for Draft Age Immigrants to Canada

Can someone explain what is different about the climate or laws today that this method of escape from the US killing machine is no longer an option?

Margaret Wente offers her standard ex-pat American opinion in today’s Globe, but I refuse to pay the internet fee to read the column, so I’ll scrounge around for it at the diner over lunch.

Some interesting questions: Does Canada have a moral obligation to participate in Mr. Hinzman’s perfectly admirable conscientious objection? Will he be forced to kill if he returns to the States, or will he rather face jail time as a deserter? If jail time awaits, is that not his most effective avenue of protest?

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December 06, 2004

Posted by andrew at 09:24 AM ET | Comments (2)

Genevieve Bergeron
Nathalie Croteau
Anne-Marie Edward
Maryse Laganiere
Anne-Marie Lemay
Michele Richard
Annie Turcotte
Helene Colgan
Barbara Daigneault
Maud Haviernick
Maryse LeClair
Sonia Pelletier
Annie St-Arneault
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

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December 05, 2004

Anti-American or anti-impunity?

Posted by mason at 05:33 PM ET | Comments (2)

Seems Naomi Klein has caused something of a ruckus in the UK with her column in The Guardian on Nov. 26 calling the US government to task for creating a hero out of a soldier photographed for the Los Angeles Times.

The column prompted a letter from the American ambassador to the UK demanding a retraction of the claim that US forces in Iraq have eliminated voices that make public the horrendous amount of civilian deaths in Falluja, or evidence to back it up. Klein responded with another column yesterday providing detailed evidence of her claim.

No doubt this will be trotted out by right-wing types as more evidence of America-hating by the left—unless, of course, they ignore the dust-up altogether to avoid drawing attention to the real issues Klein is raising. I suspect they’re too busy trying to get Kofi Annan fired.

Interestingly, more evidence of American war crimes may be provided tomorrow in a refugee claim hearing from the lawyer of a former US army paratrooper who wants to stay in Canada.

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December 03, 2004

The Future of Media?

Posted by joyceb at 08:38 PM ET | Comments (0)

"In the year 2014, The New York Times has gone offline.

The Fourth Estate's fortunes have waned.

What happened to the news?

And what is EPIC?"

Evolving Personalized Information Construct

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Liza Frulla: Standing on guard for Canada

Posted by andrew at 03:52 PM ET | Comments (5)

Anyone who knows how the federal government perceives its role regarding national unity won't find this article from the Ottawa Sun surprising. Here's the lede:

The heritage minister is set to scrap or overhaul a federal Canada Day program that has doled out the lion's share of its cash to Quebec. A breakdown of the "Celebrate Canada" program's 2004-05 expenditures shows Quebec scooped up $5 million of the $7.3-million pot.

We're talking, here, about a Heritage ministry that hired the avowedly separatist group Les Bottines Souriantes to play Parliament Hill on Canada Day two years ago. If the separatists weren't laughing at Canadians before then, they certainly are now. And sure, none of this happened under the watch of Liza Frulla. But Ms. Frulla is doing her best to make Sheila Copps appear competent in retrospect.

Here's how the above Sun article ends:

Marianne Goodwin, a spokesman for Heritage Minister Liza Frulla, said the federal cash is distributed based on applications, and that Quebec planned more costly concerts and "major" events. The minister has ordered a review that could result in recommendations to cancel or overhaul the program so money is distributed more fairly, she said.

Let's play spot the bullshit. Does anyone seriously believe that Quebec got five out of every seven Canada Day dollars because -- proud Canadians that they are -- they organised so many more excellent July 1 activites than the rest of the country as a whole?

Second, note that the floated remedial measures -- cancel or overhaul -- actually contradict the above explanation. After all, if the explanation were correct, the distribution would, ipso facto, be just, and would not need overhauling to make it "more just". Which is why the programme will be cancelled. If you're a Liberal, and are forced to choose between helping your friends, or helping nobody, best to choose nobody.

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Posted by andrew at 10:01 AM ET | Comments (4)

The smart folks over at the Educational Policy Institute have just released a new study comparing the US and Canada on student assistance. The report looks at absolute and relative levels of cost in each of the 50 US states and 10 Canadian provinces as well as the amount of student assistance provided in each jurisdiction as a percentage of the cost of attendance. Among the paper's findings:

- Average tuition and fee charges in US in 1999-00 was $4,251 (in Canadian dollars at Purchasing Power Parity) compared to CDN$3,403 in Canada.

- The variations in cost are larger within in each country than the variation between the two countries. Total cost of attendance in 00-01 (tuition plus room and board) in Canada ranged between $4,137 and $8,846 (BC and Nova Scotia, respectively) while in the US it ranges between $4,664 and $11,577 (Oklahoma and New Jersey, respectively)

- Canada and the US are roughly equal when it comes to providing grants to students; however, greater loan eligibility in the US means that students there have to come up with fewer dollars out of their own pockets to study than do students in Canada.

Their conclusion is that "while tuition fees at Canadian universities remain lower than those in the United States, smaller family incomes and less generous student aid programs mean that education is in some respects more expensive on this side of the border."

What intrigued me the most was a note at the bottom of the press release:

While... Canadian university education may not be as affordable as expected, the report's authors caution against interpreting the results of this study to make inferences about accessibility of education.

"The study shows that we have some problems in providing sufficient amounts of student assistance in Canada," said EPI Vice-President and Director (Canada) Alex Usher. "But we also know from other studies that participation rates are increasing for students from all backgrounds have been increasing rapidly, and that Canada has an excellent record internationally in terms of access to PSE. While linked, affordability and accessibility are two separate concepts and we need to keep that in mind."

Question for the class: Assuming that there is no negative impact on accessibility, what arguments are there against higher tuition fees? That is to say, should we be concerned about rising tuition rates for reasons other than accessibility?

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December 02, 2004

Network Television: Press Free to be Bigots

Posted by joyceb at 02:54 PM ET | Comments (3)

From Freepress.net, word that CBS and NBC have refused to air TV spots for the United Church of Christ, citing it's all-inclusive messaging as "too controversial".

Seems the UCC's message of brotherly love is extended to all people regardless of race, age, ability, economic circumstance, and, ahem, sexual orientation.

This explanation from CBS brass is offered: "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."

The ads WILL air on Fox, ABC, BET, Discovery and others. The treatment? Two bouncers stand outside a church at Sunday service. The text reads "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." Then the narrator's voice proclaims "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."

The response from UCC? "We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," says the Rev. Robert Chase, director of the UCC's communication ministry.

Amen to that.

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Canada’s Theoretically Free Press

Posted by john_d at 10:52 AM ET | Comments (0)

Two interesting developments in the latest challenge to the tradition of confidential sources for Canadian journalists.

Hamilton Spectator reporter Ken Peters was yesterday found guilty of contempt of court for refusing to answer a direct question from a judge. Mr. Peters felt his answer would compromise a source to whom he had promised confidentiality, and Peters has shown exemplary courage in standing firm on his professional principle.

Interestingly enough, despite the guilty verdict, Peters is not on the hook for any fines or jail time. In fact, his case was moved from criminal to civil court, seemingly to protect him from a possible criminal record should he be convicted.

Some quotations of note from the Globe story:

There is a newsroom culture that media employers put personal onus on journalists when they promise to protect a source’s confidentiality, the judge said.

“It is all very well for the employer and the educator to say the protection of source is a matter for the individual conscience of the journalist,” Judge Crane said in his ruling.

“When they also say any journalist who has revealed a source will never again be employed in a newsroom, the oppressive nature of this culture on the individual has been the cause of the very real turmoil of Mr. Peters that he has been in for the last two weeks.”

The judge seems to be suggesting that the Hamilton Spectator has not been forceful enough in their protection of their employee, and that Peters may be standing his ground simply to protect his job.

Not sure of the full details of Peters relationship with the Spectator, a venerable daily and currently a TorStar property, but I’ve always understood the simple logic of the confidentiality principle to be you might as well go to jail to protect your source because if you name them, no-one will ever give you confidential info again – IOW, your career as a journalist is toast.

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December 01, 2004

Stand Fast, Craigellachie!

Posted by andrew at 09:01 AM ET | Comments (7)

Pierre Berton has died at 84.

When I was about 15, I was bored out of my mind one rainy day at the cottage. My mom dug an old copy of The National Dream out of a box of standard-issue cottage books (romances, Hardy Boys, political bios) and told me I'd love it. I sneered. Pierre Berton? Boooooring. Instead, I read some smut novel my uncle had left lying around.

It was another decade before I picked up Berton again, and I was hooked from the first page of Vimy, one of the finest books I have ever read. I've read a bunch more of his books since then, but not as many as I wish I had. I wish I'd been less snobby when I was younger, or, maybe, I wish some teacher had made me read Berton.

Here's a guest blog comment from my friend James Stewart, a history teacher in Toronto:

In the passing of Pierre Berton Canada loses a lion of Canadian history. You know, he once lamented that no one under 40 knew who he was. I would say it's the job of every history teacher in Canada to see that Pierre Berton is known by a younger generation of Canadians. Using his work, because it makes Canadian history so exciting, will turn a lot of students on to Canadian history. I think it's very important we keep his legacy alive by feeding his books to young people.

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