So apparently a St. Catharines man was stabbed this weekend in Trinity Bellwoods park, right by my house – by four panhandlers.

I’m not sure about the spin on this story – particularly the label “panhandler.” This took place on Queen West next to a large park around midnight, and the four perpetrators (ages 21-22) asked the victim for money, then a verbal and physical fight followed, culminating in the stabbing. What verb applies? Is it panhandling, mugging or swarming? Last I checked, it’s unusual for panhandlers to sit in groups of four and beg for money late at night… Mind you, I wasn’t there – perhaps they had been “panhandling” peacefully for several hours before this.

The spin allows panhandling to be painted as a threatening act. But it’s also lumping very different groups of people together – it’s a bit ridiculous to place these four 22 year olds in the same category as the 70-year old woman I see panhandling day and night outside the 7-11 one block away.

There are some rough characters in the neighbourhood, certainly. The nastiest area seems to be the northwest corner of Queen and Bathurst, where the native shelter and the youth shelter sit. I frequently see hard drinkers outside the native shelter, but I’ve never seen any violence. I did see a bloody brawl outside the youth shelter in broad daylight, spilling out into several lanes of traffic. All the same, I’m surprised that the violence spilled over to encompass regular passers-by.

The Economist, adjunct of government

Arrgh. Today’s Economist got my goat, in one minor blurb. Overall, I’m a fan of this magazine: comprehensive international coverage, top-notch hi-tech analysis, rational and relatively progressive in its outlook. So here’s the blurb, from their brief summaries page, “The world this week:”

A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimated that 650,000 more people have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion than would have died if there had been no invasion. The Bush administration said the study was flawed.

Why does this bother me? Well, the Bush administration’s point-of-view got 20% of the words in the blurb, and is presented as if it is a meaningful counterpoint to the study. What is their beef with the methodology of the Lancet study? So far, all Bush has said is “I don’t consider it a credible report” and he declined to give a figure of his own, while admitting that innocent people have died. (Others went further: a spokesman of the British Foreign Office found fault with the methodology, saying that “It is a fairly small sample they have taken and they have extrapolated it across the country.”)

So, on that basis, they give the administration 20% of the words in a summary of the story? To me, this is particularly obnoxious coming from The Economist: these guys live and breath statistics, they understand the methodology of the Lancet study, and the in-depth article in the same issue comes out entirely in favour of the study. And yet, they feel that they have to pander to their Republican audience and dilute the science (or augment the controversy?) when they discuss it in their summary.

Chomsky described similar situations where government statements are vastly overrepresented in media articles, and went on to accuse the media of acting as an adjunct of government. The Economist? It’s definitely not there yet, but it sure made me angry.

Paris 1919

Book cover

I just finished Margaret McMillan’s book this week. It discusses the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles (and others) following World War I, led by Britain, France and the USA. The Austro-Hungarian empire and the Ottaman empire had both collapsed as the war ended, leaving many new ill-defined nation-states in their wake. The treaty was born of noble intentions: an idealistic American president wanted to do away with the old ways of diplomacy, and draw borders based on nationality and ethnicity rather than imperial ambitions, drawing on the language of “self determination”. Those ideals were diluted by the ambitions of the various European powers, by shifts in popular opinion back home for each country, and by simple inattention to countries outside Europe itself.

The author presents the material in context, and it’s very interesting to see the foundations laid for future conflicts, from World War II to Kosovo and Kurdistan. I found it fascinating to see so much of world politics interlinked. In one section, she describes Japanese aims at the conference: they wanted the new League of Nations to include racial equality as a founding principle, and they wanted to take over a German colony (Tsingtao) on the Chinese mainland, largely for their own imperial ambitions. Due to racism at home, the American delegation could not accept racial equality, but felt the need to placate Japan. So, they gave way on the principle of “self determination” in Tsingtao, and handed it over to Japanese control, where it proved valuable to later Japanese ambitions. To me, this speaks to the conflict between the purported ideals and actual behaviour on in the international stage. The USA is largely presented in a sympathetic light in this work, but the period also predates America’s true rise to power. The great powers of the age (Britain and France) are seen in a much harsher light, and their behaviour is strikingly similar to contemporary American action.

Yes, it’s a tough slog: you could describe the book as 500 pages of geographical and historical minutiae. But the content is compelling, and the writing keeps the pace moving by including details of the personalities and charisma involved in the negotiations themselves. I really enjoyed the book.

Tories & Bloc

There’s an interesting article in the Toronto Star today about the Tories’ hold on power. The pundits have been expecting them to ally with the Bloc, with a shared vision of decentralisation. Now that they’ve made major inroads in Québec as a federalist alternative to the Liberals, however, the Bloc will view them as a real competitor. The Bloc has a real interest in seeing the Tory government spin its wheels, and the Tories have to be careful to avoid appeasing the separatists if they want their Québec vote to grow.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tories find themselves with no allies in the house. Confidence motions will pass, since no one wants to go back to the polls, but much of the rest of their agenda could fail. I don’t know enough about house procedures, but I wonder if a Liberal+NDP+Bloc coalition could push through a few bills while the Tories flail…