Monday, February 28, 2005

Vlad The Impaler

That I can be, in turn, castigated and humiliated on my own blog shows the extent to which Ahab’s is willing to go to encourage media freedom. So it amused me to read this:

George Bush knew Vladimir Putin would be defensive when Bush brought up the pace of democratic reform in Russia in their private meeting at the end of Bush's four-day, three-city tour of Europe. But when Bush talked about the Kremlin's crackdown on the media and explained that democracies require a free press, the Russian leader gave a rebuttal that left the President nonplussed. If the press was so free in the U.S., Putin asked, then why had those reporters at CBS lost their jobs? Bush was openmouthed. "Putin thought we'd fired Dan Rather," says a senior Administration official. "It was like something out of 1984."

Obviously, pretty ridiculous. I mean, Rather deserved to go with the rest of them, but even the most ardent conspiracy theorist cannot possibly believe that Bushco had a direct hand in firing those reporters. But then, the ironic piece de resistance:

Later, during the leaders' joint press conference, one of the questioners Putin called on asked Bush about the very same firings, a coincidence the White House assumed had been orchestrated.

Orchestrated? Like Bush’s famous March 6, 2003 press conference (check out the official transcript), which appeared to be scripted in advance? One of my biggest criticisms of the present administration is the lack of press access. Putin’s “don’t call me undemocratic” rhetoric would be much more effective if it cut out the conspiracy theories and drudged up the unbelievably hilarious truth.

Tiger Tiger's Excessive Excess

Lots of talk about London's Tiger Tiger these past two weeks. Well here are a few reasons why...

In case you are wondering what we look like on a typical Saturday night... MacDuff on the left and Cooper on the right. On the table - the makings of a big night, and several timely purchased half-priced cocktail jugs, just under the happy hour wire.

Myself and a trusty bottle of the House Red - the drink of choice once the happy hour prices are no more.

Cooper flashes his trademark grin.

The birthday boy himself, a week into his 25th year. On the left, McNair demonstrates the thoughtful listening skills critical to any successful pickup, and the girls can't help but blush. Yet on the right, Ahab's photographer captures him moments later in a more "natural" pose, as Cooper mutters sweet nothings into the lady's ear. (click on picture for full-size)

Harper Tactics Revisited

Just a followup to my budget comments of early Saturday morning, with a clarification of sorts on my original thoughts. Aside from a focus on the many particulars [well set out by McNair in a welcome return to posting - though I certainly wasn't complaining about the reason for his absence, namely the ladies he kept bringing to "our" corner of Tiger Tiger these past 2 Saturdays], the crux of the political analysis does seem focused largely on Harper's response. The question remains: should his original instinct to withold on the attacks be seen as savvy, reasoned, and tactically effective, or has he just gifted the Liberals a free pass when he should be making them sweat?

The blogosphere's reaction is divided, pretty well down the line, with some praising Harper's political acumen and others calling his moves just plain dumb. There's some good discussion in the comments to a post at This Magazine on Kinsella's original comments (where even Warren himself enters the fray) and some summary of pundit reaction from Chantal Hebert to Andrew Coyne.

All of which is to say that I am still inclined to the view that Harper's reaction to the 2005 budget has everything to do with positioning for 2006, when the country will be ready for an election. Alex is of course right to comment below that the Tories are in no position (financial or policywise) to even credibly threaten an election today. Since everyone can see his cards, bluffing now would be ridiculously ineffective. If we take the view that the budget, a minority feel-good catchall of goodies spread around judiciously, will generally be viewed positively, Tory carping just feeds the narrative that they continue to fail the "mainstream" test.

Jason commented that "to the average Canadian, [Harper] seems like a fiscal liberal and social conservative - exactly where the Conservatives do not want to be." Respectfully, I have to disagree. Harper's biggest problem is the perception that the Tories are not MODERATE enough to be trusted with the keys to 24 Sussex. Hence the need for the kindler, gentler approach now. Such tactics also have the benefit of helping Layton's criticism of Martin-as-Conservative-in-Liberal-clothing stick. Which shouldn't bother Harper in the least, because any leftwing Liberal support that bleeds orange next time will only make life easier for the Tories in our first-past-the-post system. And if the sponsorship scandal ends up having any legs at all, Harper can point to his frankness and honesty in not playing games with what people see as an acceptable budget as counterpoint to Liberal duplicity.

Furthermore, I guess I just don't see this move as ceding credibility on the economy to the Libs down the line. Everyone knows that a Conservative government would go further on tax cuts and debt reduction, so there's no danger in acceding to the compromises drawn up at this exact moment. Again, the key to all this will be the specific context for the 2006 budget, and criticism then will be all the more effective when Harper can say that he has demonstrated an ability to be reasonable in the past. Let them have their little honeymoon for now, for a year is an eternity in this kind of waiting game...

One final note on tactics - after all, really my main point was the absurdity of Kinsella's attempt to compare the tactics that worked for the Natural-Governing Liberal opposition up against an unpopular Conservative party to the dynamics and complexities of this particular minority situation. Harper did have another alternative that might have straddled the line between acceptance and credibility, one where he could have displayed the ability to flex some muscle if necessary. Check out this post from Let it Bleed. The money quote:
Here's what should have happened: the budget gets released. No Conservative says one. frickin'. word. "No comment". "We're reviewing it". "We'll get back to you". That's it. Jack Layton mewls about how he doesn't like the budget, and says he is going to vote against it. The Bloc complains about the budget not being in the interests of Quebecers and indicates it will not support it. Still no word from the Tories. Perfect. Why? Because the Tories have just changed the focus from "what's in the budget?" to "what are the Conservatives going to do about it?" The headlines write themselves.

Interesting take. Read the whole scenario. Ultimately, I just don't think keeping all this in the news (while other signs of the inefficient, incoherent ditherings of the government were prominently on display in the media instead - again, see Wells for the takedown of Martin's bumbling of the Missile Defence decision) would have been terribly helpful. Harper is merely biding his time, readying his troops for a gathering storm. And waiting for some decent cards that will allow him to confidently get his chips into the pot.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Why Harper is Smarter than Kinsella

"Hereafter, whenever a Conservative MP offers the slightest amount of criticism about a fiscal measure, here's what they're going to get back: "Mr. Speaker, the Honourable Member from [FILL IN BLANK] knows - or should know - that this important fiscal change reflects the excellent, wonderful, perfect budget, about which the Honourable Member's own leader said [FILL IN BLANK WITH GLOWING STEPHEN HARPER QUOTE ABOUT RALPH GOODALE]. Ha ha ha ha. Thank you, Mr. Speaker."

Here's the real deal, folks: you may have voted for a minority government, but the Conservatives (not the NDP or the Bloc) just turned it into a majority government. See you in four years." - Kinsella, Feb 24, 2005.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. On so many levels. The Conservatives in 2005 are not the Liberals in opposition from 90-93, Warren. Maybe there are plenty of conflicting pan-Canadian worries about Harper's Tories, but none of them hinge on the type of concerns that Chretien had to overcome (overcome? would you like that majority government on a silver platter, my good man? election campaigns are not a good time to discuss serious policy issues, after all) in his day.

I think Harper is playing his cards beautifully. What is wrong with claiming that your opponent has brought in your own party's budget because they are scared of you. Martin is caught not pandering to Quebec, not pandering to the left, but pandering to McKay and Solberg and Harper. I would prefer my hotdog with a little extra mustard, but otherwise, thanks very much, sir. The "slightest amount of criticism" noted above will not be so easily deflected. We supported THAT, say the Tories. What we don't support is the Liberal blinders to changing realities. The vote on this budget is all about the vote on next year's budget. That's when this minority is up for re-election, not now. Hence Harper's insight, trumping the short-sightedness of Kinsella that thinks support today means majority tomorrow...

In fact, Kinsella and other Liberal shotgun cheerleaders have already persuaded themselves that they've won won this coup. That's laughable. They need to think the situation through more strategically. Think about Harper's position in 2006, it's what this is really all about: "Everyone knows we supported the last attempt by the Liberals to put forth a balanced budget. Everyone remembers our reasoned, balanced effort to avoid an election that no one wanted. Maybe even to the detriment of our own thoughts. However, most Canadians acknowledge the pressing issues facing the country today. This budget, quite frankly, fails to pass even the most basic of tests. We are not voting against this budget because we want an election now. We vote against it because we, like most Canadians, have lost confidence in this PM and this government to lead the country. We have been reasonable. More than reasonable. And reasonable Canadians know that the Conservative party can do better."

It is not the season to attack. It is the season of positioning. The NDP continues to marginalize itself on side issues of Kyoto and University funding. "Tax cuts - we don't need no stinking tax cuts." Important issues that resonate with some - but side points nonetheless, and points that only solidify your (shrinking) base. More on missile defence later. As for Duceppe? Ha - "if it is not good enough for Quebec..." please. We have heard that riff a thousand times. And his vote is going nowhere but down next time anyway.

So, Martin and Goodale have played into their only enemy's strength, for short term comfort. It has bought them time. But Harper's response is as refreshing as it is novel - peripheral concerns, but basic adoption of the key points as their own. Why attack what you approve of - as Dean used to say, people will vote for Republicans and not Republican-Lite Democrats. It is true in Canada. The Tories are still facing an uphill legitimacy battle. Coming out in favour of this budget is nothing short of gold, if you can get away with it. I am moderate too, is Harper's point. No rabid attack dog full of hate, I.

If Kinsella and other Libs don't get that, it is at their own peril. "See you in 4 years," Kinsella says. Better than even money says that this is the only budget this minority government passes. Looking forward to an election in 12 months...

(all that aside - the best and truest hit on the budget is Paul Wells. Is it just me, or in the last week has this guy emerged, from his fantastic blog postings, as the true Canadian heavyweight in deep perception on the political scene. He was always good, but he is now on a serious roll... Cooper, what do you think?)

Friday, February 25, 2005

Quote of the (Fri)day

"Starting tomorrow, a new regular feature: profiling early picks for the 2008 presidential election. "

Tim Cooper, November 27th, 2004, on the old blog. Further evidence that when one of Ahab's bloggers commits to posting on a subject "tomorrow", it sometimes takes a few days (or in the case of the 2008 Presidential Candidates, a few months) for us to live up to our word. Trying to set deadlines for oneself can be oh so difficult. Happy weekend to all though. The reports are on their way... in you are looking to waste time in the mean time - check out thatwasrandom.com. There flash games, random facts, random pictures, and random laws will keep you busy for hours.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Still here...

Having spent the week recovering academically from the wasted, wondrous debacle that was Tiger Tiger, mourning HST's sad demise by his own hand, and watching English clubs (with the surprising exception of Liverpool) stink up the Champions League, blogging has sadly and obviously taken a back seat.

Just a quick post to state that I am still here, with a commitment to a rejuvenated Friday and a multiplicity of substantive posts on the following topics:

(1) Martin's Budget - a roundup of the press coverage and opposition response. In brief, doesn't look like we'll have to worry about an election until next year at this time, and some kudos to Stephen Harper for providing something other than the reflex condemnation.

(2) McKenna and Missile Defence - likely a defence of my straight-talking former Premier, and some comments on the most overhyped issue in Canadian politics. The obsession with this file, while understandable, is still way over the top. To me, it's a sad sign on the great foreign policy debates that we are NOT having in Canada.

(3) The Polarising Power of Blogs - with Kos' nod to HST as the world's first blogger (due to his outright glee in stripping of objectivity from journalism) and Sullivan's recent posting on concerns that blogs fuel an entrenched polarisation of dialogue, it is worth taking a look at whether the blogosphere is capable of evolving in a way that encourages left-right conversation, as opposed to a forum where the already biased only reconfirm the superiority of their opinions.

(4) Tottenham Hotspur Glory - speaking of superiority, likely a bold and groundless prediction of utter domination of the Spurs over Fulham at White Hart Lane this Saturday. Why? Because Gartner and I have tickets to the match, of course. C'mon you Spurs!

See you tomorrow, then. Comment below if you want me to wax procrastinatingly on other topics. Anything within good reason will be entertained...

Dr. Phil vs Dr. Dre

From an AP report about the selection of the Michael Jackson jury:

One of the jurors had been asked during selection if he recognized celebrity witnesses in the case including self-help guru Deepak Chopra. He responded, ``I think he's a rapper.''

(Hat tip: Charles Forelle)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Onion-esque

(OK, got it. Seriously. -ed)

Candidate number two for unintentionally hilarious headline of the year:

"I Think Maybe He Lost It Or Something"

Ah, Texas.

Aside from the total lack of subtlety, not such a crazy idea.

Bush's table

Oof. Is this pathological?

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table."—Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 22, 2005

"Again, all options are on the table. But one thing I will not allow is a nation such as Iraq to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction."-Washington, USA, March 13, 2002

The rhetoric, ostensibly, has been softened -- check out the Washington Post's headline on coverage of the latter press conference -- but the words haven't changed. Does anybody doubt the US will bomb Iran by 2008?

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Question at Hand

In response to Tim below - I too have been slightly unsettled by the attempts to couch gay marriage purely in terms of "rights". Unsettled intellectually, I should say, precisely because I do not have a ready answer to that polygamy question. Colby Cosh was one of the first to address this systematically, and a good recap of arguments, problems, etc... can be found here for those interested. For my part, the best rebuttal I read in print was offered by Andrew Coyne - excerpted in Cosh's recap. Is this a convincing rebuttal to the slippery slope concern?:
Call me a social conservative, but I don't actually favour legalized polygamy. My gut tells me it would cause real harm to society, though I'd have to think a little before I could explain why. But that's not the point. The point, rather, is that we should never be afraid to put our gut feelings (prejudices is another word) to the test. Either our objection to lawful polygamy is soundly based, or it is not. If it is--if it would cause the sort of social harm I fear, or could reasonably be expected to--then we are entitled to forbid it, Charter or no Charter: that's the point of the "reasonable limits" clause. If it isn't, then the prohibition is no more defensible than that which once forbade homosexuality. Allowing gays to marry may force us to ask the polygamy question. It does not prejudge the answer.

Cosh points out that many other Canadian "guts" think same-sex marriage will cause real harm to society. So are we back where we started? It all buttresses my concern (and Tim's, for that matter) that advancing a "rights" claim in Parliament as the sole foundation for this argument may not quite capture the real elements of the debate. It might make it easier to sell to a sceptical public - who is against rights? - but the marriage certificate itself is not really what Sullivan and others are after, in the end. Most people know this. Its why the social conservatives and church groups are so up in arms, despite the obvious guarantees in the bill that prevent them from marrying gays and lesbians.

I don't think this properly crystallized for me until I caught that video feed of the homosexuality decriminalization debate. "No matter how repugnant or immoral the conduct," Justice Minister John Turner later claimed, "there are some matters of private behavior that should not amount to public crimes." If public attitudes toward homosexual behaviour were as rigid today (of course in many places - geographically and generationally - they are), the Prime Minister that attempted to rise in the house and make Martin's argument would be vilified, heckled, and tossed out. Rights do not exist in a vacuum, as much as we characterise them idealistically as the honourable trump on majority will. Is the answer here that there must always exist some small yet critical mass that must be reached before such rights arise and we can be assured of their protection? Is it this threshold that same-sex marriage has crossed, and polygamy has not/will never?

I don't know. I'm thinking aloud here as well, not too coherently, I realize, as the clock ticks down toward supper and then the "FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER POST-VALENTINE 70'S DISCO-FUNK-SOUL BOP" at Christ Church. Instinctively the decision to allow gays and lesbians to marry is a no-brainer, but I recognize how loaded the issue can be. Argument simply may not apply well to such a raw emotional topic. But for me, I think Paul Wells nailed down the distinction that we seek as well as anyone can with the following:
The question at hand isn't "How do you like that Charter, eh?" It's: "Is it right and proper that Parliament endorse equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians?" The elementary test for a prime minister who believe the answer is "Yes" is that he say the words.

So: is it proper that Parliament endorse? Yes I said yes I will yes. See you Monday.

Paul Martin and the slippery slope

Here's yesterday's vaunted Paul Martin quote (cribbed from Sullivan):

"We will be influenced by our faith but we also have an obligation to take the widest perspective -- to recognize that one of the great strengths of Canada is its respect for the rights of each and every individual, to understand that we must not shrink from the need to reaffirm the rights and responsibilities of Canadians in an evolving society."
"The second argument ventured by opponents of the bill is that government ought to hold a national referendum on this issue. I reject this - not out of a disregard for the view of the people, but because it offends the very purpose of the Charter."
"The Charter was enshrined to ensure that the rights of minorities are not subjected, are never subjected, to the will of the majority. The rights of Canadians who belong to a minority group must always be protected by virtue of their status as citizens, regardless of their numbers. These rights must never be left vulnerable to the impulses of the majority."
"We embrace freedom and equality in theory, Mr. Speaker. We must also embrace them in fact."

Can somebody explain to me why this logic does not also apply to a minority of Canadians of a particular religious persuasion who wish to practice, say, polygamy? Let me answer my own question partly: the rest of PM's speech addresses the strong legal basis for legalizing gay marriage, particularly recent court decisions that have dealt specifically with the question of "civil unions" versus full-blown "marriage."

I can accept gay marriage on the basis of PM's argument (though I prefer to justify it on purely libertatian grounds). But is there no danger that the this logic will lead to a future breakdown in the definition of marriage? That is, if we accept the argument that the Charter enshrines the rights of a minority group against "the impulses of the majority", what of members of the Muslim community, whose religion specifies the right of a man to have multiple wives, or the beliefs of the Mormons in the polygamist colony of Bountiful, BC?

I use polygamy as an example because it is a fear-stoking topic of the far right (and because I can't imagine the boundaries of marriage being pushed much further). But I'm drudging it up again because of one of Martin's key phrases and one of MacDuff's posts today.
PM: "...the need to reaffirm the rights and responsibilities of Canadians in an evolving society." If Trudeau and Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather were debating legalizing homosexuality -- full stop -- not so long ago, where will we be in another 35-40 years in an "evolving society"? Will there come a day when polygamy rights activists grab the public's imagination, or (more likely) the support of the courts? And will the gay marriage act be the impetus?

Not scaremongering, here -- just thinking aloud.

The Rise of the Blog

Peggy Noonan nails it in this insightful summary of why blogs work and where they might be going. Money quote:
"Blogging changes how business is done in American journalism. The MSM isn't over. It just can no longer pose as if it is The Guardian of Established Truth. The MSM is just another player now. A big one, but a player. "

How the Main Stream Media reacts (and will react over time) to the emergence of the blogosphere will prove without question to be one of the most interesting stories of our age.

RU-21 Red - "Keeps You Drunk"

In more tales of the absurd fitting a Friday afternoon and the promise of an epic Saturday night at Tiger Tiger celebrating McNair's birthday, here's news of a drug developed by "scientists who once worked on secret programmes for the Kremlin". Apparently, "if you take a tablet, you need less alcohol to stay drunk."

Read the story to believe it. One of the co-founders of the company is actually concerned about marketing the drug in the US, since he doesn't want it "to become a party drug". Anyone care to comment on ANY other proposed uses?? I suppose it could serve to inspire writers like Aldous Huxley to find inspiration, but really... the advertising strategy should be as simple as those for Samuel Jackson beer - instead of "it'll get you drunk!", "it'll keep you drunk!".

Happily, this gives me an opportunity to make a somewhat seamless segueway to plug the absolutely gut-wrenchingly, laugh-out-loud, listen-to-over-and-over funny Dave Chappelle show on Comedy Central. You can browse through past clips here, including the one for Samuel Jackson beer, Black Bush, and top it off with the immaculate, extraordinary Rick James-Charlie Murphy sketches - first here, then here. This is just pure gold, plain and simple.

Quote of the (Fri)day

Once again, ahab's posters are in a strange synchronity. As Tim posts one comment from the Economist (and that IS astonishing, by the way, another reason why the Internet revolution will bring about greater systemic changes than we can see), here's another - our quote of the week:
As finance minister, Mr Martin acquired a reputation as a tough and decisive deficit-cutter who transformed the public finances and oversaw the renaissance of the Canadian economy. But as prime minister, his faltering leadership has earned him the sobriquet of “Mr Dithers”.

Coming from a magazine as esteemed as the Economist, this one will sting. But who could really argue, after 15 months and all the hype about the "politics of achievement", that the moniker is unjustified... the true question is whether the Prime Minister will ever overcome it.

Astonishing stat of the week

Or is it really so astonishing? (From this week's Economist, which I have here in front of me): "The residents of just 20 streets on the east side of Central Park donated more money to the 2004 presidential campaigns than all but five entire American states." Of which New York presumably is one. I have heard that Park Avenue in the 60s-80s is the most densely populated zip code in the United States, but sheesh.

"Oh, the Times, they are a-..."

The same-sex marriage debate is under way in the Canadian House of Commons. Warren Kinsella thinks its Paul Martin's finest hour and Andrew Sullivan writes that the Prime Minister is "blazing a trail for civil rights". A historic moment and certainly one that makes me proud and happy, especially for my many marvellous gay and lesbian friends who are following this closely. MacKenzie King once sardonically accused the Progressives (forerunners to the NDP) as being "Liberals in a hurry" - and this is too often my criticism of their actions, notably on this file. Nevertheless, kudos to Paul Martin and his party for bringing in this legislation now - though the real revolutionaries remain the brave litigants and judges who set the stage.

But just how far has the country come on this issue? Much further than I would have expected or many people actually realize. Check out this clip from a 1968 leaders debate between Trudeau, Robert Stanfield, Tommy Douglas, and the leader of the Pequistes for the real context. They are debating the legalisation of homosexuality, remember. And then at about the 6:20 mark, our recently-voted "Greatest Canadian" wades in with a comment that really makes you stop and think on how much this movement has accomplished in combatting prejudice and gaining acceptance in the past 40 years. Oh the times have changed indeed.

Fire Them Both

How ironic that my nightly post is also "Apprentice" oriented.

A sad day for the NHL yesterday - the whole collective bargaining scene has been one sad debacle. Now everything is in jeopardy. Personally, I am only a marginal Canadian hockey fan - I tune in as the regular season winds down and cheer for the Canadian teams. This magical year abroad actually began on June 5th with my cross-country standby flight from Moncton to Calgary, just in time to see the heartbreak of Games 6 and 7 up close. So if I find it all tragic, I can only imagine the attitudes of those dedicated to the great game.

The fault lies squarely with two men - the two men at the top, Bettman and Goodenow. Someone get these guys a copy of Getting to Yes. I find it hard to understand how either side has managed to arrive at the worst possible outcome simultaneously. And this is not a marginal setback for either side as they settle back into their entrenched positions. It will absolutely cripple the interests of the owners absolutely and dramatically. We can only wait to judge the aftermath.

Maybe there will be some miracle 13th hour solution to this madness, and here's hoping. If not, I know of no two idiots more deserving of Trump's patented dismissal. If only we could get them in front of George, Carolyn, and The Donald himself....

But wait.... What's this? Genius satire is what, beautifully capturing the tragedy and pettiness of the entire saga. Check it out and read the whole thing. I wish I had written it myself.


I caught the British version of The Apprentice on BBC2 last night. If you've seen the US show, or been around a television for the last couple of years, you know the premise: successful tycoon puts would-be entrepreneurs through an absurd and elaborate job interview process during which contestants are eliminated, or "fired", on a weekly basis. The US version has Donald Trump as taskmaster and firer, and the result is pretty entertaining television. (Understand that the program is more of a game show than reality TV.) The UK version has a chap named Sir Alan Sugar, who apparently is reasonably well known in these parts. Sir Alan is a curmudgeonly tycoon who has lifted himself up from the bootstraps, emerging from a background of relative poverty in East London into the life of one of the country's top businessmen. It seems he's made a pretty good amount of money from a computer company, and gained notoriety as a part owner of Tottenham Hotspur F.C., but he's a bit more under the public's radar than The Donald.

Watching the show got me to thinking: if Canadian television came up with a domestic version of The Apprentice, who would our Donald Trump/Alan Sugar be? I've got a couple of candidates:

-Ted Rogers, cable tycoon. Has got to be one of the richest guys in the country.
-Conrad Black, media. Hugely controversial -- would drive ratings like nobody else.
-Eugene Melnyk, pharmaceuticals. Owns the Ottawa Senators, made a fortune as an entrepreneurial drug manufacturer. Is he mean enough to say, "you're fired"?
-Jean Coutu, retail pharmacies. Is the world ready for "L'Apprentice"?

I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody obvious. Enlighten me, please.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


NDP leader Jack Layton meanwhile is in the middle of
a tour of Canada aimed at persuading voters his is the
"real opposition".
Mr Layton is visiting a mixture of rural seats, where
his party is hoping to make gains from the
Conservatives, and urban areas traditionally
associated with the Liberals.
The Liberals say an NDP vote could "let the Tories
in", while the Tories say the NDP would mean "higher
taxes, soft crime laws, more power to socialists".
Mr Layton’s tour comes as he, Liberal leader Paul Martin and Conservative leader Stephen Harper all step up campaigning ahead of the next General Election,
widely expected to be held in June.

Zzzzzz. Sound familiar? Well, I just took liberties with the following:

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy meanwhile is in the
middle of a tour of the UK aimed at persuading voters
his is the "real opposition".
Mr Kennedy is visiting a mixture of rural seats, where
his party is hoping to make gains from the
Conservatives, and urban areas traditionally
associated with Labour.
Labour say a Lib Dem vote could "let the Tories in",
while the Tories say the Lib Dems would mean "higher
taxes, soft crime laws, more power to Europe".
Mr Kennedy's tour comes as he, Labour leader Tony
Blair and Conservative leader Michael Howard all step
up campaigning ahead of the next General Election,
widely expected to be held on 5 May.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Davis v. Davies

Honestly, you just can't make this stuff up:

DAVID Davis, the shadow home secretary widely tipped to succeed Michael Howard as the Conservatives’ leader, could be deposed at the general election because a candidate with a confusingly similar name is set to challenge him.

The intervention of David Davies, the candidate for Veritas, Robert Kilroy-Silk’s new party, could deal a blow to Mr Davis’s ambitions and deprive the party of a high-profile personality - without Veritas even winning the seat.

Who says the upcoming British election needs to be boring, with stories like this one in the works? Read the whole article - since Davies ranks higher alphabetically than Davis, the insurgent challenger will get the coveted spot just above the high-ranking leadership aspirant. And the plot thickens - apparently this will be sweet revenge for the Liberal Democrats, who ran a close second to Davis last time around and stand to gain the most from this new "David" on the ballot. You see, the Lib Dems lost a recent European Parliament election thanks to 10,000 or so votes recorded by the "Literal Democrats". Ah, the will of the people.

The story calls to mind an anecdote I seem to remember from Rene Levesque's excellent Memoirs. Apparently in one of his early elections, he was challenged by another candidate in the riding named "Rene Levesque" who entered the race just before nominations closed. At that time in Quebec, your profession was listed on the ballot alongside the name as another identifier. This forced his campaign staff out into the streets in the closing days of the election, with signs and microphones, touting the slogan: "Vote for the REAL Levesque: Levesque, Journalist". But as with the butterfly ballot fiasco, even the sharpest can be fooled in the oh-so-simple voting process. Levesque recounts how one of his workers almost broke down in tears moments after walking out of the polling station: "Oh NO, I think I voted for the Artist!"

Lucky Number 7

It is confirmed. Looking forward to welcoming Lance home on the Champs-Elysees once again, this time on July 24th, 2005, in what is likely to be one of my final days in Europe for awhile. Let's hope Lance can recreate the magic one last time, and that the wine and conversation on the Seine will be as sweet. Should be magnificent.

The State of the Nanny State

I must have missed this on my transition back to Britain, but reading about it today made me happy:

Pub giant Wetherspoons is to ban smoking in all its outlets by May 2006 amid fears that drinkers are staying away from public houses because they are too smoky, it was announced today.
The company, which owns 650 pubs, said that 60 of those will become completely smoke-free from May of this year.
The firm, which has pioneered non-smoking areas in its bars and lounges, said it wanted to ban smoking two years ahead of Government legislation.

This news isn't pleasing because I'm a non-smoker. It pleases me because the company is willing to let the market decide whether it should adopt a non-smoking policy before letting the state determine what is best. As the first-mover in the market, they are taking a substantial risk, but the results of the trial will be a pretty good indicator of peoples' preference for non-smoking pubs/bars.

It has bothered me to no end seeing government-imposed non-smoking bans applied in restaurants and bars all over the world. If people don't want to hang out in a smoky pub, surely the market would encourage some entrepreneurial barkeep to start a non-smoking establishment, whose success would only breed more of such establishments? The lack of initiative by other companies on this issue in the past has mystified me. Cheers to Wetherspoons for testing what the market will bear.

Speaking of overzealous state intervention...

Officials in car-clogged California are so worried they may be considering a replacement for the gas tax altogether, replacing it with something called "tax by the mile."
Seeing tax dollars dwindling, neighboring Oregon has already started road testing the idea.
"Drivers will get charged for how many miles they use the roads, and it's as simple as that," says engineer David Kim.

Without doing any complicated modeling (of which I would be incapable anyway), I'd have to assume this would be a regressive tax, borne most heavily by those least able to afford it. Imagine the effect in a state like California, where most public transit is akin to a practical joke, or in any other state, where the exurbs are (sadly) the living destination of choice. Dumb dumb dumb.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

That Oxford Tutorial System

"And, do we have a "MacDuff" here?"
"Yes, that would be me."
"WOULD be you?!?"
"Uh, yes, it IS me..?.."
"Okay, thank you. English is your first language, is it not?"

Ugh. Thus began my first tutorial in Conflict of Laws today, an auspicious start to be certain. And given my lack of preparation and normal inability to converse in legal subject matter 5 months before a 100% examination, it proved ominous indeed. For the ensuing 75 minutes, I contemplated leaping from the window or asking about the Che Guevara poster on the wall, rather than sit silently while the seconds ticked excrutiatingly on, reluctant to speak words that would be quickly trampled upon. So - I can therefore verify that not reading any of the 40-50 legal cases the night before your tutorial, preferring instead the drama of online Texas Hold'em, is not a winning strategy for the would-be Oxford legal scholar.

Heh. In the end, it wasn't so bad that I can't laugh about it here. The other three in the room seemed rather ill-prepared for tutorial #1 as well, though I definitely managed to score a victory in the coveted "least said" category. And there are 7 more of these to come, so opportunity on the horizon to seek my redemption. After all, this was embarrassment rooted largely in laziness, not in stupidity (though in not preparing properly, there was a fair share of that also). So the preparation for next Tuesday begins firmly in the morning. I suppose this solid dose of humility is as good a way as any to kick my studies into the necessary gear. Sir Francis Bacon, a Cambridge man (alas), provides some wisdom well worth remembering on the point. To wit:

"Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not;
A sense of humor to console him for what he is."

On that note, laugh I did as Irony reared its fantastic head moments after the tutorial. Walking back to College, a few elder, Eastern European tourists wandered, lost, in my direction. After an hour spent listening to questions fly over my head, I jumped at the chance to help them out. "Yes, of course, I can recommend a few classic Oxford pubs. Just follow me," was my response. Fitting symmetry. And also an ice-breaking story for the St. Hugh's "Speed Dating" event tonight...

Comedy. Love. And a Bit with a Dog.

"That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man,
If with his tongue he cannot win a woman."

The Two Gentleman of Verona, 3. 1

Difficult to summarize our 24 hours of Stratford, faithful readers, but trust that all proceeded majestically according to some higher plan. We were not in the city a few hours when a few girls studying at the British American Drama Academy in London were serenading us with Shakespearean sonnets in a bar. These new found friends, invited to sit at our table while we cheered on Scotland's rugby side in vain, were but the first of many dramatic moments. For upon arrival in the city, the tickets for the Saturday evening performance (the main purpose of our Stratford visit, mind you) were sold out. So, after exchanging phone numbers with the London students, off we went to queue for returns and hope for good fortune.

Success came quickly, for though we had to pay top price to sit on the ground floor, the kind lady at the box office proceeded to inform us, inexplicably, that the returns were originally purchased by none other than the British American Drama Academy. And so the traveling gods of randomness struck us with laughter once again. Happily, since our other option for the evening was a 5-hour, 45 quid "paranormal investigation" at a dodgy outfit called Falstaffs Experience.

The production itself was magnificent. Setting the show in the 1930s proved a stroke of genius, and the language certainly stands the test of time. "Comedy. Love. And a Bit with a Dog. That's what they want," Geoffrey Rush's character in Shakespeare in Love insists, and these wise words apply as much today. Neither of us had read nor seen Two Gentlemen, but such was our delight with the witty dialogue that Tim bought the play at intermission. The rest of our audience were likewise engaged, even booing the duplicitous Proteus at one point. Hilariously, the BADA student beside me proceeded to give him the finger, certainly a first in my theatre-going experience. Launce and his dog Crab do steal the show to some extent, but so many characters get to flaunt wit about the stage that to say so is almost unfair.

Following the show, we headed off toward the nightclubs, but not before I almost walked right into Valentine. We quickly changed plans to follow, ending up at the "Dirty Duck" where the actors congregate following performances. Wonderful to see the players in their street clothing and stripped of character, enjoying well earned pints and entreating girlfriends on their mobile phones like any other civilian. From there, it was off to a club, the absurdly named "Bureau", and chaos descended from there. The next morning saw us pay our respects to the Bard at his house and grave, before a quick exit. Looking forward to Twelfth Night in May.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Two Gentlemen of Ahab

Off to Stratford on this hungover morning, to meet up with Tim for a perusal of master Shakespeare's birthplace, an evening edition of the "Two Gentlemen" and some possible chaos to follow. Especially looking forward to Valentine's majestic toast to Sylvia:
What light is light, if Silvia be not seen?
What joy is joy, if Silvia be not by?
Unless it be to think that she is by
And feed upon the shadow of perfection
Except I be by Silvia in the night,
There is no music in the nightingale;
Unless I look on Silvia in the day,
There is no day for me to look upon;

With that trek and a Six Nations rugby grudgematch between England and France in a pub this afternoon, how could you ask for more, mate? Certainly more poetry than that found in the Guardian headline this morning, with news of Tony Blair's 6-town, 6-election pledge tour. Can you believe the poor rhetoric of the following:
1. The Economy: "Your Family Better Off"
2. Health: "Your Family Treated Better and Faster"
3. Education: "Your Child Achieving More"
4. Immigration: "Your Country's Borders Protected"
5. Law and Order: "Your Community Safer"
6. Childcare: "Your Children With The Best Start"

The emptiness of Labour's campaign rhetoric continues to astound. Wherebe your legacy now, Mr. Blair?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Quote of the (Fri)day

Tomorrow's vote is most definitely anti-climactic: we have known for weeks now that former Vermont Governor Howard Dean will be the new Chairman of the DNC, capping quite a comeback for Ahab's old friend. Nay-sayers on the right who are familiar only with the caricature of Dean as a crazy-eyed, screaming, hard left pacifist have responded predictably, underestimating the savvy of the good doctor and his surprising political maturity over the past year. I wish him all the best as he tackles the tough job ahead. He certainly has my confidence. Here's an old quote that does well to encapsulate the man and his strategy going forward:

"Look, I'm not a perfect person. I have my warts. I sometimes say things that get me in trouble. I wear suits that are cheap. But I say what I think and I believe what I say, and I'm willing to say things that are not popular but ordinary people know are right."
Give 'em hell, Howard. He's got his party back. Now will the country follow?

Here is the news you may have missed

Being a dour London commuter, imagine my surprise when I had to suppress a smile on the train this morning. Guy sitting in front of me whips out his copy of The Telegraph, with the bog-standard day-too-late spash headline about Prince Charles' announced marriage to Camilla Parker-Bowles, the latest episode in what seems more and more like a Jeffrey Archer short story. Then I turned to my left, where a suited gentlemen produced The Independent, which today blares the words: "HERE IS THE NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED", and advertises a litany of (truly major) stories like North Korea's admission that it has nuclear weapons. The punchline is in a small box in the lower right-hand corner: "And in other news...Charles to wed, Page 6". Cheeky.

Just another reason why The Independent has become my favourite British daily. (And now in handy tabloid format!)

The old 8 to 5

Readers of Ahab's Whale will have made note of the fact I have only posted rarely of late. I'm in a bit of a transition right now, namely between being in Canada and not having a job and suddenly being in England and working 45 hours a week. I am presently plying my trade at Business Monitor International, an outfit that specializes in macroeconomic and business research in developing countries. Their/our customers are primarily multinational corporations looking to invest or diversify into developing economies, I-banks, academia (Lexis-Nexis), and basically any big investment fund that has a limited in-house research wing, like the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. Apparently our stuff goes out on Bloomberg too.
Anyway, I'm nearing the end of my first week as an Emerging Markets Analyst. So far, that's meant putting together news articles on the latest economic developments and trends in Asia and Latin America (I'm going to specialize in Asia as soon as they hire somebody to take L.A.; right now I'm happy playing utility). If you're really keen, check out businessmonitor.com and sign up for the daily e-zine for your favourite region. (I recommend Asia and Latin America; they're both very hot right now, but I'm especially bullish on Asia for the long-term. Mostly because that's what I'm writing on.)
I'm committed for six months, after which, who knows, I may stay on. I'm enjoying it so far. And today I've made a verbal agreement for a flat in the Herne Hill/Brixton area, which is basically a 10-minute commute from work. I figure that nets me a couple of hours of extra sleep a week. So I've got that going for me, which is nice. Somewhat ironically, BMI is located on top of Blackfriars Station, which I walked by almost every day I went to school last year. Would be nice to live there now...

Anyway, I promise to get blogging once I've got a consistent schedule. Of course, the opinions on this blog are my own and are not my employer's. And nothing I say here constitutes investment advice. Any other disclaimers I've forgotten? Actually, screw the disclaimers. Let it ride.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Selling Europe's Constitution

Voila - a legendary souvenir from my time at Oxford, an original copy from the British government of the proposed Euro Constitution. Surely a collector's edition in 50 years or so...

I just finished my first all-nighter, pulled trying desperately to make some sense of the differences involved in treaty-making under European Community Law contrasted with European Union Law (yes, there is a difference between those two, both applicable in various guises as we type) versus how things would work under this new, to-be-ratified constitution. Easily the most fascinating and topical course of the BCL, it will be the one I remember when Oxford is but a faint, happy memory.

The presentation went as well as could be hoped (read: I came across somewhat knowledgeable and without incident) and this massive chunk of white paper that goes by the name of "Constitution" was my reward. Apparently the Professor called up a newly established office in the British Government, its sole purpose to educate and persuade United Kingdom voters to accept the document when the referendum rolls around. What you see above is the best packaging they can muster to date, and to top it off, only two were available for our class of 14. This after it was duly signed by Tony Blair last October, and prospects for a successful vote looking ever-bleak. Memo to someone - might be a good idea to make it available if you want to convince people to get onboard, let alone understand it.

And that isn't even the funniest part. It is clear in this "EU as an Actor in International Law" class(offered at Oxford for the first time this year) that not even my keenest EU law classmates have a solid grasp on the subject matter yet. So, as you can imagine, it should make for an interesting campaign in trying to sell the Constitution to sceptical John and Jane Q. Public, when even Oxford-educated lawyers in the field cannot say for certain what its various provisions actually mean. So is the way of all constitutions in their infancy, I suppose. But it does make you wonder if ratification by public referendum is really the way to proceed with something like this...

In any event, keep watching this space for more humorous outtakes and little known facts about the European Union. My day is officially over: I'm off to buy a Whopper with cheese, watch Oxford destroy Cambridge in Women's Lacross, catch the England-Holland friendly, and then end the night by screening "Men with Brooms" for the international kids here at St. Hugh's before sweet sleep. Life is beautiful.

"Uniquely American"

Another Revealing, Unscripted Bushism, courtesy of Drudge. And another in the long line of shameless anecdotes that I will glean from his damn Presidency:


"Last Friday when promoting social security reform with 'regular' citizens in Omaha, Nebraska, President Bush walked into an awkward unscripted moment in which he stated that carrying three jobs at a time is 'uniquely American.'

While talking with audience participants, the president met Mary Mornin, a woman in her late fifties who told the president she was a divorced mother of three, including a 'mentally challenged' son.

The President comforted Mornin on the security of social security stating that 'the promises made will be kept by the government.'

But without prompting Mornin began to elaborate on her life circumstances. (Begin transcript)
MS. MORNIN: That's good, because I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute.
THE PRESIDENT: You work three jobs?
MS. MORNIN: Three jobs, yes.
THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"Things Tony Blair Could Do To Get Voted Out..."

... not much, if the recent British polls are to be believed. Looks like the long-rumoured May elections are right on schedule, and we'll have all the electoral coverage right here now that both Ahab authors now reside temporarily on this side of the Atlantic.

Take this classic article from the London Times today as your starting point. The main question: Can the Labour government do no wrong? For now, British voters seem of that opinion. As frustrating as this might prove for those looking for a real fight to emerge (or just enjoy some semblance of accountability with their governance), at least we Canadian bloggers bring an expertise that comes with seeing it all before.

Think Canadian political scene and Liberal government circa 2000: We've got the same daily, bitter public feuding between PM and his popular veteran Finance Minister over the timeing of succession; the same woeful, disillusioned Conservative party whose natural political terrain keeps getting co-opted by the government; the same uninspiring opposition leader; the same third party insurgencies who voters simply don't want to trust with the reins of power and never really consider an option...

Yup, it's like deja vu all over again, except for arguably bigger stakes and with classier political rhetoric. Although the negative advertising has begun with gusto, as Labour has already pulled their notorious "flying pig" ads. Prediction: more absurdity to follow.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The intelligence paradox

Can you imagine if the result of an IQ test was a matter of life and death? And a situation in which success on the test was a death sentence? That's this Virginia prisoner's tragically ironic story.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Quote of the (Fri)day

Once in a lifetime. How else to describe the chance to see the great Nelson Mandela speak up close in Trafalgar Square, at the very site that hosted anti-Apartheid protests in the 1970's and 1980's calling for his release. Above is a picture from my camera of Mandela greeting the crowd... we arrived early to get to the frontline of what built into an estimated crowd of 20,000. The press were alloted space just in front of us, so our friend Craig Gartner, Tim, and I were interviewed numerous times. (side note: coming up with snappy soundbites about global poverty not easy after a night of Guinness and 4 hours sleep on half-a-mattress).

Inspirational. His speech in support of the global movement to "Make Poverty History" (scroll half-way down for a link where you can watch it in full - it has some great overhead shots), focused on comparing the successful fights against slavery and apartheid versus with today's battle to rid the world of chronic poverty. Idealistic? Of course. But his presence alone is a powerful reminder that progress begins with a dream backed by committed individuals. I will certainly be back through Trafalgar many times in my remaining years, and not one visit will pass without memories of that early February morning. On that note, I join calls to see his statue erected on the Square's empty 4th plint.

But the line of the week goes to Sir Bob Geldof, the Irish musician behind the BandAid supergroup founded to raise money for famine in Ethiopia in 1984. In his introduction of Mr. Mandela, Geldof urged political leaders to prioritize this movement as their own, calling on them to put some of their lofty rhetoric, finally, into action:
"I'm tired of the politics of being nice. I want the politics of responsibility. I'm sick of standing in squares and linking arms in foreign cities, of tear gas and of the pop concerts and records. I'm sick of this crap... The world's leaders must be persuaded to do what they are paid for; they must enable the world we wish to create".
Let the revolution start now.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mandela to Trafalgar Square

Very much looking forward to attending this event on Thursday at noon in Trafalgar Square. Not often do we get to see true heroes and living legends in the flesh. Pictures (hopefully) to follow.

Success Indeed (but now what?)

As Tim commutes back and forth to London in hopes of finding a flat and the Hilary term begins to gear up for myself, apologies for slightly lighter blogging than usual, particularly our failure to comment on the "resounding success" (is this me quoting Bush?) of the Iraq elections.

Some perspective from our usual suspects (click the links for their full reports):

1. Andrew Sullivan: "A HUGE SUCCESS: The latest indicators suggest a turnout of something like 60 percent. We'll have to wait for precise numbers and ethnic/regional breakdowns. But if I stick to my pre-election criteria for success, this election blows it away: "45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered." Even my more optimistic predictions of a while back do not look so out of bounds. But the numbers don't account for the psychological impact. There is no disguising that this is a huge victory for the Iraqi people - and, despite everything, for Bush and Blair. Yes, we shouldn't get carried away. We don't know yet who was elected, or what they'll do, or how they'll be more successful at controlling the insurgency. There are many questions ahead. And I don't mean to minimize them."

2. Juan Cole: "I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a "political earthquake" and "a historical first step" for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn't been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan."

3. New York Times: "This page has not hesitated to criticize the Bush administration over its policies in Iraq, and we continue to have grave doubts about the overall direction of American strategy there. Yet today, along with other Americans, whether supporters or critics of the war, we rejoice in a heartening advance by the Iraqi people. For now at least, the multiple political failures that marked the run-up to the voting stand eclipsed by a remarkably successful election day."

4. Dailykos: "The administration, press, and wingnut blogosphere is all atwitter over the "successful" Iraqi elections. But the fact that 8 million Iraqis voted is not the measure of success. Just like catching Saddam wasn't, or occupying Baghdad, or transfering "sovereignty". Those events are miletones toward the ultimate outcome, but unpredictive whether that outcome is victory or defeat. And elections, historically, aren't the end-all be-all for defeating insurgencies."

5. Powerline: "There was scattered violence today, but that was barely a footnote. The terrorists, relying on the power of fear, had intended to destroy the democratic process. They didn't make a dent. President Bush, conversely, bet his legacy on the power of freedom. While, as everyone keeps saying, there is a long road ahead, right now that's looking like a pretty good bet."

Whew. So there's a smattering. Predictably, those on the right focused on the optimistic side, while the left is much more cautious. For my part - I'm sure Tim will wade in later - I tend to fall in the middle. I sympathize with those who emphasize that one day of voting is not a panacea, and that we cannot and should not forget the scattered route of violence and misinformation that led us to this pass. After all, how truly bizarre is it that in all the fuss of the election we have almost no coverage on who actually WON. One successful day of voting and minimal violence is a good start, but not enough.

And yet... that proviso out of the way, it was an impressive and moving site to see the pictures and imagine the emergence of a truly democratic movement in Iraq. Democrats must be careful in how they criticize going forward, remaining wary of the challenges ahead - and there are many - but not cynical about democracy in action. I don't know who Ben P on mydd.com is, but ultimately his comments resonate loudly with what would be mine own.