Crawl Across the Ocean

Friday, March 31, 2006

So Much Nonsense, So Little Time

Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes writes in a letter to a bunch of Western newspapers (he has now retracted) that
"boy, would the public get accurate and true information if a few reporters were hauled away to jail!"

Alas, Mayes writes, it wound never work
"because the media would cry 'censorship' and 'authoritarian state'"

In the comments section on the Globe and Mail article on Mayes, Conservative supporters come out in droves to argue in roughly equal numbers that a) he is right on the money or b) by writing an article about it, the Globe just proves his point, because he was just joking.

It could be just me, but when people in the government start making jokes about how it would be better if the media was locked away when they criticize the governmentpublish inaccurate and untrue information, I just don't find it all that funny.

Here are some of the top few headlines if you go to Amnesty International and search for 'journalists':

"Argentinas journalists face death threats and harassment - The Wire"

"Yemen: Harassment of journalists must stop"

"FRY: Conviction of journalists: A scandalous blow to freedom of expression in Serbia"

"Haiti: Update of the Jean Dominque investigation and the situation of journalists"

"Ethiopia: Five years on - repression of journalists unrelenting"

"Belarus: "As long as there are journalists, there will be prison cells"

All funny stories, I'm sure.

In lighter news, I generally avoid religious topics for the most part, but this study, which attempted to track the influence of prayer on recovery from operations, cracked me up.
"[researchers] found that intercessory prayer had no effect on recovery from surgery without complications. The study also found that patients who knew they were receiving intercessory prayer fared worse."

Hey, it's called 'faith' for a reason!

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Bloggers?

Finally, Russell Smith writes a column in the Globe entitled, 'Demeaning the Discourse, How Bloggers Lower The Tone'.

I'd talk about the comments that this column drew at the Globe website, but for some reason the Globe doesn't allow comments on this particular column. True, the Globe doesn't always allow comments on every column but you'd figure this one was crying out for an open forum for responses.

The Canadian Cynic suggests writing a short polite note to Review Editor Andrew Gorham asking him to make the Smith column freely available and allow comments. After all, as Smith says in his column,
"The best of the blogs are of course all about conversation, and the Internet itself could be a great facilitator in classless, borderless discussion."

Note: Post updated to fix email link to Gorham.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Snotty Vancouverite

I was going to read Roy MacGregor's column in the Globe Today (subtitle: "Whatever you want, booming Alberta's got it"), but then the sun came out and I decided to go for a jog down by the ocean.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Adjectives are not Arguments

OK, I complain about the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star on my blog a lot, but that is because those are the papers I read. It's worth keeping things in perspective by considering some of the other newspaper choices out there.

For example, Bill Strong has generously excerpted parts of an editorial (behind the subscriber wall) by Alan Ferguson for The Province.

You get some sense of what you're in for with the second paragraph,
"Last week, I ventured the heresy of questioning the doomsday scenario of climate alarmists who visualize a global meltdown under a blanket of man-made pollution."

Now if you strip out the exaggerations and adjectives, what is left?

"Last week I questioned whether global warming is real" Not only is the prose cleaner, it's much shorter!

Next paragraph,
"It's on the basis of an astonishing con-job pulled off by such people that Canada under the former Liberal government signed up to that toothless wonder known as the Kyoto Protocol."

Let me just note that there is no argument here, just an assertion supported by zero evidence.

Next paragraph,
"It is instructive to recall that former prime minister Jean Chretien backed this move - not on the basis of scientific evidence, of which there is none - but on "gut feeling."

(emphasis added)

So this is what we have here in Vancouver, one of our two major daily papers (both owned by the same company, of course) is claiming in its editorial pages, that there is no scientific evidence to support global warming. Seriously, what does somebody have to do to be reduced to zero credibility around here?

OK, next paragraph,
"Well, we can all stick our heads out the window and smell bad air in our major urban centres - but that's no reason to turn out the lights and go back to the dark ages."

This is a stern rebuttal to everyone advocating a return to the dark ages. I'd call it a straw-man, but straw has some substance, you know? And besides, what does the smell of the air in urban centres have to do with global warming?

"My column did elicit squawks of protest from correspondents whose red-faced rage at my effrontery did not conceal their inability to challenge my basic premise."

Talk about projection - is it just me or has this column been one big squawk, with no evidence to support the premise. And assuming the premise is that there is no scientific evidence supporting global warming, let me just link to the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) website. I recommend following the link and then checking out a few reports and looking at the footnotes. Then reconsider the assertion that there is no scientific evidence.

"But for every one of them, I heard from 10 others who supported my assertion that, while global temperatures are increasing - ever so slightly - and while carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have never been higher, there is, in fact, no definitive body of evidence indisputably linking the two events."

Talk about weasel words. You can take a look at the various temperature reconstructions/projections here and judge for yourself whether the changes are best described as increasing 'ever-so-slightly'. This is always a good point to ask what the author would consider to be a 'definitive' body of evidence 'indisputably' linking the two events.

Given that we have a well-known and accepted theoretical mechanism for how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes increased temperature, that we have an empirical temperature record constructed using multiple approaches which all point to this conclusion and given that the overwhelming majority of world experts on the topic are in agreement, what, may I ask, is Ferguson waiting for? God himself (or herself) to send a messenger down with some stone tablets?

"Many of the people I heard from occupy senior positions in universities and research institutes across the country.

Their names are among the signatories on a famous letter to former prime minister Paul Martin, begging for more consultations before submitting to Kyoto"

Of course the lead signatory on that letter was Tim Ball, more info on Mr. Ball here. What's humourous of course is that Ball is known for claiming that the climate has been cooling since the 40's, based on the satellite record (see here). But, alas for Ball, it turns out that (interpretation of) the satellite record was wrong, and even Ferguson is now forced to admit that global temperature is increasing (although if he had written this column a few years ago, no doubt he would have denied that too).

Moving on,
"Their plea was ignored; their opponents, the climate alarmists, had the upper hand - and the mainstream media's uncritical attention.

Had the Liberals been re-elected, we would now be moving irrevocably into compliance with Kyoto - a process that leading economists warn could seriously weaken national prosperity."

If there's one thing I never get tired of, it's right-wing cranks, who could never get a column in a major paper if their nutty views were from the left rather than the right, using their soapbox to complain about how there is no room in the media for right-wing voices. Ah, to live in a world where cognitive dissonance has been banished.

As for weakening national prosperity, that's a whole other discussion, but let's just note for now that other countries have reduced their emissions without paying any noticeable economic price (England, for example).

"It's not entirely clear what Prime Minister Stephen Harper now intends to do about Kyoto, though before his election he was an outspoken critic. Some fear that climate alarmists lurking in the federal bureaucracy are trying to keep Kyoto alive."

'Climate alarmists lurking in the federal bureaucracy' I just imagine some alarmist bureaucrat (an oxymoron, no?) lurking in the bowels of parliament, just waiting to attack Harper as he rounds some corner and force him to 'keep Kyoto alive'. How does this stuff get published in supposedly respectable newspapers - it beats me.

"Crucially, however, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose has said she won't support trading CO2 emissions credits.

Under the whacky UN-sponsored plan, countries can trade carbon credits to meet Kyoto obligations.

Cornelis van Kooten, a professor at the University of Victoria specializing in economics and climate change, says that Canada would have to buy international credits on a scale so large "it could threaten our balance of trade."

Even then it would "do nothing to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere" worldwide. "Certainly," van Kooten told me, "the Canadian government can find better things to do with our money than spending billions buying credits just to meet a target that does nothing."

The point is that people will only have credits to sell if they have reduced their emissions, so the assertion that trading of credits will do nothing to reduce CO2 is inaccurate, although it is true that countries which have reduced their emissions by accident (economic meltdown) will have credits to sell, at least at first. It is odd that the mechanism which was put into Kyoto to make it more flexible and more market oriented is the one that outrages supposedly right wing people the most.

I'd rather have Canada cut emissions within the country rather than buying credits myself. If Ferguson had just tried to stick to that premise or argued for imporvements to the emissions trading process, maybe he might have retained some credibility. But all the talk of lurking alarmists, the exaggerations about doomsday, meltdowns and con jobs, the misplaced paranoia about a media with no voice for skeptics, the denial of there being any scientific evidence supporting global warming, the inability to distinguish between global warming and air pollution, the endorsement of discredited climate change deniers and the general reliance on perjorative adjectives (like 'alarmist') and straw men rather than real arguments all adds up to one sad piece of work.

By comparison, the Star's over-the-top fearmongering about proportional representation looks like a logical masterpiece worthy of Kant.

Tell 'Em Thomas

Sometimes I find it amusing how Americans put the 'founding fathers' up on a pedestal, but then I read some quote or piece of writing from one the 'fathers' and end up being really impressed by their insight.

Case in point, I was reading through this interesting post written last year by Matthew Iglesias on the topic of copyright. Iglesias makes a worthwhile point that unlimited file-sharing would likely impact the movie industry more severely than the music industry, although I think he underestimates the movie industry's ability to adapt.

In the comments to the post, commenter zach links to a letter written by Thomas Jefferson on the subject of intellectual property. The whole thing is not long and worth reading (no really, I mean it - go read it), but I'm going to excerpt most of the same key passages that zach did, because he chose well,

"It has been pretended by some, (and in England especially,) that inventors have a natural and exclusive right to their inventions, and not merely for their own lives, but inheritable to their heirs.


If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.


Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody.


Considering the exclusive right to invention as given not of natural right, but for the benefit of society, I know well the difficulty of drawing a line between the things which are worth to the public the embarrassment of an exclusive patent, and those which are not."

It's handy because now any time anyone asks what I think about intellectual property (OK, this has never happened, but it could) I can just refer them to this letter.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Low Productivity Ate My Homework

A commenter on the last post pointed out that it was originally Trudeau who compared the U.S. to an elephant (hey, that was before my time!). In searching for proof via google that Mulroney had also made an elephant reference (if any readers can confirm for sure one way or the other, have at it) I found an old Hansard which makes reference to Mulroney's comment.

Flipping ahead in the old Hansard, I happened on the following statement from Ken Epp, the Alliance MP for Elk Lake,
"I have a question with respect to size, that is, the Canadian dollar. The member in his speech decried the fact that Canada has been sold at fire sale prices. That is because of the fact that our dollar has so eroded. The fact is that our dollar is a measure of our productivity and our productivity is down the tubes. He never mentioned a thing about how to improve productivity in this country, which is the real cause, I believe, for the fact that our dollar is so low. What is his comment on that?"

Of course, productivity vis-a-vis the U.S. has probably deteriorated since then, yet the dollar has soared. Normally, the game is for people to explain that if only their pet policy was followed, productivity would rise, but here we see the ever mysterious productivity bogeyman is cast in the role of cause, rather than effect. Still, I was amused to see that the game of relying on the inscrutable nature of productivity to make a point has been around for a while.

Who's Standing Up For Canada?

Scariest Headline of the Year on today's National Post: "Bush to Canada: We Care" (or something like that)

Hands up anyone who thinks Bush wouldn't try to make nice unless he wanted something in return.

Mulroney once talked about being in bed with an elephant, but my concern for the moment is who wins a battle between a lame duck and a sitting duck.

Liars or Uninformed?

Here's some historical trivia you may not be aware of: In the July 22, 1948 referendum on joining Canada, Newfoundlanders actually rejected the idea of joining Canada. If it hadn't been for the Newfoundland government ignoring this rejection and going ahead with joining confederation anyway, Newfoundland would probably still be an independent country today.


Now OK, some of you history buffs may want to argue this. After all, you say, more Newfoundlanders voted in favour of joining Canada than voted against. When all the votes were added up, 52% voted in favour.

Of course, what you naive history buffs don't realize is that, if 52% of the population votes in favour of something, that means they have rejected it. You think I'm joking, but I'm not.

Consider this editorial from the Toronto Star which says, "When asked, people in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island shot down the idea [of electoral reform] last year.

Of course, as everybody knows, 58% of B.C. residents voted in favour of electoral reform. Obviously, if 58% support equates to shooting something down, 52% is not nearly good enough.

But wait, you say, that could just be a one-off mistake. Sure it's an editorial from a leading newspaper and you'd think they'd fact-check it, but you never know - look at the NY Times.

To which I reply, fair comment, but it's not just the Toronto Star that says this.

Consider Maclean's columnist and author Andrew Potter writing on his blog that electoral reform was, "Rejected in BC."

Let's face it, the Newfies got snow-jobbed. Well, somebody did, anyway.

Tongue out of cheek, when I see someone write about electoral reform and claim that B.C. 'rejected' it, I can come to one two conclusions:

1) The author is uninformed, and therefore not worth listening to on this topic.
2) The author is informed, but is deliberately misleading (what I like to call 'lying to') his or her readers in order to try and make a point - and is therefore not worth listening to on this topic.

So, you see, the post title, 'Liars or Uninformed?' was a trick question. The truth is, it doesn't matter.

Update: And I forgot to mention that here in B.C. we are having a do-over on the referendum in 2009 - because even the government that set the absurdly high 60% threshold realized that 58% in favour couldn't reasonably be construed as a rejection.

Note: this post inspired by a comment from Philip on the previous post on electoral reform.

$500 Billion Dollars

What's $500 billion dollars, you ask? $500 billion is what the total federal debt was at the end of 2004-05.

Per person, this works out to around $16,000.
5% annual interest on $16,000 is $800/year.

So think about that. Every year your income is reduced by $800 to pay for the borrowings of Federal Canadian governments from previous years.

So do me a favour, any time the government collects more in revenue than it pays out in expenses for a given year - so the $500 billion sack on our back gets a little lighter - don't call it a surplus.

Call it a mortgage payment. Call it a gift to the next generation. Call it whatever you want, just don't call it something that implies the money isn't being put to a much needed use.

Yes, I know, if you look up the meaning of the word surplus the second definition is, "an excess of receipts over disbursements", which seems appropriate.

The problem is that when they hear the word 'surplus', too many people think of the word's first meaning: "the amount that remains when use or need is satisfied".

In case I haven't been clear: need has not been satisfied when we still owe $500 billion dollars.

Don't let the next generation of Canadians be impoverished because we were confused by a word which happened to have two different meanings - use a different word.

I Honestly Don't Get It

Greg links to an editorial in the Star about electoral reform.

Now, I could easily spend a couple of thousand words explaining how the editorial is a piece of transparently biased, poorly argued rubbish, but really, what is the point. Surely even the authors, who must be intelligent people to be writing editorials for the country's highest circulation newspaper, know that what they have written is drivel.

What I wonder is why? Why do newspapers feel the need to write such dishonest pieces on this topic? What are they afraid of? What are their real reasons for opposing electoral reform, that they are too ashamed of to admit in print? This sounds like a snarky post, but my point here is not just to mock, I honestly don't get it. Could someone let me in on the big, literally unspeakable danger of reforming the electoral system that so terrorizes the establishment.

You think I'm exaggerating, but the Star's editorial concludes by hoping that the citizens assembly will avoid having a referendum on electoral reform. It is so dangerous that not only do they not want it implemented, it is too risky to even to allow the people of the province to vote on it.

So come on, you can whisper if you have to, you can refer to it as 'the problem which must not be named' if you like, but fill me in - what is the big terrifying secret? I won't tell, I promise.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Not Just, Surely

This newly created, new to the non-partisan alliance, and somewhat ambiguously named blog looks promising.

When They Said Reform, Reform, I Wonder What They Meant

The Calgary Grit is right, declaring war on the media seems like a poor plan for a government. If this is how Harper and co. are going to behave, they'd better hope the Canadian media is as scared of the right-wing noise machine as their American counterparts.

And you know, I like to think of this country as a democracy, so when I read things like this...
"Among a series of media access restrictions already imposed or being contemplated, the most inflammatory is a plan to bar reporters from staking out cabinet meetings, where they can ask departing ministers about their portfolios.

In order to stop the practice, the PMO is suggesting it will keep the weekly meetings secret."

...I find it upsetting. Democratic governments shouldn't be holding meetings in secret to avoid the media - do I have to spell this out?

The best line comes from Harper's communications director, Sandra Buckler,
"As for a series of complaints by the parliamentary press gallery about access, she said: "I don't think the average Canadian cares as long as they know their government is being well run."

Well, I like to think I'm pretty average, so speaking as a good old (down home, Joe Sixpack, salt of the earth) average Canadian, let me ask a simple question: how the hell am I supposed to know if the government is being well run if the whole operation is cloaked in a veil of secrecy. And if it is being well run, why are you so afraid of the media? (sorry, that was two questions, my bad)

On a less aggravating note, I applaud the CTV article writer for the best mental imagery of the week,
"Security on Parliament Hill barred reporters from attending a pair of Stephen Harper photo opportunities Monday as the Prime Ministers Office flexed its media messaging muscles."

I wonder what kind of exercises are required to build up your media messaging muscles, I may have been neglecting something at the gym...

But back on topic, consider this passage,
"The battle of wills came to a head Monday morning over -- of all things -- a photo-op of cancer stricken youngsters with the Canadian Cancer Society giving daffodils to Harper in his office.

Twelve Parliament Hill security officers, triple the usual contingent, lined the short hallway to Harper's office door to make sure no reporters entered. Sure enough, four reporters attempted to force the issue before an unusually large phalanx of news cameras.

None of the prime minister's staff emerged to explain the situation or deal with the media, despite repeated requests to do so. The beleaguered security officials -- who enjoy collegial relations with the media they see every day -- were left to play the heavies for the news cameras.

At one point, a TV reporter reached past a guard and knocked sharply on the prime minister's door while Harper was inside greeting the cancer society guests.

"It was children trying to give the prime minister flowers,'' said Buckler, who suggested those involved should do some soul searching"

If anyone wants to do some soul searching, I recommend it to the people who think that secrecy is good for democracy or those who think that trying to restrict the ability of the press to report on parliament is good for democracy or those who think that using children with cancer as a rhetorical device to try and make a point is good for democracy. I've looked through my soul and I know where I stand on these issues. Where does the Conservative government and its supporters stand?

Update: Dave from The Galloping Beaver adds some more commentary worth reading on this topic.
Post title adapted (with apologies) from 'The Future' by Leonard Cohen. Of course Cohen's version rhymed, but that's (0.001% of) why he's a genius and I'm just a lowly blogger.

Calling all Blogophiles

There's an invitation, in the post
To a blogging party, on the coast
Pack your bags up, you old blogophile
Get together with your friends, who will
Give you time to think and time to kill
With independent hosts
Hey, blogmaster, aren't you gonna go?
Hey, blogmaster, aren't you gonna go?1

Rob Cottingham, from One Damn Things After Another, is looking to spread the word about a 4 day blogging workshop he is co-hosting from May 17 to May 21 on Cortes island (offshore from Campbell River). The workshop is focussed on blogging as a strategic communications tool and is being put on by Social Signal - more details can be found here. If, like me, you could use some help with your blogging, but, unlike me, you don't avoid social occasions like the avian flu, it could be worth checking out. Just spending a few days on Cortes Island in May would probably be pretty sweet.

1 Lyrics taken (and only slightly modified) from 'Hey Headmaster' one of the Pet Shop Boys more obscure, and best, songs. I substituted 'blogophile' in for bibliophile, perhaps the only occasion that either of those words has ever appeared in a song lyric.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

It Takes a Lot of Courage to Stand Up to the Pacifists

I'm no pacifist, and I certainly think it is unwise for teams of pacifists to wander around Iraq unarmed, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if to some extent these groups are more willing to be critical of violence committed by their own societies in foreign lands than they are of violence committed by the locals, but really, when it comes to all the things that people do (or don't do) because of religion, not condoning violence ranks fairly low on my list of complaints.

At any rate, when I read the story of how some Christian pacifists had been rescued by Western military forces, and had failed to make their gratefulness immediately and abundantly clear, I had a feeling that a lot of inane outrage and scolding would follow closely behind from Canadian pundits.

As to the question of which pundits could be relied on to provide said outrage/scolding, indulge me in quoting something I wrote last July,
"Perhaps she [Wente] is simply emulating Rex Murphy, affecting the attitude of the contrarian who doesn't 'fall' for the conventional wisdom. The thing is, when I think of contrarians I think of a Socrates or a Voltaire, the brave soul who takes on the establishment and (as usually happens when you take on the establishment effectively) ends up being punished for their actions.

What's really sad about Wente is that, while she portrays herself as the outsider bravely taking on the powerful, in actual fact she somehow, unerringly, always seems to side with the powerful against the weak."

So let's just say I was not surprised to see that Rex Murphy devoted his column in Saturday's Globe, entitled, "The Hostages are in one piece, but", to his twin concerns that the initial press release from the CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams - the organization the hostages belonged to) was insufficiently grateful, and to the fact that they didn't place enough blame on the people who took them hostage.

Margaret Wente also devoted her Saturday column in the Globe, entitled, "The hostages are in one piece, but" (no, that's not a typo), to her concerns about the scourge of pacifism. Wente goes further than Murphy, equating the pacifists with Communist sympathizers and going on from there.

I guess I have two points. The first is that when it comes to responsible journalism, both Wente and Murphy could learn a lot from Lynda Hurst of the Star who wrote a far more informative and balanced piece on the same topic, actually taking the time out of her busy day to talk to some people on both sides of the issue to get their side of the story (while still putting across a point of view and not just doing mindless he said/she said journalism).

My second point is to reiterate that both Murphy and Wente seem to have an unerring eye for situations where they can appear to take a brave stance while in reality siding with the comfortable majority against an unpopular minority.

Wente has a revealing quote in her article,
"The media spend a lot of time deploring the rigid dogmatism of the Christian right. They're much easier on the Christian left, even though its members also claim to be guided in the path of righteousness by the will of God. In fact, it's hard to tell who's more dogmatic. The pacifists of the Christian left, like the Peacemakers, believe that military force is never justified under any circumstances - especially when conducted by the West."

Perhaps, despite being a keen observer of world events, Wente hasn't noticed that the dogmatic Christian right she mentions is a huge, powerful and wealthy network of millions of people, including many influential folks going up to the highest levels of government and world power - a network which played a major role in starting (and continuing) the Iraq War. Meanwhile the 'equally dogmatic Christian left' she refers to is made up of a small band of unarmed people with no financial or political influence whatsoever. Yet the media insists on paying more attention to one of these groups. It's outrageous, but luckily Wente is here to balance the scales

As of this writing, Wente's column has only attracted 4 comments on the Globe site, but they do a good job illustrating both the inflammatory nature of the column and the self-serving phony bravery of it.

Comment #2:
"Finally a journalist with enough courage to speak the truth about this unnecessary tragedy"

Yes, nothing says courage like criticizing people who have committed themselves unconditionally to non-violence.

Comment #3:
"Some might argue that the World would not be 'whole' without mosquitoes, brown recluse spiders and avian flu germs. I beg to disagree. The world would be better off without a long list of irritants and the Peacemakers are on the list."

Comment #4:
"By their actions, the Christian Peacemakers have shown themselves to be no different than any other group of dogmatic and ideology driven religious fanatics. Seen in that light, it is not surprising that they aid, abet, and support Muslim fanatics such as those dedicated to the destruction of Israel (Hamas) and the subjugation of women (Taliban). Given their support of these acknowledged terrorist groups, perhaps the Christian Peacemakers should also be so labelled."

So to sum up, the pacifists are terrorists who should be wiped off the face of the earth, and it was brave of Wente to speak the truth about this situation. You can't judge a column by the comments it gets but sometimes the comments can serve as a mirror which reflects the ugliness hidden within the more careful and eloquent words of a professional writer. At any rate, both Wente and Murphy have writing talent and a national audience - I only wish they would do something more constructive with it.

For a truly contrarian opinion, this blog post from Right of Centre Ice is worth reading.

Don't Trust Pollara

From earlier this week, a cautionary tale for anyone who was, or ever might be, tempted to take any poll produced by Pollara seriously.

On March 17, Michael Geist wrote a post entitled, "CRIA's Own Study Counters P2P Claims". The study he referred to was a 144 page report (Appendix A) included as part of a CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) submission to the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission).

Geist lists a number of findings which seem to suggest that downloading isn't that harmful to the recording industry and concludes,
"In summary, CRIA's own research now concludes that P2P downloading constitutes less than one-third of the music on downloaders' computers, that P2P users frequently try music on P2P services before they buy, that the largest P2P downloader demographic is also the largest music buying demographic, and that reduced purchasing has little to do with the availability of music on P2P services. I've argued many of these same things, but now you don't have to take my word for it; you can take it from the record labels themselves."

Now, in a 144 page report, you're bound to be able to find stuff which supports your conclusion so I took Geist's analysis with a grain of salt (despite the fact that I consider him the most reliable source for intellectual property information). I also figured that, given Geist's high profile, he might get an answering response from the CRIA.

What I didn't expect was for the polling company, Pollara, to produce an 11 page rebuttal to Geist's claims. As Geist says in his follow-up post,
"Pollara suggests that my statements are "misleading, incorrect, and inconsistent." The company adds for good measure that my intervention is "impertinent and presumptuous" and that it hopes that it won't "distract us from the serious business at hand."

You should, as Geist suggests, read through it all for yourself, but what came through quite clearly for me, was that Pollara was not responding simply to clarify the interpretation of their results (which would have been fine by me), they were responding because the CRIA had paid them to do the survey and to the extent that the survey looked bad for the CRIA, Pollara would suffer.

The CRIA is an industry propaganda organization so I expect them to be biased and to twist the facts to support their position as much as they can. True, in an ideal world they wouldn't be so indifferent to the public interest, but I have to be realistic. My willingness to be realistic ends, however, when the company doing the polling is playing the same biased game.

And the 11 page Pollara memo wasn't written by some young partisan hack they only hired because he has an influential father, it was written by the President of the company, Duncan McKie.

Tracking back further into the questions used in the survey, it quickly becomes clear what kind of answers they were looking for. Consider Question 26, from page 127:

"Some people have said that the current copyright laws are sufficient to protect artists, and others suggest that Canadian laws should be up to international standards that have been drafted by the WIPO, the world organization responsible for copyright. Generally, do you think Canadian copyright laws should be up to international standards or is the present law sufficient?"

I could make up some other ways to write this question that might be equally objective, but has already done that, some examples:

Do you agree that Canadian law should be amended so as to allow record companies to sue your teenage children for $150,000 in damages for each song they download onto your home computer?

Do you agree that Canadian copyright law should be identical to American copyright law?

Is it personally important to you that copyright law unduly favour existing technologies by suppressing technological innovation?

Is it personally important to you that copyright law unduly favour existing business models by suppressing marketplace innovation?

Do you agree or disagree with this statement: Recording companies or other media firms should be allowed to place potentially damaging software in my computer, without my consent, using their CDs, DVDs, or other digital entertainment products."

and they have more...

But getting back to my main point, a polling company should stick to polling and to doing that in a fair and objective manner. They shouldn't be going to great lengths to push the talking points of the companies who hire them, they shouldn't be making personal attacks against people for posting interpretations of their results and they shouldn't be writing survey questions which are designed to get a specific answer.

When it comes to credibility, Pollara is dead to me now, and if anyone wants me to take anything they say or any study they produce seriously, the burden of proof is on them to convince me that, for the case in question, they were paid to produce a survey and not paid to produce an answer.

In Case, Like Me, You Hadn't Seen This

I was over at the Accordion Guy's site and he mentioned a piece at The Onion, entitled, "Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over".

And if, like me, you hadn't seen it before, you really should.

Written in January 17, 2001, it is a prediction of how Bush will undo all the 'damage' caused by Clinton (8 years of peace and prosperity).

The article is hilarious in the accuracy of some of its predictions: for example,

"Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years."

But in the end it is more depressing than anything. Consider that The Onion set out to write a satirical article mocking the kind of speech Bush might give if he was intending to do everything in his power to screw up the country. And to the extent that they got anything wrong, it was because they didn't go far enough with their predictions.

Imagine if they had written that Bush would make torture of detainees official government policy, or if they had predicted that Bush would break the law and, when caught, state that the position of the administration is that the President is above the law. People might have stopped laughing, saying that in order for their satire to be funny, it had to at least be plausible.

Anyway, give it a read, it should either make you laugh or cry.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sad State of Affairs

How bad are things when people feel the need to congratulate people for (gracelessly) admitting that plagiarism is bad and that it is a bad idea to hire columnists who have a record of frequent plagiarism?

Playing With Numbers & Assumptions

Paul Wells suggested I should read this column by Andrew Coyne, and it looked promising at first, since I'm always partial to anyone pointing out that the Premiers are a bunch of whiners who should stop blaming Ottawa for their troubles and focus on managing their own affairs properly.

But I have to take issue with a couple of implicit assumptions in Coyne's piece. Says Coyne:
"That Ontario, on the other hand, still manages to show a deficit is not because it is short of revenues. No government in the history of Ontario has had as much revenue at its disposal as the current government of Ontario. Total revenues from all sources this year will exceed $6,600 per capita. By way of comparison, the Harris government took in about $5,700 a year, on average, in constant 2005 dollars. (Because it slashed taxes? No: the previous NDP government under Bob Rae, which raised taxes, got by on just $4,900 and change from each of its citizens.)"

The thing is that, while per capita revenue has gone up (in constant dollars), so has per capita income. Coyne seems to be suggesting that government spending as a percentage of GDP should always fall as incomes rise. But what does the Provincial government spend money on? Largely on health, education and infrastructure (not to mention interest on debt - another reason revenues have had to rise). Can we assume that Ontarians want to spend a smaller percentage of their income on health, education and infrastructure than they did a decade ago? Aren't we facing a 'crisis' because people want to spend a *higher* percentage of their income on health than they used to?

Coyne may have a point about provinces spending irresponsibly, or he may not, but we'd need to see the revenue and spending numbers as a percentage of GDP to really know one way or the other.

The second assumption Coyne makes is that,
"a cut in marginal income tax rates isn't a one-time thing: it's a permanent contribution to raising productivity across the province's economy -- an investment, if you like, that will pay dividends every year in perpetuity."

Here's the thing, if the money is collected in tax it will be spent by the government. If it isn't collected in tax, it will be spent by taxpayers instead. I'm not sure it is so obvious that taxpayers will spend it more productively. Now if government spending was, say 80% of GDP, it would be pretty clear that society would be more productive with taxes lower. Similarly, if government spending was 2% of GDP, it would be pretty clear that society would be more productive with taxes higher. So somewhere in between is a tipping point. Of course it all depends on how the money collected is spent.

So I see no basis for this assumption that a reduction in marginal income tax rates will boost productivity. In fact I'm sure I could easily round up example of countries with higher marginal income tax rates than ours which also have higher productivity and higher productivity growth, along with examples of countries with lower marginal tax rates and lower productivity and/or productivity growth.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Child Care Premises - Parents Know Best

(Note: This is a continuation of this post and this one)

So the first theoretical child care program we're going to look at is one based on the premise that parents know what is best for their children, so a child care plan should maximize the choices available to parents.

So how do you increase the choices available to a parent? This is a little hard to nail down, but broadly there are two ways. Obviously, there are some two income families which have two incomes because they can't afford to do without the second income. These families would have more choice if they could afford to have one parent stay home. Equally true, many families which use child care would have more choice if they could afford higher quality care, care closer to their home or work, care with more flexible hours and so on.

In the large majority of cases, an annual salary is higher than the cost of high quality child care (~$10,000/year, from most estimates), which means that the large majority of families with a stay at home parent could choose high quality child care for their children if they wanted to. Therefore, these families already have the maximum possible choice so any funds directed their way will be wasted, according to our premise. Similarly, there are many families which use child care but have one income which is high enough to support having the other parent stay home with the children - if that is what they chose. Again this group already has maximum choice so any funds directed towards them are wasted. Finally, there are some single parents whose income is high enough that they can already afford the best child care available to them. Again, these parents already have optimal choice.

In general, I'm just making the obvious point that people beyond a certain income already have maximum choice, so any program with the goal of increasing parental choice should be means-tested - i.e. only given to those who need it, in order to have more choices.

Another question is whether it makes more sense to give the money to parents or to fund child care programs directly. Funding child care programs directly has the benefit of ensuring that 100% of the program dollars goes towards child care. On the other hand, giving money to parents provides greater fairness because it (can) include those who don't pay money out of pocket for child care (i.e. have a stay-at-home parent or have a relative take care of the kids), whereas money given directly to day care providers only increases choice for those who use child care.

As is typical with this kind of efficiency/fairness tradeoff it is hard to say where it is best to draw the line. Some combination of a benefit which is given to all parents and funds which are specifically directed towards child care funding would seem to be appropriate.

One final method in which the government can increase choice in child care is by taking measures to increase the proliferation of a wide range of child care options. For example, any measure which reduced barriers to entry in child care might create more options. Similarly, certification programs can be designed to foster the availability of different levels of care.

Putting it all together, the ideal program for giving parents maximum choice in child care would tend to:
a) Be means tested
b) Include a mix of universal payments to parents and funding tied specifically to child care
c) Include measures to foster the development of a diverse and plentiful child care market

Now let's see how the party's measure up against these criteria (note: I recapped the party child care platforms in the previous post in this series):

First, the Conservatives:

Means-tested? No.

Mix of universal payments and funding tied specifically tied to child care? Yes, but funding is heavily weighted towards the $1,200 payments which go to all parents - that is, towards fairness to stay at home parents at the expense of efficiency.

Include measures to create more choices in the child care market? Yes, the offering of tax credits for organizations which create new child care spaces should, in theory, create more competition and hence more choice in the market for parents.

The Liberals:

Means-tested? In principle, no. In practice, it's hard to say. The Liberal platform says that their child care agreements are based on QUAD principles, where the U in QUAD stands for universality. This would imply that they are only providing funds for programs which are available to everyone and not means tested (as is the case in Quebec, for the most part). On the other hand, the Liberal plan largely amounts to just giving money to provinces to spend on child care, and most provinces (except Quebec) have means-tested child care programs.

Mix of universal payments and funding tied specifically tied to child care? Some provinces may provide some universal payments (e.g. B.C.), but for the most part, all the money is tied specifically to child care programs and very little will go to parents who do not use child care programs.

c) Include measures to foster the development of a diverse and plentiful child care market? Nothing specific.

The NDP:

Means-tested? Yes. The NDP plan is basically a combination of the Liberal plan with an increase in the Child Tax Benefit. As we noted, the Liberal-style part is not means-tested, but the Child Tax Benefit is.

Mix of universal payments and funding tied specifically tied to child care? Yes. The Child Tax Benefit is available to all families regardless of whether they use child care or not, while the Liberal style funding for child care programs is targetted specifically towards spending on child care.

c) Include measures to foster the development of a diverse and plentiful child care market? No. In fact, the NDP insistence on excluding private child care providers from the market is likely to have the opposite effect.


It's all a bit of a mess, and makes a mockery of what might be considered typical left-right roles for the party's to play. For one thing, as Robert McLelland notes, Conservatives typically favour decentralization and want to keep national governments from infringing on the role of provincial governments. This is considered to be especially true of the Harper government. But here we see that it is the Conservatives who want to create a plan to spend billions of dollars, bypassing the provinces altogether.

For a second thing, when it comes to balancing efficiency with fairness, the stereotype is that conservatives prefer efficiency are regard any sacrifice of efficiency for fairness sakes as misguided socialism. But here we see that it is the Conservative plan which most sacrifices efficiency for the sake of fairness. To understand why this is the case, it is worth noting that the Conservative plan is designed to be taxable in the hands of the lower income earner. As a practical matter, this means that the Conservative plan gives more money to families with stay at home parents. So, having sacrificed efficiency for the sake of fairness, they then turn around and sacrifice fairness for ... well for nothing really.

The policy only makes sense if one has decided that there is a greater value in providing money to families where a parent stays home than in providing money to parents who use child care. In other words, implicit in the policy is a value judgement that families which use child care are inferior and less worthy of support than those who do not.

For a third thing, the NDP is the party most associated with universal social programs, but in this case, because of the NDP commitment to increase the Child tax Benefit, it is the Liberals who are most in support of Universality, while the NDP is taking a more mixed approach.

Looking at the different platforms, I'd have to say that the NDP program is the most efficiently designed from the perspective of providing more choice to parents. Having said that, the restriction on private health care providers is a big drawback. The ideal program would likely combine an increase to the Child Tax Benefit with a (smaller than the NDP and Liberals have proposed) program along the lines of the Liberal / NDP plan of deals with the provinces, combined with the Conservative plan for tax credits for those who create new spaces.

Additionally, one thing no party is proposing, but which exists in the B.C. system (I should probably do a post on the provincial systems at some point) is a series of graduated subsidies for different types of child care, with care that meets higher quality standards receiving a greater subsidy. I think that a policy along these lines would work to create a tiered system of child care which might provide more choices to parents, but, like I said, nobody is proposing such a thing.

The next post in this series will look at the premise that, provincial governments are responsible for implementing child care programs so a Federal program should just provide funds to provinces as part of some sort of framework, like in health care. Thankfully, it should be a little shorter.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Rent vs. Own

I ran across this article which looks at the question of whether you are better off to own or rent:

"A handy rule of thumb that emerged from our analysis is the 0.6%: if you can rent a home for anything less than 0.6% of its purchase price, you are likely to be further ahead as a renter; if your rent is above that 0.6% level, the balance shifts in favor of owning."

So I looked up the Vancouver real estate listings and saw that someone next door was selling their place which was quite similar to ours (newer, and with a nicer view, but smaller) for roughly $450,000. Allowing for the age difference, we could knock it down to say $400,000.

0.6% of 400,000 is $2,400. Thankfully, our rent is not $2,400 a month.

Of course, if this news article is right and the average house in Vancouver is going to cost $1.2 million by 2010 then maybe buying is the right decision! (via Vancouver Housing Blogger)

Child Care Platforms

(This is a continuation of this post)

So, the previous post in this series set out 4 premises from which one could start in designing a federal child care program. The intention is to see what the ideal system would be starting from each premise and then compare the ideal system to the child care platforms of the major parties.

But before doing that, it is worth recapping just where the party's stand on child care.

In descending order of votes received:

The Conservative platform reads as follows1:

* Provide all families a new $1,200 per year Choice in Child Care Allowance for each child under six, to be taxable in the hands of the spouse with the lower income, starting in 2006. This will be in addition to the current Canada Child Tax Benefits, National Child Benefit Supplement, and the Childcare Expenses Deduction.

* Help employers and communities create child care spaces in the workplace or through cooperative or community associations by allocating $250 million a year in tax credits to employers who cover the full cost of creating spaces. We will provide similar support to non-profit associations to create spaces. The program will be designed to ensure that small business and rural communities will be able to access it as well as larger employers and cities.

* Honour the government's existing bilateral child care commitments for one year."

The Liberal platform (here I have pulled out the part which relates to the agreements they have signed with the provinces rather than looking at the marginal additions to these programs which were promised in the 2006 platform):

"The Martin government responded to this clear need by committing $5 billion over five years for a pan-Canadian early learning and child care initiative founded on the QUAD principles - Quality, Universally inclusive, Accessible and Developmental. These principles speak to early learning and child care that is open to all children, without discrimination; that is accessible and affordable for all parents; and that is of high quality in supporting a child's development.

All ten provinces have now signed agreements with the federal government based on a nationally shared vision. The agreements identify principles and goals for early learning and child care; establish clear and measurable objectives; detail eligible areas for investment and funding levels; ensure accountability and identify how governments will report to Canadians; and commit governments to collaborating on knowledge and best practices.

Under these agreements, provinces will invest federal funds in regulated early learning and child care programs for children under six. Each province will nonetheless have the flexibility to implement programs that address their specific needs and objectives, so long as they are consistent with the QUAD principles."

The NDP child care promise:

Introduce a National Child Care Act, legislation that will firmly establish a framework for a national child care and early learning system with a permanent commitment for the federal government. It will establish standards for a network of high-quality, licensed, non-profit care for our children.

Invest $1.8 billion in the first year, and then increase this sum by $250 million a year over the following three years. At an average of $9,000 per space, this commitment means we will be providing 200,000 spaces for children, with an additional 25,000 children finding care in each of the next three years.

And this part wasn't under child care in the NDP platform, but if we are trying to make an apples-to-apples comparison between parties, it falls under child care as well:

"Increase the Child Tax Benefit by $1,000 per child above the currently scheduled increases and inflation adjustments. This improvement will be directed to the first tier of the benefit, which is not subject to clawback of provincial social assistance benefits."

The Green Party platform doesn't actually make any specific promises that I can see about child care. I did find this comment on the Green Party Review site (which includes a disclaimer that it doesn't represent the official views of the Green Party, but bloggers, like nature, abhor a vacuum):

"The Green Party believes that that instead of a massive 'mega project' we should be putting money into the hands of parents through expanded child tax credits and benefits, encourage employers to provide employee childcare, a reduced workweek, and, provide federal funding for early childhood education. We believe that these much more modest suggestions would create an environment where parents could find the childcare solutions that are appropriate to their own particular work situation and community-without driving the government back into deficit."

Anyway, I'll probably leave the Green Party out of my subsequent posts because their position is too vague/unknown. I'm also not going to include the Bloc Québécois since I am sure their position is simply for Ottawa to stay out of it, while still being willing for Quebec to accept cash from Ottawa if they must.

1 Note that in all my platform excerpts I have removed as much meaningless blah blah blah as possible, trying to leave behind only the actual promises made.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Go West, Young Newspaper

I came across this post at the Progressive Bloggers site,
"A knock at my door yesterday...I get up and answer it. Who is it? A nice kid selling subscriptions to the National Post. If I sign up he gets the money for school activities.
So I ask him, "don't you have a paper that approaches issues and ideas from the left/progressive side?" "No that's all I have to offer," he says. I tell him I'm sorry but I just don't feel it would be ethical to financially support such slanted journalism. He leaves and I feel like the biggest meanie, he seemed like a nice kid. Heck, I would love to have a subscription to a paper that fits with me. I guess there is no one else out there who wants such a thing or wouldn't there be a choice? Why are there no choices out there? Doesn't the number of Canadians in the centre or on the left of the spectrum mean there would be enough supporters for this kind of a paper? I have money...I could pay....."

And I'm thinking that I could pay too, I would pay, in fact (for an online version anyway - the dead trees are a pain and pile up continuously).

Of course it's a big enterprise starting a daily newspaper, you need expertise and financial resources and it helps to have some established content providers to partner with.

So here's my letter to the Toronto Star:

"Hi, I was just wondering if you had ever considered starting an affiliate paper in Western Canada, ideally in Vancouver. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person out here who would be interested in getting a local daily paper if only there was one that wasn't hopelessly right wing in orientation. Perhaps 'The Province' could be bought for a good price and rebranded? As it is, I subscribe to the Globe's online edition and read the Star online but neither of these really provides a Western perspective on events.

Something to think about."

Given the dearth of left-wing, liberal or even centrist reporting in Western Canada, I'm thinking that the Western Star or the Vancouver Star, or whatever you wanted to call it, could do quite well. Maybe Antonia can give us the scoop on whether there are any plans in the works and put in a good word with the accounting department for us deprived Westerners.

Update: Check out this breakdown of who owns which newspapers in Canada and note that the 4 largest cities in B.C. and Alberta (Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Edmonton) have 5 newspapers between them - all owned by the same company (CanWest). How's that Senate Committee on media concentration coming along, anyway?

I like the Tyee, but it's not the same as a daily newspaper, and even if it was, it's a bit too far left for my taste.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Wall Street Journal and Turkey

Via, the Political Theory Daily Review (which is worth bookmarking if you're interested in politics and political theory), I ran across this interesting interview between Robert Pollock of the Wall Street Journal and Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey.

Read it and be mighty thankful that Turkey's leader is Erdogan, not Pollock. The U.S. (large parts of it, anyway) really seem to have lost touch with reality, although I supposed generalizing from the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal is unfair. On the other hand, the fact that such a historically prestigious publication can have such hacks on its editorial board sort of proves my point.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Child Care Premises

The starting point with respect to government child care programs, as I see it, is to ask the question of whether or not the government should be involved in the child care market at all.

If the answer to this first question is yes, then the second question (in a federal system of government) is to ask which level(s) of government should be responsible for the program(s) (I talked about that in this post).

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that we have agreed that government should be involved in child care, and furthermore, that the Federal Government should implement a child care plan (this is not an unreasonable assumption given that every federal party a child care plan). Now we just have to figure out the best way for it do that.

Obviously people have different answers to this question, but I've been thinking that where people end up on this question, largely depends on what premise they start from. I can think of 4 plausible premises from which people might start their thinking on child care1:

  • Parents know what is best for their children, so a child care plan should maximize the choices available to parents

  • Provincial governments are responsible for implementing child care programs so a Federal program should just provide funds to provinces as part of some sort of framework, like in health care

  • Scientific study and research can identify what elements of child care are more beneficial and government should intervene to ensure that the care provided to children matches this criteria as closely as possible in order to maximize children's wellbeing

  • Child care is just another product/service and government should only get involved to correct any known market failures

To be sure, it is an over-simplification to present these approaches as if they were completely discrete and non-overlapping when, in reality, any child care plan is likely to incorporate elements from multiple approaches, but I think it will be interesting (for me, anyway - you may not be such a nerd!) to go through and see what kind of child care program you get starting from each of these different premises.

1 If you have more, that's what the comments are for.

Health Care Summary

First off, a few links I forgot to include in my list of health care reading:

This series by Ezra Klein which looks at 5 different national health care systems (France, the U.K., Canada, Germany and Japan) is well worth reading.

This presentation has some good slides comparing how different national health systems work

And finally, this pair of posts from Jonathan at No More Shall I Roam looks at why the health care market fails, explaining why any country that can afford to has instituted some sort of government run / managed / regulated health care program.

Looking back at my series of posts on health care, I thought it might be worth clarifying my position on allowing private insurance in the Canadian health care system:

My first point is that there are a number of arguments people use in favour which I think are bogus, including:

  • It is inevitable - Not really an argument, so much as an attempt to avoid having to make an argument

  • The current system is unsustainable - This claim is normally supported by some misleading, irrelevant figures such as the percentage of provincial spending which goes towards health care, but is not supported if you look at our historical spending compared to our ability to pay (GDP).

  • The pragmatic-selfishness argument: We could have better health by spending more on health but people aren't willing to pay higher taxes - but they are willing to spend money directly on themselves. - Given the reductions in taxes over the last decade or so, especially for the wealthier members of society who are affected, I am unconvinced that we are incapable of paying higher taxes (i.e. the same taxes we paid a few years ago) if that is what it takes to make the health system work

  • It will be more efficient because the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. - Any study I've ever seen suggests the opposite, that private systems are less efficient (more paperwork, higher salaries, etc.)

That is not to say there aren't any valid reasons to do it, although so far, I can only see one (if you have more, let me know):

  • The personal freedom argument (as made by Andrew on an earlier post). The default position in our society (which I fully support) is that people are allowed to spend their money as they see fit - provided the negative consequences of this spending are not too severe. Where I take issue with this argument is when people leave off the second part, and try to claim that freedom to spend money as you wish trumps all other values in our society.

With that in mind, it is worth considering the potential drawbacks to allowing a parallel system of privately insured health care to flourish in Canada:
  • Shortage of medical personnel means that a parallel private system just increases wait times for those in the public system

  • Private insurers provide inferior coverage (per dollar spent) due to increased costs for administration, advertising, salaries or simply due to a focus on profits over patient health, leading to inefficient use of society's resources and poorer health outcomes than could have been achieved by spending the same amount of money overall, but not allowing private insurance.

  • With wealthy, influential people no longer dependent on the public system, political support for the system declines and health outcomes for those dependent on the public system decline

  • Inefficient use of insurance by people due to irrational decision making creates waste (hat tip to Laura for bringing this up)

  • Increased disconnect between the population and the politicians who govern us. A public health system being controlled by people who use private health care is not a great idea

  • Loss of equality in society, and a resulting drive by people to make enough money to be able to afford private health insurance, at the expense of less financially rewarding work such as volunteering.

  • Lack of common standards between provinces creates imbalances in the national system (such as doctors in certain fields all moving to one province).

Is people's personal freedom to spend money however they like important enough to trump all these potential drawbacks? Can these drawbacks be mitigated in some way, so that we are not faced with this tradeoff?

Personally, I'm not convinced.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

An Unpleasant Trip Down Memory Lane

Via FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting):
"Cal Thomas declared (4/16/03): "All of the printed and voiced prophecies should be saved in an archive. When these false prophets again appear, they can be reminded of the error of their previous ways and at least be offered an opportunity to recant and repent. Otherwise, they will return to us in another situation where their expertise will be acknowledged, or taken for granted, but their credibility will be lacking."

Gathered here are some of the most notable media comments from the early days of the Iraq War."

Yet more evidence that when people say something bad is going to happen, waiting a few weeks and declaring they were wrong is a bad plan. Or, in other words, it looks like the yaysayers were wrong again.

(thanks to a reader for the tip).

Supermajority To The Rescue?

Vues D'Ici has an interesting post up on the conditions set by the EU on the upcoming (May 21) independence vote in Montenegro (currently part of Serbia):

"the referendum question must be clear, unambiguous and not misleading, and ... at least 55% of voters casting ballots must opt for independence. The vote will be viewed as invalid and independence illegitimate if these two conditions are not met. The EU also ordered the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the main democracy watchdog, not to monitor the vote unless it is conducted on these terms."

As Vues D'Ici notes, this could well have implications on the sovereignty movement in Quebec, especially with regards to France:

"You may recall that back in 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that Quebec could separate if the referendum was held asking a clear question and resulted in a clear majority. The clear question part is also covered by the Clarity Act, but no one's ever tried to determine what 'a clear majority' would be. The Parti Québécois insists 50% plus 1 is all they need. André Boisclair, the new PQ leader, reiterated that. The PQ's policy platform adopted last May makes it very clear that 50%+1 is all they'd need for a unilateral declaration of independence. And of course, Quebec has always banked on other countries, most notably France, immediately recognizing Quebec following a 50%+1 victory by the 'Yes' side."

But of course France is part of the EU, which decided that 50% + 1 wasn't good enough for Montenegro, so why should it be good enough for Quebec?

While I'm on the topic of Montenegro, Doug Saunders had an interesting column in the globe on the referendum (as part of his series in the Balkans), focussing less on the implications for Quebec and more on the regional dynamics in Europe, particularly within Montenegro.

And finally, I can't help (sarcastically) adding - it's a good thing they only want independence. If they wanted to do something really important like change their electoral system, they'd certainly need 60% in favour for the vote to be legitimate!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Lazy Blogging

Given the slow news day, I decided to look further afield than usual in scanning the news, and realized that John Crosbie has a column in the Toronto Sun. Now, I respect Crosbie, especially for his ill-fated 1979 budget which, had it passed, likely would have resulted in a lot less pain for Canadians in general and my generation in particular. But his column is just not very good. It is, however, a good archetype of the typical, heedless-of-reality, partisan column that you often see, so I thought I'd add some comments to what we wrote.

Greg from Sinister Thoughts would love his opening:

"Despite the coming to power of Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government, the sun still rises every day."

Yes, all those people who claimed instant doom if the Conservatives won sure have been proven wrong haven't they - never mind that parliament hasn't sat for a single day yet, the naysayers have been proven wrong!

"Harper has a firm hand at the tiller..."

If you're going to go with the prototypical, patriarchal, Conservative, strong man in charge rhetoric, could you at least come up with a slightly less overused cliché than the man with the 'firm hand on the tiller?'.

"and it will be difficult for the Liberals to attempt the same kind of fear campaign at the next election after several years of Conservative government with none of their predicted horrors having occurred."

John thinks to himself, 'I'll just slip in this assumption that the Conservatives will govern for years and nobody will notice - I am so clever!'

As for none of the predicted horrors occurring, wasn't one of the biggest ones that Harper wouldn't defend the Canada Health Act? Isn't that already occurring?

Wasn't another one that Harper would scrap the daycare agreements with the provinces? Isn't that already occurring as well?

As for the rest, it's only been a month or two, give him time John (maybe not several years, but at least several months)!

"On Feb. 6 Harper named a strong cabinet of 26, all promising newcomers, including two surprises."

*ALL* promising newcomers, every last one. Right. And I like the use of the word 'surprises'. Sort of like saying that George Bush undertook 2 wars, all promising, one with a few surprises.

"With just 124 elected MPs, Harper has to live in the real world, not in the fanciful world that the national media pundits inhabit."

I can only assume that by 'national media pundits', John means all national media pundits except him. I guess if Harper had more MP's (instead of just 124) he could have joined the pundits in Fanciful-World but alas it was not to be.

"He has to manage an unstable minority government with no members elected from urban Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver."

Unstable? Weren't we assuming it was going to last for years just a couple of paragraphs ago?

"This requires him, as political commentator and former politician Bill Rowe put it, 'to play the hand the electorate dealt him, and try every legal means, even if unsettling to some, to provide stable government for a couple of years, including the presence in the biggest cities, while giving himself a decent chance of showing the country what he and his party can achieve leading up to the next election.'"

In other words, being in a minority government situation not only allows, but requires a leader to throw away all concerns with ethics and only focus on staying within the letter of the law (this explains a lot, actually). Presumably this is the same standard Crosbie applied to the Martin government.

"In attempting this Harper has shown he is a political leader who can think outside the box,"

Oh man, I thought 'firm hand on the tiller' was banal.

"as demonstrated by inviting David Emerson, re-elected as a Liberal, to become the minister of international trade - and inviting Michael Fortier, co-chair of the campaign, to become minister of public works after appointing him to the Senate.

It is essential to have Montreal well-represented in cabinet at once - a move Quebec opinion approved."

I'm assuming the next line must tell us about what public opinion in B.C. thinks about Emerson. No? That's strange.

Furthermore, given that governments over the years have tried to get people to cross the floor and have appointed people to the Senate to reflect areas with little representation, the out-of-the-box component of this must be first campaigning on how unethical these moves are and promising not to do stuff like this if elected, and then doing it once in office. That part was new, I admit, although 'out-of-the-box' is still a dead-phrase-walking.

"As for Emerson, well respected in B.C. and the West [just ask his constituents - except maybe don't ask the ones who literally dumped a load of crap on his front lawn the other day - ed] He had run when Paul Martin asked him to serve in 2004 and performed well as a minister. So he was asked to 'serve' again and accepted. Emerson was not actively involved in any political party previous to 2004, but had an outstanding record in the civil service of British Columbia, as CEO of the Vancouver Airport Authority, and as CEO of Canadian Forest Products, the largest forest company in Canada."

Which is all fine except the people who voted for him, voted for a Liberal. Presumably if Emerson is so great and well-respected, nothing is stopping him from running in a by-election, no?

"Emerson's acceptance was in no way comparable to Belinda Stronach, once a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party and a member of the shadow cabinet, moving to the Liberal government at a time when a non-confidence vote was scheduled that would decide the fate of Martin's government. In every case where an elected member of one party joins another, any judgment has to be made on the individual facts of that case. The movement of Emerson to the Harper government, following the election, was in no way deserving of the hysterical hissy fit frenzy of much of the media - the same media caught by surprise but undisturbed when Martin bargained Stronach into his cabinet."

Wait, I've lost track, who is living in Fanciful-land again? The Emerson crossing is, if anything, worse than the Stronach one, because he didn't even serve his constituents for a single day before switching.

Also, 'Hysterical Hissy Fit Frenzy'? Perhaps at least one example would be in order to justify this kind of language? And maybe Crosbie could acknowledge that the timing of the Emerson crossing, coming so soon after so many Conservatives threw a Hyper Hysterical Whiny Waaaah Wailfest over the Stronach crossing, might have played a role in the coverage. Or how much better Stronach handled the media after her crossing than Emerson did with his arrogant and anti-democratic comments about knowing what was best for the people in his riding better than they did?

"To quote Rowe again: 'Keep going with the ruthlessly problematic strategy, Harper. Genuine, permanent competition between two strong federalist parties depends on it. And let the media howl.'"

'Problematic' is the word I'd use, but I'm thinking that Crosbie/Rowe might have meant 'pragmatic'. Still, I suppose a 'ruthlessly problematic strategy' might qualify as out-of-the-box thinking.

This last bit also exemplifies some more sly-Crosbie thinking: 'I'll just pretend that the NDP doesn't exist, to subtly marginalize them - man I am so subtle!'

I also like the classic right-wing, media is out-to-get-us paranoia (expressed while writing right-wing rants from a mainstream media soapbox) Indeed, let the media have their hysterical hissy-howlfest Harper - genuine permanent competition between two strong federalist parties depends on it!! (<- honestly, I have no idea what this even means!)

"The natural governing party of Canada, and their media sympathizers, clearly have protested too much about the addition of Emerson and Fortier to cabinet."

Yes, it is clear, they have protested too much, while over Belinda they clearly protested too little, maybe someday their protests will be just right, and Goldilocks John will be happy. Anyway, if you can't see how clear this all is, you're probably living in fanciful land.

"The stakes are high in creating a healthy, vigorous, competitive political system. This will take all the spirit, determination and ability to learn from experience Harper has demonstrated."

Why do I suspect that 'creating a healthy, vigorous, competitive political system' is code for 'electing a Conservative majority'.

"This is politics and the struggle is to transfer power from one overwhelmingly dominant party to an alternative. This is not tiddly winks or tick- tack-toe. A strong beginning indeed, Prime Minister Harper. Keep it up!"

A) Hasn't power already been transferred (for years, if I recall correctly from the top of the column)
B) I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this is also not Risk, Battleship or Crazy Eights
C) It may be Pin the Tail on the Donkey - I'm not sure about that one
D) Am I the only one a little creeped out by how right-wing people like to throw in titles ('Nice tie, Prime Minister Harper!') in odd places.
E) Parliament hasn't even sat yet and Harper is already being investigated by the ethics commissioner and has violated both explicit and implicit Conservative campaign promises. Can you imagine any circumstances under which Crosbie would have ended a column about Harper at this point with something uncomplimentary - say, "A weak beginning, ordinary human Harper, pick up the pace!"? Nah, me neither.

How Exciting

I officially declare today to be the slowest news day of the year (so far)

War and Peace

I don't have anything to say about Harper's visit to Afghanistan, or even more generally about the place of war in a democratic society, but Tim does and it's worth reading.

Here's a brief quote from Tim's post to whet your appetite (although you're better off ignoring this, clicking the link and just reading his whole piece to begin with),
"For the record, I am anti-war. Very much so. I am also anti-murder, anti-rape and anti-property and livelihood destruction. In general, I vehemently oppose anything that causes mass destruction and death to innocents. I'm funny that way. This doesn't make me a coward, and if the events on the ground in Afghanistan change to the point where I would like our troops to come home, that's not necessarily "cutting and running".

This also does not mean that I don't recognize that war is sometimes the necessary evil for which even the most peaceful society must sometimes be ready. The decision to send our countrymen and women into combat must be one that we take only in extremes, and if your position on going to war is fraught with doubt and moral conflict, that probably shows you've given the issue a lot of thought.

I will not blindly "support the troops" as the right likes to say. I will not, in the face of changing conditions leave them in the lurch, and proudly proclaim I am "supporting the troops." I support the troops whether or not I support the mission in which they are currently deployed. Anyone with more than five brain cells should be able to understand that notion, and anyone who does not is not worth engaging in civilized debate."

Monday, March 13, 2006

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I can't be the only one who sees 'unforeseen consequences' written all over this idea if it's ever implemented on a large scale:

"Needing more water to keep up with growth, Arizona and the six other Colorado River Basin states are looking to the sky.

In three years, officials hope to launch the first phase of a regional cloud-seeding program to create more snowfall in the Upper Rockies to feed the Colorado River and its tributaries.

The seven states plan to hire a consultant this spring to evaluate the practice and make recommendations for whether, where and how to pursue it.

Seeding — which injects chemicals such as silver iodide into clouds to allow water droplets or ice crystals to form more easily — is just one of many water-enhancing technologies that the consultant will review."

Our civilization should be remembered for it's many achievements, but I'm guessing it will also be remembered for the arrogance that went hand in hand with those achievements.

This and That, Rapping Politicians and Irritating Columnists

Via Lotusland, this political endorsement (in rap video form) really puts the (high heel) boots to anything I've ever seen attempted in Canada, as far as campaign materials go. The Economist had a cover story suggesting Canada was 'cool' (this was before Harper was elected, obviously) a while back, but I'd say Finland has us beat there (as well as in (men's) hockey).


Greg made a great point a few weeks ago,
"Note to bloggers: Can we stop saying things like "Well we did X today and the country did not fall apart"? It takes time for things to happen, folks."

My only quibble is that he could have cast his net a little wider, at least wide enough to include columnists like Andre Picard in the Globe who started his column last week with,
"It has been more than one week now since Alberta Premier Ralph Klein unveiled details of the so-called "third way" for health-care reform and, despite what the chorus of Chicken Littles predicted, the sky has not fallen."

Yes, all those people who predicted that Klein's plan would have dire consequences in less than a week sure have been proven wrong, haven't they? Moron.

Still with the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson was kind enough to bring to my attention an 'argument' in favour of privatizing health care that I foolishly overlooked in my series on stupid/misleading arguments in favour of privatization. Said John,
"For supporters of the public health-care system ... the solution is to re-embrace the recommendations of the Romanow report, which seeks to preserve that system by reforming it. For this writer and others, private-sector initiatives are inevitable and provinces should be encouraged to experiment with alternatives."

If you can't think of a reason why what you want is actually a good thing, just state that is inevitable and sidestep the whole argument altogether. This inevitability argument always makes me wonder something: if the person advocating it really believes it, why bother writing and arguing about the topic at all?

In the same column, Ibbitson has a great example of the media two-step in his opening paragraph:
"The more an issue becomes politicized, the more truth is sacrificed to rhetoric. In the case of Canada's health-care system, the truth is in danger of disappearing.

Driven by rising costs, frustrated citizens and Supreme Court rulings, politicians in several provinces are looking at whether to increase private-sector delivery of health care, despite its proscription under the Canada Health Act."

Here's one truth that seems to be in danger of disappearing, the truth that there is no proscription of (on?, against?) private sector delivery of care under the Canada Health Act.

I'd say that it's ironic that a column about the importance of truth in health care opens by propagating one of the bigger myths about health care, but (in truth), the word I'm looking for is 'typical', not 'ironic'.

Aside from all that nonsense, Ibbitson actually raised an interesting question in his article: which is a greater threat to public health care - a system like what is proposed in Alberta, where doctor's can work in both the private sector and the public one or a system like the one in Quebec where doctor's have to choose one or the other?

Leaving aside the smartass response (given that the privatization of the system is inevitable, what difference does it make?), there are the usual three ways of answering this question: reference to empirical evidence (i.e. what has happened in other countries), deferrence to the judgement of subject matter experts, or logical arguments based on the expected (based on our judgement) chain of cause and effect. Ibbitson ignores the first and second approaches, and his only stab at a logical chain of cause and effect is to note that, as more doctors leave the public system entirely, there will be increasing economies of scale in the private system, suggesting that the Quebec approach could be a greater threat in the long term.

Here is how Ibbitson ends his column,
"But what matters is being truthful. And the truth is that the Quebec experiment is as much a threat to the status quo as is the Alberta experiment. Politicians should admit as much, rather than inventing saviours and bogeymen out of perceived political necessity."

Leaving aside the smartass response (given that the outcome is inevitable, why shouldn't politicians seek to gain maximum political advantage out of the situation), I think that if being truthful matters so much, Ibbitson should admit that he hasn't even scratched the surface of doing enough analysis to make a credible claim that the Quebec experiment is as much of a threat to the status quo as the Alberta experiment.

(Note: I'm not saying it isn't, just that there is nowhere near enough evidence presented here to make a case one way or the other or to criticize anyone for treating either system as the greater threat.)

And yes, this post was largely pointless, unless you remember that one of the purposes of this blog is simply to be an outlet for the frustration I feel when I read the paper. It's cheaper than medication, anyway.