411 Radical Bay

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bye, bye Belinda

So Belinda Stronach is quitting politics. Having been unable to purchase the leadership of the Conservative party and having chosen a rather poor time to sell her loyalty in return for a cabinet seat, I guess her run in public life wasn't shaping up to be what she'd hoped it would be. She must have seen that she wouldn't be back in cabinet after the next election and decided to go back to Daddy's company. Public life will not be poorer without her. It's only too bad that Martha Hall Findlay has had to go through all the trouble of finding another riding to run in before this announcement.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Play Ball!

Today is Opening Day, and I am happy, as my beloved Blue Jays open the season in Detroit, and my slightly less beloved Moscow Rats stagger, riddled with injuries, out of the gate in my fantasy league. I am optimistic about both teams' prospects this year, though more so for Toronto, especially if Doc Halladay can have a good year.

Now, to cook some hot dogs...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

First they came for the smokers...

...and I said nothing because I wasn't a smoker.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I return to note the return of a blogger far greater than I

More insightful stuff later this week, I hope. For now, though, I'm just delighted that Michael Berube, last seen on the internets immediately prior to the manifestation of the Giant Nuclear Fireball, has resurfaced at Crooked Timber, thus making that already awesome website even more awesome.

So why are you still here, exactly? I even linked to it and everything...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It's Official

Italy is worse than useless as an ally. Not content to pay multi-million dollar ransoms and assist in smuggling terrorists/insurgents to secure the release of photogenic aid workers in Iraq, the Italian government has now released Taliban fighters in order to secure the release of a journalist in Afghanistan. The Italians have made fairly useless military contributions to Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, when their base got shelled, they ran away. No, really - they got in their vehicles and ran like screaming girls to the Americans. In Afghanistan, they embody the pathetic European reluctance to actually fight the Taliban (honourable exceptions: British, Dutch, Romanians). But to actually release dangerous fighters to buy your way out of a politically difficult situation is surely a new low. They know that these men might well kill the soldiers of their allies. But they don't care. Their shameful tradition of appeasement and protection payments to terrorists continues. The only certainty is that more of their countrymen will be targeted in the sure knowledge of more concessions - money for arms, prisoners for fighting, whatever. The Italians have always cut a pretty disgraceful figure on the battlefield, but if they're going to go around undermining their allies' war effort, maybe it would be better just to send them back to their lattes and girly football dives. Make me some gelato, Massimo! At least you'll be doing something worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I haven't completely forgotten about this place

I doubt that anyone is still checking this, given the assiduousness with which Ian and I post, but regardless...

I have had cause many times to complain about the fact that people seem to want everything without having to pay for it - often in the context of health care, etc. Well, it turns out that students are no less inclined than anyone else to vote against measures that would actually enable improvement and investment in their communities - ironically enough, even if the tax increase, in this case a $10 per course levy, wouldn't have kicked in until 2009. Dalhousie students, it turns out, just rejected an attempt to raise money for a new student centre and renovations to current spaces. Well, we suck. And we have only ourselves to blame when the physical plant at Dalhousie goes right on sucking like a whore in Babylon.

Monday, February 19, 2007

At the risk of droning on about it...

I would be surprised if we surived the next two years without the United States (George Bush, in particular) making the disastrous mistake of bombing Iran. The BBC is reporting that any such attack would not just involve nuclear facilities, but would be aimed at a wide range of military targets. More importantly, I think, the article says that the U.S. now considers there to be two reasons to go to war - casus belli. The first is evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. The second would be an attack on U.S. forces in Iran resulting in significant casualties. Even by the standards of recent U.S. foreign policy, this is one of the most ludicrous things I've heard recently. Say a cargo plane is brought down with U.S. troops on board, killing 70 or so, and it's proven to have been by an Iranian missile. That's a justification for another war that will kill thousands of people? U.S. troops who have invaded and occupied a neighbouring country are not legitimate targets? Is sabotage of one U.S. war a good enough reason to launch a second?

We've heard lots more talk recently about how high-level Iranians are controlling the Iranian forces responsible for supplying weapons that are used in attacks on U.S. troops. This seems to me like the rhetorical build-up to an attack, and given that the U.S. government now seems to have convinced itself that this is really a sufficient reason to attack, it makes sense for it to try to sell the same thing to the American people.

The idea of launching an attack not just to stop the nuclear program but to seriously degrade Iran's military, might make senseby purely military logic - it would make it harder for Iran to retaliate. But it just hammers home that any such attack would akin to a declaration of war, and it seems to me that it would be interprested thoughout the Muslim world as an unprovoked act of agression against Muslims. And, essentially, they'd be right. An Iranian bomb might threaten Israel's existence, but it is not an existential threat to the U.S., so given the likely disastrous consequences of an attack, it's simply not justified.

It's not just about what Muslims think, either, but about the perception of the legitimacy of U.S. power around the world. The U.S. has been able to exercise its power so effectively in the past because it hasn't been seen as aggressive, a power that needs to be balanced against. That will change if it goes to war with Iran. It would be the most capricious use of American power, I think, in history. With George W. Bush in power, and apparently believing that only he is of sufficient moral courage to do what's necessary to stop Iran from getting a bomb, we should all keep our fingers crossed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Grudging approval for Gordon Campbell

Grrrr. I don't like it when politicians I'm used to disliking do things that I'm forced to praise. So it is with B.C.'s Premier Gordon Campbell, who just issued a Throne Speech that sets targets to have B.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions reduced to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020. These seem like somewhat ambitious targets - a 1/3 cut from current levels - and I'm not sure it wouldn't have made more sense to set 2025 or 2030 as the target, but you've got to give the man credit for ambition and seriousness. (Trying to meet those targets in the next 5 years is obviously unacheivable.) I'm particularly happy to see that he's effectively killed the new coal plants proposed, insanely, by B.C. Hydro and appears to be moving towards clean coal technologies and carbon sequestration. I think that these technologies, along with nuclear power and strict new limits on car emissions (of carbon dioxide, not just pollutants) will take us a long way to actually making the kinds of cuts that could make a difference. Could, that is, if China weren't building a new coal power plant every week. Oh, well. At least we can set an example.

A question of priorities

As I read the good news about the deal for North Korean denuclearization (eventually, we hope), I thought to myself, "wouldn't it be hilarious to start complaining about it because in exchange for shutting down their nuclear plants, the North Koreans get shipments of oil, which will contribute to global warming?" Well, imagine my surprise at discovering that someone actually thinks this way. Well, okay, it's only one letter to the editor, and no one knows better than me the sort of cranks and whackos that the Globe prints on their letters page, but still. Sometimes I'm convinced that the environmental movement is more like a religion than a political movement: it sees the world in such black and white terms that George Bush himself would feel at home. Anyway, aren't environmentalists always complaining about nuclear power? While I disagree with those objections when the plants are operating in developed countries, I make an exception when it's North Koreans running the plants.

Oh, and for those who want to read about that deal, as usual, I like Slate's Fred Kaplan on the subject: "President George W. Bush finally got a nuclear deal with North Korea because he finally started negotiating like Bill Clinton."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Limeys with a death wish

What happens when Top Gear hosts decide to drive around rural Alabama in cars and trucks with things like "Hillary for President," "Man Love," "I'm Bi" and "NASCAR Sucks" written on the side? This does.

I would be tempted to call these guys a bunch of snobbish assholes sneering at people they despise, being deliberately provocative and insufferable. But on the other hand, they do get a rather rude reception, perhaps more than is called for, even for a bunch of snivelling poms.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

This gentleman is insane

More political stuff soon, I promise (he said, to people who were celebrating the long hiatus of Gray-penned political rants.) But you've got to see this. Selachophobe that I am, I'll admit that I stood as far away from the screen as I could while watching it. That said, it's incredibly gripping, and the part where the scientist gets on top of the whale carcass to photograph the ravenous sharks is too nutty for words.

Credit, as always for cool biology related links, to Pharyngula.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


The video in this post is the coolest thing ever.

That is all.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bio-fuel nightmare

A really interesting look at the nightmare that a Dutch attempt to use biofuels to combat global warming produced. An attempt to offset a relatively marginal contribution to global warming ended up contributing significantly to an emissions source that now contributes about 8% to the problem of global warming.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Gay Republican parents and hypocrisy

Dan Savage, as usual, gets it right.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Give me a break

Premier Gordon Campbell defended his government's seizure of three of the surviving sextuplets born last month in Vancouver, and said Thursday the B.C. government will continue to look out for their well-being.

For those who haven't been following it, the sextuplets were born to Jehovah's witnesses, who think that God has a problem with blood transfusions. It was these kids' bad luck to be born with such crazy parents. The fact that the parents allowed all six fetuses to come to term is bad enough. Any responsible parents would have had a selective reduction to ensure that their kids would not be virtually guaranteed to be born so early that they would face disabilities throughout their life. But religious belief is barrier to reasonableness in more ways than one here.

Having given birth to six dramatically premature babies, these parents now want to refuse them the medical care necessary to keep them alive. Any halfway reasonable person would see that it's the job of the government in these circumstances to intervene on behalf of the defenceless babies who are about to be sacrificed on the altar of their parents' crazy beliefs. Premier Campbell shouldn't have to defend the decision; it is so obviously the right one. In this case, the demands of religious superstition amount to nothing less than child abuse. Any parent who lets his or her child die because they think God objects to medical treatment should be charged with failing to provide the necessities of life. Adults can choose for themselves to end their lives for stupid reasons; children can't. I don't like that children can be indoctrinated with baseless beliefs that will lead them to self-destructive behaviour later in life, but there's no way around that. But a civilized society has to draw the line at actual harm. And it's a good thing we do.

Incidentally, I'm reminded of a story my girlfriend's mother told me. She's a speech pathologist, and was presented with an autistic child, about two years old. She and her colleagues told the mother that the child was autistic and would require therapy to ensure that he could develop communications skills. Instead, the woman, who was Hindu, took her child to India for a year to drink holy water. Didn't work. A year later, the child was so severely withdrawn that he would require years of much more intensive and expensive therapy to develop comparable communications skills. What a complete shame. What a complete disgrace.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Back in action

After a much-too-long break, during which what little readership we had has almost certainly given up on this blog, we're back for another year of posts with which we would be ill-advised to try to generate ad revenue.

I note that a recent Ipsos poll has placed George Bush's disapproval rating at a new high of 65%. This makes him the the third-most unpopular president in American history. Only Nixon, at 66%, and Truman, and 67%, have done worse. Truman's numbers came before polling became reliable (Dewey beats Truman, etc.), and Nixon was impeached! George Bush should be impeached, too, but that's another story. For now, absent any real possibility of impeachment for, you know, actual crimes, as opposed to lying to a bunch of blow-job inquisitors, we can revel in his historic unpopularity. (We can also take this opportunity to link to an excellent op-ed making the case that Bush is the worst president in American history.)

Note to the American people: you should have been able to realize this two and a half years ago.

Also since the last post, Saddam Hussein has drawn his last breath. I confess that I don't really understand the objections of a lot of people, who seem to congratulate themselves on taking the absolute position that if the death penalty is wrong, it's wrong in every case. That depends on why you think it's wrong. I disagree with the death penalty because if it's admitted to the judicial process, it will inevitably mean that we execute innocent people. Beyond that, it will tend to be prejudiced against people who are poor, poorly represented, visible minorities, or murderers of pretty little blond girls - all factors that should not affect whether someone lives or dies. But it's not wrong because mass murderers have an inalienable right to life.

The more serious the crime, the more serious the punishment should be. Given the monstrous nature of Saddam's crimes, I fail to see how any punishment short of death is sufficient punishment. It's easy to throw around words like "monstrous crimes," but the scale of Saddam's crimes really does set him apart: only a handful of people in the world have as much blood on their hands as he does. He bore direct responsibility for hundreds of thousands of murders, and tens of thousands more cases of torture. He was responsible for the attempted genocide of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. And let's not forget the wars he launched against Iran and Kuwait, which together claimed almost two million lives. I suppose that you pretty well have to say that the death penalty is always wrong if you want to let Saddam live. But then you get to explain why people who kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people have not sacrificed their right to live.

There are practical reasons for killing Saddam, too: removing a figurehead for Sunni insurgents, and ensuring that Iraq makes a final break with its past. But Sunni insurgents will fight on without him, and had he languished in a jail cell in the Hague, it is unlikely that anyone would really think he would come back to power. (Though if he were in the Hague, there would doubtless be lots of people claiming that Iraqis had been denied justice, and that this was victor's justice by the West. Better that it be victor's justice by the Iraqis.)

Praticalities aside, justice demanded that Saddam die. His crimes were too great for any other punishment to suffice. His guilt was not in doubt. He should have been treated with greater dignity in his last moments, though I have trouble getting exercised that the people he oppressed and killed so indiscriminately decided to rub it in. It was emblematic of the Middle East: tribal, revengeful, ugly. Certainly offensive to Western sensibilities. Not as good proper and dignified execution. But on balance, better than letting him live.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Time to update the resume

I'm TIME magazine's Person of the Year!

I rather think that the fellow with the yellow shirt and the guitar is supposed to be me.

Seriously, how pathetic is this? It's not as though Time's never copped out shamelessly before (Roosevelt as man of the century and Giuliani in 2001 spring to mind) but this is spectacular. I also suspect that it'l be very hard for the magazine to follow next year. Time's progressive slide away from making choices that might possibly offend anyone anywhere has finally reached its natural culmination-I can't imagine a more timid, safe pick for them to hide behind.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Not in Canada

I opened my Globe this evening to find the following letter:

national president, Canadian Arab Federation

Richmond Hill, Ont. -- The Canadian Arab Federation agrees with Raja Khouri's point that the Israel lobby attempts to bully and silence critics of Israel by calling them “anti-Semites.” However, we assert that any support for Israel is support for apartheid, occupation and war crimes. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and the special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council have accused Israel of practising apartheid. Canadian Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Amnesty International have accused Israel of committing war crimes.

CAF is alarmed by the racist overtones of the debate surrounding the Liberal convention. Not a voice was raised when Bob Rae left the NDP in part because it was critical of Israel, or when MP Susan Kadis resigned as co-chair of Michael Ignatieff's campaign because he was critical of Israel, nor were there any complaints when Heather Reisman, president of Chapters, withdrew from the Liberal Party because she felt it was not sufficiently pro-Israel. Yet Muslim and Arab Canadians become targets of racist attacks because they refuse to back a politician who supports Israel.

CAF works with all social justice groups to advance justice and social issues and combat Islamophobia and Judeophobia without worrying about political partisanship. Guided by this vision, CAF has developed strong working relationships with the Muslim Unity Group, Jewish Women Against the Occupation, Not in My Name, and the Alliance of Concerned Canadian Jews — a Jewish group being denied membership in the Canadian Jewish Congress because it criticizes Israel.

I wrote this letter to the Globe this evening. Regardless of whether it gets printed, I thought I'd post it here:

Khaled Mouammar's letter (Dec 15) would verge on the comic were it not so deeply disturbing. He begins by saying that "the Israel lobby" tries to silence critics by charges of anti-Semitism, then goes on to make the most anti-Semitic argument I have seen printed in the Globe: "any support for Israel is support for apartheid, occupation and war crimes."

Really? Support not for the occupation of the territories but for Israel's existence and its right to defend itself against terrorism is tantamount to support for apartheid? This is to stand the definition of racism on its head.

This is not the only rhetorical inversion attempted by Mr. Mouammar. In his topsy-turvy moral universe, it was not the organized whispering campaign by many Muslim delegates to the Liberal convention that said, in essence, "don't vote for Bob Rae because he's married to a Jew and therefore supports apartheid" that was racist. Rather, he is "alarmed by the racist overtones of the debate" that this despicable campaign provoked.

To Mr. Mouammar, it's not racist to suggest voting against someone with a Jewish spouse. It is racist to point out that it was Muslims propagating this sentiment.

I wish I could dismiss his letter as reflecting the sentiments of a lunatic fringe. But the fact that Mr. Mouammar is the national president of the Canadian Arab Federation leaves me deeply concerned about the depth and acceptability of anti-Semitism among Muslims in Canada.

I can't take the suspense

According to Fox Sports, Vernon Wells is about to resign with the Blue Jays. As had been previously reported, the deal is supposed to be around 126 million dollars for seven years, starting after next year. He'll get a no-trade clause and an opt-out clause as well.

If this turns out to be so, it will be a major relief. Wells is a great player-good defence in centre field, great bat-and that he wants to re-up with the Jays is an important vote of confidence for the team going forward. Coupled with the Burnett, Ryan and Thomas signings, as well as the Halladay extension, it tells the rest of the league that Toronto's a place good players want to play.

During this spring's World Baseball Classic, I remember being distinctly nervous every time Wells came up for Team USA in their game against Team Canada. It was a very unpleasant new sensation, this rooting for the team without Vernon Wells. Now, though, I no longer have to worry about it recurring again-at least until the next World Baseball Classic...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Need help sleeping?

Because I have just the thing to chase that nasty old insomnia away: my thoughts on Stephen Harper's proposed Senate reforms.

A hoary old joke has it that the most boring headline imaginable in an American newspaper is "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative." I assume that this is because American newspaper headline writers are unfamiliar with the concepts of "Stephen Harper," "the Canadian Senate" and "Canadian constitutional negotiations." So what we have here is Stephen Harper proposing Canadian Senate reform, a worthwhile ideal that will require, at some point, constitutional negotiations. It's like a perfect storm of stupefaction, a vortex of ennui, a tornado of torpor.

The only thing that could make the whole subject more boring still would be...the uninformed chatterings of a blogger. So I'm more than happy to oblige.

First of all, I should say that this is a subject on which Jay and I disagree, just as we disagree on whether or not the Toronto Blue Jays are a baseball team worthy of significant emotional investments and the degree to which it is accurate and reasonable to call Mark Steyn a fascist. Jay is of the opinion that our current upper house is just fine the way it is, and that introducing the dangerous opinions of the mob into its sober deliberations would lead to anarchy, gridlock and possibly cats and dogs living together. I believe that the current system is an absolutely ridiculous anachronism, and that the things the Senate does well-generally indepth study of topics important to the nation-can just as easily be done by Royal Commissions. So Stephen Harper's proposal to open up the current Senate to elections falls neatly between our respective positions.

I think that if we have to have a second house, and if it's vitally important that the provinces as a whole have representation in the Parliament, and if people who want proportional representation continue to refuse to go away, we might as well solve all of these issues at a stroke by electing senators in provincewide proportional elections. Keep the legislation curtailing the Senate's powers, give the Senators reasonably longish terms-say, two slates of five Senators from each provinces, each for an eight year term-and you have something that would satisfy me. Of course, I realize that this will never, ever happen, because 1) It would require a constitutional amendment, and 2) constitutional amendments are impossible in this screwed up country of ours.

But never mind what Ian Gray, Philosopher King, would do if put in charge of the Senate. What of what Harper is proposing? I lack my co-blogger's fear of democracy, so I've no problem with the idea of electing Senators per se. The issues I have with the plan, predictably enough, are generally of the line that it doesn't go far enough. In particular, I think Stephane Dion is right to point out that the biggest problem with the proposal is that it doesn't address the ludicrous regional imbalance of the Senate; I'm a Nova Scotian who enjoys tweaking Albertans, but there's no plausible justification for Nova Scotia having 10 Senators while Albertans have 6. Not actively appointing people Albertans don't want to those six seats will allay regional grievances with the Senate, but it won't end them.

Andrew Coyne has advanced the interesting theory that Harper is counting on these small changes to start a chain reaction that results in a reformed Senate. Aside from the fact that I hope Harper isn't playing a Mulroney-esque game of dice with the Constitution, I still can't see this working. You can put in a term limit. You can appoint elected Senators. But you will never rejig the apportionment of seats, because the three Maritime provinces and Quebec form a bloc against it: it will never be in any of their interests to agree to fewer Senators, which would be necessary for any kind of reapportionment.

Secondly, I find it very hard to believe, as Coyne apparently does, that people are ever going to be "roused to action" by anything at all pertaining to the Canadian Senate, the world's most somnolent deliberative body. This was one of the weirder things about Reform; with all of the important things for Westerners to complain about in the 1990 era Canadian federation, they were exercised about the Senate?

That said, provided that the prerogatives of the Senate aren't expanded, I can't see what's wrong with Harper's plan as a start. This marks the second time in two days that I've supported the Harper conservatives on the blog. I'd be worried, if I weren't so sleepy...

The Pentagon is apparently determined to look as cartoonishly evil as possible

They're training sharks as spies.

I haven't actually clicked on the story link-my selachophobia is a hyperdeveloped case. As Rob Farley notes, though, it's pretty funny that the U.S. Department of Defense is undertaking a project of the sort previously associated with James Bond villains. I have to ask, though: how, exactly, does one get a shark to give you the information it obtains as a "spy?"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

If you have a pulse, you should read this article

Because now someone who doesn't walks among us.

A very neat story about an artifical heart that doesn't "beat," but instead keeps a steady flow of blood flowing through the circulatory system. It's sort of funny to think that we're getting to the point where something as basic as a heartbeat is no longer necessary to be alive and human.

On why supporting the Conservatives is the right thing to do

I like these man-bites-dog headlines. Next, an analysis of why the Yankees are the most lovable team in baseball.

As perhaps you've heard, Gilles Duceppe, the Dick Dastardly of Canadian politics (evil and incompetent) is intimating that he might move a motion of non-confidence in the government if the military mission in Afghanistan doesn't change in a manner that hasn't exactly been made clear. On the one hand, Duceppe says that "We've never said there is no role for the military" in Afghanistan. On the other, he's demanding that the mission be "rebalanced" for more of an emphasis on humanitarian aid. What this rebalancing would look like in practice is anybody's guess.

In any event, Stephen Harper yesterday came out and blasted Duceppe for "playing games on the backs of our soldiers." Duceppe responded by saying that "if it comes to a question of confidence, we won't be scared of having an election on that." Jack Layton and the NDP have already said that they'd support a non-confidence motion on Afghanistan. So everything comes down to the Liberals.

I think the right thing to do for the Liberal party, both from a policy and from a political standpoint is to support the government on Afghanistan, certainly on a non-confidence motion. First, the policy. I cannot think of anything that would make us look like more of a fairweather ally than to bring down a government over Afghanistan. I also cannot imagine that it's good for troop morale to have an incredibly muddled debate over whether we should have troops in Afghanistan or no troops or some kind of rebalancing or what. And finally, there are implications beyond foreign and defence policy: the whole thing has the potential to become a national unity problem.

It's no secret that the Afghanistan mission is less popular in Quebec than it is in the rest of Canada, and the coincidence of timing where Gilles Duceppe becomes a champion of "rebalancing" just as the VanDoos prepare to go to Afghanistan is a little too convenient to swallow. Duceppe, I think, is trying to pit Quebec against the rest of Canada in a replay of the Conscription Crisis. I don't know that he'll succeed in getting people upset at one another, but I think it's what he's trying to do.

On to the politics. The Liberals would look really, really stupid (not to mention weak) if they were to bring down a Tory government over a policy they initiated. they would also, I think, look bad for climbing into bed with the separatists-it wasn't for nothing that Harper insisted Layton, rather than Duceppe, be his consponsor on the motion that brought down Martin. If they're really itching to dump Harper rightnow, I'm sure they can figure something out that will get NDP and Bloc support without making the country a laughingstock on the international stage.

Or almost all, anyway

Stephen Harper yesterday condemned the confab of kooks in Tehran denying the Holocaust as "an offense to all Canadians." I applaud the statement. Unfortunately, it appears the PM was in fact incorrect, as among the conference's attendees was a professor at St. Francis Xavier University, which is among other things the place where my little brother goes to school.

Dr. Shiraz Dossa, a professor of political science, gave a paper he described as "an essay on the abuse of imagery of the Holocaust." He says in an interview with the Globe and Mail that most of his fellow conferees are "hacks and lunatics" and that he "frankly wouldn't shake hands with most of them." In which case, I gotta ask, why did he go to Tehran in the first place? How naive, exactly, does Dr. Dossa wish us to believe him?

It never fails to amaze that people willingly allow themselves to become what Lenin called "useful idiots," giving their support to organizations, enterprises and people who are clearly hostile to them in the long-term. On top of that, it destroys their credibility-Dr. Dossa is now going to be a Holocaust denier to anyone who wants to discredit him, and he'll have a hard time convincing most people otherwise.

I suppose the message here is that the medium matters more than the message. I don't imagine I'd agree with Dr. Dossa's argument, but I can't judge from the sketchy descriptions of the paper whether or not I'd be appalled by it or not. Going to this freakshow to present the thing, though, immediately discredits the arguments in the eyes of most people.

I'm reminded of my favourite author, P.G. Wodehouse, broadcasting on German radio in 1940 giving lighthearted accounts of his time in internment camps. It doesn't particularly matter that the content of the broadcasts was in no way pro-German, much less pro-Nazi-giving them in the first place was wrong. It allowed the Germans to say, in effect, "Look, we're not so bad. We're letting this prominent English humourist to go on the radio and make fun of us." Wodehouse never lived it down, and in my role as a Wodehouse evangelist this is the single biggest sticking point in getting people to read the man-and rightly so.

Similarly, you could go to this thing in Tehran to deliver a paper on the horrors of the Holocaust, arguing that they were in fact worse that generally believed, and you'd still be part of the problem, because you'd be adding to this charade's non-existent credibility. "Look," the conference organizers would say, "We're allowing a wide array of views, even from the Zionists. We're not so bad. Better, in factm than you, 'cause you shut out important scholars like David Duke and Ernst Zundel."

Anyway, there's not a lot of importance here-the conference, its role as Iranian antisemitic provocation du jour fulfilled, will be deservedly forgotten, and Dr. Dossa will return to Antigonish and obscurity. I just find it a fascinating example of self-destruction, necessitating an amendment to Mr. Harper's speech.

The wit, it sparkles like lead

The federal NDP has issued a report card grading the various members of Stephen Harper's cabinet. It will perhaps not come as a surprise that the highest mark anyone gets is a C-. It was also unsurprising, for me at any rate, that the whole thing is about as funny as a root canal. The concept is unpromising to begin with, and the wordsmiths in the NDP's press office ride it into the ground faster than I would have believed possible.

Why is it that political parties tell such terrible jokes? There's a bit in Paul Wells' book Right Side Up where Conservative operatives discuss the virtues of unprofessionalism in political communications; apparently, the most effective fund-raising letters are ones that look terrible. The low level of imagination in political commercials is pretty well known as well. And I can't remember the last time I laughed at an official party joke at their opponents expense. They're all terrible. And yet, everyone plods along, inflicting more forgettable pap on the public every year.

Obviously, the desire not to offend constrains the humour to a certain degree. What I don't understand is why they persist in trying to tell jokes in a straitjacket. Sure, a reputation as a funny guy is a good thing for a politician to have-no one who tells the sort of jokes most politicians tell is going to get a reputation as a funny guy.

In which I argue against a national bureaucracy

I know, it's a bit of a surprise to me too.

But the news that the Mounties-Canada's national police force-have decided to fight against the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver has me in a decentralizin' sort of mood. The programme, which provides drug users with a safe place to use illegal drugs they've previously obtained, is supported by the city government, the Vancouver Police Department and the Canadian Medical Association, who recently published a study concluding that the site "has been associated with an array of community and public health benefits without evidence of adverse impacts." It seems to me that if a project like this can get the support of both the CMA and the local police force, that ought to be enough for outsiders, such as the RCMP and the federal government.

The RCMP, though, is concerned that "when the perceived risks associated to drug use decreases, there is a corresponding increase in number of people using drugs." This is, I don't doubt, true-it's probably the best argument against the legalization or decriminalization of hard drugs. It seems to me, though, that in the case of programs like Insite the choice is between providing a harm reduction strategy for a dedicated minority of drug users or leaving these drug users to shoot up in less safe conditions elsewhere. I strongly, strongly doubt that anyone on Vancouver's Eastside is taking up heroin because they know they can shoot up at Insite without worrying about getting HIV.

I don't want to read too much into the RCMP's opposition to the Insite programme-it's hardly surprising that a police organization is opposed to a programme making it easier to use illegal drugs. I find it troubling, though, that attempts to mitigate the misery, disease and death associated with drug abuse are seen by the RCMP as harmful to preventing drug abuse down the line.

Ideological arguments with the professionals about how best to treat drug addiction aside, though, my chief concern is that this appears to be a situation where everyone who actually has a stake in how the situation in East Vancouver shakes out is overruled by federal bureaucrats and politicians. We ought to be looking for crime and drug control solutions that work, not for ones that make us feel righteous.

This I did not expect

I don't mean to turn this here blog into the all-Pinochet-apologetics-all-the-time channel, but the Washington Post-the Washington Post!-has a particularly nauseating example of the genre up as their editorial response to the general's death. It's got everything-the mealymouthed tut-tutting about the disappearances and torture, the comparison with Castro, the faux-worldly realism of the "of course, look at the economy" paragraph.

Then they go on to uphold Kirkpatrick's theory in an absolutely extraordinary final paragraph. Behold it, in all of its grotesque glory:

The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet's coup is a reminder of a famous essay written by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the provocative and energetic scholar and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who died Thursday. In "Dictatorships and Double Standards," a work that caught the eye of President Ronald Reagan, Ms. Kirkpatrick argued that right-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies. She, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.

As has been pointed out by several other commentators, this conveniently ignores places like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It also ignores places where right-wing strongmen left behind chaos and poverty, like Haiti or Zaire. It's dunderheaded on its face. It also ignores evidence present earlier in the piece, where the Post's editorial team points out that

It's hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America. In the past 15 years, Chile's economy has grown at twice the regional average, and its poverty rate has been halved. It's leaving behind the developing world, where all of its neighbors remain mired.

Yeah, it's too bad for Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay that they didn't have generalissimo wannabes torturing their citizens and liberalizing their economies. Except, of course, that they did, and their regimes, defended ardently at the time by people of Kirkpatrick's ilk, were merely less successful at making their countries safe for capital, and so less worthy of eulogies from the Washington Post.

The final thing that irritates me about the final paragraph is the sly way it insinuates that Pinochet, like Kirkpatrick, was "right." I mean, look at it: an entire editorial devoted to Pinochet, before an abrupt transition to Kirkpatrick, with an appoving citation of her theories about authoritarianism, a note that "she too" was hated by the left, and a final sentence proclaiming her "right." The obvious insinuation is that Pinochet was as well. But these realists, these men of the world who know that you can't make a market economy without killing a few thousand Chileans, lack the even the minimal courage to forthrightly come out in favour of murderous tyrants who happen to have US-friendly economic policies, though they quite clearly think that they're a necessary cost of doing business.

It's absolutely revolting-I sort of think that the open fascism of the likes of Mark Steyn is preferable to this sort of "reasonable" authoritarianism. I remain amazed that that the media in the US is supposed by many, including liberals, to be biased towards the liberal side of the political spectrum: if this is the sort of coverage we get from people who are biased towards us, we must be terrible indeed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Well, the Blue Jays do wear hideous black jerseys...

There's an article up on ESPN about one of the more irritating contemporary sports merchandise trends today: pink jerseys and whatnot targetted at women. I can't really speak to Mary Buckheit's characterizations of the women who actually wear this stuff to watch football games, and I can't say that I'm terribly offended, as a lunatic Blue Jay fan, to see people wearing pink Blue Jay gear-it's not as though it's much worse that the horrendous colour scheme the team actually wears. What I don't like about the whole pink merchandise thing is the not terribly subtle way it hives women off from men, and the message it sends to women and girls that sports aren't for them.

Let me see if I can illustrate this with a story. I have a younger cousin, Andrea, who is the best athlete in what is a pretty sporty family. She's a great skier, and is, to my abiding joy, a goalkeeper in soccer. One day I was flipping through the catalogue the Blue Jays send to me every year as one of the people demonstrably nuts enough to purchase replica jerseys with my name on the back and so forth with her and my brother, making fun of the various goofy things on offer. And of course, the only things that were specifically labelled as women's products were the hats and jerseys and what have you that were bubblegum pink. I pointed this out, and Andrea emphatically agreed with me-rolling her eyes at the stupidity of the baseball team in the way that only fourteen year olds can do.

The point here is not that my cousin was discouraged from pursuing athletics by a pink Blue Jays cap-you couldn't discourage Andrea from playing sports with a flamethrower. The point is that the message is being sent and received that following sports isn't something girls do like boys do. That some of the girls who receive the message reject it is neither here nor there-this isn't a message I like sending.

Finally, this colour coding of merchandise then serves to reinforce stereotypes once its purchased and worn-I can't say that Buckheit's wrong when she says that male sports fans are likely to be even more condescending to female fans wearing the pink stuff than they would be to a woman wearing ordinary team gear or no merchandise at all. This may sound impossible, but we sports fans are really quite resourceful when it comes to devising means of condescension. We'll figure something out.

Speaking strictly for myself, I'd agree with Buckheit that a woman wearing the team colours is likely going to more attractive than the same woman wearing pink apparel. The woman of my dreams, among other things, is a rabid Jays fan unafraid of wearing a Jays jersey with her name on the back. This is possibly why she exists nowhere outside my dreams...

Monday, December 11, 2006

I'm just going to have a quick shower...

The Bates Motel, of Psycho fame, is being moved to make room for an apartment complex, according to this article in the Mail and Guardian.

Now, there are many excellent and not so excellent jokes that could be made about moving into an apartment on the former location of the Bates Motel, and between the title of this post and the lede of the article you'll see most of them have already been made. What I find interesting in all of this is the power of the movies to create real-world places.

Obviously, there was never a real Bates Motel. What's more, the fakeBates motel, rather than being in the middle of nowhere, is of course in Universal City in the middle of Greater Los Angeles. So here you have a fake building in a town known for artifice, and you still get stories about this development referencing the site's "previous occupants," as though Norman Bates were a real person.

I don't know why it is that places are evocative, though there's no doubt that they are-I remember looking around the battlefield at Isandlwana, where the South Africans have helpfully placed stones at the spots where every British soldier fell, and getting a chill at the thought of a battle that happened a hundred years previously. So obviously imagination plays a big role here. But we're not talking so much about the characters in Psycho resonating with people, or the images of the motel itself-the evocative kick is supposed to come from the land on which a soundstage was constructed.

I can see why this is a story-this is an enormous development, from the sounds of things, and the Bates motel hook is the sort of thing that assignment editors love. And to be sure, while I think the whole "site of the Bates motel" thing is goofy I can also see that it's the sort of thing you'd tell people at housewarming parties. Though I can also imagine awkward silences and nervous laughter in response to the story...


Let me say, Ian, that it's nice to have you posting so much to the blog after a short hiatus. I am myself in the middle of exams, so I haven't had too much time to spend blogging, and I'm glad you're picking up the slack. I'm sure anyone reading this is getting a lot of stimulation, though given how many comments we get, we seem to be writing for ourselves.

I agree that the apologism for Pinochet is sickening. It goes both ways - people seem happy to tolerate Castro's crimes because Cuba has free health care. On both ends of the spectrum, there is moral and intellectual bankruptcy. People who seem to think that anyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot defend a man who viciously persecuted homosexuals. People who think that the U.S. should go around the world deposing tyrants apologize for a tyrant because he supported free enterprise. There's no shortage of hypocrisy and sickening apologism all over the political spectrum. It falls to we few, we reasonable few, to point it out and stand erect in our rightness.

And another thing

Via Matthew Yglesias, Jonah Goldberg demonstrates the utter moral bankruptcy of those on the right willing to defend Pinochet. The argument he advances is, in its essence, "Pinochet did bad things but only to stop communism and anyway Castro was and is worse."

Right. Let me preemptively say, then, that Castro is a tyrant. Let me also point out that one could just as easily say that things were worse in Cuba before Castro took over, and that the truth of this statement does not mitigate Castro's atrocities. Also, at Matt points out, there are important distinctions to be drawn between the two dictators: Castro replaced another strongman, while Pinochet overthrew a democratically elected government; Castro headed an indigenous movement while Pinochet was a puppet of the CIA; Castro faced obvious and real external threats to his regime, as demonstrated in spades at the Bay of Pigs, while Pinochet was a military coupster backed by the American government. The two of them had different ends and operated in very different environments. That said, they were both criminal tyrants.

And yet, Jonah Goldberg thinks that between the two of them, he'll side with Pinochet "in a cakewalk." I have to admit that I'm a little nauseated by the naked worship of capital on display in arguments like this. At what point, exactly, would Pinochet apologists stop apologising? I (perhaps naively) have to think that there would be a limit to the amount of carnage the most dedicated free-marketeer would be willing to tolerate for the privatization of state industries, but where exactly is it? Five thousand disappearances? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? How many eggs, for these would be Fredericks, is too many for even the tastiest omelette?

Damn it, I had just finished

Fresh off my inchoate apology for Mark Steyn, I came across this explication of right wing ressentiment, which says everything I said about Mark Steyn's worldview, only better put and more universally argued.

It truly is one of the weirdest things in contemporary political discourse that conservatives generally and Christian conservatives in particular feel at the very least hard done by, if not actually oppressed. Michael Berube has perhaps the pithiest response to this when he points out, in a quote I cannot find for the life of me, that conservatives "complain about a disposition in which they control all the levers of business and government while we teach the American Novel class." He points out, in a post of his I can find, that this reflects a hostility to procedural liberalism, rather than to liberalism as an ideology. Any centre of power that isn't controlled by the conservative movement is seen as a threat. This is distinctly reminiscent of Jeanne Kirkpatrick's description of totalitarian impulses.

To be clear about this, I don't believe that most conservatives are cryptofascists. Mark Steyn is, and there are other examples, but for the most part I don't think the right would act to sideline their opponents in the manner some of their rhetoric would suggest. But the ludicrous grievances sections of the conservative movement advance are wearisome, irritating and stupid, and I wish they'd stop.

The Canadian government has apologized for Bryan Adams on numerous occasions!

I'm starting to think we might have to issue another apology.

As perhaps we've all heard by this point, Augusto Pinochet died on Sunday. It seems to me that the case of Pinochet, regarding his historical impact and the opinion one should have of him, is fairly straightforward: on the positive side of ledger, market reforms of the Chilean economy. On the negative side, the seizing of power in a military coup, the "disappearance" of over 3000 people and the torture of thousands more. This is, it seems to me, as good a spin as can be put on the general's reign. So one would hope that we wouldn't have to refight ridiculous old cold war battles over whether "our" sons-of-bitches were in fact swell guys after all.

One would reckon without reckoning on Canada's gift to the world, the king of intellectual dishonesty, Mr. Mark Steyn. I suppose it isn't surprising that a guy who sounds positively wistful for a revived European fascism mourns the dictator's passing, but it takes a truly breathtaking degree of chutzpah to make the argument that Pinochet was responsible for the creation of "a functioning democratic state" in Chile. No more so, I suppose, than making the case that "the General has done more for human rights and global democracy than the entire posturing body of international law," but it still momentarily lives me gibbering.

I think these guys make arguments like this strictly to slow us up in argument. Rather than actually engaging them on the merits of their ideas, we have to spend valuable clearing detritus like Pinochet-as-democratic-hero and so forth out of the way. By the time that's done, they'll have thrown up another idiotic distraction. Anything to avoid to discussing the disaster that is the neoconservative worldview or, in Steyn's case, the extremely poorly veiled fascism at the heart of his philosophy.

Pinochet was not the only hero of the Cold War neoconservative movement to die recently, of course. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, creator of the intellectual's "our-son-of-a-bitch" theory, also known as the authoritarian-totalitarian construct, died on Friday. Her shining moment, of course, was her support for Galtieri's junta in the Falklands War. Not only were right wing "authoritarian" regimes preferable to left wing "totalitarian" ones, they were also apparently preferable to democratic allies with indigenous support in the disputed territories. It's not as though I have any great affection for Margaret Thatcher here. But if you have to pick sides between her and a military junta, you shouldn't have to think very hard. Similarly, if you're looking for things to say about the passing of Augusto Pinochet, "architect of democracy" should ideally not spring immediately to mind.

That it does for guys like Steyn is simultaneously deeply weird and entirely unsurprising. Steyn has a remarkably pessimistic worldview: the last few outposts of "the West" sit besieged by the dark hordes of "Islamism" without and undermined from within by hedonistic leftists. Demography features prominently; like all cultural alarmists from the Yellow Peril forward, Steyn is extremely concerned that "they" are outbreeding "us." The immediate results of this concern are creepy columns like this one. The wider implication of his paranoia seems to be a willingness to jettison large sections of the West's culture, including, I would argue, the democratic process, in a hysterical effort to defeat the "Islamists." Steyn appears to believe that the takeover of Western countries by the Muslims is imminent; he darkly warns at the end of his creepy meditation on Scarlett Johansson's reproductive cycle that "Scarlett Johansson will end her days on an earth whose stewards regard being tested for HIV twice as a sign of many things, but not, on the whole, "social awareness."

This is a remarkable sentence. It is remarkable for its fatalistic acceptance than demography is determinative, and that the defeat of liberalism in the battle of ideas is a foregone conclusion. It is remarkable for its barely hidden satisfaction at the imagined comeuppance of an intelligent, independent, sexually liberated woman. It is remarkable for its passively aggressive tone towards Johansson and by extension people who agree with her. But the thing that is most striking about this sentence is the degree to which it is divorced from reality.

Scarlett Johansson is 22 right now. (To answer the obvious question, there is no premise too flimsy for us to link to web pages with pictures of her.) If we are to take Steyn seriously (as I have unaccountably been doing) he appears to believe that the world will be an all-encompassing caliphate in the next sixty years or so. This is, to be technical about it, droolingly stupid. Regardless of how frightened Steyn and his ilk are of "Islamists," they're not capable of taking over Luxembourg, let alone Johansson's United States.

It is telling that the most chest-thumping jingoists are simultaneously the people with the least faith in our ability to endure. This is because they lack faith in the power of liberty as an idea, rather than as a rhetoric club to bash their domestic political opponents. But if freedom is to survive as anything other than an Orwellian slogan, it's going to be because the idea of living in a pluralistic, free, democratic society appeals to the children of "Westerners" and "Islamists" alike. Paranoid nutjobs praising Augusto Pinochet's democratic legacy will not help.

And that's why we should send out our Minister of Columnists to apologize for Mark Steyn. Repeatedly.

For more Mark Steyn bashing (with a bonus photo of Scarlett Johansson!) go here for Tbogg's take on the Sun-Times thing.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

For those in peril on the sea

A twenty-five year old woman has been washed overboard from a Nova Scotia tall ship. The Picton Castle, based out of Lunenburg, is eight hundred miles off shore from Cape Cod. It had been sailing to the Caribbean.

As it happens, I know a very little bit about the Picton Castle. Erin Standing, a classmate of mine, at the very least was and for all I know still is a crew member on board the ship-she wrote a log of her experiences for the ship, which can be read here. She had been the ship's education officer.

I suspect, though I don't know, that she finished her voyage in June and wasn't on this particular run. I hope this is the case. If in fact I'm wrong about his, I obviously hope that she's still on the boat. Judging from the descriptions of the woman washed overboard, who's described by the CP as "having some experience with boats," I think that she would be-she's been on this particular ship for a while now, long enough to be more than "some experience with boats," or so I hope anyway.

In any event, I hope that they can find this woman in the next few hours. It's a terrifying story, and my thoughts are with the crew.

UPDATE: The woman was not anyone I knew. She's been identified as Laura Gainey, the daughter of Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sometimes, it's hard to improve on the lede

An interesting little story on the wires today about a restaurant that seats its guests in total darkness.

Much of the article is taken up with detailing the difficulties sighted diners have eating when deprived of their sight-it's worth noting that the waitstaff at the restaurant is blind. I'm not entirely sure what degree, for example of my of dexterity is a product of being able to see-I'm confident I wouldn't stab myself with my fork, say, but I imagine I would be a rather tentative eater.

The lede, as I say, is obvious but not immediately improvable: more or less every possible heading I could think of was some sort of play on "blind date." It does sound as though it would be a good place to go on a first date-it would at the very least be memorable, and you would of necessity have to make conversation. I have to say, it's not every day I read about restaurants 3000 miles away and have my interest piqued, but this does sound as though it would be interesting.

I am a gigantic geek

I have established an account at wordie, which accurately describes itself as "like Flickr, but without the photos." You can all now find out what words I find interesting, fun to say, or at any event interesting enough to type into a weblist. If you're really geeky, you can start your own list first here, and then see if anything matches.

I, for one, am amazed I'm not the only person who's picked selachophobia...

Stephane Dion and I have something in common

Besides our good looks, liberal politics and impeccable taste in office furniture, that is.

We're both dual citizens, and while he has more people calling for him to renounce his second citizenship than I do, there's been an increasingly loud drumbeat against the institution as whole recently. The whole thing was sparked, as best I can tell, by the evacuation of Lebanese-Canadians living in Lebanon this summer.

It will perhaps not be a surprise that I'm not a big fan of proposals to restrict or abolish dual citizenship. What gets me particularly annoyed about it is the passively aggressive way the advocates of abolishing it bring up loyalty to Canada. "I'm not saying you have divided loyalties," the line goes, "but if you don't, what's the issue with holding just one citizenship?" In the specific case of Dion, some single citizenship advocates (Andrew Coyne) have had the decency to forthrightly dismiss criticisms of Dion's patriotism, while others (hi there, Ezra Levant!) have dived right in to the deep end of divided loyalties and so forth.

As several people have pointed out, Dion among them, were Stephane Dion to become Prime Minister he would be the fifth Canadian Prime Minister to have some sort of dual citizenship. Most of those guys were emigrants from Scotland who built the country to begin with. More recently, though, John Turner is, like me, a dual Canadian-British citizen. Granted, Turner wasn't in long enough to give MI6 the codes to Canada's nuclear arsenal, but it is striking that an anglophone prime minister didn't have to answer for his dual citizenship while a francophone does. It is especially striking, as Adam Radwanski points out, that Ezra Levant apparently has no problem with dual Canadian-American citizen Ted Morton holding down a "senior cabinet post" in a hypothetical Ed Stelmach ministry. Indeed, the week before he was lauding Morton as the Alberta Tory leadership postulant with "the most coherant and the most conservative" policies.

So which is it? Are dual citizens treacherous fifth columnists for the perfidious French/Americans/British/whomever? Or are we Canadians who can be trusted to participate in civic society like everybody else? Or is there a cut-off point? Is it acceptable, say, for Conservative MP Myron Thompson to serve in Parliament despite dual Canadian-American citizenship, but not Stephane Dion to serve as a dual Canadian French Liberal leader? Is it a federalism issue? Can you be a provincial premier but not prime minister as a dual citizen?

Of less immediate relevance to Stephane Dion, may I say that opponents of dual citizenship often seem clueless as to what it is, exactly, that they're proposing. Andrew Coyne, for example, says that "I think citizens of Canada should be able to live and work abroad." Wonderful. And in the philosopher's kingdom presided over by Andrew Coyne, I might think differently about whether my British citizenship was something I'd want to keep. I mean, I've no doubt that I would resent being asked to give up this particular link to my Scottish ancestors, but I don't have any doubts as to which citizenship I would keep if obliged to choose.

Of course, we don't live in Coyne's enlightened dictatorship, so if I want to work in the UK or the EU I should really keep my citizenship. What bugs me most about Coyne and others' arguments is that they essentially ask me to do myself a harm so that they can feel better about their own sense of nationhood. I agreed with Andrew Coyne's stance against the motion regarding Quebec as a nation, but that was an entirely abstract discussion. This one has tangible consequences, and every tangible consequence that I can see of banning dual citizenship is bad for me and people like me.

Finally, what exactly am I being asked to commit myself to here? Andrew Coyne wants to build a shared Canadian identity. This is fine-I'd like to see that happen too. As I say, I agreed with his stance against the motion calling Quebec a nation, because I thought it stregthened the hand of the separatists and privileged one component of Canadian society over the others. That said, we lost. I'm intensely proud to be Canadian, I love my country, I want to help make it a better place and a leader in the world-all of this with a British passport in my desk drawer. What is this new, improved Canadianism that I'm supposed to give up Britain for?

Returning to Dion, I think at this point he's actually better off not renouncing his citizenship. I mean, doing it now would be seen as a political ploy, which is what it would be. Also, it makes him look as though he can be pushed around. It's not that I think he gains much from sticking to his guns, but I think he loses less this way, and I think there's a fight worth fighting here. Of course, I would say that, wouldn't I? You just can't trust a man with more than one passport...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Something really non-political

The Blue Jays, official Favourite Team of Bed A of 411 Radical Bay, have missed out on Ted Lilly and signed Maritimer Matt Stairs to a contract. The early judgment here is that the sentimental returns on the second item aren't enough to make up for the calamitous implications of the first.

It's been a funny offseason. The team, coming off a pretty-good-but-not-great 87-75 season, went out and signed Frank Thomas, which was cool if risky, and then proceeded to fill the hole at shortstop with...Royce Clayton? This guy? Eek. I think I'd actually prefer to start John McDonald, who can at least field. Now the rotation goes Halladay, Burnett, loss, loss, loss. Which is probably mildly unfair to the comedic stylings of Gustavo Chacin, Casey Janssen, Shaun Marcum and Josh Towers, but not by much.

To be sure, the Jays are still in the hunt for Gil (ga) Meche, but I'm not terribly optimistic about their chances of signing him, and if they sign him I'm not terribly optimistic about his chances in Toronto. The guy has yet to post a non-mediocre season, and he'd be moving from a great pitchers' park to the launching pad we call SkyDome. So I don't know. That said, we need some kind of pitching help-that I'm upset about Ted Lilly's departure after all of the times I wanted to throw things at the television during his starts is telling.

Something non-political

I figured we could use a change of pace.

Over at unfogged, there was recently a huge long discussion of an essay in the New York Times describing the practice of couples using genetic screening processes to intentionally conceive children with what most people would describe as genetic defects (the specific examples are congenital deafness and dwarfism.) I found it to be an interesting article and discussion, simply because of the way the question set two of my principles against one another.

To be clear about this, I don't think this a terribly widespread practice-the essay says that three percent of 190 fertility clinics had reported doing this. So we could be looking at as few as five children conceived in this way across the entire United States. That said, it's a question that pulls me in different directions.

That the idea of this makes me instinctively recoil is not enough, in my mind, to come down against it. A lot of things from which I instinctively recoil are things I defend, abortion being the most obvious example. So I've tried to make a practice of throwing out the "eww test" as a guide to thinking. That done, what is left to us?

I think I understand the arguments made by the parents who do this-they say, and who am I to dispute this, that their condition has opened up a rich culture to them. And they understandably enough want their children to partake in this culture. This entirely analogous, thus far, to the arguments made by religious or ethnic communities for bringing up their children in ways of which I might not approve. So what's the difference?

Ultimately, I feel it's fairly obvious that the difference is that while you can choose to walk away from a religion or an ethnic or cultural tradition, you can't arbitrarily decide not to be deaf one day. As I say, this seems sufficiently obvious that I'm sort of embarassed, having reached this point in the argument, to have bothered with this post to begin with. But reading through the comment thread over at unfogged, I'm struck with just how contentious this particular point is. And I'm struck, also, just how squeamish I am to call deafness and dwarfism what I quite clearly believe they are in this argument: disabilities. I mean, it seems (and no doubt is, in most contexts) rude to tell someone who says that they're not disabled that they are.

At what point is a decision taken by a parent on their child's behalf something society has a right to interfere with or overrule? The deaf couple quoted in the essay have withheld hearing aids from their mostly deaf son. Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious minorities sometimes refuse blood transfusions for ther children. I'm willing to approve of the coercive overruling of the second but not the first because the stakes are different-the hearing may live better lives than the deaf, but people who need blood will die if they don't get a transfusion. This much is clear, but I'm not exactly sure where my personal line is, nor am I clear on what society as a whole would say the line ought to be.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting question, and while I have answered it in a typically muddle-headed and pragmatic way, I'm interested in whether this makes any sense at all to other people. So have at it, if you like.

The Tories go into reruns

Stephane Dion, in his first savvy move as Liberal leader, is giving the Liberal party a free vote on same-sex marraige.

By allowing a free vote on this ridiculous motion to reopen debate, Dion allows his social conservatives to air their troglodytic consciences while affirming his intention to whip any subsequent vote if by some mischance this bloody thing passes. He treads lightly for now, while forthrightly affirming his support for equal marraige when it counts.

One of things that has driven me batty about this whole debate since it started, incidentally, has been the insistence of more or less everyone to debate the damn thing in terms of abstractions. Every now and again, though, someone slips and we get a picture of what the definition of marraige means in concrete terms to them. Charles McVety, president of the "Canada Family Action Coalition" gives us just such a picture about two-thirds of the way through the article:

Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, said he opposes the third part of the motion that respects existing gay marriages but understands that it was added for legal reasons.

Let us be clear about this. A man who heads an organization calling itself a Family Action Coalition is arguing for the break-up of more than 12000 families. The parliament of Canada, if we are to take Mr. McVety at his word, ought to be issuing divorce decrees by the gross to people who don't want them. And the man has the gall to call himself "pro-family."

So good for Stephane Dion for avoiding the obvious pitfall for him in this moronic rerun of a debate. With any luck, it will be behind us for good by the end of the day.

Well, it's a start

Guiliano Zaccardelli has resigned as RCMP commissioner.

The Mounties have been an increasingly unaccountable and dysfunctional organization over the last few years, and while the Maher Arar case showed the RCMP at its worst, it was far from the only problem they've had recently-the force's stonewalling over the Ian Bush shooting leaps to mind. Zaccardelli had to go regardless of what he said before the Commons Public Safety committee, and his evasiveness on Tuesday seemed to me to put him in a damned-either-way sort of position-either he'd been lying the first time around, or he wasn;t sufficiently on the ball to be trusted with running the country's police force.

As to what happens now, I'm not quite sure. What problems the Mounties have seem to me to be more systemic than a product of a specific governance style. The most shameful aspect of the whole Arar affair, it seemed to me, was not so much the initial screw-ups but the attempts later to smear Arar as a terrorist sympathizer they just couldn't get the goods on. Similarly, while the death of Ian Bush was terrible in its own right, the part of that story that indicated wider problems was the force's steadfast refusal to accept public scrutiny. I'm not sure, exactly, how one changes this sort of thing, but it has to happen if the RCMP is going to rebuild its reputation.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


I believe that 411 Radical is unanimous in its relief at the result of the Liberal convention. Bed A is, I think, more favourably disposed to the party in general, but even Bed B is glad that Ignatieff and Rae were not chosen. (I think it would have been hilarious to watch the Liberals elect a functionally uniligual leader, though, so Kennedy gets a pass.)

Dion is unquestionably a man of integrity, and one who has made significant personal sacrifices in defence of Canadian federalism. While I find his rhetoric on the environment a bit incredible (when he was environment minister the Liberals did nothing of substance to help the environment), one can hope that the mood in the country is changing enough that if he were elected, he would be able to implement significant, progressive environmental policies.

Whether we want him leading the country in relation to a host of other issues is a matter of much deeper skepticism, at least from this corner.

1st ballot results

I can't sleep. First impressions:

Ignatieff could be in trouble. His numbers are exactly as they were counting only committed delegates. He had been touted as having the most ex-officio support, which should have taken him over 30%, but instead he's stalled at 29.3%. He has, however, maintained his 9% lead over Rae - Rae went up only 0.2%. But he needs momentum, and he doesn't have it. We'll see what happens on the 2nd ballot, but at the moment this is not good for him.

For Rae, this ballot's biggest worry is likely that Dion has moved up, and is in striking difference of second place. In terms of appealing to Dion's delegates, who he's counting on, Rae's biggest problem, it seems, is that he didn't speak much French in his speech, probably a result of the fact that he spoke without notes and just forgot to speak in a language in which he's not comfortable. Will this mean that if Dion is eliminated, his French delegates go to Ignatieff instead? Maybe not, but it can't help Rae.

Dion has done well - he's squeaked ahead of Kennedy, by two votes. This is too close to really mean anything in terms of Kennedy's ability to get back ahead, it's more a matter of momentum. Of course, Kennedy's speech seems to have been better received than Dion's; when people vote again in the morning, this trend could easily have been reversed. (This will also be a factor for Rae: while he didn't speak enough French, he probably gave a better speech overall than Dion; this could attract delegates looking for a biligual alternative to Ignatieff.)

What is most notable about these numbers, I think, is just how close Kennedy and Dion are to Rae - 2.5% and 2.6%, less than Martha Hall Findlay's. (Nice work to Martha, who did well with ex-officios and was only 26 votes away from Volpe.) The second ballot is important before we can draw any real conclusions, except, I think for my first observation, that Ignatieff is in some trouble.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Just when you thought Liberals weren't delusional, self-righteous and self-aggrandizing enough

Michael Ignatieff says, "Liberals are the ones who built this country."

Oh, really, Iggy? I know someone who would be surprised to hear that.

On another note, I find Michael Igantieff's speaking style to be ponderous and annoying. Bob Rae, I thought, was much more natural. I missed the other speeches.

Other fun Iggy quotes:

"A Canada that invests in women's literacy." I wasn't aware that there was a literacy crisis among Canadian women.

"I just wish you could see what I can see." We can only aspire to such heights.

"Tous ensEMble." x8 - Aaagh.

"And let's win some seats in Alberta!" See three minutes earlier in speech: "We have to tax carbon emissions. And we will!"

Note to Iggy: Stop smiling at your own lines.

Ironic accusation: "Stephen Harper pits region against region." Let's leave aside the total absence of evidence for that, and focus on this: the debate with the most potential for regional division in this country was just started by Michael Ignatieff.

Official Bed B Liberal prediction

Rae in 5 ballots.

Hedge: It might be Dion.

Absolute declaration: It will not be Ignatieff.

(In case of error, this post will self-destruct.)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Terrorizing Democracy

There are countries in the world where you can be arrested and stripped of your rights by executive fiat; where you can be held without charge and without a chance to challenge your detention; where you can be put on trial before a military court and be convicted on evidence obtained by torture. You might never know that the evidence against you was coerced – the source of the evidence can be classified so you are unable to challenge it.

There are countries where, on these standards of justice, you could be put to death for your alleged crimes.

But who ever thought that the United States of America would be one of these countries?

Sometimes it’s hard to believe just how far we’ve come since 2001. The United States may not always have endeared itself to the world in the 1990s, but its place among the liberal democracies of the world couldn’t be seriously questioned. Now the United States, which seeks to project democratic values around the world, has become a country that practices disappearances, detains those it suspects of being its enemies indefinitely, and has just set up, under Military Commissions Act, a system of punishment so egregiously in violation of due process and human rights norms that it can hardly be called a justice system at all.

It is now possible, in fact legal, for the President to place the detention of an individual beyond the reach of civilian courts. The Military Commission Act actually strips those declared enemy combatants of habeas corpus rights. It allows them to be tried by military commissions on evidence obtained under cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and to have that evidence withheld from them on grounds of security. It prohibits them from invoking the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights in any U.S. court. And it can impose the death penalty at the end of this process.

This law does not apply to U.S. citizens – but one wonders how much protection that offers when a detainee has no right to tell a judge that he is in fact a U.S. citizen.

President Bush’s record demonstrates that he believes in the practically unfettered exercise of executive power. Never has the United States has a president who so fundamentally rejected the doctrine of the separation of powers. Congress, led until recently by the Republicans, collaborated in this shameful betrayal of American principles. (Given that these same Republicans, faced with the President’s admission that he had illegally spied on Americans, reacted by calling those who broke the story of this impeachable offence unpatriotic, we perhaps should not have expected too much from them.)

Under Bush’s leadership, the United States has held people in secret, without charge, and without access to the outside world, meeting the test of disappearances under international law. It has tortured, and it has sent hundreds of men, some of them innocent civilians picked up in indiscriminate sweeps by ignorant soldiers, into the pit of despair at Guantanamo Bay, where it has let them languish in a permanent state of limbo.

Now, to deal with this backlog of prisoners, it has created a system of kangaroo courts befitting Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

And there’s no end in sight: while Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, that war had a definable end; the undeclared war on terror, conveniently for the Bush administration, is one with no definable end or any cohesive enemy.

The Bush administration’s illiberal depredations on American democracy provide a study in how not to respond to a terrorist threat. And it would be tempting to conclude that it is people like President Bush and his authoritarian coterie who pose the greatest threat to American democracy. But that would miss the more important point: look what has happened in response to an attack that killed 3000 Americans. Now imagine what measures Americans will not only accept but demand if Islamic terrorists succeed in their goal of detonating a nuclear weapon inside an American city.

We should recognize the threat that George Bush and the current leadership of the Republican Party pose to American democracy. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture: that the real threat to the survival of liberalism, not just in America but in the West, is the terrorism that seeks to kill millions of Westerners in the name of God. Because there will be scant hope for liberalism if it ever succeeds.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Reopening the gay marriage debate

The Commons will debate whether to review gay marriage legislation next week. Good. Harper can say he kept his promise, the Commons can vote for the status quo, and we can move on to more important matters.

I imagine that Harper does not want this issue fresh in people's minds in case there's a spring election. The prospect of a majority government reopening the issue would hurt the Conservatives (and indeed the social conservatives have been suggesting that Harper postpone a vote until after the next election, after asking for it to be reopened). And I don't think Harper really cares about this issue one way or the other. This way, he gets to keep his word, Canada gets the proper result, and we all get to forget about this.

Incidentally, none of this would now be an issue if Paul Martin had allowed his cabinet a free vote on the issue in the first place. It's the proper thing that Parliamentarians be able to vote their conscience on this issue.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Who says we can't change?

We often hear that responding to climate change would simply cause too great a disruption to our economies, our lifestyles. The cost of inaction may be great, but, we are told, the cost of change is simply too great to expect that we can really prevent climate change.

Really? What are the major sources of carbon emissions in the West? Primarily, it's transportation. Can we imagine living without gas-powered cars? Well, why not? After reading this article, I'm more confident than ever that we could, with enough investment, create cars that don't require fossil fuels, or require only a small fraction of what we use now, and still get cars that meet our needs. Now, the uber-cool car (the electric Tesla Roadster) that the article discusses is obviously way more expensive than will be economical, but this is a small-scale operation by one small company; there's no question that economies of scale and more research would significantly reduce its cost. In the meantime, there are existing technologies that could dramatically improve fuel efficiency in traditional cars, allowing us to use much smaller engines, possibly just big enough to constantly charge a much more efficient battery-driven drivetrain.

I am an optimist about our potential: I think that if humans apply their ingenuity, there's no problem we can't solve. But we are also greedy, short-term thinkers, and we need incentives to make costly investments now to save (the planet) in the future. With global warming, I think it's increasinly clear we can't afford to wait and let the market do its work. The government should regulate extremely aggressive 10-year targets that would aim to force dramatic increases in fuel efficiency and emissions. All cars should, in terms of emissions, at least meet California's Super-Ultra Low-Emission Vehicle Standard. There should be much more dramatic steps in terms of fuel efficiency that would force manufacturers to employ hybrid technologies. (If this means we can't buy 500-horsepower cars anymore, well boo-hoo.) Beyond that, we should force car companies to make large portions of their fleet zero-emission within 10-15 years. This should include minivans and sport-utility vehicles, though not necessarily pickup trucks. (Though given the performance of that electric car, it's not immediately clear to me that we couldn't move all our vehicles to electic motors eventually.)

We should also force oil-sands companies to dramatically reduce their carbon emissions, probably by carbon sequestration. And environmentalists need to get over their reflexive distrust of nuclear power and realize that it's the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels for reliable, large-scale power production.

There. Global warming problem solved. That was easy, wasn't it?

A matter of principle

Agree or disagree, one has to respect Michael Chong for resigning from cabinet over the motion on Quebecois nationalism. Here's a man who has sacrificed something few people are willing to give up on a point of principle. Not that he'll be hard done by as an ordinary MP, but that's not the point. Mr. Chong wrote what I thought was an excellent op-ed in the Globe a couple of years ago about getting past identity politics in Canada, and his concern that this resolution recognizes an "ethnic nationalism" is quite understandable. It was interesting to watch how much trouble two cabinet ministers had explaining just who the Quebecois were in a press conference after the resignation.

Incidentally, I wonder if Gerrard Kennedy's opposition to this motion will help him in the leadership race, setting him apart from the rest of the field that seems now to have gone along with Michael Ignatieff's once-controversial proposal.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Take Off to the Great White North, Hoser

Official Friend of 411 Radical Bay Chris Harbord did just that recently, relocating to Inuvik, Northwest Territories to produce radio programmes. We hope he's happy, well and not letting the cold and absence of sunlight get him down. He also takes pictures. If you'd like to know what it looks like north of sixty, his online photo album can be found here. Awesome photos, Chris!

Oh for Pete's sake

Thanks, Jay. You've roused me from my torpor.

Muravchik's op-ed is sort of a greatest hits anthology of dumb reasons to bomb Iran RIGHT NOW. They can't be contained. They might give the bomb to terrorists. They might use it to attack Israel. The mad mullahs dream of creating a caliphate stetching from Spain to Indonesia. And so on. That, from Iran's perspective, the development of a nuclear deterrent might be an entirely rational response to American policy over the last few years is entirely ignored.

Look at it this way. First, Bush and his idiot speechwriter David Frum lump three entirely different (evil, I will grant) regimes into one "Axis of Evil." They then proceed to invade the least powerfully armed of the three, deposing its regime, while being far more circumspect in dealing with the one "Axis" member that has nukes. The prospect of attacking Iran, as Muravchik's op-ed demonstrates, is a constant theme in American politican discourse. So you have a powerful country, making threats against your regime, that hitherto has only been deterred by the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal. In this context, is it any surprise at all that the Iranians are developing a bomb?

The notion that the enemy du jour is an undeterrable madman is one with a long and idiotic history on the American right: The Soviets, the Chinese Communists, Saddam Hussein and now Ahmaninejad have all been held up, at one point or another, as examples of people in whom a healthy dose of self-preservation had been left out entirely. Because let's be clear about something: If Iran launches a nuclear strike against either Israel or the United States, it is committing national suicide, and everyone knows this. Iran's government, as Iran hawks never failed to mention when the relatively moderate Khatami was President, is split between the President and the Supreme Religious leader, who ultimately calls the shots. But now that a suitably alarming guy is President of Iran, you'd think from reading the hysterical "Bomb Iran Now!" stuff that the guy was the unchallengeable dictator of the country.

Also, I am willing to bet my eye-teeth that no nuclear power will ever give a nuclear weapon to an independent terrorist group. It is entirely imaginable that terrorists will succeed in stealing what they need to make a bomb, and for that reason urgent attention is needed in both Russia and Pakistan. But the idea that a state will just hand over the most powerful weaponry in the world to people they don't control is laughable. So when we talk about a threat from a nuclear Iran, we are talking, again, about a traceable strike. Which, as noted above, would be suicidal.

And here again is another of the manifest stupidities in Muravchik's article. In his own estimation bombing Iran in the manner he suggests "would not end Iran's nuclear program, but it would certainly delay it." Wonderful. We're going to kill an unquantified number of people, anger much of the Muslim world, make Iraq even more of a hellhole for both the Americans fighting there and Iraqis in general and provide the Iranian regime with even more evidence that the only worthwhile deterrent is a nuclear bomb in the service of...slowing down the program. This is, to be charitable, insane. For one thing, this assumes that Muravchik is right about the bombing having a significant effect-it probably would but we can't be sure. For another, this course of action would remove any restraints on the Iranians sponsoring non-nuclear terrorism against the United States and whatever other Western countries were stupid enough to sign up for this. It is extremely hard to believe that the Americans would invade Iran at this point-they're lost in Iraq, and Iraq genuinely was a cakewalk compared to what an invasion of Iran would be. There is no good outcome from bombing Iran, even by the hawks' own reckoning-though they don't seem to realize this.

Finally, the op-ed is staggering in its historical ignorance. Credit must be given, I suppose, for Muravchik's refusal to indulge in the Munich analogy: Hitler is mentioned, but only in passing, and the year is 1933 rather than 1938. By ignorant history-averse wingnut standards, this is restraint that should be applauded.

Unfortunately, Muravchik passes up on Munich only to indulge in a Churchillian fantasy that is if anything even more stupid. "After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, a single member of Britain's Cabinet, Winston Churchill, appealed for robust military intervention to crush the new regime," Muravchik tells us. Unfortunately, he says, "His colleagues weighed the costs — the loss of soldiers, international derision, revenge by Lenin — and rejected the idea." Shame, shame! Pusillanimous limeys in their frock coats and top hats, ignoring the Red peril. Why didn't they send troops to Russia to fight for, um, the restoration of the Romanov dynasty or perhaps the installation of a pro-Western strongman?

Except that, as any student of Russian history (ahem) could tell you, they did. The British occupied Arkhangelsk. The Americans sent 15,000 troops. The Czech legion fought its way along the length of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Japanese fought extensively in the east. It was not through lack of Western aid that the Whites lost the Russian Civil War. Also, it should be remembered that the Civil War came hard on the heels of the First World War, and that an all out assault on Soviet Russia, in addition to being an inherently Herculean task, would in all likelihood have been impossible. You might just as well ask why the Americans and Brits and Canadians didn't carry on through Germany at the end of the Second World War and attack the Red Army.

So there you have it. In its strategic blindness, air of barely contained hysteria and staggering misreading of history, Muravchik's op-ed might be very well placed to serve as an exemplar of all hawkish thought on Iran. The United States listened to guys like this onece already recently. For all of our sakes, let's hope they don't get fooled again.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

More Iran

Seymour Hersh, probably the best investigative journalist in Washington, writes about the deliberations underway over Iran in the wake of Rumsfeld's resignation. It's an article that gives people on either side of the debate plenty to worry about.

Joshua Muravchik, from the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, argues forcefully in the LA Times that we should bomb Iran. I think that with the mid-terms over, this debate is going to get underway more seriously now.

Sometimes I want to go into hibernation. Now is one of those times.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

That's not good

A report in the Telegraph claims that Iran is attempting to take effective control of al Qaeda, to use the organization to Iranian ends.

This is both odd, and disturbing. Odd, because al Qaeda is a Sunni terrorist organization, and its leaders have been highly intolerant of Shiites. Zarqawi, who was allied with bin Laden in Iraq, actually called for the genocide of Shiites. So it would seem either that this report is wrong, or that Iran is operating on the principles of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." This is in itself a little strange because Iran does not lack for terrorist organizations that it already has close relationships with, most notably Hezbollah. But if Iran is gearing up for a potential war with the U.S., then it makes sense to cultivate relationships with al Qaeda, as it is the organization most capable of striking at Western targets in the West in retaliation for a strike on Iran's nuclear program.

The prospect of al Qaeda becoming a proxy for (or at least a partner of) Iran is certainly disturbing, chiefly because of Iran's vast resources and its nuclear program. But would this closer relationship actually increase the risk of al Qaeda getting a nuclear weapon? Arguably, the closer the relationship between Iran and al Qaeda is perceived to be by the West, the more likely it is that the U.S./UK would retaliate against Iran if a bomb goes off in London or New York, regardless of whether it could be definitively linked to the regime. So this may not be a step closer to any "doomsday scenario." It is undoutedbly, however, a step closer to an alliance that cannot be in Western interests. Al Qaeda doesn't need a nuclear weapon to do serious damage to Western democracies; the more the Iranians work with them, the worse off we are.

Incidentally, Iran shouldn't be too cocky: while it's currently in an excellent position relative to the United States because of the disaster in Iraq, if Iran is seen as having been a state sponsor of al Qaeda following another attack of the scale of September 11, Americans' learned skepticism of regime change might quickly vanish.

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