Friday, October 31, 2008

Can McCain still win?

Yes, but he has no margin of error. McCain is fighting on his own turf. With perhaps the exception of Pennsylvania, all of the Kerry 2004 states, plus Iowa, are locked up for the Democrats. This time around, all of the political battles are taking place on Republican turf. If Obama wins Virginia, he wins. If Obama wins Missouri, he wins. If Obama wins Colorado and New Mexico, he wins. As John Dickerson argued this week on the Slate Political Gabfest, “Obama has multiple paths to the [Presidency]. The McCain strategy relies on a lot of things just falling into place.”

McCain can only win if there are deep flaws within all of the Democratic advantages. Not just one, all of them. National polls have to be wrong. Swing state polls have to be flawed. Newly registered Democrats need to stay home.

Sure, one or two polls might be wrong. But, it seems unlikely that Obama’s leads in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada could all evaporate.

For McCain to win, there must be an underlying factor that polls are not picking up. Numerous analysts have suggested that Obama might fall victim to the Bradley Effect. The Bradley Effect suggests that voters lie on exit polls to conceal their own racist prejudices. The effect is named after Tom Bradley. In 1982, Bradley ran for Governor in California, but lost despite double digit leads before Election Day. Political analysts at the time concluded that polling couldn’t always predict racial prejudice.

Whether the Bradley Effect is real or not is debatable. Certain studies suggest that it never existed and others indicate that it has abated over the 1990s. If it is real, it might be McCain’s only ticket to the White House.

> Continue Reading: Can McCain still win?

What is America’s New Role in the World?

Things can never go back to the way they were. For the past hundred years, America stood as the great example of how to achieve modernity. But, as American power and influence declines so ends the country’s monopoly over the process. America is still the most powerful country in the world. The American economy is still the largest and America’s army the strongest. But, the idea of the “city upon a hill” is all but dead.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the U.S. was a political and economic juggernaut. America produced half the world’s goods, America had the atomic bomb, and most importantly, America had won the war. The Soviet Union eventually rose to challenge America’s supremacy. But, it was never able to channel the same resources that the United States possessed.

In its ideological contest with the Soviet Union, the U.S. government expanded upon the principle that had long governed American expansion: The American Nationalist Ideology. First defined by historian John Fousek in, “To Lead the Free World: American Nationalism and the Cultural Roots of the Cold War,” the American Nationalist Ideology is rooted in the ideas of freedom, equality, and justice under law. In his book, Fousek utilizes this ideology to explain how after the Second World War American policy makers “justified and even necessitated the global expansion of US power.” Americans and U.S. policy makers shared the belief that the U.S. was a beneficent nation destined for world greatness and that America’s mission justified its political and economic expansion.

Though Fousek only utilizes this ideology to explain American actions after the Second World War, America has long prescribed to this ideology. American policy makers believed in their own beneficence when they tried to “tame” the Philippines after the Spanish American War. In defense of annexing the Philippines Albert Beveridge stated in his famous “March of the Flag” speech: “Would not the people of the Philippines prefer the just, humane, civilizing government of this republic to the savage, bloody rule of pillage and extortion from which we have rescued them?” For Beveridge, expansion of American power through imperialist tactics was reconcilable with American exceptionalism. American power could be expanded without threatening the core American values of freedom, equality and justice in law.

Similar examples are also prevalent in America’s missionary expeditions to China, Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and the various Latin American interventions of the early 20th century.

Since its inception, Americans and American policy makers have always believed in American exceptionalism. America is different in a way that makes it unique. Unlike other nations, when America pursues its national and economic interests it is to the benefit of the rest of the world.

This belief is still prevalent in American politics today and has played a substantial role in the dialogue of this 2008 campaign. Both McCain and Obama assert that America needs to reclaim its role as world leader. America once again needs to become the “city upon a hill.” But, rhetoric aside, this time has passed.

Developing nations no longer look to the U.S. model for modernization. Countries like China, Brazil, India, and Russia have all found different, and relatively successful methods of modernization. Sure, they all contain a smidge of capitalism, but they certainly aren’t all democratic.

So, if America has lost its place as world leader, what does it do now? Well, hopefully the next President of the United States will have learned one lesson from the follies of the Bush Administration: Unilateralism doesn’t work. America’s unilateral actions in Iraq have cost the country its soft power. This power can probably never be entirely reclaimed, but multilateralism might go a long way. The next American President will need to repair the broken bridges between America and its American allies.

Ultimately, Americans are going to have to humble themselves. American arrogance has pissed off most of the world. If Americans and policy makers want to influence the international system, they are going to have to give up their exceptionalist past.

> Continue Reading: What is America’s New Role in the World?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Republican Blogosphere Assumes the Fetal Position

If you’re a Republican blogger, these are dark times. National polls give Obama a 9-10 point lead and statewide polls suggest a Democratic rout come Election Day. Not only does it look like Obama will win the Presidency, but the Democrats are inching closer towards a filibuster proof majority in the Senate.

In late August and early September, the McCain campaign was in the throes of a short renaissance. The addition of Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket energized grassroots supporters and for short time after the GOP Convention, McCain enjoyed a lead in the polls. During this time of glee, many Conservative bloggers suggested that the Republican Party had moved beyond the policies of the Bush Administration, despite the fact that McCain and Palin’s policies mirrored those of the last eight years.

As Republicans brace for a loss on the scale of Carter’s defeat in 1980, the right wing blogosphere is starting to refashion itself again. After eight years of defending Bush and a few months as mavericks in McCain’s camp what does the future hold for the GOP blogosphere?

Many sites have shifted away from McCain and Palin and now solely devote their efforts to attacking Obama. Stories suggesting that Obama is simultaneously a radical Muslim, socialist, communist, and terrorist sympathizer have become commonplace. The central theme of these articles is that Obama is different, foreign, and somehow un-American. This is the future of most of the right wing blogosphere. Think Fox News during the Clinton Administration, but with less of a focus on morality and a greater focus on “Americanism”.

> Continue Reading: The Republican Blogosphere Assumes the Fetal Position

Review - Muddy York Tours: The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto

At night, ROM employees have often reported hearing the faint sounds of an old radio, but when they peer down the darkened halls nothing can be seen, and the sound fades. These mysterious noises are believed to be the work of Charles Trick Currelly, the first director of the Royal Ontario Museum. Currelly devoted his life to the museum. He often spent so much time at the museum that he slept on a small cot in his office. During these lonely dark nights, his only companion was the radio he listened to as he worked. In 1957, Currelly died. But, night watchmen and employees still say that they can occasionally hear the sounds from Currelly’s radio wafting through the museum.

This is the first tale on Richard Fiennes-Clinton’s walking tour. In total, the tour features several locales including the ROM, Queen's Park, Old City Hall, Osgoode Hall, the AGO, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theater, and Mackenzie House, among a few others. If you want to be scared half to death, this might not be for you. But, what the tour lacks in spookiness, it makes up for in historical detail and enthusiasm. In fact, one might accuse Fiennes of giving a historical tour under the guise of a ghost tour.

While the tour is consistent throughout, its highlights are at the beginning and the end. The second stop on the tour is the old Planetarium. Here, Fiennes introduces the group to Celeste. Celeste is a poltergeist that many have claimed haunts the old Planetarium. Those who have seen her, describe her as young child dressed in white 19th century dress with her done up in ringlets. While the Planetarium was still in operation, she was often said to sit in the seats after hours and when staff members would approach she would disappear before their eyes. Planetarium staff, in case you haven’t guessed, gave her the name Celeste.

Her actual name and origin is unknown. Fiennes suggests that she is most likely a child from the 1880s who died of cholera in one of the former houses that stood where the planetarium sits today.

In the 90s, the Planetarium was turned into the Children’s Museum, but today it’s only used as a storage area. However, Fiennes still says that the museum staff see strange things to this day. “Celeste likes to have fun,” explains Fiennes. “In the stories I’m told she doesn’t tend to be haunting so much as causing mischief.”

What makes this tale so captivating is the personal touch that Fiennes adds at the end. “One time I had a tour here,” Fiennes told my tour group. “And a young lady put up her hand. ‘Don’t think I’m crazy,’ she said. ‘But, I can see Celeste. She’s standing on the steps beside me. I think she’s happy we’re here.’”

One almost feels sorry for Celeste. Gone are the days when playful school children came through the building. It must be lonely to haunt a storage area.

The second highlight of the tour is the final destination: Mackenzie House. The old Georgian style 19th century house lies on a darkened part of Bond Street and only gaslights illuminate parts of the interior and exterior of the building. The effect is quite creepy.

William Lyon Mackenzie, the famous leader of the 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada, occupied the house between 1850 and 1861. Mackenzie died in the house in 1861 and according to stories, continues to haunt the house to this day. Staff members and visitors have often said to see Mackenzie working at his printing press.

If Mackenzie does indeed haunt the house, his ghost seems very violent. One of the tales told by Fiennes is of the old couple that use to room in the house before it was bought by the city and transformed into a museum. Apparently, the wife once awoke to Mackenzie hovering above her bed. Enraged, Mackenzie began to strangle her and slapped her repeatedly across the face. If Mackenzie’s ghost is ever discovered, he’s likely to be put in jail for assault and battery.

All of Fiennes stories are told with the same vivid style. While the tour isn’t that spooky, Fiennes knows his stuff, and ultimately provides a fascinating look at the nooks and crannies of Toronto.

More information about Muddy York Tours: The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto can be found here.

> Continue Reading: Review - Muddy York Tours: The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What does Coal have to do with the Swing States?

On October 21st, PBS Frontline broadcast a documentary on Global Warming called “Heat.” Several of the segments of this program dealt with America’s use of energy. In a segment of the program entitled “America’s Addiction to Coal,” Time Magazine contributor Eric Pooley made an interesting point worth exploring.

“In 2008, you have to be for clean coal,” argues Pooley. “You can’t go to Indiana and Ohio and say ‘I want to do away with coal.’ You’re not going to win votes that way. There is an amazing correlation between being a swing state and being dependent on coal. You look at that map and you know why both candidates are extremely in favour of clean coal.”

For the most part, Pooley is correct.

Here is a list of the top ten states dependent on coal-fired power plants and a list of the top ten coal producers.

Top Ten States Dependent on Coal Fired Power Plants
  1. West Virginia – 97.5%
  2. Indiana – 94.8%
  3. Wyoming – 94.5%
  4. North Dakota – 93.5%
  5. Kentucky – 92.3%
  6. Ohio – 85.9%
  7. Missouri – 84.5%
  8. New Mexico – 80.1%
  9. Iowa – 75.6%
  10. Kansas – 73.1%

Top Ten Coal Producing States (in tons)
  1. Wyoming (338,900).
  2. West Virginia (158,257)
  3. Kentucky (130,688)
  4. Pennsylvania (74,619)
  5. Texas (49,498)
  6. Montana (38,352)
  7. Illinois (33,444)
  8. Virginia (32,834)
  9. North Dakota (31,270)
  10. Colorado (29,137)
  11. Indiana (27,965)

A swing state is usually defined as a state in which no major candidate has overwhelming support. However, instead of using poll numbers, lets define a swing state by the money spent.

Obama and McCain campaigns have spent the most money on television advertisements in the following ten states. (McCain has spent a lot of money in Michigan, but recently pulled his campaign out of the state. Although Obama continues to spend vast amounts of money in the state, I have not included it in the list, as it is no longer truly a swing state.)

States in which Candidates have spent the most Money (In no particular order)
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • Florida
  • Wisconsin
  • Missouri
  • Indiana
  • Colorado

Only Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, and Wisconsin do not rank among the top ten coal producers or coal power plant users. Although, North Carolina and Wisconsin both rely on coal fired plants for approximately 50% of their power. So, with the exception of Florida and Nevada, all of the swing states in this election have an interest in the future of coal.

On the surface, this might pose a problem for McCain and Obama. Both candidates agree that climate change is man-made and that the solution is to cut CO2 emissions. Coal produces the most CO2 in the U.S. In 2007, Coal fired powers plants generated 1,970 Tg of CO2, or 38.9% of the total U.S. CO2 emissions. But, it would be disastrous for either candidate to go after the coal industry, as the coal industry employs thousands of workers in these swing states.

To placate workers tied to the coal industry and environmentalists, both McCain and Obama have backed the development of clean coal power plants. Theoretically, clean coal power plants would capture carbon emissions and store these emissions kilometers underground. However, to date, no coal-fired power plant in the U.S. has tested this system and estimates indicate that the cost of retrofitting existing coal plants with carbon capture technology might drive up electricity costs. Researchers are not even sure that the CO2 will stay underground. Earthquakes or other seismic activity could cause the CO2 to rise to surface, potentially endangering human and animal life and undermining the efforts to decrease CO2 levels.

Clean coal technology may be unproven and far from economically feasible, but coal is king this election. Coal industry dollars and voters are a powerful lobby. For either candidate to turn their back on the coal industry would be political suicide.

> Continue Reading: What does Coal have to do with the Swing States?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Canadians Flood Across the U.S. Border to Volunteer for Obama

Canadians are in love with Barack Obama. If Canadians voted in the upcoming U.S. Presidential Election, Obama would win by a landslide. A whopping 89% of Canadians favour Obama. By contrast, only 11% support McCain. Despite recently returning Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party to power, Canadians tend to be more liberal than their American counterparts.

Now that the final days of the U.S. campaign are upon us, more and more Canadians are heading south to volunteer for the Obama campaign. In late August, the Vancouver Sun estimated that approximately 40 Canadians were working for the Obama campaign in 5 different states. While it is difficult to estimate, by now, that number has probably risen into the hundreds.

Who are these Canadians though?

Some are Liberal Party activists. "It's important to Canadians that we have a more peaceful world and stronger U.S.-Canadian relations," says Mr. Caley, president of the B.C. Young Liberals. "[Mr. Obama] had the judgment to oppose the Iraq war from the beginning, and for a lot of young people in Canada and around the world who stood in those marches to oppose the war from the beginning, they need to have someone running for president who was in those marches as well."

A group of 17 Canadians with Liberal ties from B.C. also founded the site Canadians for Obama and joined the Obama campaign in February. The site provides information about how Canadian Obama supporters can help work phone banks or travel south.

“Perhaps what stood out the most about the trip to Washington was the sheer energy,” explains Andriy Mishchenko, one of the founders of Canadians for Obama. “It’s a cliche, but very true that the Obama movement empowers people and makes them feel like their thoughts and votes really count for something.”

Most Canadian volunteers are just individuals though. During the primaries, Matt Oberhoffner decided to make a long-term commitment to the Obama campaign. In June, Oberhoffner left his Edmonton home and wife to join the Obama Campaign, with no plans to return until after November 4th. In New Hampshire, Oberhoffner works grueling 80-hour days for only the satisfaction of being part of the campaign.

“I thought to myself, 'I can't believe I'm actually doing this,’” said Oberhoffner. "He's such a vehicle for change and has inspired so many people. It's just something I wanted to be a part of.”

The impact of these Canadian volunteers, despite their small numbers, should not be discounted. Even though Obama has amassed an army of tens of thousands of foot soldiers and hundreds of thousands of contributors, a few hundred devoted Canadians working 80-hour weeks could make all the different in some swing states.

> Continue Reading: Canadians Flood Across the U.S. Border to Volunteer for Obama

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Health Risks of Being President of the United States

Alaskan King Crab Fisherman is often cited as the world’s deadliest profession. The ice-cold waters, endless rain, and crushing waves of the Bering Sea make this profession lethal. In 2007, 128 per 100,000 Alaskan Fishermen perished at sea. While this is a high fatality rate, it’s nothing compared to the American Presidency. 8 out of 43 U.S. Presidents have died in office. Presidents have died in office of pneumonia, gastroenteritis, heart attack, and to date, 4 U.S. presidents have been assassinated. King Crab Fisherman don’t have to worry about being assassinated.

The Presidency is a demanding position, both physically and mentally. To see the toil it takes, one only has to examine the before and after pictures. Today, George W. Bush looks 20 years older then in 2000.

Even the act of running for President is exhausting. Barack Obama looks 10 years older now then in 2004. His face has more wrinkles and his dark hair is even starting to show hints of grey.

For the duration of their time in office, U.S. Presidents live grueling lives. Comedians and pundits have often made fun of George W. Bush’s laziness and well-publicized multi-week vacations, but even Bush adheres to a demanding schedule. Between briefings, legislative duties, tours, speeches, and meetings, it’s amazing that Bush usually looks so cheerful. If I had to work, or at least be on, 20 hours a day, I’d be a grouch.

While Bush’s schedules have not been released yet, here is an example from President Jimmy Carter’s morning schedule for March 13, 1978.
  • 5:00 am - The President received a wake up call from the White House signal board operator.
  • 5:40 am - The President went to the Oval Office.
  • 7:45 am - The President met with his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
  • 8:15 am - The President met with: Hamilton Jordan, Assistant and Frank B. Moore, Assistant for Congressional Liaison
  • 9:00 am - The President went to the Cabinet Room. The President participated in a Cabinet meeting.
  • 11:08 am - President returned to the Oval Office.
As twentieth century mass media has transformed the presidency, the daily demands of a president have steadily increased. With new duties have come new stresses. Although, George Bush is in excellent health, Bill Clinton suffered several weight related health problems during his two terms that eventually led to a quadruple bypass in 2004.

The fact that most presidents tend to be older doesn’t help either. The average age of a U.S. president is 55. But, even many of the younger Presidents have dealt with health problems. John F. Kennedy, was only 43 when elected, but he suffered from back problems caused by Addison's Disease. To function, Kennedy required daily pain medication. At press conferences, Kennedy often played down his noticeable discomfort, suggesting that he was merely injured from an overly vigorous game of touch football.

Only four Presidents, Zachary Taylor, William Henry Harrison, Warren Harding, and Franklin Roosevelt, have died in office from natural causes. The other four, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy, were each felled by an assassins bullet. At 4 out of 43, a U.S. President has a greater chance of being assassinated than an Alaskan King Crab Fisherman has of drowning.

To date, 16 Presidents have been the targets of 20 assassination attempts. From Nixon onward, every sitting President has faced an assassination attempt. Nixon, Ford, Clinton, and George W. Bush have each been targeted twice.

Some attempts have been amateur. In 1994, Frank Corder tried to kill Bill Clinton by crashing a Cessna plane into the White House. The President and the First Family were not home at the time and Corder’s plane crashed on the White House lawn, killing only himself.

Others however, were plotted in detail. In 1993, sixteen Iraqi men attempted to kill George H. W. Bush with a car bomb when he was speaking in Kuwait. The plot was foiled when Kuwaiti police found the bomb and arrested the potential assassins. In June of the same year, the Clinton administration responded to the attack by launching a missile at the Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters in Baghdad.

The first assassination attempt in U.S. history is probably the oddest. In 1835, Richard Lawrence attempted to kill Andrew Jackson with two derringer pistols. Unfortunately for Lawrence, both of his pistols misfired when he tried to target the President. Jackson, a skilled duelist and former general lunged at Lawrence with his cane and proceeded to beat the tar out of him. Later, after his arrest, Lawrence stated that the charging 67-year old President had nearly scared him half to death.

The symbolic importance of the U.S. Presidency has made the office a target for anarchists, terrorists, and even kooks. Recent Presidential history suggests that John McCain or Barack Obama, regardless of who is elected, will most likely be targeted by a would be assassin. I hope that both know how to wield a cane.

> Continue Reading: The Health Risks of Being President of the United States

Thursday, October 23, 2008

If you solely rely on Digg for your daily news, you’re probably reading trash

Humans are lazy creatures. We don’t want to seek out information. We want to be told what to like and what to avoid. We’re always right, and we don’t want our worldview challenged. God forbid we have to think.

This mentality has fueled the growth of different types of news aggregators, including Digg, Buzz, The Huffington Post, and iGoogle. While each aggregator acts slightly different, they all have a similar purpose: to tell us what to read.

The internet is a big place. With millions of articles, pictures, videos added everyday, trying to keep up with the latest news can be a hassle. Here is where news aggregators are a great help. They help us find what we like, and filter out what we don’t.

Different news aggregators act in different ways. Sites like the Huffington Post or the Conservative Voice are political aggregators. These sites tend to highlight articles that correspond to an ideological or political viewpoint. You won’t see very many anti-Obama articles highlighted at the top of the Huffington Post, or anti-McCain articles on the Conservative Voice.

Successful political aggregators know their audience. While these kinds of aggregators have a clear bias, they are still valuable information resources. The Huffington Post might be pro-Obama, but the site’s staff still does a great job highlighting and commenting on the important news items of the day.

Sites like Digg and Buzz are substantially different. While the site controls the content of the Huffington Post, users control Digg and Buzz’s content. These kinds of news aggregators are probably best referred to as “mob-rule” aggregators.

On Digg, users are able to submit or “Digg” articles, videos, or pictures. These “Digged” items are then displayed on the site. As more people “Digg” something, the more prominently the item is displayed on the site. It usually takes a thousand or a couple hundred Diggs for an item to appear on the front page. Most of what is submitted only receives one Digg and is quickly buried under an avalanche of new items.

Sites like Digg also have a bias. That article you wrote on Neo-Classical painting might be fantastic, but it’s not going anywhere on Digg. The articles that reach the front page usually have some sort of shock value or other sensational element.

Right now, the most “Dugg” articles highlighted on Digg’s home page are: “Where have all the Bumper Stickers Gone?,” “Obama has some Fantasy Football Skills,” and “Animal Planet’s new “Whale Wars” promises blockbuster action.” Suffice it to say, but if you solely rely on Digg for your daily news, you’re probably reading trash.

Digg also has other problems. The site’s mob-mentality makes it easy for false information to flourish. In 2006, Steve Mallett, an O’Reilly Network editor and blogger, was falsely accused of stealing Digg’s CSS code and spamming the site with Diggs. The charges were false, but that didn’t stop Diggers from catapulting the article to the site’s front page. The correct story eventually came out and Digg removed the original story but not until Steve Mallett’s name was pulled through the “digital” mud.

Despite its problems, sites like Digg are indispensable to newspapers, web magazines, and bloggers. Everyone wants traffic, whether for advertising revenue or just personal gratification and if enough people “digg” your work, it’s the ticket to fame and fortune.

> Continue Reading: If you solely rely on Digg for your daily news, you’re probably reading trash

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is Asia in a Space Race?

On Wednesday this week, India launched the Chandrayaan-I, an unmanned probe lunar probe. If successful, India will be the fourth country to plant its flag on the moon – after the Americans, Soviets, and Japanese. The robotic probe will orbit the moon several times to gather topographical data before deploying a second smaller probe to land on the moon’s surface. In addition to scientific equipment, the probe also carries an Indian flag.

While the global scientific community has applauded the successful launch, many Indians have questioned the $78 million expenditure. “I don't think it is a good thing,” says Sheela, a poor Indian fruit vendor. “I think this money could be used here for the poor.”

Other Indians are thrilled and see the project as an important part of India’s development. “It is not a question of whether we can afford it,” says Dr K. Kasturirangan of the Indian Space Research Organization. “It's whether we can afford to ignore it… the returns, in terms of the science... the technology, inspiration, stature, prospects for international cooperation... are immense.”

Then there’s China, India’s main competitor. Last year, China successfully launched its first mission to orbit the moon and has further announced plans to land a man on the moon by 2020. Although, India has made great economic strides over the last decade, the country is often viewed as China's runner up. By landing on the moon, India is hoping to enter the commercial satellite market as a viable alternative to China and the other major players.

This kind of satellite technology also has military potential. China and India briefly fought during the Sino-Indian War in 1962, and relations between the two countries remain bitter to this day. While it is highly unlikely that an armed conflict will break out between these countries in the near future, the strategic message sent by this launch is clear: The race is on!

> Continue Reading: Is Asia in a Space Race?

The Oddity that is Norfolk Island

If you search “Norfolk Island” in Google, the first thing that appears is a small featureless map of the island. Besides the shape and name of the island, the map only reveals the name of the capital city, Kingston. Surrounded by blue, the island looks isolated. But, to judge Norfolk Island solely on its Google map would be a crime. Behind this small unassuming Pacific island is a rich and important history.

Located two hours east of Australia, Norfolk Island is a tiny self-governing Australian territory. (Although many islanders believe they are a sovereign territory.) As of July 2008, the population of the island was approximately 2,128. With no arable land, Norfolk’s meager economy relies almost entirely on tourism. While many people travel to Norfolk for its crystal blue waters and unspoiled beauty, the island also has a dark history as a penal colony.

The British first chose Norfolk as the site of a colony in 1788. At first, the colony was successful, and eventually grew in population to 1,100 in 1792. However, the military outpost at Kingston proved too expensive to maintain and the island was ill suited for agricultural produce. In 1814, the colony was abandoned.

While Norfolk’s remoteness originally made it an unsuitable location for a colony, its remoteness became an asset when it was refashioned as a penal colony for New South Wale’s worst criminals. Although, criminals had been shipped to Norfolk as early as 1788, free settlers joined them. When the colony reopened in 1825, it was strictly as a penal colony.

Norfolk is the prefect prison. Isolated, surrounded by water, and with the exception of a small area around Kingston, most of the island’s 32 km of coastline is sheer cliff. Conditions on the island were harsh and prisoners were treated with little regard for their lives. Few convicts survived their stay at Norfolk. Prisoners called it “hell in paradise.” Governor George Arthur, of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) commented, “When prisoners are sent to Norfolk Island, they should on no account be permitted to return. Transportation thither should be considered as the ultimate limit and a punishment short only of death.”

The second penal experiment ended in 1855 and the remaining convicts were moved to Van Diemen’s Land. In 1856, another group of “criminals” settled the island. These men and women were the descendants of the Tahitians and H.M.S. Bounty mutineers who had been previously living on the Pitcairn Islands. While 194 arrived in 1856, many of the families opted to return to Pitcairn in 1858.

In 1901, Norfolk Island officially became part of the Commonwealth of Australia and remains an Australian territory today. However, there is a small Norfolk independence movement that considers the territory sovereign, citing the fact that Queen Victoria ceded the island to the Pitcairns in 1856. These people resent Australia’s control and believe that “Norfolkers” have a right to complete autonomy.

In 2006, the Australian undertook a study to assess Norfolk’s self-governance. The study concluded that “that the governance and financial arrangements on Norfolk Island were unsustainable and that significant changes were needed.” However, the Australian government opted not to interfere with the status quo.

Like most small Pacific islands, the greatest threat to Norfolk’s future is not political, but rather demographic. While Norfolk may have a rich history, many of its younger inhabitants do not see a future for themselves on the island. As more of Norfolk's youth drift away, its unique culture will fade into history.

> Continue Reading: The Oddity that is Norfolk Island

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Flight of the Dragon: What Path is China taking?

At the Olympics this summer, China declared its superpower status. The games cost the Chinese government $42 billion (U.S.) and every event, venue, and ceremony was designed to demonstrate China’s staggering wealth. Media outlets across the world called the Olympics China’s “coming out party.” What a difference a month makes. Recently, stories of tainted milk, the falling Chinese index markets, and gloomy economic forecasts have dominated headlines. However, despite the global economic crisis, it is likely that the Chinese government will continue to pursue its twin goals: fast paced economic development and its own international reputation.

On Monday October 20th, the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics released data, which indicates that China’s economy grew by 9% during the third economic quarter. This is down 1% from the previous quarter, and lowest rate of economic growth experienced in China since 2003. By comparison, most Western economies barely push 1-2%.

At the beginning of the U.S. housing crisis last year, many economists speculated that China might be insulated from the impending recession. Despite the Chinese government’s vast monetary holdings and the slow but steady growth of the Chinese consumer economy, China still depends on the well-being of the U.S. economy. As American consumers tighten their spending, China is feeling the pinch.

Factories in Southern China have been particularly hard. In Dongguan last week, 6,000 laid off Smart Union employees took to the streets to demand unpaid wages. Smart Union is a large major toy manufacturer with contracts with Disney and Mattel. But, with analysts predicting weak consumer activity this Christmas, many of its factories remain silent.

Although its major markets are contracting, the Chinese government is likely to continued to push for major economic growth at around 8% per year. Evidence of this likely course is already apparent. This weekend, China’s State Council declared that its goals are to promote “stable and rapid economic development.” To make up for potential economic shortfalls, the Chinese government has begun spending money on more infrastructure projects and plans are underway to increase export tax rebates on numerous products, including textiles and machinery. “Our economy remains vigorous,” said Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. “It has the capability to defend itself against international risks.”

However, China relies on its strong economic growth for more than prosperity. Some economists believe that at least 8% economic is necessary to keep urban unemployment rates low. High unemployment urban areas could lead to political backlash. Particularly within China’s already suffering class of migrant workers. These workers already endure harsh conditions, unsanitary and crowded accommodations, and poor wages, if they lose their jobs altogether and take to the streets they might threaten the political and social order in China. This situation is what the Chinese government wants to avoid at all costs.

Even if economic growth slows to 8% a year or less, China will continue to need to import raw materials, particularly oil. In the last few years, China has embarked on an aggressive campaign to secure the resources necessary for its growing economy. In some cases, this campaign has been beneficial to countries and the surrounding region. Chinese companies have funded much of the recent infrastructure upgrades in Thailand and Cambodia. In Sudan, however, China’s oil policies have helped a genocidal regime fill its coffers.

China has relentlessly pursued its economic interests with little regard for international human rights. While the country has benefited economically, this policy has hurt China’s international standing. Above, all else, expect perhaps for economic concerns, the Chinese government wants to increase its international stature.

Having come late to the economic party, China wants to quickly fill any space not occupied by the U.S. to carve out its own foreign policy niche. To accomplish this, the Chinese government has entered in to numerous multilateral agreements over the last few years, including APEC (Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation), ARF (ASEAN Regional), FOCALAE (Forum for East Asian and Latin American Cooperation), EAS (East Asian Summit), and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), among others. While the U.S. is party to several of these organizations, the EAS and SCO were both developed by China as a way to augment the countries leadership role in the region.

To make its mark and secure resources, the Chinese government has also shown a willingness to deal with and support anti-democratic regimes through “value-free diplomacy.” China currently enjoys favorable trade relations with Libya, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe.

As Kerry Dumbaugh argues in China’s Foreign Policy: What Does it Mean for U.S. Interests, foreign governments are often attracted to the “no strings” nature of Chinese trade and investment. Chinese money is not predicated upon good governance, human rights, or even environmental regulations, which makes it very attractive.

The problem with China’s economy policy is that it continually denies China the international standing that its government leaders desire. But, regardless of the contradictory nature of these policies, China will continue to pursue them. The raw materials that these rogue states provide are necessary for economic growth and stability, just as the Olympics were necessary to feed the Chinese government's sense of superiority.

> Continue Reading: The Flight of the Dragon: What Path is China taking?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ugly Blogs

Personal Blogs have become the premier tool of political, social, and cultural opinion. Everyday, millions of people log on to their computers and write posts on any number of topics. Posts can be critical, self-reflective, or even just plain silly. Blogs have facilitated the rebirth of civil society online. So what if we’re bowling alone? We are engaging each other on issues on a global scale unprecedented in human history. But, with all the ideas and potential, there is one huge problem. Most blogs look like crap.

The average personal blogger is not a tech-head. They don’t know CSS, or even HTML. Most have never even heard of Photoshop. The average blogger picks one of the many pre-fab templates offered by Blogger or Wordpress and goes to work. The result usually isn’t pretty. How many times have you seen this ugly Blogger template? You know, the one that looks like 1970s wallpaper meets Egyptian papyrus. Your content might be phenomenal, but no one is going to read it if they can’t stand to look at it.

When a user stumbles upon a new site, the first thing they take in is the design. If the design isn’t pleasing to the eye, they’ll move on without sampling the content. While there are dozens of sites that criticize the aesthetic design of the average blog, that is not the goal here. (Some of the sites that do the criticizing have lousy store bought layouts themselves.)

My blog isn’t perfect, and don’t pretend that it is. The design is still far removed from what I want. But, like most bloggers, I am limited by my technical abilities. However, many helpful sites out there strive to improve the blogging experience.

One of my personal favourites is Blogger Buster. Blogger Buster has numerous easy to understand tutorials about how to customize your blogger template. Some of my personal favourites include: The Tabbed View Tutorial, The Popular Post Widget, and The Table of Contents Widget. Other useful sites include: Beautiful Beta and Hoctro’s Place. A word of caution, these tutorials can get rather technical at times.

Simplicity is the key to a smart blog design. Choose two to three complementary colours and stick to these colours in your design. Don’t mix neon pink and forest green with a baby blue background.

Many bloggers flood their sidebars with endless widgets. Try to avoid the cluttered look. Only integrate information into the sidebar that you feel is essential. For instance, a widget that shows information about recent visitors is gaudy, unnecessary, and probably slows the site down.

In the blogosphere, the first impression is key and pre-fab designs rarely leave a positive impression. Customizing your blog with an attractive and unique design might be a little time consuming, but it will encourage users to stick around and check out the content.

> Continue Reading: Ugly Blogs

Powell Endorses Obama

Sunday morning, Colin Powell appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to endorse Democratic candidate Barack Obama. In the interview, Powell criticized the negative tone of McCain’s campaign. Powell stated that he was particularly disturbed by the attempts of McCain and Palin to tie Senator Obama to William Ayers, a 1960s radical and former leader of the Weather Underground. “I thought that was over the top,” said Powell. “It was beyond just good political fighting back and forth.” Powell also applauded Obama for his “calm, patient, intellectual, and steady approach” to America’s problems and credited him for a strategy that is “more diverse and inclusive way [to reach] across our society”

Powell’s endorsement comes at difficult time for the McCain campaign. Recent national polls suggest that McCain trails Obama by 10-points and statewide polls indicate that McCain is under siege in states Bush comfortably held in 2004.

Powell’s endorsement is also likely a blow to McCain personally, as the two have been friends for decades. Although, McCain responded to the endorsement on Fox News saying, “We’re longtime friends. This doesn’t come as a surprise.”

Whether this will have any effect on the race is debatable. Powell is an influential part of the more pragmatic side of the Republican Party and he and his associates have frequently spoken out against the Bush Administration’s course in Iraq. While his endorsement might sway soft Republicans upset with the war, foreign policy is not the main issue this election. The few remaining undecided or soft voters are making their decision based on the two candidates economic proposals.

Powell’s endorsement makes the foreign policy wing of the G.O.P. look divided and defeated, but Americans are going to vote with their wallets.

> Continue Reading: Powell Endorses Obama

Half-Life 2: Episode 3 still a ways off

Half-Life 2 was a fantastic game. It was a shame that the game was plagued by delays, but the final product was worth it. After a protracted development cycle of nearly five years, the team at Valve decided to complete the current Gordon Freeman story arc using episodic content. Instead of building a brand new game from scratch, three episodes would be released in quick succession to complete the franchises story arc. At least that was what was supposed to happen.

2009 and is just around the corner, and Half-Life 2: Episode 3 is still not out, and to date scant information about the game has been released. Recently, in regards to a question on whether information on episode 3 would be released Valve marketing director Doug Lombardi replied, “We may at the very end of the year.”

Yikes, information by the end of the year? That means that we probably won’t actually see the game until 2011. Although, Valve’s excellent track record suggests that the wait for Gordon Freeman’s final adventure in this story arc will be well worth it.

> Continue Reading: Half-Life 2: Episode 3 still a ways off

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The State of Iraq

With the state of the American economy, Iraq has fallen off the radar. McCain and Obama each touched on the war in Iraq during the third presidential debate. But, it was clear that the issue was not at the forefront. In different opinion polls released by the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN, the war in Iraq came a distant second or third after issues relating to the economy. On average, only 5-10-per-cent of Americans felt that the war was the most important issue this election.

This week, General Petraeus prepared to review the American strategy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, and the surrounding region. Petraeus, who is largely credited with reducing the level of violence in Iraq, will conduct a 100-day assessment to determine the best way to deploy over 200,000 American troops in the region. Petraeus’s plan will primarily focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan and dealing with the resurgence of the Taliban. But, what about Iraq?

The situation in Iraq is getting better everyday, but it is far from ideal. The surge and the alliance between Sunni factions and U.S. forces have produced a relative state of peace that has brought back some stability, but the country is a long way from full recovery. This level of recovery seems to be enough for the Bush administration, which on Friday demonstrated a commitment towards a pullout deal.

The accord between the Iraq and United States governments would require the United States to withdraw from Iraq by 2011. Withdrawal, would however, be based on the ability of Iraqi security forces to assume the duties currently undertaken by American troops. While the agreement does mention specific dates, these dates are subject to revision. In the agreement, American soldiers will begin to pull out of Iraqi cities and towns no later than June 30, 2009. These troops will then transition to American bases in Iraq before pulling out before December 31, 2011.

Also in the agreement are provisions that would allow the Iraqi justice system to charge private American contracts for wrongdoings. However, American military personal would be immune from prosecution. While the accord does not need congressional approval in the United States, the Bush administration is currently lobbying to ensure strong support.

In Iraqi, the accord has to pass the 275-seat parliament. It is questionable whether the agreement will pass. Certain prominent Iraqi’s, including the influential Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have promised to not interfere with the political process. However, other influential figures, including Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have urged Iraqis to reject the proposal.

“If they tell you that the agreement ends the presence of the occupation, let me tell you that the occupier will retain its bases. And whoever tells you that it gives us sovereignty is a liar,” al-Sadr said. “I am confident that you brothers in parliament will champion the will of the people over that of the occupier ... Do not betray the people.”

In response today, an estimated 50,000 Iraqis marched from Sadr City into Baghdad. The demonstration took place amid heavy U.S. and Iraqi security. The 2003 UN Security Council resolution authorizing America’s presence in Iraq is set to expire at the end of this year. Many Iraqis want to see the U.S presence in Iraq end with the resolution.

The U.S. administration is presenting the pact as a victory, but the circumstances and content of the agreement are far from what the Bush administration envisioned in 2003. Instead of creating a strong ally in the region, the U.S. has created a government with strong ties to Iran. Iraq’s professional class, or what still existed of it after Saddam is now virtually non-existent. Over 5 million Iraqis have fled the country or are currently displaced within and tens of thousands continue to flee Iraq each month.

For all of the American lives and treasure expended on Iraq, the country’s situation remains perilous, even as it looks as if a peaceful withdrawal is on the horizon. The insurgency, though somewhat muted, continues to carry out attacks, largely aided by funds, weapons, and training from Iran. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the country is still very much divided. Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds distrust and fear each other. The sectarian bloodbath has eased for now, but if the U.S. doesn’t play its hand carefully and cautiously, it could start up all over again.

> Continue Reading: The State of Iraq

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is “Who’s Nailin Paylin” Legal?

In you haven’t heard, “Who’s Nailin Paylin” is an upcoming pornographic movie starring Lisa Ann, a Sarah Palin doppelganger. The movie, which is being produced by Larry Flynt’s Hustler, features Russian soldiers in Alaska, “you betchas,” and even a threesome with Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice look-a-likes.

Unfortunately for the real Sarah Palin, Flynt’s pornographic parody is legal. In fact, Flynt set the legal standard for parody. In a 1983 issue of Hustler, a fake advertisement described Jerry Falwell’s “first time” as a drunken encounter with his mother. Furious, Falwell sued Hustler. Initially, Falwell was awarded $150,000 in damages by a lower court. This ruling was reversed in Supreme Court decision in 1988.

In an 8-0 ruling, the court found in favour of Flynt. The majority decision concluded that the right to freedom of speech, as prescribed in the First Amendment, “prohibits awarding damages to public figures to compensate for emotional distress intentionally inflicted upon them.”

Palin could press for an injunction, and perhaps delay the release of the film until after the election, but it would most likely still be released.

> Continue Reading: Is “Who’s Nailin Paylin” Legal?

Voter turnout in Canada reaches historic lows, but Elections Canada still struggles

On Tuesday, only 59.1-per-cent of the electorate turned out to vote. This number represents the lowest turnout in Canadian election history, breaking the previous record of 61% set in the 2004 election. Despite receiving 168,737 ballots fewer than in 2006, Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party managed to capture 19 additional seats. This victory was made possible by the absence of one important factor: soft liberal voters.

It turns out that soft liberal voters did not jump to the NDP or the Greens as so many analysts predicted. Instead, these voters just opted to stay home. In Mississauga-Erindale, for example, Conservative Bob Dechert trounced Liberal Omar Alghabra by 3,500 votes. However, Dechert only received an additional 270 than in 2006. The difference? Alghabra received 3,327 fewer votes.

Despite fewer votes cast, Elections Canada struggled all day to keep up with turnout. This year, only 62-per-cent of the electorate in Etobicoke-Lakeshore voted. Based on the chaos I witnessed at the largest polling station in Etobicoke-Lakershore, I am not sure that Elections Canada could even deal with 70-per-cent turnout, let alone 100-per-cent.

At the station I saw, election workers did not have the proper supplies or training. At peak times wait lines were up to an hour, as people were uncomfortably packed into a hot smelly gym. Elections Canada doesn’t even bother to supply stations with location master lists, so if a voter accidentally came to the wrong polling station, workers didn’t know where to direct them.

Across the country, long lines and insufficient resources, plagued voting stations and discouraged people from voting. At one UofT polling station, a DRO (Deputy Returning Officer) nearly broke down into tears at the end of the night after having to single handedly register hundreds of students as lines stretched around the corner.

In 1958, voter turnout peaked at 79-per-cent. Today, on its shoestring budget, 79-per-cent would bring Elections Canada to a grinding halt.

> Continue Reading: Voter turnout in Canada reaches historic lows, but Elections Canada still struggles

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Does Canada Lag Behind the U.S.?

As the final votes are tallied, it looks as if Stephen Harper won’t win the majority he wanted, but will rather have to settle for a strong minority government. The Conservatives have done significantly better than most analysts predicted. Conservative supporters are likely upset with tonight’s results, but this is a Tory win. Although, perhaps slightly peeved at just how close they came to a majority, Tory annoyance probably can’t compare to the calls in the Liberal Party for Dion’s head.

Ultimately, what does this Conservative win mean? In contrast with Obama’s rise and the resurgence of liberalism south of the border, Canada’s new found conservatism seems a little outdated. If the U.S. is trending left, why are we going right?

Historians and political scientists have frequently theorized that Canada lags behind the United States. Irving Louis Horowitz argues, “the differences between Canada and the United States, at the level of values, are better framed in terms of cultural lag than in terms of polarized or reified values differences.” What Horowitz suggests, is that Canada and the U.S. are the same. Canada just experiences certain cultural trends a little later.

The historical evidence for this thesis is iffy. While Pearson’s policies somewhat resemble the vision of FDR and Trudeau may seem like a late Canadian JFK, there is more evidence against a “lag” theory than for it. For instance, in the 60s, both countries experienced radical liberalism, the 70s, feminism, the 1980s rightwing ideology, the 90s, liberal free trade.

Politics reflect cultural values, and vice versa. Throughout most of the 20th century, Canadian and American cultural values are very similar and as Canadians consume more American media, we seem to be getting closer and closer. Although, there are a few obvious differences that are rooted in our historical development. Canadians tend to be imbued with the idea of “Peace, Order, and Good Government” and are subsequently a little more deferential to authority than their freedom loving American counterparts.

So, if we really aren’t very different, why is Canada tacking to right?

A lot of Harper’s support this election was soft. These aren’t hardcore conservatives that want to ban abortions and integrate church and state, although some of them are. These are Canadians worried about Dion’s leadership skills, but still not confident in a Harper majority.

Many core Canadian values are distinctly liberal. Canadians love socialized medicine, firmly support social safety nets, and generally feel that the evils of capitalism need to be restrained. These values are inherently anti-conservative. Could Harper be the forefront of the Canadian version of American neo-conservatism? Not likely.

> Continue Reading: Does Canada Lag Behind the U.S.?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Election Prediction Project predicts the same outcome as in 2006

As the 2008 Federal Election comes down to the wire, EPP (Election Prediction Project) has finally called the remainder of the races previously too close to call. The results: pretty much the outcome in 2006. The Conservatives gain 1, the Liberals lose 9, the NDP gains 7, and the Bloc stays the same at 51. If Election Day plays out as predicted the balance of power in the House of Commons will remain the same, unless some sort of multi party coalition is forged.

Any coalition seems unsustainable. A three party coalition between the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc would be a nightmare and the Conservatives seem too at odds with the other parties to form anything that wouldn’t be viewed by supporters as a conflict of interests. Tomorrow, Stephen Harper will inherit the same “dysfunctional” political landscape that prompted him to call the October 14th election in the first place.

However, EPP usually gets approximately 10% of its predictions wrong. This works out to about 31 out of 308 seats. Not enough to dramatically swing the election one way or another. But, perhaps enough to bolster Harper’s confidence if the Conservatives win a strong minority or save Dion’s hide if the Liberals can hold on to their 2006 seats.

> Continue Reading: Election Prediction Project predicts the same outcome as in 2006

Norwood Fair Review

Cotton candy, carnival rides, and baby animals, oh to be a kid again. Many rural towns and villages in Ontario have fairs. However, on Thanksgiving Day weekend, only the sites and sounds of the Norwood Fair evoke a near tangible sense of nostalgia. Sure, there are bigger fairs in Ontario with more rides and attractions, like the CNE or London’s Western Fair. What makes the Norwood Fair a fun slice of Southern Ontario rural life is not the rides or vendors, which can be found at every last one of Ontario’s 203 fall fairs, but the community touch.

As a cultural institution, the Norwood Fair has had a long history. The fair first began in 1868, and has taken place every year there after, except between 1939 and 1947 due to Second World War. A list of the Fair’s historic achievements is available on the Fair’s website. Some of these historical achievements are a little more significant than others. For instance, in 1954 the fair added a baby show to the list of events. 13 babies entered, but according to the website, no spectators showed up. Not exactly riveting material. However, the website’s history section does provide a sense of how the fair has evolved and expanded over the years. For a village of only 1300, the continuation and continued expansion of the fair is an impressive achievement.

Ever since I can remember my parents loaded my siblings and I up in the car for Thanksgiving with our extended family in Norwood. At that age, the highlight for us was always the fair. Even in its current iteration, very little about the fair has actually changed. Sure, there are more vendors, rides cost more, and the auto show is larger than ever, but the most of the rides from my childhood are still there, as are the animals, and the Saturday parade always remains the same.

Of the various events, the parade has changed the least. The Saturday parade, which is held on the opening day at noon, always has the same people and vehicles. The firefighters throw Candy, the Legion plays the bagpipes, and that guy with the car modeled after the Flintstones always shows up. The floats and themes change from year to year, but the message is usually centred on agriculture. This year’s theme: Harvesting a Greener Future. Past themes have included “Farmers Feed Cities” and the slightly socially conservative “Our Rural Roots.” The best part of the parade is that anyone can march and children are encouraged to dress up and do so. As a child, I often marched in the Parade, but for selfish reasons. I wanted the dollar and two ride tickets promised by parade organizers, which at the time felt like a small fortune.

The Fair excels at providing activities for children where they can win tickets and even a little money. Games in the old arena can range from hammering contests, to something as simple as blowing bubbles. Apparently, when I was young, I was also greedy. Like the parade, I entered contests just for the money and tickets for participating. I once even entered the bubbling blowing contest without even the slightest inclination of how to blow a bubble. I just stood there on stage happily smacking my jaws with my ride tickets and dollar tucked away in my pocket. Children’s talent contests are also held in the old arena. These can range from entertaining, to cute, to downright bizarre. This year two sisters did a hip-hop style, booty shaking dance to O’Canada. Weird.

The petting zoo is also timeless. Baby chicks and ducks are always cute and fun to feed, though some of the animals seem to get sick of the feed constantly thrust in their face. The barns at the Fair are also used for judging the animals and the cattle auction. While the judging is done before the Fair opens, the auction is conducted during the day. The auction is actually surprisingly quite entertaining. I was wowed the first time I heard the professional auctioneer launch into the fast talking high-angry style that you usually only see on tv. Even though it can be hard to follow at times, there is some fun in seeing how much each cow eventually goes for. Although, I have no idea why Home Hardware bought the winning steer last year.

Though perhaps dull sounding, the school exhibits are somewhat entertaining. I might have grown out of greedy phase. But, I seem to have grown up into a jackass, as I find some of the schoolwork absolutely hilarious. Most of the work is good, and the kids who participate should feel proud of their accomplishments, but every once in a while there is just one lazy entry. This year, my favourite entry came from the Social Science section of the display. The kids were tasked with labeling and coloring a map of Canada, but one kid just gave up halfway through at Manitoba. Only half the province was coloured and the label read “Manitob.” In another section, kids were asked to make a poster with an environmentally friends message. The best one: Don’t Shoot Pandas! A fine environmental message if I ever heard one.

At the fair, the Midway consists of carnival rides, games, merchandise vendors, and various food stands. While the rides were once my favourite part of the Fair, they don’t seem to have stood the test of time as well as some the Fair’s other attractions. Perhaps it’s the prices, the sleazy Albion Amusement carnies, or the fact that rides haven’t been updated since the 1980s, but I found the rides off-putting this year. The Bumper Cars are still fun, but even time allotted felt a little short.

The rest of the Midway is nothing special. Overpriced carnival games, chip trucks and knockoff sunglasses are hardly spectacular. The homemade taffy is a treat though and well worth the price at $0.25 a stick. What is interesting, and perhaps a little disturbing is some of the merchandise available at the various vendors. While there are lots of off-colour t-shirts and posters with blatant sexual messages, there are also lots of items emblazoned with the Confederate flag. While it would be normal to find these kinds of items at a fair in the Southern U.S., what are they doing in Southern Ontario? Does anyone buy this stuff?

Another low point is the extreme lawn tractor races. Introduced only a year ago, this sport is inane and looks and sounds like a Nascar race, complete with dangerous crashes. The horse and pony events are a little classier and the antique tractor pull and show is a lot more enjoyable to watch. For automotive enthusiasts, the car show garners a fair amount of attention and usually sports quite a quite a collection of classic cars. Even a number of working Model-T’s are present.

The Fair is also a place to see local politicians, and even the occasional party leader. This year, Stephane Dion made a stop at the Fair to encourage Peterborough riding residents to vote for Betsy McGregor. Incumbent Peterborough MP Dean Delmastro also made a stop, as did MPP Jeff Leal.

The Norwood Fair is a community institution with an undeniable folksy charm. While the Midway resembles every other fair in Ontario, the entertainment, animal shows, and exhibits are unique and a large part of what make the Fair special. Even as I grow older, the Fair still has a certain power to take me back to my childhood. I can still remember losing my two front teeth on a ride called the Hurricane, entering a speaking contest and nervously delivering a speech on the Trojan War, and riding my trike in what felt like grandest parade there ever was.

> Continue Reading: Norwood Fair Review

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What are the chances that the Bloc could become the Official Opposition?

Several analysts have suggested this possibility, but the chances of this happening are slim. Although the Bloc was the official opposition from 1993 to 1997, it is highly unlikely that circumstances will allow the Bloc to achieve this again.

As it stands now, the Conservatives are pretty much guaranteed a minority government. In the early 90s, the split in the conservative vote between the Progressive Conservatives and Reform Party allowed the Bloc to become the Official Opposition with only 54 seats. In the 1997 Federal Election, Bloc support in Quebec fell and the Reform Party’s growing victories out west helped Preston Manning become Opposition Leader.

The Bloc are currently enjoying yet another renaissance at the expensive of declining Conservative support in Quebec. However, the stage is not set for Duceppe to move into Stornoway. To win enough seats, the Bloc needs to steal Conservative support in rural areas and Liberal and NDP support in urban areas. If the Bloc is able to do exceptionally well on the 14th, the most they will probably come away with is 55 seats. The Liberals will hold most of Montreal, unless the NDP are able to draw away significant support, and the Conservatives have a strong foothold in parts of Southern Quebec.

55 seats simply isn’t enough. Even if the Liberals are trounced, they will still win at least 65-70 seats. More than enough for the Liberals to maintain their position as the Official Opposition.

> Continue Reading: What are the chances that the Bloc could become the Official Opposition?

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Globe and Mail Weakly Endorses Harper

Yesterday, the Globe and Mail announced that it supports Stephen Harper in the upcoming Federal Election. Based on the picture, and the title the Globe’s declaration looks and sounds like a ringing endorsement. However, the article in which Globe Editor John Geiger argues for Harper reads more like a list of criticisms, and is vague as to how Stephen Harper has helped Canada in the last two years.

The article states that Harper has done well on foreign policy, particularly in regards to the Middle East. But, what exactly has he done? Geiger says, “As with Afghanistan, he played a bad hand very well...” Huh? How did he play a bad hand well? Inheriting an important war, nation building exercise, and potential test for the future of nature of NATO and deciding to pull out in 2011 regardless of the consequences is an example of a bad hand well played?

On social issues, Geiger states that Harper was able to control “his party's extreme social conservative rump, not vice versa.” Not exactly a great accomplishment. Finally, on the issue of Quebec Geiger argues that Harper did a good job of handling the Quebec nationhood debate. Well, Harper really didn’t do anything. The nationhood status that he gave to the Québécois people is meaningless and has done nothing to stem tensions between Quebec and the rest of Canada.

At this point in the article, Geiger moves on to criticize Harper. However, as he moves to the negative it feels like he really hasn’t made the case for Harper and the Tories. Geiger’s criticisms then are a little more specific, and have quite a deal more bite to them.

Geiger argues that Harper has done little to serve the Aboriginal community, has proposed no real plan to deal with climate change, and was wholly ineffective in his missionary attitude towards China. At the end of the article, Geiger proceeds to examine Harper’s greatest problem: Canadians lack of trust. Geiger suggests that if Canadians vote for Harper, “it will be as a default choice, not a popular choice.” Not a stirring endorsement.

> Continue Reading: The Globe and Mail Weakly Endorses Harper

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Left of Centre Strategic Voting in Canada

Strategic voting sites have proliferated over the course of this campaign cycle. Sites like Vote for Environment, Anyone but, and all want to see the Conservative Party defeated on October 14th. While conservatives in Canada no longer have to worry about voting strategically, strategy is an important consideration for the electorate who consider themselves left of centre. In the coming days, Canadians who lean to the left have to consider what is more important: support a party or get Harper out of office?

If the answer is anyone but Harper, then strategic voting takes precedent over preference. This is exactly what sites like Vote for Environment suggest. Vote for whatever left of centre party has the best chance of winning in a riding strongly contested by the Conservatives. If the Conservatives aren’t a factor, vote for whomever you want. For those who don’t follow polls, Vote for Environment makes deciding what party to vote for even easier. If you enter your postal code, the site tells you which party you need to vote for in your riding to block the Conservatives.

Some of the calculations these sites make seem a little off, but for the most part the reasoning is sound. Vote for Environment even provides a little table that shows a potential election outcome if all of the left of centre voters in Canada voted strategically.

In recent days, the Tories have slid several points in the polls and are now just hovering around 33-35%. This is slightly less than the 36% of the vote that gave them a minority government in 2006. As a result, it seems unlikely that the idea of a Harper majority will spook many left of centre voters into voting strategically.

Rather it looks likely that come Election Day, most left of centre voters will vote their preference. Even if the idea of another Harper minority government is distasteful. Canadian parties receive $1.75 per vote every year, so every vote a party can get is important for its future success.

> Continue Reading: Left of Centre Strategic Voting in Canada