Quebec university bailed out of $600M financial woes

Quebec taxpayers will pick up a $400 million tab for the Université du Québec à Montréal’s costly real estate misadventure.

“We are taking measures as a government to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Education Minister Michelle Courchesne.

The bailout, announced Oct. 8, means the university will not drown in its mismanaged funds and hasty construction deals. It will cover the $180 million bill for the Pierre Dansereau science complex and the $65 million in operating grants which the province of Quebec has withheld since the university’s financial troubles went public in 2005.

This money is in addition to the $200 million the province has given to cover the cost of the Îlot Voyageur site—a building UQAM has realized it will never use.

Over the past year, UQAM has replaced many staff members linked to the financial crisis. It also plans to cut programs to have its finances balanced by 2014.

Meanwhile, Courchesne has promised to revise legislation on university administration and expansion plans. The new guidelines should be released soon.

Did you know that mass extinctions may have been caused by climate change, not plunging asteroids?

Scientists have recently hypothesized that the majority of mass extinction events were the result of climate change, not directly caused by catastrophic events such as an asteroid collision.

There have been five separate mass extinction events identified by scientists. The most recent, known as the K–T extinction event, wiped the dinosaurs off our planet. Previously, it was thought that this mass extinction was caused by a massive asteroid collision, which cooled the climate and increased Earth’s albedo. The other four mass extinctions are thought to be directly caused by climate change.

One source of evidence is the bouquet-like crystals of aragonite formed on the ocean floor during two separate mass extinctions, 250 and 200 million years ago. USC doctoral student Sarah Greene suggests both events experienced similar processes, resulting in the mass killing of ocean coral reef populations.

“The fact that these deposits have only been found at these two specific times associated with mass extinction suggests at the very least, that maybe there’s some shared ocean geochemistry that could be related to the cause of the extinctions,” says Greene.

These are only a few examples of how climate change can affect life forms on Earth. According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, human activities are “very likely” to be the cause of today’s rapid climate change rates. We are gambling with the future of Earth’s species, knowing that climate alterations have resulted in mass extinction events in the past. Yet there is no consensus on how to slow down the rate of climate change.

World-renowned biologist E. O. Wilson emphasizes the devastating loss of biodiversity. “The loss of biodiversity is the most important process of environmental change,” he says. “This is because it is the only process that is wholly irreversible. Its consequences are also the least predictable, because the value of the earth’s biota is largely unstudied and unappreciated.”

Exercising our right not to vote

Last Tuesday’s federal election, which set a record for voter apathy, should have been scheduled closer to Halloween than Thanksgiving. Party leaders served the same old loot bags of tricks and treats to entice the Canadian public to vote for them. The Liberals’ strategy was a familiar one: paint Conservative leader Stephen Harper as a Bogey Man set to destroy Canada’s sacred democratic institutions, while promising environmentally-friendly policies. Meanwhile, Harper dressed up as Mr. Rogers—an affable, sweater-clad chap who isn’t as cold as you think. In the end, the whole masquerade was futile: nobody—neither the politicians nor the voters—got what they wanted. Billed as one of the most important elections in recent history, only 59.1 per cent of Canadians bothered to vote—the lowest turnout since Confederation.

There are three ways of accounting for the low voter turnout. One is a lack of charismatic leaders; none of the candidates possessed the Trudeau-like qualities necessary to galvanize an indifferent electorate. Second, the election was devoid of issues that could inspire people to get out to the polls. Finally, voters who believed their votes wouldn’t count, or who disliked Dion and Harper, stayed home as a form of protest.

The second excuse—lack of issues—doesn’t hold water. Environmental concerns, health care, gun control, the war in Afghanistan, and economic fears provided a menu of choices for party campaigns. Most chose to target the environment, figuring it was easier to be green than to discuss more controversial policies. The issues were there, but leaders chose to play it safe.

Attributing the voter apathy to a lack of inspirational party leaders has more merit. In 2004, when Paul “Mr. Dithers” Martin faced off against the bland Harper, only 60.5 per cent of Canadians bothered to cast a ballot. That was in the midst of the Liberal sponsorship scandal, when the Liberal party’s Quebec branch was investigated for misuse of public funds. Interestingly, Quebec’s voter turnout in 2004 was lower than in the recent election, at 59.0 per cent. This indicates that controversy alone cannot drive people to vote without the presence of magnetic personalities. In 1984, Brian Mulroney’s likeability was reflected in the 75.3 per cent who voted; by 1988, Mulroney’s popularity had soured, and yet the controversial issue of free trade mobilized another 75.3 per cent turnout.

It’s troubling to think that voters could be more swayed by fast-talking hucksters than the issues that concern them, but it’s the truth. Canadians consistently vote more than their American counterparts, but that trend could be reversed on November 4th, with Barack Obama poised to become the first black President in U.S. history. Canada doesn’t have Barack Obama. We have Jack Layton. Ironically, a year that saw a record low for voter turnout in Canada could see a record high in the States.

So what will it take to get Canadians to cast a ballot? It’s too simplistic to equate our indifference with disdain for the first-past-the-post system. On the other hand, past experiences tell us that our votes often have little effect. Paradoxically, voter apathy may be a sign of an increasingly educated electorate. Voting is like exercise: we all say we’re going to do it, we know we’ll feel good about doing it, but when the time comes, we have nothing but excuses. It appears we have a lot in common with our politicians—all talk but no action.

The most wonderful time of the year

While the pinstripes may be red, the green monster may be Phanatic, and Manny is being Manny on the golf course, this October promises to be nothing short of classic. After improbable postseason runs, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies meet in the World Series. The Varsity’s baseball experts provide five predictions of who will come out on top.

Ben Fong

The Philadelphia Phillies were carried to the World Series by a strong pitching staff. Lead by ace NLCS MVP Cole Hamels, winning all three of his playoff starts, and a strong bullpen core of Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, and Brad Lidge, the Phillies held the Brewers and Dodgers to an average of just over three runs a game.

While the Phillies possess a deep line-up that scored the second most runs in the NL, their core of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard have failed to match their regular season production. Rollins is hitting .250 while Utley and Howard, who hit 81 homers combined during the season, have only one homer between them.

The Tampa Bay Rays enter the World Series after nearly blowing the ALCS to the Boston Red Sox. One of the best stories of the season, the young Rays—their core of Evan Longoria, James Shields, Scott Kazmir, and B.J. Upton are all 26 years old or younger—were supposed to improve, but no one outside of St. Petersburg expected them to be so good so soon.

During the regular season, the Rays relied on great starting pitching and a stingy bullpen, while their offence scored just enough to win. But their offence has picked up, led by Longoria and Upton who have 13 homers in 11 playoff games.

The bullpen is another story, with late inning specialists Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour allowing nine runs in less than 12 innings. Boston’s eight-run surge in Game 5 of the ALCS is alarming for a unit so efficient during most of the season.

The Rays have the edge in this series, with a deeper starting staff and a balanced offence that always seems to come through with clutch hits. Even with Balfour and Wheeler struggling, rookie David Price could emerge as a lights-out late-inning stopper. The Phillies have a chance if their big three start hitting, but that won’t be easy against Shields, Kazmir, or Garza. Upton, Longoria, and the rest of the Rays bats won’t slow down either.

Prediction: Rays in five
MVP: B.J. Upton


Somewhere, Red Sox manager Terry Francona is standing on the green with a five iron in his hand and a wad of Bazooka gum in his mouth, pontificating about what went wrong during that game. While Tito may have won the 2008 All-Star Game, he’s regretting it now, or at the very least, wishing he brought in the Rays injury-prone pitcher Scott Kazmir earlier than the 15th inning. It’s ironic that Francona’s management skills won his new rivals the Tampa Bay Rays home field advantage in the World Series. Even the comic in his pack of gum isn’t this funny.

While Tampa boasted a 57-24 record at home—the best in the AL—it remains to be seen if they can take full advantage of Tropicana Field. Watch for the Phillies star sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to launch a ball to one of the Trop’s ubiquitous catwalks and have it ruled a home run. For all of Tropicana Field’s idiosyncrasies, it lacks the diehard fans that can make or break ballgames. The Rays’ lackluster ten-year history is not long enough to acquire the type of long-suffering fans that haunt Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. While every fair-weather baseball fan cheers for the “underdog” Rays, the rest of Florida is hitting the beach or the early bird special, going to bed before the games even begin.

The city of Philadelphia has been waiting a quarter-century for a professional championship. In their 126-year existence, the Phillies have one World Series win, a record worse than the perennially disappointing Cubs. The oldest player in baseball, Jamie Moyer—who made his Major League debut when Tampa’s Evan Longoria was still in diapers—will make the first World Series start of his career. The Phillies owe it to their city, their supporters, and themselves to come out victorious. As long as ace Cole Hamels and his 1.88 postseason ERA and closer Brad Lidge and his perfect save record show up, the Phillies will shutdown the red-hot Rays.

This is an improbable match-up. No matter who wins, expect an inspirational sports movie to be written about it. Let the slow clap begin!

Prediction: Phillies in seven
MVP: Cole Hamels


While the ascendancy of the Tampa Bay Rays is a fantastic story, many baseball fairy tales end in disappointment. This series bears similarity to the 2006 World Series, in which the Detroit Tigers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. Managers Jim Leyland and Joe Maddon are cut from the same cloth. Joel Zumaya and David Price are flame-throwing rookie pitchers. Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman, meet Scott Kazmir and James Shields. The all-around brilliance (yet inconsistency) of Tigers centrefielder Curtis Granderson is similar to the Rays’ centerfielder B.J. Upton. Oft-injured right fielder Magglio Ordóñez is no different than Rays’ outfielder Rocco Baldelli. It was said that the St. Louis Cardinals would be pushed aside by Detroit’s magical run, but in the end Detroit imploded, foreshadowing what may happen to these 2008 Rays.

The collapse in Game 5 exposed Tampa Bay’s lack of a lights-out closer. David Price may have been right in the ALCS, but Brad Lidge of the Phillies did not blow a save the entire season, and struck out 92 batters in fewer than 70 innings. Tampa Bay’s middle relievers can only get the job done for so long. Their young starters shone against the Red Sox, but the teams faced off 27 times this season. Against an unfamiliar team like the Phillies, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza may be out of their league. The Rays starters will have to contend with the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park, where the powerful bats of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could easily stroke a home run.

The Rays are a lousy road team, hitting below .250 away from Tropicana Field. This may harm their chances of winning in a deafening Citizens Bank Park in Games 3 to 5. Tampa doesn’t hit well with runners in scoring position, so expect to see a lot of Rays’ strikeouts at critical junctures.

What may tip the series in the Phillies’ favour are the fans. The Rays possessed a great home record, but their fans never truly explode. The city of Philadelphia has not won a professional championship since 1983, and their fans are desperate for a win. Ultimately, it will be the “phanatics” in Philly that will finally get another chance to feel the joy of winning the World Series.

Prediction: Phillies in five
MVP: Jayson Werth


Offensively, the Rays and the Phillies mirror each other. They both boast big time sluggers like Carlos Peña, Evan Longoria, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley. As the Phillies’ players Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino and the Rays’ teammates B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford manufacture runs with excellent baserunning.

Both teams have a comparable pitching staff. While lackluster in the regular season, the Phillies’ starting pitchers have been outstanding this postseason. Unhittable this October, Cole Hamels has shined alongside Joe Blanton. Highlighted by performances by ALCS MVP Matt Garza and James Shields, the Rays’ starting pitching team maintains a great record throughout the postseason. While the Rays have a young and skilled bullpen, without Troy Percival they lack a true closer. The Phillies boast closer Brad Lidge, who has not blown a save this season. Evident in their late-inning collapse against the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS, the Rays have no such talent. Instead, the team’s only saving grace is Rookie David Price, who closed out the Red Sox in Sunday night’s Game 7.

If the Rays use Price as their closer, they will win. Even without Price, the Rays are the better team. They conquered the toughest division in baseball. They took out the 2005 World Champions, the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS, and then defeated the defending champs in a seven-game thriller. Talk of a lack of postseason experience no longer applies to the Rays. This Cinderella is for real, and they will not rest until they can sip champagne from their glass slipper.

Prediction: Rays in six
MVP: B.J. Upton


Back in March, no one would have predicted that the Rays would be in the playoffs, let alone the World Series. After blowing a seven-to-nothing lead in the seventh inning against the Red Sox last week, it looked like the Rays might finally choke, as their critics long predicted. However, these Rays are not the same team that had the worst record in baseball last season. They’re scrappy. After fighting the Yankees in Spring Training, they’ve engaged in brawls with the Red Sox, winning 97 games in the competitive AL East. They even survived Boston’s comeback magic by clinching the AL Pennant Sunday night. The Tampa Bay Rays are the whole package, beating tough teams to get to baseball’s biggest stage. Quick on the basepaths and on defence, the Rays hit for power, and most importantly, they can pitch. The Rays are on a mission to be baseball’s Cinderella team.

The Philadelphia Phillies pale in comparison. They didn’t compete in the toughest division in baseball. Once again, their biggest competition, the Mets, demonstrated their ability to choke in September. Next, the Phillies defeated wild card Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Dodgers one-man show of Manny Ramirez. But this team hasn’t overcome the odds to get to the World Series; they have just played good baseball.

But good baseball isn’t enough to contend against the amazing Rays. The National League usually doesn’t stand a chance against the American League in the World Series, and 2008 will be no different. The Phillies will not inhibit the Rays’ mission to go from worst to first.

Prediction: Rays in four
MVP: Evan Longoria

Could race decide the race?

During his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama declared, “All across America, something is stirring.” But no one could have predicted the vicious sentiments that have been stirring at McCain-Palin rallies across the U.S. The thousands that gather to hear the Republican duo are greeted with vile, racially tinged rhetoric, as the Republican candidates question Obama’s patriotism and associate him with terrorism. The crowds respond with hateful attacks and unapologetic threats towards McCain’s Democratic rival.

Senator McCain once assured Americans that he would never resort to cheap, low blow tactics just to win an election. His hopes for the presidency have taken a significant beating over the past several weeks, and in a desperate attempt to revitalize his campaign, he has opted to use the issue of race in a blunt and aggressive way. On the surface, it seems like these scare tactics could hurt Senator Obama’s chances with undecided voters. The real threat comes from a deep-seated racial bias that many Americans still harbour, but are reluctant to admit.

Senator McCain’s support is dwindling, especially in states like Virginia and Colorado, once considered Republican strongholds. A shallow grasp of economics in troubled times, an incompetent running mate, and an unpredictable temperament that makes his disdain for Obama all the more crystal clear (especially during televised debates) have all but hastened the McCain campaign’s destruction. The McCain camp has taken on a new strategy of preying on the fears and prejudices of voters to combat the recent rush of independents flocking to the Democratic side. Ties to radicals, mischaracterizations of Obama’s policies, and attacks on his patriotism and religious orientation have become last resorts. While hard line Republicans appear to have an insatiable appetite for this sort of discourse, whether the negative rhetoric will pay off in the long run has yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, Obama has stiffened the competition in a number of traditionally red states. Numerous polls show him taking the lead, winning all three presidential debates. According to analysts and pundits, most Americans are comfortable with an African-American in the White House, or at least deem Obama qualified enough to be president. Despite this good news, a question lingers: could the candidate fall victim to the Bradley Effect?

The Bradley Effect is a political phenomenon that explains why polls might be skewed against white candidates. According to the theory, white voters tell pollsters they will vote for a black candidate to avoid seeming racially biased. Once they enter the voting booth, however, their ballot goes to the white candidate. The phenomenon is named after Tom Bradley, the African-American mayor from Los Angeles who lost his 1982 bid for governor. Ahead in the polls, Tom Bradley’s win seemed inevitable—but on election day his white opponent won the race by just a few percentage points.

Just two weeks before the election, there remains a chance that history may repeat itself. No one knows for sure what kind of an impact this phenomenon could have on the election. After all, Barack Obama triumphed over his white opponents in the Democratic primaries. Thus far, he’s shown level-headedness in a time of crisis and a depth of knowledge that his rival lacks. The Democratic homerun was wrought by eight years of mismanagement and unwise policies by the Republicans. Considering increased voter registration and a level of enthusiasm unmatched by any other party or candidate, preconceived notions about Barack Obama should become virtual non-factors by November 4th.

The outcome of this election will not end divisive politics, but it will encourage individuals to reexamine their own racist attitudes and reject the spineless tricks employed by Republicans.

Dion hangs his head and walks on by

It’s official: Dion’s out.

After an embarrassing defeat which saw Liberal support decreased to a historic low, it was quite clear that a leadership race would begin the next day. Dion has merely delayed the inevitable, remaining in power until the Liberal convention next spring.

Announcing his resignation at a press conference on Monday, Dion apologized for the election results by declaring, “I fully accept my share of responsibility.” While he contributed to the party’s defeat, we cannot blame him exclusively.

Let’s go back to 2006, when Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae went head-to-head as Dion placed third on the second ballot. As they had agreed in a backdoor pact beforehand, Gerard Kennedy, with fewer votes, withdrew and voiced his support for Dion. The underdog came out on top and won the next two rounds, making him leader.

Some blame Kennedy for Dion’s rise, but the Liberals didn’t have to support him. Many say that no one was right for the leadership, Rae being too left-wing and Ignatieff not well-liked. There was no Martin, Chrétien, or Trudeau among the candidates. It seemed as though no strong, popular leader could sweep in to save the Liberals. Dion took on the load because no one else would.

But Dion is different from most politicians. He’s an honest, intelligent, kind but geeky professor, with a honourable interest in working for Canadians. Dion has integrity—he’s the kind of person you would want to represent your country. But he is not an effective politician. Looking over his policies and politics, it seems significant that Dion’s biography is titled Against the Current.

As a Member of Parliament, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, and eventually Environment Minister, Dion worked hard for his country—he even wrote his own speeches. And unlike Harper staff in 2003, he would never plagiarize the Australian prime minister.

Tasked with dealing with the Quebec sovereignty movement, Dion managed to hold the country together. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to do the same for his party. Unable to connect with his MPs, Dion sometimes refused to compromise. He looked for new ways of doing things and moved around seats in the House of Commons, which upset many party members.

In addition to upsetting his fellow Liberals, Dion couldn’t communicate. The party leader struggles with English, which made it difficult for him to express his party’s platform to most Anglophones. He was neither charismatic nor articulate.

Worst of all, Dion couldn’t communicate his big plan. The Green Shift was lauded by many experts as exactly what Canada needs to save its environment and global reputation, but Dion wasn’t able to sell it. A difficult plan to explain—particularly one that includes taxation—is easily criticized, twisted, or simply misunderstood. Many party insiders had warned Dion of the risk, but he persisted. Conservative attacks plunged Liberal support levels. The Green Shift, and not Harper’s performance over the past two years, decided the election.

Dion couldn’t project himself as a leader. He scared away other parties, preventing coalitions from forming and allowing Harper’s bullying tactics to ensnare swing voters. This is why Canadians are stuck with a Prime Minister they don’t want.

The Conservatives’ attack ads played a huge role in the Liberal party’s downfall. The Tories started planning attack strategies as soon as they won the 2006 election, customizing their propaganda to the top Liberal leadership contenders: Ignatieff, Rae, Kennedy, and Dion. Consider a Dion speech from June, all the more pertinent now that the damage has been done: “We Liberals will fight fear with hope. We will fight lies with facts. And we will fight Republican-style attack ads with Canadian-style courage.”

Dion’s win was a surprise, and it helped the Conservative war machine to kick into high gear long before this election. No politician could have weathered those attack ads—nor could they have contended with the Tories’ budget. Dion is a brilliant policymaker, but he’s not fit to lead his party. His demise was caused by a host of factors: his genuine character, his uncompromising nature, issues of communication, and the resources at his opponents’ disposal.

But all hope is not lost. Many ridings were won by less than 100 votes on the Conservative side. This party has survived a major scandal, a weak leader, and a funding deficit. At present, Dion needs to keep Harper on task. The party will need more than a new face, but the current financial crisis should give the Liberals room to reorganize, heal intra-party conflicts, improve their communication abilities, fundraise, and refocus.

Corresponding with Patrick Brown

“When in conflicts, or dangerous places, or exotic places, there’s always this interest in ‘What’s it like trying to do journalism in such-and-such a place?’ That hasn’t changed, and I don’t think it ever will.”

Veteran CBC foreign correspondent Patrick Brown is sitting in a downtown Starbucks, describing the varied viewer response he has received to his three-decade career reporting abroad. He’s in the midst of a quick tour of Canadian cities to promote his book Butterfly Mind: Revolution, Recovery, and One Reporter’s Road to Understanding China, which came out this summer as Brown covered the Olympics from Beijing, the city where he has been stationed for the better part of 20 years.

We are discussing the allure—the myth if you will—of the foreign correspondent. As Brown recounts in his book, there is a certain minor-celebrity status that comes with reporting from abroad. When a 33-year-old Brown set out in 1980 to become a “fireman,” a correspondent zipping about from hotspot to hotspot where there is no resident reporter, he was excited to join the ranks.

“I was thirty-three years old,” he writes. “This move was a promotion to the major leagues of journalism, an opportunity to witness extraordinary happenings.”

So far, so good. But Butterfly Mind is not your typical memoir. Among the broad biographical details I ask him to fill in: Brown is 61 years old. He was born in Birmingham, England. He is married, but separated—his wife lives in Bangkok, he lives in Beijing. He has two sons, one of whom is in the British military and is currently serving in Afghanistan.

The question at the heart of Butterfly Mind concerns how one can write responsibly about being a foreign correspondent, given as Brown once said at the 2006 CBC Foreign Correspondents’ Forum, there is something abusive about a reporter registering their emotions before the viewer in the face of a tragedy.

“There is a style of reporting which is emotional and emotive, and belongs in my mind properly on The Grief Channel, if there were such a thing. I see it as being somewhat pornographic,” he said in 2006. “Violence and emotion is very compelling on television. I don’t see it as my job to tell you how I feel or how you think I ought to feel in the face of some disaster. My job is to present to you what is happening where I am, and it’s up to you to feel as you will.”

“I didn’t particularly want to do a China Rising Olympic Book, and I didn’t have time to do deep new research on a new China subject that would satisfy me as being original and compelling,” he says over coffee. “I thought combining a memoir with some insights into why China is the way it is and the way that it is the great exception to other countries, which it likes to present itself as, and the ways in which it is exactly the same as other countries.”

Alongside accounts of world events he witnessed in the 1980s—the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of the Solidarity party in Poland—is the story of his own descent into alcoholism. Brown delves into what he has learned about China by way of contrast.

When Brown first started reporting from China, he thought the Tiananmen Square Massacre was just another example of a communist party falling apart, similar to what he witnessed in Eastern Europe. China is the great exception. While the majority of Chinese may not be clamouring for western democracy, the people, says Brown, are outraged by injustice. Milk powder tainted with melamine is only the latest example.

“It was considered a national priority cover up the deaths of children in order to preserve the public relations for the Olympics. It’s outrageous, and it is the biggest threat to the Communist Party that they continue to do this because it puts them ever the more in disrepute with ordinary Chinese people who otherwise would think, ‘Hey, things aren’t that bad, things are improving.’”

“It’s still not a place where human rights is widely respected. Many people I know are in jail for what they said and what they’ve written, but nevertheless, it’s a much more open society than it was. Still, ‘Let’s cover it up, let’s pretend it didn’t happen,’ is a very powerful impulse.”

The book’s structure can make for complex reading that some have found difficult to appreciate. Jay Smith in Vue Weekly claims the book contains too little of Brown’s alcoholism to be a memoir, and concludes that the author’s failure to go into greater specifics about his experiences during the collapse of the Soviet bloc was the result of drunkenness, not, say, the “butterfly mind” of the title, an epithet Brown was given as a child. He’s since grown into the nickname, which implies the attention span of an insect and the ability to flit from subject to subject.

“A butterfly mind turned out to be an asset for a foreign correspondent who is expected to be on the air speaking in an apparently knowledgeable and sensible way hours after descending into a chaotic and violent situation in a country he’s never visited before,” he writes.

Smith critiques, “Why is Brown bothering to write about his battles with alcohol against a washed-out backdrop of world history if he doesn’t really want to talk about the former and can’t talk about the latter?” Smith infers that Brown is trying to be a Canadian Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent for The Independent and of Pity the Nation fame.

More apt comparisons might be to John Scully’s Am I Dead Yet? 71 Countries, 36 War Zones, One Man’s Opinion, published last year, and from 2003, Anthony Feintein’s Dangerous Minds: War and the Men and Women Who Report It. Scully’s work garnered attention for the long-time CBC and CTV producer’s personal story of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, though the stories were in the typical vein of veteran correspondent memoir. Looking for the typical memoir might be Smith’s mistake.

Brown’s story runs contrary to the common tale of war correspondent turned alcoholic. Of his own substance abuse, Brown writes, “It is commonly supposed that some journalists drink heavily because of the dangerous and irregular lives they lead, but I am absolutely sure that, in my case at least, this is back-to-front. If I had been a bank manager or a bishop I would still have been a drunk. I was not drinking because of what war was doing to me. On the contrary, one of the reasons I liked going to wars was that it gave me license and an excuse to drink.”

Concurrent with his descent into alcoholism, he notes in the development of a persona inflated by the interest in war journalism, offering him the opportunity for self-indulgence he now finds shameful.

“It was on my second trip to Lebanon, during the Israeli invasion of 1982 and the ensuing siege of West Beirut, that I really found the voice of the person I wanted to pretend to be. That voice had the weary swagger of someone pushing beyond normal limits, living life on the edge, saddened by the violence around him, but somehow rising above it all to send dispatches from the belly of the beast,” writes Brown.

“The most important words were the sign-off, ‘Patrick Brown, Beirut.’”

When asked about the development of this swagger and whether it’s part of being a correspondent, Brown is unequivocal.

“Well, I was a drunk.”

But is being a drunk the cause of that former persona?

“It’s hard to separate what it is. Still, to this day, there is a certain amount of satisfaction to be gotten from being able to do a difficult thing well in dangerous circumstances. Part of being an alcoholic, as the illness progresses, is a kind of self-aggrandizement, a bravado, and that plays so readily into the myth of the foreign correspondent with a battered old suitcase and a typewriter and a bottle of scotch and a press card in his hand.”

Especially when that stereotype includes the bottle of scotch. Brown is now a recovered alcoholic. CBC top brass had an intervention with him in the late ’80s when he missed an assignment after blacking out.

“People invite you to play that stereotype and it becomes quite—I don’t know, it’s a whole set of circumstances that leads to what I describe in the book, and some people thought I was rather too frank about it, and others think it’s great that you’re willing to say, ‘Hey, here’s something I got wrong.’ Because a lot of journalists’ memoirs are ‘I went to so-and-so when such-and-such was happening, and I was great, and I got it right every time.’”

It’s the need to be true to the work that runs through Butterfly Mind—the belief that quite aside from the need to be honest as a journalist, Brown’s personal chaos found a release in the larger political landscape, a destructive, dictatorial force that dishonesty imposed in both.

“One reason that I wrote about alcoholism more than I might have done otherwise is that I see a very interesting parallel between personal recovery from that kind of distortion of your life and recovery of these countries that went through huge amounts of turmoil and misrule and are trying to get themselves back together. The key to both is honestly taking a look at your situation and resolving to do things differently.”

Arson hits McMaster rez

Most of the 559 residents of Brandon Hall at McMaster University in Hamilton awoke to a blaring fire alarm at approximately 4 a.m., Saturday Oct. 18, and stumbled into the cold autumn air in their pajamas. The few who didn’t woke up smelling smoke.

“We heard the alarm, and thought that it was just some kind of prank, or a drill. We were just making our normal route out of the building when we saw the fire coming from the elevator. A lot of people slept through the alarm altogether,” recalled first-year student, Mika Iwata.

The early morning fire at the university residence had four people sent to the hospital.

The Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office on Saturday deemed the fire in McMaster’s largest residence hall arson, sparking a full-fledged investigation involving every student present at the time of the fire. With no university personnel at the residence hall after 3 a.m., the culprit only needed a swipe card key to gain entrance to the building.

“We don’t really know anything about the investigation,” said Iwata. “We heard that the fire started in the elevator with a bunch of newspapers and some lighter fluid, but they haven’t confirmed anything. We had to talk to the cops, though. Most people are more annoyed and stressed than scared. We’re all pissed that we don’t have our stuff, though most of us found a place to stay.”

A large percentage of the displaced students are staying with friends or relatives. The rest are temporarily accommodated at the Ron Joyce Stadium team rooms and the Ivor Wynne Activity Center.

The fire came at an inopportune moment. McMaster University is in the midst of mid-term exams and assignments. Due to the fire, residents are missing their notes and textbooks, along with other personal items.

“I wouldn’t want to speak for the student body as a whole,” said University spokesperson Andrea Farquhar, “but most students are more worried about their belongings, academics, and their residence than they are about the fire. Nothing is due this week for these students, but the arrangements are made with individual students, depending on whether they feel able to write their exams or not—given the situation.”

Extensive steps have been taken by McMaster to ensure that students have a successful year. The majority of residents have been able to acquire their essential belongings. The university estimates that they will be able to move back into the residence in January.

“We’re trying to reassign housing in groups,” continues Farquhar, “We’re really looking at the long run, trying to make sure that these kids not only have somewhere to live, but a good experience, and a sense of community.”

In the meantime, the investigation continues through Detective Marco Delonte, head of Hamilton police’s arson unit, though no developments have been made public.

“We really can’t disclose what’s going on with the investigation, without sabotaging our own investigation,” said one McMaster security officer. “But I can tell you that we’re working with the cops, and they’re all over the place conducting the investigation.”