Thursday, May 26, 2005

Yes, Oui, Ja!

Some big votes on the horizon here in Europe - on the proposed Constitution that I have become vaguely familiar with in the course of studies. France (on May 29th) and Holland (on June 1st) will decide whether to approve the massive document by referendum.

The Times reports today that the French vote for the Constitution is likely already lost and the odds on www.sportsinteraction.com [specials, politics] have swung decidely toward both the NON (1.50 to 1) and NEE (1. 33) camps.

Though I have reservations, I would cast my ballot in favour on this issue. The aftermath here will be most fascinating one to follow in any case, though so expect much more analysis and European pundit opinion once the dust settles next week.

Smiling. Just not always at Federal Politics.

Not to exascerbate this minor debate overlong - but I hope I am not giving the impression of being too "angry" these days in postings on the state of affairs in Canadian federal politics. Ahab's singleminded pursuit of the whale is not meant to be a blinding one. Plenty of events at the Canadian provincial level, though maybe less "exciting" and internationally newsworthy - such as the near-passage of the recent B.C. voting reform initiative by the citizen's assembly of ordinary Canadians, or the successful passage of the budget in Nova Scotia's minority Parliament - certainly do receive acclaim and praise from this contributor, even if left unstated here.

Sometimes, blogging about what you "don't" agree with just comes more naturally in a world of time constraints. And polysci aside, there have been plenty of other developments smiled about recently here, from Liverpool's recent unconscionably sublime victory [surely one of the happiest nights of this year] to Shakespeare play after Shakespeare play. Much more to look forward to this weekend after the successful landing of my sister in the UK this morning, particularly a possible long-awaited foray into magical Sherwood Forest.

But putting any rantings against Star Wars aside [though at least I have finally found someone respectable who agrees with me], I do admit to being "angry" over the ethical slides we've witnessed in the past months at the Canadian Federal level. Not all have been from the Liberal frontbenches, of course. But when [what I see as] an opportunistic and politically cynical defection of a lacklustre MP is greeted as "obviously fantastic news" by Liberal supporters, or when the news breaks to little fanfare that the Government will now choose to ignore the long-standing convention on confidence votes in the house, or I read completely unfettered confidence in the abilities of Paul Martin despite possible mounting evidence to the contrary, I admit it does prove rather irritating [to quote but three examples].

I wonder sometimes if any lingering "anger" that comes across may not really just be bred out of a particular frustration that so many Liberals don't seem to note any such tinges of unease themselves, constantly viewing these developments through a prism tinted Liberal Red instead.

But such perspectives are why we argue, of course. So let the parameters for legitimate debate be defined here, not by labelling one side as "partisan" or "angry", but rather by the sage advice of no less an authority than my beloved Shakespeare [Taming of the Shrew, Act I Scene ii]:
Trantio: Sir, I shall not be slack: in sign whereof,
Please ye we may contrive this afternoon,
And quaff carouses to our mistress’ health,
And do as adversaries do in law,
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.

Grumio: O excellent motion! Fellows, let’s be gone.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Greatest. Final. Ever.

Hell - greatest GAME ever, period. Liverpool's heroism in rallying from a 0-3 halftime deficit to win on penalties will live infamously as a "miracle on the pitch", after a night where, truly, no superlative or sporting cliche is out of place.

"Hands up, those who thought Liverpool would comeback," laughed the announcer after Gerrard's header, Smicer's booming shot from outside the penalty area, and Alonso's penalty rebound tied the game just 15 minutes into a glorious 2nd half. The talk before the game may have been of dreams, but no Liverpool supporter would have dared contemplate so perfect a fantasy. Surreal. Hometown boy Gerrard was absolutely immense, especially toward the end when he filled in superbly at left defensive back when called upon near the end. And the unlikeliest hero of all is the much-maligned keeper Jerzy Dudek, who made the most unbelievable double-save from 1 (one!) yard out with extra time running down, then won the penalty shoot-out with the most ridiculous dancing on the line to shake Milan's players.

I doubt I will ever have the privilege of watching as excellent and exciting a football match. This year has been filled with many wonderous moments, from seeing Mandela at Trafalgar Square, to Shakespeare's Memorial Birthday Service in Stratford, to the annual May Day celebrations under Magdalan Tower. Tonight ranks right up there with the very best of them.

Dreams, and yes miracles, are possible. Liverpool proved it tonight.

I cannot wait to read the English press coverage in the morning.

CSI: Blogosphere

What to take from this incredible story? Blogs may not be able to save your life, but they may be able to finger your killer. The latter link is a contender for most chilling blog entry of all time. (A Volokh's contributor wonders whether a computer printout of the blog post in question is admissable at trial.)

A Geeky Conspiracy Theory

Not to make this the Star Wars junkies' blog, but I feel obliged to throw in my $0.02. As you may induce from the preceding posts, I was the other Ahab's member who 'loved' Revenge of the Sith. I did like the film. But mind you, going in, I had no expectations that it would be as good as any episode from the original trilogy. (Nothing compares with Star Wars, not even Star Wars.) That said, the more I think about ROTS, the more I like it, which is apparently the opposite reaction MacDuff had. Yeah, there were some idiotic parts in it: the wookie scenes were fun, but senseless, and we never did see why Jabba calls him the "mighty" Chewbacca, since he seems to spend the film sipping tea with Yoda in a treehouse. Furthermore, there were some mysteries provoked by the previous two films that were never wrapped up. For example, why did 'Sifo Dyas,' the Jedi who is alleged to have ordered the clones in Episode II, order the clones? Also, in Episode II, the Jedi pretty clearly see Jango Fett, the model for the clones, fighting with the separatists. So why the hell aren't they suspicious that the separatists were clearly behind the creation of the clone army? I mean, it doesn't take a hyperspace engineer. The biggest unresolved question of all, of course, is, what exactly are the Sith getting revenge for? I could go on about these inconsistencies and regretful omissions (Slate.com runs down a few pretty well, including the continuity problems involving the droids: "And why does Artoo manifest new and wondrous powers throughout the prequel trilogy (he can fly!), when in Episode V, he can barely wrestle a candy bar out of Yoda's hands?").

Still, there's some food for thought, outside of some lacklustre acting (although Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine was great) and some preposterous dialogue ('Hold me like you held me by the lake at Naboo'). To wit, there's one thing that I've been pondering, to quote MacDuff's post below:

>instead we get Vader showing up for 2 minutes at the Opera to learn that the >Emperor knows how badly he has been dissed by the infinitely perceptive council who >are charged with protecting the galaxy

The more I think about this scene, the more I believe I missed a key to the series in watching it. (Warning, this is the geeky part.) In the little talk between Palpatine and Anakin, the future Emperor brings up the topic of an old Sith Lord, Plaguis, or whatever his name is, with the implication that it was his old master, and he killed him in his sleep. Anyway, Palps says that Plaguis had the ability to manipulate midiclorians, and create life, and taught his skills to his apprentice. Now, the only other time in the entire 6 films that midiclorians are even mentioned is in Phantom Menace, when Qui Gon is talking about how the young Anakin has the highest concentration of the stuff he's ever seen. That can't be a coincidence. And Anakin is thought to be a 'virgin birth,' with no father. So, the rub: can it be that Palpatine created Anakin, through some manipulation of the force, with the intention all along of making him the future Darth Vader? After all, in Return of the Jedi, he boldly claims that "everything that has transpired has done so according to my design." Look at the scene that MacDuff derides -- the so-called 'opera', in which something unusual is going on, like, hmmm, an egg being fertilised? (See the image above.) Could be a coincidence, but it could also be some (unusually) smart stagecraft on Lucas's part, to avoid the blatant 'No, I am your father' allusion. In any case, there appears to be more to this deliberate, slow-paced, eerily scored scene at the opera, and it gives resonance to another throw-away line in Phantom Menace, when Palpatine tells the young Anakin that he will watch his career with great interest. Go ahead, try to tear this theory down, but as preposterous as it sounds, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. We may never know.

Nope, it wasn't the Empire Strikes Back, but it rivals Return of the Jedi, and was the best of the prequels by far. Much to MacDuff's disgust, I'm sure, I'm going to see the film again, just to see what else I can pick up on, even if some loose ends will never be tied up. There may be more than meets the eye, if you're willing to grin and bear it.

UPDATE: Apparently, my theory is vindicated, because George Lucas had this idea too. Check out this scan, taken from the book 'The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.' (Hat tip to a poster named eyebeams, on this website).

Wine and Dreams

Tonight is the Night: Champions League Final in Istanbul between powerhouse AC Milan and consummate underdogs Liverpool.

Accompanying the team will be legions of supporters, likely many of those seen by Tim and I in Trafalgar Square shortly before the Jeffrey Simpson talk, with banners such as the legendary one seen above. [I only hope I get to utter that gem of a line in its true context some day!]

Can Liverpool compete the near-impossible task and cap this dreamlike run? We hope so. To set the stage, consider this report filed from Istanbul by Chief Times Sports writer Simon Barnes. He concludes:
"Football can do rum things and one of the rummest of them is the way a team can be the stuff of category-three dreams one moment and the stuff of a category-one nightmare the next. This European Cup has inspired Liverpool: success has followed success, with the inevitability of a chain of logic. Liverpool, asked to make their supporters dream, have grown increasingly committed to the vision of the just-about-achievable. And with every step they have taken this season, it has become that little bit more achievable.

They are not a great team, but they are capable of great things. They might — might — just pull off something lastingly great tonight. It’s a dream, yes, of course it’s a dream. That’s the whole bloody point."

C'mon you Reds!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Happy Proof...

... that life can still be so beautiful, miraculous, and wonderful - even in the midst of tough adversity.

Well done boys. Stay well. [Can we put together an Ahab's version of such a video before the departure in July?]

And hope you are Ranger fans. In any case, enjoy the delights of the cowbell.

Tony Benn

For those who don't recognize the name, the info can be found here.

'Tis a long background to the following words, so let me give them to you straight and dispense with such pleasantries as describing the Blackboard Exhibit where V. and I found them over lunch at the Museum of the History of Science. I'm sure Bennie would rather it such anyway, especially given the general thrust of Ahab's. Maybe those politicos can incorporate his simple blackboard into an essay answer?

Good Liberals could.


(1) What power have you got?
(2) Where did you get if from?
(3) In whose interest do you exercise it?
(4) To whom are you accountable?
(5) How can we get rid of you?


ONLY Democracy gives us that right.

That is why NO-ONE with power likes democracy.

And that is why every generation must struggle to win it and keep it.

Including me and you, here and NOW.

Monday, May 23, 2005

A Czech Tempest

What a weekend. Happy to have failed this evening's mock exam in Conflicts in favour of a multitude of happinesses that may defy a tutor's belief. It has been many weekends since I have shared pints with Sir Vaclav of Potesil, he of Vladivostok and Finnish ridiculousness. Surely his presence hastened my encounter with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and for that alone he must be praised. Though the breakdown of the Absinthe bottle was singularly tragic, and only partially saved by the Bosnian Lejla and Russian Standard Export.

But beyond that, consider the wonder with which we approached the Tempest at Shakespeare's Globe (tickets purchased deja) on a hungover morning... "we'll be fine so long as the coach doesn't break down", I utter fatally as the OxTube pulls away from Gloucester Green. So, of course, it does vent smoke and pull over after an hour, and yet our replacement leaves Cooper behind while we proceed along a path destined for the most ingenious of coincidences: 12:16 to Hillingdon; 12:39 to Shepard's Bush; 1:01 to St. Paul's; and then the mad dash down and across Millenium Bridge to the Globe, sneaking under the usher's arms to salvation and one of the last Rylance pieces. To describe our arrival as perfect timing would be an insult to the word "perfect".

Then later, at the classical music concert, the Shostakovic Cello Concerto soloist - a Chinese woman - actually breaks a string midway through her performance. Normally the most tragic of circumstances, but as we were there primarily for the "favorite" symphony of MacDuff, Rach's No. 2 (have I begun using such a word too often?), it amounted to just another element of pure strangeness. Certainly one that caused gaffaws of laughter from myself as, rather abruptly and hilariously, as the soloist pops her instrument midway through and apologizes with the exclamation that: "There goes my G-string."

Even better is the response from Vaclav: "See. When I arrive, things happen." Indeed. I got lost in Rachmaninov's music subsequently, then the slow walk past Trafalgar Sq. where once I saw the great Nelson Mandela speak, and then past Churchill, Big Ben, and the Abbey by full moonlight. Beauty.

How could I ever hope to explain such wonder to the tutor who marks the terrible effort produced today for the mock exam, that counts for nothing? Is it enough to plead a month's grace period? And why can't the fact that I indulged so graciously in Guinness following the weak showing count for anything? And have you ever been to Brazenose and met Sion or her puking boyfriend?

Weep for Gongshow...

... and for Cooper, and for me, if such terrible news be true:


we'll miss you, William Blake of Picadilly. And your 5'oclock Randy Moss magic.

In a word, "Terrible"

Perhaps, in welcoming new talent to Ahab's Whale, I am unconsciously devoted to ripping apart the comments of Mr. Mike McNair. Please, dear readers, rest assured it is not deliberate on mine own part. But the latest Star Wars instalment calls for the critic in me to slam his thoughts as solidly as they deserve.

Instinctively, I would call Episode III the absolute worst of the six films.

Frankly, I heard more interesting dialogue at Hussein's Chipwagon on the way home from the Purple Turtle tonight - "Don't do it, you're a good person," says Padme, whose entire role in the final movie seems to be to convince the audience that Anakin is suffering from "stress" that might explain his subsequent turn to the dark side.

I thought Lucas had a vision for the true origin of our ultimate villain, Darth Vader. For that reason, I was willing to give him the benefit of any doubt through the first two new attempts. How wrong I was to trust him.

Instead, as we were painstakingly walked through another Hayden Christensen wooden performance, Jedi Council rank stupidity as the overarching theme [explain the purposeful alienation of their self-defined "chosen one"], and right through to the Emperor's annoying "I told you so" routine - just couldn't help but think that we were really witnessing the setup for a "Black Star Wars" routine that screams for Dave Chappelle's return from the wilderness: "What the fuck, Annie!? You crying!??! You're supposed to be the Sith Lord, smoke that shit!"

And I purposely throw the words "dark side" out there in small caps, of course, because anyone remotely caught up in this epic must be foolhardy, or else desperate to actually claim to enjoy Lucas' final installment. I could forgive Ep. I (particularly for Jake Lloyd, Darth Maul, and Liam Neeson) and even the weaker Ep. II (because the battles that emerged were epic and Boba Fett's father actually played a significant role in the plot).

Yet here... Maybe if I were Aunt Anita and accompanied young children in such a full circle... but no.

I am sick of manufacturing further apologies for what has ended up amounting to a colossal waste of time. Everything about this effort was weak and lazy, maybe best encapsulated by the call to execute "Order 66" [as if there were 65 previous ones?]. The plot here is just so terribly monotonous and one-dimensional, General Grievous is an absolutely terrible droid "hunchback of Notre-Dame" villain who inexiplicably suffers from the whooping cough, from the outset...

And I just LOVE how, after we see Obi-Wan get thrown aside and demolished for fun by Count Dooku [who of course future Darth procedes to make mincemeat of...] but then HE gets charged with the solo job of hunting down the one person who the "wise" Jedi Council claim is solely responsible for the continuing "war" while Hayden broods alone in the Jedi room. Would you like a sledgehammer with those fries, Sir?

Oh right, they just don't "trust" young Skywalker, I forgot. Makes perfect sense, they are Jedi after all, and have premonitions of the future. They have only identified Anakin as the "chosen one" since he was 8. Smart, boys. At least the Emperor sees it... although his make-up after getting roughed up by the old stoicly stupid Mace Windu is painfully pathetic for a director who prides himself on such effects.

And speaking of Mace: has there ever been a worse character in the Star Wars galaxy? I know the sentimental in the crowd want to pick Jar Jar, but give Samuel L. his fair chance at such glory. Why does he exist except to utter the dumbest lines in the Universe? And why give an actor who is known best for his outrage [see Jules Winnfield's portrayal, for example: "Was Bowman my favorite coach? Oh ho, I don't think so!", says Chelios] the most passive and serene role of all time. Every single sentence the man utters gets proven to be wrong.

Yet, here is the only one who can defeat the Emperor - not even Yoda could do so, and why he and Kenobi take off into a 20 year exile doing nothing is never explained and proves utterly ridiculous. And it appears that Laia ends up with the Organas because Jimmy Smits' wife has "always wanted to adopt a daughter". Potent. Good to see the Jedi are formulating a plan. I almost expected a green wife of Yoda's to walk on and say: "Let's go to Degobah, big boy." At least it might have explained the reason for his flight into the swamp.

You could colour in this plot by numbers, replete as it is with no surprises. Yes, it is Star Wars, and this long rant is probably overblown and unjustified. But it has been enjoyable to write, as have been the arguments with the boys. I can honestly say that I could have left during the "lava" scene (again, could Lucas please stop the wholly computer-looking somersaults!) and been happier. That's not what this movie [or any of the prequels] should have allowed to happen.

Yes, I know what happens in the end. But I also know what happens in Hamlet and King Lear and Romeo and Juliet, but I continue to glory in those performances time and again. It would be shocking if anyone could ever convince me to sit and watch this lame two hour mundane journey from A to its inevitable B ever again.

What else to say except Lucas just lost it. He got so caught up in his graphics that he forgot to bring the funny. Imagine what a Sorkin could have done with such a story and weep. Conflict, drama, galactic politics, maybe a Kenobi-Amidala love interest... instead we get Vader showing up for 2 minutes at the Opera to learn that the Emperor knows how badly he has been dissed by the infinitely perceptive council who are charged with protecting the galaxy. Alas.

For my part, I pulled out the notebook half-way through to copy down the cheesy dialogue after the opening hour. I did love the Yoda line: "Good relations with the Wookies, I have", and yet did anyone else feel this incorporation wholly coincidental, or further - even possibly understand the appropriateness of Kashyk as the planet to represent the "larger universe" McNair delighted in, except as a cheap way to give Peter Mayhew a few more gurgles in his obviously ridiculously lacklustre career. And are we meant to believe Obi-wan is so dumb as not to recognize R2 in "A New Hope"?

There is a reason that Empire is the most dominant of the films: neither the screenplay (Brackett and Kasdan) nor the direction (Kershner) was done by George. If Tom Stoppard had any hand at all in this debacle, he should be ashamed.

All of this rambling - set to the tune of Dan Bern - are only [amazingly] partial criticisms of this miserable excuse for the culmination of the Star Wars movies. It convinces me that our old carpenter friend, Harrison Ford, is really the one responsible for the popularity and durability and magic of the original movies. None of the prequels ever attempted to incorporate the sceptic, the outcast, the cynic who quietly pokes fun at the whole elaborate idea. Instead we get unconvincing angst, never more so than in this movie. And it never works [except maybe for that one moment when Yoda walks into the Emperor's room and throws the Red guards aside with a shrug]. Our galaxy a long time ago needs such heroes.

How anyone could find this effort even remotely rewarding is beyond me... and all I can do is scream along with Vader himself: "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" I too look forward to watching the old movies again.... but only in order to restore my faith in those "hokey religions and ancient weapons" - not because these new ones have offered any new insights.

Maybe capitalism has finally corrupted even the Force.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A Missed Opportunity?

[Editor's note: The following is a guest post from Ahab-beat reporter Blair Stransky.]

The buzz was unforgettable.

Inside Parliament, it seemed like any other day until you reached the Chamber. Hordes of people were present for what many were calling the social event of the season. Well known parliamentary reporters including Paul Wells, Lawrence Martin, Paul Hunter, John Ibbitson, Jane Taber, Tom Murphy (and the list goes on) crowded the press seats while hundreds of Canadians dotted both ends of the room where history would unfold. Many had come from far and wide, driving hundreds of kilometers in some cases just to gain a glimpse at the most memorable vote in the last quarter century. Hands were waving rampantly - MPs and audience members alike eager to exchange eye contact if only to remember for each other that they were there when the vote went down.

It would most certainly have been to the general public's amazement to witness the atmosphere that late afternoon. While the place was teeming with excitement, there was no knife-cutting tension, only a group of men and women from across the country on a path towards what appeared to be a done deal. This was evident in the comraderie between both sides of the House so often not covered by the press, as though letting Canadians in on the secret, that things change when the cameras go on, would be such a disaster. Pierre Pettigrew was leaned up against one desk talking away with Tory James Moore, the Prime Minister telling a few jokes to the NDP while Monte Sohlberg sat in his chair, shooting the breeze with Anne McLellan. But no sooner had the place gone on-air then each side had retreated to their respective chairs, ready to continue with the act that they hated each other's guts.

Beyond this, what I think many seem to forget is that Canadians have enjoyed some of the most vivacious days of democracy over the past month than they have in the past 25 years. When but now would gallery seats be "sold out" while millions trained their eyes on the long thought forgotten institution - Parliament. Oh, but it's a dirty place they say, with personal slights causing dastardly blights on what many have called a "dictatorial" system. Goodness knows, we wouldn't want our Parliament to be, like in the past, the focus of our country, where our hopes and dreams are born out of vibrant debate. While Question Period contains some disrespectful jibes due to the rust of apathy, are Canadians so lost to the days of great parliamentary contests that they can't see, or enjoy, a reinvigorated Commons?

Last night saw the will of the people carried. While some call the Liberals' deal with the NDP a "pact with the devil", I call it the result of a pluralist system which relies on the act of compromise rather than hardened principles to get things done. And when it all comes down to one man's vote, perhaps all the better.

Nevertheless, the $4.6 billion amendment to the budget did lack one thing - vision.

Chuck Cadman's vote encapsulated not only the wishes of his B.C. constituency, but the desires of the nation. Many breathed a sigh of relief that there would not be a vote this spring or likely one this summer. But, like the cameras that did not show the MPs' good will, or the Canadians who have not yet understood what a vibrant Parliament could mean to their country, Mr. Cadman's decision to vote only on behalf of his 107,000 constituents, rather than on behalf of his fellow countrymen, represents a missed opportunity in Canadian history.

As the NDP members started chanting the song "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" to Chuck Cadman just minutes before the vote, I was reminded of another minority Liberal government that needed the help of two independent MPs. In 1926, J.S. Woodsworth and A.A. Heaps, two Labour Party MPs from Winnipeg, agreed to vote with Mackenzie King in exchange for the introduction of the Old Age Pension Plan, what many historians have labeled the "cornerstone of Canada's social security system". And so while some might say the real balance of power rested with the NDP and their $4.6 billion cash infusion, I believe that no new great vision was born out of yesterday. What a shame. These situations only come along once in a generation. I hope the next Mr. Cadman uses it more wisely.

Hence, we are left to watch and hope as other dreams hopefully come to fruition. Unlike my friend, James MacDuff, I've got my money on initiatives such as childcare and cities. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that our Mr. Cadman isn't a Mr. Woodsworth, or a Mr. Douglas, or a Mr. Trudeau. There is no doubt, that in this day and age, we could always use a little more vision.

What Lies Ahead

Final thoughts on this week of intrigue and maneuvering... Though I favored an election, it does please me that the substantive elements of the budget will pass and that the issue of same-sex marriage might finally be put to bed [though I fear the Liberals will stall its final implementation for political purposes].

The silver linings for the CPC in the aftermath of this close vote are also obvious (and well elaborated upon by Scharma) - it will be interesting to note the depth of the introspection over the summer. The battlelines continue to be drawn, however: Bloc-Harper v. Harper Liberals. No reader of this blog should be surprised on which side of the line its three contributors fall, but Harper does have some decisions to make [with solid arguments for both his staying and leaving].

So time to move on indeed. Though permit one last nostalgic look back at another in the list of my unjustifiable "favorites" - favorite individual political column of all time: Rex Murphy's eulogy of Pierre Trudeau in the Globe and Mail, September 30, 2000.

Say what you will of old Pierre, but he and his contemporaries certainly compare rather favorably against the current lot. Consider:
"Pierre Trudeau's second [greatest contribution]... was that he didn't come empty, or fitted only with the wish to be there, to the task of leadership. His entry into politics wasn't happenstance or the exercise of mere ambition. He had appraised the country whose leadership he would assume, recognized its stengths and weaknesses, and constructed a response to enhance the former and diminish the latter. We were then encountering a politician who not only could think but whom many of his most enthusiastic followers almost identified with reason itself."

Alas. Of course, some Liberals will continue to see this Prime Minister as a bold thinker, principled politician, and great leader. I, obviously, do not. Further argument is frankly pointless. The clarion calls for reform only ring louder for me on this Friday afternoon. The fact that Paul Martin thinks lightweight Belinda Stronach is the person to lead them only confirms my negative opinion of his capacity, and the seriousness with which he wants to tackle our nation's democratic shortcomings. It would also make me laugh, if it wasn't so depressing.

So it should be interesting to see where this all leads me upon my return to Canada in less than 2 months. The Toronto Star today fronts a headline today entitled "Prime Minister Layton?", but absent serious maturity, the idea of an NDP Government IS still science fiction. And the Greens remain a work in progress and protest vote that these Liberals have become masters at ignoring. So again, where does this leave those seeking this change then? McNair suggests helping reform the CPC from within... As an old friend of mine is fond of saying, in an infinite variety of contexts: "Don't make me."


Does any photo capture this last crazy week any better?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Anything Goes

No, not this Liberal Party of Canada's philosophy when it comes to keeping their tight grip on power, but my ironic destination for this crucial evening of Canadian politics.

Many lines from the show will (in my head anyway) be strikingly appropriate and hysterically laughable. Just one example?

[Martin to Stronach, or Murphy to Grewal:]

"So though I'm
Not a great romancer,
I know that you're bound to answer
When I propose, Anything Goes."

All the best to Ahab's anoraks in the Speaker's gallery - Sir PK and BNS, esq - I expect some heckling boys! Kidnap one of the Liberal backbenchers, ply them with booze, whatever it takes to force the election!! PK use that influence on the Speaker. That would be the shocker to end 'em all!

Oh my (exclamation points!).
How unnatural an obsession we have with this stuff.
(Much) more after the show tonight.

Across The Street From The Grewals

The Grits. Taking targeted voting to the next level.

Sex, Lies, and (now) the Audiotape

Today's the big day. I'm with Kinsella. Word-for-word:
Here it is. The proposal. CTV News says it is the voice of Tim Murphy, Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister of Canada, making what he calls - and I quote - "a proposal." The link is found here.

"A proposal." Stay home, abstain, whatever you like. Afterwards, we can have a leisurely chat about a Senate seat. It's just "a proposal."

This isn't "a proposal," but it is my own truth: these people make me want to vomit. They're not Liberals. They're the people who are destroying the Liberal Party, perhaps for good. If given the chance, they will barter away the country, too, to satisfy their own ambition, and to satisfy their lust for a couple cheap headlines. Canada, and Canadians, deserve better than this.

If you are a Member of Parliament - or you know someone who is - listen to that bit of tape, and ask yourself: Is this what it has come to, at long last? Is this what we deserve? Is this what we are going to get?And - most of all - isn't it time for a change?

Coyne's got more indepth coverage here. Are any other Liberals outraged at the airing of these desperate tactics? Will even one backbencher stand up and protest this indiscriminate selling of Cabinet/Senate posts by Mr. Democratic Deficit himself [who claimed in Tuesday's press conference that no such offers were being made]? Or is it just business as usual, and Stephen Harper's policies that are still too "scary"?

Someone. Anyone?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

And now for something completely different...

Happy to report that Villaraigosa came in for me (with a whopping 59% to 41% victory - take that Economist!), netting a sweet $65 on top of the $140 stake. So what's next on the eclectic betting circuit?

Well none other than that classic of cheesy pop music, the song contest that has arguably done more for European unification than all the consecutive rounds of Treaty negotiation. That's right. Eurovision.

5 years ago, while an undergraduate on exchange in Scotland, I got my first taste of the Eurovision Song Contest. Verdict? An absolute riot, and the perfect atmosphere for a Saturday night party overseas. To this day, I can still remember that incessant refrain of Denmark's winning entry by the - get this - Olsen Brothers: "Fly on the Wings of Love". Check out the list of this year's participants here. The widest assortment of entries possible, from absolutely stunning Eastern European women to the hip hop Ukrainian group "Greenjolly" whose song lyrics about the Orange revolution needed slight censorship.

The question is: who to bet on in 2005? [check out the full listing under the "Entertainment" section] Greece seems the clear favorite at 3.50 to 1, but something like this calls for a truly random choice, like those Ukrainians at 51 to 1. Happy to entertain any suggestions. This Saturday is the big night, so expect an update on my final selection before then. And may the most hilarious performance triumph!

Backbench Malaise

A quick thought - granted Britain has 659 MPs to our 308, but I find it surprising that more discontented rumblings haven't emerged in the seats behind the Prime Minister, especially after vaulting the Liberal-for-a-day Belinda Stronach into Cabinet.

Blair scores a majority in the 60s here, and the speculation immediately becomes whether he will be able to face down the rebels in his caucus that habitually vote against him on crucial issues. Here we have a situation in which just one independent voice is set to shape, quite profoundly, things to come. And not a single maverick Liberal hints at a sense of betrayal, or concern about the direction of the Government? [Kilgour made his move a few weeks ago, before the stark implications of this vote were fully known.] Has Harper even tried asking any of them out for "dinner"?

Perhaps it represents just another example of the robustness of British Parliamentary democracy over its Canadian equivalent [in line with Coyne's past comparison of the respective Question Periods]. All rather lamentable.

It's Up To Chuck

"At some point, you say to yourself, 'Does the government have any competence? Does it have any sense of what the correct thing is for the correct reasons?' "And finally, when you get enough reasons like this, you say, 'Mr. Martin isn't a serious person.'"
That's David Kilgour, tipping his hand on Thursday's budget vote. (Props to The Tiger In Winter for the alert.)

So, the game still appears to be afoot. Then again,

He said he won't support the Liberals in a confidence vote unless they promise to send up to 500 Canadian troop to Sudan. "Either the government is ignorant of the fact -- or wishes to deny -- that the military dictatorship in Sudan is complicit with the atrocities taking place in Darfur, or Prime Minister Paul Martin's commitments to Darfur were knee-jerk reactions, inspired by the current political crisis in Canada," Kilgour wrote in The Globe.

Given the state of Ottawa these days, it would not be a shock for the Martin regime to suddenly commit troops to central Africa. And if they do, you heard it here first. But what say you, Mr. Cadman? Take all the time you need, no matter what Adam Daifallah callously suggests. What a nail-biter -- and it may come down to an undecided man who is stricken with cancer. Love it or hate it, Canadian politics has never looked so much like a Hollywood picture.

White Knights And Dark Days In Ottawa

The truth is, Belinda Stronach has become an archetypal figure in modern Canadian politics. And a steaming Stephen Harper tells us why:

“I told my wife only a few days ago that I thought it had become obvious to Belinda that her leadership ambitions would not be reached in this party regardless of whether or not we won the next election, that they just weren't in the cards, and I thought that would mean trouble.”

So, in spite of essentially calling for the fall of the government in the past week, and her opposition to the Martin budget, she sold out her party, because it was unlikely that she would become leader. Why didn't she become a Liberal in the first place? Simple: it once looked like she had the best chance of heading the Conservatives. She did not cross the floor because she was unable to advance a progressive agenda within the Conservative caucus. The truth is that she left not on principle, but because she stood a good chance of losing her seat, and because it may be a little easier to get a top job with the Liberals than to undertake the more difficult job of reforming the CPC from within (incidentally, something I advocate). That she decided to leave is unsurprising, given that her rise to the top of Magna did not exactly involve a lot of hard work. Her acceptance of a cabinet position is not a 'gamble'; given the precarious electoral position in her riding, and some simple budget-vote arithmetic, it's a pretty reasonably choice, from a purely politically pragmatic point of view.

But here is the real laugher:

Mr. Martin said it is not unusual for MPs to defect straight into a cabinet post, although it is only the third time that has happened since Confederation [my emph]. He insisted that the importance of the defection was not that it will help his government win the vote — prompting an outburst of laughter from assembled reporters. “Just a minute,” Mr. Martin said, betraying a small smile. “We still do not know whether the budget will pass or not. Well, I've got to tell you I can count.”

(He can't even keep a straight face anymore!)

Belinda's move was craven and opportunistic, but admittedly smart, at least on a selfish basis. I bear no (well, little) malice toward Paul Martin for making this move -- this is part of something bigger than him and his current government, and the defection was pragmatic, if shameless. But it tells us what Canadian politics is all about these days: no matter what the precedent, no matter what the principle, all can be forsaken for political expediency and the all-mighty cling to power. The problem is, so long as the government continues to be rewarded at the polls, nothing is going to change. So enjoy your place in the history books, Belinda. I hope I'll be able to look back on this post in 20 years and laugh.

My Kind Of Laboratory

MacDuff, are you listening?

Researcher Scott Lukas did not have any trouble rounding up volunteers for his study, published in this month's issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Lukas' team at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital set up a makeshift "apartment" in a laboratory, complete with a television, reclining chair and a refrigerator stocked with beer.
Lukas recruited 14 men and women in their 20s to spend four 90-minute sessions consuming beer and watching TV. Researchers selected people who said they regularly consumed three to four drinks per day.

After the first session, some subjects received capsules of kudzu, others a placebo. "Unbeknownst to them, I was weighing that mug of beer every time they took a sip," Lukas said. "We actually got a sip-by-sip analysis of their drinking behavior." None of the subjects had any side effects from mixing kudzu with beer. "It's perfectly safe, from what we can tell," Lukas said. "Individuals reported feeling a little more tipsy or lightheaded, but not enough to make them walk into walls or stumble and fall."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Other past speculation aside, here's what I find in my crystal ball this evening:

(1) Budget vote passes on Thursday.

(2) This fiery Parliament peters out uneventfully over the next few weeks, with the passage of a few more Bills, due largely to the Tory truce and everyone's (the Public included) utter exhaustion.

(3) Over the summer recess, in his last principled gesture, Stephen Harper decides to step down after much reflection (the real kind, not the Belinda kind) out of desire to ensure the Liberals' defeat in the next election.

(4) This sets up a fascinating Fall Leadership Contest in which the moderates finally complete the facelift of the CPC, in the form of a Bernard Lord candidacy [or someone equally appealing from their front benches].

(5) Election in January/February pits the reformed CPC against the Liberals in a true grudge match. NDP gets sidelined in a campaign that yields a Majority Government.

(6) Is that majority Conservative or Liberal? Ah, that's where the crystal ball gets cloudly... it will all depend on the ability of the Tories to pick the right leader. The historical precedent of 1983 [Clark stepping down/losing to Mulroney prior to 1984] seems eerily appropriate.

Well, McNair. You sure picked a good day to cross the blogosphere, though sadly it seems that Ahab's Election Analysis project will be put on ice for the forseeable future. Proper thing, perhaps, given my impending exams. Maybe we should start looking at possible darkhorse future CPC leaders instead?

"A Public Spectacle"

And on that note, anyone else remember the mock campaign website organized by some interest group to defeat Belinda Stronach's bid to become CPC leader awhile back? Ah, the course of irony seems to be running ever smooth through Ottawa these days.

Here's a copy of the original press release announcing the site, dug up from cached files on the wonderful world wide web. Looks like this Neufeld guy saw this coming all along, and frankly it's surprising that others didn't see this possibility, given the Brison precedent. Were we lulled into thinking it wouldn't happen precisely because of the McKay relationship? If so, THAT would be some serious political calculating at play:

In Our Opinion Belinda Martin Is Setting the Conservative Party Up!
Welcome to Belinda Martin's website!

If you have not yet understood what we are trying to say here we are about to tell you. Quite simply there is absolutely no difference between Prime Minister Paul Martin and Belinda Stronach, thus, the play on the name Belinda Martin.

As you will see throughout this website Paul and Belinda are identical in philosophies, so much so, we think that when Belinda loses the leadership race she will make a public spectacle about how the Conservative Party of Canada does not share her values and that she is more comfortable with the Liberal Party. Scott Brison immediately comes to mind.

After all, the only positive comments made about Belinda's announcement did not come from Stephen Harper or Tony Clement, but by Paul Martin who had nothing but positive comments. Something is definitely up!


Andrew Neufeld, Chairman
Social Conservative Caucus, Concerned Christian Coalition Inc.

the 51st Way to Leave your Lover?

Think Paul Simon had a hastily arranged press conference and crossing the floor of the House of Commons in mind when he wrote 50 ways to leave your lover?

And nice cheapshot by Judy Wasylycia-Leis, calling him "unlucky at love and unlucky at politics." Ouch.

Harper's Counterpoint

I'll leave the analysis of Belinda's crass political move for others [cannot wait for Coyne's column]. Watching the likes of rank Liberals exault her "tough, gutsy" sell out will be as hilarious as it will be disgusting. Why offer a Tory a seat in the Senate when you are just as comfortable with them in your cabinet? Did anyone ask Belinda why she has just joined a Government that she voted no confidence in a few DAYS ago? And they call it democracy...

But Harper has a little over 48 hours. Does he have any final tricks up his sleeve after this brilliantly little tactical display by the Liberals? I would suggest only this one: Call Jack Layton. Have a little "private dinner" of your own. The only way out for an election in June maybe to get the NDP to be strategically "missing" a few members or to otherwise help support an election.

I haven't really thought this through. I don't even know if I think Layton and the NDP should even consider listening to Harper. But that seems to me as equally shocking a counterattack to deploy against the Liberals. And it has some attractive benefits for both parties.

Why? Layton can easily renege on the deal without getting overly punished in the polls: "How many times do we have to watch former Tory leadership contenders get welcomed into this man's Cabinet? How low do the Liberals have to sink before we remind them that they don't have a divine right to cling to power?" It could be the opening on the left that the NDP has needed to make true inroads against the Liberals. And if Layton waits for Martin to choose his own time to go to the polls, history shows that the NDP will bear the brunt of the loss unless they strike when Liberals are vulnerable.

Harper could offer the possibility of NDP-Tory cooperation on areas such as Proportional Representation that will never see the light of day under these Liberals that would help entrench a longer term role for the New Democrats as the conscience of the house. Also, Layton may never get a chance to increase the number of MPs by as much in his entire reign - and that's the first step toward true and lasting legitimacy for his party.

For the Tories, they'd then also be able to fight an election on the grounds that it was not only the Tory-Bloc alliance that defeated this Government that seems ready to sell itself to any bidder (please no comments that "Martin has just been doing what Canadians want") with whatever goodies and perks at the PMO disposal. I think the two parties have common interest in combatting the Liberals now, and Belinda's move has made it possible for Layton to take the high ground into an immediate vote.

I don't know. At times, the crass, power-hungery, principle-less political shenanigans have me doubting whether I even want to pay attention to this anymore. You look at the Globe and Mail sometimes and you wonder if there is ever going to be a calling to account of the Natural Governing Party short of recession. And this is criticism from the a relatively leftist perspective. I can only imagine how westerners are going to take this. [read: not good]

So call Jack Layton, Mr. Harper. Talk policy and principle, ethics and accountability. Strategerize. And who knows? Invite Ed Broadbent along as well. I wonder what he would recommend...

[Update: Do I need to tell you to check out the press gallery: Wells, Kinsella (see how long her reaction to the budget she'll be voting for stays on her website), Cosh, etc... and CalgaryGrit may get the prize for the funniest insta-reaction. Except maybe Martin himself, who says that Belinda will be in charge of "democratic renewal". Honestly.]

Oh, Belinda

Well, one of the biggest bombs in recent Canadian politics is being dropped as I write, with Belinda Stronach's decision to cross the floor and join team Martin. Now the odds of a June election suddenly look remote. This may be the most astute political move she has ever made, or will ever make. She was in very real danger of losing her seat to the Liberals (I thought she would), and with a budget vote looming, it was inconceivable that her leverage would get any greater (witness the plum cabinet position, out of thin air). Furthermore, she had no chance of winning a Tory leadership race, which means that aside from some loyalty to the party that she once wanted to head (how old-fashioned), she had little reason to stay on. Talk about expediency and pragmatism; her father must be very proud. In the press conference, which is still going on now, Martin called Stronach "gutsy." Change that "sy" to "less", and that's about right. Still, the Tories are going to have to do some serious soul searching, when two high-profile leadership candidates from their own party (Mr. Brison) cross the aisle in such a short time span.

PS And as a side note, something I should have considered before: What is Peter McKay going to say about this? Oh, to be a fly on the wall...

a Vote for Villaraigosa

Longtime readers will know of my affection for both politics and gambling. Well, about a year and a half ago I discovered www.sportsinteraction.com, and over time parlayed a modest $75 investment into a high of approximately $550 before seeing it fall again to about $250... before this most recent bet.

My most significant rolls of the dice didn't always come over the sportswire, however. In fact my NFL picks always seemed most anemic of all. Instead, my most significant wins have involved laying down my entire stake on eclectic events. These included betting on a draw between Kasparov and X3D Fritz in their opening match, on the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King to win Best Picture a full 2 months before the movie was even released, on Wesley Clark to win the Oklahoma primary, and on John Kerry to best a certain number of electoral college votes (though I lost the bet on Cooper pulling Nevada into the Democratic column).

All of this is to say that about a month ago, spurred on by this poll at Daily Kos, I put a hefty sum down on Antonio Villaraigosa to win the L.A. Mayoral Race at odds of 1.5 to 1. Seemed like a sure thing at the time (though the poll was the sum total of my knowledge), but now as the race comes down to the wire, the gap is narrowing and turnout is also notoriously low in these types of elections. So - anyone eligible to vote in L.A., I urge you to toss out the incumbent and make history! Nothing like an election.

[one further note of interest: check out www.sportsinteraction.com for yourself under the "Politics" heading. They are still advertising the election date as March 28th, and the odds on Antonio's victory having fallen in my favour to 1.20 to 1. What am I missing? Or are they the ones lost here?]


...to Mike McNair, who today joins us as a permanent contributor to Ahab's Whale. I know Mike from LSE last year, where we did (basically) the same masters degree. The three of us are, for the time being, in England. We've been talking about a 'merger' for awhile -- Mike gives his own reasons for moving at his old blog -- and we think that the perfect time for the move is now, on the (possible) eve of a Canadian federal election. We've been avid readers of his blog, and we're sure many of you have been too. The great part is, the three of us agree on some issues, but disagree on many more, which should make for some more balanced analysis. We're hoping to make this a fun blog to read during the election, and beyond. So, once again, welcome, Mike.

I've been (in)conspicuously absent from posting for the last week, partly in preparation for Mike's move, but mostly because I've been getting ready to make a couple of other changes, which include getting a new blog provider. Also, I've purchased http://www.ahabswhale.com. MacDuff has done a long-overdue overhaul of the blogroll on the right, and McNair has added his favourites. (Anybody else out there who should be on it but isn't, let us know.) There will likely be some cosmetic changes around here soon, but mostly I'm trying to make it easier to post pictures -- because as any reader of McNair's blog knows, he loves his pictures. (And his aircraft.)

And so the evolution continues.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Possible Leadership Candidates?

As a postscript to the minor rant on leadership below, here's another Chantal Hebert column from last week on the wide open nature of that crucial race to succeed Martin.

She speculates that Sponsorship has essentially gutted the chances of Cauchon, Coderre, and Manley, offering instead some thoughts on 4 intriguing candidates: Frank McKenna, Scott Brison, David Emerson, and Stephane Dion. Add Ignatieff to that list as well, and some other darkhorses lurking elsewhere in the midst. Wide open indeed.

But first things (or should I say Thursday) first.

Wanted: New Leadership

Hypocrisy, thy name is Paul Martin:

Martin also again asked that the Conservatives allow the budget bill to pass on Thursday, saying that many elements of the bill would otherwise die, including the Atlantic Accords.

"There's going to be plenty of time for the opposition to vote motions of non-confidence. But don't let this budget die. This budget is so important for Nova Scotia, so important for Canada," Martin said.

Where to begin? Plenty of time for motions of non-confidence? When? Will you respect them if they do occur? And please, please, please could you stop weeping crocodile tears for the Atlantic Accord? Everyone who has even remotely chosen to follow Parliamentary proceedings knows that (1) regardless of the outcome of the next election, this will be the first bill on the agenda, and (2) if Martin and his poll-driven PMO actually cared about instituting this policy, it would have been detached from the budget and would be law already.

Looking for another howler from the Right Honourable gentleman? In the same article:
"There prevails today a culture in Parliament in which reputations are casually smeared, and anger and personal insult are the rhetorical devices of choice. We've got to change this," he said.

Excellent that you've noticed, Mr. Prime Minister. So you have decided to take the high road and condemn your party's role in this mess of a Parliament, vowed to punish Mr. Joe "the Klan is alive and well in the opposition benches" Volpe, and will pledge to stop tarring the Conservatives with the accusation that they want to break up Canada by getting in bed with the separatists, or rip up the Canada Health Act?

Er, not quite:
Martin blamed the Conservatives for creating a negative tone by accusing the Liberals of trying to play politics with the life of Tory MPs suffering from cancer.

Right. A true leader would simply lead by example and take the high road, but these Liberals have long lost sight of it. A responsible society would evaluate governments on their record, not their rhetoric. Our Parliamentary democracy is being exposed for what it is: fundamentally broken. Sometimes, in the short run, it has to be about MORE than just the policy. It is about the leadership needed to tackle these issues and about providing a mandate to do so. I don't know if Harper is ultimately the man for the job. But I do know that I agree with Chantal Hebert's devastating analysis - Martin is most definitely not. The sooner the Liberals are forced to face up to this, the better.

The overall system will resist change and reform until forced to confront it. That time, we hope, may be approaching.

How'd you like to have her job?

"The prime minister is meeting with seniors, and it's an opportunity for members of that community to engage with the prime minister on issues that are of concern to them," Amy Butcher, a spokeswoman for the prime minister, told The Canadian Press.

Butcher said the visit has nothing to do with a looming federal election.

"His role as prime minister extends way beyond the seat of power in Ottawa," said Butcher. "It's important to him to travel across the country and meet Canadians."

[Via ctv.ca]

Martin looking ahead to a possible federal election, and using the powers of the PMO to help him gain an advantage? Why, that would be absurd! Preposterous. (see, I can do it to!)

Did anyone ask whether it is important for him to travel across the country and meet Canadians just after losing the confidence of the House? (sigh) I suppose Ms. Butcher is just doing her job. And it's not lying, exactly. Just some harmless "terminological inexactitude".

Sunday, May 15, 2005

20 Ridings

Some exciting new changes coming to Ahab in the near future, in time for what seems to be an impending general election call back home in Canada. While we wait for those details to get sorted out, I thought I would jump ahead and start looking at ridings. Ideally, once the campaign gets underway, we'll be updating the site regularly with a particular eye on the key bellweather ridings that hold the most compelling stories. Here's my top 20 districts of interest for the record as we begin the process.

Nova Scotia
(1) King's Hants: Scott Brison (Lib v. CPC)
-Martin's pointman on Gomery, "turncoat" in normally rural, Conservative territory. I would be surprised if Brison doesn't hold on here, but it will be interesting to see who the CPC nominate and how hard they fight it.

(2) Dartmouth-Cole Harbour: Mike Savage (Lib v. NDP)
-Martinite, son of a former Premier, in a seat Wendy Lill held for two terms before she retired from politics. If the Liberal support drains to the NDP here, it could be a sign of a long night for the Liberals.

New Brunswick
(3) Saint John: Paul Zed (Lib v. CPC v. NDP)
-Who gets nominated? Zed's a Liberal hack and close friend of the Irvings. Elsie Wayne would win this seat, and if popular MPP Elizabeth Weir ran she could probably take it for the NDP. Another key riding and early gauge on whether support is shifting since last year.

(4) Fredericton: Andy Scott (Lib v. CPC)
-The final Maritime seat on this list, popular MP in a traditionally Conservative riding. Harper will be gunning for this one big time.

(5) Pontiac: David Smith (Lib v. CPC)
-Can Lawrence Cannon win the all-important seat for the Tories in Quebec? I'd say yes.

(6) Outremont: Jean Lapierre (Lib v. Bloc)
-Does the Quebec Lieutenant fall to his old party? Lots of Quebec ridings seem out of play unless something truly wild happens on election night (the close victories of Pettigrew, etc... are likely to be reversed) but it will be fun to watch Lapierre in campaign mode.

(7) Newmarket-Aurora: Belinda Stronach (CPC v. Lib)
-Future leadership candidate, publicly doubtful about an election that will be as closely fought as the last one in which she triumphed by less than 1000 votes. Anything can happen here.

(8) Trinity Spadina: Tony Ianno (Lib v. NDP)
-Olivia Chow in a rematch. Is Gomery enough to push those final necessary votes into the NDP column? A testament to whether the Libs can successfully run a "scared of Harper" campaign.

(9) St. Paul's: Carolyn Bennett (Lib v. CPC)
-Interesting due to the "star candidate" factor, though Bennett won this big last time. If Liberal support collapses, the dramatic swing will register quite profoundly here.

(10) Glengarry-Prescott-Russell: Don Boudria (Lib v. CPC)
-Who gets nominated, is Boudria biding his time for a return, can the CPC make its crucial Ontario gains? Many questions in Cooper's riding.

(11) Halton: Gary Carr (Lib v. CPC)
-CPC blogger Brent Colbert ran for (and lost) the nomination, but will certainly have an interesting perspective on the local dynamics here. Apparently Carr is another "turncoat" MP, so this one could be even more personal than most.

(12) Hamilton-East Stony Creek: Tony Valeri (Lib v. NDP)
-Leader of the Government in the House. With a minority either way likely, will be interesting to see if Valeri can keep his job, or gets punished for the procedural shenanigans. Another riding where NDP support will be sorely tested.

(13) Ottawa Centre: Ed Broadbent (NDP v. Lib)
-Can Ed win one final campaign, on behalf of a successor? He deserves it.

(14) Winnipeg South: Reg Alcock (Lib v. CPC)
-Manitoba's boring, I don't see any real uncertainties at electoral prediction. Will Alcock get tarred with the Gomery brush? Unlikely, but again, here's another riding that might test the baseline of Liberal support.

(15) Regina Qu'Appelle: Andrew Scheer (CPC v. NDP)
-One of the few Tory MPs experimenting with the blogosphere. Very interested here if Lorne Nystrom attempts a comeback after a shocking upset last time. Who benefits the most from presumed falling Liberal support?

(16) Palliser - Dave Batters (CPC v. NDP)
-Another close loss for the NDP in Saskatchewan. This is the type of seat both opposition parties are desperate for and neither can really afford to lose... so does Dick Proctor run again?

(17) Edmonton South: Anne McLellan (Lib v. CPC)
-Does landslide Annie have one more great escape left in her, or do the Tories sweep Alberta?

British Columbia
(18) Vancouver Centre: Hedy Fry (Lib v. NDP)
-Can the NDP take it away, or will the fear factor keep Hedy Fry in the House of Commons?

(19) West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country: John Reynolds (CPC v. Lib)
-longest riding name in the country... surprisingly close last night, and Reynolds figures to play a big role if Harper gets the keys to 24 Sussex. Interesting.

(20) Surrey North: Chuck Cadman (Independent v. ?)
-What are your plans, Chuck?

So there's a preliminary list to focus on as a starting point. Sure to be some adjustments: which ridings am I missing, and which are superflous? Make the case below. Or does it even matter? Cosh and Wells are skeptical that people will change their votes from the last time. I disagree wholeheartedly, and think the parties have got it all to play for, as we say in England. Who will the voters punish?

Sir John Falstaff, Knight

Nothing screams culture like 6 hours of Shakespeare in the National Theatre on the banks of the Thames on a lazy Saturday afternoon in May, so it was with a tired sense of delight that I watched the new Albus Dumbledore, Michael Gambon, light up the stage as Falstaff in Henry IV, Parts I and II yesterday.

I've loved this roguish character since last summer's Bard on the Beach performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor in Vancouver - [the good friend who came along to the show after rescuing me from the Nanaimo ferry is urged to keep the faith in that saying: “In love the heavens themselves do guide the state. / Money buys lands, and wives are sold by fate”.]

Beyond the vast scope of the epic history, excellent acting, and the constantly surprising beauty of the language, three moments stood out as particularly wondrous:

(1) Early in Part I, (Act II Scene iv), Prince Hal (future King Henry V) play-acts the role of his Father in the tavern, condemning the companions of his "son". Falstaff, speaking in return as if he were the young Prince, responds with a genuine plea on behalf of himself as follows:

"to say I know more harm in him than in myself, were to say more than I know. That he is old, the more the pity, his white hairs do witness it; but that he is, saving your reverence, a whoremaster, that I utterly deny. If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked! if to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned: if to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh's lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins: but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry's company, banish not him thy Harry's company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world."

(2) Act III, Scene ii - Falstaff and Lord Shallow reflect on the boisterous nature of their youth and many exploits. All the sad tragedy of time and thoughts of growing old, and what a line for Falstaff!

Shallow: Ha, cousin Silence, that thou hadst seen that that
this knight and I have seen! Ha, Sir John, said I well?

We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow.

That we have, that we have, that we have; in faith,
Sir John, we have: our watch-word was 'Hem boys!'
Come, let's to dinner; come, let's to dinner:
Jesus, the days that we have seen! Come, come.

(3) Falstaff's ode to good sherry (sack) in Act IV, Scene iii. The whole speech is worth reading (what words of Shakespeare's are not?), but the final culminating lines that top it all off:

A good sherris sack hath a two-fold
operation in it. It ascends me into the brain;
dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy
vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive,
quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and
delectable shapes, which, delivered o'er to the
voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes
excellent wit.
The second property of your
excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood;
which, before cold and settled, left the liver
white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity
and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes
it course from the inwards to the parts extreme:
it illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives
warning to all the rest of this little kingdom,
man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and
inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain,
the heart, who, great and puffed up with this
retinue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour
comes of sherris. So that skill in the weapon is
nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and
learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till
sack commences it and sets it in act and use.
Hereof comes it that Prince Harry is valiant; for
the cold blood he did naturally inherit of his
father, he hath, like lean, sterile and bare land,
manured, husbanded and tilled with excellent
endeavour of drinking good and good store of fertile
sherris, that he is become very hot and valiant. If
I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle
I would teach them should be, to forswear thin
potations and to addict themselves to sack.

Good Times

"Much of the old spirit of gallantry has disappeared from Piccadilly, like many of the great houses that stood there. No longer does a dustman seeing a fabulous beauty, like Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, alighting from here carriage, exclaim, "Love and bless you, my lady, let me light my pipe in your eyes!" Still, on a fine spring morning, with the red buses flashing past against the fresh greeness of the park; with the echo of last night's gaiety from the many hotels restaurants and night clubs, still in the air; with the promise of a new, bright day ahead - you'll agree that Piccadilly is still a pretty good place to be."

Oh, magical London. Awaiting the start of Henry IV, Part I on the Thames Southbank Saturday afternoon, hungover following a debaucherous orgy of wine and spirits at Picadilly's Tiger Tiger, I managed to discover a little gem of a book from one of the second-hand sellers: "The Good Time Guide to London" by Francis Aldor, published in 1951, for all of 1 pound.

The book is filled with eccentric trivia and detailed passages regarding London's many boroughs and pleasures, written in an intimate and ironical tone right up my alley. Consider this:

"Whether you come to London as a teetotal student of English national psychology, or, like myself, as a serious collector of alcoholic experience and convivial characters, you will never really know the Englishman until you meet him in the pub."

Outstanding - words out of my mouth, surely. So survived another mad weekend, and looking forward to visiting many of the recommended locations upon the next trip into the City. Next time, we'll be sure to seek out the old gin haunts that (Aldor tells me) once advertised proudly "drunk for a penny, dead-drunk for twopence and clean straw provided." Oh my.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Friday the 13th

"There's no place like London," sings the title character early on in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, and for years I've referred to it as my favorite city in the world (despite the obvious ridiculousness of such characterisations).

Living so close this year has only increased my fondness for her. So after my International Dispute Settlement tutorial this morning, I'll be cruising in on the Oxford Tube once again, likely for one of the last true Friday afternoon/evenings of carefree, random exuberance and exploits, followed by a hungover Saturday of Shakespeare (King Henry Parts I and II) at the National Theatre.

"They are not long, the days of wine and roses..." I say, to justify taking yet another day off from responsibility toward the looming exams, forgetting for a moment the absurd amounts of money invested in tuition... and also to take a few days off from addictively tracking the nuances of the political scenes at home and abroad (which is now which? -ed.) in favour of the sunshine of Hyde Park, Happy Hour with William Blake, and inspiration from Kerouac, who claimed his work:
"...comprises one vast book like Proust's Remembrances of Things Past except that my remembrances are written on the run instead of afterwards in a sick bed."

On the run indeed. There's a quote for this Friday the 13th, an evening of strange and eery possibilities. You know it.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Wonderful World of Law

Fall of the bed on your honeymoon? Sue the hotel for their unsafe facilities.

Your new husband concealed his impotence from you? Sue him for "eroding your right to have a family".

Someone misrepresents the amount of times you've been married (Six instead of Five)? Sue her for defamation and sabotaging your bid to chair the state Republican party.

Caught riding your horse downtown after drinking a twelve-pack in Kentucky? Face a fine for drunk driving.

All breaking stories just within the last 24 hours... During my first year at law school, I was surprised and delighted to discover that reading cases could actually be (gasp) fun. Often the judges possessed a keen literary flair ("In the summertime, village cricket is the delight of everyone" - God bless you, Lord Denning) and the stories told were often equally compelling/ridiculous. A veritable history of society, with all its charming and menacing quirks, can be found in those casebooks.

And proof beyond doubt that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Thanks for a Hat

Bought long ago in a morning street
to warm my head under the Alpine map,
brought back to England and our soggy skies:

hung in my favorite inn where good friends meet,
One Christmas when the yobs were in the bars:
Pinched: gone for weeks: but then - o glad surprise! -

my friends, seeing me hatless, incomplete
(adrift like a wrecked ship, no mast or (anchor?) oars)
searched, questioned, found it.

I get a double prize -
My old hat back -
and the kindness in their eyes.

-John Wain, Dec/Jan 86/87
as copied from the handwritten original on the wall of the King's Arms.

The Tiger Talks Tactics

Forgive the unnecessary alliteration... Head is still "bumping" after an unexpected wild one through the Turf ("if you don't love the Turf, you don't love pubs"), Chelsea v. Manchester United (Tiago unexpectedly scores the prettiest of the year), King's Arms ("everyone in the entire city goes here every night"), and then Balliol's Holywell Manor (whose history begins in the Doomsday book!) last night after discovering that Shakespeare sold out (tickets Thursday). Excellent evening all around - only at Oxford would you find yourself asked about the upcoming B.C. Referendum on Proportional Representation by an Aussie. Classic. Lots of new Dan Bern discovered as well. How have I not heard of this guy before?

Anyway, an election now seems inevitable. Does Paul Martin wake up this morning imagining that he still might pull through to the end of Gomery on the basis of a tied vote? Overwhelmingly, you get the sense of a Government clinging to power up until the end of the allowed 5 year Parliamentary window. Not good. Bob Rae and Glen Clark can attest to the ultimate success of that sort of plan.

So, the question becomes one of strategy. Scharma seems to have awoken at the ungodly hour of 6:57AM to post suggestions for the CPC's ultimate campaign strategy. Focus on the positives, essentially. He's right. Harper needs to run on a straight-up, simplified campaign of few pledges. Hammer home a few key priorities relentlessly, and find an effective one/two-line talking point rebuttal to the "secret agenda" attack and repeat ad nauseum. And no speculation as to the end result/possible composition of the House before the night of the polls.

The democratic reform/renewal plank will be crucial. It is how Harper implicitly draws attention to the scandal-plagued years of Liberal management without appearing overly negative. Kinsella's proposal for an advertisement is a good one, and the Tories should resist the temptation to run negative spots about waste and corruption. The issue is already paramount and needs no emphasis.

This is how we will fix the mess in Ottawa, he says. "What mess" goes without saying...

"Motion urging government to step down is approved, 153-150. Liberals ignore it"

That's from the Globe's leader. And ignorance in this case is most certainly not bliss.

I really think that when history is written, this lame attempt to avoid the polls at all costs will go down as an error of colossal (ie. Of a size, extent, or degree that elicits awe or taxes belief: dictionary.com) judgment. In trying to make the question about the budget, Martin has only succeeded in making it about himself, the great Democratic Deficit reformer, reduced to shambles. Perhaps the most pathetic leader in modern times? His departure from the great stage will not be missed. But amazingly there are some Liberals who still think the upcoming election will be fought over the issue of whether Harper was right to force the vote. So maybe I'm wrong. I truly hope not, though. This Government has proven time and again that it needs to be "summarily turfed", as old Professor Diane Pothier was fond of saying in different circumstances.

Kinsella sums it up best: "Of last night's events, all that one can say is this: spare us the focus-tested spin lines, and the sophistry about Parliamentary procedure, please. The House of Commons is the voice of the people, or at least it used to be. And, last night night, the people said enough is enough. Enough! If they had left any sense of shame, they would end it now. They won't."

The writing is on the wall.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Is it procedural or substantive? Hilariously, that actually sounds like a question for one of my Conflict of Laws tutorials (if procedural, apply the law of the forum; if substantive, apply the proper law of the dispute; etc..)

On its face, the motion seems procedural. Should any merit be given to the argument, put forward by Jay Hill and others, that it should nevertheless be taken as substantive? The Liberal Minority has effectively denied the CPC an opportunity to bring forward their desired motions by manipulating the traditional agenda of Opposition days in the House... and if a majority of MPs ultimately support "a recommendation that the government resign", you would think the Governor-General might be tempted to give the Prime Minister a call.

Most likely any talk of Constitutional crisis will be averted, however. [though it might be better to get it over with now before the Queen gets involved] The Conservatives will be quite happy to portray Martin as a Prime Minister who needed to be told 2 or 3 times to leave before he would give up power, while the Libs seem determined to bring the budget into the forefront. How I laugh to hear the Liberals trumpeting how wonderful this newly reworked left-wing budget truly is, as if Paul Martin wrote every word himself! The NDP strategists continue to win the day, sitting above the petty posturing of the two main parties continues to descend to ever-greater farcical levels.

Finishing up my last Conflicts tutorial this afternoon and then to a performance of Shakespeare play #11 of the year: The Winter's Tale. Looking forward to wading through the mess of news upon a late return tonight. In the mean time, check out the discussion at this Cherniak post as to the relative strategic implications of the coming days. Interesting times.

Robert Harris on Tony Blair

Two quick editorial pieces on the Prime Minister by author and columnist Robert Harris, as a supplement to the post below.

1. From last July, an overall assessment of "Blairism":

"Blair's role in all this will be debated for years after his premiership is over. Was he merely the symptom of this revolution, or its cause? Had Labour been so traumatised by its four successive defeats that it would have been clay in the hands of whoever came along to lead it? Or is there something unique about Blair that has bewitched it, and at the same time has so disorientated the Tories that they have suffered a kind of collective nervous breakdown? I incline to the second explanation."

2. This morning's column, warning Labour on the consequences of pushing him aside:

"...it is a thoroughly bad idea for a minority party cabal to bring down an elected prime minister. The Liberals did it to Asquith in 1915 and never gained power again. The Tories did it to Thatcher in 1990 and have since suffered three successive election defeats - a calamity previously unknown to them for 95 years. Now Labour, like a chimp examining a loaded revolver, shows alarming signs of the same casual attitude to its political extinction."

All of which bolsters the main thesis: Tony Blair will be around awhile yet. Gordon Brown, of all people, is likely to see to that.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

In Five Minutes

A final note on the British election - Tim makes the case below that all sides should emerge from this relatively happy, but it could all be spun just as easily as a campaign that no one really won, either. Blair will find it difficult to implement any "legacy-building" reforms and the cries for him to hand over control to his Chancellor will only grow louder and louder. Howard has already announced his intention to resign, and so the Tories prepare to roll the dice in a rejuvenation process once again. Will they elevate a Margaret Thatcher, or an Iain Duncan-Smith? And Kennedy couldn't push the Liberal Democrats into truly groundbreaking territory, failing to capitalize on the ideal opportunity presented by vulnerable opponents. That chance will never come again.

Stepping back, though, and looking on the result with a "long eye" (as my friend Laura might say), let me predict that ultimately history will remember this as a simple, hard-earned victory for the Prime Minister. Overcoming the profound animosity of the electorate this time demonstrated the extent of his considerable political skill. He might have been a liability at the polls, but there is no denying his performance throughout the past mandate consistently wrong-footed Michael Howard and left the Tories with no hope of winning in the first place.

Has he surpassed even William Jefferson Clinton as the master politician of the age? I suppose we'll never know if the 1972 Dolphins would have beaten the 1985 Bears [no], of if a team of 5 Bobby Orrs could really beat a team of 5 Wayne Gretzkys by the score of 31 to 6 [maybe]. Similarly, "who'd win the election: Blair v. Clinton?" remains a tantalizing question for the pub.

My choice here would probably be Tony Blair. Why? This anecdote, from an off-hand Q&A with a reporter between election stops, explains it as well as any:

What difference would a tougher, more coherent Conservative party have made to his second term? “I think if the opposition was smart,” he offers, “they would be urging the government to go further rather than always opposing what it does for the sake of opposing it. That’s what I tried to do when I was leader of the opposition.”

Relaxing later in the back of his Jaguar he muses: “I could sort out the Tory party.”

Really, what would you do? He smiles as if that would be telling, but repeats: “I could sort it out in five minutes.”

Does anyone doubt that he could? Or that he'll win this showdown?

[Note: for those interested, the Sunday Times offers a few perspectives on how to reshape the Tories in five minutes or less here.]

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Definition of Irony

Here's a shot of the matchbox picked up at the fabulously named "The Hung Drawn and Quartered Pub" in the City of London. No points for spotting the hilarious bit at the root of "England's Glory".


"singing in her song she died"

The 5 years of the Tate Modern have been a revelation, but can I be forgiven for loving the old Tate at Pimlico (off Bessborough Avenue, no less!) best of all.

I have to say it holds my favorite of all paintings. Caveat: I don't think you can have a favorite book. Or a favorite song (Teenage Dirtbag? by far?). Or a favorite poem. Or a favorite city. Or even a favorite painting. The distinguishing remarks just leave too much to debate.

But, if pressed, sometimes we choose. Boldly. So let me declare this, without doubt, my favorite painting. BBQ on the Thames aside, it was the highlight of the most recent 24 hour jaunt into my "favorite" city. How I will miss my favorite of rivers...

Some moments deserve to last. Especially peaceful May English sunny evenings on the Thames, across from the Globe Theatre on opening night and the crowd at the Hornyman on Hay, with love and political conversation and the smoke from a disposable Sainsbury's BBQ in the air .

On Apologizing


You only need to read the true believers at Kos to feel that the loss of Daschle's seat was a blessing in disguise. Rush calls him "Dingy Harry", but his performance has been nothing short of remarkable across the board. This line, especially, is so classicly tongue-in-cheek it threatens to pop the mouth wide open:
"You know the president is in Europe, probably sleeping," Reid said in an interview this afternoon. "But I called (Karl) Rove and apologized for what I said."
Gotta love it.


There are things to look forward to in the inevitable homecoming.

But few are the days of Turner, Whistler, Monet, sunset, and VE-day portable BBQs on the banks of the Thames. I will miss the freedom to so travel lightly. Me Gusta.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Election That Nobody Lost?

My goodness, I am exhausted, having pulled the true all-nighter at the Carlton Club, and stumbled into work on time. But I said I'd deliver some postgame, and a promise is a promise on Ahab's (except when it's not.) The lead-up to the election returns was another classic, with my colleague David leading the charge into gin and tonics (as Tory a drink as they come) and the house red. Following a nice dinner, where the usual pleasantaries and rote election predictions were exchanged (I called a Labour majority of 70), came the main event on a couple of big screen TVs.

I'm too mentally fatigued to go into much detail, but suffice it to say that the mood was jubilant as the returns came in, at least as jubilant as it could get for a group of supporters resigned to the fact that its party would inevitably lose. The biggest cheers came for the Tory gains in London, including Hammersmith & Fulham and Putney; it was at that point that we knew the night would be interesting. I left at about 4:30 am, when the results had slowed to a trickle, and just after Oona King's devastating defeat to George Galloway. There really is nothing like watching election results come in; it's like watching the Super Bowl, yet somehow a little more tangible and real.

The final result, a likely mid-60s Labour majority, makes me wonder: given realistic expectations going into election day, does every side come out of this relatively happy? Labour remains in power, but anti-war voters gave Blair the oft-mentioned bloody nose, and wiped the smug smile off of the party's collective face. The Lib Dems look to get around 60 seats, the party's best showing since the Roaring Twenties, and having taken several key seats away from Labour, can only really be disappointed by the failure of its 'decapitation' strategy against leading Tories. And the Conservatives, knowing full well that ultimate victory would be with Blair this time out, set itself up well for the next election, making inroads in London and defeating Labour in too many swing constituencies to mention.

On a more personal note, my congratulations go out to Labour's Claire Ward, who was reelected MP for Watford for the third time, in what must have been a nailbiting three-way race. I worked for her in parliament in 2000, when she was the youngest female MP, and the people of Watford couldn't have reelected a nicer representative.

Nonetheless, given the alternatives, I supported the Tories this time out. (There, MacDuff, I said it.) Given the resurgence of the opposition parties, and with Blair's mandate greatly reduced, this election did not disappoint, even if I felt pretty lukewarm about every horse in the race.

"Election X"

Blogger just killed this sleepless star - though we'll give 'em a run....

Actually, it killed off the (articulate) post I had just written. Now I'm just fed up, so hence the picture above with the arcaic, strangest of board games with yours truly and a random. Say instead that the scholar has decided to skip off on a whim to London, to skip tutorials and instead glimpse the Thames; the unwordly paintings of Turner, Whistler, and Monet; my favorite Lady of Shalott; enjoy a steak cooked by Gartner; and then.....

Ye election was a blessing, though also an affront. Blair couldn't take the slap in the face when he should have (the man whose son had been lost was on the stage, right behind you Sir, and you needed to apologize to him) - and as for the rest, Paxman wrote the book on the immediate interview. Trust me when I say we need to get that guy to the CBC by whatever means necessary. Now THAT would be the revolution Canadian politics needs. You should see the man in high form. It ended as a stalemate. And how it will be resolved? "that was the big idea"

Off to avoid tutorials by catching the highway to London - it is such a nice day, after all. Who will be ready for the sweet Friday afternoon melodies of Mr. le Tiger? In a little while, boys?