Shakespeare is good for me!

Here’s some fabulous news: Shakespeare — as if you didn’t know — is good for you!

Howard Jacobson tells us in a recent column in The Independent says:

“…word is coming out of Liverpool University, where the distinguished English Professor Philip Davis has been working with a group of eminent neuroscientists, that electrodes prove what some of us already knew but had either lost the confidence to argue, or grown commonplace in arguing – namely, Shakespeare is good for the brain.

… the reason Shakespeare is beneficial to the brain is that his syntactical surprisingness, to limit ourselves only to that, creates something like a neural flash of lightning, a positive wave or surge in the brain's activity, triggering a “re-evaluation process likely to raise attention” at the time and stimulate new pathways for the brain thereafter.”




Why journalists ought to pay attention to bloggers: Part II

Rebecca MacKinnon, a one-time foreign correspondent for CNN, surveyed her former peers to learn how blogs are having an impact on media coverage of China. She asked a series of questions to about 70 foreign correspondents who work in China and here’s one interesting finding:

Most respondents find blogs useful for story ideas and information – In fact they find blogs significantly more useful than CCTV, CNN, BBC (radio & TV), overseas forums, BBS & chatrooms, or Chinese radio. 

(Tip of the toque for this to David Weinberger)

Should the militaries of the world pay for bleeding-edge technology?

U.S. Comptroller General David Walker was asked by a Congressional committee for his opinions on a range of issues related to defence procurement and contracting. This week, he filed a written response to some of those questsions.
Canada, of course, embarked this year on more than $17-billion in new defence acquisitions of planes, ships, trucks and helicopters and next year, if Cabinet finally gets around to it, Canada could embark on another round of multi-billion dollar spending.
Among the issues Walker addresses is whether or not defence should buy into leading or bleeding-edge technology. Canada doesn't do a lot of that, but there are weapons systems from time to time that are out there on the edge of the available technology that Canada wants to adopt..
Walker says:
“It is essential that technology be developed separately—and before—the development phase of a product or weapon system. This is a best practice that results in predictable program outcomes. Our work shows programs that proceed with mature technology average about 5 percent cost growth; programs with immature technology experience about 35 percent cost growth. Moreover, immature technology delays design and production maturity.”

The Parliamentary Press Gallery and Government Contracts

Scott ReidEarlier this year, Conservative MP Scott Reid  (left) put the following question on the Commons Order Paper:

Q-104 2 — October 17, 2006 — Mr. Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington) — In each of the fiscal years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, did any government department, agency, or Crown corporation enter into a professional services contract with a vendor whose name matches a name on the current public list of members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery published at , and, if so, for each contract of each vendor: ( a) to which department, agency, or Crown corporation were the services to be provided; ( b) what type of service was to be provided; ( c) what was the start date and final end date of the contract; and ( d) what was the total amount of payments made to the vendor?

After I saw that question on the Order Paper, I called Reid’s office several times to ask what it was he was interested in. Reid never returned my call.

The civil service did what they are required to do when an MP puts any question on the Order Paper: They moved heaven and earth to answer the question.

Glen McGregor,  a reporter with the Ottawa Citizen, was the first I saw to filea story on the response given to Reid:

OTTAWA — Amid the ongoing hostilities between the Prime Minister's Office and the journalists who cover him, the Harper government has released a list of parliamentary press gallery members who received contracts from the federal government they report on.

Jeffrey SimpsonThe list of journalists receiving government money includes several prominent writers from the Globe and Mail who took speaking fees or honorariums, including national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson, (left) who was paid $2,400 for two speeches through the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

… There are no rules explicitly prohibiting press gallery members from getting paid by the government they are supposed to cover, but the gallery's constitution does not allow journalists to use their membership for their own “benefit.” Journalists have been tossed out for using their gallery membership to win government work in the past.

The records show that Lawrence Martin, a Globe and Mail columnist, was paid $2,500 by the Department of Justice to speak to a group of managers on the topic “Leadership in the New Canada” in October 2005. Martin is the author of a biography of former prime minister Jean Chretien and now contributes two columns a week for the Globe.

He also received $4,000 for a February 2005 speech to the Canada School of Public Service, a training centre for senior public servants.

…. Simpson's former colleague, Hugh Winsor, was paid $1,070 by Western Economic Development Canada for a speech in 2004, a year after he retired from the Globe and Mail. Before he left the paper, Winsor wrote a column on politics and the senior public service. He continues to write freelance pieces for the paper occasionally. He said he recalls recycling one of his lectures from a course he teaches at Queen's University for the speech.

And, following that, writer Philippe Gohier also filed a piece:

Don MartinThe question was inspired, according to Reid, by a 2004 column by Don Martin (left) that appeared in the National Post. In it, Martin was addressing what he called “the exodus of senior national press-gallery reporters defecting to the dark side, pulling down serious coin to serve as flacks on the federal government's payroll.

“[I]f, as seems likely, most of [them] knew about their career change before their media resignation,” Martin wrote, “any pretense of professional neutrality was clearly sacrificed on the altar of a paycheque-boosting conflict of interest.”

Reid's request led to the federal government's ministries, agencies and crown corporations spending an apparently inestimable number of hours compiling the list of contracts handed to people who are members of the parliamentary press gallery. Unfortunately, the list also includes people who appear to simply share a name with someone in the gallery, which is less than helpful in assessing whether there really is an issue here.

Don Martin himself is cited in the report – for a day's work as a security guard. CTV News' Roger Smith is confused with someone who was paid by the federal government for “photographs of macrofungi and [a] presentation about mushroom photography.” Somebody named “J. Simpson,” apparently mistaken for Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, has a contract to do elevator maintenance. And either the CBC's Robert Jamieson has a namesake who rents out portable toilets, or he has a very unusual side job.

Today, Yves Malo, the Ottawa bureau chief for French-language television network TVA, distributed this open letter to Reid:

Mr. Reid:

Back in October, you wanted to know more about the members of the Press Gallery. Why? No doubt to get to know and understand us better. You wanted to know, for years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, whether any government department, agency, or Crown corporation entered into a professional services contract with a vendor whose name matched a name on the list of members of the Press Gallery.

This is the first drafting error. While every member of the Press Gallery is a unique individual, it is likely that someone else in Canada has the same name. Your list contains 66 names. 39 of the 66 names on this list are homonyms of the names of Press Gallery members. Therefore, 59% of these names must be struck. 6 of the 66 (9%) are honorary members; in other words, retired and it is no one’s business how they make ends meet. 5 were awarded contracts before becoming members; 1 after becoming a member. 7 people could not be reached.

This leaves 8 people who won contracts, mainly f
or giving a speech or taking part in a panel. 8 out of 370 members of the Press Gallery, or 2.1%. We will be sure to check whether these contracts comply with Gallery rules.

Thank you Mr. Reid.

Yves Malo



Why journalists ought to pay attention to bloggers

I’ve long argued that journalists ought to establish a routine to monitor blogs and other online sites that are germane to their beat. It’s a great eay to learn more about your beat and to find new sources.

But here’s another good reason: Public relations and communications professionals — the spin masters — are targetting blogs.

As Keelan Green, a PR practitioner in the Ottawa office of Thornley Fallis writes:

We want to understand social media thoroughly and be a leader in the area in order to properly advise our clients on how they can use it to enhance their internal and/or external communications programs.

For several months now, I’ve been following a variety of blogs and podcasts, and frequently leave comments on topics that I find interesting or have a point of view on.

Also, we regularly pitch bloggers on behalf of clients (just as we do traditional media) with news and stories that we think would be of interest to them – based the focus of their blog.

Reclaiming sponsorship scandal money

Using Access to Information laws, I recently received a “House Card” for Public Works Minister Michael Fortier on the topic of the monies the governnment was seeking to recover in connection with the sponsorship scandal.

“House Cards” are prepared every day for Ministers on a variety of topics. Ministers use these to answer questions put to them during Question Period in the House of Commons — that’s why they’re called “House Cards”. They’re also relied on by Ministers for  the “lines” that ministers ought to use if asked about a given topic by a reporter.

The House Card for “Recovering Funds” was prepared for Minister Fortier on May 18, 2006. As of that date, the federal government had launched civil lawsuits against 28 individuals or organizations in order to recover $57–million. As of May 18, $2.7–million had been recovered — including more than $1–million from the Liberal Party of Canada and more than $1–million from Paul Coffin and one of his businesses.

Feel free to download the three-page “House Card” on this matter yourself [this is 2 MB PDF file for which you’ll need a special viewer such as Adobe’s Acrobat Reader]. In addition to the “suggested response” the Minister might make to any question, it also contains a chronology of events related to the recovery of funds process and then lists all 28 defendants; the date each lawsuit was filed and the lawsuit’s status as of May 18.


Canadian Forces Reservists can join in the Canada Pension Plan

As I reported on CTV Newsnet a few minutes ago, Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor is to announce later this afternoon that, as of Jan. 1, all Canadian Forces reservists will be able to contribute to and receive benefits from the Canada Pension Plan — just like any other worker in Canada.

Until this change, reservists were not part of the Canadian Pension Plan and, as a result, some reservists might have found themselves penalized financially so far as their future retirement income goes if they took time off their regular job to serve with the regular forces. Hundreds of reservists are doing, have done, or are about to do combat tours in Afghanistan.

In making this small  administrative change, O’Connor is trying to eliminate any obstacles that might prevent a reservist and his or her family from committing to a tour in Afghanistan.

Last week, O’Connor made another administrative change to the salary and benefits package with the same goal of removing obstacles that might hinder recruitment or reservists. He decreed that any soldier that receives some extra danger pay for serving in a combat zone will continue to get that extra pay even if he or she is injured and sent back home.

Right now, soldiers in Afghanistan receive an “operational allowance” of about $1,900 a month tax-free on top of their regular salary for the six or nine months their unit is Afghanistan. But those soldiers were injured no longer received that operational allowance if they were sent back to Canada. Now those soldiers will will qualify to receive an “Allowance for Loss of Operational Allowance” to be paid for as long as they were originally supposed to overseas receiving an operational allowance.




Military Procurement

Reviewing some government documents that talk about streamlining of military procurement and came across this data nugget:

In 2004–05, Public Works and Government Services Canada signed 25,600 new contracts or contract amendments worth $10.2–billion on behalf of the Department of National Defence. That was the lion’s share of all the PWGSC procurement business for that year — which totalled 62,500 transactions valued at $18.75–billion.