Monday, November 16, 2009

Blogger wars

I've been closely watching the local blogger wars (and associated commentary) as seen here, here, here, here, here and here. This massive exchange demonstrates to me that it takes only the slightest spark to draw in all the pyromaniacs.

I have strong feelings about this mess and I know who I trust but I prefer to keep all of that sordid information to myself. Suffice it to say that I'm confident that the most sensible thought on the subject, albeit tangentially, was Russell Wangersky's.

What I will suggest to all parties is that some comments clearly showed the need for some coaching in some of the finer points of waging and winning an online war. As a public service, I point out this article from Wired, How to Win an Internet Flame War. Of course this article assumes anonymous players so I'm not sure how it applies to those wars where the players have at least a nodding acquaintance with each other.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Worst case

Thank you for arguing

I've long been dismayed with the local fixation on the "rant".  I enjoy Rick Mercer's take on the form but the amateur would-be ranters just don't get what it's all about.  A rant, properly executed, is a carefully structured, erudite, coherent, logical polemic.  It is not a simple spew of whatever is on one's mind.  If you want to see a true master of the form, I can think of none better than Keith Olbermann, an American talking head on MSNBC.  Check here and here for real jewels.

Related to the rant/spew confusion is the argument/fight confusion.  What brought this matter to a head in my mind is the latest Williams meltdown, this time live on VOCM, which many confused for an argument or dispute.  It was not.  It was a drive-by pie-toss at an unsuspecting pedestrian.

But the point of this post is not to dwell on the premier's semi-hysterical rhetorical media muggings but to point out that arguments are good things.  Arguments are how we make progress on issues and explore possible solutions.  Arguments are not disputes; arguments are how we resolve disputes.  Arguments are not fights and they are not personal.  People have the misconception that arguments should be avoided because they lead to conflict but in the hands of the sensible, they are resolutions to conflict.

I just came across this column, by Jay Heinrichs, the author of Thank You For Arguing (a book I highly recommend) which talks about how teaching your kids to argue diffuses conflict and encourages critical thought about even the most mundane things.  This article is sort of late for me because I've already stumbled through the rearing of my own children, making it up as I went along.  But I'm relieved that some of the principles I tried to set for my relationship with them is mirrored in many of the things Heinrichs writes here.

Imagine if more parents had followed the principles outlined here; how different our public sphere would be!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dialing while pissed

Ever make a telephone call you later regretted? You know, call somebody up, say something intemperate and then hang up in a huff?

Ever do it while being Premier?

To a live talk radio show?

Well, Danny Williams did.

Listen right to the end to get the full effect.

Updates and commentary:
Here and

Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran election

One country I have yet to visit that I really want to visit is Iran. And the recent election, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was "reelected" in a landslide only makes me want to visit even more.

Iran has a unique political system with an elected secular component and a mullah-based component, led by Iran’s "supreme leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which dominates the elected side. It's a weird combination and balance of the democratic and the theocratic. Now the balance is out of whack and what's left is just weird.

The protests over the weekend calling for an investigation into potentially fixed results indicates that Iranians, the ones that live in Tehran anyways, are not satisfied to be ruled against their will be parochial religious conservatives. Latest news is that opposition leaders are banned from holding rallys and the leaders are under house arrest. It seems unlikely that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was "reelected"
with a 62% margin even in the hometown of the oppistion leader.

We can be cynical around here about elections but there are still parts of the world where people feel elections really mean something and that they have real impacts on their lives. The import attached to elections results can be huge because so much is at stake. Rather than contests between small variations of public policy or the cults of personality-based elections we see around here, in countries like Iran elections are battles of fundamental ideals and ideas. And people care. At least, they will care as long as they feel they have a chance to make a difference.

The situation in Iran is complex. Even the media-described "liberal" factions are, by our standards, more conservative than the average Canadian would feel comfortable with. I've read no calls for the dismantling of the religious-dominated system, only calls for the system to live up to what it has promised. It reminds a bit of the late 80s when Gorbachev called for a reform of the Communist state, not for up-ending it.

This is a story worth following.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Heading to Doha town

It’s 5:30am in St. John’s and I see the sun is shining bright through the skylights of Frankfurt airport. In 3 hours I have a flight to Doha, Qatar where I’ve been invited to judge the Qatari National Debate Trials. 90 students will compete for the opportunity to represent their country at the world’s level.

Regular readers will know that I have been heavily involved in debating at all levels as competitor, organiser and coach. So when this opportunity arrived through an email on Monday morning, those who knew me well weren’t surprised to see me boarding a plane on Wednesday noon for Doha.

This is not the first time I’ve travelled to parts unknown (to me, anyway) to help with debating. In ’88 and ’90 I travelled to the USSR to do much the same. Some people like to go abroad to dig wells, build clinics or other necessary infrastructure. I’m not very good at digging wells so I go abroad to build social and political infrastructure. Debating, at it’s core, is all about Freedom of Speech. And for me that’s the best Freedom ever! In fact it’s so good that it’s too good to keep to ourselves; I think everyone else should have it too.

Qatar does not show up in the lists of the most democratic or free countries out there. Compared to most Arab countries, it is very free. Compared to what we have in Canada, its stultifying. I don’t kid myself that student debate will start a revolution. But I do hope that if that revolution, or fundamental reform, finally comes, then I will have done some small bit to help some of the potential national leaders appreciate the value of verbal combat over martial combat.

I’m only in Doha for Friday and Saturday after almost 36 hours of travel each way. Still, never having been there is a good enough reason to go in my books.

Updates to follow!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ruby Dhalla and editorial discretion

Newspaper photo editors have enormous discretion in the photos they select to illustrate stories. And when it comes to young and comely politicians, the range of possibilities can be wide indeed.

Take the case of Ruby Dhalla and consider this photo. Ask yourself what kind of story would this photo be considered appropriate to illustrate (keeping in mind that the photo is copyright Maxim)


As it turns out, it was used to illustrate a story on the world's most physically attractive female politicians.

Maybe this is a case of living by the sword and thereby dying by the sword but still, when politicians are in public favour, the photos are flattering and attractive. But when they fall out of favour, it would be hard to recognise them as the same person.

Consider the media choices of illustrating photographs pre-nannygate and post-nannygate.

Can you tell which is which? Worth a thousand words or more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I love elections

I love elections and everything about them.  I love the strategy and the tactics.  I love the language around elections, even the dumb bits.  I love the rules and laws which govern elections, even the strange and arcane ones.

I love the way that a competition among groups produces that which governs us.

My ideal job would be international elections observer.  That way I could see, first hand, incredible colourful images like these from the ongoing Indian election.

Friday, April 17, 2009

New blog for the policy wonks

If you are into hardcore policy analysis (and face it, who isn't?) then this new blog from AIMS will fill your boots.

I've found AIMS to be an impressive shop producing quality and thought-provoking work.  A small group of researchers, they definitely punch above their weight in producing reports on Atlantic issues from a market perspective.  More than once they have twigged this province's government with inconvenient truths on education, municipal and general economic policy.  Local naysayers will dismiss their reports by trying to paint them as a crew of right wing nutjobs at the same time steering clear of substantive rebuttals.

As Churchill noted, if you are receiving flack then you must be over the target.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How they see us

It's comforting to know that the people of the world see us as happy and friendly, welcoming and warm.  It's comforting, but it's not true.

If you want to know how the world sees the people of the Canada (because this province is lumped into the national whole and doesn't merit a specific attack), then this piece is as good as any.

Doesn't matter if it's true or not.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bad (political) dreams

A classic bad dream is falling from a great height. Or appearing at school to find out you have to write a surprise exam. Or speaking in front of a crowd to discover you have no clothes.

How about speaking to the *wrong* crowd? A minister in the BJP government of the state of Karnataka in India, VS Acharaya, did exactly that.

Seeing an election rally under way while visiting the district of Udupi, he decided to go and put in his two cents worth as a courtesy to the locals. After delivering a blistering attack on the incompetence and corruption of the federal Congress Party led government, he discovered that he was speaking to a rally of, you guessed it, the Congress Party!

Police said the senior BJP leader beat a speedy retreat when he realised his mistake.

It's only a matter of time before that happens to some local hapless dolt.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Municipal Dance Hall - Pensions edition

Mayor Doc O'Keefe and his colleagues on council are pretty busy people. on the PR front. They take every opportunity they can to notify local media of every stray thought thought that enters their heads, every random decision or action they take. These days it's hard for listeners of talk radio to escape their gentle voices from their persistent calls thoughtfully notifying voters of their latest worthy activities.

It is election year, after all, and it is the people's right to know what they are up to.

There are exceptions, of course. When Council chose to hike their salaries retroactively they made that decision on the sly hoping nobody would notice. Of course maybe they would have been more noisy if the election was in sight. No doubt some councilors would have choosen to decline to take the increase, as was done recently.

Since Council had their knuckles well and thoroughly rapped for that self-serving escapade, you would think they would know better next time. You would hope that the lesson had been learned: be upfront or be condemned.

So what would you expect members of Council to do as the province introduced legislation to the amend the city charter to permit these same members of council to draw a pension after just two terms in Gower Street bunker instead of three?

Maybe thunderous, deafening, ear-splitting silence? Almost like they didn't want anyone to notice?

Clearly the lesson has not sunk in.

By the way, neither of the charters for the cities of Mt. Pearl and Corner Brook make provisions of any kind for pensions for members of their councils.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson (physicist, mathematician and general theorist fix-it man in everything from pure math to biology) is one of the very great minds of our time.  When luminaries like Feynman, Oppenheimer and Bethe consider him to be one of their very best who was fleeced because no Nobel came his way then you know you are dealing with a very sparkly mind here.

Unless you are a fan of theoretical physics and physicists then Dyson will not have appeared on your radar.  But if you are keen on science fiction and space travel then you might have come across the Dyson Sphere or possibly the Orion Project for nuclear propulsion.

The New York Times has a wonderful profile of him with this story about just how off-the-charts smart this gentleman is:
At Jason, taking problems to Dyson is something of a parlor trick. A group of scientists will be sitting around the cafeteria, and one will idly wonder if there is an integer where, if you take its last digit and move it to the front, turning, say, 112 to 211, it’s possible to exactly double the value. Dyson will immediately say, “Oh, that’s not difficult,” allow two short beats to pass and then add, “but of course the smallest such number is 18 digits long.” When this  happened one day at lunch, William Press remembers, “the table fell silent; nobody had the slightest idea how Freeman could have known such a fact or, even more terrifying, could have derived it in his head in about two seconds.” The meal then ended with men who tend to be described with words like “brilliant,” “Nobel” and “MacArthur” quietly retreating to their offices to work out what Dyson just knew.
The point of this profile, besides inherent interest in a remarkable man, is to delve into his sharp criticisms of global warming advocates.  I've not put much thought into the details of the ins and outs of global warming but Dyson has.  His thoughts are worth reviewing, not to debunk global warming, but to see the workings and priorities of an independent mind.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Laugh of the day

As long as you have passing familiarity with the Night of the Long Knives (Canadian version) and Twitter, then you will get a laugh out of this.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

St. John's municipal dancehall (3)

Just when you thought civilization had returned to the bunker on Gower, a racket breaks out (opens in Real Media).

According to multiple news reports, Councilor Galgay started taking more time than he should have while tabling a document when he was shouted down by Mayor Doc ("Guiding a great city") O'Keefe in concert with Councillor Keith ("Let's tax more") Coombs who chimed in at the top of his lungs because. . . well. . . just because he could.

What's the real problem here? It seems like they believe that time is in such short supply that if one councillor takes some time then that will leave too little time for other councillors to consume. And why do they all need all this time so badly that they will publicaly scrap over it like hungry dogs after a bone? The answer lies in the simple truth that this is an election year and they are all very touchy about making sure that no councillor takes any more time than any other.

Fear for your position makes grown people do silly things.

See also posts on Municipal Dancehall 1 and 2.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Forbidden words

I have a list of forbidden words and phrases tacked up on my office wall. These include many favourites of the local political class including "frankly", "at the end of the day", "due diligence" and "drill-down", among others. The words on this list will not come from my keyboard or lips and I'll bounce a wad of paper off the head of anybody who tosses off such tripe in my office.

What do these words mean? Beats me. Mostly they are used by people in the public sphere to sound important when plain and simple words seem just too, well, plain and simple.

But doesn't "on a go-forward basis" simply mean "from now on"? And when did "piece" become a synonym for "issue"?

In Great Britain, positive steps have been taken to stamp out this rubbish. The Local Government Association (their NL Federation of Municipalities equivalent) has released a list of words and phrases to be avoided.

LGA chairman Margaret Eaton says that the public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases saying "Why do we have to have 'coterminous, stakeholder engagement' when we could just 'talk to people' instead?"

Why indeed?

If you'd like, take the time to leave a comment with your favourite example of words and phrases which government should avoid.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Talking, speaking, speeches

Regular readers will know that I have a long-time fascination (here, here, here and here) with the ancient form of public communications known as speeches.

Speeches are not about just talking aloud or reading from a news release or yelling in front of a crowd. A true speech is a dialogue between the speaker and the audience with a form and structure which leads the audience emotionally and intellectually to new places. A great speech energizes, soars and provokes thought and feelings which were previously latent; a bad speech is discordant, dull, predictable.

There's a misconception, in my opinion now laid to rest by the rise of Obama, that we are past the age of speeches and that they are no longer relevant or useful. Of course they are relevant and useful. The real issue is whether the current crop of political leaders have the chops to deliver speeches are relevant and useful.

Jeffery Simpson believes that the current Prime Minister does not have the chops. I agree.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ron Silver (AKA Bruno Gianelli) 1946-2009

If you were a fan of West Wing (and who wasn't?), then you would remember the character of the super political consultant Bruno (take no prisoners) Gianelli played by Ron Silver. Bruno was crucial to the overall series story arc by providing a burst of energy in pushing the narrative to a new level.

One great exchange from the show:

Those weren't Ron Silver's words, they were Aaron Sorkin's, but they might as well have been his because he sold them so well. He was a fine and intelligent (spoke Spanish and Chinese) actor who sat on the Council on Foreign Relations and held very strong political views of his own. He was politically active having previously campaigned for Bill Clinton, Rudolph W. Giuliani, George W. Bush and voted for Barak Obama.

To hear Silver's own words, this clip is a good one.

Ron Silver was a sharp and clear voice of independent political thought, silenced by esophageal cancer at the young age of 62.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Ryan and Brian show

What would VOCM Nightline do if it weren't for the host's family, friends and former co-workers willing to donate their personal time to the cause of filling up air time?

And what would they possibly talk about if it weren't for the opportunity for further relentless grinding of their well-honed personal political axes?

And never mind the endless conversations about how tough it is for them to deal with this catastrophe . . . for these self-pitying persons covering this tragic event for the media?

What indeed?

Maybe focus on the families and their loss?


Just asking the questions.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Capital punishment for children is wrong

As I've written before, there are few issues that would make me hit the streets in protest as fast as capital punishment. It's a capricious and irreversible form of punishment predicated on the illusion of infallibility of the justice system. When countries extend capital punishment to the underaged, that only underscores the tragedy for everyone involved.

Here is a local website established by a group of students at the school attended by my children. It's an online petition against capital punishment for children. Specifically they want to bring attention to Part 111, Article 6 of the United Nations International Convention on Civil and Political Rights which requires that the sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age.

This is a cause they have chosen to take on and it's a good one.

Please show your support.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Yes, I understand

Premier Williams says on Nightline that he doesn't want the province to separate.  Perish the thought.

No, no, he just wants to have an independent provincial foreign policy!

Thank you for clarifying.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A class act

Obama showed, with grace and poise, that he is a class act.  It's admirable.  And as local political observers can attest, it's also rare.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Canada beats Ireland 2-1

As per the Canada Debate blog, our merry high school debaters at the world championships in Athens have defeated the Irish national team (a tough one) 2 ballots to 1 in their octo-final round.

They move on to the quarter finals where they face New Zealand (no slouches either).

So far so good!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Cushy campaigns

Canadian, let alone NL, political campaign and life generally resemble the lifestyle range from abject student poverty at the low end to middle class (maybe) at the higher end.

So when a longtime political activist like myself read stories about the lifestyles of the politically active of those associated with the administration and campaigns of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, no small amount of envy sets in.

US$25,000 bonuses, jet setting around the world, multimillion dollars in campaign pay and a municipal campaign budget of US80,000,000?  Sign me up!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Budget vote response

The media frame the narrative. . .

The Globe and Mail editorial (Two-Tiered Liberal caucus):
Worse, Mr. Ignatieff has encouraged Mr. Williams to continue setting the very worst example on how to conduct federal-provincial relations. His over-the-top opposition to the federal Conservatives helped wipe them off Newfoundland's electoral map, but it also eliminated Newfoundland influence inside the federal government. Now, he has been sent a signal that if the Liberals form a government, they will bow down before him. Mr. Williams is not a leader who will accept a measure of victory graciously; next time, he will only be emboldened to seek more from the Liberals. And other premiers might be encouraged to follow Mr. Williams's lead – albeit with fewer histrionics – if the Liberals are in power.

Mr. Ignatieff need not have threatened his Newfoundland MPs with outright expulsion for voting against the budget. Lesser forms of discipline could have been sufficient. But he should not have permitted them to chart their own policy course without consequence. Whether or not this proves to be a “one-time pass,” as Mr. Ignatieff has claimed, it could have far-reaching consequences for him, for his party, and potentially for the country.
Adam Radwanski writes:
Historically, attempts to appease nationalist governments in Quebec have only resulted in more and more outrageous demands, until the whole thing blows up in everyone's face. I'm not sure why appeasing the quasi-nationalist government in Newfoundland would end any differently.
Rob Silver writes:
All I'm saying is if you vote against your party on a budget bill, there should be consequences.

And again, for the sake of clarity, this isn't a commentary on the legitimacy of the Newfoundland MP's or Danny Williams's grievances with Stephen Harper's budget. I have nowhere near enough information to judge whether Newfoundland is getting a raw deal here.
Steve Janke of the National Post writes:
Michael Ignatieff has decided that the intransigence of MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador is going to be rewarded. While MPs from other provinces are going to have to toe the party line, the rebels who have been promising to vote against the budget in order to please their constituents and appease Premier Danny Williams will be allowed the latitude to do so.
So far it's an inauspicious beginning for both the federal Liberal leader and his local MPs in this province.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I wish I were Olbermann

Canada Debates

Regular readers will know that I am hardcore debate coach and have been for years. So indulge me when I use this space to let you know that today the Canadian national debate team is in transit to England for a few days of prep before flying on to Athens for the World Schools Debate Championship.

This province's very own (and my stepson) Sam Greene is part of that team. He's been doing awesomely on the international stage (placing 6th at the last World's) and I have no doubt he'll be kicking much international debate a** in the many rounds to come. His role on the team is 3rd position of the three members so his specialty is closing the deal - reducing the other team's case to cinders and blowing them away.

They already have their draw (who and what they will debate in the prelim rounds). Round 1 is a prepared on the topic This House believes that cultural treasures should be returned to their areas of origin against New Zealand as proposition team with Canada opposing.

You can follow their progress
on their team blog which they promise they will update regularly.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Global slowdown; local circus

Most stats you see about the change in economic fortunes are regional or national. At that level, you still have to exert some mental energy to absorb what it means.

So when you see a stat from the International Labour Organization which says that as many as 51 million jobs worldwide, almost twice the entire population of Canada, could be lost this year because of the global economic crisis it's hard to conceive of what that means. Add to that the conclusion that the IMF predicts that global economic growth is set to fall to just 0.5% this year, its lowest rate since World War II, and you sober up pretty quick.

Makes local political spats seem irrelevant. But of course, stoking local spats to a fever pitch means you can avoid discussion of the hard choices or blame them on others.

Monday, January 26, 2009

And Liberals will be no more. . .

After losing 23 straight elections, the Alberta Liberal Party has a solution: change their name!

Coalition falls!

No, not the Lib/NDP Ottawa coalition but the Icelandic governing coalition.  Seems that persistent demonstrations blame government for their economic crisis.

As well they should.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama inauguration pics

I've been on the road the last few days so this is a bit late but no matter: for some remarkable pics of the Obama inauguration, see here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Obama votes and cotton balls

A popular article of faith in politics is that in a political campaign, anything is possible. The 2008 US presidential election results are considered amazing, unprecedented and groundbreaking.

Then maps like this come along.

The coloured map shows election results from the South on county level. Blue counties voted for Obama, red ones for McCain (darker hues representing larger majorities). In spite of Obama’s national victory, and barring Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, all Southern states (i.e. all states formerly belonging to the Confederacy) went for McCain.

Fall back to another time and you have this: the black and white map map dates from 1860 (i.e. the eve of the Civil War), and indicates where cotton was produced at that time, each dot representing 2,000 bales of the stuff. The more dots, the more intensive the cotton cultivation at that time.

See the pattern? Even better, here are the two maps overlaid so you can see it better.

Clearly some voting patterns are stubbornly deep rooted even after 150 years.

Thanks to Pin the Tail and Strange Maps for the maps and the deeper analysis available there.

Around here they just read emails

Regular listeners to local talk radio shows know the drill: take calls until the calls run out and then play for time with emails and monologues. In fact, you can get a sense of the relative popularity of the shows by just listening to what the hosts do. The afternoon show is a string of email readings punctuated by callers. The evening show often consists of long sustained host monologues, especially in the last half. Only the morning show with Randy Simms is chockablock with listener callers from end to end.

But, so far, no local host has responded to a dearth of callers with an on-air temper tantrum (though rumors abound of off air behaviors).

This is in contrast with this comely presenter of a Romanian phone-in TV show who was fired after throwing a tantrum when calls dried up. Adela Lupse threw her phone to the ground and jumped up and down on it, screaming: "I want the phone to ring now. Now. Call me now." Ms Lupse was sacked and the station, National TV, was slapped with a fine of about $1,500 following the incident.

Her explanation: ""Maybe I was a bit over the top but I wanted to get people to call. There is a lot of pressure to get people to call in with the correct answer. It was a bad day."


Here is the incident, preserved on YouTube for posterity.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Grand Falls mill closure

From the Advertiser:
David Kerr, former mill manager: "You know what's so sad about all of this? A nanosecond after CEO David Paterson was told about the legislated expropriation, let alone what he thinks of the Newfoundland government, he totally wrote off the mill - lock, stock and barrel. That's the way these guys think. If any door was ajar for negotiations to restart the mill (and it always is no matter what anyone says) it's now slammed shut, bolted and bricked up for good.

"I don't know who's advising Premier Williams on this but they have to give their head a shake and go back to timing school. Timing is everything in this business and the time to expropriate was not now - good heavens while the mill is running give negotiations a chance. Expropriate on the last day a roll is dispatched on number three winder, not a second before.

"Who in their wildest dreams thought this was the right thing to do now? This is a little like peeing in your pants in a snow storm. It feels good when you do it but wait a while and see."

Then and now - Nortel

According to the Globe today:
Nortel easily qualified as the country's largest company at the peak of the tech boom in 2000, with a $366-billion (Canadian) market capitalization and 95,000 employees.

While still North America's largest telecom equipment maker, Nortel's shares were worth a total of just $192-million yesterday, and the company has 26,000 staff after a bruising series of layoffs over the past eight years. Nortel stock that soared to $1,231 at the peak of the tech bubble – reflecting a recent consolidation in shares – closed yesterday at 38.5 cents on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
A share of Nortel and a loonie gets you a cop of coffee.

Monday, January 12, 2009

St. John's municipal dancehall (2)

As part of a continuing series of pre-election Gower Street bunker silly season posts, we have another entry by Mayor "Doc" O'Keefe.

On January 10, with all the issues facing the people of St. John's, O'Keefe decided instead to complain about the lack of a visit by the federal Leader of the Opposition, Michael Ignatieff. This action raises all sorts of questions.

Is Mr. Ignatieff a government official with the power to decide federal policy with respect to this province and the capital city? As it turns out, no he's not; he's a mere leader of the Opposition. Just in case the self-described stunned Mayor O'Keefe might be a little shaky on the way the federal government operates, the government makes policy and the opposition critiques it. Yes, Mayor O'Keefe, this holds true even in a minority government; when a opposition starts creating and passing policy in the House of Commons, they are no longer the Opposition, they are the government.

Will this be the only cross-country tour that Mr. Ignatieff will be taking? Apparently no, this is just a starter tour in what is planned to be a series of tours in which St. john's will be included.

Is this just part of continuing effort by the mayor to ensure that Ottawa pays attention to the nation's easternmost capital city? No doubt Mayor O'Keefe might argue that. And he'd be right if it wasn't for the fact that his complaints to Ottawa in the past have been strangely focused on the Liberal Opposition rather than on the Conservative governing party. In the middle of the last federal election, the Mayor's public contribution was to kick the opposition when it was down in demanding that city residents deserved to know the cost of the Liberal's GreenShift plan. Oddly, he left the other parties off the hook.

In this latest media salvo, O'Keefe achieved his goal of political public pandering through media attention with the ancillary bonus of picking on federal Liberals and making points with his federal tory friends.

Nice work when you can get it. No doubt more naked media pandering awaits.

This is going to be a long year until the municipal election.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Bureaucratic follies

We think we have it so bad here that the Red Tape Reduction project is worth announcing and trumpeting again, again and again . . . But if you really want bureaucratic follies, it's clear that Mexico is the place to be:
To get life-saving medicine for her young son, Cecilia Velázquez embarks each month on a bureaucratic odyssey. First, two government doctors have to sign off on the prescription. Next, four bureaucrats must stamp it. Last, she has to present it (in quadruplicate) to a hospital dispensary. The process takes at least four days and sometimes as many as 15.
That kind of thing couldn't happen here, of course.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

St. John's municipal dancehall

Breaking news: there will be a municipal election this year and all seats on St. John's City Council are up for grabs. How do I know? Simple - the silly season has set in at the bunker on Gower.

First, Councilor Keith Coombs has been on the media whining about his incompetence failure to move his fellow councillors on the issue of a scrap yard impound lot in his ward. After two previous rejections, the application was sufficiently tweaked to win the approval of all the members of City Council on a third go-around.

That is, all the members of council who showed up to the meeting that night. Turns out Mr. Combs was nowhere to be found in the chambers the night the matter came up for discussion.

Did he call down to Council and ask for the matter to be delayed until he could be there in person to address the issue?

Apparently not.

Then, with the galleries full of people from his ward concerned about the matter, when Mr. Coombs finally got around to gathering his wits sufficiently together to make a motion asking council to rescind that previous motion of approval, not a single member was willing to second his motion.

Did he take the time and effort to contact fellow councilors in advance to find out if any of them would take on the non-commitment to second the motion to allow the matter to come up for debate?

Again, apparently not.

So he hits the media complaining about the lack of democracy at city hall in refusing to debate a motion that was doomed to failure in the first place. As a distraction, he tosses out as much blame to as many people as he possibly can to cover his tracks.

It was all wholly avoidable if he had just taken the simple steps to do his job, and make a few calls, in the first place. Now he's left exposed to the people of his ward as the councilor who couldn't shoot straight.

"I think what was carried out before was a travesty as well, and I think it is a shameful exhibition by councilors," Coombs said. The true shame is that the good people of that ward are represented by a negligent and hypocritical councilor.

Second, Mayor Doc (Guiding A Great City Around In Circles) O'Keefe has taken charge of the movement to pillory Tim Horton's for their effect of drive-thrus on traffic trumpeting the city council-ordered a moratorium on new drive-thru applications.

Mind you there are no applications in the pipeline now. And no matter that this moratorium has absolutely no impact on the pre-existing drive-thrus which are causing all the problems.

And never mind that his move makes the city a difficult pill to swallow for businesses looking to come here.

Most importantly, never mind that fact that each and every one of those dastardly Tim Horton drive-thrus were designed and built with the approval of the very same city council of which Mayor O'Keefe is a member. It's not like those Tim's suddenly popped up overnight without permission; they were erected with the blessing of the St. John's City Council.

Nice job, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Coombs. Seeking re-election, are we?

Flying problems

This past Christmas season was a particularly bad one for flyers.  People across Canada have been unhappy with airline service and with good reason.  The Globe reports that Air Canada and WestJet had to fork over big bucks to cover hotel rooms and food vouchers for their stranded flyers.  In November, 85 per cent of Air Canada's flights landed within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival but in December only 59 per cent fell within that timeframe, far short of its target of 68 per cent.  WestJet did no better.

Horror stories abound of passengers sitting on tarmacs for 12 hours at a time.  This has put wind in the sails of Mayor Woodrow Smith's project of a passenger's Bill of Rights.  Little wonder it has received support in the House of Commons.

Since shortly after birth, I've flown hundreds of thousands of air miles to more than a dozen countries and almost all provinces (BC awaits!) so I consider myself a very seasoned traveler.  I'm rarely as happy as when boarding a plane with a passport in one pocket, money in the other and ticket in hand; my wife calls me a xenophile.  But on many levels, I can attest that flying is not the fun it used to be.  Besides the security associated drags, the nation's flight travel network is more precarious than ever before.

When I was regularly flying to Nunavut for work, it was unusual for me to make the trip on time with all my luggage.  One time I was caught in Ottawa for an unscheduled overnight visit accompanied by only half my luggage.  The other half I retrieved from Ottawa airport from the middle of a vast sea of lost bags from across Canada.  Another time on an early morning flight, I dozed for 3 hours only to awake and find myself still in St. John's to be told that the flight was canceled.

In my memory, delays like this were uncommon before about 10 or 15 years ago.  Sure there were always the local fog cancellations where the local weather would deter all pilots from landing except the famed EPA bush flyers.  But back then it tended to be local conditions which caused local cancellations - the national system tended to roll ahead as normal.

But these wider systemic problems exist today because of airline deregulation.  The upside of deregulation has been cheaper tickets for the travelers.  But the downside has been a national flight network stretched to the breaking point.  There used to be enough slack and fat in the travel system such that when one section broke down, the other sections could take the load.  Under deregulation the airlines adopted more economical routing models: the current hub and spoke system.  Under hub and spoke, when one part comes under strain, the whole national network just falls apart causing cascading failures across the system.

So if Toronto has a weather problem, flights across the country are delayed or canceled.

I'm not sure what the solution is but we have to acknowledge some unavoidable constants: we live in a winter country where bad weather is inherent during some parts of the year; the hub and spoke system, with all the associated economic advantages and cascading failure disadvantages, is here to stay.

Because of those two things, travel delay problems are inevitable.

However, given that these delays and cancellations are now part of the life of the modern air traveler, it is up to the airlines and the passengers to be aware of that and to compensate and adjust.

It's not how a company behaves in good times that is the measure of their customer service; it's how the company reacts under adverse conditions that is the measure of their customer service.  Like any other sector which deals directly with the public, airlines have to go the extra mile to ensure their customers have a good experience.  Sure it is not the responsibility of airlines that snow has set in; but how airlines respond to that is their responsibility.

Service with a scowl, when you get service at all, doesn't cut it.

If the airlines are reluctant to treat passengers like human beings instead of like cargo then maybe a passenger bill of rights is a step in the right direction.  Ultimately, good service is in the interests of the airlines as well as the passengers; airlines should get ahead of the issue.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Latest red flag for the bulls

It's already started; CBC's On The Go just pointed out, on the air, the existence of this article by Michael Walker in the Financial Post.  The article pointed out that Premier Danny Williams took full and fair advantage of the sanctity of property rights to enrich himself to levels beyond the imagining of the average resident of this province and that Premier Danny Williams' trashing of those same rights will likely sacrifice the future prosperity of this province on the alter of his ego and reckless mythfeeding.

Now excuse me while I duck my head to avoid crossfire of the inevitable bricks from the Dannyites to Mr. Walker et al in yet another xenophobic feeding frenzy.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Al Franken Decade begins

Looks like Al Franken is off to Washington to represent the great state of Minnesota. No doubt he will attract the kind of conservative fire and ire previously reserved for members of the Clinton clan.

Good luck, Al.

So far so good