Are we neglecting our soft power assets?

What is it with Canada?

Canadians used to think of themselves as global citizens, par excellence. Recently, though, this image has taken a battering.

Canada is now so obstructive in climate negotiations that even the Chinese government has had enough of its ‘conniving’ ways. In the midst of global economic turmoil, Canada’s main priority for the recent G7 summit was to force feed finance ministers seal meat.

And, at the Winter Olympics, it is so desperate to Own the Podium that it has  long planned to keep practise sessions for other countries to an absolute minimum in order to ensure its athletes get maximum home advantage. “Skeleton racer Mellisa Hollingsworth will be flying down the fastest track in the world at Whistler with the benefit of 200-plus more practice runs than her rivals,” boasted one of its papers last week.

Canada was told that this policy could be disastrous, especially for the luge and for skeleton (a kind of tobogganing) where the Canadians have built a faster track than any in the world, making practise essential.  “The speeds are going to be high up in the 100s,” warned the British performance manager. ” Therefore accidents are going happen and do happen in sports such as these. We’ve seen broken legs or even worse before for example.”

Sure enough the worst did happen, with Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili killed just hours before the opening ceremony. Charmingly, the Canadians have quickly wrapped up an investigation that blames the dead guy for the accident.

On Thursday, a BBC survey showed that Canada’s international image is beginning to take a battering:

Several countries saw sharp falls in positive ratings of Canada—in the USA the proportion rating Canadian influence as positive fell from 82 per cent to 67 per cent, in the UK from 74 per cent to 62 per cent, in Australia from 77 per cent to 72 per cent, and in China from 75 per cent to 54 per cent.  Overall, comparing views in 15 of the countries that were surveyed last year, the proportion rating Canadian influence in the world as mainly positive has fallen on average from 57 per cent to 53 per cent.

Even Canadians, the survey shows, believe the country has a less positive global influence than before. One wonders: do they care?

Eat like you’ve never heard of Alex Evans!

Alex has got a good deal of media attention for his excellent new Chatham House report on future of food crises but the Daily Telegraph got the real scoop – by making up a scare story about the death of the Sunday Roast:

Researchers at Chatham House, a think-tank, found that a recent fall in the price of butter, milk and bread was likely to be only a “temporary reprieve”.

The price hikes would hit the price of beef, pork and lamb harder because they are reared on proportionately more grain than “white meat” like chicken.

Alex Evans, the report’s author, said the likely effect would be to make Britons less reliant on beef as a core part of the nation’s diet.

“It will become more expensive,” said Mr Evans. “We are not saying people won’t be able to have a Sunday roast but we will be eating less red meat in future.”

Now, there are some kill-joys who might point out that Alex’s report doesn’t actually mention the Sunday Roast once, but Global Dashboard has an established track-record of commentary in defense of fine British food: check out Evans and Gowan on Bubble, Squeak and eels last July.  But the fact that pork prices are set to sky-rocket may explain an American internet phenomenon noted by the NYT today: a BBQ recipe going viral.

This recipe is the Bacon Explosion, modestly called by its inventors “the BBQ Sausage Recipe of all Recipes.” The instructions for constructing this massive torpedo-shaped amalgamation of two pounds of bacon woven through and around two pounds of sausage and slathered in barbecue sauce first appeared last month on the Web site of a team of Kansas City competition barbecuers. They say a diverse collection of well over 16,000 Web sites have linked to the recipe, celebrating, or sometimes scolding, its excessiveness. A fresh audience could be ready to discover it on Super Bowl Sunday.

Where once homegrown recipes were disseminated in Ann Landers columns or Junior League cookbooks, new media have changed — and greatly accelerated — the path to popularity. Few recipes have cruised down this path as fast or as far as the Bacon Explosion, and this turns out to be no accident. One of its inventors works as an Internet marketer, and had a sophisticated understanding of how the latest tools of promotion could be applied to a four-pound roll of pork.

Leaving aside the new media aspect of all this, I’d argue that Americans are wisely stuffing down bacon and sausage before the prices head back up.  If you want to make your own Bacon Explosion, the recipe’s here.  My own urge to start layering the bacon wrapping was reduced by the discovery that the outcome looks like, well, you know…



For those more interested in making a quick buck than a Bacon Copralite (google it yourself), switch over to Porkworld, Latin America’s leading swine-trade website, which naturally features quotations from one Alex Evans…

Who’ll bail out the IMF?

The IMF is in danger of running out of cash

David Cameron yesterday warned that the UK could be forced to go cap in hand to the IMF, as it did in 1976 under chancellor Denis Healey. (This, by the way, at the launch of a new programme at Demos about ‘progressive conservatism’. Et tu, Demos?)

The question is, would the IMF have the cash. Click on more to read a story I recently wrote for my mag,, which looks at the risk of the IMF running out of money in the next 18 months, and asks what the chances are of it receiving more funds from cash-rich G20 governments (answer: slim).

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The Bush administration finally finds a treaty it likes

From the State Department (with some explanatory notes added by GD):

Statement by Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
January 9, 2009

January 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. We note with pride the century of cooperation with Canada in managing water quality, quantity, and environmental health along our 5,525-mile border. The Treaty also established the International Joint Commission, which has played a vital role as an independent steward of these shared resources. Comprised of Commissioners from both countries, the Commission has been an outstanding example of collaborative governance and stewardship *, facilitating cooperation, preventing and resolving water-related disputes, and approving and overseeing operation of several major dams and hydropower stations along the border.

Millions of Americans and Canadians depend on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River system for drinking water, trade, jobs, recreation, and more. Through the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the International Joint Commission, our two nations are working diligently to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem.**

The Boundary Waters Treaty remains vibrant as it enters its second century. Recent International Joint Commission initiatives such as International Watershed Boards provide opportunities for local stakeholders to build networks that can prevent or resolve problems at the community level. The Treaty continues to be a model for managing shared resources***and a tribute to the enduring friendship between the United States and Canada.****

* The reference to “governance and stewardship” may signify a career State drafter trying out a few liberal, internationalist phrases so as to be ready for the next administration. Had this been drafted in 2003, it’d probably have referred to “the joint commitment of freedom-loving nations to God’s aquatic gift to mankind”.

** I’ve read this a number of times, but it does indeed appear to be a positive reference to international environmental regulation by the Bush administration. I assume they think Dick’s too busy burning stuff to get pissed about this one.

*** Well yes, it’d be easier to resolve resource conflicts if the opponent was always Canada.

**** This is most likely a coded reference to the fact that the Canadian Conservative government is one of the few regimes on earth that may actually be sorry to see the Republicans go…

Predictions for 2009: we count our chickens before they’re hatched. Literally.

Charlie has got some debate going with his ten predictions for 2009, and I’m not going to try to rival it.  But after a year of following food prices unusually closely, I’ve decided to go where even Alex Evans has not gone before in an effort to tell the future: the official US Poultry Outlook Report – December 2008.  And no, this isn’t about avian flu.  It’s about how the global downturn is going to create a rift between increasingly internationalist turkey farmers and isolationist, America-first chicken and egg producers.  Feathers will fly!

Let’s start with chickens (to the initiated, “broilers”).  For the first nine months of last year, production was growing strongly.  But as food prices slumped over the last few months, so did the number of “chick placements” – which I assume is code for “fattening the little critters up in a big shed until they can’t walk”:

Over the last 5 weeks (8 November to 6 December, 2008), the number of chicks placed for growout averaged 7.4 per cent lower than for the same period in 2007. With uncertainties about the domestic and world economies, the trend of year-over-year declines in chick placement is expected to continue well into 2009. With smaller chick placements forecast, the estimates of broiler meat production have been adjusted downward in fourth-quarter 2008 and in the first three quarters of 2009.

Who are we going to blame for this? Foreigners. Unless they like brown meat:

All the uncertainties in the global economy have combined to sharply reduce the demand for broiler exports . . . but declining exports may be slightly mitigated by lower prices for leg quarters, the primary export.

So expect the chicken farming lobby to turn inwards. Their disinterest in foreign affairs will only be compounded by increasing imbalances in the egg market:

Shipments of all shell eggs and egg products in October totaled 17.9 million dozen, down 13 per cent from the previous year. Much of the decline is due to lower shipments to Mexico and Hong Kong.

But it’s all very different on the turkey front. There’s a glut of the damn things – more and more are being put into cold storage – and production is expected to slow  as a result. With supply higher than demand, the U.S. needs to offload large quantities of its national bird. Fortunately, there are proven markets available:

Turkey exports remained very strong in October, totaling 71.8 million pounds, up 36 per cent from the previous year. Much of the increase in October’s turkey exports was due to higher shipments to the largest markets — exports to Mexico, Canada, and the combined China/Hong Kong markets were all up considerably from the previous year.

So that’s good news… but wait a minute! Not only is China propping up the U.S. economy by buying vast quantities of American bonds, but now we discover that it will start underwriting the turkey industry? What if Beijing stopped buying? Even Mexico slapped a temporary ban on birds from some U.S. plants just before Christmas on health grounds.  And last Tuesday Russia demonstrated its resurgent nationalism by slashing its total poultry import quota from the U.S. by 1.25 million metric tons to 952,000 metric tons.  So here’s my first big question for 2009: can the U.S. poultry industry adapt to a multi-polar world?

Next week: a post in which I explain the new world order by tracking trends in the price of tea-leaves.

The Boyd Conference 2008

46°14′00″N 63°09′00″W Prince Edward Island, Canada.

I’m taking part in a roundtable on community resilience, 4&5GW and the decline of the state. The aim of the roundtable is to bring together individuals from a range of backgrounds to challenge current thinking and assumptions in our present political and societal systems.  Two presentations which I’ll be live blogging on will be Chet Richards on Mindsets and Character and John Robb on Community Resilience. There is no set agenda for the conference. This afternoon we will be running a series of open sessions… one of which is likley to be on community resilience.

If you have a question for Chet or John send me a tweet. Update: Thanks for the questions – answers will be tweeted soon. 

Update: Notes from John Robbs’ presentation after the jump + MP3 of Chet.

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