Thursday, March 31, 2005

April Already...

Shocking developments since Oxford thoroughly dominated the Boat Race this past weekend. (As to our involvement, the vantage point near the finish was spontaneously magnificent, the double pitchers of Pimm's never tasted sweeter, we crashed some "Mike" guy's balcony party for only moments before getting ejected, and some traditional Morris dancers gave Tim some bunny rabbit ears that he wore proudly onto the Tube. Well done all around.)

ANYWAY, there is good reasons for my lack of posts this week. Believe it or not, I have actually been working quite studiously since my return from London, polishing off legal cases and textbook chapters for fun. Cruised through the mock exam due next Thursday and even put together a few presentations for Trinity term. Also happy to see that all four of my Final Four teams are still alive, so it looks like I will be winning the local pool again. Not that my bank account needs any help. It looks so healthy that I guess I'll spend the next few days deciding whether to hit Moscow, Istanbul, or Egypt for my birthday in June. Or just buy a new Domus.

On the political front, lots of news as well. I have been rather disappointed with the utter lack of coverage of Terry Shiavo's case. Conservative commentators in particular have been rather awkwardly silent, although the personal nature of this family tragedy probably dictates that this is the appropriate response in such a trying time.

All the speculation in the Canadian media about the possibility of a spring election seems to have been justified by the impending fall of the government over the upcoming budget bill. Harper looks destined for that elusive majority. Rumours also abound that the NHL labour dispute is on the verge of settlement, and that the Stanley Cup will be up for grabs in a all-playoff, lottery, sudden-death tournament. Looks like the Winnipeg Jets might even be back to round out the 36 team field.

Over here, the British vote is almost certain to be delayed due to Tony Blair's sudden decision to step down amidst concern that the public just doesn't trust his word any longer. No word yet from Gordon Brown on whether he might be interested in the job. And finally, President Bush has announced, in the wake of the Bolton and Wolfowitz appointments, that he is looking at a more moderate choice to succeed Chief Justice Reinquist. I always trusted Bush to eventually come around on this one. My kind of President.

All so shocking. What sort of a day is it, anyway? Friday? Another quiet night in with the girlfriend, I suppose.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The 151st Boat Race

Off to London this morning to cheer on the Dark Blues in their 151st matchup against Cambridge on the Thames. The "boat race" has become one of the most popular events in the British sporting calender, certainly not to be missed. According to the Boat Race website:
For the last five years, the BBC Television audience for the Boat Race has averaged over six million, making it a top five live televised annual British sporting event (along with the Grand National, the FA Cup Final, Wimbledon Men"s final and the British Grand Prix). In 2003 the TV audience for The Race was 7.7 million. The event also has a huge international following with an estimated global audience of 400 million in around 180 countries.
And this is not just your regular University-squad challenge. 7 of the 16 rowers facing off rowed in Athens, including Canadian silver medalist Barney Williams. Oxford's crew weighs in as the heaviest in the history of the event and has attracted marginal betting support, although the Cambridge crew apparently has the advantage in technique. The head-to-head nature of the race combined with its exceptional 4 mile distance makes this all the more unique. As Oxford's Andy Hodge put it earlier this week:
“This race feeds off the competition. Unlike the Olympics or World Championships, where you get a silver medal for finishing second, in the Boat Race, you just lose.”
It should be a fantastic afternoon. Cooper has promised to bring the Pimm's and I have printed off the Boat Race Pub Guide 2005, so no doubt we'll be in good form. Hopefully the race will be competitive and records will be broken. A full report with pictures when we emerge on Monday.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Tory Hidden Agendas

How frustrating must it be, acting as the leader of a political party, when loose cannons seem to delight in squandering your chances? Stephen Harper and Canadian Conservative supporters are all too familiar with the frustration - although admittedly Harper was guilty of idiocy himself for failing to back hastily away from the charge that "Paul Martin Support Pornography?" in the last election.

In any case, Michael Howard has been busy running a surprisingly successful pre-campaign strategy, building particularly on the lack of trust people have for Tony Blair and New Labour. How maddening, therefore, for his Deputy Chairman to announce that Tory platform on public spending is really only the beginning, that "you have to win an election first" and then Conservatives would really take some action.

As the Times reports:
[h]e told his audience: “The potential for getting better taxpayer value is a good bit greater than the James findings [which have been] ‘sieved’ for what is politically acceptable and what is not going to lose the main argument.”

Mr Flight hinted that further cuts would be possible once the Conservatives were in power because “everyone on our side of the fence believes passionately that it will be a continuing agenda”. He said that, after an election had been won, “you can actually get on with what needs to be done”.

I suppose its one thing to accuse the other side of harboring a "hidden agenda". Political parties rely on it all the time, in Britain as much as anywhere else. But to come out and actually admit it to hiding your real plans for electoral purposes, gleefully, to get some applause from die-hard supporters (apparently it was a Thatcherite event)?? When this is the exact argument that your opponent is trying to pin on you?! How moronic. And yet another gift to Tony Blair.

Something Canadian conservatives will be hoping against during our next election, surely. If I were Stephen Harper, I'd think it would almost be worth it to speak directly to as many party candidates as possible to warn them on the consequences of such stupidity. But then again, Howard's office apparently called Flight a mere 2 hours before his speech and told him to remain on message. Nice work, buddy.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Will we EVER see ANY Senate Reform?

Short answer: Certainly not under these Liberals.

Long answer: Today Paul Martin announced the appointment of 9 new Senators, with 7 more to come in "the next few weeks". Predictably, the list is being hawked as "...a choice of outstanding Canadians with a record of accomplishments." Well that's a relief, because in the Senate they are unlikely to find innumerable avenues to further their records.

On a serious note, I don't mean to demean some of our new Senators, though it is a shame to see the likes of Romeo Dallaire lumped in with political hacks like Art Eggleton. And I do owe Jim Cowan some thanks for writing a letter to the President of Dalhousie on behalf of the Domus in our losing cause.

The fault to be complained of here lies squarely with our Prime Minister, who has proven (yet again) to be a most indecisive and politically unimaginative leader. Here was an unprecedented opportunity - 16 of the 105 seats in our unelected upper chamber sat empty as Paul Martin delayed - to change the way Senators were appointed from its current farce.

But according to the article linked above, Martin "...has said he agrees the Senate should ultimately be overhauled to make the institution more democratic, but that won't soon happen because it would require another wrenching round of constitutional negotiations." Bollocks. Under the present system, the appointments are to be made at the Prime Minister's sole discretion. Easily, easily, he could have ceded some of that power voluntarily and no one would have complained. He would have been applauded. His successor would by no means be bound to use the same format, but perhaps the establishment of convention would make such a deviation politically difficult.

We'll be another 25 years (at least!) before we see any attempt to re-open the constitution. To hide behind that excuse shows someone unwilling to tackle the system, likely because he can conceive of no alternative. "I would love to see it reformed," it says, "but for now I couldn't be bothered and would really like to reward some of the supporters who got me here."

Note that such a strategy doesn't necessarily mean appointing the 3 "elected" senators of Alberta, nor would it have required an entirely new election campaign (although these might represent the most desirable options). Martin could have consulted the Premiers of the various regions to publicly submit nominees for review. He might have established an explicit criteria for selection, or subjected Senators to some type of confirmation process. Heck, he could have refused to appoint anyone and saved the tax payers from paying some salaries! Instead, predictably, we get only the status quo: the whim of the Chief Executive. And out in the wilderness you can hear Preston Manning cry out - "Reform!".

Instead, we hear again how his staff was "...besieged by scores of requests for appointments from people who helped the prime minister during his two-decade-long bid for the Liberal leadership." Wonderful. Canadian democracy in all its glory. It is another area where our Prime Minister exposes himself as anything but bold and imaginative. In November 2003, Paul Martin accepted the leadership of the Liberal party with a great call for an era of the "politics of achievement". Words have rarely rung so empty. Attempting a new approach might have been messy, but doesn't "achievement" contemplate some sort of obstacle?

Alas. So strange to think, 13 years after the Charlottetown Accord, how close Canada was to some type of true democratic reform on the issue (see clauses 7 to 16). Maybe we'll be close again someday. Who can ever tell?

Three Cheers...

...with some reservations, for NAFTA. And kudos to the leaders of Canada, the US and Mexico for pledging to make our continental union even closer. Details on the "Security and Prosperity Partnership," announced at a summit between Bush, Martin and Fox in Texas yesterday, were sketchy at best, but the pact seems to aim at greater mobility of labour and capital within a framework of improved homeland security. This is a good thing. We'll never be the EU -- and I don't see why we'd want to be -- but free trade is, on the whole, a good idea. NAFTA is far from perfect, but to paraphrase Churchill's quote on democracy, it's the best we've got, so far. The US has repeatedly ignored the law and the spirit of NAFTA, as exemplified by the softwood lumber dispute. I would have loved to see Martin keep missile defense on the table as at least a bargaining chip in exchange for relieving US protectionism. There's room for improvement on that front, no doubt.

At the very least, I hope that under the new agreement (whose name sounds eerily like WW2 Japan's "Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere") the US will open its borders to Canadian workers, and vice-versa. (The Mexicans are a different story, for obvious economic reasons.)

Michael Howard is not a Banana

(...nor is the £35 billion in reduced spending over 7 years equivalent to "cuts")

Again, apologies that this story is now almost a week old, but it is a revealing one nonetheless and many Canadian readers (or Paddy's day revellers) may have easily missed it. In a video clip less than 3 minutes long, both the admirable and the deceitful qualities of Tony Blair are on full display, the sophistication of the British media shows itself in fine form, and a rare glimpse into the truth of the Blair-Brown rivalry is thrown in for good measure. At the same time, this story also goes to the route of the ongoing campaign and some articles in today's Times on Michael Howard, bloody noses, and bananas. First, let me set the stage...

Following last Wednesday's budget, Labour held a press conference on Friday to launch the poster above - accusing Tories of cutting 35 Billion Pounds from Public Services. Sounds like quite a lot, no? And if true, a telling attack. Well, something didn't seem to add up here, and so ITV's Nick Robinson had a go at the Prime Minister in rather harsh terms. Simon Carr in the Independent described the exchange as follows:
Nick said: "Why do you persist in misrepresenting your opponents’ policies? You know they are saying they will increase spending but at a slower rate?"

"Actually, that is not what they’re saying," the Prime Minister started, speaking more quickly to bring off the semantic three-card trick we now know so well.

“You can’t cut money that hasn’t been spent," Nick said. "You’re alleging they’ll make cuts. But now you’re saying they’ll spend less. The words are different!"

"They’re not different," the Prime Minister said urgently, stepping across Gordon’s grin. What a hound he is, our Prime Minister, when he’s on form. What he says may not be true but that’s not important. What is important is what works.

But - you could see the scary thought scribbling itself across the PM’s forehead -
what if it doesn’t work any more? The very same thought was driving Mr Brown’s delighted smile.
God love the BBC, you can actually watch the clip live (click on the upper right hand side of the screen) and judge for yourself, though the reporter's questions are a bit hard to make out. To his credit, Blair does handle the matter rather deftly - can you imagine Paul Martin or George Bush under similar questioning? - but ultimately the whole matter rests on a deception so ridiculous as to be offensive. And Brown's broad smile is difficult to miss. Did he object to this tactic, and did such objections fall on deaf ears?

If you read the articles summarizing the conference (see the Telegraph, or the Guardian, or the Scotsman) you'll see that the alleged "cuts" actually refer to the difference between increases in public spending by 3% (Labour) or 2% (Tories). The £35 billion figure? The resulting difference by the year 2011-2012!! So ridiculous is the claim that Conservative leader Michael Howard has a piece in the Times today entitled: "If those are cuts, then I'm a banana". Imagine Blair's outrage if the Liberal Democrats were to come out with a 4% figure for increases and then accuse him of promoting "cuts" to the public service.

So finally we have an example of spin doctors going overboard and getting called for it. It's unsurprising then, that movements such as www.backingblair.co.uk have emerged, urging protests votes against the Prime Minister. And it's moments like these, effrontery such as this, that have been fueling a slow-buring Conservative comeback. As Antole Kaletsky writes in his election prediction in the Times today:
"Like every other pundit, I expect Labour to win. I differ from many others in believing that the victory margin will be narrow, probably no more than half of the 100-odd majority suggested by a literal reading of the polls. This will not be because of the Tories’ success in spreading their subliminal messages of paranoia (“Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”), but simply because so many voters now hate Tony Blair and are determined to give him a bloody nose. In a reversal of the anti-Tory tactical voting of the past two elections, many disillusioned voters will try to send the Prime Minister a message by backing whichever opposition party can do most damage to Labour in each seat."

I agree with the prediction. Go read the whole thing. Lots to think about as we await the dropping of the writ, but the overall point is clear. The British media has been doing its part to ensure that leaders cannot simply get away lightly with demonization of the other side backed by misleading argument. Canadian journalists would do well to abide by these lessons.

And Canadian conservatives would do well to study the pre-election strategies of Michael Howard that have provided crucial momentum. But that's a subject for tomorrow's post.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Goldberg Variations

Okay, now where were we.... One of the problems with the compressed news cycle is that it takes a few days to get back into the swing of things when you take a week "off". I want to add a few additional comments re: the weekend's Conservative Party Convention in Canada, and also hope to put together a more indepth analysis on how Michael Howard's Tories have managed to turn things around to the point that the (supposed) May 5th election in Britain might hold some suspense after all.

But let's start on a cultural note. Last night I had the supreme pleasure of seeing world-renowned British musician Joanna McGregor perform The Goldberg Variations at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford. It is a wondrous piece of music requiring a virtuoso and acrobatic-like pianist to work, and McGregor delivered beautifully.

What made the evening all the more unique, however, was the context in which the concert took place. One of the most famous pieces at The Museum of the History of Science is a blackboard used by Einstein in a 1931 lecture that still contains the great man's etchings in chalk. In honour of his centenary, marking the anniversary of his 4 celebrated papers of 1905, the museum is putting on an exhibit of - wait for it - blackboards, entitled - wait again - "Bye, Bye Blackboard". Well, putting the obvious cheese factor aside, it is an unusual but wonderful idea. Throughout this year, various well-known Brits from Alain de Botton to the Bishop of Oxford to Rt Hon Christopher Patten have been asked to deliver lectures using blackboards, which are then to be saved for inclusion in the exhibit.

So - prior to the peformance itself, the audience was treated to an erudite talk on the piece to be played, contributing enormously to my subsequent appreciation of the music. Interlaced with the musical discussion (which often flew well over my head), McGregor spoke about the folklore of the piece, the famed Glenn Gould 1955 recording (and his return to the Goldbergs in 1981), the most moving passages, and how she went about learning and interpreting it. You can find much of the information at www.thegoldbergvariations.com. I couldn't help but think that the appeal of classical music could be easily broadened if an abbreviated type of this introduction preceded the various selections (VH-1 Storytellers, anyone?). Or maybe I just need to brush up on this knowledge on my own...

Anyway, one more nugget of trivia before I end here. McGregor ended her talk with reference to Bach's inclusion on the Voyager Interstellar Space mission's Golden Record, something I first remember hearing of in a West Wing episode. Check out this link for more information and the listing of Sagan's selection of world music sent beyond the solar system. Dark was the Night.


"Conservatism is a philosophy without a party in America any more. It has been hijacked by zealots and statists."

That's Andrew Sullivan today, on the Schiavo euthanasia case and the inappropriate Congressional response thereto. As usual, Sullivan's been plucking the words right out of my mouth. The appeal of the Republican Party to Canadian conservatives continues to mystify me; indeed, the appeal of the Republican Party to libertarian conservatives in America does as well. (The lesser of two evils?) Earlier this week, Sullivan quoted Reagan, in right-on-the-money fashion:

"If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals -- if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is."

So much for libertarianism. Now, if you were to combine Canada's social freedoms and fiscal responsibility, with America's low taxes and economic fundamentals, you'd have something. Can't a blogger dream?

Speaking Of Great Wastes Of Time...

This was going to be a rant, but I've decided it's better off as a non-post. Why give this idiot the satisfaction of a response? I do, however, admit laughing out loud at his reference to MTV's Remote Control: "Not for nothing did MTV have a game show that made contestants identify washed-up celebrities under the category 'Dead or Canadian?'"

(Hat tip: Ryan Avent.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Adam Daifallah champions too many US Republican causes for my taste, but I think he’s just about right in his assessment of the Tory convention over the weekend:

Overall, it was a good convention. Harper and the leadership got what the [sic] wanted. A party that looked (relatively) united, a promise to not legislate on abortion, an endorsement of traditional marriage, a good leadership review vote (84% say no), no youth wing (51-49 against) and so on. No factions walked out, no one quit to start their own party, no one threw tomatoes at the leader. Not bad by Conservative Party standards.

(Daifallah was in attendance. Being in England, I obviously wasn’t.) Now, depending on your political leanings, that assessment is either good or bad. As a right-leaning, politically unaffiliated Canadian, I’m largely pleased. I’m glad that Harper wants to put US missile defence back on the table. The promise not to legislate on abortion is also a fine idea, as is the party’s commitment to bilingualism. I’m less glad that Harper’s going to continue to legislate vigorously against same-sex marriage – not because I’m a proponent of gay marriage, but because the issue has become a political, and judicial, reality in Canada. It would be much wiser for the Tories to use whatever political leverage they have to shape future gay marriage legislation, as opposed to tilting at the vote-losing windmill of an all-out ban.

But in general, the convention platform should ease the minds of many Canadian voters who were subjected to a constant demonisation of the CPC in the last election cycle (and depending on your stance on some social issues, that demonisation was justified. I thought much of it despicable, but politically savvy.). Or at least, it should defuse some of the below-the-belt criticism leveled the Tories’ way on hot-button issues like abortion.

Of course, questions remain. How big is the remaining cultural/social/ideological gap between old PCers and Reformers? Can an anti-gay marriage crusade really be a vote-winner in the next election? Does a lack of criticism of the Liberal budget amount to acquiescence, and the corollary, is there now any significant difference between the two parties? (In cheeky fashion, The Star's Richard Gwyn doesn't think so.) And is Stephen Harper the man to take the party over the top? To answer the latter question, the Tory delegates seem to think so. I’m not so sure. But he’s made progress in uniting the rank and file, and that has to count for something.

The Fed

Anybody out there think Alan Greenspan's Fed is going to raise interest rates today by more than a quarter-point? (Or hold rates steady? Or cut?) Just curious.

Monday, March 21, 2005

What's Bad For GM...

And as one automaking legend dies, another, much larger corporate giant may not be far behind: General Motors. It was once said by the company's chairman in the 1950s that "what is good for General Motors is good for the country." The inverse may also prove to be true -- and odds are, we will find out soon. GM last week announced drastically reduced profit projections for 2005, a surprise, but not a shock given the company's dwindling domestic market share and the worsened picture for US automakers on the whole. Besides, GM is essentially a pension plan and financing corporation with an automobile manufacturer attached on the periphery.

Dry spells are not unheard of for long-lived corporations. But complicating the situation is the fact that GM is corporate America's third-largest debtor, owing about US$300 million to its bondholders. Those bonds will soon be downgraded to junk status, effectively raising GM's debt servicing fees.

I'm no expert on corporate bonds, but I say with some confidence that if GM goes bust, it would be a pretty big financial disaster. You may have heard of the following defaulted companies: Enron, Global Crossing, Long-Term Capital Management, and K-Mart. Now add the total of their defaults, together with the cost of the Iraq war. That's GM's debt load.

We're not going to see a massive nation/world-wide meltdown as a result of GM's precarious state. (This is not just an American problem -- GM also has a major presence in Canada.)Indeed, given what happened with the airlines after 9/11, and the tremendous repercussions bankruptcy would have on GM's employees, etc., the US government could step in somehow. But the situation could, and should, spark a bit of panic. After all, what's bad for GM can't be good for America. One of the interesting repercussions could be to GM's unions, which benefit from high wages and health care benefits. The company's going to have to begin cutting costs, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them start there. Right now, GM is paying $1,500 in health care for each vehicle it sells. That is absurd, and clearly, something has to give. The government should have allowed the major airlines to go bust, as they are financial calamities with wings; it will be interesting to see what happens with GM.

(Essential background reading on the topic, courtesy of The Economist.)


The automaking industry this week saw the passing of John DeLorean, who believed he was creating the car of the future in 1981 when the DeLorean DMC-12 hit the streets. As it turned out, his creation was the car of "Back to the Future." Flux capacitor or not, the vehicle was a legend, especially since only about 9,000 were ever created. Consumers, especially the hotshot i-banking playboys of the early 80s, never really got over some of the car's quirks, which included major water leaks in the famous gullwing doors. Though the car had character, it could not compare to the wackiness of its eponymous creator. Who else would have this written about them in their obit:

DeLorean's company collapsed in 1983, a year after he was arrested in Los Angeles and accused of conspiring to sell US$24 million of cocaine to salvage his venture.

Maybe he should have followed Doc Brown's lead and ripped off the Libyans.

Friday, March 18, 2005

George F. Kennan, 1904-2005

An Ahab’s moment of silence for George F. Kennan, a giant of 20th century geopolitical strategy and the architect of the “containment” strategy that arguably was responsible for bringing down the Soviet Union. I’m looking forward to reading his official biography, authored by my undergrad thesis advisor, John Lewis Gaddis. JLG had been meeting with Kennan for the last 20-odd years in preparation for writing the book, under the condition that nothing be published until after Kennan’s death. It's quite a life to document: two Pulitzer Prizes, the Long Telegram, and decades of diplomatic service. For all that, Gaddis says that Kennan "saw himself as a literary figure. He would have loved to have been a poet, a novelist." Oxblog's David Adesnik has a nice short piece-cum-obit on Kennan's opposition to "democracy promotion" abroad, an especially hot topic given recent events, and summarizes the misconceptions about his policy of containment. In any case, humanity has lost a great one.

The Definition Of Performance

Among other superstar baseball players (with the notable, and tragic, exception of Mark McGwire), Baltimore Orioles slugger Rafael Palmeiro testified before Congress today that he has never taken performance-enhancing drugs. That's funny, I thought he used to hawk Viagra.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Wolf In Wolf's Clothing

George Bush’s nomination of Paul Wolfowitz for the presidency of the World Bank is deplorable. Much ink has been expended in the last few years on the demonization of Wolfowitz, some of it with merit, but most of it polemical, hurled by those angry with his neoconservative agenda. I happened to agree with the decision to invade Iraq, though grudgingly, and I never saw a reason to hate the architect behind it. But the reason the WB nomination is so despicable is that it gives further credence to what we already knew: Bush rewards loyalty over merit. Witness the awarding last December of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to incompetent CIA Director George Tenet, the man who said that finding WMDs in Iraq would be a “slam dunk,” and who presided over another of the worst intelligence failures in US history, the 9/11 miss.

Wolfowitz’s greatest credential to lead a development institution is perhaps his economic projection that Iraq’s oil supplies would fund the war. That claim has proved incorrect, to the tune of $150 billion, and counting, in a shortfall that has been met by taxpayers. I can appreciate his deanship of SAIS at Johns Hopkins as a big plus, but briefly being ambassador to Indonesia does not make you a macroeconomic development expert; nor does living in Baltimore make you an expert on poverty. (Then again…) His Pentagon policy staff also raised $50 billion in allied financial support for the first Gulf War. Besides this, his only experience with money, not including the Iraq oil debacle and some fundraising he did as dean, was as a management intern at the Bureau of the Budget, from 1966 to 1967. He does meet one apparent qualification for World Bank head, though: his last name starts with Wolf.

The more significant problem, of course, is that the nomination sends the wrong message to countries dependent on multilateral aid. Political opposition in many developing countries already regards the IMF and World Bank as puppets of the United States. Having a hawkish Bush protégé at its head not only lends credence to that claim, it may cause even the supporters of those institutions to recoil. Wolfowitz may have been right in his belief that bringing elections to Iraq through the barrel of a gun would move the Middle East in a more democratic direction. But surely there is a more appropriate way for Bush to reward such a controversial figure, particularly since he seems so ill-qualified for the job (and so reviled). If President Bush can get away with this one, he can get away with anything.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

St. Patrick's Day, for Strength

I know I am 2 days early with this post, but I am off to the Emerald Isle in a few hours to prepare for an onslaught of Irish Music, Fellowship, and innumerable pints of Arthur Guinness' finest. This is a reunion of sorts - my first trip to Ireland was 5 years ago, on March 16th, 2000. It is where I first fell in love with Guinness, so I am looking forward to going back to renew the love affair yet again. My mother completed the Dublin Marathon in October of 2004, and my presence among the cheering audience endeared me to the city even more, if that were possible. March 17th is easily my favorite holiday of the year. It will be an honour to experience it at the source once again.

So, Tim will be forced to take over the blog for me until I return from the madness. As a side note: I am well aware that since Cooper's taken up residence on this side of the Atlantic, we have been doing more of our political discourse in person. Accordingly, Ahab's Whale has begun veering closer to the "teenage diary" that Norman Spector (see below) finds too often in the blogosphere, as opposed to proper political commentary. Once I return from the weekend of revels, we'll see about commiting to some more substantive political blogging, on a whole host of issues. The British election is almost underway, European Union elections in the Netherlands and France will be well worth watching, the Canadian Tory Convention aftermath will need dissecting, and so on. Until then, Happy Saint Patrick's Day to one and all. Sink back the Guinness, sing along to the chorus of Black Velvet Band, and buy the stranger beside you a pint.

"Some Guinness was spilt on the barroom floor
When the pub was shut for the night.
When out of his hole crept a wee brown mouse
And stood in the pale moonlight.

He lapped up the frothy foam from the floor
Then back on his haunches he sat.
And all night long, you could hear the mouse roar,
"Bring on the goddamn cat!"

IFILM presents...

I have been a little slack in my reading of Ann Coulter, but I will get around to a commentary at some point. She has an amazing ability to criticize "Liberals" for doing something in one sentence and then arguing against them along exactly the same lines in the very next sentence. It makes for rather hilarious reading. There are some more nuanced lessons to be drawn from her popularity, I am sure, so I will look for those as well.

In the mean time, watch Coulter expose her ridiculousness all on her own with these two television clips from IFilm's excellent website. In the first, she goes berzerk in a segment on Fox where she refuses to denounce a comment by a Republican that Howard Dean is a terrorist, deciding instead to call the host a liar. In the 2nd, she tells a Canadian documentary host that she is disappointed that we did not follow the U.S. into Iraq, as we did in Vietnam?! When she gets corrected, watch her response. Classic.

Ann Coulter Meltdown on FOX News...

Ann Coulter on Canadian History...

As a bonus, I am throwing on links to two other great clips from IFilm. Click below for the legendary moment where the Fonz "jumps the shark" (literally), one of THE classic moments in television history, and the hilariously touching eulogy of comedian Graham Chapman delivered by John Cleese and Eric Idle.

The Fonz jumps the shark...

John Cleese's Eulogy for Graham Chapman...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

"Do You Know a Guy Named Sam Ault?"

So there we are in Tim's random new Brixton apartment, amidst a flurry of Mojitos and French partygoers, talking to some Nova Scotians (Diana and Joyce, with Tim above - apologies to the girls for posting the picture) who were given directions to the festivities by Mike McNair - who is quickly turning into my Saturday night social coordinator.

At one point the conversation turned to how Cooper and I know each other (a story too long for this post) and Tim mentions his years at Lakefield College School, a fact that seemed to startle Diana. "Do you know a guy named Sam Ault?" she asks, prompting laughter from me while Tim whips out the cell phone, punches in a few numbers, and presto - by a miracle of modern technology, Sam is on the line...

This is funny on many levels, Ault being one of Tim's closest friends and partner in their Metrojack project. I too know Sam (through Tim), having slept on his floor at Princeton back in 1998, welcomed him to the Domus Legis in 2003, and we clinked some Keith's pints this past Christmas in Toronto. A legendary and hilarious character. Apparently, the mothers of Diana and Sam are best of friends, and one wonders if they didn't secretly hope to set their respective children up together. Well, who knows, after these past few Saturday nights of seemingly endless random circumstance, maybe this phone call might precipitate the start of something yet...

Whatever the case, take the above as just one more example of the increasingly smaller networks of today's globe. I laughed loudly upon reading The Onion headline two years ago claiming "Kevin Bacon Linked to Terrorists" - with photos and mugshots to represent the supposed 6 degrees. But it is so true. Tim's days growing up in Saudi Arabia even leaves him only 1 or 2 degrees removed from Osama Bin Laden. Oh Brave New World.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Quote of the (Fri)day

(from Master Shakespeare's Glorious "Comedy of Errors")
Act 3, scene ii:

Anipholus. What is she?

Dromio. A very reverent body; aye, such a one as a man may not speak of, without he say, ‘Sir-reverence.’ I have but lean luck in the match, and yet is she a wondrous fat marriage.

A. How dost thou mean a fat marriage?

D. Marry, sir, she’s the kitchen-wench, and all grease; and I know not what use to put her to but to make a lamp of her and run from her by her own light. I warrant her rags and the tallow in them will burn a Poland winter; if she lives till doomsday, she’ll burn a week longer than the whole world.

Postscript: (my favorite, on a wholly different topic - you need to check out dailyshow.com)

"I really think their foreign policy goal, is to spread irony throughout the world." - jon stewart.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Gizoogle, y'all

Check out Gizoogle.com, the greatest tool --ever -- on the World Wide Web. Being a big Snoop Dogg fan, I find the ability to convert Google's search results into Snoop-talk invaluable. Witness Gizoogle's translation of Ahab's Whale:

The tizzy piece de resistance ta tha classy night occurred on tha way out, W-H-to-tha-izzen I stumbled into tha bathroom, desperate ta try tha free shoe shin'n machine before I left aww nah. I hit tha powa button n tha steppin' brushes began ta spizzay doggy stylin' mah shoes a healthy hustla but witin a matta of seconds mah left shoelace was S-T-to-tha-izzuck deep witin tha bowels of tha machine n could not be removed. It tizzy tha two of us ta P-to-tha-izzull tha lace out as tha shoe shina continued ta whiznirr madly. I thought there miznight be a parable in there somewhere. S-T-to-tha-izzill ridin' on it.

Or MacDuff's take on blogs:

Here's a novel idea - why not act as yo own editor, Mr in tha mutha fuckin club. Spector? That's wizzy empowerment is, motherfucka all n' shit. Dive into tha blogosphere fo` rizzy and cant no hood fuck with death rizzow. You'll find some valuable first-person accounts, commentary refreshingly beyond that of a daily pimp or what an anonymous editor deemed acceptable in all flavas. You don't even have ta agree wit people's opinions ta find they contribizzles extremely benefizzle. Imagine tizzy cuz Im tha Double O G.
Conservatizzles bemoan tha ideolizzle nature of liberal playa like tha New York Times or Toronto Star. Liberals castigate Rupert Murdoch n Conrad B-L-to-tha-izzack fo` own'n killa so they can sell tha public a politically driven angle on tha news.
Well, thizzat monopoly is crumb'n. Welcome ta tha New Generizzles.

Try it yourself!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Vin et Fromage

If you're in the area, I'm having a little housewarming on Saturday at my place in south London. Being that I live with three people from France, the wine and cheese promise to be famous. If you're lurking on the blog and want to come, email me at timmy dot cooper at gmail dot com.

Dining With Macmillan

It’s not often that one gets the chance to visit London’s famous Carlton Club, which must be one of the ultimate bastions of English Tory society. With the general election in sight, I’ve been informally recruited to join the ranks of the Conservative Party, and as such, a friendly invitation was proffered to the Carlton Club’s young members’ cocktail party mixer last night. It certainly was more “cocktail party” than “mixer,” or, for that matter, “young.” But I get ahead of myself.

Being a classy, stiff-upper-lip establishment, a suit and tie dress code is strictly enforced, as is a non-mobile phone policy. It is a male-only members club, and strictly for Conservatives, though women can join as “adjunct” members or something. Margaret Thatcher famously was made an honourary man (!) by the club so she could be admitted; tons of Iron Lady memorabilia everywhere, as well as a couple of key portraits of the likes of Disraeli and Churchill. Beautiful building.

Met two people who impressed me: one was Jonathan Djanogly MP, who took over for John Major in the Huntingdon constituency, a pretty big honour. He apparently is one of the rising Tory stars, and there were no shortage of well-wishers looking to shake his hand. I asked him the same question I asked of all the MPs and prospective candidates I met, which was to give me the three reasons why I should vote Tory in the upcoming election. This is where my North American accent betrayed the answer I got. The stock answer to this question, it seemed from the half-dozen Tories I asked, is thus: number one, freedom, number two, smaller government and lower taxes, and number three, “The Nation,” capital “T”, capital “N”. No big surprise, but nobody seemed willing to give me a coherent answer to why defending “The Nation” was so important. Probably because I’m a pseudo-foreigner. Whatever.

The other interesting chap that I met was Giles Bancroft, the head of Conservatives Direct. CD is in charge of the Tory get-out-the-vote effort, and after I revealed myself as a Kerry campaigner, we exchanged notes on election strategy. The Tories have invested heavily in a Karl Rove-approved database product that identifies potential voters by certain demographic qualities, from the types of magazines you subscribe to, to the estimated value of your house. Bancroft told me that they had identified hundreds of thousands of new Tory voters with this system, and that it could be a major factor in this election. A bit optimistic perhaps, but the Tory formula appears to be: hope for a low overall turnout, nail these formerly unidentified voters, and push hard on a couple of key constituencies. There are reports that in a few formerly strong Labour ridings, the Labour Party has all but given up, putting manpower and resources elsewhere. I have had my doubts about whether the election would be close, but with the recent polls showing the Tories tightening up the race with Labour (to within 2% nationwide in one recent polls), May 5 might be a long and interesting night.

The difficulty with the night in general is that the wine and gin and tonics were flowing, as they are wont to do at a good Tory function, and this made coherent conversation a bit more difficult as time went on. We adjourned for dinner in the Macmillan Room (photograph above), probably the classiest London dining room I’ve eaten in. I will not reveal names here, but there was one Canadian guy who (inexplicably) spoke with an English accent, and who claimed to have known he was a Tory while he was still in the womb. (We did agree on one thing: it makes no sense for Canadian conservatives, small or large C, to form knee-jerk alliances with the Republicans, whether it’s because they’re jealous of their success or otherwise.) I then met a young Tory member who is from Watford, Hertfordshire, which happens to be the constituency of Labour MP Claire Ward, for whom I worked in 2000. I offered to dish out the dirt if the price was right. Now, if only I had some dirt to dish.

The true piece de resistance to the classy night occurred on the way out, when I stumbled into the bathroom, desperate to try the free shoe shining machine before I left. I hit the power button and the buffing brushes began to spin, giving my shoes a healthy veneer, but within a matter of seconds my left shoelace was stuck deep within the bowels of the machine and could not be removed. It took the two of us to pull the lace out as the shoe shiner continued to whirr madly. I thought there might be a parable in there somewhere. Still working on it.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Norman Spector Just Doesn't Get It

Tim and I spend a lot of time talking about blogs, and their potential future uses and impact (especially for politicians and politics), though we rarely seem to post on that subject explicitly. At the risk of putting up some relatively "dated" material (2 weeks is an eternity in the blogosphere), I thought I would link to an intriguing comments discussion arising from a Western Standard post between Kate McMillan of Small Dead Animals, Norman Spector of Norman's Spectator (and Mulroney's PMO, among other things), and an anonymous "ET", from February 26th.

The discussion is worth highlighting for a number of reasons. Though long, heated, and at times repetitious, I found it extremely valuable because it reveals (almost unconsciously at times) the attitude of a well recognized "traditional" political pundit (ie. Spector is a regular on Don Newman's CBC show and contributor to the Globe and Mail) toward blogging in Canada.

Canadian political blogging remains in its infancy. While Dean's campaign took off due in large part to internet-based organization, thus far we have seen no Canadian equivalent. Belinda Stronach's leadership campaign attempted to incorporate the ideas of a daily weblog and meet-ups to very little effect before abandoning the ideas altogether. While American blogs have played invaluable roles in driving media stories (much to Dan Rather or Jeff Gannon's dismay), Canadian online pundits seem to be speaking largely among themselves. Monte Solberg has begun a blog that is actually worth reading, and there is a sense that there is substantial interest - as Kinsella's allusions to the popularity of his site attest - boiling beneath the surface, waiting for a watershed. But to date, the major stories, and surely the way the major parties operate (in preparation for Question Period or otherwise) remains rooted in traditional media and traditional means.

In short, blogging is very much on the periphery of the Canadian daily political scene. And according to Norman Spector, it is destined to remain there. In the extensive discussion to the Western Standard post on teaching politicians to blog, Norman Spector puts forward a very "elitist" (for lack of another term) approach to the potential value of political blogging (and thus increased use of the Internet more generally?). Basically, under such a view, blogs are not to be understood as transformative in any sense, and would do well to employ strong editors.

To illustrate this, let us just consider a few of Norman Spector's comments throughout the referenced discussion.

[Background note: Spector's site is not what I would call a "blog" by any definition of the term, since his daily "Spectator" acts more as a news-gathering service with little, if any, of his own subjective insight. For my part, I do consider Andrew Sullivan, David Frum, and Warren Kinsella, for examples, to operate various types of "blog", since they update often on a wide variety of topics, of varied length and seriousness, that break the mold of a traditional newspaper column approach and often respond to feedback.

People who read the discussion will note that Spector seems infatuated with the idea that he is running a blog that is referenced in newspapers as [his quotes] "as one of the two hottest on the web, or among BC's top 10 blogs or to my writing as part of 'the most memorable battle in the history of the Canadian blogosphere.' The childishness is pathetic.]

Also, what I've attempted to provide here is a representative sample of the general thrust of Spector's argument, not lamely pull quotes out of context.]
"The great fallacy of the blogosphere is that all opinions are created equal; the great strength of the mainstream media is that editors weed out most of the crap."

"Most of the content on blogs is junk, and I greatly appreciate the confirmaton. MSM make lots of mistakes, but no one writing in the Western Standard, for example, could get away with the standards that you've exemplified here."

"[w]ith a few exceptions, the blogosphere is a miasma of ignorance, paranoia self-indulgence and prejudice."

"Many bloggers haven't the foggiest idea of what they're writing about. Many blog readers haven't the intellectual capacity to differentiate between high quality and the absurdities that pass for so much of the content."

"In the other corner you have most bloggers, who display none of the attributes of Taranto. Most can't think, can't reason, can't write and haven't the foggiest idea of what they're writing about most of the time. Notably, this never stops them from proferring an opinion, including on complicated subjects--the Mideast being a classic example."

"Their comment sections are filled with junk. Their work would never be accepted by a book publisher or by a newspaper editor and you won't find them commenting on television. They are living proof, if any is needed, that not all opinions are created equal. They have no influence, no impact and few readers. They are a big waste of their time and ours."

Difficult to register just how much I disagree on a fundamental level with these opinions, but the funniest aspect is how obviously wrong I think Spector is in his entire conception on the inherent value of blogs. How else to conclude that he simply doesn't get it. He expects everything he reads to conform to some unknown standard worthy of his time, despite the unregulated nature of the forum. Funny, I thought that freedom was part of blogging's charm!

This debate is a topical one we'll be watching into the future. Just yesterday, in fact, Spector published an article in the Globe and Mail in which he continues his attack on the potential value of blogging. Money (should I say most glaringly ridiculous?) quote:
"The vast majority of blogs are akin to teenage diaries that attract a few dozen readers a day. Space for immediate reader feedback suggests what talk radio would be without the seven-second delay or the host's ability to disconnect vexatious callers."
The response from the blogosphere came immediately. And rightfully so. By conceding that he actually doesn't read very many blogs himself, Spector basically concedes that he simply doesn't yet understand fully what he is talking about. The ease of obtaining a multiplicity of opinions strikes me as an overwhelmingly powerful "good" thing. Let the worth of an opinion stand alone on its reason and judgment, not merely because career editors in the mainstream media deem it worthy. But most critically, because individual blogs, collectively, can offer perspective that the conventional media just cannot touch, and basically for free. Direct, timely, inexpensive, opinionated, and beautiful.

Here's a novel idea - why not act as your own editor, Mr. Spector? That's what empowerment is, after all. Dive into the blogosphere for real. You'll find some valuable first-person accounts, commentary refreshingly beyond that of a daily newspaper or what an anonymous editor deemed acceptable. You don't even have to agree with people's opinions to find their contributions extremely beneficial. Imagine that.

Conservatives bemoan the ideological nature of liberal newspapers like the New York Times or Toronto Star. Liberals castigate Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black for owning newspapers so they can sell the public a politically driven angle on the news.

Well, that monopoly is crumbing. Welcome to the New Generation.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

So Long Santorum

Every Liberal's least favorite Senator (okay, maybe not, but pretty close...), Mr. Rick Santorum, is up for re-election in 2006. He's often the point man for the White House on numerous ultra-conservative flanks, and yet hails from a state - Pennsylvania - that has gone Blue the last couple of Presidential cycles. It is shaping up as the key battle of the 2006 season, now that Bob Casey Jr.'s way is being cleared in the Democratic primary. Catch all the latest at http://politicspa.com/ More money will be dropped here than anywhere, and aside from being a Democratic pickup opportunity, it would be especially nice to pickoff one of the Religious Right's top men. And already there are signs that Santorum is running scared.

Somewhere, Dan Savage, the man responsible for spreading Santorum's name into realms the Senator could scarce believe, is gearing up for the fight. We'll be following this one all year - stay on top of the story at www.politicspa.com.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


Just returned from Blackwell's Bookshop with a few International and European Law texts, along with one surprising purchase: Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, by Ann Coulter. Aside from this week's sign that the apocalypse is upon us, I can explain something I never imagined myself doing. Honestly.

The clock was ticking down on the store's closing. After locating the two required books for class purposes, I scouted quickly around for another recreational selection, as this is normally my custom to buy something enjoyable alongside the more tedious law documents... As also is a custom, I found myself torn between the final choice in England's maddening "3 for 2" deal. I finally made a decision, only to return to the counter via a discount section. There before me - Ann Coulter, her 18 quid hardcover book on sale for 1 pound. Impulsively, I could not resist (after all, I can always give it to Tim).

I look forward to giving it a quick read this weekend, and no doubt will throw up some of the most objectionable passages here for discussion. The quote leading off Chapter One is as follows:

"The natives are superficially agreeable, but they go in for cannibalism, headhunting, infanticide, incest, avoidance, and joking relationships, and biting lice in half with their teeth." - Margaret Mead

Should be fun.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Quote of the (Fri)day

After a magnificent performance of MacBeth in London Wednesday night, can the quote of the week be anything other than the following masterpiece of Shakespeare's from Act 2 Scene iii?

MACDUFF: Was it so late, friend, ere you went to bed,
That you do lie so late?

Porter: 'Faith sir, we were carousing till the
second cock: and drink, sir, is a great
provoker of three things.

MACDUFF: What three things does drink especially provoke?

Porter: Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and
urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes;
it provokes the desire, but it takes
away the performance: therefore, much drink
may be said to be an equivocator with lechery:
it makes him, and it mars him; it sets
him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him,
and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and
not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him
in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Great 8 RPS Gambits

No, I have not given up on the Santiago pilgrimage. And no, for those interested in the Domus RPS throwdown, I have not conceded defeat in that either. Though I long to resurrect the shuffleboard table stored away in the basement of the Legal Aid clinic (and we will soon enough), until then - bring on the rock paper scissors championship of the world!!

New initiates will wonder - why is this guy pacing behind me? Others will think, is the game really that complex? Well, I give you first the website - www.worldrps.com - where you can get the full smackdown. But in the meantime, while I have a few more seconds of old man walking behind me, I give you.... (cue music) the 8 gambits:

"The “Great Eight” Gambits

The mathematically inclined will quickly realize that there are only twenty-seven possible Gambits. All of them have been used and documented in tournament play. Each has several names from a variety of localities. There is no such thing as a “new” Gambit.

The “Great Eight” Gambits are the eight most widely used. There is nothing about these eight that make them superior to any other Gambits, although as a group they can be very effective. Several high-level players built careers on just these eight Gambits. They are, sorted alphabetically by their most common names:

Avalanche (RRR)
Bureaucrat (PPP)
Crescendo (PSR)
Dénouement (RSP)
Fistfull o’ Dollars (RPP)
Paper Dolls (PSS)
Scissor Sandwich (PSP)
Toolbox (SSS)

Yes, there is a world beyond such gambits. And perhaps a Domusite will emerge victorious tonight without relying on any such said strategy. But... I cheer for the bureaucrat/denouement triumverate. And, sadly, look for me at Motion bar tomorrow night.

yes, it's like that, it's just the way it is.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Seven Wonders for the New World

Here's a fantastic idea: following in the spirit of Philon of Byzantium - who nominated 7 man-made structures as the "Wonders of the World" way back in 200 B.C., there is a campaign afoot to name the 7 New Wonders for the Modern World. Back in 2001, some Swiss adventurer created a foundation to choose these in some form of communal effort, so now the world-wide vote is on.

No rush, however. The website boldly announces that there are a whopping 671 days and 8 hours left to vote at the time of writing, and as you might expect the whole process is rather convoluted at this stage. Basically, they are running it as an open nomination (and yes - it was I who put the Hofbrau House in Munich down for a laugh) with voting until the end of the year. Then an "expert panel" will whittle down the top 77 vote-getters to a final voting field of 21.

Everyone's selections are bound to be biased to some extent, given the vague categorizations and personal preferences. But it is still a question that begs an answer. In my choices, I have tried to hit upon a diversity through time, space, and historical origin/purpose, but of course I have been most effected by those wonders I have seen with my own eyes... and so the list is necessarily skewed somewhat. But a la Greatest Resume, or the "collective intelligence" debate from the Barbarian Invasions, the idea works best as simple fodder for conversation and debate.

So without further adieu (already been to 4 of them!):

1. Acropolis, Athens, Greece
2. Taj Mahal, India
3. Great Wall of China, China
4. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
5. Sistine Chapel, Rome, Italy
6. Statue of Liberty, New York, USA
7. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

SO - what's my most egregious omission? And incidentally, how many of the Original 7 do you think you can name? I have always been struck by how everyone seems to have heard the phrase, but rare is the quizmaster who knows them all. For my part, without Sid Meier's Civilization, I would probably be completely lost. Check out details on Philon's original choices here. And let the great debate continue.

Pressing 0

Stockwell Day, the Conservative Party's foreign affairs critic, ridiculed Martin's position that Washington would have to alert Ottawa before shooting down a missile.

"These missiles are coming in at 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) a second, and if the president calls the 1-800 line and gets: `Press 1 if you want English, press 2 if you want French, press 0 if nobody's there ...' I mean, it's crazy."

Stockwell is surprisingly funny here. And so correct.