By David Newland - Thursday, January 10, 2013 - 0 Comments
Add doughnuts, stir heartstrings, and let simmer in social media til piping hot
What makes a great viral video? Wouldn’t a million social marketers love to know. But if Old men singing at Tim Horton’s (sic) isn’t an example of a sure-fire hit, I don’t know what is.
Now, you may be wondering why a dozen or so men of retirement age, singing Can You Feel The Love Tonight in a coffee shop in Oakville, Ont., filmed by an amateur on a cellphone, has the makings of a Canadian web sensation. (I’m sure you’re wondering, if you are one of the guys in the video.)
Consider it an object lesson in how the web works in the age of social media. Here’s what makes this video a sensation in the making:
1. Location. As in the fast food business, so in the viral video business: the secret to success is location, location, location. If you’re looking to tug the heartstrings of Canadians, start someplace that has emotional resonance—real, or marketed, it doesn’t matter much, as long as it’s Tim Hortons. (Can you picture this at KFC?)
2. Story. Content is king, goes an old online marketing expression (is that a contradiction in terms?). In this case, the “content” is a heartwarming little tale about a talented bunch of ungrumpy old men. Instead of shaking their fists at kids playing road hockey, or running for the Conservative party, these guys sing. What a novel idea. We can sell that.
3. Familiarity. You know these fellows. You’ve seen them at your local Tim Hortons, endlessly taking up tables in the corner and talking baseball/convertbiles/politics, or whatever. Sober, avuncular, maybe a bit corny, churchy, and straight-seeming. It all works, because…
4. Surprise! As above, this is a scene we’ve all seen before—except the part where a bunch of bucket-listers break into a torch song by the world’s most famous gay guy, from a beloved Disney family musical, and absolutely nail it.
5. Optimism. The notion that a bunch of older gentlemen somewhere, sometimes just break out into song together hearkens to a (probably imaginary) simpler time, like the Fifties. As such, the video offers an antidote to the often dull, depressing suburban world many of us live in. Some call this stuff “glurge,” and depending on your taste it may or may not work for you. But trust me, they eat it up in internetland.
6. Authenticity. The first thing I did on investigating this video was to contact the guy who made it, to make sure he wasn’t in the marketing department at Tim Hortons. He’s not, at least not unless he’s a compulsive liar. He’s an ordinary dude named Danfi Parker, a biblical studies student and soccer player. He just wandered into a Tim’s one night, saw something cool go down, shot it, and shared it. You can’t imitate that. (Though Tim Hortons would be wise to capitalize on it.)
7. Shareability. Danfi Parker tried to post the video to Facebook right after he shot it on Monday night, just to show his friends. The file was too big, so he put it on YouTube. I saw it on Facebook a few days later, at which point it had more than a thousand views. I watched it, gave it a thumbs-up, and sent a link to my dad. (A hundred guys are sending it to their dads right now.) I also sent it to my friends, by email, my “friends” by Facebook, and my “followers” by Twitter. So did a lot of people. Cha-ching.
8. Quality. Spontaneous as it may be, quality is still at the heart of this video. Any old group of geezers wheezing any old song couldn’t pull this off. These guys are good. They’re a real group, The Entertainers. They do gigs. And they’re doing a great rendition of a nice arrangement of a superbly written, popular, familiar song from a much-loved production.
9. Validation. Ironically enough, the secret ingredient that makes a feel-good organic grassroots video truly viral, is major media support. And that’s where this article becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: your friendly neighbourhood freelancer trolling the web for stories feels the tug at his heartstrings, makes a quick phone call to the video’s author, cobbles together a pitch to his editor, taps away at the keyboard for a few hours, and whammo… we’re on the home page, baby, watching the clicks roll in.
Danfi Parker may not be able to cash in on his efforts, and I bet The Entertainers still paid for their coffees, but this stuff is gold for online media outlets. Not to mention a certain doughtnut chain. And, um, me.
And there you have it: nine quick steps to Internet success. Somebody book that band, will you? Or at least buy them a box of Timbits. My conscience is killing me.
By David Newland - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 8:26 AM - 0 Comments
‘Going postal’ is the tip of the iceberg. The larger problem lies beneath the surface
‘Going postal’—committing mass murder in a public place—seems to have become a horrifying symptom of our times. The latest example, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, has left Americans divided as to how to proceed. Recent data on mass shootings compiled and released by Mother Jones shed some new light on the issues.
The data refer to gun homicides in the U.S., during the past three decades, committed at a single time, away from home, and involving four or more victims. What’s fascinating in these numbers, grim as they are, is that they are often merely the tip of the iceberg: the larger truth lies beneath the surface.
Number of mass shootings in the United States since 1982: 62.
That’s a startling number, to be sure. But what’s truly startling is that despite their dramatic nature, mass shootings together account for “only” 1,007 deaths over 30 years. To put that in perspective, more than 11,000 Americans were killed by guns in 2009. In Chicago alone in 2012, 500 people have been killed in homicides. In the week after Sandy Hook, 100 Americans were killed by guns.
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 in which the shooter, or shooters were men: 61.
Is anyone surprised that the majority of mass shooters were male? Probably not. But that only one of the killers was female must surely be cause for serious consideration. Gun ownership among women in the U.S. as of 2005 was roughly 13 per cent; for men it was 47 per cent. Perhaps more important though, is how likely women are to be victims of gun crime. Harvard Injury Control Research Centre puts it this way: more guns = more female violent deaths.
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 involving semiautomatic or assault weapons: 58.
All but four of 62 shootings included one or more semiautomatic handguns, or one or more assault weapons, or both. There’s a widespread belief that the Second Ammendment to the U.S. Constitution, commonly known as ‘the right to bear arms’, gives carte blanche to gun owners.
Perhaps not: the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 affirmed “The Second Amendment right is not a right to keep and carry any weapon in any manner and for any purpose.” Hence, a ban on semiautomatic and assault weapons might not be in violation of the Second Ammendment.
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 in which shooters used weapons obtained legally: 49.
This figure does not include the two semi-automatics Adam Lanza used in the Sandy Hook shootings. They’re considered to have been illegally obtained because Lanza apparently stole them from his mother—who obtained them legally, and taught him to use them. (An important fact not dealt with in the popular ‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’ post by Liza Long.) In five of the 11 cases of illegally obtained guns in the Mother Jones data set, the weapons were stolen from family members.
Incidentally, in 2004, the makers of a Bushmaster assault rifle similar to the one Adam Lanza stole were sued for allowing their product to fall into the wrong hands after it was used in the Washington, D.C. shooting spree. Since then, the NRA lobbied for, and got Congress to pass a law that protects gun manufacturers from lawsuits seeking to hold them liable for gun crimes.
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 that ended as murder-suicides: 36.
This number may be even higher, because in seven instances, the shooters were ultimately killed by law enforcement officers in scenarios viewable as suicide by cop. For obvious reasons, a lot of attention is being paid to firearm homicides. But did you know firearm suicides are more common?
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 in which shooters had shown signs of mental illness: 40.
This should be the place where gun advocates, and gun control advocates can find common ground. Responsible gun dealers must want to eliminate those who are mentally ill and at risk for violence from their pool of potential customers. But that’s not always possible right now. A mere 12 states account for the vast majority of queries to the FBI database set up for the purpose. Nineteen states have submitted fewer than 100 records each to the FBI database.
One challenge in focusing on mental illness will be not stigmatizing mentally ill people. It’s been duly noted that most mentally ill people don’t commit violent crimes. But it’s also true, as one pundit put it, that “anyone who goes into a school with a semiautomatic and kills 20 children and six adults is, by definition, mentally ill”.
U.S. mass shootings that have occurred since 2006: 25.
Gun ownership is up, way up, in the U.S. since 1982, having outpaced population growth during the period reported by the survey. There are now nearly as many guns in the U.S. as people, which means there’s more than one for every adult American. At least 118 million of those are handguns, according to Mother Jones. And recent mass shootings have caused spikes in gun sales. As gun sales have gone up, so have mass shootings. Coincidence?
U.S. mass shootings since 1982 prevented or ended by armed bystanders: 0.
The NRA’s notion, that schools should be armed to prevent massacres like the one at Sandy Hook, is not borne out by the record. Mother Jones found that an armed bystander played a role in only one of the 62 mass shootings examined—by shooting the perpetrator after he had already fled the scene.
Politically, the issue of mass shootings is a highly visible, volatile one, for obvious reasons. No one wants another Sandy Hook, any more than anyone wanted another Aurora, another Virginia Tech, another Columbine. People keep “going postal,” and the horrifying results are plain to see.
But “going postal,” however common it appears, however visible its impact, remains relatively rare—mass shootings account for a tiny fraction of the deaths associated with guns in the United States today.
Put bluntly, mass shootings are not the problem. They are a symptom of the problem. The problem is as simple as the numbers; the solution is as complicated as the politics that surround it.
By David Newland - Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 4:25 PM - 0 Comments
How Canadians are failing a tolerance test
Canadians are a tolerant people, right? It’s certainly something we pride ourselves on. The Idle No More movement provides an ideal opportunity to test this notion, as Canadians turn to mass media outlets online to express their thoughts about the matter.
Let’s take, for example, the comments on articles about Idle No More from a variety of media outlets: Globeandmail.com, CBC.ca, NationalPost.com and CTV.ca, just as easy examples. By this I mean the comments that have not been removed for being blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, vulgar, or hateful. The ordinary stuff, in other words. The ideas and opinions that are helping to form and reflect actual public opinion on this important issue.
Now, it would, at first blush, be easy to read some of the comments on those articles as intolerant. But let’s face it: people often misread online communication. So it’s only fair to give these folks the benefit of the doubt, and try to understand where they are coming from. It’s the Canadian way, eh? Continue…
By David Newland - Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 9:13 PM - 0 Comments
Recent climate data suggest it may be time for a new national nickname
Good news, Generation X: at long last, earthlings of the post-baby-boom set, like me, have something to impress the kids who came after us.
The Greatest Generation were born in the Depression and lived through World War II. The Baby Boomers had the sixties, social consciousness, psychedelic adventures. And what does my cohort get? Memories of February, 1985. It was the tail end of the Ice Age, complete with mittens burned on radiators, wet socks in cold boots, and snowball fights.
Oh sure: you youngsters may have had a taste of such things. But we actually lived through them. Times have changed, kiddies. And this is no tall tale.
Take last month, for example. Figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration National Climatic Data Center show we’ve just enjoyed the fifth warmest October on the planet (average combined global land and ocean surface temperature) since records were kept. Yes, parts of the Canadian West got whacked with snow! Big time regional bragging rights there. But in many parts of the country, not to mention the rest of the world, this would have been an ideal year to go out on Halloween as diving sensation Alexandre Despatjie. (You might even have gotten away with not wearing a towel.)
Taken as a whole, October was a warm one, and that’s getting to be the new normal: the last time the Earth had a below-average October, collectively speaking, was in 1976. (That was about a month after the 1976 Canada Cup, remember that? About 15 million Canadians don’t. They’re too young.)
So much for going out on Halloween in a snowsuit, Generation Next. (In case you’re wondering, the record coldest October on planet Earth was in 1912, when my dad’s dad might have gone out dressed as Sir John Franklin, lost in the Arctic.)
Speaking of record coldest, kids these days just don’t know what cold is, here on Earth. Take a gander at this chart, showing no record cold temperatures this year to date, for the whole planet.
Okay, but that’s just this year. We must have had a brag-worthy cold snap recently, right? Well, not so much. Locally, yes. But collectively? Get this:
“This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985.” For planet EARTH. Thank you, NOAA for that terrifying reminder of what a geezer I’ve become.
A little context, here: in February 1985, a precocious Canadian twenty-something named Bryan Adams was hitting the top of the charts with a little album called Reckless. Another precocious Canadian twenty-something, Michael J. Fox, would soon be raking it in at the box office as the star of the year’s blockbuster, a teen comedy called Back to the Future.
Now that the future is actually here, guess who’s not going to be bragging about tough winters here on planet Earth? Anyone who doesn’t remember ‘Summer of 69’ debuting as a 45 rpm single, or know what a Flux Capacitor is. Any whippersnapper under the age of 28, that’s who. Alexandre Despatjie, I’m looking at you.
Incidentally, the local picture is no prettier than the global one. Again from NOAA:
“Much of the United States, south central Canada, northern Argentina, part of southern Europe, parts of the northwestern and southern Atlantic Ocean, and parts of the southern Indian Ocean have all experienced record warmth for the year-to-date.”
Now, one thing some of you youngsters will be able to brag about is going out on Halloween in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, assuming you weren’t too busy cleaning up downed trees and dealing with flooding. That was a pretty nasty storm, alright.
But you know who really gets bragging rights this year? Farmers of the American Midwest. The drought in the Midwest, not the superstorm, earned the distinction of most expensive natural disaster in the U.S. this year, in monetary terms—enough to knock the U.S. GDP down by a half per cent or more. And we still don’t know the death toll from the accompanying heat wave. Canadian farmers got lucky this time. But they’re worried about next season’s crops already. Precipitation, of course, is the other part of the picture.
You make of all this what you will. Maybe we have a climate problem here or something, that you kids can clean up somehow, with your cell phones and social media and what-have-you.
As an older, wiser person, who has lived through the likes of both 1976 and 1985, I’m worried about our national identity.
All this weird weather data has got me thinking it’s time for a recalibration of our sense of ourselves as Canadians. I mean, is this still the Great White North, when vast numbers of us are raking leaves in our t-shirts? Even if it’s a little colder around here than it is in a few other places, it wouldn’t do to walk around wearing a nickname that makes us sound cooler (pardon the pun) than we really are.
Considering how many of us weren’t even born during the great global cold snap of February 1985, maybe we ought to play it safe and give ourselves a new handle. Judging by these latest figures, (not to mention view out the window in much of the country), I suggest the Great Brown North. (Note to entrepreneurs: the URL is still available, as of this writing, in both .ca and .com versions.)
If nothing else, our friends in more southerly climes won’t be able to accuse us of boasting, for merely having winter weather at all.
By David Newland - Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 3:19 PM - 0 Comments
The semantic shift says it all. The new law doesn’t protect drivable highways. It protects driving
Consider the following (fictional) scenario, and see if it gets your dander up: The government of Canada is making fundamental changes to the way individuals can drive in this country.
Currently, Canadian drivers have the right to drive on any public freeway, highway, secondary highway, gravel road, dirt road, lane, alley, interchange, parking lot, ramp—indeed, any public route that can be driven on, is yours to drive upon.
This is not just a privilege; it’s a right; one that’s enshrined in a law called the Drivable Roadways Protection Act.
The law protects our drivable roadways from arbitrary interventions by landowners, agriculture, industry and other interests who might interfere, willfully or incidentally, with our driving rights by constructing works that impede on our drivable roadways.
By David Newland - Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 3:34 PM - 0 Comments
Ryerson ‘cowbell jam’ may be a new low in silly stunts
Canadians have a peculiar love for record-breaking attempts, whether it’s erecting the (former) tallest free-standing structure, preparing a giant fruit salad, or building a whack of weird roadside attractions.
It’s all in good fun, I suppose, but at times, this odd habit comes off as a desperate plea for attention, without regard for substance. Such was the case with yesterday’s (apparently successful) attempt to break the world cowbell jam record.
That’s right, folks: On Aug. 30 at Toronto’s Ryerson University, more than a thousand young minds showed up, gathered together, and put their estimable energy to work making the most horrific din imaginable for two minutes. In the process, they became a part of a Ryerson tradition of shows of academic brilliance that include biggest maracas ensemble, and biggest plastic sword fight.
I have to hand it to Ryerson: In a world where competition for education dollars is fierce, they can at least promise students a pretty good shot at the record books.
Besides the noise factor, the cowbell jam provokes a level of irritation that outdoes previous efforts, by achieving a new standard in watered-down “culture.”
A cowbell stunt is merely the latest, if not the lamest iteration of a mostly played-out meme, Needs More Cowbell!
That phrase, which has enjoyed mystifying longevity as a catchphrase and T-shirt slogan, originated with a comedy sketch, featuring Christopher Walken, that aired in 2000 on Saturday Night Live. The sketch itself refers to the decades-old Blue Oyster Cult hard rock hit, “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” which features, you guessed it, cowbell.
The sketch was funny enough, 12 years ago. It gets decidedly less so with every reference to it. And I can’t help but think that gathering 1,003 cowbell “players” in once place for another kick at the can is just plain lame.
It’s all very ironic, very hip, very meta… and very meaningless.
But this one establishes a new low because it’s not even ridiculous in its own right. It’s as derivative as the day is long: A silly stunt reminiscent of an unfunny catchphrase stemming from an overplayed skit from a dated show, referring to a distant hit for a 40-year-old band.
While it’s impressive to get 1,000 students to gather in one place and do something, anything, together, this effort had the particularly puzzling goal of trying to beat a group of 640 cowbellers from Switzerland. Yes, Switzerland: home to a pastoral people for whom the cowbell has both an actual purpose, and a genuine cultural relevance.
In other words, what was celebrated at Ryerson was the victory of something empty over something meaningful. To quote a much older catchphrase, “for this I went to college?”
Maybe next year they’ll at least go for something Canadian. Biggest moose call orchestra, maybe?
By David Newland - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 3:34 PM - 0 Comments
Keeping kids away from pot is a small problem. Keeping gangs away from pot is a big one.
Sometimes, it’s hard to see the plantation, for the pot. A recent report concluding that adolescent pot smoking affects intelligence got all the headlines. But a bigger issue was hiding behind smaller type: BC RCMP busted Hells Angels for growing pot to fund the importation of cocaine.
I’m dismayed to learn that the pot I smoked as a teenager has probably made me dumber. But I can’t say I’m surprised. I knew at the time that marijuana messed with my brain. That was why I smoked it.
That’s why I’m afraid we may never convince kids to stay away from the stuff. Yes, some will exercise good judgment if they’re educated properly, and avoid high-risk activities, like smoking tobacco or marijuana, drinking alcohol, speeding, engaging in unprotected sex, or doing hard drugs. Or any combination of the above.
The more we can educate the better. But some kids will gravitate toward the very same activities in spite, or indeed because of the risks.
Marijuana’s status as an illegal substance has not prevented teenagers, who are most at risk for mental damage, from using it. It certainly never stopped me. As long as the stuff can be grown quite easily at home, or in the vast expanses of the Canadian countryside, it’s not likely to stop anyone.
Most Canadians are in favour of legalization, or at least decriminalization of marijuana. Some argue that would help keep pot out of the hands of younger people, by making it available only through legal sellers, who would have to adhere to strict regulations including age limits for sale or use.
But that never stopped my friends and me when it came to tobacco or alcohol, which we only had to pilfer from our parents, or pay older kids to obtain for us. So how it would work for pot is a mystery to me.
Maybe legally available bud could be kept at lower levels of THC, making it effectively ‘bud light’ and therefore, perhaps, arguably less dangerous. But beer and cigarettes are available in relatively harmless single doses too. It doesn’t prevent anyone overusing them.
The real advantage of legalization, I’ve come to believe, isn’t that it would keep small amounts of marijuana out of the hands of kids. As the parent of a teenager, it pains me to admit we may never fully succeed in doing that.
What we just might do, though, is keep large amounts of marijuana out of the hands of criminals.
The fact is, the Hells Angels have been making inroads in B.C. for years. The biker gang and other criminal organizations grow and traffic pot as a big business, one which, because it’s illegal, must be protected with the threat of violence. Moreover, it’s an easy cash crop to exchange for cocaine, guns, and other stuff that’s a whole lot nastier than marijuana.
Of course, if marijuana was legal in Canada, there’d be a booming business in smuggling legal Canadian pot into the States, just as there was a booming business in smuggling legal Canadian whiskey into the States during prohibition. But the recent busts reveal the extent to which the Hells Angels are already doing business across borders, from B.C. to Panama.
And at least if pot was legal in Canada, the ordinary recreational consumer of marijuana wouldn’t be funding the activities of major crime networks every time they bought some weed. Instead, they’d be contributing tax dollars, some of which, surely, could be earmarked for better education and treatment for victims of drug abuse, including youth.
Think of the children, yes, of course. We do. That’s why these studies get so much attention when they come to light. But that’s the small-scale pot problem.
When it comes to marijuana legalization, won’t somebody please think of the Hells Angels?
Now there’s a pot problem, on a massive scale.
By David Newland - Monday, August 27, 2012 at 4:08 PM - 0 Comments
We’re moving from ‘the Eagle has landed’ to ‘the Eagle will never return’
People love conspiracy theories. I mean, they are very attractive. But it was never a concern to me, because I know that one day, somebody’s going to go and fly back up there, and pick up that camera that I left.
For the record, and with deep respect to the late and thoroughly admirable Neil Armstrong, I don’t doubt he went to the moon. The evidence is overwhelming. But the death of the first man on the moon brings the moon landing itself one giant step closer to the realm of pure myth.
After all, Armstrong was the first of only twelve human beings to have walked the lunar surface. There are just eight astronauts alive today who have been to the moon, and they were all born in the 1930s. You do the math: the list of eyewitnesses to the thin sliver of history in which humans went to the moon is shrinking.
On the other hand, so are the claims the moon landings were hoaxed: recent photographs that clearly show astronaut tracks on the lunar surface along with landing modules ought to silence some of the remaining die-hard skeptics. For now, that is, and as long as our technology keeps pace with our collective doubts.
Still, as I’ve noted elsewhere, facts are limited; questions are endless. Who knows what our descendents will believe, sight unseen, on hand-me-down evidence about the exploits of legendary ancestors?
Thus the moon landing moves from fact, to memory, to myth; a myth being a story, which may or may not have its roots in fact, by which a given people lives.
Myth-making, of course, was what America’s political brain trust had in mind when President Kennedy announced the goal of going to the moon in the first place, saying “space is there, and we’re going to climb it.” Kennedy’s men wanted to create a greater story for the American people, one that would inspire them literally to greater heights—and put the lie to the great myth being promulgated by the Soviets, who at that point were well ahead in the space race.
Neil Armstrong’s small step made the point irrevocably; the mighty American myth was at its apex when Armstrong stepped off the lunar lander ladder into moon dust. The impression remains, though Armstrong’s trudge through history is complete.
So the moon landing has always been part news story, part myth. But now there’s little in the way of new news, in the moon myth department—aside from the deaths of the only men who have ever been there.
The mythic space race (featuring rockets named for Greek gods) between the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union has pretty much been run. The space shuttles are forever grounded; the International Space Station, for all its collectivist merits, orbits the Earth, barely at the edge of space. Astronauts of all nations hitch rides to the ISS on Russian Soyuz rockets. Mars is being explored by robot rovers; a human Mars mission is a dream at best.
Neil Armstrong, a practical, affable and humble man, personified such a dream for a generation. He was a truly great American, and now he’s gone. As for the moon, the eternal subject of the dreamer’s gaze… well, the moon is what it’s always been: empty, devoid of atmosphere, and very, very far away. Over 384,000 kilometres away, more than a thousand times the distance to the ISS.
Chances are pretty good that we’re not going back. The technology is there; the justification, not so much—let alone the financing. And the will? Imagine President Obama, or President Romney announcing a mission to the moon early into the new presidency? In a U.S.A. where millions of Americans still struggle with catastrophic debt, displacement, natural disasters, environmental catastrophe, an overstretched military and an increasingly polarized body politic? Without the Red Menace to spur the nation to action, it’s just hard to fathom now.
And if not now, when?
The lunar sands don’t shift, but a nation’s stories do. A generation after Apollo 11, the winds of change have drifted the moon landing myth all over the place. Even in its time the trip to the moon was far from universally appreciated: Gil Scott-Heron, in Whitey on the Moon, saw the effort as white America’s ultimate act of unconcern, and W.H. Auden, in Moon Landing lamented a “phallic triumph.” Still, for a time a consensus prevailed that putting a man on the moon was a heck of a great thing.
By the early eighties, Bob Dylan, in License to Kill, could construe the moon landing as the first step toward man’s doom. Today, that attitude is increasingly common, as social, political, economic and environmental challenges here on Earth draw our eyes away from the heavens again.
From triumph, to hubris, to today’s fading memory: we’re moving from “the Eagle has landed” to “the Eagle will never return.” A future moon mission isn’t even on NASA’s list.
Where once the Russians challenged America’s notion of its own supremacy, today it’s the Chinese. There is constant speculation that China may launch a moon mission at some point; if so, their reasons for doing this will be much like those that spurred the Space Race between the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.
The practical value may be negligible; the cost will certainly be astronomical. But the symbolic significance will be incalculable. A Chinese mission to the moon would ensconce a new myth in the firmament, a story to propel another people’s progress. Whatever the practicalities, putting a person on the moon will always be a lofty achievement. And China may have an easier time funneling resources toward such a goal than America ever will again.
Perhaps they’ll succeed, in the next decade or two. But I’m willing to bet the next footsteps on the moon, just like first ones, will trail off pretty quickly. Perhaps a century from now, well into the era of Chinese ascendancy, the first of the Chinese moon explorers will pass away, as Neil Armstrong has now done, leaving another generation to ponder humankind’s heavenly potential—and its earthly limitations.
The moon will, of course, remain what it’s always been: empty, devoid of atmosphere, and very, very far away. But compelling, as ever, to the dreamer: the stuff of which myths are made.
By David Newland - Friday, August 24, 2012 at 11:22 AM - 0 Comments
Concerned about the future of our water resources? Talk to someone from Georgian Bay. They’re living in that future
Water levels are down on all the upper Great Lakes this year. Perhaps that’s no surprise, given the widespread drought in central North America—but on Georgian Bay, the water has been dropping steadily for years, and the results, especially among the iconic 30,000 Islands, are increasingly visible.
Concerned about the future of our water resources? Talk to someone from Georgian Bay. They’re living in that future.
Cottage and homeowners have extended their docks multiple times to reach the water. Some mow lawns where there once were beaches. (The photograph above shows a vast expanse of green in downtown Owen Sound that was underwater just a few years ago.)
Marinas are constantly dealing with boat draft and dredging—not to mention the fears of declining business if fishing is affected, or if destinations among the islands are no longer reachable by boat.
For municipalities, low water levels lead to concerns about tourism, fishing, pleasure boating, shipping, and crucially, local water supply.
Environmentalists, hunters and fishermen worry about the flora and fauna in this world-renowned stretch of Canadian shoreline.
Native Americans and First Nations have called the Great Lakes shores home for thousands of years. Their concerns go beyond environmental stewardship to a cultural connection to the Lakes that is unbroken from time immemorial.
For those in the shipping industry, or those who depend on it to deliver salt, sand, silica, oil, gravel, coal, ore, or passengers, low water levels mean concerns about their own livelihoods, and the future of shipping on the Bay.
It’s worrisome. People are wondering where the water went, and whether it will return.
Why does all this matter? Because every issue that affects Georgian Bay water levels threatens the Great Lakes as a whole.
25 million people in the Great Lakes watershed all want, need, depend on fresh water. And there’s nowhere else in the world to look for it.
We’re not just talking boating water, fishing water, walking-along-the-boardwalk-admiring-the-view-water. We’re talking drinking water for millions of people. We’re talking industrial power water. The Great Lakes turn the turbines at Niagara Falls that light the streets of New York. Great Lakes water cools the many nuclear power stations dotted around the Lakes.
The Great Lakes are the heart of North America, forming nearly the entire southern border of Ontario, and providing eight U.S. states with crucial freshwater ports.
The International Upper Great Lakes Study (IUGLS) has looked at the issue and made recommendations—but those recommendations don’t amount to decisive action to curb the loss. The study attributes upper Great Lakes water loss to climate change, low precipitation, degradation of the St. Clair river bed, and post-glacial rebounding of the earth’s crust. “Speed bumps” in the St. Clair river (the sole major outflow for the upper Great Lakes) have been suggested, notably by the Sierra Club, but not approved. There’s nothing, therefore, to stop the water flowing downhill.
Increasing the outflow from Lake Superior into Lake Huron-Michigan (they’re technically one body of water, including Georgian Bay and the North Channel) via the St. Mary’s River locks at Sault. Ste. Marie is the only option for raising water levels on Lake Huron-Michigan (including Georgian Bay) that makes use of existing engineering controls. But that would have the obvious detriment of lowering Lake Superior’s water levels as well. And Lake Superior is at the top, as its name implies.
The outflow of Lake Superior is ocean-bound, via Michigan-Huron, Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River, the Detroit River, Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and ultimately the St. Lawrence River. Together these bodies of water comprise 21 per cent of the world’s surface freshwater. So you can consider the whole Great Lakes watershed a single basin, constantly trickling out, downstream to the ocean.
In an ideal world, precipitation keeps the water levels roughly constant. In an ideal world, the problems of the people living in small communities on the Georgian Bay shore would be minor and temporary, rather than indicators for the future of the region. In an ideal world, we could expect to see water levels rise again on Georgian Bay, as the IUGLS study spokesperson has suggested they will.
We are not living in an ideal world. We’re living in a world in which a single, sensitive reservoir of the world’s most important resource is visibly drying up. As one commenter noted, and as I have written elsewhere, the terrifying examples of Lake Chad and the Aral Sea should be top of mind for everyone.
Did you know 200 million tons of cargo is shipped via the Great Lakes annually, via the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway, a system of locks that allows ocean-going vessels to penetrate nearly to the centre of this continent?
Speaking of cargo: at this moment, a hundred towboats are at anchor along the Mississippi River, near Greenville, Mississippi. Despite constant dredging from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through this hot summer, the water in that mighty river is too low right now for the towboats to tug their cargo downriver.
Incidentally, the reversal of the Chicago River (a wonder of the world, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers) into the Des Plaines River means there is an outflow from Lake Michigan, into the Mississippi River system—a vast watershed in its own right, facing its own plight.
On not-so-faraway Georgian Bay, where locals and cottagers are mowing their beaches and extending their docks again, a lot of people will tell you that’s where the water went.
That’s not what the study says. But where the water went is not the key question anyway.
The key question is, what are we doing to save the water we have left?
By David Newland - Friday, August 17, 2012 at 7:15 AM - 0 Comments
When the last train rolls out of a Canadian town it leaves an echo that never fades
If a train stops running through the hinterland, does anybody hear?
The Ontario government has just announced the end of the line for the Northlander. The Ontario Northland train that runs between Toronto and Cochrane, Ontario, will cease service at the end of September.
What’s the word for that? Disappointing doesn’t cut it. Short-sighted is accurate, but insufficient. Regrettable is an understatement, too.
You’d think as a nation once united by the railway, we would have coined a term to cover the loss, the heartache, the sense of isolation, betrayal and rejection that comes from losing a railway line.
The only expression that comes close is “they’ve killed another train.”
Time and time again, we’ve seen passenger service reduced to little more than a quaint memory in many parts of the country.
Try taking a train into Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, where trains ran for over a hundred years. Historic apple barns and railways stations still line the route, now devoid of rails.
Old timers will rave about seeing the Lake Superior Shore from a passenger train running along the CP line through northern Ontario. But you can forget it: VIA travels only on the more northerly, less picturesque CN route.
Ever dreamed of taking a train through the Rocky Mountains? Many people do. You can catch the VIA train between Vancouver and Jasper—but you go through some of the best parts at night, again by the more northerly route. The southern route, with its historic spiral tunnels on the old CP rail line, means paying “land cruise” fares for the tourist train, the Rocky Mountaineer.
In Saskatoon, you can still catch the train, eastbound or westbound—but it doesn’t go through town every day. Regina gets off worse: the train’s long gone, and the beautiful Beaux-Arts station has been converted to a casino. In Edmonton and Ottawa, the train leaves from the far edge of town. You can catch a train from Sudbury to White River, but not from Toronto, or Winnipeg to Sudbury – unless you count the whistle stop in Capreol, half an hour’s drive from downtown Sudbury.
If you want to ride between Vancouver and Halifax you’ll have to endure long stopovers in Toronto, and again in Montreal, and you’ll miss Quebec City entirely. Not to mention Calgary, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Fredericton, and dozens of other important Canadian cities with proud railway heritage currently unserved by our national passenger rail service.
And forget about getting a passenger train in Newfoundland, or Cape Breton, or Prince Edward Island. They’re trying to save the passenger train on Vancouver Island, but you won’t hear its whistle again for a while, if ever.
Did you know there are only 19 Via rail routes in the entire country? And none of them goes to Cochrane, Ontario, or any of the stops between there and Toronto. Which means the loss of the Northlander is going to hit that much harder.
Cochrane, Ontario, is Tim Horton’s home town. It may not have the romance of the Rocky Mountains or the Superior Shore. But it’s the gateway to Ontario’s northern coast: the Polar Bear Express leaves from Cochrane to Moosonee, portal to James Bay.
Consider the impact on the coastal communities of Moose Factory, Moosonee, Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Attawapiskat (in which few people have cars, and which are not served by permanent roads) of losing this rail link to the provincial capital.
Not to mention all the towns along the line: Washago, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, South River, North Bay, Temagami, Kirkland Lake, New Liskeard, Englehart, Swastika, Matheson, Porquis Junction. There’s so much history in those towns—from Gravenhurst, birthplace of Norman Bethune, to Cobalt, the town that built Bay Street—that it hurts just to reel off the names.
Sure, they’re going to replace the train with buses. And there will be figures and studies and stats to show how it all makes economic sense.
But everyone who’s ever lived in a place that’s lost its rail service knows none of that will ever fill the loss.
When the last train rolls out of your town it leaves an echo that never fades.
By David Newland - Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 9:07 PM - 0 Comments
It’s too easy to substitute the mythic regime, for the real people who represent it
There’s a thread of distrust and disdain running through this year’s Olympics that’s reminiscent of Cold War era Summer Games reportage. Except now it’s not the Eastern Bloc, but the Far East, specifically China, being cast in the role of the Other.
To wit: China’s child-fuelled medal machine keeps cranking out Olympic gold. Chinese gold medal diver Wu Minxia kept in dark over mother’s cancer. Chinese throw badminton match to South Koreans was one headline (presumably changed to reflect the fact that the South Koreans were cheating, too.) And the kicker: Doping questions targeting Chinese swimmer.
Those are just the headlines. The commentary is often even more pointed, and the gist of it is this: China’s a resurgent empire with overweening ambitions; they’ve done anything they can to win in the past, and they might do it again. The subtler, but pervasive suggestion is that the Chinese people who ‘fuel the machine’ live in compliant servitude to it.
To be clear: China is no utopia. Let’s not be naive. But it’s too easy to subscribe to an evolving narrative of “otherness,” with the Chinese athletes as the latest authoritarian anti-heroes.
Never mind that the badminton scandal’s a national disgrace in China. Never mind that Yi Shiwen (pictured above), the swimmer whose record-setting time instantly drew accusations of doping, cleared all doping controls. Never mind that Canada has a program called Own the Podium that proudly seeks to fulfill our own overweening ambitions. Never mind the list of Canadians implicated in doping and drugs-related issues over the years.
Some may object that Canada’s a democracy, and there’s a vast difference in degree here. China, after all, is noted for human rights abuses, an authoritarian government, rampant industrialism, and recalcitrance in global diplomacy.
Fair point. But China, leading in the medal count, foreign and far away, is too easily cast as the enemy. And the less we know about the individual Chinese Olympians, the easier that is.
We know the most successful of our own athletes by name, and many of the best competitors from friendly nations, too. We know easy-going Michael Phelps, plucky Jordyn Wieber, joyous Usain Bolt. Who do we know by name from China? Ye Shiwen, the 16-year-old kid who’s racked up two golds already. All the average armchair Olympics fan knows about her is her age, her achievements, and the allegations against her. Anybody else?
We have to be careful when we talk about China’s athletes. It’s too easy to make generalizations that unconsciously substitute the mythic regime, for the real people who represent it. Their own personal travails, their triumphs and their tragedy can easily become lost in the process.
When we do that, we echo the worst of what an authoritarian nation does: subsume the individual, in favour of the state.
By David Newland - Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 6:11 PM - 0 Comments
Who can resist the lure of a new email address?
I don’t remember what my first email address was. But I know what my latest is, and it ends with @outlook.com. That’s right: I’ve taken on a whole new Outlook. Not for any great technical reason, mind you. I just signed up for the latest web-based email service to come along because I wanted an inbox with nothing in it.
Microsoft’s new webmail service is a reboot of the venerable, badly outdated (but still dominant) Hotmail. It goes by the name Outlook, which many of us remember from the corporate version we’ve used at our workplaces for years. The new service has had good reviews, as rival Gmail, a Google product of which I’ve been a keen user, begins to sag under its own weight. But that wasn’t the selling feature, for me.
To be sure, the new web-based Outlook has a tidy design, and some features I may appreciate at some point. A million people have already signed up for it. This isn’t an endorsement, though. It’s a confession.
My first Internet session occurred over a 2400 baud modem, using something called “Kermit” to connect to a university server, taking over my home telephone line in the process. That was in about 1992. Since that time, I’ve had literally dozens of email addresses. Maybe a hundred or more. Crazy, right?
Those who work online will easily accept that figure: add up multiple workplaces and organizations, many of which offered several addresses (@macleans and @rogers, for example). Throw in the personal email addresses, some of which come free with ISP offerings and others of which are web-based: I’ve had Hotmail, Yahoo!, Sympatico and Gmail addresses, each in its time. Not to mention the addresses that come with computers, phones, and other assorted online-enabled equipment.
I’ve also had several email addresses for my own website (info, bookings, webmaster, etc.) and others for every .com I’ve owned. Not to mention the handles I’ve created so I could run multiple, separate blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds for various groups, interests and entities. I’ve had email addresses whose only purpose was to post sound files to my blog. Somewhere I have a list of emails I created for fictional characters. I even blogged as my cat for a while. Well, who hasn’t?
All this might lead you to wonder why I guy like me needs another address. The answer is as depressing as it is simple: the other ones are full. Virtually every email address I’ve ever used day-to-day has become a virtual version of a hoarder’s basement, overflowing with crap that I can’t get rid of, continually threatening to overwhelm, if not destroy me.
Of course I don’t use them all anymore. Remember the Simpsons episode where Springfield is so full of trash, the whole town has to move down the highway? That’s the approach I take. I’ve literally abandoned past email addresses that were brimming with back-and-forths, overflowing with data, loaded with contacts—all in pursuit of the mythical “inbox zero.”
Some will tell you there are other ways to get there. File your correspondence carefully; delete regularly. Unsubscribe from things. Use your spam filter.
I try. Honest, I do. But it’s like trying to hold back the tide. On an ordinary day I get well over a hundred emails at my personal address alone. My Gmail at the moment contains more than 16,000 inbound messages. And I feel like I just cleaned it up.
So I signed up for a new Outlook address, thank you very much, Microsoft. It’s free (supported, as Gmail is, by contextual ads, although with some tweaks based on common complaints from Gmail users). It has some decent-looking features. And it’s always a good idea to camp on the address you want, just in case.
But mostly I love my new Outlook address because it’s pristine.
Please don’t email me there.
By David Newland - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 4:43 PM - 0 Comments
Surely Pauline Marois could make a better case for nationhood than medal results
If the Olympics have shown us one thing so far, it’s that Pauline Marois’ notion of nationhood is anything but golden.
All four of Canada’s medal results so far in the Olympic games have been bronze medals, earned by Quebecers. Four medals, six Olympians (two were for synchro diving), all from la belle province. Worthy results for admirable Olympians.
Ah – but apparently that’s not all. Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois was the first to do the math. With a leap of arithmetic worthy of Einstein, Marois determined that the four bronzes indicated Quebec could take its place among the nations of the world.
Never mind whether any of the athletes are sovereigntists or separatists or share any of Marois’ views whatsoever. Never mind what proportion of their funding was federal, provincial, municipal, personal, or private. The conclusion was obvious for Marois: four bronze equals independence for Quebec.
I can’t help but think Marois is damning her own cause with faint praise.
Here’s why: anyone can see that on the face of it, Quebec could be an independent country. Why not? With a vast land mass, plenty of resources, a more-or-less solid infrastructure and an educated population of nearly 8 million, that’s elementary. There are far smaller, far weaker, far poorer, far more unlikely countries in the world today.
If I were Pauline Marois, then, and I hoped to win an election and advance a separatist cause, those are the sorts of things I’d be telling people. I’d appeal to common sense and geography and history, with a dash of economics and culture, and try to make my case that way.
Because surely the issue in any future referendum over sovereignty isn’t whether Quebec could be a country. It’s whether it should be. And on that question, Quebeckers themselves remain sharply divided, and likely will for the forseeable future. Does Marois think she can convince the fence-sitters with Olympic medal results?
Should a sovereign Quebec somehow emerge in the future—and that’s a major feat of speculation— it would undoubtedly take a much different shape than the current province does. Who knows what sort of resources would be available to its athletes, or even how many of its current contenders would choose to live there and compete for the new nation.
But still, Quebec could be a country, and that country would surely still be a medal contender at the Games, albeit proportionally less so on the basis of its size and financial strength than Canada has been. No one can possibly doubt that.
Which means if Marois wants to make the case for an independent Quebec, she’s going to have to come up with something a little more convincing than a strong showing in the early days of the Olympic games.
In the meantime, we can all show our support for the gifted Quebec athletes who have competed, and won bronze, for Canada.
By David Newland - Friday, July 27, 2012 at 5:51 PM - 0 Comments
Trust the Germans to have precisely the word for the Olympic Opening Ceremonies
Trust the Germans to have precisely the word for something otherwise impossible to properly describe. In this case, what we want to describe is a work of art on a vast scale. And the word is an admittedly awkward, but handy, 15-letter handle, gesamtkunstwerk.
If you’re one of the approximately 1 billion people who paid any attention whatsoever to the Olympic opening ceremonies, you were watching an example of gesamtkunstwerk. Whatever you may think of the content (‘all over the place’ is probably a description both fans and critics can agree on), it’s worth noting that seeing such a spectacle, whether live or via the media, is a relatively rare occurrence.
The term gesamtkunstwerk—loosely translated as ‘total work of art’—is a fairly obscure bit of artspeak. It was used by Richard Wagner in the mid-19th century, to describe what he was attempting to do in his great operas: a synthesis of vocal music, orchestra, staging, costumes, dance, and architecture around a single mythic storyline.
Gesamtkunstwerk is the original multimedia. As a concept, it predates Wagner by millenia. From shamanic rituals incorporating masks, drumming, dance, and trance, to folk fertility dances in flowing costumes amid fresh flowers, to scented ceremonies of prayer and praise in mighty Gothic cathedrals, some version of gesamtkunstwerk has been with us for about as long as we humans have been expressing ourselves en masse.
In the 20th century, Wagner’s notions were put to use in a myriad of ways. Some were terrifying: spectacles surrounding mass demonstrations of military might, as in Nazi Germany (see Triumph of the Will), Soviet Russia, or contemporary North Korea, are gesamtkunstwerk. But so, one could argue, are the concerts performances of Pink Floyd, Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, or Katy Perry. So are Laurie Anderson‘s Home of the Brave, and Robert Wilson & Philip Glass‘s Einstein on the Beach. So are elements of the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square. Likewise, Brazil’s Carnaval. The sound & light show at Canada’s Parliament Buildings is an example of gesamtkunstwerk.
And so are the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies in the recent era. Gesamtkunstwerk. The same word that suited Wagner’s Ring Cycle suits this particular adoration of another sort of Rings just fine.
Calling something an example of gesamtkunstwerk is no guarantee of quality, mind you. Think of the accidentally flash-fried doves of Seoul, and the distressing Donny and Marie dinosaurs of Salt Lake, to name but a couple of wince-worthy moments. Canadians might rather forget the giant inflatable beavers taking centre stage in Vancouver to close the 2010 games. But how can we?
By such standards, the London 2012 Opening Ceremonies, ambitiously directed by Danny Boyle, deserve a great deal of credit.The mere scale of the endeavour is mind-blowing, for starters.
Anyone who attempts to sustain a storyline incorporating both the spirit of the Games and the beloved myths of a proud people, in front of all the world, in real time, in multiple media, all the while worrying about weather, logistics, and terrorism, has my deepest respect. I can barely sustain a line of thought long enough to tweet it.
Of course, like every ambitious work of art—and Olympic Ceremonies in particular, it seems—this particular gesamtkunstwerk includes the usual array questionable artistic decisions, not to mention culturally specific references.
Trivially, the mind reels as Mary Poppins vanquishes Voldemort; more seriously, I wonder why we seem to be celebrating the industrial age, and note the exclusion of the worst excesses of the British Empire.
But keep in mind what we’re looking at: a self-celebration the whole world is watching. A live spectacle grander than almost any other, one that includes video, music, dance, acting, comedy, setting, staging, lighting, elaborate mechanics, hundreds of volunteer participants, unseen workers galore, paratroopers, James Bond, Mr. Bean, the Royal Family, a Ferris wheel, a helicopter, and a vast parade. Not to mention multimedia contributions in real-time from the audience.
It’s an impressive thing to look at. It’s almost an impossible thing to imagine putting on, let alone more or less successfully. It’s a thing you rarely see, really. So while the first impulse may be to point and giggle, snicker and tweet… go easy. This is a worthy attempt at something glorious.
It deserves a solid name.
Gesamtkunstwerk. That’s what it is. Rings just about right, don’t you think?
By David Newland - Friday, July 27, 2012 at 10:15 AM - 0 Comments
More guts. More glory. More gore. More nudity. What’s not to like?
The basic problem with the Olympics as reality show is that it’s based on the exploits of…Olympians. These are enormously gifted individuals like Clara Hughes, Michael Phelps, and Usain Bolt, whose outsize talents shame those of us who watch from home, inhaling chips and bemoaning our bellies.
That’s poor casting. Sure, these athletes make great eye candy. They take our eyes off everyone else. But we can’t relate to them. They’re larger than life.
To make a great reality show, you need, not Olympians, but O.L.Y.M.P.I.A.N.S., or Ordinary Losers You May Predictably Idolize And Naturally Support.
Characters like Susan Boyles and Richard Hatch are the ticket. Competitors who start out just like us: ordinary janes and joes. Choose them by lottery, and send ‘em to the Games for the trip of a lifetime. (Return trip not guaranteed.)
By David Newland - Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 10:34 AM - 0 Comments
What we crave is not an amateur athletics event. What we crave is a reality show
I hate to point this just as the show is about to begin, but the Olympic Games have an identity problem. Everyone thinks they’re an amateur athletics event. But that can’t be right.
The Olympic Games are not an amateur athletics event. They can’t be. Not for the obvious reason, though. The fact that professionals compete along with amateurs in the Games is a minor concern. This identity issue runs much deeper.
It’s a matter of definitions, expectations, contradictions. Paradoxes!
Think of it: an amateur athletics event would be ruined by perpetual cost overruns, construction delays, traffic, pollution and weather issues, ticket scandals, security boondoggles, sponsorship concerns, flag flaps and political snafus.
An amateur athletics event could never thrive, if the global media were hampered in their ability to report on it by a bewildering array of trademark-related legalities, seemingly intended to reduce your local news outlet to referring to the Games that Must Not Be Named.
No amateur athletics event could allow economic disparity between nations to determine the winners and the losers so predictably.
In an amateur athletics event, organizers would put fairness, first.
But the Olympic Games, despite their historic aura of sportsmanship, would be doomed by a level playing field.
By Gustavo Vieira - Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 11:31 AM - 0 Comments
The number of polar bears in Hudson Bay is actually much higher than expected…
The number of polar bears in Hudson Bay is actually much higher than expected and could be growing, according to a survey of the Government of Nunavut. The large aerial survey was conducted in western Hudson Bay, where researchers believe one of the most threatened bear populations live, and counted 1,013 polar bears, significantly more than the 610 other researchers had forecasted, according to the Globe and Mail.
In Newfoundland, however, where polar bear sighting are much less common, a second polar bear was shot dead this week after getting too close to a school in the town of Greespond. The previous bear had been wandering in Goose Cove, a fishing town in northern Newfoundland, killing farm animals and breaking into the kitchen of Damien Reardon, who told the National Post he confronted the animal across the kitchen table, but was able to shoo it away.
By Gustavo Vieira - Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 10:34 AM - 0 Comments
The staff cuts from the federal budget continue to make the rounds. After the…
The staff cuts from the federal budget continue to make the rounds. After the Defence Department announced 1,100 jobs axed on Wednesday, the union representing most federal public-sector employees said that the cuts will be much larger than the 19,000 jobs the government forecasted. In addition to the jobs cut, temporary workers won’t get renewals, the national executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Patty Ducharme, told the CBC, and cuts from previous budgets are still trickling in.
And on Wednesday, it was the CBC’s turn to announce 650 jobs would be lost at the public broadcaster over the next three years. The CBC has lost $115 million from its budget, which according to its president, Hubert Lacroix, will mean less original programming and more reruns and “a very different public broadcaster.” To try to bridge the gap, the CBC has applied to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission to start running ads on its radio services. The ads would run on the music stations CBC Radio 2 and the French-language Espace Musique, not on CBC Radio One and Radio-Canada for now. Private broadcasters such as Astral Media reacted against the move immediately, saying the CBC should decide whether it wants to continue being funded by the public purse or run commercial stations.
By Gustavo Vieira - Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 10:14 AM - 0 Comments
The Conservative government will hit the “reset the button” on the F-35 jets purchase…
The Conservative government will hit the “reset the button” on the F-35 jets purchase and restart the process with a new team in charge of the file, according to an unnamed source quoted by the Globe and Mail. The move comes just a couple of days after an Auditor General report hit hard on the Harper government for its handling of the fighter jet purchase, saying the National Defence Department manipulated the process, low-balled the planes’ costs and hid information from Parliament.
After the scathing report was tabled, the Government spent Wednesday dodging fire from the opposition in Parliament, which is expected to continue Thursday. The leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair, stopped short of calling for the Defence Minister Peter MacKay to resign while Liberal leader Bob Rae called for an outright resignation from the Prime Minister himself. Rae took aim at Harper for being a known micro-manager saying the Prime Minister couldn’t pretend at this point “he was just the piano player in the brothel who didn’t have a clue as to what was really going on upstairs.” Clearly struggling for time in the limelight since Mulcair’s election to the NDP leadership, the leader of the Liberals also took a jab at Mulcair, calling the NDP leader a “mini-Harper.” Rae’s attacks come as a Canadian Press Harris Decima poll shows that since Mulcair’s election, NDP support sits at a statistical tie with the Conservatives—32 and 34 per cent respectively—while the Liberals trail in third place with 19 per cent.
By Gustavo Vieira - Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 9:33 AM - 0 Comments
A snake forced a pilot in Australia to call mayday and return to the…
A snake forced a pilot in Australia to call mayday and return to the airport, when it appeared from behind the dashboard to slither around his legs, in a scene that could have come out of Hollywood’s 2006 thriller Snakes on a Plane.
Twenty minutes into a solo cargo flight of Air Frontier from Darwin, in northern Australia, to a remote outpost in the country on Tuesday, pilot Braden Blennerhassett, noticed the snake peering between his instrument panel and the dashboard of the twin-engine Beechcraft Baron G-58 he was flying.
Blennerhasett told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the ground crew hardly believed him when he radioed in to say he was returning because of a snake on the plane, but once he called for a snake handler to meet them on the ground, he was taken seriously.
The planed landed safely while the snake crawled around Blennerhasett’s leg. According to the Guardian, a firefighter came on board shortly after the landing and spotted the snake but no one had been able to catch it by Thursday, so the plane was kept grounded.
By Philippe Lagassé - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 3:28 PM - 0 Comments
Defense expert Philippe Lagassé explains what the AG report means for the government, DND and public works
Between 2006-2010, the Department of National Defence (DND) made a concerted effort to ensure that Canada’s CF-18s would be replaced by a sole-sourced procurement of sixty-five F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. In so doing, the defence department flouted several procurement procedures and practices. A timely replacement of the CF-18s and the acquisition of the F-35 are now in doubt, as a result.
As detailed in today’s report from the Auditor General, DND underestimated the likely cost of the F-35, embellished the possible industrial benefits associated with the acquisition, failed to correctly analyze the risks associated with buying an aircraft in the midst of development, and did not provide sufficient evidence to justify a sole-sourced acquisition when prompted by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC). Through it all, DND was adamant that a competition was unnecessary to replace the CF-18s, since the F-35 was the best plane, for the best price.
The Conservative government accepted DND’s logic and allowed the defence department to press ahead. Indeed, although DND and the Chief of the Air Staff are identified as the main culprits in this saga, there is no question that Conservative ministers are also to blame.
The Auditor General’s report highlights that Conservative ministers announced the F-35 purchase in July 2010, two months after PWGSC warned that a sole-source procurement had not been properly explained, and a month before Public Works actually received the statement of requirements that purported to show why the F-35 was the only possible option.
Ministers were aware that the sole-source procurement had not been vetted, yet they endorsed it anyhow. And PWGCS’s ability to enforce proper procurement practices fell apart once the Conservatives publicly declared their intention to move forward with the acquisition that summer.
Once they had announced that the F-35 was Canada’s next fighter, moreover, Conservative ministers refused to question DND’s unsubstantiated estimates and figures until the aircraft’s widely reported cost overruns and technical difficulties could no longer be ignored. Hence, although the Auditor General focuses on the errors and oversights of DND and PWGCS, it is evident that Conservative ministers failed in their responsibilities, too.
More to the point, no ministers should be permitted to avoid their constitutional responsibility for the affairs of the departments, no matter how much ignorance or inexperience they claim. Allowing ministers to shift their responsibility onto their departments or officials, however poorly they performed, would undermine the very bedrock of our system of responsible government.
But besides what it means for the F-35 and principles of accountability, what are we to take away from the Auditor General’s report? One lesson, certainly, is that procurement practices exist for a reason, and there is a price to pay when they are deliberately discarded or undermined.
Too many within Canada’s defence establishment are ready to cast aside bureaucratic processes when comes time to buy new equipment for the Canadian Forces. Protracted interdepartmental consultations, stubborn gatekeepers, and endless approval requirements, it is often said, prevent the CF from getting the equipment it needs in a timely manner.
And this has resonated with the Conservative government. Since 2006, it has negotiated notable sole-sourced military procurements, such as the acquisition of four C-17 strategic-lift aircraft. Several other accelerated purchases were used to address critical capability shortfalls that were endangering CF lives in Afghanistan. Given the demands and dangers of the Kandahar mission, most of these hastened procurements were justified and could be exempt from lengthy, competitive tenders.
Unfortunately, this willingness to downplay the hazards of circumventing proper procurement practices was allowed to spread to less pressing acquisitions. This was a key finding of the Auditor General’s report on the acquisition of the CF’s new Chinook medium-to-heavy lift helicopters, and it is now a notable criticism found in the report on the F-35.
If the F-35 was truly the best aircraft to replace the CF-18s, then it would have won a proper, transparent competition. In fact, a number of analysts, defence officials, and air force officers would still argue that it is undoubtedly the only plane for the CF. Yet the aircraft has now been tainted, as has DND’s argument in favour of it. And as the Auditor General notes, it will now be difficult to hold a fair competition. Consequently, the DND may not get the plane they are convinced that the CF needs. A fair, transparent competition would likely have avoided this outcome.
Philippe Lagassé is an assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa
Booming job market makes Saskatchewan a land of opportunity, average weekly earnings higher than national average
By Alex Ballingall - Monday, April 2, 2012 at 9:14 AM - 0 Comments
As the economic centre of gravity in Canada shifts west, where do you go…
As the economic centre of gravity in Canada shifts west, where do you go to find a job in this country? Downtown Calgary, maybe. Or the oilsands.
How about Saskatchewan?
According to a Statistics Canada report released Friday, the province’s labour market is booming; Saskatchewan currently ties Alberta for the lowest unemployment rate in the country (5 per cent), while payroll jobs increased by 2.8 per cent between January 2011 and January 2012—nearly double the national average. In raw terms, that means there were roughly 12,400 more payroll jobs in Saskatchewan in January of this year than there were 12 months earlier.
Average weekly earnings are also on the rise in the Prairie province, up 2.7 per cent to $907.44 in the 12 months leading up to this January. That’s the third highest out of all the provinces. Since August 2011, weekly earnings in Saskatchewan have been higher than the national average.
French police arrest 19 in dawn raids on suspected radical Islamists, on day after Mohamed Merah is buried
By Alex Ballingall - Friday, March 30, 2012 at 10:06 AM - 0 Comments
In a series of dawn raids across France, elite police arrested 19 suspected radical…
In a series of dawn raids across France, elite police arrested 19 suspected radical Islamists. The France 24 news agency is reporting that the arrests occurred in Nantes, Le Man, Paris and Toulouse, the city where Mohamed Merah was killed after he shot three Jewish children and a rabbi outside of a school earlier this month.
Speaking with Europe 1 radio, French President Nicholas Sarkozy said: “It’s our duty to guarantee the security of the French people. We have no choice. It’s absolutely indispensable.”
The raids occurred the day after Merah was buried in Toulouse. He was killed on March 22 by a police sniper after a lengthy stand off at his apartment. As the BBC reports, French police agency DCRI has received criticism for a lack of vigilance that allowed a radical Islamist like Merah to perpetrate murder. This series of arrests is thought to have targeted suspected Islamists who have been on the DCRI’s radar.
One of those arrested is Mohammed Achamlane, the leader of the Islamist group Forsanne Alizza (Knights of Pride), which seeks to instill Islamic rule in the country, France Soir reports. Merah has been linked to the group in media reports.
The issue of Islamic radicalism has taken centre stage in the French presidential election campaign. Initially trailing socialist contender François Hollande, Sarkozy has seen his support rise in the wake of the attacks. The latest poll conducted by the CSA put Sarkozy’s support at 30 per cent—versus 26 per cent for Hollande—for the first round of voting on April 22, Agence France-Presse reports.
By Alex Ballingall - Friday, March 30, 2012 at 9:35 AM - 0 Comments
Appearing before a House of Commons committee on the same day that most reporters…
Appearing before a House of Commons committee on the same day that most reporters were tied up with budget speculation and analysis, Canada’s chief electoral officer discussed the scope of the so-called robocalls scandal that saw hundreds of Canadians receive suspicious phone calls directing them to non-existent polling stations during the last federal election.
Under the Elections Act, trying to prevent someone from voting is illegal.
Marc Mayrand, head of Elections Canada, told the committee that 800 people had filed specific complaints about the misleading calls, and that they come from 200 ridings in 10 provinces and one territory. “Pretty much the whole country,” he said, as iPolitics.ca reported.
So far, the crux of the investigation has focused on the riding of Guelph, Ont., where the infamous “Pierre Poutine” allegedly organized the calls. ”These are very serious matters that strike at the integrity of our democracy,” said Mayrand, quoted by the Montreal Gazette. “Whether it was organized or bigger or whatever, the fact that electors, at least that we know in Guelph, were misdirected by calls falsely made on behalf of Elections Canada is absolutely outrageous.”
Mayrand also said Elections Canada has the resources to investigate the matter, and will issue a report within a year on how electors should use contemporary technology to communicate with voters.
By Alex Ballingall - Friday, March 30, 2012 at 9:23 AM - 0 Comments
Israel is tightening security and closing off the occupied West Bank as Palestinians and…
Israel is tightening security and closing off the occupied West Bank as Palestinians and their supporters prepare for what are expected to be mass Land Day demonstrations. Dozens of marches are being held to condemn and draw attention to Israel’s land policies as part of an annual day of demonstration to mark the anniversary of the killing of six Arabs who were demonstrating against land appropriation in 1976.
“For 44 years this policy of colonialism, which has prolonged the occupation, has been the main source of violence in the region and the single most menacing threat to the two-state solution,” chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying by the BBC.
Protests are expected to be held by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank. There are also protests planned in neighbouring countries along the Israeli border. Israel says its concerned that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan will try to cross over into Israeli territory, although it’s unclear whether authorities in those countries will allow that to happen.
Crossings between Israel and the West Bank have been shut down to everyone except those carrying aid and medical supplies, and Israeli settlers that live in the occupied territory. Men younger than 40 have also been banned from praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine and a contentious site located in East Jerusalem.
Last year, on Land Day, protests turned deadly as several demonstrators were killed in clashes with Israeli forces. Organizers say the protests will be peaceful.