Monthly Archives: October 2007

Rogers Sportsnet 2: Judgment play

The CRTC has approved a specialty TV service for Rogers called Rogers Sportsnet 2 (really? Couldn’t come up with anything better than that?), which is focused exclusively (90%) on soccer, cricket and rugby (also known as “the lesser team sports that only old British people watch). In fact, the license specifically prohibits the channel from carrying anything related to men’s ice hockey, basketball, U.S. and Canadian football and baseball (in other words, NHL, NBA, NFL, CFL, MLB, their minor leagues, junior leagues, amateur leagues, pee-wee leagues, street leagues or any other versions of these sports where the players have penises). This is to prevent competition with existing networks like TSN and RDS.

The application got two interventions, one from CTVglobemedia (which owns TSN), asking for a tougher restriction (Rogers initially offered a prohibition only on the major leagues, but agreed to the change), and the other from the Asian Television Network, which has its own cricket channel called Cricket Plus.

The latter got a funny-sounding response from Rogers, who said that because their channel focuses also on soccer and rugby, “the proposed service would not serve the interests of the cricket enthusiast as effectively as Cricket Plus.” Which is kind of like saying that because RDS carries baseball and football, it won’t serve the interests of hockey enthusiasts as well as the NHL Network. The idea of national exclusivity contracts (which is why NHL Network doesn’t carry any Canadian games) wasn’t brought up.

But that’s neither here nor there, since Cricket Plus doesn’t enjoy any guarantee from competition. What is interesting however, is that Cricket Plus is carried by Rogers cable, and so if the channels do end up competing with each other, it might be in Rogers’s interest to either remove Cricket Plus from its cable lineup or otherwise make it fail.

But perhaps I’m just being paranoid.

CTV is drunk with cable power

Just when you thought concentration of media ownership wasn’t such a bad thing, CTVglobemediaempire is asking the CRTC for the power to threaten to pull its cable channels off the air as a negotiating tactic with cable and satellite providers. This includes channels like Bravo!, the Comedy Network, CTV NewsNet, Discovery, MuchMusic (and the entire Much family), Space and TSN/RDS.

Aside from the outrageousness of punishing viewers as a negotiating tactic (as well as the legal ramifications of not giving us something we’ve paid for), most of these channels are licensed in a way that prohibits direct competition from other specialty channels.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If CTV wants to treat these channels like they’re private property to do with as it pleases, then the CRTC should allow free competition from other services.

9/11 truth exposed!

I’ve always been skeptical of the official explanation of 9/11. I mean, fire causing a building to collapse? When has that ever happened? And the official explanation that the towers fell so fast because the lower floors provided minimal resistance to all the higher floors falling down on them at once doesn’t make any sense either. It’s obvious that the government secretly put explosives in the buildings, detonating them after planes had crashed into them, then later secretly removed all traces of evidence from the rubble, so that the casualties could be limited to a magic number between 2,500 and 3,000. Obviously.

Well now, a local group called Montreal 9/11 Truth has proved once and for all that the World Trade Centre collapse was deliberate using the best scientific means available: asking a bunch of laypeople at a metro station what they think.

George W. Bush’s resignation in disgrace can be expected within the hour.

Journal de Québec lockout: six months later

LCN has a report on the Journal de Québec strike/lockout, which is now 6 months old. Naturally, the union-says-this/employer-says-that news package doesn’t disclose the fact that TVA/LCN and the Journal are owned by the same company.

Meanwhile, workers on the picket lines were warmly received by union leaders across the country, and their strike paper MédiaMatinQuébec is still going strong with the help of enthusiastic advertising from local businesses.

UPDATE (Oct. 26): I totally missed this feature by The Gazette’s David Johnston on the lockout/strike, as well as an accompanying analysis piece on crossover reporting. Both concentrate on journalists being asked to take photos or video in addition to writing articles, which saves money but produces crappy quality of both.

Everything you couldn’t care less about school board elections

If you’ve been wondering what those election-style signs are doing up around town, you’ve missed the fact that there’s a school board election going on. Four boards on the Island of Montreal (two English, two French) are electing 54 of 86 commissioners on Nov. 4 to vote on important school board matters, not that I have any idea what important school board matters are.

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Slap heads?

I always find myself irked somewhat when I hear English translations of Québécois terms. When “dépanneur” becomes “convenience store” or “St. Jacques” becomes “St. James”. It just seems so weird, as Quebec anglophones tend to use the French terms, almost as if they were untranslateable.

So while I’m reading this Globe and Mail piece on Têtes-à-claques, their translation of the term into “slap heads” threw me for a loop.

I suppose the translations are necessary for the English-speaking population outside Quebec, but the language loses something in its flair.

A similar feeling came over me with the English media’s reporting of Girouettegate. After an insult by Mario Dumont, the word “girouette” has been added to the list of banned words at the National Assembly. But the CBC and The Gazette, among others, have used the term “weathervane”, which is an accurate translation but again loses some of its flair.

Maybe knowing both languages makes me overly snobbish about these things.

Overpass collapses will probably happen again

The Johnson Commission into the De la Concorde overpass collapse submitted its final report to the government last week. The report, which is 222 pages long, is available (in English!) as a PDF on its website. (The last page of the report laughingly self-congratulates how much it’s saving the environment by printing on recycled paper, even though the previous page is entirely blank.)

De la Concorde, seconds before disaster

(Above: the last photo taken of the De la Concorde overpass before its collapse, by a Transport Department road supervisor sent to pick up some fallen concrete. The commission absolved him of responsibility since he wasn’t an engineer.)

In short, the causes of the collapse were as follows (disclaimer: I’m not an engineer, so some of my explanations might be a bit off):

  • Improper, low-quality concrete used in its construction, in turn blamed on confusing design instructions and insufficient supervision.
  • Improper placement of reinforcing steel rebar.
  • Insufficient drainage, leading to water, ice and salt weakening the concrete.
  • Insufficient supervision and inspection of construction.
  • Common practices in use during the time of construction that science would later show needed reinforcing to counter the effects of concrete shear.
  • Missing documentation at the MTQ concerning the structure’s construction and repair history.
  • Improper repair of the structure in 1992, which ended up weakening the structure.
  • Insufficient and inadequate inspections, with imprecise inspection reports.

All that comes down to the big cause: cutting corners to save money. Cutting corners on inspections, on materials, on competence, on time. Each, by itself, isn’t dangerous. But put enough together and they spell disaster. The blame was, in the end, so spread out that no individual can be considered liable.

So now the government is going to create an independent agency for road inspections (to counter the “culture of negligence” at the MTQ) and spend billions of dollars to catch up on infrastructure maintenance.

What gets me about all this is that the transport department (and the commission itself) has been working overtime trying to convince everyone that our structures are safe.

The implication in that is that the de la Concorde overpass collapse was a one-time thing. A fluke that can’t be repeated. But while there were a lot of coincidental mistakes that contributed to the collapse, not a single one of them is guaranteed not to have occurred with other structures. There’s no guarantee that there isn’t a structure out there with bad concrete, or improperly-placed steel supports. Nothing stops a similar collapse from happening to another structure.

That said, the transport department has already changed the way it maintains overpasses, and has inspected many of them thoroughly. The culture of negligence and cost-cutting corner-cutting has, for now, been replaced with a healthy fear of a similar event happening again.

It’s debatable how long that fear will last. After the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986, NASA started to become overly cautious about safety in its missions. But eventually cost-cutting reared its ugly head in 2003 when the Columbia burned up on re-entry. Though the direct causes were different, reports cited an attitude at the organization that encouraged disregarding small risks to keep missions going.

Hopefully we won’t forget the lessons of de la Concorde in 20 years just to save a few bucks.

Cross-promotion isn’t more important than journalism

Le Devoir (somewhat snobbishly) reminds us why they’re independent in criticizing the idea of “selling news” being more important than fair, objective reporting.

Frankly, I think major media outlets far underestimate the intelligence of their news consumers when they cross-promote between shows on a network or between different media that they own. When Global TV does a story on The Gazette that CBC and CTV don’t touch, we know why. When TVA talks about a story in the Journal de Montréal that morning, we know why. When Radio-Canada reports on what was on Tout le monde en parle the night before, we know why.

These transparently corporate maneuvres overriding solid news judgment only serve to erode confidence in journalists’ objectivity. I think that’s worth a but more than some free advertising.

UPDATE (Oct. 23): TVA gets a slap on the wrist for doing a news story on Le Banquier. I’m actually quite surprised by this, considering how widespread such reporting is. But good for the Quebec press council for pointing it out.

Côte-Saint-Luc naming rights idea is short-sighted

The City of Côte-Saint-Luc has lots of crazy ideas sometimes. Their latest is to start selling naming rights to municipal-owned properties like swimming pools, buildings and park benches. They aren’t giving a specific list, but have already ruled out entire parks and street names.

They have, however, refused to rule out “sharing” the name of the Samuel Moskovitch arena, named after a former mayor, with a person or company willing to pay a high enough price. That idea didn’t go over well with Moskovitch’s daughter.

Normally I’d be all for getting money from nothing, but I have reservations about this plan for a few reasons:

  1. Dilution. Henry Aubin explains this one very well. People wouldn’t know the difference between a building named for an important community leader and one named for someone with a lot of money.
  2. Permanence. The city seems to mitigate this somewhat by suggesting “renting” naming rights in addition to “selling” them. But selling names to things is a one-time cash transaction whose effects are long-lasting. Eventually everything would be named for someone, and they’d either have to keep creating new things to name or start re-naming previously-named things. Since they’ve already suggested renaming the Samuel Moskovitch Arena, the latter suggestion doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
  3. Association. Though most people who take advantage of this kind of thing will likely be rich people who want to contribute to their town’s development (and would probably get things named after them anyway), there’s the danger of having unpopular people use this. What if a Holocaust-denier wanted to name something after them? What if we get another UFIA Highway or NAMBLA Highway? They could start rejecting some proposals, but then it becomes a giant judgment call, and that’ll make things complicated.
  4. Value. Even ignoring the above problems, how many people are going to spend their money to get a plaque with their name installed on a park bench? There are very rich people who want to build a legacy, but they prefer to be “generous” and give money to schools and hospitals with unofficial quid pro quos rather than transparently buy their own recognition. And companies want to get their names out there, but they’re not concerned with ego-building. They’ll rate opportunities on a cost-benefit basis, and will probably opt more for sponsoring events than putting their names on uninteresting municipal property.

It sounds like a good idea, but I just don’t see it being any sort of magic bullet for city funding.

CIBC not above outright spam

I was going through my junk mail folder and I came across an email from CIBC whose subject line is in French. French-language spam is pretty rare, so I tend to give it a second look.

Turns out it’s a legitimate CIBC email (they have a copy of it on their website) having something to do with their VISA card.

And just like the Chapters email I got last month (their email provider promised to get back to me “ASAP” but I never heard from them again), it’s something I never asked for, sent to an address that gets just about nothing but spam, from a company I’ve never done business with in my entire life. Neither I nor anyone in my family does banking with CIBC, and I have no idea how they would have my email address.

Like I did with Chapters, I checked their unsubscribe process. The link sends me to this web page which asks for, among other things, my name, phone number and last four digits of my CIBC VISA credit card. All fields are, of course, required.

There’s a few problems with this:

  1. The URL for this page starts with Sounds kinda phishy to me.
  2. The fact that they ask for part of my credit card number based on an unsolicited email makes this even more worrisome. It’s encouraging bad habits and horrible security practices.
  3. Why is anything beyond my email address needed to unsubscribe from a mailing list?
  4. I don’t have a CIBC VISA credit card number because I’m not a CIBC customer! Since they require information from me that simply doesn’t exist, I can only conclude that it is impossible for me to unsubscribe from this mailing list.

Considering that this message seems to clearly violate CIBC’s own anti-phishing policy, as well as being outright spam, I’ve sent them an email asking for an explanation. I’ll update this post if they provide one.

I’ve copied the email to Komunik, makers of Konversation, the CIBC’s email marketing provider, demanding to know how they don’t consider this spam.

Don’t blame anglos for mocking Marois’s English

Apparently Pauline Marois has finally become sick and tired of people mocking her inability to speak in English during press conferences.

As I scoured the Internet for examples of this mockage, I noticed something peculiar: the ones doing the mocking are francophones.

It looks like it started earlier this month with a small TQS piece which included some clips of embarrassing stumbles. From there, it was linked to from Patrick Lagacé’s high-traffic blog and from there to a few lower-traffic anti-PQ and anti-Pauline blogs. The next week, the clip made an appearance on Jeff Fillion’s radio show, which had tackled the issue previously a couple of times.

A couple of English blogs also picked up the story, but somehow I don’t think those are the ones she’s complaining about.

Frankly, I’ve always been surprised that even those separatist leaders who are fluent in Shakespeare’s language bother to use it in front of the media, considering their positions on French being the one and only language to use in this province (an idea she brought back into the spotlight this week with proposed changes to immigration laws). If they’re so stubborn about other languages being used on commercial signs, why are they trying so hard to cater to a public that will never vote for them using a language they want all but outlawed?

Or perhaps a more interesting question is why it’s the francophones who are mocking her inability to speak English. Or why she cares.

Making the case for a quieter Toupin Blvd.

This week I spoke with Nicolas Stone, a resident of Cartierville three houses away from Toupin Blvd., who is one of many in that area opposed to a northern extension of Cavendish Blvd. The plan would connect Cavendish, through a new development in Bois Franc, to Henri-Bourassa Blvd. at Toupin Blvd.

Toupin Blvd. … not so whiny

The residents (whom I dubbed “concerned citizens” as you see above) oppose it for the obvious reason that it would turn Toupin Blvd. into a throughway (even though there’s nothing beyond the neighbourhood — the closest bridges to Laval are at Marcel-Laurin to the east and Highway 13 to the west).

Stone (a husband with three hyperactive toddlers I found after he made a comment on this blog) makes a compelling case. His concerns mainly revolve around philosophical objections to creating more roads and encouraging single-passenger traffic. He takes public transit to work and used to bike everywhere.

He was a good sport about the interview, even when I flat-out accused him of being part of the problem by contributing to urban sprawl.

Mouvement Montréal français is right about Second Cup

A protest by members of Mouvement Montréal Français yesterday has prompted Second Cup (in one of the shortest press releases I’ve seen in quite a while) to announce offhandedly mention that it will review its policy concerning its signs.

The tiff was caused when the coffee giant decided it would remove “Les Cafés” from its coffee shop’s signs and just become “Second Cup”. They can do this, despite Bill 101, because Second Cup is a registered trademarked, like McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and Future Shop.

MMF wasn’t happy with this. So they protested. No firebombing or anything like that, but they held signs and asked people to take their patronage elsewhere (Starbucks? Java U? Tim Horton’s? Dunkin Donuts?)

Good for them.

I’m no fan of Bill 101, and I oppose government over-regulation of commercial signs. But this isn’t government regulation, it’s regular citizens expressing their right to free expression in attempting to get a company to change its ways. Second Cup’s signs should be French not because the government forces it on them, but because it’s respecting the population to speak to them in their language. Imagine having English-only signs in China, or Spanish-only signs in the U.S. It’s understandable for a mom-and-pop operation or a store in an ethnic village, but for a major company it’s a slap in the face to French-speaking Quebecers.

Second Cup’s move was just plain stupid. It’s not like nobody recognizes “Second Cup” when it’s “Les Cafés Second Cup”. Instead, this smacks of a decision made by a clueless manager who has far too much free time on his hands and doesn’t know anything about Quebec politics.

Hopefully they’ll come to their senses and leave “Les Cafés Second Cup” alone.

Concordia president doesn’t have a PhD

Last month I opined here that Concordia University was faced with a tough problem. Their president had just decided to quit, and the second-in-command position (provost and VP academic) was vacant. That left them with the unenviable choices of either appointing another VP to the position (all of whom were experts in their jobs and only one had a PhD — the one they appointed as interim provost), or going further down the food chain to find a PhD candidate with little leadership experience.

It looks like they’ve opted for the first choice, appointing VP Services Michael Di Grappa as “acting president” (not to be confused with “interim president” whom they will appoint later, or “president” whom they will appoint … later later).

And while a search committee finds a new president (and a new provost), a special executive committee will find an interim president.

Confused yet?

Di Grappa doesn’t have a PhD. His highest academic credentials are a Master’s of public policy at New York University. He also doesn’t have much academic experience. As VP Services, he’s responsible for making sure the escalators run the buildings stay upright, classrooms have video projectors, and registration happens properly.

Considering the apparent very short nature of this appointment, it’s not like it’ll matter very much. Plus the fact that as a senior administrator for seven years he’s been involved in major administration decision-making.

As sad as it is, it’s probably the best solution to a horrible problem that Concordia’s board of governors has no one to blame but itself. Unfortunately it creates a situation where people the guy running a university granting PhDs hasn’t earned one himself.

And if that’s not bad enough news for Concordia, Valery Fabrikant is in the news again. Meanwhile, McGill has decided to raise $750 million just for the heck of it.

UPDATE (Oct. 20): David Bernans, the non-student student activist, has naturally started a Facebook group advocating Di Grappa’s immediate dismissal. I’m sure Concordia will act immediately based on his demands.

UPDATE (Oct. 30): A letter-writer to The Link points out that Columbia and Harvard had presidents who were PhD-less.

UPDATE (Oct. 23): The Concordian has an interview with Di Grappa, who stresses that the position is temporary. The Link has a similar interview.

Universities are cesspools of cronyism

Le Devoir has an op/ed today about university governance. In it, an executive at the university teachers’ association talks about how university governing boards aren’t representative of the teachers and students involved in the universities. Instead, they’re filled with rich, connected businesspeople who buy their way onto them through donations to the universities.

The problem isn’t so bad on paper. Universities reserve more than half the seats on their governing boards for members of the community. This can mean businesspeople, community leaders, people at other educational institutions, retired educational industry professionals, doctors, lawyers, etc.

The problem mainly lies in the fact that these seats are self-selecting. They’re the highest governing bodies at their institutions, answerable only to the government, and so the boards basically control themselves. Nominations as members of the community are dealt with by a nominating committee of the board.

This causes two related problems: the people who are nominated tend to be friends or business associates of people already on the boards, and dissenting views get actively or passively shut out.

When I was at Concordia, I wrote a piece about the corporate connections of the members of Concordia’s Board of Governors. A little bit of Google searching found a lot of associations between most of the members’ companies. One acted as a lawyer for another. One serves on the board of the company whose CEO is the wife of another member. And so on.

In some cases, these associations are perfectly reasonable, having been formed after the two were appointed to the board together. But the chronology doesn’t solve the problem that the fat cats are friends and do things together.

There’s also other problems: These connected rich people tend to be more likely to receive honourary degrees, have buildings and academic programs named after them, or receive other official praise from the universities they’re connected to, in exchange for their generous donations. (Technically, board memebrs can’t receive honourary degrees while they’re on the board, and paying for such degrees isn’t allowed either. So we see a lot of anonymous donations, or PR people stressing that donations aren’t made with strings attached. And degrees are handed out after people retire from the board.)

The government needs to step in and solve this problem with new rules. Representation from academics and students needs to be increased. More non-business types need to be brought in. Academic decisions need to be deferred to academic bodies. And tough conflict-of-interest rules need to be established.

Business leaders should be on boards of universities. They have experience running large organizations, and have a lot of expertise they’re willing to share. But the power this gives them is very big, and it needs to be kept in check.