Sunday, December 28, 2008

Roger Linehan - R.I.P.

I would not have guessed that I would have made a friend through this blog but I did.

A couple of years ago, not long after I started blogging and when I was active on talk radio, I received a very nice email complimenting me on what I had written/said. Well, you don't get these very often so I was quick to respond. Over time we exchanged many emails on the state of politics and the province.

It wasn't until a little more than a year ago that I met the man behind these emails; he chose to run for the Liberal Party in the highly government-friendly seat of Kilbride. Besides running too, I was helping to coordinate the regional campaign and, through that, finally had the opportunity to put a man to those emails.

And that man was interesting, tall, bald, funny, realistic, fiercely partisan, always had a warm smile and was ready to chat anytime.

I liked him.

We continued to talk politics at whatever event we found ourselves, chronically exchanged emails and talked about the future, most recently about his new home reno business in which I had a keen interest (having a house which keenly needs renos).

The last email I received from him was on Christmas Eve. It was to me and others and looked forward to the new year, all the exciting things it would bring and getting together to have a chat to figure out what it all meant.

On Boxing Day, he was killed by a drunk driver. It doesn't get any more senseless than that.

Now we won't have a chance to have that chat and I regret that loss.

My sympathies to his family; we have lost a good man.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oil don't float, y'all

An historically downtrodden part of the country on the periphery where the locals speak with a funny accent hit it big while the oil price is high. It looks like the region will bypass the economic downturn because of the insatiable need for their natural resources. Developed by prior administrations, oil project cash underwrite a spending spree. The only discontent is from the quarters who believe that low-ball forecast for the price of oil, $84 a barrel, is too pessimistic.

Taxes are cut and spending goes up as the new administration takes on the happy duty of spending a $1 billion surplus, appropriating millions of dollars for highways, education and health.

Then the price goes into a tailspin and the budget has to tighten.

Sound like NL? It does at first blush but welcome to the state of Louisiana. where the total oil take for the state is a modest 17% of the budget compared to the hefty 31% of the NL provincial budget.

The political repercussions are huge. Governor Bobby Jindal (R) has gone from national hero through his keen and prudent management of the Louisiana public purse to the goat scrambling to make ends meet torpedoing his national ambitions. According to this story:
But while the leading good-government group here, citing that addiction, warned last May against the Legislature’s plan for a $360 million income tax cut, Mr. Jindal called the tax break “terrific news” and happily signed it into law as legislators cheered.

Admonitions on fiscal prudence went unheeded, as they have so often here, and the bill is now due. Earlier this year there was an $865 million surplus; now Louisiana has a $341 million shortfall in its current-year budget, and next year the projected deficit is $2 billion.

....

Mr. Jindal recently pointed out that his state was the only one in the South to regularly lose more people than it gained.

“Anybody paying attention knew we were laying the groundwork for fiscal problems, as we cut taxes and raised spending,” said James C. Brandt, president of the Public Affairs Research Council in Baton Rouge, an independent group in Baton Rouge. “We hate to say, ‘we told you so.’ But unfortunately, we seem to be going right down that boom-and-bust cycle again.”
Those darned boom-and-bust cycles. They always get in the way of historical greatness.

Cap and Gown time

This is the time of year when many high schools across the province hold their cap and gown ceremonies. These are the formal ceremonies when the previous year's graduates return to their schools for the classic diploma awarding. They are held this time of year because students who have gone away for work or school are back for Christmas.

Education policy is an area in which everyone, including me, has an opinion. As a parent and debate coach, I get enormously frustrated at what I see as the slow pace of education and the thin substantive course offerings. A real problem, as far as I'm concerned, is that the system is generally dumbed down and assumes that too many students can't handle a faster pace and heavier content.

I understand full well that many students cannot handle the higher level of academic rigour but the fact is that many students can. Government likes to talk about student achievements but, in many cases, those achievements are in spite of government policies and school programs and not because of them. There are just as many students bored and fed up because they are already two steps ahead of the class as there are students who are bored and fed up because they are two steps behind. The former are left to their own devices because the resources are simply not there for the. Heaps of resources are focused on the bottom third of the student achievement level but the top third is woefully underserved. Existing enrichment programs rarely enrich. They are generally just lackadaisical field trips in which teachers and students enjoy a day out of the classroom.

As for culture of excellence within the school system? In short and in general, it simply does not exist. Sure one can always point to the occasional standout teacher and their students who really do embody excellence but they are just excellent teachers working within mediocrity. There is no generalised culture of education excellence in this province.

When the announcement was made that Holy Heart of Mary might be closing, some of the media chattering classes advocated that it be turned into a provincial high school for the arts. Now that's all fine and dandy but that only satisfies a limited need.

I would much rather see a generalised provincial magnet school of excellence where the very best students from across the province are accepted on an application basis for rigorous specialised programs in fine arts, science and commerce backed by a common foundation program in sound reasoning and academic substance. Any student outside a reasonable geographic limit receives a housing allowance to help equalize the playing field. A proportion of student (and teacher) placements are reserved for those outside the province to add mix, colour and diversity. Teachers (in their prime and not on the cusp of retirement) are accepted to teach for a maximum term of 3 years, renewable for a maximum of one additional term before being rotated back to their original school in order to seed the benefits of their experience back into the system as a whole.

Could this work? I think so. All we'd have to do is override the shortsighted, self serving objections from the teacher's union, the school boards and the Department of Education. Once we stop trying to serve the educational system and its interests and start serving the students and their interests, the solutions become clear.

Who knows? Maybe the 3008 cap and gown ceremony at the Holy Heart of Mary Center of Academic Excellence might look like this.

Oil slides further

If you are a devoted watcher of the oil price widget at the top right, you will have noticed that the price of oil dropped to below $35. And it continues to slide. When will it reach $30?

Given the continued slide, was government's mid-year update unduly optimistic?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lobsters dive

Actually, they just crawl around on the bottom looking for anything they can eat. Their prices, however, dive and rise more like birds.

According to this story in the NY Times, prices are as low as they have been in 25 years:
At his shop, lobsters go for $10.99 a pound, about $3 less than last year — a trend seen all over town. Balducci’s is selling them for $14.99 to $16.99 a pound, $4 less than last year, and at Wild Edibles they are $2 to $3 less, or $13.99 to $15.99 a pound. The Lobster Place, with locations in Chelsea Market and Greenwich Village, is the cheapest of the markets I surveyed, at $7.95 a pound.
And that's after they make the trip from wherever, Maine or NB or even this fair province.

The story of lobster prices was well and truly buried in this government release extolling the amazing feats of the seafood industry due to the fact that "the Williams Administration has been very proactive in doing what is necessary to grow our fishing and aquaculture industries through the Fishing Industry Renewal Strategy" and whatever.

Meanwhile, lobsters are casual food in the Big Apple.

Oil prices hitting new lows

The latest price floor to be broken is the US$40 mark; this morning crude oil traded for $38.85 in New York on, down $1.21 a barrel.  Even though OPEC said they would cut production by another 2.2 million b/d, the price of oil continues to decline.

These days, OPEC produces 40% of the world's oil supply.  It's not as much as the early 70's (53.9% in '73) when they had a stranglehold on the global supply, and therefore price.  The upside of their diminished impact is that they can no longer hold the world hostage with high prices whenever they feel like it.  The downside is that they can no longer effectively prop the price by cutting production.  Even though Russia seems to have thrown their lot in with OPEC, even attending their meeting as an observer, the reality is that there is just too much oil production out of the range of OPEC's influence.

And the fact is that OPEC's "control" is not really much control anyways.  At best, OPEC's decisions are mere recommendations to members who often feel free to go their own way if they feel the need.  Think of OPEC oil quotas as something like NAFO fish quotas and you'll be in the right ballpark.

What's the real problem?  It's simple - too few dollars chasing too much oil thanks to the dampened global demand for oil.

This is good new for those who still need to use oil but bad new for those who need oil revenues to fill big gaping holes in their budget.  And for those who budget on the assumption of $87/barrel oil, it means a serious reassessment of budget decisions.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Creationistic nonsense: a response

If you want to get a rise out of me, advocating scientific creationism (which has no science in it) is the way to go. It should come as no surprise to loyal readers that I firmly believe that scientific creationism, sometimes called creation science or intelligent design, has no place in schools, particularly science classes.
Advocates for creation science make the social progress they do because their position sound so reasonable and plausible to most listeners. The problem is that most listeners, and the advocates, have little if any education in the identification of logical fallacies. So while the nonsense is frightening to those who know better, it still passes as a sensible alternative to those who should know better.

This piece from Scientific American covers 15(!) methodical responses to the scientific creationist nonsense. It concludes:
"Creation science" is a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism--it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms. Thus, physics describes the atomic nucleus with specific concepts governing matter and energy, and it tests those descriptions experimentally. Physicists introduce new particles, such as quarks, to flesh out their theories only when data show that the previous descriptions cannot adequately explain observed phenomena. The new particles do not have arbitrary properties, moreover--their definitions are tightly constrained, because the new particles must fit within the existing framework of physics.

In contrast, intelligent-design theorists invoke shadowy entities that conveniently have whatever unconstrained abilities are needed to solve the mystery at hand. Rather than expanding scientific inquiry, such answers shut it down. (How does one disprove the existence of omnipotent intelligences?)

Intelligent design offers few answers. For instance, when and how did a designing intelligence intervene in life's history? By creating the first DNA? The first cell? The first human? Was every species designed, or just a few early ones? Proponents of intelligent-design theory frequently decline to be pinned down on these points. They do not even make real attempts to reconcile their disparate ideas about intelligent design. Instead they pursue argument by exclusion--that is, they belittle evolutionary explanations as far-fetched or incomplete and then imply that only design-based alternatives remain.

Logically, this is misleading: even if one naturalistic explanation is flawed, it does not mean that all are. Moreover, it does not make one intelligent-design theory more reasonable than another. Listeners are essentially left to fill in the blanks for themselves, and some will undoubtedly do so by substituting their religious beliefs for scientific ideas.

Time and again, science has shown that methodological naturalism can push back ignorance, finding increasingly detailed and informative answers to mysteries that once seemed impenetrable: the nature of light, the causes of disease, how the brain works. Evolution is doing the same with the riddle of how the living world took shape. Creationism, by any name, adds nothing of intellectual value to the effort.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Big oil projects put in jeopardy by fall in prices

This article in the New York Times rattles off the effects of the everyday low low prices of oil on development projects around the world. The fact is that dozens of major oil and gas development projects around the world have already been deep-sixed. Developments attractive at levels of $140/barrel heading to $200 look grim at levels of $45 and dropping. Oil sands projects, to take one example, need up to $90/barrel before they make a dime. Even worse, as the prices drop dramatically, the decline in costs is nowhere near as dramatic.

Some highlights. . .
The list of projects delayed is growing by the week. Wells are being shut down across the United States; new refineries have been postponed in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and India; and ambitious plans for drilling off the coast of Africa are being reconsidered.

Investment in alternative energy sources like biofuels that had flourished in recent years could dry up if prices stay low for the next few years, analysts said. Banks have become reluctant lenders, especially to renewable energy projects that may prove unprofitable in an era of low oil and gas prices.

...

Oil demand growth has weakened throughout the industrial world. The International Energy Agency projects that worldwide demand will actually fall this year, for the first time since 1983.

So much surplus oil is sloshing around the world right now that some companies, including Shell, are using oil tankers for storage.
Given that Hebron has a 10 year sanction window, where in that window will it be sanctioned now?

NL government org chart

St. John's - Reading the entrails

With all the bad news beyond the overpass (Wabush, IOC, Abitibi, Duck Pond, Stephenville) over the last 12 months or so, what of St. John's? We have low unemployment, great housing prices and starts, a general construction boom and optimism is high. Are we really insulated from world events within a comfortable economic bubble?

According to a story in the Chronicle Herald by our very own Greg Locke, good times may be followed by harder times simply because the current good times are an accident of timing along the oil development cycle.

Can't disagree.

Friday, December 12, 2008

And the new Senator from NL is. . . .

The National Post today speculates about potential new senate appointments. Of local interest are:
FABIAN MANNING

The former member from Avalon, Newfoundland, is said to be lobbying hard for the Newfoundland and Labrador position. He was elected in 2006 but lost in the past election. He defended Mr. Harper's budget when he was at war with Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams and would be happy to go after Mr. Williams from the Senate.

VIC YOUNG

The former CEO of Fisheries Products International would be an alternate choice from Newfoundland. The Prime Minister likes him, say sources.
And what about our former MP, Loyola Hearn?  He's listed as an also-ran:
OTHER CONTENDERS

In no particular order: Loyola Hearn, Monte Solberg, Doug Finley, Irving Gerstein, Stanley Hartt, Patricia Mella, Stephen Greene, Jacques Menard, Joe Oliver.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How long will the recession last?

This article from Fortune magazine takes on the thankless task of trying to predict the future. The author argues that the downturn will likely last through the middle of 2009 noting that:
To be sure, this is a major recession and its downside risks in the midst of a highly volatile financial market environment shouldn't be underestimated. There are reasons, though, to believe that its severity and length will ultimately be contained by an unprecedented array of economic policy measures, some already in place, others in the pipeline.
Give it a read and judge for yourself.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Why smart people do dumb things

You might think that smart people are, well, smart. Yet even the very smart, famous, powerful, and rich who should obviously know better end up crashing and burning. Mortimer Feinberg, author of Why Smart People Do Dumb Things: Lessons from the New Science of Behavioral Economics has four main reasons:
Hubris
Pride to the point that you no longer feel shame, no longer believe that you are subject to public opinion, and no longer need to fear “the gods.” Examples: Gary Hart’s involvement with Donna Rice that ended his run for the presidency and the Dennis Kozlowski’s (Tyco) $2 million toga party.

Arrogance
From the Latin word arrogare: “to claim for oneself.” Arrogant people believe they have claim to anything and everything they want--they are “entitled” to it. King David, for example, felt entitled to the wife (Bathsheba) of one of his soldiers. Modern day King Davids feel entitled to corporate jets and an entourage to tell them that their keynote speech rocked.

Narcissism
Self absorption to the point that you are blind to reality. The world only exists to provide you gratification. Examples: Richard Nixon and Watergate; the Clintons and Whitewater—really just about every politician and CEO who falls from grace.

Unconscious need to fail
If you think failing is hard, try winning. The questions that go through people’s minds when they they are on the doorstep of success are: Do I really deserve to win? Do I want the pressure of constantly having to win in the future? Can I really handle success? Perhaps this explains why professional athletes still take performance enhancement drugs even after watching their colleagues get busted.
Let's see how the smart people in charge of our provincial government work things out.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

PM's speech. . . in song!

For those of you who missed the original, here's the remix:

Monday, December 01, 2008

Time flies

Last week:
Next week:

Nixon to China

This American political saw says that only Nixon could have made the trip to China because of his political background as an avowed and aggressive anti-communist. When the time came to break down years of diplomatic deep-freeze between China and the US, it was Nixon who could be trusted with the job.

I'm amused at the hard Tory line that the coalition is a pact with the devil because it relies on the support of the BQ. In full, the talking point goes: The coalition is a coup d'etat by a socialist/liberal alliance supported by the separatists against a legitimately elected government.

Because many others have dealt with most of the spurious charges inherent in that statement, I want to deal with just one: the dangers of a government based on separatist support.

First it's ironic that this is coming from the same Steven Harper who did everything he could to suck up the soft Quebec nationalist vote in the last election. Never mind his "Nation" resolution in the House of Commons. Thanks to him, he's given a new rhetorical tool to the Quebec nationalists that they can dine out on for generations.

So at a minimum Prime Minister is, and not for the first time, an expedient hypocrite who loves to accuse people of the same evil tactics he indulges in. But in this case his claim is outrageously misplaced and inappropriate.

Let me explain: my personal litmus test for any federal political is the separatist issue. Any politician in this country who plays footsie with separatist forces, goals or ideals (Clark, Mulrooney) is one I won't go near. Some people draw the line at same-sex marriage, abortion or capital punishment but for me it's separatism that does the initial sorting into those politicians I can support and those I have no time for.

That's just one reason I'm no fan of Harper. It is also my first principal motivating factor behind why I backed Dion in the leadership race. I said at the time:
While many in the Liberal party quaked about provoking separatist fervor in Quebec, he dared to bring logic and clarity to a murky issue. Through a Supreme Court reference, he established clear ground rules on future referendum conditions including the substance of the question, some conditions under which future referendum campaigns could be fought and the circumstances under which the federal government would open negotiations. These principles were written into the Clarity Act which has become, I believe, the ultimate tool to deter the kind of nationalistic shenanigans which threatened the integrity of this country in the past.

...

When Dion says the Canada is a country that works better in practice than in principle, he recognizes the kinds of hard choices and compromises that needs to be made without sacrificing certain bedrock principles.
Enough said.

A week is a long time in politics

According to CBC, Dion is tapped to lead Liberal-NDP coalition.

Now, get on with it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

A bit of Obama

Campaign strategists seek to make the look and feel of their campaign unique and distinct from their competitors. With great luck, they will be so unique and distinct as to set new standards. There is no doubt that the Obama campaign set a high bar for campaign look and feel.

As a quick and compact brand identity, you just can't beat the "O" logo. This showed up everywhere in many many forms. My bet is that it is already one of the most recognizable visual identities on the planet for a logo only three years old. The design was no accident. The story is that it was produced in a short two weeks from start to finish by a firm with no prior experience in campaign work.

It will be interesting to see how other campaigns will steal from the Obama one. You would think there might be some shame in doing that but you would be wrong. Campaigns are ruthless in stealing whatever works. Check out the on the Russian-language or Hebrew versions of the campaign web sites of Benjamin Netanyahu, the conservative Likud leader running for prime minister of Israel, and you will see clones of the Obama site.



The other unique and distinct quality the Obama campaign had was the candidate's distinctive speaking style. He was up against another distinctive speaker, John McCain. McCain even branded his bus with his speaking style: The Straight Talk Express. In another campaign cycle, that phenomena would have attracted more comment. In this campaign cycle, that rhetorical device was swamped and overwhelmed in the face of the most effective orator in political generations. People will be writing and publishing articles and books on the Obama oratorical and rhetorical style, devices, origins, influences, accomplishments, effects and any other way you can analyze and break it down; count on filling a long shelf. But as a quick overview, this BBC article covers the essential qualities. I've mentioned before that Obama rhetorical style is musical; I'm not the only one who thought so:
He may have calmness, notes Mr Collins, but the range of his delivery - the way he alters his pace, tone and rhythm - is closer to song.

"His style of delivery is basically churchy, it's religious: the way he slides down some words and hits others - the intonation, the emphasis, the pauses and the silences," he explains.

"He is close to singing, just as preaching is close to singing. All writing is a rhythm of kinds and he brings it out, hits the tune. It's about the tune, not the lyrics, with Obama."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

OffalNews meta-post: Statistics

I don't like to post about this blog itself but here's something I have to pass on. . . .

My usual reading traffic coming through here is pretty regular. It drops on the weekends and spikes up in the weeks I post heavily. Typical is 150-200 pageloads from 75-100 daily visitors.; sometimes it drops and other times it spikes higher.

Then there is the herd that came through in the last couple of weeks. Thanks to a link from somewhere here to this post of mine, traffic has stratosphered! Last week, pageloads went through the roof at 1200 right up to over 6000 from 1200 up to 5000 visitors. Here's an image of what I'm talking about.

This is the kind of traffic I could get used to! Too bad it's starting to drop back to normal patterns.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The anti-Obama

After the release of this video comes this parody, complete with trademark Obama dark suit and opalescent tie. This crude video inverts a message of other-centered hope into a derivative, ego-centered gloat. The responses of the people I've seen watch it have ranged from groans to chuckles to horror. Was that the intent?


Friday, November 07, 2008

Why I blog

One of the finest magazines of all time, in my humble opinion, is The Atlantic*. One of their stable of impressive writers is Andrew Sullivan. His blog, The Daily Dish, is well worth a look. He covers a wide variety of topics in posts which are short, often witty and always to the point.

In the print edition of The Atlantic, he publishes a longer piece called Why I blog. Parts of this insightful article state:
A blog, therefore, bobs on the surface of the ocean but has its anchorage in waters deeper than those print media is technologically able to exploit. It disempowers the writer to that extent, of course. The blogger can get away with less and afford fewer pretensions of authority. He is—more than any writer of the past—a node among other nodes, connected but unfinished without the links and the comments and the track-backs that make the blogosphere, at its best, a conversation, rather than a production.

...

To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth. A blogger will notice this almost immediately upon starting. Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does. They will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity to an idea. The role of a blogger is not to defend against this but to embrace it. He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.
Reading this has made me evaluate why I blog and how I blog. I have yet to come to firm conclusions but one thing I am going to try: I'm reopening the comments section (not anonymous, though) as an experiment. I'm not keen on overseeing flame wars so if that starts up then I'll be shutting down the comments again. And you should expect a site redesign within the next few months.

Welcome back to OffalNews.

____________
*What other publication could trawl through their files and come up a previously unpublished Mark Twain story?

Last word on the campaign

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes we can

Enough said.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

US election overviews

Hang in there it's almost over. Today is US election day and the polls close in 9 hours or so. Then I'll be back focusing on more local issues. But until then. . .

This is a great overview of this US presidential election cycle. Although it gives short shrift to the Clinton efforts, it does a pretty good job of compressing 2 years into 15 minutes or so. Not quite as gripping but still worthwhile is this timeline of significant campaign events.

Will you be watching the election coverage this evening? I thought so.

Have not no more (update)

The big news nationally is not that NL will not be receiving Equalization for the next two years, it's that Ontario will be. Although this is the first time in 51 years that Ontario will be a recipient, it came close about 20 years ago when oil prices surged and Alberta's revenues soared. Then the formula used to allocate equalization payments was changed to exclude that possibility. As the Globe notes:
It's important to note, however, that the economy of Canada's most-populous province has varied strengths – natural resources, high-tech, biotech, financial services, a highly skilled work force and, yes, even manufacturing – that are the envy of many jurisdictions. Ontario is poor only in comparison with those provinces wallowing in higher natural-resource revenues.
A further explanation of what this all means comes from one of the national giants of influence and thought on the subject of fiscal federalism Thomas Courchene, professor of economic and financial policy at the Queen's University School of Policy Studies. You can find it at the Globe and Mail. The upshot is that:
If we are serious about living up to the principles embedded in the equalization section of the Constitution, then it seems inevitable to me that we have to contemplate bringing the federal-provincial transfers for health, welfare and post-secondary education into the ambit of equalization. Since we are now income testing many key programs – old age security, guaranteed income supplements, child tax benefits, etc. – why not consider “revenue-testing” federal-provincial
cash transfers to the provinces?

Yes we carve

In the combined spirit of the US federal election and Halloween, check out Yes We Carve.

(t/h @ Nottawa)

Have not no more

I don't know what it says when a politician turns what is, in effect, a guaranteed minimum income program program for provinces into yet another point of ego. Except, of course, when everything is a point of ego and/or ego transference.

Nottawa has the cleanest and clearest call on the matter.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Reason #234 to attend the next Liberal convention

According to the Globe and Mail, a series of studies by researchers at the University of Rochester has revealed that men are far more attracted to women in red clothing or surrounded by red accessories than females who sport other colours.

Last day

Four years after the last US presidential campaign, and four years since the start of this presidential campaign, it all comes to an end tomorrow. And it's about time. No country in the world conducts campaigns on this scale of time and money. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing but one thing I do know, it makes for epic opera rather than TV movies of the week.

I expect Obama to win. My main source of US election data confirms it; ahead by 7% so no tension there. My source of electoral tension comes from the a sub-presidential race I've been following, the Minnesota senate seat featuring Al Franken (of Al Franken Decade SNL fame). He's running against a Republican incumbent who has adopted "The Hope Express" slogan trying to leech from Obama. While Franken is ahead by a nose (2.5%), the outcome is far from certain.

In the last 24 hours, both Obama and McCain are in hyperkinetic mode, logging thousands of miles in the hope of last minute vote changing. For McCain, staring defeat in the face, this is his swansong and he's making the best of it with tact and grace. For Obama, there's more at stake and he's handing himself accordingly.

Why do people vote the way they do? It beats the hell out of me. There's not much science to it that I can see although science has been working on it. There are articles citing factors such as voter support for candidates who look like them and other reports analyzing different campaign strategies but there is no magic bullet. If there was then governments would never change and candidates would never lose. Show me someone with a sure-fire electoral strategy and I'll show you a fraud.

A side story: I've been fascinated to see how the web has affected this campaign cycle in ways both great and small. Looking for a customized Obama poster or lawn sign or other sign of your very own? They are now just a mouse click away. Much of the huge volume of donations to Obama were harvested by his very effective and attractive web site. You will see the web play an increasingly central role in future campaigns bother in the US and locally.

A lot of people have invested a lot of hopes and dreams in the junior senator from Illinois. And the world conditions which were in place when he announced his candidacy almost 24 months ago have been upended in the last 24 days. I'm sure a lot of his plans for his first 100 days will have to be scrapped and he'll have to rethink and start over. I'm pretty sure he will be up for it.

The next four to eight years will be worth watching.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Election speech/music videos

The US elections are over next week so bear with me. The fact is that there is just so much cool US election stuff out there that iIwant to share it all. So give me some credit for sifting through the pile and presenting you with only the very best.

This time, it's speech/music videos. . .

Communication is music. A great speech has rhythm and dynamics and introduction and theme development and climax and resolution and all the other qualities you find in a sonata or a ballad or, if truly great, a symphony. And there is no doubt that Obama is a great speaker. Don't take my word for it. Just check out his nomination acceptance speech or his speeches after the Iowa or New Hampshire primaries. They are truly awesome.

But back to communication as music. This video from will.i.am intertwines Obama speech patterns with music and it's deeply moving.


And if great communication is great music, then disjointed, comical communication becomes disjointed, comical music. Yes, you guessed it, Sarah Palin also has a video which transforms her speech patterns into music.



Obama under my bed; Palin in the trash

This is just too funny.

More money than you can imagine

For an election campaign, anyways. Tonight will see the airing of Barak Obama's 30 minute infomercial - an extended campaign ad with both taped and live components. Some of the taped components were filmed by Davis Guggenheim, whose father was the campaign documentarian of Robert F. Kennedy. Considering that Obama's speeches are scripted by a man who worked closely with Ted Sorenson, JFK's speechwriter, it seems that Obama has a fondness for that particular school of Kennedy associated talent.

According to the NY Times, this ad will be shown on NBC, CBS, Fox, Univision, MSNBC and two cable networks that cater to African-Americans, BET and TV One. Ross Perot is that last presidential candidate to run 30 minute ads; eight long infomercials to an average of 13 million viewers, with one of them getting 16.5 million viewers.

This media shot will cost $3million although some reports peg the price tag at more like $6million. Just to put it into perspective, the entire national Conservative Party campaign in the past federal election came in at around $22million for everything. In the last provincial election, all the political party spending put together didn't come close to $3million (I suspect it was more like half of that, numbers have yet to be released).

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In October, the Obama campaign spent more than $100million and is currently running about 7700 commercials a day. McCain, because he accepted public funding, is limited to a campaign spending ceiling of $84million for everything - he's only running less than half the number of ads and can't afford anything longer than 30 seconds. A detailed breakdown of who spent how much on what ads can be found here.

McCain has had to make choices in where he spends money and he's chosen to play defence. While Obama can spend big money everywhere, McCain, has had to reduce his advertising in swing states like New Hampshire and Wisconsin so he can advertise in states he must win, like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

If you are living in places like Washington DC, Virginia or Florida, you will find that almost every prime time show, daytime show and news program is saturated with political advertising. Mostly Obama's.

If money is the mother's milk of politics then Obama must be close to drowning.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shepard Fairey

If you are following the Obama campaign (and what Offal reader could resist), then you will run across the Shepard Fairey Obama poster. He originally developed two: Hope and Progress. A first print run of 350 was sold out within minutes for $45 a piece. They started to pop up on eBay for as much as $10,000 in no time. What started as a poster of a politician had quickly become an pop culture icon.



And what becomes iconic quickly becomes a target for parody. Here are some of my favourites:



You can count on the other side not getting off easily.




There is a fine collection of other Obama poster parodies here.

Iceland hikes rates to 18%

According to this report from BBC NEWS, Iceland's interest rate up to 18% from 12% as they struggle to stabilize their currency. The IMF has already loaned them $2billion and the Icelandic central bank figures they need another $4billion to do the job.

Meanwhile, the Icelandic crown traded internationally for the first time for a week on Tuesday, with the value slumping to 240 to the euro from Monday's official fix of 152.

They have a deep hole to climb out of before they see daylight again.

My own Christmas book list - Frank Moores

Inspired by the Bond Papers Christmas book wish list, I offer my own choices. . . .

One of my earliest political memories was the provincial election of 1972 when Frank Moores defeated Joey Smallwood. The local newspaper printed a score card of all the candidates so you could track the results at home as they came in on the radio. I remember sitting at the kitchen table, keeping track of the results on the scorecard until I was shooed off to bed. By the next morning, the political world of this province had undergone a seismic shift. Smallwood was gone and Moores was in.

I never knew Moores although I met him once. I do know people who knew him very well. I know a lady in Manitoba who met Frank when she was young. Her father was a federal Tory politician and Frank would drop in from time to time for a drink and a chat. She recalls that he seemed to keep company with a variety of attractive female companions.

He seem to have inspired a fierce staff loyalty. My old next door neighbour was his private secretary (I believe that was her job, she didn't talk about it too much) except for a fierce glare at anyone who might utter any disparaging word about her former boss, even years later.

Like many other people, I heard stories about Frank Moores. Lots of stories. Some very funny stories. And more than a few profane and ribald ones. He was the kind of guy around whom stories swirled.

The publisher's blurb says:
Thirty-five year old Frank Moores, retired millionaire, woman-loving, scotch-drinking sportsman had never been to a political meeting when he announced his candidacy as a Newfoundland Member of Parliament in 1968. Moores was a likable, unlikely politician, and the people of Newfoundland were ready for a revolution. Moores won the popular vote in the provincial election of October 1971 but the number of seats was tied. For three months Smallwood clung to power amidst constitutional wrangling, bribery, intrigue and adultery, but Moores triumphed. He immediately called another election and won a substantial majority. In an administration beleaguered with controversy, he introduced sweeping legislative reforms and restored democratic process to Newfoundland, then retired, and began his third career as a powerful Ottawa lobbyist in the Mulroney years.
I'm hoping this book will have a fuller sense of the story; I figure it's worth the $25 or so to find out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sign Wars (a little more)

I mentioned before about the dark side of sign wars - simple theft of the other campaign's signs. But just like every other competitive exercise, as soon as one side tries to seize an advantage (in this case by lifting signs), the other side will compensate somehow.

In the US McCain-Obama sign wars, one creative fellow decided that if they were going to keep taking his lawn sign, the next time they would have to take his whole lawn too!



Meanwhile, across the trenches on the other side of the battlefield, the thinking is that if a small sign is easy to steal then a big sign is hard to steal. So he put up a big sign!


Friday, October 24, 2008

New York Times makes endorsement

From today:

Mr. Obama has met challenge after challenge, growing as a leader and putting real flesh on his early promises of hope and change. He has shown a cool head and sound judgment. We believe he has the will and the ability to forge the broad political consensus that is essential to finding solutions to this nation’s problems.

In the same time, Senator John McCain of Arizona has retreated farther and farther to the fringe of American politics, running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism. His policies and worldview are mired in the past. His choice of a running mate so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the accomplishments of 26 years in Congress.


Obama in Virginia

Here are some photos and audio of an Obama rally in Virginia.

So what, you might ask.  Well, in the presidential election of 2004, Bush won their 13 electoral votes over Gore by 52.2% to 44.4% (Nader took 2.2%).  The most recent poll results have Obama up 51.5% over McCain's 44.5%.

That's a turnover of 15.1% points in a very reliable Republican state.

Nationally as of today, Obama has raised $621,984,626 in total with $133,696,693 cash on hand and just 12 days to go. 

Obama is no longer a campaign - he leads a movement.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

US election images

There are lots of great US election images out there - here are just a few of Obama.







Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Barack Obama - the early days

http://www.papermag.com/blogs/barack-obama-bw.pngThis video is worth checking out: it's a series of interviews from 2001 to 2004 which provide some sense of Barack Obama before he became a political god.

Back then he sounded more like the constitutional prof that he was than the national figure channeling Martin Luther King before teeming crowds of thousands.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Political reaction(aries)

I would have thought that the US white power nazi and assorted groups would have been very active in this US presidential election. It seems not so much. The New York Times reports that they are doing the best that can but mostly they are too marginalized, weak and divided even on the issue of whether Obama is really all that bad.

On the other hand, more mainstream groups like the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated, seem to be filling the gap with foolishness like an illustration of "Obama Bucks" -- a phony $10 bill featuring Obama's face on a donkey's body, labeled "United States Food Stamps."

More creepy is this report from the Washington Post which tells the story of the racism encountered by Obama campaigners:
They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.
Meanwhile, some local rednecks get themselves organized in West Plains, Missouri. These local enterprising political stars put up a billboard reflecting their sophisticated political views.

Not too far away is the obligatory hanging-in-effigy incident. USA Today notes that:
The hanging of the effigy around the neck is seen as racist symbolism because it harkens back to lynchings of black men by white mobs, especially in the U.S. South, decades ago. Obama is aiming to become America's first black president.
No kidding.

And then just when you thought you had seen and read it all, you come across this huge steaming pile of absurdity. RightPundits.com, which received a secret copy of Michelle Obama's Princeton dissertation says that:
The excerpts show that Obama identifies with black militancy, utterly obsessed with race in America and her own blackness. It is a fundamentally racist document, shocking when considering that this scholarship is the product of a presidential candidate’s wife at a great university.
In the land of free speech, anything goes.

Thank you for your service


I hope he stays near.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sign Wars update

I received an email:
You wrote: "I always looked on sign damage as the unimpressive work of political campaign amateurs. Clearly others disagree."

Would you mind explaining what you mean by "others disagree"? I am in agreement with your thought on that it's opposition campaign followers who are doing the destruction/vandalism.
Interesting question.

Generally, I think there always a percentage of signs that get knocked over or punched in or taken due to any of random vandalism, the disgruntled and bored or special cases of metal illness or what have you or the casual bump that knocks down a poorly planted sign. That happens all the time in every election to one degree or another.

There's a big difference between those random acts and deliberate predation. That is uncommon, though not rare. It's not common enough so that when it happens, you notice it and vice versa. It's the damage that falls way outside the norm that's the tip-off. When a whole parkway disappears or all the 4x8s in an area are spray painted the same way, it's not an accident. Often, but not always, it's predation. If it happens a second time, that confirmations predation.

Search media reports and the stories pop up. Some are whining candidates making baseless accusations, no doubt. But there are also the cases documented by legal action or even just videos and photos of people caught in the act.

And I'm leaving aside the issue of fair comment versus vandalism. I know the "record of lying" case took in more issues than just simple vandalism. The line is not as thin as you would think. On some levels, some cases straddle that line between vandalism and free speech. A fundamental underpinning of civil disobedience is "do the crime, serve the time".

I still think sign damage is the unimpressive work of political campaign amateurs not necessarily attached to a campaign though they might be. It's an unusual campaign that tolerates it; some candidates set explicit derectives prohibiting it.

It's just foolish on a whole bunch of levels for all concerned.,of which the ethical and criminal problems are just two.

Campaigns need to keep their eye on the ball and remember that the goal is to get your point across to the voters. But as obvious as all that might be there are people who think otherwise; signs just don't self-destruct or evaporate.

Wholly bizzare

This video sent chills up my spine.


This is how the Arab/Muslim world will frame this US election. Did you catch the fact the clip came from the Aljazeera tv network?

Sign wars

Barack Obama for President Yard SignPolitical signs around here are free; campaigns just give them away. Locally, these are usually the first advertising expense of the campaign (after design).

In the US, signs are sold to raise money for the campaign. They are not an expense, they are a profit center. The handsome sign on the right can be yours for a measly US$8 ($3 for 500 or more) plus appropriate taxes and shipping.

These cost the campaign less than $1 each in volume. And I can guarantee you that the sign company who hooked the Obama contract will retire after this on the volume they will order before the campaign is done.

There are many fronts on which campaign wars are fought. The air wars are the media advertising and talk radio appearances. The ground war is the volunteer house-to-house canvassing organization. Then there are the sign wars: who gets them out the firstest to the best spots and the mostest by election day. They are erected by the campaign corp of engineers. who can pop up vertical 4x8's across the city like mushrooms after a summer rain.
One of Kevin Breen's campaign signs was altered to showcase the words 'a record of lying.'
That's the overt part of the sign war. The dark side this war's covert exercises are the signs that evaporate in the night, destroyed, marked up (a la Ray O'Neill) or otherwise defaced. In the Federal St. John's West By-election held in May 2000, I remember that all the campaigns (except the Reform, oddly) saw massive damage to signage.*

Now that we've come out of a nasty federal election in which sign wars played a part again, I think it's worthwhile to keep in perspective that sign wars happen in other places too.

But when you are making $7 per sign and people are willing to replace them, the crime is a whole lot less financially traumatic to the campaign.

---------------------
* I always looked on sign damage as the unimpressive work of political campaign amateurs. Clearly others disagree.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Insurance for bloggers

The Media Bloggers Association is now offering the same training, legal support and insurance previously only available to traditional media organizations. This will include BlogInsure, a first of its kind liability insurance program for bloggers which provides coverage for all forms of defamation, invasion of privacy and copyright infringement or similar allegations arising out of blogging activities.

NL bloggers should be quick to follow up on this.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Federal Election ABC Aftermath

Two interesting articles on trying to foretell the effects of the federal election of federal-provincial relations.

The New Brunswick Telegraph figures their province is in the catbird seat. They just elected 6 Cons out of 10 seats so they predict they can plough ahead with their "energy hub" projects with full federal support. The NL future is not so bright:
A major factor was Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams' acerbic campaign against the Harper government, which succeeded in shutting the Conservatives out - with six of that province's seven seats going to the Liberals and the other to a New Democrat. But Mr. Williams has also shut his province out of any representation in the new government. That's where revenge gets you.
Then there is Ontario and the contrast between the incendiary Williams approach and the more low-key McGuinty tactic. The Globe figures that while McGuinty has some room to play with, Williams has not so much:
But what if the day isn't done and what if Mr. Harper has a long memory for those who have crossed him? What does Mr. Williams have left the next time he wants to be threatening? Will the Liberal and New Democratic MPs from Newfoundland be able to protect his offshore energy accord when the equalization scheme is reviewed again?
Life has become no less interesting.

Behind the scenes at "I have a dream"

From the New York Times obituary of John R. Reilly, a close adviser to a string of Democratic presidential candidates since the Kennedy years:
On Aug. 28, 1963, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech before 250,000 civil rights supporters in Washington, Mr. Reilly was given an unusual assignment by the Kennedy administration.

As the television correspondent Roger Mudd wrote in his book “The Place to Be: Washington, CBS and the Glory Days of Television News” (PublicAffairs), Mr. Reilly told him that “he was stationed at the Lincoln Memorial, equipped with a cutoff switch on the sound system if the rhetoric got too inflammatory. ‘We had a turntable hooked up to play music, if necessary,’ Reilly said.” Mr. Reilly had picked a 78-r.p.m. recording of Mahalia Jackson singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

Imagine if he had hit that switch. . . "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty he's got the whole world in his hands!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Unite(?) the Left

This election, the NDP ran as good a campaign as it was possible to run under the circumstances. It was tight, well-scripted, logistically near-flawless and fully funded for the first time. They had a leader who, arguably, made fewer mistakes than the others (outside the occational skinnydipping dopehead) and reached out to people and places ignored by previous NDP campaigns.

The national NDP results were pretty good. The party attracted 2,517,075 votes or 18.2% yielding 37 seats and 67 second places. Compare this to the 2006 general election where the party attracted 2,589,597 for 29 seats and 53 second places. And the budgets? $13,524,525 in 2006 compared to an estimated $20,000,000 this time.

But after spending almost 50% more money, or $6M, the party attracted a mere 8 additional seats and a relatively minuscule number of additional votes. And they never broke the 20% barrier.

Have they, as one comentator put it, hit the orange ceiling?

It's time for the NDP to explore the idea that they have gone as far as they can under their current party structure. The question is Are theose in charge of the NDP is willing and able to pay the required price for greater success.

Can they cut the formal structural ties the party currently has with the Canadian union movement.

To put it another way: Would you vote for a party which reserves 25% of policy convention delegates to affiliated union organisations? Or would you vote for a party which reserves 25% of leadership convention delegates to affiliated union organisations? Yet that's standard operating procedure in today's NDP party.

Would you feel any better if 25% of your party's delegates came from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce? Or maybe the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League? Isn't one special interest group equivalent to any other?

Tony Blair, early in his tenure as leader of the Labour party faced this choice. He had the courage required to make fundamental structural changes to his party. He cut ties to the British labour movement and thus modernised his party to turn it into a real alternative to the Conservative party.

Is Jack Layton ready to do the same?

Which brings us back to the Unite the Left movement. This is a popular trope among casual political observers and the argument is a simple one: in order to confront the menace on the Right, the Liberal party and the NDP (and possible the Greens) must and should unite under one banner in order to prevent vote splitting.

After all, didn't Reform and the Progressive Conservatives successfully unite? Sure they did. And it took years of negotiations, talks and compromises to make ithappen. Couldn't the Liberals and NDP do the same?

In the long term, it's possible.

But Canada does not want or need the further polarisation of national politics between the hard-right to center-right umbrella that is the national Conservative Party on one side and a creature of the Canadian union movement on the other.

No responsible federal party should ever be as beholden to national organised labour as the NDP party is now.

If there is to be a true Unite the Left movement, the NDP will have to agree to shed it's formal union ties as a precondition to those talks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Not just around here, it seems

I've been looking for a good term for the degradation of public debate that's occured in NL over the last few years.  I've finally found one.

Chris Buckley, son of US conservative great Bill Buckley, has resigned from The National Review, the conservative magazine founded by his father.  After he endorsed Obama, he and the publication have been flooded with vitriolic, vicious reaction from the US right.

His conclusion: "(it's) part of the calcification of modern discourse".

It's a good line.

Space and Russia

Two subjects that have always fascinated me are the space program and the USSR. So when I run across stories about the Star City cosmodrome at Baikonur in Kazhakztan, the former super-secret Cape Canaveral Russian equivalent, I'm hooked.

These days Star City is no longer supersecret. In fact, due to the closure of the US shuttle program, for a fiver year period until the US gets the replacement vehicles ready, the only way to get to the International Space Station will be through Star City. It was huge Russian Proton rockets launched from Star City which transferrred the ISS into space.

So here's a piece from the New York Times outlining the US experience with Star City. In part:

Those early days (1994) were also marked by wariness and distrust, and the first Americans had a strong impression they were being watched. Mark Bowman, an early contract employee in Russia who is now back in Moscow as deputy director of NASA’s human space flight program in Russia, recalled a weekly teleconference with his boss in Houston. “Thirty minutes into the call the line would go dead,” Mr. Bowman said. “And that would happen every 30 minutes.”

One day during the teleconference, Mr. Bowman warned 28 minutes in that the line was about to go dead and said testily, “I sure wish these damned KGB guys would get longer tapes.”

“The next telecon we had,” Mr. Bowman recalled, “I swear to you, it went 45 minutes and then it went dead.” Apparently, he said, his hosts had upgraded to 90-minute cassettes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

More federal election information

While Trendlines might be the ugliest website ever (outside the first dozen or so that ever went online) it has some interesting seat predictions based on averages of polls and available seat prediction models. It is sort of an aggregate seat predictor.



As of today, they predict C131, L105, BQ42, NDP28 and 2 independents.

It's worth a look.

So very tired

One of the very best political movies of all time is The Candidate starring Robert Redford. It's a great film with keen political insight (it won an Oscar for best screenplay written by Jeremy Larner, a speech-writer for Senator Eugene J. McCarthy during McCarthy's campaign for the 1968 Democratic Presidential nomination).

Political chronics will know the film but for those who don't, it's about a young political candidate for Governor of California. There are many twists and turns in the story but a great moment occurs late in the campaign. Redford is in the back of the limo heading to election event number 1,654,385 or so when he starts repeating his stump speech to himself. He has delivered it so many times that the speech becomes meaningless to him; the words come out in a meaningless and bizarre jumble of phrases and ideas. His handlers, listening to him from the front seat, look at each other with a look that tells you they think he's lost his mind.

That's what happens in long campaigns: candidates gets punchdrunk and silly because they get tired. Ever take a flight across Canada? Now take one every day, back and forth, for a month. Then try to pass any kind of test of concentration.

Wondering if Peter MacKay knows what candidate he's stumping for today? Of course he does. But after 30+ days on nonstop travel, he's lucky to know his own name.

Wondering if Dion knows his own economic plan? Again, of course he does. Again, after 30+ days on nonstop travel, he's lucky to know his own name.

Are Harper's efforts to seize on Dion's mistake to his own advantage underhanded? I don't think so - it's just politics. Maybe, as a political tactic, it's not as effective or as smart as it could be. But it's still just politics nonetheless.

Is it bad journalistic ethics to run the flubs on the air in toto? I'm not sure because I'm not an expert in the area. But I'm not sure what journalistic purpose was fulfilled in doing that.

I'm not excusing the flub on tiredness or hearing or language. After a campaign this long, there are no new questions and the answers should become automatic. Somehow, in this case, the autopilot went on strike and his brain locked up. It is not a comment on his competence; it's a confirmation of his basic human fallibility.

This is not a good way to end the last week of the campaign.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

What happened in Iceland?

BBC has a great analysis piece on what happened to cause Iceland to collapse. In short, inappropriate monetary policy and an outsized banking system made for a toxic combination.

Long terms prospects are good; short term prospects not so good with Icelandics seeing payments on loans increased by up to 50%, and inflation which may reach 30% or more this year, with salaries frozen and mass layoffs to come.

Stay tuned

The image of change (or the changing image)

[dion+much+music.jpg]

Spot the narcissist

Research shows that narcissists like to become leaders.  But while they really want to become leaders, they are not any better than anyone else at being a leader.

Anyone closely involved in watching politics could have told you that.

A sobering commentary

From the Globe today:
At worst, we could wind up like Italy - broke, with a pizza parliament, but without the food, art and fabulous shoes.

The importance of being ernest

Image from “Mr. Harper's empathy deficit”

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Great image

Image from “Harper offers policy, not an empathetic ear for Canadian concerns”

 . . . although Mr. Harper may not agree.