Thursday, June 30, 2005

And then there were four...

Good on ya, Spain.

Though in other marriage news, somewhere in Ottawa Mr. Stransky is surely shedding quiet tears upon confirmation of this.

Ludwig Downloads

As part of the BBC's "Beethoveen Experience" series, for a limited time (7 days and counting) Symphonies 6 through 9 are available as free downloads here. The 9th is a monster of a file at 61MB, but patience will be rewarded.

The 9th holds a special place in my heart, having seen it performed masterfully in Glasgow back in 2000. I will never forget the first time I listened to it from beginning to end. Ben Carter - who incidentally is getting hitched in Potsdam tomorrow! - lent me a number of his classical CDs in the infamous summer of '99. At some point, I realized I had never listened to Beethoveen's masterwork in its entirety. In describing the piece, Carter emphasized its progression: how it starts out in confusion (as if the orchestra is still tuning) and works its way over the course of an hour to the "Ode to Joy".

Sounds like a fitting musical backdrop to the consumption of a pint of Long Island Iced Tea [the summer of '99 drink of choice], I remarked casually... and of course, such a perfect plan was just too sweet to ignore. Ode to joy, indeed, and a highly recommended "cultural" way to start a big evening.

Cheers, Carter, and happy nuptials. Yet another one of the boys has fallen off the market. Oh my.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Colour Me Interested

It's now official. I wonder...
"To those Liberals urging him to enter political life, Mr. Ignatieff is seen as both a philosopher-king in Mr. Trudeau's iconic mould and someone who would generate excitement around progressive ideas in a party seen as having become lacklustre, drifting and visionless under Mr. Martin."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


"Canada has become the third country in the world to officially sanction same-sex marriage."

Says it all, doesn't it? Nothing like being ahead of the curve. Well done, my country. Makes me even happier to celebrate your birthday this Friday (if that were possible). Congratulations to all those who fought this battle in the courts, to the courageous judges who made the critical decisions, and to the 158 MPs who voted "aye" on third and final reading. A historic and great moment long overdue, but - in what might be the unofficial motto of this blog - good things do come to those who wait.

Well done.

The Lost Liberty Hotel

Haven't had time to follow or comment upon the many recent US Supreme Court rulings over the past few days, but the Kelo judgment, in particular, has provoked substantial concern and ire on both the right and (albeit less so) on the left. Essentially, the Court ruled 5-4 that the city of New London's taking of property and giving it to a private entity still qualfied as a "public use" under the Fifth Amendment, permissable under the Constitution so long as those deprived of their property were given appropriate compensation.

Instapundit had the roundup and further discussion. The blogosphere responded characteristically fast.

Certainly the most intriguing subsequent development of ruling, however, is this application to build a hotel on Supreme Court Justice David Souter's property, based on the legal principles established in Kelo. Be careful who you rule for, I guess. Wonder who sits on that board:

Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, points out that the City of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land.

The proposed development, called "The Lost Liberty Hotel" will feature the "Just Desserts Café" and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon's Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged."

Clements indicated that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land because it is a unique site being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans.

"This is not a prank" said Clements, "The Towne of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen. If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take this land from Mr. Souter we can begin our hotel development."

Youppi! (R-District of Columbia)

As Canada Day approaches, let us tip our cap to Canada’s greatest baseball team this season, the Washington Nationals, nee Expos (44-31; with all apologies to my .500-Blue Jays). Although les gars might not be feeling invincible these days, given a tenuous 2.5 game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, Capitol Hill Republicans appear prepared to take on all comers. Witness their deplorable and hubristic effort to blackmail Major League Baseball into rejecting Kerry uber-contributor George Soros’s bid to purchase the team:

"I think Major League Baseball understands the stakes," said Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R), the Northern Virginia lawmaker who recently convened high-profile steroid hearings. "I don't think they want to get involved in a political fight."
Davis, whose panel also oversees District of Columbia issues, said that if a Soros sale went through, "I don't think it's the Nats that get hurt. I think it's Major League Baseball that gets hurt. They enjoy all sorts of exemptions" from anti-trust laws. Indeed, Hill Republicans could potentially make life difficult for MLB in a variety of ways. In addition to being exempt from anti-trust rules, baseball is still under scrutiny over the steroid issue. The Nats, meanwhile, hope to have a publicly-funded stadium built soon, though money for that venture is expected to come through the sale of bonds rather than a federal outlay. Still, Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that covers the District of Columbia budget, said if Soros buys the team and seeks public funding for the new stadium or anything else, the GOP attitude would be, "Let him pay for it." (From Roll Call, via the DCCC, via Ryan Avent).

And just like that, with a few idiotic comments, a couple of Republicans have politicised the issue of who can and cannot own a baseball team. It is one thing to believe that the Nationals, and MLB, should ‘pay’ for being owned by a Democratic Party supporter. It is rather another for Congressmen to come out and say it. If Soros’s bid is denied, or worse, if it is accepted and the Republican-dominated Congress comes down hard on MLB, it’s going to be tough to deny that political partisanship played a part. The stupidity and hypocrisy is compounded by the fact that myriad Republicans and their supporters have owned MLB teams over the years (as documented here), with nary a complaint. And all this because Soros supported a candidate who lost -- to a former MLB owner!

Finding a non-partisan issue in Washington these days is like trying to find a 100-steal catcher. Ain't gonna happen.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Happy 100th, Special Relativity

Exciting events in Oxford today at the Museum of the History of Science:
"A special family friendly day to celebrate the centenary of Einstein’s theory
of special relativity. Events will include talks, films, children’s activities,
and a chance to meet and talk to Einstein himself."
So, looks like the old genius finally solved the paradox of time travel after all. Although pity he didn't make it to Boston for that MIT Convention a few months ago.

When Vaclav visited awhile back, we checked out the Museum and the famous 1931 Einstein blackboard. The glass catches me deep in thought over markings I am sure to never understand:

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Road not Taken

"The National Citizen’s coalition has a letter to the Editor in today’s Globe and Mail claiming I’m a liberal shill. I’m not a Liberal, I’m just lazy and the Tories make it so dammed easy. Maybe if they would just stop dousing themselves with gas and waving matches around for five minutes I could focus on corruption and greed in the Liberal Party." - Rick Mercer
Peter McKay's reference to the passing of the budget (supported by the majority of Canadians) "diabolical" is yet another powerful example of the total incoherence and tactical ineptitude of the Conservative party. They bet on an election, they lost, and now they cannot stop crying "it's not fair" in public. Grow up. Move on. At least stop setting yourselves on fire.

Scrolling back through the archives, I came across a post in early April where I began persuading myself that just maybe Harper could make the leap into the Prime Minister's Chair. Seems such ancient history now, especially after the CPC bungled everything since the polls showed them in the lead and they barrelled down that road of no return.

Harper should have listened to his own advice, as I expected him to do back in April:
Harper knows he probably has only this one shot and he's still confindently biding his time: "It is not my intention and it is not my party's intention to provoke an election simply on our own timetable or because of our own interests," Harper said. "We have to be sure the public understands this (sponsorship information) and the public is demanding this election."
Wonder where we'd be if he'd kept everything in check... Is he absolutely lost now? I'd say it sure looks that way as this session folds. BUT. 6 months is still a long time. Coyne's analysis may yet be proven right, either by Harper or the next CPC leader:
The Grits may have repelled your last assault, and are now reaping the rewards in the polls (everybody loves a winner). But they have done so at the cost of immense long-term damage to their reputation, and especially that of their leader. Over time, that will tell.

On "Progressive" Terminology

As Ahab readies to join league with the "Progressive" bloggers (or already has), a few thoughts on the term, and broad political labels in general.

Here's an unfolding story that neatly captures the ideological-laden nature of using such broad terminology - and how Republicans have successfully marshalled it to their advantage. Thanks once again, Karl Rove, for more of your ridiculous posturing and rhetoric that serves at least to clarify the playing field. Excerpts from his speech in Manhattan on Wednesday night:

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

Rove also denounced Sen. Dick Durbin's comments comparing interrogation at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to the methods of Nazis and other repressive regimes. He said the statements have been broadcast throughout the Middle East, putting American troops in greater danger. Durbin has since apologized for the remarks.

"No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals," Rove said.
Not only has Rove managed an incredibly cheap invokation of a terrible tragedy for political points, it is also a patently false observation. Particularly revolting is the link that somehow criticizing torture techniques necessarily involves criticizing the troops. But the disconnect with the "reality-based" universe is not the point here. My favorite aspect of the unfolding story is actually found in the subsequent characterization of the comments by the White House:

"I think Karl was very specific, very accurate, in who he was pointing out," communications director Dan Bartlett said. "It's touched a chord with these
Democrats. I'm not sure why."

So "liberal" is a very specific term, then? Obviously I did not attend the speech and cannot seem to find a transcript online to provide the full context. Bartlett insinuates that Rove was talking only about comments by Moveon.org and Michael Moore, though I have my doubts. That's their defence for the next few days while the storm blows over.

But read Rove's comments again. Remember the Presidential election? How many times did you hear the Democratic ticket described as the 4th and 2nd "most liberal" Senators as if it were a disease? It is truly fascinating how pejorative the term "liberal" has become to our Southern neighbours - if you are a liberal, you are a waffling wimp with no moral compass. A "liberal" voting record is a bad one in middle America, case closed. Conservatives in Canada likely have the same grudge at Liberals for successfully linking the extremist elements to the core of the party, hence its "scary" nature.

How is "liberal" (the non-party affiliation kind) to be distinguished from "progressive"? Is Ahab's Whale progressive? Can you vote Tory or support missile defence and still be progressive? Were Liberals who voted in favour of the definition of traditional marriage in the 1990s not progressive then? Is Pat O'Brien now? Do the goal posts just shift along with popular opinion? Is Andrew Sullivan a progressive? When Tony Blair's campaign slogan is "Forward, not Back", do voters really all of a sudden believe that all other parties don't agree with it? What about Blair's plans for ID cards and House arrests, progressive? And is the opposite to the term "regressive"?

Of course these are questions of semantics. But labels do matter a great deal in politics, not so much for unifying a collection of blogs, but for electoral positioning in an era of talking points and rapidfire debate.

So, back to the beginning. Is "progressive" a label that Democrats could begin deploy effectively as a replacement to the now counterproductive "liberal"? Sure. Simple, effective: and who's against progress? In the campaign for the head of the DNC, Kos used the term "reform Democrat" in supporting Dean, which I also liked (likely not to become popular on the left in this country, for obvious reasons...) Liberal is a deeply ingrained word that Limbaugh will never stop using as if he despises it, but Democrats need to start actively reclaiming ground on this battlefield.

And to conclude with Dean, amidst all the hyperbole surrounding his "hatred", remember that in the dominant March 2003 speech that really launched his surge, it cresendoed with the line "I don't want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore". American politics is full of such powerful reactionaries and Democrats would do well to call them out in debate as the true anti-progressives they oppose.

As I said, I don't necessarily know what truly "progressive" looks like. That's fine - vaguely positive works well. And perhaps people do know what "regressive" looks like when they see it. As did John Edwards when he faced one in the Vice Presidential debate last October:
"When [the Vice President] was one of 435 members of the United States House, he was one of 10 to vote against Head Start, one of four to vote against banning plastic weapons that can pass through metal detectors. He voted against the Department of Education. He voted against funding for Meals on Wheels for seniors. He voted against a holiday for Martin Luther King. He voted against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa."
UPDATE [later] - on the Rove aspect of this posting, Sullivan is bang on when it comes to the wider implications of this particular speech. Money quote:
...instead of leveling with the country about the real difficulty of the war we're in, acknowledging error and sketching a unifying vision for winning, you divide the country into good folk and "liberals" and hope it works as well as it always has. If you want to know how well the administration really believes the war is going, listen to their rhetoric. And start worrying.

Onion 2056

Some headlines we can look forward to in 2056:

"Vatican Condemns 'Radical' Teachings Of The Newly Resurrected Christ"

"Long-Lost Stanley Cup Unearthed In Mississippi Wheat Field"

"Fat Britney Chosen For New Holostamps"

"Refugees Row Cuba To Miami"

"Grave Robbers Pry Valuable Rifle From Charlton Heston's Cold, Dead Hands"

and, my favourite,

"Final Installment Of Frogger Trilogy Poised To Sweep Oscars"
(George Costanza would be thrilled!)

That's according to The Onion, of course, which appears to have been accumulating this material for awhile. What are your favourites?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Random Poetry Friday

On Raglan Road
By Patrick Kavanagh

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I saw her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I passed along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay -
Oh I loved too much and by such by such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint without stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had loved not as I should a creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day.

(story behind the verse & sung version by Luke Kelly)

The Yergin Conundrum

Daveberta (which, quid pro quo, has become our unofficial blog of the week) raises one of the big questions in financial markets these days: where is the price of oil headed? The impetus for discussion is a new Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) study which finds that fears about the world running out of oil are unfounded. In fact, as oil capacity is ramped up between now and 2010, there will be more supply than demand, bringing prices down to ‘well below’ the $40/barrel level from US$59/barrel at present. And even beyond that point, if there is an ‘inflexion’ (inflection?) sometime beyond 2020, world production capacity will hit an ‘undulating plateau’ (a comical term, as Daveberta notes). Simple supply and demand theory bears part of the near-term forecast out: even at lower crude prices a few years ago, oil companies began plowing money into new production capacity. With prices now having reached a record high (in nominal terms), the quest for increasing capacity to match the potential profits from high prices will continue, and potentially accelerate, eventually bringing production up and prices down.

Mind you, CERA's is a contrarian view, in a field dominated by pundits bullish (in the upward sense) on oil prices. This may result partly from CERA’s ‘bottom-up’ view, which looks at production on a field-to-field basis, as opposed to macro trends in world oil markets. That said, a couple of months ago, Goldman Sachs, which no doubt has a vested interest in crude futures, published a controversial report in which it predicted $100+/barrel oil was not out of the question in the near term, in the event of a supply shock (ie stemming from a terrorist attack). And this guy is even predicting that the sphinx-like Saudis, who have said they're able to double capacity in the long run(!), might run out of oil in the next couple of years – and needless to say, the consequences of such an event would be economically catastrophic.

My views happen to lie somewhere in the happy middle, although I have some doubts on the CERA study. I know better than to question Daniel Yergin, CERA’s founder and chairman, who is an extremely intelligent guy, a Pulitzer Prize winner (for his brilliant history of the oil industry, The Prize), and, ahem, a Yale Daily News alum. But I take issue with at least one of the study’s points, namely, it’s not clear that the rise in aggregate oil production necessarily translates into substantially lower prices (ie, possibly under $40/barrel oil by 2007). That is because of the nature of the output: CERA assumes that ‘unconventional’ oil, like the Alberta tar sands and ultra-deepwater sources, could make up almost 35% of supply by 2020. I’m no expert, but assuming that such production does leap, and oil supplies in the aggregate increase, isn’t it still pretty costly to extract that oil? And if ‘unconventional’ producers want to make a profit at Rockefeller-style margins, couldn’t the average price of a barrel head up? (Devil’s advocate to my devil’s advocate: maybe not, if Fort McMurray’s sages are any guide. And you can’t underestimate the role of innovation.)

Whether CERA's right about the longer-term, I think it's possible we'll see $70 a barrel, and I think it's pretty clear that the sub-$30 a barrel days could be over (the sub-$20s days certainly are.) Sad as it is to say, especially in recognition of the potential economic consequences, I think we need the scary views on oil prices as a way to move toward a sensible, comprehensive energy policy. The recent cooperation between the greens and the neocons could be one of the great pragmatic political movements of our time, and high pump prices, if they materialize, could bring to fruition Tom Friedman's wet dream of ending our dependence on Middle East oil.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Team Martin Assessments

Over at Cherniak on Politics, the man with the magical Truffles recipe has a post calling for a shake-up among Martin advisors that's surpassed 50 comments. Impressive. Kudos also to him for questioning the "powers above", so to speak - though frankly, I am surprised that similar sentiments haven't been more widespread within the party. This team has certainly not proved overwhelming. And as to the sentiment that Martin's loyalty to the team is "honourable" and "could form the basis of an opera"? Ha. Call me the cynic, but I'd say the lack of change is probably more attributable to the now characteristic lack of boldness and political will that we have come to expect. In other words, more suited to farce than opera.

So that's one question for the Prime Minister to consider over the break. Is he also contemplating a reshuffle of Ministers?? Somehow I missed Chantal Hebert's hilarious send-up of Team Martin, cabinet edition. Have you ever seen so many questions marks? I count 22 out of the column's 26 sentences - superb effort [by Chantal, not by the Cabinet]. And yet here we are again, as Harper and Company show no greater signs of life.... unbelievable, really.

If I hyperventilate against the federal Liberals on this blog - as I am obviously prone to do - it probably stems more out of frustration over a seeming lack of calls "demanding better" of the Government within actual Liberal ranks.

It would be encouraging to see more vocal questioning, or even slight scepticism, from within the party. Especially when the leading non-partisan columnist of the day can blister an administration so easily and even the most loyal of partisans begins questioning the effectiveness of the PM's closed circle of advisors.

Or maybe - on Gomery revelations, on Belinda's defection and dive directly into Cabinet, on the unseemly approach of Grewal, on the ethics commissioner, on the failure to remotely address the democratic deficit, on the lack of sustained reaction post-Chaoulli, and on... - maybe all is proceeding satisfactorily? History will be the judge, I suppose.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the summer, and beyond.

Daveberta salutes the Captain

Our hearty salute back across the blogosphere ether to Daveberta, who for reasons unbeknowst to us [must be due to alphabetical order -ed.] has given Ahab's Whale his coveted [well, it is now -ed.] "Blog of the Week" award.

Newcomers can find information on the origin of this blog and its predecessor here or way back to here, and for an explanation of the recent "acquisition" of our Inhabitant of London, Mike McNair, try here.

Daveberta really deserves our thanks for this wonderful portrait of old man Ahab that I have unceremoniously shrunk in size and stolen away, as it's just too classy a portrayal of the Captain. Hopefully I will be forgiven.

These days I have confined myself to the coldest room in Oxford in cramming for exams in just over a week, while England delights in a glorious heatwave. Staring at the computer all day makes for frequent blogging distractions, as may be seen below.

Ahab's other boys are busy working away in London, but we'll see if this call to arms doesn't inspire higher-than-usual output into the weekend. I am still awaiting Tim's long promised profiles of the 2008 presidential candidates, amongst other things.

Back to the sea of the International Court of Justice!

(possible) Mea Culpa

If this news is true and Bill C-38 ultimately passes before the end of this session, then a hearty salute to the federal Liberals for doing the right thing. This is not about closure, but about honouring a commitment. Perhaps my scepticism of two days ago was ill-founded after all.

Here's hoping.

Of All the Gin Joints...

Another AFI list sure to trigger argument and controversy: the top 100 quotes from U.S. movies.

Now certainly any such list is open to criticism. But seriously, what the hell is the ultimate classic: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine" doing down at #67, behind two (2!) quotes from Jerry Maguire and one from A League of their Own?! It is a measure of Casablanca's greatness that it has 5 quotes ABOVE the "gin joints" line at 5, 20, 28, 32, and 43. But still!

Unforgiveable really. And the ONLY Woody Allen movie line to get in is "La-dee-da, la-dee-da" from Annie Hall?! Say what? And Inigo Montoya doesn't even make the top 100... Puh-lease. Who do they get to compile these lists?

Tradition has its Price Tag

The cost of the Royal Family to Britons, or at least the cost of public spending on their property and travel, has just been published. Seems even the monarchy now considers itself a commodity.
"We believe this represents a value-for-money monarchy," said Alan Reid, the "Keeper of the Privy Purse" who looks after the queen's finances.

"We're not looking to provide the cheapest monarchy. We're looking at one of good value and good quality," he added.

How tedious and petty this intrusive examination must seem to Her Majesty. Although judging by the business-like nature of the comments, could it be that the House of Windsor is actually worried about competition? What an ignorable end that would be, ditched by the British people for a cheaper Wal-monarchy product...

Blogging to Canadians

In a great new addition to the Canadian blogosphere, Ahab kindly welcomes Rick Mercer to the wonderful world of blogging. Anyone familiar with This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Talking to Americans, or his new show, Rick Mercer's Monday Report knows that such a move is long overdue. He has honed the television rant to an artform - no doubt the new site will make for excellent and hilarious reading.

The mischief has begun already in post #3: www.jasonkenney.org has been purchased and redirected to the Marxist Leninist homepage after the Calgary MP mocked Don Boudria in the House for failing to register domain names such as www.donboudria.ca [now co-opted by defendmarriage.ca] after Boudria rose to complain about it. Away we go...

[via Paul Wells, where most people will have gathered this news already]

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"Gray Davis Territory"

Tough few days for the Governator: First, he is loudly booed and heckled throughout the commencement address he delivered at his alma mater [ifilm video link]. Now the latest California field poll analysis, highlighted over at Dailykos, has begun to draw parallels between his unpopularity and that of recalled former Governor Gray Davis. Ouch.

I wonder if the director of two of my favorite movies [A Few Good Men and The Princess Bride] and everyone's favourite Meathead is reconsidering a run in 2006. He certainly impressed when I met him in New Hampshire back in January '04...

Lost in Translation

In yet another "now for something completely different" post...

Turns out last year, Today Translations compiled a list of the hardest words in the world to translate. The Top Ten non-English words via Wikipedia:

(1) Ilunga: Bantu language of Tshilbua for "a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time." However, there is no independent evidence that the word actually means what the translation company claims. When asked for confirmation by one reporter, representatives of the Congo government recognized the word only as a personal name. Furthermore, the translation company failed to respond to inquiries regarding the survey.

(2) Shlimazl (שלימזל): Yiddish for a chronically unlucky person.

(3) Radiostukacz: Polish for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain. It is not a real word, only a mistake or a hoax.

(4) Naa (なぁ or なー): Japanese word only used in the Kansai (関西) area of Japan, especially in Osaka (大阪府), to emphasize statements or agree with someone.

(5) Altahmam (التهمام): Arabic for a kind of dee sadness.

(6) Gezellig: Dutch for cosy.

(7) Saudade: Portuguese for a certain type of longing.

Note: Actually came across this list while searching for the appropriate definition for "Saudade" - a word I discovered about this time last year before a trip to Southern Portugal. One of my favourites of the year, and in the running to be the name of my first boat.

(8) Selathirupavar (ெசல்லாதிருப்பவர்): Tamil for a certain type of truancy.

(9) Pochemuchka (почемучка): Russian for a person who asks a lot of questions.

(10) Klloshar: Albanian for loser.

The ten English words voted hardest to translate? Plenipotentiary, Gobbledegook, Serendipity, Poppycock, Googly, Spam, Whimsy, Bumf, Chuffed, and Kitsch.

For further fun with words, check out this excerpt from Moore's "In Other Words..."

The Pound: Not Going A Long Way

Further to the post below, here's a list of cities that you might have to cross off. Yeah, I may live in wildly overpriced London, but at least I don't live in Osaka. And hands up if you've ever thought about living in 'Douala, Cameroon', the 22nd most expensive city in the world (!)

[Offhand, if I could recommend a neat place to live, it would probably be in Latin America -- great people, great weather, cheap (according to this study), easy-going and fun times. Selectivity is key, of course -- ie., I'd take Rio over Managua.]

Top 25 World's Most Expensive Cities

1. Tokyo, Japan (1)
2. Osaka, Japan (4)
3. London, Britain (2)
4. Moscow, Russia (3)
5. Seoul, South Korea (7)
6. Geneva, Switzerland (6)
7. Zurich, Switzerland (9)
8. Copenhagen, Denmark (8)
9. Hong Kong, Hong Kong (5)
10. Oslo, Norway (15)
11. Milan, Italy (14)
12. Paris, France (17)
13. New York City, United States (12)
14. Dublin, Ireland (14)
15. St. Petersburg, Russia (10)
16. Vienna, Austria (19)
17. Rome, Italy (21)
18. Stockholm, Sweden (22)
19. Beijing, China (11)
20. Sydney, Australia (20)
21. Helsinki, Finland (23)
22. Douala, Cameroon (25)
23. Istanbul, Turkey (18)
24. Amsterdam, Netherlands (26), Budapest, Hungary (34) (Amsterdam and Budapest ranked equally).

Monday, June 20, 2005

On Respect

The kind of statements that keep Jon Stewart and the Daily Show in business:
"The director of the CIA says he has an "excellent idea" where Osama bin Laden
is hiding, but that the United States' respect for sovereign nations makes it
more difficult to capture the al-Qaida chief."

Where to Live

Only from the most logical of former classmates would you receive a mass email such as this:

hey - i'm looking at where i'll be at for the next 3 years, and afterwards. i'm open to more than [Asia] at this point, basically looking at any place in the world as a possibility.

for now, i need your help in brainstorming. i aim to get a master list of 50 places that could be great, and that meet the criteria below. only after i have the big master list from brainstorming do i want to think about logistics and the real viability of being able to live & work somewhere.

i'll come back to you with what comes out of it, and maybe it might give you ideas on where you might want to end up too. thanks for your help! [x]

The "criteria" (i.e. the place has to have most of these things, particularly the top 5):
1-deep roots
4-optimistic (people)

courtesy (people)
not cold
genuine/honest people
not so
commercial/business oriented
not too easy
not too fast

For my part, I find I am increasingly excited for the return to beloved Halifax, and note happily that the fair city well satisfies almost all of this random list of expectations of a great city [though only if "not cold" isn't a deal-breaker!] Dublin and Munich are the two European cities that also jump immediately to mind on a reading of the criteria. And London can be whatever you want it to be, and any real list without it would be much the poorer.

Others? Anyone? Bueller?

Pardon The Interruption

Hey MacDuff -- does this idea, for Tucker Carlson's new cable show, sound familiar?

The Situation's main innovation is not an innovation at all, but a ripoff from ESPN's sports-chat show Pardon the Interruption: a list of topics appears down the left-hand side of the screen, to be ticked off one by one as the panelists move through a series of rapid-fire discussions. One recent to-do list looked like this: "Schiavo, Marijuana, Gitmo, Flag Burn, Crusaders, Iran." This, of course, is just what cable news has been sorely needing: a shorter time frame for news analysis! Enough, already, with the in-depth policy debate! The show also contains brief interviews with authors and policymakers and a regular feature called "Op-Ed Op-Ed" in which Carlson takes a bloggerlike tour through a few of the day's newspaper editorials, offering his take on each.

The Lingering Fate of C-38

The opening words from a post of mine a month ago today, May 20th:
"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]." [emphasis added, of course]

And so, right on cue a month later, a CTV story from the Hill: despite having the votes for it in the House, supporters of Bill C-38 continue their protests to see it finally become law. Sadly, looks like these will go on a little longer:
"Right now, the bill is stalled in the House of Commons. The Liberals say it may
not be passed until the fall, as Parliament is scheduled to end for the summer
on Thursday."
Now, of course I recognize that the Tories and obstructionist tactics are partly to blame for this, and it remains a profound mystery why Harper's strategy seems to want to focus obsessively on his opposition to this inevitability.

BUT, if it Martin and Co. wanted this finished before heading for home, it could easily be done. As the Globe stated a few weeks ago: "The Liberals could still use a majority vote to invoke closure on debate. They could also extend the sitting hours of the House to allow for more debate time each day, or extend the session -- any of which could make the bill law before the end of the summer break."

I am shocked, frankly, that the NDP have been relatively silent here in failing to see this finally resolved. Certainly no surprise at the failure to live up to the rhetoric on the Government side from this corner, though. As at least one Liberal has already pointed out, if this was truly the "human rights" issue that Paul Martin championed so loudly during the last campaign, you would think he would place it a little higher on his list of Parliamentary priorities for the end of this session. Too tired this morning to track down other links/similarities arguing the same.

Suffice it to say that Radwanksi was correct back on June 3rd: It has been debated ad nauseum, so let's get on with it. So to the government - move on. Stop using this issue only as a tactic to beat "crazy, angry" Harper over the head with and just get the law passed.

I am not holding my breath.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Useless (but Excellent) Pound Trivia

Over the course of this year, the writing on the sides of the one Pound coin has bothered me at times. The newer and rarer two Pound coin terminology is in English: Newton's famous phrase, "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants". But no one ever seemed to be able to offer the translations of the ancient phrases on the various one pound coins that bear, alternatively, English, Welsh, or Scottish mottos and faces.

Granted, normally this concern only arose in searching for appropriate change while waiting at the bar for a pint. I habitually questioned Oxford scholars standing around me to pass the time, yet no one could ever heroically provide an answer.

Until now. Finally I have remembered to harness the powers of Google in this quest and so the search comes to its end. Thank you, everything2.com, for the answers:

NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT - "No one provokes me with impunity". This is on the Scottish pound coin and is taken from the motto of the Order of the Thistle.

PLEIDIOL WYF I'M GWLAD - "True am I to my country". This is the inscription on the Welsh coin and is taken from their national anthem.

DECUS ET TUTAMEN - "An ornament and a safeguard". This is taken from Vergil's Aeneid. It is on the coins for the UK, England, and for Northern Ireland.

Predictably, the Scottish one is the favorite, even used in the classic Edgar Allan Poe tale The Cask of Amontillado. Outstanding. So some small talk at the pub small for you, boys. Seriously - what did people used to do without the Internet?

Stupidest News Item of the Year


I know we haven't even hit the Summer Solstice yet, but this WaPo Saturday piece (featured, unbelievably, on page A1) is so Staggeringly Stupid that, out of context, I would have laughed at it as another topical Onion bit of fake news. Just go read it for yourself. David Adnesik over at Oxblog delivers the necessary fisking here, but honestly, it reads almost funnier on its own. Especially if you read it, only liberally substitute the word Starbucks for "Domus Legis" [my old Dalhousie Law School bar] and latte for "Alexander Keith's" [the beer of choice].

Because the premise, in brief, is that law students who incur debts of over $100,000 to complete their degree do not realize the true cost of their Starbucks "addiction" over this time, a habit that presumably is spiraling out of control.

Put aside that it makes these law students out to be completely childish, incompetent, and unable to keep a proper eye on their finances [perhaps I shouldn't emphasize this one too much, as this year has gotten slightly away from me... though bigger ticket holidays/theatre tickets played that role, and not latte]. Put aside even that maybe, just maybe students choose to buy this coffee from these stores, knowing full well the costs and the value received from it.

The most hilarious aspect of this non-news item is that the people behind this campaign are actually the law school and its director of career services - whose tuition presumably makes up the vast enormity of said debt, certainly in relation to coffee expenses. And yet they have the affront to shift the blame to STARBUCKS (?!) and "crazy" latte spending because this is - wait for it - "insidiously tilting career paths toward jobs that pay more but satisfy less."

Wow. And on the frontpage of the Saturday Washington Post? Maybe the editors wanted to take advantage of some summer weather...

A Supreme Court Blogger?

The Washington Post has a look this weekend at possibly the most polarizing decision facing President Bush, short of the declaration of war with Iraq: the appointment of the next Supreme Court Justice.

Here's a list with short biographies of the top six prospects, along with their corresponding www.sportsinteraction.com odds. ["Specials", then "The Courts" - the next Chief Justice odds available as well]. See the articles for further details.

Samuel A. Alito, 55, Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: 13 to 1

Emilio Garza, 58, New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: 5 to 1

J. Michael Luttig, 51, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: 7 to 1

Michael McConnell, 50, Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: 7 to 1

John G. Roberts, 50, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: 6.5 to 1

James Harvie Wilkinson III, 60, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: 5 to 1

I just put down a meager $5 on the man highlighted in the above article: Texan J. Michael Luttig. Sounds exactly like the kind of nominee Bush would put forward when a vacancy opens, although the President does have a tendency to surprise. Wouldn't it be something if he went and picked a flyer, dropping blogger Richard A. Posner, 60, currently at the University of Chicago, onto the bench? Sportsinteraction has pegged those odds at 51 to 1... No word yet from the oddsmakers on Instapundit's vote: Eugene Volokh of UCLA and the Volokh Conspiracy.

Fallacies of Distraction

Self-testing quiz: Which Fallacy of Distraction follows from this little gem of reasoning? The Justification for the free lunches provided to MPs - well, sometimes I don't take advantage of them:
Ontario Liberal MP Susan Kadis says she sees no problem with ensuring the nation's lawmakers are well fed. "I don't think its wrong to provide something for MPs. I know myself, often there isn't time to go to the cafeteria sometimes you miss lunch."

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Back from Belgium. Two days into the recovery from the sensory onslaught, and all is happy memory and pure, lasting contentment.

Truly one of the most fantastic weeks in my history. From Guevara-style discussions that scaled the "heights of philosophical conjecture" over Monte Christo cigars to ridiculous and fortuitous encounters that only coarse travellers have experienced. Miraculous and wonderful.

Rarely have I felt such a consistently overwhelming sense of being so alive, imaginative, and carefree. Consider some of the following incidents of a three-day bender, the last trip for some time to the continent: following the marvelous Cymbeline in Regent's Park and spilt red wine at McDonald's, a random meeting with a Torontonian on the escalator out of the Brixton tube station that results in a date at the Mannekin Pis in Brussels 20 hours later.

Consider: random briefing on the state of the Canadian military from a Kingston, Ontario 2-star General who just finished up a conference in a Belgian bar while the arms dealers at the next table buy your round and the local girls staggette party rages on at the table beside (on a Tuesday) and your buddy gives the waitress a hug on the stumble out to similar ridiculousness at the Van Gogh hostel.

Consider: returning to your hostel in Bruges after a solid 6 hours of sampling Belgian beer, including one named Kwak served in a bar named after J.R.R. Tolkien that comes in a special test-tube type holder, only to be locked out of your hostel room which might be frustrating if not for a hilariously random lady from Victoria to laugh away the time with on the cobbled streets for who knows how long...

Consider: having timed the Eurostar exit to perfection after a lazy afternoon of grapefruit beer and Belgian chocolate, drinking some cans of Juliper beneath the English Channel and then proceeding to the banks of the Thames for a nightcap jug of Pimm's... and THEN... when the trip has all business being well and truly over, heading to the bathroom and challenging your friend to find out the names of the girls at an adjoining outside patio table after last call. Turns out one is a legendary girl named MacBeth, which precipitates classic photos in a tree underneath Shakespeare's Globe, and the other is a fantastically magic Aussie Beat Poet who pens an ode to your insanity and joins in for late night Guinness at a classic O'Neills lock-in and a chance encounter with a 40 year old furniture mover for the West End musical, The Far Pavilions, who leads you on a wild goose chase toward Burrough Market and sunrise on London Bridge, then coffee in the station, and a merciful bus ride back to Oxford at dawn, happy for the chance meeting with like-minded, would-be artists dedicated to the Road.

Sometimes life can make you gasp at the marvels of its random charm and seemingly infinite possibility.

Hope all is well in everyone's world. Now less than one month to go on this Oxford odyssey. Retreating to the studies until Canada Day. Until then, dust off the Sondheim musical CDs and play Pretty Women from Sweeney Todd. And check out the lyrics of a song that contains all the above, just in different words: Estelle, by Dan Bern -
"Yeah I was sittin' there updating my list of enemies
When this girl walks in and the universe kind of stops
Turned out she drank the same tea as me
Don't take more than that to start a conversation sometimes."


"Sometimes it seems like there's so much that you need
Sometimes the world is upside down
Sometimes it seems like the only thing you need
Is holdin' someone's hand as you walk through town "

Monday, June 13, 2005

Non-Fiction Bias

I’m terrible at making lists, which puts me a bit at odds with my blog-mates. But owing to a tag from MacDuff, here’s my book list. (Will get to films soon, Mr. Marston).

Number of Books That You Own:
In London? Maybe twenty. In scattered boxes in Canada, the US, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia? Probably closer to five hundred. Pretty eclectic bunch. Lots of fine textbooks included. (I've got an extra copy of John Lewis Gaddis's 'We Now Know' somewhere, if anybody's interested.)

Last Book Bought:
Kind of a trick answer: I bought two simultaneously in one of those WHSmith half-price deals. They were ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ and ‘Oliver Twist’. Real-time update: just bought a hardcover ‘Great Expectations’ for 99p.

Last Book I Read:
‘The Wisdom of Crowds.’ Thought-provoking, but Surowiecki all too often sets up straw men. Previously: ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,’ by Ken Kesey. Sublime, and better than the film. Truly. (Currently reading Great Expectations.)

Five books that mean a lot to me:

There really are too many. ‘Moneyball’ would be up here, I suppose, if I were on track to become a sabermetric baseball GM. (One can always dream.) But my quick five, with a bias on the recent stuff:

The Right Stuff.’ I’m a nut for non-fiction, and this is probably the best non-fiction book yet written. The perfect intersection of investigative journalism, zany observational writing, and swashbuckling adventure. Tom Wolfe is masterful.

A Night To Remember.’ Walter Lord’s classic reconstruction of the Titanic sinking. As a kid, I was a huge Titanic buff, which I think stemmed from the discovery of the wreck off the coast of Newfoundland when I was five or six. I had scrapbooks with everything from newspaper clippings to a Weekly World News front page on the ‘curse’ of the ‘Titanic mummy.’ I’ve read better history books, but few as compelling as Lord’s. To wit, Amazon’s take: ‘Lord’s logic is as cold as the Atlantic, and his bitter wit is quite dry.’ (Speaking of which, does anybody else out there think that this whole 'book tag' thing is a setup by Amazon to increase traffic to their site? Just wondering.) This was really the one that instilled a lifelong love of history in me.

The New Canada.’ The Preston Manning manifesto, and my awakening to Canadian politics. I’d just returned to Canada from Saudi, and my Reform-minded uncle gave me this before I headed off to Lakefield. I think I scared my Grade 10 English teacher when I chose it as the subject for my first ‘book report.’ Not to mention everybody else.

'The Pity of War.' Kind of a cop-out choice, as it's not the greatest book, but Niall Ferguson inspired me to go into economic history after I saw his talk at Yale on the lack of correlation between bond prices in Europe and the coming Great War, which provides some evidence that nobody saw the conflict as imminent or inevitable. I'm an economist now, with an MSc in Economic History, so obviously some of the Ferguson touch rubbed off on me.

Hmm, as a fifth...‘A Prayer for Owen Meany.’ For the first and only time in my life, I cried at the end of a novel. Stop snickering. It’s that good.

All tagged out.

Living a Privileged Life

June 14th to 16th, 2004: 3 day road trip from Calgary to Vancouver via Crow's Nest Pass. Highlights include the Spock Burger in Vulcan, the Frank Slide, sampling of Tequila (Hornitos Gold!) in Fernie, cigars and fresh rainbow trout in Winlaw, and the Super-Sonic Gin and Tonics at the Blue Mule in Penticton.

Didn't realize until last night, but tomorrow's 3 day Eurostar trip to Belgium covers the same dates with the same buddy a year later. And what have we done in between but take many similar adventures and pretend to be occupied by studies? Truly an outstanding year. My long overdue entry to the workforce begins in a little over a month, but I won't be thinking about that for the next few days. Recap on Friday when Wingman and Gongshow return.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Long Stumble Home

Check out this online game: keep your mouse centered and the drunk on his feet. 74 Meters is my top score thus far. [via In Lehmann's Terms]

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Words, Words, Words...

"There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it." - Bertrand Russell

Number of Books That You Own: Who knows... the "3 for 2" offers in major British bookstores have played some role in bankrupting me over the course of this year. I buy books in abundance and have a tough time parting with them. I even steal ancient books from bars for no reason. I hope to write one or two. If forced to guess, I'd say I own about 500 or so, about 50 here and many more boxed away safely in the parent's basement until that great day when I open a pub/inn/used bookstore.

Last Book(s) Bought: Two on a whim, from the Oxfam shop on my birthday - Cakes and Ale, by W. Somerset Maughm and the Tao Te Ching.

Last Book I Read: The Best of Saki, a compilation of short stories borrowed from Mr. Gartner. Check out "The Mappined Life" for a deft explanation of our constant obsession with random exploration of the Road.

Five Books that mean a lot to me: Surely the stumbling block for my timely response to this question. In some ways this is like trying to "name 5 friends that mean a lot to you". That said, upon reflection:

(1) When We Were Very Young, by A.A. Milne. [though the entire canon of both Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl belong right alongside it] One of the earliest books I can remember. Magical. I haven't looked at it in who knows how long, but still know the opening verse of poems such as Disobedience by heart.

(2) Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. [though the Three Musketeers saga of Dumas that actually spans 5 wonderful volumes deserves a most honourable mention] Surely my favorite story of all:

"In I got bodily into the apple barrel, and found there was scarce an apple left; but sitting down there in the dark, what with the sound of the waters and the rocking movement of the ship, I had either fallen asleep or was on the point of doing so when a heavy man sat down with rather a clash close by. The barrel shook as he leaned his shoulders against it, and I was just about to jump up when the man began to speak. It was Silver's voice, and before I had heard a dozen words, I would not have shown myself for all the world, but lay there, trembling and listening, in the extreme of fear and curiosity, for from these dozen words I understood that the lives of all the honest men aboard depended upon me alone."

Have I ever been more excited to read a book's next chapter?

(3) Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman. A steady companion these past 5 or so years in the side pouch of my rugged and much abused backpack. My copy has the mugshot of our smiling old bearded wise man on the cover, and ample doses of his spirit within. Absolute favorites include Song of the Open Road, O Me! O Life!, When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer, and So Long ["Camerado! This is no book; Who touches this, touches a man"], but it sometimes just as comforting to open it at random and read aloud.

(4) On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. A cliched choice? Maybe. But I read it for the first time at the very beginning of my discovery of the beauty in traveling/living randomly, coarsely, cheaply, intoxicated by the sheer freedom, joy, and tragic sadness of the rambler and what must be left behind... it has and will always serve as an inspiration. How do you beat simple quotes such as this: "A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world."

(5) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The desert island selection. Regular readers of this blog should not be surprised. Master Will has been a worthy companion for this year abroad. 15 of his plays seen thus far and a few more to come beginning before heading home, starting with another unknown (to me) this Monday: Cymbeline. No idea where the green cinder block of a book I have at home came from, or when I first started worshiping unconditionally at this alter, but perhaps it's best that way.

Since most others have already been tagged, it is down to you Cooper. You going to put Moneyball on your list?

George Allen's Karl Rove

Slate has an interesting profile of Dick Wadhams, the campaign manager behind John Thune's narrow defeat of Tom Daschle last November, with emphasis on his preference for Karl Rove-style tactics.

Wadhams joined Virginia Senator George Allen's team in January. Who is Allen? A strong darkhorse for the 2008 GOP Presidential nomination and Robert Novak's predicted candidate.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Quote of the (Satur)day (morning)

Running late in posting a Friday afternoon quote, as per usual. So here's a good-natured thought relayed to me by Vaclav the Czech, especially appropriate given my dwinding funds:
"Living on the earth is expensive. But it does come with a yearly
free trip around the sun." - source unknown.

Final Chaoulli Thoughts

Nothing like a watershed Supreme Court of Canada case to distract you from other responsibilities... [and on a Friday night? for shame - ed.]

In the comments to my post below, old History 121 sparring partner Peter Jaworski [who has a great slideshow of newspaper frontpage coverage] criticises the minority for delving into unnecessary philosophical minutiae:
"So what if the Court cannot rule on precisely how many MRIs is in accordance with the Charter? All they needed to show was that the current system falls below 'reasonable.' "

To a point, yes. But the problem with the majority's reasoning remains - the top court here is also attempting to entrench a constitutional standard, not just decide on the reasonableness of the current system as it existed when Chaoulli sought private insurance.

Why is this of concern? Suppose you now attempt to contract for private medical insurance in some Canadian province, based on the majority decision in Chaoulli. Paul Martin and your provincial premier say, "hang on a second, while the delays were unreasonable before, now that we have injected our $41 Billion, they are clearly on the decline. We have saved Medicare, as we known it and Canadians love it, from the evils of a court-imposed two tier." In other words, they "fixed" the system, so the concerns that allowed for the sale of private medical insurance just went up in smoke.

"No way", you respond, "these delays are still unreasonable". Well, who decides if they still are? Since the majority gives little to no guidance as to how we might objectively assess this, we're looking at a stream of litigation [or at least a final, definitive ruling] to determine the "reasonable" boundaries. Certainly not the most efficient or democratic means to develop policy. And then there's the uncertainty: maybe I want private medical insurance, but it turns out the delays in my particular city/province are non-existent - what then? (etc.. with the hypotheticals).

The majority is essentially proposing that the constitutionality of the law banning private medical insurance is now to fluctuate based on a macro-level indicator ["delays"] that is prone to a potentially high degree of subjective interpretation and interpretation.

Perhaps this is only because Justices McLachlin, Major, and Bastarache didn't have the courage to come right out and state that any exclusively public system is bound to have such delays, and so violates s. 7 in that respect. Though radically more controversial, this would have had the advantage of being readily discernable, and I suspect it more closely aligns with the beliefs of those hailing the verdict. As I highlighted in their reasoning in the post below, the majority already seems to have traveled a ways down that path.

Don't think the minority is unaware of the futility of any "Harsanyi-type" analysis either, as Jaworksi accuses them of employing below [ie. how can we ever know exactly what "reasonable" looks like]. They just don't think that constitutional argument at the Supreme Court is the proper place to engage in this determination. As Binnie and Lebel JJ. state in para. 170:

"The issue here, as it is so often in social policy debates, is where to draw the line. One can rarely say in such matters that one side of a line is “right” and the other side of a line is “wrong”. Still less can we say that the boundaries of the Quebec health plan are dictated by the Constitution. Drawing the line around social programs properly falls within the legitimate exercise of the democratic mandates of people elected for such purposes, preferably after a public debate."

And that, neatly, is exactly why the case is ultimately so fascinating. Conservatives who champion the role of the legislator over the judge should be dismayed at this intrusion, but also overjoyed at the victory of a cherished victory for private enterprise over the state. For liberals, exactly the reverse. It's the old "ends versus means" dilemma: yet another debate for classical philosophy, and one all too familiar.

Fix it or Lose it?

In response to some comments on a post over at Sinister Thoughts, Greg asks whether the Chaoulli decision can be properly considered as "a challenge to the governments to 'Fix it or lose it' ". The question is a potent one, considering that the official line from the Federal Government immediately following the ruling involved a heavy emphasis on the recent financial deals to combat the very problem of waiting times. It also provides a convenient opportunity to render the key criticism of the majority's decision.

Justice Deschamps succinctly states the issue at hand in paragraph 4: "whether Quebeckers who are prepared to spend money to get access to health care that is, in practice, not accessible in the public sector because of waiting lists may be validly prevented from doing so by the state." [emphasis added]

For now, the decision only impacts Quebec, and might be decided differently in front of a full court. But let's assume for present purposes, however, that the opinion of McLachlin C.J. and Major J. (paras. 102-160) accurately reflects the Supreme Court's eventual position under the Charter if a challenge were to be brought in another province: Namely, that the ban on private medical insurance violates s. 7 and is not justified as a reasonable limit under s. 1. In other words, "because delays in the public system place their health and security at risk, they should be allowed to take out insurance to permit them to access private services. (para. 103)"

Essentially, the "fix it or lose it" argument runs, if governments can prove that health care is of "reasonable quality and delivered timely (para 165)" then the rationale in favour of allowing private insurance might disappear.

But on a closer reading of the McLachlin C.J. and Major J. decision, these "delays" seem to be taken for granted by the Justices as inextricable parts of the system. Lip service is indeed paid to the contemplation of a public system that delivers "reasonable services", but they have established a pretty rigid standard. Consider:

at para 114 - Dr. Lenczner also testified that 95 per cent of patients in Canada wait well over a year, and many two years, for knee replacements. While a knee replacement may seem trivial compared to the risk of death for wait-listed coronary surgery patients, which increases by 0.5 per cent per month, the harm suffered by patients awaiting replacement knees and hips is significant.

at para 117 - Studies confirm that patients with serious illnesses often experience significant anxiety and depression while on waiting lists. A 2001 study concluded that roughly 18 per cent of the estimated five million people who visited specialists for a new illness or condition reported that waiting for care adversely affected their lives. The majority suffered worry, anxiety or stress as a result. This adverse psychological impact can have a serious and profound effect on a person’s psychological integrity, and is a violation of security of the person

at para 123 - there is unchallenged evidence that in some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care. Where lack of timely health care can result in death, s. 7 protection of life itself is engaged.

It is questionable whether Canada's health care system could ever guarantee to meet such a standard. Is not a public system bound to have delays of some sort? Furthermore, these Justices seem to indicate little respect for the merits of a wholly public-insurance scheme:

at para 155/156 - given the absence of evidence that the prohibition on the purchase and sale of private health insurance protects the health care system, the rational connection between the prohibition and the objective is not made out... In addition, the resulting denial of access to timely and effective medical care to those who need it is not proportionate to the beneficial effects of the prohibition on private insurance to the health system as a whole.

McLachlin C.J. and Major J. take great pains to point out the various European systems that incorporate some element of private insurance as a practical, sensible alternative. So it is possible that, regardless of public investment, the failure to make private insurance available could always be characterised as "unreasonable" to some extent. In one sense, the decision is a truly a shot across the bow aimed at politicians. But in another, it might actually be a strong message that the treasured Canadian Medicare ideal is untenable under the Charter.

Contrast this analysis with the eminently more satisfactory dissent [at least in legal terms] of Binnie and Lebel JJ. They effectively take down the majority at the outset, not because delays are acceptable, but because judges have no ability or business evaluating their acceptability:

at para. 163 - The Court recently held in Auton (Guardian ad litem
of) v. British Columbia (Attorney General), [2004] 3 S.C.R. 657, 2004 SCC 78, that the government was not required to fund the treatment of autistic children. It did not on that occasion address in constitutional terms the scope and nature of “reasonable” health services. Courts will now have to make that determination. What, then, are constitutionally required “reasonable health services”? What is treatment “within a reasonable time”? What are the benchmarks? How short a waiting list is short enough? How many MRIs does the Constitution require? The majority does not tell us. The majority lays down no manageable constitutional standard. The public cannot know, nor can judges or governments know, how much health care is “reasonable” enough to satisfy s. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Canadian Charter”) and s. 1 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, R.S.Q. c. C-12 (“Quebec Charter”). It is to be hoped that we will know it when we see it.

Exactly. The majority's proposed standard remains an unintelligible smokescreen in many respects. But it will encourage further analysis and more sophisticated debate on a concept [private medical insurance] that been given little consideration due to past taboos and our proximity to the United States' privately-driven system: and this is a positive, whatever the final outcome.

But fix it or lose it? As with most things Medicare, it's hardly so simple. And the momentum from this decision - already applicable in Quebec - may be difficult to contain. Jeffrey Simpson's belief that "...Canada will have more private health-care delivery. The only questions are when, where and how much" is likely correct. So what will the reforms look like?


"We're not going to have a two-tier health-care system in this country - nobody wants that," - Paul Martin, June 9th, 2005

Really? Then perhaps he'll stop attempting to demonize the opposition's position on health care. Although I do wonder if Martin's own Doctor would agree that "nobody" wants the "two-tier" system...

Post-Chaoulli Possibilities

Ibbitson enumerates some of the political options available post-Chaoulli in today's Globe [access via the news.google.ca backdoor]:
They [federal politicians] can declare that they will continue to protect public health care, regardless of what the Supreme Court says. That's the easy approach, and it is the approach that politicians from all political parties were taking yesterday. But all the rhetoric in the world won't make the decision go away.

So if we assume the status quo's off the table, what are the Feds to do? Ibbitson sees two main possibilities:

The Liberals could roll the dice and ask the court directly for its opinion on whether the benchmarks that are being drawn up in the wake of last year's health accord would meet the criteria of these judicial medical experts, eliminating the need for parallel private care. The federal government would be hoping that negative publicity, coupled with the arrival of judges Rosalie Abella and Louise Charron, would cause the court to retreat.

Or our federal political leaders could accept their good fortune and acquiesce in the court's decision. As the judges themselves observe, Australia, states in Europe, and other developed countries all incorporate majority-public and minority-private health-care systems. Permitting parallel private care would increase competition, dampen wage demands and improve service delivery.

No points for discerning Ibbitson's favored choice from the above language, but I'd say it's extremely unlikely that the Liberals will subject their main $41 billion dollar talking point to direct scrutiny by the courts, preferring to hedge their bets until another challenge winds its way through the laborious judicial system. And they certainly won't throw away their pet vote-winning issue in favor of reform discussion, which means that in the near future nothing much changes. Whether we get that debate on reform to the system that extend beyond an indefinite "throw more money at the problem" will depend on the success of the opposition in swaying public opinion.

On that note, one suggestion for Conservatives: Start demanding "European-style" health care for Canada in the House and in your platform. "We don't want the American system. We want the Swedish system, the French system... those ranked the best in the world by the United Nations' WHO." Call attention to what you consider popular myths regarding the current state of affairs. Succeed in shifting the comparison in the public eye beyond a deceptive "either-or" proposition with the States, and then the public will be more open to an examination of underlying reforms that could ultimately improve Canadian health care for all.

I wonder if there is not a real possibility here for the NDP as well. The party of "Medicare and Tommy Douglas" should show some creative thinking and prominently attach itself to a few key innovative reforms. Instead of demanding merely more money, demand some realistic, structural changes that have proven successful in other socially democratic countries. Such a move would help shatter the image of the party as a tired and statist alternative interested only in breaking the bank on social issues. Oppose significant privatization, sure. But propose some innovation as well. The ideas are out there...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Chaoulli v. Public Health Care

Procrastination truly reaches a type of art form when you find yourself reading legal cases with no bearing whatsoever on your upcoming legal exams, but so be it.

Just in the process of digesting the Canadian Supreme Court's health care verdict rendered today in Chaoulli. Detailed analysis possible later, but at first blush the dissent of Binnie and LeBel seems far more persuasive. Let it Bleed helpfully offers a brief dissection of the decision, particularly on the paradox at play between reasoning and ultimate result. Incidentally, I wouldn't consider myself a constitutional "originalist" (or whatever term pleases you) like another former Domusmate - no problems here with the extension of s.15 argument to the same-sex marriage case, for example. But given the complexity of the policy issues at work here, this one really does feel like a stretch for the court. The political reaction will be fascinating to watch.

For now I also share the sarcasm over at Occam's Carbuncle over this "tie" on the key issue to be debated now. Here's the case. I count 8 law firms and 5 Attorneys-General involved, so innumerable lawyers, process, etc... You think Justice Deschamps could have at least given us the privilege of her opinion on the Charter's impact.

Then again, this is a taboo debate that may just have been blown wide open and the final word is far from written. If this debate properly belongs in Parliament, at least credit the SCC for helping trigger a more thoughtful and reasoned one than we've had in Canada these past years.

The Krugmanomicon

I've been disgusted by the hard-core Republican right's attempts to spruce up Nixon's image by castigating Mark 'Deep Throat' Felt as a traitor and a coward. Felt is neither. So I was amused to read Brad DeLong's amusing entry the other day on 'the Order of the Shrill,' which quotes another blogger's realization that there are, in fact, some big-time idiots out there. Incredibly, yesterday I read not only the preposterous Peggy Noonan column in question, but also HP Lovecraft's short story 'The Call of Cthulhu,' which is the key to understanding DeLong's post. And I read 'Cthulhu' based on an article in The Guardian highlighted by Colby Cosh. Hence, the blogosphere is once again vindicated for its unerring ability to waste my time, all the while providing dear serendipity.

That Vision Thing

Martin just ain't got it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Krapp's Last Tape

So woke up as a 26 year old for the first time this morning.

This is probably the first June 8th overly permeated with thoughts on getting old: great high school buddies starting to get married (or on the verge of that great leap) with increasing frequency, and news that some younger cousins are in the process of getting their driver's license (I mean, I remember when they were born!).

Last summer, the big 2-5 birthday weekend was celebrated heroically in the mountains Banff and Jasper - with all the promise of the new year abroad ahead and a seemingly unlimited line of credit. And what a magical year it was. Now, however, the money spent, I find myself confined to the Bodelian Law Library, firmly resigned to a month or so of constant cramming for the final exams of the career and wondering (as I do every year at this time) why I didn't do just a *little* more school work during the past months.

But the future still holds infinite promise. First up, a two day study break jaunt to Belgium next week, Canada Day in Covent Garden, and a European swansong appearance at the British Open in St. Andrews before the flight home from Glasgow International. And just yesterday an apartment in downtown Halifax for the year of articles fell into my lap, and I do find myself really looking forward to evenings of copious Harvey Wallbangers [that fabulous drink of summer] overlooking my Atlantic ocean again. A year with "professional responsibilities" might just do me good. After all, we all need time to reflect and recharge, to stare at the map on the wall and dream and scheme and mutter under the breath "someday... soon..."

So cue a more relaxed celebration than usual tonight [though expect Ahab's trio to light it up on July 1 at the Maple Leaf]. Instead, in another classic, fortuitous coincidence that has marked life thus far, I have tickets tonight for the Beckett play, Krapp's Last Tape. The premise?
...the play takes place on Krapp’s sixty-ninth birthday. Every year since he was twenty-four, Krapp a would-be writer who has failed as such has recorded his impressions of the previous year and then catalogued the resulting tape’s number and contents in a ledger, which he keeps locked in his desk. The play depicts Krapp listening to a tape from thirty years ago (recorded when he was thirty-nine) and then recording this year’s tape.

I have never read the great work, but it has loomed over the travels ever since I saw the Irish Writers poster in the Kilkenney Hostel on a hungover March 18th those 5 years ago, and copied down my favorite quote of all time. I will be listening for it tonight.

[oh - and I have been dragging my feet terribly on the so-called "blogger book tag", partly due to work and partly since it is damn difficult. Cooper, consider yourself tagged as well. Hopefully I'll have the final draft up tomorrow]

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Hapless Tony Clement

Talk about a tough few years...

First you lose, terribly, your bid to become Party leader in 2002 upon Mike Harris' resignation, garnering only 13.2% on the first ballot.

Then you lose your seat in the 2003 Provincial Election.

Then you lose, terribly again, your bid to become leader of the Federal Conseratives in 2004, receiving a mere 9% of "points" required under the PR system.

Then you lose the race in Brampton West to become Member of Parliament in 2004 Federal election.

And now? The humiliating news that your two recent opponents felt so sorry for you that together they donated $110,000 to help you repay your leadership campaign debt. [Memo to Belinda: given the debt I've incurred studying at Oxford this year, I too could use a "friendly" no-strings-attached gift too]

Say one thing for old Tony, he's a gamer. Taking that old Beckett saying to a new level, I guess: "Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better." One can only wonder what he'll try next.

The Cream Always Rises

"And to you 'C' students, you too can be president of the United States."
-George W. Bush, Yale Commencement, May 21, 2001.

What a crock.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Final Table

Another in the long line of eccentric bets courtesy of www.sportsinteraction.com - here the money is on who will reach the final table at the World Series of Poker's main event [click the dropdown list and look for "poker" under the "other" category].

WSOP started late this year, and the classic $10,000 no limit contest is to be played at the famous Binion's horseshoe from July 7th to 15th. Online registration closes two weeks before the event, if you have $10,000 and fancy a flight to Vegas.

Predicting one of the table finalists really borders on the ridiculous. Consider: 2003 saw a total of 839 entrants, with Internet qualifier and amateur Chris Moneymaker taking the crown. Due in part to the so-called Moneymaker effect and the spiraling popularity of poker, the number ballooned to an absurd 2,576 in 2004. Who knows how many entrants will chase the prize this year.

But super cool Dan Harrington, champion in 1995, made the final table in 2003 and 2004, proving that talent still goes a long way at the tables. So I've thrown down a few $3 bets on some characters surviving all the way to the final day:

Scotty Nguyen - 29 to 1
Sam Farha - 41 to 1
Max Pescatori - 51 to 1

Let's do it, boys!

Make Tyrants History, as well

Tim's good-natured jesting at the Live8 concert's hypocrisy aside [what, no barbs yet at the made-in-China bracelet fiasco? -ed.] I have been surprised and delighted by the very real and significant press coverage that the Making Poverty History coalition has been able to garner as Scotland prepares to host the G8. Say one thing for the protests since Seattle - they have succeeded in drawing crucial attention to the impact of the deliberations occurring behind these closed doors, whether the summits focus on the detail of Free Trade Agreements or otherwise.

The emphatic support of Brown and Blair on Africa has been especially crucial on the subject, and Geldoff's Live8 project is just another tactic in mobilizing pressure on the politicians who have the power to make crucial decisions. How much coverage is any of this getting outside of Britain, I wonder?

Those wishing a primer on the state of the debate would do well to read this trilogy of articles from the Observer [what paper did you read last night? -ed.]:
first the proposals by Gordon Brown, followed by the concerns of Michela Wrong on the continuing problem of tyranical African leadership and Nick Cohen on the need to keep human rights concerns at the forefront. It's a long walk to freedom, but at least we're moving slowly movement in the right direction.

At least they're tryin'

50 Cent is performing at Philadelphia's installment of Bob Geldof's Live 8 concert extravaganza, ostensibly to help convince the music-loving youth of the world to 'make poverty history.' Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the same 50 Cent whose debut album was called "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," right?

...and in other news, the Expos are in first.

What's Next for Europe?

Pause. Reflect. And have national governments begin crediting the EU for the gains it has wrought, as opposed to using it as a convenient foil for domestic political shortcomings. That's the advice of Will Hutton in the Sunday Observer yesterday in a particularly astute article from a pro-European perspective.

I have not written on the booming "No" votes in France and Holland mainly because it is damn difficult to assess the consequences so soon - from the future of the Euro [Italy may seek a referendum to withdraw] to the timing of Blair's departure from 10 Downing. Hutton tackles many of the points extremely well... I'll exert a few key paragraphs, but if you have a moment, go and read it for yourself.

On the immediate problem:

"But the EU treaty, streamlining the cumbersome procedures for a union of 25 states, was vitally needed. Few beyond the initiates understand the relationship between the European Council (the EU's political directorate with a different member state occupying the presidency every six months), the European Commission (the EU's secretariat), and the European parliament. The treaty tried to give Europe a more human face with a permanent president, a more coherent European Commission and a more empowered European Parliament, together with a more rational and fairer system of voting. It was not a breakthrough but it was an improvement.

Now that it is dashed we are left with the current dysfunctional ragbag, with the No votes signalling opposition to any improvement. The danger is obvious. Locked between a rock of an unratifiable treaty and a hard place of dysfunctional institutions, the EU can only become more discredited in a vicious cycle of decline, ever more obvious impotence and growing illegitimacy."

The size of the document drew a lot of ire and mockery from many who would compare it with the efforts of Jefferson and Co., but in a sense this misses the point. Amalgamating the detail of 50 years worth of treaties demanded such expansive treatment. In a sense, any real changes from the status quo represented mere minor improvements to accomodate the entry of the 10 new members, while the greater project was in the attempt to merge documents of sizeable complexity in order to clarify the scene. I know it took me a few weeks in my EU as an International Actor course to notice and appreciate the real differences between EC law and EU law. At a stroke, this treaty would have eliminated the need to juggle through multiple governing agreements to understand the inner workings of the Union.

Perhaps the gravest error here was infusing this treaty with the meaning-laden term of "constitution". A more lyrical and brief statement of first principles might have been written to accompany the expansive regulations on procedure and term it a European constitution, but any attempt to be brief would have allowed the "anti" forces to claim that the ECJ would simply use it to radically rewrite the structure of the Union.

On the failure of national governments to stand up for Europe:
"Among the founding six member states, Brussels and European integration have come to be seen as the enemy of real Europe and the friend of Islamic immigration, high unemployment, reduced social protection, economic restructuring and 'vulture, locust capitalism'. In Britain, paradoxically, Brussels is seen as the architect of grand social schemes, inflexible labour markets, regulation, economic weakness and reduction of political sovereignty... Neither is true."

Perhaps the biggest paradox of the EU - it has become a convenient hobbyhorse for all sorts of criticism, often contradictory. Last week, both the Economist and the French Socialists came out strongly against this treaty, for almost diametrically opposed reasoning. National politicians acting in their own self-interest have been quick to blame Brussels for their own failures, and so debate and promotion over the larger vision question of what Europe stands for/what benefits it brings just isn't being championed.

On what's next:
"Europeans have to think straight, to talk honestly and recognise their commonality. If they continue to resort to creating false enemies and false choices, there is no doubt that the European project will fail and with it the prosperity and peace we take for granted.What Europe now needs is time to assimilate the message from last week's votes and to stop the ratification process - if a warning on such a scale is not heeded, everything could be lost."

Agreed. It is tempting to celebrate the results in France and Holland as a triumph of democracy over bureaucratic elites, but the European project is not so simply characterised. One lesson is clear, though, the people have reclaimed a central role in this debate, and this is surely to the good. Unfortunately, this message could only be delivered by rejecting an essentially desirable proposal.

Just before the French vote, Bob Tarantino at Let it Bleed drew an interesting analogy between the Constitution's demise and the failure of our Charlottetown Accord. A dozen years later, Canada has yet to attempt any significant constitutional reforms in fear of sparking those old divisions. Europe does not have the luxury of simply retaining the status quo, however. What's that old Chinese curse about living in interesting times?