Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Arthur Spirling...

is now one step closer to answering the question of who would win a fight between a bear and a shark, provided he can get some data on fights between bears and lions. All you need to know is here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Good and Full Year

This has been, I am sure, the most full year of my life. I’ve written more, done more, gained and lost more than in any of my previous 29 years.

This was the year that I completed and defended my PhD; the year I rode my motorcycle from the top to the bottom of Africa. The year I began my professional life as an academic and the first year I entered the academic job market with success. It is the year when I took up new collaborations and greatly expanded my academic interests. For all of these things, it marks perhaps the luckiest year in my life.

This is the year when I lost, for the first time, a close family member. It also turned out to be the year that I said goodbye to two good friends, not because of death but because of circumstance, because of matters of the heart, that great “maze of love and fear”, as Josh Ritter has it put.

This year breaks cleanly into four pieces, like a vase dropped square on the edge of its base. Each piece was distinct, with its own rhythms, routines, and logic and joys. The first piece, from January to April, was spent completing my dissertation. I had received a SSHRC post-doctoral fellowship and it required a submission of my dissertation by April 15th. I can rarely claim that I work tirelessly, but I did during this time. I worked well into the night, often working until 2 am so that I could take the late bus back to the Plateau. This routine was broken only to share a meal with my great housemate, to have friends in for drinks, or to meet a friend downtown. These last meetings were something of a chapter-closing, an almost regular observance marking the end of friendship. This friendship remains one of the great prides of my life and its end my great shame. But I like to think it pushed me to work harder, to make my work my prayer, as my mother so often admonishes me. I submitted my dissertation a few days early and celebrated that night at my apartment with champagne and great friends. And then we closed out Pied de Cochon. With this, a great period in my life, and some of the people central to it, seemed to walk off and out of sight.

The next piece of my year was spent at my parents’ home in North Bay. I spent most days in my father’s garage preparing two motorcycles for our trip to Africa, or up at the local university giving a course in European government. I spent many afternoons with my niece and nephew, or enjoying my mother’s company. I spent many of the nights in local bars and restaurants with an old friend, reliving our high school years, enjoying the present, and avoiding talk of the future. All of this happened alongside the same lake I now overlook. This beautiful place was where I privately contemplated my move out West and the journey Sam and I would make across Africa. This chapter closed when I returned to Montreal to defend my dissertation and celebrated with a wonderful dinner with good friends and old professors.

A week after defending my dissertation, Sam and I hosted a send-off party at an old dive of a bar down the street from my old apartment. Our great friend, David Myles, wowed us all. I boarded a plane the next day for London and then Manchester. I attended a great conference and then left for London. I spent a day with friends before boarding a place for Cairo. I met Sam in the Cairo airport a few hours after landing and began the greatest adventure of my life.

I cannot here do justice to the great journey Sam and I took. Ours was not more impressive than the trips of many others, including those we met along the way. But it is enough to say that spending 45 days trying to make it from Cairo to Cape Town, to survive the heat in Sudan, the rains in Ethiopia, the bandits in Kenya, and then the clock to Cape Town, and to do it alongside a great friend, and to come out the other end in one piece is one of the great prides in my life. I shall write more at another time, just as I’ve written a fair bit here.

This third piece ran hard into the fourth. I flew from Cape Town to London on a Monday, and then to Montreal on a Tuesday. I had a dinner that night with old friends. On Wednesday, I flew overnight to Stockholm where I presented some of the research Daniel Rubenson and I completed earlier in the year. That I am routinely given the chance to travel to talk about my academic work is one of the great privileges of my life, even when I do it with a weather-beaten face, a dirty beard, and a tardy arrival. I then flew from Stockholm to Vancouver, spent a jetlagged night in the home of Sam’s parents, and then arrived at UBC the next day to begin the next stage of my life.

The fourth piece of life occurred in Green College, in the department of political science at UBC, in San Diego, and on more flights than I care to remember. I moved into Green, a graduate college, because I wanted to live among other academics, because I wanted to have interesting friends, and because I wanted someone to take care of the parts of my life I let slide when I am working. This has been a success on all accounts. I spent many of my nights in the pleasurable company of these friends, just as I spent many of my days in the department, enjoying the wisdom of older colleagues, the great insight of younger colleagues, and the pleasure of great office mates. That I would also spend a month of this period in San Diego working with James Fowler, most often overlooking the canyon behind his fine house, most nearly completes this great chapter. But there is more. I traveled a lot, giving talks at my alma mater, at McGill, and at Laurer. And I gave job talks in what was a most successful (and I must say fortuitous, lucky, surprising, and on and on) foray onto the academic job market. And, on top of all of this, I made a great friend of unusual kindness and beauty. That I lost her too in that great maze is my only regret of this period. It is a great one, but it stands alone.

It has been a good and full year. And I am a lucky man. I wish only the same for next year, for myself and for you.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Here's a Canadian we can all be proud of...

Well done, sir. This is one of the few times when trying is just as good as succeeding. 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

If I were Michael Ignatieff...

I would be thinking hard about two things: 

1.) How I could have an extended honeymoon because the NDP will be loathe to criticize as long as the coalition was still an ongoing concern. This requires that Ignatieff keep the coalition at least breathing. And that he not criticize Jack Layton too much. But it also requires that he find some set of proposals which are publicly popular, anathema to the NDP, and not supported by Stephen Harper. This is difficult, but not impossible. If it can be achieved than Ignatieff can have grounds for arguing that a coalition may be unworkable.
2.) Whether I could form a government alone without giving the NDP any cabinet seats. I suspect this has been considered among his strategists. I will only note that single-party governments have been formed in other countries by parties with less than the 25% of the seats in Parliament. It's tough, but it's doable. 

That said, the smartest course of action is likely scrapping this whole coalition idea in January, reaching some compromise with the PM, and rebuilding the party for a year before forcing an election. If the opposition parties are correct that the PM is leading the country to hell in a handbasket then they'll have no problem assuming power in a year. 

Perhaps a post later on how I would think about the task of rebuilding. A preview: it's not some 308 seat strategy. 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ten thoughts on a coalition government in Canada

• One, coalition governments do not last as long as single-party minorities, on average. Controlling for electoral system, population, and degree of democracy, minority coalitions (which this would be as the Bloc would not be in the cabinet), last about 275 days less than single-party minorities. Blais and Ricard and I have a little chapter on this here.
• Two, there is no reason why Dion could not be Prime Minister until a Liberal leadership race concludes. It would be unconventional, but it is not much different then when a leader takes power after running in what is publicly acknowledged as their last election.
• Three, the Tories have survived on Bloc support enough times that they cannot legitimately criticize the Liberals for doing the same.
• Four, coalition governments are extremely rare in Canadian politics. They have never occurred at the national level outside of the wartime. There was a coalition between the Saskatchewan Liberals and NDP in the last ten years. Prior to that, it’s been at least 40 years since a coalition at the provincial level.
• Five, strictly speaking this is only a coalition if the NDP receives cabinet seats.
• Six, what is occurring now is roughly equivalent to the investiture votes that occur in many other countries. Indeed, of the 20 countries considered in Laver and Shepsle’s Multiparty Government, nearly half (9) have investiture votes. In other words, in many other countries it is thought strange to allow a government to propose policy before the house has decided to approve that government.
• Seven, coalitions and occasionally protracted negotiations over government formation are normal in many democracies. That it is abnormal in Canada does not make it undemocratic. It merely makes it exceptional. By my lights the combination of three, six and seven suggests that this is not actually undemocratic. We may not like it, but the government is the cabinet that commands the support of the House. It is not the cabinet made up of members who got the most votes in the last election.
• Eight, it will be very hard for the Tories to now back away from this. More importantly, it will be very tough for the opposition to back away now. They’ve taken one step over the cliff.
• Nine, the Tories have asked for this to a certain degree. You cannot threaten to bankrupt your opponents (however much they may deserve it) and propose economic policy that is out of step with other countries and arguably with what Canadians want/or expect and not expect a challenge. The opposition is merely doing their job. They are mandated with opposing the government and presenting a government in waiting. If the Governor-General decides that they are to have a crack at Government then it is their right. If you don’t like it you can punish them at the time of the next election.
• Ten, if the GG decides to call an election it is her prerogative. And it won’t be a waste of money!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

I am in San Diego today celebrating American Thanksgiving. I've been here for most of the last month working with James Fowler, not to mention living at his house and getting to know his great family. It's been a great month in the middle of a great fall. In short, I cannot imagine my professional life going much better than it is right now. I've great reason to be thankful and it's well worth saying.

That is all. Though I will most certainly return soon with a post on changes to campaign finance in Canada.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The election was not a waste of money

I think people think it's clever to say that this election was a waste of money. Rick Mercer banged on about it last night and Peter Mansbridge even agreed. I remember Joe Clark making a similar claim in the 2000 debates, complaining that Chretien had wasted money on an election because he wanted to stave off Paul Martin.

The idea, as far as I can tell it, is that if an election ends with a Parliament similar to the previous Parliament, then we ought not to have had an election. Or perhaps we should just have delayed it. I am not really sure what advocates of this argument actually propose as an alternative. I suppose it's probable that they don't have one.

For me, I think the election was well worth the money. Think of what we've learned: the Green Party is supported by less than one-in-ten Canadians. Voters are not as keen on Stephane Dion (much to my chagrin, I must say) as his backers assumed. Jack Layton's New Democrats are not in fact more popular than the Liberals, they are not poised for a breakthrough in Quebec, and they are now more effective in Alberta than Dion's Liberals. Finally, you can make any number of overtures towards Quebec, but the Bloc is still a formidable party and will capitalize on small mistakes. These are all things which were less clear before the election.

Perhaps most importantly, we've given a leader a fresh mandate to address the economy, provided he can muster the support of other parties.

What's the alternative to this? To let the government last for another year, listen to the bleating about how the Tories are acting without a mandate, and complain about the need to get rid of them? I suppose for those who don't like the outcome of last night's election that this would be preferable. At least then they could keep up the charade of being democrats. But to complain about the cost of the election because you don't like the outcome -- which is what this seems to be -- is to be either a purveyor of easy jokes, a cynic, or lazy. It certainly doesn't make you a democrat. This election was not a waste of money. They never are.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Paradox of Voting

Don Butler has a great article on the paradox of voting in today's Citizen. You could remove my quotes and I'd still think it was awesome! It's great when a journalist really digs in and figures out a debate.

You can read it here.

Compulsory Voting and Voter Knowledge

My little paper on compulsory voting and knowledge (co-authored with Milner and Hicks) is here. We conducted the experiment in the winter of 2007. That it's in press a year later says a lot about how efficient is the editorial team at the CJPS. It also says something, I should like to think, about the clarity and simplicity of experimental work.

Note: I think the article is gated. Send me an email if you'd like to read it. Here is the abstract:

Does compulsory voting lead to more knowledgeable and engaged citizens? We report the results from a recent experiment measuring such “second-order effects” in a compulsory voting environment. We conducted the experiment during the 2007 Quebec provincial election among 121 students at a Montreal CEGEP. To receive payment, all the students were required to complete two surveys; half were also required to vote. By comparing knowledge and engagement measures between the two groups, we can measure the second-order effects of compulsory voting. We find little or no such effects.

Monday, October 06, 2008


I am sitting in Old Montreal watching the National with the Cynic in Chief. There must be something in the water here, because I am seeing things. Rick Anderson and David Herle are on a segment called "The Insiders". And David Herle is talking about how the end of a campaign is full of people outside the party -- pseudo insiders -- talking about what is happening in the race and how it could be done better. I can only assume that they are both taking time away from the campaign rooms to do this show.

Friday, October 03, 2008

On the Debate(s)

I watched last night's debates with some interest. For the Canadian debate I participated in a great community event with a discussion of the debate at the end. The discussion eventually turned to whether the Green Party should actively throw its support behind the Dion Liberals. It was a great discussion about the moral legitimacy and/or imperative of strategic voting. It's a more muddled question for me now than it was before the conversation, which I take as a sign of a great discussion.

As for the debates themselves, I am not keen to pick a winner or a loser, because I think we all see different things. And it's quite possible for every leader to do well among their respective constituencies and thus discussion of who won and who lost is rather fruitless. Indeed, the most significant recent research on debates suggests that debates do just this. To review the findings of Blais and Perella (two colleagues and friends) consider this abstract:

Almost an entire generation of election survey data was pooled together from the United States and Canada to assess the systemic effects of televised debates. Four questions were posed: (1) Is there a general tendency for evaluations of candidates to improve or deteriorate after a debate? (2) Do evaluations of one candidate negatively correlate with changes in evaluations of opponents? (3) Do debates disadvantage incumbents? (4) Do debates advantage less popular candidates? Using "feeling thermometer" items to measure voter evaluations, four patterns are revealed. First, candidates generally gain points.The supposed mudslinging that characterizes a debate appears not to feed into any notion of cynicism. Instead, voters appear to gain an appreciation for the debaters. Second, a candidate's gain is not earned at the expense of those deemed to have "lost" the match. Third, a debate does not disadvantage an incumbent. A candidate with a record to defend stands about as much chance of benefiting from a debate as a challenger.And fourth, any evaluation gaps before a debate become narrower following a debate. This final effect, which is particularly true of American presidential debates, may reflect a debate's ability to raise awareness of less popular candidates.

Think about that before you prognosticate on who "won" the debate.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Al Walker

My uncle, Al Walker, died Thursday night in Barrie, Ontario. Run through with cancer and unable to go home to die, he instead passed in his sleep. He was 65 years old.

For a small boy, Uncle Al seemed several scores larger than life. He was a towering man with big hands and a huge frame. He was something from an Eisley essay. Into a family of staid customs and Mennonite ancestry came this brandy-drinking, cigarette-smoking, Lincoln-driving salesman. Beneath all this worldliness was a great kindness and generosity.

If I ever knew the story of how he met my Aunt Joan I’ve long forgotten. Indeed, I cannot remember the first time we met. But I remember still their wedding. I remember the moment he waved us into the drive of the cottage where we were staying. The ceremony was held inside another cottage and out of the rain. I remember someone in attendance yelling out for another kiss after their first and everyone applauding the second offering. My mother later told me a story of overhearing Al telling Greg, my cousin and Joan’s son, that he would be the best father to him he could. And so he was.

The obligations of an uncle aren’t clear, so Uncle Al set his own standards. He was kind, giving, and interested. He and my aunt welcomed me into their home for long stays. With great encouragement he listened to my struggle to learn the guitar. And with great patience he listened to me bang on about whatever topic interested me at the time. Indeed, of the great regrets I shall chalk up in my life one is that I did not have occasion -- that I did not make the occasion -- to tell him how much I enjoyed the better part of two summers I spent at his home in my early teenage years. And I shall regret not having the chance to repeat those great visits.

I should hope that my Uncle will exit my life the same way he entered. Not in one instant, but in a series of great memories. That is, that he might continue ghosting around in my memory and thoughts with no clear departure. And that he might remain larger than life.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Morning Coming Down

A few thoughts on a beautiful Sunday morning on Point Grey.

1.) The NDP is set to announce a child benefit program worth as much as $400 per month per child. The money will be given directly to parents, will not be taxed, and will continue until children are 18. This is highly significant for two reasons. First, it is clearly more generous than the Tory plan, but also much more generous than the proposed child care plan of the Liberal Party. Layton may well have outplayed Dion by waiting to release this policy. While this is enough to push him into the Official Opposition is clearly in doubt, but it is helpful for at least two reasons. One, it appears pragmatic. Second, Dion is likely to atack Layton for a lack of commitment to creating more child care spaces directly. Layton, of course, will turn around and accuse Dion of holding onto old and failed policies. This makes for another distinction between the Liberals and the NDP and it is to the benefit of the New Democrats. For whatever its merits, the Liberal child care policy of creating spaces was never nearly as popular as its advocates suppose.

The second reason why this announcement is so important is because it marks a sea change in policy away from a large state-directed creation of daycare spaces and towards the direct funding of parents. The merits of either system are debatable, but for what it's worth I was always suspicious about the claims of those who wanted to provide state day care, not because I oppose it in principle but because it sounded highly implausible practically. I guess we won't be finding out for a while anyways.

2.) The debates are this Thursday. It's really a toss-up between the American VP debates and the Canadian English debate. I'll be watching the second as I've been invited to a community event to talk about the debates a bit before hand and then moderate some discussion afterwards. Later this week, I'll post my little spiel explaining what I think they are trying to accomplish.

3.) I am similarly speaking at the Killam Foundation dinner at UBC tomorrow night. I was lucky to win a couple of Killams this year and this dinner is to recognize the UBC winners. I'll be talking about my research and, hopefully, demonstrating how the Killam's contribution to research (and Canada) is so significant.

4.) In between these two events I'll be flying home for a funeral. My Uncle Al died on Thursday night. When I can get through putting my memories of him to paper I shall post them as well. We can't avoid these things for long, even if we preface them with three points of useless front matter. In the meantime, I am off into a Sunday morning hoping I'll find something to take "me back to somethin', That I'd lost somehow, somewhere along the way."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Luck, a Great Week, and Sleepness Nights

I am now at the tired end of a great seven days. Last Monday I took the overnight flight from Vancouver to Toronto and then the hour-long shot to North Bay. There is no flight greater than the one that takes you over Lake Simcoe, Muskoka, the west end of Algonquin, and then over Lake Nipissing and the circle of the Manitou Islands and meets the runway where the hill comes up. There's no flight I enjoy more and no airport I look forward to more.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at my parents' house. It was a little more housekeeping and bookkeeping than I like as I had to pack a crate which my father built to be sent to Vancouver. But my parents kindly arranged a great and large party for me to celebrate my breathing return from Africa. It was a wonderful night to catch up with a lot of the people who have been instrumental in my life. And to be reminded of growing up in such a great place.

I flew to Moncton on Wednesday night and slept in Sackville. I spent two days at Mount A giving a couple of lectures and a public talk on altruism and spending preferences. I realized there, too, how lucky I was to have had the experience of living in Sackville and being taught by so many great academics. Their influence still runs through my research. As importantly, I spent an evening playing music with Frank Strain and his crew, and then Loren McGinnis and I finished the night with an early morning run to Amherst. Alas, the Big Stop in Aulac (recently of Old Man Luedecke fame and tribute) is no longer 24 hours. This would be the first of a few 5 am nights.

We spent Friday in Halifax with Andrew Black and his crew. Bed time: 5 am.

Saturday was the third jewel of the trip. David Myles and Nina Corfu got married in Petite Riviere, an incredibly beautiful and genuine town. They don't make towns liek this anymore and they rarely make couples as great as David and Nina. Their's is a great love story and everyone was feeling the vibe. What's more, they had an all-star line-up play their wedding ceremony and then had Garrett Mason play the reception in the firehall. He's Canada's best bluesman and he's worth more than a listen. The particular highlight of the performance were these lyrics:

To the girl on the left with the funky dress on
To the girl on the right with the fishnets on
You can dance the funky bossman all night long.

I don't even know what that means, but it's awesome! The wedding ended with a bonfire by the ocean. Bedtime? 5 am.

Loren and I then spent Sunday at Herman's Island with Blackie. We swam in the ocean (it must have been a kilometer to that bouy!), sat in the hottub, contemplated swinging the golf clubs and ate BBQ. We then raced back to Petite Riviere to catch Old Man Luedecke (who also played David's wedding) before driving overnight to the Moncton airport. Bedtime? Unclear.

So, all of this is to say that at the tailend of string of sleepless nights I am reminded of how lucky I was to grow up in such a great place, to attend such a great institution and to meet such great people. May it always be so.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the ethnic vote

I note this with great interest. I would also put down a lot of money that the reporter called Blais and he talked to them on background. Someone from the CES must of as there is no cited source for it...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This is what happens...

I guess this is what happens when Larry Bartels finishes with you.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Four thoughts on the election

Without further adieu, demand, or interest, here are my four thoughts on the election:

1.) The Conservatives are obviously desiring a majority, though the ability to fashion this majority is slightly more difficult than the media is making it out to be. It almost certainly requires two things: a much better performance in Quebec than in the previous election (which was already a pretty good showing) AND significant gains in Ontario. Assuming that the Tories' majority comes from gains only in Quebec and Ontario, the party needs a net gain of 46 seats out of the 131 up for grabs. This is not an impossible task, but it's not a simple one. And if it occurs it would signal a rather fundamental shift in the Canadian party system and will certainly doom either the Bloc or Stephane Dion, or both.
2.) We must always remember that the Liberals have an inherent advantage in Canadian elections due to their support among ethnic minorities and Catholics. Read Blais' Presidential Address before you say but. If the Conservatives win it will be because they've finally found a way to break into this group. And I am willing then to call all of my political friends who said it was stupid of Harper to bring up same-sex marriage in the last election. It may have been unsavoury, uncivil, unseemly, whatever, but it certainly wasn't stupid. It was most certainly a part of a longer-term plan to convince these key voting groups that the Conservatives are as much on their side as the Liberals. This is a long-term struggle, but the Tories have proven themselves much more forward-looking than the Liberals in recent years.
3.) Dion should quit talking like the Green Shift is not going to effect anyone negatively. It is. But that's ok. We don't pretend that the cost of cigarette and alcohol taxes are evenly distributed throughout the population. And society is willing to accept them as a necessary tool for addressing externalities. In sum, I liked Dion the Straight Talking Professor more than Dion the Politician, and this policy is the latest example. I also think it plays to his weaknesses and not his strengths.
4.) I am unconvinced Elizabeth May should not be included in the debates. But I am not convinced either. In this case, I can't imagine it would hurt, so why not err on the side of inclusion?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My return

I've returned, to Canada certainly and blogging possibly. Sam and I had a great run from Cairo to Cape Town. It had everything we could have asked for -- incredible scenery, challenging riding, remarkable people -- and then a lot more. You can read about most of it here though some of it must be saved for the book.

I have for a little while been firmly embedded in an office here at the UBC, but not before attending a great conference in Stockholm and spending a night with great friends in Montreal. Now it's down to business on a few projects with other great academics, principal among them Paul Quirk, James Fowler, Dan Rubenson, Arthur Spirling, and Frederick Bastien. I often reflected during the ride on how lucky I am to experience such things. I am equally lucky to work with such great people and I look forward to making the most of it.

I shall get back to it but will blog on the coming election soon.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Various and Sundry

I now have my PhD. I defended last week. This person is mostly responsible for any success I've had. I am long in his debt.

I booked a flight from London to Manchester yesterday under Dr. Loewen. This, of course, is the principal reason I finished a PhD. Let's hope that I get an upgrade to business class and let's hope that no one has a heart attack.

Blogging will be light for the next little while as I head off to ride a motorcycle from Cairo to Cape Town before taking up at UBC in August. You can follow the trip here. If you are inspired by our trip you can take part by making a donation to Spread the Net, a great charity for which we've been fundraising . We've raised $15,000 so far and hope to raise $50,000 with the trip. You can donate here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Potter Gold

Andrew Potter has a nice and counterintuitive column in this week's Maclean's. Potter argues that negative advertising may not be all bad. He has Warren Kinsella and me in his corner. I am not sure how I would match up in bar fight, but I suspect Warren's a good comrade in arms.

Anyways, it's an article I like, first because of the counterintuitions, but also because Potter cites some of my recent research. The paper is under review, so I won't link to it, but if you'd like a copy email me. In the meantime, here's the abstract:

Some citizens differ in their levels of concern for the supporters of various parties. I demonstrate how such concerns can motivate citizens to vote . I first present a simple formal model which incorporates concern for others and election benefits to explain the decision to vote. By predicting substantial turnout, this model overcomes the “paradox of participation”. I then verify the model empirically. I utilize a series dictator games in an online survey of more than 2000 Canadians to measure the concern of individuals for other partisans. I show how the preferences revealed in these games can predict the decision to vote in the face of several conventional controls. Taken together, the formal model and empirical results generate a more fulsome and satisfactory account of the decision to vote than an explanation which relies solely on duty.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Small pleasures, Vancouver edition

I am sitting in the lounge at Pearson about to hop on the early flight back to North Bay. I flew the red eye from Vancouver.
I am just coming back from the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association. It was a great time. I stayed with Daniel's" family in Vancouver and we spent a good bit of time checking out the city. I look forward to moving there in September. Indeed, I checked out Green and it looks quite agreeable. And I finished up the visit with dinner at Kits beach with the Cynic in Chief.
As importantly, we held our workshop on experimentation and it was a smashing success. I cannot really say I ever read a representative sample of the work read at the CPSA. A lot of it doesn't interest me to begin with and a lot which does seems a bit old. Experimentation is another story, so I was thrilled to spend a day listening to people talk about their projects and then to hear great academics discuss the work. We finished off with a big dinner at Daniel's house after which James Fowler gave a great talk on genetics and politics. Small pleasures, all.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Of Love and Curling

Speaking of great English Canadian music, I think the Weakerthans must be the most clever band in English Canada. I was very taken earlier this spring by "Virtue the Cat Explains Her Depature." I thought it so creatively captured how a cat would think if cats thought like humans (that is to say, as we think they think). Now I am entirely taken by Tournament of Hearts, which is available on their myspace page. The song develops several curling metaphors to describe a man's inability to commit to a woman, culminating in the great chorus:

"Why, why can't I draw right up to what I want to say?"
"Why can't I ever stop where I want to stay?"
I slide right through the day, I'm always throwing hack weight

I've never thrown a stone, but I can still relate. Give it a listen.

So it can't carry on a conversation....

One has to wonder if the Toronto Star thinks that this machine deserves to be stuck in a hole just because it's not good dinner company. The headline says it all, really. Elitists... If it's so boring why did they even write the story?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's the best album in (English) Canada?

My friend and occasional teacher Charles Blattberg finds it contemptuous how readily English-speaking Canadians will declare something they like to be "the best in Canada" or "Canadian". His basic argument is an elegant one: most of what we refer to as Canadian is in fact English Canadian. So, Sounds Like Canada should be Sounds Like English Canada, etc.

This objection is rooted in Charles' belief that there is an English Canadian nationalism which should be celebrated but should not be held up as definitively Canadian. I don't agree with all aspects of his argument. But it's an argument he makes consistently and passionately and it's well-worth consideration and conversation.

My objections aside, Charles is entirely right about one thing. The Polaris Music Prize should not call itself the prize for the best album in Canada when it has a jury which is probably completely unaware of French music in Quebec and elsewhere and would certainly have no chance of identifying a worthy album recorded in any of the dozens of native languages spoken in Canada. It's ok to choose the best album in English Canada. Just don't say that you're choosing for the whole country when you're manifestly unable to do so.

If you think the Polaris Prize should either change its name or get a more, ahem, Canadian jury, you can write Steve Jordan at You can also get his publicists at and/or

Friday, May 16, 2008

Small pleasures, pt 3

In the third post in a continuing though quite intermittent series, I note three new small pleasures:

i) Old Man Luedecke's new album. Chris Luedecke is one of the most creative and original songwriters in Canada today. Aside from his banjo playing -- which is completely anachronistic and thus great -- he's really something of a lyrical master. On his first album he somehow weaved together a story of visiting the Fairview mall and a Footlocker salesmen with the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, not to mention the heartbreaking bridge in Little Stream of Whiskey. On his new album, Proof of Love, he captures in one line on Send My Troubles Away a great truth: Well, you never know the good in you's been found. As I set to set out for Africa and then to Vancouver, I am reminded by that line alone that we cannot really know when and from where good things are going to come.
ii) The breeze off of Lake Nipissing. It makes long days in the garage pleasurable.
iii) And most importantly, taking the training wheels off my nephew's bike, watching him peddle in a circle in the garage, and then riding all the way down to Champlain Park and back with him, little legs like pistons and a smile as big as the lake.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Make a carbon task costly

There's been much to and fro about Dion's proposal for a carbon tax. Look for it and you'll find it, if you wish.

Here's his idea in a nutshell: he's going to tax heating oil and other carbon emission sources, but not gasoline. Then he's going to cut your income tax. The whole thing is going to be a shift of $15 billion of so.

Here's the consequence: basically no one likes the idea and even less people believe that the tax shift is going to be neutral.

Here's what he should do: propose a carbon tax which is actually going to cost people more if they drive. This would be more effective, more honest, and more believable. And, believe it or not, there's a segment of the population (somewhere between 30% and 40%) who are more likely to support a policy when they are aware that it will cost them something.

I was lucky enough to run some survey experiments on a carbon tax for my dissertation. I may write about them in more detail at some point, or I may continue to embargo the results while they're under review. Either way, two facts stand out: a sizeable amount of the population is willing to pay more in taxes in exchange for a carbon tax. And a sizable portion is also more likely to support the policy when they think it will cost them something.

Herle sees rationality where others see luck

Danistan won't do it, so it falls to me. David Herle has quite the piece in the Toronto Star today. Excerpted from his May piece in Policy Options, Herle lays out a strategy by which Stephane Dion can win the next election. It's a rather simple prescription: first, point out that the Conservatives are far to the right of most Canadians; second, highlight Dion's strength as a different type of leader; third, play up the environment.

I want to leave aside discussion of whether these presumptions are even correct. I suspect at least one of them is wrong, but I've never been asked to run a campaign, so what do I know. I do want to highlight a rather ridiculous paragraph halfway through the article. In justifying his claim that Dion should emphasize his different qualities, Herle argues that Dion won the party leadership because:

Liberals wanted, and sensed that Canadians wanted, something different. They sensed that politics in Canada was ready for a new national challenge, something that transcended the machinations of Ottawa politics. In addition to his passion for the environment, Liberals saw in Dion a man of character and an anti-politician as an antidote to the current mode of our politics. After the sponsorship affair, Canadians needed to believe that the Liberal party was about purpose, not jockeying for partisan advantage.

This is ridiculous. This suggests that delegates calculated, once confronted with the binary choice between Dion and Ignatieff, that Dion was somehow the best man for the job all along. He was a new kind of leader and just what the country ordered. If delegates were so rational at the time, then why did less than one-in-five plump for him in the first place? It is simply not true that delegates selected Dion because he was the best choice of all candidates. No, they selected him because he lucked onto a final ballot in which his opponent was very controversial and far outside the mainstream of his party on three key issues: Quebec, fiscal imbalance, and Afghanistan.

I've written in the past of my admiration for Dion and it abides. But admiration shouldn't ignore the facts. Make no mistake: David Herle is very smart. He is probably one of the sharpest political minds in Canada. But I am left to wonder whether reading rationality and brilliance into luck hasn't impaired his judgment, now and in the past.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Is walking worse for greenhouse gases than driving?

It appears it could be depending on how you get your calories.

These posts at Freakonomics, pointing to a long post calculating the impact of walking versus driving goes some way to turning conventional wisdom on its head. Here's the story: walking requires energy. The fuel for this energy is food. The amount of food required to replenish the calories burnt walking can require more energy and produce more externalities than driving.

I love economics because of its ability to confound conventional wisdom. And no where, perhaps, does conventional wisdom need more confounding than in confronting the very real challenges of climate change.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On the Line

David Myles' new album, On the Line, is to be released in three short weeks. I am sure it's going to be a killer. You can check out a few tracks in advance here.

Bastarache retires

Wayne MacKay is the sensible choice. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Rent-seeking bloodsuckers

As some of my friends and occassional dinner companions have found out, I don't have the world's most positive view of farmers. Generally, it's a bit of a show, but I do think the evidence is more or less clear that consumers -- especially the poor -- are not well-served by supply management and by the readiness of our politicians to give to farmers subsidies which they do not give to other industries. So, the argument is a bit of put-on because I like being contrarian, and a bit true, because I think the facts are with me. All of that aside, you can be sure I will pull out this article the next time the debate comes up.

It takes no foresight to guess that tobacco demand is going to continue to decline. And it takes no small amount of gumption to complain that "high taxation and anti-smoking policies have had the effect of expropriating their livelihood without compensation." No, all it takes is some incredible romantic sense that one is entitled to compensation because they work in a field as opposed to an office. Never has the term rent-seeking bloodsuckers come so easily to mind.

The Prime Minister, Auschwitz, and Allan Woods Absurd Article

This is an absurd article. Woods never comes out and says it, but he somehow thinks it's wrong that the Prime Minister didn't say anything to reporters after visiting Auschwitz. Instead of giving a speech afterwards, Harper signed a rather eloquent message in a guestbook. As Woods, our intrepid scribe puts it:

That statement was the only clue Canadians have as to what was in Harper's mind as he bore witness to the depravity of Auschwitz, where upward of one million Jews were exterminated, along with more than 100,000 Poles, Gypsies and homosexuals.

What, pray tell, do you think he was thinking? I am guessing, like any human being, that he was overwhelmed by what he saw (indeed, other reports capture his emotional struggle) and wasn't too keen on trying to discuss awful feelings in front of other people. Particularly not someone like Woods. Given the amount of space he's wasted writing on what the Prime Minister didn't say, can you imagine the knots he'd tie if he had said anything?

Woods should take a second to think about whether he is professionally obliged to be critical at every possible opportunity. And then he should do us the favour of not writing about it. No one, I can assure him, will write an article about his silence.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A question/annoyance

Can someone explain to me how the interests of science are served by journals asking all authors to conform to some meaningless and arbitrary document standard for the purposes of review? Why, pray tell, must articles be submitted in 12-point Times New Roman? And why must they be ragged right? And why, for the love of all good and holy, must they be submitted in Word? What about those of us who actually care about offending the eyes of others, have seen the light, and have moved to Latex?

In short, why are authors made to conform to silly and arbitrary standards prior to acceptance and publication, especially when every author already has sufficient incentives to present their work in a clear and professional manner. Sheesh.

UPDATE: As Varnson notes in the comments, it is almost certain that no journal actually uses Word when it comes to setting the journal. Rather, they probably use a typesetting program like latex. You know, the type you're not allowed to submit in in the first place. Sheesh.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tom Lukiski on Tape

Tom Lukiski is in a world of trouble. The Tory MP was videotaped, seventeen years ago, making extremely disparaging remarks about homosexuals. These comments resurfaced when the NDP opposition in Saskatchewan found the tape in their new opposition offices.

The remarks are vulgar, ignorant, and delivered in a manner which suggests that they did not just come to the top of his head spontaneously and fully-formed. No, he has the swagger of someone who said similar things, several times, probably always to great effect.

Lukiski has issued an apology which includes the claim "They do not reflect the type of person I am. I do not believe in those types of comments."

Whether or not Lukiski is the type of person who still believes this things is precisely the point, I think. Not whether he used to believe those things. I want to phrase this as precisely as possible: the average man, certainly of Lukiski's vintage, viewed homosexuality and homosexuals much differently than most men today do. Much progress has been made towards greater and deserved tolerance in the last 17 years. In fact, I think we can say a near sea-change of opinion has occurred since broad public discussion over same-sex marriage began in earnest in the last four or five years.

I think this is much to the credit of people of a certain age who grew up with views which were ignorant and wrongheaded but widely-held and believed. If we want to make progress towards greater toleration, then we have to be willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and not to play politics with past intolerance.

So, the important question is this: Does Mr Lukiski still hold these views? And, if not, when did he change them? What was the moment at which he cast them aside as useless, incorrect, and uncivil. Maybe he can't define an exact moment, but he could at least try to explain his progression. Provided he does, the matter should be put aside.

I am open to opinions on this, having given my own.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Why Bob Rae's Entry into Parliament Secures Dion's Leadership

There's been some to and froing here and there about whether Rae's entry into Parliament makes Dion's (apparent) leadership woes better or worse. I think the case is pretty clear that things have become better for Dion.

Let's assume five things:

i) Bob Rae would like to be leader as soon as possible.
ii) Michael Ignatieff would like to be leader as soon as possible.
iii) If Dion loses the next election he will be forced out by multiple players.
iv) If Dion is to be forced out before the next election, it will require a much stronger effort then that mounted by one party vice-president, one student council type, and one obscure MP.
v) Such an effort would clearly point to an actively organizing candidate, on the scale of Mulroney contra Clark in 1983, Martin contra Chretien post 2000, or Chretien contra Turner in 1986. A candidate would pay a cost for this.

If you take these as reaonable assumptions, then I think you can back out logically why Dion is now more secure. First, suppose that Ignatieff really puts a push on Dion (which he has not been doing thus far, by my lights). He could perhaps force Dion out, but he too would pay a price for the coup, and this would likely facilitate Rae's rise. Similarly, Rae is now closer to the leadership than he's ever been. But were he to force out Dion, then he would only enable Ignatieff's rise, as he would carry the blame.

Both Rae and Ignatieff, then, would rather wait until after an election (presuming Dion loses) and try their odds in another head-to-head. To make any other move would be to ensure the other's rise.

There is something to this Team of Rivals stuff.

Elections in Zimbabwe

If the logic of political survival sometimes beats one about the head, it also sometimes allows events like this. Zimbabwe is on the cusp of closing a chapter in its history, unquestionably a dark one. If you're inclined, say a prayer that corruption will not win out. If you're not inclined, then just hope. And get ready to share in the joy of Zimbabweans who may be soon rid of Mugabe, that great lost hope.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Choose a Day to Spread the Net

Over at Cairo to the Cape we are selling days of our trip. The idea is simple. If you donate $150 to Spread the Net then we'll designate one day of our trip to you. After the trip is done we'll write up a report of the day for you, include some pictures, and perhaps our maps from that day, or some other momento.

For what it's worth, the day when we ride the pictured road is still available. It's in Northern Kenya. It's going to be so great!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Leo the Lion

One can only imagine this occurred immediately after the cat realized how redundant is its name.

Byelections and Turnout

A point to begin with: we basically know very little about byelections in Canada. If you'd like to see how confused is our common wisdom about what byelections tell us you should read this post at Megapundit. We do not know definitively whether the government is systematically punished in byelections. We don't know when turnout in byelections will be higher or lower than average. And we don't know if byelection winners do better or worse than equivalent candidates in the subsequent elections. It is one of many empirical blind spots in Canadian politics. Fred Bastien and I are trying to shed some light on it in a paper in progress, but I still have no idea about the answer to these questions.

All of that said, I am rather confident that new voter ID laws have absolutely nothing to do with the apparently no turnout in Monday's four federal byelections. First, it is completely unlikely that large numbers of voters knew about these new restrictions and thus abstained from voting. Knowledge sufficient to understand the restrictions would also be sufficient to understand what forms of ID could be used in their place. So it's difficult to believe that new restrictions were anything but a post hoc explanation for some people who stayed home. Second, while there are some stories of people being turned away at the polls, there was clearly not enough of this to drive the decline. If, say, 10% of voters in a riding where refused the right to vote you can be sure you'd have news stories with more definitive sentences than "He's (Charlie Angus) also heard of at least one student being turned away in Vancouver Quadra because of the residency identification rules."

Turnout was quite low in Saskatchewan. In fact, in the 41 byelections since 1990, only five had lower turnout. Then again, turnout in the same riding was six points below the national average in 2006, despite the race being extremely close. The likely culprit of this low turnout is rather obvious, I think: first, byelections never have high turnout because of a lack of attention and interest. Second, turnout is declining everywhere, so we should expect to see it declining in byelections as well. Combined, we should expect lower turnout in byelections going forward.

The bottom line: we certainly don't know that low turnout was the result of new voter identification rules. Making hay with Elections Canada over it is probably a little off the mark.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Thank you for smoking....

I just watched Thank You For Smoking (dissertation be damned) and then read this article on Barrack Obama's dirty habit. It's rather funny. And the movie is just great.

Thank you for smoking....

I just watched Thank You For Smoking (dissertation be damned) and then read this article on Barrack Obama's dirty habit. It's rather funny. And the movie is just great.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Rename Metro Lionel-Groulx Metro Oscar-Peterson

Agreed. And while we're at it perhaps we could rename my building at the UdeM which is also named after the anti-semite priest himself.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More Voter Turnout

There's a short CBC piece on my radio bit here, as well as audio here (for those of you wishing to hear the definition of stammering). I'll post the Herald editorial when it comes across the wire.

UPDATE: Here is the Herald piece. The piece references an experiment I conducted with Henry Milner and Bruce Hicks published first as a working paper by the IRPP and then as a research note in the CJPS.

Voter Turnout and the Alberta Election

I am doing a few short interviews on the CBC morning shows in Calgary and Edmonton tomorrow. The topic, as I understand it, is the record low turnout in the Alberta election last Monday. And, if I have my way, about why this really doesn't matter all that much for the legitimacy of the government. Tune in if you get the chance.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

After the long drive – Olympic Symphonium at Casa de Popolo

The boys from The Olympic Symphonium rolled into Montréal on Thursday night to play at Casa de Popolo. Road-weary and pensive, they put on a great set between Tyler Messick’s loud and layered pop and the whimsical and eclectic Share.

The Olympic Symphonium is a trio of prolific maritime players: Kyle Cunjak and Nick Cobham (both of whom also play in Share), and Graeme Walker (of Grand Theft Bus). More a project than a band, each member writes their own tunes and then arranges them with the other players. The visual effect is a game of musical chairs with players trading off instruments and lead vocal between each song, and the remaining two members offering up a mix of whistles, harmonies and backing parts. The sonic result is some cross between Bonnie Prince Billy, Calexico, and doo-wop, all at a whisper.

The OS played a mix of songs off their first album, songs off their upcoming album, and a great cover of “No More Workhorse Blues.” There can be little criticism of this trio’s musicianship. They play sparingly and thoughtfully, and the sound is a sum a little greater than its parts. They do not excite but they do calm and impress. I can’t say that the crowd was totally taken by the act. Their set instead seemed like something of a quiet interlude or respite. A break on the side of the road during a long frantic drive. But maybe that’s what they needed and we wanted.

(The great photo above is by Sarah Brideau. Check out her site for some great work.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Impala is a Very Popular Automobile: On the Misunderstood Pleasures of Canoeing

Below is a shortened version of an essay I wrote up after Sam, his father, and our friend Maskull paddled the lower Rupert River last summer. It's cross-posted at Cairo to the Cape.

Our plan was simple. Sam’s father, Dave, would fly in from Vancouver on Tuesday night. I would arrive in Ottawa the next morning. Dave, Maskull and I would spend the day collecting supplies, two canoes, and a rental car. We’d leave Ottawa the next morning for the Rupert River, 900 kilometres north, where we’d take four days to paddle to Rupert Bay and then drive home.

It is a rather delicate matter to rent a car when one intends to strap two canoes to its roof without a proper rack, drive far into Northern Quebec, and then leave the car unattended for four days. First, no car is ideally suited for this. Second, no car rental agency wants to give you a car upon which you are going to mount two canoes. We booked a Chevy Impala, an incredibly pedestrian but flat-roofed car ideal for two canoes. We resolved to say nothing of our intention to load canoes atop the car.

Our first problem was that the agency had no Impalas. Our second was that they did not understand why we were refusing an upgrade to a Grand Prix. Standing at the rental desk, Dave and I pondered over the available cars, compared their virtues in a whispered exchange, and then asked when an Impala might be back. Clearly befuddled by our insistence, the clerk offered up that “The Impala is a very popular automobile. I can understand why you would want it.” The screwed-up skin between her eyebrows suggested she did not understand a thing. Hers was not a look of incredulity but bewilderment. We took a Grand Prix.

All rigged up on the James Bay Highway.


The Rupert neither winds nor meanders. It runs a wide line 600 km from Lake Mistassini to Waskaganish, the old Fort Rupert on Rupert Bay, at the bottom of the James Bay. In low season, the river flows at 11,000 cubic feet per second. In high season, it flows at six times the rate and drains more than 40,000 square kilometres. It runs between high banks of scraggly spruce and pine. There is rarely a spot even to pull up a canoe, except those cleared by the Cree who travel this ancient highway.

The Rupert does not “flood its banks” or roar unceasingly down a canyon. Instead, it widens out into lakes for much of its length. The only crashing and running is through a series of narrow passes like the Oatmeal Rapids, a kilometre-long, spine-shattering collection of cascades. It alternates between slow water and probable death.

The bottom of the Oatmeal Rapids. Seen from the James Bay Highway.

The James Bay Highway crosses the river 225 kilometres north of Matagami, itself some 670 kilometres north of Ottawa. The journey begins in the bubbling water at the bottom of the Oatmeal Rapids, where the water spills into a bay and then takes a right turn towards White Beaver Rapids. It is just one hundred kilometres from here to the Bay, but one must still portage seven sets of rapids through muddy trails, alder stands, muskeg, and a moose pond. Or, one has to choose a line, steel nerves and spine, and then shoot the white water. We would do both, at great cost and joy.


Our first morning was glorious and cold. We put on extra layers, boiled water for oatmeal and coffee, discussed the day’s challenge and looked over maps. We set out and soon met near disaster.

Landing at the top of the first of the White Beaver rapids, we could not find a portage. Instead, we lugged canoes and gear through thick bush, taking more than an hour to travel less than a quarter mile. We dreaded the mile-long portages ahead, picturing them as day-long fights through the thicket.

Perhaps it was the difficulty of this first portage that compelled Dave and Maskull to run the second set of rapids. As Sam and I landed at the rapids’ head, they shot them. We soon saw a canoe overturned and pinned in a fall. Maskull and Dave stood astride their canoe in the running water. They were, somehow, holding their bags and keeping the canoe from folding over the rock.

The canoe was eventually freed; Maskull and Dave paddled a kinked canoe downstream in search of our food barrel. We were on the first day of a four-day trip, and we’d lost all of our fruit, our food barrel, our hatchet, and a few other sundries.

Sam and I warped our canoe through a rock garden around the rapids. When we met Dave and Maskull at the bottom they’d found the barrel in a bay at the bottom of the rapids. We all changed into the only dry clothes we had left, quickly ate something, and then set out. We still had to go some ninety kilometres to Waskaganish.

Camp in the morning


It is not true that the rest of the trip was easy. To the contrary, it involved terribly long portages over some tough ground. On the second day, having left the Cat Rapids late afternoon after a difficult portage, we could not find a camping spot until the Bear Rapids, eventually setting up camp in long grass on a landing in the dark. Where we had contemplated luck and the stars the night before, camped on island in the bay between the second and third of the Fours, on this night we would collapse immediately after dinner. We took no joy in the sound of the waterfall ahead or in the accomplishment of paddling thirty kilometres and portaging five.

The next morning we paddled swiftly to Plum Pudding rapids, two sets of long white water. You avoid the first set by paddling a two-kilometre long braid on the south side of the river. After a short portage, you arrive at the water between the two sets. With some courage and short memory, we chose to shoot the second set. This was our greatest triumph. For two minutes we were voyageurs.

Shooting the Second Set of Plum Pudding

Fifteen kilometres later we arrived at Smoky Hill rapids. The portage counts out more than 5000 paces. It was the most difficult and rewarding portage of the trip. Just thirty kilometres from the Bay, the Cree still use nets to catch white fish at landing the bottom of the Smoky Hill rapids, as they have for five hundred years or more. The also use the landing as a recreation area. We had our greatest night here, finishing our last bottle of wine and eating a terribly good chilli. The locals who watched me swim in the rapids from across the river were the first people we had seen in three days.

The next morning was our last on the river and we took our time. As the river approaches the Bay it widens out and braids around a number of reed islands. We ate in our boats, passing around the last of our bagels and sausage. The water here is not quite brackish, but the change in the landscape must be a result of the ebb and flow of the ocean from Rupert Bay. We had just three sets of rapids - all steep, shallow and rocky – to the bay. We ran them all and then paddled onto Waskaganish.

The camp at Smoky Hill Rapids


Formerly Rupert House or Fort Rupert, Waskaganish lies half-way up Rupert Bay, which itself lies at the bottom of James Bay. It was the first fur trading post and store for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Rupert provided a logical route inland to Quebec, a territory hostile to the HBC in its early days. The town was indeed captured by the French at the end of the 17th century and would not return to the Company’s control until 1776. As the Rupert is a great river soon to be dammed, we thought it would be full of paddlers; we were but the fourth group to travel to Waskaganish that summer.

Waskaganish is the third Cree town that Sam and I have visited, and certainly the most vibrant. This vibrancy and activity had a certain irony about it. When we visited Nemaska a summer before – arriving in the dark on our motorcycles and leaving early the next morning – the town seemed dead. The entire town was celebrating a wedding on a sandy point at the other side of the town, so we only met those who stopped by our campsite to visit.

By contrast, Waskaganish seemed full of people, most of them shuffling towards the lodge overlooking the river. But this was on account of death. When soon learned that the previous Friday two teenagers had drowned on a boat trip from Moosenee. At the same time we landed in Waskaganish, Cree were traveling from the other villages and camps for the funeral.

Maskull and I had volunteered to hitchhike back to the highway to get the car. Under these circumstances we were glad to take our leave. Sam and Dave stayed behind to pack our gear and mill about.

When we returned, we decided we would drive back through the night to Ottawa. With the sun coming up along Route 117 and Chelsea seeming like the calmest place on earth, we returned entirely fatigued and satisfied. We were soon to take our individual departures after dividing up the river maps and sorting out gear.

Arriving in Waskaganish


It was not long before I returned to my routine in Montreal. It was the same for Dave, Sam, and Maskull, I think. We exchanged emails in the days that followed, sent around pictures, and tried to put to words the joy of the outdoors and the pleasure of this trip.

I would spend the next weeks trying to explain this joy and pleasure to anyone who asked about our trip. How I relished loading up two bags and a barrel and heading into the bush. How I wanted to run more white water. Even how I relished the well-earned cuts and bruises, and how I felt as though I lived more in the five minutes after Maskull and Dave’s dump then I did in a year of academic work and travel.

I think most asked to be polite, but at least some friends and colleagues asked because they wanted to understand this desire to return, to spend one more night sleeping outside, and to run Plum Pudding one more time. I do not think I could ever explain it fully, in a way that could unknot the skin between their eyes. Canoeing is indeed a very popular sport, and the Impala is indeed a very popular automobile.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

With apologies to Will Paterson...

I note that Mount A is featured in this story and York is just filler. May it always be so.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Spread the Net

We've announced over at cairotothecape that we'll be supporting Spread the Net on our trip. Please click through to learn about the cause and to donate if you are so inclined.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cairo to the Cape

For those of you who don't know (hello three readers!), I am riding my motorcycle from Cairo to Cape Town this summer with my friend Sam. We have a site for the trip up here. Please visit often. It will likely get more action than this page in the coming months.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Prediction

Hillary Clinton will win no more than 5 more primaries between now and the nominating convention.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Spector contra the RCMP

Wow. Norman Spector is throwing some serious bombs at the RCMP. This guy does not mess around.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Charles in Charts

Charles Franklin has some great graphs for Super Tuesday at It's always fun (for guys like me) to think about how we can show data in an concise and accurate way, and especially in a manner which easily imparts a lot of information. Now, Franklin's charts have not quite reached the status of this, but they are still pretty awesome. Check out the page above and the associated work at Pollster. It's a great website.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

On Fundraising

Elections Canada has just released fourth-quarter financial returns for national political parties. The Conservatives have again outstripped the Liberal Party. The Cons raised just under $5 million from 44,000 contributors. This is an average contribution of something like $110. The Liberals, by contrast, raised just under $2 million from about 14,000 Canadians for an average contribution of $143.

The Conservative fundraising machine is still far superior to the Liberal's; they continue to raise more money in smaller donations. These small donations are the key to success in the post-C-24 world. As donors are quite limited in total annual giving, parties who can raise small amounts of money from regular donors are better off. They can return to these donors when in need rather than having to find altogether new donors. So, the Conservatives appear to maintain the advantage, both in total donations and in the average size of donations.

I should note, however, that it is not all bad for the Liberals. Indeed, comparing this quarter's returns with the previous three quarters suggests that they are getting their act together. In the first quarter of last year the party raised just half a million dollars. They increased that to $1.2 million in the second quarter but it dipped down to just $800,000 in the third quarter. So, their fourth quarter was a big improvement. As importantly, they are increasing the number of donors, from just 4300 in the first quarter to 13,618 this quarter. While they average donation per donor is going up (up 17% from Q1) the number of donations is going up faster (up 311% from Q1). This is the key figure and those slogging away in party headquarters should take some real pride in it.

The Liberal Party still has a long way to go in matching the fundraising capabilities of the Conservatives; an ability which is a result not of wealthy donors but an ability to engage partisans. But they are on the right path. Which is all the more reason for Harper to go to the polls soon.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Altruism and Partisanship

For those who are interested, I've been working up a nice little paper on altruism and support for greater public spending (it is the last of my dissertation papers). The data are drawn from a poll of a few thousand people I was involved with last spring. And the measure of altruism is rather unconventional for a survey. Rather than ask individuals about whether they engage in altruistic acts or have an altruistic orientation, we observe their altruism. Specifically, we gave subjects some sum of expected money and then measured how they share it with an anonymous individual (in behavioural economics parlance this is the dictator game). A couple of results are of note, even though the paper is not ready. First, those who are altruistic are more likely to support greater public spending on public and semi-public goods, even when they are made aware that it comes at a cost to themselves in terms of higher taxes. This goes someway in confirming earlier findings which rely on stated rather than revealed altruism. And it goes some way in confronting the argument that people support public spending because they are self-interested and they want to benefit from programs at the cost of others. Second, and this is the more general finding I wanted to flag, I can find no relationship between partisanship and altruism. Tories, Liberals, and Dippers are, on average, equal in their altruism. What is interesting, though, is that their partisanship still matters for public spending, with Libs and Dips supporting greater public spending and Conservative identifiers supporting less. It's a bit of a puzzle I hope to resolve in the next couple of weeks. As always, thoughts are welcome.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Brad Davis

Brad Davis has died, far too young.

A bright young lawyer, Brad worked as a volunteer on Michael Ignatieff's run for Etobicoke-Lakeshore and then became his director of policy on his leadership campaign. He then followed Ignatieff back to Ottawa before returning to Toronto and the practice of law. It was during Iggy's leadership campaign there that I came to know him. He coyly roped me into writing a memo on equalization (which soon led to a lot more memos). He was remarkably smart and a did a remarkable job marshalling together information and turning it into daring policy.

There is no shortage of words to describe Brad: hard-working, focussed, funny, witty, sarcastic, biting, incisive, determined, stubborn, brilliant. I give you everyone in the most complimentary sense. More importantly, Brad was a father who leaves behind a family. So say a prayer for them and for him, and then go out and do something good and that you believe in.

UPDATE: Jane Taber has a succinct and touching obituary on Brad here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Kenyan Killings Planned?

This is a terribly sad and worrying article.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Time to strip Guergis of her cabinet post

I am with Dion on this one. Helena Guergis should be made to resign for revealing that Dion and Ignatieff were to visit a provincial reconstruction team while during their visit in Afghanistan. Leave aside Guergis' uncivil claim that it was somehow ironic they were visiting the soliders they apparently don't support. And leave aside too her claim that she doesn't know why it took them so long to go. (Answer: because her department set that as the date for them). And leave aside the assertation that this revelation endangered the lives of Dion and Ignatieff. All of that is rather irrelevant as soon as you consider that Guergis revealed top secret information. This is highly contrary to her obligations as a minister. It also reveals a surprising lack of judgement or seriousness.

If Bob Coates was made to resign for potentially exposing NATO secrets to strippers, then Helena Guergis should be made to resign for actually revealing top secret information to that salivating press corp in Ottawa. And shame on them for even publishing the stuff...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

No Torture, No Vote

From the blog of my friend Jim Johnson, I read that the National Review is withholding its endorsement from John McCain. Now, this is not only because he supports the reasonable accommodation of millions of hardworking and taxpaying residents of the US. And it's not only because he opposes tax cuts during war time. No, it's also because he does not support the US waterboarding prisoners.

For those of you who don't know, every reasonable person in the world thinks that waterboarding is a form of torture. Also for those who don't know, the National Review Online is ridiculous and unworthy of your readership. Find it for yourself, if you like.

Sir Edmund Hillary, 88

Sir Edmund Hillary has died. Shed a tear or go climb something high humbly.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

On Cynics

I think I would be better at the cynic schtick if I could do it half as well as Dan. The evidence herein.