New Globe and Mail print look. B- overall.

[Re-printed from an email I just sent]

Not too dramatic inside.

Thinner must be a reaction to the iPad and Kindle/Kobo -- commuters will prefer less fuss.

Glossy magazine-style photo above the fold differentiates from the ugly Kindle visuals.

Quick bites on the cover reflect how we read news online (140 characters?).

Odd thing: the Life section alone has the glossy treatment throughout. Wonder why. Facts & Arguments and Lives Lived on the back cannot be flagship sections -- this is community paper content. I would have used glossy on sports, cars or real estate -- anything where one salivates over a stolen base or aspires to a high priced BMW or home/cottage renovation. Given the decision to go glossy, they pushed it with a funky graphic on L2 -- but why? It supported only a psychologist's opinion on child rearing? Doesn't make sense. Maybe the double page RBC ad in the middle sold them on a glossy Life?

B- overall. But glad they're not dinosaurs. I'm excited to get an iPad one day and see what G&M does there. A nice template would retain the relevance of the masthead; otherwise, you just google individual journalists not publications.

Canada to spend up to $16B for F35 flighter jets -- Liberals to get in a tizzy

I still consider myself a Liberal, but the moral is weakening. We haven't had a leader for a while who has figured out how to do well at his job. All he needs to do is to win. Win a debate; win at competing photo ops; win on principle ... just win something. Winning a lot of things wins you an election.

Our Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is spending $9B to replace our fleet of F18 fighters, which will not be usable in ten years. The decision was made by cabinet without a competitive bid process.

Predictably, the Liberals smell a chance for a win. In a difficult economy with a soaring debt, how could the government throw billions of taxpayer dollars at such a thing; I mean, do we even face attack by air? Whom do we typically attack by air? Aren't we more of a search-and-rescue nation, than Top Guns?

Well, this is exactly why Mr. Harper will come out ahead on this issue. Perhaps he's even baiting Mr. Ignatieff, whose brilliance at studying human rights and history has not translated to triangulation and political sword fights. Here's why Harper and his Defence Minister, Peter MacKay, will win:

  • We are at war, The Afghanistan mission has galvanized support for the armed forces and, though we are nothing like the Americans, there is a sense of providing soldiers with the right equipment to do their job well. The fact that this war is scheduled to end for us far before these planes would be delivered is not too relevant; the war is based on a threat that is not ending.
  • Our military was not well funded for many years. In particular, some of the rescue of Canada's fiscal solvency in 1995 came at the expense of the military's budget. Canadians recognize that we have a poorly funded military; they accepted that during our transition from an imperial/colonial power supporting mother Britain to a liberal nation of peace-keepers. But pendulums swing back and this one is now.
  • Given our military's central place in our history, stretching from Vimy Ridge to Normandy, Desert Storm and Bosnia, the public will support a leader who takes actions to strengthen the Forces.
  • Canadians are broadly supportive of Harper's aggressive defence of our arctic sovereignty. That clearly takes more than snowmobiles and rifles; yes, it takes a strong Navy with icebreakers, but world class fighter jets making periodic passes over remote sovereign regions is arguably the height of patriotism. Opposing that is the visceral image of limpness. 
  • The Liberals would have done roughly the same thing; perhaps they would have had the illusion of multiple tenders, or perhaps they would have postponed the announcement to coincide with the release of a deficit reduction statistic, but I think people recognize that a Liberal government is unlikely to end the fighter capability of our Air Force. 
  • If the Liberals did meddle in such a need (not necessarily a strategic defence need, but a requirement for maintaining an air attack capability), it would repeat the foolish 1993 kept campaign promise to cancel the replacement of an outdated helicopter force. Our helicopters became a joke following that; but they didn't make a Tom Cruise movie about SAR helicopters; to have a fighter jets that break when they try to fight would be tragic.
  • As I wrote recently, voters like strong leaders. Unfortunately, this principle has been abused by at least one draft-dodging U.S. President who landed on an Aircraft Carrier within sight of San Francisco during a war. However, Harper has never come across as a war monger, and woe is the politician who favours a weakened military.

The Prime Minister who does not get his ass kicked

I was at a University of Toronto panel discussion on 9/11 the day Dalton Camp died. Evan Solomon, the moderator, spoke of his legacy. His friends will remember him for many things, but the sieve of history will likely note next to his name the aphorism: elections are not won, but lost.

It's a short, powerful message. Implicit, for me anyway, is that modern democracies are not relevant to the people who own them; the candidate seeking to govern us, and who comes to our door to discuss why and how, is an annoyance lumped in with electricity contract salespeople. Political leaders, who in Canada usually rise through the narrow career of legislator to become nearly de-facto heads of state, find themselves in power most often through the voters' rejection of their opponent, not through any superlative qualities of their own. Voters, at least in Canada, rarely select the superstar; they reject the leader who becomes a looser.

But it's my view that, particularly for generations that followed those who witnessed the mass adoption of television in the 1950's, politicians are judged as much on how good they are at politics as how good they are, or would be, at governing. In other words, voters form opinions first based on who would best do what they want, and second -- focusing on character -- on who is best equipped to not get his or her ass kicked.

Jean Chretien openly talks about how his anti-separatism Clarity legislation was proposed in the winter, because -- to paraphrase -- it is very hard to protest in Montreal in the winter. In a sense, he was doing the ass-kicking to people trying to destroy his country. We loved it.

Paul Martin, on the other hand, approached governing with a sense of fairness -- he himself called the inquiry into the Chretien era sponsorship spending and the inquiry ended his career. He was fair, but I think voters don't care. As the head of all of us we didn't want somebody who would kneel down before others. He got his ass kicked as the head of our country and the country rejected him.

Brian Mulroney swept to power by sweeping out almost two decades of Liberal rule. He conquered Canada and Canada loved him. In my view, his undoing was less related to the legislative successes of the GST and NAFTA than to the series of Ministerial resignations (fairness) and the defeat of Meech Lake (getting his ass kicked at the finish line). When Brian Mulroney could no longer hold his arms high is the winner of bout after bout, his career was done. Charlottetown was the knockout blow.

Despite the passion voters had for Barack Obama, he was largely elected on the rejection of the Bush legacy, piqued in the credit crisis. To succeed, he needs to continue to kick ass -- and he did not on health care. Had he lost that legislative skirmish his stature as a head of state would have been severely impaired; it's worth noting that none of this has anything to do with health care policy, which is both hardened socialism and a wet napkin, depending on who you ask.

In present times, Stephen Harper has demonstrated time and again that he is a better pugilist than his opponents. He scores punch after punch against Paul Martin, Stephane Dion and -- surprisingly -- Michael Ignatieff. Yes, Canadians care about policy. But they are smart enough to care about subtext as well, and Harper's subtext is that he -- the man we most see as the current head of not just our legislature but the 144 year-old thing called Canada  -- is a very good boxer.

Many Canadians despise him. But in my view they secretly prefer the guy who kicks ass to the guy whose ass is kicked.

Arrow in the sky

Discovered this incredible Irish band via a Jango feed built on Camera Obscura. Their web presence is minimal, so here is their MySpace page. Three 20-something guys, they remind me of Tegan & Sarah's harmonization and folk-inspired tunes that soar but are grounded.

By far, my favourite song is Half Glass, which speaks to lute-like sounds and commiseration in a salt-water misty Doolin pub -- at least to me. Verbal Waltz echoes REM when they were good at music. Both songs are available on their MySpace page.

This is the Irish music I want; not Westlife (sorry kids). And as much as I like the Coors, there's a darkness and seriousness to Arrow in the Sky that takes me somewhere good.

What strikes me most though is that they're not even close to being big -- no Wikipedia page, 600 or so song hits. The band is definitely in the alt-folk/hipster channel of music, and is unlikely to meet Ryan Seacrest -- but I think they should easily be touring festivals and hopefully headlining 5000-person gigs across North America in a few years. I hope.

Maybe all the good bands, which seem to emerge from the British Isles now, can form a new kind of Lilith Fair and invade. Less Lilith, more introspective lads.

Good luck to ya!

Avatar and what we know

I received an award this week for being the last person on Earth to see Avatar. Not true. But it's hard to write a blog post about an event that really occurred one spectacular Olympics and a New Year's ago.

Sure, I was shocked by the immersive power of the Avatar technology, and by the sheer beauty dreamed up by the people that made the "set" -- though a better phrase may be "virtual world." I was emotionally hit after walking out -- Zoe Saldana is an extraordinary actress and her character was one of the real charms of the film. And I suppose the love story was heightened by the FX. Absolutely, filmaking has changed forever, and this technology in the hands of a brilliant storyteller would be more potent.

It's not that the story was terrible; it was just basic. But if the acting was heightened by the conveyed beauty of the imaginary land, so too was the film's message -- a pro-nature agenda drawing on aboriginal customs (which begs the racist question, why are aboriginals "nature"?).

I was reflective at times during the 160-minute film on the implication of its meaning, and this draws me back to capitalism and economics. In a sense, the attack on nature depicted on the film in an extension of Adam Smith's pin factory, in which human activity is broken down into severe specialization to realize efficiency in making pins; i.e., to make lots of pins more cheaply. What is the psychic effect of specialization? Though I don't like the word "holistic," I kind of have to use it here -- what is the human difference between having holistic understanding of a trade or profession and simply being given a routine task? Shoe-makers perhaps use a broad array of intellect to hand-make shoes -- and to innovate during the process. To apply human creativity. Shoe-factory workers do not do this; they perform mindless tasks that, if anything, reduce their intellectual potency through neglect.

My grandfather was very Irish -- born in 1916 on St, Patrick's Day in Dublin and named Paddy. He was an electrician employed by the state, but I recall that he, a blue collar worker, had an enormous range of capabilities. Like a good Irishman, he could tell a story -- he was really good at it. He could tell stories that took an hour to tell, and he would tell them from heart. He also memorized ballads and would chant or recite them from heart, in many cases entertaining us for half an hour at a time. Ireland was poor until the 1990s, and perhaps he grew up with an almost 19th century level of technology; with no TV (even in my childhood, Ireland had three stations, and two were British!) or similar electronic entertainment available. Despite not being a professional class, or intellectual class man, he had an intellect. He used many parts of his brain.

I wonder if we don't use these parts now. Certainly, I don't have any peers who can tell a one-hour story, or who have memorized 30-minute ballads (not true; I know one person, but he is a freak of a genius.) My point is this: has the arc of industrial and information-technology progress increased specialization and focus on abstract knowledge to such a degree that true intellectual activity is -- at the least -- absent from those who are not knowledge workers; and perhaps quite limited among even the "creative class?" My grandfather could tell great stories; but perhaps going backward there was knowledge about nature that is since lost -- even as someone who loves the outdoors, I really know little or nothing about what food or what medicine grows naturally where I hike or canoe.

Economics provides another example -- another angle to this issue. It is the problem of making a ball-point pen from raw materials. I have since lost the link to the article, but I assure you one existed describing the effort of a person to make a ball-point pen entirely from things he could gather at a primitive level. I.e., wearing almost a loincloth and venturing into Algonquin Park, or something like this. Of course, it is impossible to achieve -- or at the least it would take months or years to find and refine all of the materials (ink, steel bearings, steel receptacles, etc.) required. The lesson is this: humans have access to tremendous technology, but to a large degree we have simply inherited it, or borrowed it from our peers -- if we cannot make a pen from scratch, we certainly cannot make a car or an airplane. We go faster and higher and further than our ancestors, but there is not necessarily any correlation between this and our intelligence. Perhaps the challenge required to survive in a tribal environment off of nature does test the mind more than being cradled in a car, a house, and with packaged food cooked on a stove, etc. Perhaps we're getting dumber as we get more stuff -- increasingly specialized but lacking true knowledge.

For me, this is the ironic message of Avatar -- that each increase in technology removes the requirement of a degree of intuition or other aspect of intelligence. Social genius, and reactivity to the chaos and complexity of nature are far more testing than traffic patterns, cook books and, perhaps, even work.

Boss temporarily reassigns employee for giving a stranger a severe beating while at work

It's important to remember that, if you beat the crap out of someone at work, depending on your boss, you may be excused from the justice system and given demeaning work from a while.

Of course, you cannot be a doctor or scientist or Olympic athlete for this to work; you really need to be an out-of-uniform police officer.