Thursday, March 31, 2005

Too early to award Scumbag of the Year?

Via Greg at Sinister Thoughts, we find a very sinister thought from House Republican bigshot Tom DeLay:
"This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change," the Texas Republican said. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another." [Greg's emphasis]

The fact that he is unquestionably referring to the bevy of judges who reviewed Terri Schiavo's case goes well beyond "way out of line". If Michael Schiavo was right (and this, broadly speaking, is what Terri would have wanted), then DeLay's problem is entirely with the applicable laws, and not at all with those who interpreted them--in which case, he should be making his veiled threats at Florida legislators and his own colleagues.

If Michael Schiavo was wrong (or lying, cold-blooded killer, etc.), then again, DeLay's problem is with the applicable laws and the Florida and U.S. justice systems. A trial judge made findings of fact based on the applicable laws, and countless appeal judges found no cause to overturn them. This is how the system works. What the hell does he want! Should trials be Best 2 out of 3?

If judges should be erring on the side of life, then the solution for Mr. DeLay (and Ann Coulter, Mark Steyn, et al) is to write a law that says, "In the absence of a notarized living will, feeding tube stays in, regardless of what the spouse/family/lawyer says."

I hope that outcome isn't the result of this hard case, because if I become incapacitated, I'd rather have my medical treatment guided by my wife than by 50%+1 of my legislators. She knows me better than "the majority". The nice feature of this is that it protects me in both directions. Whether the government becomes overrun with nice folks with a deep belief in "life for the sake of life", or a bunch of accountants who decide that people who are incapacitated are a burden on the state (and they plan to unburden it), my treatment is guided by someone who loves me - not my soul or the hospital bed I'm occupying indefinitely.

Ronald Bailey at Hit & Run excerpted a short bit from the New England Journal of Medicine, which defines the two ways the politicians can go quite nicely. I happen to agree with the conclusion. If you don't, please take your beef to legislators, and leave the poor judges alone.
"Erring on the side of life" in this context often results in violating a person's body and human dignity in a way few would want for themselves. In such situations, erring on the side of liberty--specifically, the patient's right to decide on treatment-- is more consistent with American values and our constitutional traditions.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

hideously partisan mindf**k

Chris Selley well and fairly laments Mark Steyn's Sunday column here. I couldn't agree more with his conclusion:
To me, Steyn's column reads like he felt obliged to write about it, and in the final analysis it looks like he should have trusted his trepidations.

I have two things to add, if I may. First, two paragraphs of Steyn's column are essentially devoted to expressing his opinion that living wills are a bad idea.
We all have friends who are passionate about some activity -- They say, "I live to ski," or dance, or play the cello. Then something happens and they can't. The ones I've known fall into two broad camps: There are those who give up and consider what's left of their lives a waste of time; and there are those who say they've learned to appreciate simple pleasures, like the morning sun through the spring blossom dappling their room each morning.
[...]
We can't know which camp we'd fall into until it happens to us.

That's a perfectly admirable sentiment, but it's simply unfair to bring it up as if it demonstrates incompetence or dispassion amongst the crowd of Schiavo justices. If it is immoral to recognize a person's living will because they might change their mind, that is patently not for George Greer or any other judge to say.

I'm also flat-out confused by his ostensibly chilling conclusion:
Here's a thought: Where do you go to get a living-will kit saying that in the event of a hideous accident I don't want to be put to death by a Florida judge or the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals? And, if you had such a living will, would any U.S. court recognize it?

I can't be the only person that understands the answers to these questions to be
(1) "I dunno - bookstore, internet, that napkin over there?", and
(2) "Yes, and if anything, this case has made me more confident of that."

You can legitimately argue that the U.S. and Florida law doesn't sufficiently allow for "erring on the side of life". But Jeez, the biggest question in the whole fooferaw has been "What would Terri Schiavo want" - there's no sign that any judge has it in mind to ignore or contradict the answer to that question. Every indication I've seen is that if she had prepared a triple-notarized living will in 24-point type, or even scratched "No Feeding Tube Please" on the back of a bank statement, this issue would have been settled 10 years ago.

Monday, March 28, 2005

a phenomenon not of broadcasting, but of narrowcasting

Jesse Walker has an interesting piece up at Reason Online, about two movies (Guess Who and Inside Deep Throat) and their respective inspirations.

Worth a read for this line alone:
A couple decades ago, feminists could argue plausibly that porn was partly responsible for the unrealistic body images they blame for bulimia and anorexia. Today, every conceivable body type has an online community of masturbators devoted to it.

Well put!

Keeping an eye on the masters

Colby Cosh delivers possibly the greatest Bleeding ever, or at least since the last time he commented on a column by the defenseless Earl McRae.

(And without commenting on the merits of the case, per my previous post, I would have to agree with the concluding sentence of his previous Schiavo post: "The husband looks better every day here in contrast to the family: frankly, at this point, he arguably comes off relatively all right even if you accept that he's committing a self-interested murder by omission.")

As well, Andrew Coyne comes back at his critics with a searingly intelligent column. Not sure what my favourite part was. I liked the beginning:
Wednesday’s column elicited a number of kind responses from wise old heads wishing me a pleasant visit on Planet Earth. Yes, yes, yes, was the gist: of course, in a perfect world the Conservatives would tell the public just exactly what the Liberals were doing wrong and what they would do differently. They would start with certain ideas they wished to see put into effect, then try to persuade the public to let them form a government to that end -- rather than having a vague sense they would like to be in government, and foraging for whatever ideas would take them there.

But that’s not how the real world works, they would go on.

I also liked this point:
What is advertised as “moderation” is more often one of two things: either a numb instinct for the status quo, on the theory that whatever is new or different must inevitably be worse, or else a simple preference for one point of view over another, which the speaker hopes to place beyond dispute. Differences of opinion, after all, are something that occur between reasonable people: whereas immoderation is suggestive of a character flaw.

But I think this part was the best, because it's bloody well observably true:
So yes, the Tories have to present their arguments in sober, thoughtful terms, and yes, they should pay due heed to the constraints of practicability. But that is not the same as abandoning the battle before it’s begun. A clear position, resolutely defended, is as important to political success as a prudent sense of the possible. Do I even need to cite the examples? Of Reagan, Thatcher, and Bush? Of Mulroney in 1988 versus Campbell in 1993? Of Harris in 1995 versus Eves in 2003? In politics, as in business, the biggest rewards go to the entrepreneur -- who offers the public, not what it already knows it wants, but what had never occurred to it to want until now.

All unrelated victories, no doubt. But actually, if you remain a critic (i.e. believe that the CPC convention was all that and a stack of bumper stickers), this is the graf you should need to counter to satisfy folks like me:
To be sure, a party must seek to address the real needs of the electorate, rather than simply riding its own ideological hobbyhorses. But that does not mean the solutions it proposes to these concerns must be limited to whatever is already popular or familiar -- for if the status quo were sufficient, they would not still be concerns. Nor does the imperative of addressing the voters’ needs preclude the possibility that some items, as yet not on the public’s agenda, may still be added to it -- and that it is part of a political party’s responsibility to do so. The task of government, John F. Kennedy said, was “to set before the people the great unfinished business of the nation.” The unfinished business, not the conventional wisdom.

If this was a podcast, you'd be hearing me saying "Testify!" in the background.

People are not their arguments

Not-always wrong Canadian weblogger pogge is talking about the pros and cons of anonymous bloggingBBG), and he nails the right answer in the comments at the E-Group.

Set aside the whole secret ballot/democracy portion of the discussion, please. It's a given that most blogs are analysis & argument, not reporting. If you're going to do reporting on non-gossip-related items, then yes, you should be using your name.

But there is absolutely no problem with making arguments under the name X, or Lance Uppercut of 123 Fake Street, or whatever. I might even say it's preferable. Why? Take it away, Evan Kirchhoff:
This is very important: arguments are things. People are not their arguments. Hence, counter-arguments are not a form of oppression. Look at the quotes above, and substitute words like "arguments", "claims", or "assertions" where Moore uses "voices". See what I mean? [...]

Why does this matter? While getting within half a dissertation of a PhD (yeah, I know that's the hard half), I spent a lot of time teaching undergrad philosophy in two different graduate programs. And the main thing that was important to hammer on at the start of every class (after "if you need an 'A', don't take this course" and "if you plagiarize, I promise that we will kill you") boiled down to: people are not their arguments. We don't instinctively think in those terms; we like to emotionally identify with whatever positions we already happen to have, and to similarly identify others with their positions. But the two problems with this mindset are that (i) it makes it difficult or impossible to ever change one's mind, and (ii) seriously replying to somebody else's position is viewed as a form of assault. Constructive debates are impossible until those two roadblocks are demolished.

The problem with "voices" is that a voice is something I only have one of; if it is "silenced", then nobody can hear me at all. But an "argument" or a "position" or a "claim" is something we all have dozens of. Losing an argument is no big deal; I've got more, and I can always change my mind in the face of compelling opposition. In fact, we all theoretically agree that we ought to change our minds in those circumstances -- but the "voice" metaphor neatly eliminates this obligation (the idea that I should "change my voice" just doesn't sound right).

Naturally, if people are their arguments, then you can address their arguments with ad hominem personal attacks, instead of having to get your fingernails dirty with the merits. And surprise, surprise, surprise - guess who the most anti-anonymity guy in the comments section is. (Hint - he reads a lot of newspapers very early in the morning). Read his arguments after reading Kirchhoff's piece, and draw your own conclusions.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Attention, citizens of Ontario

You have my deepest sympathies for having a premier who is lacking in shame on a level spectacular even for a politician.

I figured this "promise" would be the most obvious example I read this week; then I clicked on Jardine this morning:
Dalton McGuinty paid a visit to a bullying conference on at the Congress Centre...

"...Hopefully our children will grow up in a world, where their children will have very little experience when it comes to bullying."

Unfortunately, Daddy's Liberal government is not setting a very inspiring example for the children of tomorrow.

Read it all, of course. It's looking like this assessment by Colby Cosh from August was a little optimistic:
They say in the 12-step recovery programs, and they say wisely, that the first step in curing a disorder is admitting you have one. On Tuesday, the beleaguered Premier of Ontario finally hit what alcoholics call "rock bottom."

"My name is Dalton M., and I have a credibility problem ..."

What do Doogie Howser and Captain Kirk have in common?

Ask Jason Kottke and his readers.

And then the bullhorn crackles

Item: Famous Killer Seeks ParoleCWoT)
Brenda Spencer, the 16-year-old who opened fire on a schoolyard because she was bored, is up for parole next month.

Spencer found infamy at 8.40am on Monday, January 29, 1979 – unleashing a lethal volley of 36 shots at the school across from her home in San Carlos, near San Diego.

Using a telescopic sight on a 0.22 calibre rifle given to her by her father, Spencer picked off her victims one by one at Grover Cleveland Elementary School.

When her 15-minute rampage was over, the school principal and caretaker were dead, eight children aged six to 12 had been shot and a police officer was fighting for life with a bullet wound to the throat.

This may not ring any particular bells, until you get to the next part:
Hours later, as police tried to negotiate her surrender, Spencer told a reporter why she did it.

"I just did it for the fun of it. I just don't like Mondays. Do you like Mondays?" she said.

"I did this because it's a way to cheer up the day. Nobody likes Mondays. This livens up the day."

Like a lot of people my age and younger, I knew the song first, and was totally smackered one day (when I was about 20) to find out that it was a true story (as in, asking everyone I knew for the next week if they were aware of this). In an indecipherable bit of inspiration, they used to play it as the Closing Time song at the Den, the regrettably since-renovated pub at the U of C.

I wasn't yet in school when the shots were fired, so I know why I had no memory of the event. And now, I have a clue as to why it took another 15 years to know the story:
Her schoolyard rampage was one of the first seen in the US, with her appalling explanation leading to Irish singer Bob Geldof and his band writing and recording the song I Don't Like Mondays. The song became a No.1 hit in 30 countries, but was never released in the US in deference to victims. (My emphasis)

Before reading this, I was also unaware of the evidence of prior bad faith - my understanding was always that it was a snap/out-of-nowhere thing (silicon chip, etc.).

Here's the best info about her parole chances:
San Diego Deputy District Attorney Richard Sachs says Spencer is still psychotic, citing an incident four years ago. "When her girlfriend...[was released from jail], she burned the words 'courage' and 'pride' in her own arm like a tattoo. She's still subject to depression.... The District Attorney's office will oppose Spencer's parole application."

-----------------------------------
from the album "Fine Art of Surfacing" (1979)

I Don't Like Mondays

The silicon chip inside her head
Gets switched to overload.
And nobody's gonna go to school today,
She's going to make them stay at home.
And daddy doesn't understand it,
He always said she was as good as gold.
And he can see no reason
'Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be shown?

Tell me why?
I don't like Mondays.
Tell me why?
I don't like Mondays.
Tell me why?
I don't like Mondays.
I want to shoot
The whole day down.

The telex machine is kept so clean
As it types to a waiting world.
And mother feels so shocked,
Father's world is rocked,
And their thoughts turn to
Their own little girl.
Sweet 16 ain't so peachy keen,
No, it ain't so neat to admit defeat.
They can see no reasons
'Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be shown?

Tell me why?
I don't like Mondays.
Tell me why?
I don't like Mondays.
Tell me why?
I don't like Mondays.
I want to shoot
The whole day down.

All the playing's stopped in the playground now
She wants to play with her toys a while.
And school's out early and soon we'll be learning
And the lesson today is how to die.
And then the bullhorn crackles,
And the captain crackles,
With the problems and the how's and why's.
And he can see no reasons
'Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to die?

Tell me why?
I don't like Mondays.
Tell me why?
I don't like Mondays.
Tell me why?
I don't like Mondays.
I want to shoot
The whole day down.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I'm paraphrasing, of course

Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne on the CPC Convention:

"What a bunch of pussies!"

Update: Monte Solberg (natch) and David Frum are more optimistic.

Monte first - he identifies 5 issues on which the CPC is clearly distinguishable: can the daycare plan, lower taxes, tougher on criminals, stonger military, and a better plan than Kyoto.

Here's my criteria for how to tell these (all laudable) policies are being promoted sufficiently: when the CBC and Globe are running regular stories about how (pick any or all)...
  • women's groups say the CPC is victimizing single mothers
  • judges and lawyers are deeply concerned about the CPC's criminal justice plans
  • Greenpeace says a CPC government would result in fish boiling in the great lakes (polar bears starving to death also works)
  • the Liberals and NDP are ranting that CPC plan to lower taxes and increase military spending will dissolve the safety net

...then they're starting to be loud and clear enough. I realize it's somewhat counterintuitive, but lads, you're not going to win many media endorsements come election time. Accept that, and move on to the task at hand - letting the people know how you're different.

And here's David Frum:
High taxes are squeezing the life out of the Canadian economy. Billions of surplus dollars are being hidden away through budgetary tricks to be spent as soon as the Liberals regain their majority--and can once again direct money to their pet causes and regions. Relations with the United States have been poisoned. Despite huge infusions of funds, the health care system is collapsing before Canadians' eyes. Sailors and airmen are dying in obsolete ships and planes. The judicial system has been transformed into a romper room for social engineers. And the Chretien/Martin government has been caught in scandal after scandal after scandal whose common theme is an arrogant sense of entitlement and utter contempt for the public.

All conservative-minded people can agree that ejecting these shameful characters from public office transcends any of the minor differences that once divided them.

I'm not at all prepared to concede that last sentence, despite agreeing with basically the entire preceding paragraph. I suppose it's because I don't accept that the differences are minor, at least not at this point. And it's not like I'm that far out on the right fringe!

To repeat, once I start seeing regular criticism of the CPC's substantiative policies in the large media, I'll be a lot more convinced that their goal is something more worthwhile than "running the Liberal machine for themselves". Until then, Coyne and Wells are judging the evidence astutely.

Lesson learned, ignored

There was a nice column at Reason yesterday commemorating World Water Day, entitled A Cold Shower for World Water Day - "Democratic" water distribution won't quench anybody's thirst. The nuts:
No matter how many documents declare that access to water is a fundamental right, people can't drink paper or rights; they need actual water.

Some people also argue that since water is necessary for life, it needs to be distributed "democratically"—i.e., by the government. That is nonsense. Food is also necessary for humans to survive. And in countries where food is produced "democratically," there tends to be neither food nor democracy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

One Doctor's Opinion

I haven't kept up with the Schiavo case, so I have no opinion, but here's a hell of an interesting email published at The Corner from a religious conservative doctor.

He makes a lot of interesting points, but one of them really resonated with me: What happened to conservatives' deep, unshakeable belief in the sanctity of marriage?

It does seem like a lot of people have discarded the principle as inconvenient in this instance, rather than do the heavy lifting of reconciling the two, assuming it's even possible.

Monday, March 21, 2005

2nd Verse, same as the 1st

You, me, The Monger, or Jay Jardine are perfectly welcome to argue that a law is fundamentally immoral. Maybe it deprives you of your right to life or property, maybe it restricts your liberty to act in a way that is not harmful to anyone else, pick any or all.

You are also welcome to argue that the spurious or uneven application of an immoral law is further evidence of its immorality. The flip side of this, though, is that you can't use an example of the even application of an immoral law as special evidence of its immorality. And Jay and The Monger are trying to have it both ways.

Our income tax code is set up so that all compensation for employment is taxed in the same way. If we are to have income tax at all, this is a good thing.

Joe Wood is not the poster boy for the immorality of income tax. He is the poster boy for "Paul Martin is a bullshitter". He's also the poster boy for "Advisory: All compensation for employment is treated equally under income tax laws", or to put it in a more statist way, "TANSTAAFL".

The Monger posted a nice letter to the contrary from "LionSteak", starting with this neat summation:
"..in my grocery store, the register doesn't have slots for 10's, 20's and stock certificates. Because my supermarket won't accept stocks as payment for a loaf of bread."

Kevin Jaeger emerged from deep in his secure network environment to rejoin (in The Monger's new Comments!):
The cash registers at my local stores don't have slots for expensive cars, yachts, condos at Tremblant, vacation homes in Cote D'Azur or bearer bonds deposited in Swiss bank accounts either. But if a company gives any of these things to their employees or management as compensation they are defined as taxable benefits and their approximate market value is taxed as income.

It is a national sport for the management of Canada's public companies to find creative ways to give themselves the lavish lifestyle they deserve while avoiding any tax. Personally I'd be happy to take my next bonus as a new Porsche and only declare $150 income twenty years from now when I drop it off at the wrecker. Or they could buy me a house, or, perhaps, give me shares in a numbered company whose sole business is "real estate development" - that is, building my house. Or perhaps payment in gold futures will do. I'll take my chances with fluctuating gold prices rather than the certain 50% cut of the tax man.

All of these things have been used in the past, which is why the tax law is what it is today. You can pay an employee in anything you want, it just gets taxed at its market value as if you gave him cash and he bought it himself.

Too-shay. If you want to complain about the immorality of income taxes, make over-the-top analogies about baby-eating, and insult the bunch of people who are generally most sympathetic to this point of view, go ahead - but SHUT THE HELL UP ABOUT JOE WOOD. If you're looking for a "Having to pay Canadian income tax bill contributes to financial strain" story, there are quite literally millions of better candidates.

Friday, March 18, 2005

There's comedy, there's high comedy, and then there's Jay Jardine's tax return

(Update: I missed the real mark on a couple of points below, and demonstrated, once again, my need of a good Argument Construction school. More to follow.)

Colour me genuinely surprised - Jay Jardine is on the wrong side of a moral issue.

At the risk of making him physically iller and provoking another enjoyably profane screed, Joe Wood's regrettable situation and the fundamental morality of income taxes are two separate issues. If he's not willing to stipulate the latter, at least for the sake of argument, then I don't know why he would take any special interest in the former.

Show me someone who is defaulting on their mortgage, and there's a 99%+ chance that they paid income tax at some time in the past. If they still had that money they previously remitted in income tax, they would be able to hold onto their house longer, or maybe even pay it off. You may agree or disagree with Jay that this person deserves sympathy, and has a beef with the government. But this person is no less deserving of sympathy than Joe Wood.

I will take Jay's advice, though, and check my premises. Here they are:
1) We have laws that require us to pay income tax
2) I want these laws to be as equitable as possible across all income brackets

Shannon has a very sensible idea (and maybe this is what Steve Maich is proposing): if you want to ensure that stock compensation is taxed based on its value when converted to cash (and ensure that there are no Joe Woods in the future), then eliminate the RRSP limit(*). It treats the person who receives stock as compensation the same way as someone compensated in cash who then buys the same amount of stock. It's accessible to everyone, CPA or no CPA.

It also makes the consequences of the change completely foreseeable; that is, anyone who's not living paycheque-to-paycheque gains total control over when their income is realized and when they pay the corresponding taxes. I frankly can't say if this is good or bad in the long run, but that's what it would be. Steve Maich says essentially that he doesn't see how this change might disproportionately benefit "rich people"; he seems like a smart guy, but on this count, I'll say that his imagination might be lacking.

Whatever mechanism you would change to right this alleged wrong (with the exception of the PM forgiving Mr. Wood's tax bill), it would be occasionally relevant to a middle-class fellow like Joe Wood(**), but in general would have a greater relevance to you the wealthier you are.

SD asked: Is Steve Maich a Socialist? My question would be: Is Steve Maich a Shill For The Rich and Well-Paid? And Jardine can bitch all he wants about income taxes, but for the life of me, I don't know why he'd want to change the system to afford flexibility and deferral options to the wealthy that would not be available to the lower & middle classes.

I'll finish by stating plainly that I have no real idea if all of the above is "conservative". I think a simpler, more equitable tax code is roughly consistent with the stated goals of most political parties of the right, but I make no assurances, nor do I care.

----------

Footnote(*): Any other tax code change to deal with this "problem" would be even worse. If I get paid a bunch of U.S. dollars, should I get taxed on it when I receive it, or when I convert it to CAN$? What if I was paid in pesos, or rupees? Some foreign currencies can be pretty volatile - should I be protected in the event that I don't immediately convert to Canadian when paid? And I assume we can all dismiss out of hand any unique tax treatment for shares in your own company.

Footnote (**): It should also be noted that regarding unanswered questions on Joe Wood's situation - like why wasn't tax withheld, and is every other JDS employee in this same bind, and others - every present assumption gives Mr. Wood the maximum benefit of the doubt. I love a good victim story as much as the next guy, but is it really so obvious that Mr. Wood acted with the best, most honest intentions at all times? He may well have, but it shouldn't be treated as a given.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

March Madness

I'm sitting here listening to streaming audio of Kentucky vs. Eastern Kentucky, the 2-15 matchup in the Midwest Region and opening game of the NCAA tournament (available at sports.yahoo.com - need to use IE5+). Of course, that's not the only March Madness happening right now.

Slightly Awkward Yet Hilarious Analogy Alert - Matt Welch at Reason is rightly up in arms about Congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball. Here's *Julian Sanchez's* introduction to the article at Hit & Run:
Rep. Henry Waxman's hoping to bask in golden showers of media attention by demagoguing the steroid issue and subpoenaing drug test data; Matt Welch suggests he keep his eyes in his own stall.

Regardless of your libertarian sympathies, Hit & Run is a top read for the writing flair alone. Tim Cavanaugh is nearly without peer in the b***osphere, whether it's a substantitive issue (like ridiculing Colin Powell), or simply noting the day's birthdays ("hated novelty singer Ray Stevens" just kills me).

Matt Welch's article (brief follow-ups here and here) is worth a look. Lest you believe the House's hearings are inconsequential rank whoring for publicity, there's a very serious underlying issue, summed up by this sentence:
In other words, Congress is asserting its right to your drug tests, even if they were conducted based on a private agreement between employer and union, and even if the results—including disciplinary action—were understood at the time to be secret.

Yeah, that's not good.

The other fooferaw of the moment surrounds multi-election loser Craig Chandler's piece in the Globe ("The right way for Stephen Harper"). There's a lot of people, who by the way are way over-represented on the web, who would generally agree with Jay Currie's sentiments in the comments to this post:
...it breaks my heart to see the CPC preach to the converted on socon issues. I mean who else are the fundys going to vote for?

There's no way to make everyone happy here, so let's shoot for "grudging acceptance", and try to avoid effectively disenfranching 20% of Canadians and two-thirds of the CPC base. I'll keep banging my cheap drum and ask this question:

Which of these outcomes is less preferable to you:
(A) Permitting gays and lesbians to marry
(B) Permitting the government to seize more responsibility for raising your children

Maybe I'm wrong, but my read on this is that whether you are a deeply religious social conservative, or a pur laine libertarian, your answer is (B). In the past 5 years, I've witnessed the leftish worldview of dozens of young parents collide with their own desire to do what's best for their kids, and the kids thing wins every time.

Put another way, the CPC can become loud and proud promoters of family values, without getting caught up in crap like boobs on TV. Loudly oppose the daycare "system", offering parents the choice (and increased resources through lower taxes etc.) to do what's best for their own family. The Liberals can demagogue this issue however they like, but if it's on the front page, it's a winner for the CPC, and more importantly, for Canadian families.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Great minds think alike dept.

Me, one week ago:
You are free to accuse me of hopeless naivete, but here's what I think is naive: hoping you can run a pre-election and election campaign without a single one of your candidates or hacks saying something potentially offensive, all the while assuring everyone that you don't have a hidden agenda.

Paul Wells, back page of the new Maclean's:
The Conservative leader seems eager to let the Liberals turn the next election into a referendum on a simple question: "Has Harper purged the nutters?" It's a debate he can't win.

Read the whole thing, of course. The concluding paragraph, well, I couldn't agree more if I had written it for him:
Harper's big mistake, so far, is believing he can bore his way into power. The Liberals have no intention of letting him get that boring. He needs a plan for government that's way more distinct from Grit policy than anything he's managed lately. He needs a team that looks ready to move into the Prime Minister's Office and all those ministers' offices. If the next campaign is about Liberal accusations and Conservative denials, it will end the way the last two did.

Incredible that this still needs pointing out, but: when there's no big differences to talk about, the focus moves to the little differences, which then get blown into big differences. Here's something I wrote on Feb. 19, 2004, which explains my take on this as well as anything:
Stockwell Day attempted to present his major policies and plan for governing (health care, EI, debt & deficit, etc.) as mainstream; similar but different from the Liberals. The conventional wisdom after the 2000 election was that he failed – Ontario voters weren't ready to vote for such a radical change. Incorrect; in fact, he succeeded, too well. Instead of the pundits analyzing a proposed sea change in Canadian government, they were left to seize on his religious beliefs, as well as capital punishment, abortion, and other issues peripheral to the business of governing.
I'm actually starting to wonder if maybe The Monger is right ("Harper's playing possum!"), because if the OLO strategy was determined by a random number generator, it would occasionally appear either politically wise or principled, rather than neither every single time.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Life imitating Drew Carey

Buzz Beer: Stay up, and get drunk all over again.

(If you know where to find the jingle, please drop a comment.)

(ÞNeale)

Dimoxinyl!!!

Cosh has a nice little roundup of the Brier final and Team Ferbey. A few of my own quick thoughts:
  • I'm already nervous for the Ferbey Four at the Trials in November. By any other measuring stick, they've earned the right to represent Canada in the Olympics.
  • I think Rocque is going to be a tremendous skip someday after this team disbands. His ice vision seems adequate, but more than that, he really showed to me over the last two games that his decision-making would be excellent, as in, "aware of the fact that the rocks are thrown by humans, whose heads contain things besides 'line' and 'weight'". In the Friday game, he basically talked Ferbey out of making Nedohin throw a shot he didn't seem to want to (in the 8th?) for questionable reward-to-risk, and it panned out perfectly. And as Cosh notes, Nedohin was a little outwardly jumpy yesterday, and it seemed to me like Rocque who made it all better.
  • Speaking of disbanding, I'll guess right now that in 5 years, Pfeiffer is skipping his own rink, Ferbey has his own less competitive rink, and Rocque moves into the third/skip role with Nedohin and a new front-end.
  • Anyone else wondering how stupid it was for Scott Russell to be interviewing Steve Moss last night on How to Play in an Arena? ("Don't ask me, Scott, I went 0-11." If only.)
  • And this is really stupid, but, I was driven to distraction watching Alberta for the first part of the week. Scott Pfeiffer had a buzz-cut the previous 4 Briers, and suddenly he's out there with an honest-to-God "hairdo". I kept visualizing this scene in my mind:
Pfeiffer walks into barbershop with massive mop of hair.

Barber: "Scott Pfeiffer, I haven't seen you in..20 years!"

Pfeiffer: "Give me the usual."

Man, that's immature. Meh.

I have to warn you Selley, this is my weak argument

I hope you're reading Tart Cider regularly. While I'm sticking with my principle that "it would be ugly" (or "there is virtually no chance of reaching a consensus") is not a good enough reason to forsake open debate about a given topic, I think he's argued pretty convincingly why we don't want to have an abortion debate. (And note that he's doing it while stating that abortion is immoral on a non-trivial level).

Selley's other killer post this weekend shows again that while bias may be a real problem, the media's worst failing is its incompetence, or more specifically, the non-priority institutionally assigned to critical thinking.
Second of all, though there are indeed plenty of stories of "travellers stuck with little hope of compensation," they all appear to be crap. As every article about Jetsgo's demise has stated, those who purchased their tickets with a credit card are covered. That's everyone who bought his or her ticket online.

He then muses that when travel agents say booking through a travel agent is "the safest, most competent way to travel", it's idiocy to take that at face value. And then he finishes:
That this situation might "raise doubts about online booking" is both ridiculous and entirely befitting of a country and a mass media that couldn't think its way out of a paper bag.

That's so unpleasantly close to the mark, I'm glad I had a beer in my hand when I read it. Although for the record, I still agree with this sentiment, and I hope Chris isn't rethinking it:
I don't subscribe in any large sense to the "Canada is useless and irrelevant and let's all just hate ourselves" school of political thought...
Also, check out the amusing and original construction of the Tart Cider blogroll.

Friday, March 11, 2005

God knows the politicians aren't...

Since you all read Andrew Coyne, you're all familiar with his Wednesday column concluding "the debate has to start" on abortion.

Chris Selley disputes Coyne's conclusion without disputing his preamble. This tends to make for an uncompelling argument, but in this instance, I'm paying attention. Decide for yourself:
Consider for a moment the nonsensical lather into which people work themselves over the prospect of gay marriage, a social arrangement in which no one dies, and imagine what we'd be up against if the same people were faced with yea or nay on abortion. A moment's consideration is about all I can stand.

Read the whole thing, but here's Selley's conclusion:
Coyne is right to lament the state of Canadian national debates, but in the case of abortion, I think the state of Canadian national debates is a perfectly good reason not to have one at all.

My own thoughts are that while I am attracted to this argument, I can't agree. I'm personally about as non-confrontational as they come, but I've also had enough of political topics being off-limits because they're "divisive". I really don't know how we can get to a stage where we're debating public policy more maturely, but I'm also sure that avoiding contentious topics is not the answer, or the list will continue to get longer.

And of course, this is not even to mention the millions of "hardwireds" who would scoff that the issue of (A) a woman's ownership of her body, or (B) thousands of dead babies, is something to be set aside in the service of playing nicely with others. That Canada's political class has done so en masse is probably a good argument for a debate, not against.

All that said, the abortion debate suddenly jumping to the forefront of Canadian politics would be directly responsible for the complete abandonment of TV news at Chateau Fenwick, which probably derails my entire argument above. ("Yes, I think there should be a debate, but No, I don't want to participate in it, and I absolutely will not pay any attention to it." Yep, back to Argument Construction school for me.)

That thing's just lucky I'm not armed

On the topic of Office Space:

Cosby Sweater has links to several great OS-themed sites here, the greatest of which is this "Fun With Real Audio"-style mash of Office Space dialogue with the SuperFriends cartoon video.

If you have a spare 4:11, like to laugh, and are intrigued by the idea of boy wonder Robin speaking with a rather thick Iranian accent, I highly recommend it. (Language warning)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Andrew Coyne is very good at his job

Not sure what spurred Coyne to write about the abortion "debate", but I was thinking about the same things after reading Spector's Monday column (which I blabbed about here).

Coyne is right that it's conventional political and media wisdom that, as Spector says, "Some conservatives, particularly those in the anti-abortion movement, are incapable of compromise..."

I don't know any way to interpret this besides, "they should just shut up about it". Because using the common English definition of compromise, it would mean, "Those so-cons should just agree to meet the pro-choicers in the middle, and agree to certain limited restrictions on abortion." What? Oh. Who is it that's unwilling to compromise, again? (This might be a good time to refer back to Aldini's Disqualification Principle).

And just to step back about Spector for a minute: I don't really have a problem with the guy. He's arrogant, but so are a lot of people, and at least he has some impressive education and experience to buttress his positions.

I'm not impressed with his political advice, though, for a rather simple reason, which is probably best characterized by the answer to the question, "Was the split of the 'right' for 10+ years in Canada good or bad?" His former role with M. Brian, and his high regard for compromise as a political virtue, shows that he thinks it was bad. I think it was unquestionably good. (For example, I think Parliament c. 1993-97, with Reform as the unofficial opposition, is the best thing that happened politically to Canada since the FTA.)

This is the type of disagreement - were he to know who I am ;) - that would not be resolved through a week of discussions. I'd rather be mostly correct and pissing into the tent than barely correct and pissing out; many, including Spector, prefer the opposite. The only real difference is that I believe his position to be unwise, whereas he appears to believe my position is immature and idiotic. Them's the breaks, I guess.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Impeccable sources

Looks like Al Strachan's been reading the blogs:

Alberta's Crying Shame: Flames, Oilers shouldn't need special treatment
Unfortunately, anyone who suggests that the Flames and Oilers should be a little more self-sufficient encounters a barrage of ad hominem arguments.
[...]
Where is the kind of independence that made Alberta what it is today? Where is the determination and self-sufficiency that is legendary among Albertans, the heritage of which they are justifiably so proud?

Tom Benjamin: "Where was he three years ago when this argument might have made a difference? None of this matters at his stage of the game. That the NHL used Edmonton and Calgary to drive the NHL into a toxic dump is now irrelevant."

I think the word "used" fits perfectly.

Wells' good question

Paul Wells discusses the Conservatives' resolution P-90, stating plainly that Conservative MPs will have free* votes on everything except budget matters. (*I take this to mean "no expulsion for voting the wrong way"; they will certainly still be whipped etc., I'm thinking of the U.S. House & Senate model.)

Paul's leading question: How immune will this position be to the kind of attack that was the centrepiece of last year's Liberal campaign?

I wrote about this on July 2, 2004 - 4 days after the last election. Here's the relevant graf:
The CPC, for the unknown duration of this minority government, has a tremendous opportunity to lead by example and get their message out. Jack Layton accused Stephen Harper in the debates of “hiding behind free votes in Parliament”. This statement is an obnoxious oxymoron, but no wonder it strikes a chord with many Canadians – we’re totally unfamiliar with the concept! We are so used to MPs unflinchingly voting the party line that the alternative seems radical. Stephen Harper should move to normalize it, unilaterally, and declare that CPC MPs are free to vote as they wish on every bill, without fear of expulsion. The first few times selected MPs vote against Harper (i.e. with the Liberals), the media will cite it as evidence of internal divisions in the party. But eventually, it will be known as the way the CPC does business, and Canadians should expect the same when they are in government. It may even shame the other parties into imitation. If this happens, the result is a more democratic federal government, with the added bonus of dispelling any perception that individual MPs’ views are something beyond what they are – 1/308th of Parliament’s decision-making apparatus.

Here's my direct answer to the question:

The CPC adopting P-90 at their convention doesn't really help them in and of itself, but living it could help them tremendously - and it's really the only thing that can.

Say Cheryl Gallant has an interview with her church newsletter, and says something like, oh, supporters of SSM will burn in the fires of hell. Every hack in the Ottawa bureau runs to Stephen Harper for reaction. If P-90 passes, and Harper is committed to it, he says something like:

"That's not the view of the majority of our caucus, but we are a big tent. Like the other parties, we have different members who have different beliefs on a variety of issues. Unlike the other parties, we don't pretend otherwise.

If the CPC members in Cheryl's riding are unhappy with the way she is performing, they are free to nominate someone else prior to the next election. If the voters in Cheryl's riding are unhappy with the way she is performing, they are free to elect someone else. Democracy is a wonderful thing.

There are 308 MPs in Parliament. Give the views of one of them exactly as much weight as you think they're owed."

This answer would be repeated essentially verbatim every time someone connected with the Conservatives says something offensive/divisive/weird.

You are free to accuse me of hopeless naivete, but here's what I think is naive: hoping you can run a pre-election and election campaign without a single one of your candidates or hacks saying something potentially offensive, all the while assuring everyone that you don't have a hidden agenda. There's an expression referring to a plan that will only work at all if it's executed absolutely perfectly by hundreds of people for several months - "a bad plan".

"Republican senators still think the key to their success is making sure they are purer than Caesar's wife so that the mainstream media can't possibly attack them. That's never worked before, so let's try it again!"*

Monday, March 07, 2005

It's funny because I don't live in Winnipeg

Looks like the folks at the Winnipeg Free Press have taken note of the fact that more people than ever are getting their news from TEH INTARWEB. Strategy going forward? Portray blogs as even more uniformly leftie than their own content!

One sentiment I read a lot about Pink Lloyd's now-famous open letter was, "I thought it was a parody at first." That could possibly apply even moreso to the WFP follow-up, Cyberspace World all abuzz over Axworthy's Rice rebuke:
A well-established critic of the Bush administration, Axworthy normally uses the restrained language of diplomacy he learned while serving as Canada's foreign minister.

In contrast, the letter to Rice has been dubbed by some blog fans as a professional wrestling-style "smackdown".

The cherry on top of this is The Hack's update, where he notes the WFP ran a sidebar titled "Sample of responses from the blog world", consisting entirely of comments at the Daily Kos.

How is it possible to run a piece on the topic of "reaction to Axworthy's open letter to Rice" and not acknowledge, let alone cite, a single sentence fragment of negative reaction? I'm not sure. I do know that The Hack's post reads like he's about to cry at the end.

"trampling the graves of the real heroes"

A copy of Colby Cosh's excellent column on the Rochfort Bridge slayings is available here. (ÞHit&Run). A challenge - evaluate the relevance of drug and gun policy to the following excerpted paragraph:
The magistrates' best chance to protect Mayerthorpe and its cops came in April, 2000, when Roszko was convicted of having repeatedly molested a child over a seven-year period in the 1980s. From the ages of 10 to 17, the victim was forced into sodomy and degradation by a grown man under the constant threat of a fatal beating. For this, Roszko served about 21 months in prison. If Canadian justice had penalized him according to popular notions of right and wrong, he would still have been in jail on Thursday -- and would have stayed until he was much too old to engage in a firefight.

Insight

So let's see:
  • A lot of people like gambling and porn
  • Canadian bloggers haven't "taken down" a media giant
  • Most blogs suck
  • Most comments on blogs suck
  • Most blogs, even the good ones, could be better with an editor
  • Canadian conservatism, if defined as "a united opposition to lefties and Liberals", is weak
  • People who are anti-abortion aren't willing to compromise
  • Criticizing the U.S. and Bush is safe and popular in Canada
There's a list of pretty uninteresting statements; most of them are obvious nearly to the point of self-evidence.

But apparently, if I phrase them differently (with the help of a good editor, shurely!), I can call it insightful criticism, and get it published on page A15 of The Globe & Mail! (Þalan)

I'd have trouble articulating exactly why I run this blog. But here's two of the non-reasons:
  1. To get the Conservative Party of Canada elected, by hook or by crook
  2. To fish for a job as a newspaper columnist

My own abilities aside, this may explain to certain observers why my blog is an admittedly poor mechanism for achieving either.

Sounds like a case of the Mondays

Two partly-related posts:

Laurent gives us a primer on how the thankfully-former SCC judge Louise Arbour is pushing to give "economic, social, and cultural rights" the same legal status as civil and political rights, and gee, some judicial fiats would spare us that annoying pain and delay of constitutional amendments. Consent of the governed, shmonsent...

And James Lileks brings up the U.S. Social Security debate, in which I have little interest, but he uncovered a new and interesting talking point:
"Dean Baker of the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research calculates that the ratio of all workers to all dependents – including children, retirees and adults who don’t work for wages – is close to highest it has ever been. This so-called 'total dependency' approach covers a multitude of unknowables, such as the cost to a worker of supporting a child vs. a Social Security beneficiary.

"'But if you’re looking at the strain on today’s workers of paying to support the nonworking population, it’s much lower than it used to be,' said Baker, author of Social Security: the Phony Crisis."

Wow. Wow. Get it? They’ve just made the costs of raising your own kids and the taxes paid to support "adults who don’t work for wages" morally equivalent, part of your general responsibility as a citizen. Apparently your obligation to fund the sunset years of Theoretical Gramps is ethically indistinguishable from your obligation to the kid across from the dinner table with your chin and last name.

As he says, it's nice that they're out in the open about it all.

And a third, I guess. Colby Cosh is surprisingly lacking in company when he identifies the big issue in the aftermath of the Mayerthorpe slayings ("The law must have had something like fifty chances to forestall Thursday's crime.."). I understand why the Canadian and Alberta governments would be interested in changing the subject, but everybody, everybody else, regardless of political persuasion, should be asking first and foremost:

Why wasn't this lunatic already in jail?

I also note that in at least one sense, blogs have the same problem as big media: that is, the time required for some sober research and reflection, especially in reaction to a tragedy, is willingly sacrificed in the panic to say something, now. (Exceptions noted.)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

42% of all people know that...

To expand on my previous post, as Greg exposes here, it's probably wise as a news consumer to outright ignore any story that uses statistics. Even when they are cited with noble intentions, rare is the reporter who understands what they mean, or draws correct (or even sensible) conclusions from them.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Still, more intelligent than the 'Your Health' report

Unsurprising Neale News item of the day:

Heavily rural province with lots of RCMP has country's highest drunk driving rate

There are many reasons why so much print and TV news is just plain lousy. One is unacknowledged bias; I understand there are a couple of blogs out there devoted to exposing this.

Another is basically laziness; excessive willingness of reporters to accept press releases at face value, so long as it doesn't challenge their biases.

A big reason, though, is that often, reporters just don't know what they're talking about, and worse, they don't know that they don't know what they're talking about.

Look at the story linked above. I wouldn't bet against the accuracy of the headline. In fact, it's entirely believable, for the two reasons noted in my paraphrased headline. But it's not supported by the story - and I mean at all.

Say the Homicide division of the Edmonton Police Service was staffed by lazy wankers, and over the next year, solved no murders and made no arrests. According to the logic of the CBC headline, Edmonton would have Canada's lowest murder rate. (Congratulations, guys!)

The linked CBC story says that Saskatchewan law enforcement makes more per capita drunk driving arrests that the other provinces. That may well be interesting information, but that is all it is. You cannot conclude from that statistic that there's more drunk driving in Saskatchewan than anywhere else. For all we know (from this story, at least), there's the same amount in every province, and Ontario is 3 times lousier at catching and prosecuting offenders than SK.

That said, let's not get too excited about the great job SK police are doing catching impaired drivers. For all we know (again, from this story at least), SK has 10 times as much impaired driving as ON, and ON police are actually 3 times better at catching and prosecuting offenders.

I know it's not sexy (or PC, or brief) but this story and those like it really ought to end with a paragraph like this:
"Interpreting impaired driving statistics requires numerous assumptions that may or may not be true, because the overwhelming majority of 'offenses' are never known or detected, and leave no evidence."

This won't happen, because it reminds the public that in most cases, impaired driving is a victimless crime--and really, who wants to be carrying that banner. (Anyone? I'm sure it's a real friend-winner...)