Thursday, May 05, 2005

Mr. Simpson Comes to London

A number of random observations, in no particular order, on Jeffrey Simpson's speech last Wednesday at Canada House, attended by Ahab's faithful correspondents. [Any errors due entirely to a slightly hazy memory.]

1. What a surprisingly impressive speaker. I had no real expectations going into the evening, beyond vague hopes of free wine and concern about missing too much of the Liverpool-Chelsea first leg. Simpson proved a captivating personality, addressing approximately 50 of us for almost an hour, with no notes whatsoever, in engaging and eclectic fashion. If you ever get the chance to see him speak, go.

2. Favorite impromptu JS simile of the evening: "Paul Martin has no backbone; he's like a pillow."

3. Simpson thinks Canada is doing rather well, all told - no longer concerned re: deficit-spending, as all parties now swear by balanced budgets (as opposed to the U.S. and Bush's penchant for the red ink); our country has openly accepted the need for and benefits of immigration (as opposed to Britain, where the Conservatives made quotas a central plank of the recent campaign); and JS stressed some pleasure at the shift in focus toward a more internationalist perspective as opposed to the tired fed-prov jurisdictional focus of politics in his early days on the beat.

4. These days, the politics and rhetoric in Ottawa are simply terrible, he thinks, but the actual substance/output of the past few years has proved remarkably successful. Simpson seems absolutely sickened by unilateral focus on corruption, corruption, corruption ad nauseaum these days and made a few jabs at Harper for obsessing so completely over it.

5. Favorite quote, flowing out of this discussion on our stable economic/social progress: "We can go global while Kansas runs America."

6. On that note, JS put forward the interesting thesis that, if pursuing elected office as the top member of a political party himself, he would attempt to focus on making Canada the "most globally interconnected country in the world." An interesting proposition, if slightly ill-defined. Certainly shades of Paul Wells' fixation on research/development/universities/education policy, but (I thought) a unique way to frame the debate.

7. I then used the "global connectiveness" point to segue into my question about blogs - to gauge his awareness of them and ask why he hasn't followed the trend of so many other major Canadian reporters. His response was as blunt as it was disappointing.

Firstly, he dismissed my raising Coyne, Wells, Radwanski, Spector, etc... by saying he knew what they'd be writing anyway [which I thought a little rich given the fact that I've heard him labeled "Mr. Conventional Wisdom" in the past].

He then claimed that the few blogs he has looked into struck him as overly "self-referential and self-reverential". Not a unique criticism, by any stretch, but this aspect seems to strike Simpson acutely. He emphasised his total disdain for a reporter's use of the word "I" [HUGE bonus points for anyone out there who finds evidence of him using it in a column] and talked glowingly about the importance of objectivity (at least its appearance), the writer detached from the story.

What about the value of a forum that allows the opportunity to provide relatively instant commentary and engage in dialogue with your readership, outside the constraints of a column? "Exactly what I don't want to do," JS responded, to bouts of laughter from other people in the room who thought they were watching me get ridiculed. It seems he thinks he already has a blog, one that appears twice or three times a week in column form in the editorial pages of the Globe and Mail.

Maybe its the lack of time, the unfamiliarity with the technology, or just traditional thinking. But again, I think his utter dismissal of blogging speaks more loudly to an inability to fully comprehend its potential value as a multiheaded beast, where biases are in the open, information isn't filtered, and so much value lies in dialogue and perspective. But trying to debate this with people [or even explain it?] who have never waded through the blogosphere? It is almost a different language.

8. So here's the question: if you were trying to persuade Jeffrey Simpson of blogging's value, which sites would you tell him to visit on a regular basis?

9. Oh, and almost forgot. Old Peculiar is a fabulous name for a beer. Cheers, and sorry for the delay in getting this out. Busy days in Oxford, if you can believe it.



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