Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hot Times on the Hill

Suddenly these are exciting times in Canadian politics.

It looks to me as though the Conservative government really is going to fall, and a coalition government of the Liberals and NDP will take power.

The legalities are perfectly clear. Accept no guff about this. If a government falls so soon after an election, the Governor-General's first choice should never be to dissolve the House; it is to appoint anyone who looks as though they might have the confidence of the House. The leader of the opposition would be an obvious choice, although it could also be another member of the government party. If, however, the leader of the official opposition can present a written coalition agreement, signed by an absolute majority of members, the GG really has no other choice but to appoint him prime minister, and see if he can survive a confidence vote. To do otherwise would be downright illegal. All hell would break loose.

There is also no reason why the parties forming the coalition agreement should feel obliged to put forward the current leader of the official opposition as PM. If they don't like Dion, they are perfectly free, among themselves, to choose any other individual, inside or outside the Commons. It could be Jack Layton, or Michael Ignatieff, or John McCallum, or Jean Chretien, or Rick Mercer, if they like.

Is it going to happen? Negotiating such an agreement is tricky. There is a reason why it has not been attempted since the First World War. But I suspect the opposition parties are so tired of being forced to back Harper against their will to avoid an election, that they really want to do this.

Will they pay for it at the next election? Probably. It looks grasping, and the Conservatives are sure to argue that they subverted the democratic process. In fact, they will have done nothing of the kind—together, the NDP, Liberals, and Bloc represent many more voters than the Conservatives do. But that's the way this sort of thing has tended to play in the past—as in the King-Byng affair of the 1920s.

But perhaps another bit of history must be served. Dion, without this, would be the first Liberal leader since Edward Blake never to have been PM.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Affirmative Action: The Graph



Small Dead Animals features this graph and asks why the NDP has never gotten anywhere electorially, when Reform climbed to official opposition within ten years of its founding.

But note the years between 1989 and 2003. Fairly dramatic plunge, no? What happened then is simple: two markedly under-qualified leaders, chosen only because they were female.

This shows more broadly, I would suggest, the overall effects of affirmative action anywhere. If you choose under-qualified candidates, your actual results are going to nosedive. The under-qualified will underperform. Everyone suffers as a result.

I also think it is remarkable that nobody ever, so far as I know, has pointed out this interesting fact about the history of the NDP: that Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa McDonaugh truly sucked as federal leaders. They have been immune from criticism despite an obviously awful performance, I submit, because they are women. (Albeit this immunity from criticism extends only to women of the left--ask Sarah Palin or Margaret Thatcher about that). At worst, they were merely "ill-served by their advisors."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SOME SIMPLE TRUTHS OF LIFE BY GEORGE CARLIN...

…With some simple answers by Steve Roney


4. If man evolved from monkeys and apes why do we still have monkeys and apes?

While this sounds like a stupid question and a stupid error, it is in fact the foundation of both Marx and Nietzsche.


7. Could it be that all those trick-or-treaters wearing sheets aren't going as ghosts but as mattresses?

Or maybe as sailors in a high gale?


9. If a man is standing in the middle of the forest speaking and there is no woman around to hear him...is he still wrong?

Wrong question, male chauvinist pig!


10. If someone with multiple personalities threatens to kill himself is it considered a hostage situation?

I think we have to leave that up to the innocent bystander personality to decide.


11. Is there another word for synonym?

Yes, but it amounts to the same thing.


12. Isn't it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do "practice?"

Not so long as it makes us perfect.


13. Where do forest rangers go to "get away from it all?"

Above the tree line.


14. What do you do when you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant?

Threaten him with extinction.


15. If a parsley farmer is sued can they garnish his wages?

That, or lien on his crop.


16. Would a fly without wings be called a walk?

Only by someone cruel and insensitive. He's merely survivability-challenged.


17. Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? Are they afraid someone will clean them?

They fear someone will hide in there until his car has pulled away to avoid paying.


18. If a turtle doesn't have a shell is he homeless or naked?

Same as an egg: he's fried.


19. Why don't sheep shrink when it rains?

They're pre-shrunk llamas.


20. Can vegetarians eat animal crackers?

Only if they hold a poetic license.


21. If the police arrest a mime do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?

No; goes without saying.


22. Why do they put Braille on the drive-through bank machines?

Affirmative action.


23. How do they get the deer to cross at that yellow road sign?

The power of advertising.


24. Is it true that cannibals don't eat clowns because they taste funny?

No; they hate the honking noise when they bite into the noses.


25. What was the best thing before sliced bread?

Peanut butter and jelly injection machines.


35. Do pediatricians play miniature golf on Wednesdays?

Until the wee hours…


36. Before they invented drawing boards what did they go back to?

Reinventing the wheel.


37. Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults enjoy adultery?

Not necessarily. Do bugs enjoy buggery, bats battery, or cuttlefish cutlery? I think not.


38. If all the world is a stage where is the audience sitting?

They're on the platform, waving goodbye.


39. If God dropped acid would he see people?

Far out! So this creation thing was all a bad trip?


40. If one synchronized swimmer drowns do the rest have to drown too?

No; all must drown simultaneously, or lose big points.


41. If the #2 pencil is the most popular why is it still #2?

The number one has been reserved for military use.


42. If work is so terrific how come they have to pay you to do it?

For the tax base.


43. If you ate pasta and antipasto would you still be hungry?

Not especially. If, however, you eat them both simultaneously, you will create a black hole that will suck you in like spaghetti.


44. If you try to fail and succeed which have you done?

Founded another dot com.


45. Why is it called tourist season if we can't shoot at them?

You're supposed to use traps.


Source: George Carlin & Steve Roney
All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Good Neighbour Hitler

There is a new tendency towards revisionism over the Second World War—arguing that it was not, in fact, the “Good War” we have for so long understood it to be.

Sucg revisionism is, at the same time, both necessary and appalling. We must forever challenge received wisdom, certainly. Our freedom depends on it. On the other hand, though, failing to see WWII as a definitive battle of good against evil seems to me to be the worst sort of moral relativism. If we cannot see even this as a plain case of right and wrong, we have smashed our moral compass and put out every star in ths sky that might show us our way in the dark.

Eric Margolis treads the recent footprints of Pat Buchanan (Hitler, Churchill and the Unnecessary War) in a recent Ottawa Sun column.

Let's examine this argument point by point.


Margolis argues first, far less controversially, that World War I was wrong—for Britain and America. That they should both have stayed out.


“Britain,” he says, “could have halted the war, or let the continental powers fight until they came to a truce. But Churchill and his fellow imperialists determined to destroy Germany, a new rival to Britain's wealth and power.”


Right. And how might Britain have halted the war—other than by treatening to come in one one side or the other? That's what they did—and their participation in the war was the result. They had a treaty obligation, and a moral obligation, to defend neutral Belgium. While it is possible to argue that other nations entered the war foolishly or for ignoble motives, it is hard to single out Britain, as Margoilis does, for special criticism.

As to sitting out the war, what grounds does Margolis have to imagine the result without Britain would have been a stalemate? Even with Britain, France was very nearly lost in 1914, as it had been in 1871, and Russia really was lost in 1917. Without Britain’s involvement, it is far more likely that the result would have been a continent united against Britain under German leadership, as it was under Nepoleon a century before. This is an insane risk to expect the leaders of Britain to take.


“The war should have ended in 1917 when both sides were exhausted and stalemated. America's entry into the war resulted in Germany's defeat and ensuing post-war suffering.”


Both sides were not exhausted and stalemated in 1917. Russia was in full collapse. The armistice with Germany was signed in December, freeing a vast new contingent of German arms for a new offensive in the West. At best, without America's involvement at the crucial time, and the promise of much larger American armies arriving soon, the war might have dragged on much longer.


“The German, Habsburg and Ottoman Empires were torn apart by the lupine victors and reduced to ruin, creating today's unstable Balkans and Mideast.”


To suggest that the Balkans were stable until the fall of the Habsburgs and Ottomans is bizarre. It was the chronic instability of the “Balkan tinderbox” that led to the Great War in the first place.

It is also odd to lament that the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires were dismantled. Are empires such a good thing? Both were dismantled while paying close attention to, and very much in accord with, the wishes of their inhabitants, following the Wilsonian principle of the self-determination of peoples. The Arabs were actually not perticularly overjoyed to be ruled by Turks, nor the Czechs to be ordered around by Austrian Germans.


“...had a Carthaginian peace not been imposed upon them at Versailles and Trianon, there might never have been a Hitler, Communist Russia or Second World War.”


Communist Russia could hardly have been avoided but for Versailles and Trianon. Versailles was signed in summer, 1919, Trianon in 1920. Communist Russia was already in existence, since 1917.

As to the Peace of Versailles being particularly harsh on Germany, it is worth pointing out that is was much less harsh than the peace imposed on Germany after World War II—which has oddly not produced the rise of another Hitler-like figure. It was also less harsh than the peace Germany herself had just imposed on Russia at Brest-Litovsk, in 1917.

Perhaps Hitler could have been prevented had it been harsher?


“Churchill made the fatal error in the Second World War of backing Poland's hold on Danzig even though Britain could do nothing to defend Poland...”


If this was a mistake, it was not Churchill's. Chamberlain was still Prime Minister.
It is true that England could do nothing directly to defend Poland. It could equally have done nothing at Munich to directly defend Czechoslovakia, or later, to defend the Soviet Union. But it is quite novel to see this as a legitimate excuse to do nothing in the face of aggression. Indeed, it would have automatically ceded Hitler the right to fight on only one front at a time, and removed from the table Germany's greatest strategic fear, the two-front war.

Margolis comments almost offhandedly—as if he hopes by this to avoid close inspection of the claim-- that Hitler was interested only in “attempts to reunite millions of Germans stranded in these new nations by the dreadful Versailles Treaty.” That was Hitler's own claim, but it might not be wise to syetematically believe his propaganda. By the time of the Polish crisis, this claim had already been disproved: he had already invaded and annexed non-German Bohemia and Moravia, the present Czech Republic. He would later, of course, annex much of Poland and enslave its populace.

Sacrifice Poland, and Chamberlain would almost of a certainty only have had to face Hitler later, with Hitler stronger, and Britain weaker.


“[T]he western democracies should have let Hitler expand his Reich eastward until it inevitably went to war with the even more dangerous Soviet Union. Once these despotisms had exhausted themselves, the western democracies would have been left dominating Europe.”


When Britain declared war on Germany, Germany and the Soviet Union were allies. There was no reason to assume Germany and Russia would turn on each other out in the near future. They were more likely to continue, together, arms locked at the elbows, to trample down all the Western democracies.

Even had Britain had the luxury of staying out while the two went at each other, what would have been gained? Instead of being able to take them down one after another, the West would have had to face the victor, with the combined assets of the two, in some future Armageddon.


“In the end, Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt were so obsessed with crushing Germany, and so seduced by 'Uncle Joe' Stalin, they handed half of Europe to the Soviet Union...”


Not exactly. Nothing was handed to the Soviet Union. The final lines, the runners for the Iron Curtain, were more or less where the armies met. The Soviet Union had taken half of Europe by force of arms, not been handed it, and Churchill and Roosevelt would surely have had to fight them for it if they had any objections. It is understandable if they did not want to put their peoples through that.


“...the Soviet Union, a far more murderous and dangerous tyranny than Hitler's Germany.”


I don't think that claim is justifiable either. Granted, Stalin killed more people than Hitler—he had more time in power to do it. But there is still something very special about deliberately launching a world war and deliberately trying to annihilate a race. The difference between Hitler and Stalin was the difference between a slow cancer and a cocked gun against your ear. You deal with the gun first.


“[Western leaders are] idolizing the arch imperialist, Churchill.”


Wait a minute. I thought imperialism was now a good thing. Or is it good only when not done by Anglo-Saxons?

All I can think is that it is a damned good thing for human civilization that Pat Buchanan was not advising the British government in the months after Munich.

The Campbellvitches are Coming

This music warms and astounds my Celtic soul. But it's from Bulgaria!

Taking next plane out. Will send postcard.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Case for Canadian Conservatism

The turnout in the last Canadian election was the lowest ever, under 60%.

I did not bother to vote myself—although I could have, by absentee ballot. Who cares? It seems to matter so little who wins, in Canada—the policies are the same regardless.

This suggests that Stephen Harper's main strategy, as leader of the Conservatives, is wrong.

Harper, following conventional Canadian wisdom, has been tacking to the centre, serene in the knowledge that there is nobody to his right to split the small-c conservative vote.

Mistake. As Karl Rove showed in George Bush's two election victories, and John McCain demonstrated by losing this year, when turnout is a major factor, covering the centre ground is not the best strategy. Often, the better idea is to fire up your own base. If you can get your supporters more motivated to come to the polls that the other side, you win.

This, surely, would have been the case this election year. With such low turnout, and Stephane Dion failing to light fires among his Liberal colleagues, had Harper been significantly better at inspiring small-c conservatives, he probably could have snagged his majority.

It is conventional wisdom that Canada is not a conservative country, that it is instinctively centre-left. If so, by being clear and conservative, Harper might have inspired two liberal voters to come out and vote against him for every one conservative he drew to the polls. But is that really true?

The West, we know, is perfectly amenable to “conservative” doctrines; Reform showed that, even if Diefenbaker didn't. But Ontario, supposedly the Liberal heartland, can also respond to a clear, consistent conservative message. Mike Harris proved that. Ernie Eves and John Tory, trying triangulation instead, have in fact done less well. This is “Tory Blue” Ontario we're talking about: home of the thirty-year provincial Conservative hegemony, not so long ago.

The Maritimes may have become addicted to Liberal equalization payments; but they are at heart deeply socially conservative. They are Canada's “Bible belt.” They ought to be reliably conservative in just the same way as the US South. Like the Atlantic provinces, the South bought the dole for a while, under the New Deal. But they have grown out of it. So could Halifax and St. John's.

This leaves Quebec. In Quebec, in recent history, ideology simply has not mattered—it has been overshadowed by the question of sovereignty. But, once a tipping point is reached, the Conservatives can represent that option just as well as the Liberals. The relative success of the ADQ in the last provincial election suggests there is some real appetite for a straight conservative option. On a full-blooded conservative platform, ADQ took 31% of the vote. Last federal election, in Quebec, the CPC took 21.7%. They are running well behind the conservative ideology per se.

Who does that leave? Nunavut?

All that is required, I suspect, is a leader who is a leader: who does not follow the present opinion polls, but seeks to change them. That's what Margaret Thatcher did, in Britain, that's what Churchill did, and that's what Ronald Reagan did in the US. That's what Mike Harris and Ralph Klein did in Ontario and Alberta. A similar leader really could do the same in Canada as a whole.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Right Stuff

Events are against him: the economic trouble, his own inexperience. He may have come to power too soon. But to be honest, Barack Obama has in him what makes a great president.

He is a great communicator. A great speaker, and, if he indeed wrote his own books, a great writer.

Many different types of people become president, but surely the most successful presidents have been those who shared this talent. Without it, being president hardly matters. Only with it can one really make a difference.

Reagan, of course, with his experience as an actor and, before and after it, as a journalist, was known as “The Great Communicator.” This also made him “the Teflon President.” FDR, with his fireside chats, was another. So was Lincoln—witness the Gettysburg Address.

In Canada, Ralph Klein is a classic example. He was virtually invicible politically, thanks to his journalistic talents. So was Rene Levesque, another former journalist. In Britain, both Disraeli and Churchill were also trained communicators, distinguished authors apart from politics.

That is what it takes.

McCain was a fine candidate, but he arguably lost to Obama in the end because he did less well at communicating a vision, a theme, to Americans. Obama had “Real Change.” McCain had “end pork barrel spending”; or, more charitably, “Country First.” It sounds worthy, but it doesn't have the same ring, invoke the same images of a better future, as, say, “The Square Deal,” “The New Frontier,” or “Compassionate Conservatism.” McCain was a great communicator in town hall meetings or at the back of the bus, but not directly to the general public: not on TV or in set speeches. He inspired by his deeds, but not his words.

So who on the right has the right stuff for 2012?

Fred Thompson is talented. When he's on his game, he rolls like thunder. But he apparently, to his credit, lacks the desire. And he will be a bit old to be a candidate by 2012—though not as old as McCain today. He spends too much time clearing his throat.

And there's Mike Huckabee. Preaching also teaches one to communicate, and certainly to inspire. Obama's own rhetoric owes a lot to a pracher's cadences. William Jennings Bryan, Tommy Douglas, Martin Luther King, Bible Bill Aberhart, and many more rose to political prominence from this training. Now Huckabee is also learning the ropes as a TV journalist. He should be in devastating form by the time 2012 rolls around. There is one concern, however: the preacherly tone seems to lead more often to prominence in opposition than to power. We honour prophets; but the role of prophet is very different from, and generally runs in counterpoint, to that of king.

Who's left? Surprise—Sarah Palin. It seems to have escaped general notice that her academic training is in journalism. She was a TV reporter before she went into politics. That's why she knows how to project through that screen. Give her a few more years of executive experience, and she may be not just political dynamite, as she is now, but a political hydrogen bomb.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Who Wanted Those Lousy Grapes Anyway?

Okay, I was wrong. There was a Bradley effect, but it was only about five points; not enough to pull McCain past Obama.

Let's try sour grapes. Some have said that winning this time is a poisoned chalice. I hope they're wrong, but if we are facing prolonged economic troubles, it will scuff up the Obama presidency and Democratic ascendancy pretty quickly.

In 1929, we had a similar, albeit so far much worse, financial crisis. In reaction, the Canadian people quickly threw out the Liberal government, and elected the Conservatives under RB Bennett. In the US, though, the next presidential election was not until 1932. As a result, Herbert Hoover and the Republicans got tarred forever with blame for the Depression, as things just got worse for the first three or four years.

In Canada, though, Bennett and the Conservatives were ultimately blamed, even though they tried all of the same “New Deal” policies that Roosevelt did, the Liberals returned to power in the next election, were credited with the eventual recovery, and held on for 23 more years.

If we are facing a similar period, the Democrats may now be left holding the bag; they are in Bennett's position. They may have been given just enough rope this time to hang themselves.

I have also long thought that the oughts are the Sixties run in reverse. Clinton was Eisenhower, Reagan was FDR, and the election of 2008 is the election of 1968 rerun.

That makes Obama Nixon.

If so, his presidency may well end in tears. And the Nixon presidency did not swing the nation to the right; instead, it marked the years in which the new left really took hold, in all areas of the culture.

So it may be now, for the new right.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Last Thoughts on the US Vote

This post is written as Americans actually vote.

First the bad news: the opinion polls did not get closer in the last few days. Every single poll showed Obama ahead at the end, even by a growing margin. It looks as though his half-hour TV pitch worked for him. And Obama's grandmother dying the day before the election will win him sympathy votes.

On the other hand, Obama's comments on “bankrupting” anyone who builds a coal plant may help McCain at the last minute in some key states. West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Montana, Colorado, Indiana, and North Dakota are all in the top ten of coal-producing states, and all close contests. Virginia, New Mexico, and Ohio are not far behind. If all those close states now go to McCain, he wins.

And we can still hope for the Bradley effect to be big enough to take McCain over the top. If it is ten points or more, added to just about all the polls, it wins McCain the popular vote.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Tom Bradley Comes Out for McCain

According to an email by a rogue Obama staffer read by Rush Limbaugh on his program yesterday, the Obama campaign believes what I do. They believe the “Bradley effect” is real and will happen. And they estimate it at about the same size as I do, into the double digits.

Here's the quote:


"Do not believe these public polls for a second. I just went over our numbers, found that we [that is, the Obama campaign] have next to no chance in the following states: Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada. Ohio leans heavily to McCain but it's too close to call it for him. Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa are the true toss-up states. The only two of these the Obama campaign feels confident are Iowa and New Mexico, but now Obama's headed back to Iowa on Monday. The reason for such polling discrepancy is the Bradley Effect, and this is a subject of much discussion in the campaign. In general, we in the Obama campaign tend to take a ten-point percentage in allowing for this, a minus ten-point percentage for allowing this and are not comfortable until the polls give us a spread well over this mark."


I think this has to be true. In fact, we can already see, and almost measure, a “Bradley effect” actually happening.

According to the McCain camp's polling figures, voters who are still “undecided” fit a distinct profile: “older, downscale, more rural, and ... certainly economically stressed. They are quite negative about the direction of country and seek change. They voted for Bush over Kerry by a margin of 47% to 24%.”

They also indicate a very high degree of interest in the election.

Based on their interest and their previous voting record, they have almost certainly already decided, and decided heavily in favour of McCain. They are not truly undecided at all, but simply not inclined to admit to a stranger that they are not voting for the pollitically correct choice. That's the Bradley effect. The real undecideds are probably already being counted by polls as in Obama's camp.

The “undecideds,” according to the polls, constitute about 8% of the electorate at this point.

If that eight percent broke entirely for McCain, of course, it would give him an extra 8 points. If they break two-thirds or three-quarters for McCain, as the same voters did for Bush last time, there's a Bradley effect of 5-6 points.

But that neglects the true undecideds probably now counted in Obama's column. If they are really undecided, and, say, really about 8%, and so break evenly between the two candidates, that takes 4% from “Obama's” vote, and hands it directly to McCain—for a swing of 8%. Add 5: a Bradley effect of 13-14%.

And what do the polls actually show? Real Clear Politics shows an Obama lead of 6.5, and closing. Zogby's daily results actually now show a tiny McCain lead.

It is not enough.