Saturday, April 30, 2005

Dalton McGuinty, part-timer

Just in case you Ontarians are still depressed about Rogers Cable offering a free weekend of art movies and then, uh, pulling out at the last minute, take some solace in this:

There exists a legislator, in a bordering jurisdiction, who is a bigger busybody than Dalton McGuinty. Check it:
In 2004 [New York State Democratic Assemblyman Felix] Ortiz introduced a law that would require every car sold in New York to come equipped with an ignition interlock device. Motorists would need to blow into a tube and pass an alcohol breath test before the car would start, then perform the test again every 20 to 40 minutes.

In just the first four months of 2005 Ortiz has introduced laws that would ban all cell phone use while driving (including hands-free); ban pornography from newsstands; force consumers to show two forms of identification when using a credit card; test all public school children for diabetes; ban expiration dates on retail gift certificates; ban alcohol billboard advertisements within a mile of every school and day care center; require nutritional labeling on restaurant menus; measure the fat of every public school student; and impose a "fat tax," not just on junk food but also on "videogames, commercials and movies."

Dalton, you piker.

Friday, April 29, 2005

In bed at 11 wouldn't hurt you, either

Colby Cosh reports that he's going to be in a panel discussion on weblogging with Adam Daifallah and Norman Spector. Obviously the first question that comes to mind is, "When did Spector learn what weblogging is?"

But second and more important, I have a piece of advice for Mr. Cosh. Colby, the panel is tomorrow. Tonight, for God's sake, make sure your translator gets a good night's sleep.(**)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A humble suggestion...

I think you party leaders - hell, all MPs - need to chill out. I recommend clearing the weekend schedule, heading back to your Ottawa digs, and spending the weekend in front of the television.
Neale)

UPDATE: Booooooooooo! You gotta lighten up, Teddy, baby. (Rogers sidebar: Note that the free pr0n weekend was scheduled for a weekend when the Jays were out of town. Coincidence? In an integrated media & entertainment company like Rogers, there are no coincidences.)

Conclusions I can't avoid dept.

Wells, 10 days ago:
On current form, Harper seems to have a month before an election starts. It's precious little time to build a team and a plan for government. Swing voters this time -- the crucial Unconvinced -- won't replace one listless one-man government with another.

As usual, I'm not really sure what the best solution is here. There are some CPC MPs who are very able. In general, it's probably best that Harper start operating as if his candidates are assets to the campaign. (This is the opposite of (1) praying no one ever says anything a reporter doesn't like, and (2) disavowing and denying like hell if someone does.) As well, I think it's time for Harper to pick his 3 favorite CPC policy proposals, and start talking about them all the time.

It's a nice head start for the CPC to have. They'll be running against a party that few people trust, led by a Prime Minister with an uncommon handicap: absolutely no one believes anything he says. But a head start is all that it is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Back soon

Self-employment has been grand. The "ups" are tremendous, best of all being the control you have over your own life.

Most will tell you that the downside is that you don't get a regular paycheque. This is 100% true: as such, I find it pretty important to GoLikeHell when things are going well, and build up that cushion for the next time things are dull.

Which is all a long way of saying that updates will probably be relatively short and sporadic for the next couple of weeks. Luckily, there isn't much I can offer that isn't being done better by those in the Mandatory Reading section on the sidebar. Check'emout. Late.

Friday, April 22, 2005

"I'm going to the woods tomorrow"

So maybe you've been wondering: are there any bigger jackasses than the guy grovelling on TV last night, his feckless defenders, and the people who yell at them?

The answer, most definitely, is YES. (ÞBailey)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The problem with Harper, indeed

I was going to post something on Adam Radwanski's Friday Post column, but I'm glad I waited. It's titled "In Search Of A National Champion", and his opinion is pretty well summarized in this paragraph:
What's needed, desperately, is a national leader who passionately believes in Canada, and is willing to fight for it even if it means going head-to-head with various provincialists along the way. But what's most depressing of all is that there is absolutely nobody, either here or on the horizon, who fits the bill.

I broadly agree with the sentiment in the first sentence, and without thinking about it too hard, he's probably right in his assessment in the second sentence.

His column didn't really move me on the whole, though, mainly because his angst was framed like this:
Today, [the federal government is] powerless to develop comprehensive social policy unless it's achieved the fantasyland scenario of having every single province on board. So the ability of the country to tackle common challenges -- be they health care, urban development or, yes, child care -- is virtually non-existent.

I wonder if Radwanski doesn't answer his own question here. Isn't it possible that Canadians have lost interest in having the federal government develop "comprehensive social policy", and that this is entirely unrelated to the lack of a "single, charismatic champion of national unity"?

Mark Steyn has written frequently about the absurdity of Quebecers fighting for an independent state that would be exactly like the one from which they separated. But look at it from the other direction:, why, precisely, should any province find that belonging to Canada is important for social policy reasons?

Unless you believe that your own province would cancel universal access to health care were it not for the legal restrictions of the Canada Health Act, the federal government's entire role in the health system is taxes and transfers.

Look at it from the perspective of (say) Saskatchewan. Why is Canada important, in terms of social policy? Mainly because the feds will take taxes from people in wealthier provinces, and the benefits of your social programs will be richer than they otherwise would.

This is nice, but even for a resident of Saskatchewan, this is not an inspiring vision of "Why Canada?"

Which brings me to Paul Wells' most recent and most excellent back page column. He groups non-Conservative voters into two big categories:
Why did Harper fall in the polls after he peaked last spring? Two reasons, I think. Some people decided they didn't know enough about how Harper would govern. They weren't sure he was ready. Call those voters The Unconvinced. Others believed they knew exactly how he would govern and they didn't like it one bit. Call them The Terrified.

Paul Martin's strategy was to peel the second group away from Harper. He said the Conservatives would tear up the Charter of Rights and transform Canada into a theocracy. It worked pretty well, so Martin's going to do it again. He will criss-cross the country shining a flashlight in his face and shouting "Boo." [Zing! - ed.]

He spends a bit of time mocking Harper et al for wasting their time trying to assuage The Terrified ("Does he really think that if he's vague enough on the Iraq war, people who opposed it will decide he was on their side?"); regular readers don't need me to reiterate my agreement with this point for the thousandth time.

But then he gets to what I believe is his really important and original insight. Why didn't The Unconvinced vote for Harper?
They must have been paying attention.

Ouch. I'm listening, though:
A prime minister needs a transport policy and an environment policy and some idea about what to do with the CBC or the First Nations. He needs people in his entourage who look ready to take over those files. He needs to show some interest in the country he wants to govern, in its history and its people.

Last year Harper acted like a guy who couldn't bother. He'd show up somewhere and reveal no knowledge, nor any particular interest, in local lore or local issues. He'd stand beside a candidate -- sometimes even mention the guy's name -- but rarely explain why Ottawa needed him, except to displace some random Liberal. [my emphasis]

Reread the emphasized portion. I guess it's a wee bit harsh, but are there any fellow Harper supporters out there who would flat-out disagree? Like I said, I like (liked?) the guy, but I don't think he exudes a passion for Canada. If I were hiring for the position of "CEO of large, industrialized country (client confidential)", he'd be at or near the top of my list. And when I consider that upside, and the downside of the alternatives, I'd be willing to accept Harper as PM of Canada, even if all he ever does in New Brunswick is stare off into space.

But the question remains: if Canada should not be defined by its social policy, what should that vision be? And much more importantly: how does one articulate it without sounding pessimistic, cranky, cold, mean, nostalgic, etc. etc. --in other words--how do you say it positively, in a way that would inspire a bunch of college kids?

More to come on this topic; it sounds like it might be relevant sooner rather than later.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Busted

Chris Selley has caught Calgary Sun editor Licia Corbella in a nasty bit of plagiarism, and notes:
I can't honestly say I'm surprised. When you spend your entire life parroting right-wing talking points you read somewhere else, sooner or later you're bound to regurgitate one verbatim.

Yep--like or dislike Ms. Corbella's columns, that is an incontrovertibly good point.

I will take issue with his second example (in the update), though. I don't know that writing, "...each additional $1 in the price of oil, or 10 cents in the price of gas, brings another $99 million into provincial government coffers" can really be construed as stealing someone else's original writing. I've seen that tidbit frequently: to me it's less anecdote, and more mathematical reality (although it is kind of appalling that she couldn't reword it a little more uniquely).

I will note that Liz Nickson was pulled from the rotation at the National Post for what is essentially an identical infraction to that of Corbella's first. (Scott Taylor, on the other hand, was hired after committing a worse one).

Thursday, April 14, 2005

And speaking of on fire...

Matt Welch again:
I think I liked Hollywood politicos better when they were talking about the world's poor, instead of trying actively to keep them from getting work.

The post is titled "Hollywood Whores and Their Political Johns" - worth a read for the title alone, no?

On fire

I doubt you need me to tell you this, since I'm pretty sure my readership is entirely a subset of his, but do not neglect to bookmark Andrew Coyne Version 3.0 (Andrew Coyne With A Vengeance?).

He is back posting in earnest, his columns are going up generally on the day of print, and it's all Adscam all the time. The big media is covering some specific narratives fairly thoroughly, but Coyne is doing a beautiful job of filling in the gaps.

If you want to keep up with the scandal--what's true, what's false, and what's irrelevant--andrewcoyne.com should be your #1 resource.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Freedom, delicious freedom

Matt Welch:
One of the last quirky examples of aberrant, outrageous-sounding in-state freedom -- Montana's permissiveness of cracking open a frosty behind the wheel -- is going by the wayside, after lawmakers caved to the federal guvmint's threat to withhold $5 million in highway funding.

Being exactly 100km from the Montana border, this is something I actually have some personal experience with. In 2003, I was doing a bunch of work at the Coutts/Sweetgrass border crossing, which you've probably never heard of, but is I believe the biggest crossing between Surrey, BC and Sarnia, ON. About 30 minutes south of the border is the Four Corners Bar, which architecturally resembles a body shop, excepting the large "EAT" sign painted on the side facing the highway.

The happy hour special is three 20-oz. cans of Bud for $5 (tremendous!). When you order it, you actually get one can, and two wooden poker chips; the chips can be redeemed for beers even after happy hour, or on another day (tremendous-er!).

Got done a little early in Coutts one day, and a pipefitter gave me two of these chips and recommended that I check the place out. I figured I had a bit of time before I got in too much trouble at home, so I did.

(Sidebar - fastest border crossing ever:
U.S. Customs Officer: "Where ya headed?"

Me (holding up wooden chip): "Going to have a beer."

Officer: [silent wave-through, c/w slight smile and head shake]

Good times.)

So I go to this bar and have a beer. I'm finishing it up, and the bartender looks at the other wooden chip in front of me and says, "Ready for another?" I say no, I have to be getting back to Lethbridge. So the guy says, "Well why don't you just take it with you?" And I say, "Huh?"

He explains that it's perfectly legal. I'm usually reluctant to accept legal advice from a bartender, especially one who is himself drinking a beer at 4:30 in the afternoon, but here I take it. I walk out of the bar with my Bud tall-boy, start the car, put it in drive, and crack the beer, and take a long swig.

Do you know how good that feels? Engaging in a perfectly safe activity, with no fear that a cop will charge me under a law that exists solely because it "sends the right message"?

That might be the most I've ever enjoyed a beer. And I find it regrettable that people in the future will be denied that same enjoyment, in the name of national standards and cultural attitudes.

A feature, not a bug

Bruce Gottfred notices in the Globe what is probably the most compelling reason for Harper to force an election sooner rather than later:
Key measures of the government's February budget, including billions for child care, cities and the environment will immediately "vanish" if the Conservatives pull the plug on the minority Parliament, the Prime Minister's Office warns.

The title of the Globe story is actually, "Budget's big plans in peril". Say it ain't so!

Pace Paul Wells, I think the Martin government's seemingly paralyzed agenda is probably the biggest thing they have going for them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Not That I Can Discuss That

I remain astonished at the level of confusion surrounding publication bans at the Gomery inquiry.

A quick reset to start: CTV, the Globe & Mail, and thereafter every other media outlet in Canada began mentioning Captain's Quarters on Sunday night, April the 3rd. I think you can infer from that that it was/is not illegal to do so. As such, bloggers who did so were not "defying" the publication ban in any way whatsoever.

The only way you can draw a distinction here is if you consider a hyperlink to be a form of publication, which is ridiculous. It rests on the notion that, essentially, vague instructions on how to view Brault's testimony are fine, but specific instructions are not fine. Bah!

It's not like there's no relevant common law here, either: I believe it's well understood that if I republish the contents of the Calgary Herald on my website, I'm breaking the law by publishing material for which I do not have the copyrights. If I link to the Calgary Herald, I'm doing no such bloody thing, because I'm not publishing it. Occasionally some thin-skinned newspaper attempts to claim that it is, and their claim is rightly and quickly dismissed.

So let's get that straight, at least: unless they were excerpting portions of Brault's testimony, bloggers were not defying the ban, or violating the ban, or shitting all over the ban, or any such thing.

Secondly, despite disagreeing with Tart Cider's premises, I share Selley's bewilderment at the level of rhetoric and triumphalism seen in a few places. I happen to agree with Kate that "Canada's Watergate" is not a silly meme; however, Canadian bloggers were not playing the Woodward & Bernstein role. They (we?) were more comparable to a guy in Maryland telling all his neighbours to go buy the Washington Post, because they're reportin' on some cra-zee stuff in there!

Every Canadian blogger, whether intentional or not, experienced a noticeable spike in traffic originating from Google. These people were looking for Captain Ed and the real stuff, not cryptic commentary. I'm sure that bloggers provided some benefit by giving directions to the Captain, but that is the full extent of the service performed for these Googlers.

The other service performed by bloggers not named Ed Morrissey was simply to underline the reduced effectiveness of this type of publication ban in the age of TEH INTARWEB. I think this did have some worthwhile meta-effect, but like Damian here, I'm willing to accept Gomery at his word--that the implication and partial lifting of the ban was entirely related to the contents of Jean Brault's testimony.

Thirdly, why don't we continue with this premise that Justice Gomery has integrity, and is a non-idiot. Let's assume that when he installed a publication ban, he understood what the law meant: that the testimony was not secret, but that it was not allowed (for the time being) to be published or broadcast.

That is: he installed it with the intent of restricting the speed and ease with which knowledge of the testimony could spread. Regardless of whether you think he underestimated the power of the web and Google, it was a success. There were millions of Canadians who had no knowledge of the substance of the Brault testimony until the ban was lifted.

Lastly, what I really want to get to here is this notion of "undermining" the ban, because this is where just about every commentary I've read misses the boat. If I understand English correctly (no given), the definition in this context is roughly "engaging in permissible conduct which produces a similar result as would engaging in prohibited conduct."

If you stipulate that Justice Gomery did not foresee that details of the testimony would be published in another jurisdiction, and that it would be available and highly sought-after online, and that he might have ruled differently with more accurate foreknowledge, then yes: Canadian bloggers absolutely were undermining the ban, in that it would have been even more successful had they sat on their thumbs.

But I'd like everyone to consider this concept(Þ): freedom-loving people have a positive moral duty to undermine laws restricting freedom. Governments should have to be explicit about how they are restricting our freedoms, principally because it limits the number and the scope of restrictions they can get away with.

There was a lot of this sentiment last week: "Gomery installed a publication ban, and I'm not clear exactly what speech the ban allows and disallows. What I am clear on is that the intent is to keep the information relatively secret, so I'm going to use that as a guideline."

Again, I'm not trying to get in anyone's face, but this attitude amounts to a voluntary surrender of freedom. Aren't we as Canadians already plenty languid about having our liberties withdrawn, without lining up to hand them in?

The failings of this perspective are best demonstrated when taken to the extreme, so Evan Kirchhoff has done us a big semi-facetious favour:
...here is the category link to the American Website everybody was hinting around about all week:

http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/mt/archives/cat_canada.php

That specific link filters solely for the Adscam stories (some of which are in French), in case you don't want to get any Republican on you. But here's the thing: there is more testimony coming from other witnesses (Chuck Guité and Paul Coffin) which may be placed under another ban. If that occurs, the above weblog will continue to publish whatever banned testimony it can obtain, but I will again be forbidden to link to it or mention its name, and I will then re-edit this post to remove the link. Also, this Washington Post column and this New York Times story will be verboten, since they both link to the Once and Future Secret Site.

On the Canadian side, the following might be "helpful" places to look should another ban be imposed (and, again, I will be removing these URLs in that case):

http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/
http://angrygwn.blogspot.com/
http://debbyestratigacos.mu.nu/ (and see further links here)

(Note to Canadian Attorney General web-sniffing minions: if you're pulling this out of a Google cache during a subsequent ban, go sue Google. On April 8, 2005, this post is legal.)

There you go (see parts 1, 2, & 3 for further object lessons and laffs). "There's a publication ban in another country I plan to visit? I'd better disable my blogroll!"

I'd like to offer props to Kate, Bruce, and everyone else who linked to Captain's Quarters as soon as it was known that Ed was posting some interesting stuff. I think they made a statement. I don't know what they meant by it, but this is what it meant to me:
If the state wants a way to prevent me from linking to a foreign website publishing Canadian political information, then let's see them have the balls to propose a law saying so. I don't respond to hints.


Epilogue: there are 2 things undercutting my general argument here.

1) 20/20 hindsight - it's easy for me to talk about guarding little freedoms jealously, when I didn't post a thing about Gomery or the Brault Testimony during the "hazy period".

2) The "semi-" on Kirchhoff's "semi-facetious favour" above was deliberate. In Kate's email to the Babbler here, she notes that "Irwin Cotler's office doesn't make law". True - Parliament makes law, the police enforce it, independent judges interpret it and rule based on it. You could look in up in any textbook on Canadian government.

Except when it doesn't work that way. The independence and integrity of our institutions are regrettably in question, with the biggest question mark these days being in front of the RCMP. The Prime Minister's Office couldn't use the RCMP to exact political revenge, could they? I'm sure that's what Francois Beaudoin thought.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Meta-Gomery

If I thought the U.S. was objectively superior to Canada, I'd live there, so spare me any of those insults, but:

I really think they're onto something with this Fifth Amendment dealy.

Broadly speaking, we have a pretty mature legal system. Why are we forcing people to make self-incriminating statements in front of a public government inquiry, in advance of their criminal trials, under threat of incarceration? In fact, why should anyone be forced to make self-incriminating statements for any reason?

The echo chamber has been loud and crowded for the past few days. Why? Because Jean Brault was testifying at the Gomery inquiry, and instead of...
A) Mr. Brault being granted immunity for his truthful testimony,
B) Mr. Brault being offered a plea bargain in exchange for his truthful testimony,
or
C) Mr. Brault being permitted to keep his mouth shut so as not to incriminate himself,
...we had to attempt to sequester a nation of 30 million people. Practicalities aside, I find that crazy.

Practicalities back up front now, kudos to Shannon here for making the obvious explicit, which is that a publication ban is not some mushy concept, but a "law", or as Justice Gomery put it, "as that term is used in Section 486(4.9) of the Criminal Code", i.e.:
...no person shall publish in any document or broadcast in any way [...] any evidence taken [or] information given...

Read the whole section, please. (And note that Gomery did specify that the internet counts as a broadcast). You will note that there is very little language about being a good citizen, abiding by the spirit of the thing, fulsome accordance with the ban, etc..

Which! is a long way of saying that the only thing bloggers were/are prohibited from doing is reproducing (or paraphrasing) testimony; I figured this was abundantly clear when, on Sunday night, CTV News mentioned Captain's Quarters and showed his front page on the tee-vee.

Which! brings us to this: I hope Captain Ed or some other kind Yanqi continues to report on the testimony still under ban. If it's interesting, I might link to it, and comment cryptically and no doubt unhumourously, seeing as how it's not illegal to do so.

Any ethical problem you might have with that presumably arises from the same reason the ban was put in place--to avoid biasing the jury pool in Montreal. I suppose you could run a little disclaimer at the top:
"Warning: if you are a Montreal resident who is not under 18, a convicted criminal, a non-citizen, terminally ill, or otherwise unsuitable for jury duty, do not follow this link if you think it might compromise your ability to be unbiased."

But, I don't think I'd bother, as it should be noted again: there is no law against Montrealers informing themselves about Brault & friends however they please. If anyone was really serious about discouraging this, they might start by moving the open public inquiry out of the same city as the criminal trials will be held.

Addendum #1: I am not trying to belittle anyone like Andrew who, after hearing the Justice Ministry's comments designed to chill, reacted accordingly and avoided the subject entirely. I simply want to underline that the ban was enacted under a law composed of words with a (relatively) exact meaning. One may not be clear on how it might be prosecuted; this is no cause for shame. But this is not the same thing as believing it can be prosecuted indiscriminately, in accordance with vague notions of the spirit of the thing.

Addendum #2: Per all the above, I'm a little fuzzy on this logic (I'm just picking on Kate because she put it clearly).
That the testimony that directly implicates those who face fraud trials is remaining under ban is a provision that I think is acceptable, and I will do my utmost to respect it, and ask my commentors to do the same.

Kate wasn't breaking the law before, and her own comments would certainly indicate that she was quite sure that she wasn't ("I suspect that concerns about Canadian bloggers linking directly to Captains Quarters post reporting testimony of the Gomery Inquiry can probably be put to rest." - Apr.4). What exactly is different now?

Apparently it's this issue of respect; a personal ethic that Brault deserves a fair trial, and you don't feel it's right to provide assistance (in the form of a hyperlink) to any potential jurors who might (legally) seek to inform themselves about the still-embargoed testimony.

I guess I'd look at it from the other direction: that Kate, and those agreeing with her sentiment, are basically planning to abide by the dictates of a different, more restrictive publication ban law, which the government might enact were it not both unenforceable and unconstitutional.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Zogby make Aldini crazy...

I almost feel like I should apologize for bringing the issue up again, but this latest Schiavo poll (.pdf - ÞCavanaugh) appears to be a reminder to us all of why polls are limited in their usefulness.

The general headline that seems to have resulted from the poll was, "Americans not in favor of starving Terri Schiavo." Thanks to Ronald Bailey in the H&R comments, here's one Brandi Swindell, National Director of Generation Life, interpreting the poll:
"This new Zogby poll shows what Americans thought specifically about the slow and deliberate death of Terri Schiavo. With this new information, we see it is very probable that the news networks were wrong when they assigned a drop in the approval of President Bush to his involvement in Terri Schiavo's case. What is more plausible, is that Americans think less of both President Bush and Governor Bush for entering into a fight for Terri Schiavo's life, but then backing down to a tyrant 'state' judge. It's a political fact that America has little regard for losers, and even less for quitters."

o-kay. Anyway, here's the question that seems to have gotten the biggest buzz, with 7% should and 80% should not:
44. "If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water?"

So note #1 about this poll would have to be that at least 7% of respondents completely refused to listen to the actual questions, except to translate them to "Terri Schiavo: tube-out or tube-in". Either that, or they would choose to lock the kitchen door rather than let their wheelchair-bound relative in from the living room for dinner.

There's 11 questions in total on the linked .pdf file. It would appear that fully eight of them are either loony or completely uninstructive. Take these couple:
39. Do you agree or disagree that the representative branch of governments should intervene when the judicial branch appears to deny basic rights to the disabled? (Agree 42%, Disagree 48%, Not Sure 10%)
and
39.1. Do you agree or disagree that the representative branch of governments should intervene when the judicial branch appears to deny basic rights to minorities? (57/33/10)

I'm not exactly sure what to derive from this. I assume that lots of people answered Agree, because when it comes to "rights", they're in favour. No doubt there's plenty of Jay's lever-pullers as well (Something Bad happened? Someone should do Something!). But come on--appears? So, half the respondents in this poll are essentially saying that any time a judge makes an unpopular decision - or one they don't agree with - they'd be happy to see a politician step in.

Those results have got to be cocked-up by the fact that the poll is Schiavo-related; that would also explain why apparently 15% of respondents would take up for me if I was black, but not if I was blind. It also makes some sense of this question:
43. Do you agree or disagree that it is proper that the federal government intervene when disabled people are denied food and water by a state court judge's order?
(Agree 44%, Disagree 43%, Not Sure 13%)

If a state judge ordered the kitchen blockaded at the local rehab hospital, most (i.e. a lot more than 44%) people would agree with just about any sort of intervention, including armed--and that's exactly how this question would be understood by anyone who has never heard of Terri Schiavo.

But as noted above, the root problem with this poll is its premises.
38. When there is conflicting evidence on whether or not a patient would want to be on a feeding tube, should elected officials order that a feeding tube be removed, or should they order that it remain in place?

As I think I've noted before, I'm unwilling to stipulate that "elected officials" should enter into it at all. Here's some poll questions I'd like to see:

1. "If you became incapacitated and did not have a written directive, would you prefer that decisions regarding your treatment be made by your spouse, or by a majority vote of your state legislators? Before you answer, bear in the mind that this vote would likely be taken years before your incapacitation, and thus without any specific knowledge of your wishes, your circumstances, or your prognosis."

2. "If you went into a persistent vegetative state identical to that of Terri Schiavo, did not have a written directive, and your spouse stated that you would wish to have your feeding tube removed, should the law assume that your spouse is lying?"

Let's stipulate for a moment, as agreed by 46% of people in the Zogby poll, that "the law should provide exceptions to the right of a spouse to act as the guardian for his or her incapacitated spouse"; this was certainly a major issue regarding Michael Schiavo. The first of two broad justifications where we would make these exceptions pertains to the ongoing devotion of the healthy spouse. At one end of the scale would be total devotion (e.g. spouse remains celibate and visits for several hours daily), where the wishes expressed by the healthy spouse on behalf of the incapacitated spouse should be respected entirely. At the other end would be zero devotion (e.g. spouse has moved away, started another family, and never visits); this spouse's wishes should be ignored.

3. "If there is a dispute over whether you are sufficiently devoted to your incapacitated spouse, would you prefer that detailed descriptions of sufficient and insufficient devotion be voted into law, or would you prefer that a judge make a decision specific to your individual set of circumstances?"

The other justification advanced for removing rights of guardianship from Michael Schiavo and those like him pertains to the financial benefit accruing to the surviving spouse. We rightly don't approve of people killing for money. On the other hand, we probably ought to be careful about drawing too clear a connection. If I want to maximize the likelihood that my spouse's directions regarding my medical treatment are respected, should I skip taking out a life insurance policy?

4. "If you are incapacitated, and there is an allegation that your spouse wants you dead 'for the money', would you prefer that this allegation be assessed against a dollar figure voted into law, or would you prefer that a judge make a decision specific to your individual set of circumstances?"

I realize I'm a bit all over the place here, so let me wrap up with two points: hard cases make bad law, and these are issues which are far too important to be influenced by things as ridiculous as push-polling.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Zing, heh, etc.

Inkless Wells and Occam's Carbuncle appear to be engaging in an unwitting, sort of mots justes showdown, and the results are thrilling.

Alan:
The Liberal Party is an ancient and deep-rooted, albeit fruitless, vine, whose tendrils are anchored deep in the mortar of this country.

Paul:
One guy actually emailed me to complain that the Captain appears to have political motivation. A blogger? Politically motivated? Fetch my smellin' salts, Clementine!

Alan:
It’s becoming pretty clear that only a man with a bag of muck tied over his head could have missed what was going on in Quebec. Even if he was perfectly ignorant, I don't think plausible stupidity is a very desirable characteristic in a Prime Minister.

Paul:
The UK Tories launch their campaign with the slogan....wait for it...

"Are You Thinking What We're Thinking?"

Well, gee, I don't know. Are they thinking their adman must be on crack? Because if so, I'm thinking precisely what they're thinking!

You're up, Alan.

Indisputable

Paul Wells from the corner.....swish!!
When an opposition leader or, say, deputy leader says he wants ethics to be "the defining issue" of an election, he is saying:
(a) "trust me," which is a bad idea if the opposition leader or, say, deputy leader in question has broken any written commitments lately, hint hint;
(b) "we have no policies we're willing to run on."

These are your morning talking points. Proceed accordingly.

This is for those of you who are puzzled at how Canadians can continue to elect the Liberals in spite of mulitple scandals (or, put more hilariously, "even if Paul Martin were caught on camera humping roadkill Tom Green-fashion, it's unlikely the party's poll numbers would drop below 38% or so"):

Some Liberal voters simply don't care how their government throws around their power and money; I think it's fair to say this is objectively irrational. However, many, many more believe that this kind of corruption is intrinsic to government, not Liberals, and as such give the CPC zero benefit of the doubt that they might "clean things up". This belief may not be entirely correct, but it is entirely rational, no matter how much it bugs you.

Thanks for the topic, Wells.

Is Matlock still practicing?

I readily confess that my understanding of criminal law comes primarily from Jack McCoy, so I am requesting the input of a Canadian lawyer-type:

Isn't there double jeopardy in Canada? I ask because the headline of this CBC story is "Acquittal overturned for 2 cleared in TV piracy case".
MONTREAL - The Quebec Superior Court has reversed the acquittal of two men who imported U.S. cable signals with a grey-market satellite dish.

Justice Wilbrod Claude Decarie found Drummondville, Que., resident Jacques D'Argy and his brother-in-law Richard Thériault guilty of three counts each of appropriating foreign signals.

Judge Danielle Côté cleared the two men in June. She ruled that the federal law that criminalized their actions was unconstitutional because it violated the right to free expression.

I have always understood that acquittal of a criminal charge is permanent and non-reversible. The story does use both "acquittal" and "cleared", which should probably not be used interchangeably, but even if Judge Côté merely dismissed the charges against them, I would still expect that considering the grounds involved the word unconstitutional, the dismissal would be "with prejudice", or whatever the Canadian equivalent is. And, if an appeal court reverses this finding, it would only apply to future prosecutions for the same offense.

Anyone? If I am acquitted of murder, can an appeal court come back and find me guilty? And if so, under what presumably unusual circumstances?

Monday, April 04, 2005

Why senior columnists still need editors

With apologies to Steve Simmons, I had the displeasure Saturday of reading the stupidest "sports" column in recent memory. Prepare to be chilled, it's:
An ozone effect Bush can't ignore--Rich Republicans won't be impressed with PGA rainouts

I've disliked Cam Cole for as long as I can remember, due mostly to his many years worshipping Glen Sather at the Edmonton Journal. But never before have I read one of his columns and seriously wondered if it was ghostwritten by a particularly hacky commenter at Kos. Here's Cam Cole's Musings, p. FW12 of the Saturday National Post ($ubscription req'd for online version):
Items that may grow up to be columns, Vol. VII, Chapter 1:

It will take more than tsunamis, more than mudslides, more than wildfire-causing droughts, more than brown air, epidemic asthma and holes in the ozone layer. What it will really take, for corporate America to really start giving the Bush administration hell about the dire effects of global warming, is for a few more PGA Tour events to get drowned or shortened by rains of Biblical proportions.

Golf, man. Now that's something rich Republicans really care about.

OK, so we have the little Republican slur tossed in, fine. We also have multiple and undefended assertions, direct and implied: global warming exists; the effects are dire; the effects are the cause of any recent natural disaster you would care to name; humans have the ability to do something about it; and both the responsibility and the power to do something about it rests with the Bush administration.

Junk science and America-bashing is not unusual in Canadian newspapers, but that doesn't excuse it. However, I'm inclined to give it the "Whatever!" reaction, since the wording is such that it could plausibly be defended as 'opinion'. (Add to that the fact that his central argument--that the interruption of some golf tournaments could serve as impetus to turn America's environmental policies and economy upside down--is so ridiculous that maybe it should be dismissed entirely as a lame attempt at humour).

Alas, he continues:
With play having not yet started at the BellSouth Classic outside Atlanta, where 36 holes ought to have been played by now, the count is now eight of 14 golf tournaments already plagued by crappy weather in 2005, as the change in the world's weather patterns continues to accelerate.

Although this paragraph is not near as inflammatory at those preceding, it is much more inexcusable. It has four parts: Fact #1, Fact #2, Fact #3 (all verifiable in 30 seconds at Yahoo! Sports), and "as the change in the world's weather patterns continues to accelerate". You simply cannot toss off a statement like that as fact. My letter to the editor goes something like this:
I was intrigued by a sentence fragment in Cam Cole's Saturday column. What exactly did he mean by "the world's weather patterns"? Who measures and quantifies how they change? And is it true that they are not only changing, but that the change is accelerating? I eagerly await your reply.

Oh, and also, the column headline is "An ozone effect Bush can't ignore". Are the PGA rainouts this year in some way connected to the ozone layer? I am interested to learn more.

Signed,

Keep That Crap Out of the Sports Section!

Actually, since the column is sub-headed "Items that may grow up into columns", I guess I'm calling Cole's bluff. I invite him to write a column-length defense of his weather theories, and the underlying political issues and their solutions. Good luck with that Section A editor, Cam!

You'd have to have a heart of stone...

...not to laugh out loud at Warren Kinsella's deep concern that "this Brault guy" has a fair trial and gets what's coming to him.

And by the way, I don't have any beef with the metric system.

P.S. - I've had numerous hits today from Google searches for "Gomery Blobs". Apparently a whole lotta Canadians are discovering a brave new world today on their lunch hours. And you will note I have changed my tagline at the top of the page. Good day!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Still shining it up...

I understand that politics is about compromise. Really I do! And while I don't categorically agree, I am also sympathetic to the view, stated nicely by The Monger and alan, that any CPC platform cobbled together to WIN (provided it is at least nominally to the right of the Liberals) is acceptable so long as it achieves its purpose.

Furthermore, I'm relatively unconcerned about the "poisoned chalice"--that the CPC would not have a mandate to enact any real changes if they're elected on a middle-of-the-road platform. (Politicians saying one thing and doing another? You woke me up for that!?!). Governments are judged far more by their actions than whether said actions matched their platform. (Take George W. - love him or hate him, he's pretty widely perceived as principled and consistent. But those principles bear very little relation to his campaign rhetoric in 2000, and in some cases, are in direct contradiction to it).

So let's set aside principles entirely for the moment. It is my contention (still) that running on a mushy, tentative platform is bad electoral politics. Alan thinks it would be "transparently stupid" to propose "a laundry list of spending cuts". I disagree. Alan also sees it as unwise to explicitly propose the removal of various business subsidies. I disagree again.

Let's look at it from a different angle: if the CPC does it Alan's way, why should we expect the election results to be different than those from June 2004?
  • Perhaps there is a critical mass of Liberal voters who were afraid of the unknown then, but are now sufficiently familiar with the CPC and their "moderate" platform to give them their votes. I think this is unlikely; you can make your own judgement.
  • Perhaps their is a critical mass of Liberal voters who were unmoved by the scandals of the previous 11 years, but 9 months later have had enough. I think this is beyond unlikely; you can make your own judgement.
  • Perhaps there is a critical mass of Liberal voters who wanted to vote CPC, but couldn't go through with it after hearing the comments of Gallant, White, and Klein, among others, and if everyone will just "stay on message" this time, that won't happen. I think this is an insane fantasy; if you judge otherwise, you might as well stop reading this.
On the other hand, the CPC could propose non-trivial spending cuts, the abolition of business subsidies, an increase in individual liberties, and some serious tax cuts--and then defend the wisdom of these proposals vigorously. This could give a critical mass of Liberal voters a reason to vote for the CPC on substance. As a bonus, a debate over a sea change in government leaves a lot less time for the media and voters alike to devote to the musings of individual candidates on the Charter, abortion, and any other allegedly toxic issue you would care to name.
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.*

I will continue to polish Andrew Coyne's apple on this note, because that statement is historically, observably, and (for me) intuitively true.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

I drank beer and watched Ladder 49

Looks like Andrew Coyne spent his Friday night updating his "web-log". Both today's and Wednesday's columns are up, as well as an extended entry about the Conservative Policy Declaration (as amended by last month's convention).

He gives a report card to the CPC in eleven broad categories. The highlights? Spending policy gets an F:
Here is the party's commitment to spending discipline, in its entirety. "A Conservative government will strengthen enforcement and criminal code penalties for fraud involving misuse of tax dollars." So outright criminality they're against. And, doubtless, waste, fraud and duplication. But not a line on where or even if they would cut spending beyond that.

Tax policy gets a C, "possibly because tax cuts do not require any sacrifice from anyone":
...while the party has a long list of taxes it wants to cut [Woo-hoo! - Ed.], from personal income taxes to corporate taxes to capital gains, there's a singular absence of vision. There's no commitment to tax reform, ie moving toward a more neutral, less preference-riddled tax system -- and in fact the document is laced with proposals to add new "tax incentives" for just about everything under the sun. This is activism by the back door: rather than call it a spending program, you assuage your conservative conscience by delivering it through the tax system.

And this will further depress my fellow small government types - Subsidies gets an F:
While announcing a general hope to eliminate business subsidies "eventually," there isn't a single subsidy that the party opposes: not for high-tech, not for regional development, not for farmers, not even for Via Rail and the CBC. And while it promises to negotiate reductions in subsidies for industries that compete with other countries, the regional development agencies get a ringing endorsement, albeit with a promise to see that the pork is handed out in a less "politicized" way. Embarrassing is the only word.

I'm sure there's some other words, several of which are not even hyphenated with profanities.

(UPDATE: If you're coming here from The Monger, my rejoinder is here.)

Friday, April 01, 2005

Burying the lede dept.

McDonald's to pay rappers was a relatively prominent headline earlier this week, and worth a laugh at the whatifs. The details were a bit further down the page:
McDonald's won't say exactly how the program works and what it pays, citing competitive reasons.

But Maven Strategies, the company McDonald's hired to negotiate its hip-hop deals, says the program will be similar to one it ran for Seagram's Gin.

That program saw hip-hop artists paid $1 to $5 (U.S.) every time a branded song was played on any radio station in the United States. The fee depended on how prominently the brand was used in the song. [my emphasis]

Maybe I'm too ignorant about music economics. Doesn't an artist make maybe two bucks when they sell a CD? And now they're going to get paid that much every time any radio station in the USA plays their song? (There's over 11,000 of them).

Again, I have no unique insight into the music business, but let's say there is a small grain of truth to the notion that a professional musician has an "artistic integrity" angel on his right shoulder and a "commercial viability" devil on his left (my understanding is that commercially unsuccessful artists will readily stipulate this). The Ronald's Posse program (and those sure to follow) alters that angel/devil balance in a massive and radical way. Doesn't it? I'll do some math and come back later.

I also followed a Neale link about Catherine Zeta-Jones being pegged to star as Pam Ewing in a major Dallas reset. It also mentioned Brad Pitt as Bobby, and Burt Reynolds as JR. And I'm thinking, "what a bunch of lame, unimaginative casting choices"--until I hit this:
...and Melanie Griffith who might play J.R's drunkard wife Sue Ellen.

You may call it obvious - I'm going with "inspired"! Happy Friday.

UPDATE: OK, maybe the Ronald's Posse thing won't quite turn the economics of popular music upside down. Using this table, my best guess is that there's maybe 2000 radio stations that would play a new popular rap single (say 50 Cent). So to scale up to the order of magnitude of royalties represented by 2 million CDs sold, each station would have to play the song in question about a thousand times.

Although it seems like my local pop station plays the #1 song about that many times in a week, that impression is probably incorrect on closer statistical analysis.

That said, if a big artist can work "McFlurry" ("I eat McDonaldLand cookies, yo!" - OK, that's embarrassing enough to write, let alone record) into the lyrics of a song that catches on in a major way, they would certainly be rewarded with a non-trivial increase in compensation.

Tortured analogy dept.

All those involved in the production and marketing of tobacco products are "terrorists," declared Dr. John Seffrin, president of the American Cancer Society. [JPost reg req'd]

Sayeth Jacob Sullum:
I suppose cigarette makers and sellers would be just like terrorists, if terrorists asked their victims for permission before they placed their bombs, if the bombs took 40 years or so to go off, if only one out of three of them exploded at all, and if in the meantime the victims enjoyed having the bombs around so much that they were willing to pay for the privilege.

Otherwise, that's an excellent comparison, Doc.