Rob Ford and the media game

Posted May 26th, 2013 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford faces media in Toronto in December. Photo: The Canadian Press/Chris Young

A few people have asked me for my opinion on the Rob Ford story from the perspective of a working journalist. I wish I could. I’m a community news reporter so I don’t have an inkling of how the mainstream media world works other than some assumptions based on what I know about the business model.

Christie Blatchford made some good points about journalists moving the goal posts on the Rob Ford story. There’s no corroborating evidence to support printing allegations of Rob Ford’s crack cocaine use, and those that exist are conjecture and hearsay. Indeed, much like the allegations of Ford’s alcohol abuse, one is left wondering whether the “informants may have many and diverse motives other than a pristine dedication to the truth.”

But what is the media to do about such a story? Ignore it? It raises the dilemma as to whether something is newsworthy merely because everybody is gossiping about it. In an older world where the print media was the preeminent source of accurate daily information, one might be able to ignore such a thing. But in a wired world where traditional print media now compete with online American news sites like Gawker, how can they pretend it’s not happening?

Let’s be clear about something. Rob Ford has brought much of the vindictive nature of the beast upon himself. Regardless of who started the war with the Toronto Star, the National Post’s Johnathan Kay described it perfectly as a “blood feud” in which neither side can back down without losing face.

Under such a climate, in which a member of the government is openly at war with the free press, there can be no expectation of honour. What began as a war with Ford and the Star has certainly led to this media witch hunt of his family. Is it ethical? Surely not. But is it predictable? I’d say so.

Although I don’t know much about the mainstream media, I do cover civic politics. And we learn to play the game, the same as the politicians. We discuss the issues with a certain level of understanding that what’s off the record is off for a good reason and that nothing that’s going to be quoted is going to be malicious.

The government is a well of information from which reporters have to draw on constantly. It makes no sense to poison that well. If one reporter does then we all suffer, because if the politician refuses to speak to the media then we can’t do our jobs. And if that politician is making a special effort to actually block our attempt to do our jobs, it becomes something personal.

In that situation, I can see why the Toronto media, the Star in particular, decided to attack. And going to war with what is arguably the largest media company in Canada doesn’t seem to me to be a very smart idea. But I digress.

I can certainly imagine that if I, as a civic reporter, were put in a position where the politicians refused to “play the game” then the gloves would have to come off. The stuff you don’t print because you’re respectful and civil and want to maintain a working relationship doesn’t matter anymore. It’s a free-for-all and the ethical lines become irrelevant.

That’s not to say that I’m defending the Toronto Star or the rest of the media for attacking the Ford family. In reality I think much of it is based on a series of forced moves, like in a chess game in which both sides must make certain decisions or else face defeat. Both sides have much for which to be ashamed. There are no innocents in this game.

But what of the attack on Ford’s family by the Globe and Mail? Well, that’s another kettle of fish. At this point we’ve gone well beyond the point of no return, with an investigative feature story on the brother of a man who may or may not have smoked crack in a video tape that may or may not even exist.

Do I believe Doug Ford was a drug dealer when he was a kid? It’s hard not to believe it, given the numerous sources the reporters spoke to. As a journalist, it’s impossible to imagine that the story wasn’t rigorously researched and combed over by a phalanx of lawyers and editors. You don’t print defamatory material wily nily.

I have significant discomfort with the fact all of the people in the story making allegations are protected of revealing their identity. It makes sense that they wouldn’t want retribution for “snitching” on a powerful family, but in that case why snitch at all? It’s not like Doug Ford is being arraigned on 25-year-old drug charges.

The question here is its relevance. Does it matter? I’m no lawyer, but a court of law would likely throw it out. If Rob Ford is on trial in the court of public opinion for smoking crack, then whether his brother dealt hashish prior to 1986 really stretches the tenuous limits of what we’re supposed to imagine this means.

But look, what it actually means is simple. It’s a smear job against the Ford family that implicates everybody in the seedy underworld of drug trafficking, making it more plausible that the current Mayor of Toronto smoked a crack pipe and stupidly allowed himself to be filmed doing it.

Doug Ford dealing drugs as a kid is only interesting right now because of his brother’s alleged involvement in smoking crack. Printing it outside of this context is certainly interesting from a gossipy perspective, but would be barely newsworthy. What this tells you is that the media are going over the Ford family with a fine toothed comb looking for any news advantage over their competitors. I have no doubt the Globe and Mail raked in some serious money on this edition.

So, what has Rob Ford done in light of the allegations of his brother’s seedy past? He’s called the media a bunch of maggots. Sigh. Thus further inflaming the war and continuing the blood feud. At the risk of repetition, it’s a mistake to pretend there are innocents in this chess game. The fact is that the media aren’t going anywhere. They’re going to continue to make life for the Fords difficult until they begin playing ball.

There are people who might think I’m defending the media’s actions or saying the Fords have no right to defend themselves. No. That’s not what I’m saying. If you want an example of how best to handle the media, Stephen Harper has been doing it expertly for years.

Harper is no friend of the media. From what I know of those who cover federal politics, he’s very selective, secretive, and careful about who gets to talk to him and when. Communications under the Harper government have been centralized so it minimizes the chances of embarrassing scandals.

But Harper is no fool. He knows exactly how to play the game. He uses the media to communicate exactly what he wants to say and doesn’t say a word more. If he’s pressed on hard questions he merely brings the topic back to the central point: his point. When pushed in another direction, he deftly brings it back with a simple phrase. “Let me be clear….” “We’ve said all along…” “This government has done x, y, and z…”

He doesn’t run and hide, or throw tantrums and call the media maggots… to their faces. Rather, he rises above to meet the challenge, and uses the system to his benefit. For that reason he’s not just a survivor as a conservative politician, he thrives in it. He is a grandmaster on this chess board. Now if only somebody could teach the Fords how to play.

The Elephant In The Room

Posted February 28th, 2011 in Blogging by Adrian MacNair

I guess I put this off longer than I wanted to, but it’s probably time to clear the air regarding me and my journalism career. A number of people have cast aspersions on my integrity lately, implying my opinions are somehow shaped or formed by journalism school, going as far as to suggest that what I write has to do with trying to get a job in media. Those comments are not just wildly off-base, but they’re actually personally hurtful.

First of all, I didn’t really know I was going into journalism until I was laid off from the construction site at the end of November 2009. I had always been interested in writing and journalism, but I was also a high school dropout and a construction worker, so my options seemed relatively limited. Being laid off gave me an opportunity for the first time to wonder if I still had the opportunity to change my life and do something with my writing.

Before I started journalism school last September, I didn’t have any delusions of grandeur. Although the National Post picks my stuff up now and then, it isn’t as though I’m going to finish school and go work on their editorial board. Actually, the truth is that in about a month from now I’m probably going to be looking for work at any newspaper that will have me, whether that’s in a big city paper or a town of 2,000 people.

A bit about journalism school for a moment. Although there’s some political stuff in it, most, if not all, pertains to the manner in which journalists are expected to conduct themselves. And as far as the people in my program go, I’m probably the only one who’s interested in politics at all. Sure, some of them probably lean to the left, but then again so do most people in Canada. And if it seems as though most journalists lean to the left, that’s probably because writing and media is an occupation that attracts a greater number of people from that demographic. (It’s not high finance, after all)

The idea that journalism school is some kind of brain-washing camp or echo chamber for the left, is patently ridiculous. In fact, it’s so misguided that I can’t really begin to describe it. Would every single person in my program be happy to be offered a job at the CBC? Of course they would. As they would CTV, the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, the Toronto Star or Canadian Press. They’re in school to get a job, not to join a political movement.

So, do people really think I’m going to join the media and conform to some kind of imagined left-leaning editorial directive? To be quite honest, I’m more worried about the getting hired part first. Beyond that, I’m concerned about the perception of a political pundit trying to back his way into journalism after having written politics for four years. It usually happens the other way around for a good reason. For the same reason some people mistrust any CBC reporter who offers an opinion, it’s possible that people won’t trust a reporter who’s done the same thing in the National Post.

But people who think I’m being changed by journalism clearly don’t understand me. When I went to Afghanistan, I got to spend time around journalists, some of whom have been doing this for 30 years. It’s not as easy as it looks.

You can’t just present a story based on what you think is right. You can’t just grab the facts you think are relevant or talk to the one person you think should be listened to. You can’t dismiss a story because you don’t like what a person is saying, even if it’s something you disagree with. When I went to report on George Galloway and was barred admission on my media credentials by rabble blogger Derrick O’Keefe because he accused me of being a propagandist, I didn’t turn around and submit a story about leftwing censorship. Because that’s not the mandate of a journalist, nor is the story about me.

Writing for journalism is hard. If you don’t think so, you try it for a day. Try picking a story, finding the most important part about it, interviewing all sides to it, finding the right balance, gathering the background information, ensuring all your facts are correct, and then writing 350 words using the correct newspaper style and spelling. And then try doing that several times a day, and know that you’re expected to do that every single day you want to call yourself a journalist. It’s hard.

I just finished writing a 2,300-word business article for a trade magazine. It doesn’t matter what I think or what I believe. I had to gather facts and information and opinions from the business world, and my credibility and integrity depends on the fairness, accuracy and truth of every single word of that article.

So there’s my rant. If you think my opinions are being self-censored or influenced by my getting an education in journalism, you’re free to believe that. But don’t tell me about it. I’d rather you and I just go our separate ways, because I don’t think I can respect a person who can’t show me — and my chosen profession — the respect I deserve.

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Posted January 6th, 2011 in Afghanistan, International, Islam by MarkOttawa

Three worth reading:

1) Foreign Policy’sAfPak Channel“:

Salmaan Taseer and the Punjabi Taliban

The brutal assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer by a man in his security detail is being tied to a courageous stand he took opposing the nation’s antiquated blasphemy laws and supporting a Catholic woman, Aasia Bibi, accused of blasphemy.

But there is another important position Taseer has taken that should be emphasized: he was one of very few Pakistani politicians who honestly and openly recognized the existence of the “Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab,” sometimes called the “Punjabi Taliban,” comprised, through the years, of an alphabet soup of sectarian militant organizations: Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HUM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), among others, inspired by an intolerant brand of Sunni Islam called Deobandism [the subcontinental counterpart of Salafism/Wahhabism--more here and here].

This past June, Dawn, a leading English language daily in Pakistan, carried this headline: “Punjabi Taliban are a reality: Taseer.” The governor of the province of Punjab was taking a brave stand because the militants of these groups were born in his state in towns with names such as Bahawalpur and Raheem Yar Khan. But, with attacks on mosques, bazaars and police stations in Punjab, they were also killing his innocent citizens. Aasia Bibi, the Catholic woman sitting in jail for blasphemy, was one of the citizens of Punjab, and the call to kill her comes out of supporters of the Punjabi Taliban.

The best way for Pakistan to honor Taseer is to admit its homegrown militancy and destroy it. America and the West must also recognize that the problem of militancy in South Asia isn’t restricted to Afghanistan or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan. It’s also in the very heartland of Pakistan…

A Facebook page went up hours after the assassination with messages of support for Qadri. One message: “nation hero u win a hearts of All muslim umaah……..Saluteeeee You……..!!!!” (“Umaah” is a reference to “ummah,” or “community.”) It’s not clear if the assassin was directly linked to any militant groups, but his sympathies most certainly would have been with them…

2) Wall St. Journal:

The End of Jinnah’s Pakistan
Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder raises questions about the future of Pakistan’s Western-educated elites.

Every time you think things can’t possibly get worse in Pakistan, along comes something to prove you wrong. On Tuesday, in possibly the country’s most consequential political shock since the 2007 murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer, the 65-year-old governor of Punjab province, was gunned down in an upscale Islamabad market by one of his police bodyguards. The reason: the governor’s plain-spoken defense of Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws. According to press reports, Taseer’s killer pumped nine bullets into him for daring to call the blasphemy provision a “black law.”

Needless to say, Taseer was right. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws belong more in a chronicle of medieval horrors than in a modern society, let alone one that receives billions of dollars in Western largesse. Since the mid-1980s, blasphemy—including criticizing the prophet Mohammed—has carried a mandatory death sentence. Amnesty International calls the laws “vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced” and “typically employed to harass and persecute religious minorities.” Over the past quarter century, at least 30 people have been lynched by mobs after being accused of blasphemy. Many others have been forced to flee the country. Though Christians make up less than 2% of Pakistan’s population, they account for about half the country’s blasphemy cases.

In a larger sense, however, the significance of Taseer’s murder lies in what it says about the future of nuclear-armed Pakistan [see below]. Carved out of the Muslim-majority provinces of British India in 1947, the country has long struggled to reconcile two competing visions of its reason for being. Is Pakistan, as imagined by its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah—a London-trained barrister with a fondness for pork sandwiches and two-toned spats—merely a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims? Or was it created to echo the far more ambitious formulation of Abul Ala Maududi, the radical Islamist ideologue born roughly a generation after Jinnah: for the enforcement of Islamic Shariah law upon every aspect of society and the state?

Taseer broadly belonged to Jinnah’s Pakistan…

The murder highlights anew the way in which Pakistan’s English-speaking classes resemble a small island of urbanity surrounded by a rising tide of fundamentalist zeal. They have only themselves to blame for their predicament. From independence onward, successive governments—military and civilian alike—have ridden the tiger of fundamentalism out of political expediency, misplaced piety or geopolitical ambition. A statistic from Zahid Hussain’s “Frontline Pakistan” is telling: When Pakistan gained independence in 1947 it housed 137 madrassas. That number has since swelled to about 13,000, between 10% and 15% of which are linked to sectarian militancy (Sunni versus Shia) or terrorism…

3) The Economist:

Pakistan’s increasing radicalisation
Staring into the abyss
Salman Taseer’s murder deals a huge blow to liberal Pakistan

THERE is a small space in which a liberal vision of Pakistan hangs on. It shrank a lot further with the murder on January 4th of a notable progressive politician and critic of religious extremism, Salman Taseer. Even before the assassination, the leading liberal-minded political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which heads the government in Islamabad and counted Mr Taseer as an activist since the 1970s, was in deep trouble. On January 2nd the PPP lost its majority in parliament when the second-biggest party in the government coalition, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), walked out…

Mr Taseer was the governor of Punjab, a largely ceremonial position in Pakistan’s most populous province, but a high-profile one for all that. He had run a lonely but fearless campaign against Pakistan’s pernicious blasphemy law and was gunned down in broad daylight in Islamabad by one of his own police guards. The smirking killer later said he acted because Mr Taseer’s call for the blasphemy law to be repealed made Mr Taseer himself a “blasphemer”…

Mr Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, may have acted alone—an investigation may get to the root of it. Yet his cause has support in Pakistan. Lawyers outside the court showered him with rose petals. The murder follows a campaign of vilification by the clergy and sections of the press. A broad alliance of the clergy rushed out a statement lionising the assassin. “No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salman Taseer,” said Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan, which represents the large and moderate Barelvi sect of Islam.

Religious parties do not attract much support at election time—they polled less than 5% of votes in the last ballot, in 2008. However, Ijaz Gilani, head of Gallup Pakistan, argues that it would be a “very serious miscalculation” to judge society’s religiosity by the showing of Islamist parties at election time. Pakistan has a first-past-the-post system, so people vote for one of the mainstream parties that have the best chance of coming to power. It means that both the PPP and, especially, the other main party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), led by Nawaz Sharif, have a bank of religious-minded voters whom they must be careful not to offend.

Pakistan’s public culture is riddled with hardline views, from the school curriculum to the nightly political talk shows. Meanwhile, as Mr Taseer himself never failed to point out, the state gives succour to violent, extremist organisations…


Great Gaming: Pak paranoia and a WikiHoax

How a nuclear war may begin

Predate: Do you think this sort of, er, context from ace Globeite Graeme Smith (of Taliban reporting renown) is worth reading?

Some analysts expressed hope that the death might ease the in-fighting among political elites, forcing them to confront the broader division between Pakistan’s wealthy urbanites [and the feudal landowners like the Bhuttos] and the poorer, conservative masses. The spot where Mr. Taseer lay bleeding to death could not have been more symbolic of that divide, a row of expensive shops and restaurants known as Kohsar Market. Not far from the presidential palace, it’s one of the rare places in Islamabad that overflows with Christmas decorations during the holiday season [how terribly provocative, eh?], and where stylish cafés rival their European counterparts.

Such places stand a world apart from the village outside Islamabad where Mr. Taseer’s bodyguard reportedly grew up…

Guess he deserved it. But it is true that those few who have effectively ruled the country since 1947 have done a dreadfully dismal job for their people whilst mesmerizing them with the Indian menace.  And one consequence of emphasizing that menace?  A naturally increasing focus on Islam the religion itself (no big deal for Jinnah for whom it simply defined a distinct society) as the essence of Pakistani identity–and hence of what should shape Pakistani reality.  The elites have much to answer for.


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How to save newspapers/Magazines Update

Posted December 23rd, 2010 in International, pop culture, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

Ditch the paper is the conclusion of this lengthy article in the London Review of Books. That would sadden me greatly; I can only read at length in hard copy, and find it much faster to, er, load and scan–an age thing I guess:

Let Us Pay
John Lanchester on the future of the newspaper industry

A large part of the decline in these figures is to do with classified advertising. This was for years the secret weapon of the newspaper business…

…in the US, the newspaper business is a local one, with a strong tendency towards de facto monopoly. Most of America’s cities have (or had) a dominant newspaper, and that paper had a monopoly of classified advertising. During the long years of the 20th century’s newspaper boom, that monopoly was the proverbial licence to print money. It was this gushing faucet of classified revenue which allowed the elaborate superstructure of American newspapers to develop. The well-staffed offices, the air of self-conscious seriousness shading into pomposity, the tendency to file what from a British point of view always seemed several hundred words too much – all these features of American papers were underpinned by the easy money of monopoly-based classified advertising. It is one reason lessons from the US are not instantly generalisable to the UK, where the newspaper market is national, and as competitive as any equivalent business anywhere in the world. It is also the reason US newspapers are for the most part more fundamentally serious than British ones. In Britain, the papers have never been able to forget for long their close proximity to the entertainment industry [emphasis added, how very true]…

Would it matter if it [the daily press] died?… In Britain, it is tempting to say that the papers’ many defects stack up to such an extent that they wouldn’t be missed. A complete submission to the idea that news is entertainment and entertainment is news; a pack mentality and the idea that only things which are being already covered in the media are worth covering; a general retreat from the principles of serious journalism, investigative journalism, and a horror of complicated ideas; amnesia; a default setting to knee-jerk populism: none of these things is a virtue. But the UK newspaper industry is an energetic and cacophonous thing, one which sees a big part of its role as being to make the government’s life as difficult as possible. Because of the way our constitution is skewed towards the incumbent government, for a lot of the time the press is a de facto form of opposition…

So, now what? Is that it, Game Over for print media? I don’t think so, not quite yet. Just as one of the industry’s biggest strengths, classified advertising, turned out to be a hidden weakness when that business simply upped and left, now there is a similar paradox, but the other way around: one of its greatest weaknesses may turn out to be a potential saviour. That weakness is simple: it is the cost of physically producing a newspaper. The production and distribution of newspapers is fantastically, outlandishly expensive…

…If newspapers switched over to being all online, the cost base would be instantly and permanently transformed…

…what the print media need, more than anything else, is a new payment mechanism for online reading, which lets you read anything you like, wherever it is published, and then charges you on an aggregated basis, either monthly or yearly or whatever. For many people, this would be integrated into an RSS feed, to create what amounts to an individualised newspaper. I would be entirely happy to pay to subscribe to Anthony Lane on movies in the New Yorker, and Patricia Wells on restaurants in the Herald Tribune, and Larry Elliott on economics in the Guardian, and David Pogue on technology in the New York Times, and I also want to feel free to read anything else which catches my eye, whenever I feel like it – I just don’t want to have to think about paying every time I click on the article to read it. I want a monthly or yearly charge, taken off my credit card without my having to think about it…

Canadian papers seem to be doing comparatively well so far.  Indeed I’ve noticed that the Saturday Ottawa Citizen and Canada’s National Whatever are now as hefty as the Sunday NY Times.  By chance I heard the Citizen’s editor of the radio today saying that they are planning (in effect following the Globe’s lead) to concentrate hard news in the online version with print focusing on in-depth analysis and feature pieces.  Hurl.  Not what I want in the morning.  For those I read magazines–like the LRB and several others.

Update: As for magazines, David Brooks of the NY Times discusses his favourite articles of the year and concludes:

Everybody’s worried about the future of print journalism, but this has been an outstanding year for magazines. On Tuesday, I’ll offer more suggestions for holiday reading.


Why the Globe and Mail is not a newspaper, Geoffrey York section cont’d

Posted December 21st, 2010 in Canada, International by MarkOttawa

Further to this post,

Why the Globe and Mail is not a newspaper, Part 2 (Congo section) picks up on Mr York’s continuing quixotic quest to get more Canadian troops committed to the heart of darkness (remember that he’s supposed to be a reporter):

The Globe & Mail‘s Geoffrey York (AGAIN) flogging his favourite question:  why isn’t Canada helping the Congo? “It has become a grim Christmas ritual: hundreds of innocent civilians massacred in remote corners of Africa by the Lord’s Resistance Army, one of the world’s cruellest and bloodiest guerrilla forces.  Now, fearing a Christmas attack for the third consecutive year, the United Nations is mobilizing 900 peacekeepers to protect villages in Congo, and the United States has promised its own action against the LRA.  But activists are calling for a much stronger response to prevent another wave of gruesome attacks by LRA fighters…the CF already HAS a presence in Democratic Republic of Congo.  This isn’t the first time he’s asked for this – more here on his last call in August [October actually] for Canada to do more there.  Also, more on Canada’s national interests (or lack thereof?) in Congo at here

Plus from Mr York’s “story” in which his, er, leanings are clearly revealed:

The LRA has emerged as a classic test of the “right [responsibility actually] to protect” doctrine, championed by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy and others. The concept of “right to protect” suggests that the international community has the right to intervene in sovereign states to prevent atrocities and protect civilians. Canada took a leading role in pushing the concept and getting it adopted at a world summit in 2005 after the furor over the UN’s failure to act during massacres in Rwanda and Kosovo in the 1990s. But the concept was dropped when Stephen Harper became prime minister in 2006 [emphasis added].

Supporters of the “right to protect” concept argue that Canada should do more to pursue the LRA, perhaps by contributing more troops to the UN mission in Congo, where the past two Christmas attacks took place, or by putting pressure on countries such as Sudan that are suspected of giving covert shelter to the LRA…

Right. A bit of that irresistible Canadian pressure and all will be well. Sure. Hurl. Earlier on Mr York’s undoubted heroes and R2P:

There’s a responsibility to protect us from Pink Lloyd and Soft Rock


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“Something missing in this picture”

Posted December 17th, 2010 in Canada, Islam by MarkOttawa

A letter sent to the Globe and Mail and (surprisingly?) not published:

Michael Valpy (Young increasingly shunning religious institutions, Dec. 15) writes of an increasing lack of interest in formal religion on the part of Canadian youth.  It is striking that, while he refers to “churches, synagogues and temples”, the words “mosques” and “Muslims” do not appear in the story.


What’s a stinking expert?

Posted December 15th, 2010 in Canada, International by MarkOttawa

Somebody who makes a lot of loot being pretty consistently wrong.  Dan Gardner in the Ottawa Citizen gives us the facts, man, just the facts:

Beware the rock star business guru

When a slick and smiling Jeff Rubin appeared in a Harry Rosen ad earlier this year, it was clear that the former CIBC World Markets chief economist has become more than a practitioner of the dismal science. He is a brand. A rock star. An international guru with a best-selling book and a long list of corporations eager to pay very large amounts of money to hear him forecast the future.

Unfortunately, the future the guru sees isn’t pretty.

“What will 2011 bring?” he wrote on his blog [it's here]. “Tripledigit oil prices.” Unless you happen to have an oil well in your backyard, that’s bad news. “Our last encounter with those prices was brief but decisive,” Rubin wrote. It was in 2008. The shock to the economy was so severe it caused the global recession.

So should we batten down the hatches in 2011? I don’t know. Unlike Jeff Rubin, I claim no powers of prognostication. I did, however, write a book about why expert predictions routinely fail, how experts delude themselves about their failures, and why people are drawn to the sort of expert who is most likely to be wrong. So I know something about the subject.

And what I know is that Jeff Rubin is an almost eerily perfect example of the sort of expert people should not listen to — but do anyway…

“Don’t think of today’s [oil] prices as a spike,” he told the Toronto Star in January, 2008, as the price was shooting upward. “Don’t think of them as a temporary aberration. Think of them as the beginning of a new era.”

In April 2008, Rubin released a CIBC report titled “The Age of Scarcity.” “Despite the recent record jump in oil prices, the outlook suggests that oil prices will continue to rise steadily over the next five years, almost doubling from current levels,” he wrote. Oil would be $130 a barrel in 2009; $150 in 2010; $190 in 2011; and a terrifying $225 in 2012.

The report says nothing about oil prices sinking the economy. On the contrary, it says both the Canadian and American economies will grow steadily in the second half of 2008 and throughout 2009. The Toronto Stock Exchange would soar to near-record levels in 2008 and hit 16,200 in 2009.

In June 2008, with oil prices rising even faster than Rubin expected, he revised his call. Oil would top $200 by 2010, he forecast…

In short, Rubin’s forecasts were utterly wrong…

There’s lots more. Mr Gardner is a bright light in our dim journalistic firmament–more here.

Update thought: Mr Gardner’s bugbears include misuse of statistics and unclear thinking. This excerpt from a Globe and Mail editorial today is a prime example of the problem:

Children being caught in a crossfire or shot as bystanders is not rare [emphasis added] in Toronto. Three other examples: 15-year-old [a child?] Jane Creba, shot dead on Yonge Street in 2005 while shopping; Shaquan Cadougan, age 4, shot in the knee while outside his home, also in 2005; and 11-year-old Tamara Carter, shot in one eye, on a city bus in 2004…

Four–or should that be three?–examples over six years. How many young people are there in Toronto? Hundreds of thousands? Their chance of being shot “in a crossfire or shot as bystanders” is almost infinitesimally rare, if words have meaning.


“WikiLeaks’s mad attack on Canada”/Gadhafi Update

Posted December 6th, 2010 in Canada, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

I think the headline on this piece by Norman Spector gets things exactly right; I wonder what Assiduous Asshole Assange’s Canadian admirers will make of this gratuitous flood of information that saves bad guys considerable research effort:

In February of last year, U.S. diplomatic posts were given one month by Washington to compile and forward an inventory of critical infrastructure and key resources in their respective reporting areas “whose loss could critically impact the public health, economic security, and/or national and homeland security of the United States.” The U.S. embassy in Ottawa – and the string of American consulates across Canada – were included in this “action request.”..

While, there has been considerable sympathy to date for WikiLeaks and for Mr. Assange, I suspect that some of this might erode once Canadians get a look at this latest cable, which is now widely available, and which sets out the juiciest targets in Canada for those looking to do harm to the United States. Moreover, once Canadians have had a chance to examine the list of sites it includes, I doubt that many of our compatriots will conclude that its compilation by U.S. diplomats serving in this country amounts to anything remotely connected to what we understand to constitute espionage:

Canada: Hibernia Atlantic undersea cable landing Halifax , Nova Scotia, Canada James Bay Power Project, Quebec: monumental hydroelectric power development Mica Dam, British Columbia: Failure would impact the Columbia River Basin. Hydro Quebec, Quebec: Critical irreplaceable source of power to portions of Northeast U. S. Robert Moses/Robert H. Saunders Power, Ontario: Part of the St. Lawrence Power Project, between Barnhart Island, New York, and Cornwall, Ontario Seven Mile Dam, British Columbia: Concrete gravity dam between two other hydropower dams along the Pend d’Oreille River Pickering Nuclear Power Plant, Ontario, Canada Chalk River Nuclear Facility, Ontario: Largest supplier of medical radioisotopes in the world Hydrofluoric Acid Production Facility, Allied Signal, Amherstburg, Ontario Enbridge Pipeline Alliance Pipeline: Natural gas transmission from Canada Maritime and Northeast Pipeline: Natural gas transmission from Canada Transcanada Gas: Natural gas transmission from Canada Alexandria Bay POE, Ontario: Northern border crossing Ambassador Bridge POE, Ontario: Northern border crossing Blaine POE, British Columbia: Northern border crossing Blaine Washington Rail Crossing, British Columbia Blue Water Bridge POE, Ontario: Northern border crossing Champlain POE, Quebec: Northern border crossing CPR Tunnel Rail Crossing, Ontario (Michigan Central Rail Crossing) International Bridge Rail Crossing, Ontario International Railway Bridge Rail Crossing Lewiston-Queenstown POE, Ontario: Northern border crossing Peace Bridge POE, Ontario: Northern border crossing Pembina POE, Manitoba: Northern border crossing North Portal Rail Crossing, Saskatchewan St. Claire Tunnel Rail Crossing, Ontario Waneta Dam, British Columbia: Earthfill/concrete hydropower dam Darlington Nuclear Power Plant, Ontario, Canada. E-ONE Moli Energy, Maple Ridge, Canada: Critical to production of various military application electronics General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada, London Ontario, Canada: Critical to the production of the Stryker/USMC LAV Vehicle Integration Raytheon Systems Canada Ltd. ELCAN Optical Technologies Division, Midland, Ontario, Canada: Critical to the production of the AGM-130 Missile Thales Optronique Canada, Inc., Montreal, Quebec: Critical optical systems for ground combat vehicles Germanium Mine Graphite Mine Iron Ore Mine Nickel Mine Niobec Mine, Quebec, Canada: Niobium Cangene, Winnipeg, Manitoba: Plasma Sanofi Pasteur Ltd., Toronto, Canada: Polio virus vaccine GlaxoSmithKile Biologicals, North America, Quebec, Canada: Pre-pandemic influenza vaccines.

Update: I wonder how much truth there is in this undated snippet from Spiegel Online:

Americans dispatched to Libya report in great detail on Gadhafi’s peculiarities, the airs and graces of his sons and the degree to which his advisers fear his wrath. For example, they closely monitored how wounded pride led him to take two Swiss citizens hostage and humiliate the Swiss government, how he almost forced Canada to its knees by threatening to nationalize the assets of PetroCanada…

In 2007 Petro-Canada renegotiated the terms of its presence in Libya, with new terms much more favourable to the latter. Might that be what the Crazy Colonel achieved?

Libya Taps Billions from Petro-Canada for Oil Access

Via Galea Hortus, who notes that “Our ever-vigilant media seem to have missed this!”  Canada’s National Whatever did however mention that “Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi likes the company of his buxom Ukrainian nurse.”


Washington Post slams Hollywood over anti-Bush movie

Posted December 4th, 2010 in Canada, film review, International, united states by MarkOttawa

Do a double-take if you find that shocking.  This is fine journalism of the editorial sort:

Dirty ‘Game’

WE’RE NOT in the habit of writing movie reviews. But the recently released film “Fair Game” – which covers a poisonous Washington controversy during the war in Iraq – deserves some editorial page comment, if only because of what its promoters are saying about it. The protagonists portrayed in the movie, former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV and former spy Valerie Plame, claim that it tells the true story of their battle with the Bush administration over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Ms. Plame’s exposure as a CIA agent. “It’s accurate,” Ms. Plame told The Post. Said Mr. Wilson: “For people who have short memories or don’t read, this is the only way they will remember that period.”

We certainly hope that is not the case. In fact, “Fair Game,” based on books by Mr. Wilson and his wife, is full of distortions – not to mention outright inventions…

Hollywood has a habit of making movies about historical events without regard for the truth; “Fair Game” is just one more example. But the film’s reception illustrates a more troubling trend of political debates in Washington in which established facts are willfully ignored. Mr. Wilson claimed that he had proved that Mr. Bush deliberately twisted the truth about Iraq, and he was eagerly embraced by those who insist the former president lied the country into a war. Though it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth – not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife – the myth endures. We’ll join the former president in hoping that future historians get it right.

And here is some very bad journalism, also of an editorial sort:

Afstan and Canada’s National Whatever, or, “Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless”

By the way, the Globe reviewer gave “Fair Game” three stars out of four.


Afstan and Canada’s National Whatever, or, “Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless”

Posted December 4th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, united states by MarkOttawa

Here’s how the NY Times gives context in a news story on President Obama’s recent quick visit to the troops at Bagram:

Wrapped in a tight cocoon of secrecy and security, Mr. Obama landed at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, on a pitch-black evening and told thousands of American service members who greeted him that they had begun to turn the tide in a war that has frustrated commanders and soldiers alike for nearly a decade…

The president’s remarks offered a more positive assessment of the situation on the ground than he has in some time, influenced perhaps by the optimism expressed in recent weeks by his commanding general, Gen. David H. Petraeus. American military forces have tripled, to 100,000, on Mr. Obama’s watch, and he has vowed to begin reducing the number of troops next July.

But others in Washington and Kabul have been more skeptical of the claims of progress, noting the unabated and pervasive corruption of Mr. Karzai’s government, the resilience of the insurgency despite escalated attacks and the debacle of recent peace talks that turned out to be held not with a senior Taliban leader but an impostor…

Mr. Obama’s visit came at a pivotal moment in the war on both sides. In Washington, the administration is completing a review of the surge and counterinsurgency strategy that the president approved a year ago, although officials played down its import. “I don’t think you’ll see any immediate adjustments,” Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the president’s top Afghan policy adviser, told reporters on Air Force One.

In Kabul, an election held on Sept. 18 has yet to result in a sitting Parliament, as Mr. Karzai has neither endorsed nor condemned its outcome. And State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made public on Friday laid bare the unvarnished and dubious view of American diplomats toward Mr. Karzai and his government. The cables questioned whether Mr. Karzai will ever be “a responsible partner” and depicted him as “erratic” and “indecisive and unprepared.”..

Fair enough I’d say. Now compare with what appears in the Globe and Mail’s, er, report; I’ve emphasized certain words:

Tellingly, Mr. Obama – who sent a surge of thousands more U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan – omitted any mention of his promise to start pulling troops out next summer…

The President’s unannounced visit after a 13-hour flight, came only days after leaked documents confirmed the endemic corruption that infests the Karzai government and the grave doubts senior U.S. military officers and diplomats voice privately about the chances of success in the war. His visit also came on the 3,344th day since the U.S. attacked the Taliban regime in October, 2001.

After more than nine years of fighting – already six days [what's this fixation on days?] longer than the failed Soviet Union effort to subjugate Afghanistan – Mr. Obama claimed the surge had turned the tide…

But later this month, General David Petraeus, whom Mr. Obama hailed for changing “the way we fight wars and win wars in the 21st century” is expected to deliver a sombre assessment to Congress, warning that much dying lies ahead before Afghanistan’s unreliable army and corrupt police can take over the country’s security.

Mr. Obama made only passing reference to the grim reality that U.S. combat deaths – and the toll on Afghan civilians, Taliban fighters and coalition contingents – have soared in the past year to the highest levels of the war…

At home, the Afghan war is increasingly unpopular. A clear majority of Americans want a pullout of the more than 100,000 U.S. troops currently carrying the combat load in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the resurgent Taliban control much of the country.

An unpopular war with no clear exit strategy and no way of determining victory hangs darkly over Mr. Obama’s presidency.

Although he claimed that the U.S.-led coalition has swelled to 49 countries [is that number true or not? if it is there is no "claim"] – up from 43 when he took office – the soldiers in Bagram knew that few nations are willing to commit troops to combat. There is spreading war-weariness even among the few fighting allies, such as Canada and the Netherlands, both of which are quitting combat. Meanwhile, major European powers such as Germany, Spain and Italy continue to keep their thousands of troops far from the raging Taliban insurgency in the south.

Get the picture the Globe’s authors, Incorrigible Paul Koring and Susan Sachs, want you to have? Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless. The piece is simply a deliberate and disgraceful, agenda-driven, effort to undermine Canadian support for the NATO mission.

As I keep saying the Globe is no longer a newspaper, see here, here and here.  And it stinks.  Gives renewed meaning to the phrase “committing journalism”.


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