Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Trusting the Company0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Brass Tacks (Saturday November 4, 2006 at 10:11 pm)

One of the most important points to remember about joining a group with diverse interests is that you’re not always going to get your way. In for a penny, in for a pound, is the old motto. But obviously that doesn’t apply to dollars and cents.

The angry and public resignation of Sean Ahern, a Conservative Riding Association President in Montreal, over the federal government’s decision to change the taxation of income trusts proves that. But you really have to feel for the man. After all:

  • If you can’t count on your party to put your personal interests above the common good, then what’s the party good for?
  • If you’re a financial planner concerned with stability, then surely your portfolio is heavily exposed to an investment based on a controversial tax loophole when many recent warnings have suggested that the loophole must be closed.

What really stands out, then, isn’t the loss of a few votes. It’s the kind of votes and party faithful that the Conservatives had attracted: short-sighted, greedy, and self-interested. Is the real loss that of a few thousand votes, sprinkled nationwide, or the revelation that such men as these were the bulwark of Conservative support?

Known by the company they keep, indeed.

The Persistence of Chivalry0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Golden Tacks (Wednesday November 1, 2006 at 10:43 pm)

It’s not so very long since the “progressive blogggers” alliance promoted a “Five Things Feminism Has Done For Me” theme, proving once more that nothing advances understanding (or elicits wisdom) like arbitrary numerical targets.

One point consistently failed to make the list, though:

A helping hand can hobble, too.

Why should it be there? Because overcoming socially rooted stigmas takes careful, self-conscious reflection. Sometimes, the best-intended plans to help oppose prejudice can also reinforce it.

Consider the many progressive bloggers decrying Foreign Affairs Minister Peter McKay for referring to MP Belinda Stronach as a “dog”.

It’s not the first time shameful personal insults have been tossed across the Commons floor. It’s not even the first time in recent memory. But the response raises some questions.

Stronach’s response has been admirable. She asked for an apology the following day, and has since clarified the request as follows:

I asked for an apology to the House. This is our place of work. This is the nation’s boardroom and I still feel that it’s inappropriate for a colleague or a minister to refer to another colleague as his dog.

Given the context (the two had a relationship awkwardly end) and highly personal nature of the remark, it would seem, well, exploitative to suggest that it represents a deep and abiding misogyny. It would have been equally specious to suggest that the “Libranos” poster created to lampoon the investigation into graft involving former Liberal Minister Alphonso Gagliano and other Liberal members represented an abiding belief that people with Italian heritage are all mobsters. Women aren’t foolish enough to believe that what one person says by way of insult represents everyone else in the party’s beliefs. Isn’t that insulting their intelligence?

Moreover, Stronach (repeatedly) demanded an apology. Is there a reason why a chorus of men should add their voices? Is it proof of their sensitivity? Does it conjure up an image of gallantry? Doesn’t that imply a woman unable to defend herself? Isn’t that itself an unacceptable prejudice?

Stronach understands the problem — that’s why she emphasised that her complaint was over the violation of Commons decorum. Have others done the same, or have they emphasized the harm done to (poor, downtrodden, defenseless) women in their rush to protect (poor, downtrodden, defenseless) women?

Chivalry can be one of the most resonant parts of romance; and it’s not because it portrays women as weak. It’s not about weakness and strength at all. Chivalry is about trust — that one person can trust another so completely as to rely on them for their preservation; and it goes both ways.

But it’s hard at times to know whether chivalry really helps its intended ward. The extra level of consideration needed to know when gallantry supports and when it subverts is what feminism asks; and those who stand for it deserve better than exploitation, prejudice, and insult.

Sour Grapes in the Okanagan0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Monday October 16, 2006 at 11:36 pm)

The Liberal leadership contest has already seen plenty of rule-breaking to avoid the rules. What’s on tap? How about rule-breaking in the name of enforcing the rules?

That’s what an appeal by three of the top four candidates has in mind. The revelation by Bob Rae’s camp that a former worker signed 200 membership forms himself, rather than having them signed by the members in question had Ignatieff’s and now Dion’s and Kennedy’s camps riled up. According to reports, this taints 78 of Rae’s delegates in British Columbia, either because they were elected in part by members whose forms were improperly filled out, or because their own forms were improperly filled out.

As Ignatieff’s Operations Director put it, those delegates:

are the uncurable poisoned fruit of fraudulent activity, which the Rae campaign should not be entitled to benefit from

Harsh words, whose uber-adjectival bent comes from frustration (read: Why won’t anyone take this more seriously! It’s really, very, terribly, badly unfair!) And frustration is justified — the party’s initial ruling was that the tainted delegates would be replaced by other, unelected Rae delegates.


Well, if you recall the reasoning that protected Ignatieff’s camp from investigation in the last round of scandal, there was a cutoff date for challenging the authenticity of members. If the problem is that those whose membership forms had forged signatures shouldn’t have voted, it’s too late, just as it was two weeks ago.

If the problem, on the other hand, is with the forms declaring those 78 persons’ standing as delegates, then a different rule, no 10.5, applies:

Effect of misrepresentation in Notice of Intention to Stand. If, at any time, including a time subsequent to the Meeting, an error is determined to have taken place as a result of a misrepresentation contained on a Notice of Intention to Stand, the National Returning Officer may:
(a) if satisfied that the misrepresentation was deliberate, disqualify the delegate candidate involved and declare elected the person who would become entitled to attend as a delegate in the place of the disqualified delegate candidate had the disqualified candidate failed to register before the close of registration at the Convention;

Which boils down to: disqualify the delegate in question and substitute the next person on the list. Since the voting method for delegates guarantees that the next choice is the next-highest-ranked person supporting the same leadership candidate, the solution applied by the party follows the rules of the contest quite strictly. Disqualified delegates should be replaced by delegates representing the same candidate, if any qualify (all potential delegates might be disqualified).

Which means that the decision on the appeal will be an interesting one. Will the party stick by the rules, as it has before, at the possible expense of legitimacy, or will it break the rules in order to enforce the unwritten rule: “don’t misrepresent”? Will the rules that were the Ignatieff campaign’s defense two weeks ago now protect his opponent from his attacks?

What’s sauce for the goose is, after all, sauce for the gander. And sour grapes, as you know, make an excellent sauce.

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.

Andre of Arabia0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, All Politics, Crossroads of Culture (Friday October 6, 2006 at 8:37 am)

The Maginot line of fortifications has achieved such cultural cachet that ever more perplexing references to it come with little explanation. One might therefore imagine that its lessons for tacticians and strategists are scarcely worth mentioning.

What, then, to make of Saudi Arabia’s plan to defend itself from potential spillover of the Iraqi conflict with a fence along the nations’ mutual border?

Has Saudi Intelligence forgotten that they also border Jordan? Will Syria and Jordan implement similar controls, or will it be their fate to play the low countries to the Saudi’s France? Will those who fail to learn from history be doomed to repeat it?

The Thin End of Irresponsibility0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Friday September 29, 2006 at 5:57 pm)

Citing two reasons, the Liberal Party of Canada declared its investigation into instant membership sales by Michael Ignatieff’s camapign at an end. The reasons:

  • They were unable to contact the individual making the allegations
  • The allegations were made after the deadline for challenges to memberships

Think about that for a moment, then remember what the allegations were:

  • Paying for memberships, which isn’t allowed
  • Enrolling dead members

As Liberal Party National Director Steve MacKinnon acknoweldged, the controversy stemmed from the submission of a list of 60 members from another member. Mr. MacKinnon claimed to be unaware at the time whether the submission was intended as a challenge. Which makes perfect sense. Surely, having seen the recent furor over the release of membership lists by the Rae and Dion campaigns, the submitter merely decided that the list would be safer in the Party’s hands than lying around his home. So you see, there is a perfectly plausible explanation for a member of the Party to submit a list of members’ names other than challenging those members’ valid registration. Surely that explains Mr. MacKinnon’s difficulty in explaining the situation.

Michael Ignatieff’s Director of Operations, Sachin Aggarwal, speculated that the fact that a registered member was dead stemmed from the member having purchased a five-year membership in 2004, dying in the interim, and not being removed from the list. Mr. Aggarwal saw no reason to explain why a member who signed up in 2004 would have been submitted on a list by the Ignatieff camp unless he had been identified by that camp as a supporter. Which would further question how a man purchasing a membership a year before Mr. Ignatieff decided to return to Canada (or Paul Martin’s resignation) could have identified himself as a pro-Ignatieff member?

But surely if the party was interested in investigating, it could simply have called the members impugned to confirm what had happened, just as it called Mr. Kunz.

But surely if the party had contacted Mr. Kunz it wouldn’t have made a difference, since it was, as they said, after the “challenge” date, and, like a statute of limitations, fraudulent rule-breaking makes no difference if you can wait the deadline out.

But surely if the challenge deadline had already passed, Mr. MacKinnon would have been able to tell the media that on Tuesday, rather than three days later.

But surely if the deadline was part of the rules (which everyone knew), someone waited until pretty close to the deadline to publicise the allegations about Volpe’s campaign.

But surely if the information was released at the last minute and others with information of similar abuses were holding back in the hopes that their own abuses wouldn’t be exposed, it would be too late for those attacked to respond.

The Chilly Wonk would call bullshit, if the target could really be determined. But that’s the beauty of the situation. It’s exactly ike Mr. Volpe’s refusal to pay the fine the Party seeks to assess for his campaign’s proven improper member registrations. Part of his case will unquestionably be the assessing committee’s concession that neither Volpe himself nor his senior officials were aware of the problem.

If you don’t know who to blame, it can be hard to properly deal with wrongdoing. It stands to reason then, that without anyone in particular to blame, the Party can’t be held responsible for the inability to inculcate respect for the hard rules (let alone ethics) among its membership (let alone leadership). The wider you spread it, it seems, the greater the benefits of irresponsibility.

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

Power or Faith0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Friday September 15, 2006 at 11:20 pm)

Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture this week on reason and faith had a barb in its tail. To introduce the problem of violence committed in the name of faith, he quoted a 14th century document, translated by Adel Theodore Khoury, a serious scholar of Christian/Muslim relations. In the document, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus contended that Islam added nothing positive to the faiths which had inspired it.

Naturally, this kicked off protests and the kind of spontaneous demonstrations which show precisely how poorly the general population of the Muslim world appreciates the Pope’s influence (and how much attention gets paid to his many speaking engagements) and how eager their leaders are to maintain unity through external threats:

“This is a new crusade against the Arab Islamic world. It comes in different forms, in cartoons or lectures … they hate our religion,” Ismail Radwan, a local Hamas official, told the rally.

Which shows precisely how committed Mr. Radwan is to bringing the Pope’s words to his people. After all, what speech condemning violence in the name of religion isn’t a call for a crusade?

But it’s precisely this utterly unselfconscious approach to one’s own words that lies at the heart of the just condemnation of what the Pope said:

“One would expect a religious leader such as the pope to act and speak with responsibility and repudiate the Byzantine emperor’s views in the interests of truth and harmonious relations between the followers of Islam and Catholicism,” said Muhammad Abdul Bari, the [British Muslim Council’s] secretary-general.

One can’t naively believe that the uncritical use of such remarks, however incidental, is acceptable — the more so because they were incidental. The use of that particular quotation was not crucial to the point, however much it was the quotation that set the Pope to thinking on the subject. Had he merely mentioned the document and left off there, it seems unlikely that any of the few hundred attending the lecture at the University of Regensburg would have bothered to look up the reference and consider the possibility of its being offensive. After all, it was likely the media coverage pointing out the potential problems with the speech which drew attention to it in the first place (no complaints were voiced until a full two days had passed, one day after the first stories appeared). It seems unlikely that Hamas officials and Iraqi Imams make a routine practice of scrutinizing encyclicals.

But Mr. Radwan’s response is hardly better. If he believes it, he hasn’t read the speech; and that bodes ill. If he doesn’t believe it, there’s a serious problem of unselfconscious misrepresentation — a disappointing sign of deceptive techniques for exploitation following so closely on promising undertakings in the genuine interest of the Palestinian people.

Still, the prize for self-interested disregard for inherent inconsistency must go to Iraqi Sheik Abdul-Kareem al-Ghazi:

“The pope and Vatican proved to be Zionists and that they are far from Christianity, which does not differ from Islam. Both religions call for forgiveness, love and brotherhood.”

And Sheik al-Ghazi proved to be closer to the pope he envisions than to love and brotherhood. After all, bigotry is bigotry, and “Zionist” as an epithet can only produce this kind of hypocrisy from those who value their own power over forgiveness, peace, and faith in the divine.

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.

Opportunistic Words1

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Strategic Planning (Wednesday August 30, 2006 at 8:45 am)

Potential Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff was finally asked the hard question: are you only in this for the chance to be Prime Minister? Of course, that’s translated from the original mediaspeak: will you run for the Liberals again if you lose the leadership race?

It’s an interesting question because it would seem to ignore both Mr. Ignatieff’s prior involvement with the party (as a volunteer with the Pearson and Trudeau campaigns in the 60’s) and the fact that he probably wasn’t expecting this situation when he was drafted by Paul Martin’s government to displace a perfectly suitable MP. He couldn’t have accepted Etobicoke-Lakeshore believing that he’d be running for the leadership today, could he?

Still, it’s his answer that’s really striking:

I’d like to serve my constituents well, but you’re asking me an anticipatory hypothetical about the situation that prevails on the 3rd or 4th of December.

Because stringing long words together to duck a question makes you look like a courageous intellectual. Funny, the Frosty Wonk thought he didn’t like to equivocate.

But he’s right. How dare the media (much less the party he wants to run) question his committment! After all, there was nothing opportunistic in his moving back to Canada only two months before being parachuted into a riding by a sitting Prime Minister. And besides which, as Ignatieff himself points out, there are ways other than sitting as an MP to help the party:

When I go into rooms people are glad I’m in the room because they’ve read stuff I wrote which contributed to their sense of what it is to be a Liberal and what Liberal philosophy is. There are all kinds of ways I can serve the party.

It seems the man just can’t express himself without being inspiring. Certainly, the term “Liberal philosophy” doesn’t figure prominently in reviews of his work (at least not compared to words like “dense” and “legalistic”). But it’s good to know that his mere presence can raise the spirits of the minds he helps to create. Now, can he lead them effectively?

Is that drivel? It’s hard to tell in this context.

But translated from its dense, legalistic form, Mr. Ignatieff’s answer seems clear enough: “If I don’t get elected leader, I’ll go back to writing books in a tenured academic post.”

If so, why wait?

Foreign Dependencies1

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Friday August 11, 2006 at 2:05 pm)

It’s not every day that Canadian politicians fall over themselves to speak of bi- (or even multi-) partisanship. That’s why it’s nice to hear Liberal MP Wajid Khan explain his new post advising his political rivals in the expected terms:

Khan has said he sees no problem with working for the prime minister because the crisis in the Middle East transcends political affiliations.

But there’s just one problem:

“It is not Liberal or Conservative, it is a Canadian issue,” he said. “It is, going forward, what Canada can do? How can we go forward, medium and long term? That is what we are going for.”

No, it isn’t. Canada isn’t any country’s father, mother, or legal guardian; and the idea that it’s somehow the responsibility of Canada when Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and Iran can’t play nicely is a load just wide enough to stay out of the UN’s doors. If there are people who left those countries to live in Canada who think that they have a right to fight old enemies by proxy in or through the country, it’s about time they were disabused of the notion.

It’s not a Canadian issue that these countries are incapable of negotiating peacefully rather than striking, retreating, and playing the victim like a child at his worse. And much as Canada needs more children, it prefers the kind that eventually grow up. The United Nations isn’t supposed to be a club where little kids ask bigger kids to protect them from one another — it’s supposed to be a meeting of equals.

You can’t make peace for other people any more than you can grow up for them; and Canada must be careful not to further succour the hurt dependency theory of third world countries. Victimizing people isn’t productive, and at some point, that crying kid has to learn to suck it up, play properly, and take responsibility for his role in the matter.

Now wouldn’t it be nice if Canadian politicians took a non-partisan stand on things that actually were Canadian issues?

That and Five Cups of Coffee. . .0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check, Strategic Planning (Sunday July 30, 2006 at 11:46 am)

Students often rank high on lists of the victimised. After all, following twelve or thirteen years of education at public expense, they’re actually required to subsidise the cost of further educational opportunities, taking on debt as though they were investing in their own futures. Weep, weep, those of you whose eyes still run dry, at the iniquity.

But what’s more, there just isn’t enough youth involvement in politics! The fact that “paper” youth clubs were a perfect basis for “instant Liberals” and domination of the party’s last Leadership contest means that the youth were used (victims again!), not embraced! Besides which, they’ve now cleaned up their act (which claim oddly enough involves both the hidden agenda gambit (criticism of youth politics means that you’re against youth politics) and admitting that there was a problem).

But surely low levels of youth participation must have something to do with an organised programme of victimization, rather than the failure of parties (now the keystone of the political process) to engage with them in any substantive way. Mustn’t it?

Why blame your inability to say anything of significance to a large pool of voters when you can blame matters on procedural obstacles like money? Students are poor, right? After all, with the price of feeding a daily coffee addiction climbing, there’s not much space left in that tight, tight student budget for frivolities like political activism.

Which explains why some people have suggested that the price of a youth club membership (generally, $5-10 CAD) in the Liberal Party was high enough to drive off potential members. Belinda Stronach, currently crusading for a cheaper party, takes this assertion seriously, arguing that her plan for $1 memberships is just the solution the party needs — why, everyone will join at that price!

But an economist, or indeed anyone concerned with exploring peoples’ decisions, might instead take note of this fact to point out the real problem. If this analysis is correct, it means that people would prefer five cups of coffee to membership in the Liberal Party. And if that membership isn’t worth ten dollars per year of deferred instant (or brewed) gratification, it just might be that the problem isn’t the price — it’s the product.

But let’s go with that other thing. The money. Gotta be. Poor, victimised students. . .

Fact is Stranger to Fiction0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, The Elephant, Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday July 26, 2006 at 8:01 am)

Those who think President Bush doesn’t devote enough time to studying the problems he faces are wrong. He doesn’t devote enough time to watching TV.

A few more hours might give him an even chance of catching reruns of “Yes, (Prime) Minister”, whose politically-minded, policy-light title character might give him pause. Or at least might make him reconsider the likes of the following remark:

“Obviously, the violence in Baghdad is still terrible, and therefore there needs to be more troops,” Mr. Bush said at the news conference, held in the East Room after a morning meeting with Mr. Maliki in the Oval Office. “Our military commanders tell me that this deployment will better reflect the current conditions on the ground in Iraq.”

And as much as facile comparisons to Vietnam should be treated with the scornful physical comedy they so richly deserve, the offering of no solution but “more troops” was one contributing factor to the removal of General Westmoreland from command of that operation. Facile solutions are just as deserving.

But physical comedy is no substitute for a word fitly spoken; and those are Sir Humphrey’s sole legacy. Just imagine how much more sound the President’s decision might have been, had he arrived before his generals bearing in mind the Cabinet Secretary’s eminently diplomatic rejoinder:

Her Majesty’s government is not convinced that having more men with guns in London would make it a safer place.

Hiding in Cowardice0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Golden Tacks (Wednesday July 19, 2006 at 1:03 pm)

While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, art is more than just one man’s opinion. After all, it takes two to tango. But ask two grown people anything and you’re likely as not to have differing opinions on the matter. Moreso if you wait a few decades.

That’s why you won’t see any golliwogs in shop windows these days; but sometimes time isn’t the source of controversy.

Consider, for example, this mural. Entitled “Dangers of the Mail”, it shows native americans scalping and killing whites, some male, others naked and female.

The debate over whether the work has any artistic merit is one thing. The argument over whether such pieces should be preserved for historical reasons is another. And then there’s this:

“It portrays Indians as cowardly. It’s an insult,” said Mooney.

It may well be an insult, but cowardly? Really? Those figures riding bucking horses, powerfully dominating victims, and confidently exulting in bloodshed seem cowardly?

What’s racist about the piece is clear: it depicts native americans delighting in acts of violence designed to threaten and destroy order (delivery of the mail). Depicting the female victims as naked adds a dimension of innocence and possible sexual tension, brutalising and severing the violence from any valid purpose.

What’s historically accurate is also clear: native americans engaged in scalping, whether of their own initiative or otherwise; and there were some attacks on those moving across the West, but these were few and primarily responses to desecrations of sacred lands and unwanted and hostile incursions into native regions.

So the real problem is that it portrays certain historical practices, cultural and real responses to invasion and hostile acts, as unprovoked and brutal acts of violence and domination.

What’s missing, then, is the context of the history, which would serve to explain both of these things and disconnect the accurate parts of the depiction from the racist parts. That would allow what is most badly needed: an honest and self-conscious appreciation of that part of American culture which sought to justify the treatment of native americans by depicting them as barbaric aggressors.

But again, cowardly? There are certainly plenty of native american stereotypes out there, but those uses of the native as sports mascot or food spokeswoman point to the same characterization as the native’s TV incarnations: strong, plain-spoken, and spiritually connected with nature. Doesn’t anyone remember this environmental message or this lovingly-rendered European cast of aboriginal tradition?

Whether these attributes are desirable, dangerous, or stupid stereotypes may be questionable; but cowardice isn’t one of them. Should we care?

Yes. Allegations of offense need to be properly explained, not to set bars to reparation, but to make it effective. The nature of an offense clarifies where it comes from and why, lets us understand the needs that bring it into existence and attack the problem at its root. Otherwise, we allow ridiculous allegations to masquerade as genuine concerns and don’t know quite how to counteract them (this one’s easy folks, the man’s a well-known professional fiddler and player of jigs — it’s an ad hominem suggesting that he’s a frivolous musician rather than a serious leader, so if anyone’s insulted, it should be musicians of every culture).

So suggesting that a presentation of cowardice is a problem is a double insult: it’s an insult to the Muses for mistaking the confident, powerful figures that fill the mural for cowards; and it’s an insult to their father, Apollo, for shedding darkness on an inquiry that should make us better people.

Dictionary in Action - Demagogue0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Friday July 14, 2006 at 7:39 am)

In the first of what may prove to be an ongoing series, the Frosty Wonk invites Doctor Glaucon Equipoise, QED, to illustrate the meaning of a political term using current events. Dr. Equipoise?

Grazie, Wonk. Today’s term, chers lecteurs, is demagogue:

a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument

We are fortunate to have, in Senor Lopez Obrador, who is fiercely contesting a narrow loss in Mexico’s Presidential election, an superb example of this phenomenon in action. From a recent interview:

Mr. López-Dóriga: Where is this going to end, Andrés Manuel? How far are you going to take it?

Mr. López Obrador: To the people.

Mr. López-Dóriga: How far is that?

Mr. López Obrador: As far as the people want and decide.

Mr. López-Dóriga: But you are driving this process.

Mr. López Obrador: Yes, but we are going to drive it democratically.

Thank you, Senor Obrador. So very clear.

That, meine freunde, is all I need speak (and hope to know) of demagoguery. Until we meet again, remember what Thucydides said of Pericles’s wrestling prowess:

When I throw him and get the fall, he insists that there was no fall, and by his powers of persuasion makes the spectators, in spite of their own eyes, believe him.

The Kindness of Strangers0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, All Politics, Full-Timers (Thursday July 13, 2006 at 6:37 pm)

We all depend on others. No more foolish phrase was ever uttered than “self-made man”. Others are responsible for nearly everything around us; and even if we don’t like to be reminded of it often, there are times when we dearly ache for their help. The guilt of that dependency can be crushing, no matter how slight, because it carries with it a force of obligation, often from one least able to oblige. This is why, in one man’s opinion, it is better for the giver to know the recipient than the other way around. Any way you choose to put it, reminding people of their dependency can shame them.

Many things can be debated about the Guardian Angels, an anti-crime citizen’s group that’s become more of a movement since its origins in 1970’s New York; but what can’t be disputed is that they give. They give their time, their energy, and their efforts; and apparently, some people believe in what they’re giving.

This week, seniors at the William Denison Seniors’ Residence, a complex managed by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, had offered to host a graduation ceremony for the first Guardian Angels group to come to their neighbourhood. It was an initiative of the residence’s security committee, which hoped that it might improve local safety. Perhaps it would, perhaps it wouldn’t. The Angels will definitely be patrolling the area; but the ceremony was stopped. Representatives of the TCHC, getting wind of the event, which had been reserved as a “security meeting”, refused to allow it to proceed. The patrol was asked to wait by security guards, then asked to leave by police, when the latter arrived.

In explanation of which, the TCHC’s chief operating officer offered the following:

“It was not transparent what the space was going to be used for,” Nakamura said, adding it violates the use of space policy. “TCHC does not sanction the Guardian Angels.”

It was a bit non-transparent, it’s true. And seniors, you know, are just like children. If you don’t keep firm boundaries, anything could happen. Why, if you don’t punish them today for misdescribing a ceremony on a booking form, tomorrow they’ll be offering you a rock music that’s really rock’n'roll. The use of space policy, incidentally, suffers from a similar lack of transparency. Although it’s frequently referenced and its name turns up many times in searches of the TCHC website, it just doesn’t seem to be there.

But at the last, Ms Nakamura comes to the point: the TCHC won’t sanction the Guardian Angels. Neither will the City — the mayor has refused to meet with them. And that might be politically astute. After all, if they’ll be there anyway, he can step back from opposing them and still please their detractors with a public snub. But who pays the shameful price of a public snubbing? Why should the TCHC believe that allowing its tenants to endorse the group would be seen as an endorsement of its own? Maybe if it tends not to think of them as independent people.

Which is the real problem laid bare. It’s in the nature of the response — the way it’s been expressed, that’s most distressing. It’s condescending, paternalistic, and demeaning to rely on the technicality of room-booking forms when the obvious reason for shutting down the meeting is the City’s distaste for its tenants’ activity, expressed by proxy. Sending the police to do what a manager could have done is equally ham-fisted. The response robbed the tenants who so eagerly acted together as a community of any illusion of control over their own lives and home; and reminded them that they live at someone else’s sufferance.

That to make a petty and political statement. We should hope that the TCHC’s board reconsiders this style of management at their next meeting and affirms that people’s homes and pride aren’t to be used as extensions of municipal policy.

Just Add The Rock!0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Monday July 3, 2006 at 3:16 pm)

Instant memberships are always a hot topic, and there’s no Liberal leadership candidate hotter than the indefatigable Joe Volpe (under the collar, at least).

Which is why it’s no surprise that a recent decision in Newfoundland to allow 50,000 outdated members to reenlist nearly three months after the deadline to qualify to vote in the leadership race has him riled up. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Liberal Party President Mike Eizenga boasted to the press that new rules would make it hard for candidates to sign up phoney members en masse.

Apparently, it was looking too hard.

What’s that, you say? Those 50,000 were all legitimate, active members of the Liberal Party? Really?

Population of Newfoundland: 512,000 in 2001 (let’s say 550,000 when those memberships expired). That means that one in eleven Newfoundlanders (at least) was not only a member of a political party but a member of the Liberal Party.

Feasible? Well, evidence suggests that only 1% of Canadians are members of political parties. On top of which, unofficial numbers taken at the time of the Martin leadership drive suggested that the total membesrhips across Canada was nearly 450,000, with 120,000 or so of that in Ontario and 10,000 in Manitoba.

Bearing in mind that the new leadership campaign is irrelevant to the numbers (since the memberships in question weren’t issued in it), something doesn’t quite add up here. Is it likely that Ontario, a province with fifteen times as many ridings, a much greater lead in the number of colleges and universities, and more than twenty times the population would have only two-and-a-half times as many memberships sold? Is it likely that Manitoba, with twice the population, would have only one-fifth the number of members? The election results in 2004 gave the Liberals roughly the same support in Ontario and Newfoundland, and the more recent one gave them identically the same level of support in Manitoba and Newfoundland. It seems unlikely that the level of active party involvement would differ that much from support levels.

Something’s fishy; and one thing’s true about Newfoundlanders: them boys know fish.

So what’s going on? Are the dead (including dogs) rising — a la Lucio Fulci — to vote Liberal in Newfoundland? Is this just another sad example of a democratic deficit in the Liberal Party of Canada?

Does anyone want to act to preserve the party’s credibility, or is this blatant reminder of instant memberships and haughty indifference to rules going to be another dashing step on the rocky road to nowhere?

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Race0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check (Saturday June 3, 2006 at 8:21 pm)

It’s not that there aren’t any rules for the campaign to replace Paul Martin as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. There are. It’s just that, by themselves, rules aren’t enough.

Discipline and rules aren’t always about the particular taboo expressed. “Don’t bother me when I’m on the phone” sure sounds like a rule, but it’s really something more along the lines of “Don’t bother me when I’m on the phone unless there’s something more important than the phone call I’m on which I must know about because it’s of sufficient urgency that waiting would be cause personal difficulty for me or significantly enough personal difficulty for you that I’m moved to privilege it above my own business.” Which, as is clear, isn’t the rule it looks like on the surface.

The real rule is: “Don’t privilege your conerns above others’ unless you’re sure that they would, too.” Which is a rule of a kind, but has something else in it: an appreciation of what is and is not acceptable to others.

Just how we get to that appreciation is the hard part. It’s rarely articulated precisely and often changes from time to time. It is, more or less, unexpressable as a rule, which is why it isn’t. It’s expressed as a lengthy series of superficial rules and lessons which, in effect, amount to the difference between social awkwardness and acceptance.

And this is true of more than rules for children. Consider the following rules:

151. (1) An elector shall, after receiving a ballot,
(a) proceed directly to the voting compartment;
(c) fold the ballot as instructed by the deputy returning officer; and
(d) return the ballot to the deputy returning officer.
Return of ballot
(2) The deputy returning officer shall, on receiving the ballot from the elector,
(a) without unfolding the ballot, verify that it is the same one that was handed to the elector by examining its serial number and the initials on it;
(b) remove and destroy the counterfoil in full view of the elector and all other persons present; and
(c) return the ballot to the elector to deposit in the ballot box or, at the elector’s request, deposit it in the ballot box.
(2) Except as provided by this Act, no elector shall
(a) on entering the polling station and before receiving a ballot, openly declare for whom the elector intends to vote;
(b) show his or her ballot, when marked, so as to allow the name of the candidate for whom the elector has voted to be known; or
(c) before leaving the polling station, openly declare for whom the elector has voted.
(3) No deputy returning officer shall
(b) place on any ballot any writing, number or mark, with intent that the elector to whom the ballot is to be, or has been, given may be identified.

All of which amount, at first blush, to the following rule:

  • No one can know how a given person voted.

Which is really nothing more than the following rule:

  • No one can confirm another’s vote so as to be able to contract for it.

Which really means:

  • No one can offer some payment in exchange for someone’s vote.

Which helps to explain some people’s reaction to concrete policy proposals like tax rebates and childcare spaces. It’s not that these things are against the rules. They’re just against that unspoken principle to which the rules point. It’s what, in a less precise way, is often referred to as the “spirit” of the law (no, not that). And the spirit is becoming more wraithlike, it seems.

This week saw some exciting ghostbusting activity, centred on the campaign of erstwhile Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Joe Volpe. It seems three precocious youngsters each decided to make the maximum donation allowed by law, $5,400, to his leadership campaign.

It just so happened that the children in question were those of a senior executive who also donated the maximum amount. It just so happened that the executive works for a company many of whose senior executives also each donated the maximum amount. It also just so happened that many members of those senior executives’ immediate families also each donated the maximum amount.

It’s almost as if someone wanted to get around the individual donation limits by having a much larger donation made through a group of closely-related people.

Well, if you think so: prove it.

It’s never clear whether so-called “white collar” offences are harder to prove because they’re rarely committed or because the corpus delicti isn’t material (no, not material, material). Of course, the question of whether that is what’s happened here isn’t material (other way ’round this time), though it is what NDP MP Pat Martin has asked the authorities to investigate.

The problem is the response. While Volpe’s team was technically correct to say that they hadn’t broken any rules by accepting those donations, they clearly did something which at least looks like breaking the real rule behind the written rules: that no one be able to disproportionately influence a political candidate. While independent donations aren’t really a major concern, that latter point is, and as possible as it may be that three siblings under fifteen independently made maximal donations to the same candidate their parents were supporting, it’s just not that likely.

But again, even if that is the case, it goes against the real rule, which is to protect the general public from any particular group gaining control of a public figure (and if a nuclear family isn’t a group, I’m not sure what is). The fact that Volpe’s team has returned the money while continuing to deny wrongdoing is farcical. If it wasn’t wrong to do it, then there wasn’t any reason to retract. That it wasn’t an offence doesn’t preclude its being a political mistake, which is no less wrong and, potentially, carries much higher costs.

And those costs are not confined to his own camp. The affair reflects poorly on the Liberal Party as a whole, not only because of his identification with the party, but because of the party’s official response:

“Elections Canada regulates contributions to leadership candidates. The Liberal Party does not,” Mr. MacKinnon said.

Which is interesting, because Elections Canada regulates other things, too, like campaign expenses for leadership candidates. And the Liberal Party isn’t shying away from regulating that:

Second, we have closed all loopholes and eliminated exemptions on candidate spending to fully align campaign oversight with the Canada Elections Act. In other words, this means that our spending limit will be retroactive and include spending prior to the formal call of the convention.

Why one and not the other, when both are investigable and enforceable by Elections Canada? In truth, the donation process is one of the most politically charged parts of the campaign, and party oversight could easily give rise to allegations of favoritism or abuse of central institutions to disadvantage or advantage particular candidates.

But in the real world, the effect is that the Liberal Party doesn’t seem to be concerned about the real rules, which everyone innately understands, even if they can’t express them clearly. And that makes them guilty of violating the spirit of the law. The spoof website and foolish inter-campaign brouhaha which have followed add little but prolonged public attention to the party’s half-committment to the rules.

Like an ill-bred child, the party, like Joe Volpe’s campaign, looks anti-social. It proves unable to find its way in a world of unspoken rules and boundaries. Either it pushes too far and oversteps its rights or withdraws where it should take action and fails to make amends. Either way, it transgresses the spirit of the game it’s playing, and will pay for it.

But such a result is to be expected where discipline has been abandoned. The party was perfectly willing to ignore its constitution and devise ad hoc rules for what should have been regular conventions when, in 2000 and 2002, the leadership question was politically inconvenient for top brass. Rules for the distribution of membership forms have also been imposed on the fly, and even if not intended to advantage particular candidates, doing so unquestionably distorts the result. Party leadership has, on at least one occasion, asserted that a clause of its constitution could be ignored on the grounds that it contradicted another clause (as it happens, the two were concurrent conditions, one of which could not be fulfilled because it had already been broken).

Lack of discipline has its effect — the loss of respect for the spirit of the rules. After all, if you can change them or sophistrate them out of existence, how important can they be?

And that’s what the whole affair shows, to disadvantage. A party undisciplined is a party spoiled.

Deploremus Union3

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check, Crossroads of Culture (Sunday May 28, 2006 at 12:37 pm)

The Frosty Wonk won’t get into the more serious issues at stake here (many others will). The real questions are:

1. Why are unions taking action on non-labour related foreign affairs questions?
2. Can we trust them to?

The answers:

1. Umm. . .they’ve got nothing better to do?
2. No.

While the first is far from certain, the latter is clear at once.

Having decided to support a boycott of Israel until it recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination (which it has already done, actually, if you read this), CUPE Ontario “will develop an education campaign about the issue”.

Any problems? Well, yes:

1. CUPE seems to be confused about the history in question:

As noted above, the right to self-determination has been recognized. That’s what the Palestinian elections have been about. What CUPE really seems to be talking about is the right of return:

. . .the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties.

Which is controversial not only because it involves potential compensation issues, but because it involves the counter-claim for Jews evicted or forced from their own homes in the West Bank and other neighbouring countries in 1948.

2. CUPE seems to be a bit confused about the geography in question:

In Ontario, the liquor control board carried more than 30 Israeli wines, many produced in the occupied Golan Heights, CUPE said.

Quite so. But the occupied Golan Heights were not part of British mandate Palestine as divided by the UN in 1947 — they were part of Syria. Were Palestinians evicted by Israelis from a part of Syria twenty years before Israeli forces entered the area? However nicely you ask Israel to grant Palestinians access to the Golan Heights, they can’t let people back into homes they never had.

However you slice it, CUPE clearly doesn’t know what it’s talking about, yet wants to produce an educational pamphlet on the subject.

And that’s why unions might not be the best candidates to conduct foreign relations. Just in case you were wondering.

Unequivocally Qualified0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Sunday May 21, 2006 at 7:05 pm)

Just to be clear:

adjective leaving no doubt; unambiguous

So when Michael Ignatieff expresses his “unequivocal support” for the present and renewed Canadian mission in Afghanistan, we can surely expect no backpedalling.

Ah, but:

My support for the renewal of the mission is dependent upon believing that this proposal is continuous with, and not a departure from, the existing mission of the former government.

That’s what academics might call a hedge:

noun equivocation; evasion; fudge

Right. So what part of that was unambiguous?

*All preceding definitions are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary
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