The Book!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Saddam had WMDs

Check out this editorial at Investor's Business Daily.

Indian Ink

The Western Standard was in hot water recently for quoting an anonymous friend of Ralph Klein as saying, of Mrs. Klein, “Once she stops being the premier's wife, she goes back to being just another Indian."

This is supposed to be “an outrageous, racist slur,” to quote Don Martin in the Calgary Herald. It was “so traumatizing she burst into tears just talking about the article to friends.”

Heavens; why? Granted, she is not an Indian—she only has one Indian grandparent. But why is merely being called an Indian a racist slur? Isn’t this so only if you believe there is something wrong or shameful about being an Indian? In other words, isn’t the racism in those who object to the comment, not the person who made it?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Breaking Up is Not That Hard to Do

The papers warn of the danger of civil war in Iraq.

I wonder: what’s the problem, really, if Iraq splits up? Why does the US have any obligation, or any vested interest, in keeping it together? Why are the people of Iraq any better off?

The Kurds are a stateless people, no less than the Jews once were. Wouldn’t it be reasonable for them to have their own state? If it were so urgent in the case of the Jews, why not for the Kurds?

Iran would be upset, perhaps; they have their own Kurdish minority. But the US should have no scruples these days about upsetting Iran. Turkey would be upset, for the same reason. But Turkey did not allow the Americans to station there for the push into Iraq; it is reasonable to argue that they waived their right to be considered in the settlement as a result. Moreover, if Turkey is to enter the EU, as it plans, it needs to show more consideration for its ethnic minorities. This would require them to confront the issue of Kurds in Turkey wishing to separate—if they do--in any case.

There is also no Shiite Arab state. The Shiites of southern Iraq might therefore have some legitimate claim to independent statehood as well. There are many independent states in the Arab world which are less ethnically distinct their neighbours than the Iraqi Sunnis from Iraqi Shias: Jordan and Syria, for example, or the UAE and Qatar.

Iraq has no long history as an independent and a united country: it was a convenient administrative division for the British and the Turks, and not much more. Trifling with old colonial boundaries is in general not a good idea, because endless strife could result. Nevertheless, the British were prepared to work out partition in the case of India, to satisfy ethnic demands. Singapore split from Malaya. French Indochina became three states.

The Americans might have some concern that a divided Iraq be too vulnerable to an expansionist Iran. The Shi’ite south, in particular, might want to move into Iran’s orbit.

But so what? Again, if that is what the people of Southern Iraq want, isn’t that their business?

As to military threats from Iran, a military alliance with the US should preclude that. Quite likely at less cost than a struggle to keep Iraq together.

Why worry?

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Canadian Media Turn Right

Antonia Zerbesias claims the National Post is wooing Barbara Amiel, Linda Frum, Heather Mallick, Mark Steyn, and possibly Conrad Black. They just signed Warren Kinsella.

This is exciting. It looks as though the Post is about to make a serious bid to become the newspaper of record. Meantime, Maclean’s has swerved right under Whyte, and the Western Standard is making a whole lot of waves. And the Globe endorsed the Conservatives in the election!

So much for the left-wing near-monopoly we’ve had in the Canadian media for some years.

I think a lot of people with money have looked over the border at the success of Fox News, and see a chance to make a profit. And I think they are right. Neo-conservatism is the wave of the foreseeable future.

It is a sad thought, though, that those who saw this coming, and who bore the banner in the most difficult times, are not necessarily the ones who seem most likely to profit from the turnaround they largely engineered. I think of Ted Byfield and the Byfield family, and of Lord Black.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Cheney Affair: A Parting Shot

A friend thinks Cheney has no complaints with the way the press has been after him recently: “He knew the rules going in.”

I disagree.

Imagine if the press had held to that rule in the past. The press used to have the good sense, the good manners, and the good taste to be discreet about this sort of thing.

Knowing any kind of personal blemish or wart or pimple, either in themselves or in their immediate family, is going to be plastered across the media, surely causes a lot of good candidates to stay out of political races, to our cost. Almost certainly, this includes Colin Powell: he did not run for president because he did not want to expose his wife, who suffers from depression, to this. Ironic, because both Churchill and Lincoln apparently also suffered from depression. A press like the one the US has today would probably have lost both of them to public life.

Not to mention FDR, whose inability to walk was carefully kept by the press from the public. Or Pierre Trudeau: his wife's descent into mania was kept out of the news in Canada completely until it was picked up by the American press, and we never heard the full extent of it. She is well today; would she have survived if the press had pursued this aggressively? Would anyone have been served by destroying her? And speaking of Trudeau, what about Trudeau's war record, compared to all the fuss made about Bush's service in the reserve. Trudeau avoided serving in WWII, and spent the war motorcycling around Montreal in a German helmet. Suppose the press had pushed that bit? Or his mistress and illegitimate child? Trudeau would probably never have entered public life, had the present American rules applied.

We would have lost Woodrow Wilson—-he had a mental breakdown in office. As, unknown to us at the time, thanks to press discretion, did Rene Levesque. Would we have been better off knowing? And would the government of America have run more smoothly had everyone known the president was incapacitated?

We would have lost John Kennedy. His sexual exploits were well known to the press at the time—heck, he even slept with members of the press corps. Not to mention his bad back, kept from the public, like FDR's paralysis, to preserve his image of vitality.

We would have lost Thomas Jefferson—having an affair and fathering illegitimate children with his own slave. And Martin Luther King, who was also a bit of a sexual adventurer.

Would it have been better if the press saved us from that sort of politician? FDR, Trudeau, Kennedy, Lincoln, Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, Jefferson, Martin Luther King? I'd say the present American press is doing us all a terrible disservice.

Both Rene Levesque and Jean Marchand killed pedestrians while driving when in office, as I recall. Do you remember reading much about it? Heck, Moses killed a man. Would the world also have been better off without Moses?

Besides keeping good people out of public life, this scandal-mongering in the press forces politicians and governments to waste a great deal of time and energy, which they could be using on the public business, on personal affairs. We are all the poorer for that.

Was Bill Clinton too preoccupied and too compromised publicly with the Lewinsky affair, to focus properly on issues such as whether North Korea was developing nuclear arms or the significance of some Middle Eastern terrorist group training people to fly large planes?

Finally, having their warts or embarrassments exposed reduces the effectiveness of any leader, because their effectiveness as a leader has everything to do with their ability to inspire. Hence too the need to shut up about FDR's polio, Kennedy's bad back, Churchill's heavy drinking, or Cheney's hunting accident. Unless your criticism is substantial, patriotism obliges you to support your leader.

And in the present instance, it also seems to me pointlessly cruel to have burdened the victim with all this publicity, publicity that probably pained him personally, as a friend of the VP, when he was clearly unwell.

Some gentlemen of the press: shame.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

European Hypocrisy

It is hard not to see the Europeans as hypocritical in their insistence that publishing cartoons about Muhammed is a matter of “free speech”—the same week David Irving is sentenced to three years in prison for having, some years ago, denied the Holocaust was as extensive or as systematic as commonly believed. This even though he has since recanted.

This makes it apparent that free speech is not the issue at all. The issue is what Europeans consider important, and what Muslims consider important. To Europeans, religion is no longer important. Politics is.

As Bob Dylan and many others have pointed out, the Second World War is the modern European creation myth: it is important enough that no European is free to think what he likes on that particular subject.

Why should not the Muslims have the same right to judge certain things beyond the intellectual pale? It is not even as if the Austrian prosecution was an internal matter: the court presumed to impose its moral view and law on a foreigner. Irving is British. So it is quite parallel to Islam making demands of a Danish magazine.

Once again, the party that seems to have the whole thing in the best perspective, to my mind, is the Iranian magazine that is running a contest for cartoons on the subject of the Holocaust.

Tit for tat.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sunday, February 19, 2006

No Kidding!

"The only way to get a pedophile to stop," Ann Landers used to observe sweetly, "is castration."

The Economist now reports ("The end of innocence," January 21, 2006) that this common notion that pedophiles can never reform is pure urban legend. The reconviction rate for all offenders is 60%. For pedophiles, it is 17%. And the vast majority—about 93%--of those reconvicted pedophiles were not reconvicted for pedophilia.

Pedophiles, in other words, are far less likely to reoffend than almost any other sort of criminal.

This is the very reverse of what we have been told.

For more evidence of this fact online, see this from Free Republic.

Or this. It includes a lot of cautious hedges about the accuracy of the data, it concludes child molesters reoffend at about half the rate of the general prison population.

Here is the US Bureau of Justice Study cited in the Economist article:

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/press/rsorp94pr.htm

And here is a Canadian metastudy which claims to summarize all theresearch to date, and again, concludes that child molesters are lesslikely to reoffend than the general prison population:

http://www.johnhoward.ab.ca/PUB/C24.htm

This suggests some interesting truths:

1. The idea of tracking convicted pedophiles after their release and announcing their presence publicly in their neighbourhoods is unjustifiable. It is hysterical, it is persecutory, and it is cruel and unusual punishment.

2. The Catholic Church was perfectly justified in reassigning priests suspected or accused of pedophilia, and trusting that, even if guilty, they would likely not reoffend—-even aside from the religious obligation to forgive. The current rap against Catholic priests and the Catholic Church is a witchhunt, and religious persecution.

3. If pedophiles can change their behaviour, and so easily, it probably follows that homosexuals can too. The idea of our sexual preferences being "hardwired" is a myth, and a silly myth. Accordingly, there is no justification for treating homosexuals as if they are a race apart, with special rights due to their sexual "orientation." Homosexuality is a behaviour, with no more call for constitutional protection than, say, smoking or driving without a seatbelt.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Cheney and the Shot Heard 'Round the World

The press seems utterly up in arms at Dick Cheney today: there was nothing else on CNN this morning.

Why are they so upset? Because his office waited 20 hours before contacting the press about the shooting.

I can see why they are upset: they want the news as quickly as possible. That’s their business. Hence it was wise of the Conservatives to feed them regular stories during the recent Canadian election.

But I don’t see why the rest of us should care, and I think it would be more professional of the press to realize this. They should, in all humility, show some recognition that, in the end, it is really none of their damned business in the first place, much less an obligation on the part of their subjects to inform them within a time period specified by the press itself. It’s just prurient interest, after all; there is no “need to know.”

Too often, on CNN or in the New York Times or the Globe & Mail, you get the sense of journalists as a special interest group, using their access to the presses and airwaves to advance their own interests, and quite out of touch with their readership or viewership.

Next Year in Bangkok

Louis is an interesting guy. I have hardly spoken to him before; we worked together for a few months, but he keeps very much to himself.

Nevertheless, I got him talking quite openly recently.

Louis is intensely interested in the Second World War; we were able to talk a fair bit about that. His father had most of his face blown away with the Canadian forces in Italy. After that, Louis says, he could not find work and did not want to live. The family grew up poor. Louis remembers scavenging fish heads and entrails from the docks for family suppers.

Louis managed to get a BA, and then decided to travel around the world. He shipped on a freighter, got as far as Genoa, but opportunities were limited for Canadian sailors. So he heard about and got a working visa for Australia, easy to get in those days, and worked in a Melbourne hotel with his brother. Eventually, they made enough money to travel through Southeast Asia and India; so they quit the hotel and harnessed up the backpacks.

Both fell in love with Thailand. They continued on through India, but both ended up there at the end of the expedition. “Thailand” means “land of the free,” and it is serious about the name. Thais value their freedom a great deal.

And this, I realize, is the theme of Louis’s life. Like many, maybe most men, his ideal is freedom. Real freedom, not paper freedom: wearing no man’s collar, being beholden to no one, being free to do what you feel is right day by day.

Louis fell into the teaching of English, for it was a way to stay in Thailand. For sixteen years, he lived and taught there, and was happy.

Both Louis and his brother married Thai women. Now needing to support a wife, Louis decided he needed more professional training. He and his wife moved to Montreal for a TESL certificate; then to Carbondale Illinois and Southern Illinois University for a Master’s.

Now they are in the Persian Gulf. But Louis’s strategy is to stay only a few years. With care, they can make and invest enough to retire in Thailand, in their early fifties. Louis is counting the days.

Escaping to sea, running off with the circus, signing on with the railroad, trucking the empty roads of night, owning your own business, being a cowboy and sleeping out on the range—it’s every boy’s dream, and it’s all about being free. Women do not seem to feel this need, and do not seem to understand how deep it is in men.

Most men want freedom more than money, comfort, prestige or security.

It is the dream Western civilization was founded on. Those Greeks who left their island posts to trade in far seas—they were seeking freedom. It is no accident that democracy and philosophy developed in Athens and the islands, not in the inland empire of Sparta. In ancient Palestine, the lamp of freedom was nursed by the shepherds, and all those prepared to leave settled places for the deserts—most notably the prophets, who did this to preserve their freedom of speech.

Freedom was also the essential possession of the desert nomads and traders who founded Islam, and the woodland hermits who founded Buddhism and Hinduism.

Again, it was the northern sea peoples, of Denmark, Sweden, England, Iceland, who invented parliamentary democracy and the idea of human rights. The same quest for freedom is personified by Don Quixote and his ideal of the knight errant.

It is in turn the dream America was founded on. It is the dream of the open frontier.


My hat is off to Louis. I raise to him a glass, and wish him “Next year in Bangkok.” I admire a guy who has sacrificed other things for personal freedom more than I admire a rich and powerful man.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Pre-colonialism

My ex-wife, who shall remain nameless, got a Ph.D. out of “postcolonialism.” I like to think of it as “free doctorates for people of the right skin colour.” A Korean woman of my acquaintance more or less admitted this to me: she said merrily she had copped a Master’s for no more than writing about her personal experiences as a Korean woman.

Of course, you have to have a Grievance. Not anything will do. In the early days of the movement, I recall hearing a Chinese family interviewed, and the best they could come up with was that they could not have a child with blond hair.

This will not do; for half the importance of having a Grievance is having somebody to blame. Nor can this be just anybody. Mao works, but only if you are Tibetan. If it is against Joseph Stalin, even if it is colonialism of the most classic sort, it does not count. Grievances against Turkey do not count.

This is largely because it is not enough to have a Grievance, if your skin is the wrong colour. So folks from Eastern Europe, who have genuinely been colonized quite recently, but who tend to be blonde, cannot have Grievances. Neither can the Irish, or Armenians, or Greeks, or Swabians, or Caucasians in Xinjiang. Unless they are gay. Chinese may have Grievances against those of skin tones lighter than theirs, but not against those with darker skins.

The premise here is that European colonization of the rest of the world last century was an aggression unprecedented in history. It was “cultural genocide”; it reduced non-Europeans to some strange subhuman state called a “subaltern.” And that it is something no Third World nation can have recovered from a mere fifty years or so since the Europeans left. Even though the majority of their population would by now have no personal experience of European colonization.

“Once you have been colonized, you can never go back to the situation before colonization,” my ex-wife once pointed out.

And right she is. Because for most of us, the time before colonization is lost in the prehistoric mists. It would be like trying to go back to the time before birth, or before the Fall of Man.

For it is not as if the Europeans invented empire. They were just more successful at it than most who came before.

It would be truer to say the Europeans invented the nation state, as an alternative model superseding empire.

Nor was racism, as Andrew Young once claimed, a European invention. It would be truer to say it was something the Europeans, with their Christian ideas of universal brotherhood, spread into other lands in an attempt to reduce

Let’s look at the history of Sri Lanka. After all, I was there recently, and it seems a fairly random example.

Depending how you define “colonization,” I count eleven colonizations in the recorded history of Sri Lanka before the first Europeans arrived. By this I mean successful military invasions, or large-scale immigrations, from other lands. First, by the Sinhalese, the current inhabitants, who arrived from North India in the last years BC and took the land from the previous inhabitants. Then they were invaded twice from South India in the second century, first from Chola, then from Tamil Nadu. South India invaded again in the fifth century. The Tamils invaded again in the ninth century. Chola invaded again in the tenth century; Sri Lanka became a province of the Chola Empire. Kalinga invaded from India in the thirteenth century. Malaya (present Malaysia) invaded in the thirteenth century. The Tamils invaded again; Arab settlers began arriving in large numbers in the fourteenth century. There are some suggestions of an invasion from China.

Sri Lanka in this is probably comparable to most other places in the world—even more secure than most, as an island, from invasion or migration.

And this does not count conquests and colonizations of one group by another within the island—more or less constant throughout its history.

Was the appearance of the Portuguese, in the sixteenth century, an event different in kind? Why?

Indeed, unlike most earlier groups, the Portuguese did not come firing guns and seeking conquest. They wanted only trade.

How did they come to be in charge of at least a part of the island? Not by conquest. They were appealed to to come in. And not just appealed to, but paid by the Sri Lankans to intervene. A local king guaranteed them cinnamon for protection from rival kingdoms. They were peacekeepers.

Should they, as merchants, have refused the bargain? Was it wrong to support an ally in need? No; it would have been immoral to refuse. It would have been like Britain refusing to support Czechoslovakia or Poland in WWII.

The local king then converted to Catholicism, and then chose to will his kingdom to the Portuguese king after his death. It does not seem that this involved any coercion; rather, it seems to have been his considered judgment that this was an opportunity for his people and his own heirs.

The Dutch followed. But again, by invitation only. Rival kingdoms appealed to them to balance the advantage their rivals had gained through alliance with the Portuguese. Again, they eagerly offered tribute. When the Portuguese were defeated, the Dutch chose to stay on, planting their own cinnamon near their naval stations to feed the established domestic demand.

The British? The Kandyan ruler they overthrew to take control of the island was not Sri Lankan, but Indian—a recent colonizer, no more indigenous than they were, ethnically speaking. And they too came in on petition from his rivals, and were paid with trade concessions for their troubles.

Their specific grounds for interfering were to protect human rights. Local history records that the foreign Kandyan king was a notable tyrant: abducting wives at will to feed his harem, seizing property without compensation, torturing and executing whole families on a whim. British intervention then was on a par with NATO intervention, say, in Kosovo, or UN intervention in Rwanda.

But was there racism?

Yes indeed. The Sinhalese referred to the tribal people already there as “yakshas,” or “rakshasas.” That is, “devils.” Or they called them “nagas,” “snakes.” Europeans never referred to the natives of the Americas or of Asia in such pejorative terms. The South Indians, similarly, declared Sri Lanka the “land of demons.” They apparently could not see a different ethnicity as human.

The intervention of the Europeans ended, or largely ended, this cycle of racism, empire, and invasion in the “Third World.” This was the importance of their seminal doctrines, of human equality, human rights, and the self-determination of peoples.

European empires are also exceptional for mostly dismantling voluntarily, their mission declared accomplished, rather than through being defeated militarily.

But no good turn ever goes unpunished.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Lost Horizon

A note on the oppression of women before the advent of the feminist movement: how many of us still remember how it really was? I fear by now all that is lost down the memory hole.

I stumbled across this passage in James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon,” first published in 1933. I had found a copy at a second-hand bookstore in Sri Lanka while on vacation.

“There was Miss Brinklow, for instance. He foresaw that in certain circumstances he would have to act on the supposition that because she was a woman she mattered far more than the rest of them put together…”

That is how women were treated before feminism.

If this was oppression, can anyone point to examples of similar attitudes towards Jews in Nazi Germany, or to blacks in the “Jim Crow” US South? Or to Irish under British control?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Captains and the Kings Depart

Politicians and intellectuals in the Third World have a chip on their shoulder about the age of European empires. They hold as a matter of dogma that Europe looted them.

But if the Europeans really took vast wealth from their colonies in Africa and Asia and made pots of money on the backs of oppressed natives, why is it that the governments of these countries since independence are chronically bankrupt? What happened to all those riches?

And how is it that Asia is only now creeping back to the proportion of the world economy they represented in 1900, under empire?

And how come the British left the Persian Gulf almost immediately after oil was found, the very moment when it became economically valuable?

The uncomfortable truth is that Europeans were often there for the sake of prestige, or even for humanitarian reasons. Money was often the least of it, though of course they did their best to make the colonies prosperous and profitable. Not only was their intent not to loot: given the chance, they declined to do so.

Empire was and is usually not a money-making proposition. The Soviet Empire collapsed because the Russian economy could no longer afford it. The European empires collapsed after World War II because Europe, financially exhausted by World Wars, could no longer afford them.

Europe believed it was subsidizing the Third World, lending them expertise, giving them a decent infrastructure. And this was, largely, perfectly true.

There were, it is true, some cases of looting: Belgium in the Congo, Britain in Ireland. It is also true that, on balance, nations that avoided colonization seem to have done well in the longer run: Japan, Thailand. I suspect this is because colonization ultimately stunts the development of local expertise.

But it was not the trauma it is represented to be.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Something Rotten in Denmark?

I have more reason than most to be concerned about the Danish cartoon controversy.

I am in the Middle East. A visible minority, as it were.

I have been praying no major Canadian media outlet prominently republishes them.

But I feel I must comment. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding here, on both sides.

A lot of Western leaders and commentators are saying we should remember it is only a small minority of Muslims who are trashing embassies, burning flags and so forth; that we should not see this as reflecting on Islam.

This is not quite so. A reader poll by the local English-language newspaper here asked “Is violence justified as a means of protest against the offensive Danish cartoons?” Thirty-eight percent said yes. That's a lot of people. A few days later, 51.38% felt it was impossible to forgive those who published the cartoons.

The proportions in an Arabic-language medium would surely be even more dramatic.

Westerners complain that the Muslims plainly do not understand the Western value of free speech.

True.

By the same token, Westerners are missing the central position rhetoric holds in Arab culture. To Europeans, according to a tradition that dates back to Plato and ancient Greece, words are harmless and rhetoric is an empty, trivial thing. "That's just rhetoric."

Perhaps only because we believe this can we tolerate everyone freely expressing opinions.

To many other cultures, including the Semitic, a word is as important as a deed. It makes a substantial, material difference to the world.

This being so, it is as difficult to tolerate free speech as to tolerate the free swinging of fists and firing of guns.

God created the world, in the Old Testament and the Qur’an, by commanding it into existence. And an Arab curse cannot be taken lightly.

If we fail to understand this, we fail to understand much about the Middle East.

Remember “Comical Ali,” the Iraqi Information Minister, standing on a high-rise roof and declaring the Americans were all dead, incinerated in their tanks at the border? While they were visible fighting in the city below?

Westerners thought he was making a fool of himself.

Arabs did not.

Remember, he chose the location. It was his own careful decision to show the Americans fighting as he said his words.

To Arabs, it was an act of great bravery. He was expressing his defiance.

What shocked Arabs was that the Americans, once they took Baghdad, did not arrest and execute him; although I hear he even tried to turn himself in. He was not in their deck of war criminals. They did not see what he did as significant.

Can East and West ever reconcile on this matter?

I think so.

If words are deeds, it follows that words can be fully countered by words. There is no need to burn embassies or plant bombs or even boycott products. To Muslims, equally offensive words should be sufficient. Otherwise, they are hypocrites.

And to Europeans, this should be unexceptionable. Otherwise, they are hypocrites.

The Iranians seem to have the right idea: sponsoring a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust. Fighting fire with fire: fair enough.

Emerson: Shocked and Appalled

Everybody: you’ve got to read Andrew Coyne on the Emerson controversy. We’re talking about the finest political writing since George Orwell.

http://andrewcoyne.com/

And bookmark him, for heaven's sake.



Hedy Fry Speaks Out:

"When I say I am shocked, this is not simple shock. This is real shock," said Fry.

Eh? I think she just said she doesn't know what telling the truth means.


Ujjal Dosanjh Speaks Out:

“There is absolutely no principle attached to Mr. Emerson's decision, other than power."


Wait. Haven't I heard that before?

"There are no grand principles involved in this switch in positions -- just ambition." Stephen Harper.

Harper was speaking of Belinda Stronach. But Dosanjh’s comment is close enough to look like plagiarism; or is it a gag? After all, Dosanjh himself jumped parties to the Liberals. And he was the guy who is heard on tape offering Gurmant Grewal future considerations for crossing the floor.

The Emerson Affair: A Bit of History

Dear Abbot:

This David Emerson affair infuriates me. If crossing the floor to be better represented with a cabinet position is an acceptable move, then why not throw it open to the whole Parliament? After an election, the government could simply make a blanket offer to all MPs to join so that they will be "better represented" and to hell with what the voters decided at home.

We need a law that an elected member must go back to his constituents in a by-election if he wants to change parties. I heard Conservatives saying this during the election campaign. Harper's hypocrisy is too much to stomach.

Disgruntled


Dear Dis:

A blanket offer to all MPs to join the government?

Essentially, that is how the parliamentary system used to operate: the prime minister was whoever could command the respect of the majority of members of parliament. This could shift: one day it might be Neville Chamberlain; the next day, events might cause the majority to coalesce around Winston Churchill.

Properly, voters still do not vote for party or for prime minister, but solely for a local member. As late as 1974, in accord with this tradition, the ballot still did not include the names of any party. Until the last few contests, the British Conservative party held to the old tradition of deciding the leadership by vote of sitting MPs.

In Canada, to cite one dramatic example, in 1917, Sir Robert Borden formed a "Union" government with a Cabinet of 12 Conservatives, 9 Liberals and Independents and one "labour" Senator. Churchill’s wartime cabinet was similarly diverse.

Forcing a byelection before crossing the floor?

This was the position of some Conservative MPs, and many Conservatives, but it was not part of the Tory platform. It also seems to go against the parliamentary tradition, as explained above. It would lose us some of the flexibility that makes the Westminster system especially good in a crisis. At present, we do not have to impeach a prime minister, in case of malfeasance, or incompetence, or crisis. He can merely lose the confidence of the house. The Chamberlain-Churchill transition is an example of how this can be useful. So, as a counter-example, is America’s turmoil over Watergate.

As to the impropriety of switching parties: Churchill did it twice. Others who have crossed the floor include Joseph Howe, Ross Thatcher, Hazen Argue, Jean Charest, and Ronald Reagan. Were they all immoral opportunists? I doubt it. Perhaps Emerson is, but the action itself does not seem to me to prove it.

Abbot

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Affirmative Action in the Courts

Civil rights activists point to the fact that, since 1976, about a third of all executions in the US have been of blacks. Given that blacks are only 12% of the US population, this suggests bias against them in the justice system. Recent appeals to the Supreme Court have been made on this basis.

But everybody misses an even worse bias. Of the 1,002 American executions since 1976, only 11 have been women. One percent; though women are more than fifty percent of the population. Ninety-nine percent have been men.

If one were talking about the proportion of doctors, or lawyers, or Ph.D.’s, this would be an instant and surely instantly successful argument for affirmative action. The suggestion that male and female abilities, proclivities, or interests might differ would be ruled out of court as itself intolerable prejudice.

Surely, then, to be consistent, we must insist on affirmative action here?

An absolute moratorium on killing men until enough women had been killed might be unconstitutional. Nevertheless, following the standard procedure for affirmative action, we can set quotas or “targets” for police departments, prosecutors, and judges. They can go out and work more energetically to arrest, charge, prosecute, and convict women at a significantly higher rate than men until this imbalance is corrected. Their performance could be judged on this basis for matters of promotion or job security. Indeed, if they fail, they could be charged personally and corporately with sex discrimination by males who are convicted, and compensation could be required. Perhaps a lower standard of proof should be required for women charged with crimes, or lesser crimes should carry the death sentence when committed by women. All this is already established procedure, and not discriminatory according to the courts, is it not? Indeed, in the interests of being “pro-active,” rules against entrapment could be dropped for female suspects. For doesn’t this parallel the active recruitment of women for positions in industry?

That’s the way these things generally work, isn’t it?

If all of this sounds wrong to you—then so should “affirmative action” programs generally.

All Indians and No Chiefs

It’s a bit surprising, at first glance. Harper has only the slimmest of pluralities, and no good coalition partner. Whoever becomes Liberal leader is only a Commons vote away, apparently, from a new election and possible power.

Yet neither Paul Martin, Frank McKenna, John Manley, Brian Tobin, nor Allan Rock want the job.

Probably because, as seasoned politicians, they have done the math and see that, despite appearances, it will be very difficult now to get the Tories out of government.

Here are some reasons:

1. The Liberal Party has no money, and poor prospects of getting much more soon. The Liberal funding was mostly corporate, now heavily restricted by new financing rules. Corporations are not ideological; they are mostly betting on who is most likely to hold power. So losing power loses a lot of this anyway. The Liberals, being non-ideological, are not a good draw for individual money.

2. There may be more scandals to hit; insiders like Manley, McKenna, Tobin and Rock may have been warned by supporters who know. Now that the Tories are in charge, there’s little chance of keeping these hushed up. Not only will this make it hard to beat the Tories next election, it may tarnish by association the reputation of the new Liberal leader.

3. Unlike the NDP and Conservatives, the Liberals have no ideology to give them energy. Centrist parties can disappear quickly in opposition.

4. Any ideological drive there might have been will have been dissipated by twelve years or more in power. They’ve had a long time to implement their program. There can’t be a lot of hot-button issues left to galvanize party activists to work in adversity.

5. Worst of all, perhaps, the atmosphere within the party has been poisoned by the ouster of Chretien. There are now two distinct factions in the party, and they hate one another’s guts. It is almost inevitable, as a result, that any new leader will lead only half the party, with a huge fifth column working against him. It is not just a matter of making up with the other side. That won’t be enough. They may reconcile themselves with you, but the other side will still have enormous problems working together with the many of the other personalities in your campaign.

Had McKenna run, he would have instantly been the Martin candidate. Had Manley, Tobin, or Rock run, they would have been the Chretien candidate. Only a younger candidates has a chance of avoiding identification with one faction or another, but it will be difficult even for them.

This is the price of ousting a relatively successful leader. It happened to the Tories when they bounced Diefenbaker. It happened to the British Tories when they bounced Thatcher.

6. The new factionalism destroys one of the most attractive things about the Liberal leadership in the past: the tradition of disciplined loyalty to the leader.

7. Longer term, demographics favour the Conservatives. Alberta is only going to get more populous and more prosperous, with the price of oil high. While 905 is growing, 416 (and 514) are not. This means, in order to compete, the Liberals are soon going to have to remake themselves to appeal to a different audience.

8. Ironically, the Liberals left Canada and the public coffers in good economic shape, so that the Conservatives will have a fairly free hand to spend or lower taxes. They will not, like Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, be left with the burden of taking unpopular but necessary measures to clean up a mess not of their making.



A new Dominion Institute poll asked Canadians what qualities they most valued in a PM. They rated “having the common touch” number one, and “being a great communicator” second.

I’m not surprised—Canadians are now looking for their own version of Ronald Reagan. Canadians, whether they admit it or not, always follow, at a distance, the American trends.

This bodes ill, by the way, for a Liberal party led by either Michael Ignatieff or Stephane Dion, probably the two most prominent candidates left in the field of likelies. Both intellectual types.