By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Globe’s editorial board extends its collective thumbs downwards.
The concept for a biopic on Jack Layton, the late NDP leader, was a dubious one from the start. Why add to the eulogies now? Why not let more time elapse, to see whether he could be cast as an enduringly significant historical figure, as was the least the case with another recent, flawed CBC biopic of another New Democrat, 2006’s Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story?
New rule: you must be out of office 27 years before a true assessment of your political career can reasonably be hoped to be made.
Why not allow the myth to take shape organically, instead of trying to shape it? In the case of Jack, it is heavy-handed on the part of the CBC. Canadians don’t need the public broadcaster to decide which of its recently deceased politicians merit a mythology.
New rule: there should be a referendum every four years to determine which politician is next portrayed in a CBC movie. Campaigns for potential subjects would have to register as political parties. Attack ads would be encouraged. We could basically re-run entire elections of the past.
It is good that the CBC is supporting Canadian dramatic productions and presenting Canadian stories. This is part of the corporation’s mandate, to tell Canadians about Canadians. The filmmakers should also be lauded for portraying the often overlooked good sides of politicians. They would find the same if they did a biopic of most Canadian federal and provincial politicans of any stripe. Generally speaking, they are motivated by good intentions, even if the policies don’t always match them. They care about their fellow citizens and want to do good things for the country.
New rule: scratch those first two rules and make a movie about every politician who passes away.
So what was the CBC thinking? Jack is a varnished view of Mr. Layton – that is, beyond a few scenes that showed how Torontonians rose up against his welfare-state approach to homelessness and housing generally, when he was a municipal politician. He was resoundingly defeated when he ran for mayor, as the film briefly shows.
But NDP strategists loved the drama, and little wonder, the portion spent on Mr. Layton’s federal legacy is a hagiography, and given how recent many of the events it portrays are, it was an unpaid political advertisement. For example, the biopic offered no hint of his deplorable play for sovereigntist votes by offering Quebec more seats than its population warrants in any redistribution. It was political cynicism at its worst, but Mr. Layton knew what he was doing; it was a tactic to win over voters from the Bloc Québécois, which he succeeded in doing, at least temporarily. The recent defection of one NDP MP to the Bloc suggests the party may regret the strategy in the fullness of time.
As I wrote last week, I think the idea that it was too soon to do a movie about Jack Layton is inherently flawed (and a bit silly). I’m not sure, for instance, if the Globe editorial board would have said it was too soon for The Deal (or its two follow-ups). (Full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen The Deal. I raise it not to comment on its quality, only its existence.)
The Globe is on more reasonable footing when it argues about what kind of movie Jack turned out to be. Essentially, it seems to me, the editorial board is arguing for a more political movie: a more thorough and thoughtful look at his political career. That’s a fair point. The movie could have, for instance, referenced his suggestion in 2004 that Paul Martin was responsible for the deaths of homeless people (and his subsequent regret about that comment) or the decision to support the Liberal budget in 2005 or the decision to bring down the Liberal government later that year (and the criticism that drew) or the attempted coalition in 2008 (and the controversy that created). It could have explored in detail what led up to the 2011 campaign and then how that breakthrough was executed. That movie might’ve had to be a bit longer, but I would have been very interested to see it. (John Doyle makes a good argument that the political content was far too over-simplified.)
But then that, I think, is actually an argument for more movies about politics, not less: or at least more politically focused movies. A movie probably isn’t made about Jack Layton if his political career doesn’t become a grand human drama that many people found captivating, or at least more interesting than they might otherwise have considered politics to be. And, in that regard, it’s probably not surprising that the movie ended up being written the way it was. If there’s a lost opportunity here, it might be in that the movie wasn’t more focused on the political machinations of its hero’s life and career. Regardless of how his myth might have developed over the next 25 years, I would argue, his career as punctuated by the events of 2011 is worthy of a dramatic rendering: regardless of how you feel about the man, it is an interesting story about politics.
We could probably stand to have more such movies (something on the Martin-Chretien wars, perhaps?). We could just generally benefit from a wider and more varied airing of politics and political stories in general. And any impulse that such subjects are not to be broached around the national dinner table should be overcome.
By Mika Rekai - Monday, November 12, 2012 at 2:10 PM - 0 Comments
France threatens to take the Internet search giant to court over getting rich from revenue-starved media sites
For media agencies, producing good content is expensive, and giving it away online has never made much sense as a sustainable business model. As readers have dropped print subscriptions and migrated to the web, newspapers have suffered years of plunging revenue. Many hoped the losses would be temporary as advertisers also moved online, but news sites still aren’t reaping the benefits. According to the Newspaper Association of America, in 2011, for every $25 lost in print revenue, newspapers made only $1 online.
While many news organizations, including the Globe and Mail and the Postmedia chain in Canada, have put in place online paywalls, a more radical solution is unfolding in France that could put an end, once and for all, to the industry’s crisis. French newspapers, with the help of the socialist government of François Hollande, are going after Google.
Many companies spend millions to advertise on the Internet, but instead of doing so on sites that produce content, the money largely goes to search engines (i.e. Google) and web aggregators (widely used sites that provide links to news content). Last month, leading French newspaper publishers called on the government to adopt a law that would require Google to make payments to news sites for displaying links to their content. Google, which earns $3 billion every month in ad revenue, said in a statement that it “could not accept” the move and “would be required to no longer reference French sites” as a consequence of such a law. Forcing Google to pay for linking to news content, a spokesperson says, would threaten Google’s “very existence.” Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 10:12 AM - 0 Comments
The Globe and Mail has offered a threefold response today to the critics who have been raising a stir about Carol Wainio’s prosecution brief against Margaret Wente for the crime of plagiarism. Wente has written her own apologia; the Globe has made public an internal memo on the issue, written by editor-in-chief John Stackhouse; and Stackhouse has also used the paper’s media reporter, Steve Ladurantaye, as a ventriloquist’s doll for a short news item on the scandal.
Wente’s column does go through the motions of contrition, while leaving the distinct impression that she regards herself more as victim than perpetrator.
A blogger has accused me of substantively plagiarizing the column, and much else. The allegations have exploded in the Twitterverse and prompted harsh commentary from other writers, some of whom are characterizing me as a serial plagiarist. …I’m far from perfect. I make mistakes. But I’m not a serial plagiarist. What I often am is a target for people who don’t like what I write.
Imagine that: a columnist who is a target for people who don’t like what she writes! This may come as a shock to Margaret Wente, but the difference between her and other columnists is not that other columnists don’t have haters. The difference is that other columnists don’t keep handing their haters ethical ammunition by the crateload.
She may find, unhappily, that “I’m not a serial plagiarist” goes down in history as an example of this. Carol Wainio is slightly more free with the word “plagiarism” than most reporters and columnists would be, but Wainio caught Wente in what look like pretty clear, if minor, examples here, here, here (at the end, where Michael Barone’s words appear as her own), here (Joel Kotkin), and here (Steven Pinker). That’s just since late 2011. Having made the fast shuffle from “I’m not a plagiarist” to “I’m not a serial plagiarist,” where might Wente go next? “OK, I am a serial plagiarist, but I’ve never borrowed an entire column?” “I am a serial plagiarist but I bake a damn fine tollhouse cookie?”
Our collective instinct as a trade may have been to give Wente the benefit of the doubt up until now—her occasional difficulties with quotation marks being no secret—but when she says “There was no intent to deceive”, we must recall that last week she told Globe Public Editor Sylvia Stead that she didn’t remember reading the Dan Gardner column she stood accused of borrowing from. Hadn’t seen it, couldn’t pick Gardner out of a lineup, couldn’t see what the fuss was, etc., etc. Stead, as part of a supposed “investigation”, chose to accept this. Today, the party line has undergone a sudden change:
Columnists often write about the same subjects and often reach similar conclusions. That isn’t plagiarism. But there is a sentence from Mr. Gardner’s column that also appears in my column. The only explanation is that I put it in my notes, then put it in my column. That was extremely careless and, for that, I apologize.
One would think it was awkward for Stead that the cock-and-bull story she believed, and gave the stamp of moral authority to, held up for about 48 hours before collapsing in a wave of well-deserved internet ridicule which required the intervention of Stackhouse. Or the appearance of intervention, anyway. The obvious problems still left are twofold.
1) Stackhouse won’t tell us how he is sanctioning Wente, though he will say what he is not doing, i.e., letting her go. I don’t know that I would fire Wente for plagiarism in his place, though I am near-certain I would fire her for being pathologically unable to tell her own prose apart from quotations scribbled into her notes. (What say we give the real estate to someone who doesn’t have a tin ear and a crappy attitude?) The real point is that the Globe is giving us no practical indication whatsoever of how seriously it takes plagiarism, or of how Stackhouse proposes to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. It is literally all talk.
2) Stackhouse has dealt not at all with Sylvia Stead’s failure to detect obvious plagiarism when someone came up with overwhelming evidence against an old crony. His response, incredibly, was to make Stead fully independent of the person who had to bail out her behind and uphold some standards—namely himself. How is this supposed to solve the problem the Globe created by making a lifer the public editor? Have we got this straight…after that absurd display, he has decided to give her even more power?
Perhaps Stackhouse, by taking Stead out from under him in the chain of command, is offering some kind of tacit admission that he influenced her investigation. I cannot see any other reason to do it, but he is very welcome to give us a fuller explanation.
By Jesse Brown - Monday, September 24, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Because of the Internet. As Sabrina Maddeaux points out in the Toronto Standard, quality safeguards in newsrooms have disappeared. Fact checkers and copyeditors are scarce or non-existent, while any editors who haven’t been laid off must sign off on more copy more quickly than ever before. Legacy media institutions have been gutted by the disruptive effects of the Internet. Everyone is expected to maintain the same standards while working with a fraction of the resources. That’s simply impossible, and the fact that sloppy work sees print is an inevitable result.
But that’s just one part of it.
The Internet explains why plagiarism gets through more often than it used to, but it’s also the reason why plagiarism is so easily exposed. Tracking down a swipe used to be pretty tough. Fifteen years ago, if something you read in a column twigged as something you’d read before, how would you prove it? Unless you felt like spending a day (or a week) at the library, knee-deep in microfiche, you’d probably just let it go. Even if you were able to trace it back, the task of publicizing plagiarism would be daunting.
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 8:10 AM - 0 Comments
In January, the Globe and Mail appointed longtime editor and correspondent Sylvia Stead its first “public editor”. What say we pause right there, before we go any further? The job of “public editor” is one most closely associated with the New York Times, which has had five different people doing the job since it created a post with that title in 2003—soon after the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal. The function of the public editor at the Times, as the title suggests, is to advocate for journalism ethics, fairness, and proper practice on behalf of the paper’s readership, dealing with concerns and challenges as they arise.
To that end, the Times—quite naturally, one would think—has always recruited people for the job who haven’t been associated with the Times for their entire adult lives, but who do have some knowledge of journalism and non-fiction practice. The first Times public editor was Daniel Okrent, a legendary book and magazine editor. The new one, Margaret Sullivan, has been associated with the Warren Buffett-owned Buffalo News since 1980.
The Times is probably careful about this because it created the “public editor” job in the wake of a serious credibility crisis. It could ill afford to choose somebody who had grown up in the Times cocoon and was an irrecoverable permanent hostage to old friendships, work relationships, and office politics. In fact, it would be fair for you, dear reader, to ask the question “Why would you?” Why wouldn’t you hire someone with some independent standing to represent the public, if you were serious about it?
Well: those last six words bring us to Ms. Stead’s remarkable papal bull, published Friday, concerning Globe columnist Margaret Wente. Continue…
By Anne Kingston - Monday, May 7, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Wong’s new book ‘Out of the Blue’ is the ﬁrst of a new genre: the workplace divorce memoir
It’s not 10 minutes into my lunch with Jan Wong, and the veteran journalist’s Type-A ways are on full display. Her backseat driving began in a cab after the restaurant where we chose to meet was closed after a break-in. When I arrived, Wong was busy grilling the owner for crime-scene details. “There was broken glass and blood everywhere,” she reports cheerfully in the taxi, interrupting herself to tell the driver to turn.
Settled into our destination, a chic downtown Toronto restaurant, Wong appears harmless in a brown pantsuit, seed-pearl necklace and sensible shoes. A youthful 59, she carries a blue backpack. A decade since Wong’s Globe and Mail column “Lunch With . . .” famously—often brutally—skewered subjects, there’s little evidence of the “Hannibal Lecter of the lunch set,” as Pamela Wallin once called her. Wong is friendly and open, though commandeering. After we both decide on the special, she orders for us then sets about structuring the conversation: “Let’s start at the beginning,” she says. “Back off, Jan,” I tell her, “this is my interview.” She laughs and sits back on the banquette. “Okay,” she says to herself, “calm down, relax.”
Wong is stressed, she says. It’s the eve of the publication of her ﬁfth book, Out of the Blue: A Memoir of Workplace Depression, Recovery, Redemption and, Yes, Happiness and much is on the line. She is self-publishing after Doubleday Canada cancelled her contract at the 11th hour. This morning, she approved a second print run of 5,000, for a total of 10,000 copies—which, if sold, would make it a blockbuster. Wong has sunk some $35,000 into the project, which has garnered predictable buzz in media circles. But her battle with the Globe and its insurer Manulife Financial over unpaid medical leave will resonate with a bigger audience spurned by a long-time employer or visited by depression’s “black dogs.” Out of the Blue is a page-turner suffused with suffering—and pluck. All ends happily with Wong conquering workplace-induced depression to become a kinder, gentler being proffering a “smell-the-roses” instructive.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, March 9, 2012 at 3:22 PM - 0 Comments
I don’t know much about the Globe & Mail’s strategy for dominating the National Newspaper Awards, but it’s working. They received an outlandish 24 nominations for the highest honours in Canadian fishwrap this year. And 23 of them are probably rock solid! But I believe there’s a problem with the one they’re proudest of—at least, it’s the first piece they mention in their own story on the nominations, and the first item on the list of links they have attached.
I refer to Ken Dryden’s colourful, typically Drydenesque 3,000-word essay on concussions in ice hockey. It appeared in the Globe’s Oct. 1 edition, and there’s the wrinkle: the same essay appeared on Bill Simmons’ Grantland.com subsite for ESPN, where it is dated Sept. 30. The NNAs are intended for original content written specifically for Canadian newspapers, as Rule 1 of the competition reflects:
To be eligible, an entry must have been published first in 2011 by a Canadian daily newspaper —whether in print or online—in English or French.
The Globe has not yet responded on the record to a request for comment. (The Dryden essay may also have a problem under Rule 3 if the lawyer-goaltender was paid by both ESPN and the Globe for the copy.)
I noticed yesterday that the Dryden piece was not original to the Globe, and my initial instinct was not to make a big deal of it. Anyone who’s been a freelancer as long as I was has an overdeveloped resistance to offending even the most unlikely future employer. But then I thought: as if Ken Dryden really gives a crap whether he wins a “Newspaper Award”?
FiveSix Stanley Cup rings and two pensions aren’t enough?
The letter of the rule isn’t the only issue here. These awards are supposed to be a morale boost for professionals who do good work on deadline. I’m not sure the net effect of journalism awards is positive, but the explicit idea behind them is to encourage support for ambitious journalism—to bestir editors to big projects, to provide incentives for applying plenty of resources to breaking news, and to buy time and column-inches for individuals to work on the biggest stories of their careers. In that light, I don’t see the point of nominating Ken Dryden for such an award at all, and especially not for a piece that got sold twice after being written at leisure, as a rich, influential man’s intervention in a policy debate.
Dryden is competing with one of the Globe’s own sportswriters for the shiny bauble in the Sports category. Some other professional inside or outside the Globe, someone to whom an NNA nom would have literal hard cash value, has already been denied. I can’t be the only one irked about this. In fact, Dryden is such a nice guy and has such a keen sense of fair play that I suspect he’d be on my side.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, October 14, 2011 at 2:54 PM - 3 Comments
Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith had this to say during a panel discussion convened by This Magazine to discuss a decade of international intervention in Afghanistan:
“Afghanistan had a functioning country in some ways before we came in in 2001. That’s a qualified statement: the Taliban had been relatively successful in establishing a regime and you could argue that if you were looking for a partner to fight terrorism—a partner to take on al-Qaeda and make sure that the country would remain stable with some kind of rule of law—in 2001, your best partner would have been the Taliban.”
Afghanistan was neither functioning nor stable prior to 2001. It was a wasteland that at least three million Afghans had fled, seeking refuge in Pakistan and Iran. Many more were internally displaced. I saw thousands of them in the fall of 2001. They lived and died in shallow pits covered with scraps of cloth and plastic. They hadn’t run from American bombs; they ran from the Taliban. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 11:24 PM - 0 Comments
The documents tabled today can be viewed in their entirety here. Some of these memos appear to have been made public previously, but starting here, a series of posts on some of the noteworthy files and disclosures contained therein.
Files POA 0424 through POA 0437—see the second batch of files—appear to contain memos drafted by Richard Colvin between June 2, 2006 and April 20, 2007. These are memos would have been filed before the Globe and Mail’s first major story on the handling of detainees was published on April 23, 2007.
In POA 0437, a reference to “suspicions of maltreatment by the NDS” has been disclosed.
POA 0465 is Mr. Colvin’s final report on the conclusion of his 18 months in Afghanistan.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 30 Comments
Globe and Mail, 2008. “Instead of carping about a dysfunctional Parliament, for which he holds much responsibility, Mr. Harper should throw out his previous playbook and try making the institution work. It would mean displaying the confidence to operate outside his comfort zone of near-absolute control, but it is a mission built for a true conservative. And, no, Senate reform is no substitute for getting the House of Commons operating well.”
Globe and Mail, 2011. “Mr. Harper could achieve a great deal more if he would relax his grip on Parliament, its independent officers and the flow of information, and instead bring his disciplined approach to bear on the great challenges at hand. That is the great strike against the Conservatives: a disrespect for Parliament, the abuse of prorogation, the repeated attempts (including during this campaign) to stanch debate and free expression. It is a disappointing failing in a leader who previously emerged from a populist movement that fought so valiantly for democratic reforms.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 41 Comments
The Globe endorses the Conservatives.
The campaign of 2011 – so vicious and often vapid – should not be remembered fondly. But that will soon be behind us. If the result is a confident new Parliament, it could help propel Canada into a fresh period of innovation, government reform and global ambition. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are best positioned to guide Canada there.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 25, 2011 at 11:30 AM - 41 Comments
In apparently the first of two endorsements, the Globe picks the Liberals over the NDP.
There is, in other words, sufficient distance between the NDP and the Liberals for preferring the latter to the former. They may be chasing some of the same votes, but they are not interchangeable – the Liberals remain a welcome antidote to ideological politics.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 3:29 PM - 17 Comments
The Globe’s editorial is based entirely on my articles and blog posts, although they don’t acknowledge as much. I admit I find this bothersome, but am pleased other media are now following the story.
The CBC’s interview with Reeves and with Alan White, former chief of investigations for the Special Court, meanwhile, is now available online.
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 5:47 PM - 48 Comments
Having lived through the hype over IBM’s 1997 Deep Blue challenge to human chessplayers, I find myself intensely irritated at IBM’s 2011 assault on Jeopardy! The Globe’s tech reporter leads off his rumination with “On the surface, it has all the makings of a gimmick…”. So did Deep Blue; but let it be recalled that in the fullness of time, after public quarrels and investigative reports and documentaries allowed us to attain a historical perspective, the project actually turned out to be…a gimmick.
IBM didn’t exactly cheat in the Deep Blue showdown, but the company refused to let Garry Kasparov study the computer’s games the way he could have for a top human opponent. When Kasparov nonetheless figured out how to lead the computer into traps by studying tactical weaknesses of artificial intelligence, the company, fearing for its prestige, brought in human chessmasters—ringers—to tweak the program’s position-evaluation algorithm and prevent an awkward defeat. Ken Jennings is joining battle, not with an artificial mind, but with a coterie of corporate drones to whom sportsmanship comes second.
The general arc of computer-chess development, and the perpetually disappointing history of AI, were largely unaffected by the Deep Blue-Kasparov contest. Indeed, the main influence of the exhibition was probably the way it intensified research into anti-computer chess styles. Human-versus-computer competition basically reached a stalemate after 2002′s 4-4 draw between Vladimir Kramnik and Fritz, in which the inherent intellectual limitations of the machine and the physiological and nervous ones of the man more or less ended up cancelling out.
Every article about Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy!-playing device, should really lead off with the sentence “It’s the year 2011, for God’s sake.” In the wondrous science-fiction future we occupy, even human brains have instant broadband access to a staggeringly comprehensive library of general knowledge. But the horrible natural-language skills of a computer, even one with an essentially unlimited store of facts, still compromise its function to the point of near-parity in a trivia competition against unassisted humans. Surely this isn’t a triumph for artificial intelligence, or for IBM, so much as it is a self-administered black eye?
Jeopardy!, after all, doesn’t demand that much in the way of language interpretation. Watson has to, at most, interpret text questions of no more than 25 or 30 words—questions which, by design, have only a single answer. It handles puns and figures of speech impressively, for a computer. But it doesn’t do so in anything like the way humans do. IBM’s ads would have you believe the opposite, but it bears emphasizing that Watson is not “getting” the jokes and wordplay of the Jeopardy! writers. It’s using Bayesian math on the fly to pick out key nouns and phrases and pass them to a lookup table. If it sees “1564″ and “Pisa”, it’s going to say “Galileo”.
So why, one might ask, are we still throwing computer power at such tightly delimited tasks, ones that lie many layers of complexity below what a human accomplishes in having a simple phone conversation? The Globe‘s Omar el Akkad tells us, in a sidebar, that the University of Alberta’s world-leading poker software “can beat pretty much the best”…but in a two-player limit game, i.e., an unrealistically pure test of odds calculation that is to no-limit hold ‘em what a grade-school track meet is to a Formula 1 race. (The roots of that U of A research program go back almost 20 years.) Meanwhile, “Computer chess players can now beat all but the very best humans”—but that was more or less the state of affairs already attained in 1997 when Kasparov fought Deep Blue. And the obliteratingly total lack of progress toward the gold and silver Loebner Prizes (annual implementations of the famous Turing test) is such an embarrassment that the jury has been quietly adjusting the bar from year to year to keep things interesting.
El Akkad’s claim is that “Scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs keep pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence”, but it would almost certainly be more accurate to state that, as Hubert Dreyfus predicted, they keep smacking into those limits without ever breaking through to the accurate imitation of mindlike activity. Dreyfus is, professionally, a specialist in incomprehensible European nonsense; but he was for decades the leading figure among artificial-intelligence pessimists, and his career has effectively been a long series of successful bets against fast AI development. It is rare for a philosopher to be able to claim strictly scientific falsifiability grounds for a finding, but Dreyfus and other AI skeptics arguably can.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 6:26 PM - 177 Comments
It is a tradition that binds us together as a nation, our eternal obsession over the ever-imminent downfall of our elected leaders. And so we return now to the question of just how profoundly, unavoidably, indisputably screwed is Michael Ignatieff.
At last report, he was most immediately doomed by Monday’s by-elections. As the conventional consensus had it, the Liberal party was to lose all three. Defeat in the former Liberal stronghold of Vaughan would be particularly resounding—it would be what Outremont was to Stéphane Dion. What once was a Liberal caucus of 77 would be reduced to a mere 76. Everything else would subsequently come crashing down around Mr. Ignatieff. By Christmas, he would be deposed as leader. By spring, he would be bussing tables at Harvey’s on Elgin Street. His household’s cats, Mimi and Eric, would hiss at him when he returned home from work each day.
As the day dawned on Tuesday in the capital, it was but a trifle that Monday night had not at all gone according to plan. The Liberals had indeed lost Vaughan, but by just less than a thousand votes. Meanwhile, the Liberal candidate in Winnipeg-North was victorious in a riding the party had not won in 17 years. What was a Liberal caucus of 77 is still a caucus of 77. He had broken even. He had exceeded expectations.
Rest assured, the Liberal leader is still destined to soon be asking the public not for their support, but rather whether they’d like fries or onion rings with that. “Vaughan by-election loss adds to Ignatieff’s woes” explained a Globe headline this morning, that atop a story that spoke ominously of “Michael Ignatieff’s troubled leadership.” “For Ignatieff,” preemptively eulogized a Conservative operative now lending his analysis to the National Post, “his days are numbered”
Though a doomed man, he arrived this morning to the House foyer looking mostly undead. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 9:03 AM - 37 Comments
Here’s the key question in the new Nanos poll:
“QUESTION: Thinking of our current national political scene [Rotate] some people think that political change would be risky to our economic stability while others think that if the government changed it would have no impact on the stability of the economy. Which of these two views, if either, best reflects your personal opinion?”
Just to be clear, the “[Rotate]” simply means that about half the sample was asked, “Thinking of our current national political scene some people think that if the government changed it would have no impact on the stability of the economy, while others think that political change would be risky to our economic stability. Which of these two views, if either, best reflects your personal opinion?”
Now. Do you think political change would be risky? Or do you think that if the government changed it would have no impact on the stability of the economy?
It’s a trick question. Because whatever you answer, I’m going to give your answer to the Globe and Mail and they’re going to say you were talking about a coalition government.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 1:40 PM - 0 Comments
Was a Globe front-page story featuring its new owner’s prized asset a conflict of interest?
Last Thursday, the big front-page story in many North American newspapers, from the National Post to the New York Times, was the primary elections in the U.S., where Tea Party candidates scored stunning victories over established Republicans. The Globe and Mail also covered this, but left its prime real estate—the spot above the fold—for a story on a global university ranking, in which a handful of Canadian schools placed in the top 200. (The University of Toronto finished 17th.) The article’s third paragraph reveals that Times Higher Education, the body behind the ranking, has partnered with Thomson Reuters. It does not reveal that Thomson Reuters is the most high-profile asset of the Woodbridge Company Ltd., which had just announced a deal to buy the newspaper.
Thursday’s front-page story followed a shakeup of the Canadian media landscape. Both Woodbridge and BCE Inc. had been shareholders in CTVGlobemedia, but as part of the new deal, BCE said it would acquire 100 per cent of broadcaster CTV Inc., and Woodbridge would get an 85 per cent stake in the Globe and Mail, with BCE retaining the other 15 per cent.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 1:34 AM - 0 Comments
The Globe and Mail has finally explained where a Toronto Chief of Police and dozens of gullible journalists and politicians got the idea that the national firearms registry costs $4 million a year. I’ve watched this figure get repeated countless times over the past month or so, and every single time I kept returning with furrowed brow to the Treasury Board estimates, which put the combined operating and transfers cost of firearms registration at $22 million, just to the RCMP, for 2010-11. (The overall cost for registries and licensing infrastructure comes to $78 million.)
That’s not counting the costs to other federal agencies—most especially the cost to Corrections Canada, estimated loosely at $10 million for fiscal ’08-’09. Certainly the commentators who were soiling themselves over the PBO’s estimates for penological costs of Conservative law-and-order measures wouldn’t want to just ignore the money spent on keeping gun-registry offenders locked up longer, would they? Including the cost in registrant time and effort would drive the figure higher still; surely the Globe is bound to be giving the program a break in only revising the cost upward by a factor of 16½.
If the Globe is right, it seems only a bit of sloppily written verbiage in the new report on the registry—interpreted by dissimulators with badges, and faithfully broadcast by writers with poor financial instincts—could possibly have led anyone to believe the gun registry is a bargain. (The Firearms Centre in Miramichi has 240 federal employees, guys! $4 million wouldn’t cover 12 weeks of payroll expenses, right?) And maybe I’m just some Western flake, but in retrospect it does seem as though the propagation of $4 million figure was possible only because the RCMP played undisguised politics with the report, dawdling over a “translation” (a tactic that the Conservatives somehow ended up taking most of the blame for) and making sure to pass it around to friendly, gullible media outlets in a timely way before the vote on C-391. All of which, now, can serve only the electoral interests of the Conservatives themselves—keeping alive the hated totem and allowing them to exploit the real financial numbers in their search for a Commons majority.
[UPDATE, 10:22 am: Or not. The Citizen's board smacks down the Globe this morning, and the Globe seems to have mis-identified the source of the figure within the report—the actual source being a reference to another report to the RCMP by a government IT consultancy, Pleiad Canada. So could we have that document, or is it already too late to bother?]
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 4:11 AM - 97 Comments
The debate over the net costs of the government’s Truth in Sentencing bill is of the kind that makes me want to throw up my hands and whine “Aw, I don’t knowwwww…”. On the one hand, the Parliamentary Budget Office has presented an estimate of the costs that makes the bill seem demented. Kevin Page’s numbers don’t factor in the benefits of any potential deterrence effect; they admittedly rely, at many points, on wild assumptions; and they were assembled with the help of a lot of the sort of “independent” expert who sees prisons as inherently barbarous and would happily blow them all up if someone presented them with a big red button that would do it instantly. But as Page himself has pointed out, this is a fight between questionable evidence and no evidence. The government hasn’t really shown any good-faith sign of a serious effort to cost out the elimination of two-for-one credit for time in remand.
Penology, by and large, isn’t treated as a fundamental political issue in this country at all. We have a series of arguments over specific proposals; we don’t have explicit contending ideologies. Yet it’s discernible, surely, that those ideologies exist.
What we have, I think, is a group of citizens who believe that penology contains no moral component whatsoever. They are, or the most logical ones are, pure utilitarians who believe that punishment has no inherent place in a justice system. If we had a pill for perfect deterrence, one that could eliminate criminal tendencies with 100% effectiveness and no ill effects or pain, they would argue that the ethical thing to do would be to give it to all convicts, even serial murderers and child rapists, and turn them loose to reintegrate with society, preferably with their identities protected. And on the other side, we have the moralists, people who do believe in punishment even where it has no necessary utilitarian or deterrent value at all. They believe that the function of a criminal justice system is to provide justice, in the schoolyard, eye-for-an-eye sense of the term. These people would want prisons, and perhaps other miserable and dire punishments, even if we had a deterrence pill.
The camps don’t challenge each other ideologically very often. It goes unstated that the overwhelming majority of those who actually administer criminal sentencing don’t really believe in punishment—this is fairly obvious, for example, from their shiny-happy trade literature. And it goes unstated that people like Vic Toews are, in a sense, beyond evidentiary arguments like Page’s. Toews is pursuing “truth in sentencing” and applying the statutes of the land, which are based on an idea of punishment favoured by much of the citizenry (and by the framers and re-framers of our Criminal Code) but by few among the bureaucracy or the polite social elite. Toews’ bill may be stupid or insane, but his basic claim to be pursing an abandoned or betrayed “truth” is serious, and it is even half-supported by some critics, who agree that two-for-one remand credit is a substantially unlawful kludge.
I suppose a law-and-order conservative, somebody who has a moralist ideology when it comes to crime and punishment, can’t very well complain about the inspired passion for austerity displayed by critics of Truth in Sentencing. But when the Globe picked up its unsigned-editorial stick and gave Toews a broadly justified hiding with it on Wednesday, I wondered about the lede:
It is unfathomable that the Canadian government would be preparing to more than double annual spending on the country’s jails at a time when almost all other government departments are being held in check, or cut. Never mind deficit reduction. Never mind health care or education. Never mind the environment. Only one thing matters: to be seen as tough on crime.
When Canadian justice went on a liberalization binge between about 1965 and 1985, nobody thought it was necessary to provide an accurate accounting of every penny of the cost of the new measures. And while we’re on the subject, Page’s report notes, in passing, that the cost per individual federal inmate in our corrections system grew by about 50% in nominal dollars between 2001 and 2009. Where were the complaints about this extravagance, the demands that we be shown where the money was going? I must say it is funny how every newspaper columnist suddenly masters the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles as soon as a Conservative government wants to “be seen as tough on crime”.
(And, frankly, I’m not sure why the “seen as” is in that sentence, since Truth in Sentencing really would lengthen criminal sentences for virtually everybody that is held in pre-trial custody and eventually convicted. Can it be argued that this is not genuine toughness on crime?)
Anti-moralist utilitarians betray their own cause when they fail to count the social costs or benefits of a change to criminal justice. Surely, according to either ideology, formal line items in the federal budget should really be marginal considerations compared to whether the measures in question lead to a safer society and less fear. For the moralists, of course, the bar is even higher: the measures must also be just in themselves. The utilitarians, for their part, have a pretty strong case that we need not consider morality or Old Testament-y justice at all.* (This is basically how the emergent field of law-and-economics approaches criminal justice.)
*But then again, you can’t be a half-utilitarian: it’s not fair to fake it because you’re concealing a specious, one-sided romantic concern for the welfare of criminals. If you are going to scream for efficient deterrence as the ultimate penological standard and insist on evidence, you must be prepared to be held to the judgment of the evidence even where it supports apparently unjust or objectionable procedures.
(In the U.S., for example, I would say a consensus is forming around the proposition that capital punishment might save a large, even double-digit number of potential murder victims for each execution; but there have, on statistical grounds, just not been enough executions since Gregg v. Georgia to warrant much confidence in the relevant interstate comparisons. In other words, the jury is still out until the sample grows. So what if the large deterrent effect is upheld over time? Will reality-based liberals in Canada circa 2060 A.D. acknowledge their forebears’ mistake and bring back the noose?)
By Nicholas Köhler - Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 10:00 AM - 10 Comments
Star-struck senior staff let Bono and Bob Geldof edit the Globe and Mail
Despite an edict by Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse, designed to limit gawking, that newsroom staff “only come in to the building if you must be on-site,” several senior managers, including Stackhouse himself, brought their kids in on Saturday to watch as the Globe’s guest editors—Bono and Sir Bob Geldof, pop stars from, respectively, U2 and the Boomtown Rats—stitched together the Monday edition.
In a move one might have never imagined for Canada’s grey paper of record, the celebrity duo took control, producing an edition devoted to Africa and labelled “The African Century.” Suddenly, here was Zooropa, black and white and read all over, rather than the dreary Mop and Pail. “I think people were excited to get their picture taken with them,” says an editor. The carnival atmosphere afforded many at the Globe a first glimpse of co-worker offspring in a newsroom not known for conviviality. “Preteens, kind of thing,” says a staffer. “People who probably didn’t know who Bono was. Do you really need to do that? Like—you’re kind of here to work.” Says a reporter: “It just felt like another generation’s rock star. And the editors who are old—like, who are in their 40s—they got really excited about it. This was really their show.”
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 10:14 AM - 72 Comments
“You’ve heard of peak oil,” the Globe & Mail asks us this morning. “How about peak gold?” Peak gold, O wise Globe editors? Are you insulting our intelligence by picking such an popular, recognizable substance to create a stir over? Throw a dart at the periodic table, and I can practically promise you that for whichever element you impale, you will be able find a cluster of Hubbertian cranks frantic to raise awareness over its imminent, irreversible, apocalyptic “peaking”. A single Italian study sweeps a whole buffet of minerals off the desk: mercury, lead, gallium, selenium. They missed aluminum, but someone else has it covered. Salon was complaining about peak copper four years ago, and as any fool can tell you, peak copper means peak silver!
How about peak lithium? Surely not… wait, yep, there’s a peak lithium guy. Helium? C’mon, helium makes up a quarter of the goddamn universe! Sorry, peaked. Phosphorus too. You may be under the impression that we’re all swimming around in a sea of nitrogen but turns out that’s peaked. And you may be certain that long-passed, purely local peaks of many resources represent rehearsals for more intractable global limits, and cannot possibly just mean that the Republic of So-and-So found better things to do than mining arsenic. Pretty much everything’s peaking, all at once. Very soon now we’ll all be scurrying like ants across an eight-thousand-mile celestial object that looks suspiciously like an apple core.
By Philippe Gohier - Friday, March 5, 2010 at 2:47 PM - 28 Comments
There are many reasonable arguments against changing the lyrics to ‘O Canada’ to make…
There are many reasonable arguments against changing the lyrics to ‘O Canada’ to make them gender-neutral. This, from today’s editorial in the Globe, isn’t one of them:
But what of the sexism in the first line of the French version, a version that dates from 1880 and has never been changed? O Canada! Land of our forefathers.” Were there no foremothers? Forebears doesn’t really work, because it sounds like four bears.
Er, the word they’re referring to and translating as “forefathers” is aïeux. Had they run this line of argument by a Francophone, they would have quickly discovered aïeux is a gender-neutral word—think “ancestors” rather than “forefathers.”
And “forebears” only sounds like “four bears” in English, which, inconveniently for the Globe, is not the language in which the French version of the anthem is usually sung. In French, “forebears” sounds like, well, like aïeux.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 6:08 AM - 79 Comments
I guess I’m slow on the uptake. I expected that the Globe & Mail would receive a flood of objections to, and ridicule for, Jessica Leeder’s cheerfully uncritical Feb. 27 blogpost about the activities of a Canadian “naturopathic doctor” who was rushed to Haiti by a charity to “help” with relief efforts. Instead, the paper has promoted Leeder’s story to the front page of its website. Denis Marier, whose own website proclaims him to be a “humanitarian”, brought 100 pounds of homeopathic medicines with him to Haiti; by his own account, this has enabled him to begin “administering homeopathic remedies to several children with scabies (Psorinum)”.
What’s psorinum, you ask? Good question! On the homeopathic “principle” that “like cures like”, practitioners sometimes apply what they call “nosodes”: these are diluted secretions from sick people, which may include excrement, blood, or diseased tissue. Psorinum is described in one favourable literature abstract as “an alcoholic extract of scabies, scrub, slough, and pus cells”. “Dr.” Marier has also been enthusiastically prescribing “pyrogenium”, an English homeopathic remedy that consists of diluted extract of rotten beef.
It’s all related to the “miasmatic theory” of disease, whose abandonment in the 19th century you may have heard some wild rumours of. I say “abandonment”; the truth, of course, is that miasmatic theory had to be positively bulldozed out of the path of Koch, Pasteur, John Snow, Ignaz Semmelweis, and other early investigators that we now, with all our hegemonic Western prejudices, regard as the first proper scientists in medicine. But Marier, evidently not one to take a hint, is passionately investigating the “application” of miasmatic theory to “relief medical work”. The charity that’s footing the bill for this experimentation—performed on human subjects who could not possibly be under greater duress, and for whom informed consent is inconceivable—is Hearts Together For Haiti, a troubled Catholic institution for which anointing sick children with pus may actually represent something of an upgrade, ethically.
Leeder, who is an award-winning investigative reporter, writes that “Integrating medical relief work with homeopathy is an approach that’s only in its infancy.” But homeopathy, in the form that Denis Marier practices, is what we had before real medicine: i.e., folk notions and metaphysical nonsense. Advocates of various styles of quackery always emphasize the great antiquity of their ideas, usually just as they’re about to complain that those same ideas have never been given a fair hearing by the Establishment. And characterizing something as “being in its infancy” implies that it is on course to grow into adulthood if uninterrupted by calamity. It’s precisely the kind of word choice a neutral reporter ought to avoid—I would say most especially when in the process of documenting the wasteful, possibly harmful activities of a delusional, selfish idiot.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 2:24 PM - 105 Comments
The long-standing controversy over the link between therapeutic abortion and breast cancer found its way onto unexpected territory—the Globe and Mail website—on Friday. The pro-life movement has long been quarrying the epidemiological literature for the smoking gun of what it calls “ABC“. This is what pro-lifers ask Santa for Christmas, or wish for when they see a falling star: that abortion will turn out to carry previously unsuspected harms which might become the pretext for outlawing it completely, for imposing severe restrictions on it, or, at the very least, for stigmatizing it like tobacco and allowing clients to receive a scary mandatory lecture on cancer risk in the name of informed consent.
Thus far, science hasn’t been much help to them. ABC is a tricky topic because there are confounders in the picture: in general, spending less time pregnant (and more time menstruating) gives women a slightly greater lifetime risk of breast cancer. Abortion probably does increase breast cancer risk insofar as it eliminates one pregnancy—just as being able to drive increases one’s risk of ending up with shards of windshield glass under one’s eyelids.
Whether abortion imposes a distinct burden of cancer risk is another question, one much harder to answer. Occasionally a study will turn up that suggests it might. And that’s what has happened now. Gloria Galloway writes:
Three years ago, [Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott] helped to bring an American doctor and activist to Parliament Hill to tell Canadian women that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. It turned out that the doctor, Angela Lanfranchi, was speaking from a defined religious point of view that had little apparent basis in science.
And, at the time, the link between the procedure and the disease had been discounted by the National Cancer Institute in the United States, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (and their U.S. counterparts), as well as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Breast Cancer Network.
But a study released last fall (available here but only for a fee) by the respected Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle by a number of distinguished cancer experts including Louise Brinton, the chief of the Hormonal and Reproductive Epidemiology Branch of the National Cancer Institute, lists induced abortion as being “associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.” Background documents further suggest that it increases the risk of the disease by 40 per cent.
An e-mail to Dr. Brinton on Friday was returned by an Institute spokesman named Michael Miller who said: “NCI has no comment on this study. Our statement and other information on this issue can be found at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/ere.” …Requests for an explanation of the apparent discrepancy between that position and the information contained in the study released last spring went unanswered by NCI.
I visited the library to double-check whether Galloway had characterized the study’s findings correctly. The data behind the study come from a breast-cancer surveillance project in the Seattle area that included interviews with 897 women who had suffered invasive breast cancers before the age of 45. Here’s the part that’s the cause of all the excitement—a line in a table of odds ratios for “known and suspected risk factors among women 45 years of age and younger”:
The odds ratios were derived by adjusting for age, family history of breast cancer, lactation history, and duration of oral contraceptive use: the double dagger indicates that only women who had been pregnant at least once were included in the “never” row under the “Abortion” heading, so the statistically significant 40% apparent increase in background risk actually leaves never-pregnant women out of the background completely. This is notable, especially given that the study is population-based (the authors boast that it is the “largest of its kind”; their goal was not just to measure breast-cancer risk but to differentiate between etiologic subtypes of breast cancer).
On the other hand, it’s not that notable. If you look at the raw numbers, you’ll see that the randomized control group of 1,569 Seattle-area women with no history of breast cancer broke down between “Never [had an abortion] and “Ever” pretty much the same way that the breast-cancer victims did. Most of the “40%” extra risk, in other words, is the product of statistical adjustments, and may, in part, be attributable to confounding variables that weren’t controlled for. Income wasn’t controlled for, and as you can see in the table itself, it might make a difference; neither was obesity. And 40% is not a big number in epidemiology. In general researchers don’t get worked up about an odds ratio until it is at least 2.0, and it is seen over and over again in multiple studies.
Galloway is, frankly, not being careful enough when she describes the study as implying that abortion “increases the risk of the disease by 40 per cent.” This study is strictly about breast cancer in women under 45—a small fraction of all breast-cancer cases (though, to be sure, it is a fraction that is of special concern). In no way can it provide justification for any statement about overall lifetime breast-cancer risk.
Moreover, there is really no “discrepancy” between the NCI’s stated position on ABC and this particular study. Here’s what the NCI says officially:
The relationship between induced and spontaneous abortion and breast cancer risk has been the subject of extensive research beginning in the late 1950s. Until the mid-1990s, the evidence was inconsistent. Findings from some studies suggested there was no increase in risk of breast cancer among women who had had an abortion, while findings from other studies suggested there was an increased risk. Most of these studies, however, were flawed in a number of ways that can lead to unreliable results. Only a small number of women were included in many of these studies, and for most, the data were collected only after breast cancer had been diagnosed, and women’s histories of miscarriage and abortion were based on their “self-report” rather than on their medical records. Since then, better-designed studies have been conducted. These newer studies examined large numbers of women, collected data before breast cancer was found, and gathered medical history information from medical records rather than simply from self-reports, thereby generating more reliable findings.
Although the new Seattle study is large and features randomized controls, it too is a retrospective, questionnaire-based study, reliant on self-reporting; it does not meet the gold standard for epidemiological evidence. The NCI has no reason I can see to change, or apologize for, its position.
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 3:00 PM - 176 Comments
In 20 years in journalism I have never seen anything resembling the systematic and sustained repudiation to which Christie Blatchford, the Globe and Mail‘s marquee columnist, is being subjected by her own newspaper. There is room in any good paper for disagreements among colleagues, and frankly there should, for a long time now, have been room for more of that at the Globe. But this goes further. This is breathtakingly methodical. And I believe it was needed. Continue…