Saturday, May 30, 2009

Canine Carnage and the Bloodcapades

What Off the Chain lacks in production value it makes up for in sheer brutality.

The film provides a brief historical overview of the development of the Pitbull terrier. Brought to North America by upper-class Irish immigrants, these dogs were orginally pitted against live stock -- bulls -- in a bloodsport. When staging fights between dogs and bulls was outlawed the owners of the animals instead simply matched the dogs against one another.

Today dog fights are illegal. That, however, has done little to curb the continuing, organized manner in which these fights are being staged.

The extent to which dog men train their animals in the same manner in which human fighters train is remarkable. Conditioning through running and swimming are as much a part of dogfighting as they are human bloodsports like the UFC.

Unlike human athletes, there is no limit to what dog men will do to their animals. In one case, a dog man demonstrates a technique he developed where he drugs his dog so he can file its teeth into the sharpest points he can manage. Of all the depravities exerted on human athletes -- including the forced use of steroids by Soviet athletes -- few things compare to this.

The most important difference between the two is that human fighters enter competition of their own free will. The dogs matched against each other in dog fighting have no opportunity to choose.

Unlike a human competitor, the dogs matched against one another in dogfights are often denied medical attention after their matches. Even dog men who insist that they love their dogs dearly admit to killing a dog who quits or can no longer compete -- sometimes by truly brutal means. And they always seem to speak of their dogs purely in monetary terms.

One dog man talks about his dog being worth $20,000, and talks about putting down dogs who fail to produce for him -- hardly the way one treats a living creature that he actually cares about to the extent that this individual claims to care for his dog.

This is of little surprise. Who, after all, could doubt the sincerity of someone who raises a dog just so it can be maimed in battle against another dog?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Clever Fucking Idiocy

Pierre Poilevre sparks a firestorm over racist remark

Sometimes, a metaphor can simply be too cute to pass up when looking for a clever way to dig at a political opponent.

If Pierre Poilevre thought his remarks in the House of Commons today were one of those metaphors he's entirely too stupid to put his evident cleverness to good use

In a bid to remind Canadians that it was Michael Ignatieff who thought up the carbon tax on which Stephane fought and lost an election -- itself a noble act -- Poilevre made a crack that will seem to many to be reminiscent of the "secret black baby" comments used against John McCain, except without the effectiveness.

"On that side of the House, they have the man who fathered the carbon tax, put it up for adoption to his predecessor and now wants a paternity test to prove the tar baby was never his in the first place," Poilevre announced.

Which should have provoked a broad response of "what the fuck were you thinking" from his colleagues in the Conservative party caucus.

Liberal party House Leader Ralph Goodale rightly denounced Poievre's comments.

"In addition to being a pejorative term, which might well prove to be unparliamentary, the parliamentary secretary might consider that there are many authorities both in this country and many others that consider the term racist," Goodale said.

Marlene Jennings later continued the counter-attack.

"As a black child growing up, I was called all sorts of pejorative names based on the color of my skin, including the 'n-word' and 'tar baby' -- and believe me, it was hurtful," she explained. "I am offended by Mr Poilievre's insensitive remarks --and I know leaders in the black community across Canada feel the same way."

If Poilevre has an apology in the works -- which he'd damn well better -- it had better be a god damned good one when Canadians finally hear it.

All Canadians -- regardless of political affiliation -- should be outraged to no end by Poilevre's comments.

We Got Your Media Bias Right Here!

Canadian Broadcast Standards Council gives Stephane Dion something to whine about

According to a spokesperson, former Liberal party leader Stephane Dion thinks a recent decision by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council "speaks for itself."

Certainly, it does. But not in the way the perpetually-whiny Dion seems to think.

The decision was in regards to a complaint over the broadcasting of an interview between Dion and CTV Halifax News Anchor Steve Murphy in which Dion asked for the interview to be re-started on numerous occasions. The CBSC also claimed that Murphy failed to explain the question to Dion when it became apparent that he didn't understand it.

Yet the question, as it turns out, was actually rather simple. Murphy had asked Dion "if you were Prime Minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper has not done?"

Dion responded by launching into his party's campaign platform. After Murphy took significant pains to explain the question to Dion, Dion again flubbed the question. It took the intervention of one of his aides to explain to Dion, in french, the question.

The interview revealed two basic facts about Dion's candidacy for Prime Minister. First, it revealed that Dion had no idea, whatsoever, what he would have done to avoid the economic crisis and subsequent recession (a crisis that began in the woefully under-regulated financial markets of the United States and spread abroad). Second, it revealed that Dion's language skills were simply not up to snuff to be Prime Minister of this country.

Canadians would be rightly alarmed at the election of a Prime Minister who doesn't speak French. Canada's Official Languages Act designates that Canada has two official languages, not one. It isn't unreasonable to expect that the Prime Minister should be able to speak both languages.

Just as a Prime Minister who cannot speak French cannot be expected to function effectively in the Province of Quebec -- and thus be hampered in his ability to address key responsibilities -- no Prime Minister who cannot speak English could be expected to function effectively in the rest of the country.

Canadians understand this. There's a good reason why Canada hasn't elected a functionally unilingual Prime Minister since Lester Pearson.

Beyond this detail, if a federal party leader doing everything he can to saddle the incumbent government with a looming recession that he knows full well that government isn't responsible for cannot explain what he would do differently that leader's credibility in terms of managing the economy is naturally called into question. Canadians have a right to know if an individual who may well become Prime Minister of this country doesn't know his economic ass from a teakettle.

The CBSC's decision seems to hit all the bases that a politially-motivated decision would reach, counter-factually insisting that Murphy's question was "confusing, and not only to a person whose first language is other than English."

Yet the millions of Canadians who realized that Dion's ability to offer any kind of constructive alternative to the Conservative government's management of the economy was precisely is understood the question. Canadians got the question. The CBSC, we're expected to believe, didn't.

But if CTV's handling of Stephane Dion's inability to answer a basic question in English was truly so terrible, one may wonder where the CBSC was when CBC reporter Christina Lawand was caught red-handed dishonestly editing footage of Stephen Harper to make him appear callous.

Oddly enough the CBSC had nothing to say about that, a case in which disinformation was deliberately broadcasted by a Canadian news agency. Apparently, we're to believe, that is A-OK.

Naturally, CTV President Robert Hurst takes issue with the CBSC's decision.

"We are deeply concerned by the tone and content of the council's decision as it is not the CBSC's role to police the nature of the questions any news organization chooses to pose to a public official," Hurst mused.

Nor, apparently, is the CBSC's role to address the deliberate broadcast of disinformation -- unless, apparently, that politician is a Liberal party leader.

Other bloggers currently writing about this topic:

Dan Shields - "158...Thought Police Strike Again; Poor Stephane"

The Not So Much News - "Making fun of Stephane Dion or journalistic integrity?"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Michael Ignatieff: The Anti-Obama

While featuring an unfortunate partisan flourish in the opening seconds of this video -- a clip of the irresponsible "Just Visiting" campaign ads the Conservative party has recently deployed -- this video of Michael Ignatieff speaking to a Liberal party rally in Hamilton should remind many people that, while Michael Ignatieff is certainly a considerable step up from his predecessors of as leader of the Liberal party, he holds the same attitude that many Canadians find distressing about the Liberal party.

"We created the country you live in," Igatnieff says. "Never forget it."

For a party working so hard to emulate US President Barack Obama, this is the kind of thing that demonstrates that they simply don't get it. For anyone who's actually paid attention to Obama, to his rhetoric, and to the nature of his politics, this kind of language seems utterly alien to the political approach of the American President.

In insisting that the Liberal party created Canada -- at least in its modern-day form -- Ignatieff insists that the Liberal party is entitled to all the credit for the shape and form of modern-day Canada.

Within an argument like this no credit would be due, for example, to the NDP for Canada's public health care system. The NDP essentially forced Lester Pearson's government to implement public health care -- which Tommy Douglas had successfully introduced in Saskatchewan -- under risk of losing their government.

As someone who boasts about how he knocked on doors for "Mike" Pearson, Michael Ignatieff knows this full well.

With an argument like the one Ignatieff has used, John Diefenbaker would receive no credit for reforming immigration policies that had once been designed to minimize the influx of non-European migrants to Canada, nor would Diefenbaker receive any credit for writing the Bill of Rights.

Moreover -- and most seriously -- with an argument like the one Michael Ignatieff has used the Canadian people who be entitled to no credit for their own, day-to-day efforts in building Canada.

The doctor who healed patients within the universal health care program that the Liberals tried like hell to never create would receive no credit. The school teachers who educate Canadian citizens would receive no credit. The Canadian soldier who deploys to distant lands in support of the Canadian values of peace, order and good government would receive no credit.

Ignatieff's insistence that "we [the Liberal party] created the country you live in" is distinctly at odds with Barack Obama's empowering message of "yes we [together] can".

It speaks to an attitude of smug selfishness in which the Liberal party, as a "national institution" feels it's entitled as the "natural governing party" to forever dictate the direction of this country, and that even a ten degree change of political course should be considered intolerable simply because it upsets the Liberal party-approved status quo.

It is this attitude, if unchanged, that will permanently hobble the Liberal party and, so long as this party remains Canada's "natural governing party" will also hobble the country as a whole -- limiting the range of the actions that we as a country would consider, and maintaining one small elite group's belief that they are entitled to monopolize the marketplace of Canadian ideas.

One can say what they will about Barack Obama. One would never find him declaring that he, and he alone, is entitled to the credit for anything his administration may accomplish. One would never hear him echoing Michael Ignatieff, telling the American people, "we have built your country. Give us your votes, give us your tax dollars, and get out of our way so that we may set the stake of American politics."

Yet that is precisely how Ignatieff speaks to Canadians.

This is why, although the Liberal party will try, Michael Ignatieff could ever be Barack Obama.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This Day in Canadian History

May 26, 1969 - John Lennon records "Give Peace a Chance" in Montreal

If there is any one iconic image of John Lennon and Yoko Ono it probably should be Yoko breaking up the Beatles.

Yet, somehow, it isn't.

Rather, the iconic image of Lennon and Yoko Ono is actually the two of them in bed together, making music while photographers documented that event for posterity.

As it turned out, that event happened in a Montreal, Quebec hotel room. At the Queen Elizabeth Hotel Lennon and Ono staged their second "bed-in" for peace, and held court for dozens of celebrities.

It was during this Montreal bed-in that they recorded "Give Peace a Chance", easily one of the most iconic peace songs in the history of the genre.

Narrowing the Debate on Public Health Care

With Barack Obama's efforts to reform the American health care system getting set to kick into high gear, vested interests on both sides of the health care debate are making moves to try to ensure that nothing resembles a full and open debate on the topic ever takes place.

In the united states, Rick Ross and Conservatives for Patients Rights have been distributing videos warning about the alleged horrors of Canadian universal health care, in which patients outline horror stories about lack of accessibility to Canadian health care.

The Real News Network has responded with a video interviewing random passers-by on Toronto's hospital row, attempting to guage Canadian's level of satisfaction with public health care.

Both provide a calculatingly incomplete image of Canada's universal health care system, each one tailored to the needs of one particular set of advocates -- those advocating in favour of publicly-funded universal health care in the United States, and thsoe advocating against it.

No one should confuse the stories peddled by Rick Scott to be absolutely representative of Canadian health care. By the same token, however, neither should anyone make the same error in regards to the stories being peddled by Geraldine Cahill insisting that Canadian health care is A-OK and everyone is entirely satisfied with it.

Not only are there existing problems with Canadian health care, but many Canadians have found it to be far less than satisfactory.

Perhaps the most telling statistic in Canada is that of the amount of after-tax income Canadians are spending on health care. One should immediately recall that universal health care in Canada is paid for out of tax revenues and, as such, the expenditure of after-tax income on health care actually amounts to a sort of double spending on said health care.

Moreover, recent studies have suggested that Canadian public health care, as it currently exists, is unsustainable. Increasing funding demands on Canada's public health care system have been increasing on an ongoing basis, as the system continually requires funding hikes of an ever-increasing percentage.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information has admitted that Canadian health care spending is growing faster than Canada's economy -- a very basic blueprint for an unsustainable system.

Another key statistic is that of wait times for medical care. In 2007 wait times for elective surgery had reached an all-time high, despite government action to reduce wait times for surgery.

So not only is the Canadian government increasingly spending more and more money to keep Canada's public health care system afloat, Canadians are also seeing diminishing returns on their tax dollar investment.

Certainly, Geraldine Cahill isn't going to get this story from conversing with passers-by on Toronto's Hospital Row, and considering the Real News' particular ideological bent a real question remains about whether or not she'd broadcast it if she did.

Just like Rick Scott clearly has a vested interest in overlooking some very key facts about the American health care system.

Many of these facts are universally well known. 15% of American citizens do not have any health insurance or health care coverage. Moreover, the American government actually spends more money per capita on health care, and provides Americans with less coverage.

If the Canadian health care system is a basic blueprint for an unsustainable system, the American system, in which the federal government pays 35% of health care costs, state and local governemnts pay 11%, private health insurance -- often provided by employers -- pays 36% and the remaining 15% is paid out-of-pocket, is a very complex blueprint for an unsustainable system.

Yet in relying on alternately nightmarish and sparkling anecdotal evidence, both Rick Scott and Geraldine Cahill are acting in a manner that fundamentally narrows the scope of debate on public health care. It obscures the reality of a health care system that, over all, is of tremendous benefit to the people it services but still has key structural problems it has to overcome.

For example, one doesn't expect Cahill to say anything about the disproportioante amount of money Canada's public health system spends on the administration of that system. Entrenched management and bureaucracy has burdened Canadian health care with a high overhead.

Any efforts made by government to try to cull off excess bureaucracy within the system is immediately siezed upon by reactionary proponents of the status quo as "an attack on health care". Health care in Canada, it seems, is constantly under attack. And so must be defended on a permanent basis.

Those most willing to harness the rehtorical strength of these reactionaries -- "Jack Layton and the NDP" -- have even set off to the United States in order to help Barack Obama steer the public discourse in favour of public health care.

"We would go down there to not only defend Canada's health-care system -- but encourage them to adopt similar features," explained NDP national director Brad Lavigne. "[Medicare] is one of the greatest connections we have to each other."

While many Canadians would rush to disagree with Lavigne's implicit argument that universal health care is a central tenet of the Canadian identity, many would agree with him that the United States would be wise indeed to implement a system of publicly-funded health care. However, many of thsoe Canadians should also be honest enough to admit that recommending a complete emulation of Canada's health care system would actually be doing our neighbours a disservice.

But for those who want to reform Canada's public health care system advising Barack Obama on the construction of an American system is a golden opportunity.

Advising Obama on methods by which he could keep administrative and bureancratic glut under control -- thus allowing more funds to be devoted to front-end service -- would allow Canadians to help build a more efficient and effective system after which Canadians could model reforms to our own system.

Unfortunately, the only Canadian groups currently engaging in the American debate are the very parties that rely on the afotrementioned reactionaries for their political strength. Consider them to be something like a socialist equivalent of Rick Scott, opposing reform at all costs.

Those interesting in preserving Canada's public health care system before it becomes too bloated and unaffordable to preserve clearly have a vested interest in the current debate in the United States.

As Canada's system gets sucked deeper and deeper into the microscope of the American debate, the time for Canadian health care reformers to seize the role of Canada's voice in this debate away from the reacitonaries is now.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Loners, Losers and Canadian Multiculturalism

Speaking via ForaTv, former US President Bill Clinton explains how the adoption of the principle of majority rules in more and more countries around the world has a potential dark side -- the oppression of those who may not readily be considered part of that majority.

Clinton describes them bascially as "losers" and "loners", and says that the litmus test for any true democracy is whether or not a citizen has enough individual rights that they can potentially lose -- politically, economically, socially, culturally or otherwise -- and still be safe from oppression.

At its basest level, there does seem to be a key dilemma between majority rule and respect for the rights of minorities. As we see in many countries less enlightened than our own, in systems wherein majority rule is considered absolute minorities tend to not have many rights.

Multicultural societies should likely be considered less prone to this kind of absolutism. As Satya Das notes, because of the broad cultural variety of Canadian society Canadians have had to set aside our differences and respect the rights of groups that, if judged by a standard of ethnic -- as opposed to civil -- nationalism would themselves be minorities.

If Canadians continued to discriminate against groups such as Icelandic, Ukrainian or Irish Canadians there would be no shortage of people for those prone to such behaviour to discriminate against. What there would end up being a shortage of is Canadians among the so-called "majority".

This is one of the best reasons for Canadians who may not yet have come around to the idea of multiculturalism to acclimate themselves to it. Within the next thirty years caucasian Canadians will be a numeric minority in Canada. Those accustomed to enjoying a privileged position within Canada on account of being part of this so-called majority will find themselves in a rather uncomfortable position at that point.

But one also has to remember that there can also be a dark side to the group rights promoted by multiculturalism as well. As Benjamin Barber points out group rights -- particularly within minority groups -- can lead to a communitarian ethos in which minority groups demand absolute solidarity from its members, to the extent that members are forced to surrender individual rights in order to remain part of their community what eventually emerges is not a society that is more democratic, but in fact less.

Mixing the notions of majority rule with an overwhelmingly communitarian ethos leads to situations were people are not free, to the extent to which they are very literally enslaved by their communities.

Canada has, for the most part, passed the test of protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Whether Canada has succeeded in protecting the majority from what Preston Manning termed "the tyranny of the minority" is another matter entirely.

Some would argue that legalizing same-sex marriage over what they deemed to be the opposition of the majority -- which was actually the agreement of a minority coupled with the comparable indifference of the majority of Canadians -- empowered same-sex couples at the expense of the majority of Canadians. Many Canadians -- including this author -- would disagree with them, but this case is nonetheless argued.

The case that individuals are subjected to the tyranny of community is much stronger. Consider the case of aboriginal women denied rights granted by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- and, through it, Canada's Constitution -- because political elites within the aboriginal community oppose it.

These are merely two examples in which Canadian democracy has either failed, or is argued to fail, to amply balance the rights of majorities and minorities, and communities and individuals.

Although Canada has performed this balancing act better than many other countries, it's certainly been far from perfect, and there are many improvements that could be made.

Apologism, Defined

Lorne Gunter offers excuses for Conservative attack ads

In Canada's media environment the National Post is treated as Canada's predominant conservative newspaper.

If often receives a bum-rap for being exclusively conservative or reactionary -- often willfully overlooking the contributions made to the paper's Full Comment blog by individuals such as David Akin, Stephen LeDrew and, in the past, Warren Kinsella. Even mainstays such as David Frum aren't nearly as reactionary and dogmatic as the Post's detractors would have people believe.

There's little question that the National Post does, indeed, lean right. Sometimes it even makes good on its reputation. Such is the case today when, on the Full Comment blog, Lorne Gunter has seemingly settled for making excuses about the Conservative party's recent batch of anti-Michael Ignatieff attack ads.

Gunter does this by recounting the Liberal party's own litany of offences against political civility in Canada, and their historical tendency to wrap themselves in the flag while denigrating the patriotism of their political opponents:
"Not a fan of government monopoly health care? You're un-Canadian. Not big on easy unemployment benefits, official bilingualism, dismantling our military, beggaring our economy in the name of environmentalism, coddling criminals, huge public debts, activist judges, multiculturalism, foreign investment reviews, national energy policies and so on? Shame on you for being so un-Canadian."
There's little question that the Liberal party has indulged itself in these kinds of tactics often in Canadian history.

One recalls that the Liberals opened the 2005/06 federal election campaign by questioning Stephen Harper's alleged unwillingness to gush over his love of this country -- although his tendency to close his speeches with "god bless Canada" speaks well enough of his love for his country.

But Gunter is making the error of insisting that the Liberals' past misconducts excuse the ads the Tories have deployed against Michael Ignatieff:
"Now the Tories are using the Liberals' own tactic against them and the Grits are sputtering with indignation.

The clear implication of the Tories' current attack ads -- the ones pointing out that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff lived outside the country for 34 years and during that time frequently scoffed at this country'simportance-- is that Mr. Ignatieff does not care enough about this country to be entrusted with leading it.

The big problem for the Liberals is that the Tory ads, while exaggerated, are largely true: Mr. Ignatieff left the country, more or less permanently, in the 1970s, lived away most of his adult life and showed no intention of returning until he was seduced back by the idea of becoming Liberal leader in 2005.
Of course, the problem with this particular assertion is that the Liberal party was not yet in search of a new leader in 2005. Paul Martin expected not only to win the federal election early in 2006, but had previously expected to win the largest majority government in Canadian history.

Few Canadians actively expected the Harper Conservatives to defeat the Martin Liberals in the 2005/06 campaign. One has to remember that, adscam and all, they very nearly didn't.
"While he was away, Canada seems barely to have crossed his mind. For instance, in The New York Times, where he wrote opinion pieces for a time, he referred to 'we' Americans.

As recently as 2004 -- just a year before his opportunistic return-- Mr. Ignatieff said on C-SPAN, the congressional cable channel, 'Look, this is America and you have to decide what kind of country you want. This is your country as much as it is mine.'

During the 2006 election, when he was first seeking a seat in Parliament, he told The Harvard Crimson newspaper that if he lost he would move back to Massachusetts. If Canadian voters did not embrace him, he apparently had no intention of making his home here or working for the betterment of the country.
All of this may well be true. Michael Ignatieff may well have made career plans contingent on a possible electoral defeat. Any wise political candidate does.

Michael Ignatieff may well have spent the surplus of his adult life outside of Canada, and some of Ignatieff's comments could certainly be spun to suggest that he cares little for this country.

Certainly, the Liberals have rarely declined to spin any comments made by their political opponents into something more damaging to the public perception of their patriotism -- many Liberals continue to milk Stephen Harper's 1997 speech to the Council for National Policy, even though the full text of that speech demonstrates those comments to be far less than malignant.

They've even gleefully played the George Bush card when desperation left them with little else to work with:
"The Liberals like to say, still, that Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper is George Bush's biggest fan. Yet, while he was head of a human rights institute at Harvard University, Mr Ignatieff was a bigger defender of Mr Bush's war on terror than anyone else currently in Canadian politics."
All of this may well be true, and those with a taste for politics as a political bloodsport may all for the wild ruminations made in the Tories' anti-Ignatieff ads.

But the looming question is: does past Liberal misconduct truly excuse these ads?

Gunter offers his answer thusly:
"Now here's where the Liberals are their most hypocritical about the Tories' ads: Imagine their reaction if it were Mr Harper who had spent 34 years outside the country, moved back only to take a shot at being PM, said the only thing he missed while away was a provincial park and referred to himself as an American many times.

Other Liberals were saying the same things the Tories are of Mr Ignatieff just two-and-a-half years ago. While running against him for the Liberal leadership, Joe Volpe said no one who had been away for more than three decades could be an expert about his party or this country. Bob Rae complained 'there are things about a country that you don't learn from a book,' that can only be learned by being here and being at the centre of tough constitutional or economic debates. In other words, someone should only seek to lead this country if he has 'Canada in his bones.'

Now the Liberals are purple with rage at the Tories for saying pretty much the same things.
Certainly, the Liberals wouldn't hesitate to infer such things about Harper, or any other conservative leader who had done such things.

While some of Canada's most rabid partisan demagogues will offer no end of excuses for these transgressions, every Canadian who has paid so much as a modicum of attention to Canadian politics knows this.

Even the Liberals' own deployment of such such arguments against Ignatieff doesn't excuse the Conservatives' stooping to this level, as Gunter seems to infer:
"Again, I ask, imagine the Liberals' indignation and self-righteousness if it were a Tory leader who had spent very little time here in nearly four decades, who had (as Mr Ignatieff did) once told a British paper our flag reminded him of 'a beer label' and who, most significantly, had referred to himself as an American on several occasions.

In the 2006 election, Mr Harper proposed a rebuilding of our military. For that 'American' idea, the Liberals accused him of plotting to militarize our cities. They ran ads saying that were the Tories to be elected there would be 'soldiers, with guns. In our cities. In Canada.'

They claimed they were not making this up, but clearly they were. If they could spin wild conspiracies about military coups from a simple promise to rearm our military, it's not hard to speculate what they would make up to smear a Tory politician with the same CV as Mr Ignatieff.

Their ads would make the Tories' spots look like public service announcements for the Christian Children's Fund.
The point that seems to be lost on Lorne Gunter is that, if the Liberals' past conduct was truly so disgusting -- and there is no doubt that it absolutely was -- then we must expect our other political parties (and especially our alternative government) to be better.

The recent batch of Conservative campaign ads have demonstrated decisively to Canadians that they are not. Whatever other reasons Canadians have to support the Conservatives -- a stronger foreign policy, superior fiscal priorities and an all-around better nose for the current needs of the country -- moral superiority in political campaigning is no longer one of them.

Lorne Gunter's apologetics do nothing to change that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Is Michael Ignatieff As Good As His Word?

Ignatieff pledges not to reciprocate personal attacks

If there's any one word that could be used to sum up the recent Conservative ads regarding Michael Ignatieff, it's personal.

Rarely have Canadian politicians taken it upon themselves to attack a political opponent on such personal grounds, but the Conservatives have done this. It's absolutely undeniable.

Speaking on the matter today, however, the Liberal leader has pledged not to attack Stephen Harper on personal grounds -- at least not overtly.

"Let's be clear how we carry the attack, because I will not attack Mr Harper's patriotism," Ignatieff promised. "I will not attack his character. I will not attack his family. I will attack his record, and God knows, there's enough to work on."

"There's enough on the record that we can attack: record unemployment, record bankruptcies, record deficit," Ignatieff announced. "That should give us enough to be getting along with."

And while Ignatieff knows full well that the economic stimulus package -- the stimulus package that he and his fellow members of the opposition demanded -- is responsible for Canada's current deficit, and knows full well that economic mismanagement south of the border is responsible for Canada's current economic condition, it's encouraging to hear Ignatieff pledge to restrict his campaigning against Stephen Harper to substantive matters of policy.

And while it would be both encouraging and wise for the Liberal party to try to brand itself as the party of the high road -- thereby counter-branding the Conservative party as perveyours of low-road politics -- one also has to remember that this would be counter-characteristic of the Liberal party.

After all, it was the Liberal party that dressed Stephen Harper up in fictional policy. It was the Liberal party who insinuated that Harper would summarily declare martial law if elected to office.

Michael Ignatieff may personally be able to scrape together enough credibility to temporarily change the public image of his party. But Canadians will remember the disgusting and shameful lows the Liberals sank to in order to attack Stephen Harper. They'll remember that as disgusting and irresponsible as the Conservatives' current batch of political ads are, previous Liberal ads were even more disgusting and even more irresponsible.

Canadians may also be intrigued to be introduced, once more, to the "tough guy" personae, wherein he indulges himself in blue-collar tough talk, replete with calculatingly devolved language.

"If you mess with me, I will mess with you until I'm done," Ignatieff pronounced.

It's a bold statement, but one has to hope that Ignatieff is as good as his word. Even though the Liberal party has never succeeded electorally against Stephen Harper without resorting to personal -- and often fictionalized -- attacks, one has to hope that at least someone in Canada has the courage to rise above the personal mudslinging that has passed for political campaigning in this country for too long.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Ideas Revolutionary - "Attack Ads"

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fighting the Cold War Over a Chessboard

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the western bloc countries never tested each other in a shooting war. They did, however, often contest their differences over sporting events.

One of those was the Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky world chess championship match played in 1972 -- the same year that Canada confronted the Soviet Union in the famed Summit Series.

In the Soviet Union, the Bolshevik party embraced chess as a matter of public policy.

As with most forms of competition -- athletic, intellectual or otherwise -- the Soviet Union sought to mobilize dominance at chess for maximum propaganda value. But chess had particular appeal.

With its overwhelming focus on strategy and not-so-subtle overtones of militarism, dominance at a game like chess could offer comfort to any members of the Soviet populace who worried about open warfare between the USA and the USSR.

Likewise, Americans who were worried about a military conflict between the USA and USSR -- and who wouldn't have been, considering that such a conflict would inevitably involve nuclear weapons -- must have been very distressed by Soviet dominance of the sport of chess. At one point, the Americans had only one Grand Master. The Soviets had numerous, a benefit of their Chess school.

Canadians were distressed by Soviet dominance of hockey during the 1960s and 1970s, but Canadians didn't have to worry about having to directly play nuclear hockey with the Soviets from across the globe.

It was against this fearful cold war backdrop that Bobby Fischer, considered to be the great American hope, failed to show up at the appointed time for his world championship match. Of all things, Fischer was repeatedly holding out for more money.

Fischer was anything but patriotic in his motives. He remarked that he intended to play a chess match against a lesser opponent every month. Instead, his handlers wanted a system for the fair selection of contenders for the world chess championship.

After significant political wranglings -- not surprising considering the environment surrounding sport at the time -- the match finally got underway.

Once the match began, Fischer very nearly quit. He lost the first game, then forfeit the second. But eventually personal pride prompted him to continue the matches under better conditions -- he insisted that television cameras were too loud, and had been distracting him.

Fischer would game three, and go on to dominate the match. The Soviets would claim that Fischer was using some sort of mind control device against Spassky -- an ironic claim considering that it was the Soviets themselves who were experimenting with techniques such as remote viewing.

Eventually, Spassky was so overwhelmed he had little choice but to concede defeat.

But Fischer would refuse to defend his championship. By 1975, Fischer was forced to forfeit the world championship to Anatoli Karpov, Spassky's Kremlin-chosen successor. Spassky would eventually be exiled from the country.

Defeat was something that Soviet sporting officials never tolerated. Just as the American Olympic hockey victory over the Soviets at the 1980 Lake Placid games led to the political disfavour of phenomenal Soviet goalie Vladimir Tretiak, and the Soviet loss in the 1988 Canada Cup eventually led to the Soviet Union turning its best players loose for the professional game, Spassky's defeat prompted an effective exile to Paris.

Just as the days when Canadian hockey players grinded out international ideological conflicts against their Soviet counterparts will likely never return, nor will chess ever see another contest as ideologically contested as the 72 Spassky-Fischer match.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Genocide Via Computer

Of all the Terminator films, Rise of the Machines was certainly the most disappointing.

Directed by Jonathon Mostow in place of James Cameron, Terminator 3 came across with all the gloss, polish and adrenaline of a Hollywood action film, and none of the grit and tension of Cameron's masterpieces.

But, interestingly enough, of the three Terminator films, Rise of the Machines may have been the best-situated out of the three in terms of its prescience.

In the film, John Connor (Nick Stahl) is living "off-the-grid", with nothing but the clothes of his back and his motorcycle. He works day jobs to subsist himself, and has no place of residence, credit cards, or cell phone -- nothing that would leave a record he could be traced by.

Even though he and his now-deceased mother, Sarah Connor, have been led to believe they had averted Judgment Day by destroying Skynet, Connor lives in terror of the future, and rightfully so.

The future isn't nearly as secure as he would like to believe.

An encounter with Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) brings John face-to-face with both the T-X -- played by Kristanna Loken, a Terminator sent back to the eve of Judgment Day to kill off Connor's someday lieutenants -- and with the T-800 sent back in time to protect her -- a role again reprised by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As it turns out, the program that eventually leads to the creation of Skynet is still in operation. Brewster's father is the head of this project, and has his own concerns about removing human decision-making from defense planning. Meanwhile, an unstoppable computer virus is overwhelming the civilian internet, and is beginning to infiltrate defense networks.

The virus is Skynet. Whether it's been seeded in the past as seems to be happening in The Sarah Connor Chronicles or is created outside the defense program and merely infiltrates it remains unexplained.

As nuclear weapons cross the globe toward their targets, what is explained is that Skynet had presumably infiltrated millions of computers worldwide.

While one presumes that nothing as hyperbolic as a genocidal computer program plotting the wholesale destruction of humanity is currently occurring, it is a well known fact that many countries -- as well as private organizations and individuals -- have been investing in cyberwarfare capabilities that would allow them to strike at their opponents through their computer systems.

China has made its commitment to cyberwarfar technology a matter of public record. North Korea, India and other countries are also investing in cyberwar technologies at an alarming rate.

One particular cyberwarfare weapon, the zombie virus, uses infected computers to pass itself along to the next victim. It attaches itself to email and fax programs, and transmits itself through the user's own communications.

These programs can have purposes ranging from the theft of information to disruption of emergency services.

In Terminator 3, the virus' purpose was to facilitate the destruction of humankind.

Interestingly, the writers of Terminator 3 could be argued to accept the "inevitability thesis" of Andy Opel and Greg Elmer. But once again, one would have to counter by arguing that preemption is only as valuable as the amount of certainty with which it can be executed, and as the diligence used to ensure that the threat it is aimed at is actually destroyed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

(Still) Tripping Over Liberal Democracy

Human Rights Commission becomes central front in Ontario Tory leadership race

Those hoping for a lively Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership contest, with definitive matters of policy to debate, may finally have gotten their wish.

After many tranquil weeks Tim Hudak, one of the two individuals with a real opportunity to win this contest, has kicked off a political firestorm by mimicking Randy Hillier's pledge to abolish the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Christine Elliott -- the other candidate with a realistic chance to win -- opposes the move.

“It would be a gift to the Liberals, one they would exploit as ruthlessly as they did with faith-based funding,” said Elliott. “Just like faith-based funding, this is a policy that was made with the short term goal of winning a leadership campaign. Why on earth would we want to expose ourselves by plunging recklessly into such a controversial issue?”

“If we’re going to beat the Liberals, we have to show better judgment than that.”

Of course, there are numerous good reasons to support the OHRC. Defeating the McGuinty Liberals isn't really one of them.

If anything, the OHRC is becoming a battlefront in this contest between centrist progressive conservatives, like Elliott, and fiscal and social conservatives, like Hudak and Hillier. In a party recently battered by John Tory's election pledge to provide funding to faith-based schools -- something that many Ontarians seem to forgot is actually constitutionally entrenched -- real questions lurk over whether or not the party can afford to embrace any other social conservative-leaning policies.

Elliott and fellow candidate Frank Klees firmly oppose Hudak and Hillier's intention to abolish the OHRC, instead preferring to reform the commission.

The battle lines within the Ontario Progressive Conservatives couldn't more obvious when one examines the prominent endorsements already handed out -- Elliott has collected an endorsement from Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, and Hudak has recieved an endorsement from former Ontario Premier Mike Harris.

Regardless of which side emerges victorious in this tussle over the party's policy in regards to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Tories will have taken a stance regarding the shape and form that Ontario's democracy will take -- one in which an institution arguably used to show state favour will be eliminated in the name of reinforcing the neutrality of the state, and one in which neutrality of the state may be, to some degree, compromised in favour of ensuring a more just society.

One way or the other, the party will have made a statement that won't be easily rescinded.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Russ Campbell - "Frank Klees 1, Christine Elliott 0"

Canada Shifts Course on Piracy

But will Michael Byers finally be happy about it?

Speaking on a controversy dealing with Canadian handling of pirates captured off the coast of Somalia, Defense Minister Peter MacKay has announced that Canada is in negotiations with Kenya to secure an agreement that would allow Canadian sailors to turn captured pirates over to a tribunal in Kenya for trial.

Previously, Canada had been disarming captured pirates before releasing them.

Questions had been raised over how seriously Canadian forces take piracy in that region. MacKay stated in unequivocal terms how seriously Canada takes this.

"Let's be clear — this is financial terrorism," MacKay announced. "This is not unlike acts of terrorism that we see in other parts of the world, whether it be kidnappings, whether it be issues related to fanaticism and extremism in places like Afghanistan."

One would wonder how Michael Byers would react to this news. Byers had previously denounced the government policy on piracy as "ludicrous".

"Its ludicrous for the Harper government to claim that it can't arrest and prosecute pirates,” Byers said. “Canada has a legal obligation under the United Nations and international law to bring pirates to justice.”

“The more interesting question is whether we have the authority to release,” Byers insisted.

But one may think back to Byers' stance on another issue -- the alleged torture of Taliban militants by Afghan authorities -- and realize that Byers' attitude toward this issue is actually rather hazardous.

Byers had denounced Canadian troops turning prisoners of war over to Afghan authorities as illegal in the wake of allegations that some of them had been tortured (the Al Qaeda training manual instructs captives to falsely claim they had been tortured, but that's another matter).

One would wonder how Byers would react if Canadian sailors turned captured pirates over to Kenyan authorities who tortured them. Kenya, like Afghanistan, has a history of torturing prisoners.

In fact, negotiating a deal with Kenya similar to the one negotiated with Afghanistan in the wake of torture allegations is actually the right thing to do.

Canadian officials should retain access to any prisoners turned over to any other state so we may ensure that they aren't being tortured. While some claims of torture will naturally lack credibility -- those of aforementioned Taliban or Al Qaeda militants -- they all must be investigated fully. Canada cannot allow itself to be willingly complicit in torture.

However Byers would have reacted to the torture of Somalian pirates by Kenyan officials, one would have to imagine that he wouldn't have reacted favourably. Moreover, one can assume he would have blamed the Harper government for that torture.

Fortunately for Byers, nothing of the like has come to pass. Considering that it's been his stance that Canada must seek the prosecution of captured pirates, he would have been complicit in that torture.

There Is No Inevitable Fate

"There is no fate but the one we make."

This message is at the heart of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

The film picks up years after the original Terminator left off. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is in a psychiatric hospital in order to protect the public from the violent outbursts of her alleged psychotic delusions, and her son John (Edward Furlong) is in the care of foster parents.

Sarah lives in fear of the day when Skynet will either annihilate mankind with a nuclear attack or send another Terminator to kill her or her son. John, meanwhile, is living a rebellious life, angry at his current predicament.

This all changes the day that an extremely advanced terminator (played by Robert Patrick) is sent back in time to kill him. In place of Kyle Reece -- killed in the first movie -- the resistance sends a captured terminator (Schwarzenegger) back in time to protect him.

Allusions to Cold War tensions emerge for the first time in Terminator 2 as the terminator recounts for Sarah and John a more precise telling of how Judgment Day comes to pass. Skynet is designed initially as an automated pilot for stealth bombers, but eventually is placed in control of the entire defense grid of the United States -- including its arsenal of nuclear weapons.

When Skynet becomes self-aware, it responds to attempts to shut it down by launching nuclear weapons against the former Soviet Union. The notion of Mutually Assured Destruction is exploited by an entity that suddenly views the destruction of humankind as its best survival strategy.

Upon being rescued by John and the T-800, Sarah's first impulse is to slip into Mexico, away from Judgment Day's primary nuclear blast zones, in an effort to survive the initial attack.

Eventually, she decides instead to attempt to stop Skynet from ever being created by killing Myles Dyson (Joe Morton), the computer developer who will eventually create Skynet.

That attempt marks a turn in the film's plot in terms of the ideology of inevitability.

In Preempting Dissent, Greg Elmer and Andy Opel argue that preemptive action -- whether it be militarily preempting the actions of a rogue state or preempting political protests through the use of police power -- is predicated on a sense of inevitability.

In Terminator 2 James Cameron seems to reject this thesis, for a reason that seems evident to nearly anyone who thinks critically about that thesis. Preemption can only be justified if whatever it is aimed against can be prevented.

By striking against John Connor in the past, Skynet acts on the belief that its defeat by Connor in the future can be prevented. By striking against Skynet in the present -- by destroying all the research that leads to its creation -- John and Sarah act on the belief that Judgement Day can be prevented.

In choosing to collaborate with the Connors in the destruction of his work, Dyson shows a maturity that one wonders if many inventors would share -- destroying his life's work in order to prevent his life's work from taking billions of lives.

One may wonder what kind of a world we would live in today if the creators of the nuclear bomb had shown the same kind of restraint, or had heeded the warnings of Albert Einstein, whose theory of relativity actually made the splitting of the atom possible.

When the T-800 collaborates in its own destruction at the end of the film -- it cannot self-terminate, but it apparently can assist in its own termination -- it echoes Dyson's restraint.

That a machine with no real sense of human compassion -- that instead learned to mimic human compassion under John's orders -- could better comprehend the importance of such restraint than some of the arguably finest scientific minds humankind has ever produced should remain unsettling to virtually anyone.

Of course, the act of striking against a looming threat in order to avert it requires a specific amount of certainty -- first, that the threat itself can be averted, and certainty that the threat has been averted.

Preventing the weapons that humankind has created in order to defend itself from instead destroying us could never be accomplished in one fell swoop, so long as human minds remain intent on pursuing the means to destroy one another.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fearing the Future in the Urban Environment

The Terminator was written at a time when North American society was still coming to grips with the number of urban serial killers and disturbed "spree" killers breaking out in major cities. For many people, urban environments had become -- and remain -- extremely frightening environments, with danger lurking around every corner.

Contrasted to this was the ambivalence and anomie of people more accustomed to living in those urban environments. Emile Durkheim defined anomie as, essentially, normlessness. In order for social norms to break down social complexities and the industrial division of labour had to break down traditional social value systems.

Anomie reduced the constraints on the ways one could pursue their goals. As some individuals became more and more predatory those who adhered to more traditional social norms could more easily be victimized -- whether it be through crime or ruthless business practices. That sense of victimization could manifest itself in various social problems, including domestic violence, societal withdrawal and suicide.

This anomie led to the development of truly frightening urban landscapes. Street gangs, transient substance-users and homeless people provided for an intimidating vision of a society gone horribly awry. The urban landscape was seen as hard on the mental health of its inhabitants.

The Terminator played off this concept of the urban environment. Arnold Schwarzenegger's cybernetic pseudo-character and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) are initially framed against the image of a serial killer knocking off Sarah Connors in the very order in which they appear in the phone book.

Even after Reese saves Connor (Linda Hamilton) from the Terminator's first attempt to kill her she regards him with suspicion. The social disconnect of the urban environment -- resulting partially from the supplanting of traditional social values -- sewed deep mutual suspicion in city-dwellers.

In The Terminator James Cameron suggests that the most frightening prospect of urban life isn't necessarily the other people living that life, but rather the ultimate result of the industrialism that led to the development of the urban environment. In The Terminator's futuristic and constantly-changing future, this is a computer capable of making the decision to destroy mankind.

Cameron mixed the latent terror of the urban environment with futurism, a philosophical idea that muses about not only the potentially threatening or dehumanizing capacity of technology. Futurism is prevalent in the modern wave of neo-horror films in which technology is used to terrorize the film's protagonists.

In most of these films the threat was purported to be not technology itself, but a malevolent force that instead manifested itself through that technology. The danger was not necessary technology, but the omnipresence of it.

In the flashback scenes of The Terminator, Cameron spins this idea. Technology remains threatening, but is no longer omnipresent. Children huddle together in an underground bunker and stare into a television set in which a fire has been lit -- watching it as children did before Judgement Day. There seem to be very few telephones, no computers, and very little electricity of any kind. When a terminator arrives to clean out the bunker of human life, the danger posed by technology arrives from outside, as opposed to from within.

In The Terminator, James Cameron combined a latent suspicion of the unintended consequences of technology with the latent terror that had long become a part of urban environments.

As the one Terminator film actually produced during the Cold War it's actually rather intriguing that the political tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union would remain largely absent from the film itself. Those tensions wouldn't find a role in the franchise until the sequel.

A Foolish Assumption

There's nothing rational about discrimination

Writing in an op/ed column in the Globe and Mail, Tom Flanagan attempts to make the case that the Canadian Human Rights Commission is, essentially, obsolete and should be abolished.

In many ways, as Flanagan notes, Canada's Human Rights Commissions are largely responsible for their own current predicament -- that of a lack of public credibility:
"For the first time in a long time, human-rights commissions are on the defensive. The Harper government is taking away pay equity from the Canadian commission and University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon's report has recommended repeal of the commission's right to interfere with free speech.

Both federal and provincial commissions are suffering blowback from their unsuccessful attempts to muzzle media gadflies Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant. Mr. Levant, in particular, has declared a jihad against the commissions, drawing attention to the one-sided nature of the legislation under which they operate. For example, commissions pay expenses for complainants but not respondents; successful respondents cannot sue complainants to recover costs; commissions allow complaints for the same alleged offence to be lodged in multiple jurisdictions, amounting to double jeopardy.
There's certainly a case to made for this. The extremely self-destructive behaviour of many of the CHRC's investigators, including the one who was unscrupulous enough to hack the wireless internet connection of a private citizen, has made the CHRC extremely suspect in the eyes of many Canadian citizens.

The toll taken on the commissions by Levant alone has left the CHRC struggling to maintain its public sense of credibility.

But continuing Flanagan's analysis of the predicament confronting the CHRC hits an incredibly fatal flaw, when he attempts to analyze the phenomenon of discrimination -- with the CHRC is meant to combat -- in the same manner as would an economist:
"In a competitive market, discrimination is costly to the discriminator. An employer who refuses to hire workers because of race, religion or ethnicity restricts his own choices and imposes a disadvantage on his firm. Meanwhile, his competitors gain by being able to hire from a larger pool. The same logic applies to restaurateurs turning away potential customers, or landlords refusing to lease to people of particular categories. (I'll never forget the experience of owning rental property in the recession of the 1980s; I would have rented to Martians if they had showed up with a damage deposit.)

The argument applies no matter how rampant prejudice and discrimination may be. Those who discriminate impose burdens on themselves and confer advantages on their competitors. Competitive markets don't immediately abolish discriminatory practices, but they tend to erode them, not by trying to enlighten bigoted people, but by making discrimination unprofitable.
Flanagan overlooks two basic truths: one of economics, and one of discrimination.

Economics proceeds from the assumption that most people make rational choices. In any particular situation, they will make the decision that benefits them most fully -- or at least believes will benefit them the most.

Discrimination, meanwhile, is not rational. And although Flanagan's argument that discrimination is self-defeating and thus unsustainable in a competitive environment is an elegant argument, it overlooks the fact that discrimination has often taken place in some extremely competitive environments.

In Canada, few things have ever been as competitive as the sport of hockey. Yet the disadvantage of discriminating against the most talented or hard-working players on the basis of race or ethnicity has often proven to be a less-than-convincing incentive to not discriminate.

Canadian hockey offers numerous examples of this.

Perhaps the most little-known is the discrimination against the Winnipeg Falcons, the Canadian team that won the first Olympic Hockey Championship in 1920. The Falcons had won the Allan Cup as the champions of a league in Winnipeg staffed entirely by players of Icelandic descent. Players of Icelandic descent in Winnipeg had to start this league because other leagues wouldn't allow them to play because of their Icelandic heritage.

Their triumph at the Olympics -- which also won them a World Championship, as the World Championship was awarded to the winner of the Olympic tournament -- eventually won them a warm, if uncomfortable, welcome back in Winnipeg.

Players like Herb Carnegie -- who played excellently in training camps for the New York Rangers but were never allowed an opportunity to play for the club -- were discriminated against for the colour of their skin. Carnegie won MVP honours in the Quebec Provincial League in 1946, '47 and '48. The New York Rangers had won a Stanley Cup in 1940, but could have well won another with a player like Carnegie, whose skills were often considered comparable to those of Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau.

If discrimination could be defeated by the self-interested rationality of those who need top-caliber talents to excel in highly competitive environments, as Flanagan insists, one would have to imagine that such historical episodes never would have happened.

The truth is that there is nothing rational about discrimination. It's predicated on emotional responses to evident differences between people, and in cases of racism doesn't even necessarily rely on differently-coloured skin.

Discrimination proves to be one of those instances where the free market isn't enough to ensure justice for those involved.

Flanagan is eager to argue that cases wherein discrimination turns out to be profitable are so because of government interference in the free market:
"Government can use its coercive powers, however, to protect discriminatory practices in the private sector from being undermined by competition.

There is a long and dishonourable history of propping up discrimination in the private sector - refusing to enforce laws against violence (lynching), passing discriminatory legislation (Jim Crow laws in the American South) and authorizing business cartels (sports leagues) and labour cartels (trade unions). Satchel Paige would have been pitching against Babe Ruth if professional baseball had been a competitive industry.

Government, using its monopoly of coercion, imposes the costs of discrimination on its hapless targets. Think of the episodes in our history that make Canadians feel ashamed and for which our governments have been busy apologizing: disregard of aboriginal property rights; sending Indian children to residential schools; closing the doors to Jewish refugees; keeping out Chinese and Sikh immigrants; relocating the Japanese during the Second World War; interning Ukrainians during the First World War and Italians during the Second World War; eugenic sterilization of the mentally and physically handicapped.

Every one of these was an exercise of governmental power. Political majorities undoubtedly approved at the time, but public opinion did not relocate the Japanese or send Indian children to residential schools. Governmental authority did, backed up by the coercive monopoly of the state. Authorizing a government agency to stamp out discrimination in the private sector is truly setting the fox to guard the henhouse.
Yet the Winnipeg Falcons were the victim of discrimination within an amateur league, unprotected by government legislation, and that Carnegie actually excelled within a Quebec league that was.

As Flanagan notes, discrimination in the private sector may well be self-liquidating over time, as those who very much do disadvantage themselves by discriminating against those with valuable talents inevitably lose out.

But that does absolutely nothing for those being discriminated against today. That is where Human Rights Commissions come in handy, and that is a valuable role that they fill.

While few Canadians will pretend that Human Rights Commissions are perfect, fewer still would pretend that those imperfections couldn't be rectified with a program of reform, not abolition.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

George Young - "World According to Flanagan (And Harper)"

Cracked Crystal Ball - "Tom Flanagan: It's All About Social Darwinism"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

To Boldly Commit Genocide...

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the film Star Trek. Those still interested in seeing this film should consider themselves forewarned.

Dark historical overtones at heart of Star Trek film

Franchise re-boots are all the range recently, with film franchises like Batman scoring big hits at the box office in the wake of previous disappointing film releases.

It's in this particular vein that it should be less than surprising that Paramount films would re-boot Star Trek. What should be even less surprising -- to those intimately familiar with the franchise -- is that JJ Abrams, the man behind the Trek re-boot, would fashion a Star Trek that resembles human history a little more closely than Gene Roddenberry's original series.

Yet the film retains the general theme of Roddenberry's original -- the triumph of the human spirit.

The film daringly and decisively re-shapes the Star Trek universe when Nero (Eric Bana), a revenge-seeking Romulan, destroys the planet Vulcan -- one of the backbones of the United Federation of Planets -- in order to take revenge on Ambassador Spock for failing to save planet Romulus.

Spock -- who appears both in younger and older forms (played by Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy, respectively) -- speculates that as few as 10,000 Vulcans may have survived the destruction of the planet.

Genocide is a theme that Star Trek has previously addressed, but rarely in terms so horrifically similar to human history.

As those intimately familiar with Star Trek are doubtlessly aware, Vulcans and Romulans look very similar to one another for important reason -- they share a common heritage on the planet Vulcan. As revealed in the Next Generation episode "Unification" -- in which Spock is targeted by Romulan assassins for his efforts to reveal this common heritage to citizens of the Romulan Star Empire -- Romulans were Vulcans who left the planet to follow a different path, and forge a militaristic empire.

It's in this vein, considering that Vulcans and Romulans are actually the same species, that the destruction of Vulcan isn't merely a genocide -- it's actually a fratricide as well.

Naturally, this will beg comparisons to Adolph Hitler -- who is believed by many to have had a Jewish heritage -- and to the genocide in Rwanda, where Hutus and Tutsis were not only virtually indistinguishable to most visitors to that country, but had on many occasions inter-married, making it incredibly likely that many of those participating in the Rwandan genocide were actually killing their own family members.

As Bruce Wilshire theorizes, many genocides are motivated by a mortal terror -- the belief that the existence of an ethnic rival poses a threat to the survival of one's own ethnicity or race.

Nero seems to embody this particular motivation, as he intends to continue on to destroy every Federation planet -- including Earth -- believing that is the only way he can ensure the survival of Romulus.

(Then again, considering that Romulus was destroyed when its sun went supernova, one can certainly find fault in the reasoning of this particular madman.)

Human history is full of all kinds of instances in which genocidal leaders went to shocking lengths in order to defend otherwise inconsequential ethnic differences. Wherever the Star Trek franchise may now go, one can imagine that it will very closely resemble human history.

Some may question if this remains true to Gene Roddenberry's original optimistic vision of human history, and its message that the human triumph can triumph over petty greed and racism.

By the same token, however, one would have to agree that a triumph without a challenge is hardly a triumph at all.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tripping Over Liberal Democracy

Tim Hudak proposes abolishing Ontario Human Rights Commission

In a move that could either put him over the top with Ontarian conservatives or seriously harm his party's chances in the polls, Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Tim Hudak has proposed abolishing Ontario's Human Rights Commission.

Describing the commissions as a "tool for political advocacy", Hudak has proposed this abolition, possibly in an effort to preemptively undermine the leadership efforts of Randy Hillier, who is expected to perform poorly on the first ballot and be eliminated.

"The abolition of the Human Rights Tribunal has been a huge draw for us,” said Hulak's campaign manager, Tristan Emmanuel. Hillier's campaign has been supportive of the move as well. “Hopefully that means it will find a home in this party regardless of what happens.”

Those supportive of Hudak's promise to abolish the OHRC may echo the sentiments of Robert B Talisse, who notes that any institution that could be argued to show bias in favour of any particular political ideology is actually distinctly at odds with the very idea of liberal democracy -- political neutrality of the state is considered to be a key principle of liberal democracy.

Those who disagree with this promise -- including this author -- would remind such individuals that human rights commissions can serve an important role in fights against injustice, and that the real problem with these human rights commissions is the methods by which some of them operate.

The province of Ontario has proven to be particularly troublesome in this regard.

What is truly necessary is reform of human rights commissions that would obligate them to operate more in the manner that courts of law operate. Tim Hudak's promise would likely do more harm than good.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Matt Guerin - "Tim Hudak Shows Off His Political Immaturity"

The Liberal Scarf - "Tim Hudak's First Piece of Real Policy - Faith-Based Funding Part Two"

May 2009 Book Club - Get 'Em All! Kill 'Em!, Bruce Wilshire

Genocide born in the depths of insecurity

As the Nexus continues its observance of the 15th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, Bruce Wilshire's Get 'Em All! Kill 'Em! provides an opportunity to attempt to understand more deeply the psychological underpinnings of a genocide.

According to Wilshire, genocides are often born out of mortal terror -- they are started by populations that consider themselves at risk of being destroyed, and in a perverse fashion they embark upon genocides not out of mere hatred for their targets, but because they're convinced that destroying their targets is the only way to ensure their own survival.

While this could very well hold true for many of those who participate in a genocide as foot soldiers, history leads us to suspect that it probably doesn't absolve the leaders.

Adolph Hitler -- the engineer of history's prototypical genocide -- clearly had political motivations at the heart of his quest to destroy European Jews. He empowered himself to a stark degree by fear-mongering against Jews. Whether or not he felt that they really constituted a mortal threat is a matter of historical dispute.

In Rwanda, the move to kill politically moderate Hutus -- a move that removed political rivals to many Hutu leaders, particularly military leaders -- is itself very telling.

While Wilshire's analysis is fascinating on a macro-level when applied to the population as a whole, it is less convincing on a micro-level when applied to the leaders of a genocide.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lizzie May Flip Flops Again

Green Party leader picking a new riding to run in

When a politician -- one would have to hasten to label Green Party leader Elizabeth May a political leader -- declares themselves to be their party's greatest asset, one has to imagine that the pressure is certainly on to get elected.

May seems to be feeling that pressure now, as the rush seems to be on to get elected -- absolutely anywhere she can.

May, who has previously run in Central Nova and London, Ontario, is apparently hunting for a new riding to run in. The most recent speculation has her taking a very close look at Ontario's Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound riding, where -- predictably -- a Conservative, Larry Miller, is currently holding office.

Miller certainly doesn't seem very threatened by May. “I think in most areas, and particularly in rural ridings, it’s important to be from there," Miller said. "It’s certainly not a prerequisite ... but ultimately it’s the people that make the decision."

Miller believes -- as many Canadians believe -- that voters prefer local candidates to parachute candidates.

The President of the Liberal party riding association in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound agrees.

“As a member of the constituency, I feel quite offended by parachute candidates. I think we should all be concerned," said Liberal RA President John Close. “Our idea is to represent the people of this riding and I don’t see how a parachute candidate can represent the everyday person in this riding.”

"If she can’t win in her own riding, why disrupt things in another?” Close asked.

That criticism should be especially biting for May, who couldn't defeat Peter MacKay in Central Nova even with the Liberal party's help. As part of an agreement hatched with then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion, the Liberals didn't run a candidate against May.

The Green Party's riding association co-President, Randy Dryburgh, is quite enthused at the prospect of the Green leader running as his candidate. He admits that she'd have a significant advantage over any local in attaining the Green Party nomination.

“Certainly, it’s pretty tough to beat Elizabeth May [to become the] candidate in your riding and I would be very pleased to have her run,” Dryburgh said. “On the other hand, if we have a really super local person, I think I’d be equally as happy to work with that person.”

Of course, there is a problem with Elizabeth May running in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound other than the troubles of being a parachute candidate.

She had previously said she wouldn't run anywhere other than in Central Nova.

"I’m never running anywhere but Central Nova. This is where I live and where I will always run," May had told reporters during the 2008 election.

The fact that she had previously run in a by-election in London, Ontario must not have fazed her at a time when she was uttering a promise she clearly had no intention of ever keeping.

But then again, this is Elizabeth May. She's proven so unwilling to stand by the principles she espouses -- ignoring Stephane Dion's failure on the climate change file when endorsing him as Prime Minister -- so one would have to wonder what would have changed for her to stop doing so now.

Breaking Bones For Politics

Produced by the CBC's Bob McKeown, Sticks and Stones is a brief exploration of right-wing bias in US news media.

The film explores notions that the news media has a left-wing bias, and points to Dan Rather and Walter Kronkite as the figures originally associated with left-wing media bias.

Bernard Goldberg became conservative America's star witness against left-wing media bias.

McKeown then moves on to address individuals like Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and Rachel Marsden, while using individuals like Al Franken and Heather Mallick as witnesses to the virulent nature of the right-wing media -- Mallick even conjures tears at one point.

McKeown clearly takes a certain amount of glee in cornering Coulter and Marsden -- and really, who wouldn't? Marsden shifts uncomfortably when being questioned about her stalking of her ex-boyfriend, and Coulter stridently insists that Canada sent troops to Vietnam, even as McKeown inists we didn't.

(As an interesting side note, Coulter is actually right and wrong about Canadian troops in Vietnam. Canada contributed 240 soldiers to the United Nations' Operation Gallant, which was a peacekeeping mission, not part of the US war there -- although the North Vietnamese felt differently at the time, and accused Canadian troops of passing intelligence along to Canadian forces.)

Yet McKeown's own CBC is not immune to criticisms regarding bias. Fresh in the minds of many Canadians is Christina Lawand's dishonest editing of a Stephen Harper press conference, Krista Ericksen colluding with a Liberal MP, and Heather Mallick discrediting herself in spectacular fashion.

Meanwhile, south of the 49th parallel, Keith Olbermann and Janeane Garofalo indulged themselves in the kind of bombastic nonsense that so often finds a place on Fox News.

Sticks and Stones was produced in 2004, and as a result couldn't possibly be expected to address examples such as these. But it tends to ignore left-wing media bias in favour right-wing bias.

The simple fact of the matter is that both left-wing and right-wing biases can be detected in the media, depending upon which outlet one examines. Almost everyone claims to be opposed to bias in the media, but the truth is quite different.

Almost everyone is in favour of media bias. More importantly, almost everyone is in favour of their particular media bias.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The What the Fuck!? Files Vol. 7: Keith Olbermann Rips Me Off

Keith Olbermann recently debuted a regular segment on his show that seems to suggest that Olbermann may be a Nexus reader.

In a segment entitled the WTF!?! Moment -- which seems very similar to the Nexus' What the Fuck!? Files -- Olbermann takes some time out to complain about Carrie Prejean's recent complaints that her freedom of speech had been violated.

Olbermann rightly notes that the United States Bill of Rights, as entrenched in the United States Constitution via Ten Amendments, only provides decisive protection from governmental oppression of free speech.

Olbermann continues to argue that her employer could deny her the right to freedom of speech, noting that his own employer, CNBC, could deny him freedom of speech. As such, nothing Prejean said about same-sex marriage is actually subject to protection.

But Olbermann's argument fails on two key tenets.

First, Prejean made her comments in the course of a question asked by Perez Hilton, a question she was obligated to answer as part of the contest she was participating in. Olbermann's employer may be justified in taking him off the air if, indeed, he made comments that were deemed outside the realm of professionalism.

But the matter would be very different if Olbermann's producer asked him a question about a political issue and was given a question they decided they didn't like.

Second, Constitutional convention has treated the First Amendment very differently from the manner in which Olbermann describes it. There are countless cases of individuals suing for retaliation against them after the exercise of their free speech.

Amusingly, if asked, Olbermann would likely describe himself as a progressive, or at least as a liberal.

Yet Olbermann's depiction of freedom of expression as applicable to Prejean puts him distinctly at odds with the kind of free environment that is needed for liberal pluralism to survive. Robert B Talisse has noted that in order for liberalism to be truly viable, more is needed than simply legal protection of free speech. Rather, a culture of free speech -- in which public deliberation on matters of import, such as same-sex marriage -- is actively encouraged of people regardless of whatever opinion they may hold on the topic.

If Prejean were someone being censured for supporting same-sex marriage one can fully expect that Olbermann would react very differently to her plight. This is the base hypocrisy at the core of Olbermann's stance on this particular matter.

One should expect better from someone who is supposed to be a respected journalist, but Olbermann strays from the ill-conceived directly to the comical.

In addressing the recent "scandalous" photos of Prejean, Olbermann insists that the photos couldn't have been taken without Prejean's authorization because she's looking at the camera in each photo. Except, she isn't. In one of the photos -- the one with the clearly visible pre-implant breast -- Prejean is very clearly looking away from the camera.

She even has her hands up as if she's been adjusting her hair, for fuck's sake! For fuck's sake, Keith!

In the other photo, the exposure of the nipple is actually so slight that it's clearly more attributable to a Janet Jackson-esque "wardrobe malfunction" than to any willingness on Prejean's behalf to submit to a risque photo.

The utterly comical thing about that aspect of the entire affair is that very few people honestly consider the finished product of these photo shoots to be scandalous or risque. Aside from those milking these photos out of political motivations, one would have to travel to the most conservative depths of the Bible belt in order to find someone who would find them scandalous.

But it's amazing the extent to which Olbermann is willing to mortgage his journalistic credibility -- then default -- in order to contribute to the personal destruction of Carrie Prejean.

It's really the kind of thing that makes a person scratch their head and say "what the fuck" -- and we were doing that here first.

The Inevitable Attack Begins

Ever since the Liberal party started to enjoy surging popularity after the acclamation of Michael Ignatieff as party leader, it was inevitable that the Conservative party was going to air ads against him.

Unlike the "Not a Leader" ads that Stephane Dion continues to complain about, the "Just Visiting" ads really are attack ads. While the "Not a Leader" ads were certainly negative ads, they addressed Dion's legitimate political failings -- his failure to implement his party's own climate change policy, and his petulant refusal to take responsibility for it.

Attack ads, meanwhile, in the analytical parlance, are considered to be ads that single an opponent out for attack on issues which are not politically legitimate. These ads usually attack the personality or character of their opponent, as opposed to their policies -- although the Liberal party has previously made an art form out of combining the two.

The first ad, entitled "Hypocrisy", ironically targets Ignatieff over allegedly running attack ads against the Conservatives.

As ominous music looms over the background, the ad asks "why is Canada back in Canada after 34 years?". It complains that he's offered no ideas on the economy, and complains that Ignatieff is instead running attack ads.

As the sound of a typewriter rattles in the foreground, cut-and-pasted images of Ignatieff float by the screen while a portion of these attack ads plays in the corner.

Yet as it turns out, however, the ad in question wasn't actually produced by the Liberal party in any official fashion, but rather by GritGirl, whose ads are actually of better quality than any the Liberal party has been producing on its own.

And while the ad is entirely out-of-touch with the economic realities at the heart of the current economic crisis, to attribute them to the Liberal party is actually a dishonest act.

The next ad, entitled "Economy", hits a little closer to the mark:

The ad notes that Ignatieff has mused about raising taxes. It also notes that Ignatieff has mused about hiking the GST, and reminds Canadians that the carbon tax that sunk the Liberals in the last election was actually Ignatieff's idea. The ad also notes that Ignatieff had, in 2004, described himself as a "tax and spend" Liberal.

In a particularly clever twist, an image of Ignatieff floating across the screen disappears when the ad notes that the Toronto Star had described Ignatieff as the "invisible man".

The colour scheme of these ads is typical of negative and attack ads -- the colours are dingy and dreary. Even when video of Ignatieff is used at the end of the video, it's darkened and slightly out-of-focus -- the clear intent is to suggest that Ignatieff himself is out-of-focus, with little understanding of his native country.

In the next ad, entitled "Arrogance", the Conservatives attempt to counter-brand Ignatieff as out-of-touch with ordinary Canadians:

With music that is only slightly more upbeat, this ad needles Ignatieff over his GQ cover, his admission to being "cosmopolitan" and "horribly arrogant", and notes that Ignatieff once said that the only thing he missed about Canada was Algonquin Park.

With this spot, these ads have begun to go down a more politically perilous path, as the next ad, entitled "Country" will show a little more fully:

The ad notes that Ignatieff has claimed to be British and American, and notes that Ignatieff has said he would return to Harvard if not elected.

For the Conservative party to invoke shades of anti-Americanism in this ad is more than a little hypocritical -- they've criticized their political opponents for being anti-American for decades.

More importantly than this, however, there is a severe danger when any political party begins to impugn the citizenship of its political opponents -- this is one of the reasons why the Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois are so civically dangerous.

Michael Ignatieff is a Canadian citizen. There is no question about this. He isn't the only Canadian to spend significant portions of time abroad, either. Former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Kim Cambell spent two years at the London School of Economics -- time abroad supplemented with a tour of the Soviet Union.

Canadian citizenship is not up for debate. Having spent time outside of the country -- even an extended period of 34 years, a time in which Ignatieff completed a vast wealth of extremely valuable journalistic and academic work -- does not undermine any Canadian's qualification to seek office in, or seek to lead, Canada. For any political party to suggest that it does is, frankly, grossly and shamefully irresponsible.

This isn't to say that there aren't politically legitimate questions that could be raised about Ignatieff's time abroad. But his qualification to consider himself a Canadian is not one of them.

As with all the ads, this spot concludes with Michael Ignatieff riding an escalator off of an airplane while he blows kisses to the surrounding media. It's actually a fairly effective finish. It seems to imply that this is just as easily something Ignatieff could be doing in reverse -- blowing good-bye kisses to Canada while he boards an airplane to go abroad again, this time never to return.

These ads are, like all the Conservative ads being produced these days, well-produced. But the conceptual end of these ads is sorely lacking, and the Conservative party may not like that the inevitable "spatter effect" that accompanies such ads may actually tar themselves far more than the damage done to Ignatieff.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Quito Maggi - "Conservative Attack Ads... Why Now?"

Luca Manfreti - "Conservative Ads Review"

Unhyphenated Canadian - "They Are Labelled 'Attack Ads'"