Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Internet: The Great Equal (And Global) -izer

In a speech featured as a recent TED Talk, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown shows us the power of images to open the human eye to some of the most atrocious tragedies unfolding in the world around us.

There are many images that have, as Brown insists, "awakened the human conscience".

They bring us scenes of political repression, such as the massacre at Tienanmen Square or the murder of Neda by Iranian police.

They bring us scenes of poverty.

They bring us scenes of war.

As Brown tells us, the global reaction to these images demonstrates to us that, in the very spirit of monism, there are central principles that people all around the world can share, regardless of race, creed, culture or religion.

As the internet becomes more and more prevalent in global society, there is no question that these images can traverse the globe faster than ever before, reminding people about the injustices and atrocities taking place in the world, and spurring people to take action.

The internet has brought the injustices and atrocities suffered by even the poorest people in the world to the immediate attention to the rest of us. Not only has the internet proven to be the great globalizer -- with ideas and information crossing the world regardless of the existence of international boundaries -- it has also proven to be a great equalizer.

The emergence of this great ability to mix global communications with a global ethic will almost certainly lead to new pressures on the United Nations to, for nearly the first time since its existence, move beyond petty international politics and move toward addressing the injustices and atrocities that can no longer be hidden from view.

All we need are global leaders who are perceptive and visionary enough to make this a reality.

Wishful Thinking and Political Naivete

Proportional representation is not a miracle cure

Writing in an op/ed column on The Mark, Michael Urban offers an optimistic, but ultimately incredibly naive insistence that proportional representation will ultimately fix all that ails the Canadian political system -- in this case, the disturbing lack of cooperation between political parties.

He begins by invoking a recent (and surprising) call from Tom Flanagan for increased political cooperation in Parliament:
"In a recent piece in The Globe and Mail, former Conservative Party advisor Tom Flanagan claims that, as of 2004, we have entered a period of chronic minority parliaments. Canada’s electoral map, Flanagan argues, is simply too divided for any single party to gain the support needed for a majority government – a situation he sees continuing into the future.

As Flanagan correctly notes, the obvious consequence of this state of affairs is that in order for Parliament to accomplish anything of substance, our political parties will need to cooperate more regularly and effectively than they are accustomed to.

In this vein, he points to the recent Harper/Ignatieff 'power-sharing' agreement to study employment insurance as an important step towards the type of sustainable cooperation he believes is needed. Flanagan ends his piece by expressing a hope that this sort of cooperation will continue in the months, and indeed years, to come.

While Flanagan’s analysis of Canada’s contemporary political geography is correct, his conclusion – in which he adopts a strangely Pollyanna-esque prescription for the future – does not follow. Whatever he may hope for, Flanagan ought to know that Canada’s political system – at least in its current configuration – is systematically biased against inter-party teamwork. This makes sustained cooperation highly unlikely.

One of the main sources of this bias is our electoral system. By making majority governments a real possibility, our current system creates perverse incentives against cooperation. Essentially, parties are presented with the following questionable choice: why cooperate now – something that necessarily entails compromise and getting less than what one wants – when one can stall progress, allow the situation to deteriorate, blame the other side for the negative outcome, use the unhappiness and anger with the situation to propel one to a majority in the next election, and then do what one really wants without having to compromise?
This could certainly be argued to account for the uncooperative nature of the Liberal and Conservative parties -- the two parties with any chance of all at governing in any election.

It doesn't account for the uncooperative nature of the NDP and especially the Bloc Quebecois -- the two parties with no chance at all of attaining a minority government in virtually any election, let alone a majority government.

Effectively erasing the possibility of majority governments won't ensure greater levels of cooperation in Parliament. If anything, it will increase the incentive for minor and comparatively minor political parties, such as the NDP, BQ and Green party, to conflate comparatively minor political issues in hopes of minimal gains in the proportionately-elected Parliament in order to more effectively be able to play kingmaker.
"This structural bias is exacerbated by the fact that despite claiming to desire more cooperative politics, voters routinely punish politicians when they seek to cooperate.

The 2008 coalition debacle demonstrated that many Canadians, apparently unaware of – or at least uncomfortable with – how our parliamentary system works, opposed an unprecedented level of cooperation that would have installed a government supported by representatives who garnered a greater percentage of the popular vote (53.72 per cent) than any other peacetime government in Canadian history. Granted, some of this opposition was based on certain reasonable objections, but no small amount of it emerged from other mistaken notions that what the coalition proposed to do was somehow unfair or unconstitutional.
Of course, this argument makes the common error of assuming that Canadians voted for the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois with a coalition government in mind as a possibility emerging from the election.

Considering that then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion had ruled that option out during the election itself, there was no reason why Canadians would consider that to be a realistic option.

When historians look back on the Liberal/NDP/BQ coalition proposal, they will recognize in it a clear case of bait and switch politics. Stephane Dion had disavowed coalition government as a post-election option in order to dissuade Liberal voters from casting their votes for the NDP in key difference-making ridings.

Yet, when it became apparent after the election -- after his promise of a resignation as Liberal leader, no less -- that such a scheme could make him Prime Minister, Dion seemed to change his mind at the earliest opportunity.

There were countless reasons why Canadians rejected the Liberal/NDP/BQ coalition. Expectations that parliament would respect the democratically-expressed will of the people is certainly the strongest.
"All of this gives one more reason, though a too-often-neglected one, for electoral reform in the direction of increased proportionality in our electoral system. By creating 'false majorities' (majority governments that don’t actually command majority electoral support) our current system has inured Canadians into believing that minority governments are an aberration, and a distasteful one at that, despite the fact that they actually represent a much more realistic representation of Canadians’ preferences.

Indeed, one of the most powerful arguments against increasing the proportionality of the system is that the current first-past-the-post system is more likely to deliver majority governments and 'strong government.' If we accept Flanagan’s analysis, this trade-off no longer holds and the current system loses one its most important supports.

By removing the lure of false majorities, a more proportional system would force the parties to cooperate and actually work with the preferences expressed by Canadian voters. While it does not completely eliminate the incentives structures I detailed above, it does reduce their salience and introduce more positive countervailing incentives.

Instead of hoping that the parties will change their ways without changing any of the incentives to do so, as Flanagan suggests, proportional representation offers a realistic prescription for more cooperation and more representative public policy.
Urban is right about one thing: minority governments are not such a great and terrible thing.

Because minority governments must seek and gain the confidence of opposition parties in order to survive, it ensures that the views of a broader variety of Canadians will be reflected within the government's policies.

But there are good reasons for Canadians to prefer the stability of majority governments to the inherent instability of minority governments. Majority governments have proven to be more effective, even if they tend to marginalize the opposition.

These problems with Urban's proportional representation proposal are only the beginning. Key questions about representation and accountability to voters also loom over any proportional representation proposal.

Whatever wishful thinkers such as Michael Urban may wish to believe, proportional representation unequivocally is not a miracle panacea to everything that ails Canadian politics. If anything, it will create more problems than it will solve.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stay Classy, Meghan McCain

Your detractors certainly won't

Ever since Meghan McCain started making waves in American conservative circles, she's been attacked with all kinds of unpleasantness.

Laura Ingraham made fun of her weight. She's often been mocked as a valley girl.

But the most shameful attack on Meghan McCain came recently, as Ken Layne, one of the authors of the Wonkette blog mocked her for giving a shit about an apparently suicidal individual.

"Please pray for me. SeriousLy please I want death. End it for. Me please. I hate," the individual wrote.

Like any sane, compassionate individual, McCain was naturally distressed by the message and made great efforts to help this individual.

Layne, for his part, was all too happy to mock McCain for her care for another human being:
"Much like the earlier generations of unemployed bloggers, Meghan McCain is just so deep in the Internet right now that she’s going double insane. Behold her nervous, illiterate twitters about somebody she doesn’t know who may or may not exist, on the Internet, and perhaps at minimum exists on the other side of the country, typing some sadsack stuff about wanting to die. Teen-agers are hyper-emotional, Meghan, sort of like you, except you haven’t been a teen-ager since your dad almost joined John Kerry’s presidential ticket."
When McCain Twittered that her publicist was calling the Seattle Police Department to find help for the distressed individual, Layne continued his shameful theatrics:
"So, what happened? Who knows! Meghan actually went outside the other day and reportedly drove recklessly and the police had to stop her and punish her for being a dangerous monster trying to kill people on the public roads, and then she just holed up with her Twitter and went progressively more nuts while reading the random twitters of other people, and next thing omg she is making her poor publicist call the Seattle police department because Meghan is the new Bat Man of the Internet, and she will save you, but sort of like if the Bat Man just made his English slave 'Alfred' call various police departments when there was trouble, in Seattle."
When McCain Twittered about again later, Layne was content to reward her efforts with yet more snark:
"Well, one comforting thought is that nobody, ever, has written the suicidal message 'they want death.' Because, you know, it would be 'I want death,' and even then, probably not, because …. Meghan, are you even following the English-language feed of Twitter? Because we are starting to think you’ve accidentally connected to the Norwegian death metal twitters. Ask your publicist to maybe check your network connections!"
As it turned out, there very much was a situation in Seattle. The person who Twittered McCain messaged again later in the day.

"[T]here was no prank. Just a person who is confused and lost but lucky to see that people care," the person wrote. "I am seeking outpatient trtmnt."

"I am fine will be seeking more in depth help later. So embarrassed and sad," they continued. "I will be fine. Never realized even strangers cared. my friend is taking me to see someone about therapy and medication...again thank you so much..."

Suicide is known to be a serious matter. Well, at least by most people who aren't Ken Layne.

Of course, some might expect someone at the Wonkette blog to show some embarrassment over the general lack of redemptive human qualities among some of their writers.

Guess again.

That was Layne's partners in scumminess Sara K Smith and Jim Newell mocking both the Examiner and Cindy McCain for calling Layne to account for this shameful episode.

Unshockingly, Meghan McCain seems to have driven the collective "progressive" left to losing their minds. Not only are they willing to abandon any sense of personal dignity in mocking McCain for actually giving a flying fuck about a fellow human being, but some of the more "substantive" criticisms of McCain have proven to be just plain embarrassing.

Consider the following criticism from the serially-dishonest proprietor of Enormous Thriving Plants:
'Right now, I can not stop listening to this song "Phenomena" by the Yeah Yeah Yeah's. It is the song at the end of the movie "The Ruins" which is officially one of the scariest movies I have ever seen! Anyone that wants a good horror movie should rent it immediately. It gave me nightmares for days!'
Please, PLEASE make her the new face of American conservatism. The shift from racist, angry bigots like Coulter, Malkin, and Rush, to adolescent airheads like McCain's sideways-hat-wearin' daughter will be refreshing, entertaining and not the least bit threatening. Can't wait until the GOP base sinks its teeth into whatever progressive stances she might currently have. ...Might make for one mighty interesting 'schism'!"
Apparently, Ken Layne's most substantive criticism of Meghan McCain is that she doesn't consult her Grammar check when she's concerned about a human being whose life my be in peril. Likewise, Audrey II's most substantive criticism of McCain seems to be that she likes music and movies.

If that's the worst criticisms people like Layne, Newell, Smith, or Audrey can offer for McCain, she must be one awfully exemplary person.

But one thing is for certain: one should try to avoid falling into a position of mortal peril around Ken Layne, Jim Newell or Sara K Smith. They'd almost certainly be quite content to laugh at a drowning man while he slips under the water.

The Strange Puzzle of Conservative Anti-Aboriginal Bias

Conservatives launch new Aboriginal Caucus

Reality dealt the notion of an anti-Aboriginal bias within the Conservative party a savage kick to the nads recently, as the party unveiled its Aboriginal Caucus.

The caucus is made up of four aboriginal MPs -- Rob Clarke, Rod Bruinooge, Leona Aglukkaq and Shelly Glover -- and Senators Gerry St Germain and Patrick Brazeau.

By contrast, the Liberal party has three aboriginal Senators and a single aboriginal MP. The NDP has a single aboriginal senator.

Yet with many people in Canada insisting that the Conservative party has an anti-aborginal bias -- as embodied by the comments and academic work of MP Pierre Poilevre and strategist Tom Flanagan -- the fact that the Conservative party has the largest aboriginal caucus out of any party in Canada. Yet that particular dilemma, as are so many in Canada, is purely political.

In reality, this matter seems to revolve almost entirely around a difference in opinion regarding to how aboriginal issues in Canada are best dealt with -- a difference in opinion cleaved by a massive ideological divide.

On one side of this ideological divide are entrenched political figures within aboriginal bands and organizations who relish the political clientelism that has been promoted by the Liberal party and NDP for decades. To these people -- and those who support them -- the very notion of transforming aboriginal politics is utterly offensive, even clientelism has proven to be an abject failure.

Thousands upon thousands of aboriginal people in Canada continue to live in poverty despite the billions of dollars spent trying to solve this problem.

When individuals such as Flanagan, Poilievre or Frances Widdowson dare speak out about this fact they are often accused of uttering "hurtful" remarks about aboriginal Canadians -- if not outright hate speech.

But the fact that the Conservative party has succeeded in not only admitting to Parliament, but in actually electing more aboriginal parliamentarians than their allegedly more "sympathetic" political counterparts should give pause to many Canadians when they stop to ponder which party is truly looking for answers to the problems that have plagued Canada's aboriginals for so many decades.

It certainly isn't the political parties who have benefited politically by pandering to organizations who sputter with outrage if the Prime Minister meets with the "wrong" aboriginal groups that don't support the old system of poverty-perpetuating clientelism.

That the Conservative party has the largest caucus of aboriginal representatives should give these people pause as well. It probably won't, but it should.

Tim Hudak Charts His Course Forward

Includes Elliott, Klees in shadow cabinet

While the lack of emotional fireworks during the recent Ontario Progressive Conservative party leadership campaign hardly belied it, deep issues were at stake in the contest.

More than merely the privilege to decide what the party's policy on issues such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission will be, the battle for the Ontario PC leadership was, to some, a debate over the soul of the party itself.

Whatever direction the Ontario Tories move in from here, it is self-evident that the soul of the party is largely intact.

When Hudak recently released his shadow cabinet, he found room in it for all three of his leadership opponents.

Christine Elliott -- who many had pegged as the top threat to Hudak's leadership hopes -- has been named the party's critic for Health and Long-Term Care. She has also been made the deputy leader of the party.

Frank Klees -- who wound up actually being the top threat to Hudak's leadership hopes -- has been named the party's critic for Infrastructure and

The two will often face off against Liberal Ministers David Caplan and Jim Bradley, respectively.

Many eyes in the PC caucus will almost certainly turn to Elliott as she confronts Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government over the eHealth scandal. In June, in the midst of the Tory leadership campaign, the McGuinty Liberals quietly put the breaks on an external investigation of eHealth. The provincial NDP have recently demanded that investigations continue.

A much more controversial move will likely be Randy Hillier's appointment to be critic of Rural Affairs. This will be in addition to his already-held post of critic of Agriculture and Food.

Hillier has long been known to be a critic of land claims settlements. His new role as the voice of rural Ontarians otherwise not heard by the Ontario government will give the McGuinty Liberals ample opportunity to draw public attention to Hillier's positions on this matter.

No one should expect the Ontario Progressive Conservative party to be able to move forward out of a contentious leadership campaign without its fair share of hiccups. But with the entire slate of leadership candidates accounted for within his shadow cabinet, Tim Hudak has set the stage for the party to move forward unified, as opposed to divided.

It's a wise course to chart.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Time to Open Canadian Politics

Preston Manning: If Britain can experiment, why can't we?

Throughout history, Canada has shared many things in common with Britain.

Our Parliamentary system is one of them.

In Open and Shut, John Ibbitson compares the 2008 elections in Canada and the United States and draws a disappointing conclusion: in Canada, there could never be a Prime Minister Barack Obama. There could never be a Prime Minister John McCain.

The reason for this has nothing to do with the virtues of either man -- although, speaking outside of hypotheticals, citizenship certainly must. Instead, Ibbitson concludes this because the Canadian political system is too closed, as opposed to the American system, which is comparatively open.

Ibbitson muses that an open primary system could not only improve participation in Canadian politics, but improve Canadian politics itself. While individuals like Frances Russell go into conniptions any time anyone suggests that Canadians "pollute" our Parliamentary system with American innovations, it seems that an innovation such as a primary system may not be as antithetical to our Parliamentary system as some may think.

Preston Manning seems to echo Ibbitson's sentiments in a column recently published in the Globe and Mail, and provides a surprising example to support his arguments:
"Earlier this month, Canada's electoral officers - officials of Elections Canada and their provincial and territorial counterparts - held their annual conference.

The main subject of discussion was what to do about declining participation in Canadian elections -- for example, the turnout of 59 per cent in the last federal election, the 51 per cent in the recent BC provincial election, and the abysmal 41 per cent last time out in Alberta.

It is good to know that our elections officials are concerned about this problem. They play an important role in informing and educating voters on election procedures and rules. But surely the primary responsibility for remedying Canada's democracy deficit rests with others -- with parents, educators, the media and particularly our political parties, politicians and leaders.

Often it takes a crisis of some sort to create opportunities for reform. In Britain, the recent scandalous abuse of expense accounts by members of the House of Commons from all major parties has created precisely such a crisis and opportunity.
To support his argument, Manning offers the example of the British Conservative party. In the riding of Totnes, they're replacing a discraced MP with a candidate who will be nominated through an open primary election:
"In order to bolster public confidence in its candidates for the soon-to-be-held general election, the British Conservative Party has become willing to experiment with democratic innovations.

One in particular is being introduced in the constituency of Totnes. It should be watched closely by Canadian politicians and parties.

The Conservative MP for Totnes, Anthony Steen, was recently forced to 'stand down' when it was revealed that he had claimed more than £87,000 over four years in parliamentary expenses on his country home.

Rather than choosing a candidate to succeed him by the conventional method of a constituency nominating meeting in which only card-carrying Conservative Party members can vote, the party has decided to experiment with an 'open primary' in which every voter in Totnes will be invited to help choose its candidate for the next general election.

The Totnes Conservative Association drew up a short list of 11 potential candidates which was then reduced to three on July 15. Starting last Monday, ballot papers were mailed out to the 69,000 eligible voters in the constituency. There was an all-candidate event Saturday where the three candidates were to receive and answer questions from voters. Thursday, the results of the Totnes 'open primary' are to be announced.

'This is the first time any political party in Britain has sought the views of the voters [on who should be the party's candidate] in such a direct way,' said Conservative Party Leader David Cameron.
While David Cameron has provided a glimmering example in regards to how to rebuild and rebrand conservative political parties, his party's efforts in Totnes may revolutionize the classic British Parliamentary system:
"Observers will be watching closely and seeking answers to several key questions:

To what extent will the voters of Totnes actually participate? Will that participation give that candidate any advantage in terms of public confidence and support over candidates of other parties nominated in the more traditional way? And, will the primary stimulate greater interest and participation in the general election itself?

And here in Canada, will any political party be willing to experiment with the 'open primary' to attract more Canadians into the process of putting candidates' names on the ballot and thereby, one hopes, increasing public interest in the campaign and election to follow?
Perhaps an even better question is whether or not any of Canada's political parties would be willing to experiment with a primary election system -- perhaps not necessarily an open primary -- in order to elect their leaders.

If Canadians who support -- but haven't made the commitment of joining -- a political party were given the opportunity to vote on the leaders of each party one as to wonder who may be leading each of these parties.

Conservative leader Peter MacKay?

NDP leader Lorne Nystrom?

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau?

One would certainly at least have to wonder about the odds of individuals like Paul Martin, Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion or Jack Layton to lead their respective parties.

Whereas, in the United States, the primary system has often foiled the ascent of allegedly "inevitable" Presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney.

In Ibbitson's mind, the affect of this influence has been overwhelmngly positive. Manning seems to agree:
"In North America, it is the United States that has made greatest use of the primary system, which is why Canadian liberals and social democrats -- pathologically averse to adopting U. political practices -- are unlikely to embrace it.

But what about Canadian conservatives? If the British Conservative Party -- far older and tradition-bound than any Canadian counterpart -- can experiment with such democratic innovations, why can't Canadian conservatives?
Sadly, Canadian Conservatives don't always prove themselves to be the experimental innovators they purport themselves to be.

Don Mazankowski's long-forgotten proposal that the province of Alberta establish its own elected Senate within its provincial government seems to be a good example. if Albertans so badly want an elected Senate federally, showing that one could work at the provincial level is certainly a productive step. It's one that was never taken, and a proposal that was quickly forgotten.

Sadly, the Conservative party of Canada hasn't always been true to the populist principles that were supposed to be integral to its reformation:
"The federal Conservative Party has recently tightened rather than opened its nomination process by permitting incumbents to avoid a nomination contest unless more than two-thirds of local party members vote for one. But if this should prove to be counterproductive, in terms of rallying party member support for the next election campaign or public support for candidates who are past their 'best before' date, perhaps the British experiment with open primaries will find favour here.

And what about provincial conservative parties? Let's take the aging, long-in-office, Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

Forty years ago, I tried to persuade another aging, long-in-power provincial political party in Alberta to embrace a variation of the primary system as a means of injecting new blood into the party and new energy into the electoral process. The concept was rejected, especially by incumbent MLAs who saw it as a threat to their renomination and by 'gatekeepers' at the constituency level who feared it would reduce their influence.

Two years later, the party was out of office, never to return -- the opportunity to re-energize itself through democratic reform lost forever. Let us, therefore, watch the British experiment with interest, and not wait for a crisis before conducting similar experiments in Canada.
John Ibbitson may be surprised to find Preston Manning to be such a willing ally in helping institute such innovations in Canada: he shouldn't be, but he may be.

But Ibbitson and Manning are both right: it's time for Canadians to find new ways to open our politics. While the idea of a primary election system is promising, it's far from guaranteed to be the panacea that will solve some of the problems confronting Canadian politics.

But something almost certainly needs to be done. The time is as right now as it ever has been.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

The View From Seven - "Preston Manning: Building Democracy or Just Activist Influence?"

Another One (Does Not) Ride the Bus

Charles Taylor derides Atheist Bus ads

Charles Taylor has something to say about the bus ad campaign currently being conducted by Canadian atheists.

He isn't impressed by them.

In Britain's Philosophy Now magazine, Taylor weighed in on the Richard Dawkins-promoted campaign, describing them as "hilariously funny" (certainly about as monotonous a statement as has ever been uttered).

"Putting things on buses, as though that's going to make people somehow change their view about God, the universe, the meaning of life and so on," Taylor chuckled. "A bus slogan! It's not likely to trigger something very fundamental in anybody."

Taylor is only the most recent -- and certainly one of the more prominent -- thinkers to recognize the common vestiges of religion in modern atheism.

"This new phenomena is puzzling — atheists that want to spread the 'gospel,' and are sometimes very angry," Taylor mused.

"I think it may be rather like the response of certain bishops to Darwin in the 19th century," he continued. "The bishops had a sense that the world was going in a certain direction — more and more conversion, and so on — and then they find they're suddenly upset in their expectation and they get very rattled and very angry."

"Similarly, we're seeing this now among the secularizing intelligentsia — liberals who felt that the world was going in a certain direction, that it was all going according to plan — and then when it seems not to be, they get rattled. So you get these rather pathetic phenomena."

"I'm kind of flattered that he would comment on our bus campaign — though he's not terribly sympathetic," mused Center for Inquiry Executive Director Justin Trottier. "But I think he misses the point on a number of fronts. The point of the campaign was not a response to rising religiosity, it's an affirmation of the rising number of unbelievers. Unbelievers have never been organized to the extent that they are now -- whether they call themselves atheists or humanists or freethinkers ... The movement for science, reason and secularism has never had these numbers."

Of course, if the campaign were really solely directed at announcing the emergence of increasing numbers of atheists one would think a slogan like "We don't believe in God. Deal with it," would be a much better way of doing this.

As opposed to "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life" -- a message that, as Charles McVety complained (but all too hysterically) clearly intends to attribute a sort of perpetual anxiety to religion that the ads suggested people should reject.

That isn't a mere affirmation of these beliefs, as Trottier insists -- it's a promotion of the beliefs espoused in the ad.

Of course, if Canadian society is prepared to tolerate the ongoing proselytizing from mainstream, theistic religions, there is no reason in the world why fundamentalist atheists shouldn't be allowed to proselytize as well.

One merely wishes they would be honest about it.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

DeFaithed - "The atheist bus: Menticide on wheels"

Jeff Olson - "Atheist bus ads 'pathetic:' Philosopher"

Walker Morrow - "What is the role of criticism in religion?">

I'm Back...

...And God bless Texas.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Striking a New Chord for Race

Afro-Punk suggests that many of the divisions between punk rock and hip hop are largely artificial. In a certain sense, hip hop could be looked at as little more than punk rock for African Americans.

As numerous cultural theorists have suggested -- and often demonstrated -- music is a key ideological tool for the socialization of youth. Youths are sent key messages about who they are culturally by the kind of music they are expected to listen to.

Music has often proven to be racially segregated. Country music has long been a bastion of the southern and midwestern United States. Rock n' roll was considered offensive within these particular portions of the US because it incorporated elements of soul and blues -- otherwise considered to be "black" music.

Of course those who abhorred rock n' roll for its ethnic roots failed to anticipate what would eventually become known as the "Elvis affect". Elvis Presley would eventually help coopt this music and turn it effectively "white", and in the imaginations of many its ethnic roots would be forgotten.

African American artists who would attempt to break the colour barrier in music genres such as country music would find it extremely difficult. Although extremely talented, Charley Pride spent his career relegated as a fringe performer despite the excellence of his music. When Muzik Mafia member Cowboy Troy attempted to incorporate hip hop stylings into country music, the response from more traditional country music listeners bordered on threatening violence.

Clearly, race was very much a factor in this response. Despite the fact that Tobey Keith had previously tried -- with disastrous results -- to incorporate rapping within some of his songs, and Detroit-area rapper-cum-rocker-cum-country crooner Kid Rock had been embraced within country music circles, the image of a rapping black cowboy proved to be a little too much for many country music listeners.

On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, an intriguing element of the metamorphosis of musical genres has long taken shape.

In Japan, country music is mostly enjoyed by wealthy members of the upper class.

Even more interesting however, is a burgeoning Japanese hip hop scene. The subject of race -- omnipresent in hip hop -- is turned on its ear in Japan by conflating traditional Japanese caste systems into de facto races.

Whatever one may have to say about the effective racial segregation of music, it is clearly declining. White rappers like Eminem and Canada's own Swollen Members continue to have increasing successes, and the continuing success of white and black artists alike in R&B are clearly demonstrating a de-racialization of many musical genres.

There is one other key point of interest in regards to the increasing desegregation of genre music, and that is the increasing prevalence of interracial dating, mating and breeding.

It's interesting to note that, as Jane Junn notes, ever since the United States began allowing citizens to be recorded as multi-racial in its annual census, this has been the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States.

The ethnic desegregation of music has built many bridges between people of different races, and so has certainly been a factor in this.

This, of course, begs an important question: if the racial desegregation of music continues to break down these barriers, one has to wonder how people may think of race fifty years from today. Perhaps one should fully expect that modern notions of race and racism will be obsolete within the lifetimes of many people alive today.

Whatever notions of race and racism may predominate in the future, one can only hope that they will be a significant improvement on the racial ideas of today, which in turn are a significant improvement on the racial ideas of 50 years ago.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Light Blogging Ahead...

...As I am still on vacation. In the meantime, watch this:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's Not the Size of the Dog in the Fight...

As Choke clearly shows, Ju Jitsu master Rickson Gracie hasn't always been the biggest man in the fights he's participated in.

Yet somehow he's come out on top more often than not.

It's interesting to hear that Gracie -- considered by many people to at one time have been the best fighter in the world, who is a member of a family that has produced numerous men to share the same distinction -- doesn't think of himself as a fighter. Rather, the Ju Jitsu he teaches is meant simply for self defense, and he fights competitively to show his students its effectiveness as a self-defense technique.

In Choke Gracie is shown preparing to participate in a Japanese fighting tournament. Gracie will be the oldest fighter in the tournament, but has more than simply his own championship and legacy to defend -- he has to defend the legacy of his entire family.

Former CFL player turned kickboxing champion, Todd Hays' trainer, Apollo Cook, makes the argument that Hays will be fighting Gracie using Cook's brain and experience, and only using his own body. By contrast, Gracie is his own trainer, and fights with his own brain and his own obsessive training.

Mixed martial arts fighting is looked at by many as a brutal bloodsport of questionable ethical and legal merit. But one has to keep in mind that unlike the dogs and dogmen of Off the Chain, Gracie has entered into his training and entered into fighting on his own volition.

Ju Jitsu, as described by the Gracies, differs from other martial arts. Boxing, karate or taekwando are each described as a "tough game", but not fighting, which is "serious business". This falls perfectly into Gracie's portrayal of ju jitsu as merely a self-defense art put on practical display for the world to see.

Anyone who's ever had to defend themselves knows that self defense is serious business.

The tournament at Budokan arena reveals the very tenuous line that many MMA fighters walk. In such a tournament, almost every fighter will lose. Only one man will endure the evening without being defeated.

But every fighter, in every sport, will face defeat eventually. The fighters who know how to listen to their head telling them it's time to retire are fewer and further between. Most fighters will only listen to another man's fists, and will only retire when they endure a beating so severe that they know it's over, and that they can no longer compete.

In Choke, Gracie isn't subjected to the indignity of having to listen to another fighter's fists. Gracie has since entered semi-retirement undefeated.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Democratized Foreign Aid Plan Not Everything It's Cracked Up To Be

British Tory policy could founder on lack of public awareness

As countries around the world continue to search for newer, more innovative solutions to the puzzle posed by poverty in the developing world, David Cameron and Britain's Conservative party have come up with what seems like a novel solution:

Let the people decide.

The British people, that is.

In the proposed project, British citizens would be granted the opportunity to vote on foreign aid projects. 40 million Pounds Sterling would be placed into a "My Aid" fund, which may or may not be increased to match the amounts raised by private donors.

The plan would then establish a website and outline the projects being considered, their history, and their successes. British citizens would then receive the opportunity to vote on those projects and be continually updated on their choice via email.

War on Want director John Hilary has denounced the proposal as pandering to "popular gimmickry".

"It is important to recognise that these are serious and complex issues and what may seem like a good thing to the public may be completely hopeless in reality," Hilary added.

John Hilary seems to be an acolyte of Jeffrey Sachs' aid model, wherein aid decisions are decided and administered through a collection of centrally-planned intergovernmental agencies. IGOs have relied to an unfortunate extent on the participation and cooperation of corrupt local governmental agencies that have led to the squandering or outright theft of billions of dollars in foreign aid.

This general state of affairs has led to what economist William Easterly has termed the "second tragedy of poverty" -- that those living in impoverished countries continue to suffer despite the trillions of dollars spent to alleviate their suffering.

While Hilary's subscription to this failed perspective on aid policy is rather unfortunate, his point in regard to aid policy is actually spot-on.

Foreign aid is actually an extremely difficult topic that requires a great deal of expertise to make good decisions. To give ordinary citizens -- a term that shouldn't be seen as derisive, but merely descriptive -- decisive say over aid projects may be sadly overestimating their ability to unravel the complex issues surrounding aid policy.

What should one honestly expect the man on the street to know about police reform in Jamaica? The Ethiopian social security system? Post-civil war diplomacy in Sierra Leone?

The answer, more often than not, will be "not much". Most voters would likely be able to find a project they like the sound of, but do they know whether or not some of these projects can be successful? Do they know enough about the political or social climate in the country in question? Do they know enough about the agencies involved?

The move to democratize decisions regarding the projects selected for foreign aid is a novel one. But it may be democratizing the wrong side of the aid decision -- or at least not significantly democratizing the business end of the decision.

As Dambisa Moyo points out, many African countries hold elections and purport to be democracies, but don't fully fit the bill of a developed multi-party democracy.

William Easterly would add that most African countries lack the basic democratic institutions that manage and regulate an economy -- such institutions such as banks, courts, or offices to register the ownership of property. He would further add that the decisions made by central aid planners have seldom met the specific needs of those at whom the aid in question is actually directed.

To put decision-making power in the hands of British citizens only further removes that decision-making power from the hands who need it most -- at least so far as British aid policy is concerned. Naturally, one could argue that British citizens should have the right to make decisions regarding where their tax dollars are spent, and this argument does have merit.

But as Moyo would argue, the continual casting of western aid agencies strips local democracies -- as they were -- of their legitimacy in the eyes of their own citizens.

Giving ordinary Africans more power to control the aid programs administered in Africa through micro-economic techniques would actually strengthen their sense of democracy, and in time could strengthen their individual democracies.

If British citizens were to agree that it's in their best interests to deal with mature democracies in Africa, they may also agree that it's in their best interests to allow experts to control British aid policy in such a way that fosters such democratic growth.

Naturally, those experts should be obligated to administer these policies in a way that isn't out of touch with the expectations of British citizens and with the needs of African citizens.

But David Cameron's plan actually guarantees neither of these things. His plan really isn't everything it's cracked up to be.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Gutter Politics, Defined

Harper not to blame for "gutter politics" -- at least not alone

In a blog post appearing on the website of Vancouver's Georgia Straight, Charlie Smith derides Stephen Harper and the Conservative party for allegedly indulging themselves in "gutter politics":
"This week, I stumbled across another piece of garbage sent through the mail by a Conservative MP.

This one featured a 'pop quiz'. It asked how long Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was away from Canada.

On the flip side, it contained the Conservative slogan 'Ignatieff: Just visiting'.

There was not a word about public policies, plans, or issues--just a vicious personal attack on the Opposition leader.

I wonder what thoughtful conservatives think of these tactics, which are so typical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper seems to think that if you treat the public like they're idiots, you have a better chance of getting reelected.

It's time for people like Senator Hugh Segal, former federal cabinet ministers John Crosbie and John Fraser, and former prime ministers Kim Campbell and Joe Clark to stand up and condemn this nonsense.

Harper is debasing our political culture. As we've seen in the United States, whenever this occurs, there's a corresponding decline in political literacy.

That's likely followed by reckless policies that can bankrupt the nation and lead it into perpetual war.

It's time for conservatives to say enough is enough. The ends don't always justify the means.
Smith is perfectly right to note the irresponsibility and recklessness of the Conservatives' "Just Visiting" campaign.

But in order to make the argument that Harper, and Harper alone, are responsible for the rise of gutter politics in Canada would be a facetious argument ad extremis.

It would ignore the Liberal party's long, somehow proud history of engaging in gutter politics, embodied in some savagely personal and pernicious attack ads being aired against Harper.

One can say what they will about the "Just Visiting" ads. They don't accuse Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff of plotting to summarily declare martial law upon winning power. While the move to impugn Ignatieff's citizenship based on time spent out of the country is atrociously irresponsible, at least they stay on the right side of accusing a political opponent of plotting treason.

Then, of course, there is the matter of Canada's undisputed king of gutter politics, Warren Kinsella. Even against the testimony of Liberal Senator Noel Kinsella that Harper consumed the allgedly-missing communion wafer, Warren Kinsella has been utterly shameless about using this non-scandal for his party's advantage.

Among the other media sources peddling "Wafergate" as if it were a scandal of any political consequence is the Huffington Post.

Even feverish arch-Liberal blogger Darryl Raymaker is unshockingly eager to get in on the act.


Yet, if one were to ask Charlie Smith, it's Stephen Harper, and Stephen Harper alone, who's responsible for "gutter politics" and the "decline in political literacy" that comes with it.

Those who have actually payed attention to anything over the past 20 years in this country know better. Harper certainly hasn't shied away from gutter politics, but he certainly didn't pioneer it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Is Foreign Aid Undermining African Democracy?

Coming via ForaTV, Dambisa Moyo presents an intriguing critique of current foreign aid programs.

According to Moyo, successes enjoyed under programs such as the AIDs program -- in which AIDs drugs are provided to HIV sufferers -- lead Africans to doubt their elected leaders, as they watch foreign organizations provide services their governments should be responsible for.

Paradoxically, aid programs that seek to by-pass Africa's entrenched system of government kelptocrats may be stifling the single best antidote to this kleptocracy: a strong, vibrant democracy in which oversight is ultimately wielded by a citizenry that has confidence in their system.

According to Economist William Easterly, the most effective aid programs are those that will democratize the process of prioritizing the areas by focusing on allowing the citizens of impoverished countries to build their own economies from the ground up by utilizing the principles micro-economics.

Aid planners, still under the thrall of Jeffrey Sachs and his mostly-failed policies, continue to favour the principles of macro-economics and a top-down method of building national economies.

But as Easterly has often pointed out, this risks the creation of aid programs that are dangerously out-of-touch with the needs of locals.

An interesting case in point is a $15 billion agricultural aid program being pushed by Barack Obama. Investing in things such as seed, fertilizer, produce storage and research, the plan seems to be aimed at jump-starting a new green revolution in Africa.

While this satisfies an obvious need that impoverished countries have, locals may prefer to continue utilizing traditional agricultural methods as opposed to high-tech agricultural methods that will remain expensive -- likely prohibitively expensive -- long after aid dollars run out.

Easterly points out that, mixed in with successes, similar plans have been tried unsuccessfully before.

“The curse of aid is that they never learn from history,” Easterly said. “They need to go back and realize a lot of things promised today have been promised before.”

But even when the things that are promised are delivered, as Moyo points out, foreign aid is actually posing unforeseen problems for African democracies, as it undermines elected leaders who lack the resources to deliver on their own responsibilities.

If the western world truly expects democracy to flourish in Africa, it may be for the best to start to design foreign aid programs that allow it to function properly.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Canadian Conservatism Needs to Save Itself

Adam Daifallah annoints Tim Hudak as conservative saviour

Writing in a blog post on the National Post's Full Comment blog, Adam Daifallah all but annoints Tim Hudak as the saviour of conservatism not only in Ontario, but perhaps in all of Canada:
"Tim Hudak's ascension to the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario is an important development in the Canadian conservative movement for several reasons. Most importantly, it represents a clean break from the rudderless and inept leadership that has guided the party for more than five years. Let's not mince words: Ernie Eves and John Tory were unmitigated disasters as leaders. Hudak represents a clear return to the conviction-based politics that vaulted the Tories to power -- and kept them there -- in the 1990s."
It would be unreasonable to suggest that Tory and Eves, as leaders, could not have done more.

That being said, it's unreasonable to overlook the fact that, as leaders, Tory and Eves had to work with what Harris had left behind him when he resigned as leader. It wasn't a pretty sight.

Mike Harris left behind him an extremely unpopular incumbent party, which had failed to deliver on its espoused fiscally conservative principles, had made controversial moves in relation to education and relations with municipal governments, and had often stirred up a wasp's nest of public protest against it.

To saddle Tory and Eves firmly with the failure of the Ontario Tories to retain power -- or win it back from Dalton McGuinty in the years since -- is partially unfair. While one cannot overlook their own failures as leaders, one also has to remember the position Harris had left them in.

Yet Daifallah seems to believe that only a leader practically hand-picked by Harris can deliver the Ontario Tories from the ignominous position they currently find themselves in.
"For the first time in recent memory, during the course of the leadership race no candidate ran on an explicitly centre-left platform. Hudak, runner-up Frank Klees and maverick Randy Hillier all staked out clear conservative ground. Christine Elliott ran a formidable campaign and was essentially forced into positioning herself as the centrist candidate due to crowding on the right. (Frequent cheerleading from the Toronto Star also helped burnish her image in that regard.)"
Daifallah seems to do everything but label Elliott Liberal-lite.
"Elliott miscalculated in making the policy of abolishing the Ontario Human Rights Commission -- a cause championed by Hudak and Hiller -- a wedge issue. This didn't sit well with Hudak's and Hillier's supporters, whose second-choice votes she needed to gain in the preferential ballot voting system. Her announcement that she would implement a flat tax if elected -- effectively outflanking Hudak on the right -- sent an electroshock through the other camps. In the end, Elliott proved to be a master of the air war, but lacked the ground game necessary to mount a serious challenge."
But Daifallah would be foolish to insist that the policy of abolishing the Ontario Human Rights Commission was not, in and of itself, designed to be a wedge issue.

Hudak used that policy as a method to determine those who were, allegedly, true conservatives from those who were simply "Liberal lite" -- a label he applied to both Elliott and Klees.
"The significance of the Hudak victory should not be downplayed. The Ontario Tories now have a leader who, unlike his predecessor, won't shy away from drawing clear distinctions between himself and the McGuinty Liberals. Hudak believes in ideas -- he won't be afraid of making bold proposals going forward. His mandate of presenting policies that respect conservative principles yet recognize the current difficult economic context will neutralize Liberal attempts to paint him as a reincarnation of Mike Harris."
And yet Hudak's branding of himself as a "common sense conservative" has already done so much to accomplish this very act.

Distancing himself from Harris will be a difficult act for someone who enjoyed such fervent support from Harris to do. And, really, one may wonder what reason Hudak would have to want to distance himself from who has proven to be his most valuable supporter.
"The McGuinty government is vulnerable on almost every important issue: Ontario's economy is in shambles, taxes are up, spending has soared with no correlative improvement in service quality, unemployment is skyrocketing and the deficit and debt have ballooned. Admittedly, not all of these problems are Dalton McGuinty's own fault, but in politics, the party in power wears the good news and the bad, regardless of its cause.

The next provincial election is still more than two years away. Anything can happen in that time, and it is still unknown whether McGuinty will run for a third term. But if he does, he will be ripe for defeat as an out-of-touch, tired leader who bungled the economy. In the meantime, the way Hudak conducts himself as opposition leader will have important ramifications far beyond Ontario politics.
Hudak has yet to accomplish anything during his (to date short) audition to be Premier of Ontario.

Yet Daifallah already seems to have Hudak pegged as a successor to Stephen Harper's leadership of Canadian conservatism, particularly fiscal conservatism:
"Small-c conservatives across the country are disheartened by the Harper government's numerous capitulations on a whole host of red-meat issues. They are desperately looking for a new champion for the conservative cause. If Hudak can make conservative policies stick and bring the Ontario Tories up in the polls -- and, in the unlikely event that the 2011 election occurs before the next federal campaign, win a government -- it will give great comfort to principled conservatives to know that their ideas still have traction. It would also discredit the Harper government's calculation that the public is only interested in statist solutions to the current economic situation."
Yet Daifallah seems to be overlooking what the historical trend in Canadian politics has tended to be.

That is, when Liberal governments reign in Ottawa, Conservatives tend to win power in Provincial elections. When Conservative governments are in power in Ottawa, Liberals and the NDP tend to win in the provinces.

While the Saskatchewan party claimed victory in the first post-Harper election in the Land of Living Skies and Danny Williams' Progressive Conservatives won in Newfoundland, it's worth noting that Rodney MacDonald's Conservatives were defeated by the NDP, Gordon Campbell's Liberals retained power in British Columbia and Gary Doer's NDP won the 2007 vote in Manitoba.

To expect that Hudak alone will be enough to buck this trend in Ontario and deliver salvation to the federal Tories is, in and of itself, a bit of a pipe dream. Hudak has to be up to the task, and we have yet to see if he actually is.
"Tim Hudak as Canadian conservatism's saviour? Someone needs to assume the role, and I know he would relish it."
Not only does Daifallah's analysis of Hudak's emerging role within Canadian conservatism seem overly Wagnerian, it's also deftly out of touch with the roots of the conservative movement in Canada.

Lloyd Mackey provides a reasonable list of the differing philosophical strains on conservatism. He classifies them as following:

1. Fiscal conservatism - This is the strain of conservatism that prefers controls on government taxation and spending. This is also the very strain of conservatism that Daifallah seems to appeal to most in this article.

2. Social conservatism - Social conservatives prefer family-friendly policies and government regulation -- if not outright prohibition -- of abortion. This particular strain of conservatism has found itself at odds with Human Rights Commissions as many of its most vociferous proponents find themselves paraded before them on an ongoing basis.

3. Democratic populism - Democratic populism insists that the spirit of democracy is found in the will of the people. It favours the "common sense of common people", and has been most strongly represented nationally by Preston Manning.

4. Progressive Conservatism - Progressive conservatism, as embodied by leaders such as Joe Clark, John Diefenbaker and the late Robert Stanfield, advocates using conservatism to moderate political and social change.

5. British Toryism - Proponents of British Toryism favour the preservation of existing institutions, including current parliamentary structures and offices such as Canada's various vice-regal offices such as the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors.

6. Libertarianism - Libertarians prefer that government stay out of the lives of its citizens as much as possible. Libertarians favour as much freedom as possible for citizens, and tend to be the strongest voices in favour of small government.

Of Mackey's six strains of Canadian conservatism, only one -- British Toryism -- arguably sets the table to favour the salvation of Canadian conservatism by a single leader.

Where the other strains of conservatism -- notably libertarianism and democratic populism -- weigh in on this topic, they weigh in against such an option.

Where Daifallah would argue that Tim Hudak is the one man who can save conservatism in Canada, democratic populists would rebel against the notion of any single leader leading Canadian conservatism without a strong consensus to back his direction. That was the act that Preston Manning accomplished so masterfully as leader of the Reform party.

Libertarians would point out the sheer scope of the power, influence and authority conservatives would have to grant such an individual upon being annointed as a conservative "messiah". Libertarians would reject such a notion outright.

Small-p, small-c progressive conservatives would find the urge to reject Hudak as a conservative saviour almost irresistable. To such individuals, Hudak represents the kind of ideologically-isolated neoconservatism that is utterly offensive to their particular values, even as fiscal and social conservatives would likely react favourably to Hudak in such a role.

Contrary to whatever Adam Daifallah may like to believe about Tim Hudak, no one man can save conservatism. Not in Ontario, and not in the rest of Canada. Rather, conservatives must save conservatism together by maintaining the common bonds between its varying -- although often over-simplified, by Lloyd Mackey's own admission -- strains.

Conservatism must save itself.

Knowing Without Meaning May Not Be Enough

In Knowing, ingenious director Alex Proyas presents the tale of an astrophysicist who is convinced by a number list "randomly" presented to his son that he can predict and prevent disasters.

When John Koestler's son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) comes home from school with a list of numbers scrawled out by a youngster 50 years previous, John (Nicholas Cage) insists that he must return it as quickly as possible.

Upon more closely examining the page, however, John recognizes that 9/11 is predicted on it -- right down to the number of people killed on that fateful day. As he continues to examine the list he finds that each one corresponds to every major disaster of the previous 50 years, including the one that killed his wife.

According to the philsophical principle of determinism, everything that happens occurs for a reason. It insists that there is purpose and meaning to everything that unfolds in the universe.

Determinism is at the heart not only of many theistic religions, but also of many works of historical study. Theological scholars, like historians, often look for underlying causes for any particular event that would render them inevitable.

John Koestler doesn't fully believe in determinism, even though his father is a pastor.

John eventually concludes that the number series is a warning meant for him. He concludes that he must be able to prevent these incidents from happening, if only he can discern what they are. And yet, despite his best efforts, they continue happening. These events may be pre-determined to the extent that not even his intervention can prevent them.

In Preempting Dissent, Andy Opel and Greg Elmer argue that preemptive action is based on a principle of inevitability.

Aside from the minor detail that inevitability suggests that an event cannot be prevented -- whereas most of those who offer justification for preemptive action insist that it's necessary in order to prevent something from occurring -- the determinist philosophy of which Koesler speaks of seems to be deeply ingrained within Opel and Elmer's thesis.

This element of determinism is unmistakable. It should be remembered that Elmer and Opel don't necessarily incorporate this determinism as part of their own personal beliefs, but rather attribute that determinism to the beliefs of others -- in this case, those who make important policy decisions.

While that determinism may not be as pure as the version described by Koesler -- purely considered, determinism ascribes meaning and inevitability to events through a combination of natural and human factors -- this impurity actually suits the needs of Elmer and Opel's argument. Opel and Elmer's thesis is best related to human factors alone.

In Knowing, there is much more to the list than it would seem. In its own way, the list very much is a form of otherworldly intervention. It very much does have meaning and purpose, even if the events it predicts actually cannot be averted -- even one that seems like it may be the end of the world.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

But The Problem Is That He Allegedly Is Mike Harris

Tim Hudak's "common sense conservatism" could be his greatest asset, greatest weakness

In an editorial appearing in the Welland Tribune, Kalvin Reid writes that "Tim Hudak must prove he's not Mike Harris":
"It will be a challenge for Hudak to translate that success across the province, but there is no question he is up to the task. The 41-year-old is already dealing with accusations that he is a clone of former premier Mike Harris and will replicate the divisive policies of that regime.

But this is politics, a cutthroat game, and that is to be expected.

Hudak will have to prove to Ontario that he is more pragmatic and, as he said repeatedly during the leadership campaign, a different man in a different time than Harris.
The problem, of course, is that Hudak didn't campaign for the Progressive Conservative leadership under the pretenses that he isn't Mike Harris.

In fact, he ran for the leadership under the pretenses that he was Harris' annointed successor to John Tory.

Hudak may be right to note that Harris, as close to an ideological neoconservative as Canadian politics has to offer, is the last man to have successfully led the Ontario PCs to any sort of election victory at all -- let alone a majority government. Tom Long, who helped Hudak with his leadership campaign, certainly seems to think so.

Moreover, Hudak owes a great deal to Harris. Harris not only issued an emphatic endorsement of Hudak, but also organized behind-the-scenes to help Hudak's victory on a much more practical level.

To think that Hudak would now turn his back on the man who played kingmaker in his ascension to the Ontario Tory leadership is rather absurd.

But many other Ontarians remember Harris rather well. Many of them have been crystal clear about where they stand on Harris' record.

Tim Hudak's "common sense conservatism" -- an obvious take-off of Harris' Common Sense Revolution -- may play well for fiscal and social conservatives in Ontario. It won't play well for those who count themselves among Harris' critics.

But should Hudak decide he wants to prove to Ontarians that he isn't Mike Harris, he will have plenty of time to do it. As Kalvein Reid notes:
"Time is on his side. With a provincial election a little more than a two years away, Hudak has a mulligan. If he pulls off a victory in 2011, great for him and the party. But barring a PC meltdown in that vote, he will get a chance to lead the party into the 2015 election. That is six years to step out of the shadow of the man who first put him in cabinet and carve his own niche in Ontario politics."
But counting on a man who campaigned for the PC leadership on the promise of Harris-style ideological neoconservatism to move to the centre is likely to be a long wait for a ship that never comes.

To think that Tim Hudak will go out of his way to distance himself from Mike Harris simply defies credulity -- even if he probably should.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Sandy Crux - "Attn Tim Hudak: Does “B i l l-177″ thwart trustees?"

Joseph Uranowski - "Career Politician. Intellectual Lightweight. Puppet. Blast From The Past."

They Truly Are Everything They Claim to Abhor

Anyone who follows the abortion debate in any way, shape or form -- or even watches the news in general -- remembers the pro-abortion lobby's reaction to the murder of Dr George Tiller.

Naturally, they expressed outrage. Normally, there would be nothing at all wrong with this. After all, Dr Tiller's murder was an act of domestic terrorism and any proper-thinking individual should be outraged at it.

The problem with the outrage of the pro-abortion lobby over the matter was that it was entirely feigned. They blamed the pro-abortion lobby as a whole for inciting the murder of Dr Tiller.

Violence, one would think, is where the pro-abortion lobby would draw the line in terms of acceptable action.

Think again.

When 60-year-old James Canfield was nearly run over by an SUV while protesting at an abortion clinic, JJ from Unrepentant Old Hippie immediately moved to try to minimize the incident as much as she could.

As with the previous case of Ed Snell, JJ's attempts to sweep this example of violence against pro-abortion protesters under the carpet was nothing if not utterly revelatory regarding her true attitude regarding violence centred around the issue of abortion:

"It's OK when we do it."

JJ's near-tragic hypocrisy is now on display once again as she mocks another blogger, Jill Stanek, for writing about another case of violence against an anti-abortion protester, yet another one involving a deadly weapon.

The case involves the matter of a man pointing a gun at a pro-abortion protester outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Apparently, what she had done to justify the assault is hand the man a pamphlet.

And JJ apparently seems to feel it very much is justified. One only has to look at her comments on the matter:
"Stand back! Looks like some of us are losing our patience."
As if this weren't bad enough, one only has to read on:
"When it comes to firearms, I follow one simple rule of gun safety: never point a gun at something you don’t intend to shoot."
Only in the mind of someone whose views on the topic of abortion are hopelessly extreme could an attitude like this be tolerated.

But one would think that the simple, basic hypocrisy of all of this would at least rend on JJ's conscience, just a little. Anyone who thinks this would be sorely overestimating this individual's self-awareness:
"Anti-choicers seem to think that because they lamely 'denounced' the May 31st murder of yet another doctor by one of their own, everyone will forgive and forget and they can just pick up where they left off on May 30th and carry on with the hateful rhetoric and clinic protests as usual. They don’t seem to realize that for some, Dr Tiller’s murder might have been a game-changer. It might have awakened people to the fact that the violence inherent in the fringe of the anti-choice movement isn’t a series of random one-offs, but part of a larger pattern, and that 'mainstream' anti-choicers share a lot more with their fringe than they’d willingly admit. People are frightened and they’re responding accordingly — that’s why it’s called 'terrorism'."
The twisted logic in a statement like this is nothing if not a little frightening.

JJ's preferred response to the terrorist violence being perpetrated by extremists within the anti-abortion movement is to attempt to embrace violence within the mainstream of those who support abortion.

At least the anti-abortion movement, as a whole, has the class and dignity to push violent anti-abortion activists as far away from their movement as they can and denounce them.

Yet individuals like JJ refuse to perform the same act. There are two reasons for this:

First, individuals like JJ -- and her would-be "sergeant at arms", Mike from (ir)Rational Reasons -- are individuals whose views on abortion are so incredibly extreme that no rational individual would ever find much in common with them on that topic.

Secondly, individuals like JJ -- and Fern Hill, and the rest of JJ's cohorts -- are shameless hypocrites. They are more than willing to embrace violence if it suits their purposes of shutting down debate on the topic of abortion.

This, of course, makes them every bit as bad as the man who murdered Dr George Tiller. They know this. They understand this. They simply refuse to admit it publicly, pretending as if that somehow makes a difference.

It doesn't.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Obama Must Not Repeat Bush's Mistake

Barack Obama has an opportunity to support democracy in Russia

At the end of his first visit to Russia, Barack Obama must certainly understand the opportunity that lays before him.

Perhaps more than anything else, Obama has the opportunity to not make the same mistake that George W Bush did.

Bush made the mistake of failing to make the same pro-democracy stand in Russia as he claimed he was making in Iraq. In his extremely soft approach to then-President (and now Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin, Bush played directly into Putin's hands.

"Putin is immune unless he hears a firm reaction from the top man," former World Chess champion and Soldarinost leader Gary Kasparov told Playboy Magazine in 2008. "He doesn't care about clerks, even Condoleezza Rice. Only a message from the top counts. Everything else is a game. When Putin made some of the statements that implied he could stay in office for a third term, he didn't hear anything from Bush. President Bush, you stuck up for him; you looked into his eyes. Why are you silent now? Instead, what does Putin hear? Condoleezza Rice says, 'we'd rather have him inside than outside the tent.'"

"This philosophy has never worked before," Kasparov continued. "Churchill said 'no matter how beautiful the strategy, occasionally you must check the results.' For seven years, with engagement by the West and with the influx of capitalism, Putin destroyed all democratic institutions in Russia. So we all remember that Bush said he looked into Putin's eyes. Putin looked into Bush's eyes as well. He saw he could push Bush's limits. Every time he pushes he tests the waters. He pushes and Bush does nothing."

The challenge for Obama is evident: he must not allow Putin to push his limits.

Obama has the advantage of having to deal not directly with Putin, but rather through Dmitri Medvedev.

But even amidst some seeming efforts by Medvedev to wield Presidential power himself, as opposed to merely being a lackey for the former President, Putin will remain a factor in dealings between the two leaders.

But Obama seemed to be alluding to Putin in many of his reflective comments after his visit. The allusions were far less than flattering.

"I think that Americans and Russians share an interest in strengthening the rule of law, democracy and human rights," Obama explained. "To quote my inaugural speech: ‘To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.’ Later, speaking in Cairo, I said: ‘I have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights.’"

Obama may, however, be underestimating the Russian leadership's commitment to these values.

"These ideas are shared by your President and your people," Obama continued. "I agree with President Medvedev when he says that ’some freedom is better than no freedom.’ I therefore see no reason why the ‘reset’ in relations cannot include the common desire to strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

For his own part Gary Kasparov is unimpressed by Obama's sentiments.

"Abandon the policy of double standards and call a spade a spade," Kasparov said. "Stop pretending that the current regime under Putin is democratic and thus give it a carte blanche for further abuses."

Obama's stance on Russia is a definitive improvement over George W Bush's, but some improvements clearly need to be made. Obama cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor.

Setting the Record Straight is Only the First Step...

...The second is to see what the record actually tells us

With the public health care debate heating up in the United States, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell is continuing to peddle horror stories about the Canadian health care system.

The horror story most frequently being peddled right now is the sad story of Shona Holmes, who was unable to procure treatment by Canadian cancer specialists and was forced to borrow $100,000 in order to obtain treatment at the United States' Mayo clinic for a brain tumour.

Aside from the fact that this case is fairly similar to thousands of cases in the United States, where individuals without health insurance are forced to burden themselves with gargantuan debts in order to receive treatment -- and in some cases, shady insurance companies simply refuse to abide by the terms of their contracts with their customers.

McConnell's peddling of this story -- and others -- has raised the ire of Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who has publicly defended Canada's health care system south of the border.

"The notion that we have some bureaucrat standing next to every doctor between the patient and that doctor is a complete creation, there is no truth to that at all," Hugh Segal told CNN. "What you have is a longer life span, better outcomes and about one-third less costs. That's what you have."

A Canadian also has superior access to health care. Once again, this is something that McConnell has failed to mention.

McConnell's comments, however, have sparked a vital debate on the role of the bureaucracy within health care.

The first thing that should be noted is that the United States wastes more money on health care bureaucracy than Canada does. this has been known since at least 2004.

But this doesn't mean that Canada's priorities regarding health care are actually in order.

When presented with the priority between providing front-line medical service -- the kind that Shona Holmes didn't receive -- and maintaining a bureaucracy to oversee the system, the priority is obvious: provision of front-line service is the purpose of the system, and it thus the priority.

Yet Canada's health care system provides no incentives for the reduction of overhead costs. Bureaucrats have no incentive to control the growth of a bureaucracy, and reduce the amount to which that bureaucracy eats away at overall funding.

Just because the Canadian health care system does a better job of controlling these costs than the American system doesn't mean that these costs aren't an obstacle to superior care.

Canadian conservatives should embrace the opportunity to defend Canadian health care against the attacks from south of the 49th parallel as an opportunity to have a debate about this topic, and the kind of reforms that could redirect vital funds from maintaining a bureaucracy toward proving front-end service.

That would go a long way toward preventing the Shona Holmses and the horror stories of tomorrow.

July 2009 Book Club Selection: Home Game, Ken Dryden & Roy MacGregor

In a month in which Canadians across the country and the world are celebrating our wonderful country, it's only appropriate to select a book that delves deeply into the Canadian cultural imagination.

Home Game was written as something of a sequel to The Game, in which Dryden followed his final season as a professional hockey player.

Home Game, written with Roy MacGregor, follows the central theme of The Game -- a life in hockey -- and applies it to the country as a whole, and chronicles the extent to which this magnificent sport may be the greatest unifying factor in Canada.

Regardless of wherever in Canada one comes from, one thing that nearly all of us agree on is our love of the sport of hockey.

Certainly, hockey isn't all there is to Canada. But Dryden and MacGregor make the case that it's a big part of it. The millions of us who tune in to Hockey Night in Canada on a wintry Saturday evening can attest to this.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Paul Zachary Myers: Cultural Warrior

PZ Myers decries "anti-science, anti-intellectual" culture

Speaking regarding a reported shortage of American post-graduate science students, University of Minnesota biologist accuses a rather vague culprit for the problem.

"The problem is we have a strong sub-cultural thread that is simply anti-intellectual, anti-science," says Myers.

"...In Germany, that kind of debate is considered trivial," Myers compared. "In the U.S., anti-intellectualism is not a trivial problem. We have a culture war that isn't happening in Europe."

Of course, it's extremely convenient for PZ Myers to note the existence of an alleged culture war. He, after all, is a dedicated cultural warrior.

Myers, as anyone knows, is a fierce advocate of atheism, and is among an extreme cabal of fundamentalist atheists who often attempts to argue that religion and science are incompatible.

He seems to overlook the fact that scientists as distinquished as sir Isaac Newton and sir Francis Bacon -- among many others -- considered their religious faith to be perfectly compatible with science.

(Although, to be fair, the Catholic Church didn't seem to consider science to be compatible with the religious faith of Copernicus.)

The United States, meanwhile, remains one of the countries in the western world with the highest per capita rates of religious observation -- although this has been shifted in recent years.

One would wonder what Mr Myers would have to say about this alleged "anti-science, anti-intellectual sub-cultural thread" if one were to ask him how he thought his attempts to decisively separate religion and intellectualism were questioned to his face.

That is, if he bothered to answer such a question. All too often he tends not to.

But the logical answer to this question is obvious: if tension between religion and science has really led to this alleged anti-science trend that Myers alludes to, one would have to consider Myers' efforts to stir up tension between religion and science to be at least partially responsible.

If there really is such a trend at all.

But PZ Myers would know full well if there's a cultural war happening in the United States. He's busy enough instigating and then fighting it that we can take his word for it.

The Sound of Dissent in Dixie

When leader singer Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks spoke out against the Iraq war on March 10, 2003, she provoked a firestorm from the American right wing.

Speaking out against the war in Iraq, Maines told an audience in London that she was ashamed the President was from Texas.

Various right-wing activists, bloggers and media figures targetted the Dixie Chicks for nothing less than complete professional destruction.

Shut Up and Sing documents how, in a period of weeks, the Dixie Chicks went from being lucrative corporate shills to being branded as un-American or anti-American.

American country music radio stations fed the fire by caving under the pressure being exerted by far-right groups like Free Republic. By complying with the boycott -- refusing to play the Dixie Chicks' music and in some cases even organizing mass destructions of their CDs -- these radio stations emboldened these activists.

Had those radio stations not been as compliant with the de facto mass censorship it's likely that the campaign against the Dixie Chicks would have failed.

What all too often escapes scrutiny in the affair is the role of then-President George W Bush in the affair. As President of the United States Bush was obligated to defend the freedoms of American citizens regardless of whether they agreed with his war or not.

A conscientious leader would have defended the Dixie Chicks despite their criticism of him. A concientious leader understands the value of freedom of speech, and understands the value of dissent.

This being said, to describe Bush as a conscientious leader would be a mistake. This is an individual who strictly adhered to a specific ideological programme even after it became evident that this programme was failing. In his approach to policy Bush proved to be far too rigid to ever be described as conscientious. Not only Americans, but countless others, continue to suffer the consequences of his failed economic policies, in particular.

Bush may not have explicitly encouraged the sustained attack on the Dixie Chicks, but in failing to speak out against it, and speak supportively of their freedom of expression, he failed to live up to his responsibility as President of the United States of America.

Unsurprisingly, John McCain -- the man who very well could have been elected President in 2000 if not for Karl Rove's infamous "secret black baby" push-polling stunt -- seemed very Presidential when grilling radio executives over whether or not they were "networks" and whether or not politically-motivated programming decisions were being made.

The contrast with Bush's "they shouldn't have their feelings hurt" comments is both obvious and profound.

On a day when Americans are celebrating their hard-earned freedoms, it's important for people all over the world to remember precisely how tenuous and how costly exercising those rights can be, and remember that political leaders have a responsibility to uphold those rights.