Words On Warcraft

Faithful readers of the print version of prairie dog magazine will doubtlessly recall the November 20 cover story we did on the sociology of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) on the occasion of the release November 13 of World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. That game proved so popular with millions of hardcore and casual gamers world-wide, apparently, that publisher Blizzard Entertainment accelerated production of the latest expansion to the franchise. It's now expected to hit store shelves in Canada in late January. After checking out the linked news story on the game all I can say is WoW!

In Other News, He's Now Known As Flavor McFlav ...

The Scots claim they invented rap music ... my mum (the pride of Kirriemuir, County Angus, the birthplace of J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan) and Bon Scott must be so proud.


The 'Mad Bomber' Of Saskatoon

Nice to know that the police department that brought us David Milgaard, Neil Stonechild and the starlight tours is working with its customary efficiency. Since owning a chemistry set is enough to have the SPS arrest you for possessing explosives, anybody playing HALO 3 should be arrested as a someone leading a terrorist insurgency.

(Hat Tip to the Zach Bell Show)

A Twist On The Layoff Stories ...

An American reporter on National Public Radio was doing a series of stories about how people who are getting laid off are responsind to the economic crisis. It has an O. Henry-style ending: she got her layoff notice from NPR while doing the project. (NYT registration may be required)


A Surprising Ripple Effect Of The Crash

I had no idea things had gotten quite this bad in the US.

CNN's Your Money show -- once the domain of stock speculation, investment tips and the idol worship of financiers -- is devoting another episode to "Jobs of the Future" (this is the second of these I've seen). It works like this... three business pundits sit around listing jobs that need people and how much you'll earn to start. While I've been watching they've listed off teachers, guidance councillors and home care workers as three growth professions that they're boffo on.

In between these lists of occupations, they're offering advice to job seekers. Apparently now is a great time for freelancers because companies are looking for non-committal relationships with their workers (that's a new thing??).

Business journalism just isn't the glam job it used to be, eh?


If You're Stephen Whitworth, You Don't Want To Read These Stories

Talking to native Winnipegers about the end of the Jets is a frustrating experience. No matter what you say or what evidence you have to prove your point -- that Gary Bettman wanted the Winnipeg franchise moved south to create a national footprint for an American television contract, and would have done it no matter what Winnipegers and Manitobans would have done to save the team -- the mantra is always the same: They blame the city, they blame the province, they blame the business community, and they blame themselves.

Well, as hockey fans know by now, the team is safely ensconsed in that hockey hotbed known as Phoenix, Arizona. And everything is going swimmingly in the desert, right? Somehow, I don't think this was supposed to be part of Gary Bettman's plan ...

Here's the smoking gun. The ESPN article states that the Coyotes have lost $60 million in the past two seasons, and will lose another $30 million this season. Asking for an advance on its television money isn't new, and it doesn't really matter (the club's just asking for its money early) except for two things. Other clubs have a line of credit to draw on whhen cash flow becomes irregular, and what an NHL team makes from it's television contract isn't that much. So if the Coyotes are asking for that money, it must mean that their line of credit is already maxed out, and they're really, really desparate for cash.

Now, would the Winnipeg Jets have lost as much money over the years if they played in Winnipeg instead of Phoenix? And if people thought that hockey in the desert made economic sense, and hockey in a hockey market didn't make sense, what are those people thinking today?

Happy Hannukah

How's that cooling off period going for the Cons? Not so good ...

On Sunday, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff attended a menorah lighting ceremony at Toronto's Zareinu Educational Centre, but according to organizers, a Conservative aide tried to shut the event down and block Ignatieff from attending.

Georganne Burke, who works for the Minister of State Gary Goodyear within Industry Canada, also insinuated that having Ignatieff at the ceremony could pose a problem for the school, according to event organizer Gary Gladstone.

"I am advising you that Georganne Burke called me this evening at about 10:30 pm (on Sunday) enraged, advising me for the benefit of the Jewish community the menorah lighting should be cancelled," Gladstone wrote in an email obtained by CTV News.

"(Burke) further went on to say that she felt it would do serious damage to Zareinu to have the event there," he said in the email.


He Shoots, He Scores!

Heh, just kidding about the Grinch Who Stole Democracy; soulless kid from The Omen; map of Canada tattooed to your ass so that you look like a baboon; stuff Mr. Harper, Sir. At your earliest convenience I'd love to arrange a fawning interview with you for prairie dog magazine that, should you be so inclined during your next round of Senate appointments in 2009, might cause you to look favourably upon this humble scribe as a possible candidate for elevation to that exhalted chamber where, in concert with my several dozen other Conservative appointees, I will work diligently to spread your gospel. The gospel according to Stephen. Which surely has to rank, if I might be permitted a bit of pre-interview fawning on this very special day, as one of the best gospels ever. Right up there with those written by John, Mark, Matthew and Luke.

Christmas In Winnipeg

Merry Christmas, Regina!

I’m in Winnipeg.

While I've lived in Regina for a decade and consider it my home, it's an inescapable fact: I was aged to my current, tragically well-documented state of imperfection in this town once dubbed “One Great City” by its deluded and desperate boosters. And because I’m related to people who still live in this sprawled, violent and IKEA-obsessed burg, I often head back here at Christmas time.

The highlight of my semi-annual visits, besides seeing family of course, is catching up with friends. Met some pals last night at the Round Table, a south-end restaurant/pub that seems to be the official Yule gathering spot for the old “gang”.

The service was sketchy — what kind of pub lets thirsty patrons stare at empty glasses? — but the nachos and conversation were good.

One fellow conversant was Jake “nom de plume “ Fiddler, a PhD student who just moved back after a couple years at a university in the States. Jake is the still-recovering youngest son of socialist internationalists. He spent a lot of his childhood in developing countries where his do-gooder folks associated with Marxists, leftists and other hippies—the kind of people who, when they weren’t building schools, helping refugees and digging wells, were complaining about Ronald Reagan and U.S. imperialism.

(I know this because in junior high school I often ate lunch at the Fiddler's and thus listened to their leftist propaganda, their stories about the MNR in Mozambique and death squads in El Salvador and race murders in South Africa and stuff like that. I fear I may have been corrupted. But enough about me.)

So I had to ask this friend who grew up in a household polluted by anti-American sentiment what it was like to be a guy like him in the States for two years. How is the U.S. different from Canada? What did he learn?

“You gotta fight for health care. That’s it,” he said.

Jake says that in the United States, when politicians talk about universal health care they’re talking about making it illegal not to have privately administered health insurance. And that’s the best to be hoped for. The prospects for publically-administered universal health care along the lines of what Canada (and basically THE REST OF THE DEVELOPED WORLD) has are, according to Jake, precisely squat.

There’s a lot I love about the country to the south of us but in too many important ways it’s broken beyond conceivable repair. Too much military spending. Too much corporate lobbying. Too much demagoguery around crime and taxes and patriotism and God and “family values”. Out of control racism and gun violence. The Phoenix Coyotes.

The fact that the United States can’t establish universal health care, though, is probably the best symbol for the nation’s failures.

Yet another reason I get frustrated when the majority of my adopted home province votes for the Conservatives, Canada’s most American-style political party.

So that’s what I’m thinking about while I’m up waiting for Santa at three a.m. Christmas morning.

Don’t tell me I don’t have an ass-full of holiday spirit.


Am I For GM? Not So Much.

At home, I get all my media online. I watch the Daily Show on the Comedy Network website and I read newspapers on a laptop. So about the only time out of a year that I get soaked in big media -- advertisements and all -- is when I'm at my folks' house for xmas.

I've only been here a day and a half and, boy howdy, am I soaking in it.

Have CNN anchors always mugged for the camera so much? I've seen them wink, burst into song, and do spontaneous impressions. (I'm hoping to see a spit take from Anderson Cooper before I leave.) All this in a day and a half. In between stories about child murder, natural disasters and financial collapse. Yeah, I know this isn't the age of Cronkite any more. We're not to expect dry, dispassionate news coverage that strives for impariality. Sure. I get that. But I'd expect the luminaries of the news universe to conduct themselves with a little more decorum than, say, your average prairie dog writer. I mean, if sophmoric hijinks are what reporting is all about these days, why aren't I making more money, I ask you, dear dog blog reader?

But buffoonery on CNN is mere cause for amusement. What's rankled me enough to get me blogging this xmas eve is GM's fullpage ad in Tuesday's Edmonton Journal. It's a page of text headed with the question "What does it mean to say, 'I'm for GM'?" (I'll try to edit this post later and include the text of the ad... it's worth puzzling over.)

Their message is that GM is a good company that's striving to be more efficient and environmentally responsible. It also tries to dispel some of the nasty myths about itself, arguing that it had already been working towards those goals. Why, it's been implementing a restructuring plan since 2005 and during that time has produced a great mid-size hybrid in the Malibu, won Car of the Year awards in 07 and 08 and has... wait a second??!?? 2005??!?? [spit take] They've been restructuring since 2005? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that like only three years ago? And isn't three the first number in our counting system to be classed as "a few"? If they'd started their restructuring plan any later in the game their ad would have to read "about a couple years ago, it occured to us oil might not last forever". Any later than that and they'd be writing "Environment?!? [spit take] Oh crap. We'd better get on that!"

Okay. Sorry. I'm just a schmuck from Saskatchewan not a player in the auto industry. Maybe waiting until the early part of the 21st century to start gearing up for the end of oil and runaway climate change is what counts for taking the long view in the world of big business.

But I digress. Ultimately, what GM is trying to say with this ad is thanks for your money. (Mind you, they use the code word "support" to stand in for "your tax dollars.")

They end this way: "We are asking Canadians to look differently at GM. We thank everyone who continues to stand by us. We are changing quickly to become a leaner, greener, sustainable company. So maybe, if it comes up with friends, in the lunch room or around the dinner table, you'll consider saying, 'I'm for GM.'"

Sorry, GM, I just can't say that. First of all, I expect to get paid for PR work. And second, I have deep misgivings about the bailout. It offends my sense of justice.

I thought the whole deal with the self-regulated free market thing was that it rewarded companies that produced things the public wants and those that didn't, died. Fear of corporate death is supposed to be the stick that inspires corporations to innovate, change, respond to the market and the environment, become more efficient, expand and grow. That's the logic pundits, economists and captains of industry have used to justify everything from privatizing health care, cutting off funding to the arts and culture, and just generally starving the public sector at every turn.

And yet, the second the corporate sector gets into trouble, they're knocking on the government's door, looking for a handout. The auto industry has squandered tonnes of public cash and gov't support, they ignored years of warnings about the perils their industry was going to face, and they're being rewarded for that. Way to go, capitalism!

Now, granted, when I'm not busy being Indignant Paul, I'll admit that in the long run, when you consider how many people rely on this industry for their livelihood maybe a bailout of some kind is the way to go.

But, you know, I hear tell of these car companies that aren't on the verge of bankruptcy, that're actually building small, fuel efficient vehicles. I hear they have factories here in Canada. They're companies with foreign-sounding names like "Toyota." Why aren't we giving them money?

No seriously. Educate me. Why aren't we giving money to Toyota and Volkswagon? I know next to nothing about cars. I don't own one. Not planning to. But if we're going to hand out big loans from the public purse, shouldn't we be gambling on companies that seem to have a clue?

Or how about this? We could put the money into passenger rail so we wouldn't need cars so much and wouldn't have to rely quite so heavily on the auto industry to keep our manufacturing sector healthy. I think they call that diversification.

I don't know, I'm just brainstorming here.


The Grinch Who Stole Democracy

You're a mean one, Mr. Harper.
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
You're as charming as an eel.
Mr. Harper.

You're a bad politician
With virtually no appeal.

You're a dictator, Mr. Harper.
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of schemes,
You've got meglomania in your soul.
Mr. Harper.

I wouldn't touch you, with a
thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.

Lazy Sunday Pop Culture Post 2

It's that time of year again, when Canadians in one snow-bound, jerkwater burg hop on planes and fly to other snow-bound, jerkwater burgs and flop with their families. Count me among them. I'm Edmonton bound tomorrow. Now that's a vacation!

In honour of this most Canuck of holiday traditions, here's a little tune by the sadly defunct Molestics. It's the only song I know of to grapple with this subject.

By the way, I found that mp3 on their abandoned website and also discovered that lead singer Mike Soret has some kind of semi-functioning Molestics blog. Seems he's writing a book about his time in the band. Groovy.


Not Busy Being Born, Coalition Now Busy Dying

This is a piece I submitted for the coalition feature in the latest issue. I've been assured it was left out because of a lack of space and not because it sucks. (And I'm sure I didn't help my case for inclusion by turning this in a day late and 200 words longer than asked for.)

But thanks to the miracle of the interweb, all that typing won't be wasted.

A note about writing this.... My conversation with Donald Gutstein ended with his comment about how the coalition has missed its moment. I liked the way he put it and thought the remark important so I opted to start writing with that. After doing so, the article naturally became an inversion of the way the interview played out. You'd think, then, it would leave us in a happier place. But it doesn't. And so it goes....


Not Busy Being Born, Coalition Now Busy Dying

A deathknell is sounding for the coalition. And there seem to be two camps ringing the bell announcing its demise: those who welcome the news and those who hear the tolling with a certain amount of sadness. Among those in the latter camp is Donald Gutstein, senior lecturer at Simon Fraser University and co-director of NewsWatch Canada.

“The moment has passed,” he says with regret. “What’s happened is the resumption of traditional politics in Canada. We have Harper on the right and Ignatieff on the centre-right and that’s going to be the range of debate. And, I think, that’s it.”

With the entry of “prorogue” into our vocabulary and Ignatieff into the Liberal command chair, the media has declared the nacent centre-left uprising done. You could almost hear a sigh of relief in the coverage. We’ve already written these stories, the media seems to be saying.

“They’re part of the corporate elite too so they’re happier with this kind of political and economic system,” says Gutstein. “What twigged it for me was the morning after Ignatieff was crowned, Margaret Wente said, ‘Yes, we can live with Ignatieff.’”

But how did it all unravel so fast?

From the moment the coalition became a possibility, the spin machine in every party’s warroom fired up. On one side, Harper was portrayed as akin to a tyrant, a petty man out to wreck petty vengence on his opponents. From the other, the coalition was depicted as a naked power grab by the Liberals inspired to action by a threat to their government welfare cheque.

While Harper’s reputation took a bit of a hit, opinion polls showed over 60 percent support for his government -- a pretty clear indication that his message had the most traction.

A few factors contributed to this, not the least of which being many Canadian’s lack of understanding of their own political system. Coalitions are de rigeur in many parliamentary democracies, but to a populace more familiar with the idea of an American-style republic they can sound pretty threatening.

“They filled a void by creating a myth about how the Canadian political system works,” says Gutstein of the Conservatives. “Patrick Muttart, he’s the guy in their warroom who’s in charge of the master narrative, and in the 2006 election he spent time in Australia and spent time in the US. So I think the master narrative is to move Canada more in the direction of an American-type republic. Even voting for senators and everything is part of that. And the left was totally incapable of correcting that message.”

At the same time though, he notes there were many on the left who weren’t behind coalition either, and he points to the perceived weakness of its leader as the key reason for that.

“I think one of the things was the problem with Dion,” says Gutstein. “I think it was more of a tactical concern than a strategic or ideological one. You know, with Dion as the leader of the coalition, what is it really?”

Ultimately, Gutstein argues that the mainstream media itself should hold much of the blame for putting paid to the coalition message. He notes that it was the way the coverage framed the situation as a “crisis” that first set off his alarm bells.

“What’s this crisis? There really wasn’t one,” he says. “The crisis was the possibility of a centre-left government. For the corporate media and for corporate Canada that could have been a huge crisis. So, at the outset, they chastised Harper for getting into it in the first place. He shouldn’t have done what he did, so they were after him at first. But then they totally switched over to attacking the coalition.”

Is it any wonder, then, that so much of the recent coalition coverage reads like an obituary?


A Little Bit of History Repeating

It’s been almost a week since the outing of Bernard Madoff’s investment firm as a gigantic Ponzi scheme. Apparently the day before his arrest, Bernie told his senior employees his firm was "all one big lie" which managed to bilk investors out of $50 billion. (Here’s the wikinews article on his arrest.)

As the Globe notes in it's coverage of the Madoff probe, the timing on this couldn't be worse as "the Madoff scandal has further weakened already-battered investor confidence in securities markets and has raised more troubling questions about the effectiveness of the regulatory system."

Sometimes the parallels between now and events of the late 1920s are a little spooky. For instance, John Kenneth Galbraith in The Great Crash tells the tale of Clarence Hatry whose fall from grace is one of the events that, along with the collapse of the stock indexes, pricked the investment bubble:

In England on September 20, 1929, the enterprises of Clarence Hatry suddenly collapsed. Hatry was one of those curiously un-English figures with whom the English periodically find themselves unable to cope. Although his earlier financial history had been anything but reassuring, Hatry had built up an industrial and financial empire in the nineteen-twenties of truly impressive proportions. The nucleus, all the more remarkably, was a line of coin-in-the-slot vending and automatic photographic machines. From these unprepossessing enterprises he had marched on into investment trusts and high finance. His expansion owed much to the issuance of unauthorized stock, the increase of assets by the forging of stock certificates and other equally informal financing. In the lore of 1929, the unmasking of Hatry in London is supposed to have struck a sharp blow to confidence in New York.

It's funny that not only are these two frauds linked in the ill-timedness of their unmaskings, but also in the humbleness of their origins: Hatry started out in vending machines, Madoff's initial investment stake was earned working as a lifeguard and sprinkler installer.

It's also funny that while Hatry was notorious in his day, he doesn't even warrant a wikipedia entry of his own now. I wonder if we'll find a way to conveniently forget Madoff in time for the next big speculative mania?


If the Shoe Fits

If there's one skill that soon-to-be former U.S. president George W. Bush is going to need in the years to come it's the ability to duck. Judging from a recent incident that occured during a news conference held as part of a pre-Xmas trip he made to Iraq to bolster troop morale, he's already mastered the ability, like Neo in the Matrix, to dodge projectiles directed at him. Don't know how well he'll fare though at ducking responsibility for all the ill-fated policy decisions made during his two-terms in office that have placed his country, and the world at large, in such peril environmentally, economically, geo-politically, etc.


Panic in Detroit

One of my favorite sports blogs is The Wayne Fontes Experience, run by a Detroit Lions fan -- yes, they're still fans of an 0-13 football team. It's well written, insightful, and his live-blogging of Lions games reminds me of my state of mind when the Saskatchewan Roughriders sucked and were so incompetently managed that I despaired of ever seeing competitive football at Taylor Field ever again.

But it's not just the disastrous state of Detroit football that's on his mind: it's also the disastrous state of the Detroit economy, thanks to the Big Three meltdown and the outgoing Congress' 'let them eat cake' attitude. And -- surprisingly for a sports blogger, he provides a glimpse into the state of mind in Detroit's coffeeshops, bars, and hangouts. (Might not be entirely safe for work).

My anger at the southern GOP, led by DICK Shelby, is palpable. Their
grandstanding is going
to affect every single one of us who lives in the Midwest, the Rust
Belt in particular, and not in a good way. Personally, I'm scared to
death for my family and friends who work in the auto industry, and
thanks to union busting politicians, like DICK Shelby, it's going to
get ugly for them.
He also links to a column from a Michigan newspaper. Oh boy. Jim Bunning, former pitcher for the Detroit Tigers was supposed to be at an autograph-signing thing in Michigan. Except that he's now a Tennesee GOP senator -- and voted against the federal bailout package.

Lazy Sunday Pop Culture Post

Technically I should be working right now so, naturally, I instead decided to write a post promoting the podcasts I like and think more people should pay attention to. I considered submitting this to the prairie dog proper but figured it was too slight and self absorbed even for that (types the guy who recently had published a Top 6 Comic Book Plot Devices). Plus I can't get it up to six items needed for a Top 6 because in all honesty I only regularly download five.

So, without further ado, here's my...

Top 5 Podcasts I'm Following These Days

1. Skeptic's Guide to the Universe
A weekly science news show that focuses on debunking all the nonsense and pseudoscience to which we're subjected on a daily basis. Sure, call me a nerd, but I find it somehow cathartic to spend an hour each week listening to five people mock creationists and climate-change deniers.

2. Tiki Bar TV
A monthly comedy vidcast made, up until recently, in a Vancouver apartment done up to look like a tiki bar. Each episode Doctor Tiki, Lala and Johnny Johnny encounter some crisis that is eventually solved by a cocktail. What I've described here rather clinically is actually very funny and cleverly written. Yeah, I've mentioned this show in stuff I've written in the paper before but I reckon it's worth repeating here because a) it's Canadian and b) it's just that good.

3. Diggnation
Two guys sitting on a couch drinking beer talking about what people on the internet are talking about. Sounds dull but is strangely addicting. Plus, it's a great way for out-of-touch, aging hipsters to stay au courant with what's happening on the intraweb.

4. Wormwood
Bi-weekly (sometimes monthly) radio drama about an occult investigator and his adventures in the town of Wormwood. Similar in tone to Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- has that same blend of supernatural horror and comedy. Favourite moment in the series so far: reanimated decapitated heads making out on the floor of a morgue.

5. Search Engine
Probably not fair putting a show from the CBC up against all these amateur endeavours, but Search Engine has always been Mother Corp's bastard child (as evidence: it got pulled from a regular spot on Radio One and now exists only as a podcast). It's a tech and web culture show not unlike other fare on CBC. But, unlike most fare on the CBC, it's edgy and political.

Gee, Premier. Wall ...

You won't have to hurry that Senate election legislation, eh?


"Ottawa hasn’t functioned effectively since May, and isn’t likely to start working soon"

I generally regard the killing of trees to print Macleans magazine as an environmental crime, especially as its journalistic or literary quality has China Syndromed after former Alberta Report hack Ken Whyte took the job as editor in chief. There's one exception -- Kady O'Malley's 'Inside the Queensway' blog.

I don't normally include Paul Wells, mostly because, as befitting someone who attended the University of Western Ontario, he conducts himself with the snobbishness of a English peer. Watching him on TV, I think Wells could make Michael Ignatieff look like Red Greene. So it's more of a surprise that his latest column on Stephen Harper is - gasp! - eriudite and readable.

My favourite line ...

Stephen Harper spent his whole adult life complaining that the state
was no good for anything. Now, under him, it is so. Consistency at last.

Trouble in the Tory Henhouse

Norman Spector, in his Globe And Mail blog, says Stephen Harper is going to try to woo Quebec voters. Again.

After the events surrounding the coalition, it's impossible for anybody to read this with a straight face. Harper demonized the Bloc Quebecois and, by implication, all those who voted for them, in order to secure a majority of votes in Canada outside Quebec. Like them or loathe them -- and I'm not much of a fan of Quebec separatism -- the BQ were elected by the people of Quebec in a free and fair federal election, and have as much right to represent their constituencies as anyone else. Jerks such as Rob Anders probably contribute as much -- if not more -- to the stresses of Canadian confederation than Gilles Duceppe.

The proposed Dion/Layton coalition government was popular in Quebec, and Harper's attack on it was seen by Quebecers as an attack on that province's voters, as if to say that they had no right to express their opinion on government.

Of couse, we should note that the man Harper tagged as his Quebec "golden boy", Mario Dumont of the Action Democratique du Quebec, was gonged in the Quebec election. His socially conservative, return-to-Duplessis policies are pretty much dead. And so are Harper's shallow roots in the province.

It makes you wonder --- why do the Cons put up with Harper's two-faced bungling? For a story in an upcoming prairie dog, I interviewed U of R political studies professor emeritus Howard Leeson, who was a senior adviser to Roy Romanow during the 1981-82 constitutional talks and part of his kitchen cabinet consiglieri during Romanow's premiership.

We jawed for 20 or so minutes, and during our conversation Leeson riddled me this: what's so great about Stephen Harper? He's led the Cons in three elections. He lost one, and received two minorities in the face of the weakest, financially troubled and most incompetently led Liberal Party since Confederation. "If Joe Clark was leader, the Conservatives would have had 200 seats easily," says Leeson.

So what's next? Andrew Steele of the Globe & Mail has a few thoughts on his blog.


Test Post

Do not panic, do not run to your basement. This is only a test.

Filling The Other House

Neurotics build castles in the sky; psychotics move into them.

Renters Beware: Vacancies Down, Rents Up (Way Up)

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation just released their 2008 Rental Market Reports for Saskatchewan. (You'll have to subscribe to get the free pdfs.) Things are looking pretty bad for Regina.

In the Queen City, the citywide vacancy rate is presently 0.5%, which is a 10-year low. (Down from last year's already very tight 1.7%.) Zones of note include the central zone which sits at 0.5% and the university area which is a grim 0.1%.

Rental rates have increased on average by $87 a month.

Up until now, city hall has been basing its decision making on the old figures, so it'll be interesting to see how this survey changes things in the days to come. A major shift in housing strategy maybe?

On the up side, the CMHC is predicting the citywide rate to go up next year as in-migration slows, but only to 1.2%.

In Saskatoon, meanwhile, things look a tiny bit better on the vacancy front. The citywide vacancy rate increased to 1.9% this year up from 0.6% last. This was achieved, however, while rental rates shot up by $129 monthly.

Iggy It Is II

Further to my speculations from yesterday, found out the conservatives sent out this fundraising email calling for party members to make emergency $100 and $200 donations to help the conservatives crack the coalition.

Apparently, the missive was written by Doug Finlay, the Conservative's National Campaign Chair. He writes:

"In yet another stunning and unprecedented demonstration of Liberal contempt for our democratic rights, they've decided to appoint a new leader in his place.

"Not only was the Liberal/NDP/Bloc Coalition not elected to govern this country , but the person who would become Canada's Prime Minister wasn't even the leader of a federal party during the last election and may not even be elected by the Liberal (or any) party's membership .

"The Liberals have decided to parachute Michael Ignatieff into the position of Prime Minister, and one thing is clear: Canadians didn't elect this coalition to form a government , and they most certainly didn't elect Michael Ignatieff as Prime Minister.


What Price Democracy Pt. II

If you need a reminder of how corrupt American politics can be, check out this Harper's magazine article about a sting that editor Ken Silverstein conducted against Beltway lobbyists last year where he posed as a representative of a company with business interests in Turkmenistan, a Stalinist-type former Soviet republic with a horrendous human rights record but plenty of natural gas that the company was interested in doing some image-polishing for in Washington. Junkets for members of Congress? Sit-downs with think-tanks where Silverstein a.k.a. Kenneth Case* would control the agenda? Bullshit op-ed pieces that "respected" academics would sign their name to and publish in major newspapers? It makes for compelling reading.

* Silverstein said in a CBC radio interview that he took Case as his alias, by the way, because of his fondness for singer Neko Case.

"Separatists, Botanists And Snowboarders"

Not surprisingly I get more e-mails than I can open. Just going through yesterday's unread batch and I found this link to a great Lawrence Martin article on Harper's undeserved victory in the coalition wars of aught-eight.

The column's called "Our Robert Mugabe Moment, And Other Unpleasant Memories" and it appeared in Monday's Globe And Mail.

Here's a taste:

"...read the headlines in The New York Times, on CNN, in papers across the globe: "Canadian leader suspends Parliament to stay in power." Would Robert M. approve? A prime minister promises the Opposition a confidence vote. A prime minister sees he will lose that vote. A prime minister moves to shut down the House of Commons, lock the doors of Parliament."

"Canadians democratically elect MPs to their federal Parliament. Whether they be separatists, botanists, or snow boarders, they have a perfect right and responsibility to partake in our governing process."

"But so what if the bullshine meter goes off the charts? We're so used to politicians putting the truth to death that it doesn't matter any more."

Read the whole marvellous piece here.

Iggy It Is

Is it just me or does the coronation of Ignatieff feel like a really bad move optics-wise? I mean, if the coalition survives and tries to offer itself up as an alternative government, we know there'll be more attempts to paint it as a coup d'etat. And all Harper will have to say is, "Even the leader of this coalition wasn't democratically elected by his party" and it'll be game, set and match Conservatives.

Would an internet poll of party membership really have been that difficult? Here we are living in the 21st century ----- it's the freaking future already! ----- and the Liberal brass reckon if they can't get everyone together in a room for a show of hands it's just not on? I suppose technically this process was just to pick their interim leader but wouldn't the smart move after being charged with acting undemocratically be to move forward super-democratically by encouraging Rae to stay in the race then letting every Liberal and their Liberal dog vote for leader? Odds were pretty good Iggy still would've had it in the bag. But no, let's cling to all our antique customs because clearly the canadian public is so well informed about the way the parliamentary system works.

I wonder if Paul Martin is starting to regret all that provincial transfer money he cut that would've gone into social studies education.


The Stephen Harper Personality Disorder

According to the Yiddish proverb:

If one person calls you an ass, pay him no mind.

If two people call you an ass, pay them no mind.

If three people call you an ass, have yourself fitted for a saddle.


Dionzo Gonzo

It's official: Liberal leader Stephane Dion will step down as soon as a successor is chosen. That successor is apparently Michael Ignatieff, Dion's rival at the last Leadership converntion.

Ignatieff is smart and well-spoken and should prove a nimble politician capable of effectively holding Stephen Harper's nasty little Tory trotters to the fire. But I don't trust the guy. While living in the United States during that country's worst period of terrorist-induced mass psychosis, he supported the Iraq invasion in a pompous, long-winded essay for The New York Times Magazine. (He later admitted this opinion was sort of a mistake but not really).

A question: how did prairie dog's demonstrably half-wit editor know Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction in 2003, while a presumably fantastically more intelligent Harvard academic didn't?

It's a good thing I'm not being annointed Liberal Leader. I just don't understand complicated politics stuff.

(photo by liberal.ca. Colour balance, cropping by prairie dog.)

How We Lost Afghanistan

One of my favourite blogs, The Galloping Beaver, has an ex-military man as one of its authors. This gives the blog's coverage of Canadian military matters an added level of detail that you don't get from Canadian media, who cover our Afghanistan military adventure the way Don Cherry talks about the Leafs on Coach's Corner.

Well, the sad fact is that we aren't losing the war in Afghanistan: we've already lost.

Read it and weep.

Another blog, Rolling Back the Tide of Extremism, One Post At A Time, tells the same story. It's not a nice story.

All the boosterism, wearing red on Fridays, and yellow ribbons isn't going to change a thing militarily: Afghanistan is where empires go to die. It happened to Alexander the Great, it happened to Genghis Khan, it happened to the British Army twice, and it happened to the former Soviet Union. And it will happen to NATO. In fact, it's already happened.

More Media Carnage

Bill Stovin might not be the only one freaking out about the Leader-Post's campaign for Izzy Asper's canonization. But there’s a darn good reason why. The past – for Canwest and the Asper publishing/communications empire – is all they have left. Their share prices are falling like a rock, they have millions of dollars in bonds coming due in 2010, and the advertising market is as soft as a baby’s bottom.
Like what’s happening with the Chicago Tribune, Canwest is financially screwed. Newspapers -- the ones run by smart people, anyway -- can and will survive the internet, just as they survived television and radio. But they won’t survive their own business stupidity. When you leverage the hell out of your assets, lay off staff, cut yourself off from the community and then wonder why you’re losing readers, subscribers and market share, well, then you may be too stupid to live.
Oh yeah, when Izzy was alive, Canwest traded at over $12 a share. It’s now down to about 55 cents (as of Dec. 5), removing the Asper children from the list of the richest 100 Canadians. If I’m David Asper, worrying about how crummy CanadaInns (nee Winnipeg) Stadium is should be the least of my concerns… then again, it’s that attention to detail that explains why Canwest got into their financial pickle.
And paying the guy who presided over the stock decline more than $900K a year doesn't seem like a smart move, or understandable, outside Canwest's mindset.

(hat tip to Ottawa Watch)

Harper's Quebec Strategy: Revealed!

Was listening to the Sunday Edition yesterday (which was 4/5ths constitutional kerfuffle coverage... the Dec 7 show isn't quite up yet, btw, but the link will get you to it once it is) and during a round table discussion segment, a conservative pundit (not a party wonk, an academic with naked conservative sympathies) argued that the Grit+NDP coalition is undemocratic because the Conservatives actually have a majority of the seats in the house...... if you don't count any of the Quebec seats.

Which got me thinking... is that Stephen Harper's strategy in all this? Drive Quebec to separate, after which he'll get his much-coveted majority government and the Conservatives will become the natural ruling party in what remains of the country?


I'm being facetious, of course. Or... on second thought... am I?


State Of The Propaganda War

First off: was trying to come up with another phrase to use for the ongoing kerfuffle in the Commons apart from "Constitutional Crisis." The news media seems to dub pretty much anything a crisis these days, especially when the thing in question starts with a hard k sound. We're doubly cursed this time with a constitution and a coalition involved.

Yessir, I've had enough with crises, thank you very much, so I was thinking instead of using "Constitutional Constitutional" where the second "constitutional" is used in its comic euphemistic sense -- ie., that first flushing of the day -- but realized the joke was too belaboured and will only inflict it on you, dear dog blog reader.

Anyway... seems we've moved from endless hours of commentary and analysis to a full blown propaganda war. Today was all each side dropping trow to show off the size of its protest.

Hate to say but I fear the coalition side is going to lose this big time.

And I'm not saying this because of Dion's video address screw up. Nor because of the general hippie-eat-hippie state of the left these days.

No, I'm saying this because nobody has called me up to tell me what's going on. Were it not for a mention from editor stephen and a couple missives from Larry Hubich's email list -- both sources I've access to because I'm by some accounts "press" -- I would've known nothing about the pro-coalition meeting at the UofR on thursday. Nobody from either the NDP nor the Liberals thought to call me.

Why should they have, you ask?

Well, see, back during the election I got pretty pissed about the state of communications from the progressive parties here in Palliser so I got up the gumption to phone both the liberal and ndp campaign offices and say "What's up? Nobody's come a-knockin' at my door... The mailers you've sent out are kind of crummy... Nobody's updating your Facebook sites... You throwing this election or what?"

If either of those parties were running something approximating an Obama-esque campaign, my phone number, email address and name would've been captured and put straight into a database. I'd have been filed under "C" for "Crank", sure, but the second they needed warm bodies to show up at an event like thursday's, I'd have gotten a call, an email, a knock at the door and a free ride to the auditorium. Instead, neither Mitchell nor Johnston's organizations bothered with anything like that and just kept clunking along with their pre-Web-2.0-style campaigns. (True, if either of them had been running a modern campaign i wouldn't have felt the need to phone them up in the first place. No, they'd have had canvassers at my door at some point during the campaign to ask who i was voting for and would i like to be on their email list.)

Point being, the Conservatives seem to have a much stronger organization as far as communications goes. Plus they have every talk-radio station and a few other media outlets to boot loudly promoting their anti-coalition line without even being asked. Is it any wonder polls seem to be showing the pro-coalition forces are losing this thing by a 2 to 1 margin?

The grassroots media free-for-all of the internet seems a perfect fit for progressives, but all the spiff websites and downloadable posters in the world aren't going to amount to much. A propaganda battle like this is going to be won by people skilled with Excel not Dreamweaver.

What Price Democracy?

In minimizing Harper's responsibility for precipitating this constitutional kerfuffle (is that better Paul?) Conservative supporters have argued that Opposition parties are being churlish for resisting government efforts in the current downturn to economize by cutting $30 million in spending through the elimination of the $1.95 per vote payment that each party who receives over two per cent of the popular vote in an election gets annually to pay for operating costs.

Some have even referred to the program as "political welfare".

The payments were instituted under the Federal Accountability Act that received Royal Assent in December 2006. They were part of a finance reform package that excluded unions, corporations and other groups from making contributions to political parties and candidates, and placed a cap of $1100 on the amount individual Canadians could contribute. The Act was designed to curb the type of influence peddling that is so prevalent in the U.S., where wealthy individuals, corporations and other third-party interests, through hefty contributions, reduce politicians, the supposed representatives of the people, to the status of puppets.

Yes, following the results of the last election, it would have been the Conservatives who took the biggest hit. Having garnered 5.2 million votes, they would have lost $10 million in payments. With 3.6 million votes, the Liberals would have lost $7.7 million. The NDP, with 2.5 million votes, $4.9 million. Bloq Quebecois--1.4 million votes, $2.6 million. Green Party--937,613 votes, $1.8 million.

But they're better at attracting donations from upper-income Canadians, the Conservatives would have been hit much less severely. At present, the federal funds represent only 37 per cent of Conservative revenues.

For the other parties the figures are Liberals--63 per cent; NDP-- 57 per cent; Bloc-- 86 per cent; and Greens-- 65 per cent.

Do you think Harper and Flaherty were unaware of this when they included the cut in the fiscal update? And for those who worship at the altar of the free market, keep in mind that the private contributions that the parties, particularly the Conservatives, receive, are also heavily subsidized by the public purse through the income tax credits that contributors get-- 75 per cent on the first $400, 50 per cent on the next $350 and 33.3 on the amount over $750. That translates into a subsidy of $590 on a $1100 contribution.

If we lived in a dictatorship, we wouldn't have to worry about political parties, and where they get their funds from. Judging from the events of the past two weeks, that might well appeal to some people.

Me? I'll take democracy.


"Cutting Edge Hipsters"?

Off topic for a second: One of this blog's writers seems to think we're all cutting edge hipsters here on dog blog. I didn't realize "cutting edge hipster" meant "over 40, surly and out of touch."

Here's the Candian Oxford Dictionary's definition:

Hipster /h1pst3r / n. 1. Hip-hugger underpants 2. slang A person who is hip, a hepcat. 3. fabricated Over 40, surly and out of touch.

Huh, we are hipsters. And now here's a real Canadian hepcat.


Blog Quebecois

In a fit of patriotic fervour arising out of the recent constitutional crisis, unnamed sources are saying, Stephen Harper has had a map of Canada tattooed on his derriere. Unfortunately, the tattoo is apparently configured in such a way that every time he bends over Quebec separates.

Okay, it’s an old joke, more befitting the Royal Canadian Air Farce than the cutting edge hipsters who contribute to this blog. But I couldn’t resist, especially considering the ass Harper has made of himself in the last few days.

If you think you’re sick of electoral politics after the Canadian and U.S. elections, just remember, Quebeckers go to the polls on Dec. 8. And it will be interesting to see what sort of bump the Parti Quebecois, who had been poised to lose to Charest’s Liberals, will receive from Harper’s demonization of the Bloc Quebecois as part of his propaganda war to discredit the Liberal-NDP coalition.

The Bloc were formed in 1991. In six federal elections since then, they have consistently won between 40 and 50 seats. In the process, they have morphed from a sovereignist or separatist party into one that advocates on behalf of the province’s interests. No harm in that. MPs from other parties who are elected to Parliament do it regularly for the ridings/regions they represent.

By slagging the Bloc, noted Antonia Maioni of McGill University in a Dec. 3 CTV interview, Harper has "burned a lot of bridges in Quebec".

If it was just a matter of Harper torching his party’s electoral chances in Quebec for the foreseeable future, that would be his cross to bear. But the heated rhetoric that he, his MPs, and Conservative supporters across Canada have used to attack the Bloc will surely cause many soft nationalists in Quebec to question their province’s place in Confederation. Can't say as I blame them.

Kicking More Sand In Quebec's Eye

This piece by Naomi Klein is still worth reading even if it's a day old and already a tad dated. I bring it up because I'd have to disagree with one of her central arguments: that what we'll see in January is a deeply chastened Harper.

"Chastened" is not the way I'd describe the man I listened to on the radio a couple hours ago. More like: "somewhat contrite for the time being." What was all that stuff about there being four parties in the House but only the three national parties have to work together through this time of economic instability? Way to distance yourself from all the "deal with the devil" rhetoric there, Stevie. Way to cool the fires of separatism in Quebec and quench the flames of franco-hating in the West.

That he said it the same in French and English will, I suppose, be read as "honourable" in Alberta (though I think they spell it "honorable" there). But in Quebec it'll sound like a big ol' eff you. Duceppe has a right to be pissed.

I expect to see more of the smug Harper in the months to come. He's just pulled off the biggest coup of his career -- figuratively and, one could argue, literally.

Political Violence In Canada

A sign advertising the constituency office of NDP Member of Parliament Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley) has been apparently firebombed. Coming just after an election where there was a lot more vandalism – directed against federal Liberals – than I can ever remember – and I sincerely wonder: if the Cons do lose the next election, will they resort to violence?

After reading this post courtesy Macleans’ blog, I really have to wonder. And I also sincerely wonder about the ability -- or the effort -- of the RCMP to protect people who aren't Harper supporters in the event cretins like these turn it up a notch.

The Pit Of Despair

I just got an e-mail from one coalition supporter who's bummed out by the news . For her, and for any other coalition supporters trying to get through the day in Tory Blue Saskatchewan, I offer this pleasing distraction.

So It's A Prorogue?

This is the last time a coward faced a three-headed monster ...

Stephen Harper ran away,
bravely ran away, away,
When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled,
Stephen Harper turned about
And gallantly he chickened out ...

Blog On

As I'm writing this, Canada's governor general has announced she has decided to prorogue (suspend) Parliament. Conservative supporters will no doubt hail this as a decisive victory for democracy. The democracy of the majority of Canadians who did not vote for Stephen Harper is apparently less important.

Welcome To Dog Blog

Thanks for visiting Dog Blog, prairie dog magazine's new blog. This page was launched in response to the December 2008 showdown between the governing minority Conservatives and a coalition of the Liberals and NDP supported by the Bloc Quebecois. Initially that will be the focus though I expect it to evolve over time. Expect three to four posts from us daily over the next few months. And please don't be shy about leaving comments.

We want this blog to be informative and insightful, and fun. If (when) we stray from that, please let us know.

We're looking forward to the conversation. Talk to you soon!

Stephen Whitworth
prairie dog magazine
Regina's Independent Voice


Pact With the Devil

I've asked this question before in the pages of prairie dog, and I'm pretty sure by now that I know the answer, but I'll ask it again: am I the only person who gets a "that kid from The Omen" vibe when I look at Stephen Harper? Same obsessively neat hairstyle, same vacant stare, same lack of empathy for his fellow human beings, same ruthless lust for power. Stephen Harper is a man so devoid of warmth and character that his handlers resorted to dressing him in a sweater vest during the last election in a desperate effort to humanize him. Not only does he have zero charm, he's also spectacularly inept as a politician. That shouldn't come as a surprise, I suppose, given his dictatorial bent. Parliamentary politics, especially in a minority context, requires consultation and collaboration. Harper, conversely, oozes contempt and arrogance. Even during his address to the nation Dec. 3 he couldn't bring himself even once to admit that he had precipitated the crisis that his government currently faces through reckless political gamesmanship that, regardless of how this affair plays out, will leave Canada in a seriously weakened state at a very dire moment in history when a whole pile of neo-con pigeons that have been flying around unfettered for the last 30 years are coming home to roost.