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Adventures in Journalism, Part I

The Daily Mail caption for this video is “Passenger films terrifying moment airliner dumps 20 tonnes of fuel over Saudi desert.”

Yes, it’s certainly terrifying.  No airliner in the entire history of aviation has ever had to dump fuel before!  It’s kind of a miracle that the aircraft designers anticipated this once-in-a-lifetime need, and built fuel dumping equipment into the airframe.  What visionaries!  What unbridled heroism!

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Hero Worship, Part II

It’s no sin to be one of God’s beautiful creatures, nor to be married into a famous family.  But it’s kind of amazing that Sophie Grégoire made the cover of Chatelaine twice in three years.  The shame of it isn’t merely that at this point (October 2006), Justin Trudeau is simply a former high school drama teacher; it’s that a magazine which still pretends to embrace progressive causes has wasted the entirety of its interview on the minutiae of how Sophie met Justin.

Since September 2005, Mme. Grégoire had been Quebec correspondent for CTV’s eTalk entertainment news programme; the accompanying 6-page article contains exactly two paragraphs about her own career aspirations:

During her first year at Montreal’s McGill University, she studied commerce but switched to the Université de Montreal, where she graduated with a communications degree.  She then worked as an account manager at an ad agency, took another job selling advertising space for a Montreal magazine, and worked in PR.  Until recently, she was a personal shopper at Holt Renfrew, but wanted to shift into broadcasting, where she was doing spot gigs on the side.

Seven years ago, she landed her first break.  “I thought, My God, the camera loves her,” recalls Sylvain Chamberland, the Montreal executive who hired her for a local all-news channel doing two-minute entertainment spots.  He was struck by Sophie’s bouyant sense of self, an anti-cynic.  “She’s authentic,” says Chamberland, a vice-president for the communications giant Quebecor.  “Believe me, I’ve met a lot of phonies in this business.”

– Sanati, Maryam. “She made it all happen.”  Chatelaine, October 2006. p. 72.

There could have been an interesting story there (especially regarding the unusual shift from white-collar office work to retail), alas the rest is meet-cute and relationship fluff.  But then who wants to read about a woman’s boring career goals (and the struggle to attain them) when you can sigh over her dreamy husband instead?

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Hero Worship

Perhaps it’s a failing that comes with having a Y chromosome and a devil-may-care attitude, but your correspondent had never been particularly interested in Chatelaine magazine.  I was dimly aware of it, and only to the extent that it was the origin of some of my wife’s recipes.  Otherwise Chatelaine seemed to a creature of another era; a plodding dinosaur of fussy, uptight second-wave feminism that kids today would consider weaksauce.  I was a little bit surprised to discover it is also something of a house organ for doyennes of the Liberal Party:


Today, Justin Trudeau is a father of two, the Member of Parliament for Papineau and a noted amateur boxer.  But back in June of 2008, he was a former schoolteacher whose most notable event on the public stage was saying some nice things at his dad’s funeral.  The election which brought Justin to Parliament occurred 4 months after his wife, Sophie Grégoire, appeared on this cover of Chatelaine.  Ask yourself whether (absent the Trudeau surname) the wife and child of any other rookie political candidate—from any political party—would stand a chance of making the cover of the 3rd-highest-circulating Canadian magazine.

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So, how do they feel about it now?

In the dying days of the summer of 1978, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police were united in opposition to certain provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act (1977), and the planned tabling of a freedom of information act (which did not pass the federal legislature until 1985, as the Access to Information Act).

Toronto Star, page A5, 2 September 1978. Click to enlarge image.

There are many knee-slapping howlers in this Canadian Press wire piece, but these are amongst my favourites:

The chiefs urged the government yesterday to increase, not decrease, protection of confidential police information, saying American police have virtually been put out of the terrorist-fighting business because of the Freedom of Information Act in the United States.

Yes, the territory formerly known as the United States of America collapsed into violence and anarchy less than a decade after the US Congress overrode President Lyndon Johnson’s veto of the Freedom of Information Act in 1966.  A series of UN missions have tried in vain to keep the peace between the various American warlords and breakaway states ever since.

The association said 85 per cent (7,700 cases) of requests for police information under the Human Rights Act have come from convicted criminals.

Sure.  Because law-abiding citizens have no business trying to keep the coercive power of the state out of their lives.

Somehow I doubt that official attitudes have changed very much in the intervening years.

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Journalistic objectivity, c. 1979

A few weeks ago, your correspondent was asked to assist an aged relative in the de-hoardification of their home.  This sort of task is neither easy nor pleasant, but the relative was motivated—and under a deadline due to impeding structural repairs on the home.  One of the rewards of the effort (aside from seeing a home made neat and habitable again) is archaeological in nature; an opportunity to examine the cultural ephemera of an era through preserved artefacts.

Some finds will make one shake his head and laugh.  This Toronto Star story from the summer of 1979, for example.

Toronto Star, "B" section front page, 28 July 1979. Click to enlarge image.

The Star has never been particularly shy in its partisan support of the Liberal Party, but this is one of the more thorough examples that I have seen.  In addition to a photograph of the Progressive Conservative then-Prime Minister, the Star helpfully includes a chart detailing exactly how Joe Who? has fallen through on his campaign promises.  What elicits a belly laugh from yours truly is that the Star saw fit to pronounce Joe’s government a hypocritical failure a mere 55 days after being sworn in.

Just try to imagine a situation where the Star might do the same for a Liberal government that had distanced itself from the gambits necessary to win power.  The Chrétien government famously abandoned many of its campaign policies (as enumerated in the 1993 Red Book), to the point where then-Finance Minister Paul Martin uttered an infamous takedown of his own work:

Don’t tell me what’s in the Red Book … I wrote the goddamn thing.  And I know that a lot of it is crap … The Goddamn thing [was] thrown together quickly in the last three weeks of July.  Things hadn’t been properly thought through.”  In any event, the government reneged on a number of commitments—both large and small—including the pledge to renegotiate NAFTA, to introduce daycare, to replace the GST, to strengthen the Department of the Environment. and to cut spending on outside consultants by $620 million annually, beginning in fiscal year 1996-96.

– Savoie, Donald J.  Breaking the Bargain: Public Servants, Ministers, and Parliament.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.  p. 200.  [Emphasis mine]

But did the Star bother to print up a nice reader-friendly chart less than two months after Jean’s swearing-in, telling us how he and Paul were a bunch of no-good lying bums?

Incidentally, the reporter who penned the Star article—Mr. Andrew Szende—became a senior bureaucrat (Associate Secretary of the Cabinet and Secretary of the Policy and Priorities Board) in the Ontario government circa 1988, during David Peterson’s second term as Premier.  Imagine that.

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Summation of the Jaffer/Guergis affair

Helena Guergis tries to hold back her emotions while speaking to reporters at her campaign office in Collingwood, Ont., Friday, April 15, 2011. (Canadian Press)

The Toronto media establishment is positively giddy over the announcement that the Hon. Helena Guergis—a former MP and  junior minister in the Harper government—has launched a defamation suit against many former colleagues, including the Prime Minister.  Mrs. Guergis is skilfully playing the tearful victim, and the press—as it always does when there is the potential for blood in the water—is lapping it up.

If the press had a reasonable memory—or was prepared to salivate less at the thought of inflicting damage upon the government—it might recall that Guergis and husband Rahim Jaffer may not have committed any criminal acts warranting prosecution, but in the eyes of Parliament’s ethical watchdogs, they fell afoul of professional codes of conduct.  An editorial by the Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin does a good job of summarising the alleged professional misdeeds.

On Jaffer:

In a report released on Monday, [Lobbying Commissioner Karen] Shepherd criticized the actions of Jaffer and his business partner, Patrick Glemaud, who were involved in a political controversy which also snared Jaffer’s wife Guergis, the former Simcoe-Grey MP.

Shepherd said that while Jaffer and Glemaud were unsuccessful in attempts to secure $178 million in federal Green Infrastructure Fund funding, they should have registered as lobbyists.

… This matter has been investigated by the RCMP, which determined there were no grounds for criminal charges.

But Jaffer and Glemaud broke federal rules by failing to register as lobbyists before trying to obtain taxpayers’ money.

– “Jaffer, Guergis still acted contrary to what is ‘right’.”  Editorial, Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin, 17 December 2011.

On Guergis:

Last summer, federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson determined that Guergis broke Parliament’s conflict of interest code by sending a letter to Simcoe County officials, encouraging them to hear a presentation from a green waste management firm’s owner, who had business links to Jaffer.

According to the conflict of interest code, politicians are prohibited from using their position to further their private interests, or those of their family members.

Guergis responded to Dawson’s findings by saying there was no proof she had done anything wrong. She was also investigated by the RCMP and not charged criminally

… Part of her responsibility as an MP, however, is to know what the conflict of interest guidelines are and adhere to them. Most politicians know enough to steer clear of any potential conflicts of interests.

– “Jaffer, Guergis still acted contrary to what is ‘right’.”  Editorial, Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin, 17 December 2011.

Anyone who watches police and lawyer shows on television will know that giving the police no grounds to pursue criminal charges is not the same thing as being spotless and squeaky-clean.  In the eyes of the Lobbying Commissioner and federal Ethics Commissioner, there were violations of professional codes of conduct.  Those details will certainly be relevant to the defence in the defamation suit.

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Predictable

X’mas Parade (I’m Rob F**King Ford), originally uploaded by PeacefulHeart.

It’s all but certain that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is going to spend the next three years tripping over landmines laid down by his own hyperbole, clumsiness and lack of forethought.  His Worship has done rather a lot to erode the goodwill of his supporters and, according to the Toronto Star, is now alienating the swing voters [1,2] on City Council.

I understand the Star‘s distaste for the current mayor; following his first term as mayor of the amalgamated city, I had an overwhelmingly negative view of Mel Lastman (and what I judged to be his appalling lack of vision and competence).  In the 2000 municipal election, I voted for one of Mel’s opponents; the tranny rather than the troubled hippie, mainly because I judged the hippie to be an unserious fringe candidate—and if one is going to vote for an unserious fringe candidate, that person should at least be entertaining.

As I said, I understand there will be opposition; what is less easy to understand is the Star‘s analysis.  Writing for Openfile.ca, John Michael McGrath looks at the newspaper’s methodology and finds it wanting:

If we go to the Ford Council Scorecard (an always-useful resource for council-watchers), we see just how broad a group these [eight swing-vote] councillors are. Moeser has voted with Rob Ford more than 80 per cent of the time, while Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport) has voted with the mayor only 30 per cent of the time. That’s a huge range, which makes the idea of a “swing” bloc questionable.

– McGrath, John Michael.  “Ford losing the swing votes on council, but what’s a swing vote anyway?”  Openfile.ca, 21 December 2011.

McGrath posits that the swing councillors are more properly those whose votes accord with the mayor around 40-60% of the time, rather than the 30-80% range the Star uses.  In which case there are just three swing voters—not the Star’s eight—on a council of forty-four.

It’s a short piece, but well worth the read.

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Red herring

Nodar Kumaritashvili crash, 12 February 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Globe & Mail is reporting that a year ahead of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the president of the International Luge Federation (FIL) wrote concerned letters to both VANOC chief John Furlong and the luge track’s designer.

“[FIL President] Mr. Fendt noted that the Whistler sliding track was recording historic sled speeds that were nearly 20 kilometres an hour faster than the track designer had projected.

…“The red flags would have gone up, absolutely,” [Mr. Svein Romstad, Secretary General of the FIL] said in an interview. “Our goal is always to have tracks around 135 kmh, and that was what the designer projected. Instead, we suddenly got to 154 kmh. That was never our intention.”

– Mickleburgh, Rod and Jeff Blair. “VANOC feared injury ‘or worse’ year before luger’s fatal crash.” Globe & Mail, 6 February 2011.

With respect to the Globe, that is all fascinating but irrelevant. Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died because he struck a steel pole at trackside while travelling at 143.6 kmh. Hitting the same pole at a slightly slower 123.6 kmh would have been equally as fatal.  The problem is not track speed, but placing steel structural elements immediately adjacent to the track.  The pole was there to support a sun visor, meant to preserve the track’s surface; there’s no reason it couldn’t have been designed and equipped with greater shielding/padding or further separation from the track.  Which, by the way, is exactly what organisers did after the accident.

WHISTLER, BC - FEBRUARY 13, 2010: New boarding is installed along turn 16 of the luge course, where Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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Witchcraft and bestiality at Gitmo

MEMRI does the Lord’s work by uncovering incredible new evidence of war crimes at the monstrous and illegal Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  In an interview with Al-Jazeera (Qatar), a former inmate makes some preposterous astounding claims: namely that Jews used witchcraft on prisoners, and nearly caused him to be sodomised by a cat.  The interviewer asks “But there wasn’t really a cat there?” to which the former inmate replies “Absolutely not.”

Which begs the question of how one can identify a cat as the perpetrator if it can’t be seen or heard.  Prior experience, perhaps.

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Avoiding history

One of the reasons I enjoy learning about human history is that the past often presents analogues to current-day situations, and someone who knows history will know what choices and alternatives have been explored already—to positive or negative effect.  Those who operate without that benefit would be at risk of repeating history’s lessons.  There is a certain strain of thought in the Canadian body politic that likes to imagine the past not as it actually was, but as one might have wished it to be through the lens of current opinion.

In giving way to such tendencies we partake in what Jean-François Lyotard called “memorial-forgetful history”; this is the construction of a historical narrative which distorts the story of the past into its own present image, conveniently forgetting all that might be contradictory.  I’m a little disappointed that Craig and Mark Kielburger—men who have earned one of the country’s highest honours for merit, the Order of Canada—seem to engage in this practice.  Writing in the National Post‘s Full Comment blog, Mr. Matt Gurney takes the Toronto Star‘s Kielberger brothers to task for having a particularly narrow view of Canadian history.

There’s a lot to pick apart in their column, but let’s start where they did. Here’s their intro:

Last month, archaeologists unearthed a street lined with sphinxes in the Egyptian city of Luxor. We have to wonder if they found any remnants of Canada’s once-strong record on foreign policy down there.

Maybe that’s a little harsh. Nonetheless, Canada’s prominence on the international stage started back in 1956 when Lester B. Pearson launched the world’s first peacekeeping mission during the Suez Crisis.

… the contention that Canada sprang into being the moment Mr. Pearson accepted his Peace Prize, while much beloved of starry eyed progressives, kind of skips over a few chapters of Canadian history. History isn’t for everyone, of course, so while I might not expect them to know much about the Reciprocity Treaty, it’s not unfair to expect to them to know that there were two really big wars — world wars, very much on the “international stage” — that Canada played a major, disproportionately large role in. Right?

– Gurney, Matt. “Would it be wrong for the Kielburgers to learn some history?National Post, 15 December 2010.

Mr. Gurney’s snark-meter is turned up a little, but it is worth reading for the impressive list of achievements in Canadian arms and influence.  There’s a lot of history that is poorly taught, dimly understood, or willfully ignored because it is contradictory to the prevailing political or popular winds.  In Canada it is generally our martial history which tends to get papered-over, in our vain rush to convince the world (and ourselves) that we were born a post-modern nation, free of the bloodshed, strife and sins of the Old World.  The danger in intentionally forgetting our past—even the unpleasant bits—is that at some point, a future generation will be forced to relive it—but without any benefit of hindsight, since we will have struck any potential lessons from their collective memory.

RELATED: Another little-known episode in our military history, Canada’s occupation of Iceland.

Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa Z-Force occupation patch, from the collection of Hinrik Steinsson.