Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

The 143-Year-Old Virgin0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Bad Press, Golden Tacks (Tuesday July 13, 2010 at 11:47 pm)

The omnibus budget recently passed by the Senate has attracted some criticism, and rightly so. Bundling everything under the sun into a single piece of legislation makes sense only if you view parliament as an administrative hurdle, rather than a lawmaking body. Parliamentary committees have enough difficulties dealing with relatively narrow inquiries. They can hardly be expected to properly explore the implications of a budget (already a sizable stack of paper) further laden with detritus.

But the Globe and Mail’s editorial has made a serious error:

Loading much of the government’s agenda into one omnibus bill and then demanding its passage on threat of an election is entirely inappropriate in a mature democracy. Parliament has an obligation to carefully scrutinize all legislation. Bills with unnecessarily diverse objectives thwart this duty.

From which one might conclude that, in a mature democracy, the government should refrain from doing things which make it hard for parliament to do its job.


In a mature parliamentary democracy, parliament controls the government. How mature is a democracy if parliament won’t stand up to the government under the threat of *gasp* an election?

Maturity, it seems, will still be some time in coming.

The Quickstep to Triviality0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Golden Tacks (Tuesday April 10, 2007 at 9:36 pm)

Justin Trudeau’s candidacy in the riding of Papineau is enough to catapult the tidings of his wife’s pregnancy into the national news section of the Globe and Mail, rather than the society page listing to which such information is so richly entitled.

Be on the lookout, then, for other upcoming news items:

  • Harper’s Immovable Hair a Toupee: Mother Unapologetic over Male Pattern Baldness Gene
  • Dion Prefers “Nouilles au Fromage” to “Mac ‘n Cheese”
  • Layton to Shave Moustache in Desperate Bid for Attention

Wait a minute. . .who’s to blame for this nonsense again?

For Trained Ears Only0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Strategic Planning, Gaia (Wednesday February 14, 2007 at 11:50 am)

There was a time, before the creation of nationwide media, when party leaders needed help. The difficulty of reaching people nationwide meant that local champions would carry the message in their regions, and local candidates in their ridings. The advent of mass, nationwide media has made the party leader directly accessible. By radio, television, daily newspapers, and internet, the leader can bring her message, at one stroke, to millions of homes.

This change affects the messengers — local campaigns are less significant when the everpresent central campaign reaches more voters more often than even the most committed campaigners. The change also affects the message — repeated exposure offers a chance to hammer home key points. While it might be tempting to use the many days of campaigning to dish up an endless series of promises, variety is more likely to confuse than convince; and with every message available nationwide, announcements are harder to tailor to individual regions or ridings. All of which helps to explain the growing significance of party leadership over the past century.

But centralization of this kind is a risky proposition. When responsibility is consolidated in a single man, there is no fallback or redundancy. His failure will be the party’s, and there is little or nothing the party can do to protect itself from the consequences. Consider the impact of Stockwell Day’s leadership on his party’s fortunes in the 2000 election and thereafter.

The crucial point to take from this for the moment, is that leaders must now stand alone, for better or for worse. Jason Cherniak has recently stood up for Liberal Leader Stephan Dion’s decision to make the environment his message. In doing so, though, he’s revealed a fundamental problem with Dion’s approach.

It’s not the preposterous assertion that Dion’s victory in the Liberal leadership was owed to his focus on the environment, rather than the arcane mechanics of leadership contests. It’s that he feels the need to explain what Dion means:

Dion’s platform [during the leadership contest] was to give the environment equal prominence with social justice and economic growth. That is where the idea of a “third pillar” comes from. This means that when you talk about spending on social programs and growing the economy, you also talk about environmental sustainability. This is not because the environment is taking prominence - it is because the environment is being treated equally.

Of course, to our untrained ears this sounds like Dion talks only about the environment. That is not really true. The truth is that he talks always about the environment. No social justice or economic initiative will ever pass into a Dion Liberal platform without consideration for its environmental impact. Again, Dion was elected because of his equal treatment of the environmental pillar, not in spite of it.

Super! But, if true, then why isn’t Dion saying it? Isn’t speaking of the environment a confusing way to speak of other things? It’s what you might call bad messaging.

Besides which, as effective as Cherniak’s gracious interpretation may be, it’s up to Dion to make the message. If the leader’s message can only be grasped with “trained ears”, it’s not good enough. Relying on a swarm of priestlike interpreters to get the “real” message across makes as much sense as sending out flyers written in code.

But that’s the problem with any group of initiates. The fact that they understand lets them explain the great secret to others; but it’s not worth many people’s time to seek out their help. When the leader speaks without mediation, there’s no opportunity for the priests to jump in. Or to put it another way. . .spin doctors are really helpful when you mess up. If you need them on your main message, you’re in real trouble.

But that’s the other problem with a circle of initiates: they tend to keep the faith, no matter what.

Starwatch: Worst Yet0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press (Saturday February 3, 2007 at 11:15 am)

It’s one thing to publish a story whose premise is contradicted by quoted sources within the article.

It’s quite another to publish a story and contradict yourself:

Faced with the most overwhelming proof yet that the world faces a severe threat from greenhouse gas emissions, the Conservative government says it won’t change course on climate change.

And. . .

Now, four years later, and under significant pressure at home and internationally to act on environmental issues, Harper is singing a different tune.

“We do need to work internationally, and we are working through the Kyoto process to try and get international action, to try and get action that will involve all the world’s major emitters,” he said yesterday. “These are efforts that are important and that we will continue to work on.”

And yet, they’re accredited journalists.

Great Arguments — The Tyrant’s Tirade0

The Frosty Wonk’s primary line of work is political analysis, not rhetoric. But the cut-and-thrust of modern debate demands some effort at unraveling its arguments.

Today’s guest, Rock Samson, has coached prizewinning fighters in twelve disciplines since his discharge from an undisclosed paramilitary group. This makes him uniquely qualified to discuss questions of conflict; and he has agreed to offer his valuable services as a regular commentator on debating technique and argumentation.

Today, we’ll be discussing this piece, in which Gary Kamiya, Salon editor, recycles his own work from 2005 on the conflict in Iraq.

Rock: Wonk, Kamiya’s angry. The war’s ragin’ and he’s mad as a bear in a trap that nobody’s bitchin’ about it.

Wonk: But Rock, people are complaining. He’s complaining, isn’t he? There are protests all the time.

Rock: Not enough, Wonk. A few thousand protesters can’t gum up the works the way Kamiya wants. He’s lookin’ for an all-out brawl with the big boys — streets choked with men and women until the President cracks.

Wonk: Why does he think that’s likely to happen?

Rock: It’s gotta. Kamiya knows that any sane person wants to fight against the war with everything it takes.

Wonk: So why don’t they?

Rock: They don’t know what’s good for ‘em. If they were payin’ attention and had all the facts, they’d all agree with him.

Wonk: Is that what he means when he writes that:

It is too late to stop the fatal endgame of Bush’s war. But at least we can honor those who have died in that war, Iraqis and Americans alike, by refusing to look away from their deaths.

Rock: Right on. He knows that if you’re payin’ attention to the deaths, you’re against the war.

Wonk: But isn’t it possible for people to come to different conclusions based on the same facts?

Rock: Not if they’re usin’ their brains. That’s what rational thinkin’s for! There’s only one answer to any question. If you plug the right facts in, you’ll get the right answer. There’s just no other way.

Wonk: But reason doesn’t work that way. It’s not the same thing as logic — reasonable people can differ over the same things.

Rock: Kamiya’s not buyin’ that. Reason only has one answer — his; and he’s goin’ to the wall for it.

Wonk: So why does he bother to assume that people are reasonable?

Rock: Flatters ‘em. Check out Aristotle some time, Wonk, he explains why that matters.

Wonk: And if he claimed that people were incapable of coming to the right conclusion, he’d effectively be pointing to a problem with democracy, wouldn’t he? If people aren’t capable of coming to the right notion, then there’s a strong justification for excluding them from most kinds of decision-making.

Rock: Hold on there, ’cause you’ll love the rest. If everybody’s reasonable, and reason always gives the same answer on the same facts, then he’s got dynamite proof that folks don’t know the facts — they disagree with him! That makes his claim righter.

Wonk: I don’t think you can use that word that way.

Rock: ‘Proof’? Sure you can.

Wonk: Alright. So Kamiya’s argument says that people would complain if they knew what was going on, and that we know they don’t know what’s going on because they aren’t complaining.

Rock: You got it.

Wonk: How does he know that he’s the one who’s right? Isn’t everyone going to come to the same conclusion and justify it the same way?

Rock: Sure they could, but he knows his argument against the war’s right. So now, he’s got to explain why other folks don’t agree.

Wonk: So this is really a frustrated outburst? A temper tantrum?

Rock: Right.

Wonk: But if he thinks he’s right, why is he bothered by the fact that others disagree?

Rock: It’s a serious issue, Wonk. He’s sure that if enough people agreed, they’d be able to end the war!

Wonk: So the fact that he wants this to happen by convincing the public demonstrates his commitment to democratic principles?

Rock: Probably.

Wonk: But the idea that there can be only one right answer for any reasonable person is profoundly undemocratic! It’s authoritarianism applied to thinking! It’s tyranny!

Rock: Not no more it ain’t, Wonk. Not no more it ain’t.

Irrelevant Truths, Damn Lies, and Statistics0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Gaia (Monday January 15, 2007 at 2:39 am)

As the trainwreck of journalism at the Star continues, the following crops up:

The Conservatives have avoided any linkage between tax policy and environmental reform.

Which explains the Conservatives’ marketing of their transit pass tax credit:

Now public transit helps you protect the environment and save more money.

Perhaps the Star was merely being meticulously pedantic. After all, it’s a tax credit the Conservatives are promoting, not a policy of issuing tax credits. If so, gentlemen, then bravo.

Of course, the government’s program is really far more tax credit than environmental protection; but that doesn’t justify the spread of falsehood or the substitution of prejudice for analysis.

So why not engage in just a bit?

The transitpass has already been mooted, vetted, and rejected hereabouts when it comes to helping the environment. But that’s not the only kind of government rebate “linked” to the environment. After all, the Energuide program for homes provided rebates of up to $7,000 to homeowners improving the efficiency of their homes (until axed by the Conservatives last year). And that program, in place since 1998, can’t be credited with making a real environmental impact if you consider that the environmental situation has only deteriorated since then.

Which goes to show only this: a system of tax incentives linked to environmental policies may be more popular than a tax incentive without such a connection; but that doesn’t mean that such incentives provide anything more than monetary benefits.

Persuading the voters that they can save money and help the environment is like shooting fish in a barrel (the fish, not you). What Canadians are still waiting on is a proposal to stop the practices that cause so much trouble in the first place. And where past incentives have failed miserably to accomplish that goal, it’s hard to put much faith in their future reincarnations.

In The Journalistic Dump0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press (Saturday January 13, 2007 at 3:43 pm)

Some might recall that day, not long ago, when the Toronto Star decided that controversies suggested by the opposition constituted news of controversy, rather than news of the opposition making partisan speeches.

Clearly not a tabloid to dispose of time-worn strategies, the editorial staff has allowed another such story to pass muster, this time letting partisan comments by John Godfrey, one-time Liberal leadership candidate and continuing MP for Don Valley West, constitute the substance of discontent among NDP supporters.

The story goes thus:

  • If the NDP goes to the polls now, they’re likely to lose seats.
  • If the NDP supports the Tories by working with them on environmental legislation, they prop up the Tory regime.
  • John Godfrey, a Liberal, says that NDP supporters are angry because they would rather see the Tories out of power than effective environmental legislation put in place.
  • At least one NDP supporter has acknowledged that they must both fight the Tories on other issues and ensure that effective environmental legislation is passed soon.
  • Therefore, Layton is doomed if he does, and doomed if he doesn’t.

And of course, anything party members say about their opponents must be true, right? Especially if it falls in line with their past partisan criticism of the same opponents. The fact that Layton’s position raises potential problems is certainly a worthy topic for political analysis; but if the only substantiation for the claim that his supporters are unhappy comes from his opponents, that part of the story is too suspect to be presented as the Star does:

Indeed, in some quarters, Layton is still not forgiven for his decision to force the election that put the Conservatives in power a year ago, a move that critics say has rolled back achievements on daycare, aboriginal issues, the cities’ agenda and the environment.

Which quarters? They won’t say. But the only “critic” cited is Mr. Godfrey.

Which means that the paper decided to write the piece this way, needed some quotes to support their claim that the controversy was serious, and therefore called a source certain to furnish said quotes. The fact that Liberal MPs have no credibility in commenting on opponents’ political fortunes is of no consequence — it’s not like the Star is looking for journalism. Or truth. Or even respectibility.

Before, one might merely have questioned the Star’s journalistic integrity. Now, even the premise that it is a neutral mouthpiece for politicians seems in question.

Familiar Nonsense0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk (Sunday December 3, 2006 at 10:11 pm)

The rewriting of history seldom follows the event so closely, but if there’s anything Canadians hold dear as a society, surely it must be the collective belief that Parliament does everything that matters. That is, of course, why the last Prime Minister tried to paint himself as a defender of rights. After all, do Canadians really trust the Courts to defend their rights?

Not if they have to read this kind of confusing nonsense from the media, courtesy of the Toronto Star:

Gay marriage became legal in Canada last year when Parliament passed Bill C-38 in response to a series of court rulings giving same-sex couples the right to marry.

So, if the Star has it right, same-sex couples could not legally marry until some point after they had already been given the right to marry. Is that right? Do the courts normally hand out legally unenforceable rights? Does the Star think that “Gay marriage” is something distinct from “same-sex” marriage?

Or is this a shameful attempt to make what was a halfhearted and after-the-fact “me too” by Parliamentarians out to have been an initiative?

Foundation of Sand?0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk, All Politics, Brass Tacks (Sunday November 12, 2006 at 10:46 pm)

The debate over the quality of voters’ choices rages on. Are they rational creatures? Can they be properly polled? Are they consistent?

At the risk of making a federal bill out of a personal choice, two recent stories may be of help towards answering these very questions.

In Toronto, 60% of those who support the construction of a garbage incinerator say they would support it in their neighbourhood. Assuming, as we must from The Star’s releases, that 91% support incineration, that comes to 54% of the community at large. Assuming, not too cynically, that a few percentage points worth of people might feel differently about an actual incinerator than the idea of an incinerator, we’re talking about roughly even numbers other either side. Given that angry voters may be likelier to vote, it hardly suggests, as The Star does, that the not-in-my-backyard phenomenon is anything less than formidable. Moreso when only around 40% of the population bothers to vote.

Lesson: Don’t assume voters are altruistic just yet.

And from Florida, news that a voter used a rare stamp worth several hundred thousand dollars to mail in his absentee ballot. Could this be a fabulous tribute to the money-wasting ploy used in Brewster’s Millions? Could it be a proud statement of how the voter values his democratic rights? Was it an attempt to boost the State of Florida’s coffers? Could it be just another example of a voter who fails to wonder at unusual things, like an old-fashioned stamp with an upside-down plane?

Lesson: Voters are either really unobservant or reckless spendthrifts.

And the debate rages on.

Letter to the Star0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press (Sunday November 5, 2006 at 11:56 pm)

Thin Black Line

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Reading Susan Delacourt’s Analysis piece in Sunday’s Toronto Star, an question occurs: is discussing the nature of journalism’s failure to inform the public intended as an excuse for the Star’s behaviour:

Publishing a sensationalist piece whose claim: “Trouble Between PM and GG?” is raised only by partisan sources and contradicted by reliable sources within the same article (Oct. 5/2006)?

Reporting that a candidate’s response to a journalist’s question constitutes his “musing” about the issue (”Harper Muses on Possibility of Majority Win”, Jan. 8/2006)?

Accepting partisan figures on spending without presenting easily-accessed independent statistics for verification (Daycare, Dec. 7/2005)?

Does Ms Delacourt’s review of Frank Rich’s analysis mean that the Star will cease to act as a neutral mouthpiece for politicians and do its readers the basic service of simultaneously and visibly presenting the information needed to assess their claims? Would that do a disservice to the public? Wouldn’t it elevate both the quality and reputation of the paper?

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Cold Hard Wonk
Fortress of Icitude

Everything New is Old Again0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check, Strategic Planning (Saturday October 7, 2006 at 10:14 pm)

For those still so dazzled by technology that they haven’t lost faith in the “new economy”, John Harris of the Washington Post has a very flashy trinket on offer. In a week that’s already seen one forgetful recreation of past failures, Harris is as confident as a huckster economist in 1999 that new technology means new rules and a new game.

A number of recent political scandals, Harris says, have originated in the world of “new media” before moving into newspapers and television — the more “traditional” outlets. He points to three recent stories: George Allen’s “macaca” remark, captured by a cameraman paid by his opponent, Jim Webb; Mark Foley’s flirtation with Congressional pages; and Bill Clinton’s interview cum debate.

Supposedly, these stories include an “arresting personal angle”. And since Bill Clinton’s interview was broadcast on Fox News, the “new media” of Harris’s vision lumps web reporting together with television. All that makes it “new”, it would seem, is that it was recently established; and that’s enough, according to Harris, to make it something novel:

Cumulatively, the stories highlight a new brand of politics in which nearly any revelation in the news becomes a weapon or shield in the daily partisan wars, and the aim of candidates and their operatives is not so much to win an argument as to brand opponents as fundamentally unfit.

Which is enough to give any reader with a memory longer than a goldfish pause. When was it, exactly, that winning arguments was the primary aim of political campaigning? Lincoln’s famous debates with Douglas lost him the Senatorial election but won him the Presidential election two years later. Which election was about winning the argument and which about losing?

But more importanty, what’s so new about attacking the competence of one’s opponents? Has Harris never heard of the daisy commercial from Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Presidential campaign suggesting Goldwater wasn’t the man to manage nuclear tensions? What about the 1993 Tory commercial hinting that Jean Chretien’s facial paralysis made him a poor choice to represent Canada abroad? What about the Ontario slogan in 1999: “Dalton McGuinty: He’s Just Not Up to the Job”? Perhaps he paid no attention to the allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, suggesting that his personal behaviour made him a bad choice to make legal judgements? He might be forgiven for being unaware of the fact that homosexuality was added to the charges against Edward II of England, or that accusations of personal immorality were common weapons in classical political life.

But no, focusing on personal attacks at the expense of policy arguments really is a new wave in politics. How easily the eye can be blinded by a bit of fiber optics and more of the same old, same old.

Anatomy of A Tabloid0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Vague Check (Thursday October 5, 2006 at 6:40 pm)

Let’s say you’re a journalist. You hear a rumour that the current Prime Minister rarely meets with the figurehead Governor-General. Partisan employees of two past PMs, both from the party opposed to the current Prime Minister, emphasise that their PMs met with the former Governor-General more often.

A historian, constitutional expert, and former MP from the same party as the two employees tells you that there’s nothing unusual or improper about these officials having more or fewer meetings. You confirm that the Prime Minister and Governor-General have formally met only once, but have met on other occasions, and spoken regularly. Neither the Prime Minister’s nor the Governor-General’s offices are willing to comment.

The question: Do you have a story?

You bet your online journalism degree you do! You just need to figure out what it is.

Since the only suggestion of a problem comes from highly biased sources and is contradicted by your own investigation, you can’t actually claim that there’s a problem. But then, who in their right mind would rely on your investigative work? You’re a tabloid reporter, not a respectable source of information! So that evidence can’t be as strong as your own findings suggest.

But how to express that? Of course! Make a shocking suggestion, add a question mark to show that you don’t necessarily claim it’s true, and wait for the papers to fly off the shelves!

To wit: Trouble Between PM and GG?

See Iran’s Totally Rad Rods0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, By other means. . ., Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday October 4, 2006 at 2:57 pm)

The volley from Ahmadinejad’s Iran has a familiar ring to it. They won’t let UN nuclear inspectors examine Iranian research facilities, but they will let tourists wander through their power plants. After all, no one inspects things as thoroughly as random tourists.

This move will doubtless bring full exposure to such burning problems as whether female scientists must wear burqas at work, whether power plants are wheelchair-accessible, and how much hot dogs cost at the Bushehr facility’s snack bar. And of course, debriefing exercises will probably shed much-needed light on the peaceful use of nuclear arms:

INTEL AGENT: “Were they using nuclear material for weapons development?”

FANNYPACK-PACKING TOURIST: “Well, we didn’t see any missiles or anything. They had some fellas in white coats, but that’s about it.”

STRAW HAT-WEARING TOURIST: “Oh, and they showed us the rods, honey. Remember those rods?”

FPT: “I was getting to that, Bernice. Yeah, there were some rods in this big thing behind glass.”

IA: “This is important, folks, I need to you try to remember carefully. Did the rods or anything around you look enriched?”

FPT: “Well, I wouldn’t say they looked enriched. They did ask us not to use tripods, though.”

SHWT: “They said you could use one, Frank. You were just too cheap to pay for the pass!”

CHILD TOURIST: “I got a hat!”

The world can rest easy — the cream of human investigators are on the case.

Iran’s President has decided that a coordinated PR campaign is a way to garner public support and undermine the authority of those opposing him. In the face of continuing domestic problems, he not only needs to focus on generating external threats (see Chavez, Hugo), but to get help from outside to do it.

The question remains: will his efforts be as effective in achieving popular respect as those of his obvious model?

Condition: Specified0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, A House Divided (Wednesday October 4, 2006 at 12:18 am)

Headline from the National Post:

Holes drilled in concrete to determine condition of failed Quebec overpass

Condition would be ‘failed’ — that’s what the headline says. But of course, that’s too obvious, isn’t it?

Scarlet, So What?0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press (Friday September 29, 2006 at 7:11 pm)

Since one-time Conservative leadership candidate Belinda Stronach crossed the floor to the Liberals, she’s endured a great deal of criticism. The Frosty Wonk hasn’t shied from that, where it was due, but not over one issue: her personal life.

There was a revolting series of stories over the end of her relationship with Tory Peter MacKay, during which he childishly played victim over the relationship; speculation over subsequent relationships bizarrely continued to command attention; and now, the possibility that she was having a relationship with former Maple Leaf brawler Tie Domi commands press attention as Domi goes through a divorce.

Whether they were seeing each other or not isn’t important, and neither is whether it contributed to the divorce. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it takes two to tango — if there was a relationship, both parties had to consent. And that’s the point — it was Domi’s marriage to maintain, not anyone else’s.

But wouldn’t it be wrong to have an affair with someone — to help them break their wedding vows? Ignoring Chaucer’s contribution to the subject, there is the messy fact that adultery isn’t a crime anymore.

So unless they think the scarlet letter is an L, why does the media build the story up to the point where Ms Stronach is forced to publically discuss her involvement in private relationships?

Now that’s where the shame should be allocated.

Shockingly Routine0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Monday September 25, 2006 at 2:28 pm)

Some saw Liberal leadership candidate Joe Volpe’s latest scandal as evidence of his campaign’s lack of ethics and his personal unsuitability for leadership. Those folks just haven’t been paying attention. These conclusions have been hard to question since early June.

What the emergence of details of “phoney” memberships attributed to Volpe in Quebec and the subsequent allegations of similar abuses by the Ignatieff campaign in Toronto prove is how meaningless the party’s earlier pledges to clamp down on the abuses which characterized previous races were.

If the system were working (or even capable of doing so), it wouldn’t take complaints by those improperly enrolled to draw the party’s attention. It’s simply implausible to suggest that the party can ensure payments come from the private individuals alleged without contacting them directly and personally through impartial party staff.

There are just two problems with such a scheme. There’s no reason why those contacted couldn’t lie, especially if they’re drawn from the large group of potential members who don’t care about the party but have a load of fun at the sponsored drinking events. Enrolling the dead might be more problematic, but a fake contact could always claim the missing member was “out of the country”. Without a serious tracking effort, these meagre efforts would stymie any attempt to validate memberships.

And those attempts are the other problem. Most impartial party officials, like unicorns, were drowned in the Biblical flood. If you don’t believe in the Bible, what makes you believe in impartial political officials? Most full-time operators get their posts by being connected with power brokers in the party. Many are elected in circumstances similar to the leadership process (and often connected with it). That’s just one reason to doubt Quebec riding officials’ claims that abuses were limited to a single candidate’s campaign.

Simply put, it’s no surprise that rules are being broken. The party has become experienced at thundering speech, signifying nothing. And that’s just what’s been done to deal with underlying problems. Even if those problems could be solved, the system encourages a “race to the bottom”, where the advantage to be gained by breaking the rules means that no serious candidate can risk not doing so.

All of which goes to show why another purported violation is about as meaningful as the word “impartial” to the leadership race. Polls of members and membership lists don’t much matter when the members really don’t have control. Masses of undead voters and disinterested, easily-bought instant members can do that. The fact that Ignatieff is tied for first place among “members” doesn’t mean he can’t still produce a share of elected delegates wildly disproportionate from that of his top competitor.

The party’s claim that it must protect members’ privacy rings hollow for similar reasons. The distribution of that information through the party is too broad to reasonably believe that any degree of privacy can be maintained. Volunteers and hired call centres alike will have access to name and contact information — and neither is scrutinized heavily by the party. Merely making leadership candidates responsible for leaks isn’t going to stop them from relying on either; and it’s hard to believe that, in such circumstances, they will realy be in a position to control abuses.

The real reason why the release of lists is such a serious violation is that it might compromise the party itself. What might the media discover, given the means to verify the party’s alleged memberships and the guts to unveil the abuses that the party’s purportedly democratic process allow to violate its essential quality?

But would the public care? Probably not. Unethical behaviour in politics is something they consider routine; and it is, despairingly, to them that it falls to demand more.

Bored over Lord0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Vague Check, A Picture of Loyalty (Tuesday September 19, 2006 at 11:53 pm)

Some said that Graham, compared to Lord,
Is such a man’s to be ignored.
Whilst others said that, Lord to Graham,
Is as exciting as a clam.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Last time their parties fit the fight
‘Twas Lord was smiling, come the night.
This time around Lord stood and cried
In face of Graham’s ruddy tide.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
From numbers only off by three.

They stood, on 8/13 of six,
At forty-five to forty-six.
With two weeks more time to decide,
‘Twas forty-six on every side.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
With so much time to make their plea.

Graham says that voters made a choice
To change their leaders’ look and voice
The papers say that very thing
To give the tale a catchy ring.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix saying and reality.

The men and ladies at the polls
Were set a task to play their roles.
With both sides’ rush to snag the same
Did either make a diff’rent claim?
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix tax cut A and tax cut B.

Graham roars to fill the scant divide
Which keeps him on one Commons side,
While raggish journals feed the flame
Lest voters think they toil in vain.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix journalist and reportee.

When one is in and ‘tother out,
The ousted half has cause to shout
Before they make their grand return
And hear the first half wail in turn.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix middle-haw and middle-gee.

But ev’ry gram of lordly flair
Can’t tell what’s yon from what’s out there.
Much less the reason that the kind
Of middling leaders we should mind.
Strange that such diff’rence should be
‘Twix Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

*With thanks and acknowledgement to John Byrom

A World in Need of a Word, Indeed0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Monday September 18, 2006 at 11:41 pm)

Encore une fois, chers lecteurs, it is I, Dr. Glaucon Equipoise, humble handmaid to hale and hearty rhetoric. It is rare that either you or I find ourselves at a loss for words. So, under the circumstances, I thought it only right to call on my good friend, the Hard-Rimed Wonk, to indulge us all.

I noticed, recently, that the Wonk had described a certain spiritual leader’s remarks as hypocritical. Being somewhat hyper-critical of poor word use, I sat down to rack my adjective-riddled mind for a better choice. A cursory glance at the meaning of hypocrisy should explain the origins of my conundrum:

The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behaviour does not conform; pretense.

Which is plainly inadequate to describe the real rhetorical sin in question:

Knowingly and falsely ascribing to another the fault which, in your act of ascription, you reveal yourself to have.

True, meine freunde, one engaged in such shameful dialogue may well be a hypocrite; but this is not necessarily true. After all, such a one has neither necessarily denied that the fault is a fault nor denied that they are faulty themselves.

While the focus of hypocrisy is self-conflicting behaviour, the focus here is on condemning others. What is more, in this scenario the claim is patently false and, consequentially, either fraudulent or foolish. A hypocrite need not say anything of others, nor is their professed standard necessarily false. It is that their behaviour is self-contradictory, which may arise from fraudulence or from forgetfulness; and the only party truly tainted is the hypocrite himself.

It is a thing of this sort that concerns me so:

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said recent remarks by the Pope on Islam were in line with what he called a “crusade” against Muslims.
The background to the controversy, he said, was the “wish of powers whose survival depends on creating crises”.
. . .
Ayatollah Khamenei said the remarks by Pope Benedict XVI last Tuesday were the “latest link” in “the chain of a conspiracy to set in train a crusade”.

The Pope’s remarks were ably referenced by the Wonk in the article I cited above. Since those remarks were in specific condemnation of all violence committed in the name of religion, claiming that they are part of a conspiracy to incite a religious war is a form of nonsense reasonable only to those who have not read the speech and those who wish to believe in spite of what they know. Augustine’s thought on the relationship between the two was different, and has so far proven the more durable approach.

The Ayatollah’s remarks were made by a religious leader who depends on the continued presence of external threats (the Shah, Iraq, and the Great Satan) to maintain an iron grip on political power and the ideology of his countrymen.

For all these reasons, hypocrisy does not suffice. Words, we cruelly see, fail us.

But we need not fail ourselves, and I turn to that for comfort. I suggest that the repeated appearance of this practice demands that it be named. For which, thanks to the Wonk, I have an avenue of hope.

I propose that we develop a word suitable for the purpose. “Projection”, a term used in psychology, is too neutral and closely bound up with personality to be truly useful for the purpose, but could serve as a useful base. So might hypocritical, if suitably “pimped”. A few preliminary thoughts:

Too cute at first, but is the adjectival “extrojerkic” not more satisfyingly technical?
It captures the sense of falsehood and projection, but does it trip lightly from the tongue?
Not without precedents, but should the word suggest that he was the progenitor?
Seldom can I play with Attic roots — Grazie, Wonk.
Why not?

Feel free, by way of the Wonk’s commentary facilities, to judge or add your own. I suspect that with your considerable skills, an answer lies close at hand. To comment, simply click the number to the right of this article’s title.

Until we meet again, O Readers of Wonkisms, bear in mind the words of Antonio Porchia:

What words say does not last. The words last. Because words are always the same, and what they say is never the same.*

*Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

Watch Out, Falling Pie!0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Vague Check, Golden Tacks (Wednesday September 13, 2006 at 5:49 pm)

It’s been a rough ride for Canadian education in the last little while.

A survey of Canadian researchers by the Council of Canadian Academies just found that 2 in 5 believe that Canada is falling behind the rest of the world in research. And anecdotal evidence supported by a minority opinion is about as close as you come to the truth these days. But the proof’s in the pudding — if Canadian science wasn’t fallling behind, more of those surveyed might be smart enough to see what was going on. In fact, the more vigorously Canadian scientists protest the suggestion, the more likely it is to be true, so watch for denials over the next few days.

And just how did Canada get into this mess? Probably because the country is falling behind in education. Despite the fact that 53% of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 34 have either a post-secondary degree or diploma (well above the OECD average of 31%), that percentage has grown by only 1% since 1995! Clearly, the country is in dire straits.

Which might explain why Canada is so keen on attracting university-educated immigrants. There’s clearly a dearth of qualified individuals in the upcoming generation. And of course, these facts point to only one conclusion: the Brain Drain is back!

It’s not an overreaction. Consider: Canada’s “laser physicists” are so useless for laser physics research that they’re being sent into space to do mechanical work. Which, it curiously turns out, they’re not very good at either:

Mission Control later reported that another bolt, similar to the one that went missing during Tuesday’s spacewalk, was lost Wednesday.

MacLean told Mission Control that he was removing a cover on the rotary joint when one of the four bolts he needed disappeared.

“I did not see it go,” MacLean said. “I’m looking to see if anything is floating.”

MacLean ran into another small problem a short time later when an extension on his pistol-grip power tool broke while he was trying to remove a restraint on the rotary joint.

“Son of a gun,” he muttered, then gathered the pieces in a trash bag so they wouldn’t float away and went to a toolbox to retrieve another.

But perhaps the fact that a nation of highly educated workers lags monkeys in elementary tool use is the only unsurprising point to be found in this recent news.

Wagging Fingers0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk (Saturday September 9, 2006 at 12:39 am)

This may prove to be the dumbest survey since King John asked a shepherd for an Archbishop’s opinions.

As of 1 am, EST, over three thousand people (constituting 39% of the total voting group) have bothered to click on a website button to indicate that they disapprove of the Canadian Prime Minister’s intention to “address the country”.

Is this some ill-conceived and mindless effort to make the Prime Minister look bad merely by disagreeing with whatever he says (we can’t let him win this poll, folks!), or is there some well-concealed reason why this proposal (ie.-saying something to the public) would be a bad thing? Are the self-selected opinionators really disapproving of his plan to speak? Is he going to use subliminal advertising to bend voters to his will? Is there just too much communication in this world of cellphones and crackberries? Is there a three-thousand member cult out there that believes that if Stephen Harper ever really breaks out of his cone of silence the world will come to an end?

Was the Globe and Mail’s editorial staff really so dull that they couldn’t come up with a significant, topical poll subject, or were their polls for the next month written up by summer interns in the waning seconds of their underpaid tenures?

Be sure to turn to the Globe for public opinion on all the important questions:

  • Should public officials post their photographs on their websites?
  • Do you agree that poll results should be revealed?
  • Are newspaper polls relevant in today’s world?

Forget that last one. There’s a difference between questions they don’t need answered and questions they don’t want answered.

Next Page »