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.