Monday, September 29, 2008

Have the Republicans Lost It?

Between temper tantrums, reckless behaviour, and a new urge to plunge America into financial chaos, Republicans seem to have lost their minds.

Last week, John McCain suspended his campaign over the financial crisis (but didn’t), immediately flew back to Washington (24 hours later), and then stepped in to guide negotiations over the Bailout Bill (ruining them).

Between his gambit on Palin, which is looking like a worse choice every day, and his baffling maneuvers during the economic crisis McCain is starting to look as if he’s fit for a straight jacket. His only moment of clarity, and relative sanity, over the last two weeks was the debate last Friday in which he managed to look poised, thoughtful, and rather Presidential.

The Republicans in Congress are not fairing much better either. In a surprise decision today, House Republicans overwhelmingly voted against the $700 billion Bailout Bill. While Republicans running in competitive districts might have voted against the bill because it was unpopular with their own constituents, the resulting economic chaos hardly seems to their advantage. If lifesavings are wiped out as stocks continue to plunge, people are going to want to give the party in power the heave-ho.

The decision will also hurt Republican fundraisers who rely on Wall Street. The Wall Street CEO’s that the Republicans need to fill their coffers during the election season are more likely to spit on an incumbent Republican than hold a fundraiser.

Finally, this decision further weakens McCain’s position. McCain’s intervention late last week looks even worse and Obama goes up in the polls every time the market falls. The latest Gallup poll gives Obama an 8-point lead over McCain.

Perhaps the Republicans understand that an Obama victory is inevitable. This would help to explain their scorched earth policy, as Obama is bound to lose the 2012 Election if the country he inherits lies in ruins.

> Continue Reading: Have the Republicans Lost It?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Culture War comes to Canada

The Conservative Party of Canada is currently poised to win the 2008 Election with a strong minority or maybe even a majority government. However, it is somewhat disheartening to see the realization and success of some of the more underhanded American political strategy in Canada. From sleazy ads and mud flinging, to trying to stir up a culture war the Conservative campaign is starting to mimic the worst parts of the McCain and Obama campaigns.

Earlier this week, Harper defended his $45 million cuts to the arts. “I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people.”

The brunt of Harper’s attack isn’t directed at the arts, or art funding. Harper's attack is designed to enforce rural perceptions of elitism in urban Canada. To win this election the Conservatives are using a tactic straight from the Republican playbook: build rural support by starting a culture war.

The worst part is that it’s working. Through these tactics, the Conservatives are trying to divide Canadians. On the one hand, there are hard working ordinary Canadians and on the other, rich snobbish elites in their ivory towers.

The key to this strategy has been Dion himself. By looking the part of the elite, the Harper campaign has feverishly tried to paint him as an aloof Professor, completely out-of-touch with the needs of normal Canadians. The Liberals are of the party of elitism and the Conservatives are the party of the average joe. While this comparison lacks any grounding in reality, most Canadians seem to be buying it.

“Bashing the elites is certainly simplistic,” writes Maragret Wente of the Globe and Mail, and unfortunately “it works.”

> Continue Reading: The Culture War comes to Canada

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where does the Natural Governing Party of Canada stand?

If you’re a Liberal supporter in Canada it is starting to feel like the “End of Days”. Polls show that the Liberals are currently in a tailspin. Canadians have little faith in Stéphane Dion’s leadership skills, the NDP and the Green Party are polling higher than the Liberals in B.C., and party infrastructure in Quebec is in disarray. Across the country, former Liberal voters are shopping for new parties.

Since the election began, media outlets have chastised the Liberal campaign as weak, confounding, and ineffective. This week the tone is harsher. Today, the Globe and Mail posted a story called “Liberals Shift Focus to Live Another Day.”

“Not one, not a single serious Liberal is talking about Stéphane Dion becoming Prime Minister,” responded one Liberal supporter quoted in the article. “This is not about beating Harper as PM. This is about living for another day.”

So where does the natural governing party of Canada stand?

The Liberals are going to lose this election, badly. The results probably won’t be as bad as in 1984, when the Turner Liberals were reduced to 40 seats, but the results won’t be pretty.

The greatest weakness facing the Liberals this election is their leader. By all accounts, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have run a terrible campaign of blunders. But, the Liberals haven’t been able capitalize on these blunders because of Dion. While Canadians aren’t particularly fond of Harper, they have more faith in him than Dion.

But, this doesn’t mean the Liberals are done for. Many Canadians still consider themselves small-l liberals with a hint of small-c fiscal conservatism. The Liberal Party will rise again, but Dion will have to go.

> Continue Reading: Where does the Natural Governing Party of Canada stand?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If a Worldwide Vote was held Today, Obama would Win, Sorta

The Economist is currently running a fun little online experiment. What if everyone in the world got a chance to cast a vote in the upcoming Presidential election, and what if that vote was cast in a worldwide electoral college? The results: an overwhelming Obama win.

Of the countries where ballots have been cast, Obama has amassed a runaway lead. McCain, although he has 996 votes to Obama’s 4,104, has yet to win a single electoral vote.


Obviously, this poll is grossly flawed. Only online members of the Economist can vote, people can lie about their country of origin, and some countries have yet to cast a single ballot. However, what makes this poll fun isn’t the voting itself, or even the results. The fact that Obama is winning by huge margins isn’t very much of a surprise. What makes this experiment interesting is the number of electoral votes each country gets.

In the experiment, there are 9,875 electoral votes. Each country gets a minimum of three votes, and additional votes are allocated proportionally by population. To win a candidate needs 4,938 electoral votes. Obama currently has 6,279. (Which is actually more than the total number of votes he has received.)

In a worldwide electoral college, most of the votes are in Asia. 5,541 to be precise. More than half of these votes are in China and India. China has 1,900 electoral votes and India has 1,588. If an electoral college was used to elect a President of Earth, I imagine most of the campaigning would be done in these two countries.

If you thought the political power of Wyoming was lopsided in the U.S. Electoral College, than consider this. In a worldwide vote, despite the fact that the smallest 40 countries in the world, those with 3 electoral votes, only have about 0.03% of the population of world, they account for 1.2% of the electoral vote. One vote by a Vatican City citizen is worth the votes of 2500 Chinese citizens.

Canada is allocated 49 Electoral Votes. In a worldwide electoral college, Canada would have the same electoral power as Afghanistan or Algeria. The system gives the U.S. 432 electoral votes, or only about 4.5% of the vote.

> Continue Reading: If a Worldwide Vote was held Today, Obama would Win, Sorta

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Obama Recovery Across the Board

The latest polls from Pollster.com indicate that Obama is back to his pre RNC convention support. The polls, which are a composite of over a dozen national and statewide polls, show increased Obama support across the board, in blue, toss-up, and even red states. Blue states have moved from “lean Obama” to “strong Obama” and many toss-up states are shifting towards “lean Obama”. Although Obama recovered a great deal of support in some of the redder states, these states are still “strong McCain.”

These results are most likely due to two factors. First, the stock market downturn and subsequent economic problems are largely blamed on the Bush administration, thus further tarnishing the Republican brand. Second, Sarah Palin’s post convention support also seems to have diminished in light of reports concerning her qualifications and less-than reformist background.

> Continue Reading: Obama Recovery Across the Board

Monday, September 22, 2008

What if it’s a tie?

If Americans voted today based on current polling data the result would be a tie.


Both McCain and Obama would receive 269 electoral votes. This particular electoral combination is not the only way the vote could result in a tie, there are several highly probably combinations.

Is this a nightmare scenario? Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia argues that it is. Although the U.S. Constitution has a contingency in the event that a candidate does not reach required number of electoral votes, it hasn’t been used since 1824. According to the Constitution, Congress and the Senate then decide the election. Congress votes for the President, and the Senate votes for the Vice President.

While Senators simply cast a vote, and the majority winner becomes Vice President, the Congressional vote for the President is far more complicated. The house votes by states. Each state delegation gets one vote, and candidate with majority number of votes wins.

This system was problematic in 1824 when Congress selected John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson, despite the fact that Jackson captured a plurality of the popular and electoral vote. Today the use of such a system would be catastrophic.

Imagine if Obama won the Congressional vote, but the Republicans managed to control the Senate and elected Sarah Palin Vice President. How would that work?

More problematic, however, is the fact that large states like California, Texas, and New York would have a vote equal to Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska. Millions of voters in the U.S. most populous states would be disenfranchised.

If Electoral College produces a tie, Obama would likely be the beneficiary. The Democrats are, at the very least, expected to retain control of both the House and the Senate. However, the potential for voting gridlock, disenfranchisement, and economic crisis from the uncertainty that such a vote would cause would be devastating.

America’s economic position is already precarious. If America and the World had to wait until early January for a new Congress to vote, the uncertainty would plunge the U.S. into economic chaos. Not to mention that the results would produce bitter resentment on par, or worse than, Bush's victory in the 2000 election.

> Continue Reading: What if it’s a tie?

Superhero Comic Books and Ideology

Since the release of comic book inspired movies like Spider-Man, X-Men, and The Dark Knight, pundits and academics have tried to decode the ideological values in these movies. While the origins of these heroes have led some writers to conclude that superhero mythology is steeped in conservative values, this assessment is misguided. Conservative values have only dominated comics for brief periods. For the most part superhero comics have expressed liberal values.

Depression Era Comics

Comic books first emerged in the 1930s as cheap knockoffs of popular comic strips. Poor teens were often paid pennies to create comic books that mimicked Popeye, Dick Tracy, Superman, and other popular characters. For the most part, early comic books were meant to be “comic”, or funny, as their name suggested.

In 1937, the fledgling comic book industry changed when Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Harry Donenfield, and Jack Liebowitz founded Detective Comics. DC was the first company to feature comics that focused on adventure, mystery, and drama. At the forefront of this change was Superman. Superman had been rejected as a newspaper strip, but DC decided to take a chance on Joel Schuster and Jerry Siegel’s creation and launch Action Comic’s first issue in June 1938 with Superman on the cover.

Superman was an instant hit. The first issue of Action Comics outsold supplies, and was constantly being reprinted to meet demand throughout 1938. Although Superman is often associated with “Truth, Justice, and the American way,” the original Superman was gritty and occasionally dark. With the persona of a hard-boiled detective, Superman constantly insulted his opponents and cracked wise as he thrashed them.

The early Superman tales reflect the struggles of working class Americans. In the third issue of Action Comics, Superman saves a miner during a cave-in. The miner then informs Clark Kent about the unsafe working conditions, and how the cave in could have been avoided had the owner heeded warnings. When Kent questions the owner on the mine’s safety, the owner responds, “There are no safety hazards in my mine! But if there were… what of it? I’m a businessman not a humanitarian.” Superman later traps the owner in the mine and simulates a cave-in. The owner discovers that his safety devices fail to operate. Reduced to tears, he laments and promises to make the mine the safest in the U.S.

In these early tales, Superman often challenged corporate greed and mismanagement, defended the rights of workers, and advocated social reform. In another story Superman brings the president of a tunnel construction company to justice after discovering the company used faulty materials to save costs.

More superheroes quickly followed Superman’s popularity. In 1939, Bob Kane created Batman, a wealthy billionaire by day, and a masked crime-fighting vigilante by night. Although, Batman was not a champion of the powerless like Superman, early stories emphasized social issues like poverty and corruption. Between 1938 and 1941, dozens of superheroes began to appear comics. In 1941, DC launched another groundbreaking superhero, Wonder Woman. Created by William Moulton Martson, Wonder Woman has been both praised and heavily criticized by feminists. While Wonder Woman premiered as a strong, independent female character, many of her stories included bondage and other sadomasochistic elements.

Throughout the 1930s, and into the 1940s there was a distinct connection between superheroes and Roosevelt’s New Deal. Heroes like Superman and the Green Lantern frequently defended the liberalism of the New Deal against crooked local politicians and businessmen. In one Green Lantern adventure, he uses collective action to rally a group of citizens to take on a corrupt Mortgage in Loan Company. In another tale, he frees a group of slaves from a villainous business tycoon who kidnaps the unemployed and puts them to work on a Caribbean Island. As comic book historian Bradford Wright argues, “Superheroes repeatedly sounded the warnings that business dealings free of public scrutiny and government regulation inevitably led to corruption and crime.”

World War II

As the U.S. entered the Second World War, comics began to change. Stories of patriotic heroes clashing against ideological and racially inferior enemies replaced accounts of New Deal liberalism. At the forefront of this change was the embodiment of patriotism, Captain America. Created to fight Nazi’s through a secret Super Soldier Serum, Captain America represented America’s virtue and impressed upon readers the necessity of buying war bonds, watching out for saboteurs, and collecting materials for the war effort. Captain America was not alone either. Superman, Batman, and most of the other heroes created during the depression changed their tone to a patriotic one.

In fact, this change had begun even before the U.S. entered the war. Many of the comic book writers at the time, including the infamous Jack Kirby, were disgusted with the Nazi's actions. Kirby, the son of Austrian-Jewish immigrants, helped bring Captain America to life with his artwork and later went on to create the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk. Kirby, and writer Joe Simon, used Captain America to attack the Nazi ideology and stand up for their political beliefs.

After Pearl Harbour, superheroes became direct participants in the fight against Nazism. While superheroes did not lose their New Deal origins, and continued to fight against corporate greed, evil businessmen often had ties to Nazi organizations or threatened the U.S. war effort in some way.

While Germans were still portrayed as humans within comic books, the Japanese were portrayed as grotesque evil savages. Wright argues that “Japanese were portrayed appeared subhuman, inhuman, or even superhuman, but never simply human.” Embodying every conceivable negative element derived from the “yellow peril,” Japanese characters were relentlessly cruel.

The war era of comic book history is often referred to as the Golden Age of Comics. Comics had a simple undeniable message of American superiority. While Depression era comics challenged American excess, war era comics flaunted America’s superior ideology and moral stance. Although many innovative characters were created during this period, the blind racism and hatred that permeated these comics tarnishes the periods “golden” image.

The 60s and Beyond

Post-war world was a complicated era for comic superheroes. The war had expanded the comic market, but superheroes were no longer in vogue. Only major established characters like Batman and Superman continued to eek out an existence on the shelves. New comics starring characters like Archie, that harkened back to the “funny days” of comics prospered.

The superhero comics that endured adopted an Americanist vision of the world. America had triumphed over its enemies and stood in position to define a new world order based founded upon American ideals of justice, liberty, and equality. Increasingly, social commentary was abandoned in comics in favour of fantastical stories of magic and fantasy. Batman, once the dark vigilante of the night, became a protector of the elite and the status quo.

Superheroes continued to decline in popularity until the 1960s, when they were rejuvenated by new work by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Together the two created the successful Fantastic Four. Unlike previous comics, the Fantastic Four featured superheroes with more human attributes. As Stan Lee commented, people wanted to see superheroes with “doubts, fears, and insecurities.”

While Superheroes did not challenge social inequalities to the same extent that they did in the 1930s, certain books like X-Men challenged racism with an obvious mutant allegory. Even Spider-Man played upon struggle to find acceptance, through the trials and tribulations of Peter Parker. However, racist and bigoted attitudes continued to permeate comics. Thor’s enemy, the Enchantress was portrayed as an evil feminist, and the Black Panther regularly defeated civil rights activists. (Stan Lee created the Black Panther in 1966, only months before Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party)

In the 1980s, comics became darker. At the centre of this transformation was Frank Miller. Plots became darker and more absorbing, and the actions of characters became more violent. The gritty, violent, redefining Batman: Year One and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns are often considered Miller’s greatest work. These works also sparked new interest in the Batman franchise, which eventually led to the Tim Burton movie in 1989.

Miller also ushered a new era of conservatism into comic books. A self described conservative and proponent of the Iraq War, Wright argues that Miller’s re-characterization of heroes such as Batman and the Daredevil strongly reflected Regan-Era America. These heroes took matters into their own hands out of frustration with government’s inability to deal with crime.

However, this argument is flawed. Conservatives do not hold a monopoly on individualism. The fact that these characters act outside of the government does not make their deeds conservative. Like 1930s Superman, these characters take matters into their own hands to defend the weak and powerless. While they don’t actively campaign for New Deal style government regulation, most superheroes continue take up liberal causes. Bruce Wayne pledges money to save the rain forest, Green Arrow believes that governments do what people can’t do for themselves, and Clark Kent is part of the Liberal media establishment.

Even though writers often try to inject comic books with political debate, it is clear what side they come down on. In Marvel’s Civil War storyline writers tried to balance the “security versus freedom” debate taking place in America through a Superhero Registration Act. However, the writers come down on side of freedom, as Tony Stark and Reed Richard’s pro-registration actions, include trying to start a war and building a prison for renegade heroes in another dimension. Even though the pro-registration forces win, their efforts are portrayed as totalitarian.

Based off the success of Civil War, Marvel and DC have both tried to inject political controversy into their comics. This year, DC is launching a series of comics concerning the upcoming Presidential election. Considering the liberal history of comic book characters and today’s writers, it would be shocking if the Democrats lost.

For more information on the history of comic books I recommend reading Bradford Wright's Comic Book Nation and listening to this "Sound of Young America" podcast about Jack Kirby.

> Continue Reading: Superhero Comic Books and Ideology

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Canadian Election Advertising

You can always tell when something is produced in Canada, whether it’s a television show, a movie, or even a political advertisement. There is that unmistakable sense that it was produced on a shoestring budget. The Canadian election ads this season are no different.

Watch this Conservative attack ad called Dion’s “Scratch'N Lose”. Like most of the Conservative attack ads, this one makes light of Dion’s English and displays the famous image of Dion shrugging. The ad also looks and sounds like it was made with Microsoft Movie Maker on a $6 budget.

The Liberal ads are only slightly better. The ads on the “Meet Dion” website are beyond hokey. The footage of Dion playing floor hockey and posing with his team looks incredibly forced. The Liberal Party’s Green Shift television ads are much better. Though the message is somewhat confused, the ads at least look professional.

The only party with a decent advertisement is the NDP. Their ad, “A New Kind of Strong,” has a clean message and slick production values. But, even this ad isn’t perfect. At the end of the ad, the female narrator says, “We need a new strong.” To which Layton replies, “The new strong is about fighting for you.”

The “New Strong”? Ugh. Besides sounding grammatically incorrect, it also sounds downright stupid.

American election ads sometimes have the opposite problem of their Canadian counterparts; too much polish. Many ads often end up looking more like movie trailers for some cheesy teenybopper horror flick.

> Continue Reading: Canadian Election Advertising

Friday, September 19, 2008

What's a Canadian Election Junkie to do?

To get their daily fix during the Presidential election season, American political junkies have an unending stream of professional sites to visit. By contrast, Canadian election prediction and polling sites look like they were designed in 1997 and updated just as frequently.

For instance, take a swing by Pollster.com and Election Prediction Project, respectively two of the most prominent American and Canadian prediction and polling sites. The contrasts in quality are immediately apparent. While Pollster.com sports a sleek design, Election Prediction Project looks like a train wreck. The site’s colors are off-putting and the design is cumbersome to navigate. Several of the title bars are also out of date. Apparently, it’s still 2007 or maybe 2006.

Pollster.com is updated daily, sometimes multiple times a day. Election Prediction Project has only been updated twice since the election began on September 7th and structure of the site makes it difficult to determine what has been changed after each update.

Where the Election Prediction Project shines, however, is in the details. The site, usually, correctly predicts riding outcomes at a rate of 80-90%. But, for a Canadian political junkie, this just isn’t enough.

Unfortunately, the problem goes beyond independent polling sites. American newspapers tend to have better polling statistics than Canadian newspapers. Even the way they convey this information is better than Canadian newspapers. The New York Times has a fantastic interactive electoral map that displays up-to-date polling information and analysis. Alternatively, the Globe and Mail’s “Poll of Polls” is non-interactive and often seems to contradict polling results in the Globe’s election coverage articles.

Perhaps there isn’t enough of a market in Canada for a political predication site like Pollster.com. Where ads and Polimetrix.com support Pollster.com, Election Prediction Project is still desperately looking for advertisers. Instead of complaining, I should probably just be happy, and thankful, that a group of University students banded together to produce an accurate Canadian election prediction site.

> Continue Reading: What's a Canadian Election Junkie to do?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Angry Video Game Nerd Reviewed

For retro gaming fans, The Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN) is a godsend. The webshow, produced, directed and starring James Rolfe regularly reviews old video games in his “angry nerd” persona. When the show began as the Angry Nintendo Nerd Rolfe only reviewed NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) games. Since 2006, the show's name was changed and Rofle and now reviews games on several classic platforms.

The show originated as a quick and angry comedic review of the NES game Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest in May, 2004. At the time, Rolfe only distributed the video to his friends, and his famous nerd persona did not even appear on screen. In his second video, a review Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, the angry nerd persona made its debut. Like the first video, this one was only distrusted to Rolfe’s friends and family.

In 2006, the rise of youtube gave Rolfe a convenient outlet to upload his movies. The movies were an instant hit. In response to their popularity, Rolfe kept making more, and eventually turned his occasional pet project into an ongoing series.

While Rolfe’s style has dramatically changed over the years, the core of the show remains the same. As Rolfe mentions himself, the key to the show is “nostalgia.” The opening theme after all does say, “He’s going to take you back to past…” Part of what makes the show funny is that it makes the viewer reflect on the terrible video games they regularly played as a child. What’s most startling is that I remember liking some of these games, despite how awful they appear today.

The Nerd’s “indignation” is also a key element of the show. A lot of old video games have some ridiculous parts to them that defy any sense of logic. The Nerd character’s strength is that he can make these flaws hilarious through his over-the-top indignation. In Rofle’s 2008 review of Superman for NES, he points out that Superman has to take the subway to travel around Metropolis. For anyone familiar with Superman’s abilities, this is insane. As the Nerd screams in frustration, “why can’t he just fly there!”

Since 2007, Rolfe has lengthened episodes and stopped focusing solely on the games themselves. Episodes now usually have a live action segment where Rolfe either dresses up as a character from the game or engages with character is some way or other. While these segments are improving, they are still not as funny as the gaming portion of the reviews.

The best live action segment is undoubtedly the Nerd’s run in with Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In this episode, not is the Nerd able to poke fun at some his more abrasive fans, but he also gets to make fun of how absurd Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the Atari 2600 is. After reviewing the game in this episode, the Nerd is chased by Leatherface who eventually becomes stuck on a discarded bicycle, just like in the game. Believe me, it’s a lot funnier if you watch the review.

While AVGN isn’t perfect, Rolfe frequently over does the swearing and diarrhea bit and the new site seems to have server issues, the show is a lot of fun. There are some great retro games out there, but there are enough bad ones to keep the Angry Video Game Nerd busy playing "shitty" games for a long time.

> Continue Reading: The Angry Video Game Nerd Reviewed

Latest Gallup Poll puts Obama back in the Lead, Barley

The latest Gallup Poll seems to indicate that John McCain’s post convention bounce is fading, but for all intensive purposes, the race is still tied. While Obama may have a slight two-point edge, the various state polls still show a resurgent John McCain. States like North and South Dakota, both of which voted for Bush in 2004 have firmly moved back into the Republican camp.

Obama’s support is also weakening in Wisconsin and Michigan. Although Pollster.com gives Obama a slight lead both states, that lead is shrinking, and Michigan is currently marked as a toss-up. Obama’s lead in traditional blue states like Oregon and Washington State is also shrinking.

Perhaps most significant, however, is the gains that Obama is making in Virginia and West Virginia. While McCain still leads in both states by about two points, Obama is closing the gap.

While polling data is still untrustworthy at this stage in the game, all the polls seem to indicate that Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, and New Hampshire are swing states in this election. With the exception of Michigan, McCain and Obama have both enjoyed a recent lead in all of these states.

> Continue Reading: Latest Gallup Poll puts Obama back in the Lead, Barley

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Are Business Schools in America to Blame for the Current Financial Woes?

Wall Street is currently in the midst of facing down the worst crisis in its history since Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929. This week, the continued fallout from sub-prime mortgage crisis in the U.S. sent stocks spiraling and brought long-time investment firms and insurance companies to their knees. The most notable casualties include Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and most recently A.I.G (American Insurance Group).

To stop A.I.G.’s impending bankruptcy, the Federal Government issued the company an $85 billion loan. In conjunction with the U.S. Treasury’s decision to take over Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae last week, this is the most radical government intervention into the financial sector since the Great Depression. What is even more baffling is that this all took place under a Republican administration that championed the idea of de-regulation. As Robert Sheer said last week on KCRW’s “Left, Right, and Center,” “if the Democrats had proposed this they would have been labeled communists.”

Although the blame for this mess squarely falls on the Bush Administration and various C.E.O.s on Wall Street who supported sub-prime mortgages, is there a systemic problem? Are America’s business schools to blame for the current financial woes?

America’s business schools once turned out responsible business leaders, but today it seems that they focus on turning out hedge fund managers and consultants who bare a stronger resemblance to confidence men than community leaders.

Rakesh Khurana, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, believes that this needs to stop. Khurana argues that America’s business schools are adrift. Where schools once trained society’s leaders, they now train individuals solely interested in maximizing short-term shareholder returns. As Forbes columnist Sramana Mitra writes, “rather than grooming a “leadership” driven value system, Business Schools today are grooming an “avarice” and “opportunism” driven value system.”

While generating profit is obviously important in a capitalist system, business graduates need to be taught more than the importance of money. Although business students at America’s elite institutions are undoubtedly going to be drawn to the lucrative world of hedge funds and private equities, the profit at any cost mentality has to change. American business schools are often considered the best in the world. If these institutions want to maintain that reputation, they need to do better.

> Continue Reading: Are Business Schools in America to Blame for the Current Financial Woes?

Monday, September 15, 2008

CBC Radio’s Search Engine is Back

After a summer hiatus, CBC Radio’s Search Engine has returned this week with a brand new episode. The weekly program, hosted by Jesse Brown, addresses issues pertaining to the convergence between technology, the internet, culture, and society. Although the show is serious, it often reports humorous stories.

In it’s final episode last season Jesse announced that the radio version of the show had been cancelled. While certain elements of the show were being exported to other CBC programs, the program would no longer be broadcast on CBC Radio 1. The only consolation to Search Engine fans was that Jesse would continue to host the weekly podcast, albeit in a truncated form.

The CBC’s decision to cancel the program outraged and befuddled fans. Here was a popular program, other than Hockey Night in Canada that attracted the males 18 to 30. A demographic the CBC rarely draws viewers or listeners from.

Over the summer, the fans of Search Engine kicked in to action to try to save the show. Though their efforts were unsuccessful, their campaign, which included a petition and “Free Jesse” t-shirts precipitated coverage from the blogosphere.

In the premiere podcast this week, Jesse addressed the shows cancellation and in the spirit of reconciliation invited his boss Chris Boyce the Programming Director of the CBC and Alfred Ayache the founder of Saving CBC’s Search Engine on to the show. Although the discussion was friendly, only a few of the nagging questions about Search Engine’s cancellation were addressed.

Boyce, defending the CBC’s decision, argued that Search Engine had been cancelled due to budget restraints. Boyce also suggested the important information conveyed by Search Engine would be better suited as a segment for different programs.

While programmers are often faced with budget constraints, the argument that the information provided by Search Engine could be better conveyed to the public as fragments through other mediums is flawed. First, Search Engine fans are unlikely to scour the various CBC programs for segments. Second, program’s production values are likely to suffer from the loss of Jesse’s support staff. Finally, Search Engine was a one-of-a-kind program. By diluting the program, the CBC has lost the listenership of a unique and relatively untapped market of tech savy individuals.

While Jesse continues to produce the Search Engine podcast, many longtime listeners may be turned off by the rougher edges of the new format. If this week’s segment on Canadian Federal Election is any indication it seems that the program isn’t as stringently edited or as well researched as it once was.

> Continue Reading: CBC Radio’s Search Engine is Back

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It’s all about Palin

Last week the media was abuzz with speculation about Sarah Palin. Among questions about her credentials, media savvy, and interview on ABC, one important question emerged above all the others: would Tina Fey return to play her for the fall premiere of Saturday Night Live?



Although SNL has long since ceased to be funny. The show still has the power to make headlines, snag a Presidential candidate or two, and even retain viewers. Last night, Tina Fey grabbed America’s attention with a pretty good impersonation of Ms. Palin. It helps that all Fey has to do to impersonate Palin is put her hair up and wear a red high-button jacket.

Fey, who was a SNL cast member from 1997-2006, took the stage with current SNL member Amy Poehler, as Hillary Clinton. Fey-as-Palin took the lead in the skit stating, “tonight we are crossing party lines to address the now very ugly role that sexism is playing in the campaign.”

To which Poehler-as-Clinton responded: “An issue which I am frankly surprised to hear people suddenly care about.”

The two continued to address the issue of sexism in the campaign while slinging attacks at each other. Poehler-as-Clinton criticized Palin’s lack of experience and Fey-as-Palin attacked Clinton’s overly ambitious nature, but suggested: “no matter your politics, it’s time for a woman to make it to the White House.

"Mine! It's supposed to be mine!" Poehler-as-Clinton responded with a scream, in perhaps the best line of the skit. "I need to say something. I didn't want a woman to be President. I wanted to be President and I just happen to be a woman."

The real Sarah Palin watched the skit, but whether she found the skit funny or not remains a mystery.

What isn’t a mystery is the hype that surrounds Sarah Palin. Young, attractive, and deeply conservative, Palin has turned McCain’s sputtering campaign around in a matter of weeks. Where the McCain campaign once lost week after week of media coverage to the Obama campaign, Hurricane Palin has wiped the Obama campaign off the map.

Palin’s History

While many analysts have denounced the attention the media is showering on Palin, she remains a fascinating and relatively unknown character to many Americans. However, as more is written about Palin we are given an increasingly clear picture of her tenure as Mayor of Wasilla and Governor of Alaska.

This week the New York Times and the Washington Post each published an article cataloging Palin’s prior experience. The resulting image cast by these articles is not one of a reformer or a party outsider, but rather a vindictive politik deeply entrenched within partisan framework. From PTA mother and City Councilor in 1992 to Vice Presidential candidate in 2008 Palin’s rise has been characterized by sharp political instinct.

In 1996, Palin ran against incumbent Mayor John Stein in her hometown of Wasilla. The main issue dividing the candidates was a 2 percent sales tax for road, sewer and water upgrades that Stein had recently implemented. Palin’s campaign also introduced partisan right-wing issues to the campaign, such as abortion and gun control to a Mayoral process that was usually conducted as neighbourly affair.

After the election, Palin went after the various public servants employed in Wasilla and demanded the resignation of all of the department heads, choosing whether to accept their resignations based on loyalty. She also fired the local librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, after she failed to remove books from library that Palin deemed controversial. However, this move enraged many members of the town and Emmons was reinstated.

The McCain campaign has characterized this shake-up as a purging of the “good ol' boy network,” and an example of Palin’s maverick credentials. However, former city attorney Richard Deuser argues that the people she fired “were just good public servants who did a really admirable job and deserved better.” In reality, the people hired to replace those she fired more closely resemble a “good ol' boy network.”

Palin replaced long time city employees with Republican Party members, regardless of qualification. Her new public works director lacked engineering qualifications, but was married to a former Republican governor. She also made a former Republican state lawyer city attorney and contracted the use of a Washington lobbyist with GOP ties.

"Sarah always did and still does surround herself with people she gets along well with," said Darlene Langill former city councilor. "They protect her, and that's what she needs. She has surrounded herself with people who would not allow others to disagree with Sarah. Either you were in favor of everything Sarah was doing or had a black mark by your name."

After her tenure as Mayor ended in 2002 Palin ran for Lieutenant Governor of Alaska in the same year. Despite losing, the close race caught the attention of the Alaskan GOP establishment and Palin was asked to chair the Alaskan Oil and Gas Commission. Palin held this position until 2004. Palin resigned after she found that Randy Ruedrich, a Republican and fellow commission member, was using his office to do party business. Ever a shrewd political operator, Palin found that her stance against corruption had earned her public admiration.

In 2006, Palin ran for Governor on an anti-corruption platform. After her victory, Palin kicked out the old establishment and like in Wasilla gave key positions to her friends and cronies.

She has also may have used her position as Governor to pursue personal vendettas. In 2008, Palin fired Walt Monegan, Alaskan Public Safety Commissioner. By Monegan’s account, he was fired for not dismissing state trooper Mike Wooten. Wooten, Palin’s former brother-in-law, is currently engaged in bitter divorce proceedings with Palin’s sister Molly McCann. The story is still under investigation, but if true, it would be a large blow to Palin’s reformer image.

What is a Democrat to do?

More recently, political analysts and Democrats have scrutinized Palin’s experience. Many claim that her six years as a Mayor of a small town with limited responsibilities and two years as Governor of Alaska hardly qualify her for the office of Vice President. Republicans have countered that “executive experience,” is applicable to the job, regardless of where or how it was earned.

The “experience” argument is not an argument Democrats can win. Democrats need to expose the weakness of Palin’s ideas. The McCain campaign quickly vetted Palin and they have yet to properly prepare her, as exposed by her interview with ABC last week. Palin’s ideas on foreign policy and the economy are the same as the Bush’s, only not as well developed.

If the Democrats try to belittle Palin’s “experience,” they will only run into problems justifying Obama’s candidacy. Where Obama is leagues ahead of Palin is in the substance of his ideas. Obama has battle tested and well thought out ideas on health care, the economy, and foreign policy. Palin barely understands the “Bush Doctrine”.

Right now, Americans are in love with Sarah Palin. She brought the Republicans back to life and turned the polls in McCain’s favour. However, like all politicians Palin has her share of dirty secrets.

> Continue Reading: It’s all about Palin

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nuance in a President is a Bad Thing

Apparently, a President’s number one priority is to produce “sound bites”. Forget nuance and detailed thought about complex issues, a Presidential candidate needs to be able to state their opinion on any subject in three words or less. At least that was the opinion given by Bill O’Reilly last week in his interview with Barack Obama on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor and subsequently by Republican author Dick Morris on the same show.

The issues facing America today are complex. The housing crisis, the War in Iraq, global warning, and energy prices are problems that require detailed explanation, thoughtful assessment, and debate. Although voters often require cues to properly assess candidates, the increasingly shallow brand of politics that Fox News and the other cable news networks have adopted is somewhat worrisome.

While the inane nature of the cable news programs in the U.S. is hardly news, it is somewhat discomforting to reflect upon the transformation of this campaign season. Both Obama and McCain each promised a civilized campaign season about policy issues. That dream currently lies in tatters as the candidates and the media fight over non-issues surrounding Sarah Palin, such as Bristol Palin’s pregnancy and whether Palin is at the centre of sexist attacks by the liberal media.

For the most part, the McCain campaign deserves the majority of the blame for prompting the discussion of these non-issues and abusing their power. But, the Obama campaign is also to blame for engaging in these idiotic debates.

As David Plotz, editor of Slate Magazine, accurately surmised this week during the Slate Political Gabfest: “It’s a feeling of just physical repulsion at what I thought was going to be a really interesting and rich campaign has become one that is being fought in all the wrong ways towards a result that the country is going to regret.”

> Continue Reading: Nuance in a President is a Bad Thing

Friday, September 12, 2008

Christian Conservative Anti-Spore Site a Fraud

Yesterday Anti-spore.com, a staunch Christian blog upset about the evolutionary elements in the new PC game Spore, revealed its fraudulent nature by posting lyrics from the song “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. The site, which had received attention from hundreds of gaming sites for its controversial nature, turned out to be an elaborate Rickroll. (Rickrolling is an internet based bait and switch tactic in which users are often tricked into watching Astely’s video or seeing his lyrics in some form or other.)

Although the deeply Christian conservative outlook in this blog was faked, many of the elements of this blog are based on truth. Christian conservatives and the conservative media in the United States have often attacked video games for supposedly promoting immoral actions.

Fox News has often been at the forefront of these sleazy attacks. In a segment called “SeX-Box”, Fox News famously attacked the game Mass Effect for supporting rape and other deviant sexual activity. As it turned out, the Fox News correspondent, Cooper Lawrence, had never even played the game and had based her criticism on second hand reports.

A Google search reveals numerous Christian conservative sites that feature “Christian” video game reviews. One of the most prominent of these sites is Guide2Games. According to their Mission Statement, Guide2Games “exists to assist gamers and parents in making wise decisions in their choice of electronic games. Many games contain objectionable material, behavior and attitudes. Although some game companies provide a simple rating system, it is not based on a Christian worldview.”

The reviews on the site typically assess the gameplay and then in the final portion of the review the violent, language, sexual, and spiritual content. For the most part the site does a good job of catering to the Christian base, and probably a useful resource for parents with young children. However, some of the commentary goes a little over the top and direct associations are made between playing a violent game and acting violently.

For instance in a Doom III review, the reviewer stated, “after hours of exposure to this game, I could see a child’s attitude and personality change because of this game. I would have displayed more images but due to the graphic and satanic nature of this game I just couldn’t show it. Stay far away from Doom III it has no value to it at all. I would highly recommend that anyone who professes themselves to be Christians, to NOT PLAY THIS GAME.”

The most famous Christian conservative anti-gaming crusader is Jack Thompson. Thompson, a self-professed advocate of Christian moral standards, has attacked everything from Grand Theft Auto to The Sims for overly violent and sexual content. Although, Thompson usually generates media attention with his over-the-top assertions, he has failed to make a significant impact on the standards of the gaming industry. Though he has made himself a wealth of enemies in the industry.

Sites like Guide2Gamers, though a little high strung at times, provide a useful service for conservative Christian gamers. Although Anti-spore.com provided a link to Guide2Games, the joke inherent in anti-Spore is on hypocritical institutions such as Fox News and bulldogs like Jack Thompson.

> Continue Reading: Christian Conservative Anti-Spore Site a Fraud

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Are we giving up too much Control to Technology?

On Monday morning, United Airlines stock dropped 76% after a six-year-old article by reporting the company’s bankruptcy accidentally made it to the front page of Bloomberg Financial News. The article was accidentally recovered by Google’s News service when a third party Bloomberg analyst searched the terms “bankruptcy 2008,” found the article, and posted it to the Bloomberg Professional Network. The article, which originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 2002, came from the website of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Google’s Search Bot originally picked up the article and assigned the date it found it, September 6, 2008, because the article was undated on the Sun-Sentinel’s site. In immediate aftermath of the story, automated trading systems issued a “stop loss” order and United Airlines stock went into freefall. Trading on the stock halted after 30 minutes, and about an hour later Bloomberg issued a retraction, and apologized for posting the story.

Today, Tribune Co., the parent company of the Sun-Sentinel and the Chicago Tribune blamed Google for the mix up. Tribune said that Monday’s confusion started because Google News Service could not tell the difference between old news and popular news on the Sun-Sentinel site. Tribune claims that it identified the problem with the undated material on the Sun-Sentinel site months ago and asked Google to stop crawling the site. Google denies that this request was made.

While it is unlikely that Tribune, Google, or Bloomberg will have to face legal action, there are two parties at fault for this mess: the third-party Bloomberg analyst and the various automated trading systems. The analyst is in part to blame for this mess because the reporter failed to check source of the material or for any other collaborating articles.

"It would have been nice if the reporter had been more grounded in what's going on out there in the world,” said Richard Lehman the head of a third-party Bloomberg contributor to Bloomberg.

The mechanized trading systems are also to blame, as this knee jerk reaction occurred within the first few minutes with little to no human oversight. While trading has evolved to such a degree that constant supervision is almost impossible, it is almost impossible to believe that millions of dollars could be lost to such a simple oversight.

Although incredibly clichéd, this example is an important reminder that technological systems are never flawless and will always require human oversight.

> Continue Reading: Are we giving up too much Control to Technology?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Latest Gallup Poll: McCain 48%, Obama 43%


The U.S. is facing the worst economic crisis since the 1970s, American soft power is non-existent, and George Bush’s approval rating is barely 30%. Obama and the Democrats should win this election just by virtue of showing up. So why is McCain leading in the polls?

Part of McCain’s lead is due in part to the interested generated by Palin at the Convention. Conservatives in America are recharged. Although skittish about McCain’s conservative credentials, grassroots Republicans are pleased with Palin’s positions on abortion, guns, and energy.

Republicans have also deluded themselves into believing they have somehow moved beyond Bush and the GOP of yesterday, despite the fact that the majority of the policies that the McCain campaign supports are identical to those of the Bush Administration. Before the election, when McCain wasn’t courting Republican hardliners he was a maverick, but not anymore.

Whether the McCain campaign can build upon recent success is open to debate. If the McCain campaign can energize grassroots Republicans like Bush did in 2000 and 2004 the election in November is going to be a close one.

As it stands, Obama’s battle tested organization is stronger than McCain’s. Obama also benefits from the timing of the election. If the election took place in July, Obama would probably not be able to count on the millions of pro-Obama University students that are pre-organized by the academic calendar and campus lifestyle.

> Continue Reading: Latest Gallup Poll: McCain 48%, Obama 43%

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Harper gets Nasty

On the eve of his decision to call an election, Stephen Harper told Lloyd Robertson of CTV news that he expected a “very nasty” campaign from the opposing parties in 2008. If the other parties decide to go negative, they will only be responding to the ads the Conservative Party has put out already.

Today, the Harper campaign launched another website similar to their “Dion’s new tax on everything”. This one is entitled “Stéphane Dion: Not Worth the Risk.” Like the “Dion’s new tax on everything” site and the attack ads linking Dion’s carbon plan to gambling, this new site makes frequent use of Dion’s now trademark shrugging pose. (Liberal campaign managers have given Dion strict instructions not to shrug in the future.) The site also pokes fun at Dion’s speaking skills. As the website loads, viewers are greeted by loading text stating: “Do you think it’s easy to load websites?”

When the site launched this morning it had a flash animation of a puffin pooping on Dion’s shoulder. The Liberals and the NDP quickly jumped on the image, calling it vulgar and claiming that it was indicative of the Conservative Party’s negative campaign tactics. However, Harper said he did not know about the animation before it was posted, and has subsequently had it removed.

Even without animals defecating, the site is pretty crass. It pokes fun at Dion’s leadership skills through a fake blog by Dion’s dog Kyoto. There is also a section called “dionbook” which is designed to look like facebook. In the section, Dion and Elizabeth May of the Green Party are made to look in cahoots and the section gives the impression that Michael Ignatieff is still vying for the leadership of the Liberal Party. There is also a picture of Paul Martin that makes him look like a bloated, sickly marshmallow.

To date, the Conservative Party has benefited from these attack ads on Dion’s character. Polls indicate that a majority of Canadians see Dion as a potentially weak and ineffective leader. Polls also show the Conservatives making gains in Ontario and Quebec.

While attack ads may bring out the worst during election campaigns, the other party’s may have to resort to using them if they want to catch up to Harper’s lead.

> Continue Reading: Harper gets Nasty

Monday, September 08, 2008

Canadian ISP Woes

If you subscribe to a high-speed internet service in Canada from Bell or Rogers you have probably had to deal with degrading download speeds, traffic throttling, and the invasion of privacy.

So, who is to blame for these problems? According to Bell and Rogers, apparently we are. We are downloading so many files and sending so many emails that we are crippling bandwidth speeds. To protect us from ourselves ISPs have stepped in to impose bandwidth restrictions and punitive measures for going over bandwidth limits.

The real problem that Canadian ISPs have refused to acknowledge is that their networks are horribly outdated and the services that they sell cannot meet demand. Canadian users endure some of the slowest internet speeds and the highest costs in the industrialized world. While Canadian ISPs often claim that their services can go “up to” a certain speed, they are rarely able to meet that speed.

So, what is a consumer to do? Unfortunately, the choices are limited for most Canadians. In most regions, there are only a handful of ISPs to choose from. Choice is further limited by Bell’s decision to throttle the traffic of third party ISP providers that re-sell Bell’s DSL system.

Traffic throttling and bandwidth restrictions are a slippery slope that will end up cutting Canadians off from the most important pipeline of information and innovation in the world. Just think. If Bell, Rogers, and the other ISPs around the world had started traffic throttling years ago sites like youtube, facebook, and flickr would probably have never come to fruition. If Canadians want to continue to be one of the primary technological innovators in the world, we need to stand up and say no to restrictive internet providers.

> Continue Reading: Canadian ISP Woes

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Harper Manages to get Creepier

Well, it’s official now. Emerging from Rideau Hall, the official residence of Governor General Michelle Jean, Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed the dissolution of Parliament and an October 14th election date. Harper defended decision to call an election on the grounds that Parliament has become dysfunctional and unable to govern.


Already in full swing, the Conservative Party of Canada released several television ads designed to show the “softer” side of Stephen Harper. Though, Harper’s advisors seem to believe that he would look “softer” to Canadians if he greater resembled Mr. Rogers. Unfortunately, this look is just a tad too creepy.

In terms of policy content, these ads are empty. (I am not quite sure what a son getting older has to do with Canada, or why any Canadian should care.)

What these ads make clear is that the Conservatives are running their campaign on Harper’s personality. Their goal: to paint Stephen Harper as an effective and caring leader, whilst denouncing Stephanie Dion as an incompetent carbon tax-loving fool. This strategy looks like it will be effective. Enough Canadians seem satisfied with the course the country is taking and wary of Dion's abilities. Though perhaps not satisfied enough to bump Harper into majority territory.

> Continue Reading: Harper Manages to get Creepier

Attractiveness and Political Candidates

Although the McCain campaign has argued that Barack Obama is nothing more than a vapid celebrity, it seems that McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin may have more in common with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears than Obama. After McCain announced Palin as his running mate, thousands of people started to search for nude pictures of Sarah Palin. While search engines are often flooded with requests for nude pictures of models or celebrities, it is somewhat uncommon for people to search for nude pictures of a politician.

While Palin, a former Miss Alaska participant, is undoubtedly attractive, will her so-called sexy librarian appeal translate into votes in November? In the age of television, attractiveness is important for both male and female candidates. However, for female candidates, beauty can often be a double-edged sword. While attractive female candidates usually benefit from media attention, voters often see intelligence and beauty as incompatible traits (the dumb blonde syndrome).

While the McCain campaign is no doubt benefiting from the increased attention that Palin is drawing, her attractiveness may be a liability in the election. However, Palin’s strong convention speech may have helped subside fears about her ability to govern. Her uncanny resemblance to Battlestar Galactica character President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) may also convince voters that untested candidates can rise to the occasion in times of need.

> Continue Reading: Attractiveness and Political Candidates

Friday, September 05, 2008

John Mc..who?

Last night Senator John McCain gave a tired speech that seemed to confirm his age. Although he managed to bring the Republican Convention to a swell by reiterating his struggles in Vietnam, the rest of the speech was jumbled and somewhat flat. Not surprisingly, McCain drew the most applause when he mentioned his running mate Sarah Palin.

It seems like it was only a short time ago that the McCain campaign was a write off. Obama had a double-digit lead in the polls and the McCain campaign seemed stalled and confused. However, the McCain is now revitalized. Negative ads, a new drilling policy, and a fresh and exciting running mate have reduced Obama’s lead to single digits.

Of these factors, Palin has been the most important. Smart, attractive, and apparently well spoken, Palin’s conservative credentials and image have reenergized Republicans. However, as Palin receives greater attention and scrutiny, McCain himself may pay the greatest price.

Despite her strong speech Wednesday night, Palin is still an unknown and untested candidate. So far, the resulting media attention has benefited the McCain campaign. However, if she falters the campaign might lose the momentum it has pinned on her. If she continues to succeed, she may very well eclipse McCain altogether. While the numbers have not been released, Palin probably had a greater audience than McCain. (Though she did not have to compete with Thursday night football.)

Either way, the Republicans have taken a great risk with Palin. A risk they appeared to have borrowed from the most successful page of the Democratic playbook his year.

> Continue Reading: John Mc..who?

Ikea and Violence

As I was waiting in an endless line at an Ikea tonight, it occurred to me that the place is almost designed to foster violent conflict. Forget road rage. With long lines, confusing passageways, missing items, disgruntled staff, and agitated customers it’s amazing that we don’t read about daily Ikea bloodbaths.

Surprisingly, Ikea stores have not been host to a great deal of violence. The most violent occurrence at an Ikea store took place at a store opening in Edmonton, England in 2005. An opening day sale encouraged thousands of people to riot and rush the doors. For security and safety reasons the store was closed 30 minutes after it opened. In the hysteria, five people were injured and taken to the hospital. While customers blamed Ikea for poor preparation, one Ikea spokesperson said: “I think it's fair to say we misjudged it and maybe were a bit naive, but some shoppers behaved like animals.”

The Ikea spokesperson may have a point. While sales often have the power to turn shoppers into mobs, Ikea seems to have the natural power to turn people into rude, angry, and violent animals.

> Continue Reading: Ikea and Violence

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Alaska is the New Political Frontier

Tonight Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak to the Republican National Convention. Her speech comes amid controversy over McCain’s VP vetting process, her 17 year old daughter’s pregnancy, and questions of experience. Despite the critics, Sarah Palin has managed to give the McCain campaign exactly what it wanted, the spotlight. For the first time in weeks the headlines across the U.S. (and the world for that matter) were not about Barack Obama. By picking a woman with strong conservative credentials McCain has managed to revitalize interest in his campaign and more importantly steal air time from the Obama camp.

Although Palin’s speech tonight is important, what she has to say is not as important as her image. For the most part this image has already been set. The McCain campaign has consistently touted Palin’s blue-collar work ethic, Alaskan roots, and hometown charm and Palin herself will no doubt make numerous references to these herself tonight.

While it is obvious that the McCain campaign is trying to sell Palin to the American public, the American public is also being sold the Conservative dream through the example of Alaska. As Slate writers Adriaan Lanni and Wesley Kelman have accurately surmised, “Palin embodies a notion that Republicans can create a society like Alaska.” A society built on Christian conservative values, a hearty rural lifestyle, non-existent taxes, and good economic prospects for working class people.

For many conservative minded Americans Palin’s Alaskan lifestyle represents the American Dream; a new frontier where resources are plentiful and well-paid opportunities exist for anyone willing to put in a good day’s work. This conservative dream is obviously flawed. Alaska’s negative income tax policy and working class economic prospects are only made possible by oil revenues. The State’s rural climate is only due to it’s under population and relative isolation from the rest of the United States. None of these factors can be recreated in the other 49 states. But, the McCain campaign will still try to sell the possibility that Palin’s experience in Alaska can recreate this conservative American Dream in the continental United States.

> Continue Reading: Alaska is the New Political Frontier

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Montreal Science Centre Review

Education and fun are difficult to balance. While the MSC (Montreal Science Centre) is a lot of fun, but there is not much to learn. Education takes a back seat to interactive, but highly enjoyable, exhibits. The MSC is not alone. Over the past, twenty to thirty years there has been a move to inject more fun into museums and science centres. Well-crafted exhibits can be both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, but this is a hard balance to obtain. Too many signs and things to read can make exhibits dull for adults and children alike, inhibiting potential learning and fun. However, interactive exhibits can often feel more like play time than an actual learning experience.

Parents are consistently looking for ways to stimulate their child’s intellectual development. Which of course explains the popularity of stores for “gifted children” that charge exorbitant rates for the same toys that can be bought elsewhere. Science centres and other similar attractions often reek of the same marketing techniques. On it’s website, the MSC states that they want to stimulate curiosity, arouse passion for knowledge, and help to “develop a taste for careers in science.” If you want your child to become a scientist, the MSC can lead the way.

While the MSC is unlikely to transform a kid into a future Einstein, it is a fun experience that among other things allows patrons to test the power of their mind, experience life inside a bubble, and design a newscast. Unfortunately, some of the newer exhibits, including the temporary Aliens Exhibit are neither fun nor educational and seem more like a showcase for interactive projection technology. However, the experience is ultimately worth the $12 admission. Although I have been to only a few science centres, the MSC stands out as one of the most enjoyable.

> Continue Reading: Montreal Science Centre Review