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Beyond 2011: Canada In Afghanistan

In October, Emily Paddon and I wrapped up our DFAIT project on integrated peacebuilding (or 3D/Whole of Govn’t) in Afghanistan, with a forum at the Liu Institute in Vancouver. The idea was to bring together some of Canada’s leading voices on Afghanistan, both in person and via video conference, to discuss our role in the country following the 2011 parliamentary mandated pull out date.

Opeds and video presentations from each of the participants are being hosted on an Afghanistan Topics page at The Mark News.

Participants included:
Chris Alexander (former Cnd Ambassador and Deputy Special Representatives of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan)
Ellisa Goldberg (former ROCK, Canada’s top civilian official in Kandahar)
Graham Fuller (former vice-chairman of the CIA National Intelligence Council and CIA Station Chief in Kabul)
Janice Stein (Director of the Munk Center for International Studies)
Graeme Smith (Globe and Mail)
Gordon Smith (Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to NATO)
Michael Petrou (Maclean’s Magazine)
Mark Sedra (Senior Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation)
Robert Muggah (Research Director, The Small Arms Survey)
Lauryn Oates (Professional human rights advocate, women’s rights in Afghanistan)
Mirwais Nahzat (Sauvé Scholar examining Canada’s development policy towards Afghanistan)

Intro Remarks: Beyond 2011?
Emily Paddon and Taylor Owen

In Kabul, Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, and Amsterdam, the debate over NATO’s role in Afghanistan is building. President Obama is not only considering the possibility of General McChrystal’s recommended troop surge and tactical shift towards far greater civilian protection, but more importantly, he is reconsidering the broader strategic objectives of the mission. Is the goal to protect America from a resurgent al-Qaeda, to build an Afghan state that can hold the Taliban at bay, or to reconfigure both Afghanistan and Pakistan? The answer will drive his decision in the coming weeks. As the president deliberates, the U.S. media and public are increasingly engaged.

In Canada, while there is a similar conversation occurring behind the closed doors of government – our mandarins must decide what we will do after the 2011 deadline set by parliament in March 2008 – there has been an astonishing silence in the public domain. What should Canada be doing in Afghanistan post-2011?

The government of Canada has skirted this issue in public with various opaque statements by the prime minister, the minister of Defence and other members of the Conservative cabinet. They have confirmed our withdrawal but have given hardly any indication as to what this will look like, whether a military presence will remain to carry out the development and training tasks they assert will continue or whether the U.S. will fill the void. Meanwhile Lt. General Andrew Leslie, the head of the Canadian army, has stated that they “currently do not have any plans, or even any line diagrams on a blank sheet of paper for post-2011.”

Motivated by the belief that decisions need to be taken long before 2011, that we can’t just up and pull out – that there are substantial strategic, ethical, and financial considerations – last week we convened a roundtable at the University of British Columbia in order to discuss these critical issues. We started with our own “blank sheet” and to fill it in, several seasoned Canadian experts who have lived and breathed Afghanistan over the last eight years, including Gordon Smith, Chris Alexander, and Graeme Smith. We posed a series of guiding questions that we hoped would incite debate. They were as follows:

1) Public support for the Afghan mission stands at 37 per cent in Canada and roughly half of Canadians are in support of a civilian mission post-2011. How are domestic politics likely to influence the shape of Canada’s involvement? And what influence should they have?

2) The Canadian government has committed itself to a set of tasks for the benefit of the Afghan people. At the same time, the fighting has killed 131 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat. The war has cost between $11-12 billion. What responsibilities and obligations have we incurred? To the Afghan people? To NATO and the UN? To Canadians?

3) The Government has been unclear as to whether a contingent of Canadian forces will remain to protect delivery of assistance, or whether the ensuing void post-withdrawal will be covered by our U.S. and NATO allies. Moreover, does the withdrawal of a “mere” 2800 Canadians, compared with the U.S. 80,000, really mean a “gap”? What would assistance look like without military support? Can we “do” development without the military? What are the implications of a withdrawal for NATO and U.S. relations?

4) What are the options for our involvement? What are the costs and benefits of different options? What are the standards of evaluation? What is desirable? What is doable? How do we avoid what Gen. Hillier recently called “pie in the sky” ideas about Afghanistan? How do we avoid such ideas and ensure success in whatever it is that we commit ourselves to post-2011.

It is a tall order, we know, but we hope that this web forum, based on last week’s roundtable meeting, will be, at the very least, the start of a much needed discussion on these important issues.

All of the Opeds and Videos from the Workshop are available here

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Housekeeping

Apologies for the total negligence of this site – has been an unbelievably hectic fall. A site re-design is in the works, and I’m going to start writing here regularly again as soon as the new digs are live.

In the interim, I’ve gotten into this twitter thing. Posts, following, etc, can be found here.

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Government’s Newspeak

The oped below, written with Adrian Bradbury was in The Mark a few weeks ago:

Government’s Newspeak

It is a curious feeling to wake up one morning and have the focus of your career banished from your government’s vernacular. But this is what recently happened to both of us.

An internal DFAIT email was leaked this summer which outlined a series of shifts in the language of Canadian foreign policy. These changes were politically directed, coming from Foreign Affairs Minister Cannon’s office.

The terms “gender equality,” “child soldiers,” “international humanitarian law,” “good governance,” “human security,” “public diplomacy” and “The Responsibility to Protect” have been blacklisted from government parlance.

While already limited to an unprecedented degree on what they are allowed to say in public, Canada’s civil servants and diplomats are now banned from using certain words.

We, respectively, work on the concept of human security and on issues surrounding international humanitarian law and child soldiers in northern Uganda. These terms were once championed by Canada, are in wide use around the world, and represent a wide range of international norms and precedent. Make no mistake, these semantic changes represent fundamental shifts to Canadian foreign policy. Each of the banned or altered terms carry with it significant policy implications, most related to the international human rights agenda.

For example, when speaking of the war in the DRC, where upwards of 3 million people have been killed, and rape is widely used as a tool of war, the terms “impunity” and “justice” can no longer be used when calling for an end to, and punishment for, sexual violence.

The shift from the term International Humanitarian Law (IHL) to simply International Law, not only blurs two entirely different concepts, but abandons the legal mechanisms developed to protect the rights of civilians, women, and children, aid workers, and prisoners of war, rather than states, in armed conflict. IHL also underlies the International Criminal Court, which Canada was instrumental in founding. Are we abandoning the ICC as well?

Expunging the term “gender equality” and replacing it with the term “equality of men and women,” while on the surface semantic, marks a departure from language that Canada fought hard to be included in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and which has since become part of the human rights language.

Finally, banning the terms Human Security and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) are perhaps the clearest indication that these linguistic shifts are politically motivated, as both were signature foreign policy initiatives of past Liberal governments. The concept of human security focuses international attention on issues that may not threaten states, but that do harm large numbers of individuals – such as landmines. The concept of the R2P argues that governments have the obligation to protect their citizens from mass atrocities and to not commit genocide. Radical ideas indeed.

It is of course entirely appropriate for the current government to define Canada’s foreign policy. However, particularly in a minority parliament, the discussion should be had openly and in the public.

Indeed, last month’s UN summit would have been the ideal place from the Prime Minister to announce his bold new agenda to the world.

Had he attended the summit, he would have heard unabashed reference to many of the ideas he had just banished. There, he could have rebuked UN member states for adopting the international principles Canada was so instrumental in developing.

He could have done so on the very day, at the very podium, where President Obama gave the most forceful defence of the UN by a U.S. president since Truman.

On the other hand, perhaps these changes are not anything to brag about.

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Background on Missing the Link

Two years ago the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) hosted a panel (audio available here) with Steven Rattner, Jim Brady, Amanda Bennett, Jill Abramson, and Robert Kuttner (with Nicholas Lemann moderating). The purpose was to discuss an article the CJR had commissioned Robert Kuttner to write on the future of print media where he essentially argued that the then status quo of print-digital hybrids would ensure newspapers’ survival.

The CJR, interested in the perspective of bloggers, invited me to attend. Dave and I ended up collaborating and wrote Missing the Link: Why Old Media Doesn’t get the Internet.

Ultimately we ended up writing a much longer piece, one that was critical of Kuttner and the print-hybrid model. In addition to the CJR we got a couple of sniffs from some other print journals/magazines (Wired for example) but they eventually could not get it published.

Ironically, we were more concerned with getting published (in print or digitally) than simply releasing it on our blogs. Part of this had to do with the piece’s length, but, if we are really honest with ourselves, we got trapped in an institutional mindset and began thinking like priests, not entrepreneurs. Eventually we got busy with other exciting projects and forgot about it (except for this op-ed we wrote in the toronto star).

Two years later the piece could do with some updating but sadly it is just as salient, if not more so, today as it was then. So we are pulling it out of the C drive and sharing it. Better late than never.

Of course, we aren’t devoid of our desire for a better channel. If anyone out there (Slate? Huffington Post?) finds the piece interesting and knows a home for it – print or digital – we would be happy to update it. Mostly, we just want it read.

Here again is a link to the full version of Missing the Link: Why Old Media Still Doesn’t Get the Internet.

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Newspapers’ decline is a sign of democracy, not a symptom of its death

Two years ago Dave and I wrote a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review (which they opted not to publish) critical of Kuttner and the CJR’s faith in the print-hybrid model for media.

After having it sit on our hard drives all this time we are putting it up for download (back story on my next post). It is, sadly, more or less as relevant today as it was when we wrote it.

Here is a link to the full version of Missing the Link: Why Old Media Still Doesn’t Get the Internet.

And here’s one of our favourite passages:

Newspapers’ decline is a sign of democracy, not a symptom of its death

A recent Columbia Journalism School panel on the future of the newspaper industry ended with a solemn and bold pronouncement: “If print newspapers disappear, it will be a fundamental threat to our democracy.”

Such statements made many of New Media participants roll their eyes—and for good reason. Are newspapers really a precondition for democracy?

This type of irrational hyperbole discredits traditional media’s claim to rational objectivity. Newspapers are not a precondition for democracy—free speech is. This is why the constitution protects the latter and not the former. It is also what makes the internet important—it provides a powerful new medium through which free speech can be transmitted. As we argued earlier, the internet offers its own democratic way of filtering content, allowing what people think is important, relevant and interesting to be aggregated and heard. It may be messy and far from perfect, but then, so is democracy.

Newspapers, in contrast, are many things, but they are not democratic. They are hierarchical authoritarian structures designed to control and shape information. This is not to say they don’t provide a societal benefit—their content contributes to the public discourse. However, how is having a few major media outlets deciding “what is news” democratic, or even good for democracy? The newspaper model isn’t about expanding free speech; it is about limiting it to force readers to listen to what the editor prescribes. When is the last time you had an opinion piece or letter published in a newspaper? There are many more voices in America that deserve to be heard aside from Ivy League educated editors and journalists.

The “necessary for democracy” argument also assumes that readers are less civically engaged if they digest their news online. How absurd. Gen Y is likely far more knowledgeable about their world than Boomers were. The problem is that Boomers appeared more knowledgeable to one another because they all knew the same things. The limited array of media meant people were generally civically minded about the same things and evaluated one another based on how much of the same media they’d seen. The diversity available in today’s media—facilitated greatly by the internet—means it is hard to evaluate someone’s civic mindedness because they may be deeply knowledgeable and engaged in a set of issues you are completely unfamiliar with. Diversity of content and access to it, made possible by the internet, has strengthened our civic engagement.

Far from a prerequisite, traditional media is to democracy what commercial banks are to capitalism. Are banks necessary for capitalism? No. Have they sped up its growth and made it more effective? Definitely. But could some better model emerge that performs their functions more effectively? Absolutely. Much like claiming “you’ll never get by without me” rarely reignites a relationship, fear mongering and threatening your customers won’t bring readers back. This approach merely demonstrates how scared old media has become of its readers, their free speech, and the type of democracy they want to build.

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Rattle and Hum

Last summer I went on a fascinating trip to the Kurdish Region of northern Iraq. I have been fairly derelict in writing about it. Not due to lack of things to say though, as the “other Iraq” (as Kurds so want it to be called), is a fascinating part of the world that will undoubtedly remain at the center of great political turmoil in the coming decade. I will try to write more about the trip over the holidays, but below is a short piece in the Walrus that my close friend Emily Paddon and I wrote about our truly wild last night in Erbil:

Rattle and Hum

ERBIL — It is the eighth day of our sponsored junket of “The Other Iraq” (a.k.a. Kurdistan), during which we have ridden the roller coasters at a new mountaintop theme park, been paraded through tony shopping malls, and met with the region’s political, media, and academic leaders. Dusk finds us in the Kurdish capital, exploring an 8,000-year-old citadel where Alexander the Great is said to have once clashed with the Persians, when our cellphone rings. “Would you like to come over for a European drinking party?” a familiar voice asks. It is Zakaria, the Kurdish rock star–cum–nation builder to whom we were introduced days ago. Our flight to Jordan departs at 3 a.m. from the modernized Erbil International Airport, but we can’t resist. “Bring your bags,” the voice commands.

No stranger to late-night escapes, Zakaria snuck out of his family home in a less prosperous Erbil at 4 a.m. fifteen or so years ago. Fleeing persecution under Saddam Hussein, the teenage piano prodigy made his way to Sweden, where he scraped by as a backup singer in local bands. Eventually, he started writing his own music, a blend of traditional Kurdish marching rhythms and pop genres that became anthemic to Kurds around the world.

He returned to the Kurdistan Region after the fall of Baghdad in 2003 with big plans to help rebuild his homeland. Many Iraqi Kurds, along with brothers in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, grew up dreaming of a sovereign state, but their nationalist ambitions have been somewhat tempered by Kurds’ rising fortune in post-Saddam Iraq. They now control much of Iraq’s oil (if you include the contested Kirkuk region) and are friendly toward the United States. Iraq’s president and foreign minister, both Kurds, ensure that Kurdish concerns are on the national agenda.

Zakaria, who arrived on the scene with plenty of investment capital, has been party to this progress. He swiftly rose to the upper echelons of the establishment, befriending the Barzanis, Kurdistan’s ruling family, and brought international visibility to the cause. It’s rumoured that when George W. Bush visited Iraq, he met with Zakaria, who has become the primary symbol of Kurdish nationalism. As one native explained, “Imagine if you were Irish, and Bono was the Pope.”

We are soon whisked off in a convoy of four white SUVs without licence plates to meet Zakaria at Naz City, a luxury complex he built with help from the Barzanis, on the edge of Erbil, to lure members of the wealthy and educated Kurdish diaspora back home. The development consists of seven high-rise apartment buildings, an underground garage with 1,100 parking spots, an outdoor gym, two tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a twenty-four-hour security system Zakaria claims to have designed himself.

A couple of guards usher our cars from the darkness of the countryside into the electrified compound through pastel peach–coloured gates. While Naz is said to be 80 percent full — housing seven ministers, 112 members of parliament, and fifty-six university professors — we don’t see a soul until we are greeted by Zakaria’s manager at the entrance to one of the high-rises.

He informs us that the evening’s festivities will take place in the building’s model penthouse. We are given a perfunctory buyer’s tour: master bedroom with mountain view, “children’s office,” and a cavernous living room with black pleather couches lining the walls. “Did you expect to see anything like this in Iraq?” he asks hopefully. It is a question we’ve been asked continually during our time in Kurdistan, and, once again, we affirm that we did not.

Zakaria is late. We sit silently on one of the couches and stare at the steaming Kurdish barbecue prepared by his mother. When the star finally arrives, he offers us drinks from a bar stocked with Black Label, Champagne, and Chablis, and calls for his humidor. Cocky but cool, he tells us he is going to build a “medical city” adjacent to Naz, and similar compounds in the Kurdish cities of Sulemania and Dohuk. He says he’s also financing large-scale construction projects in Baghdad. If the Kurds and Arabs are ever to get along, he explains, someone needs to start building bridges.

We lose track of him when he heads off to mingle to the tune of his last album with other guests who’ve been trickling in. There’s the head of security for Erbil, the president of the Kurdistan Student Union (a breeding ground for political fervour), and a high-ranking member of the Kurdish Democratic Party — not to mention the heavily armed, Peshmerga-trained bodyguards who have protected Zakaria night and day ever since Kurdish forces discovered a death list during a raid on an Islamic terrorist group; Zakaria was listed fourth.

Near midnight, the bodyguards gather and lock arms, circling the room in a traditional Kurdish dance. Zakaria, perched on the bar, Cohiba in mouth, bellows his own name. “Zakaria!” his men holler back. He raises his hands in triumph and cries out again. Unlike Zakaria, the guards haven’t been drinking, but they are nevertheless whipped into a frenzy, kicking higher and shouting louder. The call-and-response escalates until the din surely echoes through the compound.

As our departure time approaches, we are forced into the fray to make inquiries; we need a ride to the airport. But Zakaria wants his European drinking party to continue. He pulls a cellphone from the pocket of his Italian suit and spouts a stream of Kurdish before turning back to us. “Don’t look so worried,” he says with a sly smile. “I’m holding your plane.”

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Piece in Prospect Magazine

Yesterday, a friend at Prospect Magazine asked for a run down of what was happening in Canadian politics, and in particular, how Ignatieff, the magazine’s intellectual zeitgeist, was suddenly leader of the Liberal Party. Below is what they posted:

One Step Closer to an Obama-Ignatieff Continent

Somewhere, Samantha Power is smiling. Yesterday, while she was working on Obama’s State Department transition, her predecessor as the head of Harvard University’s Carr Centre for Human Rights (now run by adventurer-cum-Prospect-writer Rory Stewart), and fellow journalist-turned-academic, clinched the nomination for the Liberal Party of Canada.

Michael Ignatieff’s victory comes at a time of great turmoil in Canadian politics. Despite huge enthusiasm for Obama—over 70 per cent of Canadians supported him—the country oddly re-elected a prime minister, Stephen Harper, who in temperament, ideology and style is Obama’s antithesis. But Harper might have reason to take pause; having dismissed the coming recession during the election, he is now faced with holding together a minority government facing a crashing economy and a volatile political mess. And so enters Michael Ignatieff. But it wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

Instead of a hoped-for delegated convention win next May, Ignatieff yesterday was acclaimed leader amidst a rather unlikely flurry of parliamentary drama. On November 27th, a mere six weeks after the election and to fierce criticism, finance minister Jim Flaherty released an unwise economic statement—one which played politics in lieu of addressing the country’s economic woes.

In particular, he announced plans to cancel public party financing. In so doing he created a unity of protest that the Canadian left itself rarely manages, driving the leftist NDP, the Separatist Bloc Quebecois and the centrist Liberals into each others’ arms. They formed a coalition, under the leadership of the lame duck Liberal party leader, Stephane Dion. Their plan was to bring down the government.

Having grossly underestimated the opposition reaction, Prime Minister Harper was forced to ask the Governor General (an unelected figure, appointed by Queen Elizabeth) for a short term reprieve in the form of an archaic “prorogation” of Parliament. With this granted, and faced with a budget vote and potential election in January, the Liberal party decided its leisurely six month leadership election might usefully be slightly sped up. Indeed, they broke into something of a sweat.

This was all good news for Iganiteff. The author and writer had the edge in every measure of support, from caucus to party brass to general membership. His two competitors—the much younger Dominique Leblanc and his old college roommate and ex premier on Ontario, Bob Rae—saw the writing on the wall, and gracefully stepped aside.

Which brings us back to Samantha Power. At around the same time she began working in Obama’s Senate office, Ignatieff was making his first moves into Canadian politics. Both seemed drawn to politics, after years of writing and talking about it. After a rousing and flirtatious speech to the 2005 liberal party convention, Ignatieff then returned formally to run in 2006, expecting to sit as an MP in Paul Martin’s government, and maybe get a chance at leadership. But the Liberals lost that election, and he was thrown into a leadership race far sooner than expected.

It was during this leadership race that I became personally involved, as part of a policy team of Canadians around the world. (I’m currently doing a PhD at Oxford). We mucked in policy discussions during the campaign, and were a part of something that was quite unique to Canadian politics—genuine excitement, at the prospect of a different kind of politics. That’ll teach us. Ignatieff lost on the last ballot.

After a troubled tenure as leader, and a disappointing loss to Harper this November, liberal leader Dion agreed to step down, and called a leadership race. Ignatieff was the immediate front-runner. Our team reformed, far bigger now. The race was meant to end at a delegated convention in May. But, then, events intervened.

Ignatieff can be the first transformational Canadian leader in a generation. He is an intellect, internationally respected and, perhaps most importantly, he has a sophisticated and articulate knowledge of, and belief in, liberalism. What’s more, he is emerging politically along-side a US administration with which he shares ties and ideological and policy sensibilities. Both his and Power’s long play from academia to politics seem to have proved successful.

When Ignatieff first ran for Canadian politics, his critics dismissed him as an arriviste outsider, prone to stumbles and missteps: Iggy the egghead. Better head back to your Harvard seminars and your London dinner parties, they said. At the time Michael was quoted as saying that he was “less naive than I appear.” So it would seem.

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New articles

On the somewhat more academic front, I have a few new articles out.

On Afghanistan, Patrick Travers and I have an article in the International Journal called Between Metaphor and Strategy: Canada’s Integrated Approach to Peacebuilding. It looks at some of the pretty challenging shifts that are underway in the Canadian mission, and what they might mean for the evolving practice of peacebuilding more broadly. It is the first paper in what will be a larger project over the next year.

On human security, I have a response to a piece by David Chandler in Security Dialogue called The Critique That Doesn’t Bite: A Response to David Chandler’s ‘Human Security: The Dog That Didn’t Bark.’ Chandler is a critical scholar who aggressively challenges two recent books on human security. I gently nudge back.

Still on human security, a book chapter, The Uncertain Future of Human Security in the UN, is a preliminary look at the history and future of the UN’s use of the concept, and another, Measuring Human Security: Methodological Challenges and the Importance of Geographically Referenced Determinants, summarizes some previous work on measuring human security and discusses the utility of a GIS based methodology.

Finally, Aldo Benini and I have a second piece on modeling local violence in Cambodia, A Semi-Parametric Spatial Regression Approach to Post-War Human Security: Cambodia, 2002–2004, in which we use the large sub-national database that I have compiled while doing research there over the years. It is the first time we have been able to work in indicators using the bombing data, which I hope to do more of.

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Cri de coeur

Giles Coren’s letter to the Times’ copy editors, sent to and published in the Guardian:

Chaps,

I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda and Ben because I don’t know who i am supposed to be pissed off with (i’m assuming owen, but i filed to amanda and ben so it’s only fair), and also to Tony, who wasn’t here – if he had been I’m guessing it wouldn’t have happened.

I don’t really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn’t going to happen anymore, so I’m really hoping it wasn’t you that fucked up my review on saturday.

It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend.

I wrote: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh.”

It appeared as: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh.”

There is no length issue. This is someone thinking “I’ll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and i know best”.

Well, you fucking don’t.

This was shit, shit sub-editing for three reasons.

1) ‘Nosh’, as I’m sure you fluent Yiddish speakers know, is a noun formed from a bastardisation of the German ‘naschen’. It is a verb, and can be construed into two distinct nouns. One, ‘nosh’, means simply ‘food’. You have decided that this is what i meant and removed the ‘a’. I am insulted enough that you think you have a better ear for English than me. But a better ear for Yiddish? I doubt it. Because the other noun, ‘nosh’ means “a session of eating” – in this sense you might think of its dual valency as being similar to that of ‘scoff’. you can go for a scoff. or you can buy some scoff. the sentence you left me with is shit, and is not what i meant. Why would you change a sentnece aso that it meant something i didn’t mean? I don’t know, but you risk doing it every time you change something. And the way you avoid this kind of fuck up is by not changing a word of my copy without asking me, okay? it’s easy. Not. A. Word. Ever.

2) I will now explain why your error is even more shit than it looks. You see, i was making a joke. I do that sometimes. I have set up the street as “sexually-charged”. I have described the shenanigans across the road at G.A.Y.. I have used the word ‘gaily’ as a gentle nudge. And “looking for a nosh” has a secondary meaning of looking for a blowjob. Not specifically gay, for this is soho, and there are plenty of girls there who take money for noshing boys. “looking for nosh” does not have that ambiguity. the joke is gone. I only wrote that sodding paragraph to make that joke. And you’ve fucking stripped it out like a pissed Irish plasterer restoring a renaissance fresco and thinking jesus looks shit with a bear so plastering over it. You might as well have removed the whole paragraph. I mean, fucking christ, don’t you read the copy?

3) And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittest of all, you have removed the unstressed ‘a’ so that the stress that should have fallen on “nosh” is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you’re winding up a piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can’t you hear? Can’t you hear that it is wrong? It’s not fucking rocket science. It’s fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and i have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck.

I am sorry if this looks petty (last time i mailed a Times sub about the change of a single word i got in all sorts of trouble) but i care deeply about my work and i hate to have it fucked up by shit subbing. I have been away, you’ve been subbing joe and hugo and maybe they just file and fuck off and think “hey ho, it’s tomorrow’s fish and chips” – well, not me. I woke up at three in the morning on sunday and fucking lay there, furious, for two hours. weird, maybe. but that’s how it is.

It strips me of all confidence in writing for the magazine. No exaggeration. i’ve got a review to write this morning and i really don’t feel like doing it, for fear that some nuance is going to be removed from the final line, the pay-off, and i’m going to have another weekend ruined for me.

I’ve been writing for The Times for 15 years and i have never asked this before – i have never asked it of anyone i have written for – but I must insist, from now on, that i am sent a proof of every review i do, in pdf format, so i can check it for fuck-ups. and i must be sent it in good time in case changes are needed. It is the only way i can carry on in the job.

And, just out of interest, I’d like whoever made that change to email me and tell me why. Tell me the exact reasoning which led you to remove that word from my copy.

Right,
Sorry to go on. Anger, real steaming fucking anger can make a man verbose.
All the best
Giles

h/t David Akin

Cdn Politics, Uncategorized

Brad Davis

There have been many wonderful things said about Brad in the days since his tragic death. From my limited perspective, all are understated, even in their deepest praise. I wouldn’t have presumed to add anything. But at the Ignatieff group drinks after his funeral yesterday, so many of the feelings that I have had about Brad’s illness and death came rushing back. In part, because it was a reunion of many of the people that Brad brought together over the past couple of years. This aspect of what he was to a number of us, a hub of a network, someone who literally created a group of friends and colleagues, has perhaps not been fully emphasized.

This is partly because it is not widely known. In fact, while senior people in the Ignatieff campaign probably knew in theory what Brad was up to, I am not sure even they know the depths of the relationships and networks that Brad established in his effort to build a policy platform.

As Michael so powerfully said yesterday, when a friend dies, one has to grasp on to memories of reality. For me, I got to know Brad though the Ignatieff campaign. I went to a pre-leadership announcement meet and greet in Vancouver, spoke to a staffer, said I was interested in getting involved, and a week or so later, got an email from Brad. From then on, I was lucky enough to witness the policy machine that Brad established. I soon learned that I was one of dozens of young people, scattered around the world, most of which had never before been involved in politics, which Brad had brought together in an attempt to change the way policy was developed and in many ways, the way politics more generally was done.

Instead of relying on the old-guard of the Liberal party, or the ideas well versed in Laurier club circles, Brad broke ranks, and put together working groups of experts, or aspiring experts as the case may be, on a wide range of policy areas. The goal was solely to come up with the best possible policy positions. Brad had become the hub of an international policy network of people who wanted to be engaged in what was so clearly a new way of doing politics.

Many in these groups had never met him in person, but all became familiar with his daily policy requests. “What should our policy be on Afghanistan”, Brad would ask, in an email received at 2am. “We need a full brief in two weeks, consult the best people, here are some contacts from Michael’s network.” For a foreign policy student, who has long idealized Ignatieff, it doesn’t get any better than this.

After six months of this sort of communication, and getting to know dozens of people, mostly not particularly partisan, all young, all wanting to see Michael as leader, primarily in order to change the nature of political debate in our country, we started to all meet in person in the lead-up to the convention. Here policy debates morphed into political rapid response teams, and finally, for the mad week of the convention, under the guidance of Brad, we had an emotional, intense, and moving experience, fighting together for something everyone really believed in. A rare thing, that bonded the policy network into a network of friends.

We now work together on a wide range of projects, some more political than others. We all have Brad to thank. He was the one who saw that there was a desire out there for people to get involved, and he tapped into it. In so doing, he created a network of people who are all now engaged in Canada in a way they didn’t know they would. Many of us have moved, or plan to move home. We all now see that there is a way of engaging in the often distasteful world of politics. This is because of Brad.

Small and insignificant in the big picture, I just wanted to add this particular aspect of Brad’s recent life that I intimately experienced. I haven’t known Brad for long, and the vast majority of our interaction has been over policy and politics, but I am enormously thankful for what he has done for me, and grateful for what I think he has done for the country.