Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A city that the damned call home

Okay, here's the thing: Inappropriate politicization of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, left (and left and left and left) and right (and, to a lesser extent, right) has got to stop. It's a natural disaster, and manipulating events as they unfold to score cheap points - and often completely ludicrous and illogical ones, at that - is just adding to the hideously Hobbesian state-of-nature vibe currently emanating from the Gulf Coast. It's bad enough to be confronted with the stock-character spectres of looters rampaging through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Those trying to apportion blame while New Orleans is still consumed by fire and flood - thinking of their electoral chances in 2006, be it January or October - are just plain ghoulish, and way, way out of line. That said - and despite the fact that the city looks to be months if not years away from full recovery, if ever - probably the most counterproductive commentary is that which sinks into over-emotional despair. It's not unexpected, but neither is it helpful. NRO's The Corner (along with a number of network news anchors and reporters) have been preoccupied with this theme today. From editor Rich Lowry: Here's why Bush's reaction (so far) has been inadequate. I watched the CBS Evening News just now. They broadcast a jaw-dropping report from refugee encampments atop the interstates in New Orleans. Folks, it was one of the most heart-wrenching thing I've ever seen. I can hardly believe this is our country. There were plenty of desperate people stuck there under the boiling sun, with no food, no water, no nothing -- including mothers with babies. There was an elderly woman sitting on the curb next to the covered body of her husband, who died waiting to be rescued. She said that she'd flagged down a passing cop to ask for help, and all he could tell her was to move the body of her husband of 53 years out of the way, so the smell of his decomposition didn't bother people. CBS showed the covered corpse of a man the refugees said jumped from the interstate to his death in despair. These people have NOTHING, and they're growing desperate. The human drama playing out in Louisiana now beggars description. We don't need mere emoting -- the hapless Gov. Blanco shows how useless that is. But we do need our president to make an emotional connection of some sort with his suffering countrymen. You can be tough, competent AND emotional. It's called Giuliani 101. And a reader letter, endorsed thereby: A lot of Bush fans are frankly aghast at how tone-deaf the president is at this moment. They just showed clips of New Orleans prisoners sitting in a huge group, some of them handcuffed together with plastic cuffs with flood water lapping at their feet. They have been there for two days. Prisoners have their shirts pulled over their noses because the stench is too overwhelming. Fox News is the only news crew along a particular stretch of highway downtown. Hundreds of people are standing around, wanting to know where they should go to get water and food. They have not had either for days. Shep Smith showed a 3-year-old boy who was sitting in his mother's lap. He was sick and barely conscious. Dehydrated. Hungry. Not a single authority figure was anywhere around. Shep had to turn his interview with a state police spokeswoman into a plea to her to send help to his location for those poor people. The scenes I'm seeing on Fox are things you'd think you'd only see in Somalia or Bangladesh. This is the United States of America. We can't get a single truck full of water to these people? We can't get a single helicopter to fly over and drop supplies? A cop car and a military truck roll up from the distance, giving the suffering people hope. Do they stop as the desperate wave? No. They drive through. They can't even stop to tell them where they should go to get any life-saving water or food. The problem is that it's not about getting a single water truck to one particular group of people on one telegenic highway overpass - it's about triage, attempting to allocate resources where they'll be most useful immediately. In the same way that I don't imagine myself a military strategist, second-guessing ongoing operations in Iraq, neither am I a civil engineer experienced in logistics. Neither is Lowry. Nor, I'm willing to bet, are most of those demanding Something Be Done in a way that's immediately and substantially visible to us gawkers comfortably watching the horror from hundreds or thousands of miles away, on cable. (Of course, you'd have to be watching half a dozen channels at once just to catch everything, anyway; one reader e-mail posted on BoingBoing asked "Where are the military helicopters? Perhaps I missed seeing them on TV. Surely not every single one is in Iraq?" Interesting; Fox News was certainly covering Navy helicopters performing search-and-rescue operations, whether or not others were...) The point is, I'm willing to give the authorities - civil and military - the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they're doing everything they can with an eye to solving the overall problem. Becoming distraught at a heartbreaking scene, and lashing out at the inability of government to fix everything immediately, is not only futile; it's sure to spread the negativity around, too. Assuaging our collective survivors' guilt with high-profile feel-good efforts for those particular victims caught on camera - as opposed to the whole of those affected - is among the least essential things to be done at the moment. This is disaster on a nearly-incomprehensible scale, and no matter what any person or agency says or does in the short term, the loss of life (and property damage) will be mind-boggling. But a bit more stoicism, and less panicking, couldn't hurt anything right about now. UPDATE: On the other hand, maybe faith is better put in a well-armed populace re-establishing order for themselves, in the short term: Looters also chased down a state police truck full of food. The New Orleans police chief ran off looters while city officials themselves were commandeering equipment from a looted Office Depot. During a state of emergency, authorities have broad powers to take private supplies and buildings for their use. Managers at a nursing home were prepared to cope with the power outages and had enough food for days, but then the looting began. The home's bus driver was forced to surrender the vehicle to carjackers. Bands of people drove by the nursing home, shouting to residents, "Get out!" Eighty residents, most of them in wheelchairs, were being evacuated to other nursing homes in the state. "We had enough food for 10 days," said Peggy Hoffman, the home's executive director. "Now we'll have to equip our department heads with guns and teach them how to shoot." Every minute, it gets a little bit more Night of the Living Dead out there. (Via LGF, Damian Penny, and others.)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

You're on the air, I'm underground; signal's fading, can't be found

61% of Canadians haven't missed the CBC at all since the strike began - seemingly a fairly damning non-endorsement of the Mother Corp - and yet a Canadian Media Guild spokesman can't help improbably painting those numbers in some kind of class warfare model, where the opinions of the rich bastards who choose to spend $40 a month on widening their viewing options don't really count: OTTAWA — Most people didn't notice the on-air disruption caused when 5,500 CBC workers were locked out of studios across Canada, a new poll indicates. Ten per cent of respondents to the Decima survey said the labour dispute at the public broadcaster is "a major inconvenience" while 27 per cent called it "a minor inconvenience.'" Sixty-one per cent reported no impact at all. [...] Those who said they were most inconvenienced by the lockout tended to be Liberal and NDP voters or older people, the poll found. Most other respondents said they had not been affected. Union spokesman Arnold Amber, CBC branch president of the Canadian Media Guild, helped frame and analyse political polls years ago when the public broadcaster did its own surveys. He dismissed the Decima results as premature and "totally meaningless.'" "They're polling the entire population rather than the population that actually cares and listens (consistently) to the CBC," he said in an interview. "It's the equivalent of asking a bunch of people who only drive cars whether or not the bus service in their area is better or worse.'" I'll give Amber credit for making a somewhat apt comparison; the CBC is a lot like mass transit in some ways - namely, in being public infrastructure, not necessarily intended to be profitable, funded (theoretically) out of a sense of public duty, with funding appropriated from all through tax revenues whether one uses the service or not. But it's not that apt. I present to you the top ten ways bus service would differ if operating on the CBC model. Drumroll, please: If public transit were run like the CBC... 10. There'd be no nominal user fees in the form of tickets, tokens or passes; the threat of being crushed by privately-owned American bus companies would be deemed so dire that enacting the slightest barrier to free and easily-available use of the service would be heresy. 9. The transit authority's headquarters wouldn't be in an ugly industrial part of town near where the main routes actually run, but fashionably close to nice shopping and upscale cafés. 8. Rick Mercer would occasionally be sent on a bus to the suburbs to condescendingly quiz residents about details of local routes on the other side of the city, for the amusement of those "in the know." 7. All routes would pass through one of two large terminals in the far southeast corner of town, no matter where they started or ended, local or express. 6. Liberals and the NDP would incessantly wail that only public transit "keeps us together" despite a large majority never using it, choosing instead to exercise the choice to purchase (on the free market) transportation more to their liking. 5. Bus drivers, rather than following their routes directly, would make frequent and unnecessary detours in order to show passengers buildings and locations imagined to be evidence of American perfidy. (Corollary: Lazier drivers could just point to selfish single-occupant-vehicle drivers in the street, and make dark implications about Halliburton, Enron, and oiiiiil.) 4. All buses, trains, and other rolling stock owned by the transit authority would by law be required to be of Canadian manufacture, regardless of whether or not such vehicles were the most efficient, comfortable, desirable, or economical options on the market. (Corollary: used British-made vehicles might occasionally be allowed, so long as the purchase price was cheap enough. Likewise flashy American vehicles, but only on very special occasions, when it should become important to raise transit's public profile.) 3. Some bus routes would be considered to be "above" the degrading practice of subsidization through advertising. 2. The transit authority would openly and shamelessly support the Liberal Party of Canada. (Oh, wait...) And, finally, the number one way public transit would be different if it was more like the CBC... 1. Being a bus driver of average skill from a sufficiently interesting ethnic background and with sufficiently left-leaning politics - rather than merely paying a decent wage commensurate with experience - would put one on the fast track to being named Governor-General of Canada. (Via NealeNews.)

Seems a downright shame, seems an awful waste

Some problems are the same throughout the Commonwealth: Plug in "Canada" and the many instances of needlessly federally subsidized Canadian television and film for "Australia" and their domestic production counterparts in this article, and you'd never notice the change. (Via Tim Blair.)

Don't let me stop your great self-destruction

I do believe this may be, hands down, the most appalling thing ever said by a CBC personality, on the job or off - and that's no mean feat: Take the surreal podcast that emerged from the Vancouver pickets earlier this week. It rings with the sound of producers who know what they're doing, and familiar voices we've gone without. Listening, it's like getting the CBC back for a moment. And then you notice that those voices have all become partisan and tinged with anger. It feels like going through the looking glass. If you've ever wanted to hear the chronically gentle Bill Richardson get mad, here's your chance. Ian Hanomansing speaks thoughtfully about having his slot co-opted by BBC newscasts, but national reporter Curt Petrovich's closing rant against management (which cut off all employee cellphones) is nothing short of disheartening. "Why isn't someone trying to take back the controls from a bunch of box cutter-wielding ideologues who are ready to smash this organization into the pillars of public trust that took decades to build?" Petrovich asks. "On that note, at least the other guys let the passengers use their cellphones." Who knew? Management of a state broadcaster refusing to immediately capitulate to union demands = terrorism! Not only that, but management having the gall to shut down work-issued cellphones while employees are on strike is, of course, exactly equal to Islamist madmen murdering three thousand people. It's a shame beacons of wisdom like Petrovich are walking a picket line, instead of sharing such insights on the public dime, no? (Via The Shotgun.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Instead of government we had a stage

This (more here) is most certainly not helpful, except maybe to the Liberals: I'm struggling with what to call Michaelle Jean, if only because there are so many shades of meaning: defector, traitor, spy, double agent. It might be one of those things where we won't really know until well after the damage is done. I see. I am by no means a fan of the GG-designate; the Prime Minister's decision was and remains a blatant display of tokenism and political point-scoring. Michaelle Jean probably won't be the most eloquent, thoughtful or dignified person to hold the position, true, but to suggest that her motivations for accepting the appointment are downright sinister definitely crosses a line. There's no evidence she's anything but a left-leaning nationalist (and even sovereigntist) Quebecois with the ambitions and know-how to game the political system for professional advancement. Yes, parts of that are rightly objectionable to various people for various different reasons, but the whole is well within acceptable limits of behaviour. Imagining complex scenarios where she might be a French catspaw, or could use her position to enable an otherwise wholly-preventable secession (If the Governor-General's recognition thereof is the single last thing preventing an independent Quebec, it's already a done deal, for crying out loud) is delving deep into the fever swamps of conspiracy theory, and I fear will serve only to further paint conservatives as recalcitrant whiners. Even worse is counterfactually playing with facts and definitions, to demonstrate possible justifications for using the word "traitor" et al; it's intellectually dishonest, and more than a bit desperate. As scandal goes, that the Governor-General may be a sovereigntist - given the utterly immaterial and purely ceremonial role of the office - isn't that impressive. I sincerely doubt, once the summer recess is over and the House is back in session, that Michaelle Jean's life, career or qualifications will still be useful or interesting enough to attack Paul Martin with. Throwing around loaded terms like the above may feel good; righteous indignation always does. But I would urge Angry and any others still raging about Ms. Jean's appointment to let it go, soon. Wallowing in blunt, bombastic hyperbole has a way of making one look petty and delusional.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I hacked my way through the thicket; a maze of fragmented ramblings

I did something not particularly bright today: I gave a bureaucrat a choice between solving a problem with a couple of minutes of extra work on their part, or solving it by throwing money at it. Guess which option won out? I've been having this recurring problem, you see, with the HM's parliamentary assistant. I receive the raw content for publications - Ten Percenters and Householders - and format it in InDesign. We go through several rounds of revisions, some pointless and some not, and end up with Microsoft Publisher files to send off to Printing Services. If that was the entirety of the workflow, I'd be happy, but it's not; without variation, there seems to be a pattern of massive painful editing between the first and second step, because what they're sending me is just too long. There's a limit to how small body text can go, and even at 9 or 10 point, the first draft I receive is always overlong by about 30%. With Ten Percenters, I can put my foot down, because we're dealing with very narrowly-defined limits of available space, and one or two stories end up getting dropped. (This, despite repeated assurances that next time we'll stick to 1200 words maximum, we promise, etc etc.) The fall Householder, however, was even worse than usual: too long by about 60%. I may be able to cheat margins and point sizes by fractions to solve minimal overreach, but that's getting into miracle-worker territory. This was where I made my fatal mistake: I pointed out that, should the office not wish to move up to one of the larger (and 30% more impactful of the budget) Householder format sizes offered by Printing Services, the parliamentary assistant and riding office manager would have to go through another round of editing to cut the whole thing down. I expected, understanding the cost, that the choice would be to snip a few of the more inconsequential pieces. "Oh, there's bigger sizes?" In short, I seem to be partially responsible for causing about $1600 of non-essential discretionary spending out of the office budget, compared to how things stood yesterday. With the congenital editing problem we seem to have, too, I'm afraid the staffers in question will never be able to downsize back to the previous format, so long as the HM is in office. And, of course, that's ultimately coming out of the general House budget, derived from general revenues. Sure, $1600 isn't much compared to envelopes stuffed with hundreds of thousands mysteriously being handed off to Liberal operatives, but that's still a significant amount of money that may or may not have been otherwise spent, and certainly didn't need to be. The growth of the bureaucratic machine is due largely to unthinking and rash decisions like this, made because it's easier than deciding whether or not constituents really need to hear about one pet issue or another yet again. And I'm part of the problem, now. I'm so sorry.

Let man's petty nations tear themselves apart

The Telegraph manages to put the Hans Island dispute in the proper context with a wonderfully dismissive headline: "Canada flexes its muscles in dispute over Arctic wastes." Canadian warships were sailing towards the Arctic yesterday in the latest act of gunboat diplomacy over control of the frozen wastes there. Ottawa has launched a series of Arctic sovereignty patrols to assert its territorial claims and fend off rivals, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States. Its scramble for the Arctic is a consequence of global warming and the retreat of the polar ice. This has raised the prospect of once-inaccessible areas becoming available for oil and mineral extraction. It has also revived the dream of a "North-West Passage" for shipping, linking the Atlantic and Pacific. Amid diplomatic arguments over territorial rights, Canada's defence minister recently clambered on to a frozen rock, tiny Hans Island, triggering protests from Denmark. Even members of the British press are snickering behind their keyboards at feeble Canadian attempts at maintaining Arctic sovereignty; I think that really says something. This is the kind of military reputation I'd expect of, say, Monaco, not Canada. As long as "peacekeeping" is the ideal, however, can we expect any better?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

There's a man gone mad in the town tonight

Oy. U of O, my alma mater: apparently as much an employer of anti-Semitic professorial moonbats as anti-American ones. A Jewish group has filed a complaint to the University of Ottawa against one of its professors after the discovery of content on his website that blames Jews for the terrorist attacks on the United States, and claims the numbers who died at Auschwitz are exaggerated. The website, www.globalresearch.ca, also reprints articles from other writers that accuse Jews of controlling the U.S. media and masterminding the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Other postings suggest Israel, the U.S. and Britain are the real perpetrators of the recent attacks on London. The site, which is not hosted by the university, is run by Michel Chossudovsky, a controversial left-leaning economist, and came to the attention of B'nai Brith Canada after public complaints to the advocacy group and the Citizen. "The material on the site is full of wild conspiracy theories that go so far as to accuse Israel, America and Britain of being behind the recent terrorist bombings in London," said Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada. "They echo the age-old anti-Semitic expressions that abound in the Arab world, which blame the Jews for everything from 9/11 to the more recent tsunami disaster." He does try the 'not anti-Semitic, just anti-Israel' rhetorical backflip: Mr. Chossudovsky described himself as being of Jewish descent, and said he has relatives who were Holocaust victims. "I'm the first person to withdraw any kind of hate material directed against the Jewish people." He went on to defend the reprinted articles that have also sparked complaints, saying they are legitimate commentary representing views that are "anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic." But that's not very convincing, when he apparently does teach conspiracy theories in his courses, instead of, y'know, accepted economic models. From a student review of a graduate studies course at RateMyProfessors.com: He rocks. The conspiracy theories, the personal stories about his experience observing developing countries under SAP, his passion for the subject matter... No, it's not a very technical / theoretical course, but a lot of what happens in the real world isn't easily explained by traditional models. Is it really fair to call the Global Jewish Conspiracy theory a non-traditional model? An awful lot of European cognoscenti certainly were outspokenly enthusiastic about it seventy or eighty years ago, after all...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Apologiae

Real life takes precedence. I know that it's sure (ha) to disappoint the literal dozens of regular readers I have, but that's a large part of why I haven't been posting much lately. I've got enough work on my plate, between my real job (graphic design for a local ad company) and the other thing (graphic design, proofreading, and database maintenance for the HM), that there have been days recently when I've forgotten to eat, let alone make entirely-on-autopilot attempts at wit or insight via blog. Coupled with that, of course, is that it's late August; there isn't much going on at the immediate and personal level to talk about. Sure, I have opinions about recent topics of note (Cindy Sheehan? Creepy and kind of despicable, if justified in venting her grief, no matter how inappropriately. The Gaza pullout? Not necessarily a bad strategic move, but it does seem to be in this case. The continued federalist-separatist dichotomy embodied in the person of Michaëlle Jean? A great big solid meh; she's an overt political choice, and certainly a potentially damaging one, but that isn't a good enough Gotcha to stay obsessed over for long.) - but I just don't have the energy to be anything but dazedly concessionary about them. Is it worth getting worked up over? I have to say that nothing really is in the short term, at the moment. This, too, shall pass. You'll forgive me, then, if I continue to be largely indifferent for the time being. At least until classes start, most likely; I'm sure I'll have plenty to vent about while enduring fourth-year seminar courses in Women's and Canadian History.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

But they won't hear a word of a doubt, or see signs of weakness

This is not a surprise. Despite fiery rhetoric from Canada's top soldier that the Forces' main job is to kill people and rid the world of "scumbag" terrorists, Canadians prefer an old-fashioned image of their soldiers as benevolent peacekeepers, says a newly released poll. Canadians support their troops and think there should be more of them, that they should be better funded and have better equipment. But the public's support is not deep, and still follows a traditional pattern that remains disturbing for the Forces: They don't think they deserve more money at the expense of health care and education. [...] About 57 per cent said they want the Forces to have a "traditional peacekeeping role" compared with 41 per cent that favoured "a peacemaking role, which might involve fighting alongside other UN troops to force peace in a disputed area." Quebecers, at 62 per cent, and university-educated Canadians, at 61 per cent, most favoured the traditional role. It's still disheartening, because it's just another peace of evidence that Canadians (and especially the most-educated) are still desperately clinging to the peacekeeping fantasy. It's not so much pride in the Pearson vision, I think, as much as cognitive dissonance: The imagined premise of "nice" Canada, moral giant among petty geopolitical squabblers, doesn't jibe with that of maintaining modern and capable armed forces - unless those forces can be justified with feather-light arguments for the further moral authority that their missions grant. That a pathological attachment to peacekeeping before proactive defence means Canada may not have the international influence (or even durability of national defence) many imagine is irrelevant, in this line of reasoning; Canadian troops don't have to be capable of protecting Canada, to be props in a certain type of feel-good post-modern daydream. As long as the self-image of the country as an innocent on the world stage is maintained, that's enough for 57%, apparently. (Also questionable: Since when is peacekeeping the "traditional" role of the Canadian military? I sense shades of Carolyn Parrish-style historical ignorance. Participation in two world wars and several regional ones prior to the Liberal-redefined Year Zero of the nation surely counts for more than the forty-odd years of international irrelevance since, doesn't it?)

Monday, August 15, 2005

"If you do, you are sure to be branded as a lunatic, however warmly you may protest."

Interesting historical artifact of the day: Japanese WWII propaganda, which included not just amusingly delusional Soviet-style Smiling-Children-Of-All-Nations scenes, but some downright creepy psy-ops leaflets. Tokyo Rose had nothing on the writer of the bottom-most work. (Via BoingBoing.)

Anything but catastrophe

It's so unfortunate when facts don't jibe with a manufactured panic, isn't it? As Canadian politicians express alarm about a rising tide of guns smuggled from the United States, statistics obtained by The Globe and Mail show that federal border guards are seizing fewer firearms and Toronto police are pulling no more guns off the streets than they ordinarily do. The Canada Border Services Agency says it has intercepted 318 guns so far in 2005, below the more than 1,000 seized guns that border guards have averaged annually during the past five years, and far fewer than the 1,500 seized annually in the 1990s. And while Toronto Police Service Chief Bill Blair was widely quoted last week as saying his officers have seized more than 2,000 guns so far in 2005, civilians in his statistics department say the chief inadvertently "misspoke." Their official tally is only 1,151, consistent with the pace of seizures in recent years. [...] But if a glut of guns exists on Canadians streets, the weapons have not materialized overnight. The border agency says its lower seizure numbers stem from anti-smuggling efforts. Meanwhile, the union representing border guards disagrees, saying a lack of resources leaves its members intercepting, at the most, one out of every 20 guns coming north. No one really knows how many guns are crossing the border, but experts say plenty of problems lie in Canada's backyard and the Americans are not about to solve them. "Guns from the U.S. are an issue, but a small part of the bigger picture," said Paul Culver, a senior Toronto Crown Attorney. However, that doesn't mean that some specific cases of smuggling aren't worrisome. CNN) -- Two men tried to re-enter Canada from the United States early Saturday with handguns and ammunition strapped to their bodies, Canadian police said. Ali Dirie, 22, and Yasin Mohamed, 23 -- both Canadians from the Toronto area -- face weapons-related charges and are in police custody in Niagara Falls, Ontario, according to a police statement. Ontario's Provincial Weapons Enforcement Team and the Niagara Regional Police Service are investigating. Forbid most private firearm ownership, and is it any wonder that there's a smuggling problem, unattributable to the American market as it may be? Or that the law-abiding, left unarmed, will get caught in the crossfire between gangs and who-knows-what else?

I've got no future, but oh, what a past

Heavens. Let's hope this doesn't go on for weeks...or months...or indefinitely... The CBC has locked out the 5,500 members of the Canadian Media Guild after last-minute bargaining went nowhere. "We are now officially locked out," said a message posted at 12:05 a.m. EDT Monday on the union's hotline. "There are no plans at this time for any further talks with the corporation." While the bargaining committee will stay in Toronto for a few days to see if negotiations can be restarted, "given the aggressive position management has taken at the table, however, we think it's unlikely we'll hear from them," it said. "This is not a good day for Canadian broadcasting," said Lise Lareau, president of the union, which represents producers, newsroom staff and technicians at the public broadcaster. Bravo, Ms. Lareau! Keep on speaking truth to power! Cripple their operations until your union gets the guaranteed impossible-to-fire European-style sinecure positions you so rightly deserve! Why, without the CBC, how would we know that Americans are evil and stupid? Without CBC News, who would tell Canadians that our health care system is the best in the world? Without the CBC's extensive subsidization of Canadian comics, where would we turn for subtle and understated dry wit in the Royal Canadian Air Farce mould, or gentle good-natured ribbing à la Rick Mercer? Without the CBC, who'd fill the void of self-consciously condescending non-commercial radio? Without the CBC, who'd be the most enthusiastic media boosters of federal Liberals? And, most importantly, where would I watch new episodes of Doctor Who? (Alas, I think I can make the sacrifice, if we're lucky enough to see employees and management still at each others' throats, stretching into January.)

Friday, August 12, 2005

Let innocence reign

Not that there's any way it'll repair the damage done by now, but I see the RCMP have decided Gurmant Grewal and the great secret taping saga of 2005 aren't worth a formal criminal investigation, let alone charges: The RCMP have decided not to launch a criminal investigation after reviewing audio recordings made by Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal, who accused the Liberals of trying to buy his vote and that of his wife, also a Tory MP. An RCMP spokesperson, Natalie Deschenes, said Friday that investigators listened to the recordings and interviewed the people who were involved before concluding that no criminal investigation was warranted. Still, Grewal is bound to continue to be a liability, should he visibly resurface on the national stage. All the Liberals will have to do is deal in their usual innuendoes and vague intimations - all the while admitting that yes, maybe there was no crime committed, but - and that damning but will give license for CBC et al to rehash the entire story. Much as was done in this particular item, in fact, happening to make up a greater amount of the total word count than the actual news. I still don't believe Grewal did anything wrong initially, or intended to; gathering evidence of genuine executive malfeasance is no vice. But odd behaviour in the ensuing days and weeks has led to the point where, even if cleared of even the possibility of accusations of criminality, he can still be demonized for the Liberal and NDP bases as an rabble-rousing example of Why We Hate Them - a bumbling Canadian reflection of Karl Rove's eerie lock on the minds of the obsessive American left. Nothing succeeds like success, however, and while iconic demonization can be brushed off when the object of vilification is a valuable asset to the party, it's much harder to justify maintaining confidence in a member of the team without such a track record. I hope Grewal keeps a low profile next election; if not, I have a feeling that countless hours and gallons of ink will be spent further rehashing the whole sorry affair.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

There's nothing calculated, nothing planned

I know it's easy to pick on some of the sillier causes found online, in a rather melodramatic lament for the state of democracy, but a laundry list of absurd comparisons is missing the point: For example: When crowds took to San Francisco streets last month to support the Giants anti-mascot Crazy Crab -- ditched in 1985 in part because fans were hurling bottles at it -- it made for a few humorous stories on a slow news day. But when the same fight was taken to the Web, it seemed kind of twisted. Can citizens really be more concerned for fictitious animals ("Bring Back the Crazy Crab!": 776 signatures) than real ones ("Put an End to Fox Hunting": 395 signatures)? [...] Here's proof: In the last year, petitions have surfaced supporting "Drivers Against Females Driving" (46 signatures), "Nude pictures of Dick Cheney" (50 signatures) and something called "We Like Big Butts" (610 signatures) -- which appears to be aimed at turning a Sir Mix-A-Lot rap into a legislative mandate. Here's more proof: "Save the Puppies" has compiled 21 signatures, while a petition demanding a " 'Saved by the Bell' 10-year Reunion Special" has gathered 6,241. [...] But it's still hard to get past the fact that "Please, Lindsay, Eat" (41, 135 signatures), requesting that actress Lindsay Lohan eat a sandwich, is beating out a petition that denounces the slaying of gay teens in Iran (19,607 signatures). Here's the thing: Rational people genuinely committed to a cause don't usually sign online petitions. They're self-evidently worthless, lacking even the evidence of effort to physically canvass for the opinions of one's fellow citizens. Even signing a physical petition is next to worthless, when it comes to effecting some kind of political change or action; it becomes all too obvious that the signers don't care enough to express an opinion of their own volition. (Or, interestingly, happen to have names like "J. Godzilla" and the like.) Is this a secret? Of course not - and that's why I'm neither surprised nor upset that so many have so little regard for the supposed sanctity of petitions. When the informed citizens of western civilization choose to express their opinions exclusively via pleas to bring back Saved by the Bell, then I'll worry as much as the author of this piece, and not before. (Via TV Tattle.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Can you use any money today?

Spiffy: Canadians who bought an MP3 player last year could be eligible for a refund of up to $25. Apple, Sony, and Hewlett-Packard announced this week that they would refund the "piracy" levy customers paid on their MP3 players, including the iPod, between December, 2003 and December, 2004, after the Supreme Court of Canada refused last month to overturn a Federal Court of Appeal decision that rendered the levy invalid. "Apple is pleased that the Supreme Court of Canada let stand a lower court ruling that blank media levies on iPods are invalid, and will shortly announce a claims process so consumers can request a refund for the levies they paid," the company said in a press release late Monday. I couldn't get anything out of the class-action suit filed against Apple for inadequate battery life in 3G models, it applying only to US customers, but I can certainly collect on this; I bought John Quincy iPod on May 6, 2004, and actually (unusually) managed to not lose the receipt. Kudos to Apple (and others, but, well, I can't care too much about Sony's slew of idiotic ATRAC-only devices of the past few years) for doing the right thing, and refunding the levy. I was starting to get a bit passive-aggressively bitter about post-December 17 buyers getting a nice Christmas discount, without any concessions to existing owners.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Sometimes I think that sanity is just a passing fad

You know, the first thing I thought when reading this was that it's a pity Saturday Night Live is still on summer hiatus. They did a great job with Harry Belafonte's bizarre ramblings last time they made the news. Atlanta (CNSNews.com) - Celebrity activist Harry Belafonte referred to prominent African-American officials in the Bush administration as "black tyrants" at a weekend march, and he also compared the administration to Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. [...] "[If] a black is a tyrant, he is first and foremost a tyrant, then he incidentally is black. Bush is a tyrant and if he gathers around him black tyrants, they all have to be treated as they are being treated," he added. When asked specifically who was a "black tyrant" in the Bush administration, Belafonte responded to this reporter, "You." When this reporter noted that he was a Caucasian and attempted to ask another question, Belafonte abruptly ended the interview by saying, "That's it." To quote Darrell Hammond-as-Chris Matthews: Good God, I can't even figure out who that's offensive to. (Via NealeNews.)

Third-rate propaganda

From page A1 of today's Citizen: "How the thirst for oil imperils an ancient land." The Gwitch'in people have depended on the Porcupine caribou herd for 27,000 years. Now, that way of life is in jeopardy, writes Paul McKay. Paul McKay The Ottawa Citizen OLD CROW, Yukon - There is no geological fault line that connects Washington and this isolated, Arctic Circle aboriginal village, but the 300 Gwitch'in residents here are bracing for what may be biggest change in their 20,000-year history. The epicentre of the change that looms over the Gwitch'in will be the U.S. Congress. The trigger will be the stroke of a presidential pen that will pass into law a bill that will accelerate oil, gas and coal production on federal lands in nearby Alaska. At the top of that wanted list is a strip of coastal flat near the Yukon border, called the "1002 lands" after a 1980 Congressional provision that vetoed federal drill leases there. [...] This age-old bond between the [Porcupine caribou herd] and the Gwitch'in has existed since the last ice age. What is at issue now is whether new Alaska drill rigs and pipelines in the Porcupine herd's preferred nursery will cause a catastrophic collapse in breeding, and whether there are better ways to satiate oil-addicted America. Let's see: Patronizing depiction of hunter-gatherer noble savages? Check. Implications ("stroke of a presidential pen") of overt callousness, and It's All George Bush's Fault? Check. "Oil-addicted America" is to blame for "[imperiling] an ancient land?" Check. Casual dismissal of the fact that any upcoming action only increases the reach and output of existing drilling apparatus, and isn't some cartoonish re-enaction of enviro-agitprop? Check. What liberal media? Oh, right.

We take our job with pride

Avant Garde is almost never an appropriate choice of typeface. It's a 70s bastardization of clean geometric designs of the 20s and 30s, and gives off the relentlessly skeevy vibe of its era when used for anything but minimalist headlines. Yes, indeed, I know where Lileks is coming from to say "'Slightly irritated by a typeface.' Put that on my tombstone." I mention this because I've been spending a lot of time lately amending the work of another designer, a gentleman who - skilled as he may be at the art of large-scale murals - doesn't have a particularly good grasp of small-scale advertising layout. The pathological reliance upon Avant Garde in every single piece he's done was one thing; I know how tempting it can be to favour one particular font family to the exclusion of others, and, to be fair, even its creators regret releasing it: Lubalin’s assistants drew only 26 capital letters, because lowercase was not going to be used in the headlines. Tom Carnase, one of Lubalin’s partners, designed additional fitted character combinations (ligatures) as the work progressed. These cap character pairs made Avant Garde one of the most unique typefaces of the 20th century. The first time Avant Garde ligatures were used was perhaps the only time they were used correctly, and it may be the most abused typeface in the world. Type designer Ed Benguiat said, “The only place Avant Garde looks good is in the words ‘Avant Garde.’ Everybody ruins it. They lean the letters the wrong way.” He was so right: unless you have the same words Lubalin had in the same sentence, Avant Garde ligatures never look quite right. Ginzburg quoted Lubalin as saying that he was sorry he ever created the font because it was so universally misused. Now, that's one issue. There are between twelve and eighteen separate ads on each finished flyer the company puts out, and before I'd use Avant Garde twice on one side for sans serif body copy (let alone once), I'd make a more authentic (and legible) choice such as Gill Sans, Futura, Franklin Gothic, or Century Gothic - to say nothing of beautifully clean mid-century designs like Helvetica or Univers, or more skilled reinterpretations such as Avenir or Vectora. (Yes, I do worship the works of Adrian Frutiger; why do you ask?) But that's only half the problem, as far as text goes; the other is that he has no sense of font discipline whatsoever. In one ad for a denturist - 4" by 1.75" - I counted no less than five separate faces – Flareserif for the title, Agency FB for the name, a brush script for the slogan, a generic grotesque (perhaps Arial? I couldn't tell from the three letters) for part of an industry certification logo, and Avant Garde for the rest. That’s far too many, especially for such a small space; the eye is bound to be confused by the chaos. I like the choice of Flareserif; it’s a nice quirky Humanist take on gothic letterforms, and is admittedly better for a title than its lighter-weight inspiration of Albertus (best known from the titles of The Prisoner). But Agency FB is an entirely different direction to go within the broader gothic typeface family, and the contrast – between rounded, brush-like hybrid serifs, and a hard-edged quasi-serif – could only be more jarring if the name had been set in something like Bank Gothic. The visual language of Agency FB doesn’t mesh well with the graphic identity a denturist wants, i.e. professional, neat, and comfortable. The brush script is acceptable for a slogan, if hackneyed, but there's no need for two separate sans serif fonts when one could do. I ended up reducing the ad to using Flareserif, and several different weights of the delightfully clean Frutiger Condensed. I can appreciate the travails of being a self-taught designer, being just that, myself - but one can only get away with so many gaffes and so much half-assery. (Don't even get me started on this guy's misunderstanding of resolution, printable margins, bleeds, colour depth, or copyright.) Competence is not negotiable; at least, not in the free market. I explained all this to the regional manager, who'd handed the job of fixing and assembling her territory's ads off to me when this designer initially became flustered. She agreed; his work required too many corrections to be worthwhile, to the point where his last completed flyer so irritated our printers that they refused to ever accept again one of his solo efforts. Luckily, as it turns out, he's a better salesman than a designer, and is now working for the company in that capacity. I'm thankful for that, at least; I didn't relish the thought of getting him fired, not even for sheer bloody-minded incompetence. I'm not quite that heartless. (All the same, I'm glad that I didn't have to be the one to tell him that, in fact, his work required more than just fixing colour profiles, as he'd assumed. There's something distinctly unappealing about having to savagely criticize the work of a professional twice one's own age to his face.)

Friday, August 05, 2005

It's not about aptitude, it's the way you're viewed

And, lo, it came to pass that I was again castigated for cynicism over the GG pick, on the grounds that Paul Martin couldn't possibly be so coldly calculating as to choose someone likely to improve any particular group or constituency's perception of the Liberal Party: I found the first points you were making to be an extremely cynical stance that brought partisan politics into play over a non-partisan position. Voters do not think of the Governor-General and who appointed her when going into the ballot box, and not even I think that Paul Martin is that callous to put that into a pick - particularly when everyone was caught off guard with this choice. Yet, interestingly, prominent pollster Jean-Marc Leger is parsing the likely effects in precisely the same way. Funny, huh? OTTAWA -- The appointment of Michaëlle Jean as governor-general is a political "home run" for the Liberals that could ease the anger of ethnic Quebeckers over the sponsorship scandal, predicts Jean-Marc Léger, a leading Montreal-based pollster. Naming a Haitian-born, black Quebec woman as the governor-general will be of particular significance in the northern Montreal ridings that have a large percentage of ethnic voters who could switch to the Bloc Québécois in the next election, he said, citing Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew's riding as an example. "Strategically, it's really a good move. I think it's a home run for the federal Liberals in Quebec," he said. Mr. Léger said that the percentage of ethnic voters who say they support sovereignty has grown significantly since the 1995 referendum and stands at about 24 per cent, but that number could be a short-term reaction to the sponsorship scandal. "It's not solid. It's like Jell-O," he said. As for the Haitian population, Mr. Léger said, polling has shown the community to consist of strong Liberal supporters, but voter turnout is on the decline. The appointment of Ms. Jean could inspire more ethnic Liberal supporters to vote rather than stay home in protest over the scandal. According to the 2001 census, most of Canada's 82,405 Haitians live in Quebec, particularly in Montreal. The community is largest in the riding of Bourrassa, which Liberal MP Denis Coderre won by 5,133 votes in 2004, followed by Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel, the Liberal stronghold of Massimo Pacetti. The riding with the third-largest Haitian community is Honoré-Mercier, which Grit MP Pablo Rodriguez won by a slim 2,762 votes. With support for sovereignty on the rise, Quebec's ethnic voters have become a key battleground between federalists and separatists. [...] While they still overwhelmingly vote Liberal, Haitians, along with Latinos, are considered among the groups that have traditionally been more friendly to Quebec sovereigntists. So Ms. Jean's appointment could also address a potential problem for the Liberals, said Jean Dorion, head of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste. "It could be a way to prevent a shrinkage in the ethnic electorate. It's not a marked one, but the Liberals are skilled at spotting trends far ahead of time," he said. Memo to Liberals (and liberals): When I criticize the government, it's not just because I feel the need to "moan" or "whinge" - it's because, quite often, their actions are worthy of criticism, such as when blatantly using a supposedly nonpolitical appointment to shore up support in marginal ridings.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

An' the front bit, is what's called a façade

The Globe & Mail's John Ibbitson, not surprisingly, is very much up on our Governor-General-to-be. Although equipped with a potent résumé -- arriving from Haiti as a child, she has mastered five languages, taught Italian literature and earned high praise for her talents as a television host -- Ms. Jean is far from nationally prominent. Some will question whether a person with such a relatively modest profile should be asked to serve as head of state in Canada. Others will howl at what they see as the incestuous nature of the appointment. After all, Adrienne Clarkson was a female, visible-minority CBC broadcaster from Toronto. Ms. Jean is a female, visible-minority CBC broadcaster from Montreal. The only crucial difference between the two is that Ms. Clarkson was far better known outside Quebec than is Ms. Jean. Ms. Clarkson had to withstand her share of brickbats from pundits, politicians and writers of letters to the editor who complained that she personified the Central Canadian cultural elite: too left leaning and too high brow to speak on behalf of the vast majority of Canadians who live outside Toronto or Montreal's better postal codes. Since Ms. Jean is the second consecutive choice from that pool, the criticism this time around will be even more intense. It's not as if such criticisms aren't justified. Substituting a new aristocracy of vapid lefty pundit-types for the old one of inbred and indolent gentry is no improvement. To clarify my position, because I think I've been taken to task for too-quick negativity: I have absolutely no problem with Michaelle Jean as GG on her merits, inasmuch as viceregal duties aren't that terribly complex, or even important, as the summer's events have shown; the country managed to sleepwalk through a constitutional crisis without so much as a peep from the representative of the head of state supposedly meant to exercise reserve powers in such events. I'm sure Ms. Jean would just as meekly defer to the PMO and associated cronies as Adrienne Clarkson. The office is currently largely a sinecure for the right kind of walking billboard of Liberal-defined "Canadian Values," and she'll no doubt perform as adequately in that role as Clarkson has, but ultimately, it's not that important. (And outright bigotry from some, on the grounds that a black female immigrant isn't a "real Canadian," is both inexcusable and inexplicable.) I will say, however, that it's still amusing to see how many Liberal constituencies are cynically represented in the person of Ms. Jean, (unwitting?) pawn that she seems to be in good old-fashioned party marketing strategies.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Don't deny the obvious

Not that it really changes anything substantially, besides whose name is on the invitations to those lavish parties thrown for all the right sort of people in the Queen's name and on the public dime, but... OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Haitian-born female journalist from Quebec will become Canada's new governor general -- the representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth -- CBC television said on Wednesday. The public broadcaster said Prime Minister Paul Martin would formally unveil CBC television journalist Michaelle Jean, 48, at 11 a.m. (1500 GMT) on Thursday. Jean, who will become Canada's first black governor general, will take up her new position on Oct 1. ...Is there any way this could be more of a pandering laundry-list affirmative-action pick? She's meant to be appealing to Quebeckers, immigrants, women, urban professionals, and the black community - a new record. It's like someone said, "Can we get another Adrienne Clarkson, but in French?" Oh, wait: that's exactly what seems to have happened. Ms. Jean will replace the outgoing Adrienne Clarkson after an exhaustive search that focused almost exclusively on candidates from Quebec. She will become Canada's first black governor-general and the third journalist (broadcaster) in a row to be selected after Romeo Leblanc and Ms. Clarkson. She also follows in the steps of Ms. Clarkson in that she is an immigrant and a non-politician. I'm curious; did the PMO consider their strategic handiwork might be a bit too blatant if they'd picked someone also gay and wheelchair-bound? (Also interestingly worrisome: GG-designate Jean will be, as the Globe notes above, the third journalist in a row to hold the office. The CBC is probably the only media outlet in the world to offer - unofficially, of course - promotion opportunities going all the way up to viceroy...)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Keep them yelling their devotion

I usually don't have a problem with a bit of red meat for the base in party politics; everyone needs something to be excited about. But there's a delicate balance involved in satisfying the activists while not carelessly offending the centre, and endorsing the teaching of intelligent design in schools alongside evolution, as President Bush did recently, is the point at which I get offended. Q I wanted to ask you about the -- what seems to be a growing debate over evolution versus intelligent design. What are your personal views on that, and do you think both should be taught in public schools? THE PRESIDENT: I think -- as I said, harking back to my days as my governor -- both you and Herman are doing a fine job of dragging me back to the past. (Laughter.) Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught. Q Both sides should be properly taught? THE PRESIDENT: Yes, people -- so people can understand what the debate is about. Q So the answer accepts the validity of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution? THE PRESIDENT: I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and I'm not suggesting -- you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes. People can be exposed to the gamut of ideas on Life, the Universe, and Everything on their own time, and of their own free will; in public school, I'd prefer sticking to non-sectarian science. Positing that intelligent design is of equal merit with evolutionary theory, and ought to be taught as such, is outright pandering to hardline social conservatives. There's a free market of ideas; no one is preventing you from teaching your children whatever you believe to be true about the nature of creation. But I worry about enshrining one particular set of faith-inspired beliefs in the public arena as equal counterparts to (if not provable, then at the very least eminently reasonable) scientific theory, because that opens a door. Did I say worry? What I mean to say is that it absolutely terrifies me. This would be a manifestation of the same exasperation with the Conservative Party, seemingly unable to grasp the idea that there do exist multiple groups utterly assured of their own singular accuracy in deducing the nature of the divine, and possessed of the conviction that public policy ought to be created out of whatever ideas they deem holy. If you don't want Zoroastrianism (or, to be a bit less niche and more contemporaneously new-agey, Wicca) officially treated as equivalent in influence, worth and tradtion to mainline Protestantism, then keep both private, and not endorsed by the state; if you don't want to create the possibility of sharia-inspired civil law, then don't justify your opposition to gay marriage in explicit terms of how it contravenes your particular version of Christianity. Neither, I should add, am I a fan of the opposite approach, treating any admission of faith in public (excepting, of course, the left's favoured non-Western, non-Christian mascot religion of the moment) as verboten and mildly shameful - but I'd prefer neither meta-belief about the nature of religion be permanently enshrined in law. The difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, justice and injustice - they can be determined in the public arena without stating it in a way that favours one faith or another. And - unfortunately - the truth is that intelligent design is a stalking horse for creationism, dressed up with the appearance of reason though it may be. The only way to maintain freedom of religion is to promote freedom from religion in the common public sphere. Otherwise, that majority that makes your favoured interpretation of truth law today - justified by your faith - may well be replaced in twenty years by another majority with another faith, with spectacularly different ideas about what should constitute the official, state-taught truth of existence. Maintain some division between the secular and divine in the first place, and that scenario becomes less problematic in the long run. It's a good thing for the GOP that Democrats continue to be so feckless on the greater matter of the current war (or, as many do, deny that we're even at war, let alone a war that should probably be won, for the sake of the continued survival of modern civilization) - because I predict this kind of thing is going to be poison in the centre, or would be, failing that one issue far more important than unfortunate pandering. From the Canadian angle, the CPC ought to take a lesson from Bush here: A conservative party can (probably) get away with playing to the social conservative base in a fairly polarized population, if other policies are thought more immediately important and enjoy sufficiently broad support, for electoral purposes. Otherwise, it's a deal-killer for building majorities...and might just be anyway, if the numbers decrying federal support for intelligent design on the right are any indication. (Much more at Instapundit.)

'Twas said by someone wise, it pays to advertise

It's almost as if government shouldn't be engaged in pointless, expensive, and ripe-for-kickbacks advertising, or something: "Ad campaign for obscure federal agency flops." OTTAWA — A federal agency spent $300,000 on advertising this year in order to raise its profile, only to find that fewer Canadians recognized it after the campaign than before. Polls commissioned by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada suggest the national ad campaign flopped in a big way. Consider, also, the further effects of such wasted advertising: [FCAC Spokesman Bruno] Levesque said the agency, which is funded by a levy on the banks, is reviewing its advertising strategy. Banks are being charged fees to finance the federal agency, thus increasing their operating costs - costs, in some indirect way, eventually passed down to consumers, whether by user fees or unappealing interest rates. Bank customers are, thus, being penalized for the current low profile of the FCAC. I love the twists and turns of federal bureaucracy; don't you?

Clang clang clang went the trolley

Getting better: A Conservative government would offer tax rebates to Canadians who use public transportation, party leader Stephen Harper will announce at a national caucus meeting in Toronto this week. Details of the plan have not been made public, but Mr. Harper is expected to lay out a plan allowing those who use buses, trains and other public transportation to claim the expense on their taxes, party insiders say. The party's finance critic, Alberta MP Monte Solberg, met with Toronto Mayor David Miller recently to discuss the proposal, which Conservatives hope will increase their popularity in the Greater Toronto Area. The GTA isn't the only urban area in the country that could stand to have its public transit system promoted by means of a tax rebate, but leaving unfortunate Toronto-centrism aside, bingo. This is the kind of thing that will actually win votes in Ontario, having as it would some broad appeal with urban workers, blue-collar or white-collar, and especially younger urban workers. I certainly wouldn't mind being able to write off the OC Transpo pass I buy every month during the school term, anyway. Better yet - and I hope this was part of Tory strategists' reasoning - there is absolutely no way for the Liberals or media to spin promoting public transit as "scary." The proof of that is in the PMO's lack of pre-emptive talking points: Scott Reid, communications chief for Prime Minister Paul Martin, said he would not discuss the idea of transit rebates until it was officially unveiled by the Conservatives. I wonder if this strategy of conspicuously failing to push those policies most easily demonized will continue...