Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Potomac or the Tiber?

I had, for a while, referred to Bush-era Washington as "Weimar on the Potomac", a phrase I had retired in my mind until I heard the words "death panels" for the first time. The toxic mix of a victimized, self-pitying nationalism and a belief that traitors in their midst were just aching to stab them in the back reminded me of nothing so much as the late German republic.

But I just finished reading the fabulous Rubicon by Tom Holland, so you'll pardon me if a different metaphor springs to mind when we start seeing people advocate for a military solution to "the Obama problem". (via Balloon-Juice and Chet) Though of course, describing anything as "the X problem" has other, far more sinister, German overtones.

You can still read the full text of the original article here, though its original patron seems to have disowned both the text and the author. What's intriguing to me is less the hypothetical solution and more the grievances. John Perry writes:
Top military officers can see the Constitution they are sworn to defend being trampled as American institutions and enterprises are nationalized.

They can see that Americans are increasingly alarmed that this nation, under President Barack Obama, may not even be recognizable as America by the 2012 election, in which he will surely seek continuation in office.

They can see that the economy -- ravaged by deficits, taxes, unemployment, and impending inflation -- is financially reliant on foreign lender governments.
None of these things, of course, started with Obama himself. Moreover, the idea that the US officer corps is going to displace the elected Commander-in-Chief over the nationalization of GM and Chrysler is... well, funny in many senses. But I suspect that this is an aperitif in the multi-course dinner of crazy that Perry is serving up, because he's just described running for re-election as a sinister plot to "seek continuation in office."
They can see this president waging undeclared war on the intelligence community, without whose rigorous and independent functions the armed services are rendered blind in an ever-more hostile world overseas and at home.
By publicly declaring that the members of the intelligence community who followed illegal orders from their president will face... no consequences whatsoever?
They can see the dismantling of defenses against missiles targeted at this nation by avowed enemies, even as America's troop strength is allowed to sag.
Ooh, a double-barreled crazy! First, the missile defense is being replaced with something that works, not eliminated. Secondly, in what universe is increasing US troop levels and military spending synonymous with "allow[ing] to sag?" The crazyverse, that's where. Bonus: the avowed reason for Polish missile defense was the threat from Iran, and Iranian missiles can in no way threatan US soil, unless we define "US soil" as the territory of any US ally, formal or otherwise.
So, if you are one of those observant military professionals, what do you do?

Wait until this president bungles into losing the war in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's arsenal of nuclear bombs falls into the hands of militant Islam?

Wait until Israel is forced to launch air strikes on Iran's nuclear-bomb plants, and the Middle East explodes, destabilizing or subjugating the Free World?
Well, if I were a high-ranking general upset about these things, I might ask myself why I'd stayed silent for the eight years of the Bush Administraion instead of getting so exercised during the eight months of the Obama Administration. But then, I'm not a high-ranking general. And if I were in a room with a bunch of them, I would assume that we would all agree that the only legal, constitutional, and moral answer to give is "we obey the President of the United States of America, or we resign." But here comes the meat of Perry's conspiracy:
Will the day come when patriotic general and flag officers sit down with the president, or with those who control him, and work out the national equivalent of a "family intervention," with some form of limited, shared responsibility?

Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making.
"Imagine a coup to defend the Constitution..."... from the duly elected government bound by that constitution. Nice. It's all high-octane crazy talk, bound together with the fevered imaginations of the teabaggers and the like. But I note that the list of grievances is pretty thin with actual constitutional violations -- no unlawful search and seizures, no trampling of states' rights, no restriction of the first or second ammendment. Instead, what motivates Perry is the fear that America will be put at risk by losing wars at the frontiers of its influence. And with the crack about letting enemies target missiles at America, he's really associating the desires of the military-industrial complex with the needs of the country.

And of course, this is where we come back to Rome. Rome had a military-economic complex of its own, well before the fall of the Republic. Wars in Asia (really in the Balkans, Turkey, and Syria) made generals and roman agents rich, rich, rich, so there was a constant desire to find new reasons to drum up "self-defense" wars against the next uppity Asian king. The first General to march on Rome -- as a defender of the constitution, of course -- was Sulla, who wanted to ensure that he be given the command of one of an apparently lucrative campaign against the king Mithridates. Sulla had been named General by the Senate, his rival Marius had been named General by the Plebian Assembly. Roman custom held that the assembly was superior to the Senate, but the Roman legions under Sulla's command -- and his conservative allies in the Senate -- had other ideas.

What's interesting to think about in all this, of course, is how quickly things changed for the Romans. The Republic had been roiled by civil strife for some time, but it was only with the election of the first Gracchi brother in the 130s that blood was actually shed in Roman politics. A decade later the second Gracchi brother was killed (and if you're thinking "Kennedy" here, you should really read Holland's book.) Then the great Social War erupts as Italian cities begin rejecting Roman power, and Sulla becomes the champion of Rome by bringing Italy to heel. Then, before the embers of the Social War can even cool, Sulla marches on Rome for the first time. This all occurs within about 50 years -- when the Republic's domestic politics had enjoyed 400 years of peace before that. Or, to put it another way, enough time had passed since the last true foreign threat to the Republic (Hannibal had been defeated in 202 BC) that nobody could really remember a time when Rome itself had been under threat. By 81 BC, Rome had been invaded by Romans, twice. 20 years later, Caesar's inexorable rise had already begun.

Here's my point. Politics are fragile. They are bound, more than we like to admit, by convention and custom, and not by laws themselves. The law itself, of course, can be bent to suit convention and custom as necessary -- so Canadian courts rule that Harper breaking his own fixed-election law isn't actually illegal because "confidence" of Parliament is something defined more by custom than by law. (And the court isn't wrong!) And when actors within our political system begin to start throwing custom out the window, then things can change very, very rapidly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Since when did Martin go away?

Anyone else remember, in the heady days circa 2006, how Michael Ignatieff's leadership was key to resuscitating Liberal fortunes in Quebec? Good times.

There's a growing meme out there that somebody's really going to have to explain to me. According to a number of voices -- including, I think [1] Paul Wells [update: listening to it online, it seems this was Susan Delacourt, though Wells certainly agreed] on CBC's The Current this morning -- the problem with the Liberal Party today is that both the Chretien and Martin camps have collapsed, leaving no core of leadership to keep the party from drifting aimlessly.

Except. I can get that Dion was basically a surprise to the Party -- they had their man (Ignatieff) picked, and if he'd actually been a competent politician he probably wouldn't have barfed up all over the silver platter they'd prepared for him. But Ignatieff is the leader now. And Ignatieff was hand-picked and parachuted in to his riding by... Paul Martin. Moreover, wooing Ignatieff in 2004-5 was an explicit slap to the final great moment of Chretien's Prime Ministry: keeping Canada out of the war in Iraq.

The Martin wing, then, hasn't really gone anywhere. It's a bit much to say that Ignatieff was Martin's chosen successor -- for that to be true, Martin would have had to acknowledge the reality that there would be one day when he wouldn't be leader -- but certainly the policies (move right, always right!) and even the staff are largely the same. (Denis Coderre, as just one example, began his cabinet career under Chretien but was elevated substantially under Martin.)

Now clearly I lack the sources that Paul Wells does. But from where I'm sitting, the problems isn't that the Martin camp and Chretien camp have disappeared. Rather, the problem is the Martin camp keeps failing miserably under both Martin and Ignatieff, but maintains a blatantly autocratic habit of forcing its candidates to the commanding heights without bothering with anything so plebian as a competitive election -- because in a competitive election, candidates like Ignatieff and Martin keep, um, losing.

Now, surely Dion is not the poster boy for electoral success either, but I know I'm not alone in thinking that had he not had to deal with a constant barrage of knives coming from his own team, Dion would have put up a better fight in the last election. Not a few people have used the words "treated shamefully" to describe Dion's handling at the hands of his own party. One guess as to who was wielding most of the knives, 2006-2008?

Now, clearly, I'm not an objective observer when it comes to Michael Ignatieff. I am, as they say, not a fan. But I thought it was clear that the Martin wing of the party was very much still in control, having helped ruin Dion and elevate Ignatieff. So people, if I have the basic facts of this matter wrong, please illuminate me.

[1] My apologies if I've misattributed a statement to Paul Wells, but I was just waking up to my alarm clock and couldn't sort out voices and statements right away. [Clearly, I did misattribute this.]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

So it's all been worthwhile then

Another note on that EKOS poll: Liberal supports stands basically where it was (nationally) after the 2006 election, or just a bit under. So despite having jettisoned two leaders, the country is basically as unimpressed with the party as they were when they elected Prime Minister Harper. If Ignatieff drops a bit further, he'll be well and truly in Dion territory (26% last election.) Alternately, he could almost be there now (the margin of error being what it is.)

Scott Tribe notes in comments that polls are snapshots, fickle beasts, etc etc. And he's quite right! Any individual poll is, in itself, meaningless. But my point is that we've seen a steady erosion in Liberal support since Ignatieff's announcement that he couldn't support the Harper government anymore.

The larger point, one that Chet has made time and time again, is that Canadian politics has been in a stunning kind of paralysis, especially since 2006 but arguably since 2004. All the sound and fury has truly signified nothing -- the Liberals have changed leaders, the other parties haven't, there's been a handful of scandals, rising stars in both parties have been privileged or humbled -- but the facts on the ground don't change.

If I were leading a political party in the Canadian parliament right now, I'd want to see damn good evidence that something major and structural was changing in my favour before I made a move. I politely submit that anyone claiming to see something like that in the Liberals' favour is either a) wrong, b) lying, or c) reading the contemporary equivalent of chicken entrails and tea leaves.

On unintended consequences

So last week the Liberal Party maneuvered to have the Bloc and NDP support a confidence motion in the house, and lo how we did hear crowing from our cousins in the middle: This'll show those stupid dippers, they said, and boy won't they look dumb supporting the Harper conservatives. And indeed, it does look silly to have the social-democratic left supporting the regressive right in Parliament. The Liberals seem not to have asked, however, what it would make them look like.

Answer: the Conservatives now have a 7-point lead in Ontario, a five point lead in Toronto, and are seven points ahead nationally.

Lesson for the day: you can make your rivals look bad, but it doesn't make you look good.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hysterical paranoia -- not just for nervous parents anymore!

Earlier today, in my new neighbourhood:
Man: Hey, do you know whose dog that is?

(Turns to see perfectly normal-looking black lab, albeit not on a leash and seemingly unaccompanied by its owner.)

Me: Uh, nope. It's got a collar, did you check the tags?

Man: Uh, no, I'm afraid of being attacked.

Me: Come here boy, yes, who's a good dog, aw you're so friendly.... the tag says it belongs to 427. Hmm... I'm standing in front of 427. Looks like the crisis has passed.

Man -- not a boy, definitely a (young) man: Wow, that was really brave of you.
I can't vouch for everything in that dialogue, except for the last sentence, which is seared in to my brain. Are people actually afraid of unattended dogs now, even when they have visible tags and collars?

Lordy, summers at my cottage would've been like the Normandy landings for that guy -- trauma and bravery everywhere! So... many.. dogs...

(Training kids to be wary of strange animals: good idea. Not being able to differentiate, as an adult, between "unknown" and "dangerous": bad idea.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hm.

Okay, read this article in the NatPo and answer me a few questions:

1) Do you see this as (further) evidence that Stephen Harper is an incompetent/malicious PM?

2) Is there any evidence that the upgrades to water services in this country are unnecessary or wasteful?

3) Whose job is it, in the Canadian system, to make sure cities have sufficient resources to operate? (If you answer, "the federal government", go back to school.)

Look, I'm not a fan of Stephen Harper -- newsflash! -- but it is not his job to make sure that cities run well. It is, in fact, his job to make sure that Canadian water is clean and not posing a danger to human health. (It is a settled matter that the Feds have a strong obligation in the environment.) It is, in Ontario, Dalton McGuinty's job to make sure that cities have enough money to do their jobs properly.

Now, I would like to see a federal government committed to lowering the costs for cities. But the Provinces have fiscal resources too, and (to use Coyne's nice formulation) the argument that the feds should pay for Provincial responsibilities amounts to a) the feds have money, and b) we want money.

There is only one true "fiscal imbalance" in this country, and it's between the provinces and cities. When Queen's Park starts sending more of its money to the cities instead of enjoying the proceeds of the Harris-era downloading, then come talk to me.

Tab-clearing, 9/22

  • TNC on Kanye, "manners" and all that:
  • Even Brooks view of the "Greatest Generation" is myopic. In 1948 Strom Thurmond authored the segregationist Dixiecrat charter, while immodestly fathering a daughter with a black women. In 1946, Isaac Woodward, a veteran of World War II, was beaten and blinded--while in uniform--by South Carolina police. The police were prosecuted, but the jury acquitted them, and a court-room full of Americans broke out in immodest applause.

    This is history through the veil, again. It's virtually impossible to be a black person and believe that Americans were somehow more humble in the past. Our very existence springs from an act of immodesty.
  • The Internet is not making us stupid. Stop saying that it is.
  • I start with Plato's critique of writing where he says that if we depend on writing, we will lose the ability to remember things. Our memory will become weak. And he also criticizes writing because the written text is not interactive in the way spoken communication is. He also says that written words are essentially shadows of the things they represent. They're not the thing itself. Of course we remember all this because Plato wrote it down -- the ultimate irony.

    We hear a thousand objections of this sort throughout history: Thoreau objecting to the telegraph, because even though it speeds things up, people won't have anything to say to one another. Then we have Samuel Morse, who invents the telegraph, objecting to the telephone because nothing important is ever going to be done over the telephone because there's no way to preserve or record a phone conversation. There were complaints about typewriters making writing too mechanical, too distant -- it disconnects the author from the words. That a pen and pencil connects you more directly with the page. And then with the computer, you have the whole range of "this is going to revolutionize everything" versus "this is going to destroy everything."
  • Classic book titles, 21st-century style:
  • Then: The Wealth of Nations
    Now:  Invisible Hands: The Mysterious Market Forces That Control Our Lives and How to Profit from Them

    Then: Walden
    Now:  Camping with Myself: Two Years in American Tuscany

  • The ghost fleet of the recession:
  • "A couple of years ago these ships would be steaming back and forth. Now 12 per cent are doing nothing.."
  • The relative energy efficiency of transport modes, revisited. Cyclists still win! (Thanks, Adam!)
  • Surface area required to power the world with sun and wind.
  • And finally, it turns out Ayn Rand and her cultists were kind of weird. Who knew?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tangible steps... hmm...

President Obama did a sane thing today, and cancelled the construction of a non-working missile non-defense system that wouldn't work and thus couldn't defend squat. Did I mention it didn't work? The reaction of Joe Lieberman, as a proxy for every stupid person on the right today:
The administration must take immediate and tangible action to reassure our allies in Central and Eastern Europe that we are committed to their security and independence.”
Poland and the Czech Republic are NATO members, and thus the United States is required to come to their defense in the event of an attack on those countries. Moreover, US law requires that the US government treat Ukraine as a NATO member until such time as that becomes a formal reality.

There's pretty much nothing else the President could do that would commit the US to the defense of Central and Eastern Europe more than it already is. Maybe the current guarantees are meaningless -- no doubt Mikhail Saakashvili thinks so -- but if they are, it's not because a missile shield is or isn't being built. It's because the national interests of the United States are not the same as those in Warsaw or Prague.

Taking a page from Atrios' book

It's always fraught to comment on contemporary parenting when a) I don't have kids and b) I know how the moment you have kids, everybody knows more than you and is eager to share, but like Atrios I too read this piece in the Times from last weekend and shook my head. Kids not being allowed to walk home, three houses away on the same street, "just in case"? Insanity. But, an understandable form of madness I think: children, and especially young girls, are assumed to be victims-in-waiting in our culture. It doesn't agree with the data, but then again there's all sorts of things that don't agree with the data, including our use of the word "sunrise".

So I'm not going to get all self-righteous about people over-parenting their young kids (though I did flip through Lenore Skenazy's book and enjoyed it.) What I think is really far less understandable, and far more damaging, is that this over-parenting seems to now extend into the late teens and even, in some cases, early 20s. Any university staff will tell you their favourite story about helicopter parents, I'm sure, but I was listening to Hara Estroff Morano on a rerun of CBC's The Current last week and one story in particular dropped my jaw: a father who moved in to a hotel room closer to his son's university campus to help him through the trauma of changing his major.

As it turns out, I changed my major in the 2nd year of my BA. I think I told my father sometime before I graduated, but couldn't swear to it. He may have learned about it when he saw my diploma for the first time.

The hyper-careful parenting of pre-teen children may be illogical (driving your child to school exposes them to more risk, not less) but the hyper-parenting of teens and young adults is unreasonable. I don't know if there's a straight line running through both concepts -- they don't seem directly related to me -- but they do seem like two different categories: one is regrettable if understandable, the other is harmful to everyone involved.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Okay, awesome

Best President ever? Exhibit A. Exhibit B.

"He deserves a rich, full life. And he's not going to get one."

Try to read this TomDispatch...
A trip to the edge of Lake Powell in the canyon country of southern Utah in June revealed the bigger picture. A ten-story-high "bathtub ring" -- the band of white mineral deposits left behind on the reservoir's walls as the waterline dropped -- stretches the almost 200-mile length of the reservoir.

Recreational boat users, hoping against hope that the reservoir will refill, have regularly been issuing predictions about a return to "normal" levels, but it just hasn't happened. Side canyons, once submerged under 100 feet of water, have now been under the sun long enough to have turned into lush, mature habitats filled with willows and brush, birds and pack rats. A view from a cliff high above the once bustling, now ghostlike Hite Marina on the receding eastern side of Lake Powell shows the futility of chasing the retreating shoreline with cement: the water's edge and a much-extended boat-launching ramp now have 100 acres of dried mud, grass, and fresh shrubs between them.
...and not think immediately of the fate of Lake Baikal the Aral Sea in the former USSR. [a-doy, thanks Zack]

The "bathtub ring" Ward describes is fully in evidence at Lake Mead as well, as I saw this spring doing, uh, research in Las Vegas. Yes. Research. Totally serious was my purpose in the American southwest.

Of course, the drying of the American west is just one symptom of the warming of our planet. Given that there's basically no chance we'll keep the planet's fever below 2 degrees now, any sane plan for dealing for the next few thousand years of badness is going to mean an exodus from the hot, dry places of the Earth: places that were pleasant enough when water, and then AC, were plentiful, but whose continued habitation is a risky bet at the very best. The collapse of the American southwest will, once and for all, demonstrate the futility of trying to technocratically "manage" our problems away. The idea of artificially filling the basins of the Colorado is a kind of fantasy that no doubt appeal to those who think global warming can be solved with orbiting mirrors, but quickly fails the laugh test. (Desalination? Where do we put the gigatons of leftover brine?)

The entire discussion puts me in mind of the Star Trek: TNG episode "The Inner Light" where Picard relives the life of a doomed man on a baking world. One of the best episodes ever, though it makes me think our civilization too will only be remembered by the probes we've launched in to space.

Is the Chinese state failing?

Fascinating piece from OpenDemocracy about the state of Chinese politics as the People's Republic approaches its 60th anniversary:
Several academics I talked offered sharp insights into the party's and government's current predicament. One as good as said that democracy at the village level had made things worse. Another complained that lawyers were now becoming a huge enemy within, challenging the government and starting to articulate demands that were becoming more and more political in their complexion.

Behind all of this is the immense security apparatus that the CCP now relies on for so much for its authority in "difficult" areas. A recent report estimated that China had no less than 1 million secret-intelligence operatives. How are these tasked and funded; who they are answerable to; how is their effectiveness assessed? These are not simple questions to answer. But somewhere, on someone's budget-sheet, is the costs of a huge amount of people assigned to use government money on "dealing with subversive and terrorist activity". It would be fascinating to know just what this amounts to in financial cost alone.

I am more disheartened than I was even a month ago by how things are in China. The central state seems less effective and in control in many areas than I had thought.
It will be a darkly funny outcome if the People's Republic itself succumbs to a period of warlordism -- the party has implicitly used the threat of civil strife as a justification for its monopoly on power.

Whether the CCP can understand the basic insight of democratic countries, and survive it, is the question of the decade. I'm far less optimistic about either outcome than I was only a few years ago.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My blog should just point to ever XKCD strip ever

This is funny. Extra funny -- seeing 538.com on the blogroll. (Of course, it's only funny if you've read Enders Game.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A note to our American cousins

I see Ezra and Matt comparing idiot Joe Wilson's outburst to the British tradition of heckling our elected leaders.

In fact, accusing an MP of lying is the one thing not protected by Parliamentary privilege, and if not immediately apologized for can have an MP removed from the House of Commons (in Canada and the UK at least -- dunno about other commonwealth countries.) Of course, the President isn't an MP, but addressing a joint session more closely resembles a Speech from the Throne, and I cannot imagine a scenario where any party would put up with an MP interrupting the Queen or a Governor-General, much less calling them a liar. We'd be in a by-election before you could say "tut tut, cheerio".

Two things he needed to do, and he couldn't do them

Stephen Harper had exactly two things that were necessary, if not sufficient, to win the likely fall election: STFU about majorities, and do nothing to revive an increasingly irrelevant charge by the Liberals that he had a "secret agenda".

Conservative FAIL.

Not that the Liberals seem to be doing at all well -- as I've said more than once, summer polls were probably hiding a non-trivial Conservative advantage. Let's just hope we're not seeing something as severe as the Dion slump at work.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Like the universal gravitational constant, only funnier

GOP family values pol caught bragging about two affairs. At once.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Krugman on econ

If you haven't read it yet. I disagree with the basic thesis a little, because I think Krugman under-estimates how inherently politicized economics is, as been, and always will be. When the wealthy and powerful needed the government to stay out of their way, we had classical economics. When we needed a government that could wage and win two global wars, we had Keynesianism. And then when the Cold War was winding down in the 1970s and 1980s (though it didn't always look like it was!) we got neo-classical economics -- basically the same old "fuck the poor" mentality dressed up in an analytical drag.

Nevertheless, worth reading.

Then and now

Friday, September 04, 2009

This is kind of what I'm talking about

Angus Reid has a new poll out, and 308 has a projection based on it. Headline? If current trends hold, Ignatieff is likely to win one whole seat more than the results which were so bad in 2006 that Paul Martin felt he had to resign his leadership of the party. In short, the phrase "Prime Minister Stephen Harper" isn't going anywhere yet. Paul Wells notes the same thing I did a few days ago with a different angle: if the best the Liberals can do is tie, then they're behind:
Party preference polls bounced around a bit this summer, but basically the Liberals and Conservatives are tied. That’s between elections. Historically, going back almost half a century, the Conservatives underperform in polls between elections and then deliver a bit of a surprise at the ballot box. Which helps explain why Chr├ętien in 1997 and Paul Martin in 2004 were surprised to see their opponents take a serious bite out of their hide, and why the Harper Conservatives and the Dion Liberals were tied in August before Harper opened an 11-point gap on election day last year.
But once again, when the Liberals lose, it won't be their fault.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Oh man...

So I was all set to write a post about how, on the list of "things about the state of Israel which upset me", a linkage between Toronto and Tel Aviv is about the last thing on that list, and I think protesting a focus on Tel Aviv at the Toronto International Film Festival is about the silliest thing I can think of. First of all, the politics are dubious. Secondly, if you're the kind of person who believes that Jews deserve a homeland but strongly oppose the oppression of Palestine, there needs to be some aspect -- here, now, in the present -- of your views on Israel that isn't about the occupation. Respect for films coming out of Tel Aviv seems like a good place to start. Thirdly, if we're going to connect Toronto with some part of Israel, isn't the cosmopolitan heart of the Jewish state the logical place to start?

So I was going to write all that (whoops!) and then I saw this via LGM -- it's entirely unrelated, but puts me in a less charitable mood.
The Prime Minister's Office and the Jewish Agency unveiled an aggressive advertisement campaign for the Masa project which is designed to strengthen Jewish identity among youths in the Diaspora and their bonds to Israel.

One video clip likens Jews who marry outside of the religion to missing persons, with fake notices and pictures which drive home the point.

As part of the campaign, similar "missing person" notices will be plastered on walls around the country.
See Dana Goldstein at Tapped as well.

Of my Jewish friends, almost none have settled with other Jews in their lives. In one case, a wife converted because it was important for the Jewish husband, but she surely wasn't Jewish when they started dating. And of course, some of my friends are themselves products of heterogeneous marriages. For their parents and spouses to be likened to kidnappers by the Israeli government makes me... well, I'm gonna go with "less charitable" and leave it at that.

Slightly more charitable update: I suppose the alternative explanation is that Jews who marry out of the tribe are runaways, not kidnapped, but frankly the entire analogy is just one big bag of fail -- consider how often, for example, runaways are fleeing abuse at home?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Somebody call the waaaaahmbulance

Jeffrey Simpson just can't handle these minority governments anymore. The Canadian people have disappointed Simpson for five years now, and if we don't wise up soon, he's going to take his toys and go home.

I have yet to discover the downside to this scenario.

H/T to Greg.

I'm on a boat!

Here. Sad that the US Navy seems to have force the takedown of this video from Youtube.

The intersection of rights and community

Will Wilkinson -- last seen going to bat for the nutters bringing guns to town hall meetings -- has an excellent point here.
To my mind, too little attention has been paid to reconsidering ideals of manhood in the age of equality. Since I was a teenager, I’ve found old-school machismo pathetic and somehow irrelevant to the problem of becoming a man. Without even knowing what or why it was, I was heavily influenced by gay culture, which provided me, and many other straight young men, a wide variety of templates for manhood that are at once unmistakably masculine, playfully ironic, aesthetic, emotionally open, and happily sexual. ... And the virulent homophobia that remains in most American dude subcultures has cut most young men off from the possibility of modeling their manhood after any of the delightful variety of types available to the homophile. And that really doesn’t leave them with much to work with. Most Americans these days seem happy enough to see women succeed as high-achieving go-getters. And who doesn’t love Tim Gunn? But most of us have not yet given up on oppressively restrictive, strongly normative conceptions of hetero masculinity.
We (I speak as a white, hetero man) extend rights to others not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it expands the frontiers of what it means to be a good, happy person. People who want to restrict rights need to think hard about why they want to make it more difficult to be happy in this world.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Links, getcher links here



For reals this time?

Colour me unimpressed:
The federal Opposition Liberals will no longer support Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Tuesday, making the prospect of a fall election more likely.

In a fiery campaign-style address to a room full of supporters in Sudbury, Ont., Ignatieff said the Liberals would return "competence and compassion" to the federal government to replace a Harper government that "doesn't care."

"Mr. Harper, your time is up; we cannot support this government any further," he said. "The secret weapon on our side is Stephen Harper's record. … We can do better."
I certainly agree that Harper's record is a powerful recommendation for change. But what, exactly, recommends Ignatieff's Liberal leadership on this question? As just one example, are the Liberals arguing for a larger stimulus or a smaller deficit? Neither? Both?

On the more basic political question -- what makes the Liberals think that Canada is clamoring for change? None of the existing polls suggest a large, dissatisfied block in the country want an election and a new government. Indeed, the existing polls probably hide a substantial advantage for the incumbent government, as Stephane Dion found out too late.

In short, nobody else in the country is as angry about Harper's Premiership as the Liberal Party of Canada is. Similarly, nobody else in Canada is as convinced of Ignatieff's superiority to Harper as the Liberal Party is. Until the rest of us are, Ignatieff probably shouldn't start measuring the drapes.

But hey, I've gotten plenty of things wrong in my prognostications before. Maybe we're headed to a Liberal majority. I sure don't see it. Hell, at this point I'd sooner expect a Harper majority. The only clear Canadian political trend of the last 5 years is stasis in the polls which manages to manifest itself as a loss of seats in the House for the Liberals. (Given the dishonesty embodied in our electoral system, those two facts are not contradictory.) That's worth restating: the only clarity in the last five years of Canadian politics is that the Liberal Party has gone from 168 seats in the House when the 37th Parliament was dissolved in 2004 to 77 seats today, with no obvious prospects for resucitation.

When do we start the clock?

So a bunch of news sources are reporting today as the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. That is, 70 years ago today, the German Luftwaffe began bombing Polish towns and the Kriegsmarine shelled Danzig. Of course, Czechoslovakia had been annexed a year earlier, and before that the Nazis had supported the Fascists in Spain. Meanwhile, the real fighting between Germany and the Anglo-French allies would not actually begin until 1940 -- that's why it's called "The Phony War."

And in Asia, it's even more odd because while war officially started in 1937, the Japanese were invading Manchuria as early as 1931.

Indeed, American (though ironically very pro-Chinese) wartime propaganda like Why We Fight explicitly dates the beginning of World War II from the invasion of Manchuria, not Poland or even Pearl Harbor.

I'm certainly not offended by marking the beginning of the war this way -- Canada did, in fact, declare war on Germany because of the invasion that started this day. (The anniversary of the declaration of war will be the 10th, right before another auspicious anniversary.) But it's important to note that the war was raging before we joined the fight. Canadians love to mock the late American entry to the war -- and it's a privilege that I'm willing to earn by being similarly mocked by the Chinese and Spanish in kind.

Former Attorney General FAIL

Jesus.
Ontario's former attorney general Michael Bryant is facing two charges after a fatal hit-and-run in Toronto's Yorkville neighbourhood Monday night.

Mr. Bryant will be charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death, a police source tells the Globe, after a collision left a 33-year-old cyclist dead.
My limited understanding is that Bryant managed to impress absolutely nobody at Queen's Park while he was there, and let's just say that I'm very, very glad that this man is no longer the chief law enforcement officer for the Province of Ontario.

In the narrowest possible grounds for his defense, it is quite possible given the general biking culture in this city, that the cyclist instigated the "altercation" that seems to have ended horribly. I don't know how, exactly, it could have escalated to the point where Bryant was using mailboxes to scrape the cyclist of the side of his car, and frankly don't think it matters. Nor, apparently, do the police.

Boy, Dalton McGuinty really, really didn't need this.